Cosette pulls up to the café in a shiny silver Audi, which may not be the nicest car Grantaire has ever seen, but it’s nicer than he expects for the average twenty-year-old student. Even Enjolras doesn’t drive a car that nice, but mostly because he disagrees with the politics of the oil industrial complex and insists on using public transportation (much to his family’s exasperation).
“Wow,” he says as she hugs him hello. “I’m really glad I didn’t drive now. My car looks like a pumpkin next to this.” He lives near enough to walk, and his building’s parking situation is kind of like the Hunger Games. If he leaves his space on a Saturday afternoon, he might die before he gets another one.
Cosette waves off his comment about her car. “I wanted this VW convertible I saw for sale on the street, but Papa wouldn’t consider letting me buy a used car. He’s weird about stuff like that.” She rolls her eyes, all parents, you know? They laugh. (Everything Grantaire has ever owned belonged to someone else first, including his cell phone and most of his clothes.) “You shouldn’t be driving anyway.”
“What, because of this?” He scoffs, holding up his lightly-bandaged left hand. “People drive one-handed all the time, Cosette. That’s the whole point of cell phones. I could go pro at one-handed driving. How do you think I got to the hospital when I cut my hand?”
“I’m just glad I wasn’t on the road that night,” she teases. She flounces into the café, keeping the door open for him with her foot and watching over her shoulder until he follows. When she moves, the pink lace roses on her skirt flutter charmingly. (Jehan is going to love this girl.)
She takes her coffee black, which is hardcore, but he can’t resist ribbing her a little about the pretentious Ecuadorian roast she selects. He drinks his with more sugar than coffee, and it’s warm enough today that he has it over ice so it’s basically a milkshake with a shot of espresso in it (which is his second-favorite way to drink coffee).
“How’s everyone?” Cosette asks, and he can tell from the sparkle in her eyes that she isn’t asking about everyone. He ignores the implication, though, because so what if she (kind of) saved his life, it was literally her job and he’s already taken homemade thank-you cards to the hospital, and now he’s bought her coffee so they’re fucking square and he owes Cosette nothing.
“They’re so annoying,” he says instead, heaving an affected sigh of extreme tribulation. “Combeferre—you might know him, he’s in med school so he’s around the hospital a lot—he emailed my professors and now I’m not even allowed in the studio until my stitches are out, so I’m stuck in the apartment all day.” Which is ridiculous, and he will have his revenge.
Cosette blinks at him rather pointedly. “Yes, it’s so frustrating when people care about you. This topic is boring, and I’m done with it. Tell me about your cute friend.”
“Cute friend?” She’s got to mean Courfeyrac. If she means anyone other than Courfeyrac, he is going to have to have her committed to a hospital as a danger to herself and others. “Courfeyrac is fine,” he says slowly. “He’s lying low right now; he greased the doorknobs at Joly’s place and Bossuet—Lesgles—took a fall. No one else thinks it’s as funny as Courfeyrac does.”
“Wait—Courfeyrac’s the one with the hair, yeah?” Courfeyrac is very vain about his thick dark curls, and he would puff up like Rice Krispies if he heard Cosette call him “the one with the hair.” “I don’t mean him. I’m talking about the freckly one, Marcus or—“
“Marius? Well, ‘cute’ is one word for him I guess, but—“
“Marius!” Cosette exclaims. “That’s it. I knew it was something like that. What’s his story?”
Grantaire looks at her over the rim of his coffee cup with eyes that he hopes broadcast “are you deranged?” He takes a slow, deliberate sip while he ponders it. He, of course, hasn’t thought of anyone in that context in a very long time (the price of infatuation), but he understands, objectively, that some of his friends are attractive. Courfeyrac can be dashing, with his height, broad shoulders, and wicked green eyes (he also dresses like a romance novel cover, which somehow works for him). Combeferre has that nerd-hot thing going on, with the wire-framed glasses and the neat reddish-brown hair.
But Marius? He loves Marius. Marius is not sexy. Marius is a lost puppy Courfeyrac brought home from the pound, and they’re all just glad he doesn’t wet the rug anymore. Marius is many things, but sexy isn’t one of them. No one thinks Marius is sexy, except maybe Eponine, and she’s mostly drawn to Marius because he’s much, much more awkward and vulnerable than she is. Marius is nice, but… well. Exactly. Marius is nice, but. Marius is nice once you get to know him. He’s not someone strangers like. (Courfeyrac doesn’t count, because Courfeyrac likes everyone, regardless of social eptitude.)
Cosette hasn’t heard Marius talk, which may account for it. Her only gauge of how cute he may (subjectively) be is his skinny freckled body with its angles and bones—nope, Grantaire doesn’t get it. But he’s glad, for Marius’s sake. (And glad for his sake, too; if everyone liked what he likes, his situation would be even more desperate than it is already, and if that thought doesn’t make him need a drink, he doesn’t know what will.) It takes all kinds. It’s just surprising that the kind that likes Marius is Cosette—a girl so kind and funny and gorgeous that she gets stopped on the street, a girl who could probably seduce Grantaire if she set her mind to it, and he doesn’t even like women that way. (He’s rather shown his cards with that thought, though, hasn’t he, a blonde with blue eyes, R, really what a shock.)
“If I were less secure in my awesome,” he says finally, “I’d think you were using me to get to my cute friends.”
“How could anyone use you?” she asks, batting her lashes over eyes that look innocent (her mouth, below, has a mischievous quirk). “Perish the thought.”
“Uh. Marius. Is. A really good guy? He’s twenty-two and he’s from some country town. He lives with Courfeyrac in this truly horrible apartment that is probably going to be condemned any day. He works as a bike messenger… I’m not really sure what you want from me, here.”
“I’m curious about him,” she says, and, bless, anyone else would be embarrassed to admit Marius has her enthralled, but Cosette seems completely at ease in her skin.
“He’s doing a Master’s in French literature for some reason,” Grantaire adds. “He’s not very concerned about the practicality of that.”
“Says the art student,” Cosette interrupts. “Please continue.”
But the spell is broken. “I can’t believe you’re so thirsty for human companionship that you’re pumping me for information on Marius.”
“He interests me,” she replies, unruffled.
Grantaire snorts. “We’ll see how long that lasts. He’s a total dork. Okay, story time is over. If you want to know more about Marius Pontmercy, just facebook stalk him like a normal person.”
She opens her mouth to argue, but is interrupted by her ringing phone. Her ring tone is the bridge from “I am Woman,” which is so perfect he can’t help giggling, straight-up giggling, like a ten-year-old at a slumber party. She pulls her phone from her purse—it’s some piece of cutting-edge tech he’s never even seen before—and frowns at it. “I have to take this,” she apologizes. “If I don’t answer when Papa calls, he might freak out and send a search party. I’ll just be a sec.”
She slips out of her seat and steps outside the café. He hears her bright voice say “Hi, Papa,” before the door closes behind her.
While she is occupied, he should maybe check his own phone. He’s not really sure how long ago he last checked it—it was definitely before he told Cosette that he actually no shit really likes Nicki Minaj and she made the most horrified face (they have completely different taste in music, apparently, but like the same art, so that’s all right). He has seventeen missed messages from an assortment of his friends.
Courfeyrac (4:23:59 PM): u cmg 2nite? bossuet promised the prank war is on hold
Courfeyrac (4:37:01 PM): ???
Courfeyrac (5:01:33 PM): did u 4get the mtg? back rm @ musain. dinner after?
Courfeyrac (5:19:21 PM): oh god ur dead rnt u
Courfeyrac (5:27:13 PM): gonna write the best eulogy ever
Courfeyrac (5:27:35 PM): here lies r, ok friend & gr8 drinker
Courfeyrac (5:48:46 PM): ill pour 1 out 4 u
Jehan (6:06:11 PM): R? U OK?
Jehan (6:10:10 PM): sorry, Bahorel sent that.
Feuilly (6:11:07 PM): Courfeyrac thinks you’re dead
Jolllly (6:14:55 PM): whats wrong why arent you here is it an infection???
Musichetta (6:15:31 PM): hope ur ok ;) txt back, jolys worried
Jehan (6:20:49 PM): are you coming to dinner with us tho? We miss you!
Eponine (6:33:52 PM): E lost a button and his shirt is just hanging open
Eponine (6:33:57 PM): I’m not sending u a pic
Combeferre (6:35:28 PM): Come by the Musain if you’re up to it. It isn’t the same without you.
Eponine (6:38:09 PM): COME HERE YOU FUCKER
“Everything okay?” Cosette asks, sliding back into her seat.
His head jerks up. “Yeah. Sorry. Apparently me not coming to the bar tonight is a warning sign of the end of the world.”
“That’s silly. How would climate change cause you to miss a bar?”
“You’re a cruel woman.” The thing is, he really, really likes Cosette. “How would you feel about a change of plans?”
She cocks her head to the side. “What did you have in mind? Because I’m not doing porn again.”
“What about meeting my friends at a bar?”
Cosette bites her lip. “Will they let me in?” (She’s younger than she looks; he’s forgotten.)
“They let Marius in,” he laughs, “and he looks fourteen and a half on a good day.”
“Let’s go.” She’s left a tip on the table and flown out the door before he can even deliver his line about not being able to promise about the porn. He grins at no one in particular as he runs after her.
Cosette has the upper hand immediately. He’s never seen anything like it. Their group can be intimidating—it took Marius multiple years to get comfortable with them (granted, he’s Marius, but still). The Musain isn’t even an undergrad bar; they picked it for its distinct lack of underage girls chatting with bartenders, so it is strange that Cosette should be so at ease there.
It’s simple enough for her to charm Courfeyrac. He lights up when she enters the door behind Grantaire, smiling lazily. “Cosette, how lovely to see you again,” he says, clearly hoping to impress her by remembering her name. “I was hoping I might have the pleasure.”
She smiles right back at him. “And I, of course, have dreamed only of you since last we met, dear Courfeyrac,” she simpers, “come, embrace me—“ thus earning his admiration forever. Not many dare to beat Courfeyrac at his own game. Most are too worried he might be serious. With his arm around her shoulders, Courfeyrac introduces her to the rest of the room.
Grantaire would feel betrayed by the theft of his new friend, but Eponine has an extra glass of wine waiting for him and an I-told-you-so smirk on her face. Enjolras is, indeed, missing buttons, and quite unhappy about it if his face is anything to go by. It was worth the six blocks just to glimpse the smooth plane of his upper chest even if he is still avoiding Grantaire’s eyes for some reason.
Marius doesn’t say a word to her, just watches with panicked fish-eyes. He’s gone full-on Raj from the Big Bang Theory, which is weird because he’s usually just as capable of putting his foot in his mouth in front of women as he is in front of men. Grantaire thinks it’s hilarious to watch Cosette try and draw him out, all coy smiles and “I don’t know if I like this wine, what do you think?” (Cosette knows damn well how she feels about the wine.)
Bahorel greets Cosette with a mystery shot, and she earns his respect by tossing it back without flinching. (She doesn’t even ask what’s in it; Cosette is a brave little toaster.) Feuilly falls a little in love with her when she offers to teach him and Jehan how to fold napkins into roses and water lilies. Musichetta latches onto her at the sight of her dusk-colored suede boots.
Cosette giggles and lowers those baby blues behind a curtain of luxurious golden waves (and god how long until he can paint again?). “They’re my weakness,” she says. “I like things to be beautiful.” She says it with just enough sincerity, goddamn.
Jehan perks up at that (he knows a kindred spirit when he hears one), but Combeferre strikes first.
“A worthy extravagance, for beauty is truth, truth beauty.”
Cosette grins at him. “And a thing of beauty, as I always say, is a joy forever.”
Eponine sniffs into her glass. “Another literary person,” she sighs. “I need new friends.” And she skulks off to find another bottle.
Cosette purses her lips. “I don’t think she likes me.”
“Nah, that’s just… Eponine.” Eponine is weird about people. She’s the anti-Courfeyrac. She doesn’t take new friends on very easily. It’s something to do with her childhood, he thinks, or maybe she’s just wired that way. (She is especially weird about people Marius can’t take his eyes off.) “Don’t mind her. Really.”
“Would anyone care to explain why Eponine just yelled at me about my shirt?” Enjolras asks, taking his seat next to Combeferre.
“Well, there’s something called buttons, and typically people use them to—“
“Thank you, Grantaire, that isn’t what I meant.” His tone is sharp, and he doesn’t look at Grantaire while he says it.
Combeferre clears his throat. “She’s had a bad day,” he says smoothly. “So, Cosette, do you like Keats?” Either this is Combeferre’s idea of a good segue (obviously she likes Keats, you and she just quoted Keats at each other in some kind of nerd orgy, get it together, you’re supposed to be the smart one), or the situation is even more tense than Grantaire suspected.
Cosette doesn’t care for the new topic; she spares Combeferre a fond yet pitying glance before turning to Enjolras. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced,” she says, leaning over the table. “I’m Cosette.”
He smiles at her, but it’s tight-lipped like he doesn’t really mean it (which is not, Grantaire is sure, how Cosette is used to being smiled at). “I’ve heard,” he says. “I’m—“
“You’re the famous Enjolras,” she says, and Grantaire is over her as a muse, unless muses also inspire people to murder. He doesn’t remember everything he told her while he was bleeding out, but he remembers enough that he is not sure he wants these two beautiful, brilliant, and dangerous people anywhere near each other.
He raises his eyebrows. “Famous?”
Grantaire is dying. He thought he was dying when he was bleeding all over his car, but no, this is what dying feels like and it is a lot less pleasant than that.
Cosette doesn’t so much as glance in his direction, but he can feel her awareness of his discomfort. “I hear things.”
Enjolras is unimpressed. “What sort of things have you heard?”
“You know. Things.” Cosette isn’t impressed by Enjolras either. (How is Enjolras not impressed by her? She is staring into his eyes and not blinking. She is ferocious.)
“I’ve heard things about you, too,” he says. “Like you’re good to have around when people try to die.”
“Hey,” Grantaire interjects, “not fair. I didn’t try to die. I actually tried really hard not to die, like I did a whole lot more of the footwork on that than she did, where’s my—“
“Shh,” Enjolras hisses, eyes never leaving Cosette.
Enjolras smiles back.
This is the most terrible peace agreement Grantaire has ever seen.
Cosette <3 (9:23:24 AM): Wake up, sleepyhead! We’re going shopping with Musichetta at 12, so fix your hangover before then. She’s going to show me the fair trade stores in town. I’ll bring coffee. Kisses!
Introducing Cosette to his friends may be the worst best decision he’s ever made, he thinks, burying his head in the pillows. (Ten minutes later, he gives up and gets in the shower, which he hopes Cosette will recognize as true love.)