It started in France. Well, not for Grantaire. Grantaire's story started almost seventy years before, cursed for being a craven, cursed to live until he could die for something he believed in. But Grantaire believed in nothing, and lived for a great many long years, believing less and less every one of them.
Then he met Enjolras in Paris, at university. Grantaire was smart, smarter than anyone gave him credit for, and he read voraciously, so university seemed to be the thing to do after fifty years of boredom. He felt something spark in him, something he thought long extinguished, as Enjolras began to talk of revolution and change. Though Grantaire knew it wasn't the revolution he was interested in; it was Enjolras, it had always been him. Enjolras could not understand why Grantaire drank so much, why he didn't believe in their cause. And Grantaire could not tell him that he'd seen a revolution before, and would see many more, but would never see any change. The human condition remained greedy and cruel, and it festered in Grantaire. So he drank instead, he wheedled at Enjolras and made scenes. He joked and trivialized and became the clown of the revolution.
Nobody could understand why he remained with them, why he sat in on meeting after meeting only to drink and annoy Enjolras. But there was something about Enjolras, something vaguely familiar and terrifying, and as much as Grantaire wanted to stay away, wanted to doom the revolution from afar, he stuck fast. But he stuck fast to his drink as well, deliberately ruining even the simplest of tasks Enjolras entrusted to him. Enjolras spat reprimands at him, called it self-sabotage, "my own personal sabotage," he had whispered before he finally kissed him, a night when Enjolras had tried to go drink for drink with Grantaire, in a twisted attempt to make him stop. Grantaire succumbed too easily, was too drunk to think about the pain this would cause him later, losing Enjolras to his ill-fated crusade.
And every night after, Grantaire fell into bed with Enjolras, ignoring the suspicious and confused glances of Combeferre and the others; he wouldn't have to answer to them much longer. He drank more, and lost more hope, clinging only to Enjolras. And though Enjolras hardly spared him an extra glance in the Cafe Musain, except to roll his eyes, or maybe throw him out when he was out of control, he would hold Grantaire close at night, and talk of the way things would be different after the revolution, how the people would stand proud and never again be slaves of the bourgeois. Grantaire never believed though, never thought it would ever come to anything other than their deaths, but unfortunately not his own. So he shut his eyes against Enjolras' passion, and against redemption.
When the time finally came, he was craven again. He'd fought with Enjolras the night before, begged him to see the folly of his actions, and said that he would not stand for hopeless cause. And Enjolras screamed back at him, told him to begone if he could not stand proud. So while his friends died at the barricade, he waited holed up inside the Cafe Musain, surrounded by empty bottles.
And then there was gunfire and chaos, and Grantaire woke from his drunken stupor, unafraid. He tried not to care, but he couldn't help but search for Enjolras, clinging to the only hope he had left: that Enjolras was still alive. He found him with his back to the wall, protecting his dreams of revolution with the weak flesh of his body, but still so righteous.
And Grantaire ran to him, and said, "If you will permit it," asking to die in the name of a revolution he didn't believe in, and a man he loved with every part of him. Enjolras smiled then, angelic and proud like Michael, and Grantaire thought that he didn't deserve the smile, or the hand that grasped his tightly, but he took it because he was selfish and weak. He barely felt the gunshots, or maybe they were all he felt, but he saw only Enjolras, stricken and still upon the floor. Then he was stricken and still himself, and he prayed it was the end, that he would die with Enjolras.
He woke not long after, neatly placed among the dead, between Enjolras and Combeferre. It wasn't right, he thought. He didn't deserve this place of honor when it had been Combeferre who had been Enjolras's most trusted lieutenant. He didn't deserve to be seen last amongst those who'd died for what they believed in, like little Gavroche, so much younger than Grantaire but already so much more. So Grantaire got up, his physical wounds already healed, and he tugged Combeferre over to Enjolras, as he should have been.
He knelt over Enjolras next, pulling out a miraculously unstained handkerchief to wipe the blood and dirt from his face. His hair was fixed next, splinters of wood removed and curls tucked back into place. By the time he was done, Enjolras looked right and majestic, like the corpse of Alexander the Great, and Grantaire finally wept over him, thinking that this was wrong, that Hephaestion was supposed to die first, was not supposed to mourn after the greater man. He thought that maybe instead he was Echo, doomed to love from afar, wasting away to nothing but a shade.
And a shade Grantaire was destined to become. After Enjolras died at the barricade, Grantaire left the city. He couldn't stay in Paris, couldn't even stay in France, and he'd heard stories about England's opium dens. Smoky, secret parlors in the darker parts of the cities, places men went to forget and escape, and Grantaire, still reeling from losing Enjolras, wanted nothing more than that.
He sold his possessions, what little he had, and bought a ticket to London. The city suited him, all gray skies and gray buildings. But the opium dens suited him even more.
He remembered his first inhale, deep and purposeful, filling his lungs and limbs, deadening them. The opium smoke was cloying, and Grantaire could barely remember anything from those days. He only remembered calling for Enjolras, the richness of his name rolling off his tongue and over his lips. He remembered seeing Enjolras everywhere, in the golden curls of the naked woman next to him, in the proud nose of the man who only came in once a week. He didn't forget Enjolras in the opium dens, he remembered him with a startling clarity. He remembered Enjolras while his mind stagnated, and that was unacceptable.
So finally he got himself out, or maybe he just ran out of money, and he spent weeks, a month on the streets as he began to detoxify. And still Grantaire lived, still he did not age, or sicken. He left London, and made his way east across Europe. He found himself in the Russian Empire in 1860, in the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He could not say what drew him there, only that it was 28 years after Enjolras's death, and he was lost. He had no cause to even pretend to believe in, so he began to work.
He lived with the Poles, worked and drank, and one day, a young Polish boy, no more than a teenager to Grantaire's eyes, came to him excitedly.
"Come quick," he'd said, and Grantaire dropped his tools and ran, along with his friends-though they were more acquaintances, or drinking buddies- to the nearest pub. As he entered, he felt a pang of deja vu so fierce that he stopped dead in his tracks.
The chairs had all been pushed back to allow the young men to fill the room, and standing atop a table, shouting excitedly, was Enjolras.
"We cannot allow ourselves to be drafted!" He said, and the room agreed with cries of 'no.'
"We will not be slaves of the Russians! We will not fight in their armies, or die in their battles!"
The energy in the room was undeniable; the men were cheering, loud and raucous, but Grantaire knew that Enjolras had them under tight control.
"What is going on?" He asked the boy who'd brought him in.
"It's the Imperial Russian Army. It's been decreed that we will be conscripted!" And this little boy's excitement and indignation was so much like Gavroche that he had to shut his eyes.
"But Ezajasz will not let that happen," he seemed sure of that.
"Ee-zhash?" Grantaire questioned. He was still not entirely adept at Polish, and the syllables sounded harsh on his tongue.
The boy nodded enthusiastically. "He's organizing a revolt. We will not stand for this."
There was no denying it. Enjolras wore a different name, but his face, his legacy was the same. How could this happen? Was this a divine punishment? Living to see Enjolras fail time and time again, while Grantaire had to go on?
He chanced a look up at, and Enjolras was looking straight at him, piercing. It was too much for
Grantaire, and he fled the room, leaning heavily against the wall outside. The night air was cool against his face, and he longed for a drink.
"Excuse me?" A voice sounded in front of him, and Grantaire groaned because he knew that voice, knew it intimately.
"Ezajasz," he breathed, because 'Enjolras' meant nothing here.
"You know my name?" Enjolras, no, Ezajasz, questioned, and he sounded gruff and serious, but Grantaire could detect the surprise.
"I will always know your name." Grantaire said, "And I will always follow you."
Ezajasz seemed confused, but pleased all the same, and he extended a hand to Grantaire, who took it gratefully.
"And your name?" He asked.
"Grantaire," he replied truthfully, because everyone already knew he was French, and he wasn't good enough at Polish to even try to pretend to be a native.
Ezajasz frowned. "French? You would follow me- us," he corrected himself, "Though you would not be conscripted anyway?"
Grantaire thought about what he was going to say. This is his second chance with Enjolras, possibly his only chance at redemption.
"I followed one such as you before. I followed him into battle, but I could not follow him into death. I carry his legacy with me every day. It is a weight I can no longer bear. I must do something, I must be here for a reason. I will follow you, and I will follow your revolution because I must."
Ezajasz stared at Grantaire, searching his eyes and face, and Grantaire knew it was a flimsy excuse, but Grantaire also knew that Ezajasz could feel the truth of them.
"I don't understand why, but I feel that this is right, that you should be here by my side." And then Grantaire smiled, short and blinding, because he would not screw it up this time.
There was an uprising not long after that. Many of them died, but not Grantaire, and not Ezajasz. And there was an insurgency that Ezajasz led, and it lasted for almost two years. In that time, Grantaire tried to drink less, which was easier because they didn't hold meetings in pubs as they did in 1830; they hid in the forest, and they starved. And this was harder than it was in Paris, and Grantaire lost hope faster.
He and Ezajasz didn't fall into bed either, but they were close, and it hurt just as much, if not more, as he heard Ezajasz tell him about future success when in reality they lost battle after battle. They lost people to hunger and violence. And Grantaire didn't want to tell Ezajasz that he'd seen him fail before, and would see him fail again, and soon.
Eventually, the last of them were captured and hanged. They stood side by side with nooses around their necks, and Grantaire's noose tightened and it felt like fate. Ezajasz looked proud as if in victory though he stood in defeat, and right before the ropes took them to their deaths, Grantaire whispered, "Enjolras," and it felt right.
But he woke up again, this time piled ungracefully with the other bodies, and he disentangled himself and left, not looking back.
Grantaire went back to his drink after that. He couldn't understand why this was happening. It was already a curse to live forever. Of course, Grantaire knew that of all he had to do was die for something he believed in, and he would be able to rest forever. But Grantaire believed in nothing, nothing but Enjolras. And he'd died for him twice now. If that wasn't enough, Grantaire knew that nothing would be. But to watch Enjolras die, and then again? It was more than he could bear.
He traveled south, thought maybe he could find respite in Italy, in the warmth and beauty. He drank himself sick in every tavern and pub on his way, staying only long enough in a town to get cast out. In his constant stupor, he missed his mark entirely and ended up in Herzegovina, where he found that not only was the torment not over, but that it could only become far worse.
Enjolras was there too, waiting for him. He was younger than Grantaire had ever seen him, barely eighteen, barely an adult yet the fire of revolution was already burning in his eyes, stripping away his innocence. Grantaire was furious and heartbroken all at once. He drank to forget, and woke up the next morning in a strange bed in a strange house.
He had various flashes of memory- an angel, beautiful and blond and blessed. The angel walked in the door a moment later and Grantaire leaned over the side of the bed to retch into a basin that'd been left there.
Enjolras was Elesija here, so young and so beautiful that Grantaire could hardly bear to look at him. He was no leader, not yet, and Grantaire had a brief flash of hope; maybe he was corruptible, maybe Grantaire could lead him away from the fight. He wasn't even sure what was being fought for, only that there had to be one, or else Enjolras would not be there.
But Elesija came to sit on the bed next to him with a cool cloth for his forehead and Grantaire knew that as always, Enjolras would be pure and driven. Grantaire had never been able to dissuade him.
"Let me help you," he said, and Grantaire had to push him away. His head was pounding and his mouth tasted of vomit.
"No, I will not watch you die."
"I don't understand," Elesija said, confused. "Does this have to do with what you were saying last night?" He asked, a little hesitant. It was strange. Grantaire had never known Enjolras to be hesitant before.
"What did I say last night?" Grantaire asked, unsure.
"You said… you thought I was an angel. Said that only could an angel could be as beautiful as me." Grantaire could see the barest beginnings of a blush on his cheeks. But his expression soon hardened. "And then you asked me to let you die. You said that you couldn't bear losing Enjolras again, that you would rather die a hundred times over than let him die once more."
"Enjolras was a friend," he lied, or said. He didn't know what he was to Enjolras, really. He knew that he loved Enjolras on the most base level of his being, but he had never been sure just how strongly Enjolras had felt in return. "I lost him to a fight not unlike this one. A pointless fight."
"This is far from pointless." Elesija's eyes hardened, and Grantaire knew there was no saving
him. "The Ottomans cannot be allowed to continue as they have, it is inhuman and-"
"You do not know what you get yourself into," Grantaire interrupted. "You are so young, you cannot fathom what is ahead." Grantaire pleaded.
"I will not sit back and be complicit." Elesija said, finality in his voice.
Grantaire groaned, all of a sudden exasperated. It reminded him of so many fights he'd had with Enjolras in Paris. Enjolras would wax poetic about the changes they'd bring about, how the people would never again be at the whims of a king. And Grantaire would say, "But Enjolras, you cannot think you are Achilles himself reborn."
And then Enjolras would look at him, impossibly fond and say, "But Grantaire, that would make you my heel, for if you died, I would die also."
Grantaire would pretend to be indignant. "If anyone, I am Dionysus," He'd proclaim, and Enjolras would laugh, one of his rare ones, and say, "No, Grantaire, if I am Achilles, then you are Patroclus, and that is that."
But this wasn't his Enjolras. This was the farthest from his Enjolras that he'd met, though he could imagine that years before they'd known one another, Enjolras was like this boy.
Grantaire's head throbbed and he desperately wanted a bath.
He asked for as much from Elesija, who stood up, nodding.
"I thought you might have wanted to wash up, so I prepared one earlier. The water should still be warm." And with that, Elesija was all business, leading Grantaire to the bathroom then leaving him to clean up after himself.
Grantaire sunk into the water, scrubbing himself clean. This boy confused him so much. He desired him; how could he not? It was his Enjolras, striking and unscarred. But he was so young, and Grantaire was so old, in mind and years, though he still didn't look over twenty-five, alcohol be damned. And Grantaire felt sick for wanting to defile something so innocent. Grantaire was almost sad to know that this version of Enjolras wouldn't grow into the leader he was destined to be.
He was broken from his reverie when the door to the bathroom opened, and Elesija walked in, closing it quietly behind him. Grantaire crossed his legs to shield himself from view.
"What is it?" He asked.
Elesija just looked at him, expression unreadable.
"I'm not sure. You acted like you knew me last night, you acted like you knew me and you called me beautiful-" He broke off and looked at Grantaire, questioning.
"You called me beautiful and it felt like it was not the first time you'd said that to me, though I know I'd never met you before I found you there, lying in the street."
Grantaire closed his eyes in frustration. There was nothing he could say, no explanation he could give that would make sense.
When he opened his eyes, Elesija was much closer. Elesija kneeled on the floor next to the grungy tub, and Grantaire instinctively leaned toward him, playing out the scene as it had been done so many times before. Grantaire and Enjolras had been so fond of their bathtub in Paris, one of the few luxuries they partook in.
Elesija pressed his mouth messily to Grantaire's and Grantaire was unable to say no. He opened his mouth to Elesija and it felt absolute. But when Grantaire reached a hand up to draw Elesija closer, he touched soft, virgin skin and drew back, ashamed at himself.
"No," he said roughly, pushing Elesija away. "I will not do this. I will help you as best as I can, Elesija, but you cannot ask this of me. I will not take you, I will not love you and then lose you. I refuse." Grantaire kept his head down, gripping the sides of the tub with white-knuckled fingers, so as to not see the look on Elesija's face as he collected himself and left Grantaire alone.
Grantaire shivered in the cooling bathwater, and thought that he'd just met this Enjolras, and it was already too much.
Luckily for Grantaire, or perhaps not, the torment did not last much longer. Elesija and Grantaire were slaughtered, amongst other rebels, just before all rebels were granted amnesty. In his last few moments, Grantaire had thrown himself over Elesija in an attempt to shield him, but the bullets passed through him as if he were butter, and they both died. The last thing Grantaire saw of Elesija was his face, impossibly young and entirely surprised-for he was but an adolescent and had still thought himself invincible-covered in Grantaire's blood.
It wasn't the last of it, not by a long shot. Every single time he was brought back to Enjolras and ripped away again, Grantaire broke inside a little bit more. The wound never closed, only became more raw and poisoned. No more than twenty years ever went by without Grantaire seeing Enjolras. And far from blending together, he remembered each experience acutely, no matter how hard he wanted to forget.
Russia held particular remembrance because he was there when they took the Czar and his family away. He remembered Nicholas's proud face and the scared looks of his daughters. Enjolras (Evgeni then) was so proud, and for once Grantaire thought that they would live this one out. Evgeni fucked him that night, and he was happy in his victory and Grantaire almost couldn't bear it. They were fumbling in the dark, breathless laughter punctuated by breathless moans, and they fell asleep entwined. Grantaire felt as close to complete as he had since he'd first had Enjolras in his grasp almost a hundred years ago.
The next morning Grantaire awoke groggy, but content.
"Proshchay, moray lyubov'." Evgeni whispered as he pressed a kiss to Grantaire's bare shoulder. "I'll be back later."
There were still things to take care of, still two powers battling for control, and the fighting was not done, though victory seemed all but assured. Regardless, there were still casualties, and that day, as Grantaire slept unawares, Evgeni was one of them.
When they came and told him, when Grantaire was dressed and no longer in Evgeni's bed and there was no cause for suspicion, he yelled and tried to throw them out.
"I saw him this morning," he said, disbelieving. "I just saw him, he cannot be dead!"
The faces of his friends, no, Evgeni's friends, looked on at him with pity while he cried. He had always been there was Enjolras died, without exception. Either he shielded him or he stood with him, and to have Enjolras die alone and unsupported was worse than Grantaire having to see him die himself. Now he did not even have the comfort of saying goodbye before he spent the next twenty years waiting in a half-hopeful desolation.
He had resigned himself to this torturous cycle. Resigned himself so fully that it had never occurred to him that he might enjoy himself. But in Spain, with Eliseo, Grantaire felt almost alive again.
Grantaire had always been an artist and an intellectual. That was what had drawn him back to Paris in the first place. After he'd been cursed, he could have gone anywhere, but he had wanted to go home. He wanted to be around culture and art, but instead he found himself embroiled in another revolution, and another man. He couldn't even remember now, who had cursed him and why, but he remembered it was a man.
So after Russia, he tried to escape again. There were beautiful things going on in Spain, he head. The art and poetry were calling to him. In such a place, he thought, there could be no flames of revolution. Clearly they were happy, clearly they were content. So he traveled southwest, chasing the sun and warmth. He couldn't avoid France, but he could avoid Paris, and he did.
He started in Barcelona. Grantaire spent weeks there on the coast, sketching the water and the flowers. He tried to lose himself in the beauty, but it was lacking. There was still an open sore in his chest. Sometimes he could close his eyes and forget for a moment. The wind would blow just right and carry the scent of brine past his nose and it would be nothing like the cluttered stink Paris.
But he was still alone, still without Enjolras. He almost didn't want to find him, didn't want to renew the pain. But he could feel himself start to drink more. He picked up some Spanish as he spent his nights in clubs and bars. He learned to love tequila, but he didn't love the people he was with, and he'd heard that Madrid was the real cultural center of Spain, so that was where he went next.
Grantaire arrived at the Residencia de Estudiantes in the mid-twenties. He was a little too old for the students there, and though he did not age, the years had started to show on him. Still, he was welcomed, and for a time, he flourished. He drank, yes, and was sometimes self-destructive.
He read a poem in the late 1920s, one written by a man, about a man, and for the first time in a long time, Grantaire felt himself moved by words. It was always Enjolras's words that had moved him, and nobody else's. But this poem was so full of an agonizing passion and Grantaire had to curl in on himself, sobs wracking his body.
He met the poet himself not long after, and Grantaire was taken with him, dark hair and dark eyes that, much like his own, hid insecurities and self-doubt. Had not this man been so wholly devoted to another, and Grantaire so wholly devoted to Enjolras, he might have felt a stirring within him. Instead, he felt a harsh longing.
He'd been in Spain for a few years now, and it was peaceful. The peace felt almost wrong. He was so used to being in constant motion. Running to a revolution, preparing for one, running away from one. To no longer be in flux, to have a stable home- it was disconcerting, and Grantaire wanted to rebel against it. Every other time he'd been in horrible, desolate places. He had been poor and working, raw from losing Enjolras time and time again. Now he was in a place of beauty, and he wondered if this was going to be the end. If he was going to live out the rest of his life-however long that may still be-in Spain, in a place he maybe should have started.
But the loneliness began to eat away at him again. He began to spend more time in social circles, with painters like him. But it wasn't enough. He got drunk one night and could take it no longer. He'd heard about places where men went to meet other men, parks in the shadier parts of the city.
"Un angel, por favor!" He called out, movements grandiose, drunk in a spectacular fashion. "Rubio y hermoso! Un angel hermoso para um hombre triste!"
Hands came up to push him back against a tree and Grantaire looked up into familiar eyes.
"My dreams have come true," he whispered and surged forward to press himself against Enjolras entirely.
Grantaire was shoved back ungraciously, and he sunk to the ground. It was soft and loamy underneath his fingers.
"Of course you do not want me, how you could you want me? I have grown complacent in your absence, lonely and soft." He looked up, suddenly urgent, gripping at Enjolras's calf.
"But I am ready for you now, I think. I need you once again. It's been too long."
Grantaire felt himself being hauled to his feet, and he slumped against Enjolras gratefully.
"You are drunk," Enjolras said. "I can't leave you here."
"Thank you, Enjolras," Grantaire murmured, already only half-conscious.
"Eliseo," He was corrected.
Grantaire barely remembered stumbling up a flight of stairs and being pressed into a bed. He woke up the next morning with a headache, but he took it with grace. He'd had enough hangovers for several lifetimes, and eventually they all faded to a dull roar: persistent, but not unmanageable.
He sat up gingerly, and he realized he was lying in a comfortable bed. The apartment around him was spacious and bright, and Grantaire was again struck by the easy luxury of Spain.
"Are you feeling better?"
Grantaire looked up sharply. He'd embarrassed himself last night, but he couldn't bring himself to regret it. He'd been waiting for Enjolras for a long time. Not as long as the thirty-five years that had passed between Herzegovina and Russia. Those had been dark years, and Grantaire couldn't look back on them without shuddering. But this was different. It was as if Grantaire was waiting for Enjolras to show up and give him permission to be happy again.
"Quite, thank you." Grantaire said graciously. This was a different environment than he was used to meeting Enjolras in.
"Eliseo," he remembered, and Eliseo nodded.
"You called me by something else last night."
"Think of it as nothing more than the ramblings of a drunk artist." Grantaire waved his arm dismissively. "Enjolras is my muse, nothing more."
"You are an artist?" Eliseo questioned. He moved closer to Grantaire, now sitting next to him on the bed.
"Oh, Eliseo, of the red-colored voice!" Grantaire proclaimed, changing a few words to better fit Enjolras. "I do not praise your halting adolescent speech, or your words that flirt with the words of your times, but I laud your longing for eternity with limits."
"You speak words of poetry," Eliseo blushed, and Grantaire shook his head.
"They are not mine," he said regretfully. "I am an artist of charcoal and paint. They are the words of a friend, but I see their truth in you."
"I would hear them again," Eliseo said, and Grantaire smiled. They had a pattern now, honed to an art. It was becoming easier and easier to fall together. Enjolras seemed to know him in every form, though he could not say why. And as for Grantaire, he dared not spoil this by speaking about it, so he simply met Eliseo halfway, as Eliseo had already been leaning towards him.
The soft, dry drag of Grantaire's unshaven cheeks against Eliseo's skin made Eliseo whimper and bare his neck for more. Usually it was Enjolras who took control, but Grantaire had waited for Enjoras, and he wanted to worship his angel, and Eliseo was content to let him.
Grantaire gently pushed Eliseo back into the pillows and pressed hot, open-mouthed kisses down his neck and chest. Eliseo's nipples pebbled in the brisk morning air, breezing through the open window. Grantaire lavished himself upon those next, until Eliseo was writhing underneath him. Grantaire propped himself up on his elbows for a moment, and drank in the sight of Eliseo, of Enjolras, below him, curls wide around his face and sweat beaded at his hairline. His eyes were black with wanting, and his mouth was red where he had bitten his lips. Grantaire drank it in and it was better than the most expensive vintage.
Grantaire lowered his mouth again to Eliseo's and the give and take of their tongues was numbing in its pleasure.
Eliseo arched his back, hips meeting Grantaire's in a lazy invitation, and Grantaire obliged him. It was slow and thick like honey; Eliseo's blonde hair shone in the morning light, framing his face like a halo. They were pressed flush and slick against each other, but still took their time. Grantaire prepared Eliseo with gentle and teasing fingers, waiting until he was shuddering before he finally pushed inside of him, drawing a long groan from the two of them.
Grantaire didn't move at first, so Eliseo wrapped a slim, strong leg around Grantaire's hips and urged him on. Grantaire couldn't help but let out a chuckle, and he kissed the bow of Eliseo's lip as he thrust shallowly.
They luxuriated in the ease they had, ease that only came from knowing the other's body in all its intimacies and intricacies. Grantaire had had near a hundred years to acquaint himself with Enjolras's body, and though this was Eliseo's first time with Grantaire, he too seemed to retain every memory of Grantaire.
They finally came, Grantaire following Eliseo over almost immediately on a choked sob. He wasn't sure how much time they had left together. He only knew that now that he'd found Enjolras, they would eventually be ripped apart, as they had been many times before, and surely would countless times again.
It happened slowly, so slowly that Grantaire didn't see it coming until it was too late. They had years together, the longest they'd had since Paris. The 1920s became the 1930s, and they started to hear whisperings of anti-Republic movements.
Francisco Franco, Falange… all people and movements that started to creep into conversation. Grantaire and Eliseo were outspoken Republicans, intellectuals, and not secret enough with their relationship. As fascism began to tighten it's hold on Spain, many of their friends began to flee. Some went to Paris, some to London or Venice. Some quieted down, not wanting to leave their homeland and too afraid of becoming a target.
Grantaire begged Eliseo time and time again to quiet down, to move to the country, to get out of Madrid. Neither of them would go to Paris, and leaving Spain at all was unacceptable to Eliseo.
"Isn't is better to leave? To live and fight later?" Grantaire begged Eliseo, trying to persuade him with kisses. But Eliseo turned his head away.
"It is better to take a stand now."
When Grantaire didn't look convinced, Eliseo pressed him.
"Are you ashamed of us?" Eliseo asked, and Grantaire denied it vehemently.
"Are you ashamed of your art?" He asked again, and again Grantaire denied it.
"Then why would want to live in a world that is?" Eliseo asked, and Grantaire had no answer. It wasn't that he was ashamed. It wasn't that he didn't want freedom and acceptance, that he didn't want there to be equality among all peoples. But he had seen what came of revolution. It was hopeless and it led to death. Yes, he had seen success, but at what cost? He would always lose Enjolras, and that meant more to him than any political movement.
But Enjolras would never understand that. So Grantaire sighed, and shook his head.
"I would never want to live in a world that would make me give you up." He placed his hands on either side of Eliseo's face. Grantaire's eyes were impossibly old and sad, and Eliseo felt himself near tears, and he didn't know why.
"Do you think I would lead you awry, amorcito?" Eliseo asked, and Grantaire shook his head.
"No, vida mia, but we can't always choose where we end up, and we can't always choose how we get there." Grantaire said.
Eliseo looked down, squared his jaw, and looked back up at Grantaire.
"You should know that I will not think less of you should you choose not to stay with me." He said, and Grantaire sighed, suddenly exhausted. This was how it would always be. No matter how much Enjolras loved Grantaire, he could not and would not just abandon his ideals. Not for one man. There was no talk of them running away together, what Enjolras said could never come out of Grantaire's mouth. They were two different men. While Grantaire would sacrifice the entire world a thousand times over for Enjolras, Enjolras could not fathom doing the same.
It was a fact that Grantaire resigned himself to long ago, though he was often frustrated by it. It didn't mean that Enjolras didn't love Grantaire. But Enjolras was entirely unselfish, and it meant that he would give up Grantaire for the greater good. Grantaire, on the other hand, was selfish to the core, and so he gave himself up for Enjolras, and would do so again and again, without question.
"No, Eliseo. I will stay with you." Grantaire shrugged helplessly. "Besides, what is one more country?"
Eliseo frowned, and Grantaire wanted to erase the expression from his face. They fucked that night, fast and desperate, trying to erase each and every doubt the other had. And in the morning, Eliseo agreed to go to the country, to wait and regroup for a few days.
It turned out to be the worst mistake they could have made.
They were rounded up in the middle of the night, the two of them, and shuffled into a van with several others. They were cold, huddling together, but they both knew what was coming. They were calm.
It was early morning as they were herded across the field. Dawn was just breaking, and the light was cold and grey. Still, Grantaire found himself struck by the beauty of the country. They were told to face forward, but Grantaire looked at Eliseo, and Eliseo looked back at him just before they were riddled with bullets.
The ground was soft with grass and Grantaire was sad to see his blood splattered across the flowers.
Grantaire woke to the sound of mass graves being dug, and he kissed the forehead of Eliseo's corpse before he snuck away. It was later he learned that the mass executions were widespread, that the Falange purged the countryside. If they'd stayed in the city, they might have lived longer, might have held out in Madrid as revolution and civil war broke out over Spain. But they were carried away in the night. Grantaire also learned that the same fate had befallen his poet friend. Though at least he'd become a martyr. Grantaire, but more importantly Enjolras, died in obscurity- nameless deaths to a cause that left them behind.
Grantaire decided to head east again after that. He'd had enough of beautiful places. The bad things only hurt worse there.
Grantaire thought that maybe he should leave Europe. World War II had been rough. He was half-crazed, expecting to see Enjolras around every corner, in every country. But it hadn't been enough time yet. Grantaire had worked out that every Enjolras was born and grew in his own time. He wouldn't see a ten year old revolutionary fighting the Nazis. At least, he desperately hoped not. Enjolras at seventeen had been hard enough to take.
He waited out World War II in Ireland, as far from the fighting as he could manage without leaving the continent. He couldn't fathom America; Africa was entirely foreign to him-though he knew several countries spoke French, and he wouldn't be entirely adrift. And Asia also seemed so far away that it was out of the question. Besides, his months in the opium den never quite left his memory.
So he just went east again, tried to pick a country he hadn't spent a prolonged period of time in, and one that wasn't ravaged by the war. He picked Hungary, and by the time he got there, Enjolras was waiting.
It was a student demonstration, of course it was, that started the revolution. It lasted not even a month. It was the shortest revolution he'd ever lived through, so short that he barely got to know Elek. The defender, his name meant, and he was true to it: when the Soviet troops stormed Budapest and slaughtered almost three thousand of them where they stood, it was Elek who attacked a soldier that had been gunning for Grantaire. It was Elek who was then gunned down by another.
They never fucked, never even kissed, and it was strange for Grantaire, who'd been accustomed to the physical affection of Eliseo and Evgeni. He thought that maybe this should feel wrong, having so many versions of Enjolras in his life and his bed. But no, at the core of them, they were each Enjolras. They were each pure and noble, and they were each Grantaire's.
He supposed out of all the times he'd lost Enjolras, Hungary was the easiest, for he'd hardly known Elek before he was taken away. The pain came from the fact that it would be another long twenty years, give or take, before he saw him again. One month with Enjolras wasn't enough. Though if Grantaire was being honest with himself, not even the years he'd had in Paris and Spain were enough. An entire lifetime, maybe, would be a start, but it was like comparing a lake to the vast oceans of the earth. Grantaire was greedy, but above all, he was empty. He wanted eternity, and he was getting it, albeit in the worst possible way.
Grantaire had lived through so many revolutions, it was as if he'd seen them all. They'd been successful and not, sustained and short, but they were always, always violent. He supposed that he never even considered there could be peaceful revolution. The concept was foreign and bizarre.
But in 1974, it was exactly what he got. He'd been in Portugal, though he'd never wanted to return to the beauty of the Iberian Peninsula. But decades in Eastern Europe had made the region seem smaller and claustrophobic, and his disposition couldn't take the cold of the north, not after Russia, so it seemed that west was the only place he could go.
It wasn't as if he could even justify his choices anymore. He felt like he was being pulled, like he knew where Enjolras was going to be and when. It wasn't like the aimless wandering of the beginning.
It was 1974 and he made fun of Eleuterio's shaggy hair, mostly because it was similar to the way he wore it longer in Paris, and Grantaire had to laugh at it or he would have cried. Enjolras was more lighthearted that time around. Even in Spain he was still so serious, still so single-minded when the time came. Eleuterio laughed a little easier, and so Grantaire did too, and drank less for it.
The Carnation Revolution was one of the most beautiful things Grantaire had ever seen. He'd been alive for over two hundred years, and never did he think he would ever see such a sight. It was the closest he ever came to believing in a cause, as he and Eleuterio turned out amongst thousands of other people in the streets.
There had been an entirely peaceful turnover of power, and Grantaire could not believe it. They were giving out red carnations by the handful, to place in the barrel of each and every soldier's gun: a symbol of peace and not death for once, and Grantaire marveled at it. Eleuterio and Grantaire took one each, a tiny contribution, for the revolution belonged to each and every one of them, and Grantaire least of all.
Still, he took his flower and held on to it, waiting for the right soldier. Eleuterio encouraged him to hurry, but still Grantaire waited. Finally he found the right man: a soldier, roughly the same age as Grantaire himself. He looked doubtful and unsure, waiting for a riot to break out any moment, which was why Grantaire picked him. If Grantaire could be swayed, then so could this soldier.
Grantaire placed the stem of the carnation into the barrel of the rifle and nearly cried. Eleuterio looked so proud of him, and the mood was so euphoric that Eleuterio grabbed him and pulled him into a nearby alleyway. The sounds of celebration were muffled and far off, and the alleyway was cool. Eleuterio peppered Grantaire's face with kisses, and Grantaire laughed and reciprocated.
But they were both so blinded by victory that neither took into account that it was still Portugal, a predominantly Catholic country, still 1974, and not an environment friendly to love between men. Neither noticed the gang of teenage boys making their way toward them, not until they were wrenched apart.
Enjolras was beaten to death right in front of him, while Grantaire was held back. He screamed himself hoarse, sobbed until he vomited, Enjolras no longer recognizable at his feet. They beat Grantaire next, and every single lesson Grantaire had learned over the years, every ounce of happiness from the last twenty-four hours was taken from him with each punch. What Grantaire remembered from Portugal was that even when there was peace in the government, there was still hate in humanity, and he couldn't fathom wanting to save people such as these.
He woke hours later, covered in dried blood, but injuries healed. Nobody had heard them in the streets, and nobody had come looking. There were no red carnations for Enjolras and Grantaire that day.
The last revolution was a disaster. Grantaire had wandered in when it was fully underway, had ballooned from the Log Rebellion to the Croatian War of Independence. He hadn't had any idea that it would be the last, and in a self-destructive streak similar to Paris, Grantaire wanted to personally ruin everything he got his hands on. He didn't want to just destroy this rebellion, he wanted to destroy Enjolras before anyone else could.
But Enjolras found him this time around. Grantaire had gotten drunk and mixed up with some of the rebels. He was just so angry, so furious it radiated in his bones.
After Portugal he had become misanthropic. He was caustic and cruel, and he drank more than he had in years. He found himself in a bar, some run down place populated by hulking men. He'd heard of the Croatian War and immediately hated the cause. He was talking to the bartender, disavowing the war when two men from the back of the room came up behind him. They grabbed him roughly and led him outside, shouting at him in Croatian or Serbian, he couldn't tell.
He shouted back, a mistake, as he was too drunk to fight, and they began to beat him ferociously. He coughed up blood at their feet, like a twisted kind of peace offering, and he was given a swift kick to the stomach in return.
"Vive la révolution!" He cried out, laughing almost hysterically. They kicked him again, and again he shouted, "Vive la révolution!"
One of the men swung his foot back, and Grantaire tensed for another kick, wondering how much more he could take, how much longer before his injuries overwhelmed his body and he was allowed to die. He thought about how sweet the relief would be, even if it was only for a few hours. He wondered how much longer until he was allowed to die for good.
The kick never came.
"Stop!" He heard, and he slumped over, relieved. He'd been beaten to death once and he wasn't ready to relive the experience.
He could hear conversation above him, and assumed the men who were beating him had been sent away, because there was a gentle hand on his face next instead of a harsh one.
"Are you okay?" He was asked, and Grantaire held Enjolras's hand to his face.
"We have got to stop meeting like this," Grantaire said, and his vision went dark.
Grantaire woke to a bandage being wrapped around his middle.
"Oh good, you're awake." Enjolras said. "This will be much easier to do if you sit up."
Grantaire did as he was bid, and regarded Enjolras with a resigned gaze.
"So what is your name this time?" He asked. Grantaire was tired. He was exhausted to the very core of him and he no longer cared about the careful secrecy of their situation. It was clear that Enjolras knew him in every form, as Grantaire knew him. Grantaire was positive that Enjolras would not send him away.
Enjolras, for his part, seemed to accept it, though he didn't understand as well as Grantaire did. He had not had to live each life without rest as Grantaire did, he did not retain the memories with the painful clarity that Grantaire had.
"Eleazar." He said, and kept his eyes on Grantaire's chest, securing the bandage. "Why did you do that?" He asked, motioning to Grantaire's injuries.
Grantaire shrugged. "If they can't face the fact that they're going to fail, they shouldn't be fighting in the first place."
"You can't know that," Eleazar said, and Grantaire laughed bitterly.
"Yes I can. I have lived it over and over again. I have seen revolution after revolution and they all end the same." He asserted.
"That's not true," Eleazar argued. "You've seen successes, I know you have. There have been fights, and we have not always lost them." Grantaire knew that Eleazar wasn't speaking from personal experience, but rather historical. But he never had to live without Grantaire, never had to deal with the aftermath.
"You may not have, Eleazar." Grantaire said. "But I have lost every single time. Governments could topple or stand strong. I could live through dictatorship or democracy. It's all okay as long as I have you. But the second you die, it all becomes worthless."
Eleazar was silent, and his hands were clenched in his lap, knuckles white.
"I am not strong like you," Grantaire admitted, but it was a fact well known. "I can't put a country first. I can't put an ideology before what I know is real and tangible and here." Grantaire was becoming agitated, and still Eleazar made no answer. "I could see thousands marching to their deaths, but not you."
"You understand nothing," Eleazar snapped. "How could you put yourself ahead of so many other people? There is a world beyond you, beyond your problems, and you are wrong not to care."
"Then I am wrong. And I don't feel guilty. A world without you is not one I want to live in."
"Are we doomed to repeat this over and over again, Grantaire?" Eleazar asked, but Grantaire didn't think he was speaking to him anymore. This was Enjolras, through and through.
Enjolras gripped his chin, gentle but firm, and forced him to look into his eyes. Enjolras looked so understanding, but disappointed nonetheless. Grantaire could never bear disappointing Enjolras, and his eyes filled with tears.
"Haven't you learned anything?" He asked, and Grantaire shut his eyes against his gaze, causing a few hot tears to burn their way down his cheeks. "Are you ever going to learn with me by your side?"
Grantaire's eyes flew open and he gripped the front of Enjolras's shirt desperately. "Don't leave me," he said. "Don't you dare leave me, Enjolras."
Enjolras just smiled ruefully, and shook his head.
"Grantaire, you could be so great. You are stronger than you know. Why do you think I ever kept you around if I didn't see that potential in you? Did you think I liked having a drunkard around, one who only denounced the cause with each breath?" Enjolras's words were harsh but his tone was kind, and Grantaire hung his head, pressing his forehead against Enjolras's.
"But I saw you, Grantaire. I loved you not for just who you were, but who you could become. You are not the only one who's been waiting. I've been waiting centuries for you to see yourself true."
Grantaire heaved a dry sob, and clutched Enjolras closer.
"There's nothing to see," he said. "I am nothing without you."
Enjolras's hands were on his face, cradling him, and Grantaire felt like he was being held together only by that touch.
"Every year I spent without you was so dark, and I was weak," He admitted, shameful. "I cannot think what I will do when I lose you again."
"You cannot give in, Grantaire." Enjolras whispered. "We may not meet again, and you will need to stand on your own two feet. You will need to be selfless, and you cannot do that when I'm there."
"But I love you," he said. "I do everything for you, everything in the hopes that I will see you again. How much more selfless can I be?"
"You don't do that for me, Grantaire." Enjolras said, and Grantaire knew it was true.
"You may have me for a little while once more, or you may have me forever, and only you can make that decision." Enjolras said, and Grantaire heaved another sob.
"I don't know how. I love you, please, please don't leave me again." He begged, and Enjolras pressed a kiss onto his forehead.
"It's not my choice to make," Enjolras said regretfully. "If I could, I would stay with you forever. I would have you as you were meant to be: unburdened and free. I would have you drink not to forget or to punish yourself. I would have you paint again, bright colors of a bright tomorrow."
Grantaire felt broken. He couldn't see this bright tomorrow, not even with Enjolras holding him so tightly. He cried into Enjolras's chest, felt Enjolras's touch on his head and it felt like absolution.
Enjolras was with him until he fell asleep, and gone when he woke up. Grantaire was not to see him again. He woke to Eleazar's eyes and felt disappointed.
There wasn't much to do but wait. Grantaire was no longer satisfied with Eleazar, not after truly seeing his Enjolras again. He could not bring himself to reciprocate Eleazar's advances, not when he had held Enjolras so shortly before. It felt like the undeserving ending to an already halfhearted tale.
Grantaire went through the motions. He hung around Eleazar, he followed him into battle, though there was little of it, and went home with him every night. But they rarely ever touched. Grantaire kept a careful distance, but Eleazar made sure he was still there.
"I'm sorry," Grantaire whispered into the dark one night, as they were lying in bed, backs to each other and bodies turned away like backwards parentheses.
"What for?" Eleazar asked, and Grantaire could not read the inflection in his voice.
"Wasting this. Wasting us." He said. "I just can't do this anymore. I-"
"Grantaire, please." Eleazar interrupted. "You are so selfish, do you understand that?"
Grantaire was stunned into silence.
"You spend all your time waiting for me to die. How do you think that makes me feel? You say I'm lucky, because I don't remember every time. I don't have to live in the interim. But I live my entire life waiting for something, and I don't know what it is. Then finally I see you, and it all clicks into place. I am born for two purposes: to wait for you, and to die. Because when I see you, I know that it is the end. When I saw you then, on the ground, I was struck with the urge to run away and never look back. Then maybe I would live to bring about great change, to actually see great change.
"Have I ever actually made a difference? Was I there when Spartacus led the slaves against Rome? Did I see that defeat? Was I amongst the Abbasids as they slaughtered the Umayyads? I live entirely unsatisfied, over and over again, because I will never have you, and I will never see change. You are not the only one who suffers, Grantaire. That is the difference between you and I. It is not just myself at stake. It will always be you, and it will always be everyone else."
Grantaire felt sick; he took Enjolras for granted, he knew that. He relied on Enjolras to be the strong one, and he didn't think about what it must have felt like to never be able to voice your fears, because everyone was looking to you to be infallible. Grantaire should have been the one to hear him for what he was really saying, but Grantaire was poison. He took Enjolras's secret doubts and compounded on them. He took what should have been a safe haven and turned it into yet another place Enjolras had to pretend.
"I am sorry," Grantaire said, and Eleazar could hear the grief in his voice. Grantaire turned around, as did Eleazar. He reached for Eleazar's hands but Eleazar pulled them away.
"Do not treat me with reverence." Eleazar said. "I am not a god, no matter how much you'd like to believe it. I am just a man, and a fool at that."
Grantaire opened his mouth- to apologize, to protest, he didn't know, but Eleazar interrupted him.
"If the next words out of your mouth are 'I'm sorry,' I don't want to hear them," and so Grantaire closed his mouth, but pulled Eleazar close to him, holding him instead of the other way around.
"If you are a fool for believing," Grantaire said, "Then so am I, for doing the opposite."
He could feel Eleazar's fingers clench in his shirt, and felt gratified.
"Then we are both fools," Eleazar said. "And let us be done with it."
Eleazar's words were prophetic. Not long after, the war was nearly over, and Eleazar and Grantaire were killed together one last time. Grantaire tried to die with a promise in his eyes, to do better next time, whether or not Enjolras was there to see it. It was time, he thought, to prove himself worthy of nearly two centuries of continued faith.
Eleazar clasped his hand at the very end, and seemed to accept it, put his faith in Grantaire one last time, and Grantaire would be damned if he was going to disappoint him.
He woke one last time, he hoped, and left Croatia, oddly peaceful. Grantaire was going to go home. After one hundred and sixty-three years living as a vagrant, he was to return to Paris at last.
Paris of the present was vastly different from the Paris that Grantaire had known. Grantaire had been around as electricity became the norm, as the world became reliant on technology that would have made the people of 1832 drop dead of shock. But it was one thing to witness it as it was happening, and quite another to return to a place that Grantaire once called home, but could no more recognize than the most foreign of lands. The city had new borders, new districts, and whatever half-fledged hopes Grantaire had of finding the place where it had all began were dashed immediately.
Instead, he began to familiarize himself with the newness of the city. He would call Paris home once more, he was determined, and he experienced it as a tourist would. He marveled at the Eiffel Tower, which had been constructed over fifty years after he had left the city. He secured an apartment in Le Marais, which called to him with its art galleries and foreign presence. Le Marais was home to the Jews, the gays, the Chinese, the artists, and soon, to Grantaire as well. He worked as a bartender to support himself, and with his easy demeanor and ability to hold his liquor, found himself with steady income.
He was near La Rive Gauche and the Latin Quarter, and Grantaire reveled in the familiarity. Despite all the differences he saw, Grantaire took comfort in areas that he could see his friends living today. It was not hard to picture Jehan writing poetry on the banks of the Seine as it was today.
Poverty was no longer as stark as it was in the 1800s, though it was not as if it did not exist, and Grantaire took notice. France was finally the republic that Enjolras had envisioned, and Grantaire wasn't sure what difference he could make. Chirac had just been elected president, and Grantaire, upon hearing of his campaigns to mend the social rift, was pleased.
But as he lived through the years, and the 1990s became a new century, he began to understand why Enjolras was the way that he was. His work as a bartender was like that of a priest, in a way. People came to him for confession, or to complain, and Grantaire heard everything, and as he heard, he learned.
He learned of the social injustice that ran rampant. He heard tales of racism and religious prejudice. He condemned Chirac, who he'd once admired in his first months in the city, for banning the hijab, and then for his indiscretions that saw him sentenced to jail.
Grantaire was surprised to find that he cared. Now that the very core of his being was no longer concerned with waiting for Enjolras, he was able to see past the man and really hear what he had been saying. The more time that went by, the more frustrated he became with the social order. He was angry and confused, mostly because he still loved Paris so much. He still took pleasure in the beauty around him, in the easy happiness of the people, and in the kindness he saw every day. But he was unsatisfied. He wanted more, he wanted better for this city and it's people, and he realized that this must be what Enjolras had felt as well.
It was with that realization that Grantaire took himself to the Louvre. As an artist himself, he frequented the museum; he went once a month at least, and found something new to see each time. It was where he went to sort out his thoughts and gather inspiration. His favorite painting, however, was the one he visited today.
He stood in front of Liberty Leading the People for a long time. He took in the tricolor and the musket, the proud bared breast of Liberty herself. He thought about the very revolution he took part in, the one that caused the painting to be hidden away in fear. He looked at the corpses below her feet and saw familiar faces there.
Was he right all those years ago, when he said that they were dying for nothing? He was no longer so sure. France was a republic now. It may have not happened as a direct result of their failed rebellion, but Grantaire could not honestly say that what they'd done had no repercussions. Not when the proof of it was staring him in the face. At the very least, it was remembered in him. If he closed his eyes, he could still see Combeferre and Courfeyrac standing on either side of Enjolras, trust in their leader evident with every action they undertook. He could see Bahorel and Bossuet, and Feuilly with his fans. He even remembered Joly's worried looks when any of them so much as sneezed.
Grantaire felt their sacrifice with every breath he took. It was no longer solely about Enjolras, it was about all of them, the future they'd envisioned together. The future that Grantaire had not believed in, but was the only one who'd been allowed to live to see it. He felt undeserving, and he wanted to do right by them, only he did not know how.
He went home that night preoccupied, and ran into a patron of the bar he worked at on the way.
"Grantaire!" He was greeted with a friendly face, and he responded in turn.
"Philippe," he said. "How are you?" He asked, just to make conversation. He wasn't exactly thrilled at the thought of going home by himself, as he had every single night since coming to Paris ten years before. There was no room in his heart or his bed for anyone other than Enjolras, but Grantaire tried to give himself more freely over to burgeoning friendships when he could.
"Actually," Philippe said, "I'm on my way to a meeting, of sorts. Would you like to join me?"
Philippe was a kind person, about university age, and he was an idealist. He came into the bar with his friends a few times a month, and they would talk politics and culture. It was not so different from how Enjolras and the others were at the Cafe Musain so long ago. The stakes, of course, were not nearly so high, and these students- not just boys, as there were just as many female revolutionaries today- were not nearly so burdened.
"I think so," Grantaire agreed, and was pulled along.
They came to a studio, sparsely but comfortably furnished. It looked like an office.
"Headquarters of our blog," Philippe explained. "It started as a university thing. A bunch of politics majors with too much to say and nowhere to say it. But Anouk here," he motioned to a bright-eyed brunette girl who waved at them, "suggested we take it bigger, use it as a platform for criticism of everything: media, culture, international events. I wouldn't have been able to do any of it without her."
She came over and shook Grantaire's hand firmly.
"Don't forget he said that," she warned. "Because he definitely will."
Grantaire took it all in with a smile. If there was one thing he loved about the twenty-first century, it was the ability to share thoughts and criticisms without fear, to reach out with words and know that people everywhere could hear you. It was something Enjolras would have loved.
"So what's this all about?" Grantaire asked, meaning the meeting.
"We're planning a protest." He said proudly. "We've reached a milestone in traffic on our blog, and we're commemorating it with a peaceful march on the Palais-Royal. We've been organizing for months, there are going to be so many groups represented."
His enthusiasm was catching, and Grantaire found that he supported the idea wholeheartedly. Gone were the days where the only way to rebel was with a gun in hand. Grantaire thought that Enjorlas might like this as well. Grantaire certainly did.
"Well," he asked. "What can I do to help?"
Philippe and Anouk were thrilled. They told him that the protest was in a month, and that all the serious organizing was done with, but that if he could help them spread the word ("everyone listens to the bartender," they said) and maybe let them put a few flyers up around the bar, it would be greatly appreciated. He agreed, and spent the next month doing what Enjolras had asked him to do once, a very long time ago.
He did not screw it up this time. Philippe and Anouk made the bar another meeting place, to garner public support, and Grantaire was happy to see them do it. His sole regret throughout all of this was that Enjolras was not there to see it. But, Grantaire knew, had Enjolras been there, it would have been entirely different.
On his own, Grantaire was growing. Enjolras had been everything Grantaire wanted, but he was also a prison. And though Grantaire felt lonely, he also felt freer.
He became quite close with Claire, a no-nonsense history student. She and Grantaire had many discussions about European revolutions and social and political change over the centuries. She was not to know that Grantaire had lived through them; she, like everyone else, assumed that Grantaire was a scholar, and had studied history and politics at university. They had even began to talk about Grantaire contributing to the website, writing a monthly article on the historical aspects of social change, as they currently didn't have a space devoted solely to history yet.
Grantaire found himself looking forward to something, to contributing after his work with the march was over.
Finally, the day came, and they gathered with hundreds, even thousands, of others to march on the Palais-Royal. There were people out in full force, and Grantaire was happy to see that it was not solely university students, but those involved in other social groups as well. Philippe and Anouk assured him that they had secured the proper permits months ago, and the police had cleared the streets.
They made Grantaire nervous, however. Grantaire had never been able to put his faith into a police force, especially because they were the ones they were typically fighting against. He would never be able to trust them entirely. The National Police were out as well, and Grantaire could see their suspicious eyes on the young protesters, ready to keep control at the slightest provocation, no matter the cost.
The protest started without a hitch. They marched through the streets, each group with its own chants specific to their cause. The Palais-Royal was in sight when Grantaire finally spotted trouble, though he'd hoped he was going to be proven wrong. A few policemen had begun to harass Claire, and Grantaire ran over from where he had been marching with Philippe and Anouk.
"Leave me alone!" Claire spat at the policemen. She had a temper, and didn't deal well with authority, especially when she knew she wasn't in the wrong. But the police seemed to be looking for any excuse to shut down the protest, and when one tried to handcuff her and she fought back, she was shoved to the ground.
Grantaire pushed his way through the crowds and tried to help her, tried to get the police to back off and calm down, but he didn't count on a young policeman, trigger-happy and clearly new at the job, to jump the gun. Literally.
Grantaire fell back and he heard Claire scream, drawing the attention of Philippe, Anouk, and a few others of their group.
Grantaire looked down at himself, saw the red flower blooming on his chest not unlike the carnation he had given a policeman once himself, and collapsed.
Claire was screaming at the policemen, drawing the attention of the crowd, and Philippe dropped to his knees, tearing off his jacket and pressing it against the bullet wound frantically.
"Grantaire, Grantaire can you hear me?" He begged, face stricken.
Grantaire coughed, blood staining his lips, and groaned.
"I thought," he wheezed, "That this was supposed to be a peaceful protest."
Claire sank to the ground next to him; the policeman was being reprimanded by his superiors, and an ambulance was being called. She looked at him, tears in her eyes.
"Are you okay?" He asked her, and she laughed, though her laughter was tainted by her despair.
"You idiot," she whispered, pushing his hair back from his face. "What did you do?"
"I wanted to make a difference," Grantaire said, sounding sure of himself, though weak, so weak. "I helped, didn't I?" He asked, and Anouk answered.
"Yes," she said, but she looked so sad. "Do you think we would have been able to do so much without you? We got so many emails telling us you referred them to our blog, that they were so excited to come to the march, to raise awareness."
Grantaire smiled. It wasn't much. He hadn't been there since the beginning, hadn't planned every step of the way, but he'd done what he could, and he had done it because it was the right thing to do. And he had saved Claire. It could have easily been her, just then.
"That's all I wanted," he said again. He was beginning to feel tired. The front of his shirt was soaked through now, as was Philippe's jacket.
"You know, I really wanted to write that column." Grantaire said, almost an afterthought. He had wanted to do more, so much more, and it felt unfair that he was being taken away now. Though maybe that was the point of it. He wasn't supposed to want to go. He was supposed to want to stay, to make a difference, to inspire others to do the same.
Claire was crying in earnest now, and Grantaire tipped his head back, looking at the sky. It was bright, and blue, and it looked like Enjolras's eyes. He hoped that he would get to see them again.
Grantaire's death was the only one that day. His body was taken to the hospital, and pronounced dead on arrival. Minutes, hours passed but Grantaire did not awaken. His body was cremated, and his friends pooled their money and purchased a tiny plot on which to leave a headstone, which simply read "Grantaire," and in a small subscript, "Revolutionary. d. 2016."
They held a candlelight vigil for him, to which hundreds attended. The death of a believer was no small thing, and he'd died not just for Claire, but for a cause, and for faith in a better France. Claire ended up writing the history column, and dedicated each post to him, and eventually her book, which she published years later. It was titled "Life of a Martyr," and it chronicled famous figures who'd died for their causes, and became immortalized in turn. There was no place for Grantaire in her book, not for a man who'd been an unwilling participant in so many revolutions, and finally died for one so insignificant that it didn't merit mentioning.
Grantaire had thought that was the end for him. He was never to wake again, not in the world of the living. But the curse was not done with him yet, and he opened his eyes again.
He woke on a hard, wood floor, and the smell of aged wine and sawdust filled his nose. He was on the floor of the Cafe Musain, and for one moment, he thought he had awoken from a terrible dream. One where he had been forced to lose Enjolras over and over again, to live a hundred lifetimes without him.
But he felt refreshed and light, and knew that it had not been a dream. He had never felt this good in Paris of 1832: he had always been battling a headache, trying to stave off the heavy weight of inadequacy.
He opened his eyes and sat up, taking a look around him. It was just as he remembered, but it was clean and empty, two adjectives he had never associated with the Musain. He looked down at himself and he was wearing a loose white shirt and a rich green vest. It was what he'd been wearing when he'd died with Enjolras, but it was unstained, and not riddled with bullet holes.
"You're awake," said a voice, a voice that Grantaire had not heard for two hundred years. He turned, and Enjolras was sitting at the table. He looked alive; his cheeks were ruddy with life, his hair was golden, and he was dressed primly in his red coat and patch upon his breast.
"Come sit," he said, and Grantaire could do nothing but obey. He sat dumbly in front of Enjolras, and Enjolras reached for a bottle of wine and poured it out for Grantaire in a glass. Grantaire took it gratefully and drank deeply. It was rich and spiced with flavors he had never tasted before. It was too much for him, and he coughed, embarrassed.
Enjolras only smiled. "Be careful. It may be more than you're used to. Things in this world are… amplified, to say the least. "
"This world?" He asked, and his voice was hoarse for not speaking.
Enjolras smiled then, brilliantly, and he looked proud, proud of Grantaire, and Grantaire had to shut his eyes against it for a moment. He opened them when Enjolras placed his hands over Grantaire's.
"We are in Heaven, Grantaire," and Grantaire knew he was speaking the truth because his name had never sounded so beautiful uttered in any mouth before.
"But," Grantaire wondered. "How did I get here?"
Enjolras leaned back, and Grantaire shivered at the loss of his touch.
"Do you remember when we first met?" Enjolras asked, and Grantaire nodded.
"It was here, I believe," He said, fondly recalling the first time he'd laid eyes on a man he thought was Apollo himself reborn.
But Enjolras shook his head. "No," he said. "Before that."
Grantaire showed no signs of understanding. It had been here, hadn't it? He'd woken up the next morning thinking that Enjolras was the product of the sweetest absinthe dream he'd ever had.
"You met me long before that, Grantaire. Long before you'd lost faith. When you were just a boy, not even twenty, and you boarded a ship to a new land, to help a people who wanted independence from their king."
And Grantaire remembered. It was 1775, and he'd signed up to go the British colonies to help the colonists fight for independence against Great Britain. On the ship, he'd seen a man in the distance, an officer above Grantaire's station. He'd been struck by this man's beauty, by his passion for independence, and he'd pledged to follow him into battle, wherever it took him.
But when the time had come for Grantaire to prove himself, to take up arms and face the possibility of death, he'd run. He saw his friends being killed around him, and he ran. And as he ran from the battlefield, he stumbled across a body, barely breathing. It had been the man, the angelic beauty, and he gripped Grantaire's ankle with a strength that a dying man was not supposed to have.
"Are you running?" The man had asked him from the ground, and looked at him with disbelief in his eyes.
Grantaire couldn't speak, could only try to wrench his ankle free, but the man held strong.
"If you are so craven that you can run while your brothers are slaughtered around you, then you don't deserve to die at all. You should live, I think, until you are able to die a noble death, one born from selflessness and belief. But until then, you are to be cursed."
Grantaire pulled with all the strength he could manage, and ran free, not to look back. He had run until he collapsed, vomiting in fear and self-hate. He still had his musket, and managed to aim it at himself and pulled the trigger, a bullet passing through his leg, and giving him the injury he needed to go home. He'd pushed the man out of his mind, only remembering that it had even happened at all when he realized he had lived for ten more years and he never aged a day past twenty-five. By the time he'd met Enjolras in Paris, he could hardly remember the face, only the hand that gripped his ankle.
But it all came back to him now, and he felt winded.
"That was you?" He asked, disbelieving. "It was you from the very beginning?"
Enjolras nodded and Grantaire put his head in his hands and cried.
"I am so sorry, Enjolras, please forgive me," He begged. "To know that I disappointed you from the start."
Enjolras stood from his chair and came to kneel on the floor in front of Grantaire. It was the first time he had ever done such a thing, and Grantaire felt unworthy.
"Grantaire, no," Enjolras said from the floor. He clasped Grantaire's hands in his own, pressed a kiss to each palm. "You were never a disappointment to me. You were never unworthy of me.
"You were only ever unworthy of your own belief. And had I known what I was saying, I never would have spoken it. I would never have placed you in that terrible limbo. I would never have doomed you to that life." Enjolras bowed his head, and Grantaire could see that he was asking for forgiveness.
"I would not have had it any other way," Grantaire rasped, and Enjolras looked up, startled. "Had it not been for that, I would have never had you at all, and it was worth it, truly."
There was warmth in Enjolras's eyes, a warmth that Grantaire was intimately acquainted with now.
"But I have to ask," He said. "Why did you not come back? Why was Croatia the last time?"
"I knew you were ready," Enjolras answered simply.
"How?" Grantaire whispered.
"I had faith, Grantaire. I have always had faith in you. You only needed to find it in yourself."
Grantaire trembled. He was going to cry, he knew, so he surged forward and kissed Enjolras instead. Enjolras kissed back for all he was worth, and Grantaire tasted eternity on his tongue. They finally pulled away when they could bear it no longer, when Grantaire needed cool air in his burning lungs.
"There are some people who would very much like to see you again," Enjolras said gravely, but Grantaire could hear the smile in his voice. Enjolras's fingers were tight on his hips, and neither wanted to let the other go.
"I would like to see them as well," Grantaire said, and his heart swelled with the thought of looking upon the faces of his friends again. "But I think, perhaps, that I might see them later."
"Good," Enjolras said in a pleased rumble. His face was buried in Grantaire's hair.
"Good?" Grantaire asked.
"I have been waiting for you for a very long time," Enjolras said, and Grantaire thought that his ribcage would crack from the pressure of his pounding heart.
"Then you may have me," Grantaire said simply. "Again, and again, and again."
He barked out a laugh as Enjolras lifted him onto the table, and kissed him sweetly. But sweet was not what Grantaire wanted, and he wrapped his legs around Enjolras's waist, pulling him so close he could no longer distinguish his own skin from Enjolras's.
"I do believe I shall," Enjolras answered, but his words were lost in Grantaire's mouth. Grantaire could finally see the bright colors of the future he'd always envisioned, the one he'd kept close to his heart and never spoke aloud. They were the cream of Enjolras's skin, the red of his mouth, but they were also the colors of Grantaire himself: the green of his eyes and the pink of his cheeks. For now he could see himself clear as well, standing beside Enjolras, as he was always meant to be.