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let the yoke fall from our shoulders

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1.
In the beginning, Grantaire is fourteen years old and he doesn’t want to go to school; begs and begs to stay at home, feigns being sick, does anything to get out of it. Because 8th grade isn’t so great for anybody, or at least that’s what he hears, but it feels especially bad to him.

In the beginning, Grantaire is fourteen years old, and something shifts, and it feels like he’s sliding off a cliff into oblivion, and it feels like he’s dying a slow death inch by inch, fingernails scraping against hard rock as he struggles, struggles to hold on, and like the sky is enveloping him piece by piece. First his fingernails, and then his hands, and his arms, and his toes and his calves, until everything he is is this feeling, and he can’t explain what it is just that it’s bad and scary and feels like the clouds on a humid day in August and the gray closing in all around you.

In the beginning, Grantaire is fourteen years old, and his mom makes him go to school anyway, and they find him curled up in a corner of the library, sobbing and digging his nails into his palms, clutching a Harry Potter book because that had been the only thing that seemed good in his malfunctioning brain, like it would make everything better.

And Grantaire is fourteen, and will be going to high school once the summer is over, and he dreads every last bit of it, and dreads the rest of his life, and he’s so young but so old. And does what he has to, and breathes like he hates it, and cares just enough to not fall through the cracks.

2.
And then Grantaire is sixteen, already swept away to the world of high school and everything that comes with it, and struggling to find something he doesn’t hate. Everyone is so optimistically cheery, or at least that’s what it feels like; he finds himself critical of everything around him and everything that there is, everything that surrounds him in suburbia. He doesn’t like school but doesn’t have the energy to do anything outside of it, or to run away like so many of his peers have. He would kill himself, but he doesn't know how and sometimes he finds himself clinging to the thought of life like the way he used to cling to his mother before she declared him "too old".

And he doesn't know what he wants to do in life. He gets decent grades for just paying attention in class and that makes things seem relatively simple; he'll go to college and major in something and get a decent job in an office and life out his life like he's supposed to. Things are normal. Boring; the emotional equivalent of watching paint dry, but normal.

It's a sunny Tuesday the end of his sophomore year when things start to change. They call him out of class on the loudspeaker; in a small school like this it's rare enough that he gets a multitude of strange looks from the rest of the people in the class.

He's anxious as fuck as he walks into the office. They whisk him away into the guidance counselor's office, and there he finds a quietly buzzing lady with a copy of his schedule.

"Don't worry, you're not in trouble," she says, smiling too wide and too bright. Grantaire would know her name if he'd ever paid attention to the assemblies, or if he'd ever had the energy to talk to someone about all of these things that he feels, but because he doesn't and because he hasn't, he finds he can't remember. "There is a bit of an issue with your schedule, though.”

"What's wrong with my schedule?" Grantaire says, a little breathless, his heart beating too fast for this situation. He's fearing the worst; that he's flunked out of some incredibly basic course and he'll have to take it again, or that he's doing so badly in some class and he just hasn’t noticed it; that he’s being framed for something some other kid did. Briefly, the thought occurs to him that they’re expelling him from school, but he doesn’t know what he did--

He picks at his nails, which are bitten down to the quick and bloody for it. Controls his breath.

"It's nothing too drastic, or anything to be anxious about! You look nauseous. Do you want a peppermint?" The woman says, suddenly springing into counselor-action, getting up from behind her desk to hand him a peppermint from the bowl on her filing cabinet.

Grantaire takes it, and slips it into his pocket. He doesn’t really want it, no.

"So what's the issue?" he reiterates, trying to get back on subject, trying to not to sound too vulnerable, too anxious, too much like all of the things he's actually feeling.

"There's a requirement that you need two art credits to graduate, Grantaire. And that can be anything from wood shop to computer arts or debate, as well as traditional arts like theater and music and painting. So I'm here to get you involved in one of those classes! Is there anything you're interested in?"

"I... I don't know," he says.

She purses her lips. "Well. You’ll have to decide for yourself. Can I look at your hands?”

It seems odd, but Grantaire puts them out for her to look at, and touch. He knows that she can see the blood and the bitten nails and can probably feel the way that they shake, almost impercebtibly. She stares first at his palms, and then flips them over. Grantaire’s stomach churns.

There’s silence, and then the counselor says, “You have painter’s hands. I can sign you up for our beginning visual arts class if you want; it’s very diverse. Lots of different media, lots of freedom. I think you’d be great at it.”

Grantaire doesn’t have anything hands. Grantaire has Grantaire’s hands, which means that they are worthless and gross and not worth enough to take care of. He has hands that he hates, for all that they shake and twist and ache to reach out to things that he cannot have. Grantaire thinks the phrase “painter’s hands” is bullshit, but he’s not going to tell her that. Grantaire is going to sit still here and do what he’s supposed to, and he’s going to leave, and do what she tells him to do, because it will be easier than the alternative.

He wants nothing more than to be out of here, back to class so he can study for some dumb final that won’t mean anything other than a letter grade.

"Sure," he says. "Whatever."

She makes a change to something on the computer, and that's that.

3.

The first period of art class he's ever had, the teacher comes up to him and asks him his name and what his favorite type of art to do is.

"You see, this class is a mash-up of different mediums and stuff so there's a few group projects but mostly it's a lot of trying stuff out in a variety of different ways. But I like to know where everyone's coming from." He says, eyes crinkling and bright with the possibilities. He's excited, obviously; eager to get started with the year and all of the art they could be making. There are spots of acrylic paint all over his clothes, a yellow splotch on his face creating brilliant contrast with the dark brown of his skin.

Grantaire can’t remember the last time he was that excited.

"I don't know," Grantaire says. He knows what he likes looking at; knows he has always been entranced by the reality of oils and the way everything looks soft, and the way everything blends together in watercolors, knows he has always liked the way acrylic looks on posterboard to create bright vibrancy echoing out of the canvas. "I've never had an art class before."

"Really?" the teacher seems astonished, actually shocked. "Not even in middle school?"

"No, we only had one elective choice and I took Spanish."

"Well, you're going to have fun this year, then!" the art teacher replies, and goes busily off to the board, chatting with other students as he goes.

They start out with a drawing, the teacher thoroughly explaining every single line that he puts on the paper. It's embarrassingly simple, and Grantaire gets bored within minutes. He finishes the drawing on the board and doodles around the edges, sketching cats and people and everything else that comes to his mind. By the time the teacher is done lecturing and everyone is finished drawing, Grantaire has filled the paper with sketches and other things that are definitely not what the assignment was originally supposed to be.

The teacher comes around just as Grantaire is looking up from the paper, collecting everyone's papers to grade in a way that suddenly sends Grantaire into panic. He hadn’t been doing the assignment. Shit. Fuck.

"Oh wait," Grantaire says, as he takes his paper from him. "I-- I didn't know you'd be collecting those."

"And?" the teacher replies. He quirks an eyebrow, looking down at the paper. "Oh." he says, seeming at first let down.

And then his eyes brighten, as he looks further at the illustrations on the side of the page, forming a clumsy border around the incredibly basic first drawing of a cat he'd had them all do.

"You drew all of this yourself?"

"I--yes?" Grantaire says, confused, and then terrified. "Please don't tell me I'm in trouble, I know it's not exactly 'compliant'--"

"Shh, you're not getting in trouble," the teacher says, holding up a finger at him as if to not distract him from the work in front of him. Later on Grantaire will remember this as the first time his work had to speak louder than he did. Later on, Grantaire will remember this as the first time someone told him to shut up and let them focus on his art.

Grantaire sits there in silence for the next minute or two, as the class ends and everyone else filters out. He's just beginning to worry he'll be late for his next class when the teacher speaks.

"Grantaire is your name, right?" the teacher says, finally looking up at him.

"Yes?"

"This is beautiful, beautiful drawing. You said you'd never been in an art class before?"

"No, I haven't. I mean, when I was in elementary school we did some art classes, but it was all Crayola watercolors and finger painting. I was terrible at it."

The teacher looks at Grantaire as if to assess him. He’s suddenly aware of his unkempt hair, of his permanent slouch and the way the alcohol from his parents’ liquor cabinet and insomnia have drawn dark circles around his eyes.

He tries frantically to clean up his hair for a second when the teacher looks away, and as he sifts through a couple of the other drawings that the people in the class have completed.

"I'm not kidding when I say this is incredibly advanced. There's a real sense of line, form, and style, even in the simple piece I had everyone in the class do. I don't want you getting a big head, but--"

"They're just doodles, really, it's no big deal--"

"These are much more than just doodles. So I'll tell you what, and you won't dare to call your work 'just' anything anymore, but I don't think this class is going to help you very much. It is, like many other classes in this school, designed for people who have been in art classes before but never really understood it. I think you should be in my advanced studio art class, or one of my colleagues. But you won't learn anything in this class, because from what I can see here, you already understand half of it."

"But--"

"Of course it would be much more work, and very difficult as you won't have many of the technical skills of the other people in the class. But I'm confident you can do it. If it works out with your schedule, you’ve still got ten days to register for that one instead of this one. And if it doesn’t, you can always do Ms. Stephenson’s class across the hall, which is meeting right now.”

Grantaire already has so many free periods he doesn’t know what to do with them, being not committed to anything, so he quietly goes to the office and fills out the required forms and finds himself with two different teachers and an art class he isn’t prepared for.

 

Except he finds out he is prepared for it, and in more ways than one. His mother is overjoyed he’s actually doing something he’s interested in for once, and the challenge of both doing something that is unlike the rest of school and having to catch up, technically, with the rest of the people in the class is an adventure in and of itself. He will never get over the two all-nighters he pulled trying to finish a painting that was met with intense, harsh criticism from some of the students and a couple of "mehs" from the others.

After that he figures out a lot of things.

He does endless sketching; attempts oils and finds that he likes them more than anything else he has ever done. He paints huge acrylic pieces that get destroyed when he leaves them out to dry in the sun and it rains; he does a watercolor painting of the city that leaves the class silent for a minute and gets him a sad, knowing look from the teacher. Everything seems approachable, manageable for once, Grantaire is so glad he signed up for the class that he finds himself so grateful he gets stuffed up sometimes.

He fills the rest of his free periods with other art classes, more so than most people in the school seem to be aware exist; he does pottery and finds out he finds solace in the feeling of his hands buried in clay, paints the sets for a school play and is something approaching proud when he sees it and sees the way the light reflects off of them, he does so much watercolor he runs out of paint and has to ask the teacher to buy more. He attempts digital art in the fall of senior year and is so bad at it that he laughs at everything he creates, but finds it fun at least because he can put everything he creates up on tumblr and watch people comment on it.

He's not surprised one day when his art teacher, the first one, asks him what art school he wants to go to.

He'd figured he'd get a boring degree in economics or something. But instead he finds himself staring down the requirements for a portfolio at the artsiest, most philosophical in-state, public school with the highest amount of financial aid he can find. And a couple of safety schools, too, including an Ivy League he doesn't think he'll get into but applies to anyway because what if he could? What if he could be?

He finishes the portfolio, and it's all the best stuff he's ever created in any medium. There's watercolor and oil and acrylic and charcoal and pen drawings, a half-assed sarcastic comic he did in twenty minutes and the class had considered hilarious to the extreme. He writes the essay, bites his nails over it. He does all the forms and wonders why anyone bothers doing this much work, until he remembers that he’s doing it because it’s important to care about things, and because he fucking deserves this.

5.
And in the spring, the letter comes. He spends the last summer shut up in his room and doing paintings of people he meets on the street; it is the first summer since 14 that he hasn’t gotten drunk almost every day out of sheer boredom. He doesn’t speak to his parents, and his old friends drop him in favor of someone who actually wants to smoke with them and doesn’t do “faggy” things like paint.

In the fall, his parents drop him off. His mother smiles. She hugs him, places a warm kiss on his forehead, and then is gone.

His father is standing outside his door, where all of his things are still in neat boxes, when he says it. And Grantaire wants nothing more than to ever see him again, has for a long time; he wants to forget all about him. He wants to turn college into a place where he can actually do something; he can’t do that when his father is standing there and all he is is that scared little kid whose father is off doing something who-knows-where and there’s no one to come to his parent conferences.

“I...I really want to turn this into something, Dad.” he says, hoping to make nice to the man he hasn’t cared about, or really even seen, in years.

“Well. This is your chance. You’ve got to make something of yourself here, boy. If you don’t, you’ll never be worth anything. Just even more of an expense for us.”

Grantaire opens his mouth to say something, and by the time he thinks of it, his father has left forever.

He hears them talking in the stairwell as they leave. Around him, the hustle and bustle of the first week of college is going on. They haven’t spoken since his father got back from his third deployment, and then when he moved out.

He closes his door and sits on his flat, empty bed. And then, with a slight pause where he stares out the window at all the people walking into the dorm, he starts to sob.

Chapter Text

6.   

Grantaire is just setting up his bedroom, making his bed, and unleashing the  uncontrolled chaos from the boxes he’d stuffed everything in when there is a sharp knock on the door. Grantaire is still crying a little, a sort of lazy, half-aware weeping that has Grantaire muttering curses under his breath and then hastily trying to wipe away his tears on his sleeve.

 

The door opens on its own. In it walks a woman with natural hair dyed bright red, looking like a glowing cloud.

 

"Oh, so you are here." she says. She has light brown skin, speckled with freckles and eyes golden, her hair natural, dyed red so that it looks like it's glowing from the inside out. Grantaire wants to draw her; to find the colors for her eyes. She's wordlessly beautiful. "I'm Musichetta, your hall RA. You checked in downstairs, but not up here, so I didn't know if you went out to lunch or something. Anyway. This is your roommate, Laigle."  

 

"Oh, cool," Grantaire says. He hastily tries to wipe away more of the red in his eyes, but all it serves to do is make his nose red as well. Musichetta looks at him, and wordlessly offers a tissue. The guy who must be Laigle stands in the door smiling, and despite supposedly being 17 or 18 is  bald in  a way that doesn't look like he did it for charity or something, but truly bald in the sense of "I've been bald since I was 5", and also conspicuously lacks eyebrows.

 

He looks more excited than Grantaire has since he was 5, which isn't saying much, but is something to see when you're sitting there feeling like death after you've been crying your eyes out and you're not sure you're ready for college or to do art or any of this after all and you'd rather be dead asleep at home. Which, given, is five hours away in a different state now and inhabited by parents who you never want to see again. And you also feel an ennui and an overwhelming sense of boredom that threatens to consume you; you're tired beyond belief but it's not worth sleeping until you've actually unpacked your bed, which your parents did not help you with.  Moving into college has not functioned at all like moving into college in a movie works, or how moving into college works in the movies; Grantaire is nothing if not glad to be here but he can't do anything to change the way he feels, which is exhausted and not at all enthused about the prospect of  spending a year sharing a room with a man with so much energy.

 

Which isn't a bad thing to do, not at all. Laigle looks like a nice guy, he really does: he has nice skin, and a kind, open face. It's just that these are the people that ask questions about why he's not functional, and tell him things like "You'll feel better if you do yoga!" and "Maybe if you drew nicer things you'd feel better!" and then recommend self-help books and Grantaire is really, really not here for that. Grantaire is to get some sort of reasonable degree and make some art and get a job at some pretentious art company, or maybe get a job at some shitty retail store and hope that the wages are enough to buy paints.

 

"Hey, I'm Laigle! Or Lesgle. I'm from Meaux." He says, waving enthusiastically. He doesn't try to shake his hand or hug him, for which Grantaire is eternally grateful.

 

"Is that in France?" Grantaire says. He makes an effort to keep making his bed, but it's difficult to reach all the way over to the other side where it's tucked in against the wall to manage to fit the sheet all the way around.

 

"No, it's in Texas. It's a tiny little town; just a stoplight and a gas station, really." He seems amused, not dissuaded by Grantaire's lack of excitement, or the fact that undoubtably his eyes were still red and he had been crying until he walked in. But at the same time, he seemed unbothered, or at least not until he leaned up against Grantaire's desk, and then somehow managed to hit his head on the the bookshelf above it. There's no blood or anything, although Laigle does curse loud enough to offend half the grandparents that are probably on the hall helping kids move in.

 

Musichetta looks from one of them to the other. She looks a bit like she wants to laugh, but doesn't. Her mouth twitches up at the corners; a quiet acqueisance. Well, you two seem to have it under control here. I'll see you both at the hall meeting tonight, and Bossuet, let's meet up after and go get some coffee, yeah? I'm in the room down the hall, you can't miss it, it's all decked out in glitter."

 

"Of course," Laigle/Lesgle/Bossuet says, and then kisses Musichetta on the cheek. Grantaire gapes openly as Musichetta leaves and closes the door. Bossuet starts taking his stuff out of the singular suitcase he seems to have brought with him, and sets his laptop up on his desk.

 

7.

 

Laigle/Lesgle/Bossuet is strange, is what Grantaire finds out about him. He is odd, both in that he has extraordinarily bad luck (which he has stories about that almost make Grantaire laugh, that are so ridiculous he is hesitant to believe they are true) and that he's nothing like anyone he has ever met. He makes ridiculous puns, somehow is in a relationship with Musichetta, and is so overwhelmingly nice that Grantaire doesn't know what to do with it. He wears a tiny rainbow pin on his jacket and Grantaire has something kind of like hope. At the hall meeting, he brings up the issue of gender neutral bathrooms; Grantarie didn't even know what those were.

 

And in addition to all of this, he somehow isn't a freshman at all. He's actually a year _older_ than Grantaire, which explains why he knows where everything is and why he knows Musichetta so well, but doesn't explain why he's sleeping in the same room as Grantaire.

 

"Hey, why're you my roommate if you're not a freshman?" Grantaire asks, late one night when he's in bed trying to make sense of the endless biology reading he has to do by tomorrow, despite the fact that he is very clearly going to major in drawing shapes.

 

"Oh. I submitted my housing request to live in a program house with all my friends and the admin messed something up. But hey! You're an awesome roommate. You're totally cool. I'm not regretting this at all." Laigle says. "By the way, all my friends call me Bossuet. It's a long story but it's a French joke because Courfeyrac speaks French and there was this conservative guy who lived in Meaux and all, and anyway, it's a hilarious pun."

 

"Okay, sure," Grantaire says, confused as all hell. "So, we're friends...?"


"Yeah, of course," Bossuet says, smiling at him, eyes so, so wide and bright and open. But not innocent. Then, he actually crosses the room to sling his arm around Grantaire, and to kiss him on the cheek.