The sudden silence in the back room of the Cafe Musain is deafening and just a bit icy. The new arrival, his finger still pointed at Corsica on the bottom of the large map on the wall, is oblivious to it. He has to be, for following Enjolras' counter he launches into a fervent speech extolling the virtues of the Emperor Bonaparte. The rest of them listen in silence, as Marius lauds his contributions to the land of France, the leader of their group staring into space.
Grantaire watches as incredulous disapproval becomes more and more apparent on their faces, and the still pensiveness on his, at least for those who know him well. It would be hilariously comical, were it not for the memory of kissing that disdainful lip, a long time ago, when Enjolras had been slightly younger and he himself had been so much older.
Then Marius stops, triumphant — and is promptly torn down by Combeferre with just two words. His part done, he stands and leaves through the back stairs leading down to the street, singing as he goes. The others follow his example and file out.
Grantaire does too. After all, he himself had ruled for twice as many years over a much bigger empire — encompassing half of Europe and all of the Mediterranean — and had held all of it together and in peace until he died and passed it on to his successor. Bonaparte, fellow landsman he might have been, was nothing.
It is seven years into his reign, and he has been away from Rome for four years, travelling the empire he inherited to ensure its protection and continued prosperity. His predecessor had greatly expanded its borders, and now it is his duty to preserve it by fortifying them. In the north the Limes Germanicus is being reworked and in Britannia the new Vallum Aelium will help to keep the Scoti and other tribes from the distant province. Out here, he is inspecting the troops, and the dedication and effort he makes in reaching the furthest places of the empire, shying away from no hardship, is inspiring both awed loyalty and best behaviour in anticipatory fear of his sudden visits. Wherever he goes he ensures the improvement of the local infrastructure, ordering new roads and bridges, restoring public buildings and temples and traditions.
Following successful negotiations with the Parthians on his way from Egypt Hadrian moves through Syria to the cities of Asia Minor, his further goal Ephesos from where he will take a ship across the Aegean.
In Bithynia, he meets a boy. His name is Antinoos, the scion of a Greek family.
He is the most beautiful creature Hadrian has ever gazed upon. His eyes are deep and blue, his hair the colour of gold, like the gods and heroes of old, locks long and wavy, like a youthful Apollon walking the earth. His body is lithe and well-formed, unmarred skin pale underneath the warm glow put there by the sun.
Antinoos is well-spoken and learned, and knows by heart all the epics and poetry of old. Witnessing him recite makes it seem as if one were listening to them anew, seem as if one were transported across the ages to sit at the feet of Homer or of the Nine. He speaks like he studied with the greatest rhetors and sings as if Orpheus himself had blessed him. He can argue on philosophy and politics, and does so with fervour. His body is honed and strong, and he is the fastest and most enduring runner on the dromos. Among his peers he is outstanding in every way, different from the others who are careless and rash, still merely conceited boys.
Antinoos is pensive and thoughtful, and wise beyond his years. Even at his young age he is kalos kai agathos, body and soul in perfection.
Hadrian is struck in the heart with gold, painful and deep, and he knows it will endure.
He spends as much time in his company as he can, and feels as though he learns as much by watching and listening to him as the youth does in their debates, if not more so. Humbled, he ponders how this must be the kind of love spoken of by the philosophers, the one that teaches and inspires the mind to rise above itself.
The thought of parting makes his heart sink and a tentative idea rise, as the enjoyment of their company had seemed mutual. One evening Hadrian takes the youth's hand and asks him. Asks if he would like to accompany him when he leaves, even if only for a time; he could come with him to Greece, and then to Rome if he did not yet want to return home. He could see the world, observe his work and learn so much; in return, he would demand nothing but the easy companionship they already shared. Antinoos presses his hand and begs time to think on it, before they part for the night. Hadrian knows his own offer to be honest, and knows it will be returned in kind. Whatever he may choose, the youth knows his own mind and will stand with his convictions, and he knows he can choose freely and would always do so anyway; otherwise Hadrian would never have asked.
When he boards the ship in Ephesos, Antinoos is with him. They spend a full year in Greece, the boy marvelling at all the sights he knows from his learning but has never seen. When Hadrian leaves to finally return to Rome, the youth is still by his side.
Grantaire has not been feeling well lately, and so is walking the halls of the Louvre to cheer himself up and be inspired, when his gaze falls upon a particular statue and the name written below. He has already been here many times but this day he is struck in place. He knows that one, of course he does, but his hands are sweating and there's a pressure behind his eyes and he sees double, a face beyond that does not match the one carved in stone but which he knows with unexplainable certainty to be the same person. A person which he has never met but knows intimately, nameless until now, who has been haunting his dreams for years and at times even his waking hours.
He tries to swallow but his throat is an impenetrable lump, tries to breathe but finds no air. He feels lightheaded, fears he will faint, and that is his last thought before the pressure breaks and his mind is flooded.
There is so much, decades of life, too much to process, but shining out bright and clear from the torrent is one thing: the boy from his dreams — beloved Antinoos — and he is filled with blissful happiness and wants to laugh but can’t, and then everything turns sour and into cold pallid skin and he wants to scream but the wail is stuck in his throat—
He does not remember how he came to leave the building, nor is he entirely sure of how he managed to make his way back to his apartment. His head is spinning and heavy and he drops on his bed and sleeps, sleeps like the stones in the Louvre, until he wakes late the next day.
The world is still the same and going about its business outside his window, but Grantaire is changed. Grantaire remembers, remembers a life lived more than one and a half millennia ago. There is now a second shadow of older memories behind the ones he made in his life so far, and they come to him both when recalled and unbidden, just as his new ones do.
He knows all this should be impossible, this should be delusion, madness, but he feels this with a surety and vividness that stands unquestionable in his heart. The boy he remembers now — the name still unbelievable — is the same he has dreamed, and he is not sure whether that changes it for good or ill. Maybe it would have been better if he had stayed just a dream, a vague longing understood to never be fulfilled, than to possess the memories of having had that fulfillment and lost it, and to never have it again.
The memories of it all are here, uncaring of whether they are real or a product of his insane mind, and as the days drag on they do not leave. Often now his head is full, too full, painfully so, and his heart is too heavy and broken to resist. So he flees to Dionysos and begs asylum from the memories trapped inside him, and the god provides, even if the drunkenness is a fleeting thing and only barely offers refuge.
The summer night is warm, and the gardens outside the window are dark and peaceful. He likes it here, vastly prefers his new villa to the palace on the Palatine, which never loses the air of being public and the bustle of the city even if it is quiet. Here, the stillness is only filled by the song of insects and the sound of their breathing.
Beside him lies Antinoos, long limbs relaxed in repose, long lashes brushing his cheeks. A stray golden lock is lying across the pillow and he bends to kiss it. He is forever thanking whichever of the gods sent the boy into his path those years ago, who has been his dearest companion ever since, witty and beautiful and the light of his life in mutual love. And who a year ago had returned the different kind of love that was developing between them, kissed him and come into his bed.
As his gaze wanders down his lover’s body it falls onto the scarring on his thigh, and on its own accord his hand reaches out to touch it. Antinoos stirs in his sleep, and he stops his own movement until the other has settled once more.
Hadrian had been ill when they had set off for Africa early this year in the spring, but their arrival had been favoured with much-awaited and thus auspicious rains, and his health too had quickly returned. They had been out hunting and unnoticed by his guards and retainers a single lion had passed too close. It had attacked them and Antinoos' horse had gone down, struggling and shying away from the beast trying to hold it. The youth had lain on the ground, dazed, and when the horse proved too resistant it had turned on him instead, clawing, preparing to kill. It had been stuck down by Hadrian’s spear on the spot. Antinoos had been bleeding from the gouges in his thigh, bruised from his fall, but otherwise been fine.
The wounds have healed quick and well, not bothering the youth at all anymore. Very softly so as not to wake him he traces the lines the beast had marked him with. Remembers the moment when the lion had struck but he had not yet, and he had been the most scared he had ever been in his life—
A hand covering his halts its movement, pressing it down against the leg.
"Don't," Antinoos chides, looking at him from sleepy eyes beneath golden lashes, before he turns on his side towards his lover, keeping their hands together and in place. The other tugs at Hadrian's beard affectionately. "Don't look like that." The older man tries not to, he does, but still the thought of losing his beloved so sudden and before his time haunts him often.
But Antinoos leans into him, kisses his face and tells him, "Be easy. I’m here." And that is truth.
After some time he dares to go back. Before, the ancient stones in the Louvre had been familiar though lessons and books and repeated visits. Now he remembers the shadows of columns in the southern sun, the bronze and marble gods enshrined in their temples, the gardens of his villa in Tibur—Tivoli—
Sometimes he thinks of travelling, seeing once-familiar sights in this new age, retracing steps walked long ago. See what he had built; his own proper Pantheon, not the one he lives nearby now. But even if he had the means the thought of doing so makes him uneasy. To see his memories proven wrong or worse, proven right, but now irrevocably changed and gone. To go alone.
The stone Antinous is still there as though nothing had happened, smiling serenely as if he had not caused such upheaval in Grantaire's life. The dreams and fleeting glimpses had always been there before, that he recognises now, but that one day the dike had broken, leaving him with the deluge flooding his mind. Nowadays he has to fight to keep afloat, trying not to drown.
To be the matter of history books and find his image housed in museums all over, crafted by the masters of their art, is utterly bewildering to Grantaire if not to Hadrian. The former had never felt himself the object of much attention, while the latter was accustomed to it.
But staring at one's own marble likeness in a room full of people is an experience thoroughly strange. It does not look exactly like him, not even how he remembers looking back then; Grantaire wonders if he should grow a beard and seat himself beside it. As Hadrian he had grown and worn it after the manner of the Greeks, and the knowledge that he had inspired the fashion of the next two centuries to stray from the clean-shaven ideal feels utterly absurd.
Sometimes when he tries to blame the cold stone he thinks how it truly is his fault, how he was the maker of his own current misery. The youth would have been forgotten by history and he would never have had to see his likeness again, Grantaire living out the rest of his life with impossible dreams but in blissful ignorance — if he had not done everything to prevent it, to ensure his beloved's survival at least in the world's memory. In this at least, he was successful, and greatly so: Antinous' name and image is famous and recognized in all of Europe. Hadrian would have been content for it; Grantaire is pained.
Antinous' smile is frozen in time, cut by the masters of old, long locks draped around his head and falling onto cold white shoulders, and he remembers vividly their colour and softness and his warmth, still alive in his mind, and the gulf between both is tearing him apart.
Later in the year at the end of summer he leaves again for another long journey through the empire, Antinoos with him as usual, heading east. In Eleusis they take part in the Mysteries, the elder man once more, the younger for the first time. Still a boy he had participated in the Lesser Mysteries on Hadrian's advice when they had been in Greece years before, had sacrificed to the goddess and her daughter and purified himself, becoming an initiate worthy of participation.
Antinoos does not believe like he does, but Hadrian himself does so fervently, and now more than ever, and it will be enough for both of them.
In Athens, the sacred objects have arrived and the beginning of the festival is proclaimed; participants make sacrifices to the gods and clean themselves in the sea. The sacred things are returned to Eleusis, Iakche Iakche the procession calls, Iakche- Iakchos leading them. For a day they fast as the goddess had, searching for her lost daughter; the fast is broken by drinking the kykeon.
On the seventh day he is standing before the Telesterion with Antinoos, the light of the torches reflecting off the sweat on his skin and his golden locks, and his eyes are large and solemn. This year's initiates will witness the Mysteries — blessed is he of men on earth who has seen them — tonight for the first time, but tomorrow night only those initiated the years before will return.
On the last day, after tomorrow, they will sacrifice and give libations. Antinoos will wear a wreath of myrtle in his golden hair and be beautiful, and Hadrian will know him blessed and safe, favoured by the gods in this life and beyond.
The memories of his beloved are precious to him, at the same time bliss and torture in their sweetness and the shadow cast by their end. Sometimes he tries to shut it all out through sheer force of will or drink, but inevitably he fails every time. He will return to the pale imitation of his beloved, merciless in its cold whiteness, or sit for hours trying to capture the true Antinoos as he alone remembers him now.
In the streets of Paris, he finds a boy, a boy who is unlike any other but one.
He rounds a corner into a small crowd, surrounding a group of men speaking and passing out papers, and Grantaire is about to pass by the common sight when a familiar voice reaches his ear and deep inside him to pluck the golden shards left behind. His gaze whips up and finds him easily, radiant among mortals, speaking of rights and laws and Man, speech passionate and drawing in his listeners. He too is pulled forward, trying to push through, gaze fixed on the boy's face, his living body, because he is here, truly here, beautiful Antinoos Divine, and his cheeks are rosy and alive, so alive—
There is a warning and then unrest, people moving, and Grantaire is pushed aside. The boy disappears in the crowd and he desperately looks around to spot him again but the other is gone, vanished from the crowd and the street, too fast to follow.
Grantaire is adrift once more, standing among the dissolving gathering of people. The boy had looked like his, spoken like his, but was this vision even real and not a product of his own fevered longing? There is not even a way for him to confirm, to find him again in a city of hundreds of thousands.
But he had been speaking in public for a reason, and his only hope is that he might do so again, find him through his cause, even if it seems nigh impossible. He has no contacts and knows not where he might find them.
He drowns himself in a cafe near his apartment, which, by a turn of fate he can scarcely believe, leads him straight to the one he seeks. It has been a few nights since but there is no mistaking him even through the clouding of his faculties, and he stares agog at the figure entering the café and making its way across the crowded room, and then faster than he can think on how to proceed Grantaire is out of his chair.
"Antinoos," leaves him in a pleading breath and he is so close and his fingers touch a coat, solid cloth and warmth beneath, he's real and looking straight back at him, startled, Grantaire close enough to feel his exhale, and his eyes so blue and deep and loved and without any sign of recognition.
Before he can even feel or think he is shoved back by the boy's companion who puts himself between them, shielding him from those drunks who don’t see where they're going, and both disappear through the door at the back of the common room.
Grantaire is left behind, bereft. It's him, he knows desperately, truly him, his, and they had touched and looked at one another, and the boy's glance had been completely devoid of remembrance. He'd seen not his lover, just a rowdy drunk in a crowd. Grantaire had never accounted for finding his beloved, much less for doing so and the other not recognizing him.
When he asks around, he finds there is a group of students frequenting the cafe who have laid claim to the back room, where the boy and his self-appointed protector had disappeared to earlier. Grantaire has found him twice and this time truly so, because, blessed Fortune, he’s a regular.
So he eschews all his usual haunts across the city in favour of the little Café Musain down the street and its particular patrons, and he observes and waits. He makes note of the back room crowd and their habits, seeks their company whenever they visit the front room or other places in town. Over time, they become friendly and he gets to know them, until he too is tolerated in their space and their room, for the company he provides if not a common cause.
Their common cause is the republic, one of the many societies devoted to the progress of the land and its citizens, the Amis de l'ABC. The boy he once knew is none less than their leader; he is called Enjolras. He is just as he was, beautiful and young — though no longer a boy, older that he looks, older than he ever was back then — sharp of mind and passionate, with a now singular focus on his cause that is rivalled by none and outshines all else in the world.
Even Grantaire. Enjolras doesn't love him, doesn't remember him, doesn't see him. Grantaire lives the life of an unwanted satellite orbiting flaming Enjolras Phoebus and his friends, trying to live off the light shed as the other burns, remembering when they had orbited each other.
A time when he had been great and worthy of his regard and affection. When he had been a statesman and a general, powerful and feared, the head of an empire so vast and manifold it was without compare. France could only ever be a pale imitation, and he himself had crushed larger uprisings than what they could ever hope to plan. When his love had been acknowledged, and he had been loved in return.
Now he is tolerated by the Friends for his good humour, but held in contempt by Enjolras for being a spineless drunkard without reason or cause, having been weighed and found wanting. Once Antinoos' gaze had been on him with warm affection, but now he is invisible. Even attracting Enjolras' ire and the little pity he does afford a lost drunk is at times better than being unseen beneath his notice, cast into the abyss of his uncaring indifference.
The empty eyesockets of the stone Antinous had gazed at him, through him, just as mercilessly unseeing. Grantaire takes his cup and bitterly toasts to Enjolras, “What fine marble!”
Late at night he will return to his apartment in the Rue Saint-Hyacinthe, bitterly aware of the irony therein, and be alone waking or sleeping or drawing. He would give anything to be seen again, would die for just one smile from his beloved to cure his ailing heart.
Antinoos is pale, so very pale, his lips no longer red and his eyes unseeing. When he touches the body it is lifeless, completely limp as he gathers it into his arms.
He had seen him drown, had to watch as he went under, other men having to hold him back to prevent him from jumping into the river himself after his beloved. He had been so still, not struggling or shouting. No one had seen how he had fallen, and alarm was only raised when he had been in the water already, drowning.
Hadrian cradles him, wet golden tresses clinging to his fingers, and he wails and weeps like a woman, bereaved.
The death is proclaimed an accident. Later, there are other rumours. That astrologers had spoken that the sacrifice of this young life would extend and refresh the emperor's, an exchange with the gods. That the youth had taken it to heart and jumped, or had let himself be drowned. Hadrian knows the youth would gladly sacrifice himself for a worthy cause, but still he cannot believe that he would leave him like this, for a promise made by priests and gods he had never much heeded.
Others whisper of how the boy had looked for death to escape the emperor or chosen it in favour of being discarded. Both of those are blatant untruths, possible only for those who do not know and do not understand, never did. Those who called his beloved boy a common whore and cannot understand why he is grieving, inappropriate in their eyes for the loss suffered, easily replaced with any other boy. Those who reviled him for having the ear of the emperor, and those who knew he was a mind to be reckoned with and might want him gone, might resort to murder.
But to him Antinoos was his entire world, and now he is dead in his arms, and he could not prevent it, not even hold him as he died. Not even join him either, and he is left all alone.
Antinoos is buried near the place of his death, a shrine erected at his grave. Around it he founds a city bearing his name, Antinoopolis, only the first of many, and showers it with favours and privileges. His beloved is made a heros, then proclaimed a god, as he has always known him to be, having conquered death and risen among the stars to life divine.
The Nile is sacred to the Egyptians and drowning in it is a fate shared with one of their highest gods and thus revered; the death even came around the same time of year as their god's, and so they come to worship him as Osiris Antinoos.
All over the empire cults spring up, worshipping the divine youth who had been loved and died and had risen. Hadrian commands temples and games and commissions statues and coins bearing his image, uncaring of sacrilege or opinion. Antinoos was beloved and he will not disappear from the world, and his memory will endure forever, that he will ensure.
Outside the window of the Corinthe Enjolras is standing on the barricade shouting at him to cease his drunken ramblings. He has been sitting here since nine in the morning and been drinking even longer. He had barely slept the night before, knowing Enjolras and his friends would be at the funeral and what would follow. His mind has been reliving a very different burial over and over, filling both his sleep and his waking mind, making escape impossible. He is tired and so weary, and his mouth has been running on its own.
Enjolras' command startles him to clarity. But he cannot obey, not this. Enjolras bears his love and his belief, even if he is oblivious to the former and unappreciative of the latter. He will not, cannot leave him, not again, not like last time. This time he begs him to allow him to stay, to be near him whatever may come. But he is scorned, and Enjolras' words cut deep and the look in his eyes cuts deeper, because Grantaire is all too capable of thinking and believing and willing, that is the truth and he wishes it weren't. He wishes the other would remember, perhaps now more so than ever. "You will see," he says, prays, drifting off into a mumble before he falls and is asleep.
He dreams of when he walked the Corinth of old, Antinoos at his side, touching his arm warmly, smiling at him. The places they visited will be long gone now, crumbled below the weight of time. He drinks from Peirene's fountain, sprung from the tears the nymph shed for her son, crying for lost children, dead sons—
The silence is deafening and what finally wakes him from his stupor. Taking in the scene, his mind is completely, horribly clear. They lost, and across the room is Enjolras about to die, truly a willing sacrifice for Patria, proud and still—
Grantaire strides across the room, calling out his allegiance to Enjolras and his republic, finally standing at his side again. This is as it was, as it should be, both of them together and none dying alone. He reaches for his beloved's hand and asks him, like so long ago, for permission, for the privilege of his regard.
Enjolras presses his hand in return, looks him in the eye and smiles at him, blinding—-
This time, the world will not remember. The June Rebellion of 1832 will become an oft-overlooked footnote in history books, and the men young and old who gave their lives will be largely nameless and forgotten.
There are no temples and no worshippers, no shrines and no statues. No idols but the sketches and half-begun paintings in a lonely apartment in a street in Paris, not far from the Pantheon, resting place of the greats of France, but missing so many.
Sunlight filters though the surface as the water burns his nose and he swallows, choking, limbs striking out uncoordinated and failing to gain him any amount of control. He's gonna die an ignoble death in a frickin' swimming pool because he's too damned clumsy to—
He is pushed, hauled out of the water onto tile, the impact jarring and painful as is the burn of chlorine in his sinuses. He is turned sideways and he heaves, retches, coughs up water, lying on his side as fingers comb through his hair, roaming over his skull.
"Are you alright? Did you hit your head?"
No, he wants to answer to the blur of skin in the corner of his eye but he is too busy hacking up what feels like half the pool to do so, and eventually the fingers leave his head, apparently satisfied that his brains are in no immediate danger of spilling out.
There is a pair of hands on his shoulder and side, and knees at his back, steadying him, and other hurried voices around. When he regains his breath he tries to turn, and the other one allows it, scooting back a bit to give him the space necessary. "Are you okay, man?" he is asked, again.
He looks up at his apparent saviour, at blond hair dark from water and haloed by the sun, wants to nod but is struck because this is familiar, so familiar.
"Easy there. You here with me?" The other looks so worried, and he shouldn't ever, that he manages a small "yes", and the face above relaxes once more.
"Well then, seems like your time among the living isn't over quite yet," the other boy beams relieved, dragging up his own sagging shorts as he sits back on his heels. His smile is warm and goes straight into his heart and it speaks golden Antinoos, Enjolras,—"Alex," the youth says and offers him a hand up. He takes it.
Besides a pool, he meets a boy.