In retrospect, Enjolras could not remember why he was outside that night. It was early evening, the stars just flickering to light above them while noise spilled out of the doors of the Café Musain. He, Combeferre, and Feuilly had been discoursing about something in the cool air, when feet clattered down the steps and a figure burst out into the street. They turned as one towards the noise, and their attention was decidedly captured when they realized that it was Grantaire.
The man got only a few feet away from the door before he doubled over and gagged, one hand braced against the wall. Feuilly chuckled and Combeferre winced, but Enjolras was merely impassive. As one who believed in moderation, he had little sympathy for the consequences of excess. Still, as Grantaire coughed and convulsed, he felt a flicker of sympathy – no man envied the sick, and for all that Grantaire was the most irksome of Les Amis, he was still a friend. He turned back, frowning away his embarrassment on Grantaire’s behalf. He was a drunk, certainly, but this was early in the evening, even for him.
There was another clatter down the stairs, and Enjolras glanced over to see Courfeyrac appear in the doorway, one hand on the frame, his eyes seeking and following Combeferre’s nod to Grantaire.
“The wine tonight does not seem to like Grantaire as much as he likes it,” Feuilly said good-naturedly, but Courfeyrac shook his head as he moved towards Grantaire.
“He’d drank no more than I, and was steady until he suddenly took a turn. I thought it might be the meal we shared for supper.” He gulped, in the reflexive motion of men everywhere who wonder if they’d eaten tainted beef. Courfeyrac reached Grantaire’s side, putting a supportive hand on his back.
Enjolras heard a sharp intake of breath, and turned quickly towards them, aware of Combeferre and Feuilly following suit at his side.
“Combeferre, fetch Joly. Now.” Courfeyrac’s tone was measured, but the urgency in it was unusual. Enjolras touched Combeferre’s arm to spur him into motion, but he was already moving. Courfeyrac’s body blocked Grantaire almost entirely, but Enjolras caught a glimpse of a bloody shirtsleeve.
He strode closer, needing to know what was happening, and rounded Courfeyrac to find Grantaire with both hands braced on the wall, shaking and white as a sheet, his lips red with blood. The wall and street in front of him were splattered not with vomit, but with red blood.
Enjolras found himself without any words to say, but Courfeyrac caught his eye and the worry was clear. It seemed like ages that Grantaire just breathed with his eyes shut, and they stood there, Feuilly at the door, and Enjolras and Courfeyrac standing guard over Grantaire.
Then Joly was there, with Combeferre at his elbow, visibly swallowing as he approached and took in the scene. His first question - “have you stopped?” – had Enjolras about to bite out a command to ignore the hypochondria, just this once, but then the look of abject relief on Joly’s face when Grantaire gave a terse nod kept Enjolras silent; it was more than just the look of a man who was afraid of being around illness.
“Has it happened before?” Joly asked as Courfeyrac slung an arm around Grantaire’s shoulders to help pull him away from the wall. Grantaire looked up with bloodshot eyes, pushing his sleeve across his mouth.
“Yes – but not this much,” Grantaire took a shaky breath, his eyes flicking over to the Musain’s door. Enjolras glanced over, and Jehan, Bossuet, and Marius were hovering near the door, clearly having followed Joly’s summons. Enjolras wondered if Grantaire was able to recognize the concern in their faces, or if he only saw more people bearing witness to this. Say what you will about Grantaire, and Enjolras had personally spoken volumes, but the man did inspire loyalty in his friends, despite his myriad of faults. “And only after much more wine.”
“Grantaire,” Joly spoke, utterly serious, and something like fear in his eyes, “you should have said sooner – it means something’s gone wrong, something’s ruptured.”
“What?” Courfeyrac asked, looking somewhat ill himself, but Joly shook his head.
“Too many things – I’d have to look at my books, but –“ Joly was on the edge of saying something, but cut himself off.
“What?” Enjolras demanded, hearing himself parrot Courfeyrac, but Joly’s eyes were on Grantaire, and Grantaire was looking back at him, as if he knew what Joly was going to say. As if he had guessed it himself, and was resigned now that he’d been discovered. Enjolras looked between them, but Joly was watching Grantaire, as if waiting for permission to continue.
“It’s the wine.” Grantaire said, his tone lit with faux joviality, waving his hand grandly. It was a self-deprecating humour that nobody else indulged in.
Because it would be the wine, Enjolras thought, the greatest of Grantaire’s vices. He was a pleasant drunk, a verbose cynic, and a dedicated contrarian – he was educated, intelligent, and well-spoken, with a likeable enough demeanour, but with a bottle in hand, he was easily swayed and even more easily made inconsequential. Who listened to the ramblings of a drunk? One who, like Grantaire, was constantly drinking but rarely stupefied, who went about his days with a bottle in hand, who no matter the time of day had already had a glass and was more than willing to take another.
“And the absinthe, and the spirits.” Joly agreed, evenly enough. “You need to stop.”
It was laughable, but nobody cracked a smile.
“Might as well ask the world to stop turning,” Enjolras heard himself saying, because it was the truth. “To ask Grantaire to stop drinking.”
Enjolras was used to having all eyes directed to him, but he couldn’t remember ever being the focus of such cold stares and disapproving glances. Only Grantaire smiled, and it was terrible as his teeth were faintly pink, and his eyes were dark.
“Speak, Manticus Apollo, prophesier and truth-speaker.” He said, but then his expression dropped and he sank back against Courfeyrac, who made a surprised noise as he suddenly took more of Grantaire’s weight.
Joly took Grantaire’s wrist, feeling for his pulse, looking satisfied with what he found.
“Just . . . spinning.” Grantaire muttered, and Joly slung his arm around his other side.
“Take him to mine.” Courfeyrac was saying, and then Jehan was calling down a fiacre, and within moments Joly, Courfeyrac, and Grantaire were gone, and Enjolras was left with his other lieutenants in front of the Café Musain. His friends slowly moved inside, sparing him barely a glance, thoughts elsewhere. Combeferre put a hand on his shoulder as he passed, guiding him back inside.
Enjolras went up the stairs, thinking back to what he’d said. “I’d only meant, it was a lot to ask.”
Combeferre looked over at him. “Did you? Or was it that you couldn’t imagine one without the other?”
Enjolras kept quiet, because he did not have an answer.
Enjolras tossed and turned on his mattress through the night, and after spending the morning staring at his books without reading them, he found himself outside Courfeyrac’s lodgings. The man answered the door, and at the sight of Enjolras he glanced once back inside, then stepped out into the hallway, pulling the door shut behind him.
“How is he?” Enjolras was nothing if not direct.
Courfeyrac had looked surprised to see him, but at his question the man’s eyebrows rose even further. “Why do you care?”
“I don’t hate him.” It was almost defensive.
“I know that. We all know that.” Courfeyrac said, and there was something like amusement just on the edge of his words. “You would never have let somebody you didn’t trust or approve of linger around our more clandestine meetings.”
Enjolras could not dispute that. “I also did not mean to insult him.”
Courfeyrac exhaled in what was too forceful to be called a sigh. “We know that as well, yet you speak your mind without censor about a man’s weaknesses in a way we would not.”
“Deterring him was not my intention.” These clipped sentences were unlike Enjolras, who was prone to more eloquence than this.
Courfeyrac took another step into the hall, away from the door, drawing Enjolras with him by a hand on his arm, and lowered his voice. “To the contrary, my friend, the only person with as low an estimation of Grantaire’s abilities as you is Grantaire himself. He is, however, now determined to prove to you that he can make the world stop turning.” Courfeyrac smiled a small, sad smile. “He might not care enough about himself to save his own life, but at a word from you he would move mountains.”
Enjolras could not understand why that would be. He knew Grantaire was loyal to his friends, but why he would take Enjolras’ word so seriously was something foreign to him.
“So I ask why you care.” Courfeyrac continued, and now he was staring at Enjolras with a seriousness that was striking on his charismatic features. “Because a word from you can help or hinder to an extent I know for a fact that you do not realize.” There seemed to be something on the edge of Courfeyrac’s lips that he was not saying, but Enjolras had enough to concern him in this conversation without reading too far into what was unsaid.
“Because he is a friend. One who is bleeding from the inside out.” That Enjolras was certain of, that he counted Grantaire amongst his nearest and dearest, despite the sceptic’s opinion of everything Enjolras stood for.
“Then I will tell you – he is not well, and getting more ill as the hours pass.” Courfeyrac frowned, and his brow furrowed as he visibly struggled with something. Finally, he pushed a hand through his dark curls. “He won’t want you to see him like this – but I think you should see him. He’ll need something to ground him, before he’s through his.”
Enjolras merely nodded, mouth set, and moved towards the door.
“Enjolras,” Courfeyrac caught his arm, and met his eyes. “He feels about you the way you do about Patria– please, for all our sake’s who care for him, don’t hurt him further.”
He clasped Courfeyrac’s hand, swearing it between friends in a way that would take too long with words, and headed for the door.
Joly was inside, writing on a sheaf of papers of at a simple wooden desk in the corner. He looked up when Enjolras entered, and was visibly as startled at seeing him as Courfeyrac had been. What had he done, he wondered, to engender such surprise that he would ask after an ill friend. But really, Enjolras knew – it was because it was Grantaire, who Enjolras had never spoken fondly of, even if his actions spoke differently than his words.
Grantaire was at the window, shirt loose over his trousers, facing the direction of the rooftops outside. He turned at the sound of the door closing, and went still.
“Enjolras.” His name fell off Grantaire’s lips like a prayer. Grantaire’s curls were as wild as Enjolras had ever seen them, and they stuck to his temples with the same damp sweat that made the collar of his shirt cling to his chest. After a beat, Grantaire spread his arms wide with a dramatic air. “To what do I owe the honour?”
“I had a mind to see how you were recovering from yesterday – but you’re still ill, it seems.” Enjolras frowned, partly at his own disquiet at how this was true, but also at his own fluster at how that wasn’t a sufficient enough explanation.
“Still ill?” Grantaire laughed, a scoffing noise, and moved restlessly about the room. “This ague is not from my spewing of rose petals. For one at the top of the class, you are quick to play the dunce. It’s the lack of wine, of course, that has sickened Dionysus.”
“And absinthe, and spirits.” Joly added amiably, and Grantaire tipped his head. Joly stood, gathering his papers. “It looks as if Courfeyrac has gone for a meal, and I’m due at a lecture – if you’ll stay, Enjolras.” Joly gave him an inquiring glance, as if to see if he’d mind.
“They think it best if I’m not left alone.” Grantaire explained, a self-deprecating smirk on his lips. Enjolras looked between them, nodding to Joly.
Enjolras looked around the room at the presentable but meagre contents it contained, including a bed, window, table, various mismatched chairs, and a wall of books. Most striking was that the room suddenly seemed so quiet with only the two of them left in it. A deck of playing cards lay in mid-game on the bed, a remnant from the Revolution where Libertés, Equalités, and Fraternités éreplaced the Kings, Queens, and Jacks, respectively.
“Does that amuse you?” Grantaire asked into the quiet, noting his gaze. “Guillotining the monarchists in a deck?”
Enjolras gave a slight smile at that. “Playing at revolution – it suits you well.”
“My suit is hearts,” Grantaire said. “And all the vices of the flesh that it entails. But your suit would always be trump, of course – and prevail no matter what card the dealer turns.”
It was just on the soft edge of mocking, but Enjolras nodded to the cards anyway. “Would you like to play?”
Grantaire looked at him, as if startled by the question, then shook his head. “No, I haven’t the focus for it – I feel – “ he cut himself off, pushing a distracted hand through his curls, and paced the floor. Enjolras sat in Joly’s vacated chair, and watched Grantaire cross the space in front of the window, back and forth. He was shaking, that much was obvious now, and as Enjolras watched he noticed even more: that his eyes shied away from the light, that he pressed his temples or the bridge of his nose as if his head ached, that he swallowed frequently as if sick.
It was not that Enjolras was unobservant, it was just that he did not often focus his attentions on people, not when there were more abstract concepts to drive his passions and occupy his thoughts.
Something was slowly breaking its way into Enjolras’ mind, unfurling and connecting with other ideas and considerations. As long as he’d known Grantaire, he’d been a drunk. Enjolras, with the distracted consideration of one with a mind interested in higher purposes, had never seen the draw of numbing the senses with drink or opiates. Those who imbibed too much, and who did so regularly, became in his mind lazy, gluttonous, and selfish hedonists. He spared no thought for them, other than for vague disgust of a life’s wasted potential.
Grantaire was both the exemplar and the exception. He contained all the personal faults that Enjolras detested, but had somehow worked his way into their circle of friends and made a place for himself there. Still, Enjolras looked at him as a drunkard, as one with moral weaknesses who gave in to depravity when he should resist.
And yet – Grantaire had been without wine for a night and half a day, and he was physically ill. That was more than just a moral weakness, and Enjolras had the growing feeling that his judgements had been unduly harsh.
Grantaire sat on the edge of the bed, facing away from Enjolras, pressing his face into his palms. His shoulders quaked, as if he was curling in on himself. Enjolras was suddenly reminded of Courfeyrac’s words He feels about you the way you do about Patria. He hadn’t truly understood his meaning any more than in reference to loyalty or friendship, but seeing Grantaire struggle now, some comfort now seemed like little to give. There was guilt, too, gathering deep in his gut, and he was starting to realize that he’d done Grantaire a disservice, in a way that his friends had noticed but had never corrected.
He was already on his feet, moving towards the bed, when he heard the choking, awful sound of Grantaire gag as his body rebelled further. Grantaire had his arms curled about the chamber pot, convulsing in a way that seemed to rattle his bones. Nothing came from it, and it was almost worse to watch because of it. Enjolras found himself seated next to him on the edge of the bed, hand on his back.
Grantaire closed his eyes, exhausted, when he subsided, leaning heavily against Enjolras’ side. It was easy enough to lay him down on the bed, but Grantaire’s eyes opened when he felt his head on the pillow. He looked at Enjolras with glassy eyes, and frowned. “Hello, Apollo. Whatever are you doing here?”
Enjolras frowned, clasping Grantaire’s hand, suddenly wishing Joly would return. “I was here before. Did you forget?”
It was Grantaire’s turn to frown, and he shook his head as if to clear it. He looked down to where Enjolras held his hand, clammy and trembling, in his own. “Perhaps.” He didn’t sound himself with uncertainty in his voice.
He shook his head, and rubbed his eyes with his free hand. “I cannot – there are menageries of animals running rampant under my skin. What a waste, too, when I have the grand orator’s attention all to myself.”
“What should I speak of? You care not for my ideals or aims.”
Grantaire laughed, a horrible sound, and he pushed himself up to half-sit against the wall, pale and bleary-eyed. “Because of course that is all that your mind contains.”
Enjolras shouldn’t have felt chastised, as it was only a fraction of Grantaire’s usual mocking vitriol, but it made the guilt in his gut twinge.
“Literature, philosophy, politics, rhetoric, the classics, laws – what is it that you would like to hear?”
“Everything and nothing.” Grantaire said, rubbing his fingertips anxiously against the sheet at his side.
“If it’s a poet you want, it’s Jehan you should be enlisting.” It was an attempt at humour that Enjolras felt clumsy, but it got a hint of a smile from Grantaire. “He could tell you at length about the true meaning and properties of beauty.”
All the traces of the smile left Grantaire’s face. “Don’t talk to me of beauty. I know beauty, what lies beneath it.”
“What do you mean?”
Grantaire pulled his hand out of Enjolras’, and wrapped both his arms around his knees. Within a moment, he had shifted position again, restless.
“Flowers wither, bodies rot, maggots take up residence in the most beautiful of fruit. Nature provides grace alongside savagery. Nothing is beautiful without also being terrible.” He was muttering it half to himself, once he started.
“Always the cynic.” Enjolras said, but it was almost fond. Grantaire looked up sharply, almost surprised to see him sitting so close. “Is all beauty so irredeemable?”
Grantaire stared at him, and reached out with a shaking hand to press his fingers to Enjolras’ cheek, touching him so softly as if afraid he wasn’t quite real, his thumb tracing the line of his cheekbone. “No,” he whispered. “Your face is where it all makes sense. Carved out of marble so fine it would make Michelangelo weep, so beautiful. But you are walking death, leading others to the slaughter. There are so many lies – that people are good, that they will do the right thing, that there is a place after death, that we will all be forgiven for our sins. . . death is just death, cold and empty and desolate, and our bodies will be wormy and cold. But still they will follow you, because you are so beautiful and so terrible, and speak so highly of things that will bring you so low.”
Grantaire leaned towards Enjolras, his blue eyes intent and glassy. “You are where the world makes sense – light and dark, beauty and death, one and the same.” His palm was warm, too warm, against Enjolras’ cheek, but he did not move. “We are all going to die, so it might as well be within Apollo’s gaze.” And Grantaire closed the remaining distance and kissed him.
It was a chaste kiss, as kisses go, dry lips meeting lips in a mere touch. Then Grantaire pulled back a space, and made a small, pained noise. He closed his eyes, and wavered. Enjolras caught him by the arms before he could fall, and gently guided him back into a reclining position. Grantaire blinked, looking to the door, to Enjolras, then back at his hands, pressing his fingers against his eyes.
“What’s – are you really there, Enjolras?” His voice was hoarse, so much different from the stream of words from a moment ago.
“Yes,” Enjolras assured him, hating these moments of confusion.
He wondered if Grantaire’s speech of a moment before had been intended for a spectre instead – he wouldn’t fault a man for fever. Was that Enjolras that he was describing, as it had truly sounded, or somebody else in the haze of Grantaire’s mind? The compliments and affection were not outside the realm of fraternité, but there was something about the edge of desperation in Grantaire’s eyes that spoke of something else entirely. The kiss – he did not know what to do about that, but his mind rebelled against the idea of rejecting or encouraging a man who was not himself. He feels about you the way you do about Patria – it echoed in Enjolras’ mind, but now was not the time for musing on it.
Grantaire spread his fingers, looking at Enjolras between them, then the door again, before hiding his eyes once more in an oddly child-like gesture. “Are you alone?” There was a definite waver in his voice
“Yes,” he said again, wishing for Joly’s school lecture to have been cancelled, concern bursting fresh in his mind. “What do you see?”
A gasp that might’ve been a dry rattle of a laugh. “More than just you. If they are not real, it does not matter.” Grantaire reached out and clasped Enjolras’ hand. He looked at them together, eyes flicking to Enjolras’ face. He was so very pale, with black rings under his eyes. “May I? It helps – to know what’s there and what is not.”
Enjolras’ turned his aim to distraction. “What did you do, Grantaire, before you arrived in our café? I know not where you came from.”
Grantaire chuckled, an awful humourless sound. “The place does not matter. What did I do, Enjolras? I drank. Where? Other cafes. With much less interest or friendship than with Les Amis.” He tugged at his damp collar, shaking his head. “I’ve said too much already, but not enough it seems. I was a painter once. Does that interest you?” The mocking tone at the end was familiar, and Enjolras reacted automatically, hoping he would continue.
Grantaire snorted, his eyes only darting once to the door before focusing back on Enjolras with a sort of desperation.
“I saw the dark in things, in life, that made it hard to paint, to get out of bed, to do much of anything. The wine helped me to do both – to paint, to drown out the things I didn’t want to think about, to carry on with life.” He looked down, and Enjolras covered their joined hands with his other, and it was enough to prompt him to continue. “My paintings, though, weren’t much good after I drank wine as a wake-me-up, nor were they any better after a nightcap – and I didn’t have a mind for it anyway. I thought too much about the things I’d paint, the beauty that just veiled the evil, and I’d hate my works before I could get brush to canvas. So then I drank even more, and stumbled upon your motley group of schoolboy revolutionaries.”
He looked at Enjolras, weak and shaking and fevered, and all Enjolras could do was look back. He didn’t seem sober, tongue loose and with only a weak grasp on reality, but it was also the most starkly honest that Enjolras could ever remember seeing Grantaire. He was trusting him with this, Enjolras knew, but it was also that he wasn’t quite in his right mind, was vulnerable in so many other ways that adding another crack to the windowpane couldn’t feel like too much more of a sacrifice. Enjolras, however, felt all the more responsible for not betraying that trust.
What could Enjolras say? Any platitudes about Grantaire entering Les Amis at that point would be seen for the untruths they were, which would insult both Enjolras’ nature and Grantaire’s admissions.
He turned Grantaire’s clammy and trembling hand in his own, raising the palm to his lips to press a kiss there. The smile Enjolras received in return was proof that it had been the right choice to make.
A hand came to rest on his shoulder, and Enjolras blinked into wakefulness. He straightened, finding his cheek creased from where it lay on the sheet, and his neck sore from using the mattress as a pillow while sitting on a wooden chair. Grantaire was still asleep, looking even worse than he did the last Enjolras had seen him, but his hand was still clasped in his own.
Jehan stood behind Enjolras when he tilted his head in that direction, his hand still on his shoulder. “We’ve brought food. Stew for you, and some sort of mush for our dear invalid.” He said, mouth curling in the suggestion of a smile.
“If you fancy wearing it, you can be the one to give it to him.” Enjolras said dryly, and he looked to the door where Courfeyrac and Joly were nodding in agreement.
“Seems like a job for a physician-in-training,” Courfeyrac turned a beatific smile to Joly, whose own smile melted into a frown. “I’m fairly certain it’s not catching, you know.”
“Dipsomania isn’t catching. Although there is an American doctor who writes about it being a disease, his argument being that it’s caused by the drink itself rather than anything else.” Joly pointed out, putting his books and papers down on the table beside the food, while Courfeyrac went to retrieve the deck of cards that were strewn about from where they’d fallen off the bed.
Enjolras listened to Joly intently, incorporating the theory into his own observations and developing understanding of the condition. He had questions, but he felt this wasn’t the time or place for such things.
“Wake him, will you?” Courfeyrac said, nodding to Enjolras. “He’ll respond to you the best.”
Enjolras was slightly torn – it couldn’t have been that long since Grantaire finally dropped into sleep, and for him not to have woken up despite the conversation, it had to be a deep slumber.
“I knew him before, you know.” Jehan told him, catching the look on his face. Enjolras turned in surprise, but Jehan merely shrugged and leaned against the wall. “There are cafés for all sorts, painters and poets included. I was the one who introduced him to the Musain.”
“Is he much changed?” Enjolras asked quietly. He was reminded of Combeferre’s suggestion that he couldn’t imagine Grantaire sober.
“Yes and no.” Jehan looked down at where Grantaire was fitfully asleep. “He’s always been a cynic, a pragmatist, a nihilist – he thought too much, always. As he does now, of course.”
Enjolras would have expected to be disappointed – what if Grantaire awoke after this ordeal willing to share in their ideas and causes? – but found himself somewhat relieved, instead. That was the Grantaire he knew, after all.
“He had a tendency towards unhappiness, though – and the wine helped with that, improved his sociability. But now he no longer paints, and while he can entertain with the best of them, Melancholia hasn’t gone too far, has she?” It was said so quietly as to almost be a whisper.
Enjolras’ gaze found Grantaire, and he tried to remember him ever looking truly happy, without the mocking tilt to his lips, self-deprecation, or the smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
He couldn’t think of a single time.
Enjolras was the one to wake Grantaire, and felt cold at the amount of surprise on the man’s face, as if it were so shocking that Enjolras should be at his bedside. Courfeyrac was certain that Grantaire reacted better to being woken by Enjolras than he would have to any of the other Amis, but it still wasn’t easy. Waking brought with it agony. He was trembling, confused, quarrelsome, and unable to focus on one thing long enough to play cards or carry on a conversation. They took turns cajoling, badgering, and brow-beating him into taking sips of water, which he tried to refuse for not being what he really thirsted for.
The mush was even harder to coax into him, especially when it inevitably made a reappearance into a chamber pot. Still, Joly muttered about dehydration and malnutrition and, of all things, cholera, in a way that made sense to him but was lost on those around him, until Bossuet sat him down in the corner and took up the wine bottle filled with water. Feuilly had pointed out, upon its first appearance, that it was in poor taste given the proceedings, but Courfeyrac insisted that he was not made of drinking vessels and that familiarity might work in their favour. The issue had been ended altogether when Grantaire threw it across the room in a fit of pique to shatter against the wall. When Courfeyrac contritely returned to his lodgings with a tin cup, like a soldier might carry, it was wisely entrusted to Enjolras instead.
While it had long been hypothesized among the group, it was thoroughly tested and proved in a way that would satisfy even Descartes’ method that Grantaire would, in fact, listen to anything Enjolras said to a degree far greater than any of his other friends. This surprised no one, except perhaps for Enjolras.
The day grew late, and dissolved into night, with Les Amis coming and going as necessary. The room took on a collection of sundries, both as a result of the natural clutter of those myriad of individuals, and in an attempt to distract Grantaire with novelty. Jehan brought a pot of flowers, and Feuilly tucked a fan into it’s midst. Various books and maps and charts were strewn about as the conversation whirled from topic to topic, as Grantaire was at his most calm when there was a deep debate filling the room with words and gestures and he was able to sit back and let it wash over him.
His calm couldn’t last, not when the hours seeped onwards and he clutched his head in his hands, fingers dug deep into curls, his back pressed into the wall and his knees pulled up to his chest. He ordered them out, to go away, to leave him be in his anguish. They refused, and books were thrown. Finally, it was agreed by all present that only Enjolras would stay, and Courfeyrac and Joly would stay with Marius in case of crisis.
When it was just the two of them, Grantaire reached out to cling to Enjolras’ hand, and Enjolras took a seat on the floor beside him. “Speak, Apollo.” He murmured, his head lolling with exhaustion onto Enjolras’ shoulder. “It makes it easier to ignore the things that crawl the walls and how much I want a drink.”
Grantaire had not mentioned his hallucinations in the presence of the others, but Enjolras had noticed his eyes occasionally following something invisible. This was in turn closely followed each time by Grantaire squeezing his eyes shut, or pressing a hand to his aching head.
So Enjolras spoke, his head tilted back against the wall, his posterior going numb and legs growing stuff, with Grantaire shaking at his side, sweaty curls damp against his neck. Suddenly, after discoursing on the rights of man to an unnaturally quiet Grantaire, the other man made a sudden sharp noise. Enjolras paused in his speech, and Grantaire leaned away to look at his face, horror stark in his expression.
“You’re bleeding, Apollo. Gods shouldn’t bleed.” He said, touching a spot on Enjolras’ cheek, and then all of a sudden, something changed, and Grantaire sprung to his unsteady feet, taking a step away.
Enjolras held up his hands, palms out. “Peace, Grantaire.”
“What have you done with him?” Grantaire demanded, curls wild, gaze and step faltering, blue eyes unnaturally bright. “Where is Enjolras?” His shaking hands curled into fists.
“Grantaire,” Enjolras was at a loss for words. “It’s me – I am myself, and no one else.”
“You lie, you imposter! Where is he?” He cried, desperation lacing his every word, stepping forward and grasping violently at Enjolras’ waistcoat. The door slammed open, and Courfeyrac, Marius, and Joly tumbled in, just as Grantaire swung his fist at Enjolras’ face.
Enjolras caught his arm, and they grappled, Grantaire with the strength of a fevered man. One of the flailing limbs caught his nose, but the assisting hands of their friends helped to press Grantaire back onto the bed.
“Are you alright?” Marius asked, as Enjolras caught the blood that dripped out of his nose with his sleeve.
“It’s not broken.” Enjolras said, and felt he was stating the obvious.
“I didn’t mean just the nose,” Marius said, with just the slightest hint of amusement. Enjolras didn’t respond, and Marius took that as answer enough.
In a matter of minutes, Grantaire had calmed, and was shaky and confused once more. Joly examined him, muttering to Courfeyrac, before drawing Enjolras aside. “Hallucinations aren’t unusual with this sort of condition.”
“He could tell the other ones were not real,” Enjolras pointed out, concerned. Joly didn’t look surprised to hear about the other hallucinations, and Enjolras once more had to acknowledge that his friends were occasionally more observant than he.
“It’ll get worse before it gets better.” Joly looked grim.
“Enjolras,” he hesitated. “He may - this hasn’t been studied as much as it should be, but it may be too much for his body to take.”
Enjolras’ felt his face go still.
“Marble,” Grantaire said, from across the room. Enjolras turned, and Grantaire was looking right at him. There was no indication that he’d heard Joly’s words, but once he considered it, Enjolras realized that Grantaire already knew, in his fatalistic understanding of the world and his own mortality.
When the others retreated back to Marius’ room, Enjolras found himself sitting in the wooden chair at his bedside, his back and neck sore from his odd seating arrangements.
“Enjolras,” Grantaire said, holding out his hand, a haunted look in his eyes. “Would you – “
Instead of clasping his hand, Enjolras stood and laid down on the bed beside him. Grantaire looked at him with wide eyes, smelling like sweat, alcohol, and illness, but Enjolras wrapped an arm around him anyway. Grantaire’s face rested naturally against his chest, body trembling.
It was quiet and the room was still, the candle burning on the table, casting the room in warm, flickering light. Enjolras could hear both their heartbeats, just as mismatched as their breaths, as his were slow and steady, and Grantaire’s fast and uneven. The seconds slipped into minutes, into hours, and Enjolras watched as the dim light of morning grew outside the window.
With no clear beginning, Grantaire had started murmuring words against Enjolras’ collarbone, nonsensical, delirious thoughts that soared and stumbled as he held tight on to Enjolras like an anchor in a storm.
“-there’s nothing, endless nothing, no greater purpose, nothing more than us here, breathing and bleeding and rotting into dust as things go on and on and on . . . spinning around, and the stars change above us, useless, endlessly useless . . . forgotten, and snuffed out, like a candle, like the stars, leaving only darkness, eternal useless darkness that spreads out into space, eternal and nothing . . . “
“Hush, Grantaire,” they were the sort of thoughts that horrified Enjolras, and went against everything that he believed and strove for. Human lives were not useless, and he believed in the greater purpose of man with every fibre of his being. He pressed a kiss to Grantaire’s damp curls where they lay under his chin, trying to communicate just how far from endlessly useless that Enjolras considered Grantaire’s life. He didn’t bother orating on the subject – the man was too confused to carry on a philosophical and existential debate with, and he didn’t want to risk angering him.
Grantaire quieted for a moment, clearly striving to obey, but then in the span of a moment he continued, his mind flitting to the next thought, Enjolras’ words forgotten.
“Phoebus Apollo,” he murmured, and his lips very briefly pressed a wholly reverent kiss to the bare skin at Enjolras’ collar, causing a shiver to trail down Enjolras’ spine. “The sun, for us mere moons and mortals to orbit around, spinning from afar endlessly in your wake . . . beautiful, brutal, burning Apollo, scalding to the touch to those Icaruses who are foolish enough to think they can get too close . . . get close and burn, exhaust, expire, tumble down into a grave filled with fates who mock for delusions of grandeur and attempts of joining Olympus, when Dionysus was always the god of madness . . .”
“Dionysus was accepted into Olympus,” Enjolras broke in, voice soft, unable not to comment when his heart was sore with what he was hearing. Had he been that cruel to Grantaire, all this time? He’d been derisive of the cynic, of course, and dismissive of his drunkenness, given that he did not contribute. But he had never despised him, or intended to harm him with his words – Courfeyrac had said Les Amis had known he did not hate him, would never let somebody he truly disliked be present at their meetings. But, it seemed, Grantaire himself had never been let in on that truth.
He feels about you the way you do about Patria. With a dawning realization that struck him like lightning, Enjolras finally understood Courfeyrac: he loved Patria with every fibre of his being, had devoted his life to it, would die for it if he had to. If Grantaire felt about him the way he did about Patria, the implications made Enjolras squeeze his eyes shut, ashamed in a way that clutched at his chest. He’d been cruel, then. He could perfectly remember how Grantaire’s eyes always followed him in their afternoons and evenings in the back room of the Café Musain, how he listened to what Enjolras said when no amount of coaxing from the rest of Les Amis had any use.
I am so, so sorry, my friend, Enjolras thought, running his hand up and down Grantaire’s forearm where it was slung around Enjolras’ waist.
“Dionysus took his place beside the other gods, beside Apollo, where he belonged,” he continued, not sure if it would break into Grantaire’s fevered brain.
“Apollo raises and ruins,” Grantaire whispered through dry lips, sounding broken.
“I did not realize,” Enjolras felt brittle himself. “That you were a slave to this like any other. I wish you free, I wish to know you free.”
He held on when it felt like Grantaire would shake apart in his arms.
Joly was the one to wake Enjolras the next time, Bossuet at his side, the two of them making no mention of the way he was entwined with Grantaire on the bed. Bossuet helped him to his feet when pins and needles stabbed limbs that had become deadened with holding on to another so tightly, while Joly put a hand to Grantaire’s forehead and checked his pulse while he still slept.
“Jehan and Courfeyrac have offered to stay with him, if you desire a break.” Bossuet said, drawing Enjolras towards the doorway where the other two were there to meet him.
“That is not necessary,” he said, his voice clipped. Bossuet looked to Courfeyrac and Jehan, who were watching him carefully.
“You take no blame in this,” Courfeyrac said, and Enjolras wondered if his realizations were so clearly evident on his face.
“I had not realized that his drinking was a compulsion,” Enjolras explained, pushing a hand through his own messy blonde curls.
“Would that have made a difference?” Jehan asked, curiously. “You tolerated him, but you never took a great interest in him.”
“He is a friend, like any other of us.” Enjolras insisted, and wondered why that felt untrue. After their day and night together in this room, he felt as if Grantaire was the furthest thing from any other.
“Enjolras,” Jehan said, touching him on his arm, and Enjolras met his concerned gaze. “You asked me what had changed in Grantaire, before. The truth is, he wasn’t so disgusted by himself, then.”
After spending the time he had with Grantaire, Enjolras was well familiar with how repulsed he was by himself. “I would prefer to stay.”
Courfeyrac and Jehan did not argue with him.
This time, it did not matter who woke Grantaire, as he did not recognize any of them. One hallucination faded into another, and he either fought or recoiled from his friends in turn. It was usually impossible to tell what Grantaire saw when he looked at Enjolras, Courfeyrac, or Jehan, but it was both horrifying and heartbreaking for all involved. The names of Les Amis came up often, but none so often as Enjolras, and his own expression remained stony whenever that happened. Courfeyrac and Jehan did not comment.
The worst was when Grantaire would attempt to harm himself, tearing at his arms or hair with his fingernails, or knocking his head back against the wall. He did not sensor his mutterings in their presence at these times, and it gave them all unasked for insight into the depths of a depressed man’s self-loathing. The first time it happened, Courfeyrac silently went about his room collecting any object that could be used as a weapon, and placed them in Marius’ room next door for safekeeping.
In Grantaire’s brief moments of exhausted, confused lucidity, they tried to feed him more of the mush, and press the tin cup of water at him. He was more resigned than reluctant, now, to take the food and water, even though the real challenge was keeping it down, when he, more often than not, was unsuccessful. There was more blood, too, which made it all the more difficult.
It was a long day, but when Joly came by after his time in the ward, as the sky was darkening to night, and asked if Grantaire had convulsed at all, he looked unspeakably relieved when the answer was no. “If he hasn’t by now, then he likely won’t – this is the turning point, and he should start to improve.”
The ‘or . . .’ went unsaid, but they all heard it. Nobody wanted to pursue that train of thought any further.
It was another fitful night. The other Amis came then went, worried but reluctant to overcrowd the room when Grantaire was in such a state. Midnight found Courfeyrac asleep on the bed, his back leaning against he headboard, mouth hanging open. Jehan wrote absently at the table, a mix of sprawling words and tumbling sketches together on the page. Enjolras sat on the edge of the bed with a book open in his lap, watching Grantaire endlessly pace back and forth, conscious of his surroundings but trapped in his head. He looked haunted, fever burning under his skin and demons bright in his eyes.
“Water?” Enjolras held out the cup. Grantaire put his back to the wall, sliding down to wrap one arm around his knees. He reached out for it with a trembling hand, and Enjolras brought it to him instead, sitting down next to him. He helped bring the cup to Grantaire’s lips, and placed it on the floor beside him when it was empty.
“Why are you here?” Grantaire asked quietly, voice hoarse and sounding ancient. Enjolras would have felt that question had been answered by now.
“I care about you.” Enjolras found his hand reaching out to brush some of the wayward curls off of Grantaire’s face, and Grantaire turned into the motion so that he cupped his cheek instead.
“How could you possibly?” He was blunt with exhaustion, bleak with confused disbelief.
“Are you questioning my judgement?” Enjolras chided sharply, and despite everything Grantaire smiled.
“Wouldn’t dream of it, Apollo.”
“Lay down,” Enjolras instructed, meaning to take advantage of this moment of calm and clarity. “Rest.”’
Instead of rising to take to the bed, Grantaire merely shifted down the wall to lay on the floor, his head in Enjolras’ lap. Silent, Enjolras stroked his fingers through the dark curls. Grantaire’s eyes fell shut, and his breathing evened out.
Feeling eyes on him, Enjolras looked up to where Jehan was watching him. There was a soft, oddly approving smile on his face. “Have you ever seen the Borghese Vase?” He asked quietly, his voice carrying easily in the quiet room.
Enjolras had indeed seen it. It had been brought to the museum from Italy by Napoleon, and was a large krater illustrating both Dionysus and Apollo. A drunken man falls while reaching for a spilled goblet of wine, and is caught by Dionysus while Apollo looks on. On the other side, Dionysus plays the aulos, one of Apollo’s instruments. While they stood for opposing concepts – Apollo for laws, reason, and order, and Dionysus for drink, madness, and revelry – they worked together, were complimentary rather than contradictory. After all, when Apollo abandoned his oracle at Delphi in the winter, it was Dionysus that he entrusted it to.
“So he catches himself, while I look on?” Enjolras whispered, raising his eyebrows, although he thought he understood Jehan’s greater point.
“Together,” Jehan said, “you catch him together.”
The next day, Grantaire shook and retched, gripped by a panic that could not be calmed, no matter how many of Les Amis told him to relax, that it would be over soon. It had been days, and what little food and water they could get into him did not stay down. It was better than the hallucinations, but draining and difficult to watch. Enjolras stayed close most of the time, leaning with him against the headboard or laying with him on the bed, serving as anchor as they both listened to Grantaire’s heart pounding.
When Grantaire muttered about how thirsty he was for what he couldn’t have, how he needed it, how he would die without it, Enjolras just held him closer and told him that he was strong enough to resist. Nothing renewed Grantaire’s determination as much as Enjolras telling him that he believed he could do it.
As afternoon settled into evening, and Courfeyrac was taking a turn at Grantaire’s side, Enjolras let his frustration get the better of him, and cornered Joly in the hallway outside.
“Is he getting better?” Enjolras demanded, knowing he sounded furious, that it was far from Joly’s fault, that Joly had been burning the candle at both ends by attending school during the day and doing everything he could possibly do to research and treat Grantaire’s condition in the evenings.
“I think so – “ Joly pressed his lips together, anxious. “He’s not got worse, anyhow, with convulsions or apoplexy.”
Enjolras rubbed his face with both his palms, shaking his head.
“This is why he didn’t quit until he had to,” Joly said, putting his hand on Enjolras’ shoulder while the latter breathed through his self-recriminations for how he’d treated Grantaire before.
“He loves you, in every meaning of the word, you know.” Joly said, softly. Enjolras dropped his hands from his face, setting his expression to prepare himself to go back inside Courfeyrac’s room.
It’s what he felt towards Grantaire that was the real question.
It would all blur together in Enjolras’ mind after that, night turning to day turning to night turning to day. He was never far, while the other Amis rotated through when they could, bringing trinkets or stories.
Finally, Enjolras was woken in a new way, with lips pressing against his forehead. He blinked awake, and found Grantaire watching him, next to him on the bed. Feuilly was asleep in a chair a little ways away, feet up on the end of the bed.
“What was that for?” Enjolras asked, looking the other man over. His face ] pale, the bags under his eyes dark, and his hands still shaking, but he looked more aware and at peace than he had for a very long time.
“You were staging revolutions in your sleep,” Grantaire explained, reaching up to touch the place his lips had left. “Statues shouldn’t have furrowed brows.”
“You still think I’m made of marble?” Enjolras asked sceptically, worrying that he still had not made himself clear.
Grantaire smiled. His skin, when Enjolras brushed his forehead with his fingertips, was no longer damp or fevered.
“I’m not sure what I dreamed, and what you truly did. But you did not leave.” That, at least, he did know, and Enjolras was glad of it. He may still be unable to properly phrase how he felt towards Grantaire, but something warmed in his chest at the sight of him now, smiling and sincere.
“Have I not repulsed you?” There was uncertainty there, vulnerability, and his own forehead creased with worry.
“You do smell terrible.” Enjolras said honestly, and when Grantaire’s eyes widened and he started to flinch away, Enjolras leaned forward and kissed his forehead in turn, the dried sweat salty on his lips. “Putrefied limbs must be amputated then cauterized, but the body survives in the end, and that’s what matters.”
Grantaire just looked at him, wonder and amusement warring in his eyes. “Did you just compare me to a festering limb?”
“Well –“ Enjolras started, mind assembling an argument with which to defend himself. Grantaire laughed, a sudden, dry and breathless sound. Enjolras grinned, and Feuilly jumped to wakefulness, on his feet and looking around for Grantaire.
“Oh,” he said, when he saw them, then smiled. “’Aire! How are you feeling?”
Grantaire sat up, rubbing at his temple. “My head aches and I never want to eat again, but I think I’ll survive.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Feuilly grinned, and moved to the door. “I’ll go see if Joly is with Marius and Courfeyrac.
Enjolras swung his legs over the side of the bed, moving to stand. Grantaire caught his hand, and Enjolras looked from it up to the other man’s face.
“Thank you,” he said, eyes on Enjolras’ before flicking down to his lips. “For staying.” Enjolras felt his breath quicken, and something acting as a pull between them. If he leaned in, he could kiss Grantaire on the mouth, this time slowly and with intention.
Instead, he stood up, moving to the door just as Feuilly, Courfeyrac, Marius, and Joly entered, but Combeferre and Bossuet as well.
“We were bringing Marius and Courfeyrac something to eat, and caught Feuilly in the hall with the good new!” Bossuet explained, and the food was placed on the table and enthusiastic greetings were exchanged with Grantaire.
Combeferre clapped Grantaire on the back, then caught Enjolras’ gaze and nodded to the door. Enjolras, welcome for an excuse to put distance between himself and Grantaire, stepped out into the hall. He had been trying not to look at Grantaire, and felt horrible for doing so.
In a moment, Combeferre had joined him, shutting the door quietly behind him. “What’s changed?”
“What do you mean?” Enjolras asked, but he knew immediately what Combeferre was talking about. Combeferre knew him better than himself, most days.
“Grantaire worships you. You’ve finally come to realize that.” It was said gently, but he didn’t bother mincing his words. “You’ve been good to him, these past few days, but you’ve also done nothing to dissuade him. To give him the cold shoulder now is beyond cruel, Enjolras, even for you.”
That stung, but it also was not untrue. He sighed, pressing his eyes with his fingers. “I need rest. And a bath. As does he – he doesn’t know what he wants, after all this.”
Combeferre looked at him, almost fondly. “Enjolras, you imbecile. His feelings have been etched in stone since the first time he joined us at the café and heard you share your views on all and sundry. You’re the one who is undecided.”
“He and I are absolute opposites.” Enjolras said, bemused.
“We are drawn to what we lack.” Combeferre shrugged. “What did Aristotle say of the golden mean?”
“That the best path is between two extremes.” Enjolras said automatically, still a schoolboy who had always excelled in class.
Combeferre smiled, ever so slightly. “And what did Socrates say about it?”
“That man ‘must know how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as possible.’”
Combeferre put his hand on Enjolras’ arm. “You, my friend, are an extreme. Grantaire is another. Would it be so horrible to find the mean between the two?”
Enjolras paused. “I will think on it.” He looked at the door to Courfeyrac’s room, then turned and left the building.
He went back to his own room, washed, slept, ate a full meal, dressed, and went back out.
Courfeyrac’s room was empty.
He slammed open Marius’ door, startling the lone occupant and causing a pile of papers to scatter to the floor.
“Where’s Grantaire?” Enjolras demanded, heart in his throat.
Marius stood, hands out and pacifying. “Enjolras, it’s all right – he’s just gone with Jehan back to his own quarters for a change of clothes.”
Enjolras turned and left the building abruptly for the second time in two days, leaving Marius standing in his room with the door ajar.
Grantaire’s quarters were just a little off the Café Musain. Enjolras had never been there before, but he’d met some of the other Amis outside a time or two, on their way to someplace else. He entered at the front, not encountering a landlady, and knocked when he reached the door he was fairly certain was Grantaire’s.
Jehan answered, and stepped aside when he saw Enjolras in the doorway. In the centre of the room, Grantaire was tying his cravat, hair still damp from bathing.
“Grantaire,” Enjolras said, and Grantaire froze, looking up at him.
“I leave him to your care,” Jehan said, with an elegant wave of his hand, and stepped out, shutting the door behind him.
Enjolras took three steps forward, crossing the room, and caught up Grantaire by his freshly laundered lapels, kissing him full on the mouth. For a moment, Grantaire was still, then he opened his mouth and wrapped his arms around Enjolras’ neck. Enjolras’ hands found their way to Grantaire’s hips, pulling him closer, tilting his head to better use his lips and tongue and teeth. He was no expert in this, but Grantaire did not seem to mind in the slightest, making a noise in the back of his throat when Enjolras ran a hand up his side.
Grantaire kissed down his jaw, sucking into a place on his neck, and Enjolras gasped as something stirred in his gut and his fingers grew more desperate where they pressed into Grantaire.
Grantaire pulled away, eyes shut for a moment as if composing himself.
“Are you certain?” Grantaire asked, searching Enjolras’ face. “Is it just that you – you pity me?”
Enjolras frowned, shaking his head. “I did not leap, that is why I hesitated, before. I know what I want.”
Grantaire’s face lit up, still pale, drawn, and haggard, but looking so much better when smiling.
“How are you feeling?” Enjolras asked, not removing his hands from Grantaire.
“My head still aches, but that’s manageable. My hands are nearing steady, I cannot sleep, and I have no interest in eating.” Grantaire listed off, looking at Enjolras’ face, so close to his. “I still want a drink so badly I could commit all sorts of atrocities for it, but our dear friends have already tossed the place and taken away everything tempting. They even had someone take my clothes to the laundress – apparently they smelled like a still.”
“I can imagine,” Enjolras said, leaning in and pressing a kiss to Grantaire’s temple. “But you are beautiful,” he pressed another to Grantaire’s cheek, “you are free,” and another to his lips, “and you are loved.”
“Then I believe I will survive.” Grantaire murmured against his lips, and pressed in even closer.