It’s one am when Grantaire finally looks up from his tablet, blinking. He’s two pages ahead of schedule, which feels like a minor miracle even if his hand is cramping and the dirty mugs piling up on his desk are starting to look like an invading army. His shoulders are protesting his familiar hunch of concentration and he winces when he stretches them out.
The house is quiet around him, which is unusual. Between the five of them and their own weird-ass schedules, there’s usually someone somewhere doing something audible at any given time. Jehan works nights at the poetry bar in town and doesn’t get in until the early hours; Combeferre leaves early, preferring to prep lessons in his shared campus office than his quiet, oasis-like bedroom; Courfeyrac is always in and out. Grantaire gave up on anything resembling a regular sleep pattern way back in his first year of university and Enjolras - well, Enjolras seems to keep to his own, indefinable, rules. He’s never late for class but he never leaves on time. Grantaire has literally no idea how he does it. Magic, probably. Although, Grantaire often thinks, bitter and uncharitable in depressingly cold showers, you’d think someone with that sort of supernatural ability to bend the laws of time would also remember not to use up all the sodding hot water every morning, but apparently no one man can have all that power.
Frankly, Grantaire would prefer Enjolras to leave late a few mornings a week if it meant he might be able to take a full shower without it turning icy cold halfway through rinsing out shampoo.
Three grad students and two freelance artists should not a relaxed household make but they all muddle along okay. The only time there’s any genuine tension between them, as opposed to the daily bickering about little things whose turn it was to buy the milk (no one ever knows) or who forgot to wash the frying pan currently congealing at the back of the hob (no one owns up) or why Courfeyrac needs half an hour in the shower every morning (no one really wants to know), is exam season. Enjolras, who bites his lips when he concentrates, starts looking peaked at his edges and opens his door to shout at any of them making too much noise. Combeferre disappears to the library for days and even Courfeyrac snaps at them all when he’s strung too tight, everyone’s books spread out over the kitchen table so they all have to eat on the couch.
This year, Enjolras’s exams start first by a couple of days. Grantaire makes sure to be particularly quiet on the stairs when he leaves his room to scavenge the fridge for leftovers.
There’s a light on in the kitchen, the faint glow of it yellow through the gap beneath the door. It’s always a toss up as to who Grantaire will find in there to keep him company at this time of night. Once, Grantaire had come down for a drink and found Jehan making jam at three in the morning, his hair held up in a bun by three pencils and a safety pin, classical music playing softly from his phone on the countertop nearby. Grantaire had sat on the opposite counter, drawn his knees up, and sketched Jehan till the air smelled of strawberries and sugar and the sunrise was starting to turn the sky outside the kitchen window a slow, shy, peach.
But Jehan is still at work, and Combeferre not yet back from the library, and Grantaire knows Courfeyrac passed out hours ago. Combeferre had enlisted his help in manhandling Courfeyrac away from his desk and onto his bed. Jehan’s hoodie was still flung over the pillows but Courfeyrac had flopped down without moving it away.
“Don’t wanna,” Courfeyrac had mumbled, almost entirely asleep. “Studying.”
“Your books will be there in the morning,” Combeferre had said, and fondly pushed Courfeyrac’s hair out of his eyes.
It’s almost enough to stop Grantaire opening the kitchen door. The only person that can be there is Enjolras, and Grantaire knows it won’t do either of them any good to be around each other when they’re both this easily riled, Enjolras days before exams and Grantaire running on too many nights of patchy rest. But then, Jehan could have left the light on before leaving for work or Grantaire could have forgotten to turn it off on his last trip downstairs and besides, even if Enjolras is on the other side of the door, surely to god they can hold their tongues long enough for Grantaire to grab something out of the fridge and get out again.
Grantaire squares his shoulders and pushes the door open. Enjolras is in the kitchen, books spread open before him and highlighters missing their caps all over the kitchen table. He doesn’t look up when Grantaire comes in so Grantaire doesn’t say hello in case it interrupts, just walks past and opens the fridge, staring into it like if he looks long enough something labelled HANDS OFF in Combeferre’s meticulous handwriting will miraculously say UP FOR GRABS instead. He’s so wrapped up in trying to will this into being, and then in trying to decide if he’s feeling like a shit enough housemate to steal Combeferre’s food this close to exams, that he almost misses the noise when it first comes, a hitching sound, small and miserable.
The second time, though, Grantaire frowns and straightens up. It’s a relatively old house so they’re all used to the weird noises it makes, unexpected clunking in the radiators when they’re warming up and the taps suddenly letting out trapped water with a sigh. Grantaire has been working on his own for so long that it takes him a second to realize the sound didn’t come from a part of the house - it came from Enjolras.
He turns to the table. Enjolras is still sitting there just as Grantaire left him but he’s tense enough that the effort in his posture is obvious from halfway across the room.
“Enjolras?” Grantaire tries.
Enjolras’s breath catches again, the same unhappy sound, and Grantaire takes a step forward before he’s really thought about it. It’s instinct, like reaching to catch something slipping from your hand, but Enjolras sits bolt straight, snaps out, “Don’t look at me,” in such a harsh voice that Grantaire freezes to the spot.
His first thought is to snap back, so used to their usual push and pull that rising to Enjolras’s tone is basically hardwired into him, but Enjolras’s shoulders are shaking despite his rigid muscles. Grantaire has never seen him like this before, not even in third year of undergrad when Enjolras’s dissertation was due and he hadn’t slept for, like, thirty straight hours before coming home from handing it in and near collapsing into Grantaire’s arms.
“All right,” he says, holding his hands up placatingly even though Enjolras can’t see him. He does his best to make his voice gentle but not patronising, an even keel for Enjolras’s unsteady hull. “Do you want me to leave? I was just debating whether or not to steal this pasta but if you need some time, I can definitely hold off my petty fridge larceny.”
Ordinarily, Enjolras would bristle at the thought of Grantaire breaking the household code, or whatever it is he’s calling it these days, but now he just stays silent. It’s unnerving.
“Enjolras?” Grantaire tries again. “Do you want me to leave?”
Enjolras is quiet for long enough that Grantaire thinks maybe he’s just not going to answer. He’s turned halfway back to the open fridge when Enjolras says, low, “No. Please don’t.”
Grantaire lets all his breath out at once, more relieved than he expected.
The year before, when the first order for some of his online merch had come in, Grantaire had opened the email in the living room. There were five of them living in a four bed house so when they’d first moved in, they’d agreed to shove the couch into the kitchen, where it would just about fit before the linoleum floor started, and give Jehan the front room for his own. Some months later, though, most of Jehan’s clothes were upstairs in Courfeyrac’s room and everyone had started to look for him there before knocking on any other door. They’d been hanging out in Jehan’s room anyway so that Joly didn’t have to navigate the stairs but slowly, after Jehan had given the okay, the room started to fill up with everyone’s things. Alongside Jehan’s easel and pencils, there were Combeferre’s notes in one corner, Courfeyrac’s guitar in another, a couple of Enjolras’s dog-eared books left face-down on the rug. The bed stayed in there even when it was everyone’s room, not just Jehan’s.
The point is, Grantaire had been crosslegged with his laptop on the rumpled downstairs bed when someone had first ordered something printed with his art and he’d had to swallow hard, three or four times, to work down the lump of pride in his throat. Enjolras had looked up from where he was sprawled over the big window ledge, tapping at his phone, and had smiled like the sun when Grantaire had haltingly told him the news, had said, “You deserve it.”
Now, Grantaire just says, “I won’t go anywhere, I promise,” and wonders what to do with his hands. Eventually, when no other idea presents itself and Enjolras is still taking audibly ragged breaths, he just puts the kettle on. Courfeyrac has got them all hooked on peppermint tea, somehow, and the smell of it has become as familiar a part of their shared house as the parts of the staircase that creak and the way the kitchen door won’t shut properly unless you slam it.
“I’m going to bring you some tea, okay?” Grantaire says, when he’s filled two mugs.
Enjolras shakes his head. “Don’t,” he says, again, but his voice is much less unsteady now. He gets to his feet like he’s pushing away from an edge and when he turns around, crosses the room to Grantaire, his face is dry. His eyes are red, though, and his expression is the kind of careful blank that takes conscious effort to maintain, a deliberate facade.
Grantaire doesn’t ask what’s wrong?, doesn’t try are you okay? They’ve all been friends for long enough to sidestep the obvious questions and all of them know each other’s easily pushed buttons. It’s an easy thing, to look out for each other where they can. It’s little things, like how they don’t ask about family, really, unless someone brings it up, and how no one mentions school to Jehan, how they change the channel if a drunk driving ad comes on when they’re with Bossuet. It’s as easy as breathing, the casual way they care, and it’s just as easy for Grantaire to let Enjolras lean back against the counter with him without saying a word.
Grantaire passes him a mug. “Here,” he says, adding, before Enjolras can ask, “it’s already got honey.”
There’s something uncertain in the line of Enjolras’s mouth as he accepts the drink, like he doesn’t know what he might say if he let himself so he’s keeping everything back, just in case. After a long moment, he says, “Thank you.”
Grantaire shrugs. “What are friends for?”
Enjolras looks away.
Over on the messy table, there’s an unrelenting spill of textbooks and notepads and pens. The calendar on the opposite wall has big red exclamation marks on every day of the coming week, their agreed symbol for alert, alert. Grantaire knows Enjolras has been studying every free second he’s had, knows that Enjolras could recite anything from his notes that he was asked for without a moment’s hesitation. He also knows that Enjolras cried in his sleep the night before his final undergrad exam paper and that he would locate his degree certificate in a heartbeat if Grantaire asked to see it.
Enjolras will take the time to shred anyone who tries to argue that lacking academic qualifications somehow reduces a person’s worth or importance but he gives himself to his studies with equal, awful, heat.
Carefully, Grantaire leans against Enjolras’s side. It’s nothing much, just enough that they’re bumping shoulders, companionable. It seems to help though: Enjolras sighs, and lets his eyes close.
When Grantaire can’t turn his mind off enough to sleep, he listens to the shipping forecast turned down low. Having something to hear, anything at all, helps him feel like he’s busy, distracts him long enough that he forgets to worry and, finally, lets him fall asleep.
“Want to hear why I’m up so late?” Grantaire asks, on the same impulse, and smiles and keeps talking, soft as anything, when Enjolras nods.