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Thirty-Two Times

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The first time, it's fast and rough, something torn out of them by instinct. They're drunk, and it's a surprise, and it isn't. The room is spinning and then it's not, and he has Grantaire spilled over a table. None of the upended bottles spill because they are empty.

The cafe is empty too, and Grantaire is on the table, and Enjolras is on him.

It's rutting, it's fucking, it's grunting and grasping. They don't sound human, they aren't, they're more human than they've ever been. He pulls out at the last, takes his cock in hand, follows the urge to mark Grantaire with his triumph. Grantaire finishes himself off with a shaky hand.

Grantaire stays breathing on the table for a long while. Enjolras does up his belt, straightens the line of his red jacket. It occurs to him, staring, that he should say something. Grantaire is like an obscene drawing, all his pale skin flushed, his shirt pushed up, his pants pulled off, one stocking clinging to a foot. His thighs are spread, soft cock spent between them, a wet spread on his chest and belly.

Enjolras should say something, because that's what he does, expounds, and also because Grantaire hadn't ever done that before.

He'd said so, murmured it much too late to stop them: “I have not --” when Enjolras was already gathering him up, tugging free his oilslick fingers and thrusting in. If that should have made him gentler with Grantaire, if that should have slowed him down, he was too drunk to realize it; instead he surged forward, hot with the idea that he was the first to have him.

He'd thought about it before. Watched Grantaire's full lips, his clever mouth always moving. Enjolras found it difficult to believe other hands hadn't yet run through his wild hair. Could it really be that no one had settled between his taut thighs, no one but Enjolras tugged his fine-turned wrists up and pinned him down?

But Grantaire spoke true. He was virgin-tight around Enjolras, so that it was slow, at first, though Enjolras would not be put off. Then Grantaire had yielded with a sigh, and took him deep, and put his head back to show his throat. Enjolras let his teeth sink there, giving over to nature, and didn't stop again until he was painting Grantaire with the lust they had made.

Enjolras should say something. He's trying. His jaw works.

Grantaire says, from the table, “We needn't speak of it, if you will swear this is not the last.”

It is a fair enough bargain, wondrously balanced. He nods, and touches Grantaire's shoulder where his mouth made a mark, and goes to find them a bottle that isn't empty.

 

* * *

 

The second and third times, Grantaire trails him out of the Cafe and down the street and up steps. The days are long and the night is late, but Enjolras lets Grantaire follow him into his little room. Books clutter the floors, piled high; there is barely space for all the volumes and the slim, spare mattress on the floor.

“You live like a monk,” says Grantaire, awe and laughter in his voice as he spins around, taking in the busy writing-desk, the low dresser and cracked water-bowl.

“I am not one,” Enjolras says, and starts to divest him of his clothing.

In his bed the second time Grantaire is practically sober and so very eager to please. He proves himself a willing, ardent student, as he never has of their more existential pursuits. He begs Enjolras to show him how he likes being pleasured best. Then he practices until he has a firm grip on the act being discussed. Enjolras has never enjoyed tutoring more.

Grantaire's mouth is particularly apt. Of course.

They somehow share the slender mattress and in the morning Enjolras bends Grantaire beneath him. Grantaire tosses his tousled head and is not quiet. Later, dressing, he catches Enjolras' wrist and asks if he can return that same night.

It threatens a habit, but the winter is cold, and Grantaire is warm. He agrees, and Grantaire's answering smile is light enough without a lamp.

 

* * *

 

The fourth time is when Grantaire returns. Enjolras has been reading and waiting, denying he is waiting, for many hours, until the small type on the page begins to blur together. He gives in to sleep, but leaves a candle lit. He awakens when it tips over and goes out amidst a stream of cursing.

Then Grantaire is heavy and unwieldy across him on the bed, his face pressed to Enjolras' bare skin. He starts to kiss his neck and collarbone, hungry, purposeful, open-mouthed. He reeks of absinthe with brandy underneath.

Enjolras makes a show of being shaken from sleep. He isn't angry, not that; disappointment burns more brightly. He puts his hands on Grantaire's shoulders and shifts him sideways, keeping him at arm's length even as their lower bodies collide.

“Is this how you would seek my bed, Grantaire?” he asks. His voice is a powerful one, made to hold man's ears, and Grantaire flinches all over at its rumble.

“I am wretched,” says Grantaire. “I knew not how I could approach it. I thought of you here, and my courage failed me. This morning seemed quite impossible. I convinced myself I was fevered, like the first time, that I had made you out of a hallucination. As I often had before.” His words are thick and slurred, but spill fast out of him as always, a gathering wave of argumentation.

“I am unworthy,” continues Grantaire, extending his dramatic monologue while Enjolras waits half-patiently. “The first bottle of wine was needed to persuade myself all that I had dreamed of you was not merely a dream. Enjolras, Enjolras.” His tone drops, pleading. “Do not sent me away. I could not bear it. Also, Joly is sleeping in my bed, having lost his for the night. You would not send me to sleep with Joly.”

Despite himself, Enjolras chuckles at the image, and finds himself tightening his arms around Grantaire. He had not expected to do so, but Grantaire lets out a little sigh and collapses against him, tension draining, to know he will not be cast forth.

“Next time,” says Enjolras, deciding that there is no use castigating a man as desperate as Grantaire is now, “Know that if it is for the sake of me, I prefer you sharp.” He threads his hand into Grantaire's tangled locks. “Fresh, you are any man's equal, and more. I do not understand why you dull yourself so.”

“We are very different sorts of people,” says Grantaire into his shoulder. “You are so grounded in your ideals, so certain, you never seek a change. The concept of altering your mind does not occur to you, because your mind is already a perfect one, resolute and whole. Some of us have holes in our brains; we try to fill them up with spirits and tinctures, and sometimes, books and music help. It hurts to have a hole in your head, Enjolras; and whatever you pour in never keeps. It is for this reason terribly smart people do terribly stupid things. It fills the void, a while.”

“A useful perspective,” says Enjolras, guardedly, aching in sympathy for him. “But I am far from perfect, Grantaire. You know better than most.”

“You are the light,” says Grantaire, shaking his head. Enjolras' fingers are still in his hair. “I imagine you birthed unto the world fully formed, like Pallas Athena sprung from her lord father's head.”

Enjolras is surprised into a laugh. “My parents would be glad to hear it, and see the last of me,” he says. “I am as human as you, and know the fears you speak of.”

“But what could frighten you?” Grantaire is almost trembling, asking.

“Much does,” says Enjolras. “That the movement will not catch. That the people will not hear us. That the violence of authority will be swift, when they do. I have read my history.”

“Then you are prepared,” says Grantaire. “Only history has never seen your like. You will rewrite it.”

“Such optimism,” muses Enjolras, “from my favorite pessimist.”

Grantaire shrugs that off. “I did not say that you would live to see it.” Yet he shudders after the callous phrasing. “Oh, do not heed me! Make me forget that I am what I am, to say such things.”

“Is that what I do?” Enjolras is curious. He knows himself attractive, as far as people admired such earthly markers; he knows it has aided his stature, but tries to stay unmoved by it. If he lets his golden hair curl, and gets his waistcoats fitted, even he is allowed a little vanity. But beauty alone would not be enough to distract Grantaire. Grantaire knows enough to know that it will fade.

“Yes,” says Grantaire, “When I am with you nothing else could possibly matter; Grantaire is a small consideration, far away. You are more transporting than any spirit.”

Enjolras is used to such declarations, but they have never been made before with Grantaire flush against him in the dark. “I fear I will prove no healthier,” he says softly.

“On the contrary,” says Grantaire. “You have already saved my life a dozen times or more. Many days and nights I was in a gutter, or a low garret, or a tavern that knew nothing of morality; and I would have stayed there, and found my death, but for the thought that I could still drink, but do so at your side.”

“One day, your hand will have no need for a bottle,” Enjolras promises. He shifts over on the bed, gets Grantaire underneath him.

Grantaire stares back in dazed appreciation, but can never keep the acid from his tone. “That day shall be my last,” he says, and he sounds entirely too calm about it, around the acid.

Enjolras kisses him, needing to take the words away. He catches the end of them, Grantaire's mouth open on a syllable, and slips his tongue inside. It is hot and slick and insistent, and Grantaire exclaims, then murmurs against his lips, then takes up the argument with Enjolras' tongue.

Kissing is very good. Enjolras enjoys it nearly as much as the other sexual acts. He has educated himself in them that he might better understand man's instincts. His friends think him chaste, but in truth he simply finds other topics more worthy for public debate.

But kissing can be as good, or better, than anything else, even discourse. He could stay like this a long while, his weight on Grantaire, kissing him hard while they breathe through their noses so that they don't have to move apart.

Grantaire clings to him, then starts to touch, hesitant at first, fingers plying Enjolras' hair, his neck, his back. Emboldened by liquor or desire or both, Grantaire cups his ass, rocks his hips up so Enjolras can feel how firm he is with wanting.

He holds back and Grantaire wriggles free of his clothing. With the cloth soaked in absinthe and smoke pushed away, Grantaire smells clean, like new sweat and Enjolras' own lavender soap.

That morning, he'd watched Grantaire, bathed in sunlight, give himself a cold bath with water and lather from the cracked bowl. He had only just had Grantaire, but he swelled again at the sight, and would have had him again, had they not already been late for classes.

In the dark, Enjolras says, “Tell me what you would like. If I am to take you far away, I would have you choose the transport.”

Grantaire laughs, but with an edge, as though it could tip forward just as easily into weeping. “If I am dreaming, pray do not awaken me.”

“I am real,” assures Enjolras, and Grantaire's expression looks desperately grateful to hear it said. Not very much is real to Grantaire, he knows. “Tell me, Grantaire.”

Since Grantaire still will not speak, he seeks other sounds from him: puts his lips and tongue over Grantaire's round flat nipple, making him groan. He tries the other nipple to doubled effect. When he makes his hand a fist around Grantaire's cock, long and thick under his fingers, Grantaire gasps.

“I--” If there is a blush across Grantaire's cheekbones, he cannot see it. “I would have it like the first time. Only go more slowly, if you can, that we might stay together the longer.”

Enjolras is blushing, and glad for the dark. Shame still seizes him at the thought of how he had seized Grantaire. It had hardly been honorable, and he regrets not the act but his behavior in it. He was a brute where he should have been considerate, had fucked when love could be made. He'd given in to all the basest instincts at once, and Grantaire had received him without complaint.

“I am sorry for it,” Enjolras says. “I would take back that night if I could.”

“I would fight you for it,” says Grantaire, blinking. “It was the best of my life to date. Would you deny a man the memory of his finest hour?”

“I would give him a better one,” says Enjolras. He goes very slow.

Much later, when Grantaire is a sweat-soaking, panting thing with eyes big as moons, he asks Enjolras to come with him when he does; and Enjolras wonders how to measure the finest days in a life, for this is surely one.

 

* * *

 

The tenth time, Grantaire is testy and combustible, hugging his bottle, speech bitter as its contents. In the mood for a fight, he's already vocally battled half the cafe, and fast grown wearisome. Combeferre seeks to cut him off, but Grantaire is closer with the staff, who keep slipping him bottles.

Honestly Enjolras wants very much to discourse with Marius on the topic Marius is recounting so very earnestly but Grantaire is making it difficult, hunched and muttering dissent. Finally he must say something, if he is to maintain any order.

“Have out with it, then, Grantaire, be not so shy,” Enjolras says, too sharp. “You disagree with Marius?”

“I do not. I never said I did. It is you who will not respond to his proposal, yea or nay. You equivocate, Enjolras. Unlike you. Surely we are desperate to hear your true opinions on the topic.”

Grantaire has been on a short fuse all evening, but the dangerously pitched edge of his voice has most of the occupants staring. Enjolras has begun regretting calling him out; it's too many bottles past reason for his friend, but as everything concerning Grantaire, he brings it on himself, has no one else to blame. “I did not mean to seem avoidant.”

Courfeyrac tries to change the subject, and Feuilly and Prouvaire try not to look so interested; but they're all looking at them now, so Grantaire tilts back in his chair, waving a hand.

“Young Marius submits that romantic love is as pure as the love of Patria, and perhaps as worthy. Does it not, he argues, mean something profound for a man to give himself wholly to another, body and soul – that is, if you believe we have one?” Grantaire's hand that is not waving about raises a green bottle. “Yet you will neither confirm his hopes nor crush them. You skirt the issue.”

Enjolras is sorry for addressing him now. “One need not upset the other,” he says, carefully, examining his words before selecting them. “Until a man is called upon to defend his country. Then there can be no greater consideration than Patria. Alone, a man can only have a family; with his brothers, he can make a nation.”

“Well spoken,” says Courfeyrac, still trying to change the subject, and giving Combeferre a darted glance when he starts to argue, “But--”

“Yes, however--” Marius is protesting too. Order is entirely lost now.

“Yes, indeed,” says Grantaire, louder than the rest, “a glorious ideal, yet history would suggest otherwise. The loss of a man, a husband or son or brother, the one who would further the family on his own back, stalls that family for generations; whereas we have few wars that have done anyone any social good. Is a man who would watch his family thrive, and teach his children better ways than ours, not also an excellent hope for tomorrow?”

“That is what I meant,” says Marius, bright-eyed and earnest, looking excited to be understood. “I am but one man, and a poor shot, and I do not like killing anything. Imagine,” he says, blushing, “Imagine that I loved a good woman, and we were blessed to have many sons and daughters. They would do the same; and through me, dozens more would come, who would be taught to treat the world well.”

It is a cozier picture of how life might end; Enjolras knows it. Death by safe old age, by a fireside, surrounded by family and friends: not having changed the world, but built a small one. He has considered it too, of course, but cast it aside; he could never ignore the pervasive injustice and gross inequality around him in the hope his progeny might care as much.

He has never seen himself a father; he would not bring children to experience the betrayals of the world he has known. Enjolras was raised wrapped in wool, blinkered to the truth, for many years; were it not for the reasoning of the great men written recorded in books he might have stayed asleep, let his friends stay sleeping.

He draws himself up at the last, facing down Grantaire. “Many have deceived themselves with such an argument,” he tells his friends. “That is why we do not know their names. They thought it safer in their beds, and stayed there all their wretched lives. They came to hate their women, their children, the hungry mouths that always needed providing in a hateful world. Work and more work wore them down to shadows of themselves. Once they dreamed as we do, but they told themselves to stay silent, and so they stayed to live out their lives in a nightmare.”

His hand steady, Enjolras lifts his cup in a toast. “We can be so much more. My dear friends, you know it well. We are the children of excess, given the time to puzzle new solutions from the oldest plights of man. This is the burden passed to us. We cannot hope to pass it further. The banner is ours to bear, or else, what are we for?”

Without Enjolras' bold ideas they are boys in bright coats and cockades. Boys who read books, and contribute less to daily society, some would argue, than did the baker with his cart in the street. Without Enjolras, their lives are little ones. Like all who love poetry and stories, they long to see their names in the stars.

Marius, looking chastised but sad, says, “Is there nothing then for romance, Enjolras? It seems a strange emotion to be struck with, distracting as a fever, if it means nothing.”

It is Grantaire who answers first. “Nothing means anything, Marius,” says the cynic. “Yet who would ever die for his country if he did not love some person who lived within it?”

After that Combeferre jumps in, with Joly quick behind, and Courfeyrac gone to find some brandy to smooth them all back down; and Enjolras and Grantaire sit glaring until Enjolras can get his voice to emerge relatively unconcerned. “Grantaire, a word.”

“Ohh,” from Bahorel, as though they are schoolchildren. Feuilly elbows him. Enjolras and Grantaire go outside. Grantaire lists only a little to the left.

In the alleyway, Enjolras crowds him against the wall. He does not know what has caused the caustic shift in Grantaire. Only a few days ago, he had awoken to Grantaire easing into his bed, and welcomed him gladly.

“What is wrong with you?” Enjolras entreats it. Grantaire's cynicism is expected; his outright rebuttal is rarer. He seldom tells Enjolras that he thinks his ways are the wrong ones. Misguided, yes, constantly; and naïve; but rarely does he speak the doubts they both prefer not to look too closely at.

“Nothing,” says Grantaire. “Everything.” He fights his grip a moment, but his is the lesser strength. His voice is heavy with grief. “If nothing matters, Enjolras, why must everything hurt so badly?”

His anger fades, but he does not release his grip on Grantaire. “Be easy,” he says. “You have had too much wine.”

“There is not enough to be had.” Grantaire struggles. “Let me be. Let me go. Am I not enough of a mockery, following you as a lap-dog would, happy for your scraps? My God. And I don't believe in God, you know. Even in the gutter, I was not so cast aside, as I am in your shadow. Let me go.”

Enjolras does not. “Stay your tongue,” he says. He never begs, but there is a plea now. If only Grantaire would not speak. “Have I fooled even you?”

This stays Grantaire. His stubborn mouth gathers sideways, his dark brows knit, trying to logic it out. There's no reason in it, so Enjolras goes on: “If any man can keep my attention, Grantaire, that man is you. I wish you would not disparage him so; it degrades my judgment.” He palms Grantaire's cheek, catching him stunned. “If you must hear it said, than hear it. You have given me reason to look past the first fight, to hope for a second, and a third, and for a time of peace to live in. What more can you want of me?”

They are silent in the alley, with the gray stones breathing around them; and then Grantaire says, “Only that. I only wished to hear you say it, once.”

“I am not in the habit of denying my truths,” says Enjolras. “You might have asked, before you caught me out amongst our brothers.” Grantaire breathes shallowly against him, as though he cannot get quite enough air in.

“What would you have me declare?” Enjolras says that aloud. It is only them in the alley now, they are down from the Cafe's stage. Enjolras could say anything. He is full of sudden nerves, reckless. “Would you hear me say that I wait for the nights that you are in my bed? Would you have me describe how I think of you, even in class, when studying, while writing? I am not a saint, Grantaire, however you think me one.” He hangs back, struck with realization. “Was that this evening's aim? Did you seek to have me confess?”

“Never,” swears Grantaire. “What is between us is our own. I would not share it. I only sought to test you on your own philosophy. You cannot hope to pass your examinations if you have no proofs.” He dares to lean close enough to Enjolras to kiss, but not close enough. “I am sorry you should have to bear a drunkard as your companion. We see everything and nothing. But forgive a fool who loves you truly.”

“Ah, Grantaire,” says Enjolras, “why can nothing be easy between us? Come and kiss me as you would.”

And Grantaire does. For the space of three breaths, Enjolras thinks he won't; Grantaire is still a ball of tension and pursed lips pinned to the wall. But on the fourth breath he pushes forward, and catches his mouth; catches a fistful of Enjolras' hair and the scruff of his neck, and meets him with lips that know him well.

There is something to kissing a person you have kissed before. It is always smarter, more knowing, quickly and delicately intimate. There are none of the fumbles of the first try. It is firm pressure, instant tongue, movement in quest of greater friction.

No one kisses Enjolras like Grantaire, like Grantaire does now: first, he meets his lips, certain and sure, as though there is nothing else on earth that could be a more worthy pursuit. Enjolras is human, he is a man, he is not a saint: he is not immune to being kissed like this, as though he conveys something holy and delicious. No one would be immune, and he is but a man.

Then Grantaire licks deep into his mouth, his wayward tongue suggesting much more. His tongue memorizes Enjolras' teeth, does not retreat before it knows the shape of every one. Their hands roam in the alley.

One couple passes without comment, and a man with a filthy shouted observation, and another with an appreciative one, offering to join in: Grantaire shoos him free before Enjolras can rouse himself to follow angrily at the presumption. After that they alone.

“Oh, tell me,” says Grantaire, cries Grantaire, as Enjolras opens him up, exposing him to the world, but keeping him for himself. “Let me hear you say it again. I did not seek your confession, but I live to hear it said.”

Enjolras distracts them a moment: if he hitches Grantaire's weight up against the wall, pushes at Grantaire's bare legs until they come up around him, it is easier to hold him there. If he has begun to carry around of tiny clay pot of salve, who would blame him?

Grantaire has lost his pants already; it is not hard work to make his legs settle crossed at Enjolras' back, though he pouts, incredulous. “Here? You would have me here, where any could see?”

“You asked for my confession,” says Enjolras, lining himself up, “and the truth is I would have you anywhere that you would permit me.” He lets that settle as he thrusts into Grantaire propped to the wall.

It takes all his strength to keep Grantaire elevated, but worth it for the way Grantaire's eyes widen and his head connects with stone. His arms can help Grantaire to rise and fall, but in the end it is Grantaire's hips that will command them.

“I am sorry to doubt you,” murmurs Grantaire, when he can speak. “I never will, again,” and they both laugh before he is done with the saying, and they kiss again and again. No one else intrudes on their alley, though they are there a while.

Grantaire tries to pull his ruined garments together.

“Attend my rooms,” says Enjolras, meaning room. “I will make excuses, and see you there.” And Grantaire nods, and kisses the corner of his mouth, and Enjolras spends a while back in Musain talking about everything and nothing. He makes excuses, mentions Grantaire taking ill, retreats before they can make him stay.

He goes back to his cold lodgings, and there is a furnace there made of Grantaire's body. Grantaire is under the quilt, naked, so Enjolras echoes him, stripping free of all his bright plumage. He crawls into bed, and Grantaire is not asleep.

He tugs Enjolras close, nips at his neck. “I dreamed I told you that I loved you in all the wrong ways.”

If his heart skips a beat, why should he describe it? There are more important reactions at hand. “That cannot be so,” he says, though he hears Grantaire say, faint, far-off, But forgive a fool who loves you truly. “What more needs be done?” He is honestly at the end of his experience.

“I have a plan,” says Grantaire, and shows him it.

 

* * *

 

The fifteenth time, Grantaire knocks noisily on the door. “Come on, I know you are in there! Courfeyrac says you have not left for days and days.”

Enjolras grunts a reluctant response, copying down a sentence. “I must study. It is term exams, for those of us who attended class enough to think of sitting them.”

“It is lunchtime,” argues Grantaire from the hallway. “When did you last eat?”

Reluctantly, he sets his quill back amongst its ink. “Who is it, anyway?”

His gruff call is met playfully enough: “A picnic,” says Grantaire.

Enjolras gets up to undo the lock, and Grantaire shoulders in immediately, a small basket over his wrist. He should be annoyed; he has to study, but he's more amused.

“Grantaire,” he says, surprised to sound regretful, “I cannot possibly go out. I am behind already, and I--”

“I said nothing of going out.” Grantaire gives him a gentle shove back towards his books. “Read on, and I will make our lunch.”

Eyebrows up, Enjolras for once does as instructed. He takes back his book and chair, but cannot not help peeking as Grantaire goes about. First he pushes the dresser into the closet; then he restacks the books to make more room. He takes a cloth checkered red and white from the basket, and spreads it in the small space they have; then from the basket he takes bread still hot, and a soft round of cheese, and a sprig of grapes, rare in winter. To drink, he has brought a bottle of lemonade.

It is the nicest meal Enjolras has ever seen, and he says so.

“It is a city-bound picnic,” explains Grantaire, making excuses, but looking pleased. He takes dessert from the basket. “With no country charm, alas, save this chocolate from Provence.”

Enjolras stops studying, and they have a picnic with Paris loud outside the window. Inside they are laughing, and mixing up bites of bread and cheese and tossing grapes at one another, taking dessert out of order.

Enjolras is tipsy on spiked lemonade. He has Grantaire stretched out on the red and white cloth.

“I forget what I am studying,” he says. “It all seems to run together.”

“The plight of man,” offers Grantaire, gasping.

After the fifteenth time, the afternoon of the picnic, he curls around Grantaire. He is fully sated, grounded in his satisfaction and the surety of Grantaire's. His mind feels pleasantly numb to the examinations of the following day. He sifts Grantaire's hair beneath his fingertips.

Later, Grantaire holds a book, nude, and tests him on the material. He is an excellent schoolmaster, harsh but fair.

Enjolras scores his highest marks that year.

 

* * *

 

The sixteenth time, they celebrate the break from university. When they wake up they have a lazy day: Grantaire fetches pastries for breakfast, and after they eat them and lick free the last of the sugar they lie in bed scandalously late.

Then Enjolras reads propped up in bed while Grantaire moves over to the window, sitting cross-legged beneath the glass to get the best light. He sits and draws for hours, hardly seeming to breathe with his concentration so focused. He draws with his inky hair falling over his brow, his eyebrows furrowed as he traces lines. Eventually Enjolras is watching him more than reading; his eyes keep sliding over words and over to Grantaire.

Eventually Enjolras cannot stand it. “What is it that you sketch?”

Grantaire's mouth quirks up a little. “Patience, my impatient one. Some things cannot be known. They must be revealed. It is a surprise.”

He has to content himself with that, and his book, until Grantaire gives in to his staring, puts aside the papers with a secret smile and comes back to bed.

 

* * *

 

The twenty-second time, Grantaire gives a grandiose speech espousing Robespierre and Danton to prove that such a thing is possible. He is full of passion and verve, even if it is an affected act; he is transfixing. His voice is an event. Enjolras drags him off before anyone else can.

 

* **

The twenty-third time, they are alone amongst their friends.

Every now and then, Les Amis de l'ABC sought to follow their predecessors in political philosophy. What did Plato know? What wisdom had Socrates held, that they did not yet grasp?

It was well known amongst those who studied the classics that great men had often loved one another. Scorning the input of women, they stayed amidst their fellow scholars, and spent their lusts therein.

On some nights, their friends drank freely, reading poetry, and piled into a room to test the ancient ways. To play at a symposium is nothing new.

But Enjolras' steady arm around Grantaire as they watch is. Combeferre and Courfeyrac have Marius in a corner, and the rest are splaid and spread in sport.

All is well until Marius spoils it, meaning well. He tugs at Grantaire's free hand, intending to pull him in, and Combeferre, of course, follows the movement, the way Enjolras keeps him kept close.

Has to challenge it, of course, though he is grinning. The symposium has never been serious, it is meant to be pagan and free. “Come now, Enjolras, let us share of him! They say cynics are the best in bed, since nothing is holy for them.”

Grantaire, uncertain, laughing, is starting to be drawn along; but Enjolras' arm is very heavy indeed. He says nothing, only fixes Combeferre and Courfeyrac with looks fierce enough to make them draw back, draw back to Marius, who is intrigued enough to take them.

He saves Grantaire for himself, and regrets it not. He has given all else to his friends, will give his life for them; but Grantaire belongs to him and is not his to share.

Grantaire thanks him, as they fall asleep on their mat with their friends slumbering close; and Enjolras hopes the way he holds onto Grantaire is answer enough.

 

* * *

 

The twenty-fifth time is Christmas. Enjolras, with Combeferre and Marius, give Grantaire a fine flask. It is Marius's idea, of Enjolras' design and Combeferre's execution.

It is small and shaped smoothly, made of beaten pewter. Only Enjolras has considered how small it is compared to the bottle Grantaire carries with him now. He knows that Grantaire will throw aside the bottle and carry the little flask as a matter of pride, though it bears a quarter of his accustomed drink.

He has another gift for Grantaire. He gives it to him later in the night. Grantaire is still cradling his flask.

Grantaire takes it, though, his face full of wonder. There is not a word made for his face when he unwraps it. The gift is a watch fob of rose-gold that matches the green of his waist coat well. He has looked at it in the shop window many days in passing. It is worth all the waiting, Enjolras decides, when he takes off the paper.

“Only tell me that you like it.” It is the rare boon he will plead of Grantaire, to hear him happy. He has some money, but it took days of sneaking and subterfuge to secure the chain.

But Grantaire can say nothing for once, cradling it to his breast, the links in his hand. All he can do is hold it fast while Enjolras opens the present given him. Past the plain wrapping, he finds a small book bound in rich red leather. The bindings are new. Close-set type reveals his favorite sayings, his most impassioned speeches. For many of the entries, he had not thought anyone was listening.

Halfway through, the pages fan out into sketches, graceful pictures that capture their club in fiery discourse or intoxicated repose.

“It is your book,” explains Grantaire, who drew the pictures.

“I love you well,” Grantaire murmurs to Enjolras, much later, when he has more than earned it.

“And I, you,” says Enjolras.

And Grantaire says they must pause, to write it down in the little book, lest he never say so again; and Enjolras laughs, and he never does.

 

* * *

 

The twenty-sixth time is inevitable: “Do you not know,” says Grantaire, “that I adore you in every light?” So there is no rest for the morning.

 

* * *

 

The twenty-eighth time goes like this. It is as though he were any common man.

He runs into Grantaire at the open market, buying tomatoes. “Enjolras, to find you here--!”

And within fifteen minutes has Grantaire's body crushing the bag of fruit against his bed. “They were ripe,” protests Grantaire, his last intelligible speech.

Is this how a regular person feels, Enjolras considers, happy? Is this all it takes to want an ordinary life? Keen eyes and black hair, and red tomatoes?

 

* * *

 

The thirtieth, Grantaire squirms into bed late, has been out on the watches and running relay. Enjolras turns a sleepy mouth toward him. “All is well?”

“Of course.” Grantaire's fingers smooth his hair, one of their favorite pursuits. “Go back to sleep. You still have many nights' worth of rest to reclaim.”

Then Grantaire lies breathing beside him. After a while, he turns and puts his arms around him, holding on like he hasn't since the earliest days.

“What news?” murmurs Enjolras, trying to rouse himself from the warmth of slumber and Grantaire.

“All is well, I said so. Your plans proceed apace. The city is awakening to your call. We think,” Grantaire says carefully, pitched to settle him, but remain cautiously pessimistic. “I only lay awake to consider if any man in history had ever been so lucky as I have been. Do you think history will begrudge me, Enjolras?”

He is drifting off cradled in warmth and affection. “History begrudges no man. She only waits to improve his station.”

“Then she cannot touch me,” says Grantaire. They sleep.

 

* * *

 

The thirty-first time, they stumble, full of drink and full of revolution.

For once he is more intoxicated than Grantaire. Wine floods up to his eyeballs.

“It has come,” Enjolras tells Grantaire, who guides him home. His throat is raw from the Cafe Musain, from celebration and plotting and shouting. “The barricades will rise, or fall; and we will be there to meet them. Grantaire.” He seizes at his collar and scarf, spins them around on the street. “Say that you are with me.”

“I always am,” objects Grantaire. “Wherever would I go?”

“Good.” Pleased, Enjolras turns him loose. Nothing will disturb his mood this night. It is the apex of all that he has dreamed, come to fruition. Soon the people will climb the barricades, at his call and the rallying of his fellows; once risen there is no tying their spirit down. He sings in the street, does not stop even when Grantaire tugs him up the narrow staircase.

“Hush!” Grantaire tries to kiss his mouth quiet. “What will the neighbors think?”

“I will awaken every neighbor,” says Enjolras, grasping his waist and spinning him again when they reach the landing. “I will rouse them from their beds. Arise! To arms! To--”

Grantaire gets the door kicked closed behind them, then makes it to the bed bearing most of Enjolras' weight. They drop to the mattress and pull up the covers, not bothering to take off their boots. Sleep is a rarity now, and someone might come pounding on the door for them any moment.

“We rest at the edge of a new world,” he tells the back of Grantaire's neck.

“At the edge,” agrees Grantaire.

“I am afraid,” says Grantaire.

Enjolras starts to say, reassuring, any man would be, but then Grantaire says, “I am not afraid for myself.”

“That is because you are a good man, Grantaire. I think I will see you made great.”

“I fear you are right.” Grantaire turns on the bed, trying to smile, but keeps faltering halfway. “We needn't speak of it,” he says, “if you will swear you will keep me with you.”

He does not want to swear. He hears Grantaire, lying on a table, saying We needn't speak of it, if you will swear this is not the last.

“Swear,” says Grantaire, “Or I will know you are planning to exclude me from the fight, and I will drink through your revolution instead.”

Enjolras promises, and it is his first false one. He touches Grantaire's shoulder, where his mouth always leaves a mark.

 

* * *

 

The thirty-second time is after a few spare hours of clammy sleep and sobriety.

Enjolras turns in the tangle of their limbs. Grantaire is awake already and watching him.

“Am I so interesting, asleep?” He murmurs. The light is pale on the windowsill. Their friends will come for them soon.

“No,” says Grantaire. “But you are very beautiful. Do close your eyes once more, you are ruining the statue's repose.”

Enjolras grins, shoves at his shoulder. “You mock me.”

“I never would, to your pretty face. Enjolras! Have I found a new way to make you blush?” Grantaire comes out on top of him, looking entirely too cheerful for their circumstances. He ducks low to kiss his long throat, his ear, his flushed cheek below the prominent cheekbone.

“You are lovely,” Grantaire tells him, between kisses. The praise balloons. “You are a master painting. You are a statue in white-veined marble. You are a hero wearing royal purple and laurel leaves. You are an angel fallen accidentally amongst us. You are Apollo, adorned in sunlight, stepped down from Olympus, you are–”

“I am hungry,” Enjolras interrupts, attempting to stem the tide of it, “And we will be wanted soon.”

That seems to recall Grantaire to the day, and he shakes his head. It's a small movement, involuntary, but Enjolras sees it, and is sad to know he is the cause. Grantaire looks fearful before he can mask his emotion, and Enjolras thinks: he never asked for this, he would never be here but for me, and it is the only thought that holds him back.

Grantaire is warm and solid and real above him, made of elegant limbs. He puts his cheek against Grantaire's, to feel the stubble. Grantaire is soft to touch, and also like sandpaper.

“Would you have me?” whispers Enjolras, asks the shell of Grantaire's ear. He sees no need to say it loudly. It is only for Grantaire to hear.

Grantaire's lids fall once, twice, a third time over bright eyes. His eyes grow rounder, and bolder. He presses his mouth to Enjolras', then draws back. “If you would permit me,” he says, so that when he says something similar a world away, Enjolras will think of this.

In answer he lets his thighs fall open, and runs fingers that are battered from building barricades down Grantaire's back. He wants him and he will not be shy. They should have done this before, been like this long ago, thinks Enjolras. Grantaire is moving at a snail's pace over him. Why so slow? They have little time. Yet Grantaire goes slowly. He goes so slow.

 

* * *

 

Enjolras breaks his promise. He looks at Grantaire, but only once, as he gives out assignments, and does not speak Grantaire's name. Grantaire's eyes are burning, and his cheeks are, and he looks at Enjolras, but only once, as he leaves the Cafe.

Triumph and despair together, and the battle not even begun. Then is does not matter, because the world is on fire, and there is so much blood. Someone had told him Grantaire was up in the wine shop, drinking, and he is glad, because there is so much blood. There are his friends, with blood on them. He is bleeding too. Who is screaming? The guns are loud. Will it never be quiet again? He kills a man. A victory, and terrible. Triumph and despair.

He is blind with powder. When he can see again he goes to the room where Grantaire was said to be. He is followed. Is it his friends behind him? It is not. The room above the wine store is full of the drunk and the dead. All of them sleep together. At a table Grantaire is sitting with his head on his arm.

He does not have the time to see if Grantaire is breathing. Soldiers clatter at his heel. He clutches a tattered flag. He has nothing else left.

He challenges them. He asks for death, but like any man about to die, he is so afraid. He does not let them know. He will give them a death they will remember when they close their eyes. He will be brave, though he is frightened.

A tussle at the back of the room, and then Grantaire is wading through the sea of soldiers, declaring himself proudly for the cause. He moves towards Enjolras, all of his hopes still embodied and whole, and smiles, happy to see him. Grantaire does not look afraid now, so Enjolras forgets to be.

“Do you permit it?” asks Grantaire, asking to stand with him, and die with him, but Enjolras smiles back, and only thinks about that morning, and how they loved.

He takes his hand.