Enjolras, like anyone, repeated his words to himself when they first appeared, when he was fourteen and chafing at the size of his world. Sometimes, he hoped the best from them, hoped for a soulmate who wanted to change the world. Sometimes, they seemed sarcastic, or worried, or even fearful. They always, though, seemed confusing, until one school day in terminale when he got angry with a teacher for not listening and set his desk on fire with his mind, his superpowers coming on six years later than the national average and strong.
When he got home that day, his parents looking at him like they'd never seen him before, suddenly given wide berth by all his peers because his power wasn't safe or small, Enjolras undid the buttons on his shirt to read the words scrawled on his chest: A blaze like that, you could light up the city.
They seemed a lot more hopeful after that.
They aren't they only reason he's on the streets of Paris tonight, running across rooftops away from the police with a mask over his face and a hood over his hair, but Enjolras won't pretend that they aren't a factor either. Even if he never hears them, even if his skin goes blank or he's killed before they're said, he's still doing the right thing. They're just a reminder of that.
Enjolras stops running when the sirens fade into the distance, the police taking a wrong turn, chasing him when he left someone for them to find, a mistake he won't make again, though he's not sure what tack to take instead. He's been on the streets for weeks now, finding his routes, observing, but this is the first night he's tried to change something.
Perhaps that's why, when someone on the roof with him says “A blaze like that, you could light up the city,” he thinks it's his imagination for a moment.
It only takes a second, though, to realize the voice is unfamiliar, low and rough, and the tone not quite what he'd ever imagined (because no one's first words are ever quite what they imagine), somewhere between amused and challenging. Enjolras is proud of the instincts he's hammered into himself for months and years now, because they mean that even as he turns to see who his soulmate is he stays wary, ready to run or fight. “Or change it,” he says, words he's had planned in response almost as long as he's known what they could mean, before he has his eyes on the man who spoke. He hopes his voice is steady.
The silence that follows that seems to defy the noise of the city, which is excited from the disturbance that Enjolras made, leaving two men who were harassing girls walking home ringed with fire. “No,” he finally hears, a wavered, choked-out denial that comes like a punch in the gut.
Part of the shadows near the roof door detaches out into someone man-shaped, tall and broad-shouldered, most skin covered in loose dark gray clothes, wearing a mask that covers as much as Enjolras's. He's dark, blends easily into the night, and his arms are defensively crossed over his chest before Enjolras can bring himself to speak again. When he does, it's nothing earth-shattering, nothing hundreds of people the world over don't say every day. “Those are my words.”
The man seems to fade away, enough that Enjolras begins to suspect what his powers are, and Enjolras throws out a hand like that's going to stop him. “Wait, wait one moment, don't I get a say in this?” He dares a step closer when he becomes more solid again. “Who are you?”
“I think some very overdramatic people call me the Shadow, sometimes, and you seem overdramatic enough, so you may as well.”
“My name is—”
“Don't tell me that.” The Shadow is harsh all of a sudden, but he detaches himself from the shadows and walks close enough that Enjolras almost dares to touch him. He's tall, and moves with easy grace that speaks of someone who's practiced or been at this long enough that running through the city and combat are habits. “The worst thing we can do is know each other. Haven't you heard about the Americans, how anyone close to an active super is in danger from all comers and soulmates are worse?”
Enjolras sets his chin, digging in for a fight. It's not an ideal time, when he should be working to get farther still from the police if they think to look up, but he has no promises that he'll ever see the Shadow again, if he says the wrong thing now. “We can protect each other, that's why it's good that we both are. Assuming you're on the right side, that is. I've never heard of you.”
“Depends very much on what side you think the right side is, and you haven't heard of me because I don't care to make myself noticed. Especially not by the police.” His arms drop to his sides. “You haven't made a friend of Inspector Javert, you know? Paris's police aren't like the ones in London or New York or Tokyo, they're just as willing to come after people who hunt criminals down as they are to arrest the criminals themselves.” He touches his own neck, the dark skin there. “Some of us more than others.”
Enjolras grits his teeth. “I'm sorry for trying, then, and if I've made your life more difficult. What do you expect me to do, though? Nothing?”
“I don't expect anything of you, Apollo. But I don't try to get the police on my side, because they won't be on it. I just try to do what they won't or can't do, to keep people safe, as quietly as I can so I can keep doing it. It's an uphill battle, and you're only making it harder, so far. I wouldn't recommend doing this, if you have any illusions that you're going to be hailed as a hero for this by the system.”
“I don't care what the system thinks.” He pauses. “And I prefer not to be called Apollo. If you insist on nicknames when you called them overdramatic yourself, I would prefer that you call me Flame.”
“Listen to me.” It's a sharp command, and it makes Enjolras want to immediately leave so he doesn't have to obey it, but he makes himself stay, makes himself hear it out. “I don't care what you'd rather do. I won't have you taken or hurt for me, and I sure as fuck won't be taken or hurt for you. Look.” He sighs. “We get to fight together. That's a fuckload more than some soulmates get.”
Enjolras crosses his arms, all the more stung because he's got no right to argue any further, not now when he's been given such a clear answer. “Do we get to fight together? I don't know how to contact you.”
To his surprise, that gets a laugh. Shadow's laugh is a lot lighter than his voice. It's warm and rough, like he smokes. “All I have to do is follow the smoke, though. I can do that. As long as you're fighting in this city, I'm sure you'll see me around, if only to mop up your messes.” He cocks his head, picking something out of the distant noise of sirens that Enjolras doesn't. “Like to tell you now that the police are looking for you and you need to be farther from here. Piece of advice, Apollo? If you want to be a vigilante, be a vigilante. Inspector Javert won't thank you for getting him involved.”
He's fading away again, the shadows rising up around him, and Enjolras holds his hand out. “Wait. There's a group I'm part of, people working for the place of powered individuals in France. Friends of mine. We meet every Tuesday at six at a coffeeshop not too far from the Sorbonne, the Musain. Please come, in costume or out of it. There have been rumors for a few years now that there's someone on the streets. If it's been you, we could use your point of view.” He pauses. “And I told you that Apollo isn't my name.”
“You missed out, as I'm pretty sure fire isn't your only talent. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's more to do than standing on a rooftop with a stranger all night.” He doesn't wait long enough for Enjolras to stop him this time, just fades away until even squinting Enjolras can't see him.
Enjolras waits long enough to catch his breath, wishing for anything else, hand over the words on his chest, and then he's off running across the city, catching drifts of warm air to help him bound from building to building.
When he gets home, stumbling in a few hours before dawn, he makes sure to go quietly, so he doesn't wake Courfeyrac, asleep on the couch with the news on mute on the television in front of him, and takes off his shirt in front of the bathroom mirror, partly to check for bruises and partly to look at the words on his skin. They don't look any different, of course, but they're the only thing that's stayed the same.
He looks up, and it's the first time she notes the paper on the table in front of him. “An article about a new superhero in Paris,” he says, and doesn't bother hiding his worry. “Or a new super, anyway. Inspector Javert and the rest of the police don't seem convinced of his morality.”
“What kind of powers?”
“Fire, it seems. The police found two men surrounded by a ring of fire a few minutes before midnight last night, it went away as soon as they were found.”
Cosette kisses him on the top of his head as she passes him on the way to find breakfast. “It's not me, Papa. You know that. Not my powers, not my mess. I know how to be careful, and I'm not going out yet, not until I know Paris a little better.” She has clothes on so she can go jogging, the best way she knows to get to know a city without any suspicion being cast on her at all.
“I know that, but are you sure about this?” Cosette touches her stomach gently, a habit she knows gives her away, and it makes him frown. “Don't do this just to find your soulmate, Cosette.”
She turns away to pour herself a mug of strong coffee. He takes his milky and sweet, but always brews it stronger than he likes it for her. “I'm not doing it to find my soulmate. I wanted to do it before I ever got my words.” If she meets Oh my God, you saved me, you're my hero on the streets, she'll be glad, but he's not her reason. “Besides, isn't it good there are others on the street, to protect me if I need it?”
He frowns. “Fire isn't a very safe power to have. And it isn't always good to have allies, out there, because they don't always stay allies.”
“I know that.” Cosette leans against the kitchen counter, unwilling to sit down because if she sits down around her father she always ends up chatting for half an hour instead of doing what she intended to do. “But I don't think there is a safe power, Papa. Flying isn't safe.” She looks at him. “Strength isn't safe. But if we have the power to do something, shouldn't we?”
It's an argument she'll never win, but it's one he won't win either, when he only ever left the streets because the police found out who he was. “I just don't want to see you hurt,” he finally says, and that's what it comes down to in the end, every time.
“I just want to fly.” She hasn't in a week, and it's an itch under her skin, her feet prickling a little on the ground every time she concentrates on them too much. She's made the choice not to do it in Paris unless she's in costume, and she already has the clothes ready upstairs, sewed herself on long afternoons in their last home, while she was still trying to convince him to let her do this. It's brown and aerodynamic and practical, other than the short skirt over the leggings, her defiant way of being a woman for anyone who cares to know. “I'm hoping to start going out by next week. Are you going to be okay?”
“No.” He sighs, and she hates that she's made him look so tired. “I don't think any parent could be happy to know their child was doing it. I don't know how any of the supers can go public, in countries like ours. But I know I can't stop you. All I ask is that you're careful.”
“You taught me to be careful. You taught me to fight yourself, so you know I can do it.”
“I knew how to fight and be careful.” He clears his throat and makes sure she's looking at him. “Your mother knew how to fight and be careful.”
Cosette appreciates how much it hurts her father to talk about Fantine, much less Fantine as he knew her, not just the few stories he knew about her outside of costume. She knows what words he has on his shoulder and that hers didn't match. “Please let me do this,” she says, because that's all she can say in the face of that. Fantine is the hero she's never sure she'll live up to (the very first time she remembers flying, it was actually her mother lifting her, bouncing her up without hands, smiling, deep circles under her eyes, telling her it was going to be fine and she was going to stay with someone else for a while, but she would see her soon).
“I can't stop you.”
“You know what I mean.” Cosette swallows and takes a drink of coffee.
“I'm proud of you, I'm just scared for you.” He drinks his own coffee, as uncomfortable with the emotion of the conversation as she is. “All I ask is that you stay clear of Inspector Javert and of Felix Tholomyès.”
“I don't see why I would cross paths with Senator Tholomyès, Papa.” She swallows the rest of her coffee down in a few gulps, since the conversation seems to be coming to a close. “I know he isn't fond of supers, but I don't think he's going to be out there in person hunting us down. But I know to stay clear of the police, and especially the Inspector.”
He still looks so drawn, and so tired, but he's looking away now. “Just keep away from him. No good can come of getting tangled up in politics.”
There are huge parts of the story she still doesn't know, that he won't tell her except in the most general of terms: a betrayal from The Captain, Lightning in danger of her life and running, telling him to take care of Cosette and that she'd be back for them someday, that she knows. She doesn't know who The Captain is, though, or why he betrayed them, or worst of all, why Fantine didn't come back for her once Lightning was no longer being chased. Cosette had hoped that going on the streets would convince him to tell her, but he only talks about the same two enemies he's always talked about, impressing on her the importance of being wary of showing her powers around police and politicians. “Of course, Papa,” she says instead of asking another useless question. “I'm going out for a while, and then I have work this afternoon and evening, so I won't be home for dinner.”
“I'll wait up,” he says, just as he always does, and waves her out of the room.
Cosette puts on her running shoes before she leaves the house and starts her morning run at a jog, letting her muscles limber up. She's trained herself to be fast, over the years, and running is the closest she can get to flying without leaving the ground so she loves to do it. Her father chose a house in a quiet neighborhood with a little park she can run through, and she takes advantage of it, taking the loop around before returning to the sidewalk as she picks up her pace.
She runs for an hour, until she knows every alley of her neighborhood, and more importantly, until she's seen every roof. She won't be able to run across all of Paris, but if she knows her home ground, that's an advantage to begin with.
There's a note waiting for her on the table, her father already off on some kind of business in the city, telling her to be careful and to have a good first day at work.
Cosette wishes she could say everything she wants to say in a note, how lucky she is to have him as a father, how glad she is that he's not insisting on university, letting her work and take to the streets when she knows he'd rather have her safe in a stifling classroom for her whole life. Instead, she scribbles a heart on the paper and goes to take a shower before she has to leave for work.
She's not ready yet, but she will be soon.
“I haven't been sitting here all night,” he says obediently, because it gives Bossuet a headache when his power is turned on and people don't act out the right future because he's anticipated it.
Joly frowns at him, but he doesn't say anything about it, just nudges Bossuet gently with his elbow until he shakes his head and gets himself back in the present and not three seconds ahead of it. “Hi, R, did you eat?”
“I ate, I resent the implication that I can't feed myself with you,” says Grantaire, and he knows none of them are buying his light tone, but he can't ask, either. They're the ones who offered to go, when he mentioned Flame's meeting, and Joly's the one who found a way to go without it being suspicious, remembering meetings Bahorel had mentioned a few times.
Musichetta is the first one to join him in the room, fast across the room like she always is when they're alone in the apartment. She can't go fast enough to be a blur, but it's still enough to unnerve some. Grantaire likes it, likes that she can be practically in his lap in a second, arm around his shoulders. “How much do you want to hear about him?” she asks.
“Everything,” he says, and then props his chin on the top of her head while Joly and Bossuet make their way onto the couch as well, all squeezing in close. “Nothing.”
“That does seem to cover all the possibilities,” Joly says, too gentle. “We can start simple. Do you want to know his name?”
Grantaire shakes his head. That's the last thing he wants to know. A name is important, a name removes the opportunity for plausible deniability, and he was curious enough to ask his friends if they would meet his soulmate out of costume, but he's not brave enough to follow through, not yet. “What's he like? What's the group like?”
“The group is nice,” Joly says, answering the easier question. “You'd like them, honestly. They talk a lot about national and international rights, and they've got some cool powers.”
“And not enough women,” says Musichetta, resettling herself, probably so his chin isn't digging into her scalp anymore. “There's one who can tell if you're lying or not, though. Be warned, he tries to be discreet about it but he can't himself anymore than poor Lesgles can. He's nice, though. Courfeyrac, that's his name.”
“You should come sometime, if you can get over the whole soulmate issue. Most of them don't have big powers, except yours, of course, and we wouldn't have known about him if you hadn't told us, he was basically pretending to be a human lighter.” Joly looks at him while he says it, and Grantaire wants to snap and say that he's not exactly fragile, that he's been going out on the streets for years now, since before he even left school, but he knows he isn't really acting anything but fragile, after coming home from a night on patrol and crawling into their bed, still in costume and smelling of sweat, whispering about who he'd met, hand over his words, feeling like they were burning him.
Grantaire sighs and tangles his fingers in Musichetta's hair. “Fine. Tell me about him.”
“He's ...” He doesn't expect Bossuet to trail off. Usually he knows what he wants to say, has to say, before it comes out, but this time, he's thinking it through more. “He cares a lot about it all,” he finally says.
“The group was his idea—well, his with some help from Courfeyrac and their friend Combeferre, he talks to bugs.” Musichetta extracts herself so she can look him in the eye. “He's gorgeous, by the way. You're lucky, if you want to have that kind of relationship with him.”
“Gorgeous is good.” He knows he's built like a swimmer, a few inches shorter than Grantaire, hair long enough to glint yellow when it spills out of his hood. He knows he has a smooth voice that sounds like he does a lot of public speaking, and that he still thinks he can change the world. “Anything else?”
“He obviously loves his friends a lot,” says Joly. “And he definitely fights for the right things, even though I know you don't tend to agree there's much that can be done about them. Gives a good speech, but he's actually pretty quiet aside from that.”
Grantaire thinks about that, fits it in with the little he already knows, and finally nods. “Okay.”
None of them assumes that it means he'll come to a meeting, or even ask his soulmate's name, which is one of the many reasons he loves them. “We'll tell you more as soon as you want to know more,” says Joly. “You could come to a meeting, you know? You don't even have to tell him it's you.”
Flame would have the right to never forgive him, if he did that, but it's a tempting idea anyway. “I'll think about it.”
“Are you going out tonight?” says Bossuet.
“I think I'm taking some paint.” Grantaire knows how to get the word out on the street, and Paris might like to know what its newest superhero is called, before the papers give him a name that they will never take back. He seems quite determined about what his name is and isn't.
Musichetta kisses him on the cheek. “Be careful, and be back before dawn, Marie at the newspaper stand on the street saw the window open on its own the other morning and I had to convince her she just couldn't see us inside.”
“Sorry. And thank you. I promise not to make the neighbors suspicious.” That seems to be a good enough assurance, even though Grantaire is quite sure that it shouldn't be, and he's released from the hug so he can get up and get his clothing on. He doesn't wear a costume, like the comic books say, so much as he has a section of his closet devoted to the shades of dark gray that blend into shadows much better than black does, and a few pairs of sturdy boots that give him something to grip on smooth surfaces.
There are weapons, too, even if he doesn't like to use those if he can help it. Tonight, Grantaire sacrifices a knife or two for extra spray paint, since the canisters can be used as blunt weapons in a pinch, and when he's ready and his mask is secured, he knocks on his bedroom door a few times, his signal that he's going out the window. One of them calls back an acknowledgment, and Grantaire climbs up to the window ledge and goes out into the city.
It's a quiet night in Paris, but that's not a comfort: Grantaire has been going out at night since his power manifested when he was fourteen, and while he hasn't been fighting that whole time, he's been watching. Quiet is better than the nights when everyone has a chip on their shoulder and a knife in their pocket, but he's learned to mistrust it. It's not a breather, it's a sign that someone is being sneakier than he expects, or that someone is gearing up for something. Or that the whole city is.
He doesn't know if Flame knows that about Paris yet, or if he's even out tonight. No one can be out every night, and it might be smart to see if they can coordinate when they go (it might be easier, if they can take Paris in shifts and not have to see each other to know they're working together).
Grantaire knows where to go to make a picture that will be seen in the morning but which won't be interrupted in the painting if he does it at night. He makes a point of doing this one as near to the offices of the paper that was most vicious to Flame when he tried to ally himself with the police, finds a blank wall and takes out the red paint to make the picture he has in his mind, of Flame with his arm out, fire rising from his palm, turning into the word he's chosen as his name.
It takes more than an hour, the city still too quiet around him, for Grantaire to finish, and the second he's done he drops his paint and goes, because the police may not know about the Shadow, or at least nothing specific, but they know about the pictures that sometimes appear around the city, and they'd like to bring him in. He goes on a ramble around the city, after that, cloaking himself in the shadows and moving at a jog, going from street to roof and back again.
He can't do much about quiet, not really, and he thinks about making an early night of it, but sometime soon after midnight, there's a quiet sound he's tuned himself to recognize, and then Gavroche is next to him, slowing from unbelievable speed down to a jog. “There's some trouble you might want your eye on,” he says, like they're in the middle of a conversation. Everyone Gavroche knows is always in the middle of a conversation with him, though.
“Oh? What kind of trouble would that be?”
“The new one, he found Éponine staking out a place, and she's determined not to let him figure out what Montparnasse is up to.”
“Fuck.” Grantaire could ask what Montparnasse and Éponine are up to, if it's Patron-Minette's business or their own business, but either way, what he needs to do is the same. Flame won't be prepared for Éponine. Few people are. She may not be powerful, but she's fierce. “Where are they, and why didn't you head it off at the pass?”
“Don't trust him yet,” Gavroche says shortly. “And they're at Tholomyès's place, you know where that is?”
“I know the street, anyway, and from there I think I can follow the sound of yelling and the smoke.”
“Well, then,” says Gavroche, and he's gone again, so fast he may as well be invisible, too quick and agile for the human eye to process.
Grantaire speeds up as well, taking to the roofs because it's easier to find shortcuts, and hopes he makes it before either Flame or Éponine ends up hurt.
Choosing who he watches over won't do anything but prove the police and the others afraid of supers right, he decides, so he does his best to creep closer, keeping to the dark as much as he can. The lookout catches him when he's still three buildings away and six stories up, though, and she lets out a shrill whistle. Enjolras has a split second to choose whether to run or to fight, but it's not much of a question. He gets a running start from the building and catches an air current, twisting the summer heat into something almost solid to fall through, landing in a crouch on the street.
He hasn't run into many adversaries with superpowers yet, so he's surprised when the lookout, easy as breathing, holds her hands out when he gets within ten feet and repulses him, blasts him back so he lands on his back in the street, only to get to his feet again. The man she's with is out of the building and running, leaving her, so maybe she's only a tool, but she seems too fierce to be a tool, and when he throws fire she bats that out of the way too. She doesn't run, though, just stands her ground and waits for him to come at her again.
Enjolras gets to his feet and casts a quick look around the street. It's deserted, and none of the lights in the houses are going on. They seem to be doing a good job of fighting mostly soundlessly, though his breath is harsh in his ears. “You don't want to go after him,” she says. She has a throaty voice, like she's spent her life shouting, and she doesn't sound angry so much as tired.
“What were they here for?”
“Nothing to bother you.” She raises her chin, and he can almost see the air wavering around her like heat, strong with her shields. He's not going to get close enough to fight her, but he can ring her in, if he's lucky.
“This isn't going to convince the police that we're safe to be around,” he points out, testing for the edges of her shields.
“Nothing but death convinces the police we're safe to be around, and even then they're suspicious.” He gathers the heat he can and sends it to wait in a circle outside her shield, to gather enough power to keep her there, if her powers don't extend to extinguishing fires.
“You aren't helping. What's in that home?” He dares to take a step closer, and her shoulders tense but she doesn't throw him back.
“Nothing you care about.”
“I'd still like to know.” He holds his hands up. “I'm not here to hurt you, or anyone who isn't hurting someone else.”
“And yet you're the one who attacked me. Funny how that works.” In the distance, there's a whistle, and she shakes her head. “That's my cue. Do yourself a favor and leave it be. If you can't stand your ground against a shield, you can't stand your ground against a knife, either.”
That's all the warning he gets before she's off at a run, jumping over the first lick of flames he brings out of the ground. Enjolras brings the flames down immediately, letting the heat go back to where it wants, and wonders if he should go after her. Chances are he'll run right into a trap if he chases her, and he's not willing to risk that, but he can see what they were after if he just looks in the still-open window, and possibly leave a warning for those inside. Before he can do more than look for a foothold, though, someone grabs his arm, and he whips around with fire already rising in his palm to find the Shadow, come out of nowhere. “Don't,” he says quietly, and Enjolras doesn't have to know him at all to hear the anger in his voice.
“Where were you a few minutes ago?” Enjolras snaps, instantly defensive. “I could have used help.”
“You don't want to go after her, or more specifically the people she's working with. Let's get out of the street, Apollo, if you want to talk we'll do it when we're far enough away from any nosy neighbors looking out their windows.” He's standing close, and he smells faintly of acrid, half-familiar chemicals.
Enjolras wants to shout, and wants to shout all the louder because he knows Shadow is right, so he follows his lead instead, going back up to the rooftops and then running across them, going down a few side streets until they're out of the way and unlikely to be seen. “Who is she working with?” he asks the second Shadow slows.
“Patron-Minette. I'm not sure if whatever she was doing tonight was with them, but she works with them enough that it's best to stay clear of that kind of business.”
He's heard of Patron-Minette. Everyone in the city has, at some point, even if they're the kind of group only mentioned in whispers after dark. “There are two of us, now. Shields or no shields—”
“And besides that, do you really want to explain to Felix Tholomyès why you were having a battle on his front lawn? That's his house, you know, and he'd be more likely to have you arrested than her. You're the one wandering around in a hood, she could just as easily be a girl out walking too late.”
Enjolras frowns. “What did they want with Tholomyès?”
“I don't know, and you don't want to.”
“Do you know her?” Enjolras looks off the rooftop. The neighborhood is mostly businesses, quiet at this time of night. “You've been on the streets longer than I have.”
“I know of her.” Shadow shrugs. “Did she hurt you? I saw that she threw you back a time or two.”
Enjolras shakes his head. “Not much. A few bruises, maybe. Nothing feels like it's broken, or I would have had more trouble getting here.”
“Good point.” When he's running, Shadow is all smooth grace, but now that they're standing on a roof and alone, he's awkward, every motion a little too sharp. “Did no one ever teach you how to throw a punch? What the fuck are you doing out on the streets, if you're going to fight like that?”
“I wouldn't have been able to punch her, with those shields up.”
“You don't know how to take a blow either.” Shadow turns to face him square. “Do better, or don't come out. You'll get yourself killed, and martyrs don't save lives.”
Enjolras clenches his fists. “It's not your business.”
“I'm out here to keep the city from going to shit more than it already does on a regular basis, and tonight it turns out you're the one I had to rescue, so it sort of is my business.” He crosses his arms. “Please tell me you've trained, more than just your powers.”
Only his pride keeps him from asking why he cares. Enjolras turns away. “I have trained.” Long, long hours running with Jehan, sparring with Bahorel, learning everything he can without asking too much of any one person. He's not an expert, but he's good enough to get by. “I wasn't prepared for her shields, that's all. Or for Patron-Minette.”
“Look, a lesson: save people you can actually save. Patron-Minette is for other people to deal with, just like the police are for other people to deal with. I'd always rather help one person than get another arrested.”
“I don't accept that I can't do both.”
“Accept what you like, I'm not going to tell you how to do this job. But I am going to tell you that Patron-Minette isn't worth it. Maybe fifteen years ago, when Paris had three powerful supers working together and the government wasn't working against them yet because they thought life was a comic book, but as far as I know right now, it's just me and now you, and I'm not exactly the hero type.”
Enjolras grits his teeth. “So you say it can't be done unless we work together and then you refuse to work with me.”
“I'm saying it can't be done.” Shadow sighs. “And I never said I won't work with you. I just don't want us in danger for being soulmates. If we'd met out of costume, I wouldn't tell you I do this, and now it goes the other way. I'm sorry, for what it's worth, but I'm not going to change my mind.”
“Fine.” Enjolras looks down to the street. It's a quiet night in Paris, but the thought of what was happening at Felix Tholomyès's house is an itch he can't scratch. “If you'll excuse me, we shouldn't be standing around talking when there are other things to do.”
“Fine. Keep safe.”
Enjolras turns around, not sure whether he's about to tell him the same or tell him to fuck off, but whatever he's about to say is moot, because Shadow is gone, or at least pretending to be.
He doesn't stay on the street much longer, too distracted to be any good. When he gets home, Courfeyrac is actually in his bedroom for once, but there's a note on the fridge telling him that there's extra food to warm up. He isn't hungry, but he warms it up anyway, because Courfeyrac will worry if his offering isn't accepted.
When he wakes up, late enough that he's not going to make it to class on time, Courfeyrac is talking to Combeferre out in the main room. Combeferre must be there for a reason, to have not texted first or waited until he knew Enjolras would be awake. Enjolras doesn't bother getting properly dressed, just stumbles out to say hello as soon as he can pry his eyes open.
Combeferre's initial look is assessing, like always, like he expects Enjolras to be injured. “Busy night last night?”
“A little bit.” He protects them from details as much as he can, even if he knows they would rather have them. “Why do you ask?”
“Because someone found a picture this morning, painted on a wall sometime last night, and it's a picture of you. Or of the Flame, anyway, it was clearly labeled. Someone wants to be sure that the city knows your name.”
Enjolras's first thought is of Shadow, but he has no proof of that, and doubts Shadow would tell if he asked. It might explain some of the chemical smell clinging to him last night, when Enjolras wondered if it might be disinfectant or something similar. “Do you have a picture?” Combeferre is still looking at him like he expects answers. “I can't paint, Combeferre, you know that.”
“I do know that.” He hesitates. “Have you spoken to him again?”
“Yes. He still doesn't want … well, anything. But he's looking out for me.” And it only occurs to him now that he has no idea how Shadow knew to find him when he was in a fight.
Combeferre hums thoughtfully. “That's something. I'm sorry, though, for what it's worth. I know you had high hopes.”
Enjolras frowns and takes a cup of coffee when Courfeyrac offers it, staying out of the conversation while the two of them work their way through. “I shouldn't have. Having ideas that specific about someone based on their first words is foolish, and I'm content on my own. There's no reason to let this change things.”
There's a wealth of discussion in those words, well-worn, about the No on Combeferre's arm and Feuilly's skin going blank when he was sixteen and Jehan and Bahorel completely willing to wait years and date other people while waiting to see if their words really mean they should be in love. Enjolras knows that the words change things, once they're said, or even before they're said. “And yet,” he agrees.
Courfeyrac clears his throat. “We don't need to know anything you don't want to tell us. We should talk about the next meeting, though. Tholomyès is talking about bringing the DNA bill back, we need to be prepared for that eventuality.” He tries a smile. “Besides, the next meeting could be the one where your soulmate shows up, don't you want to be dazzlingly prepared?”
It's jarring, Tholomyès's name coming up so soon, but he has no proof that whatever Patron-Minette wanted with him is even related to supers. They aren't known for their activism, or really anything but their greed. “Tell me about the announcement,” he says, taking his first drink of coffee
The other two relax just enough that Enjolras can't help a twinge of guilt at not noticing they were tense in the first place. Going out on the streets has strained things, less because he's putting himself in danger than because the other two wish they could join him but know their powers aren't always useful doing what he does. “If you're sure,” says Combeferre, but he's already switching modes, pulling the information forward in his mind, and Enjolras lets him do it.
It won't do him any good to talk about it. Not yet.
It's early, early enough that her father wasn't in the kitchen when she came downstairs, and Cosette drank her coffee on her own and left a note before going out, taking the Metro a few stops down before getting out, getting her bearings, and starting to run. She finds the mural after twenty minutes of running, when her lungs are starting to feel the strain of her pace, and she slows down to look at it first because of the way nobody else really looks, and because there's a man with a pan of beige paint and a roller getting ready to paint it over.
“It's pretty,” she tells the man, because he turns when she slows down. Pretty isn't the right word, but it's a non-threatening word for a picture that looks more threatening the longer she looks at it. It's a person in red, probably male, face covered with a hood, ready for battle, fire coming up out of his hands, the word “Flame” next to him, part of the fire and a description.
“Damn graffiti,” says the man. “He didn't need to use my wall to get his name out to the city.”
Flame must be the new superhero in the city, the one her father mentioned, but Cosette doesn't think it's a self-portrait. It's not quite personal enough for that, and far too idealized for her to trust Flame if he was the one to paint it. That leaves the question of who did paint it, and how they decided on what name to call him, if they knew it was a preference or just decided it was better than “Paris's new arsonist,” which the press was leaning towards. “I'm sorry you're having to deal with it,” she says, because she knows to be polite. “You don't know who made the picture?”
“Probably him.” He rolls his eyes as he tilts his head to illustrate the picture. “It's been so long since Paris had a superhero, I suppose he thinks he needs to announce his presence.”
Cosette wants to correct him, because she's made a study of these things, and she knows Paris has had a superhero for a few years, not from headlines but from a lack of them. Flame may be new, but there's someone who's been out there for a while. She wants to meet them both, all of a sudden, too curious to wait a few more weeks like she was thinking of doing. “Not very polite of him,” she says, because while she's stopped there she should probably talk.
The man sighs. “Do you want to take a picture before I cover it over?”
Cosette smiles at him and takes out her phone, clicks a quick picture. Other people in the city undoubtedly have better ones, but she can keep this one to think about, and wonder if a similar picture of her will appear sometime soon. “Thank you,” she says. “Good luck with covering it over, I hope it doesn't happen again.”
He nods and she starts running again, muscles already tight from stopping for too long without cooling down first.
Cosette gets through the day, and her shift at work, without showing too much of her impatience. Her father is probably suspicious, but she thinks, in the end, he won't want to know, not specifics. It will be easier for them both if she just says she was out one morning like it's a done deal, because it is. It has been ever since he told her who Fantine was. Who he was.
When she excuses herself early, he must know what's going on, but he just kisses her forehead and stays in the kitchen, clutching a mug of tea that she knows he'll switch out for coffee or maybe even something stronger the moment she leaves (she's only seen him drunk twice before, but she wouldn't be surprised). Cosette sits and waits for Paris to go to sleep in her room for a long time, and then she takes her costume out of her closet. It's easy to move in, plain and brown, easy to blend in. She pulls her hair back in a braid and looks at herself in the mirror. She doesn't look much like a hero.
Someone thinks she is, though, or will think she is, and Cosette touches her side right where the words you're my hero rest among the others before she squares her shoulders and turns away to find her mask. When that's on, she looks in the mirror again, and she thinks she could be a hero. She doesn't look like the pictures of Lightning that are starting to be in history books, the exact picture of what everyone wants a female superhero to be, but she looks like her father a little, from the pictures of the Mayor, how he always looked braced and ready for whatever came at him.
Cosette opens her window when she can't see any lights in the houses near them, and she flies out.
Paris looks different from above. She doesn't fly the whole time—people notice, when there's a person-sized shape in the sky, and if she flies high enough to be mistaken for a bird, she gets breathless and she can't see anything useful on the ground—but she makes her leaps long and high, as she works her way around the city. Tonight, she doesn't stop anything, doesn't try to be a hero. She just flies, and watches, and hopes that she's learning.
She hasn't spent much time in the nicer parts of the city, but tonight she does, risking the better-lit streets because there's also more space to fly there, and because she can cover more ground and needs less detail in her mental map, in places where the police are more likely to intervene.
There's a woman on a rooftop, in a residential area where there are very few lights on, curtains over the windows, just night-time people awake. She's sitting at the edge, and for a horrified moment, Cosette wonders if she's thinking of jumping. When Cosette rushes, though, and gets to a place where she can see her more easily, she looks too casual for that. She's sitting with her legs dangling and kicking, squinting off into the distance at one particular street light.
Cosette starts backing slowly away, and she knows how to be silent, so she's not sure what makes the woman turn around, but she does. After a second, she sighs and gets to her feet, and Cosette shifts her stance because she sees the woman doing the same. She's wearing jeans and a jacket, not combat gear, but she looks ready for it anyway. “Fuck, Paris is crawling with your type these days,” says the woman.
That stings, but Cosette puts her hands up, in case the woman thinks she's in danger. “I don't see you doing anything wrong.”
“Great, good to know someone's arbitrary judgment doesn't find me wanting.”
“Sorry.” Cosette smiles, but she can only hope it shows in her voice, since it's too dark for anyone to see the parts of her face that show. “You're okay?”
The woman snorts, and there's something familiar in her profile for a second, a split-second memory. “This might be worse,” she says, for no discernible reason. “I'm fine—whatever your name is.”
“Lark.” Her father used to call her that, when she'd been flying, on the rare occasions it didn't make him worried. She's proud to make it the name she uses in costume.
“I'm fine, Lark. Just watching out, is all.”
Cosette could ask what she's watching out for, but the woman won't tell her, she can guess that easily enough from the sarcasm she's dripping. There's no reason to stay and talk longer, so she backs off a few steps. “Well, then. Good luck on your watch.”
With that, she rises into the air, ready to fly away (because the Lark doesn't have to keep her powers secret from the city). After only a second, though, the woman scrambles to her feet, ponytail swinging over her shoulder, and faces Cosette head on. “No,” she breathes.
Cosette isn't sure whether to fly or to settle to earth, so she stays where she is. “What?”
“I've only met one person who could fly before, you can't ...”
And Cosette remembers being five and being assigned chores and flying around the kitchen to get to the counters because she couldn't do it otherwise and she didn't want to think about what would happen if she didn't finish, and remembers the gasp behind her, the girl saying I'm going to tell Mama, scared and shrill, and Cosette begging her not to. She's very sure the only reason that the Thénardiers let her go with her father is because she never told. “Éponine,” she says, and knows it's stupid the second it comes out of her mouth.
Éponine is pale in the faint light, and Cosette doesn't know what either of them is going to do next, feels the instinct to run in both of them. She floats forward, to beg one more favor of secrecy, to please keep her identity safe, but Éponine's hands fly up before she can get within ten feet and the air in front of Cosette feels solid, suddenly, curving up into a bubble around Éponine. She's a super too, when Cosette remembers what her parents said about them when they were children, and Cosette opens her mouth, preparing to say something, when Éponine shakes her head wildly. “Fuck, fuck,” she says, to herself by the volume, and then she's running.
Cosette could chase her, could beg, but Éponine didn't seem like she was running to tell someone, she seemed like she was running away. Éponine, after everything that happened when they were kids, really doesn't have reason to fear her, but it seems she does.
For a moment, Cosette drops back down to the rooftop, to bend over, hold her knees like she's been running for an hour, and get her breath back. It's hard to shake off the memories some days already, and now with Éponine seeing her, knowing her, knowing what she's doing, it's all the worse. Éponine may not have told, but that didn't make them friends. She's even less sure what they are now.
When she has herself back under control, Cosette takes to the air again and flies back towards more familiar streets, keeping up high. She isn't in the mood to explore much more tonight, much less meet whoever else might be on the streets.
It's Friday morning, and he has a few hours before he has to work, and all his roommates are busy with classes or internships, so it's ideal. Grantaire slips across the city, feeling like he needs to hide even though no one should recognize him like this, and stops at the Musain. He's been a time or two before, and been by it more, because Grantaire has been nearly everywhere in Paris either in or out of costume, but it feels different looking at it now. It's a run-down little building and a quiet cafe, but the pastry is amazing and Louison, the girl who's been at the counter whenever he came in, has just enough power over liquids to make sure they're always poured just right and at just the right temperature.
Louison smiles at him when he comes in, and Grantaire settles in to flirt while he waits for his drink to be finished and his galette to come out of the case. “Your power is lovely,” he tells her when she pours out the coffee, because it's something people with powers don't hear nearly often enough.
That endears him to Louison enough that it's hard to get away without an endless conversation, but after five minutes he manages to tear himself away and retreat to a table in the corner, where he can look at the patrons. None of them look familiar, or feel it. Mostly they're just students who seem to have stumbled in, paying attention to their books and their drinks.
The one at the next table is a special case: he's sitting with a pot of soil in front of him, frowning at it like he's attempting to watch grass grow for scientific study. When he catches Grantaire looking, he gives him a surprisingly sunny beam given his concentration and gestures him over. Grantaire, coffee in hand, goes, if only for his curiosity. “I'm trying to figure out if this is the equivalent of making paint dry,” he says.
“Not in theory, but sort of in practice.” He makes a face. “I make plants come back to life and grow, but I seem to have trouble doing it with seeds that have never germinated, so I'm working on that.” He sticks his hand out. “Jean Prouvaire, but my friends call me Jehan.”
Grantaire smiles. “Pleased to meet you, and that's an awesome power, you must get all the people of whatever genders you prefer climbing all over you if you woo them with formerly-dead plant matter.”
Jehan's frown makes Grantaire wince, but before he can apologize for asking about something soulmate-adjacent when he knows some people don't like talking about it, himself included, he shrugs. “It certainly impresses some people. Including him.” He points at his arm, and Grantaire is surprised he walks around with rolled-up sleeves when fuck, hi, soulmate, this is my girlfriend is written in bold letters on his forearm.
“Ouch.” He puts his hands in his pockets. At least he can be glad his words are small and easily-hidden. “Are you this open with all the strangers you meet?”
“All the ones who tell Louison she's got lovely powers and then stare at me while I use mine, anyway.” Jehan smiles at him, apparently not bothered in the least by sharing all his personal business the first time they meet. “This is a super-friendly cafe, I was starting to wonder if you came in here because of that.”
It's a subtle question, but a clear one. “It's part of the reason,” he says, and he isn't even lying. “I do have powers, but mostly I like going where people aren't assholes about it.”
“I told you what I do,” Jehan says, leading him shamelessly.
Grantaire doesn't know if Jehan is one of his soulmate's friends, or if his soulmate has told them about the Shadow and what he does, so he isn't going to risk telling the full extent of his powers. “I can make myself hard to notice.” It's his usual compromise. “Not the showiest power, I'd way rather do the seed thing.”
Sort of. “Not really.” Grantaire shrugs. “Sorry, not a fan of showing off. Makes people nervous when they suddenly can't see someone who they know is sitting right there.” He learned that the hard way, from a few too many times in school of teachers or peers suddenly wondering where he was when he'd just lapsed and wished to be elsewhere.
“I won't make you, though I would love to see it sometime.” Jehan is in the seat facing the door, and he brightens suddenly when the bells over it chime, hand going up in the air. “Enjolras, Combeferre, over here!” He lowers his voice and turns to look at Grantaire again. “They're friends of mine, I hope you'll like them. Unless you don't want to get drawn into my social circle today? But I like you, I'd like it if you could—hello, you two, come sit down. This is a new friend of mine, and—actually, you didn't tell me your name.”
“It's Grantaire,” he says, turning around to see who the new arrivals are. The taller one is wearing glasses and a sweater, an overflowing bag slung over his shoulder, with warm brown eyes and a smile on his face. The other is the sort of unearthly beautiful that Grantaire isn't used to seeing outside of Photoshop, and he has a mess of blond hair pulled back in a bun. “Hello,” he adds, and hopes it doesn't come out as the Please, no that it sounds like in his head.
The taller one is the one to speak first, shaking his hand. “You wouldn't happen to be Joly and Lesgles and Musichetta's roommate, would you?”
Of course they've mentioned him. Grantaire doesn't let himself succumb to paranoia, and hopes his voice sounds different enough in the daylight, without the muffling of his costume, that nobody will recognize it. “That's me, for my sins. I suppose that makes you all part of the superhero advocacy group they've all been talking about?”
“That's us.” The taller one sits down. The other one still hasn't spoken, and Grantaire finds himself waiting for it, heart in his throat. He must seem like one of the people who waits breathlessly to hear the first thing that everyone says to him, but better that than seeming like someone who's already met his soulmate and is terrified to hear his voice without the buffer of masks between them. “I'm Combeferre.”
“And I'm Enjolras.”
It is him. There's no question, and Grantaire doesn't allow himself the luxury of denial. “Good to meet you both.” He knows he sounds like he's choking on it, but he doesn't know what to do about that but run away, and he knows how suspicious that would seem. “If you're here to talk business, don't let me get in your way.”
“Don't run off,” says Jehan, brows drawing together. “We aren't talking business, we're just saying hello. Combeferre, the seed still isn't working, I may take you up on your offer of an earthworm sometime.”
Combeferre smiles. “I would be glad to, but I don't happen to have one easily to hand.” He turns to Grantaire. “I talk to insects, and a few other animals, thus why I'm involved. Lesgles said that you do something like camouflage?”
He's going to have to be even more careful now. “I can make myself unnoticeable, if that counts as camouflage. I don't like doing it in public, though.”
“Of course. I never ask for demonstrations in public, some people like to keep things private.”
“People shouldn't feel ashamed of using their powers in public,” Enjolras says, and if Grantaire had taken bets, he would have thought no one could be that idealistic and intense inside and outside of costume, but it turns out he's wrong. “No one should.”
“Is that so?” says Combeferre, and Grantaire tries not to look at him sharply, because his instincts are saying that he knows what Enjolras—Flame—can do and that he doesn't do it outside of costume. “It's a pleasure, Grantaire. We were very glad to meet your roommates, we hope they're planning to come back.”
“They all are, as far as I know.” He takes a sip of his coffee even though it's lukewarm, and thinks about excusing himself to ask Louison if she would mind warming it up for him. “Musichetta says you need more women, anyway. Why not ask Louison to join?”
“We have,” says Jehan. “She says she's too busy for activism.”
“Aren't most people?”
Enjolras frowns at him. “Some people don't make the time,” he says, and Grantaire wants to find it funny, he does, because somehow Enjolras hasn't guessed, doesn't see it written all over his face the same way it's written on his skin. Instead, he just feels frozen. Enjolras is a likely kind of hero, the kind of face that shows up on the television in America, where their superheroes are worshiped by the press and mistrusted by the government. Grantaire knows he isn't, and that his attitude only makes it worse.
“Some of us have jobs,” he says when the silence goes on for too long. “Or other things to do. What are you doing in your group, then?”
Enjolras opens his mouth to answer, but Combeferre interrupts, frowning between them. If anyone gets it first, Grantaire suspects it will be him. “At the moment, our primary focus is lobbying against the DNA bill. No matter how much they say it's for the good of supers, so children can be trained before their powers manifest and so adults can have appropriate medical care, but there's no way for it to end any way but in discrimination.”
The DNA bill is the death sentence on people who do what Grantaire and Enjolras do, and they must know that. “Well, it's a worthy goal. Want me to sign a petition?”
“We do a lot of things—write letters, make calls.” Jehan is smiling but watching him carefully as he does, waiting to see if Grantaire is going to make trouble, possibly, or just picking up on his stress and wondering what caused it. “You're welcome at our meetings along with your roommates, if you want to come. Just to see what we do, and meet everyone. I think Bahorel would like you.”
“I think I've met him once or twice.” And then, noticing Jehan's hand lingering on his arm, “Wait, is he—”
“We'd be glad to have you,” says Enjolras, firm and too loud and nowhere near as sincere as he probably wants to sound. Grantaire keeps his eyes on Jehan, who doesn't seem upset or annoyed, so he lets himself relax. If he's being an asshole about a near-stranger's soulmate, he imagines these people of all people will be more than willing to tell him.
“We really would,” says Combeferre, with much more sincerity. “Do you know much about the DNA bill?”
“Mostly only that we're fucked if it passes.” And that Joly is worried he'll be asked to leave medical school if he boosts his skills at science with his healing, and that Bossuet already has trouble getting a job when he answers questions that haven't been asked and doesn't need to see the future to know it would only get worse, and that Musichetta shouted at her mother the last time she said something approving about Felix Tholomyès and hasn't talked to her since.
“Well, then. Come, learn more, see if you want to do more than sign a petition. We could always use more people, with or without superpowers if you happen to know any non-powered who are interested in the cause.”
Grantaire raises his eyebrows. “You have non-powered in your group?”
“Just Marius, at the moment,” says Jehan. “He's a friend of Courfeyrac's, and he's our token non-powered member.”
He shouldn't say anything either way, especially not yes, and Enjolras's presence makes him want to run in the opposite direction, but he likes Jehan, and he thinks he could like Combeferre. “Well. We'll have to see if I can tear myself away from my usual Tuesday night plans.”
“Which are?” Enjolras frowns at him like he's going to very harshly judge his answer, as though nothing could be more important than sitting in a meeting room trying to change the tide of public opinion when it won't change.
Any evening when Grantaire isn't working, he spends either with his roommates or walking the city, either in costume or out of it—mostly out of it, until later at night, so he can walk around and feel the pulse of Paris, where the trouble is, the mood on the streets. It's when he catches up with Gavroche, who knows everything and lets very little of it on, and sometimes with the criminal element who won't talk to him while he's in costume, mostly Éponine, who hates Patron-Minette for all she's part of it, and Montparnasse, who wants to take it over and is more than willing to give a little information in return for immunity. He can't say that, though, so he crosses his arms and faces Enjolras's frown. “Oh, very important things. Contemplating the nature of humanity, and all.”
It isn't even a lie, but it makes Enjolras's face thunderous, and Grantaire can't think of anything about them outside of costume that could ever imply they're meant for each other. “If you're going to mock, then perhaps you should—”
“Enjolras,” says Combeferre, and even that quiet word is enough to pull him back.
Grantaire finishes his coffee, because the swallowing gives him time to think, to pull himself back since his friends aren't with him. Jehan is still watching with a frown, like he's putting pieces of a puzzle together, but Grantaire can't spare worry for that, not in the middle of everything else. He doesn't speak until the silence stretches on just a little too long. “I should go home and get ready for work.”
“You don't have to go,” says Jehan.
“It's not an excuse. I really should go.” He stands up. “Enjoy your meeting, or whatever you're doing right now.”
Combeferre frowns at him. “You're welcome on Tuesday,” he says with too much emphasis, and Grantaire has a moment of blind panic, but Enjolras is the one he's worried about, the one who can't find out. He can fight alongside the Flame, but Enjolras is different—or, maybe, too much the same, when Grantaire feels like he's two different people sometimes.
“I'll think about it,” Grantaire says, the closest he can get to a promise, and nods at all three of them before he leaves the Musain.
Outside, he thinks about texting one of his roommates, telling them that he's met Enjolras, mostly by accident, and that he still doesn't want to tell him (wants to tell him less, if that's possible). He can do that at home, though, when he can tell all three of them at once. Instead, he puts his hands in his pockets and walks out into Paris, taking the long way home, getting a rare look at the city by daylight.
People recognize him, now, after the mural that Enjolras never got to see in person, since it was painted over within twenty-four hours, so it isn't a surprise when after midnight, he hears someone say “Hey, you're the Flame, right?”
If he's not surprised by the words, he is surprised by the person saying them. It's rare he sees a child out this late, much less alone, but that's who's speaking, a skinny boy who can't be much older than twelve and who has a cherub grin on his face that Enjolras doesn't trust in the least, since it's hard to sneak up on him but the boy managed, on a roof no less. “That's me,” he says, and knows it comes out more wary than anything else.
“Thought so.” His voice is rich with satisfaction. “You look like the picture Shadow painted. He's good at that.”
Enjolras tries to keep moving as naturally as he can, even though that's information he didn't know, and information he's interested in. “And you are?”
“Never really saw the use in the costumes.” Never, as though he's been doing this forever when he's barely the age that most people are when their powers manifest. They're setting on younger every year, though, and more powerfully, so he shouldn't be surprised. “I'm Gavroche. And I like knowing who's on the streets in my city.”
“That includes me now, I suppose.” He won't object if Gavroche calls Paris his city. It's all of their city, after all. “What do you do? Invisibility?”
“Oh no, that's Shadow. If you don't see me, that's all your own fault. Though if you don't see me coming, that might be me.”
Enjolras puzzles that through. “Speed?”
Gavroche shrugs. “Among other things. Doesn't really matter what I do, I'm not around to pretend I'm in a comic book. Like I said, I just like knowing what's going on. Sometimes I pass word on to Shadow, if there's something going on that needs his help.”
“And are you going to do the same for me?”
“Haven't decided yet. You're still new.” Gavroche tilts his head. He's outgrowing his clothes, and they're threadbare, but he still manages to act like he's the one with the advantage. It's very possible that he is. “Probably, though. City's too big for Shadow, and for me. It could use another hero or two.”
Enjolras forces himself to ask the next question, even if he doesn't want to. “Is there a price for the information?”
“Listening to it.” That's surprisingly firm. “I'm a kid, but I know what I'm talking about. I say there needs to be a bonfire in the Latin Quarter, I'm not lying, I'm not messing with you.”
He makes sure to consider it, but he doesn't think there can be harm in at least checking to see what situations are playing out. “It may take me a little while to trust that,” he finally says, “but I'm at least willing to go and see the situations where you say I'm needed.”
“You should. One good turn deserves another, right? How do you think Shadow found you when you were fighting—well, when you were fighting with her, that night?”
“You know her.” Gavroche's face immediately goes stony, and Enjolras wants to curse himself for it. Now's not the time to lose the trust of someone willing to give him sources, to help him help. If it means he has to sacrifice finding out what Patron-Minette were up to, he won't like it, but he'll accept it for now. “I won't ask.” And he won't thank Gavroche either, for sending Shadow when he wanted to investigate more, but it is interesting that someone who knows the city that well thought Enjolras needed protection. “Thank you for your offer of help, though.”
Gavroche nods, expression lightening a little again. “If you want to find Shadow, I think he's lurking around the Hotel-Dieu tonight—you never know what you'll find, listening in at hospitals.”
Enjolras doesn't know how Gavroche knew that would be an effective peace offering. The thought that he was listening that first night, or that Shadow told him, is uncomfortable, and he hopes it isn't true, but he can't ask, in case it is. “Thank you. I'll keep it in mind,” he says instead. “It's been good to meet you, Gavroche.”
“We'll see about that,” says Gavroche, and then he's gone between one second and the next, the only sign of his going a slight blur and a low hum. If he has speed alone, it's faster than the human eye can process, practically teleportation. Enjolras will have to ask Shadow about it.
He doesn't bother pretending that he isn't going to go. He hasn't seen Shadow since the night outside Tholomyès's house, and it's been well over a week since then. It itches at him, and he hates that it does (Enjolras never wanted to be beholden a soulmate, to someone else's words on his skin, and he doesn't know how he's ended up chasing Shadow like this, but he's not ready to stop yet), so he makes his way across the city, towards the hospital.
Shadow finds him first, when Enjolras is a block away, the flashing lights of emergency vehicles already putting him on edge. “There was a car accident,” he hears, and when he looks across the rooftops Shadow is a few buildings away when he wasn't anywhere to be seen before. “A bad one. You can make fire. Can you control it?”
“Yes. Take me there.”
Shadow sets off at an easy run, gives Enjolras the time to catch up with him and leads him across the city until they hear the sound of sirens, the flash of lights. “They're still trying to extract people, or were the last I heard,” says Shadow when they're close. “Emergency services like us, and the police usually respect it if we're actively in the middle of saving lives instead of chasing down criminals. I can't do much. You can.”
There's something off in his voice, but he might be breathless, and it isn't urgent right now, not when there are people in trouble. “Any advice on how to approach them?”
“Let's go in close, I want to see if I recognize any of the emergency workers, that's always the best way.” Enjolras follows him, more slowly this time. Close enough that they can smell the smoke, the stink of burning machinery that stings in his nose, nothing like clean woodsmoke. There are at least five cars in the accident, two of which are on fire and one of which is smoking, and after a moment's scrutiny of the emergency workers, Shadow points at one of them, a woman whose ponytail sticks out of her cap. “Her. Let's go down.”
There's a small commotion when they land, but Enjolras goes to the car nearest him, where the flames are making it hard to get access to the man inside. It's easy to draw the fire away, through the exhaust and to the back of the car, while people shout behind him. He thinks he hears Shadow's voice among the shouting, telling them it's fine, he knows him, and he concentrates harder, diffuses as much of the heat as he can into the air and the ground, until it feels like noon on the hottest day of summer in the air around him and the fire is starting to be under control.
The second the fire is out of the way, Shadow and the emergency workers are rushing forward, and Enjolras keeps spinning the heat away into the air. It must be nearly unbearable for the others, since Enjolras has a higher heat tolerance than most and feels like he can hardly breathe, but in a second they're cutting the man out of his straps, giving him oxygen, and Enjolras can concentrate on the other fire.
This one is worse, but whoever was in the car is out of it now, since there's no one hovering near it. The only danger is that it might jump to the next car, and there's a trail of gasoline between the two making it more and more likely that it will happen. “Get everyone clear,” he says, and hopes they hear him and pay attention, because he doesn't want to risk anyone.
“Still people in the car behind it,” says Shadow, suddenly behind him. “Keep it away?”
Enjolras nods briefly “Get them out.”
The bustle behind him seems productive again, rather than surprised, and Shadow is talking to someone, figuring out how to get the people in the car out, while Enjolras puzzles over the fire. This one has more fuel to burn, and more heat. If he tries to diffuse it too quickly, the hot air could burn anyone too close. Enjolras takes as much of the heat as he can, until he can feel the sweat pouring down his face, and then he sends the heat wherever he can, into the frame of the car and the pavement, until the tires are melting and the frame is warped and the pavement is summer-soft.
“They're safe,” says a voice he doesn't recognize, and Enjolras lets it go and steps back before he turns around to look at her. She's the emergency worker with the ponytail Shadow pointed out, and she has her arms crossed and a thoughtful look on her face. “You'd be a lot more good to the fire department than you are running from the police, you know,” she says, and turns away to talk to some of her co-workers.
The flames are rising again, but the urgency is less, so Enjolras just leaves a little bit of his attention on it, slowly weaning it from its fuel supply and letting it burn itself out safely. There are police, standing awkwardly, taking the statements of the people who were in the accident but watching Enjolras and Shadow, and Enjolras keeps his eye on them, in case any of them decides to put Inspector Javert's policies into action. Shadow, he notices, is talking to the emergency worker, bent to listen to her say something, attention completely on her.
Enjolras doesn't like jealousy. It's an ugly emotion, and Shadow hasn't given him the right to it, so he ruthlessly beats it down the same way he is the fire, keeping to himself until Shadow finishes his conversation. “Is it going to be okay?” Shadow asks, coming over to him, shoulders tense and straight. “She says Inspector Javert got word we're here, if there's not going to be an explosion we need to get out of here.”
“It will burn itself out, and the fire department should be here soon anyway.”
“Okay. Then let's go.” And Shadow's off at a run, but he's still visible, so he must want Enjolras to follow. Enjolras does; heat currents in the air are better at breaking his fall if he has to jump from a height than helping him up, but they make it easier to scramble up a building after him, to jump between them.
It seems like half the city before Shadow draws to a stop, in a quiet park where they can hide in the shade of a tree. Enjolras knows he breaks the law every night he comes out and every punch he throws, but he feels more like a criminal skulking around in the shadows than he ever does then. “Do you help with things like that often?” he asks, because if Shadow stopped running and didn't lose him along the way, he must want to talk.
“Sure. I can't ...” He pauses, and when he speaks again, he sounds amused, like he's in on some kind of joke Enjolras can't understand. “I can't save the world, or change—or anything else, but I can do this. It matters. And I wouldn't have been able to help tonight like you did. So thanks.”
“Thank you for letting me.” Enjolras wishes that his pockets weren't all buttoned over so he doesn't lose anything running across Paris. He doesn't know what to do with his hands. “And for what it's worth, I think the only way you can save the world is one person at a time, at least most times. It's hard, but you've been doing it for longer than me.”
“That's one way of putting it.” Shadow paces a step away, and then back again. “I have to go. I can't stay out too late tonight. I'm sure I'll see you.”
“I hope I'll see you.”
Shadow doesn't have an answer for that. He just nods, the set of his shoulders and arms all wrong for a second, awkward and strange, and then he's off, blurring into the scenery before he's made it from a jog to a run.
Enjolras should be finding something else to do, or going home to wash the stink of smoke and motor oil from his skin and clothes, but he takes a moment to tip his head back and stare at the sky instead, to breathe. There's some kind of bird flying over Paris, a big one he doesn't recognize, and he watches it overhead until it flies away.
Usually, he at least pretends to be asleep while she's out, so Cosette stands quietly in the doorway to the living room, looking at the screen. There's a headline scrolling across about the DNA bill, Felix Tholomyès's handsome face up on the screen, saying something about care for all of France's citizens, about children and the future. “It won't pass,” says Cosette, pulling off her gloves. Her mask is already in her room, abandoned when she came through the window. “The Americans didn't even pass a DNA bill, and we know how they treat their supers.”
“They don't have Tholomyès.” Her father turns around, and he looks so, so tired. Cosette aches all over from breaking up a fight the police would never have stopped for, but she stands steady and smiles and hopes she's some measure of comfort. “There was a story earlier about an accident in the city, and a few supers going to help. Press couldn't get any good pictures, but witnesses sold some. You weren't there?”
Cosette hesitates. “I flew over. Things seemed to be well in hand. I need to meet Flame and—well, the other one. I still don't know what he calls himself. I still need to meet them before I can try to help them. I don't think they'd appreciate a stranger they don't trust interrupting them.”
“As long as you're careful. As long as you're all careful.” He knows that's something she can't promise, so he doesn't make her promise it, but it doesn't make the guilt any less, knowing what kind of bruises and scrapes she picks up. Someday she'll come home with a broken bone, or she'll wake up in a hospital, and she doesn't know what she would say to him then.
“I'm looking forward to having some backup.”
He frowns and turns back to the television. “As long as you make sure you don't trust them blindly.”
“You know I won't.” She's been brought up on the stories of the fight that ended the reign of Paris's first superheroes, and she thinks some of it, behind the obfuscation because he can't bear to tell her the truth, is even true.
“And if you're desperate, you can always call me.”
Cosette twists her hands together, glad he isn't still looking. She knows her father is a super, knows that he defended the city before he ever knew her, has seen him lift concrete blocks and cars and other things no one should be able to lift. He's still as strong as he ever was, but that doesn't mean, she's going to call on him. He's the only one of Paris's superheroes whose name came out, which is why he goes by a different one now. Inspector Javert and Felix Tholomyès would be glad to get their hands on him. “I don't think it will come to that.”
“Still. I want to be sure you always feel like you have backup.”
“How could I not?”
“And you can tell me anything.” He turns around to look at her again, wonderfully earnest, and Cosette feels the same stab of guilt she's been ignoring ever since she met Éponine. She doesn't have many secrets from her father, but while she knows he made assumptions about what life with the Thénardiers was like, she's always pretended she remembers less than she does. They're still powerful, in the city, maybe even more so even if the shine has come off their facade, and she doesn't want to risk them recognizing her father, and turning him over to the police. She's not sure where Éponine fits in, whether Éponine will tell anyone and what she has to do with her parents, but she can't tell him until she knows, and even then it's hard to say. Cosette hates that as close as they are, there are still so many things they can't say.
“I know I can,” she says, because most things, she can. Finally, she walks into the room and curls up on the couch next to him. She tries not to wear her costume around the house, but she's too tired to go upstairs and put on anything else yet, and it's dark enough that seeing her like this might not bother him. Even if it does, he'll try not to mention it. “Are you going to leave, if they pass the DNA bill? You've talked about leaving the country.”
When she looks at him, he's frowning. “I don't know.” It's as good as saying no, because Cosette knows she's the variable. If she went with him, he might leave, but Cosette can't leave Paris, not when she's finally coming around to her birthright. She could fight in Spain, in Italy, in England and America and Russia and anywhere else he took them, but they wouldn't be her places, the city she inherited from her mother and her father and whatever mysterious parent her father always refused to tell her about.
“It can't pass,” she says, and she knows it's wishful think. “The kind of precedent it sets, the kind of eugenics that could result, when they start doing it to pregnant women, how could they pass it?”
“People do terrible things when they're afraid, Cosette.”
“I don't know why they're afraid,” she says, too quiet, drawing her knees up. “What did we ever do to them? I only want to help, so many people only want to help. They say we have the power to hurt, but what have humans spent the last several millennia doing?”
Her father puts an arm around her shoulders and mutes the television. It's moved on from Tholomyès, on to the accident in Paris again, and the surprising presence of superheroes. There's a blurry video of Flame, hand out, controlling the fire in a car, his friend at his back, talking to the emergency personnel on the scene. They don't work seamlessly as a team, not the way she's seen of old videos, but maybe they need her help. She'd like to think so. “It's hard, it will keep being hard, but there will be people who love you too.”
Cosette touches her words, the you're my hero among them that has been a comfort ever since they came in. “I know that. But I wish there were some way.”
“You'll have to make it happen.” There's such faith in his voice, an assumption that she'll be able to do it, to change the tide of a city and a country until France loves its supers as much as countries the West scoffs at as unenlightened do. “You remind me of your mother,” he says abruptly, squeezing her shoulder and letting go.
Cosette has one blurry picture of Fantine outside of costume, and mostly knows her as tall and pale and blonde, vivacious until she got tired and worn down. Cosette doesn't look much like her, must take after her father, dark and small, but then again, looks aren't everything. She's wanted to fill Fantine's shoes for a long time, and Lightning's for longer. She has to swallow before she can answer, thinking of what similarities she could have, and if they're good ones. “Thank you. I learned from you as well, though. About how to be a hero.”
“Oh, Cosette.” And now he sounds so tired again, like Paris is sapping the energy from his bones when he's always been her indefatigable father, but he doesn't sound unhappy either. “I've never really been a hero, but I tried. For your mother, and for you.”
She stands up and bends to kiss him on the forehead. “I am always proud to be your daughter.” The words are as firm as she can make them, and she hopes he believes her. She can't tell, from the look on his face. She'll just have to remind him of it often, with Paris changing everything. “I'm exhausted, and I have to work tomorrow, so I'm going to get some rest.”
“You know you only have to work as long as you want to.”
Cosette smiles at him. “I know. But I think if I stayed in the house all day and only went out on errands and in costume, I'd forget why I want to be a hero in the first place, and I don't have much interest in school right now. This is still the best solution. I'm only a little tired.”
“I'll help however I can,” he reminds her. “Get some rest. I'll be upstairs soon.”
“Love you, Papa,” says Cosette, and goes up the stairs, starts the new-familiar job of getting off her costume and putting it in her laundry basket to take care of before the next time she goes out. She'll need a second one sometime, or a week's worth of them, and she makes a note to take care of it while she puts on soft flannel and pulls up her covers.
Sometime soon, she'll introduce herself to Flame and to his friend, make herself part of a team like her mother and father were on. Even if it ended badly before, if something went wrong, that doesn't mean it will again. Cosette will be careful, and it's safer to be on the street with friends than it is to be with uneasy allies.
Still, when Bossuet pokes his head around Grantaire's door on a Tuesday evening and says “Wait, you will?” Grantaire knows what the question he skipped was, and doesn't question his apparent answer to it.
“I'll go with you,” he says obediently. “You might want to turn that off before we go out, you're going to get a headache.”
“I always have a headache,” says Bossuet, but he's breaking out into a bright grin. “Don't feel pressured, okay? We really want you to come, but we know the soulmate thing complicates issues.”
Grantaire, sitting up on his bed, tips over to his back, thinking it over. Just because he's said it doesn't mean he can't change his mind. “I can't show them my power. He—Enjolras. He's seen me use it. He might be able to guess. I told Jehan I don't like showing off, but are they going to ask me about it.”
“One of them, Bahorel, he refuses to even tell anyone what it is,” says Joly, coming to the bedroom door to stand next to Bossuet. “Well, maybe one of them—you met Jehan. But I think everyone in that room has a different story about what his power is. They won't make you show off if you don't want to.”
“If you're coming, though, get up.” That's Musichetta, calling out from the main room. “The rest of you aren't as fast as I am.”
Grantaire has met him now, and he isn't sure if that's enough, or if it means that it shouldn't be as hard this time. It's stupid, to tell Enjolras that he won't get to know him out of costume and then to meet him without telling him. It's burning a bridge, he knows that too. If Enjolras knows Shadow and Grantaire both and finds out they're the same person, somehow, someday, he'd be right to feel betrayed, so if Grantaire ever gives in to the temptation of a soulmate, he could have that to contend with. Still, he's intrigued, by the group and by the man, and Grantaire has never been very good at self-control. He sits up. “I'm coming,” he says, and he's rewarded by Joly and Bossuet beaming at him from the bedroom door while he gets up and puts on a cleaner shirt than the one he's wearing.
The Musain, when they get there, is quiet, though there's noise coming from the back room. Louison seems to remember him, judging from her wide smile, and she makes a showy point of making his coffee when he orders it with a wink. “Why don't you come in to the meetings?” he asks while he waits, since the other three have ordered too and there are a few minutes yet before the meeting starts. “You've got powers, after all.”
Louison shrugs. “Other things to do. Family at home that needs me, and I don't want an arrest record, either.”
“Do they get arrested often?” He turns to raise his eyebrows at his friends. “Do they?” An arrest could be his undoing, if the police have ever thought to get the Shadow's DNA, or if they start testing prisoners and people with records, which is one of the less strict versions of the DNA Bill that they're trying to push through.
“The occasional rustle with the police at a rally,” says Louison, cheerful still, and hands over the drinks. “Nothing too bad, but still, I like my life a little quieter.”
“If only a quiet life suited me,” says Grantaire, and lets the others prod him into the back room.
The room is full of young men (Musichetta is right, they could use more women, but other than Louison he doesn't really have any ideas. He suspects Éponine would just laugh if he mentioned it to her). A few of them are familiar: Jehan, with a flower putting out vines through his hair, Combeferre, squinting at something on a laptop, and at the front of the room, Enjolras, who doesn't precisely frown to see Grantaire but doesn't seem over the moon to see him either. “Welcome, we were just about to start. Feel free to find some seats. Grantaire, if you wanted to introduce yourself?”
Every eye in the room turns to him, and he feels like he did at school, when he had to give a presentation, like he wanted to vanish off the face of the earth. It takes concentration not to do it now, when it would give him away. “I'm Grantaire, as you may have picked up from that, and I belong to these three. I can make myself hard to notice, but I don't like showing off, so you'll have to take my word on that.” One man nods a little, and he must be Courfeyrac, the one who can tell if people are telling the truth or not. That's one hurdle he's over, anyway. He's good at half-truths.
The others introduce themselves in a rush of names and powers as he sits down—Courfeyrac, seeing the truth, Feuilly, who can lift small things, Bahorel, who says he has a supernatural fashion sense and only gets a roll of the eyes from the others, and Marius, who apologetically says that he doesn't have superpowers but he's good with languages. When they're finished, Enjolras stands up and clears his throat. “Tonight, for those of you who aren't used to our business, we're talking about the DNA Bill, which is going to be coming up for vote not too long from now, and what we can do to block it. Support from most of the National Assembly is lukewarm at best, but Felix Tholomyès is pushing it as his rise to power goes further. He seems to be trying to make it the issue he rides into higher office on, and we must prevent that.”
Grantaire is used to the effect of a mask, but where it steadies him, makes him braver than he is, Enjolras seems to blaze even brighter, to know more of what to say, without his costume on. Combeferre, at his side, stands up, papers in hand. “We've been trying several strategies at once, from lobbying other politicians whose votes will be key in the Assembly to trying to discredit Tholomyès's reasoning, but thus far it hasn't been effective.”
After that, Grantaire tunes much of the conversation out. He knows exactly what's at stake with the bill, and just how easily led politicians are by a man like Tholomyès, a man with power and charisma and just enough seemingly rational reasons to justify his bigotry. He doesn't know what to do about it, though, that won't put him in more danger than he already is on a nightly basis, so he fixes his gaze on the table and listens to the voices rather than what they're saying, until the business of the meeting is concluded, almost an hour later, and everything degenerates spontaneously into laughter and gossip.
“What did you think of it?” Musichetta asks, and he knows she really means what did you think of him?
He could answer that question any number of ways: the regret he can't help that he pushed his soulmate away so quickly when he's like a hero out of a folktale, the fear that he's going to find himself thrown in jail or killed even out of costume, how glad he is that Enjolras doesn't know it's him because he would be sure to be disappointed. Before he can collect any of that into anything less incriminating, though, Enjolras himself gives her an answer. “He doesn't seem to have been paying much attention.”
“I was paying plenty of attention.” He almost regrets wasting the nickname “Apollo” on their other identities, because it fits Enjolras much better here than out on the streets at night. “I just didn't have anything to add that you would care to listen to, that's all.”
“So what did you have to say that I wouldn't care to listen to?”
Hundreds of things, no doubt, and Grantaire should say none of them, but he turns to Enjolras and raises his eyebrows instead of staying wisely silent, or pretending to have a very urgent conversation with Musichetta. “That Tholomyès has too much power for a bunch of students to stop this bill right now.”
“What, you want to give up? Submit to the testing?”
“No. I want pretty much anything but.” He's thought about leaving the country, but he's not sure he could leave Paris. “But that doesn't change that he's one of the most powerful men in France and he's got his heart set on this, and if it doesn't pass this time, he'll try it again. First step to restricting our rights, most likely, even if DNA isn't quite the same as a registry bill.”
“And you think it can't be stopped?”
“I don't know. I wish it could.” That's too honest, probably, and he thinks they're attracting attention.
“It can. Even if it takes distracting him with something else until public opinion changes.”
Grantaire raises his eyebrows. “Distracting him? What kind of plan is that? He seems pretty single-minded, and dramatic displays of superpowers is only going to make him push harder, not get his attention off of you.”
“His recent interest in Patron-Minette is promising. They're more worthy of being tracked down, and the organization is extensive enough that if enough letters were written encouraging his prosecution of them he might let the bill lapse for a little while.”
That seems unlikely, but it's interesting anyway, something Gavroche hasn't mentioned to him, something he hasn't noticed on the news. “How do you know he's interested in Patron-Minette?”
Enjolras's voice is sharp when he answers. “Then you weren't listening, I mentioned it several times tonight.”
“I apologize for not hanging off your every word. How do you know he's interested?”
“It's been in the papers that he's made some statements about them and the danger they present to the city, and he seems to be encouraging a task force to deal with them. He's never shown an interest in organized crime before, but it's to the good as far as I'm concerned.”
Most of Patron-Minette can go to hell as far as Grantaire is concerned. He hates the Thénardiers as much as anyone who knows what they do, and the rest of the ringleaders of the gang, even if he can't fight them. There's also Montparnasse, though, an uneasy ally, and more than that, there's Gavroche and Éponine. He can't claim Éponine's friendship, not really, but he thinks she understands him better than most other people he knows, maybe even his roommates, and he would do a lot to protect Gavroche, who's the true hero of the city as far as he's concerned. If Tholomyès flushes them out, they're in trouble. And so is any super Montparnasse has ever met, because he can recognize them on sight and he'd sing like a canary to save his own skin. “And of course what you're concerned with is the most important thing.”
“That isn't what I said. But surely hunting down criminals is more important than persecuting innocent citizens.”
“And far more dangerous and expensive,” Grantaire says, because everything he says puts Enjolras's hackles up and he may as well do it on purpose.
“R,” says Joly, very quietly, and Grantaire takes the escape, turns as far away from Enjolras as he can get. A second later, he hears Enjolras start an agitated conversation with Combeferre, who says something soothing. Really, by all rights, Combeferre should be Enjolras's soulmate. Joly is watching him, so obviously sad that Grantaire wonders if it's written all over his face just who Enjolras is to him. What were the first words Enjolras ever said to him out of costume? Does anyone know Enjolras has already met his soulmate?
Jehan, at the next table, clears his throat. “Grantaire, come meet Bahorel, I think the two of you will like each other.”
“We've run into each other once or twice,” says Bahorel, and shakes Grantaire's hand in a way that would seem too hearty and cheerful from anyone else given the circumstances. “Good to have you here, man, always good to see Enjolras riled up.”
“I seem to have a talent for it.” Musichetta squeezes his thigh and he gives her a brief apologetic smile before he moves over to the next table so he can talk to Bahorel and Jehan. “Don't mean to rain on anyone's parade or anything, I just know what determined politicians get like.”
Bahorel grins at him. “Well, you're about to see what determined students look like. We're just as bad, and with less hoops to jump through.”
“And less voting power,” Grantaire points out.
“Votes,” says Bahorel, in tones of great dismissiveness, and changes the subject after a look over Grantaire's shoulder. Enjolras must be listening. “So, what convinced you to come here, if you're not sure you can do anything?”
“The company.” That's even true. “I can't go anywhere without Joly and Bossuet and Musichetta, we would all pine.”
He's always considered Bahorel to be a joker, rarely serious and too lazy to pay much attention, but he's proved abruptly wrong by the sharp look he gets for that. “Are the four of you—I knew the three of them were, but I didn't think they had a fourth.”
“No, lucky them, they get my friendship but they aren't destined.” He's learning to train himself not to twitch and touch his words when he thinks about them or when they come up, but it's still difficult, and maybe his lack of movement says just as much, because Bahorel and Jehan frown at the same time, looking at him like they're expecting his words to suddenly become visible. “Sometimes things don't work out,” he says, because people always ask, and he can't tell anyone here any more than that, not and keep he and Enjolras safe and apart.
“Or they're hard,” says Jehan, and Grantaire remembers his words and glances from him to Bahorel and back. It must be obvious, because a second later Jehan nods. “Yeah.”
There's no polite way of asking if someone is dating their soulmate, because it's assumed, even if it shouldn't be. Bahorel could very well be straight, after all, given Jehan's words. And either way, it's none of his business. Judging by the sympathy they're both giving him, though, he doesn't really need to ask. “Well then, you should tell me what you do here besides try to thwart politicians.”
Both of them relax, and Bahorel launches into a list of activities past and present. They're eclectic, but mostly they cluster around people with powers and occasional forays into soulmate legislation. Feuilly is interested in a union of the powered, to search for fair wages for the tasks people do with their powers, and Jehan and Combeferre both have a special interest in the education of kids whose powers are just setting on, and in anti-bullying initiatives. Grantaire listens, and nods, and keeps one ear on Enjolras, who's talking to Combeferre and Courfeyrac in a corner, voice lower but just as intense as it was when he was addressing the whole group.
He collects information, too, because he's used to doing that now, can't really stop even when he wishes he could. Jehan and Bahorel avoid mentioning certain things about Enjolras that make it obvious they know, or at least suspect, what he does with his nights. He doesn't know if that means all of them know, but Enjolras isn't subtle, so he has to assume that they all do, which means it's a danger for all of them, if Enjolras happens to make a powerful enemy. Grantaire hasn't yet, but Grantaire is less ambitious.
“Hey, we're going,” says Musichetta a while later—it must have been an hour, and Grantaire can't afford to waste his evenings, not if he wants to go out. “Are you coming?”
“I'm coming.” He stands up and shakes hands with Jehan and Bahorel. “Good to see you both.”
“Will you be coming back?” says Combeferre, behind him, and Grantaire has another split second of paranoia that he must know, but he can't worry about that unless Combeferre confronts him or confides suspicions to Enjolras.
Grantaire looks past Combeferre to Enjolras, who doesn't exactly look pleased at the question and isn't making eye contact. “I don't know. If I'm welcome, maybe.”
“Everyone is welcome.” It sounds like Combeferre is blurting it out to keep Enjolras from saying something less welcoming, and that's interesting too. “I'll keep an eye out for you, I'd like to be able to discuss some of the measures they used in America to block their version of the bill, and you seem knowledgeable.”
He's had to be. “Sure, I'll come back some time. Just might not make it every week.”
Joly puts his arm through Grantaire's. “He's a very busy and popular man, you know,” he says with a grin, and pulls him gently away. He's got a habit of knowing when Grantaire wants to get away, and the other two fall into step with him easily, getting quickly through the goodbyes from the rest of the group and out into the front room of the Musain, dark and quiet, all the chairs on the tables. It's not technically open in the evening, it seems, except for Enjolras and his friends.
Paris is quiet, not the kind of suspicious quiet that makes Grantaire's skin itch, but just a warm night with a gentle breeze, not too many cars or sirens in the distance, not too many people shouting out to each other. It's the kind of night Grantaire likes being on the street the best, and the kind where he's usually needed least. “Are you going out?” Musichetta asks when they're a few streets away and as safe as they're likely to get from anyone who knows them overhearing.
“I don't think so.” Grantaire is more drained than he wants to admit, and he doesn't want to make a mistake because of it. “See how the police like having to actually do their jobs tonight, maybe they'll be happier to see us after that.”
Joly squeezes his arm. “Awesome. We have a whole buildup of movies we want you to watch, you can catch up on one or two.”
Grantaire will never be able to express his gratitude enough for his friends. “Sounds great. What have we got on deck?”
Bossuet starts in on some movie about what would happen if powers had set on earlier, back in the swords-and-sandals era American film-making enjoys so much, and Grantaire listens to him talk and filters out everything else.
Enjolras turns around at the sound of a woman's voice behind him. It's a polite tone, disarming, but given he's on a roof and hasn't heard anyone follow him, he's still wary when he turns around. She's standing five feet away, hands in the air, and she's costumed, all in practical brown with a skirt worn over her leggings, blowing in the wind. “Who are you?” he asks, and can't even care that he sounds rude.
“You're the Flame, right? I saw the mural.” She shifts her weight, still not in a fighting stance. She's trying to seem unthreatening, from what he can tell. “Everyone saw the mural, I think. I wanted to tell you that I'll be out on the streets from now on. On your side.”
“And you are?”
She laughs, and he's startled at how young it makes her sound. He's young too, but it's hard to remember that in costume. “I certainly don't have the dramatic introduction down yet, do I? I'm Lark. I fly. If you ever need air support, I'm more than willing to help. And I'm not bad in a fight.”
“We haven't—I haven't done anything big yet.” He doesn't know what Shadow has done.
Lark tilts her head. “You saved those people in the accident, the other night. I'd call that big enough.”
It's not like the Americans, or even like Paris's first batch of superheroes, who fought huge fights, but it's something. He keeps reminding himself of that. “Did you read it in the news?”
“I think everyone did.” She pauses. “But I admit, I was watching. I've been tracking you and the other one a little bit. I wanted to be sure before I introduced myself that we could at least sort of trust each other.”
“Shadow is the other one. He doesn't trust easily.” Or at least he doesn't trust Enjolras, and his lack of trust seems to be infectious. “But I'm glad to have you on the streets.”
“I'm glad to meet you.” She comes a little closer—not walking, flying. She doesn't have wings, doesn't seem to do anything but let gravity loose its hold on her for a moment. Another one Combeferre would love to interview who probably for her own safety shouldn't consent to it. Enjolras hates that the world makes them choose between using their powers to help and studying them to the extent that they should be studied. “And I'd be glad to meet Shadow, if you know where he is?”
“I don't.” And then, forcing honesty and managing it only because she doesn't know that they're soulmates, and thus exactly how humiliating it is to continue “I never do. He usually finds me. There's a boy on the streets, he seems to have speed and possibly some other things, if he sees fit to find us he might know where Shadow is.”
Enjolras shrugs. “I don't know how much I'm allowed to share, really. He seemed dubious about me.”
“Paris's streets seem full of strange people.” There's something off in her tone, something that tells him there's a story behind it, but Enjolras isn't going to ask, not yet. If he doesn't trust her, he can't expect her to trust him, not even if she's been watching him. He'll just have to pay attention to that tone if it comes back again. “Do you want to patrol together for a little while?”
He hates how surprised he is at that. “Certainly. I can't say I've done a patrol with someone before, but I can show you some of my usual routes, or you can show me what you're more interested in. Shadow recommends lurking by the hospitals, when possible, and I try to keep an eye on fire stations, because I can be of assistance there.”
“Well then.” Suddenly, she's up in the air, floating over the edge of the roof. “Show me to the fire station, we'll see what we can find. And if we meet up with Shadow, you can introduce me.”
Enjolras takes off at a run, catching a current of heat over to the next roof. His buoyed jumps aren't as graceful as her flight, but they get him from place to place, so he doesn't bother with stung pride. She wants to help, wants to keep Paris safe, and it's good that their talents don't overlap.
Lark lets him lead, and stays mostly quiet while he takes her on the route between emergency facilities that he's come to use as a starting point for his nights. They don't show him everything about the city that he wants to know, but they're a beginning, anyway, and he hopes Lark is glad for the few tips and tricks he can show her, when he hasn't been on Paris's streets much longer than she has. “Are there any big problems you've run across yet, in your time in the city?” she asks about halfway through the route, when he's stopped hoping they'll run into Shadow.
Enjolras frowns and thinks about what to say. “Nothing huge,” he finally says. “There was one night when I caught Patron-Minette up to something outside Felix Tholomyès's home, but Shadow told me that getting involved in Patron-Minette's business isn't wise.”
“Getting involved in Felix Tholomyès's business probably isn't either.” She sounds thoughtful. “I've heard of Patron-Minette, but I don't know much about them. Are they the kind of trouble we should be worrying about?”
“They have a habit of exploiting supers for their own ends, but other than that they seem like a fairly standard group of organized crime. Run by some married couple called the Jondrettes, I believe, though that obviously isn't their real name, or they would have been arrested by now.”
Lark is quiet for most of a block. “The Jondrettes. It sounds familiar. I'll keep an eye out for them. Why did Shadow say that we shouldn't involve ourselves? Would his answer be different now that there's three of us?”
“I don't know.” Enjolras tries his best to choose his words carefully. “I don't think he's very interested in working on a team, or doing something high-profile like that. He stopped me from going after a member before, though she was powered so I suppose she may well have been someone they were exploiting.”
“She makes shields. Watch out for her, it's possible if she caught you by surprise she could knock you out of the sky.”
“I think I've met her,” says Lark, and she sounds so choked that he has to turn around and make sure that she's okay. “I'll keep an eye out, though. Just in case. I don't think two people can take down organized crime together, but, well. We're here to keep Paris safe, aren't we?”
“As long as they allow us.”
“I wonder what they want with Tholomyès.” They slow down as the roofs get steeper and Enjolras has to pay more attention to his footing. “He must know they want something with him, it's been all over the news that he's planning to hunt them down, in between forcing the DNA bill through.”
“Maybe he's hoping to get a few powered on his side, since they know Patron-Minette has a history of treating supers poorly.”
“Maybe.” She leaps across a space between roofs and waits for him to cross before he continues. “I've never understood why the DNA bill is important for him. Other people have tried to float the idea of a registry, that's more what they focused on in America, and in Russia last year.”
“He can write this off as something with benefits for healthcare,” Enjolras says, and tries not to scoff, or to go on a rant as he would in meetings. Lark may have political opinions that dovetail with his, but he's not sure he wants to try to invite someone else to come to their group who's worried about identity, even if Musichetta would appreciate the presence of another woman. “The registry is fairly obviously a discriminatory move. This he can pretend isn't.”
“But DNA has some specific purposes, and it isn't the most efficient—wait, I think I see his costume, he's on the street down there talking to someone.”
Enjolras goes to the edge of the rooftop to see, and sure enough there's Shadow, talking to a pair of boys who seem too young to be on the streets after midnight, both of them looking rather abashed from what he can see several stories up. “I'll go down and catch him, I would say you should do it but he might disappear, since he won't recognize you.”
“I'll wait right here.”
Shadow seems to be almost done with his conversation, so Enjolras floats down to the street and feels a little guilty when the attention of the two boys is immediately riveted on him. “I don't mean to interrupt,” he says, because he can't pretend at subtlety. “I just wanted to speak to the Shadow, when you gentlemen are finished with your conversation.”
“We're about done,” says Shadow, somewhere between annoyed and amused. “I was just impressing about these two the importance of not egging their teachers' houses in the middle of the night when they get reprimanded for not doing their work. Anything to add?”
“I'm sure you already told them everything they could possibly need to know. Do they need escort home?”
“I've been their escort, they're just a few doors down. Go on, you two. If I see you out again I'm going to wake up your parents.”
The two of them scamper off after one more wide-eyed look between Shadow and Enjolras, and then Shadow is crossing his arms and turning to Enjolras. Enjolras heads any irritation off at the pass. “I have someone to introduce to you.”
“You know, Apollo, there are easier ways of getting me to meet the parents than dragging them out into the city past their bedtimes.”
It's a joke, but a poor one, given the way Shadow's shoulders are hunched up. “This isn't—it doesn't have anything to do with us. There's a new super. She introduced herself to me, wanted to meet you. I was hoping I could find you but I didn't know how, and I didn't see Gavroche.”
“You trust her?”
“So far. She seems intelligent and kind and I don't think she'd have a reason to be my enemy. Do you want to meet her?”
“Where is she?”
Enjolras gestures up at the roof where he left Lark, and after a second Shadow nods and starts making his way up, finding handholds and jumping building to building. Enjolras does much the same, though he admits he's less graceful. His climbing still needs work, and he makes a note to find a rock wall in the city to practice on sometime in the coming weeks. Bahorel might enjoy it as a change in pace from their occasional sparring, and it would be of help, considering when he makes it to the roof, he's almost a full minute behind Shadow, and finds him standing a few tense meters away from Lark, the two of them with folded arms, sizing each other up.
“Lark, Shadow, Shadow, Lark, though the two of you may have already introduced yourselves.”
“Briefly,” says Lark, and relaxes. “I fly. You do invisibility?”
“Sort of. Actual invisibility is pretty showy, mine is more in the vein of camouflage. You're joining our less-than-merry band of people keeping the streets from chaos?”
“I hope so.” She squares her shoulders, and if Enjolras thought he liked her before, he's sure now. “Is there a band? Because you two don't seem like much of a group, if he can't find you. I'd like to be backup for you two, have you two as backup for me, but if that won't work, you need to tell me, so I know what I can rely on.”
“You're welcome to call on me,” says Enjolras.
“Good. How?” Before he can open his mouth to answer, she continues. “I'm going to buy a burner phone, pay-as-you-go, and I'll give the two of you the number. If either of you can't afford one, I'll do the same for you, otherwise do your own and give me the numbers.”
“I'll do it,” Shadow says, unexpectedly. “The money shouldn't be a problem. Can we all meet up on Wednesday night, midnight, to exchange numbers?” Enjolras is trying not to show his surprise, or his hurt that when Lark asks Shadow is willing to trust her, but Shadow must see it, judging by the way he turns to address him exclusively when he says “I can adapt, Flame.”
“I'll have a phone on Wednesday night,” he says, instead of finding a proper answer to that. “Where will we meet? Rooftop of the Hotel-Dieu? It's convenient for our work and it's a landmark.”
“I'll be there,” says Lark. “And I'll look forward to working with both of you.”
“Paris seems to attract three supers at once, doesn't it?” says Shadow. “Though I don't pretend to be the Mayor or any of his friends.”
“Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself,” says Lark, a little too serious, and then fidgets where she stands. “In the meantime, I should go. We can talk more on Wednesday about when we're allowed to call on each other, and whether we want to patrol together sometimes, and what more any of us should know.”
“It was good to meet you.” Shadow nods at her, surprisingly friendly (it's only his soulmate he doesn't want to talk to or work with, then, and Enjolras can imagine every reason there is for that and resents him for it anyway).
“A pleasure,” says Enjolras, when there's a too-long beat of silence. “I'll see you soon.”
Lark waves at them both and flies off at that, up higher and faster than she did when she was patrolling with him, showing off a little while Enjolras and Shadow stand and watch her go. When Enjolras turns back, Shadow is already watching him. “Flame,” he starts, hesitating over the name.
“I won't ask anything of you that you don't want to give.” He hopes his voice is steadier than it feels. “But I'd like to work with you. With both of you. Are you going to be able to do that?”
Shadow pauses for longer than Enjolras is comfortable with. “Yeah. Yeah, I can do that. But for now I want to go make sure those kids aren't still wandering around the street, since I didn't get to watch them home. I'll see you—Wednesday, I guess. If not before.”
“You're still welcome at my meetings. Every Tuesday night.”
“I never thought I was disinvited.”
Enjolras is starting to recognize the way he blurs around the edges when he wants to be finished with a conversation. “I just thought I would make sure that you knew. Have a good night.”
He isn't expecting a goodbye and doesn't get one, and he only waits on the rooftop a few seconds after Shadow disappears before he continues on his winding route around the city.
Patron-Minette is run by the Jondrettes. Cosette has seen Éponine around the city (Éponine is a super, but she doesn't know if her parents know that), up to something to do with Felix Tholomyès. Felix Tholomyès is trying to hunt Patron-Minette down. It's an ugly and incomplete picture, and Cosette doesn't believe in coincidence.
The question is, really, what she can do to find out more. Shadow, according to Flame, is reluctant to take on Patron-Minette, and she's not sure Flame will move against them without him, even if he's obviously itching to. She hasn't quite figured out what's going on with the two of them yet, but there's something tying them together stronger than she would expect when she knows Flame hasn't been on the streets much longer than she has. Cosette isn't even certain she wants to do anything about Patron-Minette besides find out if the Thénardiers are truly involved and what connection they have with Felix Tholomyès, but it would be nice to have backup.
“You look like you're thinking hard about something.”
Cosette, perched on the edge of a building, lingering too close to dawn while she wonders how much to tell her father, starts enough that she almost falls, and then turns around to find a boy on the roof with her, maybe twelve. He's got a grin on his face but he's holding himself carefully enough that at least some of his pretend ease must be for show. “I suppose I am.” It's a harmless truth.
“You're the flying one. I've seen you about, and then Shadow says you introduced yourself tonight.”
Cosette raises her eyebrows even though he won't be able to see it. “You know Shadow?”
“Oh, I know most people in Paris, especially the ones who wander around like you do. He's been out longest, so I know him best, anyway.”
“And you are?”
“Gavroche.” He offers her a hand to shake and she shakes it. It's a surprisingly adult handshake, brief and firm and professional. “I'm out most nights, seeing what's up in Paris. And lately, you are!”
Cosette's not naïve enough to ask him if he should be out at nights when he should be at school, because if her father had allowed her out when she was twelve she would have gone in a heartbeat, and she knows it, school or not. “That I am. I'm Lark.” Though if he knows Paris that well, and if he's quiet enough to sneak up on her, he might very well know who else she is too.
“I like it. Catchy. You should put some wings on your costume or something.” He stuffs his hands in his pockets. “I help the other two out a little, when they need it, when I see something going wrong and I think it could use some help.”
He's old for his age, that's obvious, but Cosette still aches a little that he sees that kind of need and decides to fill it. “I'd be glad if you wanted to do the same for me. The other two and I, we're going to be exchanging some numbers. If you don't want to ask your caretakers, I could buy you a phone too, so you could get in touch with all of us at once if you needed to, without hunting us down.”
Gavroche squints at her like he's trying to figure out the catch. “I'm fast enough that it doesn't take much hunting,” he says, but he sounds thoughtful. “You never track the phone, you always let me text you first.”
Cosette considers those terms. “Unless I have a clear and present reason to believe that you're in danger.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“We're trying to be a team. I don't doubt that you can take care of yourself, but you're welcome as part of the team.” Cosette pauses, and decides honesty is the best course. “Though I have to admit that I would be uncomfortable with you taking part in combat.”
He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, Shadow says too. Not sure Flame would, but he's a strange one.” After a few seconds, his foot tapping against the roof, he sighs, like considering her requests is a great chore. “Yeah, okay. Bring me a phone. Can't get one without my parents seeing.”
“Where do your parents think you are?” she asks, as neutrally as she can.
He waves a hand. “Oh, somewhere, if they notice. Anyway, phone's good.”
“Great.” He doesn't trust her enough that she could ask more yet. “We're meeting Wednesday at midnight with the phones, at the Hotel-Dieu, so you're welcome to meet us there, or to find me later if you can't make it then.”
The thoughtful, adult face he makes at that would be hilarious if Cosette didn't think he's actually consulting some sort of complicated mental calendar while he considers that. “Yeah, think I can. Might have to reschedule something with my sister, but she hasn't got a leg to stand on.”
“Your sister?” It may be prying, but she can't help her curiosity.
“She won't mind, may like that I've got some backup on the streets these days. I don't make trouble, but sometimes it finds me.” His urchin grin makes him look twelve for the first time. “Anyway, I can reschedule with her, I'll meet up with the three of you, no trouble.”
“I'll look forward to seeing you then, Gavroche.” She levers herself to her feet but stays on the ledge. Flying is the fastest way home, even when it's dangerously close to dawn and someone heading to work early could see her, or the police could, now that she's not flying beyond the streetlights.
“See you then.” He winks at her, and then after a cheery wave, he's jogging, and then sprinting, and then there's only a blur disturbing the air, Gavroche moving impossibly fast, faster than most of the powered with speed that Cosette has heard of.
Cosette moves towards home more slowly. She goes by the less-traveled routes, the ones with angles and overhangs in their roofs, and she flits building to building instead of flying straight, and she doesn't get home till the sky has turned completely pink, fading into morning blue. She's only lucky there's no one on the street when she climbs through her window. For a moment after she gets inside, she just breathes in the feel of the house. Her father isn't noisy, but the house still feels occupied when he's awake in a way that it doesn't when he's asleep, and Cosette changes clothes and showers quickly before going downstairs to see how he is before she can finally get some rest.
“Long night?” he asks when she comes into the kitchen, and she'll never be able to love him enough for the way he tries to hide his worry from her.
“I finally met Flame and the other one—Shadow, that's what he's called. We're going to exchange numbers for burner phones in a few nights.” He takes a breath, and she shakes her head in advance. “I can't give you the number, Papa, much less their numbers. You don't want to be on the street, so it's best to keep it separate. I'm going to trust them to protect me for now.” She hops up on the kitchen counter, and he gives her a disapproving paternal eyebrow but doesn't tell her to get down. He really is worried, then. “I met someone else too.”
“A kid, a boy. He seems to have superspeed, faster than I've ever heard of before. I don't know if he was going top speed, but I would be surprised if he doesn't managed to break the sound barrier someday. He's not in costume, but he seems to have some kind of alliance going on with Shadow, and Flame to a lesser extent.”
He frowns. “It isn't safe for you on the street, I don't know how I feel about you getting help from a child.”
“I plan to keep an eye on him. He says he can take care of himself, and I'm sure he can, but I just thought I would let you know.” Since she isn't telling him anything about the Jondrettes, or running into Éponine. Would he even recognize those names? The Thénardiers weren't anything to him, not really, just people he saw for a few hours before he took her away. He wouldn't have the paperwork memorized like she does. “I'm getting a phone for him as well.”
“I'll give you the money.” He holds up a hand against her protest. “I won't ask questions, I won't ask the numbers, but I'll give you enough for good phones, and even if you don't give me the numbers you'll program mine into both of them, if something goes terribly wrong.”
Cosette considers that, mostly whether Gavroche will keep that promise. “I can't promise for him, but I'll program the number in.” She takes a deep breath that tries to turn into a yawn halfway through and clenches her jaw, because she has to be serious. “Do you want me to tell them that I'm your daughter? That the Mayor is back in town?”
He considers it for long enough that she's surprised, when she expected an out-of-hand rejection, but in the end he shakes his head. “If word gets to Inspector Javert or anyone else that I'm here, I put everyone in danger. You can call on me if you need me, and if you're in that much danger I won't worry about secrecy, but I'm a liability, Cosette. As much as I don't want to be.”
“I'll try not to involve you unless it's bad.” She'll try not to involve him at all, but that, she suspects, wouldn't be much comfort. “But for now, I should rest. I was out later than I meant to be.” She yawns for real, proving herself right. “Any plans for today?”
“Nothing much. I'll have something for you to eat when you wake up.”
She hops off the counter and kisses him on the cheek. “Thank you, Papa. Don't worry about me too much, okay?”
He doesn't have to say that it's impossible not to worry, just pulls her into a firm hug as she passes and then releases her to wave her upstairs. “Let me know when you want to go out for those phones,” he says, and she nods before she goes upstairs.
It isn't even Enjolras, or not entirely. It's Combeferre, who sits in the corner with his laptop and can be induced to make biting commentary on the world at large and its treatment of supers in particular when plied with drinks. It's Jehan and Bahorel, who come as a set inside the Musain and who clearly care for each other so much that it doesn't matter if they kiss. It's Courfeyrac, who always knows when Grantaire is evading an answer but doesn't press or say so out loud, and Louison giving him drink discounts every time he tells her how wonderful her powers are, and Feuilly arguing with Joly about unionization.
Today, though, it's Enjolras, streaming some radio show on his laptop in the back room while Grantaire fidgets with his phone (the real one, not the one he reluctantly bought and gave the number of to Enjolras, Lark, and Gavroche, which is burning a hole in his pocket right now; if it goes off, if there's an emergency, he's fucked), getting away from Paris for a few hours because sometimes it feels like it's eating him alive.
On the laptop, Tholomyès is saying something about the DNA bill while Enjolras mutters at it, taking notes with a scowl. “—of course this is sensitive information the government would have in store,” Tholomyès continues in answer to some question from the interviewers. “Which is why I vow to personally oversee the program, to double-check all results and make sure that the correct tests are being run.”
“He's looking for someone,” Grantaire says, the well-honed instincts he's trained into himself telling him it's the right answer, one he should have thought of before, when the DNA bill is an unwieldy way of going about singling supers out.
He regrets saying it immediately, because Enjolras pauses the audio right away and turns to look at him sharply. “What makes you say that?”
Grantaire isn't interested in making either Enjolras or Flame more interested in Felix Tholomyès, but he doesn't see how he can get away without answering now. “What kind of politician volunteers himself for that kind of thing? He wants to peek at the DNA of France's citizens, so he must have something specific he's looking for, some ability to find out who's related to who or something. It can't just be the super thing, or he'd be talking about a team of doctors and scientists.”
That makes Enjolras look furious, for once not at Grantaire. It's novel, but it brings home all the more just how thin his disguise is, when he's being Flame. If a police officer who's ever kept an eye out on student protestors tries to arrest Paris's favorite firestarter, he'll be in trouble. “Who do you think he's looking for? Why?”
“Unfortunately, mind-reading is not among my talents.” Grantaire sighs and considers. “It's not like he knows how to read a genome, I'm betting. Simplest guess is a paternity test.” He freezes and thinks over what he just said. “A paternity test,” he repeats, and watches Enjolras as his face can't seem to decide between glee and rage.
“Felix Tholomyès has a child,” Enjolras says, like he's trying out the words, his voice wobbling a little. “He has a child, and he's sure enough that the child has powers that he's willing to push through a bill to find it. Why would he be sure? Did the mother have them? Inheritability is still hotly debated. Did he know the child and the mother left with it?”
“That's a big jump,” Grantaire warns. “No one would ever prove it.”
“We don't have to prove to discredit him.” Enjolras is lighting up now, though it's a fierce kind of happiness, and Grantaire is caught watching him, unable to look away. He's always ridiculously beautiful, but this is something else, like the fires he can start are burning him up from the inside out. “If it got out, if there was any connection besides conjecture ...”
“Then he would be trying to bury it in a panic, and he'd succeed because politicians are great at prosecuting people who aren't on their side, or who can hurt them.” Grantaire sighs. “It's not like that's the only reason he could want to have a peek at people's DNA. Maybe he wants to kidnap people for a secret government experiment. Maybe he wants to make sure that any of the people who pay him off frequently who have powers don't get put on any undesirable lists.”
Enjolras is perched on the edge of his seat, hand over his pocket like he's ready to reach for something (Grantaire wonders if it's the phone that will put him in touch with Grantaire and Lark, and what he'll do if his phone goes off). “Or to make sure he's not on those lists himself.”
“That's a fucking big leap, and a huge accusation.” Grantaire folds his hands in his lap. “He's an asshole, but if he was a super, do you think he would be selling out his own kind? Why would he? This has been part of his politics from the beginning, that would mean he was working against his own kind for what, almost twenty years now? He was the only politician under the age of fifty who came forward to condemn what Paris's first supers were doing right when they stopped going out.”
To his relief, Enjolras frowns and deflates a little. “I can't see why he would, unless perhaps there was some kind of profit or blackmail involved. I still think it's a worthy avenue of questioning, though.” Enjolras hesitates, and it's a hesitation he recognizes from Flame as well, when he's thinking about trying to say something that acknowledges Grantaire is his soulmate. It makes Grantaire freeze, too obvious, but he knows Enjolras hasn't guessed. He would have said something immediately if he had. “Thank you, for bringing this to my attention. I didn't expect you to be this much help.”
“You suck at giving compliments.” But Grantaire is glad about that, he has to admit. Every wonderful thing about Enjolras is another temptation, and he doesn't want to deal with that. They haven't stopped being any less of a danger to each other, especially with the police on the streets in force. Inspector Javert is on the news almost as often as Felix Tholomyès, speaking out against vigilantes, making big promises about arrest.
“I suppose I do. I'm sorry.”
Enjolras is awkward and pulled-back and obviously still scheming, and Grantaire supposes he should say that he's fine with it, but he doesn't really want to be Enjolras's friend. He thinks if he ever manages to make Enjolras smile he's going to lose all his hard-won logic about what they should be to each other. “Just don't make yourself into one of the problems Tholomyès feels the need to put down, if he is up to something shady,” he says with a sigh.
“Thanks for your concern.” Enjolras has thought of something else, but Grantaire isn't sure what, and he knows that Tholomyès is too big for him to take on, or for Shadow to take on. Probably too big for Enjolras's merry band of superpowered revolutionaries as well, but the worst they'll get is sued or maybe jailed. The worst Grantaire and Enjolras can get in costume is killed. Grantaire shouldn't be interested in the subject anymore.
Someone knocks on the door to the back room, and Grantaire doesn't bother to hide his relief. “Come in!”
Combeferre comes in, and if he doesn't look surprised to see Grantaire there, it's probably because he was getting gossip from the resident spiders before he came in. “I'm just out of class, Enjolras and I were planning to talk about our latest measures against the DNA bill. You're welcome to join us, Grantaire.”
“He's given me some interesting theories about Tholomyès that I—we—someone may be able to use.” Combeferre must be fully aware of Enjolras's nighttime activities, because Grantaire refuses to believe that he is this terrible at keeping his secret.
“It was nothing, really.” And it's only going to put them all in danger. “I'll leave you to your meeting. Too much seriousness for a Thursday afternoon, if you ask me.” Grantaire stands up, collecting his coffee cup and his bag as he goes. “I've got to be at work in an hour or two anyway.”
“Thank you for your help, then. I'll ask Enjolras about it.” Combeferre clasps his shoulder as Grantaire walks by, and Grantaire tries not to wince, or to look guilty.
The Musain is quiet when he shuts the door behind him. None of the rest of Enjolras's friends are around, all of them at work or in class, and Louison, as always, is cleaning up the counter, whistling a little tune to herself, giving him a bright smile when she sees it's him. “Here for a refill?” she asks.
“On my way out, unfortunately. I'll have to deprive myself of your company, I'm afraid, but I hope you'll forgive me.”
Louison's got the loveliest dimples. He makes a note to tell her so sometime. “Well, come in again soon. Fresh chocolate croissants every Friday.”
“You certainly know the way to my heart.” That makes her laugh, and Grantaire leaves, because conversations don't really get better than that, than the chance to make someone do that. He doesn't spend enough of his life making people happy.
He's only a few minutes' walk away when he gets a text to his new phone, and he's not surprised when he looks at it to find a message from Enjolras. Have some new theories about Tholomyès and perhaps Patron-Minette. I know you don't want to be involved, but can we meet?
Grantaire sends back a confirmation even though he knows he'll regret it and goes home to complain to Musichetta and Bossuet that he should think before he speaks and not give Enjolras too many ideas.
Enjolras knows that, but it isn't going to stop him from taking Tholomyès down in the press and on the streets if he can find the slightest hint of a whisper that he has a child who's a super, or that he's one himself.
“If this was a reasonable picture to put together, someone would have already done it,” Combeferre says when they're finished, folding his hands together on the table.
“It's a stupid assumption, but it's the right one. It's got to be. Grantaire was right, why else would he be so insistent on directly supervising the DNA?”
Combeferre tilts his head, pondering the options, because he's always had an easier time of seeing the big picture. “You say he mentioned some other possibilities himself. Logically, the worst we could accuse him of is wanting to pick and choose who gets put on lists, which is the standard kind of political corruption. Whether that's excluding his friends and colleagues or targeting certain groups is anyone's guess, but it is the most logical assumption, if we're going to assume ulterior motives. Which I'm certainly assuming, after listening to that broadcast.”
“The standard kind of political corruption isn't going to do it.” Enjolras sighs and rubs his forehead. He has a headache brewing, but this is the kind of all-consuming project that he can't miss for that. They don't have the luxury of days off with the vote looming so close and the politicians leaning towards Tholomyès's side despite the people screaming that they don't want it to happen. “Can we take the chance? If I get arrested for libel, or if the vote passes, there's a chance someone will recognize me.”
“You run that risk every day.” Combeferre is frowning when Enjolras looks at him. “I respect your decision to do this—envy you the powers you have that make you useful on the street, even—but you run that risk already, Enjolras. You knew before you chose to go out on the streets that this vote was coming. We'll keep trying to stop it, but I'm surprised you haven't prepared yourself for it before.”
“I have.” But none of it has been optimistic preparation, the kind he wants to show to his friends and the people fighting alongside him. Before Enjolras ever went out on the streets, he made a will, and he's kept it fanatically updated since then, filed copies where Combeferre and Courfeyrac will easily be able to find them. He's saved money from the allowance his parents still send him and put it into funds so they can get away, if they need to. It doesn't make him want the outcome any more. “I suppose I'm asking what you think our chances are, if we take a stab in the dark.”
Combeferre sighs. “I don't know, Enjolras. Even if you're completely sure that Patron-Minette was spying on him for that reason, and somehow has proof, it's a big assumption imagining that they would give it to you. The impression I get is that you haven't made the best of impressions on them, and if they know a secret and aren't telling I imagine there's blackmail involved.”
Enjolras considers that. “I have a potential source.” He doesn't like to lean on Gavroche, but Gavroche is the one who seems to know most of what's going on in Paris. He'll have to ask Shadow if it will be too dangerous for him, when they meet. He's amazed he even agreed to a meeting when the subject is dangerous, but he's glad.
“A safe source?”
“As safe as can be, most likely.”
Combeferre goes back to frowning at their afternoon's work. “I wonder if there's a way to get him to put an honest and public DNA result for himself out there, double-blind, from an impartial source.”
“Is any source impartial on this issue?” Enjolras joins him in his frowning. “But if he's being careful, and if it's true, then he already knows, and he would find some way to weasel out.”
“So if someone with a reasonable chance asked him to do it as an example and he refused or put out something falsified ...”
“Could we be sure it wasn't falsified?”
“No.” It's Combeferre's turn to ineffectually rub away a headache. “If you want to investigate, and I can't blame you for wanting to, please take backup. I don't care if it's Shadow or Lark, just take one of them.”
“I'll ask them both if they want to join me. Teams work best—Shadow can sneak, and Lark can observe, and I think, in the end, I'd rather keep my power as a last resort than as a first one.”
“And Shadow is still—”
“I would have told you if he'd changed his mind.” Enjolras looks away. “I'm almost starting to change mine. Not all soulmates have to be in love. Perhaps we're supposed to have each other's backs, as long as we're in the city. It doesn't stop me wanting to know him and find out for myself, but that's up to him in the end.”
Combeferre hesitates a long time before he answers. “It is. But I would be surprised if he didn't try to find you sooner rather than later. Curiosity is a fairly universal trait, especially curiosity about soulmates. He could have already come.”
“Isn't that worse? That means he's seen me and dismissed me again.”
“Or that he's watching, drawing his own conclusions.”
Enjolras has been paying more attention to the patrons of the Musain than usual, but none of them has seemed to be watching him the right way. He knows that it's not Joly or Bossuet, and Grantaire … well, he's considered Grantaire as a possibility. The timing is too coincidental, even if he came at his roommates' behest. Despite any similarities in appearance and timing, though, it's hard to find any of quiet, determined Shadow in Grantaire, who's loud and pessimistic and flirts like he breathes with Louison. If it is Grantaire, it wouldn't be all bad—he's kind, and funny, and smart enough to give Enjolras the ideas he's trying to run with now—but if it is Grantaire, and Grantaire hasn't introduced himself as Shadow, it would be hard to forgive him.
Enjolras doesn't want Grantaire to be Shadow, and he's not sure which one of them he would rather not be angry at. It doesn't matter to him right now, though. It can't. He may want to know his soulmate, but right now that's unimportant, or relatively so. “I can't worry about that,” he finally says, when Combeferre doesn't say anything more. “For now, I just have to trust that he's on our side, and concentrate on Tholomyès and the DNA bill.”
“I'll back you up. So will Courfeyrac, and off the streets, anyone else in our group. Nobody wants this bill to go through, and if we lay out our theories and suspicions, everyone will be behind you, a hundred percent.”
“I don't want you and Courfeyrac on the streets just for this, when you can do so much good without that.” Enjolras sighs. “Send a moth with me on patrol, if you like, to warn you when I'm in danger. Will that help?”
“It will probably make it worse. But I want to think it will help.”
Enjolras makes sure he's looking at the papers in front of them and not Combeferre when he responds. “I can't guarantee their safety, either. Not when my primary weapon is fire. You know I would call you if there was something I needed you to do.”
“And if you couldn't call me?”
“I've got to trust Shadow and Lark. I've got to at least try. With the police and the government both against us, we need to work with each other, as much and as well as possible.”
“Do you think they agree?”
“I think Lark does. I think Shadow could, if he was less worried about what we are to each other, and if he hadn't been used to working alone.”
Combeferre sighs and Enjolras looks up at him. “Then I've got to trust that. Though on restless nights I may send a moth out to watch you. Usually I can convince them of the kinds of things that put them in danger, if I need to.”
“I can accept that.” He taps the paper. “So what are we going to do about this?”
“You ask your source for information, and ask Shadow and Lark how much they're willing to do. I'll talk to Courfeyrac, and we'll figure out a plan for the rest of the group. We don't have time to think too much about this, much as I would like to be cautious.”
“It's going to be fine. I'm going to be safe.” Someday he's going to say that and it's going to be a lie. There's a reason he never prefaces those words with “I promise.”
Combeferre knows that as well as he does, but he still relaxes. “Let me know if there's anything I can do. Don't confront Tholomyès on your own and don't get arrested, and if you plan to breathe near Patron-Minette, take backup. Understood?”
“Understood.” Enjolras checks the time on his phone. “I should go, I have a meeting on campus not too long from now and I haven't had as much time to prepare as I would like, with the broadcast and then Grantaire distracting me.”
“Good luck,” says Combeferre, and Enjolras is willing to believe that he doesn't mean the meeting.
Those are the last words Cosette wants to hear on the dark streets when she's waiting on a roof, watching the people go by down below, keeping an ear out for disturbances, and within a second she's spun around, knife pulled out of its sheath. Her aim is good, and it makes less noise than a gun, and she's about to throw it towards the sound of the words before she recognizes Éponine standing a few meters away, her hands in plain sight if not in the air, her jeans torn and her hair swept out of her face. “I thought you might,” she says, and doesn't make a move to confirm her identity or take her mask off. Éponine might know who she is, but she doesn't have a current picture.
“And you know who I am.”
Éponine takes a sharp breath, like that somehow surprised her, and then she squares her shoulders. She looks like the last few years, like every year since Cosette last saw her in her pretty blue dress, her mother's darling, have been hard on her. Like this is the end of a marathon she's been running and she doesn't know where the finish line is. “And I think you've guessed some things about my parents. Patron-Minette, the Jondrettes, their names are everywhere and you're smart enough to figure it out.”
“It's not about how smart I am. I just … I remember a lot, about when I was with you. Yes, I guessed. Are you here to help?”
Éponine crosses her arms. “I'm here to make a deal. I'll tell you what's going on, what Patron-Minette is doing, I'll give you information that could take this city apart.”
“In exchange for what?”
She swallows. “You keep my brother safe.”
There's a piece she's missing. “Who's your brother? Keep him safe from who?”
“You know my brother.” There's the piece, falling right into place, Madame Thénardier's positive pregnancy test the week before Cosette left, and Gavroche running around the streets, hiding his new phone from his parents. “From my parents, or from anyone who comes after him. They don't touch him, as much as you can manage, and I tell you everything I know.”
“If he lets me help him. Should I get him away preemptively? Ask if he wants to stay with me?”
“I doubt he'll say yes, but … he likes having boltholes. You can make your place one of them.” Éponine looks away. “I know I don't have any right to ask you anything, after … everything.”
“I'd keep Gavroche safe anyway. And I do owe you. You never told your parents about me. What I can do.”
That makes Éponine pace a few steps away, and then back towards her again. “After you left, I did. Took me about a month, but that was when the supers, the first bunch, they disappeared. There was a reward for information, and my parents, they thought your mother matched Lightning's description. So I said I'd seen you fly once. I remember them telling some man who came around. I think it was Tholomyès, that was his first government job.” She snorts. “Fucking ironic, that.”
Cosette can't breathe, but she needs the information. Éponine promised her information, in exchange for helping Gavroche. The thought that anyone might have been looking for her nauseates her, whether it's the Thénardiers or Tholomyès. “What's ironic?” Her voice is wispy, punched-out.
“One of Patron-Minette, he's the best of a bad lot, probably. He's got a power, not big enough to get them interested in using him, but enough to be helpful—he can tell when other people have powers just by seeing them in person. Not what they are, but whether they have them, and somewhat how strong they are.”
Cosette is still in free fall. “And?”
“He saw Tholomyès in a crowd one time, and he got it in his head that he had powers, so he told Patron-Minette and my parents, and he got me to play lookout while he checked—that's when I met your friend Flame, he'll have an interest in this too.”
“He checked and ...”
“Would I have fucking come to you if he weren't?” Éponine turns away. “He is. He's powerful. And Mont—my friend, he thought maybe he'd pay to keep that information secret. What with the DNA bill coming up and all.”
Cosette's heart is in her throat. “Tholomyès is a super? But why would he—”
“I don't know. Probably he saw which way the wind was blowing, all those years ago. Or he wanted to hide in plain sight. That was the first wave against them, when Inspector Javert started his personal mission to take them down. What better place than the government, hunting down others of his own kind?”
“And he's the one who came to your house after I left who found out about me?”
“Yes. He seemed really interested in everything to do with Lightning, and especially you. Asked if we knew anything about where your new family had taken you.”
Cosette's stomach is in knots, and she knows there are still pieces of the puzzle yet to come to light, but they aren't adding up to anything good. With Tholomyès's recent statements making it clear that he will be personally overseeing the DNA project, she's willing to bet something very bad is possible. Is likely. “You think there's something personal about me that he's interested in.”
“Was Lightning your mother?”
She might still be, somewhere out in the world, but Éponine doesn't need that information. “Yes.”
“Then if I were you, I'd figure out who my father was as fast as possible, before the government figured it out for me.”
If her father had been her blood father, he would have told her long ago, but he and Fantine were never together. She's sometimes wondered if it was The Captain, judging by some pictures, but she never knew what he looked like, since he's all covered by his costume, and her father refused to draw conjectures, just said that Fantine had never told him for sure. It's been her most frequent imagining, but this makes it sound as though it's Tholomyès, that he's been looking for an excuse to find her, maybe, or like he wanted to know everything about the biggest piece of proof besides his own self that he consorted with superheroes.
There's another possibility, growing, buzzing in the back of her mind, reminding her that the world never found out who The Captain was, never even got a decent description of him the way they did of Lightning. “You have a theory,” she says, and she wishes it were someone she trusted here with her telling her all this, someone she could beg a hug from, however few of those people there are.
“I don't want to know. I know enough that I'm probably in trouble, if he ever gets the upper hand again. I want to get out of sight, as much as I can, but I know Gavroche won't go. That's why I asked you to look out for him.”
“I will.” Cosette tries to take a deep breath, but it comes out shaky and loud, catching in her throat. She wonders if she's going to cry, if she's going to be able to make it to her meeting with Flame and Shadow to talk about … probably this exact thing. They need to know it, but she doesn't know how she's going to tell them, how she can explain it. “If he gets hurt, they'll have to go through me. Thank you, for telling me. It's good to be prepared.”
“Fuck.” Éponine drops her arms to her sides, flexes her fingers like she's thinking about grabbing something. “I'm sorry, for what it's worth.”
She could mean she's sorry for how things were when she knew Cosette when they were children, or for getting involved now, or for telling her who her father might be, putting all the pieces together to show just how much danger they could be in, if it's true. Cosette doesn't know how to respond, though, because she's not sure she can say that she's grateful. “Keep safe,” she says instead.
“I know how to keep my head down, but Gavroche has never known how to stand behind a shield.” She looks out over the rooftops. “I might leave, for a while. My parents, they think they can blackmail Tholomyès forever, even my friend who figured it out does, they think the hunt is just for show. I don't think he'll stand for it. We all know too much.”
Cosette takes out her phone, the one that only has three numbers stored in it. “I'm going to give you a phone number. If you're in Paris and you're in trouble, you can call me.”
“Fuck you, you were always Cinderella, weren't you? I'm not asking for help for me. You don't owe me.”
“Let me give you the number.”
After a long moment, Éponine takes a phone out of her pocket, and she enters Cosette's number as Cosette reads it off for her. She doubts Éponine will ever call her, but she feels better knowing that she has the ability. “I've got to go,” Éponine says, abrupt, as soon as she finishes. “Don't worry about me, worry about him.”
She could mean Gavroche, or she could mean Tholomyès, or she could mean both. “Call me if you need to call me.”
Éponine shakes her head. “Not worth it. Lark.” And then she's off at a jog, using her shields the way Flame uses currents of heat in the air to boost her jumps.
Cosette stands where she is for a long time, hands shaking even when she clenches them, until she hears the sounds of sirens in the distance and forces her legs to move, to spring her off the roof until she can fly towards the trouble.
“I heard the fire department called out for something an hour or so ago. We need to get emergency radios at some point, when we can steal them. It could be something to ask Gavroche.”
Her voice is shaky, and she's jittering, enough that Grantaire wonders fleetingly about drugs before realizing that the simpler explanation is that she's run into some kind of trouble. He looks around, scans the rooftops and the streets around them, but he can't see anything or anyone that should be causing her distress, and Grantaire is good at knowing when something is hidden or disguised. “What's the matter?”
Her mouth, barely visible between the darkness and her mask, twists. “I think that had better wait until the other two get here. I would rather explain it once. I may have to compromise myself.”
Grantaire freezes. “In what way?”
“I think to keep us safe, I have to tell you who I am, so everyone can go into this with the most information possible.” She lets out a shaky sigh and runs a hand over her forehead. “I got some possible information from a source earlier, and it touches on what I think Flame is going to talk to us about tonight.”
“Do you trust the source?”
Gavroche, with his usual excellent timing, blurs into view then, and Grantaire has long thought that he must have some kind of long-range senses as well, because the first words out of his mouth are “Who's this source who isn't me? I can't have anyone taking my job for me.”
“Gavroche, do you mind if I speak to you in private for a moment?” Lark looks past Gavroche to Grantaire. “Sorry, Shadow, do you? My information has something to do with him as well, and I don't want to say anything he doesn't want me to say.”
That puts Gavroche on the defensive, arms crossed, instantly intractable, but he nods, and Grantaire trusts Lark to do what she said, so he goes away across the roof, wandering away until their conversation is just a low-voiced murmur, words indistinguishable. He's the one who sees Enjolras coming at a jog, and gestures him over before he can approach the other two. “They need to have a private conversation,” he says when Enjolras stops up short, confused and maybe a bit breathless. The fire call must have been a ways across Paris. “I think it has something to do with what you want to talk about.”
Enjolras frowns, or at least Grantaire can assume that he frowns. “About Tholomyès? Why would she need to have a private conversation with Gavroche about that?”
“Anyone's guess, but I imagine we'll find out in a few minutes.”
“And are you … I know you didn't want to take on anything big. I'm surprised you even agreed to meet about it.”
“Talking about it can't hurt.” And he has some responsibility, even if doing it scares the shit out of him, for giving Enjolras the idea in the first place. “I like to know what's going on in the city, and … honestly, at this point, I think I'm outvoted. You and Lark are going to do something whether I want to or not, and hell if I'm going to let you be killed for it.”
“You're very—I'm glad. But I don't want anyone doing this because they think they must.”
“Oh, I must. If you're doing it, I am. If that makes you more cautious, fine, I'm glad, but don't tell me not to keep you safe. You and Lark and Gavroche and anyone else who gets caught in the crossfire.”
“And you're reckless. We all have our crosses to bear.” He knows this isn't what he's been saying all along, in either guise, but the thought of getting in the middle and dying or being thrown in jail isn't as bad as the thought of staying on the sidelines and watching the same happen to Gavroche and Enjolras and his roommates and Lark and everyone at the Musain. “Tell me if you don't want me involved.”
“Of course I want you involved.” Enjolras looks as though he wants to tear out his hair and only his costume is stopping him. “You were the one who chose this, not me, barely being colleagues.”
“I didn't take you as the type to acquiesce to destiny.”
Grantaire is getting good at interpreting Enjolras's body language, the tilts of his head and shoulders that clue him in to moods when he can't see his face, but this sudden freeze seems ill-timed, given how easily he usually argues back. “I'm not,” he finally says, but there's no force to it. “I'm not, but the words are there for something, and I've liked yours forever.”
“We're ready,” Lark calls from the other side of the roof, saving Grantaire from having to find an answer.
Grantaire is the first one to move, but Enjolras is on his heels, and the four of them meet in the middle of the roof. Gavroche, the only one of them not wearing a mask, should be the easiest way to tell how the mood of this conversation is going to go, but his face is stubbornly blank. “Should you go first?” Grantaire asks Lark, because her news seems both pressing and topical.
“I want to see how much I have to give away.” She jerks her head at Enjolras. “Flame? Why did you call the meeting?”
Enjolras must be able to tell that something is wrong, because instead of demanding information, he lays it out, everything he and Grantaire discussed, refined in the way that means he's been thinking it over, polishing, seeing what he could corroborate. Grantaire pretends ignorance, nods and gasps at the right times, and only ever gets sideways looks from Enjolras, who focuses on explaining to Lark and Gavroche. Neither of them seems surprised. “Does that dovetail with what you're finding out?” he finally asks, like he already knows the answer.
“Tholomyès is a super,” says Lark, and Grantaire feels like someone punched him even though he can't say he's surprised. “There's a member of Patron-Minette who can tell if people have powers, and he does. Patron-Minette is trying to blackmail him, but it's a fragile situation at best. Tholomyès has expressed a lot of interest over the years in Paris's first supers, especially Lightning, since she got away unidentified.”
“So did The Captain,” Grantaire points out when she leaves a long enough pause that he feels the need to say something. “Why not him? Is it the kid thing—fuck, you don't think he had a kid with Lightning?” Enjolras, next to him, lets out a noise like an angry cat.
“I'm pretty sure he did,” Lark says, and Grantaire knows what's happening, the piece of the puzzle he's been missing, and it makes him sick. He doesn't know how much Gavroche knows, just that his stake in it probably involves Éponine, and he keeps his eyes on him instead of Enjolras or Lark as she continues. “And I'm pretty sure he already knew where The Captain was. He just wanted to track his daughter down.”
“A DNA test would prove this daughter to be Tholomyès's?”
“Yes. I'm about ninety percent sure, at this point. It explains everything neatly. It would certainly prove he's a super, and my source says a powerful one.”
“Tholomyès is The Captain, is what she's saying,” says Gavroche, the only one of them not in disguise and the only one brave enough to say it. “Who knows why he decided to leave the streets and fight against his people, but it's an answer.”
“So somewhere out there, there's a young woman with the bad luck to have her own father on the hunt for her, because her DNA is probably the thing that could compromise him most easily,” says Grantaire, and they all know it now, Grantaire has known it since Lark said “daughter,” but he isn't going to say it.
Enjolras nods. “If he's after Patron-Minette for having evidence that's likely not admissible in court, he would probably do almost anything to get his hands on her.”
“To get his hands on me,” Lark corrects. Her shoulders are straight, but Grantaire thinks he can still see her hands tremble where they're clenched at her sides. “I want to stop him before he can. And if there's a chance of doing that without publishing my DNA publicly, I'd like to take it.”
“Anything short of that could be shrugged off,” Grantaire says as gently as he can.
“I'll risk it if I have to. It just means ...” Lark stops, and sighs, and Grantaire waits for her to say it.
“Your mother,” says Enjolras, to Grantaire's surprise. “You'd be risking her too. Is Lightning in the city?”
Lark shakes her head. “I haven't seen her since I was little. As far as I know, she's alive, but my father—not my blood father—got me out of Paris when everything was in confusion and she never found us again. He couldn't exactly leave her a note saying what false identity he's using. He's the one who would be in trouble.”
“For adopting you?”
After a second, Lark turns away, looks out over the city. Gavroche still doesn't look surprised, but Grantaire would be shocked if he hadn't followed all of them home a time or two to make sure he knew who they were. “For being the Mayor,” she says. “I don't know if he knows who my father is, or who The Captain was, or anything, I haven't seen him since I found out about this, but he would be in danger too, and he's spent a long time trying to stay out of view.”
Enjolras clears his throat. “Would he help us, if we needed him to?”
“I don't know. Maybe. I don't want to call on him, though, or make him.” Lark turns back, and looks at all three of them, turning and making sure that they're looking back before she moves on to the next. “I think we can do this on our own. I think we have to. We have to stop him, and expose him without exposing ourselves, because the bill won't go through without him.”
“How?” asks Gavroche. “I can get in his house, or Shadow can, but he'd be stupid to have any proof.”
Lark's breath is shuddery when she lets it out. “Everyone take a few days. We'll think about it, find an angle that will work. I'll talk to my father. And Gavroche, you stay safe. I promised.” Éponine is involved, then, and if he doesn't know why she would have gone to Lark and not him, how she possibly could have known who Lark is, that's not his business. “You can come home with me if you want. Meet my father.”
Gavroche frowns, then sighs. “I'll meet you here at three, let you finish your patrol. I'll escort you at least halfway home. So I know the way.”
“As if you don't already,” says Grantaire, as lightly as he can, and then clasps Lark's arm. “Let me know if there's anything you need. I would rather not sneak into Tholomyès's house, but if you need backup, I do a very good bit of rough.”
“I hope it won't come down to that, but thank you.”
He makes a point of looking up at the sky, the position of the moon. He's pretty good at telling the time from it, these days, but it's still more for the show of it than anything else. “I think I'll make an early night of it, if nobody else minds, get home and start thinking about things. You can text if there's something requiring stealth, I probably won't go to bed for a while.”
All three of them nod at him at nearly the same time, a ragged chorus of goodnights following. Grantaire takes off at a jog while the words are still fading, before Enjolras can take him aside again, and while he doesn't take the most direct route home, he goes a lot more quickly than usual.
Grantaire has a standing offer to climb into his roommates' bed on bad nights, the kind of nights when he wakes up gasping if he sleeps on his own. He almost never takes them up on it, even if they must know, but tonight he strips out of his costume the second he's home and puts on sweatpants before he goes to the next room, where Joly and Bossuet and Musichetta are piled in a heap on their mattress, which takes up most of the floor space of their room.
A hand reaches out of the pile quickly enough to remind him that they always doze lightly until he comes home, and Grantaire goes over to the bed and collapses on the near side of it, leaning into Musichetta, who's closest. “It's going to get bad,” he whispers, because he can't see any other way that getting caught between Tholomyès and Patron-Minette could end. “People might get hurt.”
“Let us know if you need us,” she says, the words barely breathed into his neck, and Grantaire wraps his arms around them so he can get some sleep and not think about any of it.
Courfeyrac and Combeferre already know that, since he's the one who asked them when they could speak in private, but they just keep sitting on the couch, watching him patiently. Enjolras couldn't be more grateful for his friends. “About what?” Courfeyrac asks when the silence is a beat too long for anyone's comfort.
“We've been talking about Tholomyès lately. Making some assumptions.” He hasn't told Courfeyrac about them explicitly, but judging by how calm his expression stays, Combeferre has told him. He was trusting that. “Saying that taking him down may be the key to stopping the DNA bill.”
Combeferre frowns. “And discussing the dangers of getting slapped with suits for libel, defamation, slander, anything he can touch us with. All it would take would be a DNA test with the results published, falsified though they may be, and we would be in trouble.”
“He's a super. Tholomyès is.” Enjolras takes a deep breath. “And there's proof, though not court-admissible proof, and I don't think the person who can confirm it will be willing to testify in a court anyway. But it's true, beyond any doubt I can find without seeing him use powers first-hand. And he has a daughter who's a superhero as well, and he's trying to find her.”
“You aren't lying,” says Courfeyrac, eyebrows pulling together. “How can you possibly know this?”
“Lark had some information.” He won't tell them the whole story. They don't need all of it, not yet. “I don't know why he chose to go against his own kind, what he decided there was in it for him, but he has, and he's controlling the DNA bill so he can erase all proof of his own betrayal. We need to stop him.”
“Of course I agree,” says Combeferre, but slowly, putting something together as he speaks. “You knew we would agree with that much, with the confirmation that there's proof even if it's proof that we can't see. I'm waiting for the part that's making you look so serious.”
Enjolras locks his hands behind his back and paces a few steps away from them. “If we do this, he's going to come after us. I'll be in more danger, because I doubt he'll deal with a vigilante through legal avenues—the only reason he's doing it with Patron-Minette is because it's good press to get rid of organized crime, I imagine.”
“They're the ones who proved it.” Enjolras sighs and turns back to them. “I'm in more danger, but that doesn't mean you won't be in any at all. I don't know if he'll stop at law suits, and I don't know if it's worth you being hurt, worth any of our friends being hurt, if we push it.”
Courfeyrac, to his surprise, smiles. “If we're hurt, then that might mean more people believe us. I don't want anyone to get hurt, Enjolras, but I don't want the DNA bill to go through either. I'm willing to risk it, because I trust you to keep us safe. You, Lark, Shadow—that's what you're there for. So you keep us safe, and we'll see what kind of rumors we can generate, because even rumors have power, in a political issue this delicate. And everyone I know knows I never lie, so if I tell them what I think is going on, they might be more likely to believe me.”
Combeferre takes longer, still thinking it over, thinking of all the angles, but that's why Enjolras wanted to have this discussion with both of them at once. Combeferre is the cautious one, even if he believes in what they work for as passionately as Enjolras does. Sometimes, with one or the other of them, he'll be caught up in the momentum and take the rash option, but when all three of them talk it out together, he takes his time. “Is this going to compromise you, Enjolras? If Paris's superheroes and then a group of students in an advocacy group both start telling the same story, are you going to get in trouble for it?”
“Maybe.” He hasn't considered that, but he's not sure it's worth considering. “Maybe on the streets we should stick to more investigative measures. It might be smarter. Putting on a costume isn't really a tool for getting more information out, it's a tool for action. The information can easily be handled by the two of you—by all our friends, if they agree. No one who's unsure should involve themselves with this.”
“You really think any of them would say no?”
Enjolras hesitates, but it's Courfeyrac asking, and Courfeyrac always wants his friends to tell the truth. “Grantaire might. And no one would be wrong to, if they did. This is potential danger, and none of us signed on for that.”
“Really?” Combeferre's eyebrows are practically in his hairline. “Because I'm quite sure that no one had any illusions about what it means to fight for the rights of powered individuals in France at this time. Maybe if the last fifteen years had never happened, if the Mayor and Lightning and The Captain had retired from the streets and passed them on to younger supers instead of being chased away, it would be easier, but we've seen police policies and public opinion and Tholomyès's politics. That's why we're advocating in the first place.” He pauses. “And I think you underestimate Grantaire. He was the one who gave you this idea in the first place.”
“I suppose he was.” But Grantaire is too big a subject to unpack right now; he's one puzzle too many, and not the most important one right now. He'll still be there to be considered once they've stopped the bill, unless things go terribly wrong. “I won't make anyone's decisions for them. I just don't want anyone hurt who feels this isn't what they signed on for.”
“We'll make sure that information gets out to everyone,” Courfeyrac assures him, frowning a little. He probably wants to poke at the question of Grantaire, but Enjolras isn't ready for the truth of that yet, so he shakes his head. “And we'll search for as much proof, or at least as much potential evidence, as we can. Any thought as to what his powers might be?”
Enjolras takes a deep breath, because this is the biggest leap, the part he's least sure of, but it could help. “Telekinesis, very possibly. Strong. I would think he can lift much heavier objects than Feuilly.”
They're both more than capable of following him, and he watches the surprise dawn, and then the doubt. “That's a big claim to make,” Combeferre says. “And I don't know what his motive would be for changing sides.”
“Neither do I, but it fits in with some other pieces of the puzzle, pieces that would be breaking a confidence to share.”
“We'll factor it into our research,” says Courfeyrac. “And there's a lot of research to do. We need to find proof of him using his superpowers, or proof that links him to The Captain, and if we can find some kind of motivation for him changing sides, that might strengthen our case as well.”
Enjolras nods. “It would help in a lot of ways, but it's likely to be the hardest information to find. All Tholomyès says when anyone asks him how he got into politics is that it seemed like the next logical step after his studies and that … that he's always wanted to change the world.” He groans and sits down in the armchair next to the couch. “I understand that. It's not like I've never considered politics. He's just fighting for the wrong side.”
“We'll learn everything we can.” Combeferre is chewing on his lip, a rare habit that means he's thinking hard about something and worried about it as well. “We can do that for you, because no matter how much you're talking about danger to us, there's going to be danger for you as well.”
Courfeyrac grabs his laptop from the arm of the couch and opens it up. “We can start now. We'll look at the sequence of events fifteen years ago, when The Captain left the streets, and see what conclusions we can draw from that.”
Enjolras breathes out, glad the worst of the conversation is over, and goes to his bedroom to get his own laptop, since that will make things go twice as fast. When he returns, Combeferre and Courfeyrac break off their conversation, both of them going from grave and worried to a little guilty in a second, but he just shakes his head. “I would be surprised if you weren't talking about me,” he tells them, and starts searching every news archive he can find.
He doesn't know what to make of the story that starts taking shape as the afternoon goes on: the Mayor was unmasked as Jean Valjean, and the police, or at least Inspector Javert, seized the chance to arrest a notorious vigilante, and his friends as a result. Valjean, understandably, went to ground, but Lightning and The Captain went on the run too, at about the same time. Barely a week later, Tholomyès's name was mentioned as a police consultant helping to search for Lightning. The search for The Captain was lax at best, other than Inspector Javert and his small band of police who thought all supers were equal.
“If Tholomyès is The Captain,” Combeferre says at last, when they're all hungry and refusing to admit it because there's work to be done, “it seems likely that he paid the government in information to forget all about him, and that he's been covering for it ever since. He picked the side he thought was winning at the time and stuck to it firmly.”
“I don't like it.” Courfeyrac sighs and stretches his leg out to kick Enjolras gently in the ankle. “But if he is working that hard to keep his secret, he's unlikely to use his powers to lash out. He won't risk it. That means you're more physically safe than I was afraid you were, anyway.”
“If you think I'm going too far, you can tell me to pull back.”
“You're keeping us safe, all of us, every super in France. That matters.” Combeferre rubs his forehead. “Just spare a thought for yourself as well. Tell Shadow to keep an eye on you for me, will you?”
Enjolras nods even though he's not at all sure he will ask, that he has the right to demand that of Shadow when there's Lark and Gavroche to watch over as well, and when there are few enough of them that devoting manpower to protecting each other seems foolish. “I'll keep myself as safe as I can. And I'll find as much information as I can.”
“We'll talk to everyone privately, so no one feels pressured.” Courfeyrac hesitates. “We don't have to call Grantaire if you don't want us to.”
“It's not that I don't trust him. I just don't know if he'll be willing.”
“Well, we'll ask.” Combeferre, who'd stolen Enjolras's laptop an hour ago, shuts it with a definitive click. “Come on, we need to go out somewhere where we can't talk about this, we need to clear our heads. Enjolras, do you want to go to dinner? Or are you planning on going out tonight?”
Courfeyrac, of everyone, knows that Enjolras has been out most nights, since he started, that he doesn't take as much time to sleep as he should, and it's not shocking that he might have told Combeferre, or that they would be worried about it. Normally, Enjolras wouldn't let himself be swayed by that, but he and the others agreed to take a few days to think about it, so he nods even if his instinct is to say that he should be getting into costume. “I'll go. Do you have anywhere new to recommend?”
“I'm sure we'll find somewhere,” says Courfeyrac, his shoulders relaxing, and shuts his own laptop. “Come on, let's go, it will take us forever to decide on a place.”
They're all quiet as they get ready, and Enjolras knows exactly what they're all thinking about, but he's content to leave it for now, to think over what kind of battle they're going to be fighting and to hope that they all come out of it okay and alive.
She's still sitting at the table when her father comes downstairs, still most of the way in costume, although she's left her boots and gloves and hood in a pile on the floor next to her and rolled up her sleeves far enough that she can breathe. “Cosette?” he asks, like he's surprised to see her, and Cosette looks up at the kitchen clock to find it's five, an hour she rarely sees from either end even now that she's out on the streets. “Is something wrong?”
“Papa.” Her voice is still shaky and she hates that she can't control it better because she knows he's really worrying the second he hears her. “Papa, I need you to tell me exactly what it is that made you leave the streets. Not just the fact that they found out your identity, that the three of you were fighting, but why all that happened. It's important.”
She's glad she asked when he was near a chair, because he sinks like his knees were cut out from under him, stopping halfway to the coffeepot, shocked wide awake without the caffeine. “Why is it important?”
“I need to know.” She puts her hands in her lap. They ache from how long she's been clenching them into fists. “I need to know everything you know. Please.”
“Cosette, if you're in trouble—”
“Papa, please.” Her voice catches, and Cosette takes a deep breath before she lets herself continue. “There are some things happening now that I think will be a lot clearer once I know this information, and I'll tell you then, when I'm sure I'm not just being paranoid.”
He takes a deep breath, and it's almost as shaky as hers. “Fantine and The Captain had been fighting—about you, I believe, though I didn't know it at the time. He was angry, telling her he deserved to know, and she was telling him that we kept our identities secret from each other for a reason. Javert had just been promoted to detective, and he was the first one who really cared there were vigilantes on the street, so we weren't ready for how determined he was about finding us. It put us under stress.”
“Was The Captain acting oddly besides fighting with her?”
He shrugs. “He'd always had a habit of disappearing for a week or two sometimes.” And everyone knows about Tholomyès and his loving extended family in the Loire Valley, and the woman he was married to there before their genteel divorce seven years ago. It's hard not to wonder if Madame Tholomyès ever knew, or suspected. “There was one of those times not long after that fight, but I never found the timing suspicious.”
“Tell me about what happened after that, then.”
“Fantine knocked on my window one morning when I was still sleeping off a night out, and told me my name had been released by the press and that she'd found me before any of them could. It was the first time we'd seen each other out of costume.” He looks away, over at the stove, and Cosette closes her eyes, because it's going to be easier to hear this story if she doesn't have to look at him. “She said I had to run, because Inspector Javert would be coming for me, especially because I had a criminal record, and she said that she would be next.”
“Did she say why she thought that?”
“No. I didn't think to ask, we were both panicking.” She hears the sound of his chair moving, and then his hand is on her arm, offering her all the strength he can give her, and Cosette will never be able to tell her father just how much she loves him, but at least she should remember to assure him she isn't angry at him for anything when he's finished telling her what she needs to know. “She told me that she needed me to do something before I left, because it would be a danger if she did it, and she sent me to you, told me to tell the Thénardiers that Fantine sent me to get you, and said she would meet me outside the city at sunset. I took all the money I could out of my accounts, and you know the rest of the story.”
“That's all you're sure of?” She opens her eyes.
Her father is still scared, obviously, but he's still looking at her as steady and kind as ever. “That's all I'm sure of. Are you asking for conjecture?”
“Did you ever wonder who The Captain was? Why the police never went after him the way they went after you and Fantine? They knew who you were, but they never figured her out, as much as they tried, as much as they released a description—and it was more of a description than you would assume from pictures of someone in costume, too.”
He leans back in his chair. “Those are big questions, Cosette. Of course I wondered about him, and about Fantine. No matter how much research I did I could never find out much about her, and you were my priority. I didn't bother much with The Captain. We'd never been close. It was Fantine who kept the team together.”
“Someone on the streets talked to me tonight.” She takes a deep breath, and she doesn't want to tell him, but she can't not. “I don't know if you remember that the Thénardiers had a daughter about my age, Éponine.”
Her father breathes in sharp and fast, and she can see the plans forming before he even opens his mouth to say “We have to run.”
“She's on my side, Papa. She's trying to protect her little brother, who's twelve and who has powers, but she had some information, and she put some pieces together … she thinks that Tholomyès is The Captain, and that he's my blood father.”
Cosette has only looked at her father a few times and thought he used to be a superhero, he lifted a bus once because a child was trapped, he protected Paris so well that they started calling him its Mayor, but the thought is there now. He doesn't deflate or freeze at the news, doesn't rock back like it came as a blow. His focus goes laser-sharp and she can see how he must be sifting through every piece of evidence he's ever had. “Is there proof?”
“Testimony from a man who can see when people have powers.” She swallows. “And me. I'm proof. We think that's why he's so insistent on the DNA bill, so he can flag paternity results and find me and buy me off or have me killed or something like that.”
“How sure are you?”
“Sure enough to ask you when I know how much you hate talking about it.” Cosette looks down at her hands. “I don't want you involved, not if we can help it. Inspector Javert has his eyes out for us, and the second he recognized you, you would never get any peace again—and if Tholomyès is who we think he is, that makes it all the worse. I just wanted to know, and you deserved to know too.”
“I don't want you putting yourself in danger over this.” Cosette shakes her head, still looking away, and a second later, her father takes her shoulders to turn her gently to face him, not forcing her but insistent nonetheless. “If it is him, and even if it isn't, going against the government is different than action on the streets, Cosette. The consequences—”
“I know, Papa.” She touches the words on her stomach. “I know what the consequences could be, I grew up with them. And I love you, and I don't regret it, but I don't want to run. Not yet, anyway.” If they want proof, if they want to make France safe for the powered, Cosette knows that the easiest method is going to be using herself as bait.
Her father probably knows it too, but he must respect her decision, because even though he looks unhappy and pale, he lets her go and leans back, thinking over it all again. “I can't be happy about this.”
“And I don't expect you to be.” She forces some of the tension out of her muscles and looks for a change of subject, even though she knows it's a temporary one. “Éponine's brother may come to us if he needs help. It was the bargain I made with Éponine to get the information from her. I tried to convince her that she could call on me too, but you should know that if a boy shows up here calling himself Gavroche, I told him he could, and that he should, if he's in danger. He's out on the streets a lot, not in costume, and he gives information even if he doesn't fight people. I'd rather have him out of trouble.”
“I'd always rather have children off the streets.” He might mean her too, but she trusts him to watch over Gavroche either way. “Get me a picture, if you can? I don't want to take in every urchin I see.”
“You could start a collection of us. The Mayor's Home for Wayward Children. Me and Gavroche and Shadow and Flame and Éponine and whoever else needs a place.”
He takes that as she means it, a chance to end the conversation, and he stands up at last. She pretends not to notice how slowly he moves, like he's having to tell his body every single minute motion it needs to go through. “I'll have to practice my cooking skills, then. Should I cook us breakfast?”
Cosette stands up and gathers her things into a pile. “Sure. I'll run upstairs and get changed and shower, and we can eat, and then I'll go to sleep for a few hours before work.”
“One thing, before we end this conversation,” he says, and she freezes in the doorway. “If I can help, if you need me, if you find yourself in a tight situation that you can't get out of, call me, send Gavroche for me, get a message to me somehow. I don't care if Javert finds me, as long as I keep you safe.”
She wants to say the same thing to him, but she nods instead. She can argue about exacting a return promise from him sometime in the future.
He tells his roommates that he's going out and not to expect him back, he texts Enjolras and Lark that he's on the streets but doesn't expect to be getting into any trouble, and when Gavroche finds him, he tells him to fuck off and only feels a little bit bad about it. If he's going to do something stupid, he's going to do it on his own, and it seems he's going to do something stupid.
He's smart enough to text Lark again, though, on her own, to say If I haven't texted again by two, ask Gavroche where I am. He's got no illusions that sending Gavroche away means he won't be watching.
Lark sends a worried text back, but he doesn't answer her, just takes a deep breath and gathers his powers, putting himself out of view. If Tholomyès has heat sensors or pressure sensors, he might be in trouble, but as long as he's careful, he should be able to watch him, at least for a while. It's stupid to assume Tholomyès would put his guard down enough to use a power, but Grantaire can do this. It's probably the most useful he can be, and even if the probability of failure in their whole attempt terrifies him, he can't stop, for Enjolras's sake or Lark's or Gavroche's. Even Éponine's, though she's gone to ground so thoroughly that even Gavroche hasn't seen her since she talked to Lark.
The security on Tholomyès's home is good, but Grantaire knows his way around security systems by now. He tries not to do anything actively illegal, aside from the general vigilantism, but sometimes it's unavoidable, and for someone who can go around without being seen, it's a useful skill. He goes in by the back garden, over the gate, ignoring the scratches he gets from the very discreet and very sharp spikes.
It's late enough that all the lights on are on the second floor, the first shut up and dark for the night, so it's easy enough to wait, to move slowly working on the locks on the door until he can get in the back. No alarms blare when he turns the handle, so Grantaire goes in and locks the door after him, necessary even if it feels like cutting off an escape route.
Once he's inside, he waits. It's a quiet house, the kind of quiet that only rich people's houses in the rich part of the city can be. There are servants, but Tholomyès pretends to be modern enough that they don't live in, Grantaire knows that much. Instead, there's only the quiet hum of climate control and the occasional creak of floorboards overhead as Tholomyès gets ready for bed, paces around. Grantaire doesn't know the layout, but he can guess it: now he's in his office, now he's in his bathroom, now he's in his bedroom, then back to his office for something forgotten.
Grantaire doesn't usually wear the heavy boots that Enjolras and Lark favor, the kind that are good for combat. He likes his softer-soled, quiet enough to sneak in, and he puts them to good use, going through the downstairs with ease. It's too big for one man, but Grantaire would guess he doesn't care much about that.
He maps the downstairs in his head, the entrances and exits, the dimensions. He knows how to do this by now, even if most of his work happens outside. He looks at the pictures on the walls, of parents and siblings and cousins. There's a discreet wedding photo tucked away in one corner, but it seems to be more about Tholomyès's charming smile than about his ex-wife, who has been quite famously married to an Italian billionaire for the last three years, her soulmate found at last. (Nobody knows who Tholomyès's is, what his words are, and Grantaire makes a note of that, wonders if Lark knows what her mother's words were.)
Nothing seems out of the ordinary, for a politician who has enough power to attract enemies and enough smarts to be paranoid about it. If Grantaire is caught tonight, the first words Tholomyès is going to say to the police will be “I told you so.”
Even after the movement above stops, Grantaire doesn't dare the upstairs. He wants a feel for the building, a preliminary opportunity, but he needs more preparation before he does anything else. He'd like a bug in the building, but he doesn't have that kind of technology or the kind of money to get the technology, either. Spying when he can is going to have to suffice.
He waits an hour, walking the downstairs like a ghost, searching for hiding spots even though the downstairs is clearly the public part of the house, the facade for any guests, and he texts Lark a quick safe in response to the four texts she's sent his first one. Will check in again.
Grantaire prepares to leave, goes back to disabling locks, when there's a brief noise in the kitchen, a heightened hum of electronics, a few friendly, homey noises, the kind he expects out of an inhabited house, only he didn't hear creaks, and he didn't hear Tholomyès come down the stairs. He freezes and turns around, scanning for movement, for a person. He's not easy to sneak up on, and no one should be able to see him, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.
Instead of Tholomyès, though, or some poor beleaguered housekeeper, Grantaire sees a mug, steaming gently, float by itself out of the kitchen and up the stairs, with the perfect iron control that doesn't spill a drop. Not many telekinetics have that kind of control, and Grantaire watches it, wide-eyed, until it's out of sight.
He waits three minutes, six, ten, before he lets himself go back to work on the locks. That was sloppy of Tholomyès, he thinks, focusing on that while his head spins. Either sloppy or a routine, and a reason why none of his employees live in his massive house. It would also explain why he still has such good control, when even a week or two without practicing erodes the control from most supers.
It takes another fifteen minutes for him to get out of the house, out of the back garden, and over the gate. He's less careful over the gate this time, and he knows Joly will yell at him for the cut on his thigh, but it can't be helped, either. The second he's clear of Tholomyès's land, he runs, takes as random a pattern as he can through the streets until he finds a web of them he's more comfortable in and climbs up to a roof to text Lark again.
There are texts from Flame too, worryingly, asking where he is, what he's doing, saying that he and Lark are worried and to check in as soon as he receives the messages. He texts another safe, this time to both of them, and drops his camouflage so he can see how badly he's bleeding and if he needs to go home and get patched up instead of staying out and talking to the others.
Grantaire has only been there a few minutes when he catches sight of a streak of red, Enjolras coming for him when Enjolras should have no idea where he is, and he waves him down and waits for him with crossed arms, then waits again while Enjolras has to gasp after sprinting too long. Grantaire has no idea where he's been, and why it was suddenly urgent to find him, but he decides it's best to be on the offensive. “Gavroche is a snitch.”
“Gavroche realized where you were going and thought you might need backup, don't you dare blame him. What were you thinking?” Even breathless, Enjolras manages to sound stern. “You shouldn't have done that without backup, without a plan, without even telling us first. What if he'd found you, and what if he'd decided to eliminate the threat? You may be able to—”
“Flame.” He makes his voice stern enough to stop Enjolras talking for a second. “I'm fine. You can see I'm fine, right? You aren't subtle, and Lark has enough on her mind without worrying about something I did easily.”
“I don't care that you're fine! What if you weren't? What if you'd been caught? Not only would you be in trouble, but any plans that we might make would be compromised, be impossible, even. We need you.”
Enjolras is still breathing hard, but Grantaire is coming to realize that it might be less the running and more the emotion. He won't feel guilty, not for this, but he regrets upsetting Enjolras anyway. “None of it happened. And I only needed to go once.”
“You got all the information you needed? Or were you just proving you could do it? Fuck, you've been calling me stupid all along, but fuck you, I wouldn't have gone in there without backup.”
“I didn't need the backup because I am fine, and I didn't video record or anything, but … it's him.”
All at once, Enjolras freezes, halfway through an inhale that's probably meant to turn into another shout. After a second, he lets the air go and breathes in again. “You're sure of that.”
“It's hard to interpret a floating teacup any other way, given the circumstances.”
“It's still not concrete proof for the police or the press, but it's proof enough for me.” Enjolras fumbles out his phone, probably texting Lark an address and the news that they have information. Lark won't be pleased with him either, but Grantaire doesn't care how much they tell him he's being stupid, because he made the right choice, and he made a brave choice, and he won't be made ashamed of that. “I wish you had recorded it. That would have been something to show people. Not court-admissible, but we don't need him prosecuted, we just need him discredited.”
“We can do that.” Grantaire almost slips up, with Enjolras still standing so close, almost says something about how his specialty is in rhetoric anyway, and takes a second to shake himself out of it. “All we've got to do is get everyone wondering where The Captain has been and then start a little rumor about Tholomyès having powers.”
“People are suggestible,” says Enjolras, nodding. “I know someone with some journalism connections. They might be able to convince someone that since fifteen years ago this year Jean Valjean was identified as the Mayor and since there are new supers on the streets it might be time for a retrospective.”
Before Grantaire can answer, or do more than wonder which of Enjolras's friends works in journalism, Lark and Gavroche arrive from the same direction, Gavroche a few seconds before Lark. “You shouldn't do things like that,” says Gavroche with the sad and accusatory look that's more effective than yelling or sulking.
“Shadow, you're okay. You had me worried, and then Gavroche said you were in Tholomyès's house? Why did you do that?”
“Because I'm the only one of us that can, and I didn't want to spend a whole night arguing about the plans.” He crosses his arms and shifts on his feet, and he's glad that his mask covers his wince, because he's still bleeding and he's definitely going to have to go home instead of staying out, after this conversation. He doesn't want to leak DNA all over the city. “Do you want to know what I found out?”
She pauses, and tilts her head. “What did you find out?”
“It's true. Either it's the world's biggest coincidence, or he's The Captain.”
Lark holds very still, and he knows it's got to be awful for her, considering a man like that as her father, but she takes the news well, and he's proud of her, in a stupid way, glad that she's on his side. “Well, then.” She takes a breath. “I think we probably know what the smartest plan is going to be.”
“Spreading rumors,” Enjolras says, nodding as though that's what she was going to say anyway, but Grantaire expects something different.
He gets it when she squares her shoulders and shakes her head. “Maybe that too, but if we want him to expose himself, if we want everyone to be sure, I need to be bait.” Grantaire shakes his head, and she whips around to point at him. “Don't you start about unnecessary risk, don't think I don't see that you're bleeding.” Grantaire wishes he could scowl at her for the way Enjolras's breath catches at that, and settles for shrugging off Enjolras's hand when it comes down on his arm. “You don't think that he'd come out if I said I'm his daughter, sent a message and asked him to meet met?”
“I would think he would be suspicious,” Grantaire points out, glad that she's let his injury go even if Enjolras hasn't, judging by how distracted he suddenly is looking at Grantaire. “I think he'd send someone else, or come up with some false pretext and send out the police.”
“I don't see any other options. We can suggest to the public that he has powers all we like, but they have years and years of his very public life to use as evidence.” Lark sighs. “I don't want to be in danger, but I don't know what else there is.”
“Couldn't we ask around and see if anyone knows? His family must, but they're all the loyal sort. What about the ex-wife?”
All three of them look at Gavroche in varying levels of surprise. “I doubt she'll be easy to contact,” Enjolras finally says, but he sounds thoughtful. “Maybe someone else would have seen something, though. A servant. A girlfriend, I know he does occasionally still date.”
“All of us should keep an eye out.” Lark looks over at Grantaire. “And we should all keep each other informed. Gavroche, we're first point of contact for anyone we need to talk to, understand?” Gavroche looks mutinous, but she puts her hands on her hips before he can say anything. “You're a kid, even if you're more mature than most kids your age, and you're the only one of us who doesn't wear a costume. I don't want to know what happens if your parents find out you're involved in this.”
“Yeah, well, you'd know.” Gavroche looks mutinous, but he's coming to listen to Lark sometimes, if he deems the reason good enough. Grantaire's not sure what he means, but Lark has shared enough secrets with them all lately that he can let this one slide.
“We'll all see what avenues we can work in to get the information out.” Enjolras looks around at all of them. “I don't care if information gets out through me and compromises me. I'm sure that at least one of you knows who I am already.”
Grantaire has a dizzying moment of anxiety before he remembers that of course Gavroche would have found out somehow. “I've got spray paints,” he offers. “I can go out, be a vandal, see if I can get people talking.”
Enjolras gives him a sharp look, and Lark does a second later. They must have both been wondering about the mural. He owes Lark one too, he'll have to remember that. “That would be good,” says Enjolras, though he sounds more thoughtful than approving. “Is there anything else we need to discuss?”
“I don't think so, not yet.” Lark hesitates. “We just all need to tell each other before we try to get close to Tholomyès again. One hint of these rumors, and he's going to be out for blood, out to stop us the same way he's after Patron-Minette. Be careful. And I know that using me as bait is a desperate option, but don't discount it.”
“We won't,” says Enjolras, solemn and sad, because Enjolras is willing to risk death, risk the death of others, to save the day and the supers of France. Grantaire is less sure that he is, so he keeps quiet, but he knows he couldn't stop Lark if she really wanted to try. “Shadow, are you continuing?”
“No, I need to go home and patch myself up. It's not bad enough for a hospital.” Especially not with Joly's help.
“I'll escort you part of the way home, if you like.”
Grantaire shakes his head. “No, go out, protect the city, plan plans. I'll text if I have any more stupid plans.”
He starts walking, and a second later Enjolras catches him, grabs his arm and makes sure Grantaire looks at him. Behind the costume, Grantaire can see a hint of blue eyes. “Please don't do that again,” he says quietly, and releases him.
Grantaire doesn't know what to say to that, when it's giving away too much and Gavroche and Lark are right there. Instead of a real response, he just jerks his head in a nod and leaves again at a jog, bringing his power up to hide the direction he goes in.
Enjolras pauses outside the Musain, caught by the sight of the words down the alley, painted in electric green. It's an enigmatic statement, and it's not the only one in Paris. WHAT BECAME OF JEAN VALJEAN? is on a Metro station wall, and Enjolras has seen pictures from his friends of similar messages around the city (asking where Lightning is, what happened to Paris's first heroes, but more frequently than anything else, where The Captain is). Shadow did good work, and quick work.
When he goes into the Musain, a few of his friends are there: Jehan and Bahorel, at their usual corner table, Jehan with a pot of soil sprouting seeds in front of him, and Grantaire standing over them, laughing and gesturing about something. He turns sharply at the sound of the bell over the door and gives Enjolras a brief smile that seems colorless in comparison to before. Enjolras goes over anyway, since Jehan and Bahorel are both waving at him.
“What do you think of the graffiti?” Jehan asks the second he goes over, kicking Bahorel until he pulls over an extra chair that Enjolras sinks gratefully into. It's been a long day.
“It's interesting,” he says, and he's glad Courfeyrac isn't around to needle him for how unsubtle he's being. Jehan and Bahorel know what he does, given he runs with one and spars with the other, but he doesn't want them involved in the dangerous parts of this more than is strictly necessary. “I can't think why it's happening now. Maybe because there are new supers in Paris.”
“My theory,” says Grantaire, regaining some of his smile, “is that it's a marketing campaign. A guerrilla one, of course, or they'd be in trouble with the police and the government. Still not sure what they're selling, though. A tell-all book about superheroes past and present? Are these questions appearing in London and Venice as well?”
“Not that I know of,” says Enjolras, humoring him. “Maybe some kind of locator app?”
Grantaire laughs, loud and startled, and it makes Jehan and Bahorel grin. “Maybe,” he says. “That would be clever as fuck, even if I'm not sure it would do what's advertised, or the police would be crawling all over it.”
“Movie advertising? I'd say they're worth making a movie over, I'm surprised no one has done it yet.” Jehan sighs theatrically. “I suppose it's because we're not American, just because they had popular culture about it before powers set on doesn't mean they get to hog all the film.” He tilts his head to smile up at Grantaire, still standing over them. “Sit down, R, are you really going to leave us?”
Grantaire frowns at his wrist even though he doesn't wear a watch, and then frowns at his coffee cup, hefting it. “I suppose I should get a refill, since I've been standing here forever.” He glances over at Enjolras. “You never ordered. What do you want?”
Enjolras blinks at him. “Black coffee and a croissant?”
“Done and done.” Grantaire wanders over to Louison at the counter. For once he's less effusive with her than with Enjolras and his friends, and that seems odd, even if it shouldn't.
Enjolras watches for a few moments before Bahorel clears his throat. “You okay, man? You've seemed pretty worn out lately.”
“I could use a rest,” he admits, and manages to resist the urge to scrub at his eyes in illustration of that. “But I'm hoping that what I'm working on resolves itself soon. It's been consuming too much of my attention lately, with the DNA bill and my classes and everything.” Of course, if it works out, the DNA bill will be stopped in its tracks, but he can't admit that. He's been in touch with Lamarque and the press, asking about a retrospective piece on the past of Paris's superheroes, but he doesn't know if it will bear fruit, and he doesn't want it to come to Lark setting herself out as bait.
“Let us know if there's anything we can do to help.” Jehan frowns when Enjolras starts shaking his head right away. “I mean it. If it's signing a petition, if it's … if it's painting on a wall, you know we'll do it.”
“Painting on walls isn't exactly my style,” Enjolras says with perfect honesty. “I'll call on you if I need you, but I don't need you yet.”
“See, I know that's not true, but—”
“Black coffee and a croissant, I thought about getting you a pain au chocolat because God knows you could use something to sweeten you up but then I decided I would rather not be killed.” Grantaire's tone is a little too light, something off (and Enjolras doesn't know how he can tell, with how little he and Grantaire have spoken, but he's certain of it anyway), and he hesitates halfway into the chair he pulls up when he looks around the table. “Am I interrupting an important discussion?”
“Yes,” says Bahorel, but he's smiling easily. “It's an ongoing one, though. We can continue it later.”
“If you're sure.” Grantaire sits the rest of the way down and takes a sip of his drink, closing his eyes to savor it. “I really need to get hot chocolate more often, it's about a thousand times better than coffee.”
Jehan and Bahorel seem glad enough to change the subject to something innocuous, and Enjolras lets the conversation wash over him, from a gentle debate about beverages to some of what their group did before the DNA bill erased every other effort to how Grantaire met his roommates. Sometimes it's easiest just to listen to his friends talk, teasing each other and chatting about anything they please, and Enjolras relaxes more than he has in weeks, listening to the conversation. They may be keeping it deliberately light for his benefit, but he's only grateful for that.
It comes around to the graffiti again eventually, brought up by Bahorel when Jehan mentions street art. “I figure they've got to be about the supers on the streets right now,” he says, and Enjolras could smile at how accurate that is. “Question is how. Secret messages? A search for their predecessors?”
“The secret messages, definitely,” says Grantaire, rubbing his arm. “Everything's better with decoder rings. But seriously, would the supers be stupid enough to do something that big and showy when the police are pissed off and on the lookout for them?”
“One of them does invisibility,” Enjolras points out. “That changes some risks.” Even if he doesn't like the changes of all the risks, not if it means Shadow doing stupid things without telling them. “I suppose the question is why the person who did it thinks these questions are important.”
“None of the mysteries were ever solved,” says Jehan, shrugging and looking between them. “Could be as simple as that. All of them just disappeared, could be dead for all we know, when we should be giving them medals.”
“I hope they're not dead,” says Grantaire, thoughtful and quiet, his forced cheer slipping a little. With his voice low and his face turned away, a suspicion that's been building blooms into dead certainty for half a second before it fades again. (Surely, surely, Grantaire would have told him, when he gave him the idea about Tholomyès if nothing else.)
Before Enjolras can find an answer for that, there's a buzz in his pocket, the left one where he keeps the phone he bought for the streets. Grantaire's phone buzzes at the same time, and Grantaire jumps, looking between his bag and Enjolras's lap for a second. “Message?” Enjolras asks, and he should be excusing himself to see if Lark or Gavroche is in trouble, but he can't help asking.
“Alarm, I think. Joly's always setting them for weird times on my phone to mess with me.” Grantaire is casual, but Enjolras is looking, watching the way his hands flex like he wants to reach for it. Enjolras wants to reach for his too. “What about you?”
“Probably a message I've been expecting from a former internship supervisor.” He looks at Jehan and Bahorel, who are too smart not to have understood at least some of it. He hasn't told anyone but Combeferre and Courfeyrac what Shadow is to him, but they all must know that something is going on. “Mind if I check on it?”
“Go ahead,” says Jehan, frowning, looking from Enjolras to Grantaire and back again. “R, do you need to go as well?”
“Well, I've only been trying since ten minutes before Enjolras showed up,” says Grantaire, full of sarcasm and affection, and stands up. Enjolras is frozen, not sure whether he should look at his phone or at Grantaire, not sure if he's giving too much away, and not certain yet, not completely certain, anyway, but growing more so. “Enjolras, you okay?”
“Fine.” He fumbles for his phone, his usual one, and makes a point of checking it for messages, frowning and nodding. “Excuse me for a minute, would you all?”
“I'm on my way out anyway.” Grantaire nods around at them all and then he's out of the Musain, like he understands what Enjolras is suspecting and wants to get away from it, which only brings him closer to the confirmation he's not sure that he wants.
“Go on,” says Bahorel, frowning. “Call us if you need anything at all, okay? An alibi, some cookies on stakeout, whatever. I make kickass cookies.”
Enjolras will never be grateful enough for his friends. “I would never turn down cookies.” He stands up. “I'm sorry I couldn't stay longer, I just didn't expect that Lamarque would get back to me.” Plausible deniability is everything, for them. If they can say that's what he said, if everything goes wrong, then it's a layer of protection.
“Go,” says Jehan, but he looks worried, and the seedling in the pot in front of him is starting to wilt, which only ever happens by accident when he's upset.
Enjolras shakes hands with them both, too jittery for a hug, and goes out to the street, already getting his other phone out of his pocket. It's a text from Lark: CHECK NEWS Patron-Minette has told someone in the press that Tholomyès has powers, say they have confirmation, he isn't responding yet. Need a meeting at the earliest opportunity.
“Fuck,” Enjolras breathes. They aren't ready. Maybe it will all happen without them, maybe someone will find Tholomyès out and strip him of office, but even then, he'll be out for revenge, and they'll have to clean up afterwards. There isn't time, but they need it anyway.
There's a figure in a familiar jacket walking away, fifty feet down the pavement, and Enjolras runs to catch him, because Grantaire will think it's funny if he isn't, but Enjolras hopes more than anything that he will actually say if he is. “What can I do for you?” Grantaire asks, turning around when he hears the running steps, sliding a familiar phone back in his pocket.
“Shadow,” says Enjolras, because he doesn't need it confirmed after all. “You got her text?”
He can see the war on Grantaire's face. It's shockingly open, without a mask to cover it. “We should get dressed and get going,” he finally says, and it's like a switch has been flipped in his voice, making it familiar. It's a remarkably subtle change, to make all that difference, and Enjolras doesn't know whether to be angry or happy or something else, but he doesn't have time for any of it right now. “I know a few places where it's safe to do it, and Gav skips school more often than he doesn't so he'll be able to make it.”
“Text us an address,” says Enjolras, the words catching in his throat.
Shadow gives him a sharp jerk of a nod and turns around again, jogging away. Enjolras stands there for too long before he starts heading in the opposite direction, to go home and get on his costume.
He's only a few streets away when he gets a text with an address, sent to he and Lark and Gavroche, and Enjolras confirms it and puts his phone away, tries to clear his head as he goes.
Gavroche shrugs. “It's a bolthole. Not my only one, and not my supposed primary residence. Shadow helped me set them up when I proved I could throw a good punch and not back off if someone was going to fuck with me.”
Cosette doesn't have much resentment for the Thénardiers on her own behalf, but she could easily hate them for the life Gavroche has clearly had, and for who Éponine has grown up to be. “Thank you for letting us meet here, then.”
“I figure Shadow wanted us off the roofs, in case people are looking out.” Gavroche frowns down at his phone, where he's using the limited internet to look at articles. “They're still waiting on the real news, the real proof. Some people are saying the timing is sabotage for the bill.”
“It came from Patron-Minette, I would think it would be accusations of revenge.” She hesitates. “Do you know why they chose now? Why they didn't try to keep extorting money from him?”
“Not like they tell me anything.” He shrugs. “He was hunting them down. Best guess is that he thought he was close and stopped paying.”
Shadow comes through the window, then. It's easier to see how his powers work in the daylight, the way he blurs vaguely into existence as he climbs in. His costume is askew and he looks a little smaller during the day. He looks around between the two of them. “Flame hasn't made it yet?”
“I just got here,” says Cosette. “Probably had to travel a ways.”
“I suppose so.” She wouldn't call Shadow the most level-headed of them, given his stunt sneaking into Tholomyès's home, but it's still a surprise to see how jittery he is. She wants to ask what's wrong, but she has no expectation that she'd get a real answer. “You okay?”
“Well enough. Gavroche and I were just discussing why Patron-Minette might have chosen to make a move now.”
“I assumed he'd just passed the deadline of when he was supposed to pay them,” Shadow says, going over to the electric kettle in the corner and taking a water bottle from beside it to pour it in and start it. Cosette isn't sure she trusts anything in this building to be consumed, but she hopes that Shadow would have made sure that it's clean enough that anything Gavroche eats would be safe. “You assume different?”
“It would be a really long deadline, were that the case. Maybe they made a second demand, a larger one?” Cosette sighs. She's exhausted, and her father is exhausted, and she'd love to spend a whole day at home, no work, no emergencies on the streets, but it's hard to imagine that day in her near future with the problem of Tholomyès to solve. “I'm not sure it matters what changed things, but the information is out there at night. We just need to figure out how to respond to it.”
Flame arrives then, the hood of his costume secured poorly, some blond hair spilling out. Shadow moves away from the entrance the second he comes in, and Flame watches him for a moment, but Cosette doesn't think she has the energy to wonder what's happened between them. “How to respond to what?” he asks, and he sounds different in the sunlight too.
“To Tholomyès's reaction to his secret coming out,” says Gavroche.
“If he's half as clever and a tenth as immoral as his actions have shown him to be, he'll deny it as long as he can and destroy any evidence, all the evidence.” Flame paces a few steps around the small room, giving Shadow a wide berth as he fusses over the kettle and the mismatched mugs and bowls near it. Cosette doesn't really want tea, but she can't blame him for wanting something to do.
“Evidence like me,” says Cosette, because she can't be the only one thinking it, and then finds the three of them staring at each other like they've forgotten whose daughter she is, and the likelihood that he knows she exists and what her powers are. Making the jump to Lark wouldn't be so hard, given the right motivation. “But he can't take me down without using his powers, because I won't go for the law, nothing like that. I'd go if he had my father, which he won't because my father knows not to leave the house today.” He may even listen. “But other than that, he's going to have to search me out, and then he'll have to prove it for the whole city to see.”
“We already said we don't want to use you as bait,” Shadow points out. “How is this any different?”
“I don't know if it's necessary yet. But he's going to want to be doing something with the power he has while he still has it, and I don't know if he's the kind of man to use it on revenge or to use it on trying to protect what he can, but either way, I'm a target. I want to be a prepared target, and I want to be able to take him down instead. I'm bait whether I want to be or not.”
They're all watching her, and Cosette isn't stupid enough to do this without backup. She would run before making her father go to her funeral, so she waits for them to think it through and decide whether they agree with her. “If he comes for you, I'm more than glad to help,” Flame finally says.
It takes Shadow a moment longer before he nods. “Me too. My abilities are more defensive than anything else, but I'm working on hiding other people, which could be helpful for you.”
“I'll help,” says Gavroche, and looks mulish when all three of them start objecting, talking over each other. “I will! I'll make sure I don't get hurt, but Flame's the only one with an offensive power here, we need all the help we can get. Really, what we need's a whole army of supers to distract him, if he decides to go down in a blaze of glory.”
“Let's stick with the three of us in danger for now,” says Cosette, trying to keep her voice light. “I have a chance at backup if it's desperately needed.” They must know she means her father, but none of them responds. “We don't need to beat a strategy to death, but we need a place to meet if he comes for me, somewhere more neutral than my house and somewhere that won't compromise Gavroche's bolthole, and we need a final goal in mind.”
“I would rather not kill him, even if he's scum,” says Shadow. “I don't want it on my hands, and more important, I don't want it in the police reports. Neutralize him and dump him on the police's doorstep, I may dislike the police but for once they could be of some use.”
“Neutralize him how, Shadow?” Flame usually defers to Shadow, since he's been out on the streets longest, and it's strange to see him turn on him the second Shadow gives him an excuse. Something really is wrong, and Cosette doesn't like it, the fact or it or especially the timing of it. Judging by Gavroche's expression, he's not pleased either, but it isn't really their business unless the other two make it their business. “I'm the only one with offensive powers, and if I use them to neutralize him, the hurt he could sustain might kill him.”
“We all know how to fight,” says Shadow, still fussing over the tea, pulling out a mismatched assortment of teabags from a basket. “We do that. We keep him distracted so he can't use his powers to hurt all of us at once, and we get close enough to take him out.” He looks up at Cosette. “It might have to be you, if he's actively looking for you. Are you going to be okay, if it's you that has to take him out?”
Cosette makes sure to consider it, but she feels nothing but anger for Tholomyès, for exposing her father and chasing her mother out of her city (and away from Cosette), for betraying people who are like him for years on end with what seems like no guilt at all. “I'm going to be okay.”
There's a moment of silence while they all consider it, exactly what they're proposing to do, and Cosette wonders about the consequences, about the possibility of jail, of her father being found, of being hurt or killed or losing one of her friends. Shadow and Flame seem to be avoiding looking at each other, but that can't be her problem to worry about. “So we wait and see what he does?” Gavroche finally asks.
“We shouldn't just attack him,” says Flame, though he sounds reluctant. “That would reflect badly on us. All we can do is wait. We should be prepared, though. Keep our costumes stored where we can get to them easily, have excuses ready to get out of work or classes or family events.”
“And speaking of work,” says Shadow, standing up without actually bothering to give anyone the tea he's been working on, “I should go soon. I'll keep my phone on me, though, don't hesitate to text and I'll suddenly have the stomach flu.”
Cosette nods. “Everyone keep safe, and keep your eyes on the news. This is going to be very public and very messy.”
“I'll go home, see what they're talking about there,” says Gavroche, and Cosette wants to object but he's their best option for advance warning, really. “They mostly ignore me, not like I'll be in trouble. And if I can find Éponine I'll see if I can't convince her to help us out.”
Cosette hasn't heard from Éponine, and as far as she knows she could be out of the city, but the thought of having someone shielding them would be a comforting one. “Let us know,” she says, and nods at Shadow. “Go on. We should all leave separately, make sure no one who happens to pass knows that we've all been in here.”
“Not much of a danger with me.” Shadow walks over to the window on that wry statement and blurs out of existence again, just leaving the faint sound of his costume scraping against the window frame before she has no idea where he is at all.
The rest of them are silent for a little while, Flame going over to the tea and picking up a mug of it, taking a sip. It's probably too hot, but then again, given his powers, he may not notice.
“I'll go next,” Cosette finally says, when the silence gets to be unbearable. “I should get home anyway and talk to my father. Gavroche, be careful when you go home, okay? Find a bolthole or find me if you need to. You know where I am, and I'll let you know if I go out anywhere.” She hesitates. “Err on the side of caution. Information isn't as important as you.”
Gavroche rolls his eyes, but he nods too, and that's what matters. Cosette nods at him and at Flame before she ducks out the window, flying up to the roof and then up as high as she can, into the clouds hovering over Paris today, to head home.
Her father is supposed to be at work, but she isn't surprised when she comes downstairs after changing out of her costume to find him in front of the television, watching the news. It takes her a moment to recognize the sharply-dressed woman on the television as Madame Thénardier, and another second to realize that she's talking about Cosette. “—knew where the child went,” she's saying. “If I'd known that the man with her was the Mayor, I would never have let the poor thing go. Darling Cosette was like a sister to my own daughter.”
Cosette sinks bonelessly down on the couch next to her father. “Has she said who I am yet?”
He nods. “At the start of the clip—she was billed as a woman who took care of Tholomyès's powered daughter as a child, and she definitely made a point of saying she thinks the woman who brought her the child was Lightning. She's going by Thénardier, not Jondrette.”
“Fuck.” It's a sign of how upset he is that her father doesn't even pretend to scold her for her language. “Do they seem to be believing it?”
“No commentary yet.”
As if that's a cue, the news switches back to the self-possessed man who always announces it at this time of day. “Incredibly,” he says, “Madame Thénardier's statements have not yet been disproved. She does have pictures of a girl meeting her description with the family, which end, and the name on the adoption paperwork fits an alias that Jean Valjean has used in the past.” Her father flinches at the sound of his name. “Still no statement from Felix Tholomyès to confirm or deny, though, in the third hour of this news story.”
Cosette takes a deep breath. “Leave the news on. I'm calling in sick to work today, I need to stay prepared.”
“If he comes for you, Cosette—”
“No one in this city but Éponine and Gavroche has the connection between my identities, and they wouldn't tell their parents. I don't think Éponine is even around anymore.” She sighs. “If he's coming for me, I'm going for him first. I won't lead him to your doorstep.”
“That's not what I'm worried about.”
“I know, Papa.” She gets up. “I'm going to make some coffee, I'll bring you some in a few minutes.”
Cosette spends most of the day in front of the news, watching people say that Tholomyès could never be a super, doctors who have treated him refusing to comment, mentions from other people on the DNA bill project of suspicious behavior. Amazingly, the public seems to be believing it all, and if they haven't quite drawn the line between Tholomyès and The Captain, they don't really need to, not yet. All they need to do is believe it enough to sway public opinion away from the DNA bill, and that looks like it's happening.
At eight o'clock, a new news anchor comes on, full of suppressed excitement. “Journalists have been trying to get a statement all day from Felix Tholomyès, either confirming or denying that he has superpowers, but he hasn't been available for comment. When a housekeeper let herself in for her usual rounds an hour ago, she soon discovered that Tholomyès is not in his home at all, and appears to have left in a hurry, which many are taking as confirmation that the accusations leveled at him today are true and not propaganda from people hoping the DNA bill doesn't pass. That's right, Felix Tholomyès appears to be on the run.”
“No,” says Cosette, because she knows how this goes, and it's not going to be this easy. Judging by her father's solemn expression, he feels the same. “He's on the hunt.”
Joly, Bossuet, and Musichetta, all sitting at the table in the kitchen in their environment, frozen as each other, even Bossuet's precognition not starting him in on answering in front of the others. It's Joly who finally musters up the words. “Are you okay?”
“I don't know. We got an emergency call, it wasn't exactly conducive to deep conversations about me lying to him and being soulmates.”
Musichetta sits up straight. “What kind of emergency?”
“It's in the news that Tholomyès is a superhero.” They don't know all the details, and not Lark's place in things, but he had to tell them something, since Enjolras is talking about it in meetings now. “We're preparing for if something goes wrong. I just thought you should know about the Enjolras thing.” He pauses. “I don't think he's happy with me, anyway, but I expected that.”
“You can't really blame him,” says Joly gently. Bossuet is still worryingly silent, the kind of silent that usually means he's more than a couple seconds in the future, farther than the ten seconds that's the limit before he starts giving himself headaches. “But hopefully he'll understand that he can't really blame you either. Soulmates or not, you had the right to your secret, and even the right to get to know him without all that pressure on you.”
“I just wish I knew if he were more disappointed that I'm Shadow, or that Shadow is me.”
Musichetta beckons him over. “Come on, come sit, tell us about the Tholomyès thing.”
“Be careful about that,” Bossuet says suddenly, his voice a little too high. “About the Tholomyès thing.”
Grantaire looks at him sharply. “Did you see something?”
Bossuet shakes his head. “Nothing useful. More than a minute or two out, it could change too easily. Just seems like he's not up to anything good, is all.” He grimaces. “And now my head hurts.”
Joly clucks at him. “And whose fault is that?” He looks around at all of them. “Tea, everyone? Seems like we might need it, it could be a long day if R has to deal with an emergency.”
And Grantaire didn't bother with drinking any of the tea he'd made to keep from having to look at Enjolras. “Sure.” He tells them about Tholomyès while Joly puts on the kettle, bringing up the news on his phone and looking at the latest.
Aside from news updates, giving him Lark's name but nothing else new, the afternoon is quiet until they're most of the way through dinner, cooked by Grantaire and Musichetta mostly for something to do. When Grantaire's phone rings, he's surprised that it's the regular one and not the one he uses for Enjolras and Lark and Gavroche, but it's Enjolras's name on the display anyway, and he makes an apologetic face at his roommates before he picks the phone up. “Is something wrong?”
“I think we should probably talk,” says Enjolras. “Sooner rather than later. We could have a patrol together?”
Grantaire swallows. “Tonight?”
“The city's in an uproar, it seems like a good night to have a presence. The Hotel-Dieu in an hour?”
His roommates are all watching, various degrees of encouragement on their faces. “Yeah, sure,” he finally says, even though he has to force it out. “I'll see you then.” And then, because he feels like it needs to be said and it will be easier to say it when they aren't face to face, he adds a “Sorry” and then hangs up.
“Call us if you need to,” says Musichetta. “About any of it, with Paris in such a mess today. If you get hurt, if you just need warm bodies out there, tell us. We'll be keeping an eye on the news and some food warm in the oven.”
“You are all far better than I deserve.” He groans when he stands up. “I'm going to get in costume and get going. Don't go out tonight if you can help it, from what I can see most people are coming down on the side of the supers on this, but that doesn't mean there won't be a few who decide to react the opposite way.”
“We're always more careful than you,” says Joly, and gives him a hug before he releases him to go get his costume on.
Grantaire is five minutes early to their meeting, but Enjolras is already there, in costume, sitting on the edge of the roof, legs swinging. “You called?” says Grantaire, and knows that his attempt to sound light and casual fails completely.
“R,” says Enjolras, which feels completely wrong to hear when they're in costume, and turns around. “I wanted to talk.”
“Yes, I got that impression.”
“You … you came to the meetings. You sent your roommates?”
Grantaire looks away. “I was curious. I didn't want to be curious, but I was. I'm sure you can understand that.”
“You told me you didn't want to be soulmates and then you tracked me down, what am I supposed to say to that?”
That's the real question, and Grantaire never figured an answer out to his own satisfaction. He doesn't know how to answer it for Enjolras, but he's got to make an effort, now that Enjolras has figured it out. “It's not that it was you. It's that we're in danger, the second anyone figures out that we're connected. I told you that before.”
“You can't have it both ways, Shadow. You can't say we're in danger if we're connected and then connect us.”
“I know that. I'm sorry.” Grantaire can say that, at least. He's sure of that. He's sorry about everything that's happened since the night Flame showed up on the streets and said the words on Grantaire's skin, and mostly about it happening in the first place. He hasn't done a thing right since, it seems. “I'm indecisive and I'm cruel and I'm fucking terrified.”
“Of danger, I know that, but—”
“Of you.” That shuts Enjolras up, and leaves Grantaire to figure out what to say next, if there's anything at all he can say to fix it. He doesn't even know if he wants to be with Enjolras, since nothing has changed, other than Enjolras knowing. “I'm different outside of costume. You know that. Hell, you've seen that. I don't think you like Grantaire very much. I was expecting you to be different and you're not, you're actually like this, the kind of person who ...” He waves his arm around.
Enjolras is just staring at him. “So are you, clearly, because you're here. You were here before me.” He pauses. “And you could have asked if I like you, because either way, you're you. I may not have recognized you right away, but that doesn't mean I didn't like you.”
“I don't know what to do,” Grantaire finally says. “I don't know what I want.”
“I don't know either.” That sounds like it costs Enjolras a lot, and Grantaire waits to see if he has anything to add. “I like you—both of you. I would like you if you weren't my soulmate. I just don't know what that means.”
“It means we take it slow, I guess.”
Their phones both buzz at the same time, and after a quick look Grantaire grabs his first. It's a text from Lark, of course. Tholomyès has gone missing, no one knows where he is. Think he's out for revenge or me. Either way, we need to be on the streets.
“We need to patrol.”
“Together?” Enjolras stands up, putting his own phone away.
“We shouldn't be split up. I'm going to text Gavroche to get somewhere safe and no arguing, since I haven't heard any updates from him, and you text Lark and let her know we're already out on the streets. We can spiral out from Tholomyès's house.”
“He'll know we're looking for him.”
“Yes, and he'll know we want to be together, and he'll have guessed about Lark if the Thénardiers told him anything at all.”
“You think Gavroche will go somewhere safe?”
“Probably not.” Grantaire bounces on his toes. “Let's go. To his house, then around it, we'll text Lark frequent updates about our location until she finds us.”
After a second, Enjolras nods. “Come on, then, let's go.”
He lets Grantaire lead, and Grantaire takes off at a jog. “Do you think he knows where Lark lives? Where will he be looking for her?”
“He'll see if Patron-Minette has information. He'll threaten them if need be. But he's in the 17th and they're far away across the Seine, which means—”
Grantaire stops. “He'll need a bridge, and he's probably been in the wind long enough to be almost to one. Question is which one. Text Lark, tell her to … we might need Gavroche. He can get between the bridges faster. He won't take Pont Neuf, that's too obvious when everyone's looking at him. What other options have we got?”
“We're close to Pont de Sully.”
“Let's go try it. I'll text Gavroche on the way asking where his parents are exactly.” It's hard to text and run, but Grantaire manages it, if ungracefully.
The text from Gavroche comes in a few minutes later, telling him to look in Butte-aux-Cailles, which is a bit of a weird neighborhood for a bunch of criminals, but which raises the likelihood of Tholomyès using Pont de Sully. “Lark says she's on her way to us, but it might take a little while,” Enjolras says as they draw up to the bridge, slowing to a jog and then a stop, watching the traffic. “Do you think he's in a car?”
Grantaire brings up a browser on his phone, the latest of the story from Tholomyès. “Housekeeper says no cars are missing,” he reports, watching every car he can, every person walking. “And anything stolen from his neighborhood would be on the news, a disgraced politician sinking low enough to steal a car.”
“We'll watch on foot, then. Draw him into Barye if it turns into a fight?”
“If he doesn't drag us.”
Grantaire finds them a patch of shadow to hide in, blurring himself half out of view until Enjolras starts casting nervous looks to his side and then trying to extend it a little, to make Enjolras in his red clothes, with his commanding presence, a little less noticeable, and they wait. There's no telling when Lark will be there, or if he'll come, but they can't be everywhere at once. Maybe if Grantaire asked his roommates and Enjolras asked his friends, but if they saw Tholomyès, there would be no promise they would get there in time.
“Maybe we should go stake out the Thénardiers' place,” Grantaire starts to say eventually, when he's starting to itch at the lack of action, and that's the moment when Enjolras hisses and points at a man walking down Henri IV, almost to the bridge. He looks like any other businessman heading home late from work, coat pulled tight around him, wearing a hat that's the kind older men always think is stylish, except that it doesn't match his coat. He certainly looks suspicious, but he's not looking up. “Be very sure,” he whispers.
“I've seen him on the news enough times.” Enjolras turns to him, meets Grantaire's eyes even though he must be half-faded and difficult to focus on. “Do you trust me?”
“Fuck,” says Grantaire. “Let me go in closer and see. If I become visible again before I get back to you, assume it's him, get everyone clear that you can. Got it?”
For a tense second, he thinks Enjolras is going to object, and the man is getting closer, so as soon as Enjolras nods, Grantaire blurs out of sight entirely and walks straight for him, dodging through the pedestrians to get close, peer under the brim of the hat. It's Tholomyès, all determination and wariness, and Grantaire comes into view three feet in front of him, bringing him up short and making a few people close swear and startle. Tholomyès tries to walk around him first, muttering “Excuse me, let me get out of the way” as he goes.
“Felix Tholomyès, you're a hard man to find,” says Grantaire, and the look Tholomyès gets on his face somehow manages to be terrifying and hilarious at the same time. Behind him, Enjolras is shouting, he hears the crackle of fire and people starting to scream, and Grantaire doesn't know if he'll be glad for the presence of the police tonight, but he suspects they'll be on their way in moments.
“You and your friends, you did this,” says Tholomyès, glaring, and Grantaire hears something creak the moment before someone starts screaming, and he turns his had to the side to find a car sliding sideways towards him. When he's distracted, Tholomyès lashes out with a punch, but he's not the first person Grantaire's ever fought who tried to distract him.
“No, that was Patron-Minette, but you can't be allowed to go after who you're going after,” says Grantaire, parrying a kick and getting in one of his own. He's much more in-practice than Tholomyès at hand-to-hand, but it's only going to be so long before Tholomyès just grabs a car with his powers and tries to throw it at them. The Captain lifted worse loads in his time, and invisibility can't defend against that. “And you can't be allowed to hurt her.”
It's good that he has the upper hand, because he can push Tholomyès back, towards Barye and away from the main road, so they can contain the damage. Enjolras is still yelling, and when Grantaire dares a brief look back, people are leaving their cars, running, because he's in the middle of a maelstrom of flames, not putting them anywhere, just making himself a beacon. Grantaire takes a punch on the cheek for that, maybe a fracture as well, but he shakes it off and punches back just as hard, catching Tholomyès in the ribcage and taking some of the wind out of him.
“Who said I'm going to hurt her?” Tholomyès wheezes, and he must be smart enough to know that he just gave everything away.
“Because she's half the proof that the accusations of you having powers are true, and she's the half you can't control, The Captain.”
People must be fleeing properly, must understand that something is going on, because Enjolras stops yelling and starts running for them. He doesn't drop the fire, must be hoping it's a beacon to attract Lark or the police, or maybe hoping that it will be a weapon at the ready when he needs it, and Grantaire keeps pushing Tholomyès back, even though it gets harder as they go. Tholomyès isn't fighting back so much as he's pushing back, and Grantaire is glad when Enjolras gets to them and distracts Tholomyès some, making him take on two of them instead of one.
When Lark arrives, it's with a shout of warning before she lands on the bridge ten feet from them, gun already in her hands, and it's not an elegant or maybe moral solution, but he would have done worse to her. “Surrender,” she yells, which is a bold move. Grantaire hears sirens in the distance.
“You,” says Tholomyès, and then it's like he's been waiting, because Grantaire loses control of himself a second later, thrown through the air like someone picked him up and tossed him, bouncing off the hood of a car, across the road and into the concrete on the other side. Something in his ribcage crunches, and Grantaire hisses out the pain, looking around for Enjolras, wherever he went, but he can't see him.
The steam has lowered visibility, when he gets back up, and it takes a moment to reorient himself, looking frantically around for the fight. Lark is in the air, gun still trained on Tholomyès, who seems to be trying to fight her ability to drag her down. Grantaire is nowhere close, or nowhere visible, and Enjolras has no idea if he's over the bridge without Enjolras's abilities to save him, so he shouts for him, only remembering at the last moment to call him Shadow.
“Here,” Grantaire calls, somewhere in the steam, and after a second he's visible again, blurring back into view, pushing himself to his feet in what looks like a great deal of pain. Enjolras runs to him, since Lark is still fighting her father and they're at a standstill.
“Are you all right?” Enjolras helps him up, because it's clear he's not, or not completely. There's a rip in his costume at the shoulder, a scrape showing through, and his breath sounds good. “Do we need to get you out of the fight?”
“Believe it or not, I've had worse. I had a long time getting into trouble before you. Just a few cracked ribs.”
“Cracked—fuck, you can't get in close quarters with him again.”
“And she's going to—Lark, fly farther!” The last three words are a shout, and Lark tries, but Tholomyès seems to be reeling her in little by little, even if he can't fight her power enough to do it all at once. “Come on, we've got to get back to it.”
Enjolras doesn't argue, even if he wants to. There are police sirens coming closer, and there might be people still in their cars, hiding from the fight. “Don't get hurt,” he says, even though he knows it's useless, and runs back at Tholomyès, tackling him off his feet while he's concentrating on Lark.
Grantaire is a second behind him, getting between Lark and Tholomyès even though she's still up in the air, moving farther away again now that Tholomyès is distracted. It's not going to win them the fight, but it might keep her safe. Enjolras doesn't know what will win them the fight, but they've got to find it quickly, before Tholomyès hurts one of them worse than he hurt Grantaire.
Enjolras doesn't want to kill anyone, has never wanted to kill anyone as much as he's wanted to protect others, but he doesn't know what other options he has. The only thing keeping him from roasting Tholomyès, or telling Lark to shoot, is wondering if telekinesis extends to fireballs and bullets, or if they move too fast for him. He wants his friends safe more than he wants Tholomyès neutralized. When Tholomyès seems sufficiently distracted, he rolls off him, leaving him recovering his poise and going to stand shoulder to shoulder with Grantaire.
Before he can begin to come up with a viable strategy for whatever comes next, there's a squeal of tires too close, not one attached to a siren, and when the car brakes, someone jumps out a second later, running through their perimeter and towards Tholomyès. Lark, behind them, catches her breath and yells “Papa, don't!” and Enjolras turns to watch the Mayor as he hits Tholomyès running, taking him off his feet with a punch.
The Mayor, Lark's father (or the only one that matters), is a bear of a man, taller and broader than most men, wearing comfortable clothes but nothing resembling a disguise. He must have followed Lark as soon as she said she was leaving, and she's still horrified, but Enjolras is more worried that Tholomyès knows Jean Valjean's weaknesses. They must have sparred before.
“We've got to give him backup,” Enjolras says, as Tholomyès rips a tire off a car and sends it careening for Valjean, only for Valjean to bat it out of the way a second later, shaking his head like he felt the blow. “Tholomyès doesn't know how we fight, but he does know the Mayor's style, I doubt either of them has practiced much since.”
“Set off a perimeter?” says Grantaire, and Enjolras nods, finds all the heat from the steam, all the heat from the cars, all the heat he can get, and sends it into a ring of flames around them all, keeping anyone from coming in, large enough that no one will get thrown into it accidentally.
Lark has some kind of projectile that isn't bullets, and she's throwing them whenever she has a clear shot, pulling them from her pockets. They smell foul, and they must be worse, close to Tholomyès, because his eyes are watering, letting Valjean push him closer to the edge of the bridge. Grantaire, despite how sharp his breaths are, runs forward to join in the close combat, moving faster, looking for openings.
The police are getting closer, and Enjolras concentrates on keeping everyone out until Grantaire or Valjean or Lark (whose name is on the news, he knows it now, but he doesn't know Cosette at all, and he's come to trust Lark, so Lark it is for now) tells him different. The perimeter is large enough to fight in, but keeping control of the fire at this distance is wearing, and leaves Enjolras able to do little but watch. Lark is throwing her projectiles, each one perfectly aimed, and Tholomyès is blocking them with a ripped-off car door as he fights Valjean and now Grantaire. Grantaire is faster than Valjean by a large margin, and he gets in the spaces, moving quickly and getting out of the way whenever Valjean gets his hands on Tholomyès to grapple.
They're going to win, Enjolras knows they are, but he's not sure of the cost either, when Tholomyès pulls a whole car in the air, through Enjolras's perimeter so it comes through in flames. Enjolras siphons the fire away from it, adding it to his ring, but the car itself is still a heavy weight, flying at Valjean while Tholomyès rolls out of the way, Grantaire blinking out of view so Enjolras can't tell if it hits him or not (it can't hit him, Enjolras doesn't know what to do about him but he can't die).
Everyone knows when the police arrive, because everyone freezes the moment Inspector Javert's voice comes through a loudspeaker, crackling, warped a little by the heat in the air and the tension of the moment. “Everyone stand down,” he yells. “Remove the fire and put your hands in the air.”
Enjolras knows they aren't going to listen, and he gives the flames a pulse, to prove it. The police won't be able to do anything about Tholomyès, and Enjolras isn't going to be arrested without a fight, nor let Valjean be. Lark and Grantaire, at least, could probably get away free.
Tholomyès is the first to move, picking up the car he's been flinging around again and sending it careening at Valjean once more. Valjean, though, bats it out of the way as though it's nothing, and it lands with a crash on the other side of the flames, the police shouting. Javert is shouting again as well, but Enjolras doesn't have time for them. He only has attention for the fight, attention for Grantaire and Valjean backing Tholomyès towards the edge of the bridge, getting in more hits than they take now. Lark is above his ring of flames, shouting down at the police, telling them about the situation, and Enjolras wants to do more, wishes there were something he could do but keep the police from rushing them.
When it happens, it happens quickly. Tholomyès is up against the edge of the bridge, and Valjean punches him hard enough that he tips over the edge—still holding Valjean's hand, pulling him along. Lark, up above, screams and dives after them, down below where Enjolras can see, and Enjolras drops the flames and runs for Grantaire, grabbing his arm and peering over the edge just in time to see Cosette catch her father just before he hits the water and start pulling him up, struggling against the weight.
The police rush in close, and Enjolras turns to face them, stepping in front of Grantaire. “He's in the Seine, and I doubt he's conscious. If you want to fish him out, do it.”
Lark finally struggles up to the edge with her father, and Enjolras reaches out to help him to his feet. He's gasping a little, out of shape, and she hovers above them all like she's thinking of lifting them out, since they're surrounded by police, though a few of the officers have split off to run below and fish Tholomyès out of the river. “You couldn't have done this without them, Javert,” says Valjean. “At least let the children go. You know as well as I do that Paris needs them.”
Enjolras is certain that Javert isn't going to listen. Javert never listens, hates supers and has since Enjolras can remember. After a moment, though, he turns to his men. “I believe I saw Jean Valjean, alias the Mayor, go over the edge of the bridge with Mr. Tholomyès. He was never a good swimmer. I believe we can call case two four six oh one closed.”
And then, incredibly, against every likelihood and expectation, Inspector Javert turns around and starts barking orders to his men, telling them to get Tholomyès out of the Seine and contained, asking one of them to get the press gathered for a conference. Enjolras, still in front of Grantaire, stares and waits for something horrible to happen. It's hard to believe that Javert would let them go.
“We need to go before he changes his mind,” whispers Grantaire, and that seems to break the spell.
Lark clears her throat. “Everyone get out of here, go home, Paris may need us tonight but we need a rest. Shadow, let someone look at you, you're bleeding. Pa—Mayor, where's our friend?”
Valjean sighs, and his face is suddenly lighter, but tired. “In the car. You think I could have convinced him to stay behind?”
“Get him home, then, tell him to stay. I'll go a different way, meet you there later.” Enjolras doesn't know if Valjean will listen for a moment, but then he nods, listens to his daughter, and walks past the rows of police while they all pretend not to stare. The people off the bridge are just watching, some mouths open, many phones out to record them. Enjolras doesn't know how long it will be before videos are on the internet, but he suspects it will take no time at all. “You two. You'll be okay?”
“We'll be fine,” says Enjolras, because there isn't much else to say to that. “Text that you're safe, and I'll do the same. We'll talk about how to do things in the future when we've had a little time to recover. And you're still welcome at my meetings. Every Tuesday, I can text the location.”
She tilts her head, looks past him at Grantaire. “Do you go?”
“I do,” says Grantaire, to Enjolras's surprise. “Maybe I'll see you there sometimes. They need more women. Bring Éponine, too.”
Enjolras catches the corner of a smile. “Maybe I will.” Lark takes off, starts hovering again. “I'll see you both soon.”
With that, she's off, leaving Enjolras to turn around to look at Grantaire. He's bleeding, his mask askew, a long rip in one sleeve that's starting to be edged in blood, and he's holding his ribs like he may collapse. “I'll walk you home,” he offers. “I'll have to text a few people to let them know I'm safe, but I want to see you safe home as well. You need some patching up, can it be done at home or do you need a hospital?”
“Home should be fine.” Grantaire seems to be considering him, but finally he sighs and nods. “Come on. Walk me home. No one's running anywhere tonight.”
Enjolras offers his hand, waiting to see how far Grantaire will see it through, and a second later, Grantaire takes hold and squeezes, supporting his ribs with his other hand, and starts walking, as traffic slowly starts moving again and the police dredge the Seine below them.
When she comes downstairs, her father and Gavroche are sitting on the couch eating ice cream and watching the news, and Gavroche twists around to beam at her when he hears her on the stairs. “Hey come on, it's fantastic, Tholomyès and his team are crying all over the news and everyone's asking about his career as a storied vigilante, the DNA bill got withdrawn at ten this morning, and Javert looks like he might kill someone.”
Cosette sits down next to her father, leaning into him until he squeezes her knee, letting her know that he's fine. She doesn't know if she trusts that, but she can't see any bruises, and he doesn't seem to be wincing when he moves, so she can at least be assured that he's physically safe. “Neither of you should have come last night.”
“Yeah, you'd have done so well if I hadn't told him where to find you,” Gavroche says with a scoff, settling in comfortably to watch one of the few powered anchors in Paris take apart Tholomyès's policies with what appears to be sincere glee.
“We would have done something. I believe that.”
“I owed him some unfinished business,” her father says, quiet and final. “I can't say I'm proud of having to do it, when I swore I was done with violence as soon as I had you, but I am more glad that I can say that I could protect you, from this anyway. There will be other people to fight, in time. I won't get involved in all of them.”
“Maybe I should go,” says Gavroche, looking between them.
Cosette shakes her head, as firmly as possible. “No, stay. Stay as long as you can—I mean, if it's all right with Papa.”
“Of course it is.”
“Of course, I'm delightful,” says Gavroche, but it's all the brash confidence that probably means he's planning on running out the second their backs are turned.
“Really, Gavroche, stay. Your parents may still be in trouble from Tholomyès, since he's alive and there's still a trial to come for whatever they're charging him with, and I still haven't seen Éponine around, which means that I'm still supposed to look out for you.”
He crosses his arms and looks at the television, but she hopes that some of it is getting through. “I still haven't heard from Éponine,” he finally says. “Even Montparnasse hasn't, and he's the best of a bad lot. I mean, he's the one who bagged you all Tholomyès, when it comes down to it.”
“Still.” Cosette bites her lip. “Do you think Éponine is in trouble? Some kind of danger? She must know that Tholomyès is taken care of.”
Gavroche shrugs. “She'll come back eventually. Always does. She disappears once in a while, when there's too much trouble. Always comes back, maybe she'll come back and decide to work with us.”
Cosette wants to debate the “us,” but she knows that trying to keep Gavroche off the streets is going to be a losing battle. She can only hope that he'll listen to her father, and to Éponine when she returns, and keep himself relatively safe until he's a little older. “Let her know she's welcome, will you? I'll try to tell her myself, but I doubt she'll believe me. We could use her in fights like we were in last night.”
“I'll tell her.” Gavroche squints at the television as the story moves on to Inspector Javert declaring Jean Valjean officially dead despite the lack of body and conflicting eyewitness accounts. Paris still loves its first superheroes, or two of them anyway. “Shadow tries sometimes, but she doesn't listen to him.”
“Maybe she'll listen to all of us.” The news zeroes in on some of Shadow's graffiti, WHERE IS LIGHTNING? in huge letters on the side of a residential building. “I wonder if Fantine will come back, now that it's safer.”
Her father leans his weight into her side, gently, so she knows he's there. “I'm not even certain she's alive, Cosette. I think if she were, she would have tried to find us long ago.”
“You were the one who made us hard to find.” She looks up at him. “My name is on the news now, and Madame Thénardier's reports are still out there. It's going to be hard to keep my identity secret, and with you mentioned as well … if she's anywhere where she sees any news from Paris at all, she'll come back and she'll find us.”
“Your mother, my sister, we may as well go on a manhunt,” says Gavroche, a little too light. “Superpowered roadtrip, sounds like an American movie.”
Cosette lets herself be led away from the serious subjects. “I think I would watch a movie like that.” The news is still going, quietly, but she knows everything important now. “Could we turn that off? I want to eat something for lunch, or breakfast, or whichever, and then I thought maybe we could watch a movie.”
Her father turns it off immediately, like he's been waiting for the excuse. “Certainly. I'll cook us all a meal, something hearty. We worked hard last night. Gavroche, are you hungry?” He nods. “Then I'll teach you how to cook something, it's good for every man to know a few dishes.”
That pleases Gavroche, and Cosette levers herself off the couch so she can sit in the kitchen and watch them cook, to let the ease of it all wash over her when she's still trying to forget that she battled her own father last night, that she feels no remorse seeing him in disgrace today. It's all a little better when she can watch her real father teaching Gavroche all the little tips and tricks for the kitchen that he taught Cosette years ago.
Her father should have had five children to spoil and love and dozens of grandchildren, but she's glad that she's the one who has him, and now Gavroche. Maybe Éponine too, when she comes back, if she can be convinced. Maybe Shadow and Flame, if she can convince them as well, if she goes to their meeting and then reciprocates by inviting them into her life. It could be good.
The lunch and the movie that follows do a great deal to calm Cosette, to make her sure again that she's doing the right thing, and in the late afternoon when Gavroche and her father both start nodding off, she kisses them each on the cheek and goes upstairs to put on clothes for a run.
Paris seems to be taking a breath. There are those days, when everything is still and a little expectant and even the breeze is tentative, and Cosette should be wondering if it's a breath of recovery from last night or a breath to get ready for something more coming, but there's always something more coming, some battle to fight, and for today she just wants to jog, watch the scenery and recover.
Cosette takes a long jog, long enough that she makes sure to text her father and tell him that she's still fine. When she's turning towards home, there's the sound of a car horn from the road, and Cosette turns to see and finds a man her age crossing the road without looking, nose stuck in a book and paying no attention at all to the traffic. She runs out, using her trained strength instead of her powers, and pulls him out of the way of an impatient driver, the two of them stumbling back until they land ungracefully on the pavement.
He looks up at her wide-eyed, incredibly still keeping his place in his book, all bright eyes and hair in his face. “Oh my God,” he breathes, “you saved me, you're my hero!”
Cosette has been waiting her whole life to hear the words and never thought she'd have the luck to hear them out of costume, so it's all she can do to place her hand over her stomach, grin her brightest grin, and say “I'll always save you.”
Watching the smile break out on his face is like watching the sun come up.
Well, it's a normal thing, but that might be what's strange. Superheroes don't get normal, and regardless of costumes Enjolras doesn't do anything normal. Still, they're sitting in a restaurant a few streets away from the Musain on a Tuesday afternoon, talking over a late lunch that's turned into just a conversation while the waiters glare at them for taking up the best table outside.
Enjolras, as it turns out, is terrible at dates, which Grantaire knows even though he doesn't make it out on many given what he does with his evenings. He argues and talks politics and doesn't know the fine art of holding hands across the table, and Grantaire doesn't realize he's beaming until Enjolras stops halfway through a rant about all the corrupt politicians pawning their mistakes off on Tholomyès and says “What?”
Grantaire blinks. “What?”
“You're grinning at me. Do I have something in my teeth?”
“No, you ...” Grantaire tries to figure out how to phrase it. “You're really always you, aren't you? I didn't think it was possible to be this intense all the time, but you are.”
Enjolras pauses, and it takes Grantaire a second to recognize it as nervousness and not annoyance. He hasn't learned the full range of Enjolras's emotions without a mask yet. “Is that a bad thing?”
“No, it's just weird.”
“You're the same too,” Enjolras says abruptly a second later. “You said the other night, before everything, that you're different, but now that I'm paying attention, I can see exactly how much you're always you. It's just different parts of you, that's all.”
Grantaire wants to kiss him for that, but he smiles again instead and kicks him gently under the table, since Enjolras seems to be familiar with that particular form of affection. “I guess I'll have to believe you. I think you're the person who knows both versions of me best, my roommates know what I do but they don't see me in costume very often.”
“I'll look forward to getting to know you better, seeing the differences.” Enjolras checks his phone and frowns. “We should head to the Musain, so I can talk to Combeferre and Courfeyrac before the meeting. We have follow-up work to do to make sure the DNA bill doesn't come back in a different form, for different reasons, and then I'm sure there's more to be done.”
“The work's never done, I suppose.” Grantaire is the first to stand up, wincing a little as his ribs twinge, not quite healed yet despite Joly's liberal assistance, and Enjolras joins him a second later, pulling out his wallet and frowning ferociously when Grantaire attempts to do the same. “I'll get the bill next time,” he says, proud when his voice doesn't rise in a question as he says it.
“Fine.” Enjolras seems to be attempting to seem long-suffering, but he ruins it with a smile.
Grantaire offers his hand, and Enjolras understands holding hands and walking, as he proved extensively walking Grantaire home after Tholomyès, so he takes it and they start walking, slower than Grantaire really needs to for his ribs, but Enjolras has been fretting at him, and so has Lark, so he'll allow himself to be coddled for a little while longer, anyway. He waits until they duck onto a quieter street before he stops, letting their joined hands pull Enjolras to a stop. “I'd like to kiss you,” he says, because he's barely seen Enjolras outside of costume since Tholomyès, both of them assuring their respective friends and roommates that they're safe and healthy, and he didn't want to do this for the first time in costume.
Enjolras hesitates for a second, giving him a searching look, and Grantaire is about to backpedal when Enjolras crosses the space between them and kisses Grantaire, a soft brush of lips before he pulls back, breathes, and kisses him again, harder and more sure. He leaves his hand in Grantaire's, doesn't try to wrap him up in his arms like most people imagine their soulmates doing the first time they meet, but Grantaire smiles against his mouth and leans in to change angles, catch Enjolras's lip between his teeth and nip gently to get a reaction.
Enjolras is the first one to pull away, and he's slow enough that Grantaire could probably easily pull him back and tempt him into more kisses, but this is enough for now, and the smile on Enjolras's face is definitely enough, especially when he adds a squeeze of Grantaire's hand. “There,” says Enjolras, like that was an item to be checked off some mental list even though Grantaire was the one to ask.
“Good,” Enjolras confirms, and starts walking again. Grantaire allows himself to be tugged behind him, and only stops him once more on the way to the Musain to kiss him again.
When they get there, even though they're half an hour early, most of the group is already there. Grantaire's roommates are all grinning at him, and Combeferre gives Grantaire a nod before he raises his eyebrows at Enjolras. Jehan and Bahorel are a little warier, but Bahorel makes sure to smile when Grantaire meets his eyes, and everyone else just seems pleased to see them. Even Louison, after a startled look, gives them free drinks when Enjolras explains, entirely without shame, that they're soulmates and trying to figure themselves out.
“Come on,” Enjolras says when he seems to feel that they've spent enough time on frivolity, “let's go to the back room. We have plenty of business to discuss, as well.”
Everyone troops back with varying levels of enthusiasm, and Grantaire settles in his usual seat, far enough away in the back that some of the others block Enjolras's view of him. He doesn't think Enjolras will allow himself to be distracted by romance the way he sometimes does by arguments, but he doesn't want to risk it. And there are likely to be arguments anyway, it's not as though they suddenly agree on everything.
Marius comes bursting in just as Enjolras opens his mouth to start speaking, red-faced, with a woman Grantaire doesn't know right behind him, holding his hand and smiling, but looking expectantly around the room, like there's someone she thinks she'll recognize. Her gaze zeroes in on Enjolras right away, and catches on Grantaire as Marius apologizes for coming in late. “We were meeting my father, he hadn't met Marius yet,” she says, and that's a familiar voice. Grantaire starts smiling, and waits for Enjolras to get it.
“We're soulmates,” Marius says, beaming, as though Enjolras hasn't complained to Grantaire that Courfeyrac has talked a lot about how Marius's soulmate saved him from being hit by a car. The soulmate's name, however, was never part of the discussion, which now seems an oversight. “Everyone, this is Cosette.”
That gets her sharp looks from everyone, because Cosette is a name that the news has been discussing a great deal for the past several days, but she just smiles and leads Marius over to a pair of free seats. “I have powers, he thought I might want to see what you all do here. I'm interested in making a difference.”
“And what do you do, Cosette?” asks Combeferre, just a little too casual.
“Oh,” says Lark, with a grin that says she knows exactly what they all know (even if her own soulmate hasn't realized it yet), “I fly.”
Grantaire turns his grin on Enjolras, who isn't smiling but still manages to look fiercely glad that she's here to work with them out of costume as well as in it.
They may well be able to change the city after all.