It wasn’t unusual for members of Les Amis de l’ABC to miss meetings here and there – Enjolras himself could hardly come to the Musain every night, however much he may have wanted to – but when Joly, Bossuet, and Grantaire all failed to show themselves five days in a row, Enjolras was disconcerted enough to approach Bahorel.
“You frequent many other cafés and wine-shops,” he said, foregoing pleasantries. To his credit, Bahorel merely nodded, tilting his chair back on two legs and squinting up at Enjolras through the smoke that engulfed the table he was sitting at with Jehan and Feuilly.
“I wander freely, it’s true. Have you need of a messenger?”
Enjolras had used him for this purpose before, but he shook his head. “Only your eyes and memory. Have you seen Bossuet on your wanderings? Or Joly?”
“Our merriest men?” Bahorel frowned. “No, not since…mm, last week, now I think of it.” He swung forward, legs hitting the ground with a thud as he gave the matter further consideration. “Ask Orfevre,” he declared at last, pointing at a young, red-haired man in the corner closest to the fire. “He’s a student of medicine, he may know Joly’s whereabouts, or have some clue to them at least.”
“Thank you.” Enjolras turned away, then paused, his conscience holding him back for just a moment, the urge to ask if Bahorel had seen Grantaire on the tip of his tongue. But Grantaire was more prone to absences than Joly or Bossuet, occasionally vanishing for a week at a time on some misadventure or another. The urge faded, and Enjolras moved on.
He went to interrogate Orfevre, but found no success – Joly hadn’t been seen at any lectures or demonstrations, and Enjolras was now certain that he and Bossuet had vanished on either the Friday or Saturday of the previous week. Grantaire’s absence was hardly something to bemoan, but the loss of Joly and Bossuet was more upsetting.
Enjolras hadn’t realised how imbalanced he felt without all the lieutenants in attendance. Unsure what to make of this revelation, he ignored it for the time being. If they were still missing in three days’ time, he decided, he would take action.
That Saturday, Joly arrived at the Musain an hour before midnight. Only a few of them were still there, and when Joly appeared in the doorway Enjolras was the first on his feet, if not the first to sweep Joly into a relieved embrace – that honour went to Courfeyrac.
“Where the devil have you been?” he demanded, breaking away to peer at Joly as if checking for damage. He appeared healthy, though his clothes were rumpled and dirty, as though he’d slept in them. “And where is Bossuet? I assume you were together?”
“Safe.” Joly looked exhausted, and smiled gratefully as Jehan ushered him into a chair. “Home with Musichetta.”
“Your mistress?” Bahorel sat next to him, and Enjolras followed suit as everyone else sat down, pulling their chairs close to Joly.
Joly nodded. “She’s…ah, I should explain properly. Thank you,” he added, accepting a cup of wine from Combeferre and taking a sip. “You’ll like this, Combeferre, and you, Jehan. We had to break a curse.” He laughed. “Bossuet’s, of course – luck of the eagle at work. But we broke it, and now we’re back. All’s well, the whole mess is concluded, and hopefully it should spell the end of my dealings with the Good Gentlemen forever.”
“The Gentlemen?” Jehan’s eyes widened, in delight or fear Enjolras couldn’t tell. “Did you meet any?”
Joly wrinkled his nose. “I’d rather not speak of it, at least not so soon. I only wanted to tell you where we’d been.” He finished his wine and set it down on the nearest table, where Bahorel immediately refilled it. “Ahh. My apologies if I seem abrupt – I haven’t slept.”
“Of course,” Combeferre said gracefully. “You should go home at once and sleep.”
Joly nodded, getting to his feet. “I’m sorely in need of it. By the by, you should know that Musichetta is very unsettled at present –”
“Who can blame her?” Courfeyrac muttered.
Joly grimaced, picking up his cup. “I am as well, if truth be told. But in any case, she doesn’t want to be alone, so if Bossuet and I appear to be two actors playing one man in the future, you know the reason.” He took a drink.
“Are all of you well?” Enjolras asked, leaning forward now. “Are you free?”
Joly nodded. “As well as can be expected, given our experience, and with no further obligations or attentions upon us, thank God. I know you have more questions.” He gave Combeferre an amused look. “But I hope you’ll be good enough to sit on them for a time.”
“Of course.” Combeferre stood up and gripped his wrist. “As long as you need.”
Courfeyrac nodded. “What do you want us to tell everyone else?”
“This.” Joly waved the hand not holding his wine. “The bare bones, if you will. In truth, it’s still a blessing just to be back here.” He shook his head and finished the wine in two swift gulps. Enjolras, for once, considered doing the same. Humans, at least, could be predicted. Their cruelties and passions could be understood, if not rationalised. They could be persuaded, taught, empathised with. Fairies could not even be explicitly named without risk. Their whims were alien, their powers unknown.
For all that he reassured himself that their influence was on the decline, especially in Paris compared to his native Aquitaine, there was no denying that fairies were still perfectly capable of wreaking havoc on the lives of ordinary people if they so wished.
It occurred to Enjolras the next time they were all assembled that none of them had asked after Grantaire. But then, Joly hadn’t mentioned him either, so it was likely that Grantaire’s disappearance was unrelated. Nevertheless, Enjolras was relieved when he arrived in the back room of the Musain a week later to see Grantaire sitting in a corner, looking very much as though he’d dragged himself out of the gutter. A bottle of wine was on the table before him, and he scowled at nothing as he drank.
Grantaire ignored everyone who came in until Jehan arrived, exclaiming at the sight of him and rushing over. Enjolras turned his head slightly, to better catch what Jehan was saying – curiosity had always been a vice of his.
“I went to your apartments, but you’ve been gone for days! Joly and Bossuet are saying nothing, but you must tell me the truth – I know you must have been with them for this adventure of theirs, and since they won’t spill their stories, I turn to you, my friend.” An expectant pause. “Grantaire?” Another pause. “Well.” Jehan sounded very disheartened. “If you won’t share your account, I can’t force you, but you must have some tale or another you’ve concocted to explain your time away.” Another unpleasant pause, and Enjolras got up to put another log on the fire, giving himself an excuse to look over at Grantaire’s table.
Jehan was leaning towards him, frowning, and Grantaire was looking down at the table, the curve of his back so pronounced he looked as though he would slump forwards at the slightest push. As Enjolras watched out of the corner of his eye, Grantaire shook his head.
The fire crackled at the new log, and when Enjolras sat down again he kept Grantaire and Jehan in his sights.
“Whatever’s the matter, Grantaire?” Jehan asked, hushed now. “Are you unwell?”
Grantaire shook his head again, reaching for his cup and draining it swiftly, refilling it at once.
“Then why will you not speak?”
Again, Grantaire shook his head, his eyes now closed as he drained his cup again. He gulped slowly this time, and Jehan sighed. “Shall I fetch you some paper?”
Enjolras flinched when Grantaire slammed his cup down onto the table. No one noticed – they’d looked only at the source of the noise, and so everybody saw Grantaire push himself to his feet and snatch the bottle from the table before stalking out. Jehan stared after him in hurt incomprehension, his cheeks colouring as he realised that with Grantaire gone, the eyes in the room were falling on him.
Enjolras tapped his table swiftly, drawing the attention to himself. “My friends, is there anyone here who has a connection to the plasterers? They are being harried by the government, and I’m sure there are many who would be willing to speak to us.”
He felt Jehan’s grateful look, though he did not see it. Whatever Grantaire’s troubles, it had been churlish and petty of him to take it out on Jehan. Enjolras put it from his mind as Blondet came over to talk to him about the plasterers.
When Courfeyrac arrived some time later, his cheeks and nose red from the cold outside, Enjolras gestured him over. It was already past nine; the room was filled with smoke and noise, so Enjolras only lowered his voice a little as he asked, “Do you know where Grantaire has been?”
“Of late?” Courfeyrac raised his eyebrows, unwrapping his scarf from his shoulders. “In truth, I haven’t seen him in days. I thought he might have helped break Bossuet’s curse, but since neither he nor Joly said so –”
“I assumed that as well.” Enjolras frowned. “He was here earlier, but he wouldn’t say a word.”
“Grantaire?” Courfeyrac let out a hoot of laughter. “Are you sure you didn’t mistake another for him? Give Grantaire an opening and he’ll talk without taking breath for the length of an opera!”
“I didn’t mistake him,” Enjolras said quietly. “And he didn’t make a sound. I thought nothing of it at first, but you’re right – it’s hardly in his nature to hold his tongue. I wondered if you might make inquiries.”
Courfeyrac grinned. “With pleasure. I hope this is a mystery worth unravelling.” Without further pleasantries, he got up and went to sit with Bahorel, clapping him on the shoulder and stealing his wine as he sat.
Enjolras forced his mind away from Courfeyrac’s task and focused on the newspapers before him. Perhaps it was the level of smoke clouding the room today, but he found concentration harder to find, his mind returning again and again to the way Grantaire had looked before he’d stormed out.
Grantaire was usually animated to the point of distraction. Enjolras knew the signs by now – if Grantaire arrived late and already drunk, within ten minutes the volume in the back room would be deafening as everyone competed to be heard above his enthusiastic shouting. Cheerful or maudlin, it made no difference – Grantaire was loud and demanding whatever his mood. Enjolras couldn’t remember ever seeing him refuse to speak.
He saw Courfeyrac talking to Bossuet, both of them looking very serious, and from that alone he knew Jehan’s suspicions had been correct. Whatever was wrong with Grantaire, it had something to do with the curse on Bossuet.
Courfeyrac left the Musain with him later, his expression grim. “You have answers,” Enjolras said as they stepped out into the freezing January night.
“Not as many as I would like,” Courfeyrac grunted. “Combeferre will want to know, I’m sure. I’ll save what I know for when we get back.”
Enjolras had rooms in the same building as Combeferre, and it was a tradition on nights when Combeferre studied rather than socialised for Courfeyrac to come with Enjolras to visit and tell him about anything interesting that may have occurred. Usually, they turned into late nights full of dreams and half-formed plans of an ideal future.
So when they arrived, Combeferre’s anticipatory smile faded to a frown of concern. “What happened? Is something amiss?”
“Grantaire returned,” Enjolras informed him, taking off his coat and falling into a chair. “But wouldn’t talk when Jehan tried to speak with him. Courfeyrac knows more.”
Courfeyrac nodded, sitting down as well. “I had to pry this out of Bossuet, but Grantaire helped Joly and his mistress to break this curse, whatever it was, and to do it they had to go under the hills.”
Both Combeferre and Enjolras drew away, though Enjolras saw that Combeferre was predictably enthralled rather than wary. “To the Green Lands?”
“It didn’t sound like they went to Hell,” Courfeyrac said dryly, shaking his head when his attempt at smiling failed. “They went to Faerie, and returned alive and intact.”
“Mostly intact,” Enjolras corrected, thinking again of Grantaire’s expression, his posture. “Grantaire has lost his voice.”
“We don’t know that for certain.” Courfeyrac leaned back in his chair. “Bossuet was very obtuse. You know it’s bad luck to speak of encounters with the Good Gentlemen.”
“Superstition,” Enjolras snapped, prepared for the looks that got him. “They only want to wrap themselves in more layers of mystery and inflate their own egos.”
“I forgot how much you dislike them,” Combeferre smiled slightly, pushing his spectacles up his nose with a delicate finger. “Is that all Bossuet would tell you, Courfeyrac?”
“Unfortunately. It took me long enough to drag that out of him – I think I would have had more luck were Joly there as well,” he added, pursing his lips. “Both are reluctant to speak when the other is absent, have you noticed? I’m certain they’re sharing that mistress of Joly’s now, at least. Whatever the nature of this curse, I sensed that her involvement in it was romantic.”
“And Joly’s?” Combeferre raised an eyebrow.
Courfeyrac waved a hand. “His as well. Grantaire’s motivation is more platonic, I expect, unless I’ve misread him completely.”
Enjolras sighed and stood up. “If there’s nothing else, I’m going to bed.”
“Of course. Sleep well, Enjolras.” Combeferre touched his arm briefly; Courfeyrac nodded. He would stay up with Combeferre for another hour or more, Enjolras could tell. It was likely that he would share Combeferre’s bed again, though whether that was romantic or platonic, Enjolras was no longer certain.
It was none of his business, in any case.
All the same, it took him a long time to fall asleep, Grantaire’s hunched shoulders and hooded eyes haunting him as he dropped off.
Soon enough, what Courfeyrac had told them was common knowledge, and Grantaire returned for entire evenings, as had been his custom before. But the mood he brought now was gloomy and irritable. He sat in a corner and wrote to communicate, but it was obvious to everyone how slow and cumbersome he found it. Feuilly tried to come up with hand signs he could use instead, but Grantaire seemed to think them just as bad, if his furious gestures were any indication.
Enjolras found himself watching Grantaire far more than normal. At first, when Grantaire caught him, he’d glared. Now, when it was clear that Enjolras would do nothing more than look, Grantaire held his gaze, daring him to do more. It sent an odd feeling racing under Enjolras’ skin, and he always looked away first.
Despite their best efforts, no one had managed to get any more details of the event out of Joly or Bossuet. Combeferre was fascinated by fairies, and Courfeyrac was wary and respectful, but Enjolras disliked them with an intensity to rival his loathing of the monarchy. The very idea of creatures who answered to no human justice rankled with him, and he found himself dwelling more and more on Bossuet’s curse and Grantaire’s loss of speech.
A fairy curse could only be broken by fairy magic. The best physicians in the world could not have cured Grantaire, even with all the world’s resources at their fingertips. The powerlessness of humans in the face of fairies pained Enjolras, and though usually he thought little of it, Grantaire’s silence made him dwell on it.
His troubled thoughts were not aided by Grantaire’s frequent absences. He had never been this sporadic in his attendance before his journey to Faerie. Now, he was gone for days at a time, and returned looking haggard and pale. Occasionally, either Joly or Bossuet would vanish as well, and after three weeks of this, Enjolras could bear it no longer.
“Joly,” he said, sitting down next to his friend. “Is all well?”
Most of their friends were careful to avoid drawing Joly into a conversation where he could talk at length about the various illness and ailments he was feeling the symptoms for (Enjolras had always been amused at Joly’s cheerful acceptance of his imagined illnesses), but on this occasion, Enjolras allowed him to ramble at his leisure – he wanted him to feel comfortable. It was always better for someone to be at ease before questioning.
“But enough of me,” Joly said, after describing the pattern of his headaches over the past week. “What was it you wanted to ask me? I don’t think the Good Gentlemen would be receptive to our ideas for revolution, sadly.” At Enjolras’ startled expression, he laughed. “I have been fending off interrogations since our return, Enjolras. I’ve learned to recognise the signs.”
“Ah.” Enjolras frowned. “I apologise if I’ve offended.”
Joly smiled and patted his arm. “Think nothing of the sort. In truth, I’m rather intrigued – I didn’t think you cared for tales of the Green Lands.”
“I don’t.” Enjolras attempted to school his expression, feeling his lip curl in distaste. “I hoped you might tell me more in case there was something I could do to help Grantaire.”
Joly could not have looked more surprised had Enjolras just told him he was secretly the heir to the throne. “Grantaire?”
“A mutual acquaintance of ours,” Enjolras said dryly. “I’m sure you know him. He once was loud, now barely sighs?”
Joly snorted, recovering. “He hardly stops sighing, these days. You want to help him?”
“As I would any friend.” Enjolras straightened. “He has been in ill spirits since his return.”
“You can hardly blame him.”
“I do not. I know in his place, I would doubtless feel as melancholy. The loss of a voice is no small thing.”
“Particularly for one so verbose.” Joly sighed and rubbed the tip of his nose with his knuckles, his cane not being in direct reach. “I will…discuss it, with Bossuet and Grantaire. If they are willing, we will tell you everything. Who knows? Perhaps you will think of something we have not, or Grantaire will tell you things he has hidden from us.”
Enjolras raised his eyebrows. “You think he would talk to me rather than you?”
“Perhaps. It is a curious phenomenon that people are often more honest with those they know less. Who can say what Grantaire will do? If he was unpredictable before, he is even more so now.”
“Thank you, Joly.” Enjolras clasped his shoulder as he stood and went back to his usual table. Had Grantaire been unpredictable? To Enjolras, he had never seemed so. Grantaire’s movements and speeches were muddled, but they always came. But as Joly had pointed out, he and Grantaire had never been close. Grantaire might occasionally praise his appearance or attitude, but Enjolras put that down to simple artistic appreciation – he had been asked to model before, after all, if never by Grantaire himself.
Two nights later, Bossuet caught Enjolras’ eye, and as the back room of the Musain began to fill up with their comrades, Enjolras approached him. “You have come to a decision?”
“We have.” Bossuet looked uncharacteristically sombre. “If you’re willing to come to our lodgings?”
“They aren’t far.” Bossuet nodded to Courfeyrac as they left, pulling his hat low over his brow. “I’ll be glad to tell someone, I think. Things fester, if they’re left to go round and around in circles in your head, don’t you find?”
“I talk often with Combeferre and Courfeyrac on many subjects,” Enjolras agreed. “It does no good to keep thoughts behind closed doors.”
“Or closed teeth,” Bossuet smiled. “Say, tell me this – you converse with Courfeyrac often enough, what on earth was he wearing tonight?”
Enjolras laughed. “One of Bahorel’s waistcoats. You were absent yesterday – they made a wager, which Courfeyrac lost. This was his penalty.”
“A fitting punishment!” Bossuet grinned. “For our peacock to wear the feathers of a rooster.”
They spoke of their friends until they reached Joly’s lodgings. Enjolras would have preferred to hire a fiacre on such a cold night, but since Bossuet made no mention of the possibility, he held his tongue. It was entirely likely, after all, that Bossuet was short of money (as he often was), and Enjolras wouldn’t want to embarrass him.
Joly’s apartment was large, and Enjolras was disappointed to see when they entered that Grantaire was not present, though Joly’s mistress was.
“Musichetta,” Bossuet provided, introducing them quickly. “Enjolras. And where has Grantaire gotten to?”
“Home,” Musichetta sighed. “He said we could tell it all, but he had no wish to hear it. Who wants wine?”
Enjolras accepted a small cup and tried not to stare when Musichetta gave Bossuet a kiss on the cheek with his own glass. Obviously Courfeyrac had been right.
“Now then.” Joly sighed, looking at the contents of his own glass. “The truth.”
“I should tell it,” Bossuet said. “Or at least the beginning, since it starts with me. I insulted one of the Fair Folk,” he told Enjolras ruefully. “By accident, a few years ago. I was drunk, I was a fool. The creature lay a curse on me that any I fell in love with would experience escalating bad luck until they were killed by it. Ah, simple! I thought, young and foolish as I was.” He smiled. “I told myself I simply wouldn’t take a serious mistress, and remain unmarried. It seemed an easy solution at the time – hardly even an inconvenience.”
Enjolras nodded. He could sympathise with that, at least.
“Well, that sort of resolution becomes harder to keep, as time passes.” Bossuet glanced at Joly and Musichetta. “And then it began to touch these two. Joly is a mistress not easily driven away, and of course Musichetta…well.”
“Your business is your own,” Enjolras hastened to assure him, feeling heat steal into his cheeks. Across the table, Musichetta was turning pink as well.
“Indeed.” Bossuet looked highly amused by their matching blush. “To cut through the meat of the story, I explained the situation to both of them in the hopes that they would take their leave of me and allow my feelings to fade, as they had done for others in the past.”
“Obviously we were unconvinced.” Joly’s smile was crooked and kind. “I knew that Grantaire knew a little more than most about the Good Gentlemen, so I told him the story, and he was good enough to take us to a changeling he knows.”
“A changeling?” That caught Enjolras’ attention – changelings were rare these days, particularly in urban areas.
“Oh yes.” Bossuet took up the thread of the story again. “Right here in Paris – I was surprised too. She’s mercurial as well; we had to pay her before she would even see us, but Grantaire assured us it would be worth it, and it was.”
“She told us where we could find the one who cursed Bossuet,” Joly told him. “So off we went to find him, all four of us, because Musichetta and Grantaire refused to be left behind.” Enjolras looked at Musichetta with new respect – there weren’t many who would willingly seek out a fairy. “We went to beg,” Joly said simply. “He laughed at first, but we persuaded him it would be amusing to allow us to try.”
Musichetta snorted, her pretty face twisted in disgust. “As if we were mice for them to play with.”
Enjolras’ opinion of her soared. “What then?” he asked, moving his chair slightly so that he could see Musichetta as equally as Joly and Bossuet.
“He gave us directions,” Bossuet said, exchanging a frown with Joly. “We all went, right then, but none of us remember how we got there. I’m sure we were walking in the Marais, but Chetta says we went along the Seine, and Joly thinks we were near Montmartre. Whatever the route, we all arrived in one piece.”
“He’d told us to follow the path, but Bossuet could go no further than the edge of the glade we came to,” Joly said, slowly, as if struggling to remember. “It was…impossible to describe.”
“There was a forest,” Musichetta provided. “With unfamiliar trees, and shadows beyond them that moved. The sky was too bright to look at, and there was no sun. The path was grass, and the glade as well. No flowers. And in the middle of the glade, a goblet on a stone.”
“It was made of wood,” Joly nodded. “With no decoration. And it was full of what looked like water, but it smelled of honey.”
“You had to drink it?” Enjolras guessed.
“Only one of us.” Joly took Musichetta’s hand. “Bossuet was forbidden to break his own curse, so it had to be one of us. It was going to be me, but Grantaire stole my cane and ran ahead.”
A pain pierced Enjolras’ heart, and he sighed. “The drink stole his voice?”
“Worse.” Joly lowered his voice. “It made him walk into the woods. We’d been warned not to leave the path, and we shouted for him, of course, but he didn’t come back. Not for hours and hours.”
“The sky stayed bright, and our watches didn’t work,” Bossuet said, “but we think he was in there for over a day, at least. We were all terribly thirsty by the time he returned.”
“By the time they returned him,” Musichetta said darkly.
“He was thrown from the trees,” Joly explained at Enjolras’ frown. “Unconscious and…otherwise unharmed, save for some cuts and bruises. We had to carry him back, and when he woke, he couldn’t speak.”
“They’ve poisoned him,” Bossuet said, in a quiet voice. “Their food, you know how you’re not meant to eat any? We think he ate a lot.”
A chill crept through Enjolras’ body. Fairy food was worse than opiates or cocaine – he’d heard stories of men and women murdering and prostituting themselves to get just a morsel of rotten fruit that had been grown in the Green Lands. It drove people mad, and their addiction was inevitably deadly.
“But he has been sane,” he said, finding his voice. “Since his return, he has been maudlin, but not…”
“It doesn’t grip him the way it grips most,” Joly told him. “But it’s the only thing that restores his voice.”
“Pardon?” Enjolras stared at them, and Musichetta got to her feet so abruptly that the table was jolted.
“Sorry,” she muttered. “I’m…cheese, and bread. Excuse me.” She slipped away, and Enjolras looked back at Joly and Bossuet.
“It cures him?”
“Only briefly.” Bossuet sighed. “He knows enough to get his hands on it easier than most, but there’s still little to be had, and every time the effects fade, his despair is worse than before, and the loss of it makes him ill.”
Joly touched Bossuet’s wrist in much the same way as he had taken Musichetta’s hand. “Grantaire’s soul is in his words,” he said. “And I’m sure there’s more to it than that. God only knows what they did to him in the forest. He won’t speak of it.”
“Their cruellest trick was making him want them, and then throwing him back into our realm.” Bossuet shook his head and looked at Enjolras. “You should tell Courfeyrac and Combeferre about this. Perhaps one of you will think of something we haven’t.”
Enjolras took it for the dismissal it was, and rose to his feet. “Thank you for telling me this, my friends. I’m sure that between all of us, we will find a way to help Grantaire.”
“I think it means much to him that you’re trying at all,” Joly said, levering himself to his feet and smiling. “One of us will see you tomorrow, I expect.”
“I look forward to it. Goodnight.” He said goodnight to Musichetta as well on his way out, considering the way she had acted around Joly and Bossuet. He had been annoyed at their insistence on taking turns to come to meetings, one of them always staying behind with her, but on reflection he could understand their predicament. It was common knowledge that going into Faerie was a frightening experience, enough to drive even the bravest of men to insanity. Small wonder that they were all so reluctant to let each other out of sight.
At least they had each other to rely on. Who did Grantaire have?
And on that subject, Enjolras was still regaining his footing. He had known in an abstract sense that the man was good-hearted and trustworthy, however unsavoury his vices and habits. But it was difficult to reconcile that old version of Grantaire with the one who had resorted to foul play in order to spare his friends a second fairy curse.
Grantaire had said many times that he considered death for the sake of the people a foolish, pointless exercise. But the same person had sacrificed what very well might end up being his own life for the sake of his friends.
“He won’t lay down his life for his countrymen, but he would accept a shortened life of suffering to spare Joly and Bossuet,” Enjolras said later, sitting in Combeferre’s apartment with him and Courfeyrac, frowning at a plate of stew.
“It is not an unheard of phenomenon,” Combeferre said mildly.
“It’s a different sort of nobility,” Courfeyrac said, though he was frowning as well. “I think men like Grantaire see so much of the big picture that they cannot understand the worth of people working for it. He despises mankind, but adores his friends. I always thought he would do anything for them, and here’s the proof of it.”
“Typical of those creatures,” Enjolras said bitterly, giving voice to the anger sitting in his chest. “To lift one curse only by giving another.”
“It’s how they work.” Courfeyrac stole a spoonful of Enjolras’ stew, the transgression going unpunished as Enjolras scowled at nothing.
“I’m going to talk to him.”
“But will he talk to you?” Combeferre asked, looking up from his book. “That’s the question.”
“There’s only one way to find out,” Enjolras muttered, not meeting his eyes. He had never sought Grantaire out before, but he had never been one to give up out of fear of the unknown.
Grantaire stared when Enjolras sat down next to him a few days later. It had taken Enjolras an hour to force himself to approach, but he already felt better now he’d done it. “I find myself missing your contributions,” he said. Tactless, perhaps, but true.
Grantaire blinked, then frowned in obvious disbelief.
“I was surprised as well,” Enjolras said, dry, something in him uncurling in triumph when that made Grantaire laugh, though no sound came from his mouth. “I was surprised to find myself noticing your frequent absences as well, but I suppose I was not the first. Bahorel assures me you haven’t abandoned us to any other societies.”
Grantaire reached quickly for a pen and scribbled, NEVER, on the edge of a scrap of paper. Enjolras allowed himself a small smile.
“I’m glad to hear it. Are you well?”
Grantaire nodded, his cheeks flushed. He pointed at Enjolras in question, and Enjolras inclined his head.
“I am well, thank you, though the mood of the people has chilled, along with the season.”
Grantaire rolled his eyes and hesitated before reaching once more for his pen and paper, pulling the ink pot close. The wait while he wrote was uncomfortably long, and Enjolras watched the progression of Grantaire’s blush spread below his collar as the nib of the pen scratched against the paper. At last, Grantaire slid it across the table towards him.
The mood of the people, as you call it, seems to me to always be either as frozen as the alps or burning like the very pits of hell. I can only hope your rooms do not have such altitude, and you keep your fire burning in the grate – Hestia rather than Hephaestus.
There were a lot of scratched-out words, and Enjolras frowned, pointing at them with a quizzical look, unthinkingly imitating Grantaire’s silence. Grantaire rubbed a hand over the back of his neck and pulled the paper back to write again. A shorter wait, and the paper was returned.
I find it easier to speak my thoughts than to write them.
Enjolras nodded. “I would find it harder as well, I think.”
An expression flitted across Grantaire’s face – amusement, perhaps, followed by frustration. In the end, he only nodded.
It was too soon to ask him about Faerie, Enjolras decided, and so he asked instead whether Grantaire had participated in the riots the week before. Bahorel was still bruised from his exploits, as were many others, emboldened by the lack of fierce response from the government.
Normally, Enjolras was sure Grantaire could have talked about such an event for hours, particularly concerning the suppression of the fleur-de-lis and Laffitte’s spiral into failure. Certainly, that was all anybody else had been able to talk about for days. But after several seconds of feverish scribbling, Grantaire huffed in disgust and balled the paper up, throwing it at the fire and getting to his feet.
His face was practically glowing with embarrassment and frustration, and Enjolras felt once more that pain in his chest as he watched Grantaire leave. Clearly, this had been the wrong approach.
He considered other ideas that evening. Perhaps it would be better if he wrote as well, so Grantaire felt that they were on more of an even footing? If the Musain was too loud, would it be better for him to visit Grantaire at home? Or was that too forward? Better to ask Grantaire to join him for lunch, maybe, or…
Or go dancing, suggested a treacherous part of his brain, and Enjolras quickly shut down the entire line of thought, putting it out of his mind.
Grantaire missed the next two meetings, and arrived at the third with a loud laugh, his arm around Bossuet’s shoulder. The sound had Enjolras on his feet before he realised what he was doing, but Bahorel got there first, shouting in surprise. “Grantaire! Are you cured?”
“Only for the length of a peach, my fine friend.” He laughed again, cheerful and drunk, and Enjolras blinked, stunned. How had he forgotten in the space of a few short weeks what Grantaire sounded like? Had his voice always been so deep? So melodious? So full of laughter and wit?
“Enjolras?” Combeferre murmured from behind him, and Enjolras shook his head to clear it, glancing over his shoulder.
“I might not have this chance again.”
“Good luck then.”
Enjolras smiled, and strode forward just as Grantaire staggered into the room and exclaimed at the sight of him. “An angel in our midst! Fair Michael, I was a poor conversationalist the other night, allow me to apologise.” He made an elaborate bow, and several of the onlookers laughed. This was the Grantaire they knew.
“It’s good to hear you, Grantaire,” Enjolras said, and he was sure he wasn’t imagining the pleased edge to Grantaire’s smile at that.
“It’s good to hear myself! How does one know they live, if they cannot speak? But I am getting off the topic, as is my way. You are softening to me, Enjolras.” He laughed again, stepping closer and swaying slightly. “Do not deny it, you never sought me out before. My curse has softened you, a lion to a cat, and I fear less your teeth and claws. I said to myself, Capital R! The time has come for you to seize the moment and hide your cowardice behind vestiges of confidence.” His eyes sparkled as he bowed again. “I cannot speak with you long, so I must ask before my voice leaves again – Enjolras, will you dance with me? One dance, I came all this way to ask you, I had to know your response.”
Enjolras tilted his head. Grantaire had asked him to dance before, a long time ago. They had been at a ball (Enjolras allowed Courfeyrac to drag him to two or three every season, though he often found them tedious), and Grantaire had been drunk. Enjolras had been harsh, Grantaire had sighed, and the matter had been concluded. He had not been at all tempted then.
He was tempted now.
But there were other matters that needed attending first, so he shook his head, noting the way Grantaire’s smile widened, but the light in his eyes dimmed. “I would have you ask me when you are sober,” he said.
“An evasion.” Grantaire feigned hurt. “Say no and be done with it, stern Michael. You would not say yes were I sober as judge.” There was an unmistakable note of bitterness there that Enjolras hurried to counter, stepping forward to grip Grantaire’s arm.
“Ask me when you are sober, and I will say yes. How long do you have your voice?”
“An hour or two more, perhaps.” Grantaire’s smile had faded, his voice low. “A peach is a small fruit.”
“May I walk you home? You live nearby, do you not?”
“I do.” Grantaire frowned. “You wish to speak privately with me?”
“Then who am I to refuse?” Grantaire took a step back, then indicated the door with a hesitance that was ill-suited to his merriment a moment prior.
Enjolras picked up his hat from the table he’d been sitting at and got his coat from the hooks by the door, leaving without looking at anyone but Grantaire. Let them think as they pleased.
Grantaire followed him out of the back entrance, onto the Rue des Grès, clearing his throat as they stepped out into the frigid night. “You have brought me here to scold me, no doubt,” he muttered. “But you must know it is hopeless. I have always been incorrigible, and even you could not break these habits of mine now.”
“I have no wish to scold you.” Enjolras barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes. “Quite the opposite – I know what you did for Joly and Bossuet, and Musichetta.”
Grantaire frowned at him. “It was no great deed worthy of praise.”
Grantaire waved a hand. “Of course not. I am flattered, please don’t think otherwise, but it’s in your nature to see greatness where there is none. It was no heroic gesture – just common sense.”
Grantaire smiled, squinting against a harsh wind that blew down the road. “It was the only solution that made any sense. A curse for a curse – we all knew that goblet would hold nothing good, but if Joly or Chetta drank from it, the other two would share the curse’s burden. They would be trapped by it, guilt taking them by the throats and dictating their actions as surely as if they were puppets. I am not part of their merry band, and so they are free to live and love as they always should have done.”
“At great cost to you,” Enjolras pointed out, glancing up at the sky and wondering whether it would snow.
“Bah!” Grantaire made another dismissive gesture. “What life is there for me? You might like to believe that all men are capable of great destinies, but I have known my fate for many years. I was always fated to die thus, caught in the grip of some addiction or another. No one is bound by duty or honour to care for me. This death will simply be more dramatic than the one I’d expected. I’ll greet Death as a friend, I’ll ask him why he tarried along the road and gave me time to drive myself further and further into the mud.”
“You are in a poor temper,” Enjolras observed, and Grantaire faltered, then shook his head.
“If I am, it is my own fault. I am squandering this time with you, captain! Throwing my precious minutes away on self-pity and ignorance. We should speak of better things. Come, tell me what I’ve been missing, holed up in my corner.”
“I would rather speak of what I have missed,” Enjolras said, following Grantaire into a building with a rickety staircase.
“You? You miss nothing, surely. You are the sun, and the sun sees all.”
“I am a man,” Enjolras retorted, following Grantaire up to the third floor and into a surprisingly roomy apartment. “There is much I do not see.” He closed the door behind him, hanging up his coat and hat as Grantaire lit candles and coaxed his little stove to life. “You live well.”
“A bit of luck.” Grantaire looked up at him, almost wary. “It’s a good enough story…but not one I’d want to waste my hour on.”
“Then I’ll get to the point.” Enjolras watched as Grantaire straightened, coming to stand as close as he had in the Musain. “I want to break your curse. No one deserves this.”
“This?” Grantaire did not look so healthy up close. His eyes were red-rimmed, and he was in need of a shave. His hair would not have complained of a wash either. He was drunker than Enjolras had realised as well, swaying almost imperceptibly on the spot, though he had spoken without slur. But then, Grantaire had often proved his ability to hold his alcohol and still recite verse and prose from memory with diction sharp as any poet or player. It was one of his favourite tricks, or had been.
“This slow torture.” Enjolras held his gaze. “There has to be a way to break it. I wanted to ask if you remember anything of what happened to you. Something might help.”
“I remember all of it.” Grantaire lowered his head and rubbed one hand over his chin and mouth. “However I wish I did not. But it makes no difference.”
“One man’s thoughts chase each other around his head and twist themselves into circles,” Enjolras said. “What you might not see, another may. Perhaps if you spoke of what occurred, I or someone else might understand something you do not.”
“Do you patronise me, Enjolras?” Grantaire glared up at him, and Enjolras shook his head, refusing to step back.
“Of course not. I only mean that distance aids perspective. If there is any chance that your curse could be lifted permanently, surely it’s worth taking?”
Grantaire sighed. “You don’t understand.”
“I know how to break the curse.” It was such a quiet admission that Enjolras almost asked him to repeat himself.
“You know?” he said, startled.
“I’ve known since I went to the woods.”
“Then…Grantaire, you –” Enjolras fell silent as Grantaire’s hand touched his shoulder, fingers so light he could barely feel their weight.
“You have looked at me, these past weeks,” Grantaire said, gazing up at him with courage lent by alcohol and fairy fruit. “You never looked at me before. And you sat at my table, and spoke to me. I would never have believed such things to occur outside a dream, yet there are witnesses, so I must conclude that it happened.” He licked his lips and drew a shallow breath before asking, “Why?”
Enjolras’ lips were parted. He knew it, but for some reason couldn’t close them, or look away, or move. Grantaire’s hand on his shoulder held him in place, Grantaire’s eyes, brown so dark they were almost black, kept him still.
“I…” He was not a stuttering child. He drew himself up and spoke clearly. “I noticed it, when you were gone,” he said, his tongue feeling heavier than normal. “Your presence adds much to a room’s character. I have missed your voice, however much I disagree with what you say. And when I heard what you did for your friends, I was humbled. I misjudged you.” It was a relief to say it, a weight he had not been aware of lifting from his shoulders. “I do not often misjudge people. If you had not asked me first, I might have asked you to dance.” There was no mistaking the way Grantaire reeled at that, blinking rapidly and swaying back on his heels. “But now I am asking how your curse can be broken.”
“Ahh.” Grantaire stepped away, turning to look at the stove. “You will not be dissuaded. Very well. It is a simple thing.” He gestured to his face. “The curse is seated in my mouth, in my tongue. The price of its removal is a hundred kisses, deep and true, willingly given.”
“A hundred?” It was a lot of kisses, to be certain, but even someone as homely as Grantaire had his charms. “Surely you could find someone –”
“I did. Not long after we returned, I found a lovely young grisette with poor eyesight. I’d had a drop of fairy wine, and at my most charming, she kissed me.” Grantaire passed a hand over his face. “She did not stop screaming for some time. From what I could tell before I was rightfully ejected from the establishment, she saw some of my memories from my time in the woods.”
Grantaire did not even tease him for the blasphemy. He only nodded, the slant of his shoulders reminding Enjolras too much of the first time he’d seen him after his return. “As I said, the cost is far too high.”
Enjolras considered that. It did not take more than a second’s deliberation before he said, “Kiss me.”
In any other situation, the full-body convulsion of disbelief Grantaire experienced at those words would have been amusing.
“I misheard you,” he said finally, staring at Enjolras with wide eyes.
“You did not. Kiss me.” When Grantaire shook his head in mute shock, Enjolras took a step towards him. “You are right – I have been looking at you, and I did sit at your side two nights ago. Whether cursed or not, I would still want this.”
“I am drunk,” Grantaire whispered. “I am drunk and seeing visions.”
“I am not an illusion.” Enjolras stepped closer still, so there was barely two inches between them. “Kiss me.”
Slowly, very slowly, Grantaire lifted his hand once more to Enjolras’ shoulder. It trembled there, and Grantaire had to swallow before he could speak. “You are sure?”
“Yes.” He had done this only once before, a stolen moment in school, and his skin had not felt this way then, like it was prickling and tense. His heart was in his throat, his face warm, and he could feel the heat from Grantaire’s body as well, the warmth of his face, so close. Grantaire’s eyes were on his lips, their bodies close enough to brush, and Enjolras leaned forward to close the last distance between them.
Grantaire’s lips were damp and soft, the bristles of his beard sharp against Enjolras’ chin. The hand on his shoulder became suddenly substantial, Grantaire holding on properly, and Enjolras tilted his head to kiss him again, lips parting slightly this time. Instinct lifted his arms, one hand settling against Grantaire’s cheek, the other wrapping round his waist to hold him. He felt Grantaire breathe out against his lips, a shuddering gasp, and with renewed confidence, Enjolras kissed him again, opening his mouth –
Desperation slammed into his mind so hard it forced him away, his breath stopping in his throat with a choked sound. He wanted, he wanted, God, he wanted, he was so drunk –
The world swayed and Enjolras fell to his knees, the room around him swirling with shadows and leaves and the presence of dozens of others, hands on his body, stickiness on his face, his chest, his shoulders. He was whimpering, aching for more of whatever they were teasing him with, he couldn’t think straight, couldn’t think at all. More, he tried to beg, please, please, anything, I’ll do anything, please! Laughter and his own screams of desire, the need for it so strong it made him sick.
“–ras, Enjolras, can you hear me? Oh God, I’m so sorry, please, Enjolras…”
Enjolras was on the floor, cradled in Grantaire’s arms. He seemed to be warm only where Grantaire touched him, shivering and nauseated from the memory he’d just experienced. “I’m fine,” he whispered. “Grantaire, I’m alright.”
“Enjolras!” Grantaire shifted, pulling Enjolras up to look at his face, his own expression contorted with fear. “I’m sorry, I should have known better, I’m such a damned fool! Forgive me, it will never happen again, I swear it.”
Enjolras pulled away and touched his fingertips to his forehead, his body settling. “All is well, Grantaire. It was merely unexpected.” Two down, ninety-eight to go. And if that was just a fraction of what Grantaire had experienced…he looked at the man with wide eyes. Grantaire mistook it for fear and pushed himself back, scrambling away.
“I’m sorry, Enjolras. I am drunk, a wine-soaked sot, this is all my fault.”
“It is not.” Enjolras gave him a stern look and got to his feet. The memory had passed quickly, the only sign of its occurrence in Enjolras’ still racing heart. “Do not speak nonsense, Grantaire. If I recall, you said this curse requires willing participants, and I was certainly that.”
Grantaire staggered as he stood, steading himself against the wall. “But what you saw…”
“Do you know what I saw?” Suddenly curious, Enjolras was strangely relieved when Grantaire shook his head. “Then do not torture yourself about it.”
“What did you see?” Grantaire asked. Gone was the brash, laughing man who had burst into the Musain earlier. This Grantaire seemed much smaller, wary to the point of fear.
“Nothing that makes me think less of you.” Enjolras fixed him with a severe look. “You will not twist this thought, Grantaire. If anything, the regard I hold you in is higher, now I know a little of what you have survived.”
“Do not say that.” Grantaire shook his head, leaning against the wall. “Hold me in no regard at all, I beg you. Eagles should not stoop to look at toads.”
“We are both men, and all men are equal.”
Grantaire opened his mouth to argue, but nothing came out. His hand flew to his throat, and he drew two sharp breaths before giving a silent shout and kicking violently at the nearest chair. It flew across the room, and Enjolras went to him and grasped his arms.
“Grantaire.” Grantaire’s shoulders shook once, and he went still, his jaw clenched tight. Enjolras loosened his grip and closed his eyes for a brief moment, collecting his thoughts. “Is there anything that may be done now?” Grantaire shook his head, and Enjolras frowned, unsure why that hurt. “Nothing I can do for you?” Another shake of the head. Grantaire seemed a corpse on his feet, eyes closed and skin pallid, still under Enjolras’ hands though his face was turned away. “I will stay, if that is your wish,” Enjolras told him. “Or leave, as you desire.”
Grantaire’s face spasmed, and then he jerked his hand at the door.
“Very well.” Enjolras took a breath, then leaned forward to press a kiss to the centre of Grantaire’s forehead. “Thank you, for tonight, for your time and honesty. I hope we will have the opportunity to dance soon.” He squeezed Grantaire’s arms and stepped away to collect his coat and hat, that odd sting in his heart returning stronger than ever. “Goodnight, Grantaire.”
Grantaire stayed slumped against the wall as if shot, and Enjolras was filled once more with hatred for all fairies and their cruel games.
Ninety-eight kisses divided between eight men came to roughly twelve each. If Musichetta was also willing to lend her lips to the task, that number fell to only ten or so. Perfectly achievable – almost easy. When he proposed it to the others, they agreed. The best place to do it would be the back room of the Musain, but there was always the risk that someone would intrude. They compared apartment sizes and concluded that Jehan’s would do best, since he had an entire attic to himself. Why one of his richest friends chose to lodge in the poorest available rooms, Enjolras did not care to know.
He could not remember feeling so fiercely dedicated to such a small cause. The difference this would make would be tiny – the life of only one man – and yet Enjolras’ conviction on the matter rivalled that of his vision for a future in France with no tyrants or kings. He had always nursed the suspicion that personal attachments to those not aligned with that great vision were a detriment. That idea had begun to crack when he had seen Joly and Bossuet with Musichetta, and it was cracking further now he was focused on lifting the curse on Grantaire.
It was strange, to find that these events did not serve as a distraction, but enhanced his compassion for the people at large. The last of his disdain for Grantaire’s vices was gone, impossible to hold onto now that he had experienced first-hand what it felt like to crave something so badly it made rational thought flee from the mind. How could any man not buckle under desperation like that?
So it was that they assembled in Jehan’s attic and made themselves comfortable on his couch and chairs. Courfeyrac admired the illegal windowbox of flowers, and Feuilly shook his head at the cold pressing in from the roof above.
Grantaire arrived with Bossuet and Musichetta, and stopped dead at the sight of all of them, giving Jehan a wide-eyed look.
Jehan, the traitor, said at once, “It was Enjolras’ idea.”
The force of the glare Grantaire turned on him was almost enough to make him flinch. “If we all do this, it will be only ten kisses apiece,” Enjolras told him in his strongest voice. “We are your friends, Grantaire. We want to help.”
Grantaire pressed his lips together and shook his head violently, turning to go. Jehan hurried after him, mouthing, “One minute!” over his shoulder as he went.
In the unpleasant silence that followed, Feuilly sighed. “I hope we haven’t made a mistake.”
“It is not a mistake,” Enjolras said. His certainty was still blazing. It was lunacy to withhold a cure easily provided simply because it was uncomfortable to give.
They waited for several minutes, all of them straightening at the sound of shoes on the stairs. Jehan entered alone, but he was smiling, and beckoned to Joly, Bossuet, and Musichetta. “Your turn, quickly. I’ve done what I can, now you must seal the deal.”
Musichetta led the way, still wrapped up in her coat and scarf. Joly and Bossuet, both of them tall, made an amusing picture as they trotted in her wake.
This time, at least, they did not wait long. Only a minute later, they returned, Musichetta’s arm linked through Grantaire’s. He looked nervous, but no longer combative. He nodded to Jehan, who nodded in return and unwound his cravat.
“Grantaire will be blindfolded,” he announced, going over to wrap the material around Grantaire’s head. “And no one will give him more than three kisses today. Is everyone in agreement?”
There was a murmur of affirmation, and Grantaire made a visible effort to straighten his spine. Musichetta was smaller than him, but she wrapped her arm around his waist and gripped him tightly, holding him steady.
Bossuet was the first to step forward, touching Grantaire’s arm gently to let him know it was about to happen, and then kissing him without hesitation. He wrenched himself away less than a second later, his mouth dropping open in a shout he barely managed to stifle. Joly was ready to catch him, and Enjolras saw Musichetta’s grip on Grantaire’s arm tighten still further.
Joly clapped his hand over Bossuet’s mouth as Bossuet made a high, strangled sound. Enjolras jerked forward – Grantaire was shaking his head, holding onto Musichetta and speaking silently, his lips moving too quickly for Enjolras to make out what he was trying to say.
Courfeyrac was closest, and while Bossuet got his breath back on the floor, Courfeyrac gripped Grantaire’s chin and kissed him lightly, waiting until Grantaire went still before deepening it. He managed to pull away calmly and walk to a chair before collapsing into it, pressing his hands over his mouth and going tense all over.
Jehan went next, and Combeferre was the one to catch him as he staggered backwards, breaking into a sweat and letting out a sharp gasp at whatever he was feeling and seeing. Feuilly took his place, breaking his silence with a string of oaths before he stuffed his fist in his mouth and bit down.
It was disconcerting to watch, almost frightening. Their various reactions made what they were doing unpleasantly clear: they were drawing poison from a wound, each of them experiencing the venom briefly before it faded.
By the time Enjolras approached for his turn, Grantaire was shaking, his blindfold wet. Enjolras took Courfeyrac’s approach, keeping his kiss light until Grantaire’s mouth parted instinctively beneath his. Enjolras was ready for the suddenness of the memory this time, and he managed to end the kiss gently even as his mind began to reel. Joly was there to steady him as his legs trembled, his face flooding with colour as humiliation burned through him.
Naked on a stage, exposed for all to see, and everyone was laughing. Pointing, jeering, hurling words so sharp they left bruises. He staggered and they screeched, and there was an order he had to follow, a command he had no choice but to obey, and so he stood with his legs spread and arms outstretched, making himself a target for their ridicule.
It faded slowly, and Enjolras accepted the water Joly pressed into his hand. Perhaps three kisses was a sensible limit after all. How fast he had forgotten that the effects were so visceral. Only then did he realise, to his shame, what this meant for Grantaire. This was a price he had to pay too, allowing his closest friends to see moments of his deepest indignity and pain, letting them see him at his most vulnerable.
And Enjolras had not even discussed it with him first.
He would apologise afterwards. He would make amends somehow.
But that would have to come later. For now, they were all seeing this through. Joly helped Enjolras to his feet, and they both steadied Bahorel as he stopped kissing Grantaire, his eyes squeezed shut and his hands clenched into fists. They helped him into a chair, and Joly waited for Jehan to stumble back from Grantaire before stepping forward and kissing him quickly.
He would have to apologise for this as well, Enjolras realised. He had not considered what it would feel like to be kissed again and again by unfamiliar mouths, tongues slipping past lips over and over. He had thought only of the result, of Grantaire being able to speak again. But that success seemed a long way out of reach as he looked at the way Grantaire was shaking, clinging to Musichetta as if he would fall down without her support.
It would be worth it, in the end. He had to believe that. As Joly collapsed into Bossuet’s arms, Enjolras took his place and touched Grantaire’s neck, letting him breathe for a couple of seconds before leaning forward and kissing him as gently as he could while still making it deep enough to count.
This time he was met with a memory of fear, powerlessness and dread freezing him as he stepped back, caught by Combeferre. His heart was racing but he was unable to move, unable to see what was coming. He was in darkness, his body held still by some invisible force, and he was completely at the mercy of the creatures around him. They kept touching him, pinching, stroking, licking, and he couldn’t do anything about it, his inability to act or even scream building into a panic that churned inside him like a whirlpool.
Combeferre’s hand was tight over his mouth, his arm around his shoulders. Enjolras shuddered, flexing his muscles – all under his control. As he relaxed, Combeferre took his hand away and squeezed his arm bracingly.
One more kiss. Enjolras watched as the others went through it, and stepped up as soon as he felt able to stand.
Grantaire was supported by Bossuet as well as Musichetta now, slumped between them. Enjolras exchanged a wretched look with Bossuet before closing his eyes and leaning down to press his lips to Grantaire’s. They were wet from the kisses he had already received, and parted on what might have been a hiccup or a sob.
This time, he felt despair. Strong enough to bring tears to his eyes, his gut clenching as he stepped backwards as carefully as he could, kneeling down and curling over, struggling not to cry out as trees with bark of gold and leaves with razor edges spun around him, their height blocking the sky, the ceiling. There was nothing he could do to resist the magic he’d been subject to. This was just a brief moment of respite, but they would give him something to eat again soon, and then he would be a frantic, pathetic mess once more. Nobody was coming to help him. He was going to die like this, alone and afraid.
The floor came back into focus, the unsanded boards rough underneath his palms. He was sweating, breathing heavily, and it was a struggle to sit up. He was just in time to watch Bahorel sway in the aftermath of whatever memory he had just experienced, and then faint. Luckily for all of them Feuilly and Combeferre caught him, lowering him to the floor without much of a disturbance.
“It’s over,” Musichetta said quietly, after Courfeyrac kissed Grantaire for the last time. “Come outside, R, come on. This way.” She steered him around, Joly helping, and between them they got Grantaire outside with the blindfold still on. At least he wouldn’t see Bahorel out cold, or the state of the rest of them.
Bossuet took a gulp from a bottle of brandy Jehan had gotten out, and stood up. “We’ll take him home,” he said, passing the bottle to Feuilly. “Make sure he doesn’t…” He trailed off, and they all heard the sound of someone being sick further down the stairs. “Damn. I’ll come to the Corinthe later, or the Musain tomorrow.” He grabbed his and Joly’s hats as he swept out, and the rest of them listened as he caught up to Joly, Musichetta, and Grantaire, and helped them all on their way.
Feuilly passed the brandy to Enjolras, who took a small sip. It tasted of nothing but fire, burning down his throat, and he took another swallow before passing it on to Combeferre.
“Three kisses,” Courfeyrac muttered, his hands over his face. “Three kisses and I feel as weak as a kitten. And Bahorel fainted!”
“It will pass,” Enjolras told him quietly. “We still have seventy-four kisses to go.”
“My God.” Feuilly tipped his head back against the chair he was slumped on. “How many more is that each?”
“Nine,” Combeferre murmured.
“Assuming Musichetta does not kiss him,” Enjolras pointed out. “That may lower the number. We’ll have to keep track.”
“I cannot believe he lives.” Jehan’s voice was faint, the gulp of brandy he took large. “To have had these things done to him and yet live…”
“We should not speak of it,” Courfeyrac snapped. At the silence that followed his words, he peeled his hands from his face and glared at them. “How would he feel, knowing we saw these memories and shared them about behind his back? Cruelty atop cruelty – I’ll have no part in it.”
“Nor will we,” Enjolras agreed, looking down at his hands. “I have my own apologies to make to Grantaire – I will be glad to tell him that at least his secrets are safe, however dispersed they are between us all.”
Bahorel came around then, halting further conversation. They sat and drank for perhaps an hour more, until the brandy was all gone, and Enjolras’ head, at least, was swimming. He went home with Combeferre, the two of them leaning on each other. He doubted any of the others would wish to socialise tonight either.
Grantaire did not come to the Musain for two days. When Enjolras returned to his rooms after the second night of his absence, more than a little low-spirited, he started upon realising that there was somebody slumped against his door. Only a moment’s further study revealed the person’s identity.
“Grantaire?” Enjolras approached on light feet, sighing in relief when Grantaire’s head lolled back, his eyes open. “Are you unwell?”
“In a manner of speaking.” Grantaire’s voice was hoarse, and even as Enjolras’ breath caught to hear it, his heart sank.
“What have you eaten this time?” he asked, coming forward to help Grantaire to his feet.
“Mead,” Grantaire rasped. His weight made Enjolras stagger – he had to steady himself with a hand on the doorframe, easing his key from his pocket and unlocking the door with difficulty. “My head spins, Enjolras, all I see is the gold of your hair.”
“I will light candles.” Enjolras hauled Grantaire inside, staggering towards the armchair by his fire. It was embers now, just putting out enough light for Enjolras to see where to lower Grantaire’s body. “Stay here.”
“Mmm.” Grantaire slumped in the chair like a broken puppet. “What are candles, compared to the light that flashes from atop your fair head? But I am imposing. I beg your pardon.”
“Nonsense.” Enjolras lit candles, glancing back at Grantaire every couple of seconds. “It is I who needs to beg yours.”
“These are your rooms, are they not?” Grantaire lifted his arms, heavy and slow. “Have I made some mistake? Surely not – this is much nicer than my apartment. Your fire has not burned out, and your chair has a goodly amount of stuffing. I could sleep in it as easy as Endymion, though I am far less handsome.”
“I caused you pain.” Enjolras set the last candle upon the mantelpiece, coming to stand in front of Grantaire. “I did not warn you before asking Joly and Bossuet to bring you to Jehan’s attic.”
Grantaire blinked at him, and Enjolras squinted, sure there was something different about his eyes. Before he could see, Grantaire shook his head, lowering his gaze. “I would not have come, had I been warned.”
“I am glad you came, but I would rather not have caused you pain.”
“You?” Grantaire looked at him again, his eyes narrow. “You did not curse me. You are blameless. I did not come to scold you.”
“Then why?” Enjolras reached behind himself to get the chair from his desk, dragging it around to face Grantaire and sitting down.
“To tell you…” Grantaire swallowed, his fingers twitching. “No more. No more kisses.”
Enjolras sighed. “They are willingly offered, Grantaire.”
“But not willingly received!” Grantaire closed his eyes, one hand curling into a fist. “I have many faults,” he said quietly. “Too many to count. I do not wish to add onto that list that I hurt my friends.”
Enjolras frowned, turning the problem over in his mind. Before him, Grantaire’s face twisted in a spasm of pain, his body shifting in the chair. It was impossible to watch and not ask, “What ails you, Grantaire?”
“The effects of the mead,” Grantaire whispered, eyes shut tight. “The drink is more potent than the food, most times, and honey is poison to me now.”
The substance in the fairy goblet had had the odour of honey, Enjolras remembered. “You wanted so badly to speak to me?”
“To speak at all.” Grantaire sighed, his brow still furrowed, but his body relaxing. “The curse unwinds when I speak, and I taste freedom with my useless tongue. When it has me in its grip, I am ill with it. I vomit, I shake, I cannot think of anything but fairy food and wine, fairy hands, fairy eyes.” He groaned, hands becoming claws on the arms of his chair. “I see myself surrounded by trees, trees and shadows and whispers…they laugh and I beg for more.” He shuddered and lifted a hand to his face. “This is not what I came to say. Why do you listen?”
“Because you are speaking.”
“You never listened before.”
“Your voice was never limited before.” Enjolras leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “And now it is in our power to lift this curse on you, you would have us cease? What kind of friends would we be to do that?”
“It hurts you!” Grantaire shouted, so suddenly that Enjolras jumped. “I might not have seen, but my ears still function! I could hear all of you, every time one of you fell or stumbled or gasped.”
“Had Joly beaten you to the goblet, what would you do then?” Enjolras asked. It was his trump card, and Grantaire reeled back from it.
“If your position and Joly’s were reversed, would you not wish to lift his curse?”
“Of course, but –”
“Then why deny us?”
“It is not the same!” Grantaire protested, the firelight turning his eyes to coals. “That is why I drank, not him. I matter less.”
Enjolras stiffened, almost rising to his feet. “No man matters less than another.”
“I matter less than Joly,” Grantaire said stubbornly. “He has two lovers who care for him.”
“You have friends who care for you!”
Grantaire waved a hand. “You would soon forget me. What do I offer, besides foolish tirades and drunken speeches?”
“Must one provide skilled rhetoric to maintain a friendship?” Enjolras snapped. “I was not aware there was such a high standard. I will be sorry to inform the others, who believe that taking pleasure in each other’s company matters more than scholarly debate. Your worth is in your company, Grantaire, not your arguments. Which is lucky, because they are poor.”
Grantaire laughed, tilting his head back against the chair. “Ever the diplomat, Enjolras.”
“I have no need to play at being a politician amongst my friends.”
“Are we friends?” Silence followed the question, and Grantaire looked at him, his smile gone. “I was not aware you counted me as such.”
Enjolras considered the query honestly. “I counted you as a comrade,” he said slowly, “at first. And then, when you returned without your voice, I understood that I wanted more than comradeship with you.”
“My silence makes me more attractive?”
“The opposite.” Enjolras leaned forward again, frowning. “Your silence displeases me. More than that – it is unsettling. You are not naturally quiet. If I had to, I would give you every one of your hundred kisses myself, in order to lift this curse of yours. But I do not have to. I am not alone in this, and neither are you.” Instinctively, he reached out and took one of Grantaire’s hands. “I know you would do the same for any of us were we cursed in this manner. Let us do this for you.”
Grantaire said nothing, gazing down at their hands. His fingers were trembling in Enjolras’ grip, and he squeezed gently. It made Grantaire swallow, lifting his eyes to look instead at the fire. And now that they were closer, Enjolras could see why they had looked somehow different before.
“Your eyes,” he blurted out. Grantaire looked at him, blinking, and Enjolras stared. “They’re…they’re green.” And he was sure the colours were moving, and that Grantaire’s irises were larger than normal.
Grantaire’s expression cleared, and he looked back at the fire. “It does not surprise me.”
“Is it the mead?”
“I expect so. The green of the forest bleeding out of my head, I suppose. I can see the trees here, all around us.”
Despite himself, Enjolras cast a quick glance to the side, and Grantaire laughed.
“They’re only here for me, never fear.”
“Do you only see them when you can speak?” Enjolras asked cautiously. He was still holding Grantaire’s hand.
“No. I see them in my dreams, when I wake, out of the corner of my eye. It is worst in the dark – I waste candles as I sleep, but they still come to me. Trees and shadows and whispers. They will come closer, and then they will kill me.”
Enjolras scowled, squeezing his hand. “They will not.”
“How do you propose to save me from inside my own head, Enjolras?” He sounded so tired.
“By lifting your curse. We will do it slower, so it will hurt us less, if that is what you want, but we will lift it.”
“You would do better to let me die.”
“You doubt the love of your friends?”
“I doubt my worthiness to be loved.”
It was too much to be borne. Enjolras moved, standing for half an instant before he rested one knee on the chair beside Grantaire’s thigh, his free hand cupping Grantaire’s face. The panic his movements prompted was not entirely unexpected. Grantaire lifted the hand not still in Enjolras’ grip to press against Enjolras’ chest, keeping him at a distance. “Don’t,” he begged, his strange, fairy-drunk eyes shot through with deep mossy green.
“I will not.” Enjolras stroked his thumb over Grantaire’s cheekbone, not missing the way it made him shiver. “Will you trust me?”
Enjolras dipped down and kissed his forehead, lingering there until he felt Grantaire sigh. “We are neither of us who we were before you went under the hills,” he murmured, pressing his lips once more to Grantaire’s head, atop one of his eyebrows. “It is in the nature of man to change. We could never remain static, Grantaire. I did not see you for who you are before. Now that I have, I cannot unsee it.”
“I am not a hero,” Grantaire whispered, his hand curling against Enjolras’ chest to hold onto the front of his waistcoat. “You have misjudged me.”
“No man is a hero, fully. No person is ever one thing alone. I thought you held but one dimension, and I was mistaken. I am not mistaken often.”
Grantaire’s hands were shaking, his breathing shallow and uneven against Enjolras’ neck. “You see depths that do not exist.”
“I think you are a poor judge of yourself.” Daring, Enjolras kissed his temple, tilting Grantaire’s face up to do it.
“I am a poor judge of all things,” Grantaire breathed, eyes closed. “I think I must be dreaming still.”
“I think not.” Enjolras kissed his other temple. “Trust me, Grantaire. Let us lift your curse.”
Grantaire shivered and leaned forward to press his face to Enjolras’ chest. “It is not safe.”
“What do you mean?” Enjolras slid his hand to cup the back of Grantaire’s head, careful not to pull on his hair. “Drawing this poison from you costs us only momentary pain.”
“What if they see?” Grantaire whispered, and Enjolras knew at once that he meant the fairies. “What if they visit a curse upon you, as punishment for your meddling?”
“Then it will be a curse well-earned.”
“Do not say that!” Grantaire reared back, gazing balefully up at him. “A curse is a curse, Enjolras! What if they put a worse one on you, or all of you? How could I live with myself then, knowing I had brought disaster on your heads?”
“It is not inevitable.” Enjolras squeezed his hand. “Nothing is certain – so long as we are careful, why should we not be successful?”
“Because no child likes to be deprived of their toys,” Grantaire spat. “They are not reasonable. They will not be swayed by nobility or kindness! They like to see us in their power, they like us helpless and weak. Why would they allow me to escape the woods?”
Enjolras hesitated. Pained triumph gleamed in Grantaire’s unnatural eyes, and Enjolras shook his head, deciding to speak, even if it hurt Grantaire more. “I think you overestimate your worth in their eyes.” He was expecting it, but Grantaire’s flinch still hurt to see. “They could take anyone, Grantaire. You were their entertainment for a time, and then they discarded you.”
Grantaire tore his hands from Enjolras, leaning away and covering his face.
“No changeling ejected from their lands is ever permitted to return,” Enjolras said, his heart heavy. It was wrong to be so close to Grantaire as he said this, so he moved away, sitting in his own chair again. “I have done my research. Rare is the imp who pursues a human for anything other than torment. And once that torment is over, that creature forgets about it. They are like children, as you said, and children are easily and swiftly distracted.”
Grantaire was weeping, hunched over with his head in his hands, and although Enjolras ached to see it, he knew what he was saying was true.
“They used you, Grantaire. You are nothing to them.”
“Stop it!” Grantaire’s voice was harsh, choked with tears.
“They have forgotten you.”
“They no longer care.”
“Stay your tongue!”
“They do not care, but your friends do, Grantaire.” Enjolras leaned forward, imploring. “You are not unloved here.” He had been hoping that would calm Grantaire, but it had the opposite effect. Grantaire jerked to his feet and turned to the door, shaking Enjolras’ hand off when he also rose and tried to touch his arm.
“You know nothing about it,” he rasped, eyes glittering like dew in a forest. “Nothing.” Before Enjolras could say another word, he had wrenched open the door. Foolishly, Enjolras was shocked into stillness for several precious seconds. By the time he had gathered his wits enough to follow, Grantaire was gone. The street below was empty, and there was no sound of footsteps in any direction.
Instead of waiting for Grantaire to come to him, this time Enjolras went to him. Or rather, attempted to. He knocked on Grantaire’s door for over a minute, and had to concede temporary defeat when the man across the hall came out to shout at him. That evening, he took Bossuet aside and asked whether he knew why Grantaire would not answer his door.
“He isn’t there,” Bossuet frowned. “He came to ours, early this morning. Hours before the sun rose.”
Guilt spiked through Enjolras’ insides. “I fear that may have been my fault.”
“Did you give him whatever he ate or drank to make him speak?” Bossuet asked flatly. When Enjolras shook his head, he nodded. “I thought not. Do not blame yourself for Grantaire’s vices. He usually comes to us after he’s been a fool, these days.” He sighed. “If you wish to see him, you may. But you should know he’s in a bad way. Every recovery from that poison he finds is worse than the one before.”
“Should I wait?” Enjolras asked. “I fear my presence would only agitate him further.”
“Give it a day,” Bossuet agreed. “The worst should be over by then – if you go now, he may not even recognise you.”
Enjolras ignored the chill that gave him. “Then I will go tomorrow. Thank you.” A thought seized him suddenly. “Have any of you kissed him since…?”
“Only Musichetta. She gave him her allotted three once we were away.”
Seventy-one to go then. Enjolras sighed. “I will thank her tomorrow.”
Bossuet nodded, and they parted ways. It was a long night, the hours creeping by as Enjolras’ thoughts returned again and again to Grantaire, and to the way he had kissed him in the armchair.
It had seemed perfectly natural at the time. Now, he flushed at the memory, at his presumption, and at how good it had felt. He had never touched another person like that before, and certainly he had never kissed someone like that. Strange, that kissing Grantaire’s face could feel more intimate than kissing his mouth. Grantaire’s hand in his had been damp and warm, his hair softer than Enjolras had expected. When he thought of how easy it would have been to seat himself in Grantaire’s lap and embrace him properly, he had to excuse himself from the meeting, knowing he was far too distracted to be of any use.
He did not go to Joly’s until the afternoon of the next day, forcing himself to wait until he was sure he would not be disturbing any of them more than necessary. Musichetta was the one who answered the door, and evidently Bossuet had told her of Enjolras’ intention to visit, for she only nodded and stepped back to let him in. “He’s on the couch,” was all she said.
Grantaire was still as a corpse, stretched out under several blankets. He still wore stockings, Enjolras could see by his toes peeking out at the end, but his shirt had been removed. Were it not for the movement of his chest, Enjolras might have thought him dead – he was certainly pale enough.
Enjolras did not hesitate. He had not waited so long to allow himself to be overcome by doubt now. He knelt next to Grantaire and grasped his bare shoulder. “Grantaire.”
Grantaire seemed to stir outwards from the point of Enjolras’ hand, a slow shiver rippling down his body as his eyes cracked open. It was a relief to see that they were back to brown now.
“Can you hold a pen?” Enjolras asked at once. Grantaire swallowed, and moved his head very slightly in the negative.
“Then we will make do without.” Enjolras let go of his shoulder, holding his gaze. “I came to apologise, Grantaire.”
Grantaire shook his head again, much firmer, but when he tried to push himself up he trembled so badly that Musichetta came over to swat his head and push him down again. “Enough of that,” she warned. “You’ll only faint again. Stay down, or I’ll sit on you.”
The rough talk startled Enjolras, but it got a faint smile and a nod out of Grantaire, so perhaps that was simply the way Musichetta was.
“It seems you have little choice,” Enjolras said, once Musichetta had gone away again. “You must accept my apology. I only hope I have not damaged your opinion of me for good.”
Grantaire’s hand jerked, and he dragged it laboriously from under the blankets. Enjolras took it as Grantaire reached towards him, but Grantaire lifted it higher until his fingertips were against Enjolras’ cheek.
“I hope this means your opinion of me is not less,” Enjolras murmured, and Grantaire huffed, his fingers twitching against Enjolras’ jaw. “Is this forgiveness?” Grantaire huffed again, but nodded. His eyes flew wide when Enjolras held his hand still and turned his face to press a kiss to his palm. “Thank you.”
Enjolras shifted, kneeling more comfortably on the hard wooden floor. “I am sorry to have hurt you,” he said quietly, not keen for Musichetta to overhear. “But I do not believe I was wrong. I do not think there is a risk in our doing this for you.”
Grantaire withdrew his hand, frowning at the ground between them.
“I will let you think on it,” Enjolras told him. “We cannot force you to submit to our…attentions, but we can encourage it. Let us help you out of the forest, Grantaire.”
Grantaire sighed, closing his eyes, and Enjolras pushed himself to his feet, sensing the dismissal. “I hope you feel well again soon, Grantaire. We miss you at the Musain, whether or not you can speak.”
Grantaire did not look at him, and Enjolras saw Musichetta give him a sympathetic look as he left. He had done what he could – the rest was up to Grantaire.
Three days later, Joly arrived at the Musain’s back room with Grantaire at his side. Enjolras rose to his feet at once, but Joly caught his eye and shook his head. “Too eager,” Courfeyrac chided as Enjolras dropped back into his chair. “The key to pursuits of this kind is to make it look as though you are simply going in the same direction, not chasing your target.”
“Grantaire is not my target,” Enjolras said, affronted. “He is my friend – and yours as well. If he is anyone’s target, he is all of ours.”
“Indeed?” Courfeyrac smiled, showing his teeth. “I think he would prefer to be yours alone.”
“Courfeyrac,” Combeferre sighed, but he couldn’t help smiling at Enjolras’ pink cheeks. “I hardly think this is the time or place.”
“On the contrary, where better? We are among friends, after all.” Courfeyrac lifted his cup with a kinder smile. “Like-minded men, all. Affection is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“It is not a matter of shame,” Enjolras said stiffly, “but of privacy.”
“Ah, you are young and shy.” Courfeyrac inclined his cup to Enjolras. “A toast to your pursuit, whatever its goals.”
Enjolras was about to retort that Courfeyrac was younger than him when somebody said, “Enjolras.”
It was Joly, and Enjolras stood at once. “Yes?”
“He has consented to continue,” Joly told him, smiling slightly. “But no more than one kiss each, from now on. He will stay late tonight, and after everybody but us has gone, we may repeat the exercise.”
Enjolras’ spine seemed to untwist. “Thank you, my friend. Will you tell the others?”
“Yes. You’ll stay?”
“Of course!” Combeferre interjected from behind Enjolras. “What manner of friends would we be if we fled?”
Courfeyrac slapped the tabletop. “Well spoken!”
“You have your answer, I think,” Enjolras said, his lips quirking despite himself. Joly smiled back and nodded.
“He will not be pleased, though I do not think he will be displeased either. But Grantaire has always been a contradiction – what is there to do?” He grinned and moved on to touch Jehan’s arm, then Feuilly’s. Enjolras sat again and looked over at Grantaire, who shifted uncomfortably in his chair, frowning down at the table he was leaning his arms on. He did not look up.
It seemed to take a long time for the other members of Les Amis to disperse. The last few did not depart until past one in the morning, and Feuilly had fallen asleep on his table. When at last they were alone, Enjolras rose and closed the door to the corridor leading to the café proper. As he did, Grantaire stood, and Jehan went to blindfold him again. Combeferre roused Feuilly, and they all got to their feet.
“You are certain?” Joly checked with Grantaire once his blindfold was secure. Grantaire nodded, holding tight to Joly’s arm for support. This time, Enjolras went first. Everyone was ready this time – Courfeyrac caught him as he staggered backwards, helping him into a chair as Bahorel smoothly took his place in front of Grantaire. Everyone was obviously keen to make this quick.
Enjolras, consumed by a wave of nausea more powerful than anything he could remember feeling, slid to the floor and held his hands over his mouth, eyes closed and skin breaking out in sweat. It lingered after the main memory had passed, and Enjolras shivered as he stood up, brushing dirt from the knees of his trousers with shaking hands.
Bahorel had taken his turn, and so had Feuilly. As Enjolras watched, Jehan drew away with a gasp, barely making it to the nearest chair. Grantaire was as tense as a bowstring, trembling slightly, and he startled when Combeferre touched his shoulder before kissing him.
It was painful to watch, but on it went, until all of them except Joly had kissed Grantaire and experienced a memory of his time in the forest. “Not so bad,” Bahorel proclaimed, once Jehan had retrieved his cravat from around Grantaire’s head. “Now I know what’s coming. When do we resume the poison-letting?”
“Still sixty-five to go,” Combeferre said, adjusting his glasses. “Sixty-two, if Joly, Bossuet, and your charming lady add to the tally. So six or seven more evenings like this, and it’s over.”
Grantaire sank into a chair and rubbed his eyes, the very picture of despair. Joly squeezed his shoulder and gave the rest of them a pointed look. Feuilly nodded first, getting up and putting his hat on. “I’m off. Goodnight.”
A murmur of farewells accompanied his departure, and then all of them were at it. Enjolras and Combeferre hung back as usual to clean their table of its debris, paper and books and maps scattered in heaps and piles, some on the floor, still more stacked on a chair nearby. While they worked, Joly swept Grantaire out before Enjolras had a chance to say a word to him, though upon reflection, as he walked home with Combeferre in silence, he would not have known what to say.
Grantaire allowed several more such sessions over the next two weeks. Enjolras had to force himself not to go to him and ask that they might do more – the pace was Grantaire’s to set, and he ought to content himself with being glad that he was letting them do this at all.
The memories from the kisses did not grow easier to bear. The worst was a mortifying experience when Enjolras had been swamped by a wave of such powerful, horrible desire that he had fallen to his knees and gasped, becoming hard in a matter of seconds for everyone to see. Thankfully, he did not think many had – he had pushed himself away and hunched on the ground until it subsided, shaken but unharmed. At least Grantaire had remained blindfolded throughout.
It was difficult to keep track of how many kisses they had given, but Enjolras counted obsessively, checking and rechecking with Joly and Bossuet on how many they and Musichetta had given Grantaire away from the Musain. He was almost certain of the number, and on the last session (excitement and nervousness palpable in the air), he hung back, for some reason wishing to be the one to take the last of the curse from Grantaire’s lips.
Grantaire stood alone this time, leaning against the wall at his back instead of a friend at his side. Still blindfolded, though with his own cravat rather than Jehan’s, leaving his shirt gaping open at the collar, revealing a patch of skin Enjolras tried resolutely to keep his eyes off of. Grantaire still trembled, but this time there was an edge of hope to his expression beneath the fabric covering his eyes.
Everyone was here this time. Even Musichetta, the oddness of her presence in such a place temporarily ignored. Enjolras took a deep breath as Courfeyrac touched Grantaire’s jaw and kissed him, Feuilly ready to take his arm in case the memory was a particularly overwhelming one. Courfeyrac drew away with a pained twist to his brow, allowed Feuilly to lead him to a chair, and Enjolras stepped forward.
Grantaire was so pale, appearing small against the wall he leaned on. He had been larger before, Enjolras was certain of it. He had been strong, almost burly, with a roll to his stomach that spoke of the pleasure he took in eating. He was not thin now, but he seemed diminished, as if he had been ill. Which he had been, Enjolras supposed. Or currently was.
But no longer.
He brushed his fingertips against Grantaire’s shoulder to let him know he was there, then leaned down and kissed him. Both of them opened their mouths at once, the better to get it over with, tongues touching for the briefest of seconds before Enjolras drew back, and paused, frowning.
Had they miscounted?
“Grantaire,” he whispered, and Grantaire swallowed. “Can you speak?”
Grantaire was still, his lips parted. For the space of a breath, he did nothing. Then, so quietly Enjolras would not have heard him had he not been standing inches from his face, Grantaire muttered, “Enjolras?”
Enjolras laughed, unable to restrain the bubble of joy in his chest. “It’s done! Grantaire –” He lifted a hand to slip the cravat from Grantaire’s head, laughing again at the wide eyes beneath it. “Speak again, say something.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Grantaire whispered, then touched his fingers to his lips and started to smile, his eyes shining.
The others were clamouring behind him, but Enjolras could not make out a word. One of his hands rested still on Grantaire’s shoulder, and he used it to pull Grantaire into an embrace. Someone – Courfeyrac? – wrapped his arms around both of them from the side, and that began a stampede. In seconds, they stood at the centre of a knot of bodies, everyone shouting in triumph and relief. And in the middle of it all, Grantaire clung fast to Enjolras and either laughed or wept – Enjolras felt only that he shook, and held him tighter for it.
They had not had the opportunity that night to talk. Grantaire had gotten spectacularly drunk and gone out to busier establishments to show off his rediscovered vocal abilities. Most of the others had accompanied him. Enjolras, strangely exhausted, did not.
“He will speak to you tomorrow, I’m sure of it,” Combeferre told him when they parted ways. Enjolras hoped his smile did not appear too strained. He was not a naturally jealous person, or at least he had not thought so, but was it jealousy that made him want to stamp his foot like a petulant child and demand that Grantaire pay attention to him? Enjolras was not experienced enough in matters like this to be sure.
Grantaire came late to the Musain the next evening, looking better than he had done for weeks. He’d shaved, and his clothes looked freshly washed. Enjolras watched from beneath his lashes as Grantaire made the rounds around the room, telling anyone who asked that true friendship’s kiss had broken his curse, and he felt strong enough at this moment to box the king’s ears and tear down Versailles brick by brick in a single night. Cheers greeted his ridiculous statements, and Enjolras had to bite back smiles of his own. It was impossible to hold onto a poor mood when Grantaire was in such high spirits.
It took him some time to work his way to Enjolras’ table, and when he did, his smile became more tentative, his spine straightening as if he was in the presence of a schoolmaster. “Enjolras.”
Enjolras could not mimic his stoicism. He grinned and inclined his head. “Grantaire.”
At his smile, Grantaire relaxed, though he clasped his hands before him in supplication. “Might I speak to you privately?”
“The hallway,” Combeferre provided in a murmur, and Enjolras nodded as he stood.
“Of course. This way?”
Grantaire followed, the bustle of the room hiding the direction of their movement until they were at the door, and then beyond it. Grantaire closed it behind them, leaving them in quieter, darker solitude the only light coming from two candles in a bracket some way up the corridor. “I wanted to thank you,” Grantaire said quietly, his expression barely visible in the gloom. The hallway was so narrow that they stood only half a foot apart, and though either of them could have moved, neither did.
“I did no more than anyone else.”
“I told no one else how to cure the curse,” Grantaire pointed out. “You were the only one who could have asked me and received an answer.”
Enjolras’ skin was tingling. “Why?”
“You know why.”
Enjolras smiled, though he was not sure if Grantaire would be able to see it. “I do.”
Grantaire took a breath. “I am sober, or as sober as I ever get. You told me if I asked you to dance again, you would say yes.”
“And I shall.” Enjolras’ smile grew. “Though I must confess, I have not danced for many years. You may have to teach me, lest I embarrass you.”
“You, embarrass me!” Grantaire laughed. “There is a contradiction! My rooms are spacious enough, if the furniture is pushed back,” he added, softer. “I could teach you there?”
“I would like that.” Enjolras lifted his hands and found Grantaire’s waist, resting them there gently. Grantaire’s breathing skipped, and then he stepped closer, fingertips skating along Enjolras’ jaw.
“I have given too few kisses of late,” he murmured, “and received too many.”
“You have received as many as needed,” Enjolras corrected, and felt Grantaire’s huff of amusement against his chin.
“Still, I am more accustomed to giving. May I?”
It was different from any of the other kisses they had shared. Those had been kisses of necessity, tainted with hesitation and expectation of pain. This was better. For one thing, it lasted longer than two seconds. Enjolras found quickly that time meant a great deal in this act. Having time meant that he could pull Grantaire closer and feel him gasp, could kiss him far deeper than he had before, could draw back only to change the angle and dip down to meet Grantaire’s lips again.
Grantaire’s tongue pressed to his with no fear of hurting him now, and Enjolras’ hands tightened when he used that knowledge to his advantage, pressing Enjolras to the wall and kissing him firmer, harder, until Enjolras’ knees were weak and his breath came in shallow pants.
“God,” he whispered, when Grantaire finally let him draw breath enough to speak.
Grantaire laughed and kissed the corner of his mouth. “You give too much credit there, I think, though do not believe me unflattered.”
“Tonight,” Enjolras managed to say, still astonished that so much could be done with just a kiss. “Could you teach me to dance tonight?”
“I would do anything for you.”
The honesty in Grantaire’s voice was so strong that Enjolras had to touch his face, fitting his palm to the curve of Grantaire’s cheek and kissing him again. “Then we will see each other later.”
“Why not now?” Grantaire’s eyes gleamed in the dim light. “Combeferre knows you are with me, and the others will think nothing of it.”
The others would think a great deal, Enjolras knew, but for once he did not care if they were distracted. “Now then,” he grinned, warmth blooming in his chest at Grantaire’s answering laugh. “Now.”
“You know the way to my apartments, I think.”
“You would follow me to your own home?” Enjolras smiled, stepping away from the wall and starting up the hallway.
“I would follow you to the end of the world.”
“You are easy with such bold statements.”
“Ease borne of truth.”
Enjolras had to kiss him again, taking him by the waist and pulling him near enough to do so. How would it feel to kiss Grantaire in other places? To touch him in the way that dancing allowed? Enjolras broke away abruptly and took Grantaire’s hand to urge him on.
Grantaire only laughed, and the two of them hurried on towards the light.