He chose the cafe for its proximity to his apartment, the fact that he knew the owner and could get his wine and spirits at a discounted price. True, he could just as easily get his liquor from a private vendor, but he enjoyed the atmosphere of the cafe. Seeing the other patrons, taking part in their conversations, playing cards, dominoes, gambling. He was a social creature by nature, and he thrived on it.
When his peers had shown up, he’d been happy to interrupt them with contradictions, philosophy, or talk of conquests. At the university, he wouldn’t engage in their discussions, but here at the cafe was his domain. He could not be silenced, and delighted in either winding them up with his devil’s advocacy or driving them to distraction.
He remembered clearly the moment when his peers’ joining him at the cafe became actual meetings of a political nature. He stood by the bar trying to charm Mme. Hucheloup into allowing him another bottle, when a hush had fallen over the room. Turning, he saw the source of their quietened discussion. A man had entered, another student judging by his youth and quality of his garments.
He stared, transfixed. The man was tall without being lanky, cut like a Grecian figure, a sinuous grace to his movements. That head was framed by a tousled mess of golden curls, as though the man cared not for their appearance. The brow was furrowed, the nose proud, and those lips had a sinful fullness that would tempt any holy man.
He nursed his bottle, knowing with certainty he was far from holy.
The newcomer had a certain authority to his bearing, without being arrogant. Speaking to their peers, he gave off an air of confidence and affability. Those in the room hung onto the man’s every word.
In the corner by the bar, wine on his breath, he felt unworthy to be in the presence of this god among men. And then the man's head turned, and their gazes locked for the briefest of moments.
What was that?
He glances at the clock on his nightstand, groaning at the illuminated numbers. 4:23. Christ. He’s got his first class in less than five hours, and it’s a studio class at that. Three hours long. Not one he can skip. There's a dull throb at the bridge of his nose from the drinks he had last night.
He shifts on the bed, trying to find a comfortable position again. He pushes his unruly hair back in the hope that it will offer some relief. He’s had some strange dreams before, but what he finds strangest about this one is how mundane it seemed. Nothing like, say, suddenly developing superpowers or marrying your third-grade teacher.
No, instead Raf dreams about a cafe in some city a few hundred years ago (he’s assuming—he doesn’t remember any electricity or other modern conveniences in the dream). And apparently he’s infatuated with some guy he’s never met. It’s just a shame he isn’t real, Raf thinks. Trust my subconscious to come up with someone gorgeous and completely unattainable. There'd been something untouchable about that marble figure, in the way he had spoken to the crowd of his peers.
Raf wakes later than he planned, but he's still able to make it to the studio on time, his drawing pad under one arm and a tote of supplies carried in the other. The only good thing about having such a long class early in the day is he's mostly left to his own devices. With their senior portfolios next semester, the class is mostly a work period.
He can't get the dream out of his mind. Not much may have happened, but it still feels important, though he can't place why. Raf loses himself to his thoughts as he sketches, only to be pulled from his reverie by one of his classmates.
"Who is it?"
He looks down at his paper. It's the man from his dream, he realizes. It's not a perfect likeness—but the furrowed brow is there, the slope of his nose, the proud curve of his lips. The man’s hair is perhaps wilder in the sketch than in the dream, and he realizes he has spent too long considering how this sketch compares to a man that is a figment of his subconscious.
He smiles wryly at the sketch, and says, "It's Apollo."
He found out the man’s name soon enough, once Enjolras and the other students began meeting at the cafe more frequently. Under other circumstances the sudden influx of political conversation might bother him, but he couldn’t bring himself to be too bothered by it, not when he was able to see Enjolras on a regular basis.
The only problem was, Enjolras hated him.
Well, perhaps hated wasn’t the best word for it, but it was clear the marble-figured leader of the student group was disdainful of his drinking, his sarcasm and caustic remarks. All of which only served to make him more eager to get a rise out of Enjolras.
He wouldn’t admit that the real reason for antagonizing Enjolras was to see the man’s impassioned responses. Enjolras felt an effortless sort of faith in his cause, which came across in the fervor of his personality, like a bonfire which had the potential to either warm or consume.
He knew he was too embittered to feel such idealism, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate the way it seemed to lift Enjolras. The man soared above them without being haughty—indeed, it seemed Enjolras only desired to draw the rest up with him.
It was just a shame some of them were too entrenched in the gutter.
He remembered the first time Enjolras took a seat beside him. He should have known it was with the aim of behaving with derision towards his habits. He took a long draw from the wine bottle, not even bothering with a glass, as Enjolras expounded on the virtues of a sober mind in the face of social change.
For Enjolras, he might have endeavored to change his habits, if Enjolras had asked it of him. But for a cause he saw as futile? It wasn’t that he didn’t care, but rather that he saw little hope of affecting change, and in the face of such ineffectuality he preferred the numbing buzz of alcohol.
And so Enjolras disdained him, and he drank the more for it.
That’s another thing. The reason he had two drinks instead of his usual amount. Any time he drinks now, it seems to stir up this strange uneasiness—it’s like an ache, but not a physical one. It’s his senior year. He’s supposed to be enjoying his last few months before he gets his degree, and instead he’s turned into that depressed drunk that everyone can’t stand to be around.
And the worst of it is, he doesn’t know why. So he feels guilty on behalf of his dream-self, over a guy who doesn’t exist? What do the dreams even mean? Why are they so clear, and why can’t he seem to shake them?
Why can’t he seem to shake Enjolras?
The name rolls off his tongue in a way that probably shouldn’t sound so obscene. There are other names too, in the dreams, names he might be able to recall if he focused hard enough. None are as important to him as that name, and the man possessing it.
He’s had to take a more surrealist route in his studio class, just to avoid awkward questions if he keeps drawing the same guy. Not that he hasn’t filled up half a sketchbook outside of class, sketching from memory until the likeness on paper matches the man frequenting his dreams.
In his studio class later that morning, Raf focuses on the imagery in his dream, the memory of watching Enjolras, impassioned as he illustrated his beliefs. Enjolras who figuratively ascended above his fellow students, and only wanted to accord everyone the same view.
The painting is abstract, a piece that is asymmetrically balanced with white-gold hues offsetting the murkier depths. It’s far from finished, but Raf is pleased with it, and his professor compliments the work, offering suggestions while asking what direction he hopes to take for his end-of-year portfolio.
Maddening as they are, at least the dreams seem to be good for something.
“What about me?” he spoke up. “Here am I.”
Enjolras looked at him, disbelief evident in his face. “You?”
“You indoctrinate republicans! You warm up hearts that have grown cold in the name of principle!”
The words stung, but still he pressed the matter. “Why not?”
“Are you good for anything?”
“I have a vague ambition in that direction.”
“You do not believe in everything.”
“I believe in you.”
He was surprised to realize it was true, as the words left his lips. Enjolras spoke again, saying his name, and for reasons he didn’t understand the knowledge slipped from him before he could grasp it. But Enjolras asked a favor of him, and he willingly threw himself at the opportunity, before being harshly rebuffed.
“Don’t meddle with our affairs. Sleep yourself sober from your absinthe.”
Still he persisted, telling Enjolras he was capable. Still he presented the reasons for giving him this task. He spoke of matters which had little meaning to him, politics that were foreign to him, but he spoke with ferocity, willing Enjolras to give him a chance.
“Be serious,” Enjolras said.
“I am wild.”
Finally Enjolras relented. As if to prove to Enjolras his resolve, he went out and changed into his best waistcoat, a beautifully tailored article.
“Red,” he said on entering, his gaze boring into Enjolras where the man sat. Enjolras wouldn’t notice the suggestion and innuendo he put behind those words, but for emphasis he smoothed the waistcoat’s points across his chest, and leaned down to whisper in Enjolras’ ear.
He groans, reaching for tissues or something to clean himself with. Nearest is his roll of paper towels that he uses when working on his art projects. He wads the used paper towels and chucks them at the trashcan, then lays back on the bed for several long moments.
This is getting out of hand. It’s bad enough that he hasn’t slept well since the semester began, but coming in his shorts like a teenager over a guy he only dreams about? That’s reaching new levels of strange.
Especially because the dreams are so vivid. He feels as though he’s actually lived them, to the point where he doesn’t know quite where one reality ends and another begins. Enjolras feels real to him. Why would he keep having different dreams about the same person every night unless...
Unless they aren’t dreams.
He shakes his head at that thought. It’s ridiculous, not to mention impossible. He brushes the thought aside. He has to get ready, even though he would like nothing more than to lay in bed and contemplate Enjolras’ full lower lip, and the things his mouth might do if not always directed towards political discourse.
Of course, there was still the small matter of Enjolras disliking him. Not to mention the much larger matter of Enjolras only appearing when he slept.
That day in his studio class, Raf considers the primed canvas before him. A flush creeps into his cheeks at the thought of painting what’s currently on his mind. His dreams have served thus far to be a powerful source of inspiration, and he sees no reason why he should stop that now. And besides, his decision to keep the compositions more abstract has an added bonus. He can sit back and let his peers make of his work what they will, keeping the true meaning to himself, if he wishes.
(He does wish)
I am wild, he thinks, wondering if he had imagined the look on Enjolras’ face right after he said that. Right before Enjolras relented and agreed to try him. Raf can’t say he’s ever been so invested in the outcome of a dream.
Smiling, he selects paint tubes and places a small amount of each onto his palate. Alzarian crimson, cadmium red, vermilion. Then, picking up the palate knife, he begins.
Raf wakes, bitterness tight in his throat. It’s no wonder Enjolras dislikes him. All he’d wanted was a task, he’d practically begged Enjolras to trust him, and how had he repaid that trust? By wasting away his time at the Barriere du Maine in drinking and gambling.
He shouldn’t feel this ashamed of a failure that’s only in his subconscious. It’s not like dreams can be controlled, or anything.
But that’s the problem. The dreams feel too real, and there are times he’s aware he’s dreaming even while they happen. It doesn’t change his actions, however, because he always behaves in whatever way seems most natural, given the situation. Then what’s his excuse?
Somehow, in the dream, he’d known he would disappoint Enjolras. Even as he’d dressed for the occasion and made his way to the Barriere du Maine, he’d known he would do something that would prove to be a disappointment. His words would fail to rouse the populace, the people would know he didn’t truly believe in what he spoke, and he would be treated for the fool he was at the Musain. And more, even if he was successful, he could never hope for Enjolras to return his affections.
So he’d hidden his insecurities in his liquor, he’d cajoled the locals into a game of dominoes until he’d detected Enjolras’ presence in the corner of his awareness. And at that point, he’d been too ashamed of his failure to confront Enjolras, so he’d continued playing, all the while hoping Enjolras might call him out. Maybe a confrontation would fix whatever paralyzed him. But Enjolras had slipped away, and the disappointment in the air had been almost palpable.
That day is the first of his studio classes Raf skips. He emails the professor, telling her he’s caught the flu, and he’ll get the work done outside of class. He’s been trying to keep on track for his senior year; his parents have never been over pleased with his decision to be a studio art major. They believe it a wasted occupation, and one that will leave him with little means to support himself. But they’d grudgingly allowed it, under the condition that he complete his degree in the proper amount of time. Any additional semesters he would be on his own, no financial support whatsoever.
Raf has no plans for that. Much as he enjoys the college atmosphere (and the college drinking, until lately), there’s an itch under his skin to be free of all this. A feeling that there’s something more that he’s missing. More to the dreams than what he’s seen.
He’s forgotten something important, but he can’t place what it is.
Somehow he knows things would fall into place if he remembered. He’s off-balance, half stumbling through life as he struggles to find meaning.
He leaves the TV on while he works—he needs the background noise to serve as a distraction from his current piece. It’s a self portrait, the first he’s done since freshman year. It bears no resemblance to him, however, except that it was once vaguely shaped like a human face. He’s obscured all details in harsh, angry brushstrokes. A shade of pthalo green here, for the haze of absinthe in his dream. Into that he blends burnt umber, muddying and distorting the shapes. It’s his shame, his guilt. It’s the knowledge that he will never be good enough, never be the man Enjolras expects him to be.
Words from the television screen are echoing back at him—a celebrity cheated on his wife, some athlete was found to be taking steroids, another two celebrities started dating. Raf makes a disgusted noise, and he jams the button on his remote just as the TV announcer says something about a local grassroots movement to raise awareness. What for, Raf doesn’t catch, as the screen blinks out. It reminds him too much of his dreams, however, and he could do without the constant memento of his failure.
That night, Raf drinks. He doesn’t pull any punches, breaking out the bottle of good vodka. He barely feels the burn as it goes down, his aim to become so wasted he doesn’t dream. He never dreams when he’s that far gone.
He wakes with his throat dry and his head pounding, but he blessedly has no fragments of images from his subconscious.
Raf realizes halfway through the day what’s bothering him most.
His name. He can now remember everyone’s names in the dreams, has seen the faces of the students so often that in some ways they feel more familiar to him than his peers. Combeferre and Joly with their medical texts, Courfeyrac, Bossuet, Jehan with his poetry. Others, too, all with vivid personalities. And Enjolras, always Enjolras. And yet...he knows with certainty the name he carries is not his name in the dreams.
It’s such a foolish thing to be bothered by, but the more he thinks about it, the more his own name seems not quite suited to him. Not entirely. And that frightens him, the idea that he may be losing hold on reality if a name in a dream can give him meaning.
He tells himself it’s not cowardice as he drinks again that night. He can’t handle the distraction of the dreams, so he supplements it with the distraction of alcohol, imbibing more until his mind is hazy and his body languid. He falls asleep curled in on himself, unable to decide which reality he prefers, and wishing in spite of the alcohol for sleep to bring some clarity.
“Don’t disgrace the barricade!”
He flinched. Of course Enjolras was angry. He deserved such anger, such reproach, although he would never wish it. He sat at the table, all energy gone, and said. “Let me sleep here.”
There was a cold fury in Enjolras’ eyes. “Go and sleep somewhere else.”
But he was uncowed, looking at Enjolras with gentleness. “Let me sleep here—until I die.”
The disgust on Enjolras’ face was evident—it held no regard whatsoever for him. “Grantaire, you are incapable of believing, of thinking, of willing, of living, and of dying.”
“You will see.”
He wakes to his alarm with shots ringing in his ears. He blames the hangover. He has class, however, and much as he doesn’t feel like going he doesn’t want to press his luck. He gulps down a glass of water and two aspirin, throws on some clothes, and shoulders his bag.
The wind is chill as he crosses campus, and he tugs the hem of his beanie over his ears against the cold. He picks up his pace—
The blast of cannons was deafening, but it did little to rouse him. It wasn’t until the gunfire inside the cafe ceased that he was wakened from his stupor. That the gunfire had ended could mean only one thing...
He realizes he’s halted his movement when people brush past him on the walkway. He stumbles, recovering himself. He mutters an apology, the words automatic, but his body is trembling. What was that? He feels an unknown dread, not just over the fact that his dreams are blurring into his waking world.
He hurries the rest of the way to the studio, selecting an easel and dragging it to the side of the room. His hands shake as he unpacks his supplies.
Panic overtook him as he climbed the stairs. He couldn’t be too late...he refused to believe it.
Abandoning his normal choice of canvas, Raf instead chooses a piece of paper. It’s a dark beige color with a heavy tooth—perfect for working in pastels. There’s a tremor in his movements as he clips the paper to his drawing board and rests it against the easel. He doesn’t work in pastels often. Any medium has the potential to be messy, but with pastels he always finds the fine powder dust everywhere after he works—on his clothes, in his hair, on the floor. He needs it today, however, needs that tactile element that only pastels can bring.
He almost staggered with relief on seeing Enjolras—alive, but surrounded by soldiers. He didn’t spare a moment in hesitation; he knew what he would do, what he had to do.
The first touch of pastel scrapes across the paper, setting his nerves on edge.
“Take aim!” A soldier ordered.
“Long live the Republic! I’m one of them!” The words were his own, summoned from some strength he did not know he possessed. He shouldered his way past the soldiers until he stood by Enjolras. “Finish us both in one blow,” he said.
Broad swaths of chalky pigment on the page, slowly beginning to take shape. He sets down one pastel and takes up another.
He turned to Enjolras, almost timid, fearful of reproach.
“Do you permit it?”
The look on Enjolras’ face was that of a man who has only recently been defeated, and seen a spark of hope return. His own soul felt lighter for it, and he suddenly seemed to grasp what this was—Enjolras’ lifting him from the mire where they could both soar, even if only for a moment. There was pride there in his gaze, forgiveness, appreciation, and perhaps more—though it came too late.
Enjolras took his hand, strong fingers entwining with his own, and smiled.
He can hear the deafening report of the rifles. He feels the bullets, there and yet not there. He flinches back, recoiling from the nonexistent impact, his grip going so tight that the pastel snaps into fragments in his fingers.
“Raf...is everything all right?” It’s his professor’s voice, muffled as though he hears it from underwater. “Raphael!”
Oh, right. His name—not his name. He gives a start, coming back to reality (is it reality?) with a lurch. He feels dizzy, and far too tense, the pastel fragments crumbling further in his grip. It’s red, he realizes, a deep blood-red that now stains the pads of his fingers. He looks at his paper, and it takes a moment for the image to resolve itself in his mind, but he recognizes what it’s meant to be. It’s Enjolras, pierced through by eight points of crimson.
“Sorry,” he says, realizing his professor is still staring at him, worried. A couple of his classmates have glanced over, and the last thing he wants right now is eyes on him. “I’m just...not feeling as well as I thought I was. I’ll be fine. I think...I think I just need some air.”
He excuses himself, going to sit outside. The air is damp and chill, causing his breath to fog in front of his face. He can’t stop himself from shaking, though it has nothing to do with the cold. Used cigarette butts litter the ground around him, and he longs to light one of his own, except he’s out. He doesn’t think nicotine would help, either.
There’s a dull throb in his collarbone where a bullet pierced him. Where a bullet pierced him. He looks down, grabbing at his shirt, half expecting to see blood pooling there or on his chest or in his side where other flashes of white-hot pain had lanced through him. There’s nothing, of course, just smudges of red now from his fingers and the pastel.
He looks at his hands. The pigment is stained there, oils in his skin mixing with the dense powder pigment. There’s red lining the creases of his fingers and embedded under his nails and seeped into his pores.
He died. He died. He did it for a cause he knew would fail, but he did it all the same. It would have been easy to lie still behind the bar while the final shots rang out around him, but he didn’t. Why? Because he couldn’t envision a reality without Enjolras?
Or was it because after everything, he’d found something to believe in?
I believe in you.
The look Enjolras had given him before taking his hand is seared into his memory, and he takes some small amount of comfort, knowing that at the end Enjolras didn’t hate him for his shortcomings.
But that thought just makes the ache in his chest all the more painful. Because he’s here, now, and Enjolras...
He doesn’t know how it’s possible, but the dreams are real. He can feel it in a way he wasn’t certain of until now, but there’s no denying it. And he recognizes now why he feels so bereft. It isn’t simply that he can’t remember his name. It’s that without Enjolras, he only feels half himself.
He takes a few more minutes to compose himself, still shaky and trembling after the flash of waking memory. Finally, he rises, going back into the studio. Only a couple people look up as he enters. His professor stands by his easel, looking at the pastel drawing. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, he approaches.
“How are you?” she asks.
She looks like she wants to ask more, but thankfully refrains. Instead she nods her head towards the easel. “Can I ask who it is?”
He doesn’t ask how she knows it’s a person. Even with abstraction and exaggerated features, the subject of the drawing is still clearly a figure. And with the smears of red standing out in stark contrast with the rest of the work, he can understand why his professor expressed concern.
“It’s a martyr,” is all he says.
Even so, he ends up getting a good grade for his current progress on his portfolio. A number of the faculty express interest in how he continues to develop his work in the coming months. Then classes are over, to reconvene in a month. He doesn’t go home, not really sure if his mind can work around the sense of dual identity with so many childhood memories around. He tells his parents he’s focusing on his work, which they seem pleased to hear, and he promises to try to head home for the holiday.
He hasn’t dreamed about Enjolras in days. Weeks ago, he might have been happy for an end to the dreams that had plagued him incessantly, but now their absence just makes him anxious. A low level panic sets in later, when he’s back at his room. What if he never dreams of Enjolras again? What if their story is done—they died together, nothing more to see? The thought of that fills him with an unspeakable ache, and for once he doesn’t find himself reaching for the liquor bottle to numb it. He knows alcohol would only make it worse.
Instead he turns on the TV to serve as a distraction, and pulls out one of his primed canvases. There are more works he’ll have to complete before the senior show. Only problem is, his mind is drawing a blank. He’s been using the dreams as inspiration for so long, and now the lack of them is making itself known on his creativity.
Whatever. He doesn’t need the dreams to make artwork. He’s been a visual arts major for almost four years, and an aspiring artist for years before that. He doesn’t need memories of a past life...
He remembers. Back then, before he sought solace in his bottle at the Cafe Musain, before he used his cynicism as a shield, there was a time he created things. He had been a pupil of Gros, and between courses at the university he would make endless pages of sketches. Gestures of figures, of the people of Paris, the civil unrest in the streets. Until what he’d seen had hardened his heart with the knowledge that there was little he could do to help people’s suffering.
After the Amis began their political meetings, with Enjolras leading the discussion, he’d attempted to continue his sketches. He’d even done a few of their fearless marble leader, though those had remained hidden in his desk, never to be seen by his friends or the subject of said drawings. He hadn’t kept it up for long, though, too caught up in Enjolras and his inability to be what the man wanted. He remembers...
The reporter on TV is speaking “...will convene over the next several days to decide how much federal aid...” The words blur. It’s about some crisis going on in another country; he misses the details. His attention is instead arrested by the man standing to the side of the reporter, amidst a jumble of other bodies.
It’s Enjolras, and he looks just as radiant, fearsome, and alive as he’s ever imagined him. Enjolras is speaking to the reporter about complacency, about their duties as fellow human beings, about helping others, and it’s all at once familiar and new. He can hardly focus on what it is Enjolras is actually saying, too caught up in the reality of the man, his hair—slightly more tamed than he remembers—his bright and piercing eyes, his proud mouth.
The camera pans back to the reporter, and he lets out a strangled noise, scrambling to move closer to the TV before he realizes he can’t make the camera turn back. The reporter is talking again, however, and he forces himself to focus. The group of students is hosting a rally tomorrow, and they’re inviting members of the community to donate their time or resources to the cause.
He’s already doing quick mental calculations, figuring money to get gas for his bike for the three hour ride it’ll take to get to where the senate convenes, and any additional expenses after that...
And then what, he wonders. Tell Enjolras he’s been dreaming about him for weeks? Tell Enjolras he loves him? Tell him that in another life they died beside one another, holding hands? A lump forms in his throat. There’s no guarantee Enjolras remembers anything. And what could he possibly think of someone coming to him with that outlandish of a story?
There’s a phantom twinge in his collarbone, and he reaches towards it absently. That’s the other thing. He and Enjolras died beside one another, in another time, for another revolution. He’s sure, in this case, Enjolras’ fellow activists have gotten the proper permits to assemble, but that’s no guarantee things won’t become violent. What if this is just history repeating itself, and going to Enjolras condemns them both?
He rewinds the playback on his TV, going back to the first moment Enjolras’ face appears and pausing. He tells himself he needs to be sure it’s Enjolras, but he was certain of that already. The only purpose it serves is to strengthen his resolve. Seeing that face that has haunted his dreams, knowing Enjolras is really out there, he knows he can’t stay away. Not if there’s a possibility Enjolras has placed himself in the path of danger.
In the end it’s not a question of whether or not he’ll go, but what he’ll bring. If Enjolras does recognize him...well, he doesn’t want to hope too much for that. Point is, in a best case-scenario, he doesn’t know how long he’ll be gone. Finally he shoves as many clothes of his that will fit into his duffel, grabs a drawing pad as well as his supply case—who knows, he may feel inspired for one of his next pieces, and this way he’s still holding to his word to do work over the break. He straps everything down on the back seat of his bike and sets out before dawn the following morning.
He doesn’t know what he’s expecting. Arriving in the city causes a strange sort of dissonance—he’s grown so accustomed to the 19-century Paris of his dreams that the modern activity and bustle is almost too much. A car honks at him as he changes lanes, and he resists the urge to make a rude gesture. Parking is a nightmare, with signs everywhere threatening to tow unattended vehicles. Finally he grits his teeth and finds a parking garage, slings his belongings onto his shoulder and stuffs the ticket into his pocket.
The walk isn’t far from there, and he jogs to keep from getting cold in the morning air. His pulse is pounding in his ears, more out of nervousness than feeling winded, as he approaches the crowd. They’re mostly students, judging by their ages, though he does spot a few outliers. His eyes are scanning the group, looking for...
There. Enjolras is at the head of the crowd giving an impassioned speech. He doesn’t stand on any sort of step or pedestal, but his spirit seems to elevate him above his peers. All those near are caught up in Enjolras’ words.
He realizes he’s been moving closer without conscious thought, drawn to Enjolras’ fire like a moth. It’s no different than when he’d first seen the man in his dreams. Instead of speaking for Paris’ poor, Enjolras instead talks about the marginalized and abased that are ignored in the face of political silence regarding foreign affairs. That’s as much as he can gather, unable to focus fully on Enjolras’ words when confronted with the man, here in his presence.
Enjolras finishes his speech, and supporters applaud and whoop in appreciation. Enjolras begins to move through the crowd, shaking hands and engaging with those around him. It’s such a simple gesture, but a casual touch on someone’s shoulder as Enjolras passes at once both humanizes him and makes him seem magnanimous.
He grows tense as Enjolras approaches. Enjolras turns, and their eyes meet. His breath hitches as he looks for any sign of recognition in those familiar blue eyes. There’s flicker of something, but it’s there and gone so fast that he can’t be sure he didn’t imagine it.
“You’re new to these rallies,” Enjolras says. There’s a lilt on the end that might be a question, but he can’t be sure.
He nods. “I...uh, saw them talking about it on TV.” I saw you.
Enjolras’ face brightens. “And now you’re here.” He says it with both surprise and matter-of-fact casualness, if such a thing is possible. As though it is to be expected for people to wish to rally to his side, though he is still pleased by each and every recruit to his cause.
Such enthusiasm is catching, even for a hardened cynic such as himself. “I thought I might be able to help,” he says. “I can make signs, or—or something.” He’s going to run the risk of babbling if he doesn’t catch himself. Each moment in Enjolras’ presence is both a joy and a torment. Don’t you recognize me? he wants to say, but Enjolras hasn’t treated him with any sort of familiarity which would indicate that.
Enjolras smiles, and his soul feels lighter for it. “An artist? I’m sure we’ll have need of your skills.” Enjolras is turning, someone calling his name—a name that doesn’t fit him, but clearly one he recognizes. “I have to go, but I’m sure I’ll see you around later. What was your name?”
He opens his mouth, then hesitates. His own name is so foreign to him now, it doesn’t feel quite right to have others call him by it. “R,” he says at last.
Enjolras quirks an eyebrow, and there seems to be a spark in those blue eyes. “Like the letter?”
“Until later then, R.”
His time hasn’t been completely in vain. He finds a group making signs to add to the ones they made ahead of time, and offers to help. He’s been painting broad acrylic strokes on foam board ever since. It makes him feel less guilty, coming here only for the chance to see Enjolras even though he doesn’t feel the same way about the cause. It’s a worthwhile pursuit, he’ll admit, even if he does wonder how effective rallies can be in the face of big government. Surely more effective than barricades and rifles against the monarchy.
The crowd has filled out as the day goes by, and he finds he can’t make signs fast enough for newcomers. Finally he halts, no more foam board or posters to be found. Dried paint speckles his forearms and clothes, but that’s no different from his normal state. He stands, making his way through the buzz of activity to look for Enjolras again. People around him are chanting for change.
The energy in the group is palpable, the people fired up by another of Enjolras’ speeches. He notices too that there are dissenters on the outside of the crowd. Most of it is loud spouting of contrary opinions: people shouting that it isn’t their job to be interfering in other countries’ affairs, people saying the government should only be focusing on the economy, people quoting scripture. Nothing inherently harmful, but he grows nervous seeing the police officers—some mounted, some on foot—patrolling the area with a watchful eye. It reminds him too much of another situation, a shining triumphant moment where they seemed to have the attention and support of the people before everything quickly dissolved into chaos.
On instinct, he begins moving closer to Enjolras. An uneasy dread fills him, and somehow he knows he must be by Enjolras’ side. He can feel the moment the tension breaks. Someone, he doesn’t know who—if it is someone from the rally or someone on the outside—pushes forward too forcefully, and blows are exchanged. A scuffle breaks out, which quickly becomes a fight. People are shouting. Enjolras calls for order, telling everyone not to resort to violence.
Whistle blasts sound, and there are police among the protesters, pulling people apart. All sense of order is lost as the crowd grows more panicked, and he loses track of himself amidst the press of bodies.
“Enjolras!” he shouts.
Someone jolts into him, and he stumbles. Before he can regain his footing, a blow to the head knocks him down.
He moves to sit up, wincing at the sudden pain lancing through his skull. He tries again, more slowly. Worry flits across Enjolras’ features, and he makes an aborted movement as if to stand, but thinks the better for it.
“You were knocked out during the riot,” Enjolras explains. “I had a few friends help me in bringing you back to my apartment.”
He wants to ask which friends—if it was Combeferre, Jehan. He wants to ask if Joly is currently fretting over how long you can be unconscious before having to worry about a concussion. But then he remembers those friends aren’t here. Enjolras hasn’t escaped the riot unscathed; there’s a bruise blooming on his cheek, and his knuckles look scraped. The effect makes him appear wild.
“No hospitals for political activists?” he jokes. He presses the ice pack back to his forehead for emphasis.
Enjolras grimaces, apologetic. “I took a risk, at least until the unrest in the streets clears up.”
There’s a flash in Enjolras eyes, bitterness and disappointment that the rally turned sour. It’s gone a moment later replaced by a softness that’s alien to those features.
He realizes then, that this Enjolras isn’t quite the man he knew. In essence, the same, but their new lives have left an imprint that is not so easily washed away. This Enjolras grew up in a reality that offered more freedoms and opportunities, and instead decided to turn the fire of his passion towards those further from home.
Enjolras is speaking again, “I knew if I took you to a hospital, I ran the risk of missing the chance to speak with you again.”
Nervousness mingled with hope fills him. If Enjolras is implying...
“In the middle of the mayhem you shouted a name, and I thought—well, then you were knocked down and I knew—”
He’s on edge, waiting to see how Enjolras will end that sentence. Enjolras reaches down beside his chair and pulls out...no no no.
“This fell out of your bag when we brought you here,” Enjolras says, setting the sketchbook on the coffee table. “I...didn’t mean to pry, but I saw the sketches in the beginning.”
“Oh god,” he moans, hiding his face in his hands. All those sketches, weeks worth of dreaming of Enjolras. Weeks worth of seeing that face and trying to memorize it so he could recreate it on paper. They don’t do the man justice, he realizes that now, but oh god. He wishes the couch would swallow him.
He hears movement—Enjolras approaching him. “No, it’s okay...Grantaire.”
Something slots into place. He lifts his gaze, incredulous. The ice pack lays forgotten beside him. “What did you call me?”
Hearing it again, from Enjolras’ lips, he feels newly baptized. The name feels right in the way Raf never quite did. The missing fragments from his dreams have context, and he’s so grateful he could kiss Enjolras, except...
“You remember,” Grantaire says, half pleading.
“I didn’t know what to think at first,” Enjolras says. “I’ve been so busy this semester with my remaining classes, and my internship, that when I started having these dreams I just thought I wasn’t getting enough sleep. And then...I saw you in that crowd. I thought you looked familiar at the rally, but it wasn’t until you shouted that name—my name, that I understood. That you—you remember what happened, too.”
His voice catches the slightest amount on what happened, and Grantaire knows he’s talking about how they died. The image is emblazoned in his mind; Enjolras’ face, that look of acceptance right before his hand (warm, strong, remarkably uncalloused) had clasped his own. Grantaire had known long before that moment that their cause would not succeed, and though he might have stayed back and lived, he could not—would not—if it meant Enjolras would die.
There are tears in Grantaire’s eyes, and he breathes out a reverent, “Enjolras.” He reaches his hand out, the movement tentative, and seeing that Enjolras does not pull back he lets his hand close the distance. He touches Enjolras’ hair, the place where the back of his head meets his neck. Fingers ghost along his cheekbone and jaw. Enjolras’ eyes flutter shut as Grantaire’s fingertips skate across the bruise.
Grantaire is conscious that his head is still pounding, that there are a million questions floating through his mind, that he still isn’t aware of where he and Enjolras stand, but all of that is secondary to this moment. Enjolras opens his eyes again, and Grantaire feels bared and vulnerable under the weight of that gaze.
He is terrified he will disappoint Enjolras again; that it will be just like the Barriere du Maine, where he was held fast by his own vices. But right now he keeps going back to the flicker he’d seen in Enjolras’ face right before the bullets pierced them. Beside Enjolras he’d felt fulfilled, whole, even if only for a moment. He needs some reassurance that Enjolras felt something there as well.
He doesn’t remove his hand from Enjolras’ face, nor does he make any attempt to pull him closer. Instead, Grantaire leans forward, enough to make his intent known, all the while looking into Enjolras’ eyes for any sign of refusal.
“Do you permit it?” he murmurs.
Enjolras’ eyes give a flicker of recognition, and he nods. It’s enough. Grantaire closes the distance, the bow-curve of his upper lip fitting against Enjolras’ mouth as he presses a soft, almost chaste kiss there. He holds it for a beat, like the resonance on a plucked string. Air leaves his lungs in a soft gasp, and he deepens the kiss, opening his mouth to envelop Enjolras’ lower lip.
Enjolras makes a low noise, his lips moving a counterpoint to Grantaire’s. The realization that Enjolras is returning the kiss fills him with heat. He wants to deepen the kiss further, wants to show Enjolras that he has passions of his own, but there is still uncertainty in Enjolras’ bearing. While Grantaire has never been more certain of his own feelings, he doesn’t want to press things too quickly. He never even believed such a thing was within his reach, and that thought fills him with an unspeakable ache.
Tears well in his eyes, and he pulls back, not wanting Enjolras to see. The choked-off sob that escapes him is harder to hide.
“I’m sorry,” Grantaire says, “I’m so sorry, Enjolras. You—you trusted me, back then. You gave me a chance, and I let you down.”
It’s a preemptive measure, trying to assuage his own fears that he will ruin this again. All the same, he doesn’t want Enjolras to see his shame, and he tries to turn his head, hastily wiping his eyes.
Enjolras brings his hand up, and this time he is the one catching the back of Grantaire’s head, cradling it close so their foreheads are touching, and there is nowhere to look but into Enjolras’ eyes.
“Look at me, Grantaire,” he says, a gentle firmness to his tone, as though Grantaire will be able to do anything else.
“That is another life, and it is not fair for us to hold ourselves accountable for the regrets and mistakes we have made that we no longer have any control over.” Enjolras stares very intently as he says this, leaving little room for argument.
“Furthermore...you did not let me down. You let yourself down. You did not fully believe you could accomplish the task you had set for yourself, and your doubt allowed your vices to take precedence. My disappointment at that time was born out of the regard you held for yourself.”
Grantaire swallows, his throat tight. He doesn’t want to say that he still has doubts, for fear that they might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe this time he will be able to defeat them. It certainly seems possible, with Enjolras acting as an anchor. The comparison is more literal with the hand cupped around the pulse point of his neck.
“And it is I who should apologize to you,” Enjolras continues. “I confess, I did not fully realize the regard you held for me until those moments before we—before our deaths. Nor did I appreciate your worth.”
Grantaire huffs in disbelief, casting his eyes down. This is all too difficult to take in. “My worth...my life was worth very little until that moment. And my death had very little effect in the grand scheme.”
“No, don’t you see?” Enjolras implores, his hand an insistent pressure, thumb moving down to caress at Grantaire’s jaw. “It was worth everything. It made me understand where I stood, my own purpose in the revolution. With you at my side, everything seemed fully realized. You reminded me of that.”
Hope kindles in Grantaire, and he glances up, meeting Enjolras’ eyes again.
A small smile turns the corners of Enjolras’ mouth. “I thought...if you could believe in me...you whom I thought—incorrectly so—believed in nothing, then surely anything is possible.”
Grantaire angles his head to capture Enjolras’ lips again, cutting off any further words. He believes Enjolras now, but hearing it is more than he ever thought possible. It is one thing to find acceptance in moments before death, to stand beside Enjolras as an equal; it is quite another to have that acceptance reaffirmed now. He can’t form the words to respond, so he lets his mouth speak in other ways, in the insistent press of lips. His tongue traces the curve of Enjolras’ lip, licks into his mouth, memorizes the reverberation in the sigh Enjolras lets out.
And Enjolras responds, welcoming Grantaire’s tongue and curling his own against it. His hand cradling Grantaire’s head moves back to twine gently in dark curls, and in the space of a moment Grantaire finds himself leaning back on the couch. His own hands are caught in Enjolras’ shirt, pulling him with. There’s so much that he wants, and not enough time.
No, he reminds himself. They have time now, such as they didn’t have before.
When Enjolras leans close to kiss him again, Grantaire’s head falls against the couch back. He can’t help the wince that crosses his features or the sharp inhale of breath. Enjolras’ demeanor shifts in an instant, worry written on his face.
“You need rest,” he says.
“No, I’m fine,” Grantaire protests. “Really—”
“You’re not fine. You need to drink fluids and reapply the ice pack.” His glare offers no room for arguments. Grantaire holds it for a moment, and then relents, reaching for the mug on the table which turns out to be tea, now lukewarm. Enjolras stands, and Grantaire immediately misses his proximity.
“There are a couple things I need to do,” Enjolras is saying. “I need to make sure a few people made it from the rally okay, and make phone calls if anybody needs bail posted. I’ll—”
Grantaire is making an attempt to rise, which prompts Enjolras to place a firm hand on his shoulder.
“You can’t. What if something happens?”
“I have to.” Enjolras says, and Grantaire knows it’s true. Enjolras was always fiercely protective of his lieutenants—it was one of the things Grantaire admired about him—why should now be any different? “And I’ll be fine. This isn’t my first rally.”
“How can I contact you?” Grantaire asks. “Just in case something goes wrong.”
Enjolras considers this a moment. “Tell me you’ll remain here until I return?”
Grantaire purses his lips. If Enjolras meets with trouble, there is little that could keep him away. Still, he nods.
Enjolras takes Grantaire’s phone, and after a few taps on the touchscreen there’s a buzzing in his pocket. He hands it back. “There, now you have my number. Please stay here, get some rest. Drink water. Ah...you’re free to lay on my bed, if that will help.”
It’s a tempting thought. Enveloped by the smell of Enjolras. Perhaps too tempting. “I appreciate it,” he croaks.
Enjolras departs, leaving Grantaire alone in the apartment. In spite of the insistence to get rest, Grantaire is too alert for that now. He does finish the tea, however, and even a glass of water after that. The headache has subsided somewhat, and he isn’t lethargic or dizzy, so he guesses he escaped a concussion.
He ducks into the bathroom at one point to survey himself in the mirror. Aside from the lump on his head (which he holds the icepack to), he escaped the scuffle unhurt. Enjolras must have gotten to him quickly.
He had assistance, Grantaire reminds himself. He signalled to his friends and they must have moved to help without question, avoiding delay in order to escape arrest. But then, Enjolras had that effect on people. A request from him was an order, and an order...well, it didn’t bear disobeying. It makes Grantaire wonder what Enjolras truly sees in him, when he has friends and colleagues so loyal to his cause.
Peering closer at himself in the mirror, Grantaire is surprised to find it is the first time in almost four months that he has recognized the person staring back. It’s a strange feeling, to know who he is after so much time spent in confusion and doubt. There is still some doubt—he doesn’t know what he is yet to Enjolras, though the memories of those returned kisses linger.
Grantaire grabs his phone when he goes back into the living room. There are no missed calls, but his thumbs hover over the screen. Just a text of reassurance that everything’s okay, that’s all he wants. He begins to compose three texts, deleting each one, before he finally settles on a message:
avoiding arrest? hope so, not sure of apt policy on squatters
Ten minutes later his phone buzzes with the response.
Rest easy, R. Not in custody. Could be awhile though, try not to wait up for me.
Grantaire huffs. Little chance of that, going to bed when Enjolras is still out there. The phone buzzes again with another message.
Feel free to make food from whatever you can find. And drink water.
There’s a fond smile tugging the sides of his mouth as he looks down at the phone.
oui, mon capitaine, he texts back before he can stop himself.
The cabinets in the small kitchen tell their own story. They’re sparsely stocked, but what’s there is some variation of fair trade, whole grain, organic, no sugar added. He cares, that much Grantaire knew already, but by the same token sometimes neglects himself (judging by how thinly the cabinets are stocked). Grantaire makes himself a sandwich and drinks another glass of water. The latter is mostly from a lack of options. Of course Enjolras wouldn’t have any beer.
He doesn’t intend to sleep until Enjolras returns. He situates himself on the couch, aimlessly flipping channels, and the lull of fatigue takes him by surprise. When he opens his eyes, he’s laying down, and morning light is filtering through the windows. He tenses, immediately on edge, before he realizes there’s a blanket covering him that wasn’t there before. A quick glance around reveals the empty plate and glass are gone. Grantaire relaxes. He gets up to use the bathroom, glancing at the ajar bedroom door as he passes, just to confirm Enjolras returned. His headache has subsided, and while the bump on his head is sore to the touch, it isn’t causing him any further pain.
Enjolras wakes near noon. Grantaire at that point has made a pot of coffee in the hopes that the aroma will lure him out. Grantaire is mixing milk (hormone-free) into his mug when he hears movement, and glances up. Enjolras stands at the edge of the kitchen in loose-fitting pants and a t-shirt. His hair is a wild mess, a blond fan haloing his face. Grantaire feels like he’s swallowed his tongue.
“You could have woken me sooner,” Enjolras says, moving to pour himself a cup of coffee.
Grantaire shrugs. “I didn’t know when you got in,” he says, finding his voice. “I didn’t want to disturb you. Besides,” he punctuates his point with a sip from his mug, “you didn’t wake me up when you got back.”
“Point.” Enjolras drinks from his own mug, then pauses, a thoughtful look crossing his face. He inhales deeply. “This is very good.”
Grantaire does not blush at the compliment. He knows some people are particular about how they make their coffee, and he tends to go heavy on the grounds. He wants to close the distance between them, set their mugs aside on the empty counter space and then just taste the coffee lingering in Enjolras’ mouth. He wants to kiss him deeply, curling his tongue against the inside of his mouth until all traces of it are gone.
Grantaire swallows. This train of thought is dangerous. He changes the subject. “How did it go, last night?”
Enjolras’ expression darkens, his mouth a thin line. “Someone who took part in the rally instigated the riot in a direct attempt to undermine our cause. And it worked, the vote is being delayed so officials can ‘assess the international situation’ before they come to a decision.”
He’s got that edge of disappointment in his voice, the disappointment that comes from humanity not measuring up to all he imagines it can be. Grantaire has felt that sharp edge directed at him on more than one occasion, but he still feels the defeat keenly for Enjolras’ sake.
“I’m sorry,” Grantaire says, “And...your friends? Were any of them arrested?”
Enjolras gives a grim nod. “Two that I knew personally, and a few others besides. That’s what took so long...I had to make phone calls to all the necessary contacts, and make sure they’ve got legal representation or that bail was posted for them.” He pauses, a simmering anger in his bearing. “I don’t blame them for retaliating, but it never should have come to that.”
Grantaire wishes he could say something for Enjolras’ benefit, but all the appropriate words fail him. He’s struck again by the intense loyalty Enjolras has to those following his cause. In that, he hasn’t changed at all.
Then Enjolras asks about Grantaire’s field of study, and Grantaire launches into his own account of the semester. He explains his senior portfolio, and Enjolras seems genuinely interested on hearing about his work.
Grantaire pulls out his phone, going to his album where he had taken pictures of all his works prior to the faculty review. He passes the phone to Enjolras, who flips through the images. His face goes more somber, thumb hovering over one of the abstract pieces. It’s the one with rays of white and gold offsetting the shadows. Grantaire had later added gold leaf, creating even greater contrast. In Grantaire’s own mind, he has called it A View of Apollo From the Gutter, though he plans to title it something else for the exhibition.
“Yes,” Grantaire says automatically. He cannot be completely certain how Enjolras was going to end that sentence, but he can guess well enough. At the faculty review he hadn’t felt self-conscious in the least, but now he feels exposed, laid bare as Enjolras looks at his work, raw emotion written on his face.
Enjolras moves to another, the composition in red. Be easy, Grantaire had whispered in Enjolras’ ear in the dream. Enjolras’ cheeks color as he looks at the image, but if he guesses the reference he doesn’t say.
The next is the self-portrait.
“Oh, Grantaire,” he says.
There’s a broken, wavering note in Enjolras’ voice that sounds almost like pity. It makes Grantaire ache. He doesn’t want to dwell on his past sins, but more than that he doesn’t want Enjolras to feel that way on his behalf.
“Don’t—,” Grantaire says, unable to find further words.
Enjolras has reached the pastel drawing. He stares at it so long the phone screen goes dark. He rests the phone on the table again, and if there’s a slight tremor in the movement of his hands, Grantaire pretends he doesn’t notice it.
“Hindsight brings with it a newfound clarity,” Enjolras says quietly. “I confess, it took some time in the dreams before I noticed your presence, and even then, I didn’t—...had I known the regard you held for me then, I wouldn’t—”
“No,” Grantaire interrupts, “You behaved as you did because you were committed to your beliefs. I would not have had you set aside your priorities, and it would have been against your nature to do so. The stakes...the circumstances, did not leave room for much else.”
The question takes Grantaire by surprise, and he realizes Enjolras is asking because he truly doesn’t know. He’s looking to Grantaire for an answer, but Grantaire doesn’t think he can be the one to make that decision. What can he do; tell Enjolras his feelings are unchanged? And then put Enjolras in the position of having to decide then and there what his own feelings are.
If Grantaire wavers because he is afraid the outcome may not be what he hopes, he keeps that fear to himself.
Still, he feels he must take this chance while it is available to him. He reaches across the table to take Enjolras’ hand, turning over the palm and slender fingers, twining them with his own. Then, leaning down, he places a kiss on the knuckles.
The air is more charged than it was a moment ago. Enjolras swallows, and Grantaire wonders why they are still here at the restaurant.
Enjolras seems to have reached a decision, because he finishes the remainder of his food with a single-minded focus. They hardly speak as they go back to the apartment, though Enjolras takes Grantaire’s hand, thumb swiping over the pulse point at the base of the wrist. Grantaire shivers, not from the cold, and quickens his pace.
By the time they’re at the apartment again they can’t seem to stop touching each other—fleeting moments of contact as cold fingers grasp at forearms, wrists, the small of a back. Once inside though, it’s warm, and there are suddenly too many layers. Grantaire pushes at Enjolras’ shoulders, causing his jacket to slide off—the sleeve gets caught on a wrist, and Enjolras laughs as he shakes it free. The laugh is light and musical, and Grantaire marvels that he’s never heard it before. Grantaire divests himself of his own coat, and then they are moving together, caught up in a tight embrace that’s all warmth and solidity and safety.
Grantaire presses himself closer, and there it is—the hard line of Enjolras’ erection against his thigh. He groans, wondering if it would be appropriate if he dropped to his knees right here in the entryway of the apartment and buried his face in the groove of Enjolras’ hip. But no—if they are to do this, then he would like it done right.
Not that hallway blowjobs don’t have their merits.
“Enjolras,” he murmurs against the tendon of Enjolras’ neck. “May I—?”
Enjolras hesitates only the briefest of moments, and Grantaire can feel the flutter of his pulse beneath the skin of his neck. “Yes,” Enjolras says. “Only, I haven’t—”
He falters a moment. “That is to say, I’m not—”
Grantaire draws back so they can look upon one another. That Enjolras was inexperienced in his previous life is no surprise, nor is it in this one, though he finds it amazing that none had tried themselves on Enjolras’ beauty before now. Or perhaps they had, only to be turned away. Grantaire is unique, then. The thought fills him with both heat and nervousness.
“Rest easy,” Grantaire tells him. He does not say Be easy, for he fears that will have the opposite effect. “If you wish it, I will stop at any time.”
Enjolras’ gaze has a fierce intensity. “I do not wish it.”
That is all the invitation Grantaire needs, as he captures Enjolras’ lips again in a searing kiss. “Bedroom,” Enjolras says between breaths, and then they are moving, stumbling towards the bedroom but unable to break their contact with one another.
Clothes are lost in an awkward fumble. Grantaire almost falls over when he tries to remove his pants before his shoes, and then has to sit down on the edge of the bed to avoid a second head injury. Enjolras laughs again before quickly suppressing it, but Grantaire realizes he would do almost anything to hear Enjolras laugh like that, even if it is somewhat at his own expense.
He crawls onto the bed and licks into Enjolras’ mouth until he has swallowed his laughter. Until that mirth seems to reverberate within him, and he gives it back, all the while tugging at Enjolras’ remaining clothes. Finally they are both naked except for the boxer-briefs Enjolras wears (red, of course), and Enjolras lets out a light sigh as Grantaire’s hand slides beneath the waistband to wrap his cock in a loose hold. Grantaire swipes his thumb across the fluid already leaking from the head, and Enjolras’ eyes flutter shut.
Grantaire has to stop himself from gasping aloud. With Enjolras’ eyes closed, neck bared from his head falling back on the pillow, golden hair spread like a halo around his face—he has never appeared more godlike. Grantaire stretches so he can reach Enjolras’ face, placing a light kiss at the corner of his open mouth.
Enjolras arches into the kiss, but Grantaire has already pulled away to begin moving down his body. He would take his time with this—he wants to worship every inch of Enjolras, but he knows with his own impatience and Enjolras’ inexperience he won’t be able to keep that up for long. He satisfies himself with nuzzling at the soft cotton, mouthing at the line of his erection through the fabric. Enjolras groans and hitches his hips, and Grantaire grins, using the opportunity to pull the fabric down and off.
Even Enjolras’ cock is beautiful, flushed and gracefully curving up from his hip. Grantaire takes it in hand again, dragging his fingers up the length as he lowers his mouth to the head.
Enjolras shouts, his hips twitching upwards in a shallow thrust. Grantaire groans through it, and while part of him would like to encourage the movement of Enjolras’ hips, another part has other plans. He braces his forearms firmly against Enjolras, inhibiting any further such reactions, and begins to lower himself on Enjolras’ cock with practiced ease.
Hands tangle in his hair, not pulling, just settled there as if Enjolras intends to use Grantaire as a lifeline. That’s a new sensation, knowing he now serves as an anchor when he has always felt adrift. Adrift, that is, without Enjolras. He hums, hollowing his cheeks.
They circle each other, he realizes. Together, they form a harmonious unity, while apart they are lacking. Well—he is lacking. He knows well enough that Enjolras can function without him. But together. Together. They are opposite ends of the light spectrum and opposing sides of the color wheel. They are red and green. Red—Enjolras—fire and desire and passion (and blood). And green...
Green—indifference, jealousy...but also rebirth and renewal.
Enjolras is tugging at his hair now, and from his insistence he’s been doing it for some time. “Grantaire—ah—Grantaire, please, come here.”
And while Grantaire had no intentions of stopping, who is he to deny Enjolras when he sounds that desperate and strung-out? He curls his tongue a final time before sliding off, and the sound is obscene even to his own ears. Enjolras looks ragged, his eyes a haze of pleasure, and Grantaire wastes no time in going to him. Enjolras’ hands are an insistent pressure in Grantaire’s hair, guiding him.
They kiss, and it’s sloppy, messy, and the hottest thing ever. Grantaire groans as Enjolras’ tongue seeks out his mouth, tasting him. Enjolras has slung one of his legs over Grantaire’s hip, and Grantaire takes that as invitation to shift until their cocks are aligned. He thrusts against Enjolras’ hip, and oh—this plan works too. Judging by the way Enjolras has just bitten down on Grantaire’s lower lip, it’s good for him too.
Grantaire loses himself in the drag of lips and tongues, the thrusting rhythm of their bodies. The groove of Enjolras’ hip becomes slick with sweat and precome, and then Grantaire’s passage is eased further as Enjolras spends himself between them. His hands in Grantaire’s hair go impossibly tight, and Grantaire bites down on the juncture of Enjolras’ neck and shoulder as he thrusts once, twice more, before shuddering through his orgasm.
They lay like that a moment, Enjolras loosening his grip in Grantaire’s hair to card his fingers gently—apologetically—through it. Grantaire licks the area where he bit down, the indentations that didn’t break the skin but still left a reddened mark. He knows not what to say, and would refrain from speech altogether if it meant he could remain here, wrapped up in Enjolras for the rest of his natural life.
Grantaire cranes his head back, and it is a blissed-out expression on Enjolras’ face that greets him. His eyelids flutter, lethargy taking him, and Grantaire can’t help the grin that crosses his features that Enjolras would be one to fall asleep after sex. Even more, he marvels that he did that.
Grantaire places a kiss on his temple then gently unwinds himself. At Enjolras’ noise of protestation, Grantaire says, “Be easy, I am only going to get something with which to clean you.”
He makes his way to the bathroom, unashamed of his nudity, and washes off. Reaching the bedroom again with a damp washcloth, he halts in the doorframe, arrested by the sight before him.
Enjolras is resplendent. He has all the languid grace of a cat, his arms stretched above his head on the pillow. His head is canted slightly to the side, hair tumbling into his face. Grantaire’s eye is drawn to the lines of his torso, the dusting of hair leading to his spent cock, his thighs tangled in the sheets. If Grantaire were a sculptor, he would carve Enjolras’ likeness from the finest marble.
Grantaire approaches and uses the washcloth to clean the remaining mess. Enjolras opens his eyes, and they are the color of chromium blue with a daub of titanium white—almost enough to tempt Grantaire back into bed.
“Let me draw you.” The words leave Grantiare in a rush.
Enjolras’ brow furrows a moment, but he must see something in Grantaire’s expression to convince him, because he nods. Grantaire’s heart feels suddenly light, and he leans forward to place a kiss on Enjolras’ brow. He retrieves his sketchbook and drawing supplies. There is no spotlight available, but Grantaire shifts a lamp in the room to create a direct source of light and cast some shadows.
Enjolras looks nervous, worrying his lower lip with his teeth. “I’ve...ah...never done this before.”
“There’s nothing to it,” Grantaire says, smiling in spite of himself. He doesn’t want Enjolras to feel more self-conscious than he already is. “Just...lay there as you are now, and try not to move. If it makes you more comfortable, I’ll stay naked too.”
Color rises in Enjolras’ cheeks. “I’m not sure it does, but I won’t complain.”
It occurs to Grantaire as he settles himself that Enjolras was complimenting him. He hides his smile behind his sketchpad, beginning a gesture drawing as a warm up.
Enjolras is tense for the first couple minutes, insecurity or shyness taking precedence. Then, he relaxes, whatever personal reticence he held slipping away. The only sound in the room is the drag of pencil across paper. Enjolras’ eyelids are heavy, and they eventually fall shut as he drifts back to sleep.
Grantaire starts again on a fresh sheet of paper, this time aiming for realism. It’s been a few semesters since his figure drawing class, but he’d enjoyed the class at the time. Drawing from a person beat any memory or photograph—the relationship within the space felt that much more real. And this drawing was certainly on its way to exceeding any of his attempts to recreate Enjolras from memory.
He sketches contours first—the major lines of Enjolras’ body, the graceful curve of his neck, the angle of his elbow as his forearm falls across the pillow. Grantaire is conscious of the negative space in the drawing, wanting Enjolras to take up as much of the paper’s area as possible. He wants it to feel achingly intimate.
Next he maps the musculature—he gives more definition to Enjolras’ shoulders, his biceps, the planes of Enjolras’ stomach and the hard lines of his thighs where they tangle with the sheets. Enjolras is beautiful, and Grantaire communicates that to the best of his abilities as he selects from his pencils what to start with shading.
He spends the most time on the face, until every detail is perfect. He feels he already knows Enjolras’ face with some intimacy, but this time is different. This time Enjolras has permitted him. Grantaire clings to that fact as he shades in Enjolras’ proud brow, his eyebrows furrowed over closed eyes, the fan of eyelashes against his skin. His mouth is beautifully shaped, everything Grantaire had ever imagined it would be and more. Then, last, Enjolras’ curls in a wide disarray.
Grantaire is so focused he doesn’t notice when Enjolras wakes. He glances up from the paper—where short parallel pencil strokes have finally given definition to Enjolras’ figure—to find blue eyes watching him. Grantaire has pressed his tongue between his teeth as he works, and he has to bite down suddenly from the intensity of Enjolras’ gaze.
It doesn’t escape his notice that Enjolras’ cock has grown hard again.
“Are you almost finished?” Enjolras asks, and Grantaire is pleased to note Enjolras is not as patient as he sometimes pretends.
“The evening is still young,” Grantaire says, grinning. He is not quite unaffected, and it is only the sketchpad balanced on his knees that hides his own growing erection.
Enjolras lets out a grumble of frustration, and Grantaire goes back to shading—some of this he can finish later, but he’s only a minute or so away from a place where he can break. From out in the living room come the sounds of furious knocking.
Grantaire’s sketchpad slips on his knee as Enjolras twists on the bed, ruining his pose (it’s a good thing Grantaire’s drawing was so far along). Enjolras grimaces. “I’m sorry. I...I should get that.”
Grantaire nods, trying to keep his disappointment from showing. “You might want to put clothes on first.”
Enjolras looks down at himself, nods, and shouts “Just a minute!” in the direction of the living room. He hastily pulls on jeans and a t-shirt. Grantaire, after a beat, dresses as well. Whatever mood they’d had a moment before is gone now—there’s a nervous agitation to Enjolras’ movements. He paces out to the living room to open the door. Grantaire hangs back in the bedroom, unsure of what stays his feet. His heart skips out a staccato rhythm.
“Ian, what’s the matter?” Enjolras’ voice carries from the living room.
“None of us have been able to reach you, that’s what’s the matter. Did something happen to your phone?”
There’s a muffled sound that might be a curse, followed by, “I must have forgotten to charge it after I got back last night. I was out pretty late, making sure Jason and Katie didn’t have to spend the night in a holding cell.”
“I know. They texted me this morning. I was just worried that you—”
From Grantaire’s position by the door, he can look into the reflection of a picture frame and see most of what’s happening in the living room. Enjolras’ friend, Ian, is glancing around, and his gaze seems to have settled on something.
“Jeez, Michael, is that guy we brought up yesterday still here?”
Grantaire can see the way Enjolras’ entire posture seems to shift, as if he’s suddenly been thrown off-balance. Grantaire knows the feeling well, his own given name sounding foreign to his ears for some weeks now, before he even learned what his real name was.
What is real?
“Yes, he is, and I’ll thank you not to pry in the matter.”
Ian raises his hands. “Sorry, no offense meant, just—can you at least say who he is? You couldn’t exactly give an answer yesterday.”
“It’s...it’s complicated. I wish I could say more, but I’m still working it out myself.”
“Okaaay. Just, you know...wanted to make sure he wasn’t a serial killer or anything.”
“I’ll make sure to have all police reports regarding me forwarded to your inbox.”
Ian is suddenly scowling, all good humor melted away. “That’s why I needed to talk to you. It’s the vote, Michael. They’ve rescheduled it for the 18th.”
“But that’s—” Enjolras has gone rigid. “That’s tomorrow, whatever happened to ‘assessing the international situation’?”
(Enjolras does not airquote, but Grantaire can hear the inflection in his voice)
“I think they figured we’d be able to garner more sympathy the longer they waited. By forcing a vote through quickly, there’s less chance it will have the foothold it needs to pass.”
“But there’s so much to do.” Enjolras is all energy, pacing around the room. “We need...we need more flyers printed, we need to let everyone know. We don’t even have a permit.”
“That’s taken care of,” Ian says. “Well, to an extent. I’ve got a map online with the main public spaces marked, and my team is working to get it trending locally on twitter. As long as we keep to there, as long as we don’t retaliate, there’s nothing they can do to us.”
Ian is a bit like Combeferre, Grantaire realizes. Earlier, with his questions that toed the line between prying and jesting, there were touches of Courfeyac and Bossuet. Now though, he is all business and planning, arguing logic and nonviolence in the face of injustice. And Enjolras (Michael, part of his brain says) trusts Ian.
Grantaire tells himself it doesn’t bother him.
“You’re right though,” Ian is saying, “There’s still a lot to do. We’re hosting an emergency meeting tonight, and I thought about posting a video message from you—to get more people attending the event. There’s only so much twitter and facebook can do with words alone. If we do this right, though, it could rival yesterday in attendance.”
Enjolras nods, his frantic energy replaced by a tense stillness—the calm before a storm breaks. “I’ll be there...give me an hour?”
Ian departs, and Grantaire slumps against the bedroom door. He shouldn’t be feeling this sense of dread.
Enjolras remains in the living room a moment, the image of him reflected in the picture frame as he stands, unmoving. Whatever is going through his head at the moment, Grantaire has no idea. He is once again looking upon an untouchable Apollo. Enjolras moves, coming back towards the bedroom, and Grantaire has to stand aside to let him pass.
Neither of them are looking at each other. Grantaire can barely work past the knots in his stomach to form words. What are they to each other? Complicated, that’s what Enjolras had said. It’s appropriate, in its own way. How could either of them speak the truth in that situation? Far easier to call it complicated than “reincarnated after we died beside one another.”
Part of Grantaire knew it would reach this point. Neither of them is an island, and they can’t hope to remain in a self-contained world forever, reflecting but not reflecting on missed opportunities of lives past.
“I’m sorry,” Enjolras says, still not looking at him, “You heard what Ian said...I have to go.”
Grantaire nods, though whether or not Enjolras sees it he can’t tell.
“What makes you so certain this will all make a difference?” Grantaire says, slowly at first. The words have been mulling within him, gaining maturity, but only now do they appear fully formed on his lips.
Enjolras looks at him then, and there’s a sharpness in his gaze that cuts Grantaire to the core. “Because I have to try. I have to believe that we can be better than this...that we can make the world a better place.”
“We couldn’t before,” Grantaire says, knowing even as he speaks that he is damning himself. Enjolras is on the defensive now, and never was his Antonious more wild than when called to protect his position.
“But we did, don’t you see that? We may not have altered things directly, but those who came after us did. Think of the revolution of 1848, think of the countless others who followed in those footsteps. Each uprising, each time the people rise to condemn tyranny and injustice, the world has improved. In fits and starts, perhaps, and sometimes too slow for my liking, but it has gotten better.”
Grantaire recalls a drunken rant, one of many, that had been lost to his memory until now. He lets out a bitter laugh, saying quietly, “All history is nothing but wearisome repetition. One century is the plagiarist of the other.”
“Do you really believe that?” Enjolras hurls the words like an insult.
Grantaire looks down at himself. Why are they even here? Why retain these memories of another life? For what purpose, and to what end?
“Can I believe otherwise?” Grantaire forces himself to make eye contact as he says it.
“You must. I—I’m as confused as you are, about this whole...thing. I look at you, and I remember everything, those nights at the Musain, what I was fighting for...I remember an entire lifetime, impossibly long, though it ended too soon. I remember you. But then...I’ve lived a life here and now, and I can’t just forget that. Memories don’t change that. I can’t—I can’t be two people. But whatever this is...if we were reborn...isn’t it an opportunity to make things right? To make a difference in the world? It’s a second chance.”
Enjolras is almost pleading with him, and Grantaire can’t handle that. He bites back his own response. What if this is a second chance for us? He doesn’t say it, though. He’s already condemned himself enough with his own tongue, and he knows well what Enjolras’ reply to that would be. Much as he would like to blame Enjolras, he knows he can’t. He has always known Enjolras’ nature, just as he’s always known his own. He brings about his own downfall. This is just another Barrier du Maine.
“I can’t watch you die a second time,” Grantaire says, voice barely above a whisper.
And he knows Enjolras’ chances today are better than in the 1830s. He knows this, but it doesn’t stop his sense of dread. Because Enjolras won’t have the protection of a permit tomorrow. He is fire and passion and glorious purpose, and there are people in this world who would like nothing more than to see that fire extinguished. Whereas Grantaire, he would only like to be close enough to feel that heat without it consuming him.
If Enjolras asked, Grantaire would follow him in an instant. But Enjolras doesn’t ask. He just looks with disappointment as Grantaire gathers his sketchbook, his supplies, the remainder of his belongings, and leaves.
Grantaire rides his bike into the night, three solid hours in the freezing cold. By the time he’s back at his room, his face is red where it’s peeking behind layers of scarves, and his entire body is numb. Numbness beats the alternative, though. He raids his alcohol stash (which hasn’t seen much use this semester) until he finds the half-empty bottle of whiskey from last year. He polishes off another quarter as he strips layers of clothing, the burn of liquor serving to warm him. His tolerance has become shot to hell, and he feels bile rise in his throat.
Grantaire sits on the edge of his bed, nostrils flaring as he wills himself not to be sick. Hot tears well in the corners of his eyes, and he doesn’t have the strength to hold those back. He lets himself cry until his body is shuddering, and the remainder of the bottle of whiskey rests abandoned on his nightstand.
Reaching for his sketchpad, he opens it to the early drawings, all the recreations of Enjolras from his dreams. One by one, he tears them out, letting them fall in a pile on the floor. It is only when he reaches the final page that he stops. His hand is poised, gripping the corner of the drawing. Had it only been earlier today he’d created it? Enjolras had trusted him then, lowering his guards and setting aside his nervousness.
Grantaire knows he can’t stomach destroying something so beautiful. He can’t destroy what it means. Carefully, he smooths the crease created by his thumb, and closes the cover. Grantaire falls asleep curled in on himself and chilled to the bone.
There’s one missed call on his phone when he wakes up. It’s from Enjolras, at 3 am. Did he call after his meeting finished, after he recorded his video to rally the populace before morning? There’s no voicemail or text to accompany it.
Grantaire doesn’t respond.
The TV remains resolutely off in the corner; he removes the batteries from the remote and throws them away, resisting the urge to check the news stations. He turns his music up, letting it drown out the sound of his own thoughts.
Three days later there are no more missed calls from Enjolras. Grantaire tells himself he would know if something happened to him, but he can’t bring himself to find out—he’s afraid of what the answer will be. Instead he gives in to his parents’ insistence and goes home for the holiday. He spends five days immersing himself in family drama and trying to remember a young man named Raf. He tries to forget he ever started having dreams about young man named Enjolras.
He’s unsuccessful on both counts, but at least his parents are happy about his presence, in-between disparaging comments about his “senior thesis” and how it won’t do him any good once he’s out of school. Well, they don’t say that in so many words, but he knows they’re thinking it.
It’s another few days before Grantaire deems it safe to turn his TV on again. Long enough for word of a rally’s success or failure to be considered old news. The reality of that knowledge gives him pause, and he wonders at a media that is so insatiable for new material that it is quick to drop a story, regardless of importance, for whatever catches public attention next. He had always just accepted that, but now it makes him angry.
He wonders if he would have felt angry four months ago.
He’s seen many of the works before, in his former life. What art student in France would not have known the name of Jacques-Louis David? It’s interesting to look upon the works now, however, centuries later, and see how time has treated the vibrancy of the pigments. Grantaire even finds himself smiling as his professor gives the loosest possible account of the revolution, and what led to David’s subsequent rise as a political artist.
In later classes they look at portraits of Napoleon. While Grantaire has tried not to think on unpleasant memories, he can’t help but wonder at Enjolras’ reaction to the pompous, godlike figure depicted in the paintings. He lets out a laugh.
“Can I ask what’s so funny, Raf?” His professor, a pixie-faced woman with salt-and-pepper hair, looks at him in in veiled annoyance.
“It’s just...this painting,” Grantaire says, gesturing at the image on the projector. It’s a painting by Antoine-Jean Gros. While it had been painted before Grantaire’s time, he’s well familiar with it, having been a student of Gros. “It’s pure propaganda. Napoleon had those plague-infected soldiers poisoned, and there are rumors he burned the plague house to the ground. Yet here he’s depicted walking among them? He’s placing his fingers on their plague sores, which is a clear allusion comparing him to Jesus.”
His professor blinks, clearly surprised. “That’s...pretty much what the notes on this work cover. Does anyone else have further observations?”
Grantaire smiles, imagining Enjolras’ indignation that Napoleon would portray himself as the people’s savior.
In his studio classes, Grantaire continues work on his portfolio. He had considered, briefly, scrapping his current theme and starting anew, but with several more works to complete in the coming weeks, he knows he can’t handle the additional workload. He does make the decision to sign all his works so far with only an “R”, rather than his full name as he had in previous years. He can’t justify telling everyone who knows him to suddenly call him by a different name, but he can sign his artwork with something that still feels like him.
Grantaire considers for a long time what he wants his next few works to be. They have to cohesively fit with his earlier pieces, and obviously all his most prevalent memories of his past life have already gone into artworks. What does he have, then, but his recent experiences? There’s a tightness in his chest, regret over what he said and worry at how things turned out for Enjolras. He cannot bring himself to call, however. It’s not just fear that something happened; he does not trust himself yet. The hold Enjolras has over him both enthralls and terrifies him, and he would know himself a little better.
If Enjolras can be anchored in this life while still retaining memories of another, Grantaire would try to do the same.
Grantaire spends the remainder of that week on composition sketches for his planned works. One is of a rally, a throng of people united in (naive, perhaps) hope that they can change the world. Another is the chaos of a riot, dissenters pushing back and the swift retaliation of the law. The works will be a diptych, Grantaire thinks, as he stows his supplies.
“Liberty Leading the People,” the professor says, “by Eugene Delacroix.”
She glances towards Grantaire, as though waiting for him to grace them with his opinion. She’d been doing that since he’d spoken up about the Napoleon painting. Grantaire remains silent. He has nothing that he would speak aloud.
The work is high in contrast, a chiaroscuro of lights and darks. Liberty, barefoot, seems haloed in a cloud of pale smoke, while the mob that follows her fades into obscurity. The people are men and women from varying social classes, but only a few faces can be distinguished. Beside Liberty is a boy, still a child, brandishing a pair of pistols. Grantaire’s insides clench, and he is reminded of another orphaned boy.
He remembers the painting. It had been made to commemorate the July revolution only two years before the ill-fated uprising he’d taken part in. He remembers seeing it as a pupil of Gros’, during the short time the painting had been exhibited. At the time, he’d thought it excessively romantic, with a certain sentimentality for the ideals of revolution compared to its grim realities. He’d been ever the cynic, even then before his exposure to Enjolras’ group. Now, though—
“...the painting was taken down for what was seen as its inflammatory political message,” the professor is saying, “and after the uprising at the funeral of Lamarque in June of 1832, the painting was hidden from public display for fear that it would set a bad example. It wasn’t until the restoration of the republic in 1848 that it was exhibited publicly again.”
Now, Grantaire is reminded of what Enjolras said to him the day they parted. While the cyclical nature of rebellion might seem fruitless and endlessly repetitive, things changed. And while this painting may not have played a direct role in that, its imagery was considered dangerous enough that it had to be hidden from public view. It’s iconic, Grantaire realizes—even people who know nothing of art recognize the image and what it represents.
If an image can turn a man and an emperor into a god, then surely another can inspire people to change their world.
Grantaire is surprised, even more so when he realizes his semester has actually been going well. He’d finished the diptych last week, both pieces mixed media, and things are shaping up for the senior show at the end of the year.
He’s just arriving back at his room when his phone rings, a number he doesn’t recognize. He answers it without thinking.
“This is Michael’s friend, Ian. Please don’t hang up.”
Grantaire tenses, and for a moment he considers doing just that. His curiosity gets the better of him, however, and after a breathless moment he says, “How did you get this number?”
“Okay, so I did a shitty thing and I looked at his phone when he wasn’t in the room. And it took me a while going through the phone history to find it, because he only has you saved into his contacts as ‘R’, which I’m guessing isn’t your real name, but then again I wouldn’t know because he didn’t tell me.”
Grantaire’s initial curiosity is replaced by a curious fluttering (Enjolras saved him into his contacts), which is then replaced by annoyance. His chest is also tight with the knowledge that Enjolras is okay. Whatever happened at the rally, he seemed to have gotten out of it in one piece. “If he didn’t tell you, I’m sure he had a good reason.”
“That’s the thing, though. I’m worried about him. He’s been closed off, his sleeping pattern is all fucked, and he won’t tell any of us, but I think he’s really upset. At first I thought it was just because of the rally—”
“What happened?” Grantaire finds himself asking. He hates the note of dread that has crept into his voice.
“There isn’t much to say. The turnout was twice what it was the first time, but the vote didn’t go the way we’d hoped.”
Grantaire frowns in spite of himself. He knows how much that had meant to Enjolras, and he suspects that’s part of the reason he hasn’t received any phone calls after the first failed attempt.
“Thing is, he’s faced setbacks before. We all have. And usually he bounces back from them. With the amount of people who showed up to the second rally, even on such short notice, I thought that would have been enough to lift his spirits. But...I don’t know, he just hasn’t been the same since that night.”
Since the night he left. Grantaire’s stomach is in knots, but he finds himself opening his mouth, “What did he tell you...about that night?”
“Nothing, and that’s why I’m so worried. He hasn’t told me what was said or, or anything.” Though Ian chooses his words carefully, Grantaire doesn’t miss the hint of accusation in his tone. “That’s why I’m calling you. I figure if I at least knew, then I might be able to find a way to help him.”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Grantaire says.
“Don’t—don’t say it’s complicated. Michael pulled the same crap, but you left, and now he’s acting like he’s heartbroken, but that doesn’t make any sense because he hasn’t known you long enough for that. He couldn’t even say who you were the day before, when we brought you to the apartment. I wish I knew what happened, but he won’t talk about it, so now I’m calling you because you’re the only person who does know. So please...please tell me.”
Grantaire can tell Ian is being sincere. There’s a desperate edge to his pleading, and it makes Grantaire’s throat go tight in something that is not quite jealousy. He just wishes he had a friend who cared about him as much as Ian clearly cares about Enjolras (Michael).
Grantaire clears his throat. “First of all...I want to thank you for helping get me out of there, when I was knocked out at the rally. When—when Michael said he didn’t know who I was, he wasn’t being entirely honest with you, but I’m not lying when I tell you the truth is too impossible to believe.”
It feels strange to call Enjolras by any name other than Apollo in his mind, but he moves past that. Ian is quiet on the line, waiting patiently for Grantaire to continue.
“He remembered me from another life...before this one. Since last fall, I’ve been having recurring dreams...and he’s appeared in all of them, though I had never met him. He had been having similar dreams, and when I was at the rally...he recognized me.”
Ian is quiet for a long while. Finally, he says, “You’re right, that does sound impossible.”
“You don’t have to believe it,” Grantaire says, a sharp edge to his voice. “But you asked for the truth, and there it is. We both lived in France in the beginning of the 19th century. We died in the June rebellion of 1832. Call me crazy if you want to, but he has those same memories. And I left that night before the rally because I told him I couldn’t watch him die a second time, which is stupid really, because clearly he survived that one. But what about the next rally, or the next protest? I held his hand as we were shot and while I don’t regret that for a moment, I couldn’t go through it a second time. I couldn’t watch him act like his life doesn’t matter. Because it does. It matters to me.”
Grantaire falls silent, aware that he’s probably said too much. Ian will hang up on him, probably thinking he’s some kind of creepy stalker. A quick glance at his phone screen says the call is still active, however.
“I’m not saying I don’t believe you...just that it’s pretty unbelievable,” Ian says, words carefully drawn out.
Grantaire lets out a huff of laughter. “I know that. Try having dreams of another life for a few months, see how your grip on reality is after that. And no, I couldn’t tell you how or why any of this seems to have happened.”
“And if I wanted to ask Michael about it, to confirm what you’ve said?”
“Be my guest. Though if you’re having doubts that my story is true, you might try using his other name...Enjolras.”
Ian makes such a mangling of the pronunciation that Grantaire has to bite down on his knuckle to avoid laughing, and then he repeats it back until Ian says it properly. “What’s your name, anyway?” Ian asks.
“Where does the ‘R’ come in?”
Grantaire smiles. “Private joke.”
“Did you...did you watch the video he recorded the night before the rally?” Ian asks.
“No.” Grantaire knows he wouldn’t have been able to handle it, so soon after upending his life again.
“I think you should...knowing what you’ve told me, it’s clear you’re both hurting, and there are some things he says that might help.”
“Maybe I will,” Grantaire says, but he’s unsure.
“And...I know I’m not one who should be telling people how to live their lives, but maybe you guys should try to talk things out? I know he tried calling you once, and I know he’s a proud bastard at times, but someone has to make the first move eventually...unless, of course, you no longer want to.”
Grantaire feels a brief flash of terror at the thought of never seeing Enjolras again. Now that he knows Enjolras is safe, part of him wants nothing more than to cancel his weekend plans and go to him. Another part holds back, however, and that’s the part Grantaire has grown accustomed to listening to lately.
“I do...want to see him, that is. I just—I don’t know if I’m ready to do that yet.”
They exchange a few more words, before Ian ends the call. Grantaire doesn’t know how to articulate that he’s still figuring things out. He’s still trying to reconcile the life he once had with the life he has now. He’s still trying to figure out if he’s Grantaire, or Raf, or if they’re one and the same.
And beneath all of that, there’s still the fear that even if he were to see Enjolras again, things still wouldn’t work out. Because at their cores, are they not the same people they once were, and on some level won’t they always be at odds? Grantaire has no easy answer for that, but he does glance briefly at the whisky bottle on his nightstand, untouched since break. He’s had some alcohol pass his lips since then, beers among classmates on a Friday afternoon, but it doesn’t have the same pull it once did.
(He’s terrified of waking up to silence, because he knows what that silence will bring.)
There are still nights he wakes up shaky and covered in sweat, and it takes him a moment to realize it isn’t because of a dream, for once. He’d slowly given away the liquor in his cache, but he keeps the whiskey bottle on his nightstand as a reminder of that night. He doesn’t want to feel that way again. But if he can change, even that much, then perhaps they are not so doomed to repeat history after all.
Enjolras is wearing the same clothes Grantaire saw him in last. He looks...weary. Not significantly so, and not noticeable enough that people who don’t know Enjolras might tell. It’s there, however, in the tightness of his eyes, the lines at the corners of his mouth. Then his lips part to speak, and for the first time in one of Enjolras’ speeches, Grantaire forgets about how beautiful Enjolras is, and makes an effort to hear every word he speaks.
“For those of you who are not up-to-date with recent developments, at yesterday’s rally there was an individual—unidentified at this time—who provoked someone outside our movement, and brought about police retaliation. The rally was broken up, but far more upsetting was the news that the vote scheduled for that day was being delayed. Only an hour ago did I learn they chose to reschedule it for tomorrow.”
There’s a cold fury in Enjolras’ eyes as he speaks, and Grantaire wonders if, given the power, he would seek out retribution for those wrongs.
“My friends, they would seek to imbalance us with their prevarication. They hope their sudden change of plans will discourage us from convening. I say, we must not allow setbacks to prevent us from standing together. Should we allow ourselves to be cowed by an inconvenience?”
Enjolras swallows, and there’s a waver in his eyes. Grantaire, in spite of himself, leans forward. He knows Enjolras is only looking at the camera, but in that moment it seems he’s looking through him. Blue eyes bore into his.
“I know there are some among you...those who will say ‘what difference can I make?’ It seems a lot to ask of people, when we look at the world, and see all that is wrong in it. But there are those of us who are granted some fortunes over others. There are those of us who have a voice when others are forced to remain silent. What can a person do? They can stand up. And if enough of us are united, we are harder to ignore.”
Grantaire is caught in that unblinking gaze. He has heard countless speeches of Enjolras, some perhaps more eloquent, but none have affected him like this. He feels something uncurling deep within him, an unburdening that makes his soul feel light.
“If you cannot stand with us, then grant us your voice. If not your voice, then your vision. If not your vision, then your time, or your talents. Your support.”
Grantaire stares at the screen for several minutes after the video ends. He can see the video responses people have made, those who could not make it to the rally lending their “voices”. He sees the log of tweets and social media posts, the trending hashtags. He sees the pictures from that day. So many people, and yet the rally was unsuccessful. He can see why its failure hit Enjolras hard.
Or was it? Since the rally, people have continued to pledge their support for Humanity Outreach International. Grantaire can see where they have donated their time or their resources, and through the company, some of Enjolras’ goals have been achieved.
Grantaire feels a strange sense of calm. He knows now what he must do, certainty mingling with purpose. Pulling out his phone, he finds Enjolras’ number and composes a text.
senior art show
may 2nd, 5 pm
He adds in the map location for his University and hits ‘send’.
Finally, it’s the day of the senior show. It’s the highlight of the art department’s year, with hallways and rooms converted into gallery space. Its placement at the end of the year means parents will visit before they go on to see their kids graduate. There are also alumni and sponsors visiting. Grantaire is counting on them. His own parents couldn’t make it to the opening, but they’ve promised to be there later in the week. Considering what he has planned, Grantaire thinks that’s for the best.
Grantaire is wearing dress pants, a white button down, and a dark green waistcoat. He’d forgone the jacket. While there was no official dress code for the show opening, all artists participating were asked to look nice, and Grantaire thought this was much better than his usual haphazard outfits.
He’s greeting his professors, shaking hands as they congratulate him on a year well done, when he sees a flash of gold at the doorway. It’s Enjolras, radiant in spite of the unsurety on his face. He’s wearing a suit—lean, dark lines that accentuate his body, a dark red tie at his throat. Grantaire excuses himself and approaches.
“Enjolras,” he says, awed in spite of himself.
Enjolras looks at him, chromium blue-tinted eyes flashing, and there’s a wariness there, but it softens on seeing him. Everything Grantaire had planned to say flees his mind, and he’s left there staring, wanting to close the distance between them but all he can think about is everything they last said to one another.
“I...ah...I didn’t know if you’d be here,” Grantaire says.
Enjolras rolls his shoulders in a graceful shrug. “You asked me to be here. Well...you sent the text. Ian told me to get in the car.”
Grantaire feels a curious fluttering, and realizes he has been staring at the bob of Enjolras’ adam’s apple above the knot of the tie for a beat too long. He had hoped Enjolras would be here, but after there was no reply to the text...
“I heard about the rally,” Grantaire says carefully, “I’m sorry...the vote didn’t go as you hoped.”
There’s a sharpness in those eyes again as Enjolras looks guarded. “What, no ‘I told you so’ because we achieved nothing?”
Grantaire stares, bewildered. “Do you truly believe I could ever take enjoyment from your setbacks? My own pessimism may get the better of me, but I have always wanted you to be the one proven right. And if you think you achieved nothing...well, your perspective is too narrow.”
Enjolras is looking at Grantaire with a searching expression. There’s still a wariness in the way he holds himself, and Grantaire lets out a sigh. “Come, let me show you something.”
He leads Enjolras to the area with his work. Hanging on the stark gallery walls, spotlights carefully illuminating them, is far better than any cell phone pictures can achieve. Enjolras is silent as he looks at each in turn, and Grantaire takes that opportunity to observe him. There had been tension in his shoulders when he arrived at the gallery, but as he makes his way to each painting, that tension slowly drains. He seems engaged in some internal debate, judging by the furrow in his brows and the way his his hands clasp and unclasp behind his back. Grantaire wonders which argument will win.
“This one is new,” Enjolras says, the first he has spoken for some time.
It’s a mixed media piece that combines acrylic paint and small wood panels. Grantaire had arranged them, overlapping the different sized blocks so they were at varying distances—some set further back, some coming more towards the viewer. The whole thing was then primed, and each small panel individually painted with a color scheme to evoke a particular emotion. Contour lines connected all the panels, forming the shape of two hands entwined. Grantaire had then positioned the spotlight on this work specifically, so the edges of certain blocks cast angled shadows on others. One hand is illuminated, the other in shadow.
(Permets-tu, Grantaire had titled it. All his works are titled, though none have additional commentary. Let viewers make what they will of it.)
Enjolras looks overwhelmed. He wants to say something, Grantaire can see his throat working to form the words, but they won’t come. He saves Enjolras the trouble, simply holding his hand out.
Enjolras takes it, fingers entwining with his, and they continue to the next piece on the wall. On more than one occasion his free hand moves out suddenly, before he seems to remember he is looking on artwork, and pulls his hand up short. A few times he opens his mouth to speak, a “Grantaire, I—” that is aborted as he just looks between the work and Grantaire in wordless awe.
It makes Grantaire’s heart swell, and he wonders if Enjolras is holding himself back in part because the gallery is still milling with people.
(If Enjolras’ hand tightens in Grantaire’s when he looks upon the Rally and Riot diptych, Grantaire says nothing.)
It’s the final painting that Grantaire is most looking forward to Enjolras seeing. When they reach it, Enjolras is stunned, trying to take it all in. It’s huge, the largest piece Grantaire has made. The figures—as in other works of his senior portfolio—are abstracted so they aren’t immediately distinguishable, but they move together as a throng. It is a crowd united in a common vision, moving upward. The movement of the piece leads the viewer’s eye around, with focal points created by areas of high contrast.
He admits, he had used the concept of Liberty Leading the People as inspiration, though the dark areas are not so dark, the image is less about triumph and more about hope, and there is no Liberty who stands apart from the rest. The people here move as one, and in Grantaire’s mind he hears their voices.
(They are those who stood with Enjolras at the second rally when Grantaire couldn’t. They are those who sent in their own videos. They are Combeferre, Courfeyrac, Jehan, Joly, Bossuet, Bahorel, Feuilly and countless others.)
“What do you call it?” Enjolras asks. His voice sounds reverent.
“The dream of a better tomorrow,” Grantaire says.
Enjolras looks at Grantaire then, as if searching for any hint of mockery. When his sees none, his countenance changes to one of wonderment. He’s shifting closer, and there’s no mistaking the look in his eyes...
“Wait,” Grantaire says, holding up his free hand. “There are announcements.”
Enjolras looks confused, but follows when Grantaire tugs his hand. They move to the next room, where chairs and a podium have been set up. People are taking their seats; classmates and their family members, alumni, professors and sponsors.
The head of the department launches into a speech about how pleased he is by this year’s graduating class. Grantaire tunes most of it out, because Enjolras is sitting beside him, their calves are pressed together, and Enjolras’ fingers are tracing small circles on his palm and wrist. They’re okay, he thinks, or very near it. Grantaire knows he doesn’t always have the right words, especially in regards to their last encounter, so he’d let his work speak for him.
Faculty members are acknowledged for their dedication. Two of Grantaire’s classmates are awarded with scholarships to the grad schools they plan to attend. The department head takes the podium again.
“One final announcement this evening. By now many of you will have seen the haunting and inspiring series of works by a particular member of our artists. Raf has asked me to make this announcement on his behalf, that starting this evening all of his work is up for silent auction, with all proceeds to be donated to Humanity Outreach International.”
There is applause, but Grantaire barely hears it. As everyone rises to enjoy the catered food and socialize, people approach to congratulate him. Grantaire nods his thanks, and shakes their hands, but he is aware only of Enjolras. Enjolras, who right now is looking on Grantaire with a combination of astonishment and admiration.
“I didn’t do it for you,” Grantaire says, not unkindly. “It was, in part, because of what you said in your video...but it wasn’t for you, or so that you’d have a better opinion of me, or anything.”
Enjolras looks as though he wants to interrupt, but Grantaire’s expression stays him.
“A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. Only, you know what? That’s a pretty bleak way of looking at things. I’m always going to have doubts...I’m always going to feel disillusioned. But I needed to know I wasn’t entirely lost.”
“And if we’re keeping with the Oscar Wilde metaphor, I needed to know the value of something. So I chose my artwork. What could that be worth to someone else? Enough to feed a village? Enough to buy medicines? Enough to teach literacy to someone who would never have that chance? Then, maybe, there will be a few less cynics, and a few more people with voices who can be heard.”
Enjolras is crowding into his space, hands moving to Grantaire’s face as he leans in for a kiss, deep and breathtaking. Grantaire is dazed, caught by clear blue eyes that are inches from his own, while Enjolras’ thumbs stroke his cheekbones.
“I can’t believe you,” Enjorlas murmurs. “I...you—”
“Why me?” Grantiare asks suddenly. “Why care about me? There are others who could follow you better than I ever could. Those who believe more than I do. Ian—”
“Ian has a girlfriend,” Enjolras says, breath leaving him in a huff. “And yes, he’s a close friend. But you—”
There’s a curious expression in those eyes, and Grantaire swallows under the weight of that stare.
“You amaze me,” Enjolras says punctuating the remark with a kiss on his forehead. “And you exasperate me.” Lips brush against his cheek. “And you—you inspire me.”
The kiss, this time, is to the mouth.
Grantaire sighs into it. There are still apologies to be made—or perhaps they’re beyond that. They’ve said them already, in looks and touches. It’s past, like their previous lives, and the only way ahead is forward.
“Could we...take this indoors?” Enjolras asks. “I would like to continue where I am not held accountable to laws of public decency.”
The thought of what Enjolras might do if they don’t take things indoors is enough to send a rush of heat through Grantaire, but he would like some privacy as well. He nods. “This way.”
Grantaire’s room is a mess, but his bed is blessedly clear. He’s about to apologize for the clutter when Enjolras crowds into his space and kisses him again with such slow deliberation and barely restrained intensity that Grantaire goes weak, sagging against Enjolras where he stands. Enjolras pulls back, and Grantaire can breathe again, though coherent thought is slower to return. It takes him a moment to realize Enjolras has already unfastened two of his waistcoat buttons and is already on the third.
Grantaire hurries to reciprocate, pushing Enjolras’ jacket off his shoulders and pulling at the knot of the tie. That serves only to tug Enjolras’ face to his own again, and he wouldn’t complain except he’d really, really like it if they were more naked at the moment.
(Part of his mind is still lost somewhere in oh is this really happening then yes)
“Let me,” Enjolras says.
Grantaire goes still, unable to refuse such a request. Enjolras looses the tie and lets it fall to the ground, then renews his attentions on Grantaire’s buttons. He’s reached the shirt now, and then it’s undone and shirt and waistcoat are shuffling off. Grantaire wants to say something about how Enjolras has too many clothes on, except Enjolras is looking at him like he’s something to be treasured, and that makes the words die on Grantaire’s tongue. He wants to swallow his tongue a moment later as Enjolras trails fingers lightly down his torso. They stop only when they reach his waistband, except they’re not stopping and they’re undoing button and zipper and...
It’s like Enjolras is coming out of a trance, the way his eyes flicker back to Grantaire’s. He kisses Grantaire then, swiftly and soundly, and then he is gone, dropping to his knees so he can pull off trousers and underwear and—jesus—his shoes and socks. It’s strangely intimate, and Grantaire has to rest his hands on Enjolras’ shoulders for balance as he lifts his foot to accommodate. Finally he’s naked, and Enjolras places a small kiss to the inside of his left knee before rising, completely ignoring any other parts of Grantaire’s anatomy.
“Wait on the bed,” Enjolras says, his voice far more wrecked than it has any right to sound.
Grantaire can barely stand after that display of tenderness. He isn’t sure about his chances of making it to the bed in one piece, especially with Enjolras now removing his remaining garments. He forces himself to turn around, however, and navigates the clutter on the floor until he reaches the bed.
Enjolras joins him a moment later, bracing his body above Grantaire’s as he kisses him, more deliberate kisses that make him go boneless and breathless against the mattress. Their bodies are so close, and Grantaire wants to reach for his ass and grind their hips together, only Enjolras is slowly kissing his way down Grantaire’s neck, licking at the hollow of his throat and making his way over to trace his tongue around a raised nipple.
Grantaire nearly shouts, letting out an “Enjolras, please” as he reaches his hands down to grip muscled shoulders. Enjolras is undeterred, licking again before switching his attention to the other, this time catching the nipple with the barest pressure of teeth.
And then Enjolras is moving lower, kissing and licking and sucking but slowly, too slowly. He is absorbed, determined to pay every part of Grantaire some measure of attention. It takes a moment for Grantaire to realize it is reverence that curtails Enjolras’ passion. He recognizes it only because he has known that feeling intimately, regarding Enjolras. To have it directed back at him is an unfamiliar and humbling experience.
Enjolras’ lips brush his cock, mouthing over it. Grantaire’s head falls back on the bed.
Enjolras hesitates with his mouth hovering low over Grantaire’s cock. Grantaire lifts his head. There’s a flash in those eyes that looks like contemplation, and something like hope flares in Grantaire.
“Would you? Fuck me?”
Enjolras looks uncertain now. “I haven’t—”
“I’ll talk you through it, whatever you need,” Grantaire says, words spilling out. “Please? I trust you.”
Enjolras seems almost startled by the admission, and he nods, eyes wide. “Okay.”
“Lube and stuff is in the drawer.” He gestures, and Enjolras retrieves the bottle and a condom.
“How do you want to do this?” Grantaire asks, his voice steady despite his now racing pulse that has nothing to do with nerves. “Facing me, or—”
“Okay.” Grantaire’s heart leaps. “Okay, so. Lube, fingers. Don’t worry if it seems like too much.”
While Enjolras does that, Grantaire reaches for an extra pillow and positions it under his hips so they’re tilting up, legs apart. At the first touch of Enjolras’ slick fingers, Grantaire lets his head fall to the bed again. His breath hitches as a fingertip traces around and slips in, just the tip.
“Yeah.” His voice is breathy. “Like that. You can give me more.”
With that encouragement, Enjolras slides the entire finger in. It’s easy to relax into that pressure, even more so when he languidly draws it back before thrusting it forward again. “Hnn, yes...another.”
A second finger works its way along with the first, and Grantaire groans low in his throat. He blinks his eyes open, only to be caught by the look of utter amazement on Enjolras’ face. Enjolras curls his fingers, and it wrests a cry from Grantaire.
“Did that hurt?”
“No it fucking didn’t, do that again.”
Enjolras does, and Grantaire is an instrument in his hands. Enjolras plays him, plies him, until Grantaire is pliant and trembling from stimulation and he’s murmuring, “Yes, yes, okay now, now please.”
Another moment of delay, a moment too long, as Enjolras gets the condom and then he is there, pressing in hot and hard and slick. Grantaire lets out the breath he’d been holding in, wraps his legs around Enjolras’ hips, and holds on as Enjolras begins thrusting. It’s a slow drag at first, maddening and too much and not enough, but Enjolras is still considerate of Grantaire’s comfort. Then Grantaire reaches down, gripping again at Enjolras’ shoulders, and something shifts. Grantaire can only hold on as hips snap forward, and it’s perfect, it almost is, except—
And then Enjolras is leaning forward, leaning down so he can kiss at Grantaire’s lips, so they can breathe into each others’ mouths, and the angle is suddenly that much better. His cock is trapped between the slick pressure of their stomachs, and the angle is perfect and he isn’t going to last long, he isn’t—
“Enjolras,” he groans out, body going tense as his cock spends itself between them. He shudders through his orgasm, while Enjorlas’ movements become erratic above him. His hips lose their rhythm and Grantaire musters his strength to draw his legs tighter, just a little encouragement. Enjolras thrusts again deeply before he tenses, his cock pulsing.
“Grantaire,” he keens.
Grantaire catches him when he slumps forward, captures him in a tight embrace as Enjolras breathes out in little huffs against his collarbone. Grantaire breathes, cradling the back of Enjolras’ head and combing fingers gently through his hair. He would remain like this if he could, but he knows they must extricate themselves sooner rather than later. Especially with Enjolras on his way to drifting to sleep.
“Enjolras,” he murmurs.
Enjolras shifts back, pulling himself free. There’s a sluggishness to his movements, but he disposes the condom and returns with tissues for Grantaire. Then he settles back into the bed, nuzzling against Grantaire’s side. Grantaire smiles, a glow seeming to light him up from within. He cards his fingers through blond hair again.
“That drawing of me,” Enjolras says after several minutes. “It wasn’t at the show.”
“No,” Grantaire says. “That one is special, it represents something special. I could never sell that, even for charity.”
Enjolras lifts his head. “I never did get to see it, you know.”
There’s a lump in Grantaire’s throat at the memory of how that day turned out, but that’s past. He shifts on the bed, reaching for the sketchbook where he placed it on the nightstand. He offers it to Enjolras.
Enjolras opens the sketchbook. If he notices the ragged, torn edges where Grantaire had ripped earlier drawings out, he says nothing, but he lets out a soft gasp at seeing the final drawing of him.
“What does it represent, for you?” Enjolras asks finally, having stared at the image for some time.
“Trust,” Grantaire says, remembering how he had felt when Enjolras, in spite of his initial misgivings, had allowed him this. “Belief.”
Enjolras sets the sketchbook down, and leans over to take Grantaire’s face in his hands and place kisses across his lips. Trust and belief. The feeling, Grantaire thinks, is mutual.
This fic has been a labor of love, inspired in part by my own past experience as a studio art major/art history minor. That Antoine-Jean Gros painting exists, and I like to think a young and cynical Grantaire would have taken issue with it, in spite of his apprenticeship. And for reference purposes, Liberty Leading the People.
The title of the work comes from a quote by Terri Guillemets: "When painting, an artist must take care not to trap his soul in the canvas"
EDIT: omg there's fanart. I can't even articulate how happy this makes me. Everyone go look at perplexingly's art, and tell her how fantastic it is.