Grantaire had been the last person of their group that Enjolras had met. Not by any want of Enjolras’s, of course; they may have gotten into a considerable amount of arguments once they actually had met, but Enjolras could say with complete certainty that he’d never for a moment actually hated Grantaire. On the contrary, once he actually had met him, he had spent many a night lying awake until three in the morning thinking about what they’d argued about. So no, it hadn’t been because of Enjolras not liking him from the start or anything. He had met Grantaire last because it seemed destined that their paths should cross at the latest point in Enjolras’s lifetime.
He had met him because Éponine was going through what she called a “tough time” (though their group had whispers among them that had called it “Upset Marius Got Together with Cosette Syndrome”) and had invited a friend along to one of their meetings as “moral support.” (When she had said that, she had said it dryly, and with a sidelong glance at Grantaire that said she had actually had no say in the matter.)
Despite Éponine’s obvious reluctance to introduce Grantaire to anyone, Enjolras had been cordial and took a moment from his pre-meeting planning to introduce himself to Grantaire and explain the gist of the day’s meeting (since it wasn’t an apparently obvious subject that they were going over). Grantaire had seemed nice enough, giving Enjolras a small smile after he’d finished his spiel and sipping his beer, and Enjolras had left it at that, going ahead and starting the meeting once everyone was finally settled in.
Of course, the minute he started talking, Grantaire’s genial smile turned into sarcastic quips, and that night became locked forever in the annals of the group’s history as one of their most eventful meetings to date. Enjolras raised his strong but usually genial voice to a near-shout, and Grantaire had met each of his arguments on a relatively even footing, easily evading Enjolras’s counterarguments with more counters of his own. Grantaire was not openly disdainful of what they did, but he was definitely a pessimist, and Enjolras did not take kindly to those who wouldn’t even try, especially those of the fatalist variety, which Grantaire clearly was.
“What’s the point,” he said once, “if this world is just going to continue being corrupt? Let’s say you do it, and row after row of corrupt politicians fly the coop, never to be seen again. All of their corrupt policies are torn down. All of their painstakingly-placed bourgeois connections are shorn. Do you know what happens next? Another corrupt politician sneaks into place disguised as a saint. He grows enough in popularity and power that he can put his fingers in all of his pies and he’s the next person someone inevitably places on their list of corrupt leaders to cut down. Do you see what I’m getting at here?” He leaned forward in his seat and put his hands on his knees, his bottle of beer forgotten. “You can’t trust the people when the people don’t know what they want, because inevitably, they get the exact opposite of what your idyllic world view would have you believe.”
Enjolras had made it very clear that he didn’t take kindly to those of Grantaire’s ilk, and that he believed in the people, and Grantaire had snorted but shrugged him off, returning to his alcohol and quietly snarking in Éponine’s ear. It annoyed Enjolras, but it at least got Éponine smiling again, which was a definite plus. Grantaire must have been deeply unimpressed with Enjolras, because the minute the meeting was over, he and Éponine were out the door, their coats not even on all the way. Enjolras was both relieved and disappointed; he thought for certain that someone like Grantaire wouldn’t like what they were doing, and yet he was hoping, perhaps more than he should have been, that Grantaire would stick around. Enjolras knew his belief in the people was well-founded, and he was itching for a chance to change Grantaire’s mind.
In the end, though, Enjolras had been content to simply let the matter lie, and had distracted himself with Combeferre and Courfeyrac and planning new events and a bit of schoolwork and a bit of fun and food (enforced by Courfeyrac). Enjolras forgot about Grantaire and his constant retorts, and it didn’t bother him anymore.
The week rolled by in a perfectly normal fashion, and before Enjolras could really think about it, Thursday night had come around again. The night had started out as usual, with everyone arriving and Combeferre and Enjolras speaking in hushed tones about something or other. Enjolras was standing in front of his friends at the Musain, taking final prompts from Combeferre before he was about to begin speaking, when he happened to look up and see Éponine and Grantaire coming up the steps to the second floor, heading over to the spot where they sat last time.
Enjolras will deny it to this day, but Courfeyrac remembered in perfect clarity (1080p, in fact) how Enjolras’s eyes had lit up at the sight of his “adversary” (a term Enjolras had said was ridiculous, because he and Grantaire weren’t fighting each other or anything of the sort), and how he had begun speaking with perhaps a little more gusto than usual. Of course, Enjolras said that all of that was just rubbish, and so far from the truth it was laughable.
(Since he was being such a spoilsport, Courfeyrac neglected to mention to him that Grantaire had looked directly at Enjolras as soon as he had walked in, and had watched him intently through the entire meeting, not just when they were arguing.)
So began their relationship, its beginnings humble but its presence persistent. Enjolras’s interest in Éponine’s friend only grew as time went by, their arguments fueling some kind of fire in him. Grantaire, for whatever reason, seemed to reciprocate the interest, though Enjolras was uncertain if he should take offense to it. It always seemed as though Grantaire was humoring him, always calling him an “idealist,” and while Grantaire would condemn his optimism and his willingness to believe in complete strangers, he kept showing up to meeting after meeting. His mind never changed, as Enjolras’s didn’t, and yet they kept coming back to talk about it, gravitating toward each other like two celestial bodies.
“It’s like The Dark Knight,” Courfeyrac said excitedly to Jehan as the pair watched Enjolras and Grantaire have a hushed yet heated debate after the meeting was over. “It’s like that Joker and Batman bit at the end where Heath Ledger is upside-down and Christian Bale is talking despite his desperate need for a throat lozenge.”
“Oh yeah,” Jehan replied, looking up into the air and squinting, as if trying to decode something from the emptiness, “I remember that part. What was that really cool line again?”
Courfeyrac puffed his chest, his face trying and failing to mimic the Joker’s look. “’This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.’” Jehan applauded him, and he took a bow from where he was sitting.
“Who’s the unstoppable force and who’s the immovable object?” Jehan asked, scrutinizing Grantaire and Enjolras where they were standing, their expressions pinched and their eyes never breaking contact.
“Well, Enjolras is obviously the unstoppable force,” Courfeyrac replied, gesturing to his blonde friend. “Nobody could stop him from creating Les Amis, could they? And nobody can stop him even now, starting protests and rallies and fundraisers and raising awareness and all that jazz.”
“And Grantaire is obviously the immovable object,” Jehan added, nodding to himself. “No matter what Enjolras says to him, he doesn’t think any different than he did when he first came here. He’s never actually bothered by what Enjolras says, and he never seems to get as worked up as Enjolras does about current events. It’s like he’s the only one who’s immune to his powers.”
“Exactly, my dear Jehan,” Courfeyrac said.
“I think, though, if we look closely enough,” Jehan said in a low tone, leaning in closer to Courfeyrac while still keeping his eyes on Enjolras and Grantaire, “we can spot another parallel between the movie and reality.”
“And what’s that?” Courfeyrac asked, eyebrows furrowed as he, too, looked over at their friends.
“They need each other,” Jehan replied simply, and Courfeyrac’s eyes widened, his brows shooting closer to his hairline. It made sense; after their first argument, Grantaire hadn’t missed a single meeting, and Enjolras was always looking forward to his face appearing beyond the archway to the stairs, as loathe as he was to admit that out loud. The two rarely spoke unless they were debating, and Enjolras always seemed more spirited after they fought, unlike his usual rebuttals against people at rallies, which always left him drained and exhausted. Grantaire seemed to also benefit from the arrangement, as Courfeyrac had noticed that he had taken to drinking less wine and replacing it with beer, drinking less and less every night that he was there, weaning himself off the alcohol and focusing more on Enjolras.
Jehan’s theory, in light of all this, made perfect sense. The more Courfeyrac thought about it, the more proof that he could find validating that it was true.
Of course, Courfeyrac would have almost solid proof the day Grantaire showed up half an hour late and covered in injuries.
Enjolras had started the meeting five minutes late, having blamed the unusual tardiness on “misplacing a paper” (which Courfeyrac and Combeferre knew that Enjolras knew exactly where it was, but out of the goodness of their hearts, neither Combeferre nor Courfeyrac said anything about it). Once five minutes had passed, Enjolras “found” the paper, and the meeting officially began. Alas, that was not the end of Enjolras’s distraction, for all through the first twenty minutes of the meeting he had cast more than the occasional glance at the stairwell, as if waiting any second for Grantaire to arrive. While it wasn’t overly apparent to many of the others that Grantaire’s absence was a bit shocking and unsettling to Enjolras, Courfeyrac and Combeferre could see it plainly as if it were written on his face. Every minute that passed without Grantaire made Enjolras a bit more edgy, and if people asked why he was fighting against anti-homelessness laws a bit too passionately today, well, Courfeyrac would blame it on how it was getting colder out.
Eventually, though, the thirty-minute mark hit, and the sound Grantaire’s footsteps could be heard on the stairs. Enjolras’s back minutely straightened at the sound of his step on the stair, and he looked toward the archway, still speaking, only to freeze when Grantaire came into view.
He was leaning heavily on the doorway, dressed in rattier clothes than usual; an old olive green duster draped over his shoulders and fell in tatters to his calves. His hands were in woolen gloves that lacked fingers, and his fingertips looked white. His hair was a bit soaked from the snow where it peeked out of his black beanie which was pulled loosely to cover his ears. His shirt and jeans were marked with the occasional hole, his boots heavy. He was soaked completely through, as if he’d been out in the snow for a very long time, and he had a black eye and what looked like a broken nose. There were bruises around his neck that looked suspiciously like finger marks.
Almost immediately after the silence caused by his arrival, Grantaire looked up from where he was heaving each breath and staring at the floor, his eyes scanning the room almost blindly before landing on Enjolras. He gave a little smile. “Hi, guys,” he croaked, and the room erupted into chaos.
Joly seemed to snap into intern mode, despite not having done his medical internship yet, and he immediately told Grantaire to sit down, asking Musichetta (who had access to the bar downstairs) if she could get some hot chocolate and a hot bowl of water from him. He sent Bossuet with her to grab a few old rags used for cleaning, if they could find any, and if not, then paper towels. He also asked for a bottle of whiskey.
Feuilly, Éponine and Bahorel immediately began interrogating Grantaire, asking him what happened and who he was fighting with and where he was and what they looked like. Feuilly’s face was made entirely of stone, his eyes cast downward to the floor and one hand rubbing nervously through his ginger beard, his brows furrowed. Éponine was all fierce, hot anger, pacing the room and shooting questions at Grantaire, who answered them in a lax, mechanical manner, as if he’d done this all before. Bahorel sat on his right, biting his fingers anxiously and murmuring profanities to himself, clearly on edge.
Meanwhile, Jehan immediately took to sitting on the table behind Grantaire and pulling off his beanie, setting it on the table next to him and running his fingers through Grantaire’s hair, massaging his scalp and whispering gently in his ear. Grantaire occasionally leaned into Jehan’s touch, a tired sort of cloud coming over his eyes.
Cosette moved gently and sat next to Grantaire, taking his hands in hers and peeling the gloves from his fingers. She wrapped her hands around his own, rubbing the fingers gently between her own and occasionally leaning down low to huff a breath of hot air over his fingertips. Marius sat behind her, a hand on her shoulder, and together the pair cast Grantaire small smiles not full of pity, but promise, and Grantaire didn’t say anything about it.
While everyone was distracted, Courfeyrac and Combeferre were concentrating on calming Enjolras down. As soon as Grantaire’s gaze had left him, Enjolras had at once filled with the white hot fury Courfeyrac had seen battle ignorance on the streets, and yet, at the same time, Enjolras’s knees nearly gave, as if the world was crumbling underneath him. Courfeyrac and Combeferre caught him as he nearly fell, each of them grasping one of his hands and providing him with support. Gently, he and Combeferre guided Enjolras to their usual table, pulling out a chair for him and pushing his glass of water toward him.
“What the fuck,” was the first thing out of Enjolras’s mouth, but he said it in a very low tone full of heat and malice, not loud enough to be heard by anybody beyond their table. Combeferre watched him from behind his glasses, his face stoic but his eyes watchful, and the hand he had on Enjolras’s never left. Enjolras angrily took a drink of his water, setting his glass back down and closing his eyes, a hand reaching up to scrub a hand through his immaculate hair. “What the fuck,” he repeated in a whisper.
“It’s okay,” Courfeyrac said, his voice low and soothing. He put his hand on Enjolras’s free hand, gently running the pad of his thumb over the back of the base of Enjolras’s thumb. “It’s okay, Enj. He’s alive, obviously, and Joly’s taking care of him. He came straight here, didn’t he? He knew we’d take care of him, and we are. It’ll be alright.”
“I know,” Enjolras said, his eyes still closed, and his voice was very small. Part of Courfeyrac’s heart shattered, and he thought back to his conversation with Jehan. “But I just wasn’t expecting…”
He trailed off, breathing for a few more seconds before his eyes opened, and Enjolras wasn’t vulnerable anymore. His eyes were closed off again, and if anyone looked twice at him, they would not have known about his small moment of weakness. As it was now, he stood, freeing his hands gently from Combeferre’s and Courfeyrac’s, and, giving them two small nods of thanks, he made his way over to the others, standing just outside the ring of doting friends with his arms crossed.
Courfeyrac turned to Combeferre, knowing that his expression was one of sadness and pity. Combeferre tore his gaze from Enjolras to look back at him, his own expression still unreadable and stoic. Combeferre was infuriatingly level-headed sometimes, and it really grated on Courfeyrac’s nerves.
“For fuck’s sake, Ferre, say something,” Courfeyrac said, keeping his voice down but doing nothing to hide his disappointment in Combeferre’s selective silence. “You can’t just sit there and pretend that we didn’t just see him break down over somebody. The last time he was that broken up was when—”
“—When you were in that fatal car accident, Courf, I remember,” Combeferre interrupted, and Courfeyrac looked at him in shock. Gone was the blank expression he wore earlier, instead replaced with something far more real; something like agony swirled in his eyes, and his lips were drawn into a tight line. “If you think I’m pretending what I just saw didn’t happen, then you clearly don’t know me at all. And you do know me, Courf.”
Courfeyrac looked down at the hand still sitting on the table, his expression conveying his chagrin. Combeferre continued on. “It’s clear at this point that Grantaire means something to Enj. We don’t know exactly what, except that it’s real. It’s our job to keep him safe and happy, Courf, as his friends. Enjolras doesn’t want our pity, and I’m trying not to give him that. Surely you understand.”
Courfeyrac scoffed. “Of course I fucking understand,” he growled, glaring at Combeferre, “but that doesn’t mean that you have to put on that clinical look all the time. You’re human, Combeferre; you’re capable of more emotions than just pity, so why don’t you act like it sometime?” Without waiting for Combeferre to respond, or even so much as looking at him, Courfeyrac stood up and walked away, heading toward the table where Grantaire sat.
“I can’t fucking believe this,” Bahorel was muttering as Courfeyrac got there, the heels of his hands pressing into his eyes.
“What’s going on, friends?” Courfeyrac asked, looking around at everyone, who all had varying degrees of concern on their faces.
“Grantaire won’t tell us who did this to him,” Éponine spat, about five seconds away from kicking over a chair. Courfeyrac vividly remembered she was a kickboxer simply from the way she was standing and the way her tightly coiled rage radiated from her.
Grantaire, meanwhile, had his head tilted back and was pressing a rag to his nose. Joly apparently set his nose back in place. “Because it doesn’t matter,” Grantaire replied, his voice nasally and still slightly croaking. “It’s done and over with, so we can just move on.”
“Sadly, we can’t,” Jehan said, his hands still combing through his hair. “The bad thing about having friends is that they don’t let crazy shit like this go.”
“But it’s normal for me,” Grantaire replied, and Éponine just gesticulated rapidly for a moment before stalking over to the other side of the room. Bahorel groaned out loud in frustration. Enjolras also walked away for a moment, clearly needing to get himself together. Joly went pale, and Bossuet and Musichetta pulled him in and hugged him, stroking his hair and comforting him. Marius and Cosette, meanwhile, were still gazing at Grantaire, having released one of his hands so he could hold the rag to his face, though Marius sneaked a protective arm around Cosette’s waist.
In this brief moment where everyone was distracted, Courfeyrac leaned in to Grantaire’s ear and asked, “Might I have a word, if you’d please?”
“Certainly,” Grantaire replied, coming to a stand and giving Cosette’s hand a squeeze before letting it go. Jehan gently retracted his fingers from Grantaire’s hair, watching them as they took to the hallway. Courfeyrac gently guided Grantaire down the stairs to the landing between the first and second floor, and, confident they were out of sight, began to speak.
“I think you’ve realized by now, Grantaire, that we all really care about you.”
“I’ve come to that conclusion, yes,” Grantaire replied, tilting his head back down for a moment, letting the blood run from his nose. He looked at Courfeyrac, giving a rather pitiful looking smile, his blackened eye closing completely and his other one squinting a bit. He looked so beat up. Courfeyrac’s heart couldn’t take so much abuse in one day.
“So you can see why we’re concerned,” Courfeyrac said, his arms crossed and a little smile of his own coming to his face as Grantaire hesitantly sniffled a bit, testing whether or not his nose was still bleeding.
“Of course I can,” he replied, giving Courfeyrac a look as he began folding the bloodied rag into a square. “I’m stubborn, not an idiot.”
“Then you know why you have to tell us, right?” Grantaire’s look intensified. “We just want to make it better.”
“You guys have to trust me when I tell you it isn’t a problem,” Grantaire replied, though he shot Courfeyrac a grateful look which made Courfeyrac’s heart melt upon sight of it. “Trust me. It’s done and over with, and you don’t have to worry about it. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
Courfeyrac looked at him evenly for a moment before sighing, resignation taking over his features. “You leave me no choice,” he murmured, and before Grantaire could do anything, Courfeyrac reached out, grasping Grantaire’s wrist in his hand.
Grantaire and Courfeyrac immediately locked eyes, something like blue fire coursing between them, thrumming hot and deadly underneath their skin, and Courfeyrac backed away as if shoved, letting Grantaire’s wrist go. The connection broke at once, his arm tingling as if burning from the inside, his edges catching like paper in a wood stove. It felt like embers were trailing lazily up his nerves. His eyes were completely widened, his mouth open in shock.
“Holy fuck,” he whispered, his chest heaving. Grantaire didn’t seem fazed; in fact, he seemed steadier on his feet than before, standing a little taller, the hunch he usually adopted gone. He looked Courfeyrac in the eye as he spoke.
“Yeah,” he replied, not sounding at all menacing, but more like he was expecting what had just transpired between them to happen. “Sorry about that.”
“No, it’s cool,” Courfeyrac replied, flapping at the air with the hand that wasn’t pressed over his pounding heart. “I wouldn’t have done it if I had known it was you. I didn’t recognize you like this.”
Grantaire shrugged nonchalantly, and if Courfeyrac wasn’t Courfeyrac, he would have been laughing hysterically at the cavalier nature of this incredibly important exchange. Instead, he came to a complete stand, swallowing and straightening himself out. “Well, at least I know that guy is taken care of.”
“Yeah, he is,” Grantaire replied, small smile still in place. The moment had faded away by now, and once again they were just Courfeyrac and Grantaire, standing on the stairs like a couple of dorks. “Now, the problem is getting everybody else to believe me.”
Courfeyrac grinned. “That shouldn’t be a problem,” he replied, already taking to the stairs, something mischievous behind his eyes. “Just follow my lead.”