Grantaire dropped down next to Jehan with a heavy sigh. He felt heavy. Every inch of him felt glued to the ground, these days. It had been far too long a winter. It was almost April and it had just snowed again this morning; nothing more than light flurries that hadn't even dusted the grass before melting, but still. Winter always left him feeling low. And he'd felt the effects of this one for far too long.
Without saying a word, Jehan wrapped an arm around Grantaire's shoulders and leaned over to press a kiss to his temple. Grantaire leaned into Jehan's warmth and reached over to steal a sip of whatever he was drinking in return.
That proved to be a mistake.
Sitting up and trying not to gag against the taste, Grantaire asked, "Do I even want to know what ungodly concoction I just sampled?"
Jehan laughed and said, "No. Probably not. But it serves you right for sampling drinks without asking." At Grantaire's sour look, Jehan patted him on the shoulder and said, "How about I just buy you your own to make up for it?"
Ten minutes later, Grantaire had a glass of whisky and Joly and Bossuet had arrived. Bossuet leaned in to clink his glass against Grantaire's, a soft smile on his face. "I know you probably don't care, but the rally was a huge success. We got more than enough signatures on the petitions to bring up the dining hall menu at the next SGA meeting."
Grantaire rolled his eyes. "I was at the rally, you know. I may not agree that there's much point to these frivolous attempts at social justice, but that doesn't mean I don't pay attention."
Joly had lifted his bottle of cider to clink it against Grantaire's, but he paused at those words, a light smirk settling over his features. "Ah. That you pay attention was never under debate, my friend. What was under debate was what you pay attention to." With that, Joly nodded his head towards the front of the Musain where Enjolras was deep in discussion with Combeferre and Feuilly.
To his own dismay, Grantaire could feel his cheeks heating at that gently teasing comment. He couldn't even deny it. He hadn't been at the rally to help -- not to help the cause, anyway. Honestly, Grantaire still wasn't even sure why he'd gone, at all. In situations like that, Enjolras was in his element. His social awkwardness seemed to mostly consign itself to one-on-one situations. In the midst of a nameless, faceless crowd, he was as comfortable as a cat on a pile of featherbeds. So, he shouldn't have needed Grantaire there, at all; shouldn't even have wanted him there. But, all logic aside, Enjolras had asked him to be there. Grantaire still hadn't the faintest idea why, but he could no more deny a request like that from Enjolras than he could fly. So, he'd gone. And he'd watched. And he'd quietly celebrated every little moment that day that had put a smile on Enjolras' face. Because he really was so far gone for him that everything that made Enjolras happy made Grantaire happy, too.
Grantaire let out a soft groan and dropped his head back onto Jehan's shoulder. Jehan immediately began patting his back. "There, there. It's no secret how you feel about him. No need to be embarrassed, now."
Rolling an eye up just in time to catch the sour look on Jehan's face, Grantaire couldn't help but smile. It was also no secret how Jehan felt about Grantaire's fixation on Enjolras. All these months later and Jehan still looked like he'd like to drag Enjolras outside every time he so much as turned a frown in Grantaire's direction. And Jehan wasn't even the only offender, either. The last time Enjolras had said something thoughtless to Grantaire, Joly had volunteered to slip a laxative into his latte. And when Grantaire had choked on his drink and asked after the legality of that, Bossuet had just smirked and turned to Joly to comment about how constipated Enjolras had been looking lately and really, as a medical student, wasn't it his solemn responsibility to offer healing where it was needed? It had been a forceful reminder. Lighthearted and kind as Joly and Bossuet usually were, they were also downright dangerous when working in tandem... especially to protect a friend. Grantaire had paid for their drinks for the rest of the night.
That was just it, really. Grantaire had friends. He had good friends. He had Jehan. He had Ellie. He had Joly. He had Bossuet. Musichetta, too. He had Eponine and Cosette. These days, he had Courfeyrac. He was veritably blessed with amazing friendships. He just didn't understand why. He didn't understand what they all saw in him, how he'd managed to deceive them into believing that there was someone worthwhile inside of him. What did he have to offer, after all, apart from a caustic tongue and an impressive capacity for alcohol?
But before Grantaire had a chance to say anything damning about his friends' taste in friends, Enjolras clinked a spoon against his glass and called the meeting to order. It was probably best that way. Settling himself more firmly against Jehan's supporting arm, Grantaire picked up his feet and plopped them into Bossuet's lap. Though Joly grimaced at the mud-encrusted boots now so near his clean khakis, he did reach out and pat Grantaire's leg before inching his chair further away. Grantaire just smiled and turned to listen to what Enjolras had to say.
And what Enjolras had to say was essentially more of what Bossuet had started saying before the meeting. The rally had been a success. They were going to gather their information and put together a presentation for the SGA and eventually for the school board. There was a lot of work on the horizon, blah, blah, blah. Grantaire ignored most of it. It had nothing to do with him. The only task he was even vaguely suited for was one related to design... but after one disastrous attempt at persuading Grantaire to design posters for the rally, Enjolras had given up on trying to enlist his assistance. That argument hadn't been pretty, but Grantaire hadn't lifted a brush since that incident in the studio and he was in no rush to do it for Enjolras. Professor Mercado had attempted to contact him through Jehan multiple times, but Grantaire kept putting him off, unable to face the reality of having disappointed yet another person who'd believed in him. People really should stop doing that.
So, instead of focusing on Enjolras' doling out of tasks, Grantaire did a little people watching, instead. Bossuet was focused on Enjolras, volunteering for whatever job that came up that suited his talents. Enjolras had won him over early and he believed as hard as Enjolras did in the possibility of a better world. Bossuet had enough optimism for he and Grantaire combined.
Joly wasn't usually keen to volunteer for extra work, given the workload he already had for school, but when Combeferre stepped up to volunteer to design alternate meal plans, Joly put his hand up, as well. His not-always-so-academic crush on Combeferre was usually the subject of much good-humored teasing from Bossuet and Musichetta, but Joly bore it well. He always did.
As for the Combeferre... his affections were fixed firmly in one place. And that was another story, entirely. Grantaire snorted. For someone so astute in reading other people's emotional states and romantic entanglements, Courfeyrac was downright abysmal at understanding his own. Even now, Combeferre was turning a soft smile on him that was more appropriate to a romantic hideaway than it was to a crowded bar, but instead of taking notice, Courfeyrac was focused on Enjolras... and becoming more agitated by the second as Enjolras passed him over for yet another job in favor of someone else.
Grantaire and Enjolras had discussed this -- or at least Grantaire thought they had -- that there was a fine line between delegating responsibilities more broadly in an attempt to cut a friend some slack and wrapping said friend in so much emotional cotton that they could barely breathe. After Courfeyrac's collapse around Valentine's day, Enjolras had been all for demoting Courfeyrac out of his Vice Presidency in the group in an effort to keep him from overworking himself, again. It had taken all of Grantaire's persuasive ability to convince Enjolras that that would do Courfeyrac more harm than good. Courfeyrac thrived on being useful. Being dismissed like that would have hurt him far more than any extra rest could have helped. Grantaire had won that argument, but only barely, and when he didn't keep a close eye on Enjolras in moments like this, Enjolras would push the issue, giving Courfeyrac as little to do as he could get away with.
Grantaire swung his feet off of Bossuet's lap and sat up, trying to catch Enjolras' eye. They'd nearly perfected this warning system over the past few weeks, but it only worked if Enjolras was watching him. And Grantaire couldn't do much more to get his attention without causing a spectacle -- something he'd promised Enjolras at the start of this arrangement that he would no longer do, again, in an effort to spare Courfeyrac any extra work. But what good was it to spare him in one instance when the other had the potential to hurt him just as badly?
Courfeyrac put his hand up again the next time that Enjolras asked for volunteers for a job, and, once more, Enjolras looked around for anyone else but him to give it to. Only this time, when Courfeyrac's face fell, it didn't get back up again. And the minute that Enjolras' and Combeferre's attention was drawn to something else, Courfeyrac did something Grantaire had never thought he'd see him do -- he pushed his chair back, then quickly and quietly fled the room. Enjolras was so wrapped up in debating his current point that he didn't even notice he'd left. Cursing softly under his breath, Grantaire put his drink down, unfinished, and went after him.
Courfeyrac hadn't made it very far. Grantaire caught up to him just outside the Musain. He'd come to rest against the corner of the building at the opening to the side alley, and, if Grantaire was any judge, if it weren't for the wall supporting him, he'd have been on the ground. He was bent slightly at the waist, and he had one fist pressed to his stomach. He was breathing so harshly that Grantaire could hear him all the way from the door.
Grantaire approached slowly, one hand outstretched -- though to do what, he didn't know. This was exactly what he'd warned Enjolras about. This was exactly the circumstance that Grantaire had been trying to avoid. And now... Grantaire didn't even know why he'd run out after him. Sure, Grantaire and Courfeyrac were friends, but they weren't the kind of friends who unburdened their problems to each other. Not on this magnitude, anyway. Not for the first time, Grantaire cursed the fact that he hadn't found a way to tell Courfeyrac that he was Rebus; Courfeyrac would have talked to Rebus. Grantaire had no idea if Courfeyrac would talk to him.
When Grantaire got close enough, he could see that Courfeyrac's shoulders were shaking, too. Damn and double damn. Grantaire stepped closer and let his outstretched hand come to rest on one of those shaking shoulders... and Courfeyrac's entire body tensed at that contact. He straightened, raised one hand to wipe briefly at his eyes, and then turned around so quickly that it made Grantaire a little dizzy. A wide smile was in place on Courfeyrac's lips, but the bloodshot, puffy look of his eyes gave easy lie to it.
Keeping his hand firmly in place on Courfeyrac's shoulder, Grantaire said softly, "He's just trying to help, you know."
Grantaire waited then, watched as the decision played itself out in the expressions of Courfeyrac's face. Courfeyrac was good at misdirection. Very good. It was how he'd worked himself into such a state to begin with -- he was so good at fooling his friends into thinking that he was OK, that he could never seem to bring himself to tell them that it wasn't true. Enjolras and Combeferre knew him best, and even they hadn't been able to see through it. Grantaire was only seeing through it now because, in some ways, he and Courfeyrac were kindred spirits.
Grantaire had always known, deep down inside, that he didn't matter. And judging by how quick he always was to push aside his own pain in favor of everyone else's... Courfeyrac "knew" the same thing.
Sighing, Grantaire said, "You don't have to pretend for me. I know he hurt you. I get it. Sometimes, he's a jerk."
There was a crack then, an indrawn breath that was shakier than it should have been, but before Courfeyrac could say anything, the door to the Musain slammed open, and Combeferre's frantic voice gave away that they were no longer alone. Then, before Grantaire could even register the importance of that, Courfeyrac grabbed him and dragged him down the side alley. Heart racing, Grantaire nonetheless forced himself to stillness, wrapping his arms around Courfeyrac's shaking frame even as Courfeyrac leaned into him, one hand covering Grantaire's mouth. Grantaire could take a hint.
Combeferre ran past the mouth of the alley, still calling Courfeyrac's name. Moments later, Enjolras ran past, too, alternately yelling for Courfeyrac, Combeferre, and Grantaire. Grantaire thought about calling out to him in return, but the choked off whimper that Courfeyrac let out nipped that idea before it had fully formed. Eventually, Enjolras and Combeferre stopped their searching, coming to a halt near the mouth of the alley. They proceeded to engage in a heated discussion over whose fault this was, what they should have done to prevent it, and whose job it had been to keep an eye on Courfeyrac. The argument ended with the two going off in separate directions, grudgingly agreeing to call the other if either of them heard from Courfeyrac. Courfeyrac's only reaction to the entire thing had been to shake harder.
...and if Grantaire's shoulder was suspiciously wet when Courfeyrac finally released him, he was kind enough not to call Courfeyrac out on it.
Once the coast was clear, Courfeyrac took two hesitant steps towards the street, then stopped, letting himself fall to rest against the unforgiving brick of the alley wall, one hand pressed to his stomach, again. Grantaire stepped closer, this time careful not to touch uninvited. He said simply, "What can I do to help?"
Courfeyrac caught his breath on a sob, then spent the next few minutes getting his breathing back under control. Finally, in a voice so small it nearly broke Grantaire's heart, he said, "I want--." He swallowed hard, added, "I want Marius," and then stopped, again.
"OK. OK, I get it." Reaching out, at last, Grantaire wrapped an arm around Courfeyrac's shoulders and turned him around to walk towards the back of the alley and the parking lot. "I can do that." He didn't offer anything more than that. He couldn't say that it was going to be OK. He didn't know that. He couldn't tell Courfeyrac to calm down. Of all people, Grantaire knew how absolutely unhelpful that was. All he could do was what Courfeyrac had asked and bring him home to Marius.
...and hope like mad that Pontmercy would know what to do with him when Grantaire got Courfeyrac home.
When Grantaire got Courfeyrac home, still glazed and shaking, Marius did know what to do. He was waiting for them, a warm blanket that smelled like it had just come out of the dryer in hand. He wasted no time divesting Courfeyrac of his jacket and wrapping the blanket around his shoulders, instead. He then led him over to the couch and motioned to the person who'd been hovering nearby -- Cosette, whom Grantaire hadn't even noticed until then -- to come closer. It wasn't until Cosette pressed a mug into Courfeyrac's hands that Grantaire thought to object. The way Courfeyrac was shaking, putting a mug of hot liquid in his hands didn't seem like such a great idea.
...but, it seemed they had that thought out, too.
The minute that Courfeyrac had the mug in his hands, Marius sat down across from him and wrapped his own hands around them, pressing them to the sides of the mug and helping to keep it steady. Cosette sat down on Courfeyrac's left side, pressing herself close to him.
Grantaire had the stunned thought that they'd done this before.
Not only had they done this before... they'd done it often.
Biting off a curse, Grantaire forced himself to consider exactly how often this had to happen and how bad things must be that Marius not only had a system worked out to handle it, but had learned how to account for Cosette's presence, too. Damn Enjolras. Damn him.
Stepping closer, Grantaire quietly asked, "Is there anything I can do?"
Marius was so focused on coaxing Courfeyrac to take a drink that he either didn't hear the question or didn't think it merited an answer. Cosette, on the other hand, took pity on Grantaire and motioned him to sit down on Courfeyrac's other side. When she spoke, her voice was low and even, as soothing and unobtrusive as she could make it. "The warmth will help. If he wants to talk, we'll listen. If not... just being here will help."
Taking the hint to respond in kind, Grantaire said, "Is there anything I can say? I... I know it may not help to hear it, but Enjolras--"
At the mention of that name, Courfeyrac let out a low moan and dropped his head forward to bury it in the crook of Marius' neck, nearly spilling the hot chocolate over both of them. Marius hastily put the mug aside in favor of wrapping his arms around Courfeyrac's tense frame. He then turned a fiercer and more sour look on Grantaire than Grantaire had thought he had in him and hissed out, "Well, I can tell you one thing that will most certainly not help. That name. Any mention of that name. So, if you can't keep it discreetly behind your teeth for the duration, then I suggest you leave."
Grantaire firmly buttoned his lip over any response he could have made. He didn't have the answers here. Marius and Cosette did. Grantaire could follow their lead, especially once he recognized that he knew this particular pattern of routine, too.
...he and Jehan had one just like it. They hadn't had to use it much recently, but they had it.
After another ten minutes had passed, Marius was finally able to coax Courfeyrac up off of his shoulder and off of the couch. As they shuffled off down the hall, Grantaire turned to Cosette, his questions practically burning in his throat from having forced them down so long. Cosette sighed, but motioned him on.
Good. Answers, at last.
Courfeyrac jerked at that soft question, flinched away from the voice that had asked it. Marius sighed. "OK. Never mind. You don't have to--"
"Enjolras." Courfeyrac's breath caught on the word, but he plowed on. And once he got started, the words came faster and faster, like some festering wound had finally been lanced. "Grantaire said that he thinks he's helping. And I know that. I know that he thinks he's helping, but I feel so useless. It feels like he doesn't trust me anymore. This was the one thing -- the one thing, Marius -- that I could still do for him, the one thing that keeps us close, and he doesn't want me to be any part of it, anymore."
Bracing himself on the bathroom sink, Courfeyrac raised haunted eyes to meet Marius' own and said, "I'm going to lose him. I'm going to lose what little I have left of him, and there's nothing I can do about it. Marius... what do I do?"
Marius pulled Courfeyrac back to him, wrapping his arms firmly around him and stroking his back. Personally, Marius was beginning to understand Jehan's attitude more and more. Bearing such close witness to the aftermath every time Enjolras had done something so unthinkingly cruel had left him feeling less than charitable. It didn't even matter that Enjolras had been trying to be kind; in some ways, that almost made it worse.
Courfeyrac didn't deserve to be so ill-used. He deserved so much better than this. Marius had always thought so, but it had become more apparent than ever since Courfeyrac had returned from the Christmas holidays. There had been a brittleness, a fragility, to him since he'd returned from New York, having cut his visit short by nearly a week. Marius had thought he recognized that particular brand of pain, but, at the time, he'd been too uncertain himself to say anything. So, he'd kept silent, and he'd watched.
When Courfeyrac started drawing up careful budgets for the shopping, cutting out everything but staple foods, Marius had noticed.
When Courfeyrac stopped going out, stopped drinking, and started walking instead of driving any time it was barely warm enough to do so, Marius had noticed.
When Courfeyrac took on a work-study job at the law library under the guise of beefing up a resume that, to Marius' knowledge, needed no beefing up, Marius had noticed.
And when Courfeyrac started spending every free hour that he had helping out Eponine and Musichetta -- and more than that, had started using his tips to pay for his share of the groceries -- well... Marius had noticed that, too.
So, when Marius found Courfeyrac sitting at the kitchen table, one night, holding their rent check in shaking hands while staring forlornly at a checkbook that wouldn't balance... that was the final straw. Marius had all the proof he needed to know what he was dealing with, and it was time to act. Marius had retreated to his bedroom and carefully composed an e-mail that he had once sworn he would never send. And in the morning, when he'd received in answer as warm of a response as the old man was capable of, Marius had put on his threadbare coat and gone to see his grandfather.
By that afternoon, Marius was reinstated in his grandfather's good graces, he had a new coat and the start of a new wardrobe -- over his own protests -- and he had agreed to take a stipend from his grandfather which was far over and above the cost of the rent on Courfeyrac's apartment... which was what Marius had been after to begin with.
Marius had then arranged to meet with their landlord, and gotten the man to agree to quietly tear up the checks that Courfeyrac gave him for rent in favor of Marius paying for it himself. Of course, Courfeyrac had caught him out at it after the first month, and he'd had more than a few words to say over Marius compromising his principles just for money, but Marius had stood his ground. He'd argued that Courfeyrac had paid Marius' share of the rent the entire first year they had lived together and that, to Marius' eyes, meant that he now owed Courfeyrac a year's worth of paying his half of the rent in return. And in the name of Marius' pride -- and because Courfeyrac was astute enough to see through him and understand why he was really doing this -- Courfeyrac had backed down and let him do it.
But to watch Courfeyrac struggling so hard in spite of Marius doing everything he could to help, had nearly broken his heart. Courfeyrac gave so much of himself to others, but it seemed to Marius that few people, if any, ever gave themselves so freely to him in return. And the real killer was that Courfeyrac professed not to mind it -- except in times like these when he couldn't hold up the pretense any longer.
Quietly, calmly, Marius reached past Courfeyrac to open the medicine cabinet. He pulled out a small orange vial of pills and held it out to him. There weren't many left -- maybe six -- and Courfeyrac been hoarding them for emergencies. As far as Marius was concerned... today qualified.
Courfeyrac, of course, objected. His voice rough with emotion, he said, "No. I don't have enough left. I have to save them."
"For days like today, Courfeyrac."
Marius sighed. "The only reason I agreed not to look into a way to get you more was because you promised that you'd at least take them when you have a bad day. This is a bad day. You need it."
Finally, Courfeyrac yelled back, "No. I won't. Not when they don't even help, anyway!" At that point, he pushed hard at the hand that Marius had outstretched and sent the vial flying into the hallway to crash against the opposite wall... six inches from Cosette's head.
Courfeyrac paled and Marius lunged for the bottle... but it was too late. Grantaire had already reached past Cosette to pluck it off the floor and read the label.
The look he turned on Courfeyrac then was full of painful understanding. Softly, he said, "No. No, I don't imagine it's helping at all. Not if you're only taking it once every blue moon."
Marius made another grab for the vial, but it was half-hearted, at best. The damage had already been done. Instead, he shot back, "Well, it's better than nothing!"
Grantaire offered the vial back and shook his head. "Actually... it probably isn't. That stuff isn't meant to be taken on an 'as needed' basis. Who knows what it's really doing?" Turning back towards Courfeyrac, he said, "Do I have to ask how you even got your hands on it to begin with?"
Courfeyrac grabbed for the bottle and where he'd been frighteningly pale before, he was now dangerously flushed. He spat back, "How do you think I got my hands on it?"
Grantaire held his hands up and shook his head. "Hey, look. I'm not trying to attack you. I'm trying to help. I just want to know if--"
"You want to know if I got them from a licensed professional or a street dealer. I get it, R." Quietly, as though every word were being dragged form him under pain of torture, Courfeyrac admitted. "I've been seeing a psychologist since I was fifteen. I was officially diagnosed when I was sixteen. I've been on these," he shook the bottle, "since I was twenty." He let out a bitter laugh. "Only medical insurance is one of many things I no longer have, and even the generics are fucking expensive without it. Is that what you wanted to know?"
Courfeyrac deflated then, all the fight going out of him at once. Marius reached out a hand to steady him. Once he had his feet firmly back under him, Marius took the bottle of pills and shook one out before Courfeyrac could regain the energy to argue, again. Marius pressed it and a glass of water on him, and this time Courfeyrac took them without complaint.
Grantaire leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed over his chest, and began to laugh. Marius turned back to him, a scowl firmly in place, but Grantaire shook his head. "I'm not laughing at you. Just... the coincidence." Waving a hand in the air, Grantaire elaborated, ticking off points on his fingers as he went, "Jehan was living so deeply in a pretend world that his parents shipped him off to live with his grandparents until he graduated, I tried to kill myself, and now you. Apparently sixteen was just a banner year for everyone."
Marius turned back to see Courfeyrac's response... and was surprised to see him laughing softly to himself. When Courfeyrac finally picked his head up again, he was wearing the first smile that Marius had seen on him all night. Courfeyrac nodded at the bottle, then raised an eyebrow at Grantaire. "OK. So, what's your poison, then?"
Grantaire snorted out another laugh. "You haven't figured it out, yet?" At Courfeyrac's raised eyebrow, Grantaire said, "Alcohol, my friend. After my encounter with a few bottleful's of that stuff when I was sixteen, I haven't trusted myself around it. Self-medicating is safer."
As Courfeyrac's eyes widened, Grantaire merely shrugged. "It works well enough, except when it doesn't. And when it doesn't... well. That's why Jehan sticks to me like glue. It's a little codependent and a lot unhealthy... but it's better than the alternative."
At that, the smile fell from Courfeyrac's face and his breath caught. Marius immediately dropped a hand to his shoulder and gave it a soft pat. When Courfeyrac looked back up to meet his gaze, there was a whole new world of pain in his eyes. Turning that look on Grantaire, he said quietly, "...is it, really? Are you sure?"
Marius' hand closed convulsively on Courfeyrac's shoulder, then, scared beyond measure by what those soft words implied. Seeing that, Cosette reached past Grantaire to squeeze Marius' free hand. Grantaire took that opportunity to push past Marius into the bathroom. Taking Courfeyrac's hands in his, he gave them a gentle squeeze and said, "Any. Day. Of the week." Leaning in, he placed a soft kiss on Courfeyrac's forehead and added, "But the fact that it's on your mind enough to be asking me that question means that I need to find a way to get you a steady supply of refills. And if I'm going to do that, then you really need to be talking to your guy, again. This stuff is serious shit when you take it unmonitored."
Ducking his head, Courfeyrac said, "I'll call her tomorrow. See if I can work something out. Sliding scale, or something. I don't know."
At that, Marius found his voice again. "You will call her tonight. Right now. And fuck the cost." Both Grantaire and Courfeyrac jerked at the use of profanity coming from him, but Marius barreled on. "Whatever it costs, I'll cover it." Pulling his hands from Cosette's, Marius knelt down next to Grantaire and pressed as close to Courfeyrac as he could get. "I'm not losing you. Do you hear me? You're the only family I have. I'm not losing you."
Grantaire backed off then, and, in a mirror of their posture from earlier in the evening, Courfeyrac leaned down to envelop Marius in his arms. Courfeyrac didn't say anything, but the soft smile and reassuring kisses that he pressed into Marius' hair told Marius clearer than words could that he wasn't going anywhere. And that was all the reassurance that Marius needed.