Enjolras’ eighteenth birthday is tomorrow, and he is scared.
Eighteenth birthdays are when your soulmate’s words appear etched on your skin, the first words they will say directly to you after you have both come of age. It is normal to be scared, everyone is. People who place a lot of stock in soulmates are scared that the words will be vague, and make it hard to identify who their soulmate is. People who don’t want who they love to be defined by random words on their skin worry it will be the opposite.
Neither of these are what scares Enjolras.
Enjolras spent a large part of his teenage years wondering what people meant when they talked about crushes, why people were dating when surely attraction to someone was something only felt towards a soulmate. What was the point in pretending at a relationship when they were too young to feel that way yet?
Several breakdowns and many nights lost on ‘research’ later and Enjolras is finally confident in himself and his sexuality. He is asexual and aromantic and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Except the ever-present fear: what if he’s wrong?
Enjolras would rather not have a soulmate at all. He doesn’t want to be marked, doesn’t want something to change in who he fundamentally is just because some writing appeared on his skin overnight.
If he had a soulmate, does that make him a liar? Would it make the “you’ll grow out of it”s and “don’t limit yourself”s and all the other well-meant yet ridiculously hurtful things people have said true? He has only just worked out how to be himself. He doesn’t want everything he has finally accepted to change in the blink of an eye.
So yes, Enjolras is scared.
It takes him a long time to fall asleep that night. There is no point in staying up to find out what the mark says; he doesn’t know what time of the day he was born, and the words appear, somehow, exactly at that time. He might not even be able to see it until tomorrow night. Still, he can’t help but lay awake worrying about what might be.
He doesn’t see anything when he showers the following morning. A little of the worry lifts from his shoulders. Only a little though. He still has the rest of the day to wait. He is just glad that it’s the holidays, and he doesn’t have to spend the day at school worrying about it.
He looks again as he is getting ready for bed. Still nothing. Only two hours left to go, and then he will be free to live whatever life he wants, soulmate-less.
He is still awake at midnight.
He rushes to the bathroom, locks the door, and strips to his underwear. There is nothing on his arms, nor his legs, nor his torso. A quick glance in the mirror shows there is nothing on his face.
But then he sees in his reflection the separate reflection of his back from the small mirror on the window sill.
And there, running down his back, are many lines of words.
He panics a little, of course he does. This was not what he wanted. Then he slowly attempts to decipher the writing using the mirrors. It is slow work. Some parts are printed clearly, others an elaborate cursive, still more an almost-indecipherable scrawl.
More than one handwriting. More than one soulmate.
Everything Enjolras was scared of is almost nothing compared to his confusion about whatever this is.
Enjolras does not have one soulmate. He has eight.
Enjolras is glad, so glad, that Combeferre is two months older than him, that he is able to talk about this with at least one of his best friends. There are so many conventions about not discussing what your marks say with anyone under the age of eighteen, in case they purposefully say your words – or purposefully do not.
Enjolras isn’t quite sure he believes that that really makes a difference. But he’s breaking enough social conventions having eight people’s words down his back, and he doesn’t want to draw any attention to himself.
He’ll have to wait three months before he can tell Courfeyrac, but at least he can tell one of his friends. Combeferre will know what to do. Combeferre always knows what to do.
He texts Combeferre, asking him to come round as soon as possible. It’s still the middle of the night. Combeferre won’t see it until the next morning.
Combeferre replies immediately.
Ferre: I’ll be there in 10
Enjolras: Why are you still awake?!
Ferre: I was worried you might be panicking
Enjolras almost sobs with relief. Combeferre was one of the first people he came out to, and had always been supportive. He had known Enjolras would be panicking, and was going to be here.
Combeferre is going to solve everything.
Enjolras quickly gets dressed again, not wanting to meet his friend in his underwear. His phone buzzes with more incoming texts.
Courf: I know we can’t talk about this yet but know I’m always here for emotional support xx
Ferre: I’m outside
Enjolras fires off a quick thank you to Courfeyrac, before running downstairs. He lets Combeferre in the door, and leads him up to his room, neither of them saying a word. Enjolras locks the door, and turns to face Combeferre. Still, neither of them speak.
They stare at each-other for a few moments, before Combeferre holds out his arms. There are few people that Enjolras feels comfortable enough to be tactile with, and by few he means just Combeferre and Courfeyrac. His guide and his centre.
He falls into Combeferre’s embrace, quietly sobbing into his shoulder. Combeferre gently rubs his back. Still, neither speaks. Eventually, Enjolras calms down enough to talk. He doesn’t pull away though.
“I have eight soulmates.” He words are lost in Combeferre’s shoulder, but he knows his friend hears them anyway from the way his hands freeze.
“I… did you say eight? Eight soulmates?”
And it is Enjolras’ turn to freeze. He pulls away, looks up at Combeferre. Combeferre only looks interested, then concerned at Enjolras’ reaction.
“Enj? What’s wrong?” Enjolras only swallows, and pulls off his shirt, turning to face away from Combeferre.
He can almost feel Combeferre’s wide eyes at the expanse of text on his back, the assortment of writing styles. And he know when he has read the first one from the sharp intake of breath, his tentative hand tracing the words that he had just spoken.
“Oh, E.” Combeferre sighs. “I… You’re not mine.”
“I guessed as much.” Enjolras brushes the tears from his eyes with the heels his hands. He didn’t know if that was better or worse. “I…”
Combeferre spins him round with a hand on his shoulder, and pulls him into another hug.
“I do love you though, E. You’re my best friend. We’ll work this out.”
And Enjolras melts into his soulmate’s embrace. He is glad that, if it had to be anyone, it is Combeferre. He trusts Combeferre with everything.
Enjolras and Combeferre get almost lost in research in their free time, though obviously not so much as to avoid Courfeyrac. It is hard to hide this from him for so long though. Courf knows something is up, of course, but of the three of them he is the most in love with the romantic notion of soulmates, and so he has managed to not ask.
But still, Enjolras can tell it grates on his best friend. And it grates on Enjolras and Combeferre as well. They hate leaving Courfeyrac out of the loop. It’s always been the three of them, together.
The research, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Most people only have one soulmate. There are stories in forums of two, or even three, but they always seem to all match with each-other. And eight? Eight is simply unheard of.
It’s a start, at least, but it seems to stall quickly.
Enjolras alternates between obsessive research and trying not to think about it at all.
March seems to take forever to come, but once it has arrived it’s as though the time has passed in the blink of an eye.
Courfeyrac knows that he was born at ten in the morning, and he is absolutely buzzing by the time he gets to school. When he greets Enjolras and Combeferre, he is bouncing up and down, barely able to contain his excitement.
Enjolras and Courfeyrac have a class together until ten thirty, and of course Courfeyrac begs off to go to the bathroom at exactly the right time. Enjolras is fairly sure the teacher knows what’s up, but she lets him go. It’s not as if he was paying attention anyway.
Courfeyrac comes bouncing back into the classroom five minutes later, and slides back into his seat beside Enjolras, a wide grin splitting his face.
“Did you have fun in the bathroom?” Enjolras asks, returning his best friend’s infectious smile.
“They know my name!” says Courfeyrac, and there it is. The second line on Enjolras’ back. And again, clearly not the line on Courfeyrac’s skin, from the lack of any reaction on Courf’s part to Enjolras’ statement.
“That’s great, Courf!” says Enjolras. And he means it. He is only a little bitter that it is not him.
“And now you can finally tell me what your mark says!” Courfeyrac is still so happy, so high, and Enjolras can’t bear to tell him yet.
“We’re still in class Courf. I’ll tell you at lunch.” Courfeyrac pouts dramatically, but still turns to the front and starts to take notes.
The moment the class ends, Courf is jumping up and down again. Enjolras still won’t tell him what his words are, though, because they’re not technically at lunch yet. It’s really because he wants Courfeyrac and Combeferre to talk before he starts burdening Courfeyrac with all his stress.
He is almost completely certain that Combeferre and Courfeyrac are a pair. They’ve been in love with each-other forever, and even Enjolras is not so oblivious as not to notice. In fact, their obvious pining had been one of the things that made Enjolras realise that perhaps he wasn’t ‘normal’ in the first place.
His certainty is only reinforced when Courfeyrac starts singing, and doesn’t stop all the way through the school to where they were set to meet Combeferre. The moment he sees Combeferre, he directs the next words to him.
“I’ve been with you such a long time, you’re my sunshine, and I want you to know that my feelings are true, I really love you, oooh, you’re my best friend.” Combeferre makes eye contact with Enjolras over Courfeyrac’s head. His eyes are glistening with tears. Enjolras grins back at him. They both know what Combeferre’s mark says.
“I should have known it was you the moment I read it, Courf.” Courfeyrac stops singing immediately, his mouth hanging open.
“Ferre?” Combeferre tugs up his shirt-sleeve to show the lines of lyrics curling around his arm.
And then the pair of them are hugging, kissing, wrapped up in each-other as they have wanted to be for years. Enjolras leaves to go eat. He’s very pleased for them, of course he is. He’d just rather not watch.
“Where do you think you’re going, Enj?” Enjolras turns halfway down the hall to see Combeferre and Courfeyrac no longer kissing (though still with an arm wrapped around each-other), and Courfeyrac beckoning him back with his free hand. “You’re my best friend too, E, get in the hug.”
Enjolras lets himself be drawn into the pair’s arms for a while before he tells Courfeyrac the secret he has wanted to tell his friend for three long months.
“I’m glad I’m your best friend too, Courf, because you’re one of my soulmates.”
Courfeyrac pulls back, blinks at him. Gives him an expectant look when Enjolras doesn’t start to explain. Enjolras swallows, sheepishly, before trying to summarise everything he’s found out since his birthday.
At the end, Courfeyrac takes his arm away from Combeferre and pulls Enjolras into a tight hug on his own.
“That’s cool, E. So we’re, like, friend soulmates then? What’s the word? Platonic?”
“I, er, I didn’t even think of that.” Courfeyrac pulls back, his eyes narrow. He turns to look at Combeferre, who has a look of realisation dawning on his face. Courf shakes his head in mock exasperation.
“Honestly. How did you guys cope without me?”
Enjolras doesn’t meet any more of his soulmates until he gets to university. He, Combeferre and Courfeyrac, all go to study at the same place, of course they do. They had found a university that offered good courses in politics, medicine and law, and even before Courfeyrac had turned eighteen it was unthinkable that they would be separated.
With Courfeyrac’s help, Enjolras and Combeferre have finally found out some information that explained Enjolras’ many soulmates. Platonic soulmates were not a particularly well-researched phenomenon, and having as many as Enjolras does seems to be very rare. But at least now he knows. And it makes it distinctly less stressful, knowing that none of his soulmates would have his words on their skin, that none of them would expect any sort of romantic relationship with him in return.
He is still worried, however. He has known Combeferre and Courfeyrac since they were all children, it is easy for him to see how they can be his soulmates. But anyone else he meets will be new. Will he be able to love them in the same way?
His question starts to be answered when he meets soulmate number three.
Enjolras has always been strongly motivated by the need to make the world a better place. He has always done this one person at a time. On this particular day he confronts another student he hears making a cheap joke about homeless people.
What begins as an attempt to force the boy to try and understand the possible implications of the joke ends up as an impromptu speech about the causes of homelessness and what the government should be doing to help. He doesn’t realise until the end that he has gathered quite a crowd.
They quickly disperse when they realise he has finished, but Enjolras feels a glow of pride at the fact that he has made people stop and listen. One person, however, doesn’t leave immediately, but jogs over to Enjolras
“Hi, your speech was amazing, but I need to run to work, when’s your next meeting?”
Enjolras blinks. “Meeting?”
“Oh, I thought, I’m sorry. I just thought someone like you would be running a social justice group or something. I think you could really make a difference.” He looks sincere. “Anyway, I really do need to go.” He pulls a scrap of paper out of his pocket and quickly notes something down, before thrusting the paper in Enjolras’ direction. “If you do ever organise anything, please let me know.”
Enjolras takes the scrap, dumbfounded, and the man runs off. He looks down at the paper. Written there is a phone number and a name, Feuilly (and what a mouthful. Enjolras wasn’t totally sure how that should be pronounced).
Enjolras spends the rest of the day thinking about Feuilly, the amount this person supported him after only hearing him once, without even knowing him. It makes him feel, he’s not sure. Warm? Valued? There is something else niggling him about the encounter, but for now all he can think of is how much he wants to meet Feuilly again, to become his friend, to get to know him, this man who stopped to listen to Enjolras talk and run the risk of being late to work.
It is only later that evening when Enjolras fully remembers that Feuilly’s greeting marked the third line on his back.
Perhaps accepting his new soulmates wouldn’t be too hard after all.
Enjolras, with Combeferre and Courfeyrac, starts up a social justice club, as Feuilly suggested. They get quite a few people passing through, as well as a bunch of regulars (including, of course, Feuilly). It feels… good. He has always believed in the need to fight for the rights of others, always had fought, alone, but now he is making a difference, leading a group of people who see the world in the same way that he does
Unfortunately, his opinions aren’t always shared.
It is a few weeks after the meetings started that Enjolras is stopped on his way out by two men who he had seen during the meeting. They start telling him all about how his opinion on the rights of immigrants is wrong.
Logically, Enjolras should have left without a fight. Nodded and acknowledged their opinions and moved along. Unfortunately, Enjolras has never been that sort of person.
It is not until he is thrown to the ground in the alley next to the café where the meeting was held that Enjolras starts to think that perhaps this wasn’t the greatest idea. He curls up into a ball, braces for himself for kicks. The kicks don’t come.
He lifts his head up to find his attackers are gone, and in their place a huge man, who probably could have taken on both of them alone. This newcomer’s face is hidden in the shadows of the alley, and Enjolras isn’t sure whether he should scrambling to get away.
Then the man speaks. “Are you ok, dude?” Enjolras relaxes a little. This person isn’t going to mug him. He’s one of Enjolras’ soulmates.
“Yeah, I think so.” Enjolras sits up, shaking out his limbs. Nothing seems to be hurt too badly. The huge man holds out a hand, and Enjolras uses it to pull himself up. “Thanks for rescuing me.”
“It’s no problem,” they walk out into the street lights, and the man gives Enjolras a wide smile. “Maybe don’t pick fights when you’re outnumbered next time, though.”
Enjolras pulls a face. “They were being stupid and racist about refugees!” The man chuckles.
“Well, in that case, make sure you’ve got back up when you pick your fights.” He pauses, his brow wrinkling. “Hang on, you run that activism group, right.”
“Oh, yeah, I do. My name’s Enjolras.” Enjolras was surprised he was so recognisable. But then, he wasn’t exactly quiet.
“I’ve been meaning to come by sometime.” The man shrugged. “And if you’re being faced by idiots like those I’ll happily provide some muscle. I’m Bahorel.”
“Well, thanks again for heling me out, Bahorel,” Enjolras smiled, “and I’ll see you next week.”
It is the next meeting when a slight figure with a braid approaches Enjolras. The conversation does not go how Enjolras expects it to.
“You’re so lucky to have so many soulmates.” Enjolras is almost too startled to fully register what has been said, only that he has read those words before.
“And you’re one of them.” The figure gasps, beaming with delight. Enjolras pauses. “Wait. What’s your name? How do you know I have multiple soulmates?”
“Please call me Jehan, they/them. It’s truly a pleasure to be one of your soulmates, Enjolras.” Jehan replies, then disappears as quickly as they had arrived, not answering Enjolras’ most important question, and leaving Enjolras with even more to ask.
(As Enjolras gets to know Jehan better over the coming weeks, he realises he doesn’t need to know all the answers to love Jehan as he loves his other soulmates.)
The meetings have been taking off, finding an audience, and now they’re all at a rally. Everything feels right to Enjolras, somehow. Like he is meant to be here. He is going to change the world, and this is where he’s going to start.
It’s a little bit hectic, though, and he makes a mental note to try and do something next time to organise it better. And to make it more accessible, he thinks, as he sees a young man with a cane struggling in the flow of people, looking around frantically.
Enjolras makes his way over to him, helps him out of the push of the crowd. Now he is closer he recognises this man from the meetings. He doesn’t always come, but when he does he is accompanied by a larger, bald man.
“Are you alright?” Enjolras asks, raising his voice to be heard. “You looked like you were looking for someone?”
“Yeah, I’ve lost Bossuet, have you seen him?” Enjolras blinks. He’s never heard the name before, but he certainly recognises it from the writing on his back. Another soulmate met in association with his social justice club. And maybe this was it. Another sign this was meant to be.
However, he can’t tell this man that he is his soulmate yet. Not while he is frantically looking around for his friend.
“Bossuet is you bald friend from the meetings, right?” The man with the cane nods. “I haven’t seen him, but I’ll help you look for him.” He digs into his pocket, and pulls out his phone, holding it out. “Here, add your number, and I’ll text you if I find him. Or you let me know if you find him first.”
The man takes Enjolras’ phone and adds his number before handing it back. “Thank you so much, Enjolras,” he says with a smile.
“No problem…” Enjolras glances down at his phone, “Joly.” Joly’s smile broadens, and then they spilt off, each trying to find the missing Bossuet.
In the end, it is Enjolras who finds Bossuet. The bald man is sitting against the wall of a side street, a little away from the crowd, rubbing at his right ankle. He looks up as Enjolras approaches.
“Hey, Bossuet, right? Are you ok?”
“Well, I tripped and twisted my ankle and I forgot to charge my phone last night so I can’t… wait, how do you know my name?”
Enjolras smiles at him, and to himself. Another soulmate, and in such a short amount of time. “Joly told me. He’s looking for you. If your phone’s dead, I’ll text him to let know you’re alright.”
He fires off a message to Joly, who quickly replies, giving a half-way point for them to meet. Enjolras then pulls Bossuet up, supporting him as he stumbles along on his twisted ankle.
Joly is overjoyed to see Bossuet. Once he is satisfied Bossuet’s ankle isn’t badly damaged, he swiftly starts berating him for not charging his phone, though it is obvious from his tone that he is not overly serious.
Enjolras spends the rest of the day with the pair, listening to tales of their various escapades and Bossuet’s various injuries, and shares his own tales from his and Combeferre’s and Courfeyrac’s childhood.
Eventually, they all realise they need to head home.
“I’m sorry we distracted you from your rally, Enjolras.” Enjolras blinks, surprised. He had almost forgotten what he had been doing before spotting Joly struggling in the crowd. But he found he did not regret spending time with these two instead.
“It’s fine.” He shrugged. “I’d already given my speech. And there will be other rallies, and other meetings.”
Joly and Bossuet share a look, and smile. “And we’ll definitely see you there.” They answer, almost eerily in sink.
Joly and Bossuet start coming to meetings more frequently, now that they know Enjolras, and they sometimes bring another friend of theirs, a man with a mop of dark curly hair who always seems to have a glass of something alcoholic in front of him, and who Enjolras has heard answer to the name Grantaire, though has yet to speak to himself.
Grantaire frustrates Enjolras. He doesn’t seem too believe in the cause – he frequently rolls his eyes, or turns and murmurs something to Joly and Bossuet which makes them laugh, or simply busies himself doodling on napkins rather than listening.
Enjolras doesn’t want to say he’s avoiding Grantaire, but that’s exactly what he is doing. It’s sad, because he wants to spend time with Joly and Bossuet, get to know them better, but… he doesn’t want to be the one to talk to Grantaire first. And Grantaire doesn’t seem to want to talk to him either. So they are at something of an impasse.
As the weeks go on, Grantaire comes to the meetings more often, and his commentary gets louder, and more annoying, and more wrong, and eventually Enjolras can’t help but reply. The day he snaps, the group is small. Other than Grantaire, only his soulmates are there – only people he knows and trusts. He didn’t plan on snapping at this particular time, but later, when he looks back on it, he is glad that he did.
“I’m sorry, Grantaire, but if you have something to contribute could you say it a little louder so I can hear it, rather than just whispering at the back?”
Grantaire swings his head round to stare at Enjolras, his eyes wide. He pauses for a second or so, as if running the sentence through his brain. Then he bursts out laughing.
It is Enjolras’ frowns. “What’s so funny?” Grantaire grins at him.
“I just. Wow. I just always thought you’d be a teacher or something.”
And that. That’s the final sentence scrawled on Enjolras’ back. The handwriting had been so terrible, it had taken a long time to work out exactly what it said. Even when he thought he had deciphered it, it was still a very weird sentence. It still doesn’t make much more sense to Enjolras now it has been said.
“I… I don’t understand.”
“What?” Grantaire is looking at him slightly strangely now. “What don’t you understand? Your words sound like what my teachers always used to say to me at school. But it’s not. It’s you.”
Enjolras feels himself turn pale. “My words?” There is only one thing that can mean. Enjolras is not sure how to deal with it.
“You… fuck. Fuck. You’re my soulmate but I’m not yours. I should have known.” Grantaire abruptly stands up, starts quickly moving towards the door.
“No! Grantaire wait!” Enjolras shouts. He’s panicking now, almost. He doesn’t know how to deal with this. But the words on his back haven’t lied to him before. He knows Grantaire can become just as important to him as all the others currently in this room, as long as he doesn’t leave. “Please! Stop!”
“I don’t need your pity, Apollo.” Grantaire is stood with one hand on the door, and is still not looking at Enjolras, but he has stopped and that’s enough.
“That, that’s not what this is, Grantaire, please, let me explain.” And he does. He explains about growing up thinking he was somehow broken, and then finding out that there were other people who were like him, that he wasn’t alone. He explains about waking up with eight different phrases down his back, and how delighted he’d been when the first were Combeferre and Courfeyrac, but how neither of them had his words in return. He explains about meeting Feuilly and Bahorel and Jehan and Joly and Bossuet and how he had found himself with this support system of friends he would lay down his life for.
“Grantaire, on my back are the first words spoken to me by everyone in this room. And none of them have my words in return.”
Grantaire swallows drily. “Except for me.”
Enjolras gives him a small smile. “Except for you. And that’s why I was so confused.
“And I, Grantaire, I, I don’t know what this means.” Enjolras looks away, training his eyes on the back wall. “I’m still aro and ace, I’ve not changed. I don’t think how I feel about you can will ever be any different to everyone else. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry I can’t…” He doesn’t know how to finish the sentence. The realisation that Grantaire probably wants something else, feels something else hits him all at once. This was exactly what he was afraid of when the words first appeared.
He’s not panicking, he’s not, but his eyes blur and his breath quickens and he jumps a mile when a steady arm is placed around his back. He looks to find Jehan, and he is grateful for their support. His legs feel like they would collapse under him without it.
“Enjolras.” Grantaire is stood right in front of him now, and his voice is quiet and kind. “I will admit, I have a bit of a crush on you, it’s one of the reasons I kept coming to these meetings. But I always expected it to be one-sided, and it’s fine if it stays that way. I don’t expect anything from you, romantically, or sexually, or anything. But I would love to be your friend, if you’ll have me.”
Enjolras is crying in earnest now, but they are happy tears, tears of relief. “Yes, yes Grantaire. I’d love that.” He smiles at him, his newest and final soulmate.
“I, can I hug you, Enjolras? Is that ok?”
“Please,” is all Enjolras can say until he is locked in Grantaire’s arms, chins hooked over each-other’s shoulders. “Thank you for asking.” He says, when he is relaxed and no longer crying.
“Of course.” Grantaire breathes back.
“Group hug?” asks Courfeyrac, loudly, and Enjolras had almost forgotten that everyone else was in the room. He nods, and apparently that was visible enough because soon he is in the centre of a group of nine people all with their arms around each-other.
He might start crying again. But he would never admit it.
Enjolras does not have one soulmate, he has eight. And maybe they’re not what society expects of him. He will not settle down in a romantic monogamous relationship, not with any of them.
That is not what soulmates are, at least not to him.
No, instead he has a group of friends whom he knows will always have his back, and whose back he will always have. Ride or die. Him and his amis.
Enjolras has eight soulmates. Eight platonic soulmates. And everything is good.