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Up on the mountain

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“Ugh,” Grantaire groans from his position opposite Enjolras in the couch they’re both sitting in with each their respective laptop. He throws his hands in the air when Enjolras looks up with an inquiry. “This is the third ad for ski areas I’ve seen today. It’s practically torture. I haven’t gone for what feels like decades and it’s killing me to see the ads everywhere.” Enjolras didn’t know Grantaire went skiing, he has never heard it mentioned before, but it sort of makes sense. Grantaire is a very physical human being after all.

“We should go skiing,” Enjolras suggests on an impulse, careful to let his tone be casual enough for Grantaire to be able to brush it off as a joke if he wants to.

“You ski?” Grantaire’s look of surprise is expected. Enjolras knows he hasn’t really said anything about it except maybe to Combeferre or Courfeyrac.

“I’ve been ever since I was four,” Enjolras answers, “it’s something my parents have always found very important to do to maintain that air of privilege I suppose.”

“So you’re probably an expert by now.” Grantaire looks at him with squinted eyes like he’s trying to figure him out.

“I did have a private instructor because my parents, again in the interest of seeming financially and socially capable, didn’t want me to be on the cheaper teams,” Enjolras says with a sigh.

“Probably for the best though,” Grantaire says, “you just would have rallied the other kids to rebel against the teacher and the snaky line you had to run in.” This makes Enjolras laugh because that image of him as an angry, non-conforming four-year-old is probably pretty accurate.

“Probably,” he agrees  “How long have you been doing it?”

“By doing and it do you mean sex?”

“No you shit,” Enjolras says and nudges Grantaire with his foot and it’s meant to be menacing but it just ends up being affectionate instead. He can’t quite keep a smile off his face. “Skiing.”

“Oh that,” Grantaire says, smirking before he apparently decides to put in an ounce of serious when he continues, “I went the first time with a couple of friends in high school, as soon as we could get away from our parents. Not that my parents would ever spend money on something like skiing. Most of the others mostly went for the partying and drinking, and well so did I but I thought I might as well get use of those damned expensive skis and lift pass. So I tried it and it went horribly at first, no instructor here to help me learn.”

“I’m sure you learnt it quick enough,” Enjolras says, “you’re so physical that I can’t imagine you didn’t just pick it up naturally.”

“You should have seen the reality then, because me stumbling in the snow would convince you otherwise,” Grantaire grins. “But I suppose I wasn’t completely fair to the skis, because I ditched them for the snowboard before too long.”

“You didn’t.” Enjolras feigns an indignant gasp. “You traitor.”

“Can you honestly look me in the eye and say that a snowboard doesn’t fit me better?”

“No of course not. Snowboard is perfect for you,” Enjolras says turning serious. “It’s only sloppy dressers and rebels that aren’t good enough on alpine skis that go for the snowboard so of course you fit right in.”

“Hey!” Grantaire exclaims and swats the only part of Enjolras he can reach which turns out to be a foot. “Snowboarders are the hip ones here, not you guys on the old boring skis.”

“Yeah sure,” Enjolras says, waving his hand dismissively but smiling nonetheless. “We should ask Combeferre.”

“About which is best, skis or snowboard?” Grantaire asks.

“No if he wants to go,” Enjolras says, “I think we established that the two of us wouldn’t mind too much.”

“Yeah that’s a good idea,” Grantaire agrees.

"'Ferre?" Enjolras calls out, "you mind coming here for a moment?" There's no immediate answer from the kitchen where he went just minutes ago to make refill their coffees but he emerges in the door seconds later instead, managing to balance three mugs in two hands.

"What is it?" He asks as he places the mugs on the coffee table and takes a seat in a chair next to the couch. He looks mildly interested at them over the edge of the mug when he takes a sip. He probably couldn't hear what they were talking about in the kitchen.

"Wanna go skiing?" Grantaire asks going straight to the point. At this, Combeferre's eyes widen and then  he lowers them.

"I've never tried it," he says and he is very quiet. Not in the way that he normally is, because Combeferre is always confident in his quietness but not now. "It's not really a tradition in my family and I've never had the urge to try it as an adult. I'm afraid I wouldn't be very good at it." He blows lightly on his coffee and sends them an apologetic smile.

"That's not a problem," Enjolras says steel bent on getting that hunch and insecure look off of Combeferre. "You'll learn it quickly enough. That is, if you want to. We don't have to do this at all, it was just an impulse."

"Yeah, to hell with skiing if you don't want to," Grantaire readily agrees. He turns to the computer screen and stage whispers, "shh, don't worry I didn't really mean that."
Combeferre laughs at this and he seems to relax a little bit. It doesn’t, however, completely wipe away his concerned expression.

"But you just seem to love it, I heard you laughing before," he says, "I don't want to keep you from doing something you love."

"'Ferre, the reason we asked you is that we think you might love it too," Enjolras says reaching over to squeeze his knee. “Not because we want you to either come with us just to humor us or because we want to go without you.”

“You really think I’d like it?” Combeferre asks, his eyes widening in surprise. There’s the smallest hint of a hopeful smile on his lips.

“I won’t say that I’m a hundred percent certain because that would be a little too assuming,” Grantaire says, “but I mean if it’s something Enjolras and I can agree wholeheartedly on, it must be something you could get on as well.”

“You both like yoghurt with fruit,” Combeferre says, amusement playing in his eyes, “and I don’t. I think your logic is flawed.”

“I dare say it’s not the exact same thing, yoghurt and types of vacation,” Grantaire protest but without any heart in it.

“Look,” Enjolras says, “there are so many different aspects that I think you might like that it’s difficult to remember them all. But I guess we can try. You like nature and there’s nothing greater than when you’re standing at the peak and looking out over the scenery of snow and mountains. You like moving your body and skiing is great exercise.”

“You like to tug in with a good book and there’s no time for that like when you come down from the mountain in the afternoon,” Grantaire contributes and Enjolras exchanges a look and a smile with him.

“Aren’t you supposed to do– what’s it called– après-ski?” Combeferre asks and the sincere concern in his voice is what keeps Enjolras from laughing.

“You’re not supposed to do anything,” he says, “and I don’t quite see the three of us at a bar, still in ski gear and drinking to excess.”

“Yeah, and it’s only fun if you want exactly that,” Grantaire says, chuckling. “Personally I had enough in my teens to last me a life time and a little more.”

“We can just rent an apartment and do whatever we want to,” Enjolras suggests, his mind already playing out lazy intimate afternoons.

“No way you’ve actually ever lived in an apartment on a ski trip,” Grantaire laughs, “not with the parents you’ve got.” It’s said with fondness and that makes it so different from the jabs Grantaire used to deal out in the times where they did nothing but fighting and arguing. Luckily, that’s a long time ago now.

“No, I haven’t in fact, but I do understand the concept,” Enjolras says and can barely keep the sarcasm out of his voice, “it’s not that hard to grasp.” Grantaire just rolls his eyes at him and smiles before turning to Combeferre.

“So are you warming to the idea?” he asks.

“I may be,” Combeferre says slowly and he’s still smiling.

“If think what we’re just trying to say is that we would like to share this with you,” Enjolras says. He doesn’t want Combeferre to feel coerced but he just really thinks that it’s a good idea.

“And if you hate it—which I kind of doubt—you won’t ever have to do it again,” Grantaire adds.

“Alright,” Combeferre says, “let’s do it. I have faith in it when you’re both this convinced.”

“Great!” Grantaire says, grin spreading across his face.

"Come here and we'll look for areas together,” Enjolras says waving his hand and scooting over so there’s space for Combeferre between him and Grantaire. They end up browsing and talking about skiing, cuddled close on the couch, for a long time.

They go in early January because there’s less of a rush and the apartment rent is cheaper then. Having found a small but cozy ski area with a matching little town, they decide that Enjolras’ eco-friendly car is tough enough for driving there. Traveling with two people who apparently know their way around a ski trip is kind of nice because it means that Combeferre doesn’t have to be concerned about the fact that he doesn’t know the first thing about ski trips. There are so many things packed in their bags that he would never have thought of but was obvious necessity for Grantaire and Enjolras.

Finding the apartment and packing out in the evening isn’t too unfamiliar and they’re all pretty tired from the long drive so it’s pretty much straight to bed.

The next morning brings strange things though, because after breakfast and dressing up in warm clothes Combeferre is led to a place where they are going to rent ski gear. A woman from the ski store comes to measure his feet and finds him a pair of ski boots. Getting into the monsters with more buckles than can possibly be practical seems difficult until the woman helps him by pulling down on something and then he slides right in. She buckles it up for him with practiced hands and adjusts a little here and there until they’re both apparently satisfied with the result. Or to be precise, it’s mostly her doing the assessment because Combeferre has no idea how it’s supposed to feel. Enjolras and Grantaire who are going through the same thing of getting fitted with boots come with helpful remarks now and then when it’s clear that Combeferre doesn’t understand something.

Then he follows her to the place to get skis. Again the employee decides what is probably the right fit after asking a few questions that only barely knows the answer to. Enjolras jumps in with a few of the answers but at least Combeferre can answer the question on whether he’s a beginner or an expert himself. The last part is ski poles and helmets and that is pretty straight forward.

“Okay, we’ll start out easy,” Enjolras says as the three of them make it outside after the ordeal of renting gear. He heads towards where the town centre ends and the proper ski area starts. The only reasons Combeferre can really determine where that is are that the shops and houses just stop and that he spots what he knows to be a ski lift. He’s convinced the lift is where they’re headed—after all you have to get up on the mountain to ski down it—but Enjolras surprises him by walking right past it. Combeferre apparently isn’t alone in his surprise because Grantaire shoots Enjolras a questioning look. But then Grantaire makes a noise of realization and Combeferre is left alone in his confusion. He’s just about to ask when Enjolras stops and sets down his skis with a light sigh.

“This is a good place, I think,” he says and turns to Combeferre. Combeferre still feels mildly confused. It’s barely downhill here and there’s no lift close by, only some kind of conveyor belt on the ground.

“Here?” he asks, “I mean I don’t know the first thing about skiing, but isn’t the first thing about skiing that it has to go downwards?”

“Would you look at that,” Grantaire says clapping Combeferre on the back with his gloved hand. “I think I’m rubbing off on him, Enjo, if he’s starting to question your methods.”

“I’m not–“ Combeferre tries to say but Grantaire stops him by holding up a hand.

“I know you’re not,” he says and leans up to give Combeferre a kiss on the cheek. At least that’s what Combeferre thinks he intends to. But because of the helmet and the scarf that Combeferre high enough to cover quite a bit of his face Grantaire ends up pressing his lips to the side of Combeferre’s nose instead. He laughs and leans back to lean against his snowboard and Combeferre can feel himself relaxing a little bit. “Now I think our master skier here has stuff to teach you. I think I’m just gonna break in this board. I haven’t done this in years.” He gets on with putting on the snowboard by strapping his boots onto it with mechanism that Combeferre doesn’t even begin to understand. Then he hops over to the conveyor belt and hitches a ride with a wave at them.

“Well first of all, you’re gonna thank me in just a minute that we start on relatively flat ground,” Enjolras says with a smile, “because even this can be intimidating until you know how to actually move and brake.”

Combeferre follows intently when Enjolras shows him how to get the skis from each other, on the ground and into them. He teaches Combeferre how they’re always supposed to lie horizontally across the slope and how you always put on the lowest ski on first. It takes a few tries of sticking the weirdly big and heavy boot into the binding right. Next is the standing an maneuvering with the skis on and that is both simple and awkward at the same time. The weight and added dimensions throw him off a bit, but in the end the skis don’t do anything on their own and he gets a feeling of them.

“Now, the first thing you need to know is the plough,” Enjolras says and moves around Combeferre with an impossible grace. “It’s the easiest way for beginners to brake or go down slowly. Basically you just point the tips of your skis together.” He demonstrates, moving his legs and skis like they’re barely there. Combeferre hasn’t really moved out of place and he can already feel how his skis are pulling him down. He’s still facing to the side rather than down like Enjolras, but he shifts the weight on his feet a little to try and move like Enjolras did. When he does, the skis aren’t really obeying him and he starts sliding down. Squeaking in panic, he tries to angle his tips like Enjolras said, but instead they touch each other and whoa– his whole body jerks and he feels the speed pick up.

“Don’t let the tips touch,” Enjolras says, not really helping at all. “You have to get them fro each other.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” Combeferre asks and he’s really trying. But it’s not working and he feels like he’s simultaneously about to fall over and just continue down the slope. “It’s like they’re glued together!”

“Alright, I’m coming,” Enjolras says and before Combeferre knows what’s happening he has swooped down in front of Combeferre, gracefully as a cat. It looks like they’ll collide but before they do, Enjolras lines up so his skis are making the same V as what Combeferre is attempting—just reverse because Enjolras is actually facing Combeferre instead of the way he’s sliding. With a quick bend, Enjolras reaches down and pries Combeferre’s ski from each other. The feeling of no control vanishes immediately and is replaced with a firm pressure that feels Enjolras is still holding onto his skis he realizes, guiding them so they sit right and don’t tangle.

“You hold them like this,” Enjolras says looking up, “and the wider the angle the more you brake.” Suddenly it doesn’t seem that impossible to do. Not that he has any illusions of ever getting as good as Enjolras who’s skiing backwards while bending at the waist and correcting Combeferre.

“‘Ferre, you don’t have to grab them so tight,” Enjolras says when they’re sitting in the chair lift on their way up the mountain after having spent quite a while on the first almost flat slope until Combeferre could actually control his own skis.

“Grab what?” Combeferre asks as he’s a little distracted by the fact that they are hanging in the air on a cross between a couch and a bench held up only by a wire. It’s a very weird feeling.

“Your poles,” Enjolras says pointing to where Combeferre’s gloves are stretched over the two long pointy poles he’s still not sure are good for anything other than a poking hazard. “You’re not gonna drop them that easily.”

“Oh,” he says and lessens his grip as much as he dares. There’s quite a bit way down from where they’re sitting on this bench. “I didn’t even notice. I guess my hands are a little cold.” In truth they’re positively freezing but he doesn’t want to sound whining. After all neither Enjolras or Grantaire are complaining about the cold. Quite the opposite, they actually seem to enjoy the weather here and it’s a little over Combeferre’s head.

“You’re cold?” Grantaire asks on his other side and when Combeferre nods he immediately pulls of his gloves. For a moment, Combeferre thinks he’s going for some kind of solidarity freezing but then Grantaire says, “Give Enj your poles and come here with your hands.” Enjolras gently takes them from him and smiles at him. It’s hard to see his expression through the orange goggles but Combeferre thinks he can make out crinkles of amusement around Enjolras’ eyes. He turns to Grantaire again who pulls off his gloves as well and the cold air hits his hands only for moment before Grantaire’s hands are covering his. Focusing mainly on the fingers, as they are the coldest part, he rubs his own warm palms against Combeferre’s hands to get some delicious warmth into them.

“They’re icy!” he exclaims as he leans in to blow some warm air on them as well. It feels wonderful, after they have been cold for so long, to have the warmth to his fingers. “How are your feet?” Grantaire looks up at him from under the helmet Enjolras made him wear.

“My feet?”

“Are they cold too?” Grantaire clarifies, “it’s pretty normal for hands and feet to be cold at the same time.”

“No, I don’t think so?” Combeferre says, checking the feeling in them. They don’t feel cold per se, but not warm either. “It’s kind of hard to tell.”

“Any discomfort? No cut blood circulation?”

“No, they feel alright maybe a little cooler than normal but it’s nothing like my hands,” Combeferre replies and Grantaire nods, apparently satisfied. He keeps rubbing and blowing air on Combeferre’s hand, with the occasional kiss to the knuckle, until the feeling returns to them completely and they actually feel comfortable again. Then he takes the gloves that have been hanging in an elastic band from Combeferre’s wrists and help him put them on properly again.

“Kind of a kiddie proof, but it’s just really practical for adults as well,” Grantaire says tugging at the string that holds one of his own gloves before pulling his own on again.

“Now, if you get cold hands again just say it instead of keeping quiet,” Enjolras comments, “because it’s not worth it to have cold hands and it’s not embarrassing at all.” Combeferre hadn’t really thought about it, but now it’s clear to him that embarrassment was exactly the reason that he didn’t say anything. He had thought that if the others didn’t complain about it, it couldn’t be that bad and he would just be a crybaby by complaining.

“We can even get you some of those hand warmers if it keeps being this bad,” Grantaire says with enthusiasm in his voice, “they’re these little pouches you put in your gloves to keep warm. Real practical if you have cold hands.”

“We can find out about that later because we’re nearing the top now,” Enjolras says looking toward where the lift ends. Combeferre’s mind focuses on the fact that he has to get off this thing as well. “It’s not really difficult to get off, you just use the momentum of the chair but you have to be ready.”

Getting off the lift turns out to really not be that difficult but Combeferre focuses intently on it nevertheless. It isn’t until they’re standing on a flat area just off from the lift that he takes a moment to look around.

“Oh, it’s beautiful,” he breathes because it truly is. Everywhere around him is white snow on sides of mountains except for the bright blue expanse that is the sky without a spot of cloud on it. If he follows the flow of a slope he can see people in decreasing sizes ending up like black dots against all of the white. The mountains that form a backdrop for the picture somehow seem both so distant and so present.

“I told you he’d stand staring at the view the moment we got up here,” Combeferre hears Grantaire say to Enjolras behind him. He smiles. They do really know him well, because this was just what they thought he would love and he already does.

The cosy street that constitutes the heart of the town on the side of the mountain is buzzing with life on a way it wasn’t the last time they were here. True, then it was a sunday mid morning and now it’s evening and the lights shine out of busy restaurants. People are milling around, filling the frosty air with the pleasant hum of conversation. There does seem to be quite a few couples, Grantaire notices as he, Enjolras and Combeferre make their way down the street in search of a place to eat at the end of the week. The other nights they have stayed in, Grantaire or Combeferre cooking and Enjolras helping where they’ll let him. Tonight, however, Grantaire had declared that they could splurge just a little and treat themselves to dinner they didn’t have to make first.

So now they’re walking down the snow-clad street, huddled close partly because of the cold and partly because it’s just nice, discussing which place looks best.

“No, we’re not eating at a Mexican restaurant that’s more bar than restaurant,” Combeferre chuckles at Grantaire’s first suggestion when they pass a place with cacti and sombreros in the logo, despite it being completely out of sync with the snowy environment.

“But look at it,” Grantaire insists as he tightens his grip around Combeferre’s waist, “it has swings to sit on! Swings!

“We’re not sitting on swings,” Enjolras cuts in from the other side of Combeferre in a firm voice. “That crêperie though…”

“Let me guess, you would probably order every crêpe sucré that you could find if you could get away with it,” Grantaire teases. “A little childish, isn’t it?”

“Says the guy who wants to go to a bar with swings,” Enjolras shoots back, leaning across Combeferre to stick out his tongue. Grantaire is just about to point out how childish that is, when Combeferre tugs them both in with firm hands.

“What about we just go in here?” he suggests and nods to the restaurant they are right in front of. It looks nice and the people inside seem to be having a good time. It’s probably better than both the swing place and the crêperie that’ll have Enjolras on a sugar high for the rest of the night.

“Let’s do that,” Grantaire says and Enjolras hums in agreement.

The warm air that meets them when they go through the door has nothing on the warmth of the atmosphere. The restaurant is kept in the alpine theme with wooden floors, walls and booths with tablecloths embroidered in red and white patterns of reindeer and rabbits and pine trees. On the

It’s not long before a waiter spots them at the entrance and comes to lead them to a table. On the way over to the table Grantaire can’t help but peek a little at the things other people are eating. It’s always a good thing to just get a little inspiration for when you order.

“It’s a funny shape the pizzas here have,” he comments as they sit down at the table. It’s in a tiny booth that is clearly only made for three people, four if there’s a chair on the outside. They each have a side of the table that is small enough for their legs to tangle underneath it. Grantaire isn’t complaining.

“What shape do they have?” Combeferre asks and cranes his neck to look at other tables.

“Hearts,” Grantaire helps him out because there aren’t actually any of the special pizza just around here.

“Why would they–“ Enjolras starts to say but stops when he spots something and groans loudly. Grantaire follow his line of sight and almost doubles over with laughter. On the opposite wall hangs a sign with the message:

Special Valentine’s Offer:
Salade de coeur
Raclette pour deux
Chocolat Fondant

“It’s Valentine’s?” Grantaire asks even though he doesn’t expect an answer. Suddenly it’s very clear just what day it is. “I can’t believe we missed that.”

“Well we haven’t been very aware of this particular holiday,” Combeferre says with a shrug.

“Because it’s little more than commercial exploitation of the idea that romantic love is the only real kind of love and it should be celebrated one day a year with superficial gift such as flowers and chocolate.” Enjolras is righteous fury right away of course and his rant on Valentine’s is loud enough for the people at the tables next to them to turn their heads.

“Just because you don’t believe in it doesn’t mean you should spoil other people’s night,” Grantaire says and nudges his foot against Enjolras’ under the table, “and it doesn’t have to spoil our night either.”

“But it’s Valentine’s,” Enjolras complains and to everyone else would sound very illogical.

“It would be ironic to let the fact that it’s Valentine’s dictate what you should do with your romantic partners on this day,” Combeferre comments, looking over the menu he’s seemingly browsing.

“Ironic, hypocritical, take your pick,” Grantaire says picking up his own menu, “stop sulking and we’ll just have a nice night.”

“I’m not sulking,” Enjolras protests but apparently he hears his own voice because he immediately makes a face and stops the sulking. “Alright, I guess you do have a point both of you.”

“You can’t possibly argue with the both of us and you know it,” Grantaire says and winks at Enjolras who ignores his words and leans in to give first Combeferre a kiss and then Grantaire.

“We’ll have a nice evening just like we’ve had a nice trip,” Enjolras says, apparently able to put aside his dislike of capitalistic exploitations of social expectations.

“It really has been good,” Combeferre agrees with a hum, “and even though I might not be a master skier I wouldn’t say no to doing it again.”

“I’ll make reservations in my calendar for next year then,” Grantaire says, smiling at them.

“As if you have a calendar that goes a year into the future,” Enjolras laughs and Grantaire would hit him with his menu if it weren’t true. Before he can do anything though, the waiter appears to take their order. They order something off the menu instead of going for the Valentine’s special.

“I’ll have the pizza,” Grantaire says when it’s his turn. Then he grins at the Enjolras. “Oh and make it heart shaped please.” Enjolras glares at him but doesn’t say anything. He must really want to not spoil the evening and the trip. With good reasons. It has been very nice.