Superpowers, Courfeyrac decided. There was no other way to explain it. Just ten minutes ago, the office had been in absolute chaos—Éponine shouting at someone, two interns in tears, and a cacophony of phones ringing. Then Combeferre had swept in, briefcase in one hand and 20-oz black tea in the other, stood in the middle of the room, and begun Dealing With Things. Ten minutes later, the place was… well, still chaotic, but at least a more productive sort of chaos. Courfeyrac had known Combeferre since college, and he still wasn’t sure how the man was able to be so frighteningly competent.
As if he could feel Courfeyrac’s gaze, Combeferre looked up and gave him a warm smile. Courfeyrac grinned in return. After a two-week turn courting donors and kissing babies on the West Coast, it was nice to be back at campaign headquarters.
On any other day, he might have gone to chat with Combeferre for a while. Instead, he picked a chair in the main room and pulled out the New York Times. He knew Combeferre couldn’t afford to be distracted today. It was Debate Day, and he’d need all his superpowers to get through it.
Jehan peered at his elbow. He was sure the words he had scribbled down in the middle of the night in a fit of inspiration were brilliant, but he wasn’t entirely sure what they said. He was so engrossed in deciphering the smudges that he didn’t realize someone was sitting at his desk until he nearly sat on them.
“Why, Mr. Prouvaire. Not that I’m opposed, but this probably isn’t the best place for that,” Courfeyrac said.
“Courf!” he cried, dropping his things on the desk and embracing him.
“The way you were looking at your arm, I wondered if you hadn’t caught Joly’s hypochondria and decided you had cancer there,” Courfeyrac said, hugging him back.
“Oh! I thought of a wonderful line if they ask about the union legislation, but now I can’t read one of the words.”
Courfeyrac laughed. “It’s for Enjolras? It probably says ‘liberty’. Ah, here comes Éponine, I’m going to go hide now.”
“And leave me to deal with her on my own?” Jehan asked beseechingly.
As Courfeyrac left, Jehan looked down at his arm again. Courfeyrac had been right – the smudge did say ‘liberty.’
“Prouvaire!” Éponine bore down on him, terrified staffers fleeing in her wake.
He gave her a placid smile. “Éponine! So lovely to see you this morning! You are as radiant as—”
“There are 8 hours and 17 minutes until the debate begins, I do not need your sass today. What I do need are talking points on China on my desk ten minutes ago.”
Jehan twirled his plastic-flower-topped pen between two fingers. “The foreign policy debate is in two weeks. Are they really going to talk about China today?”
Éponine leveled him with a look that would break a lesser man. However, the downside of having an office almost entirely comprised of close friends meant that it was difficult to terrify a man who had spent hours braiding her hair and gossiping about their love lives with her.
“You’re questioning my analysis? 30 bucks says that O’Brien asks about the manufacturing downturn and whoever answers turns it immediately to China.”
Jehan considered, but he knew better than to go up against Éponine when it came to reading a political situation. Her understanding of the tricks of the political battlefield was uncanny—they were lucky to have gotten her away from fivethirtyeight.com to work for the campaign.
She raised an eyebrow. “That’s what I thought. And if you try to refer to China as a ‘lumbering mechanical dragon with fire in its eyes’ again, so help me I will set you on fire. Post-debate drinks are at Cosette’s tonight.” Her tone never lost its sharpness, and she turned on her heel and stalked away. Probably going to go make another intern cry, Jehan assumed.
Combeferre generally preferred an egalitarian style of leadership, but the one luxury he afforded himself was his own enclosed office. Most of the staff worked in tables and cubicles that had been set up in the middle of the largest room of the offices they rented; the particularly unlucky ones claimed spaces of floor near the outlets. Even with Courfeyrac’s ability to flirt contributions out of anyone, the fact remained that as an independent campaign they lacked the major-party funds.
Combeferre absentmindedly polished his glasses, remembered the confusion among the pundits when their staff continued to grow steadily, snatching up some of the best political strategists in the country for practically no money. But that was when they’d only seen Enjolras on paper: a brilliant student who’d done a turn in the Peace Corps and as a community organizer before becoming one of the youngest law professors in Yale’s history. Impressive, certainly, but far from presidential material.
Once Enjolras started campaigning in earnest, the pundits’ confusion only grew. No one knew what to make of the young, fiery candidate, who spoke not like a politician but a leader. There was something magnetic about his presence, which is why dozens of bright twenty-somethings turned down comfortable offers at DC think-tanks in favor of sitting on the floor of the chilly office.
Enjolras was brilliant, charming, occasionally terrible. He was also 20 minutes late. Combeferre sighed, and waved Cosette into his office.
“Anything from the airport?”
She tapped her smart phone. “According to the airport, there was a back-up on the runway, but his plane should be landing shortly.”
“Do we have travel arrangements for getting to UVA tonight?”
“It’s all in here.” She placed a folder on his desk. “You’ll be leaving at 4:15, and should be returning by 11 tonight.”
“Has Éponine found someone to practice against Enjolras before the debate?”
Cosette’s smile widened just a bit, and she handed him a folded piece of paper with a single name written on it.
Combeferre read it, blinked, and then slowly nodded. Cosette wasn’t sure, but she thought she heard him laugh under his breath.
“Thank you, Cosette. Excellent work as always. Make sure Bahorel has enough people for security tonight; remind him that he is not an entire security team by himself.”
Cosette nodded, and turned to go. As she reached the door, she paused and turned back. “Oh, Mr. Combeferre? Since you’ll be back here in Boston tonight, everyone will be gathering at my house to celebrate the debate. It would be wonderful if you two could attend.”
Combeferre peered at her over his glasses. “It seems you’re presuming Enjolras will be successful tonight.”
Cosette tilted her head. “How could he not?”
She smiled and left the room. Her certainty was a comfort to Combeferre, who couldn’t help but worry about Enjolras’ tendency to make startlingly cutting remarks that the media would jump all over. The last thing they needed was another Albuquerque incident.
Of course, none of that mattered if Enjolras never arrived. Combeferre took off his glasses to polish them again.
Grantaire hated Boston. For one thing, it was cold as fuck. For another, it was cold as fuck. He thought longingly of the stump speeches in Florida that were sure to come. At least a week where he could write his articles sitting out in the sun, where he wouldn’t have to clutch his hot coffee to avoid losing fingers to frostbite.
Of course, stump tours also meant spending extended amounts of time on the bus with Enjolras Himself. He grimaced at the thought and took a huge swallow of coffee, which he then proceeded to spit everywhere. “Shit! That’s hot!”
Now his tongue was scalded. Enjolras’ fault, too.
It would have been easier if he hated the man. Grantaire had known and despised many politicians in his career—you had to, if you were going to cover them in the news. Most of his successes had come from exposing their immorality and greed. It wasn’t hard to be a cynic in his line of work.
And then Enjolras came along, and Grantaire had first been outraged when his editors had assigned him to cover the campaign of an independent candidate. A journalist of his caliber was assured to cover the Dem or GOP guy, and instead he got stuck with some idealistic kid? When he had called his editor in anger, she told him to go listen to the guy speak once, just once, and if he still felt the same afterwards he could cover the incumbent.
Well, he had gone to the speech, and here he was now, trying to remember if he took the red line or the blue line to get to the office. Fucking Boston. Fucking Enjolras, with his absurd idealism and honesty and morality and nice hair. If he had been a normal politician, with a shiny smile who always wanted to double check what was “off the record,” Grantaire would have happily hated him. Instead, the man roused and infuriated him, getting him to care about politics in a way he hadn’t since he was a freshman at Berkeley.
The whole campaign was an enigma, and writing about them was a bitch. How do you explain the brilliance behind the charm of the man hoping to be the first openly gay Vice President? Or the way the senior campaign staff was more like a family than anyone working in politics really ought to be? How the fuck do you explain Enjolras to your readers?
Speak of the devil. Grantaire turned the corner to see the man himself getting out of his golden chariot (or rather, black SUV).
He grinned and walked faster. Time to go be obnoxious. That was what journalists were paid for, after all.
“Professor Enjolras!” he sang.
Enjolras turned to see him with the resigned acceptance of a man facing his fate. “Mr. Grantaire. It’s been too long.” He unlocked the door and held it for Grantaire.
“ID?” asked the security woman. Grantaire leaned on her desk with his most charming grin. “Nora, Nora, how you wound me! Surely you remember me?”
Nora had not been swayed by his flirtation for the past four months. She just pressed her mouth into a thin line and stared at him, until he sighed and pulled his press badge out of his bag.
“Good luck tonight, sir,” she told Enjolras, who offered a nod and a smile.
Once they were in the elevator, Grantaire turned. “So! Tell me, do anything interesting on this trip? Save any small children? Overthrow tyranny in a third-world country?”
Enjolras glared impressively. “I was visiting schools in New Orleans. The people there stand as living testament to the strength of the human spirit, and it is an insult to humanity itself that we do not provide their children with the tools they need to thrive.”
“Practiced that one in the car, did you?”
Enjolras blinked. “No.”
He was telling the truth, that was the worst part. Grantaire didn’t think it was fair for someone to be so eloquent off-the-cuff.
“An insult to humanity? It’s not difficult to insult something whose very nature provokes scorn. I suppose a few missing textbooks might do the trick.”
Enjolras turned, fully facing him now. “Grantaire, I saw those people pulling each other up from the worst tragedy, forming communities and bettering each other.“
“And did you also see the looted stores, the high rates of murder and rape?”
“It is circumstance, not nature, that drives men to crime. If we—“
Someone cleared their throat. It was only then that both men noticed the open elevator door and the small crowd of people clearly waiting to go down. Enjolras looked sideways at Grantaire with a hint of a smile at their shared obliviousness, then stepped out towards Combeferre’s office.
Grantaire went to go bother someone, but he was stopped by Éponine.
“What are you doing for the next hour and a half?”
“Annoying your interns and adding increasing amounts of vodka to my coffee, most likely,” he answered. “Why, do you have a better offer?”
“Enjolras needs to practice for the debate. You’re the only “outside party” who won’t go easy on him.”
It didn’t seem to be a request, but there was no way in hell Grantaire was turning the offer down. He gave her a sudden, fierce grin. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
The sun had already set by the time Courfeyrac pressed the buzzer to Cosette’s apartment, and he pulled his scarf tighter against the cold as he waited for her to let him up. Her building was nicer than any undergraduate/campaign aide’s apartment had any right to be, thanks to a generous father. It was why they had chosen her as the usual host when they all got together.
Luckily, it didn’t take too long for her to buzz the door open, and the warmth air inside was a welcome relief. Most of the group was already there by the time he got upstairs. Bossuet was pouring drinks in the kitchen, and Courfeyrac gladly accepted the wine he offered. He didn’t like to show it, but he was a little on edge at not being present for the debate. There was no expectation he would be, of course, but it was one of the biggest nights of the election and he wished he could be at Enjolras’ side.
On the TV, Anderson Cooper introduced a panel of undecided voters who would be watching the debate, prompting Éponine to throw popcorn at the screen. “Undecided! Ha!”
“It is only the first debate,” Cosette chided gently. “Save the popcorn, for now.”
Courfeyrac slid onto the couch beside Jehan, who gave him a soft smile and cuddled up against his side. Courfeyrac took a quick mental note of everyone in the room: Éponine, Cosette, Joly, Bossuet, and Feuilly already knew, and would die before leaking their relationship to the press.
But speaking of the press—Cosette had been getting Grantaire to come to more and more of these get-togethers, and…. Sure enough, that was Grantaire emerging from the bathroom. While Courfeyrac liked the man, he couldn’t be sure what would happen if a journalist were to find out.
They caught each other’s eyes, Courfeyrac showing nothing but calm while Grantaire looked far too knowing. He tilted his bottle in their direction in silent acknowledgment. Courfeyrac would have to talk to him later, but since he showed no shock at finding them appearing like more than just coworkers, Courfeyrac’s worry was eased. He leaned back against Jehan and took a drink of his wine.
On the screen, the moderator introduced the Republican incumbent, then the Democratic challenger. They all booed for both—the spineless Democrat had only squeaked by in the primaries by agreeing with everyone’s opinion, and the other guy was a Republican.
Finally, Enjolras was introduced. In a sharp suit and red tie, with his hair gleaming under the lights, he looked every inch a leader. Fox News’ hosts often thundered about how his good looks were the only reason he was popular at all. But it was obvious to Courfeyrac that Enjolras’ radiance came from his ideals, not his appearance.
The first question was about gun control. The other candidates gave rehearsed talking points, about “keeping our children safe” and “liberty” respectively.
Then Enjolras began to speak, and the knot of worry in Courfeyrac’s shoulders loosened. Around the room, a small sigh of relief was shared. Working in politics, it was their job to assume the worst and plan for it. But Enjolras at a debate— well, he had been practicing for this quite literally all his life. He spoke clearly, without the politician-speak or the pivots around a question to better suit his purposes. When the situation demanded it he became powerful and animated, but never looked out of control or blustery.
In short, he blew the other guys out of the water. No one needed CNN’s fancy analysis graphs at the bottom of the screen to prove it.
When the debate finally ended and Cosette clicked off the TV, silence hung in the living room. For a moment, they could all see the world that Enjolras’ words had created—a future above partisan politics and powerful special interests, where the people’s voices were heard, where everyone truly could pursue happiness. It was like a spell, and they wondered at the world that might be.
Courfeyrac closed his eyes and tipped his head onto Jehan’s shoulder. Tomorrow there would be media and analysis to deal with. But for now, he would sleep, and dream of the future.