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Where You Belong

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Grantaire was on the verge of melting as he ascended the gentle slope of a dusty hiking path. The heat was suffocating, the air thick with humidity, and the weight of the chainsaw in his arms seemed to have at least tripled since he set out a few hours before. His constricting beige uniform was plastered to his skin with sweat. But at last, his long journey was almost at an end. A few steps more and he emerged from the tree line; ahead of him stretched the open swath of grass that indicated the trail’s end. Thank fuck for that. He paused a moment to catch his breath, staring up the final ascent to the parking lot where his eyes caught on a lone park ranger lingering at the edge of the pavement.

Upon seeing the figure, Grantaire threw his equipment to the ground. “Bahorel!” he shouted, beckoning the ranger forward despite the ache of his trembling arms.

“What’s up, R?” Bahorel greeted when they were within speaking distance.

“I need you to carry me,” Grantaire whined, pushing back a handful of dark sweat soaked curls from his face. “I’m dying.”

Bahorel humored him with a sympathetic frown. “Friend, it is too Goddamned hot for that.”

“Fine.” The naturalist looked away, unable to face such a harsh rejection. “Leave me here to shrivel up in the sun. My death will be on your conscience.”

The ranger tapped the grounded chainsaw with his foot. “Why the hell were you out cutting trees in this weather?”

“We got a complaint from a very angry citizen that one of the trails was blocked by a downed tree. So, I had to carry this stupid thing—” He kicked the chainsaw “—all the way the fuck out on the blue trail to cut through a tree that was maybe three inches thick. This has happened the past three times I’ve gone out! People suck. Humanity is beyond saving. I’m rejecting society to become a hermit. Please leave any future correspondence stapled to a tree of your choice where I will never find it because I am going off the grid.”

“You can’t,” Bahorel informed him. “Musichetta needs you for some dirt thing.”

Grantaire groaned. “Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten everything I once knew about dirt. The knowledge seeped from my skin in the form of sweat. If I want to remember anything, I’ll have to lick myself clean.”

“Then you better start licking.” Bahorel snorted, lifting Grantaire’s equipment and starting up the hill. “Unless you can get someone to do it for you. I’ll bet-“

“Whatever you are about to say, I don’t want to hear it.” Grantaire grumbled, following suit up the hill.

“I’m just saying-“

“No.”

“Enjolras-“

“Stop.”

“But, R, Musichetta is in need of dirt knowledge, and he owes her for holding him back when that dumb fuck congressman visited.” Two months previously, Enjolras had stood waiting at the front office for a photoshoot with a local congressman, arms full of unlabeled documents and a wild look in his eye. Musichetta had taken one look at him and made the executive decision that it would be best for everyone if he were locked in the equipment room.  

“We aren’t having this conversation. I’m putting a stop to it right now. What are you doing out here anyway?” Usually Bahorel would be driving between parks, keeping an eye on the comings and goings in the area.  

“I’ve got to stay around tonight to monitor for an event.”

“Need any extra help?” he asked, pulling out his keys as they reached the parking lot.

“I’ve got it, just a bunch of nerds stargazing.” He grinned. “Tell Enj I’m sorry I missed the meeting,” he said, loading the supplies into the back of Grantaire’s car.

“Tut tut, Baz, today could be the day we overthrow city hall.”

“You guys better not stage a revolution without me.”

“We would never.” Grantaire promised, hand over his heat stressed heart. “Anyway, I’m off. Don’t let any nerds set the park on fire.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Grantaire waved him off, sliding into the front seat of his busted up car and drove to the front office where he dropped off his equipment and peaked over at his boss’s desk. “You needed me for a dirt thing?”

Musichetta looked up from across the room where she was feeding a box turtle. “We have an event for a group of middle schoolers coming up, and I need someone to do a talk on dirt and geology.”

“Fuck yeah.” If there were two things Grantaire loved about his job, they were wandering around in the woods and giving talks to kids. “I will have those children worshiping the soil beneath their feet.”

“Okay, you need to stop indoctrinating children into your weird dirt worshiping cult.”

“We are a group of soil enthusiasts : totally normal, not a cult. I am just trying to get the children hyped for nature.”

“They made a dirt shrine at the campgrounds last year.”

“The actions of an energized group of future environmentalists.”

“They started burying bug sacrifices.”

“I didn’t tell them to do that.”

Musichetta raised an eyebrow.

“I didn’t! It was probably Bahorel, that was just after he got fucked up by those caterpillar hairs. Anyway , is there anything specific you need me to talk about?”

“Yes, but we’ll save it for Monday,” she smiled. “You look exhausted.”

“Thanks. I’m headed out, then.”

“See you in a bit.”

One half hour drive later, Grantaire was parking along the side of a busy street. He was going to be early. He pushed open the front door of the Musain flower shop, half expecting it to be locked, but the door did not resist his force; someone had apparently arrived before him.

He peaked cautiously into the shop, the bell tinkling above him as he walked inside. The lights were off, and nobody was behind the counter. After hours on Friday, the flower shop fell under Enjolras’ rule. It was not his first choice in terms of location. Or his second. Or his third…

There was once a time when Enjolras had hosted his meetings in local bars where he could engage with the community. Unfortunately, Enjolras had also had a penchant for starting fights with patrons who opposed his world views; as such, he had been banned from a number of respectable establishments. Now, les Amis de l’ABC—a collection of concerned citizens with big ideas—met in the flower shop where member Jehan had worked as an undergrad.

Grantaire headed for the back room. It was full of pots and plants but empty of humans. The naturalist peered out into the back alley where he found Enjolras scowling off into the middle distance as he watered a tray of flowers. He did not appear to have noticed the back door open.

“Please, spray me with your hose,” Grantaire requested, pushing his way into the alley.

“Grantaire,” the blond startled. “You’re early.”

“You’re watering flowers,” Grantaire countered.

Enjolras turned his withering gaze down upon the poor plants. “It’s one of the requirements of keeping our meetings here.”

“Water the flowers and don’t punch anybody?”

“It was phrased more in terms of: water the flowers and don’t burn the place to the ground.”

“It’s a good thing righteous fury isn’t flammable,” he observed. “Speaking of which, what illuminating topic will we be covering today?”

Enjolras’ eyes narrowed in warning. “Mismanagement of government funds with respect to welfare.”

“Ah, well in my humblest of opinions-“

“Because I’m always dying to hear your opinions.”

“Rude, I’m trying to engage in a civilized discussion here,” he scolded. “Now, in my opinion, the government is spending too much welfare money on college funds for middle income kids and not nearly enough on information sheets for the protection of the poor against spider beings, who—as we all know—sense poverty and feed on the poor.”

Enjolras eyes flashed with an expression that Grantaire was all too familiar with—the all-consuming need to argue his opponent into the ground. He opened his mouth, clearly prepared to unleash his noble wrath, but then he seemed to catch himself. His teeth clicked as his mouth snapped closed in an effort to hold his tongue. “I reject your premise,” he managed.

Grantaire grinned. Those were Combeferre’s words. Enjolras’ best friend was making a valiant effort to stop Enjolras from engaging with arguments designed to make him angry, but the blond was terrible at following his advice, and Grantaire noticed that this seemed especially true in regards to him. He’d been worming his way under Enjolras’ skin since they met in university. “Coward.” Grantaire jabbed a finger at him. “You’re playing right into the hands of the spider leadership.”

“I-“ Enjolras rubbed a hand over his face as though the restraint caused him physical pain. “I refuse to respond to that.”

“That’s very big of you.”

That earned him a dirty look. Enjolras stalled a moment, taking a deep breath, his expression shifting to something less certain. “There’s actually something I wanted to talk to you about.”

“You’re dodging the argument, should I be worried?” He already was, regardless.  

“No, I-” He stopped as they heard the bell chime from the front door. “Could you stay after a few minutes?”

“Sure.” Grantaire nodded, pretending to play it cool. “Can you spray me with that hose?”

Enjolras stared down at the hose in his hands as though he’d forgotten it was there. “…I guess.”

“Awesome, let me set my phone inside.” He slipped back into the building and set his phone on the table, pulling his shirt over his head.

“Hey, R, uh what are you doing?” Joly asked from his seat on a nearby stool.

“I am a flower, my dear sweet Jolllly, I require watering,” he said, skipping back out the door. “Okay, I’m ready,” he assured a wary Enjolras.

“You just want me to spray you?”

“Spray me like one of your potted plants,” Grantaire affirmed.

Enjolras obliged, releasing a light shower of water over Grantaire who sighed in content, rubbing the sticky sweat from his skin.

“Oh.” He paused. “Before I forget, Bahorel can’t make it. He said not to overthrow the local government without him.”

“We aren’t planning on-“

“I know, I know. But if you were, today would not be the day. Because Bahorel is busy.”

Enjolras opened his mouth but was stopped as Marius entered the alley with Courfeyrac at his side. He glanced between the two, perplexed. “Uh, what’s going on here?”

“Nothing, Pontmercy,” Grantaire assured. “Move along.”

“Enj,” Courfeyrac started, suppressing a grin. “Why are you bathing Grantaire like a dog?”

Enjolras turned his incomprehensible stare from Courfeyrac to Grantaire.

“Woof,” Grantaire barked at him.

“It’s been a long day.” Enjolras lowered the hose. “I’m going inside.”

Grantaire was feeling immensely pleased with himself as he shook the water from his hair and followed the others indoors.

The room grew more crowded as everyone filed in and Enjolras started the meeting. As promised, he was up in arms over mismanagement of government funds, tragically, not once mentioning spider beings. However, despite his characteristic passion, he seemed somewhat distracted, not arguing back nearly as much as he usually would when Grantaire started heckling him and letting Combeferre take over the conversation toward the end of his usual time.

“Enj seems a little off tonight,” Bossuet whispered to Musichetta, who was seated to the right of Grantaire.

“There’s a flu going around,” Joly noted. “Maybe I should-“

“If you are going to offer up some suspect medical advice, I’ve heard that standing on your head is a viable treatment for being a pompous ass.”

“Do you think he could host a meeting doing a headstand?” Bossuet asked.

“My medical advice isn’t suspect,” Joly complained.

“You told me sucking on lemons would cure me of my cynicism.”

“And leeches would drain you of bitterness.”

“There is not a leech big enough to suck up all my bitterness.” Around them their friends were starting to leave.  

“Ready to go, R?” Bossuet asked.

“Nah, I’ve got to stay back so Enjolras can yell at me.”

“He’s not going to yell at you,” Courfeyrac said, appearing at Grantaire’s shoulder.

“You’d let me know if he was planning on murdering me, right? I don’t want to become fertilizer. I would make for a very saline soil, and no one wants to deal with that.”

“Come on, into the alley with you,” Courfeyrac said, guiding him away from the rest.

“Why can’t we talk in here?”

“This is more a back-alley sort of deal.”

“If you want a hitman, I refuse to be a part of this.”

“Implying you could make that happen if you weren’t refusing?”

“I’ve said too much.”

Enjolras and Combeferre were standing in the shadows looking serious.

“Uh, so what’s this about?”

"Grantaire,” Courfeyrac whispered. “You have been selected for a very important mission, should you choose to accept it."

"Courf, this is serious," Combeferre warned.

"It can be serious and absurd at the same time,” Courfeyrac waved him off. “You're the one who told me to be persuasive. I’m flexing my salesman muscles." He gave Grantaire’s shoulder a friendly pat.

"Right,” Grantaire hummed. “So what's my mission?"

“First of all,” Courfeyrac paused for effect. “Can you keep this quiet?”

“Sure,” Grantaire said slowly, “I can keep a secret.”

“It doesn’t have to be a secret,” Enjolras protested. “The situation is just somewhat personal, and I’d rather not spend a lot of time discussing details if it can be avoided.”

“Alright, I’ll be discrete. What’s this about?”

"Enj needs you to pretend to be his boyfriend for a weekend."

Grantaire squinted, not quite processing the words. "His what ?"

"You heard."

"I'm gonna need some context here.” He turned to Enjolras who was looking decidedly uncomfortable. “Why on earth would you need me to pretend to be your boyfriend?"

"I'm visiting my parents next weekend."

"That explains literally nothing."

Enjolras ignored him. "I haven't had contact with them in years, but my father’s having some health troubles, so it seems like the time to put in the effort."

“I’m sorry to hear that. Still doesn’t explain the fake boyfriend thing."

Enjolras gave an impassive shrug. "They were constantly trying to set me up when I was living with them, and I really don’t want to deal with that on this visit."

“You think that after years of estrangement their first thought would be to go back to the same old behaviors?”

"Yes," Enjolras responded without hesitation.

“Couldn’t you just bring someone as a friend?” He turned to Combeferre and Courfeyrac. “ Why aren't you two going? I thought Combeferre grew up near you." It was the one thing he did know about Enjolras’ childhood.

“My family’s since moved,” Combeferre explained.

"And Ferre has standing obligations with the university next weekend, which is unfortunately the only time I can make this work,” clarified Enjolras.

"I can't go because they have an indoor cat,” Courfeyrac said sadly. The combination of his low impulse-control and intense cat allergy had more than once landed him in a hospital bed.  

"Fine, then not you two, but why me?"

"His mom has a good bullshit detector, and you are the best bluffer we know," Combeferre said.

"I am…still confused but also honored."

"And you'll be a chaotic force in a very controlled environment,” Courfeyrac added.

"Do you want them to hate me?” he asked Enjolras incredulously.

“I don’t think they’ll hate you,” he assured. “I just think you’re disruptive enough to keep them from falling into old habits.”

“I am the least disruptive person I know.”

“You’re a liar.”

“Am not,” he lied. “Anyway, what sort of situation would I be walking into? I’m assuming there’s a reason you cut ties.”

Enjolras gave a long sigh. "They aren't bad people. They were just… very controlling when I was growing up, especially my father. I left as soon as I was a legal adult and never looked back."

“How did you find out about your dad?”

“My mother emailed Lamarque, and he passed the message on to me.”

Grantaire winced. Going through Lamarque was either a manipulative move in order to gain sympathy from Enjolras boss or the only way they could think to get his attention as he had no social media presence. "You’re sure you want to do this?"

"Yes."

“And you’re sure you want to do this with me specifically?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then I guess you’ve just acquired a fake boyfriend. You said it’s next weekend?”

“We’ll leave Friday at noon,” Enjolras nodded, running an agitated hand through his hair. “Sorry for the short notice.”

“No problem, I’ll just have to cancel a thing with Bossuet and Joly. What should I tell them?”

“The truth will be fine. The discretion is more for after we get back. I just…don’t really want to talk about my family situation.”

“I’m assuming you don’t want me to mention the fake boyfriend thing?”

“Tell them if you want,” he shrugged with some discomfort. “When are you free this week? We’ll need to work out the logistics of our relationship before we leave.”

“Enj said I could write your love story,” Courfeyrac chuckled.

“I never said that.”

“Yes, you did. Back me up here, Ferre.”

“Don’t associate me in your lies, Courf.”

“What about Wednesday after I’m off work?” Grantaire interrupted.

“Perfect,” approved Enjolras.

“Right,” Grantaire sighed, feeling more than a little off center. “I guess I’ll see you then?”

“Thank you for agreeing,” Enjolras said earnestly. “I know it’s an… odd request.”

“Anything for you, Darling,” he promised with artificial sweetness before ducking out of the alley, wondering if perhaps he wasn’t passed out in the woods somewhere suffering from heat stroke.


“Bossuet,” Grantaire greeted the following day as he met his friends behind the USGS building where the bald man worked, monitoring local aquifers.

“You’re late, R,” Joly scolded, leaning on his cane, already wading around in the water in his big waterproof boots. Nearly two years ago Grantaire had quit drinking and consequently the friends had had to find an alternative way to spend time together. In the summers they’d taken to walking along the river and wading around for arrowheads or whatever else they might find washed away in the creeks.

“Sorry, slept through my alarm.”

“It’s one in the afternoon.”

“I was dead tired,” he said, shuffling into the water up to his booted ankles. “I’m not going to be able to come next weekend, by the way.”

“Oh?” Bossuet said, stumbling over the uneven creek bed. “And what, may I ask, takes precedent?”

“I’m going with our glorious leader to visit his parents,” he shrugged.

“You’re what?” Joly gaped at him as Bossuet tripped again, falling into the water.

Grantaire held up his hands in a ‘what can you do?’ sort of motion. “I know.”

“Why?” Bossuet asked once he had righted himself.

“I suspect he’s lost his mind.”

“You’re not saying something.”

Grantaire shrugged again. “I think he wants me there to piss off his parents. I’m going as his fake boyfriend.”

“That seems…unnecessary.”

“I don’t pretend to know how his mind works.” He sighed. “Somehow, here we are. It’s either going to be…well actually, it’s probably going to be a mess either way.”

“Are you sure you want to do it?” Joly asked.

“If you think I’m gonna say no to this, you’re crazy.”

“Fine, just keep in mind we’ll only be a phone call away if he gets to be...”

“Too Enjolras?”

“Exactly.”

“Thanks.” Grantaire grinned. “You guys can’t tell anyone else…I mean, apart from Musichetta. He said I could tell but seemed kinda weird about it,” he finished with an ambiguous hand wave.

“Ugh, now we have to suffer too?” Bossuet complained.

“Yes, keep your gossip in the threesome.”

“We’ll beat him up if he steps on your heart…or Musichetta will.”

“Thanks,” Grantaire snorted, picking up a smooth stone and skipping it down the creek. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Maybe it won’t be as bad as you think,” Joly mused. “I mean, the fact that he’s trusting you with this seems like a lot.”

“Yeah…fuck, I can never tell with him.”

“You’ll be fine…probably…I’m sure he picked you for a reason.”

“I am heartened by your confidence. Now, let’s get wading,” Grantaire mumbled, sloshing ahead.


On Wednesday Grantaire found himself being transported to Enjolras’ apartment. After five days to consider, he was feeling no more used to the idea that had been proposed and was still a bit suspicious that he’d hallucinated it.

“Just to double check, you still want to do this relationship thing, right?” he started as Enjolras led him into his messy little apartment. Grantaire had been there a handful of times with the rest of the gang, and it was nothing special. All that could really be said was that it was nicer than the place he’d lived in through university. Enjolras had the aura of someone who grew up wealthy but tried to live as spartanly as possible. Grantaire suspected that he only lived in a place this nice because Combeferre and Courfeyrac lived down the hall.

“Yes,” Enjolras confirmed, setting aside his bag. He was still dressed in his work suit. He officially worked as a secretary to city councilman Lamarque, but Grantaire couldn’t imagine he sat at a desk all day. It seemed more to him that Enjolras would spend his days snooping around through public records and compiling lists of the many wrongs done by the local government.  

"Okay,” Grantaire drawled, “then what's our story? How did we fall truly, madly, deeply in love?"

"For the sake of simplicity, we’re keeping things as much the same as possible. Courf wrote us up a relationship history, and I edited it to make it more reasonable,” he said, pulling a laptop from his bag and setting it down on the nearest surface not drowned in loose sheets of paper.

“I desperately want to see his draft.”

“It has been altered beyond recognition,” stated Enjolras with conviction. “Our basic history is the same, but we’ve been dating for about a year.”

“And how did we end up together?”

Enjolras took a deep breath. He seemed to be forcing himself to maintain eye contact. “After months of pining and misplaced frustration, I finally asked you out at that terrible music festival last summer.”

Grantaire gave a startled laugh. “The one where we lost Jehan in the woods?” The event had been an absolute disaster.

“Funny you should mention that, I asked you out while we were searching for them.”

“Ah, in a field full of fireflies?”

“Exactly.”

“Very romantic of you. And of course I couldn’t say no. I’m assuming that was Courf’s influence.”

Enjolras nodded. “His description was rather more graphic, but yes.”

“Sounds a lot better than a night of terrible music, losing Jehan, and rolling around in poison ivy.”

“You didn’t have to roll around in the poison ivy.”

“Yes, I did. Anyway, so you have our backstory worked out. How are we going to convince them we’re together in like a… physical sense?”

"Well,” Enjolras hesitated. “I don't imagine we'll have to be especially affectionate to sell it as I'm inherently not the touchiest of people. We’ll just have to be…comfortable."

"So I should practice invading your personal space?"

"I suppose." Neither moved, staring awkwardly at each other. Enjolras sighed. "This isn't going to work if you can't touch me."

Grantaire reached out and placed a hand on his too-pretty face.

"That's not what I meant,” Enjolras protested indignantly.

Grantaire let his hand slip to Enjolras’ cheek and raised his other hand to mirror the motion, lightly squishing his bewildered face. "This is what you have chosen to work with." Grantaire said, letting Enjolras glare at him a moment before easing his hold, brushing his thumbs over the blonde’s high cheekbones. He was soft and warm and not at all made of stone. "Better?" he asked quietly.

"I guess so.” Enjolras frowned. “I'm a bit useless at romance."

"Right, well uh… Exactly how close are we going to get this weekend?"

Enjolras dropped his gaze. "Well..."

"I'm just trying to think of what we should do now so no one panics the first time.”

"Fair enough." Enjolras reasoned, bringing his hands to Grantaire's chest. "Can I kiss you?"

Grantaire raised an eyebrow. "Wow, no holding back, eh?” His laugh had a slightly hysterical edge as he fought the urge to squirm under Enjolras’ undivided attention. “Are you planning on shoving your tongue down my throat in front of your parents?"

"No, I just thought for the sake of realism..." He huffed, color rising beneath Grantaire’s hands. "We don’t have to if it makes you uncomfortable." He made an effort to pull back, but Grantaire stopped him.

"Hang on, I wasn't saying no,” he laughed. “I’m just a bit surprised at your dedication. Your commitment is noble, I commend you for your sacrifice."

"You're making fun of me."

"Just a little, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised: you never do things halfway." He leaned forward before he could lose his nerve and gave Enjolras a chaste kiss. "There, nothing to it." He grinned, letting his hands slide to Enjolras’ shoulders, hoping he didn’t look as sweaty and nervous as he felt.

Enjolras gave him a steady gaze, eyes revealing nothing as he scanned Grantaire’s face and let their foreheads fall together.

“What?” asked the naturalist, unnerved.

“Nothing.” Enjolras leaned forward to kiss Grantaire again, lingering for only a tick longer, still no more than a brush of lips. Grantaire tried not to appear as though his legs had turned to jelly as Enjolras pulled back. “Courf and Ferre want to test our chemistry as a couple. They’ll be here around seven with food.”

That left them little time to prepare. “We better work on our believability then.”

Enjolras took his hand and his laptop and led them into the living room, taking a seat on the couch.

“You’re sitting too far away,” Grantaire noted once they had settled. They were seated only a socially acceptable distance from each other.

“What? Oh, right.” He slid closer, pressing near to Grantaire’s side. “Better?”

Grantaire in return slouched back and pulled Enjolras fully against him without protest. “Better. Let’s see it then,” he said as Enjolras opened a google doc.

Time passed in shockingly civilized bickering as they settled the finer points of their union. They ended up getting stuck on the moment Grantaire realized he was in love.

“I’ll just say I fell in love the moment I heard you shouting about healthcare in the student union,” Grantaire snorted. It wasn’t entirely true, and it wasn’t the first time he’d heard Enjolras ranting on campus, but it had been the first instance where he couldn’t resist engaging with him.

“I wasn’t shouting.”

“Then why did you get kicked out?”

“Because you started arguing with me and…my voice may have risen a bit.”

“So you were shouting,” Grantaire teased, running a finger down Enjolras’ cheek.

“Only after you showed up.” Enjolras said, looking very much like he would like to bite the finger. “Regardless, I think it makes more sense if I grew on you.”

“Fine, I’ll say I fell in love the moment you got iced tea dumped over your head and punched that guy so hard you split your knuckles and were again kicked from the student union.”

“You can’t say that.”

“I was charmed by the power of your rage.”

“That doesn’t sound healthy.”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you, Enj. We don’t exactly have a history of tender moments,” he said, poking Enjolras in the forehead. “Half the time you seem like you’d rather kick me out than have anything to do with me.”

Enjolras grimaced. “You can’t honestly believe that I-” He was interrupted by a knock at the door.

“That must be our food.” Grantaire said, nudging Enjolras up.

“Grantaire-” the blond protested, but the naturalist was already leaving the room.  

“Hello, lovebirds,” Courfeyrac cooed as the door opened. “We brought Indian.”

“Thank God,” Grantaire sighed, following them in toward the table where Enjolras was already sitting. “I was afraid I was going to have to resort to cannibalism.”

“At least then I wouldn’t have had to face my parents,” the blond grumbled as they began sorting out their food.

Grantaire paused with a fork half lifted to his mouth, turning to Enjolras. “Are we the type of couple that chews each other’s food?”

Enjolras’ expression contracted with disgust. “If you try spitting anything into my mouth, I will not be held responsible for my actions.”

“You’re no fun. What if I try to feed you?”

“I don’t-“

Grantaire shoved a piece of naan into his mouth. “Very effective. This is how I plan to win all of my arguments from now on.”

“Ugh, stop flirting, guys,” Courfeyrac rolled his eyes. “ Are you ready to go over your story?"

"I have prepared my entire life for this moment.” Grantaire jabbed a fork at him.

"Okay, all rise for the test,” Courfeyrac instructed. “Ferre and I will judge your coupliness.”

Once they were all on their feet, Courfeyrac began to speak again. “For this exercise you will pretend Combeferre is your mother and I am your father.” Combeferre rolled his eyes but didn’t object. "Right, everyone ready?” All nodded their agreement. “Action!"

"Hello, Mother and Father," Enjolras droned. "It's been a very long time and is so good to see you. This is my loving boyfriend, Grantaire." he said, placing a hand on the small of Grantaire’s back.

"Mister and Missus Enjolras, so lovely to meet you." Grantaire curtsied. "And might I just commend you on the wonderful monster you created together."

"You can't say that," objected Enjolras.

"Why not?"

"It's weird, and you sound like a suck-up."

"Good, I want them to like me. Now shh, I need to ask for the exact moment they realized you were destined for world domination."

"If you're not going to take this seriously-" he huffed, pulling back his arm.

"Enj, wait." Grantaire stopped him. "I am taking this seriously. It's just a bit ridiculous. I can’t help it. I promise I'll behave for the real deal."

Enjolras gave him a long look before nodding. "Fine."

" Also, as your boyfriend,” Grantaire grinned, “I do well with positive reinforcement. "

Enjolras rolled his eyes, grabbing Grantaire by the face and kissing his forehead. "Behave,” he instructed.

"Never."

“R-“

"Restarting the scene!" Courfeyrac interrupted.

"Dear Mister and Missus Enjolras,” Grantaire ploughed ahead, “ I hereby officially request your son's hand in marriage -"

"Grantaire-"

"As you can see,” Grantaire raised his voice, “he's very annoyed with me and wants to storm off, but I'm stronger than him, so if I hold him like this,” he said wrapping his arms around Enjolras’ waist and pulling him forward, placing his head against the blond’s shoulder, “h e can't escape."

"I could if I wanted to,” Enjolras grumbled, hands clenched at his sides, tense with irritation.

"Oh yeah?"

"Yes, I just choose not to because we love each other very much, and it's comforting to have your arms around me."

"Aw, isn’t he the sweetest." The brunette leaned back to stare adoringly at Enjolras.

“I’m also very indulgent, considering you asked my parents for my hand before asking me.”

Grantaire snorted. “It’s traditional, my dear. You can’t disrupt such ancient and delicate rituals! Speaking of which, what do the parents say?” He turned to Courfeyrac and Combeferre, who both looked as though they were having a little too much fun at Enjolras’ expense.

"Permission granted,” Courfeyrac chirped.

“You have our blessing,” added Combeferre.  

"Hear that, Babe?” Grantaire looked back to Enjolras as he glared at his friends. “We're getting hitched."

“Don’t call me ‘Babe.’”

“Sure thing, Sweet Cheeks.”

The blond slumped against his shoulder. "It's going to be a long weekend."

Grantaire rubbed a soothing hand over his back. "You have the power to stop this."

"No,” Enjolras said, muffled against Grantaire’s shirt. “This is how it has to be."

"Why?"

He leaned back with a sigh and a sorry shake of his head. "It just does."

"Cheer up, Enj,” Courfeyrac laughed, “You two are adorable."

"We’re believable?” Grantaire asked.

Combeferre nodded. "Very.”

“A match made in heaven,” Courfeyrac teased.

“Well then, I guess you selected the right fake boyfriend, E.”

“Shut up.”

“Don’t tell me to shut up. I’m telling you that you were right. You’d better cherish this moment because it shan’t happen again.”

“Let’s just keep practicing,” he sighed.

After a few hours of rehearsal Enjolras deemed them worthy of presentation and Grantaire left the apartment torn between floating elation and a lingering worry for his ability to get through the weekend with his heart unbroken.

Chapter Text

By the time Friday rolled around, Grantaire was on the verge of crawling out of his skin, an absolute mess of nerves. He’d played out the coming weekend in a million different ways and the only possible outcomes seemed to be those in which he and Enjolras ended up fighting on the drive up to Enjolras’ parents’ house and ultimately decided that they were bound for disaster, turning back before they could even chance it. Still, he held onto a stubborn bit of excitement; whatever happened was at least not likely to be boring. 

His anxious energy was not quelled when he slipped into Enjolras’ car to find the blond looking already deeply annoyed, tugging impatiently at his loose hair as Grantaire threw his bag into the back seat.

“You have your hair down,” the naturalist remarked, buckling his seatbelt before giving an ambiguous wave at Enjolras’ mess of many curls. He could count on one hand the number of times he’d seen Enjolras with his hair down, and more than half of those had been to check for head wounds.  

“What about it?” Enjolras asked defensively as they pulled away from Grantaire’s building. 

“Nothing! It looks nice. I’m complimenting you, find your chill.”

“Oh,” Enjolras blinked. “Thanks. I imagine it won’t last long. I’ll probably just get annoyed and put it up again.”

“Then why let it down at all?”

Enjolras gave a long sigh. “My dad used to cut my hair short.”

“Good Lord, that should be a punishable offense!” Grantaire exclaimed. “What manner of foul demon is he? I can only imagine he used your shorn locks to harness your youthful energy.”

“What?”

“Nothing. I’m just saying, it would not shock me if we discovered your hair had magical properties, and that is top of the line potion brewing stock there.”

Enjolras threw a weary glance in his direction. “I’m fairly certain it’s just normal hair.”

“Well then, if it’s just normal hair, why did your dad feel the need to cut it short?”

“When I was little, I think it was half to keep everyone from thinking I was a girl and half because it was so hard to manage. When I got older, it was more a punishment for being… also hard to manage.”

“You? Hard to manage? I can’t imagine.”

“I’m mature enough to admit that I was a difficult kid.”

“And you’ve undeniably grown into a difficult adult,” Grantaire said sweetly. “But giving you haircuts you hated doesn’t seem like a mature response by your parents.”

“That was all my dad, my mom just… allowed it to happen by virtue of not being there when it did.”

“And now you’re going to flaunt your luscious locks.”

“Exactly.”

Grantaire gave a hum of approval. “What sort of reception are you expecting? I mean generally, not just toward your hair, important as it might be. I just want to know what I should anticipate.”

“I’m not quite sure myself. What exactly do you want to know?”

“Did you tell them you were bringing me?” The question had been at the back of his mind from the start of this nonsense. 

“No.”

Grantaire threw his hands up in exasperation. “You’re sure you don’t want them to hate me? You’re inviting a stranger into their home. For all they know, I might be a hooligan.”

“You are a hooligan,” Enjolras grumbled, “but they won’t hate you.” He dragged a hand through his curls, which fell stubbornly back into place. “I’m not really sure what they’ll think.”

“Well, why were they always trying to set you up in the first place? I’m assuming it wasn’t just for their own amusement.”

“I don’t know, I think my lack of romantic interest in anyone alarmed them. My mom was barely able to have me, and I imagine they both want grandkids.”

Grantaire grimaced. “Give me an example of one of these set ups, I cannot imagine how they must have gone down.”

“Usually it was under the pretense of one of my parents getting together with friends or going to some event where there just so happened to be another boy my age.”

Grantaire raised an eyebrow. “And how did you react to these other boys?”

“If I recall correctly, most of the time I lured them into talking politics and ‘crushed their pathetic egos under the awesome power of my uncapped fury, shattering the foundation of their world views.’ Or at least, that’s how Courfeyrac described it after I told him I made a guy cry.”

“Jesus, you probably traumatized them.”

“I regret nothing. If I did it then they probably deserved it,” Enjolras shrugged without even a hint of regret. 

“None of them had the balls to argue back?”

“I was swung at a few times.”

“I can’t imagine why.” Grantaire rolled his eyes. “And none of them were to your liking?”

“No, although it is possible that I wasn’t able to look past my irritation at the situation in the first place,” he confessed. 

“Mmhm,” Grantaire hummed thoughtfully. “You’ve trampled a million hopeful hearts, and now you have me.”

Enjolras gave him a sideways glance. “Yes… I suppose I do.”

“For better or for worse, ‘til death do us part.” 

“We aren’t married.”

“I’m wounded by your lack of devotion; I am in this for the long run, dammit. And don’t roll your eyes at me,” Grantaire chidded, “I’m distraught! It hasn’t even been ten minutes and our relationship is already on the rocks!”

“Well, we have a whole car ride to get back on steady ground.”

“Oh, so I have a good—” he paused. “How long is this car ride going to be?”

“Four hours.”

“Four hours!” he exclaimed perhaps too shrilly, causing Enjolras step down a bit too hard on the gas as the stop light ahead went green. “Sorry. Jesus, fine. I have a whole four hours to make you fall in love with me.”

“You mean ‘win back my heart,” Enjolras glared, accelerating smoothly through the light. 

“Oh no, this weekend is going to be a whole lot easier if I can make you fall in love with me for real ahead of time.”

Enjolras raised an eyebrow. “I think that would make things a good deal more complicated after the fact.”

“Nah, I’ll take good care of you and your little lovesick heart,” he winked.

“Well, you have four hours, I wish you the best of luck.”

“I don’t need luck.”

Enjolras snorted. “Are you insinuating that I’m easy?” 

“You are easily the least easy person I have ever met in every sense of the word,” Grantaire said lightly. “And I mean that with all the love and devotion in my heart.” He leaned over to give Enjolras’ cheek a quick stroke with the back of his finger. 

The blond cast a wary glance in his direction. “Okay, you are going to need to dial it back a few notches.”

“Are the feelings getting to you already, darling?” Grantaire teased. “It’s okay, I understand.”

“Grantaire, sometimes I don’t know what to do with you.” It was a statement he had voiced on more than one occasion, though at present the sentiment did not seem so unkind. 

“Implying that other times you know exactly what to do with me?”

“Fine, I never know what to do with you, now especially.”

“Well, you put yourself in this situation,” Grantaire pointed out, “I suppose all you can do now is lay in the grave you’ve dug yourself into.”

“The grave that is your eternal devotion?”

“Exactly. Best get comfortable because I’m just getting started,” he grinned. “Anyway, you haven’t told me where we’re going. Am I going to get to see much of your hometown?”

“No—not that there’s much to see anyway. The house is outside of town. The nearest big city is about half an hour’s drive.”

“Ah,” Grantaire blinked. He had always been under the impression Enjolras was city scum; the rebel seemed as though he might have been manifested from the latent political anger lingering in a city hall somewhere. “What’s the plan once we get there?”

“We’ll be getting to the house a few hours before my mother is home from work, so we’ll have some time to settle in. I’m not sure what the official plan is yet.”

“Have you actually talked with either of them?”

“No, I think they were afraid we would start arguing and I would refuse to come.”

“Right…” That did not bode well. “What do your parents do?”

“My mother is an emergency room doctor, and my father was an engineer, but he stayed home to raise me.”

“Ah, right, I probably should have asked this before: what sort of health problems is your dad having?”

“He has glioblastoma,” Enjolras said, expression impassive and eyes trained to the road. 

“Jesus. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t fucking brain cancer.”

“I’m not sure anything short of brain cancer would have brought me back.”

“And you said they aren’t bad people?” Grantaire asked incredulously. 

Enjolras sighed. “They really aren’t.”

“Then why the dramatics?”

“I don’t know, my dad just brings it out of me.”

“And your mother?”

“I’m actually looking forward to seeing her. We didn’t really fight much, but that may be because she worked a lot.”

 The entire situation was feeling all too personal, and he really wasn’t sure what to make of that. “And you’re sure you picked the right person to do this with?”

“Yes.” A phone was thrown Grantaire’s direction. “Put on a podcast.” Apparently Enjolras was done with this line of questioning. 

“Fine, but don’t think this will stop me from trying to psychically seduce you.”

“Grantaire, if you can manage to psychically seduce me by the time we get there, I will be so impressed that I will happily marry you at the end of this weekend.”

“Of course you will, that’s the whole idea,” Grantaire scoffed. “Fair warning, I want a big fancy wedding and a million white doves to be released into the sky when we celebrate our union.”

“If you’re only after me for my money, you’ll be very disappointed in my budgeting practices.”

“I assume you set aside ninety-nine percent for entities intending to dethrone the elite and dismantle the government.”

“Ninety-nine percent to projects in need of funding.” 

“I could be a project in need of funding. You could fund me to shut the fuck up.”

“I know a lost cause when I see one.”

“Bullshit, you’re just no fun.” Grantaire grinned at him as he turned to select a podcast. He deliberately chose a topic that was bound to irritate Enjolras, and they spent the next four hours listening to policy discussions, taking breaks every now and then for Grantaire to antagonize and for Enjolras to argue back.


Unfortunately, Enjolras was not seduced by the time they reached the house; he was however, significantly quieter and more distracted.

“This is it," Enjolras informed him as they turned up the driveway, winding their way through a bit of tree cover before coming into a clearing where there stood a large but dated farm house. The yard was well-kept with a small garden bracketing the front entrance. To the right of the house connected to the end of the driveway stood a tall red wooden barn. To the left the yard stretched out into the woods. The property had all the charm of a rural farm house.

"This isn't quite what I expected,” Grantaire said. 

"What were you expecting?"

"I don't know. You have the air of having grown up in a palace."

"Well, my mother’s side has never wanted for money,” he acknowledged, “but this is the family house from my dad's side." 

"Is the town full of Enjolrai then?"

"No, the Enjolras children have a tendency to grow up and get out, but we keep the house in the family. We’ve had the property as long as anyone can remember."

"Do you plan on keeping it?" Grantaire asked, knowing the answer.

"I do not."

“And I assume that is a matter of some contention.”

“You assume correctly,” Enjolras nodded, bringing the car to a stop. He paused, not yet unbuckling his seat belt.

“Ready to face your childhood home?” Grantaire prodded. 

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

They grabbed their things from the back and approached the house along a paved path to the front door where Enjolras reached under the overhang of the wooden porch and withdrew a key. He paused again once the door was unlocked, hesitant, as though he expected someone to jump out at him if he walked over the threshold.

"All right?" Grantaire asked, nudging his elbow lightly.

"Yeah,” Enjolras managed, “it's just weird to be back after so long.” He appeared to gather himself before pushing his way inside. The entrance opened to a small sky blue room with doorways to either side and a staircase at the front. The house was clean, but not alarmingly so, and the room through the right doorway was cluttered with papers, which Grantaire found comforting. He’d been worried he might be spending a weekend in a house he’d be afraid to touch. There were photos on the walls, but Enjolras did not allow him the time to linger on them. 

“My room is up this way,” Enjolras said, slipping around the bannister and moving up the stairs to a room at the end of the hallway. 

Grantaire could only imagine that Enjolras’ childhood room was exactly how he had left it, swept for dust with the bed cover changed but deeply in need of organization. There were boxes of books and loose paper surrounding the small desk near the single window. The walls were painted a pinkish red and covered in poster board tacked to the gills with documents and diagrams. Glow-in-the-dark stars, were scattered over the paperless walls, but these things were not the most immediate objects in need of attention. 

"Why do you have a Betty Ford portrait glued to your wall?" Grantaire asked, staring up at the Christmas ornament sized portrait that stared back down at him from high upon the wall. 

"Why do you know it's Betty Ford?"

"I'm good with faces. Explain."

"I had been grounded for sneaking out of the house and was angry that I was being watched so closely, and I felt that I needed some sort of overseer to look down upon all who entered my room. Therefore, I took my Betty Ford ornament and superglued it to the wall.”

“Why the hell did you have a Betty Ford ornament?”

“We went to the Henry Ford museum and I bought one.”

“Why?”

“Because she was an inspiration.”

“A true alcoholic icon,” Grantaire agreed absently, wondering why on earth a museum would sell such a weirdly specific ornament. “But why did you superglue it?”

“I superglued all this stuff to my walls. It started with me not being allowed to hang La Liberté guidant le peuple,” He indicated the portrait of Liberty Leading the People that had apparently been superglued to his ceiling. “My father was worried it would inspire chaos.”

“Clearly he was too late for that. Did he fight you on the rest too?”

“No, I glued the rest on principle.”

“You are an actual maniac.”

Enjolras shrugged and set his bag on the floor, taking a seat at his desk. 

Grantaire followed suit and moved to the window, peering out into the woods behind the house. “I feel like I’m going to regret asking this, but why is there a big-ass lock on your window?” He gave the lock a tug. 

“I damaged the shingles walking around on the roof,” Enjolras explained.

“And why were you on the roof?”

“I don’t like to be contained.”

“I’m assuming the lock wasn’t put there after a one-time galavant.”

“No, it was put there after multiple warnings and a broken arm.”

Grantaire raised his eyebrows. “You actually fell off the roof?”

“Yes. I smashed a bunch of hostas.”

“At least you didn’t smash your head.” Grantaire flicked his forehead. “So, what’re we going to do until your mom gets here?”

“I can show you around the property,” Enjolras offered. 

“The grand tour?”

“I don’t know about that.” 

“Wait, didn’t you say you had an indoor cat?”

“Yeah. She’s probably down in the basement, that’s where she used to hang out.” 

“Can we visit her first?” 

“Sure.” Enjolras led them back down the stairs and around the corner to the basement door, which laid cracked open. He flicked on the lights and descended into the cool lower level. 

The basement was more cellar than extension of the livable home, cement floors and walls of stocked shelving. When they reached the bottom there was a tiny meow from amongst the boxes, and a small cat wandered toward them. She was white with gray spots, her hair longer at the tail with big blue eyes.

“She’s beautiful,” Grantaire cooed, stooping to pet the cat. “What’s her name?”

“Egalité.”

“Did you also have a Liberté and Fraterinté?”

Enjolras nodded. “We had another cat named Liberté and a beta fish named Fraternité, but Liberté ate Fraterité and then ran away so now there is only Egg.”

“Oh for shame, Egg, you were abandoned and betrayed!”

Egalité meowed at him, turning her face into his hand as he continued to pet her. 

“Egg, you are a delight. Have you been hunting mice? Because it smells like death down here.” He hadn’t noticed until he kneeled down. 

“That is entirely possible,” Enjolras said, wandering around the room in search of the source of the smell. “There it is.” 

Grantaire stood, following Enjolras into a small alcove containing the hot water tank. There was a dead mouse sitting in a small pool of water that had apparently trickled down from the small window above.

“That is not a good sign,” Grantaire noted, holding back Egg as she tried to investigate the mouse. “They’re gonna get mega mold down here if they don’t get that sealed up.”

Enjolras ducked out of the alcove and returned with a grocery bag, which he used to scoop up the dead animal. They then walked back up the stairs and out the door, Egg following them only as far as the threshold. 

“Does she ever come outside?” Grantaire asked. 

“She loved my dad and followed him around when he did yard work,” Enjolras said as they walked past the garage toward the barn where they ducked around to find a small chicken coop and a fenced in garden. 

Grantaire gasped, “Did you have chickens growing up?”

“Yes,” Enjolras replied, pushing back a few exuberant chickens with his foot as he opened the gate, and stepping around the small crowd of hens toward the coop. Grantaire was quick to follow, snagging a red hen around the middle and lifting her under his arm, assuring her she was a very pretty girl. 

“They don’t seem to have many now.” Enjolras observed. “What are there, only seven? We used to have about thirty, and I had to get up early to take care of them,” he grumbled. 

“You’re a regular farm kid, who would have thought?”

“I’d hardly call this a farm.”

“More of a farm than what I grew up with in suburban hell.” Grantaire said, giving his hen a kiss on the head before throwing her back with the rest as they slipped out of the gate. “Where to next?”

“Across the yard.”

“We aren’t going for a stroll through the garden?”

Enjolras made a face. “Not much to see but a bunch of vegetables.” 

“You have no appreciation for horticulture.”

“I have a distant appreciation,” he assured. “I also wasted a lot of time weeding this particular garden.”

“Fair enough,” Grantaire agreed. “Lead on—actually wait.” He reached out and snagged Enjolras’ hand, intertwining it with his own. “Okay, lead on.”

Enjolras gave a stiff nod and continued forward.

“Are you going to keep carrying that dead mouse around with us?” 

“I have a plan.”

“I don’t know how I feel about that.”

They traveled across the back of the house into the woods on a small cleared footpath. Grantaire made sure to swing their hands as they traveled. 

“Where are we going?” Grantaire asked, admiring the old oak trees that lined the path. 

“Family graveyard.”

“You have a family graveyard?”

“I told you, we’ve had the property a long time.”

“I’ll say. Can you still bury people there?”

“Yep, at some point someone had to go through the process of making that possible.”

“Are we going to bury the mouse?”

“We are not.”

They had not been walking long before they came upon the graveyard. It was located amongst a blackberry patch, fenced off from the rest of the woods by a waist high stacked stone fence with a small iron gate. The graveyard itself was of fair size, the interior was neatly kept on a small upwelling of the ground. There were old grave markers and new scattered about in a semi-organized fashion.  

“This is actually quite nice,” Grantaire noted. “I was expecting it to be creepy.”

“Combeferre says it’s creepy at night,” Enjolras told him off hand, looking as though his mind was half somewhere else, “but he gets freaked out staying in the woods.”

“Does he?” Combeferre had always done fine when everyone had gone out hiking together. 

“He used to watch a lot of those found footage-style Animal Planet shows about people getting lost in the woods. Plus, my dad used to tell us that there were more graves scattered around the property.”

“Do you think he was telling the truth?”

“Probably, he said they moved a lot of the headstones into this area because the town needed a designated location for the graveyard and said that they couldn’t just keep burying people wherever they wanted.”

“Did they move the bodies with the headstones?”

“Not that he said.”

“Creepy.” He watched as Enjolras stepped up onto a tombstone and hopped over to the stone fence. “Where are you going?” 

“Into the field,” Enjolras said, indicating the area beyond the blackberry bushes. “Are you coming?”

“Sure.” Grantaire moved toward the gate.

“You can just hop over.” Enjolras nodded to the grave he’d just climbed over. 

“I don’t want to step on the grave.”

“Why not? My great great great grandmother isn’t going to care, it’s the most useful she’s been in a hundred years. Besides, she might not even be down there.”

“You’re going to get an angry spirit attached to you if you keep going on like that,” Grantaire warned.

“You don’t believe in ghosts.”

“No, but I appreciate the idea of them.”

“Well, if you have nothing to fear then climb over the grave.”

“Why do you want me to trample your ancestors so badly?” 

“Because you don’t seem to want to do it.”

It wasn’t that he was afraid to step on graves, something about it just felt… weird and disrespectful. Not that Grantaire was known to be particularly respectful, usually that was Enjolras’ job, but still he felt resistant. “Fine, but if we both end up getting haunted, it’s your fault.”

“Agreed,” Enjolras said, hopping down over the bushes as Grantaire stepped up to take his place.

“Did you ever try to summon any ghost here?” he asked peering down at the graves. 

“We tried to do a séance once.”

“I’m assuming nothing of note happened.”

“We got in trouble for sneaking out.”

“You should try walking around this edge, chanting… I can’t remember what the chant is but that’s supposed to open the gates to hell at some graveyard in Ohio.”

“If we could open the gates to hell that easily, everyone would be doing it.”

“Would they?” Grantaire asked, hopping down to follow Enjolras toward the field peeking through the trees. “I think you’re projecting. Not everyone would be so quick to chance the powers of hell as you.”

“I guess that’s probably a good thing.” Enjolras said, ducking below a fallen tree into the field beyond. 

The clearing was a thin stretch of green knee high grass, probably swimming with ticks. Across from the area they’d just exited, the grass began to go reddish and die away, leaving an irregular plane of cracked dirt with the mostly skeletonized remains of a deer laying in the middle.

“What the fuck is this?" Grantaire said approaching the patch and grabbing a stick to poke at the remains of the doe. 

“This is one of my dad’s things,” Enjolras said, unraveling the bag and letting the mouse drop to the ground beside the deer.

“What, making dead animal shrines?”

Enjolras pointed over to a nearby tree where a camera sat trained on the deer. “It’s a motion sensing camera. He likes to take pictures of the coyotes or bears or raccoons or whatever else happens by.”

“Where does he get the dead animals?” Grantaire wondered, hooking the skull through the eye-socket and turning it about.

“Hunting, if it’s in season. The side of the road if it’s not. Sometimes they just turn up,” he said indicating the mouse with the toe of his shoe. 

"No offense, or maybe full offense if he’s an asshole, but your dad sounds like a fucking weirdo. Is he a big hunter?"

Enjolras shrugged. "He's not a huge gun nut, but he does a bit of hunting."

"Did you ever go out with him?"

"When I was younger. I’m sure there’s a picture of me and my first kill in a scrapbook somewhere."

"Did you eat the heart, thereby absorbing the strength of your kill?"

"No." Enjolras grimaced.

"Did you keep hunting as you got older?"

"I made it clear that I did not intend to continue."

"I would not let you hold a gun."

"I think in the end my dad would agree."

“Were you a terrible shot?”

“I was a very good shot.”

Grantaire felt a prickle of discomfort. “Has this patch always been here then?” He kicked at the cracked dirt. 

“Yeah, but sometimes he would dump down a salt slurry to keep the plants from encroaching.”

“Well, I guess that’s one way to do it.” He gave the deer another good nudge before looking up. “Where to next?”

“I would take you down to the pond,” Enjolras said, checking his phone, “but my mother should be getting home soon.”

“Which way is the pond?”

“Straight back from the house, I’ll show you tomorrow.” Enjolras stepped back into a bush and disappeared from sight. 

Grantaire laughed.

“What?” Enjolras asked when he came out the other side.

“Nothing, you just seem weirdly comfortable here. I’m used to the ‘do not put a pinky off the path’ Enjolras.” Despite the fact that Enjolras was friends with a group of nature-conscious people, he seemed to get the most upset when anyone strayed from the official path. 

“That’s different.”

“How?”

“That’s hiking in a preserved area. I’ve spent a lot of time hiding from my dad in these woods.”

“Why were you hiding from him?”

“He always wanted me to do my math work or help around the house, so I would pack my bookbag full of books and hide out in the woods.”

“Why math in particular? Not that I blame you, math is the devil’s language. I guarantee, if you summoned Satan, he would speak in complex equations.”

“I wasn’t interested in math, so I didn’t do it. Usually, I was allowed to get away with that until the end of the week and then he would make me sit at the kitchen table and do math all day. There is no purer way to breed resentment.”

“Wait, was this not homework?”

“No, I was homeschooled until my last year of high school.”

“You entered public school as a senior?”

“It took a lot of begging.”

“And how did it compare?”

“I spent a lot of time in in-school suspension.”

“Shocker. Is that why your parents didn’t let you do public school?”

“I think they wanted to give me a better education, but I’m sure it was a little bit that too.” 

When they reached the house, Enjolras moved with purpose through the doorway. “Let me see if I can find some of the motion camera photos,” Enjolras said, stepping into room on the right. 

“Whose office is this?” Grantiare asked, following. There were small photos of Enjolras decorating the walls. He looked much the same, slightly younger, with much shorter hair. It wasn’t a bad look, only slightly less dramatic. 

“Mostly my mom’s. Dad’s stuff is more concentrated in the garage and barn. Ah, here they are.”

He pulled a shoe box from a cabinet. He paused with a hand over the lid when they heard gravel crunching on the driveway . A few moments later a woman walked through the door. She had Enjolras’ face, dressed in teal scrubs, dark curly hair up in a messy bun. When she spotted Enjolras, who had stepped out into the entryway, she dropped her keys. 

"Julian!" she exclaimed, rushing forward to grab him. Enjolras seemed frozen in place. As she wrapped her arms around him, he sagged against her, clinging just as tightly as she was. "Look at you!" she sniffed, leaning back, hands cupping his face. "You're so grown up. I've missed you so much. God, I can’t believe you're really here." 

Enjolras eyes were shining. "I've missed you too.”

Grantaire wasn’t really sure what to do with himself. He leaned against the door trying to make himself invisible, but the hinges gave a hideously loud squeal. "Sorry!"

Enjolras’ mother jumped in shock. "Who's this?" she asked in alarm. 

"Ah, this is my boyfriend, Grantaire." Enjolras said, placing a hand on Grantaire’s shoulder. 

"Maximilien Grantaire, Ma'am. You can call me R."

At the word ‘boyfriend’ her concern turned to delight. "Come here." She pulled him into a hug. Over her shoulder, Enjolras’ expression was nothing short of stunned.

“Sorry you didn’t get any fore-warning,” Grantaire apologized. 

“No worries, I’m René , I am very glad to be meeting you,” she said before her attention turned back to Enjolras. “How are you?”

“I’m good, Mom,” was his soft reply.

"Look at this hair." She smiled, reaching out to brush the curls from his face. “I wish your father could have let you grow it out.”

“He could have,” Enjolras pointed out. 

“He could have,” she agreed with a world-weary sigh. 

"When will dad be home?" 

"Not until tomorrow night.” A strained expression passed over her face. “He had to do chemo in Columbus today and stayed the night."

“How is he doing?” Grantaire asked when it seemed Enjolras would not.

Her expression remained bleak. “Well, he could be better obviously. It’s been…the last few months have been difficult.”

“How long have you known?” Enjolras asked. 

“About four months, but we knew something was wrong before then. We can talk about that later, though. You’re here—you’re both here! I’m going to make some dinner. Is it okay if I keep things simple with pasta and salad?”

“Sounds lovely,” Grantaire replied. 

They moved into the moderately sized kitchen with cherry cabinets and glossy black soapstone countertops. The fridge was posted with notes and little photos of Enjolras. One caught Grantaire’s attention: it showed Combeferre and Enjolras, maybe seven years old, at what appeared to be a Halloween party. It was an objectively terrible picture of Enjolras in the most endearing way possible, dressed up as a vampire complete with high collared back cape, white flowy shirt, and fake blood around his mouth. He appeared to be lifting a cup of fruit punch to his mouth, one eye half closed, mid-blink giving him a slightly drunken appearance, an adult hand at his side holding his fake fangs for him as Combeferre stood in the background dressed as Frankenstein’s monster, stuffing a bat shaped cookie into his mouth. 

“This is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen,” Grantaire said. 

“Isn’t it?” Enjolras’ mother chirped. “Oh, I should be a cliché and drag out the baby pictures.”

“Yes, you should! I’d love to see baby’s first protest.”

“I snuck out to my first protest,” Enjolras grumbled. 

“He hitchhiked to Indianapolis,” René moaned in anguish. 

Grantaire was both shocked and not surprised in the least. “I don’t know how you survived to adulthood.”

“We did our best to save him from himself,” René smiled. “My husband did more of the wrangling, I’m ashamed to say.”

“You got to be the fun parent,” Enjolras offered. 

“When I was home.” She gave a self-deprecating smile, “I should have been home more, and I’m sorry I wasn’t.”

“I’m sorry for leaving, I didn’t want to cut you out but… I couldn’t see dad anymore.”

She shook her head. “You don’t have to apologize for something you felt needed to be done. I wish things had been different, and I am so, so glad you’re here now.” She turned her attention to Grantaire. “With your boyfriend, no less.”

“With my boyfriend,” Enjolras agreed, the words seemed to flow from his mouth with remarkable ease. 

“Which begs the question: why do you address your boyfriend by his last name?"

"It's been an aspiration of mine to have an all last name,” Grantaire informed her. “Someday I'll change it so that I'm Grantaire Enjolras."

"If you did that, all of our friends would start calling you Enjolras and it would get very confusing,” Enjolras pointed out.

"Why can't you let me dream?" Grantaire complained. 

Enjolras rolled his eyes.

“So, what do you do Grantaire?” René asked with a laugh. 

"Lounge about and let Enjolras take care of me."

Enjolras scoffed, "No, he doesn't.” 

"Fine, I roll around in the dirt for a living."

"He's a naturalist,” Enjolras corrected.

"That's what I said."

Enjolras’ mother smiled. "You’d get along with my husband then. Speaking of dirt, Julian, could you go out and pick us some lettuce?” she asked, holding out a bowl.

Enjolras accepted the bowl with a nod. He paused halfway out the backdoor to glance back at Grantaire. “Are you coming with me?”

“Do these hands look like they were made for crop picking?” Grantaire asked, holding his hand palm up.

Stepping closer to examine aforementioned appendages, Enjolras’ eyes narrowed. “These hands see more hard work than mine do.” He ran a finger along the line of calluses that roughened Grantiare’s hands.

“Well then you better start toughening them up, farm boy.” Grantaire leaned over to kiss him on the cheek and pushing him out the door. 

“You two are very cute,” Enjolras mother commented. “How long have you been together?”

“About a year, but we’ve been in the same friend group since college.”

“How did you meet?”

“I saw him making political statements around campus and decided that I very much wanted his attention.”

“And how did you go about that?”

“By frustrating the hell out of him. I have the power to make him very, very irritated,” he said gleefully, “but I don’t know, eventually we just sort of clicked, and here we are.”

“Well, I’m glad you two found each other, we were worried he would never find anyone.”

Grantaire frowned. “Would it have been so terrible if he never wanted to find anyone?”

“No, all I really want is for him to be happy but…” she hesitated, “I’m just glad he has someone now.”

The door opened before Grantaire could press her further, Enjolras stepping inside. “The garden looks awful,” he said, handing over the bowl full of lettuce. 

“Thank you, Jules. It seems to be getting worse every year. This year has been especially bad,” she huffed. “Right, just give me a few minutes and then we’ll eat.”

Dinner passed comfortably with Enjolras catching his mother up on his life over the past few years. She appeared rapt and slightly concerned as Grantaire assumed any parent would be at hearing how much trouble her son had been getting into; Enjolras left nothing out. However, she did not seem overly surprised, and Grantaire wasn’t quite sure what to make of that.

“I need to get some things done before bed,” Enjolras said when there was finally a lull in conversation.

“Okay, good-night.” René stood to hug him. “I love you, and I’m so glad you’re here.”

“I love you too.”

“And I’m also glad you’re here, R.”

“I’m glad to be here.” And he was, though he was still very confused as to how he ended up there. 


“I thought she was a clairvoyant when it came to lies,” Grantaire said as the door to Enjolras’ room was closed. 

“She is… or she was,” Enjolras said, sitting back on his bed, looking very tired but not entirely unhappy. “She used to take one look at me and know exactly what I was lying about.”

“Maybe you’ve grown into a better liar.”

“Or maybe she’s too happy with the lie to notice. I told you she wouldn’t hate you.”

“Don’t jinx me, we still have two days to get through, that is more than enough time to get her turned against me.”

“I’d say she’s more likely to adopt you than turn against you.” Enjolras mused, scooping his hair back into a bun before opening his laptop and tapping away.

“So how are we going to deal with the sleeping situation?” asked Grantaire, cautiously eyeing the queen-sized bed. 

“Like mature adults,” the blond replied, eyes still glued to his laptop.

“Ugh, is that what we are?”

“Yes.  Do you have a preference on sides?”

“I guess not. Do you?”

“I like the left.”

“Of course you do.” Grantaire scoffed, pulling his shirt over his head. Behind him, he heard Enjolras’ typing falter. He glanced back but the blond had resumed his typing. “What was that?”

“What was what?”

“You stopped typing for a second.”

“And?”

“And it happened just as I took my shirt off.”

“Are you implying there’s some sort of correlation between these two events? Because if you are, I’m afraid you’re mistaken.”

Grantaire eyed him suspiciously. “Well, I was going to ask if my changing here was going to make you uncomfortable, but now I’m more inclined to wonder if you find it distracting.”

“I do not. Carry on.”

Grantaire crossed his arms over his bare chest. “When you phrase it like that, it sounds like you’re encouraging me to strip for you, and I don’t know whether or not I should get self-conscious about it.”

“You have no reason to be self-conscious,” Enjolras assured. “Take your clothes off or don’t, it makes no difference to me.”

“Are you saying that you wouldn’t be at all uncomfortable or distracted if I slept naked beside you?”

“I meant in the context of you changing.”

“Then it would be distracting?”

Enjolras rubbed a hand over his face. “Grantaire…”

“It’s fine. I get it. The psychic seduction is setting in, and you don’t know how to deal with it,” he said, still not putting his shirt on. 

Enjolras gave an exasperated huff and fell back into his pillow, hands still over his face. “You are impossible.”

“It’s all a part of my charm, Lover,” he said rolling onto the bed to stare up at Enjolras in only slightly dramatized adoration.

Enjolras visibly cringed at the pet name. “If you call me ‘Lover’ again, I will push you down the stairs.”

“I’d like to see you try,” he paused to army crawl closer to Enjolras face, “ Lover ,” he whispered in his huskiest of tones. 

Enjolras stared back at him, eyes narrowed at the challenge he’d been delivered. Grantaire tensed as the blond rolled over to face him, half expecting to be forcibly removed from the bed, but instead Enjolras leaned very close and kissed his cheek. 

“You’d better watch your back, Darling ,” he whispered, his tone light against the sharp edge of a threat. He leaned back as though to confirm that Grantaire had been rendered silent by his actions, which he most certainly had been, then sat up to continue his typing. 

After what was probably an awkwardly long time, Grantaire stood to continue preparing for bed, throwing on a shirt despite suddenly feeling very warm. 

He sent out a few texts to assure his friends that Enjolras had murdered him by manner of his oppressive sex appeal and that he was now a ghost crying out for justice before falling asleep to the sound of Enjolras typing. 

Chapter Text

Grantaire didn’t wake up so much as he gradually became aware of his surroundings. The transition from sleep to consciousness was a blur of ambiguity and disorientation as his brain struggled to understand where he was. He had the impression that he hadn’t slept particularly well, and for a very confusing few minutes he thought he might have fallen asleep in an art museum as he stared up at the painting glued over Enjolras’ bed. 

Enjolras’ bed . He was in Enjolras’ room.

At last more awake than asleep, Grantaire turned his head to the left, intending to reorient himself with the sleeping situation, and found the blond startlingly close. He flinched away in his shock and found himself teetering on the very edge of the mattress—not especially unusual, he had a God-awful habit of falling out of bed. Enjolras had apparently rolled after him, his hand loosely gripping the corner of the naturalist’s shirt as though at some point in the night he had attempted to keep Grantaire from spilling onto the floor. 

Perched precariously between a sleeping Enjolras and the edge of the mattress, Grantaire was not entirely sure what to do. The threat of falling was not exactly comfortable, but he couldn’t really move without threatening to wake the blond, which would not be ideal when he was looking so nice and peaceful. 

And wasn’t that strange. He didn’t think he’d ever actually seen Enjolras sleep; the blond liked to say that he had ‘productive insomnia’ when confronted about his nocturnal habits. Part of him wished that he hadn’t rolled so far from the bed’s center so that he could continue to lay close to Enjolras and pretend to sleep in a little longer. Another part felt very creepy even entertaining that thought.   

Mourning his poor luck, he slowly eased his weight off his back and onto his side, moving toward the blond as he tried to gently remove Enjolras’ hand from his shirt, which had tightened when he shifted. Moving with as much care as he could manage, Grantaire went about prying the fingers loose. Free of the fabric, he lingered with Enjolras’ hand in his for a moment, soft and warm under his own rough touch. He’d seen this hand land a multitude of solid punches, and the knuckles were scarred pink from splitting the skin with the force past blows. But his hands weren’t a threat now as this one rested peacefully, grip tightening slightly under Grantaire’s watchful eye. 

He glanced up in surprise and found Enjolras’ eyes blearily blinking back at him. He seemed to have trouble focusing when Grantaire was so much closer than he probably expected. 

“Uh, morning, Darling,” Grantaire blurted before he could muster the good sense to stop himself. 

Enjolras squinted at him. “What-?” He focused on Grantaire’s hand, which was still cradling his. “What’s happening?” He seemed more perplexed than alarmed; at least he hadn’t jerked back in horror or disgust. 

“Well, I can explain…” Grantaire assured. “Actually, I can demonstrate.” He dropped Enjolras’ hand and rolled backward out of the situation and onto the floor, pulling half the blankets with him in a painful heap. “See?”. 

“Are you all right?” Enjolras’ voice was colored with alarm as he peered over the side of the mattress, and he now looked very awake. 

“Fine.” Grantaire waved him off, not bothering to lift himself from the floor. “I’m used to it.”

“You get pushed out of bed that often?” Enjolras frowned. 

"Actually, I think you probably saved me from falling to my doom for most of the night." 

"Then I didn’t push you?"

"Nah, I fall out of bed so often Jehan bought me a kiddy guard for my bed last Christmas."

"Do you use it?"

"...Sometimes," he said distractedly, having taken stock of his new spatial orientation. “Holy shit, you have way too much space under your bed.”

“What do you mean?”

“I didn’t really notice because of the skirt—” He batted at the navy-blue bed skirt that hung near his face. “—but the frame is really high. That would have freaked me out as a kid. There could be so many monsters under here.” He lifted the skirt to peek at the darkness below. 

“Combeferre and I used to hide out under there,” Enjolras said, rubbing his hands over his face. “There’s probably still a flashlight tucked up under the side.”

Without hesitation, Grantaire reached an arm under the bed and sure enough his hand met the duck taped edge of a pouch containing the curve of a flashlight. He pulled it free and rolled fully under the bed to have a look. It wasn’t dusty and disgusting like he’d expected, the carpet having apparently been vacuumed before they had arrived. There were little marker scribbles on the board holding up the mattress, most of which appeared to make up a childishly drawn viewscreen and buttons. Amusingly, it seemed not even the wall behind the bed had been spared from the cover of posterboard, pinned with so many sticky notes and laid out like a control panel. 

“Why didn’t you tell me we were sleeping on top of a time machine?” Grantaire called up. 

“It was a spaceship, not a time machine.”

“My apologies.” He poked his head out from under the skirt to stare up at Enjolras who was laying in such a way that he could gaze over the edge of the mattress. Grantaire suddenly wished that he could reach up through the mattress and poke him in the stomach or maybe pull him down threw the bed. “How did it work?” he asked instead. 

“What do you mean?” 

“I mean, how did you operate this spaceship?”

“I don’t know,” the blond rolled his eyes. “It was just a dumb kids’ game.”

“Show me,” Grantaire goaded. “I want to know how the mighty Enjolras partakes in ‘dumb kids’ games.’”

Enjolras sighed, and the mattress creaked as he stood, sliding under the bed with Grantaire. 

“Okay, set the stage,” Grantaire instructed, indicating at the view screen with the flashlight. 

“Well, I used to lay there,” he nodded to the position Grantaire had taken, “and Combeferre used to lay here.”

“We have to switch then.”

“No, we don’t—”

“Yes, we do. I need full immersion.”

“Fine, move over,” he instructed, crawling over Grantaire rather than around, which by Grantaire’s estimation was probably a little unnecessary. It wasn’t like it would have taken much of an effort to go around him. Regardless, Enjolras crouched close and slid over him, pressing very much into his personal space, his unkempt curls swept across the brunette’s face as they moved, making him grin rather stupidly in the darkness before he scooched aside into his new position. “So,” Enjolras began again, “I was the captain and Ferre was my copilot, and we would fly around the galaxy giving diplomatic aid to planets in need.”

“Nerds,” Grantaire scoffed. “How do we start this ship?”

Enjolras reached a hand over his head and began tapping away at the sticky note keyboard behind him. “I set in the coordinates here.”

“No sound effects?”

“Don’t push it,” he warned dryly before indicating a red button to his left on the bed above them. “And then I press this button.”

“Hang on.” Grantaire pulled his hand back from the button. “I think you need to hold my hand. I’ve never traveled at light speed before.”

“Combeferre is a Star Trek nerd, we traveled at warp speed,” Enjolras corrected, shocking him by lacing their fingers together rather than brushing him off. 

“I should have known,” he tutted. “Can I set the coordinates then?”

“It figures you’d disapprove of my fictional choice.” 

“Maybe I want to steer us into a black hole. We can go get spaghettified together.” He gave Enjolras’ hand a squeeze. 

The rebel gave an exasperated sigh. “If a strange and painful death is what you want, I won’t stop you.”

“Here it goes.” Grantaire reached behind him and catching the edge of the posterboard where he meant to tap. The small panel of board came loose and fell to the floor. “Oh shit, I broke your ship. We’re spiraling out of control!” He rolled over, shaking Enjolras’ shoulder with his free hand. 

“You better go fix the control panel then.”

“You’re right: between the two of us, I have to be the handy boyfriend,” he reasoned, rolling onto his stomach and laying across his arm to keep holding Enjolras’ hand. 

“I think you’re gonna need both hands for that,” the blond pointed out, apparently not fussed about being called useless in the department of handiness. 

“But I need the moral support,” Grantaire whined, leaning over to press a cheeky kiss to the back of Enjolras’ hand before sticking the end of the flashlight into his mouth to keep himself from doing or saying anything embarrassing. He didn’t chance a look in Enjolras’ direction as he assessed the damage. 

The middle of three posterboard panels had been knocked free having apparently been held by the stability of the other two. Beneath the board, against the pinkish red paint, there was a small drawing scribbled in what appeared to be sharpie. The image had a relatively long triangular body, sloped at the top where there might have been a head, its legs long and spindly and its arms frilled and extended more like wings. It was standing above the boldened words ‘Fuck You.’ Together the scribble resonated with a deeply inflammatory energy, like it had been scrawled to inflict a wound. 

“Waa ‘a fuc’?” Grantaire snorted around the flashlight. 

“What?” Enjolras looked up in confusion. 

Grantaire spat out the flashlight and poked the scribble. “What the fuck is this?” he laughed. 

“An act of rebellion.”

“I’m shocked.”

“There was a sharpie incident, and I couldn’t let it go.”

“What is it though? This little triangle thing, why’s it so mad? What the fuck is it?”  

“It’s—” he paused. “Well, I’ll show you later. We should probably head downstairs, I can smell breakfast.”

“Fine, change the subject.” Grantaire gave an offended sniff and had to admit that he too smelled breakfast. “But don’t think I’ll let go of Angry Triangle Guy.”

“You’ll appreciate it more if I show you.” Enjolras moved to exit the space under the bed but Grantaire pulled him back. 

“Hold on there, Captain. You have to power down the spaceship, you don’t want to waste space fuel—sorry, wear down the dilithium crystals.” 

He could practically hear the faux-captain roll his eyes as he pressed a green circle near the warp speed button. “Happy?”

“No,” he pouted. “We never even made it out of the docking clamps.”

“I’ll have to show you the galaxy some other time then, I guess.” Enjolras squeezed his hand before sliding out from under the bed. 

Grantaire stared after him, perplexed and perhaps more than a bit befuddled. 


“Morning,” Enjolras mother greeted from the stove as the supposed couple made their way into the kitchen. 

“Morning,” came forth Grantaire’s automatic reply. 

“Are you alright?” Enjolras asked his mother, ignoring the greeting as he opened a cabinet and pulled out two glasses, handing one to Grantaire. 

“Couldn’t sleep last night,” René smiled wearily. “How was it being back in your old bed?”

“Weird, but not in a bad way.” 

“Good. Well, I’m making eggs and French toast.” She indicated the few slices of toast that were finished. 

“It smells fantastic,” Grantaire informed her. 

“Thank you, R. Do you like blueberries?”

“I adore blueberries.”

“Well, then maybe you could convince Julian to go out and pick some with you.” She gave her son a charming smile. 

“Oh, can we, Julian ?” Grantaire pleaded dramatically. 

Enjolras made a face, pouring himself a glass of water. “Fine.”

“Ugh, why are you drinking water?” the naturalist demanded. “Mornings are made for juice and coffee.”

“I’m making the most of not drinking city water,” he said, taking a sip.

“What’s so special about this water?”

“It doesn’t taste like chlorine.”

“What’s it taste like then? Let me see if my tongue can tease out the local geology.”

“Use your own—” Enjolras tried to protest but Grantaire had already stolen his glass and taken a sip. 

“Hmm,” he frowned. “It’s sweet. I mean, it tastes like water, but in a nice way.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“How should I know?” he shrugged. “I’m not a water person. It’s better than city water either way. I grew up practically drinking the devil’s bath water, there was so much sulfur in the area. I do not recommend. Now, come along my dear, we’ve got blueberries to pick.”

“Don’t make that face,” René scolded, handing her son a bowl as he moved to follow Grantaire. 

“Yeah,” Grantaire agreed tugging him close for a quick peck on the cheek, “Come on, farm boy, you should be in your element.”

“Fine,” Enjolras huffed, grabbing the other man’s hand and pulling him outside toward the small garden where the bushes apparently were not located as they walked past the entrance. 

Grantaire pulled Enjolras to a halt as they passed the crops, inspecting the damage as the chickens clucked happily in the background. Enjolras had not been exaggerating in his assessment of his parents’ garden, it did appear to be suffering. Most of the plants were small and withered. 

“Has this garden always been a problem?” he asked, scanning the poor floundering flora. 

“No. I mean it’s never won my dad any awards, but we would get a fair bit out of it.”

“Maybe the soil’s been depleted of something,” he reasoned, looking down at the grassless dirt. As he scanned the interspaces of the garden he noticed something white around the metal of the fencing. For a moment he thought it was a patch of mold or fungi, but the dirt was cracked and dry. “What the fuck?” he knelt down for a closer look. 

“Hm?” Enjolras glanced back at him.

“I think.” He paused, poking at the white substance crusted at the soil surface. “I think I know why your garden isn’t doing well.”

“It’s not my garden, but go on.”

Grantaire ignored him. “It looks like the soil is saline.”

“Okay?”

“If this area is on a natural salt deposit and the plants are taking up a lot of water, it’s bringing that salt to the surface with that water which is killing the plants. If it hasn’t been a problem before then maybe the water table’s gone up…?” he trailed off, lost in thought. 

“And they would fix this how?”

“They would have to drain the water table.”

“And they would do that how?”

“Drainage tiles. It would be a pain, but if that’s the problem your parents could get back to having a functional garden.” Grantaire stood, letting Enjolras pull him along past the garden. 

“You’ll have to take it up with my dad later.”

“Sure, you can introduce me, and then I can start mansplaining soil health, I’m sure he’ll love that,” he grumbled. “How are you feeling about seeing your dad again?”

Enjolras shrugged. “We’ll see when he gets here.” He continued onward to a penned off area containing four blueberry bushes growing under an acidic little bed of pine needles. The bushes seemed to be in fair condition in comparison to the other plants. 

“What’s the worst-case scenario?” Grantaire asked as the door was pulled open sending a couple daddy long legs skittering to the ground. 

“We make eye contact and the world implodes.”

“You think you have that kind of power?”

“You said worst-case,” he said as the two began placing ripe blueberries into their bowl. 

“What about a realistic worst-case?”

“I storm off without being able to say anything.”

“What do you want to say?”

 “I’m not sure.” He gave a long sigh. “I acknowledge that I wasn’t easy but…”

“You don’t have to forgive poor treatment.”

“I wasn’t treated poorly…” Enjolras huffed, throwing an apparently sub-par blueberry out the open frence door. “I just wasn’t what I was supposed to be, and he couldn’t let that go.”

“It’s been a long time. Maybe he’s more willing to see you as your own person now.” Grantaire winced, wishing he were a more inherently optimistic person.

“Maybe.” He didn’t sound convinced. 

“If not then you can tell him to fuck off, and we can scram.”

“Just don’t let me overdo it.”

“I don’t think you want to trust me with knowing where that line is.”

“In this case, I think you’d be more likely to spot it than me.”

They finished up their picking and trekked back inside.

“This French toast tastes beautiful, René ,” Grantaire praised, having single mindedly inhaled half a slice by the time he thought to say anything. And it did, especially paired with blueberries and a healthy heaping of syrup. 

“Thank you,” she said, taking the seat across from him. "So, I thought maybe this morning we could take R up to see the petroglyphs.”

"Sounds good,” Enjolras nodded, not looking up from his phone where Grantaire could only guess he was reading something news-related. 

“There are petroglyphs around here?” asked the only non-Enjolras at the table. 

“There are,” René confirmed, “or I assume there are. We only know where one is, but there must be more somewhere around here.”

“Any idea who put them there?”

She shrugged. “I believe the Miami and Potawatomi lived around here.”

“The legend in the family is that it’s been there as long as people have been around the area,” Enjolras said, still not looking up. 

René seemed to be suppressing an exceptionally fond smile. “I find that a little hard to believe,” she prompted, obviously hoping he would elaborate. 

“Dad used to say that it’s been there since the ancient lake retreated,” he said in a mockingly hushed tone. “‘Put there by peoples whose names are lost to time.’”

Grantaire raised an eyebrow. “Well, if that ancient lake was lake Maumee then that would imply it’s between nine and fourteen thousand years old, which isn’t outright impossible, but that’s pretty close to the oldest known petroglyphs in the US. Have you ever had anybody take a look at it? I bet someone could give an estimate on the timing or the tribe.”

“Nah, dad was weird about having people over. I can’t imagine he would willingly invite an archeologist or historian to take a look.”

“Well, if Julian hurries up, then you can take a look at it, R.”

Enjolras reached over and stuffed the rest of his breakfast into his mouth and stood. “Ready.”


“How much of this area do you own?” Grantaire asked as the trio hiked out past the Enjolras family graveyard. 

“I couldn’t tell you,” René shook her head, “but no one lives out in this direction a ways, so nobody is going to make any noise when we go messing about.”

“What about the other direction?”

“That’s where Combeferre’s old house is,” Enjolras informed him. 

“How is the youngest of Clan Combeferre?” René smiled. 

“He’s good. He wanted to come, but he’s presenting some of his work this weekend.”

“Good. I talked to his mother not too long ago. She tried to tell me about his research, but it was a bit difficult to decipher coming from someone with a non-medical background.”

“Is that how you tracked me down?” Enjolras asked suddenly. 

She hesitated. “Yes, I—she tells me what you guys have been up to, given that you haven’t been in contact. I’m sorry if that’s… I just wanted a way to know that you’re doing alright.”

“No, that’s fine…” he said, though his expression was pained, likely more with guilt than discomfort at her spying. “I should have called, or I could have at least emailed you.”

“It’s alright, you’re here now to catch me up in-person. So, tell me what you know about what Theodor’s projects.”


They had been walking for nearly fifteen minutes before the terrain began to become less unforgivingly flat. Gravely scatterings interspersed with larger rock deposits became the new norm as they neared the slope of a small rocky hill, which they swiftly ascended. 

“It should be around here,” René said, looking around at some of the larger stones. “You find it, Julian, I always miss it.”

Enjolras nodded, pushing ahead and scanning the rocks until he stopped.

“Here it is.” He indicated a smooth area of the rock face. 

It took a moment for Grantaire’s eyes to register that there was anything there. The chiseled marks were nearly worn away with time, but the shape was familiar. 

“Is that the weird drawing you have under your bed?” he asked, positive that it was. The general shape was too similar, though in this case the picture was done a little more skillfully and presumably with less malice. The figure appeared to be more vaguely human shaped, its legs long and spindly with a broad body that tapered into a neckless head, its arms again frilled and extended more like wings. Its left leg was clipped away where the stone had crumbled. Unlike Enjolras’ imitation, this caricature did not stand above the distained words ‘Fuck You’ but below a small spiral which was deeper than the rest of the image, giving the impression that it was not quite as old as the rest of the image. Together the picture pulled forth a different sort of mood, less angry and more eerie, especially considering how old it was supposed to be. 

“Yes,” Enjolras confirmed. 

“Under your bed?” René asked. 

“Remember when I was in middle school and dad was furious with me for drawing it on the wall?”

“You used permanent marker,” René said wearily. 

“Yes, well, I may have made another one under the bed.”

“Julian…”

“What happened to the other one?” Grantaire asked, hoping to save Enjolras from a tiff with René who was looking more than a little upset with her son’s vandalism. 

“I had to scrub the wall and paint over it.”

“Why did you feel compelled to do it in the first place? You’re not exactly known for bursts of artistic expression.”

“I just think there’s something compelling about it.” He nodded to the figure. “And I think it’s sad that we don’t have anything to inform us of what it really means.”

“What do you think it is?” wondered Grantaire. “Is it a person or some sort of weird bird?” 

“Combeferre always thought it was some sort of sun god because of this spiral.”

“What do you think?”

“I think it’s impossible to know what they were trying to express.”

“Fuck off, that’s not a real answer.”

“When I first saw it, I thought it looked like an artistic interpretation of a vulture,” René grimaced. “It still gives me the creeps.”

That, Grantaire could agree with. 

“Dad always said it was a warning,” mused Enjolras. 

“It is kind of ominous out of whatever context it was meant to be in. Did your dad say that as a warning it was some sort of marker to say that there were people in the area or some sort of guardian to ward something off?” 

“He only ever said it was a warning to other people and that anyone who ignored it was sorry.”

“When I meet your dad, I am going to sit him down and milk him of all his spooky stories.”

“I hate the way you phrased that,” Enjolras rubbed a hand over his face. 

Grantaire stuck his tongue out at his fake boyfriend before turning back to inspect the rock despite the rising hair at the back of his neck. 


Irrationally unnerved by the rock art, Grantaire could not shake the eerie feeling he’d picked up as they made their way back to the house. The woods suddenly felt a lot less empty, and he wondered what ancient peoples would have been looking out for. Enjolras appeared equally restless—though more with energy than unease—as he lead the way back along a different route. They followed the rocky hill around in a loop back through the trees, hooking back up, and coming upon the small pond maybe thirty by fifty feet in dimension with a small dock facing toward the house, which wasn’t quite visible through the leaves.  

"When's the last time anyone was out on that dock?" Grantaire asked, picking up a flat rock and skipping it toward the wooden structure. It bounded a good three leaps before sinking below the surface near the center of the pond. 

"We didn't even use it when I was little, so probably years," Enjolras said sliding around a patch of prickers as they eased around into the clearing near the dock. 

Free of the underbrush, Grantaire crept forward to the water’s edge. "Would it support my weight?" he nudged the wood with his foot. It felt solid enough. 

"Only one way to find out." Enjolras removed his phone from his pocket, setting it on the ground and stepping forward. 

"Julian," René said nervously, placing a hand on his shoulder.  

"It's fine,” Enjolras promised, “I can swim."

"I'm sure you can but-" she broke off anxiously. 

"Enj, we don't have to-"

"It's fine." Enjolras pulled from his mother's grip and walked toward the dock. 

Grantaire gave René an apologetic shrug before dropping his phone and following suit. 

The dock really didn't look terrible, just a bit rickety, bleached whitish-gray from years of sunlight and neglect. Enjolras stepped up on the outer edge of the right side, Grantaire stepped up on the left. 

"Why didn't you use this dock?" Grantaire asked as they slowly edged their way outward, the dock creaking below. 

"I was banned from swimming in here after I almost drowned. I was maybe six or so, walking around with Mum. She turned her back for two seconds which was enough time for me to fall in, and she can’t swim. Luckily, dad was working nearby, but I did nearly die."

“I can see why she’s so nervous about you being out here then.” Grantaire glanced back at René who was hanging back from the water’s edge, looking tense. “I’ve heard loads of weird stories about people who have nearly drowned.”

“From whom?”

“Just, you know, around. But I can’t imagine you’ve ever seen any auras or anything after the fact.”

“That is not a thing.”

“As far as you know. I’m the one who’s done the research.”

“A bunch of weird secondhand stories don’t count as research.”

“I’m sorry, which of us here is the scientist?”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“You’re the one upsetting your mother for no good reason,” he pointed out. “I suppose it would be a bad move to push you in right now, wouldn't it?" They had reached the edge of the dock, which was holding them well enough. 

"A very bad move," Enjolras confirmed, though when Grantaire met his gaze there was a wild look in his eye.

“Hang on—” Grantaire warned a few seconds too late. Enjolras grabbed him by the shoulders and threw both of them over the edge of the dock. 

Grantaire squeezed his eyes shut as they disrupted the calm surface of the pond. He steeled himself for frigid waters, but against the heat of the day, the temperature was warm and pleasant. 

"You are a menace!” Grantaire exclaimed as they both surfaced. “Your poor mother is probably having a heart attack over there."

"I don't like being told what to do," Enjolras said with an evil little grin as he swept the hair back from his face. 

Grantaire splashed him in disapproval. "You better apologize to her."

"I will," Enjolras splashed back. 

Grantaire tried to look annoyed as he gazed down into the water. "How deep is it here?"

"I don't know. Officially, I’ve always been banned from the area."

“I’m gonna see if I can touch the bottom.” Grantaire said, taking a good lungful of air before submerging himself, blowing out air to aid his decent. Opening his eyes, he couldn’t see more than a foot in front of him for all the sediment, but when he estimated he had maybe three or four feet over his head, his feet hit the pond bottom and his skin was sent crawling. It was not silty with muck and water plants as he had anticipated, instead his decent knocked up a puff of debris from below a bed of what he assumed to be smooth, slightly slimy branches. The feeling was intensely unsettling and he wondered if a tree hadn’t fallen into the pond at some point. Having observed all this within a fraction of a second, he quickly reached down and grabbed hold of one of the slender branches. It was smooth, slimy, and slender, coming free easily with a light pull. With that, he kicked off from the bottom, which gave unsettlingly at his pressure, and resurfaced.

“How deep is it?” Enjolras asked when he had taken a breath. 

“Maybe nine or ten feet,” Grantaire said pushing back his hair. “I think there’s— Fuck! What the fuck?” He stared in shock at the bone in his hand, so stunned he nearly dropped it. “What the fuck?! Are there are bodies in this pond!?"

"Relax! It's probably just an animal bone." Enjolras grabbed the bone before Grantaire could fling it back into the water and reached for the dock.

Grantaire was feeling more than a little frantic as he pulled himself up after Enjolras, wanting to be anywhere but swimming in a bone filled pond. As he pushed up on the second rung of the ladder, the wood gave way, and he fell back with a curse. 

“Are you alright?” Enjolras asked from above.

“Fine, but if I don’t get out of this water in two seconds I am going to lose my cool… or maybe I’ll be swallowed by whatever ancient monster is prowling this pond, who knows?” he babbled, pulling himself safely to the surface and edging back onto dry land, adrenaline still humming in his veins. “Agh, that was the worst.”

"Mum, can you take a look at his?" Enjolras asked, and Grantaire got his first good look at the bone. It looked like a femur; he didn’t have any real knowledge about how old a bone looked at any given time, but this one looked pretty old. It was stained greenish with whatever algae had found a home on its surface. 

René took the bone in hand and gave it a good looking over. "I’m pretty sure it's not human. It’s too short and thick. Looks like a deer femur."

"Thank God for that,” Grantaire breathed. “It's still creepy though. It felt like there was a bed of bones down there. I guess I’ve never really thought about ponds in terms of how many dead animals they host."

"Yeah, I think most people would rather not think about ponds like that." Enjolras grimaced pulling off his shirt and wringing it out. 

“Hey, you.” Grantaire leaned over and kissed Enjolras shoulder because it was there and he could and he probably was not thinking straight. "Apologize to your mother."

Enjolras blinked in confusion before turning to his mother. “Sorry for jumping in the pond, that probably wasn’t necessary.”

“It definitely wasn’t necessary, and now I’m traumatized,” Grantaire grumbled as Enjolras gave his mother a wet hug. “How do you think the deer died?” he asked as they collected their phones. 

“Maybe it walked out onto the ice over the winter and fell through,” Enjolras shrugged. 

“Freezing and drowning, that sounds like a pretty awful way to go.”

“You’re the one who woke up wanting be to be spaghettified.”

“Yeah, well.” He stopped having caught sight of something through the trees. “Hang on, is that a treehouse?” 

“Yep, that is my and Ferre’s old fort.”

“What’s it like up there?” Grantaire looked to Enjolras who looked to his mother who shook her head. 

“I don’t know, no one’s been up there in quite a while. You can have a look if you like.”

“I would like,” Grantaire said, pushing forward through the brush. He had always wanted a treehouse; he had spent many nights camped out in a tent in his backyard longing for a treehouse. 

“When you get to the top, push up on the trapdoor and it’ll open,” Enjolras instructed when they reached the base of the tall maple tree. The ladder at the bottom of the tree was metal, so at least there was no worry of this one breaking as he attempted to climb. Despite his lingering shakyness from the excitement in the pond, he quickly made his way to the top, pushing past the trap door and pulling himself into the treehouse proper. 

It was the nicest treehouse Grantaire had ever been in, not that he’d been in very many. The floor was covered in what appeared to be laminated bathroom tile, and the blue walls were covered in papers and drawings, most of which were of too-high quality to be Enjolras’. There was a small table at one end of the room cluttered with plastic crayon boxes and two lofted bed platforms on either side stacked like bunk beds to the right. The ceiling dipped low with a platform that looked like it opened up to what appeared to be a trap door to the roof.  

“This place is fantastic!” Grantaire called down as he descended the ladder. “It looks really great.”

“We can camp out if you want,” Enjolras offered, causing Grantaire to miss the last rung of the ladder and stumble to the ground. 

“Really?” he asked in shock. Les Amis had gone on a number of camping expeditions, and Enjolras had never been any more than reluctant to be there. 

“Yeah, Ferre and I used to do it all the time.”

“Yes!” He seized Enjolras by the shoulders. “I could kiss you.” 

Enjolras gave him a challenging stare and raised an eyebrow. “Then do it.”

“Shut up.” Grantaire pulled him forward into a slightly messy kiss. Enjolras lips were cool from their dip in the pond, and Grantaire’s heart was hammering far too quickly to be neat about anything. 

“I’ve never seen anyone get so excited over a treehouse,” René laughed. 

“Treehouses are great,” Grantaire informed her breathlessly, “I always wanted to have my own place so that I could a) hide out from my sister and b) camp without having to set up a tent. And that place is like a nice little house in the sky. Someday I want to live in a sky house like that.” He looked to Enjolras. “It could double as your evil base.”

“Why does it have to be evil?”

“Did I say evil? I meant your charitable base for kind and sophisticated ideas.”

“I’ll break out the sleeping bags for you,” René interrupted before Enjolras could give his presumably indignant reply.

“Awesome,” the soil scientist said in lieu of a thanks. “Now let’s get the fuck out of here, I want to be as far away from that pond as possible right now.”

Chapter Text

Having returned to the house and changed into dry clothes, Enjolras snagged his laptop. “I’m going to catch up on some work,” he announced, throwing himself down upon his bed.

Grantaire paused, allowing Liberte, who had followed them up the stairs, to attack his shoelace containing hand. “Ow!” he scolded the cat before looking over at the already engrossed blond. “You know, Enj, I am absolutely stunned that you’ve made it so long without working. I always assumed that you replenish your energy with work related anger. I see now how foolish I was, obviously you can suck the latent rage energies right out of the air.” 

Enjolras did not seem to appreciate this and promptly ignored him. 

Satisfied with Enjolras’ annoyance and without anything productive to do, Grantaire set the cat in his lap and pulled out his laptop, his mind turning (as it often did) to dirt. He brought up the Allen county soil survey, curious to know what the parent material below the soil might be given that the ground was so salty. The more he looked, the more perplexed he became. 

Only after about an hour and a half of wandering down rabbit holes did he look up. Liberte had long-since abandoned him in favor of laying across Enjolras’ back as he angrily tapped away at his computer. 

“Enj, I am very confused,” he declared, standing from his chair and rolling onto the bed beside the blond, raising a hand to pet the cat. 

“About what?” the Enjolras asked without looking up. 

“About the dirt here.” 

“I’m trying to work.”

“I don’t get how there can be so much salt coming up,” Grantaire continued, ignoring him. “The survey doesn’t list this area as being particularly saline, and we aren’t west of the Mississippi, so saline soil isn’t really a big thing here. It’s not like this area is too dry to wash out nutrients. My only guess is that there was a bunch of salt in the glacial till that was deposited here, because as near as I can figure, the glaciers stopped around this area. I don’t even know if that makes sense, but we might have been up on a moraine earlier. Although, that doesn’t explain why it wouldn’t show up in the survey. Maybe—“

Grantaire ,” Enjolras interrupted, glaring over his shoulder. 

“I’m just saying—”

“As interesting as this is, I’m trying to work.”

"Fine, then I’ll leave you alone," he huffed, trying not to feel hurt. It wasn’t surprising that Enjolras wouldn’t be interested in hearing about the local soils, it was a reasonably boring topic after all. He pushed the thought aside in favor of making a dramatic exit. “But I’m stealing your cat,” he announced, snagging Liberte who gave a soft little “Mrow?” as he cradled her in his arms. 

He was halfway down the stairs before he regretted making a scene, suddenly hit by a wave of exhaustion. Unfortunately, it was too late to turn back for a nap. Instead, he continued on down the stairs and into the living room where he found Rene flipping through a stack of papers.

“Hello.” She raised an eyebrow as he settled down on the sofa, Liberte still nestled in his arms. 

“Hi. I've been kicked out for inhibiting productivity,” he explained, frowning as the cat squirmed away from him, scampering off around the corner. 

“Ah,” Rene smiled sympathetically, setting aside whatever she was working on. “I see. Well, I don’t really feel like being productive. Would you care to help me make some cookies? "

"I would love to."

“Excellent. I don’t think I’ve made a batch since Julian left. He’s the only one in this house with a sweet tooth.”

 “Well, I will not hesitate to help him devour a couple stray cookies.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” she grinned, standing and moving into the kitchen. 

“What kind of cookies are we making?” Grantaire asked, washing his hands. 

“Chocolate chip.”

“Classic.”

“We used to have bonfires in the summer when Julian was little,” she reminisced wistfully. “He always wanted to make s’mores between two chocolate chip cookies. I was going to offer him the chance to make his dream a reality tonight.”

“Does that mean we’re having a bonfire?”

“If all goes to plan,” she nodded, handing him an unopened bag of chocolate chips.

“Fuck yeah,” he said, tearing the bag with a bit too much enthusiasm, spilling chocolate chips across the counter. “Shit— I mean, uh, sorry.”

“No worries,” Rene laughed, pulling out a bowl and sweeping up the excess chips. "I know I said it before, but I'm so glad he has you."

"Ah, I'm just a part of the puzzle. We have a group of amazing friends."

"Still, he always used to tell me, ‘Mother, the world is in chaos, I have better things to think about than romance.’" She made a very Enjolras face as she gathered together the cookie-making supplies.  

"He likes to concern himself with intricate actions of the corrupt powers that be. All things pale in comparison to the idea forcing local officials to their knees…politically of course,” he snorted. 

“Yet here you are.”

“I’m very hard to ignore, which is why I’m down here and not upstairs annoying him.” He smoothed out the recipe that was handed to him and began helping prepare the food, trying to ignore the guilt of lying to her face. “Also, I think he was worried that if I didn’t come you would try to set him up with someone.”

She chuckled as she broke an egg. “I’m afraid that ship has sailed.”

Grantaire tried to appear surprised by this information. “Well…I’m glad I came anyway.”

“So am I. To be honest with you, the past twenty-four hours have been surreal.”

“I could not agree more.”

"I wasn't sure I'd ever see him again after he left,” she continued. “Gabriel said he'd be back by the time he was twenty-one but...he never was."

"Until now,” Grantaire pointed out. “I'm sure you can tell he missed you."

"I've missed him too." She smiled sadly down at the mostly formed cookie dough. "Does he ever talk about us?"

"Not until he decided he was coming."

"Then what did he say?"

"Not much. Enough to get across that he was a handful,” he added with a snort. “He said you weren't bad people, he just needs to be able to do as he pleases, for better or worse."

“Of course,” she laughed. "There was no controlling him toward the end. He is a force unto himself, I'm sure you can appreciate that."

"Luckily, I don’t want to control him. I’d rather wind him up and watch the resulting chaos."

"And I stand by my assessment: you seem like a good fit."

"Thank you,” he said, grin wide enough to probably look more than a little ridiculous. “Again though, I'm sorry for just showing up, I don’t know why he didn’t warn you."

"Not at all. I’ll be glad to have another rational person as a buffer when my husband arrives." She gave another laugh, though this one rang slightly off, strained with worry.  

“Not sure anyone would call me rational, but I get your point,” Grantaire conceded. “He's been tight lipped about his dad, what should I expect?"

Rene’s expression wavered, as though pulling against some heavy nameless emotion. "He was the authority growing up. I was… not as present as I should have been at the time. I just…”  She sighed. “This family is not an easy one to marry into—" The words flowed like an afterthought clipped short by better judgment. 

He raised an eyebrow. “Should I be worried?”

She stared at the counter and shook her head. “No, sorry. I don’t mean to scare you off. Maybe I’m just projecting. I never really imagined my life taking me in the direction that it has,” she confided as she began scooping cookie dough onto the baking sheet. 

Grantaire grabbed a spoon to help. “How did you meet your husband?” “Oh, we were both juniors in college. I was doing an internship at a hospital in Indianapolis, and Gabriel came in after getting hit by a drunk driver. He was concussed and bleeding everywhere. I helped clean him up and came back to check on him and then, I don’t know, we just sort of hit it off.” Her smile had gone soft. “We were only dating for about a year before his mother died and left this place for him to take care of. I always planned on going career first, then family, but somehow I wound up here, married and pregnant by twenty-three. Life’s funny like that sometimes.”

“I thought—” Grantaire began, catching himself before he could put his foot in his mouth. “Nevermind.”

“What?”

“Nothing, it’s just that Enj—sorry, Julian—said that you had trouble having him.” He winced. It was probably too personal.

“I did.” She gave an ironic smile. “Actually, I was told that it would be very, very, very unlikely that I’d be able to conceive; Julian was my little miracle baby. It was a hell of a pregnancy, let me tell you, nearly killed both of us in the delivery. We tried to have a home-birth, but halfway through it was off to the hospital. Luckily, we both made it through mostly intact. What is it?” 

Grantaire looked over to see her looking at him in concern. “Oh, nothing. It’s a little unsettling to imagine a world in which he doesn’t exist.”

She nodded. “I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if I made the right choices in my life, but any way I look at it he’s the best thing I ever did. I’ll love him to the ends of the earth, so I can’t quite regret anything that put me on this track. Which begs the question, how serious are you about my son?”

“Oh, is this the part where you threaten me about breaking his heart?”

“Maybe,” she smirked, lifting the filled cookie trays and sliding them into the oven.

“Well, rest assured, I am embarrassingly in love with him,” he confessed. At least he didn’t have to lie about that, painful as it might be. 

“Oh, really?”

“Really,” he confirmed. “I have never felt like this for another human being, so I guess I’m pretty serious.”

“Do you want kids?”

Grantaire blinked. “I guess eventually. I spend a fair bit of time working with kids…” He paused, allowing himself to consider the idea of raising a kid with Enjolras. He instantly regretted this choice; the notion made his heart ache with longing. “And uh, yeah. I think I want kids, but I don’t know how Enjolras feels about them. I can imagine he would get pretty excited about the idea of adopting.”

“How would you feel about surrogacy?”

That threw him for a loop. “Uh, well… I guess I really don’t know anything about the process, but it seems like it would be expensive? I mean, if that’s what he wanted, then sure, I’d be all for it, but I think I wouldn’t be the one you’d have to talk into it,” he rambled.

“Oh, we’d be willing to pay for it,” she said earnestly.

“Uh, thanks,” he laughed through his discomfort. “Although, this is assuming that we ultimately end up together in the long-run.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that.”

“Why’s that?”

“He brought you here,” she said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “He is sharing this part of himself with you. Regardless of whatever you might think, that is significant. Besides, I can see how much he cares for you: it’s written all over his face.”

Grantaire’s heart gave a sickly, hopeful lurch. “What—” he broke off as the front door opened. 

Apprehension strained Rene’s pretty face . "Gabe?” she called. “We're in the kitchen!" 

A moment later, a tall man with neatly trimmed blond hair walked into the room. Enjolras obviously more resembled his mother, but his father held a familiar intensity about his hazel eyes. "You must be Grantaire," he observed, his tone sharing no indication of his feelings about Grantaire’s being there.

Grantaire, in turn, gave a slightly awkward wave. “Nice to meet you, Sir.”

His expression remained impassive. "Where is Julian?"

"R, why don't you go up and—"

"No need." Enjolras materialized in the doorway, gaze trained on his father. 

With a thrill of apprehension, Grantaire moved to his side. Enjolras looked as though he were psyching himself up for a fight, which was never a good sign.  

"I'm glad you're back,” Gabriel said, his expression softening slightly. 

Enjolras said nothing, glaring back. If he were a dog, he’d be growling, Grantaire had never seen him stare so maliciously. He placed a hand on the blond’s shoulder to keep him from moving forward, not entirely sure what he might do. 

“I was starting to worry we’d never see you again,” continued Gabriel, the fleeting softness having passed into a needling stare. 

“I didn’t come for your sake,” his son spat.

“I can see that. I’m still glad you came.”

"R,” Rene interjected nervously, “why don't you and Julian go out to the firepit and get a fire started?" She opened a drawer and pulled out a box of matches. “Here.”

"Yeah, come on, Enj." Grantaire accepted the matches even as he tugged at Enjolras’ arm. For an alarming moment he was worried the rebel would resist. Fortunately, his worry was apparently unfounded as he met only a momentary resistance before they fled in a hurry, out of the room and through the front door.  

"What was that?" Grantaire asked once they were outside.  

"What was what?" Enjolras asked tensely. 

"Whatever that was with your dad. You looked like you were trying to murder him with your mind."

"I don’t know, I just—" He scrubbed a hand over his face, making a sound of frustration. 

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine.” 

“Why don’t you sit down?” Grantaire placed a hand on Enjolras shoulder, nudging him along as he took a seat on the porch ledge. Once no long standing, Enjolras brought his knees to his chest, swearing softly as he pressed his forehead to his folded arms. 

Grantaire struggled for the right words, his hand not leaving Enjolras’ shoulder. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. I just—” his words caught in his throat. “I’ve spent so much time hating him over nothing, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to start over… but I have such a visceral reaction… I don’t know if I can.”

Grantaire hesitated. “Do you want to leave?”

“No,” Enjolras said, shaking his head, “I just need a second.”

“Take your time, we’re not in any rush.” He paused a moment before succumbing to the urge to continue speaking. “His timing was kind of terrible. He interrupted a weird conversation I was having with your mom.”

“About what?” Enjolras asked in a mumble. 

“Having kids. She wants us to have a surrogate. I think it was implied that you would be the sperm donor.”

“What the fuck?” Enjolras jolted, staring startled at Grantaire. “I mean, I guess that’s not that shocking. They were always trying to push that idea on me, but that’s a bizarre thing to say to you out of nowhere. If we ever have kids, I’d rather adopt.”

“Implying that you would consider raising kids with me.”

“What?” Enjolras stared in confusion. “Why wouldn’t I consider it? You’re good with kids. Between the two of us a couple kids might turn out half-normal.”

“I-“ Grantaire stared at him, incredulous. “Are you sure about that?”

“No,” he admitted, expression turned serious like it was something he’d actually taken the time to consider, “but I don’t think we would be the worst parents in the world.”

“Do you even want kids?”

“Yes,” he said with startling conviction. “Someday, I mean. Do you want kids?”

He squirmed under the intensity of Enjolras’ gaze. “Yes….” The admission felt oddly like an agreement. 

“You’d be a good parent,” Enjolras repeated, looking away to run a hand over his face. 

“Thanks… you’d be a terrifying PTA parent.”

Laughing, he leaned over and rested his head on Grantaire’s shoulder. “Thanks.”

“All right?” Grantaire squeezed his shoulder. 

“Yeah,” he breathed after a moment. “Let’s get the fire started.” He stood, helping Grantaire to his feet as well. 

“I’m honestly shocked that you are allowed to handle matches,” the brunet confessed as he waited for the blood to stop rushing in his ears. 

“I’m not an arsonist.”

“You don’t have to be an arsonist to be a threat to yourself and others when it comes to handling fire.”

“I have never lost control of a fire,” Enjolras sniffed. “We used to have a lot of bonfires when I was little, and I would always help my dad set them up. We used to use flint and steel because he thinks using matches is cheating.”

“Did you use an actual steel fire starter?” Grantaire asked. “Because those aren’t hard to use, and I don’t know how that’s not also cheating if we’re assuming that the standard for ‘not cheating’ is rubbing sticks together or summoning the powers of Zeus to zap a fire into existence.”

“Fine, it feels less like cheating.”

“Do you know where he would keep that stuff now?”

“Probably in his workshop,” Enjolras answered, veering back toward the driveway. He grabbed Grantaire by the hand and led him to the barn near the garden. 

The workshop within was fairly ordinary in appearance, filled with various power tools and racks of handy equipment. Enjolras made a beeline for the desk set back against the far wall and began searching through drawers as Grantaire turned his attention to a running rock tumbler.  

“Does he polish rocks?” he asked, eyeing the rumbling machine. 

Enjolras glanced over his shoulder. “No. I mean, maybe, but that’s probably not what’s in there.” He reached over and switched off the machine, pulling the container out of place and pulling the top free. The inside was cushioned with foam cut outs, buffering layers of small plastic containers of white powder and what looked like a small metal rod, presumably to break up whatever it was that was being tumbled. 

“Um…what’s all that?”

“Salt and whatever else he crushes it up to make his herbicide.”

“Why does he feel the need to grind it up? Or, better yet, why not use an actual herbicide? I mean, the ground is apparently salty enough on its own in places. Unless there’s just one pocket over here…”

“I don’t pretend to know. It’s how he’s always done it,” Ejnjolras shrugged, closing the lid and restarting the tumbler. “You can try to get him to see the light.”

“I don’t know, he’s a bit terrifying.”

“Is he?”

“I mean, in the same way that you’re terrifying.”

“…thanks?”

“You’re welcome,” Grantaire grinned. 

Enjolras rolled his eyes and went back to shuffling through the desk. “Found them.” He lifted a small steel bar and a flint stone before pausing to pull out a pair of what looked like barbers’ scissors, holding them as though he wanted to snap them in two and fling them across the room. 

“The scissors can’t hurt you, Enj. Put them back and move away.”

“These scissors doomed me to eighteen years of bad haircuts.”

Grantaire snatched the scissors out of his hands. “And now they are going back in the drawer, I do not trust you with scissors.” He replaced them and threw the drawer shut. “Now, onward. We have a fire to start.”

As they exited the barn, Grantaire made a point of giving the lawn a good look over for patches of dead or dying grass. Upon cursory glance, it looked as though the area around the garden contained more disrupted patches within the sea of green, but it wasn’t anything he would have noticed if he wasn’t looking for it. 

He jolted as Enjolras took his hand once again, guiding them toward the woods to the right of the house. The fire pit was nestled back into the woods beside the path leading to the graveyard.  

“I’m assuming you know what to look for in terms of fire-starting?” Enjolras said, setting the flint and steel down on one of the log benches encircling the firepit. 

“I’ll look for only the greenest and wettest of twigs,” he teased, slipping off into the woods.

It wasn’t entirely necessary that he go far, but he felt adventurous as he began scouring the woods for good kindling. It was also a little unnerving to wander through the dense greenery, thinking about bodies that might be underfoot. He imagined each little collection of bushes as an island of fertility rising up from a host a body below. It was an irrational thought; any excess of nutrients would be long-since expelled into the soil. That might allow something to take root but not sustain it in the long-term, or at least that’s what he figured. He avoided dense patches anyway. 

He wandered further outward, half abandoning his task for his curiosity before coming out upon the little field they had visited the day before. He stared across the way at the little patch of grassless plane. It was the only splotch in an otherwise fertile meadow. As he trekked closer to the ring of browned grass, the dead deer came into view, centered just as it had been before, though perhaps more noticeably desiccated than he’d last seen it. He glanced over to the camera and back to the carcass. It didn’t look like any animals had gotten into it since his last visit. It was splayed exactly as he remembered, the remainder of it’s meat shriveled away to nothing. Patches of fur laid shed into the dirt around the skeleton in small tufts. Grantaire knelt for a closer look at the dirt. It was dry and crusted but not quite so much as he would have thought, the surface wasn’t white with salt crystals. He wondered how often the salt was applied. 

Grabbing what was probably the same stick he had used the day before, he started digging at the soil near the base of the deer. As he dragged the stick across the surface, the soil separated like torn cloth, as though the surface was threaded together with tiny strands. He lifted the end of the stick, the embedded dirt at the end dangled with tiny filaments.  

“You shouldn’t do that.”

Grantaire jumped, dropping his stick as he turned to see Enjolras standing behind him. He was holding a bundle of sticks and staring blankly down at him. “Why not?” he asked, pretending his heart wasn’t suddenly hammering away at triple speed.   

“It’ll upset dad.”

“And you’ve decided you don’t want to do that?” Grantaire challenged. 

“I’m going to try. We’ll see if I last the night.”

“Well, if you change your mind, I would love to get a soil sample from this spot. It looks like the first layer’s been colonized by some sort of fungi or filamentous cyanobacteria or something. It must be halophilic, whatever it is. I didn’t know that was a thing—I mean, there must be something living in salty terrestrial fields, I just never thought about it before.” He stared thoughtfully down at the dirt. “I wonder if this would count as a living crust. I mean, it’s probably more physical because of—”

“R,” Enjolras interrupted, sounding almost fond, “I promise you, if I have to storm out of here, we will scoop up as much dirt as you want.”

Grantaire snorted, getting to his feet. “I wish we were fake-engaged, then we could tell your parents that you proposed to me with a jar of dirt.”

“Would that work?” Enjolras asked as they slipped back into the woods. “I thought you had expensive taste.”

“I’m not saying it wouldn’t. It depends on how interesting the dirt was. If you went to the effort of smuggling me some international dirt, I might have to say yes.”

“Would I really have to smuggle it?”

“Yes, the rules of moving dirt are very particular and not to be trifled with.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

They tromped back to the firepit and quickly got a fire going. 

"Are you getting eaten up by mosquitos?" Grantaire asked, poking at the low flames. Enjolras was well known within their friend group as a mosquito magnet. 

"Not that I’ve noticed. The insects seemed to have spared me so far."

“Maybe these ones remember how terrifying you are and have decided to steer clear.”

“I wish I had that kind of impact on all insects. Last time I went out into the woods, I think I got about a hundred bites.”

“Can’t blame them, you just look so tasty.”

“Do I?” Enjolras failed to suppress a smirk as he struck the flint across the steel bar, sending out a shower of sparks into the air. 

“Don’t do that!” he scolded, avoiding the question in favor of snatching the bar from Enjolras’ hands.

“Why not? I told you—" He was interrupted as the sound of a bell rang out from the house. 

“I think that’s our cue to help bring out the food,” Enjolras said. 

He was correct. When they made their way back out, their arms were filled with dinner supplies. They were having vegetarian sausage for dinner, cooked over the fire. Dinner itself was an awkward affair, tension blanketed the meal as the sun dipped low in the overcast sky. The small talk was minimal, neither Enjolras nor his father saying a word. 

“Why don’t you two take your things out to the tree house before it gets too dark,” Rene suggested after a very long lull in conversation. “We can make s’mores when you get back.”

Leaving the firepit was an almost-physical relief. 

“Are you just going to ignore him until we leave?” Grantaire asked as they gathered their things.

“If I open my mouth, I’m not sure what I’ll say,” grumbled Enjolras. 

“Well, I can’t take anymore. I’m gonna try to talk to him.”

“About what?”

“I don’t know, something. The silence is killing me, I am at my wits’ end with this ‘not talking’ business.”

They journeyed back down to the treehouse, Enjolras climbing up and lowering a basket on a string to pull up their bedding as Grantaire stared out toward into the darkness. It was dark enough that only the general outline of trees was visible amongst the scattered flashes of lightning bugs. He wasn’t sure if the sight was more picturesque or eerie. 

"All these fireflies remind me of the night we got together,” he teased as Enjolras returned to his side. 

“Funny you should mention that,” he said handing over a pickle jar. The lid was punctured with small holes. “Ferre and I used to catch fireflies whenever we’d stay the night out here.”

Their walk back to the fire was made slightly longer by Grantaire running about to add lightning bugs to the jar under the ominous sky.

“I can’t tell if it’s just dark or if it looks like rain,” Grantaire said as they returned to the fire. 

“The weather tomorrow is supposed to be bad,” Rene informed him

“That doesn’t bode well for driving home,” he sighed as he was handed a bag of marshmallows. He paused to place one on the end of his hotdog stick before holding out the bag to Enjolras, who wasn’t paying attention. “Oi, you,” he nudged the blond. “Do you want me to make one for you? Fair warning, I will catch them on fire.”

“I’ll make my own.” He grabbed a marshmallow and stuck it over the fire, passing the bag back to his mom. 

“So, anyone know any good ghost stories?” Grantaire asked. He was met with silence so he prompted further. “What about you, Mister Enjolras? I’ve heard you have a fair share of spooky stories.”

Enjolras’ father raised an eyebrow. “What have you heard?”

“I’ve heard about alleged bodies buried in the woods and ancient warnings to long-dead peoples carved in stone. I wanted to ask what sort of warnings they were.”

“Julian didn’t tell you?” he looked to his son, who was carefully monitoring his cooking marshmallow, face drawn. 

“How should I know? You never said.”

“What was the warning?” Grantaire pressed. 

“It was warning to stay away from this area,” Gabriel clarified, staring down into the fire. 

“Why?”

“Because there was something here within the trees.” As he spoke, his voice took on the perfect sort of hushed tone for relaying ghost stories. “Humming like chaos embodied, they could feel it in the dirt, taste it on the breeze. People would wander onto this land and become lost forever, consumed by something they couldn’t dream of understanding.”

“What was it?”

He shook his head. “Something to be feared. It melted out of the snow and made this place its reluctant home.”

“What happened to it?”

“It’s still here.” His gaze journeyed upward again to stare at Enjolras who stared right back. The pause that followed seemed to extend for many moments as only the fire dared crackle against the palpable tension.  

“What do you mean?” Grantaire asked when he couldn’t stand the silence a second longer.

“I mean exactly that,” Gabriel said with an edge of finality as he stood from his seat. “I’m turning in for the night. Julian, would you mind getting up with me tomorrow?"

Enjolras paused, clearly hesitant but for the moment not apparently hostile. "Sure."

He nodded. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Well, that was nice,” Grantaire sighed when he was gone.

“He must like you, usually getting anything out of him is like pulling teeth,” Enjolras commented, taking a bite out of his double-cookie s’more.

“How are you eating that?” he asked. 

“It’s good.” The blond shrugged. “Try it.”

Grantaire grabbed the s’more and took a bite. “I’m sorry, Enj. I adore you, but that is too much sugar for someone who isn’t a five year-old.”

“I fundamentally disagree.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

Not long after that, it was decided to be time to pack up. The two boys helped carry everything back inside and brushed their teeth before heading out to the tree house for the night, adding stray fireflies to their collection as they went. 

Enjolras set the jar in the window once they were inside and started laying out his bed things, Grantaire followed suit in what he assumed was Combeferre’s old bed before remembering there was a second level to the fort.  

“Can we go up on the roof?” he asked. 

“Sure,” Enjolras shrugged, climbing up from his bed to the second roof platform. 

The opening to the roof was barely comfortable for two adult men. 

"Can't see much from here," Grantaire observed, staring out at the barely-visible pond glimmering under the light of a slivered moon fighting for clarity against the clouds. 

"Ferre and I used to pretend the pond was an ocean and the house was a castle," Enjolras said, leaning over his shoulder.

"Oh yeah?" Grantaire didn’t turn, very aware of how close they were standing, Enjolras was practically speaking into his ear.

"We were posing as lighthouse operators while we plotted to overthrow the castle."

"Enjolras, king of the lighthouse, guardian of lost ships,” he proclaimed. “Hopeful to the official throne.”

" King of nothing…” Enjolras rumbled, leaning forward, his chest against Grantaire’s back.

"King of revolt and revolution," the shorter man amended, turning his head to press his lips to Enjolras' cheek. The action felt entirely too honest. He froze, worried he’d shown too much but there was no way to tell without facing Enjolras. Steeling himself, he turned in Enjolras’ hold, somehow finding the nerve to look him in the face. His gaze was met with a dark and steady gaze. "What are you doing?" Grantaire managed. 

"Nothing.” Enjolras’ expression remained as it was, heavy and unflinching. 

"Really?" Grantaire leaned forward, in an effort to be closer or make more room between himself and the railing, he wasn’t sure. "Because it seems like you’re trying to start something."  

“What do you mean?” Enjolras was unmoved by his advance. 

“I mean, why am I here? There is no reason for me to be here. This entire situation is ridiculous.” His voice had taken on an edge of desperation. 

“We can go if you want. I’m not forcing you to stay.”

“I don’t want to go,” he protested. “I just want to know why you wanted me to come in the first place.”

“Because this is how it had to be,” he said quietly. 

“Why?”

“I just—I don’t know, it makes sense in my head.”

“You could have brought anyone.”

“No, it had to be you.”

Why ?”

Enjolras opened his mouth but no words came forth. 

Grantaire was on the edge of doing something rash like kissing him but was saved from himself as a loud splash broke the silence. 

“What the fuck was that?” he wondered as the splashing continued. They both stood listening for a moment before it came to a stop.

“It was probably just a fish splashing.”

“Or the ghostly apparition drowning deer in your pond.”

“We can have a look if you want.”

“That sounds like a terrible idea, I don’t want to be consumed by something I don’t understand. That said, let’s go.”

Grantaire regretted this choice even before they were on the ground. Enjolras moved ahead of him, flashlight in hand, with more nervy confidence than Grantaire could hope to muster. He tried to calm his hammering heart, but something in the air rung wrong. “If this is a bear, do we play dead or stand our ground?” he whispered. 

“Nature stuff is supposed to be your area,” Enjolras whispered back.

“Yeah, well, I can never remember, so I guess we’re fucked.”

By the time they reached the water, the surface ripples had died away to a glimmering movement as Enjolras swept his flashlight across the open area. When his light illuminated the right corner of the pond, they found what must have been the source of the disturbance. At first, Grantaire didn’t notice anything out of place, thinking the object rising up from the water was the surface of a log or rock, but Enjolras continued closer and upon inspection, it was no such thing. Half submerged in the shallow muck was the body of a doe.

“Did it just lay down and die? What the fuck?” Grantaire whisper shouted. At this depth there wouldn’t have been any chance of falling in and drowning. Instead, it looked as though it had laid down and let itself die. “Is this pond like a big creepy pitcher plant?”

“Maybe there was something wrong with it.”

“No shit, this isn’t typical deer behavior, unless all the deer around here are suicidal.”

“You did find those bones.”

“Yeah, but how did they get into the middle of the pond? Are you implying that they jumped off the edge of the dock?”

“I don’t know.”

The walk back to the treehouse seemed to go on forever. Grantaire tried not to look down as he climbed the ladder, terrified he’d see something at the base of the tree. With nothing further to do once they were both safely concealed within the arboreal structure, they got into their respective beds and turned out the light. The only light source now the flashing fireflies in the window. 

As Grantaire laid there in the semi-darkness staring at the luminescent insects, he realized what it was setting him on edge: it was too quiet. They were right near a body of water, and he couldn’t hear a single frog. Not a bullfrog, not a spring peeper, nothing but the dull droning of nighttime insects. It felt wrong, and despite his body’s exhaustion he couldn’t seem to keep his eyes closed. 

"Hey, Enj?" spoke quietly into the black.

"Yeah?”

“Would it be weird if I asked to sleep with you? This place is freaking me out."

"It wouldn’t be weird."

Permission granted, Grantaire climbed into Enjolras’ bed, bringing over his own bedding. They laid in awkward silence. "Would it help to talk?" Enjolras asked. 

"No, I'm fine," he lied. 

Enjolras turned to him and gave a heavy sigh. "Why don’t you tell me about the dirt?"

"You don't care about the dirt." He continued to stare at the fireflies. 

"No, but you care about the dirt, so I want to hear about it."

"How considerate of you."

"I mean it, R.” Enjolras placed a warm hand against his arm. “Tell me about the dirt."

"Well…” he began, not entirely sure where to start. “What you have here is a really unique area geologically."

"Really?" the blond appeared incredulous. 

"Yes, really. Before Lake Erie became what it was today, lake Maumee stretched across Ohio, a tiny bit of Michigan, and into one tiny county in Indiana where we now reside. So, buried below us is an ancient lake bed. Then, after the lake retreated, this area became part of the Great Black Swamp, full of mosquitos and wolves and I'm sure many other terrible things."

"What happened to the swamp?"

"It was utterly uninhabitable, the place destroyed channels and devoured train tracks in muck, so it was annihilated to make way for farm land because the soil wasn't trash like Michigan soil. It’s kind of terrifyingly impressive that they were able to convert the land like that.”

“Weird. Then say, three hundred years ago we would be standing knee deep in swampland?”

“Well, if were were teleported back in time right now we would fall probably face first into swampland but yeah. The edge of the swamp area isn’t far. It used to be so terrible that no one could live inside it. Anyway, like I said before, you actually have the start of a moraine just across the street on the area we were earlier, so we must be on glacial till right now, surrounded by uprooted gravel where the ice’s progression stopped.”  Pausing for a breath, Grantaire turned to face Enjolras in the darkness. “Have I bored you to tears yet?"

“No, keep going."

He returned his attention back to the ceiling. "Well, all this in the effort of trying to figure out why the ground is so salty, because it shouldn’t be according to the soil survey."

“You’ve finally found something to be passionate about.”

“Shut up, it’s just bothering me.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. Because it’s really weird, I guess. I’d say that your dad should get a soil assessment to see what the issue is, but they’re pretty expensive.” He sighed. After a beat of silence, he finally dared ask, “Are you sure that getting up with your dad is a good idea?” 

“Maybe not, but I’m willing to give it a try.”

“I could go with you if you want.”

“No, I have to do this alone.”

Another beat. “What are you going to do?”

“I assume I’m going to help him with whatever project he has going at the moment. That’s how it always used to be: get up with the sun and do yardwork.”

“Fuck that, offer rescinded, you’re on your own.”

“I’ll try not to wake you when I leave.” He sounded as though he was smiling. 

“I won’t forgive you if you disrupt my beauty sleep.”

“Go to sleep, R,” the blond murmured softly, sleep already dragging his words.  

Grantaire smiled, allowing himself to inch closer to the blond as though Enjolras might protect him from some sort of rogue spirit. To be fair, if anyone had to stand to defy an ancient god being, Enjolras would be least likely to flinch away. Enjolras for his part, did not protest and in fact pulled Grantaire closer.