Chapter 1: Chapter One
The notice first appeared on the noticeboard about two weeks ago. Today, you stop and read it again. ‘COSTUME PARTY’ it proclaims in large font. ‘£5 on the door, all proceeds go to the Queer Alphabet Society’, and then there is a lot of small print about date (Hallowe’en) and time (late) and place (the Musain club, which is fairly cheap and close by). But then you notice that there is a smaller poster tacked below it. ‘WANTED:’ it reads ‘Max cosplayer for above event, to accompany Liesel Meminger and Death. Costume not necessary – we will help. Ask for Joly and Combeferre, rooms 512 & 513 (upstairs)’. There is also a phone number, which you save to your mobile.
Well, you never know. You’ve been here almost a full three weeks now and you haven’t made a single friend yet. A queer society – assuming they aren’t all assholes and ‘allies’ – might be a good place to make some friends. Not that you’re lonely. Just that lectures and seminars, while good, aren’t the only reason you came to university and yes goddamnit you’re a little bit lonely, okay, you miss all of your old friends and you don’t know how to make new ones and the world just got so big and scary when you left school even though you hated it and just fuck everything right now
You have walked to your room (414, last one on the floor) on autopilot while you have been screaming internally, and are left at the end of it sitting on your bed. You will have to tidy up before you can actually sleep, although your next lecture is in two days and, hey! you have no friends, so you think you might not bother, not just yet.
You browse tumblr. None of your friends are online, of course. They have all made it to other universities, better universities whispers the judgemental part of your mind, and have all made new friends, more important friends.
At three in the morning, when Lucifer is fast asleep and you can’t seem to follow his example, you end up re-reading The Book Thief, because it was that or Game of Thrones, and the most recent episode of Vikings has failed to load on your laptop. You cry a little, reading it, and it bothers you that you are not entirely sure why.
You wake up on the floor, at around four in the afternoon according to your phone, The Book Thief open to Max’s illustrations and stuck slightly to your face. It takes you around an hour to wake up properly, and get (re-)dressed in something you haven’t slept in. Then you look at your mobile again. No-one has called. No-one has texted. You scroll through your contacts, wondering if you should attempt to start a conversation with someone, when you come across ‘Joly & Combeferre 07724182845’. You log onto your computer again, check your email. Nothing.
Ten minutes later, you are standing in the hallway, one flight of stairs up, not entirely sure whether this is a good decision to make or not, but fairly sure that you are going to go crazy if you don’t do something. Before you can talk yourself out of it, you knock on door 512. There is no answer. A girl comes out of 505 and stares at you for a minute, and you feel like you will crawl out of your skin. You step to the side, and knock on door 513.
‘Come in,’ calls a voice. It is pleasantly low, and probably male. ‘Unless it’s ‘Taire, in which case you can piss off.’ You push the door open slightly.
‘Um, no, er – hi. It’s, I mean, I’m.’ You curse yourself internally. ‘I saw that poster downstairs. You wanted a, um, Max? For the queer cosplay thing?’
A man comes to the door immediately, and looks you up and down. ‘Nice hair,’ he says appreciatively. You blush slightly. Now that you are away from home you have finally had it cut short and dyed bright blue, and you are still getting used to it.
‘You really want to be Max Vandenburg?’ he asks.
‘Yeah. I, like, love that book.’
‘Okay, well, come in. I’m Combeferre, and this is Joly. It’s his room.’
‘I’m, er, Mollie.’
‘Mollie, hi,’ he says. ‘Hey, Joly, get off your laptop and meet Mollie, who wants to be our Max for Enjy’s Hallowe’en fundraiser thing.’
‘This is due tomorrow, and it won’t write itself,’ grumbles Joly, but he gets up quite happily to come and shake your hand. ‘I’m Joly, obviously.’ He looks you up and down. ‘Nice hair,’ he says, and then, ‘preferred gender pronouns?’
You are suddenly, ridiculously happy. ‘They, please,’ you tell him.
Combeferre has sat down on the bed behind you. ‘So, Mollie, we haven’t seen you at the ABC’s, have we?’
You turn to him. ‘Sorry, the what?’
He looks slightly guilty. Joly looks amused. ‘I told you and Grantaire that you’d confuse people with that name.’
Combeferre ignores him. ‘I mean, the Queer Alphabet Society,’ he explains to you. ‘We’re both members. Do you think you might join?’
‘I hadn’t thought about it,’ you lie. ‘I’m still finding my feet here.’
‘First year’s always tough,’ Joly sympathises.
‘We’re both second years,’ Combeferre tells you. ‘What do you study?’ he asks.
‘English,’ you tell him, half-waiting to be laughed at or dismissed. Judging by all the textbooks, one of them is studying medicine.
‘That’s cool,’ Combeferre says. ‘I do Philosophy.’
‘I’m doing medicine.’ Joly tells you. ‘I hope you don’t mind if I go back to this work.’
You shrug slightly, and turn to Combeferre. ‘There’s an ABC meeting tonight, so he does have to work,’ he says. ‘Do you want to come?’
You kind of do, because these two are both really nice (and good-looking) and if they are the sort of people you will find in this ABC group then you would love to go. But you look again at how comfortable Combeferre is in Joly’s room, the way they orbit around each other in the small space, they way they are (probably) both gay, and have the slightly sickening feeling that if you go tonight, you will find out that they are dating and you suddenly really don’t want that.
‘Um, I’d love to,’ you lie, ‘but I’ve got a lecture tomorrow morning, and I’m a bit short on sleep.’ That, at least, isn’t a lie.
‘Okay, well, we meet every Tuesday and you are welcome to come, anytime.’
You thank him. You may have little intention of coming, but it feels quite nice to be invited to something.
‘Where’s your room, then?’ Combeferre asks. ‘I mean, not that I’m a stalker, but I’ll walk you back if you like.’
‘I thought you were gay?’ you say, and then cringe. ‘I mean, I doubt you’ll stalk me.’
He takes it with surprisingly good grace. ‘I’m pansexual,’ he tells you, ‘and I think even a gay guy would- I mean-’ He stops talking.
‘That’s okay, I’m just downstairs, in 414,’ you say, to break the silence. Joly is ignoring you both, apparently focused on his work.
‘Right, awesome, well I guess we’ll see you at the Hallowe’en thing if we don’t see you before,’ he says, a little awkwardly.
‘Oh, yeah, about that. I haven’t got a costume or anything. I don’t really know…’
‘That’s cool, um, shopping sometime? I’m usually busy during the week, so, weekend? I mean, I assume you’d want to go shopping with us for a costume. We both have to get some stuff too, so.’
‘Yeah, that’d be good,’ you say quickly. ‘I’m pretty hopeless at shopping, so I don’t know how I’d do it alone.’
‘Right, well let me give you my number,’ says Combeferre.
‘I’ve got it.’ He looks startled. ‘I mean, I’ve got the number that was on the noticeboard.’
‘That’s Joly’s,’ he tells you. ‘If you text him for both of us that’s fine.’
You get your phone out, and text ‘hi’ to Joly’s number. After a second’s hesitation, you sign it ‘Mollie’.
‘Now you’ve got my number, too,’ you tell him.
‘Great,’ he says. ‘I’ll see you around, then,’ he adds. You, miraculously, don’t trip over your own feet on your way out of the room.
‘See you,’ you say, and then practically run downstairs to your room.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
That was embarassingly awkward, but it doesn’t keep you awake in the same way, and you are able to sleep fairly well that night. So well, in fact, that you manage to almost enjoy your lecture, and are still awake and functioning at the end of it.
So you notice the four people who come over to you.
Three of them, you are pretty sure, are in your English class this year. The fourth you don’t recognise, and she? they? looks older than you.
‘You must be Mollie,’ says one of them. ‘There aren’t two people with blue hair in this class. I’m Ben.’ He nods at you. At least, you are pretty sure he is a he. He is wearing curvy jeans and a black waistcoat, and has long blond hair, but strangely the overall effect doesn’t look feminine at all.
‘I’m Jehan, I’m a boy and I use ze pronouns,’ says the person next to him. Ze is wearing pink leggings with yellow and white flowers, and a pale blue shirt with big white buttons. Zir white-blond hair is dip-dyed lilac. You are pretty impressed. You try to subvert gender norms yourself, but Jehan is one-upping you effortlessly.
‘Joly and Combeferre told us about you last night, so we thought we’d introduce ourselves,’ Jehan says. You are shocked, and more than a little pleased.
‘They were talking about me?’ you ask.
‘Joly barely shut up about you, darling,’ said the older person. ‘I’m Eponine, and she pronouns are fine for me.’ You look her up and down, and shrug mentally. You’re not even going to bother wondering what gender she is under the loose, neutral, beige clothes she wears. ‘I’m in third year,’ she adds, ‘so I doubt I should even be here, but I couldn’t let my girlfriend meet you without me.’
‘Okay?’ you question. The last person in the group must be her girlfriend then.
‘I’m Elena,’ she introduces herself. ‘I – uh, like your hair.’
You smile reflexively. Getting compliments on your hair will never get old.
‘Thank you,’ you say, and Elena smiles too. She is wearing jeans and a thick jumper; despite Jehan’s leggings, it is the second week in October and it is actually freezing outside.
‘Were you thinking of coming to any ABC meetings?’ Eponine asks. ‘They’re pretty cool, even if they are mostly boys.’
‘Because you mind so much about us being boys,’ Ben says dismissively.
‘Especially one boy…’ Jehan teases her.
‘Please, please, do not bring up my former crushes in front of my new girlfriend,’ Eponine complains, although she doesn’t sound serious to you.
‘Former crushes?’ Elena asks sarcastically. ‘If by former you mean last night, when I had to-’
‘Well Mollie doesn’t need to hear about that, do they?’ Eponine cuts in.
Ben checks his pocketwatch. ‘Jehan, what time is your creative writing-’ he starts.
‘Darn it, I’ll be late!’ Jehan exclaims. ‘Lovely meeting you,’ ze says to you, and then gathers up zir stuff and rushes off.
‘Ze never swears,’ Ben says, watching zir go.
‘We’ll get zir to, one day,’ Elena says.
‘We should be off too, love,’ Eponine tells her. ‘I have to get into the studio at nine tommorrow morning completely sober, so if you want to go out tonight it has to be early.’ Elena agrees, and they say their goodbyes and head out.
You realise with shock that it is gone five already, when your lecture ended at half past four. Lucifer will be missing you. You say as much out loud, and then look up to realise that Ben is giving you a very strange look.
‘Lucifer is my lizard,’ you explain, and you talk at him about lizards for at least fifteen minutes. Eventually, you realise that you probably sound like an idiot, and stop pretty much midsentence to ask if he is bored.
‘Not at all,’ is his reply. ‘I love to watch people get really passionate about something.’
There is more than a touch, you think, of inuendo in his tone, and you blush faintly.
‘Um,’ you say stupidly, trying to answer without maing a fool of yourself. He realises where your thoughts have gone.
‘Oh, that too,’ he promises. ‘I’m aromantic, so I’m free and easy.’ He laughs. ‘Okay, that was unnecessary, sorry. What is necessary is this: do you think that Joly and Combeferre are dating, and do you want in on the betting pool?’
‘No, thanks,’ you say. You are pretty sure they are, but you would feel mean betting on it. You are about to ask what the odds are, when somebody calls Ben’s name. He looks over, and smiles slightly.
‘Bahorel! Not still in the library, then? And where’s your boyfriend?’
‘Went back to his room to get snacks, because Jehan will be hungry,’ Bahorel answers, crossing the room towards you. ‘Who’s your friend?’
‘This is Mollie,’ Ben introduces you. ‘They’re Jolyferre’s new friend.’
‘Hi,’ Bahorel says. He is blond, and quite short, but he looks pretty strong.
Just then, another boy enters the room. ‘Crisps is all I’ve got; don’t tell Cosette. Don’t tell Joly either, in case they cause cancer or something.’ He crosses the room, and looks at you.
‘You must be Mollie,’ he says. ‘I’m Feuilly.’
You say hi, and he passes the crisps to Ben and shakes your hand.
‘How do you know their name?’ asks Bahorel.
‘Because I, instead of attempting to read the entire Law section of the library in one night, went to the ABC meeting last night and heard Combeferre talking.’
Ben interrupts them. ‘We should head over now for Jehan,’ he says. ‘You can come if you want,’ he offers to you. ‘We’ll be going out somewhere in about an hour.’
You doubt he genuinely wants you to come. You say something about Lucifer missing you and you needing to work tonight, and leave them quickly. As you go, you hear Feuilly ask, ‘Lucifer?’
‘Their lizard,’ you hear Ben explain. Bahorel says something you don’t catch, and then Ben replies, ‘I’m a Christian, not a prejudiced moron. It’s a lizard, for fuck’s sake.’
You are surprised to find that you are smiling as you walk back to your room.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
Hallowe’en is upon you before you know it. You get ready early in the clothes Combeferre and Joly helped you buy, squashing any part of your mind that is making comparisons to dating. It’s a costume party, and a fundraiser. It is not a date.
You make a fairly good Max Vandenburg, you think as you walk up the stairs. You have agreed to walk over to the Musain club with Combeferre and Joly at half-past eight (it starts at nine) and it is – you check your phone – twenty-five past now. Not a date, you think firmly, and you knock on Combeferre’s door. (You know they will be there, because Joly doesn’t like his room being too messy, and one of them will be wearing makeup to become Liesel Meminger. Neither of them will tell you who, and yes, as it happens, you have been texting them both a lot, and why shouldn’t you, because they are both really awesome people and you want to be their friend so– )
Joly opens the door, dressed as Death, and invites you in.
‘Combeferre’s not quite finished with his costume,’ he tells you. ‘It takes a surprising amount of time to make a nineteen year old man look like a ten year old girl without unintentionally offending any of the trans*folk who should be there tonight.’
Combeferre looks up from the mirror he has laid on his bed in front of him, and you can’t help but think that he has done a pretty good job. He, like you, is wearing a wig, and he has aquired a green dress that makes him look smaller. (You have no idea how clothes work sometimes.) It is the makeup that causes you to do a double take.
‘I know,’ says Joly. You realise that you have your mouth open in what is probably an unnatractive manner, and shut it quickly. With a little flourish, Combeferre finishes with the eyeshadow. He stands and twirls for the two of you, and Joly claps sarcastically.
‘Shut up, you,’ Combeferre says. ‘Just because you took three seconds to get ready – here.’ He hands Joly a little red notebook, and then his wallet and phone. ‘There aren’t any pockets in this dress,’ he complains, picking up a book himself. Mein Kampf, it says. He flicks through the pages, and you see that they have been painted white.
‘Don’t complain about that where Eponine can hear you,’ you suggest. (You have been clued up about Eponine since you met her; she does identify as a woman, but she’s particularly anti-patriarchy and uses her life and her art to fuck with society’s ideas of what a woman should be.)
The fifteen minutes it takes you to walk to the party are full of conversation. You are much more comfortable around Joly and Combeferre than you are around most people, so you are surprised and actually quite pleased at the way you slot neatly in the space between them.
Then you are outside the club, and feel suddenly nervous. But, you remind yourself, all of these people are queer, and Joly has promised you that they will all accept you however you want them to. Combeferre offers you his arm, and you go in.
The first person you meet is Jehan. Ze is dressed as a fairy Hulk, and it looks good on zir. As you are handing over your money, another man comes out to the door. He is dressed as Iron Man, and greets Combeferre enthusiastically.
‘Great, Enjolras was hoping you’d get here early. He’s trying to plan that peaceful demonstration for the week after next, and really wants your input.’
‘I’ll go up and talk to him – be right back,’ Combeferre says. He takes off up the stairs. Iron Man turns to you and Joly.
‘Hi Joly,’ he says. ‘And you must be Mollie, hello. I’m Courfeyrac.’ He holds out his hand. ‘Can’t stop to talk, though, I’m supposed to be helping upstairs.’ And he goes back after Combeferre.
‘Enjolras tends to hold court upstairs,’ Joly explains to me. ‘Only don’t call it that where he can hear you, on account of him being anti-monarchy. I’ll take you up there later.’
‘Anti-monarchy? The monarchy doesn’t do anything,’ you say.
‘That is apparently the problem,’ Joly says. ‘And anyway, Enjoras studies Politics and French with History, so he specialises in the French Revolution. That’s all about king-hating. But anyway. Let me introduce you to some awesome people.’ And he pulls you futher into the club.
The Musain club isn’t that bad, as clubs go, you think. It is neither massive nor claustrophobic, is reasonably well lit, and, although it is playing mostly chart music, is at least doing so at a volume you find fairly inoffensive.
You head over to the bar, first. The man behind the bar is wearing a ripped tshirt and has smeared white paint onto his face.
‘Aren’t you dressed up for tonight, Grantaire?’ Joly says sarcastically, as the man gets your drinks. Joly has ordered for Combeferre as well, and you try not to think about that.
‘I’m a zombie,’ Grantaire says, ‘and you are Death, which makes you Joly, which makes your friend Max, also known as Mollie.’ He hands you your drink. ‘I am Grantaire.’
‘Nice to meet you,’ you say. You turn to look at Joly, hoping that he will provide some answers. He frowns disapprovingly.
‘How much have you already drunk, Grantaire?’ he asks.
‘Oh, not that much,’ Grantaire says flippantly. ‘I’ll say this though; I think getting an employee discount here was the best thing I ever did for myself.’
Joly sighs, but lets it alone.
Just then, the Black Widow, Captain America, Thor and Hawkeye descend upon the bar. After a few moments, you realise that Thor is Bahorel and Hawkeye is Feuilly. Joly introduces the other two; the Black Widow is called Musichetta and Captain America is called Bossuet.
‘Don’t shake hands with him,’ Bahorel jokes when Bossuet is introduced. ‘His luck is terrible – it might rub off.’
Musichetta clicks her fingers in Bahorel’s face. ‘Shut it, you,’ she says. ‘I stayed with him, didn’t I? You just wish you had three in the bed every night.’
‘Musichetta and Bossuet got together last year,’ Joly tells you. ‘Then Courf – Iron Man – came here this year and fell for Musichetta, and she fell for him. Everyone joked that Bossuet had terrible luck, for some reason especially as he’s already bald. Although I did point out that early baldness in men is more common than people think…’
‘But I had the last laugh,’ Bossuet tells you, leaning against the bar beside you and not seeming to mind at all that he is being discussed. ‘Now I’ve got a girlfriend and a boyfriend. Um, Grantaire? Could you just put this on my tab, and I’ll pay you back when I can? Thanks.’
The four Avengers drink quickly, and pull each other onto the dance floor.
‘We could dance, if you wanted?’ Joly offers.
‘Maybe after a few more drinks,’ you say. ‘I’m not very good.’
‘Neither am I,’ he shrugs. ‘Hello again.’
Combeferre sits down on your other side. ‘Hope you didn’t miss me,’ he says, and nods in thanks when Joly passes his drink down. ‘Have you seen Marius and Cosette yet?’
‘No,’ Joly says.
‘What have they come as?’ you ask.
‘Cosette won’t tell anyone,’ Combeferre says. ‘But Ben wouldn’t even offer Bossuet odds that they weren’t matching somehow.’
‘Are you talking about me?’ Ben takes a stool on the other side of Combeferre, wearing a loose white shirt, ripped black jeans and wielding a realistic looking cutlass. ‘Just don’t tell them about the thing with the squirty cream. I’m a pirate, by the way. Hi, Mollie.’ He downs the shot Grantaire brings him, and leaves for the floor.
‘Come on,’ Joly says. ‘Let’s at least try dancing.’
‘Definitely,’ Combeferre agrees. I mean, I’m in a dress and everything.’
Outnumbered, you agree, and surprise yourself by having more fun than you thought you would. On the dancefloor you meet Eponine and Elena, who are gorgeously dressed as Columbia and Magenta and are spending as much time making out as dancing. Musichetta and Combeferre turn out to be brilliant dancers, and you spend some time between the two of them, and then some time with Joly, Bossuet, Bahorel and Feuilly, who have a slightly more awkward style of group dancing that matches yours.
It is more than an hour later when you, Eponine and Jehan head back to the bar for another drink. You have lost your wig by now, and your jacket.
‘You should loosen up a bit, O fearless leader,’ Grantaire is saying as you get to the bar. ‘Just one drink won’t damage the future of the queer rights movement forever, you realise.’
‘I realise that, Grantaire,’ Nick Fury replies. At least, you are fairly sure he is supposed to be Nick Fury, despite being blond. ‘But as the organiser, I am responsible for tonight. Are you drunk?’
‘Just a little, maybe,’ Grantaire says, and then notices the three of you. ‘Look! Customers!’ he says brightly. Fury turns, and gives you a blinding smile.
‘Hello again, Jehan, I see your wings aren’t drooping,’ he says. ‘Hello Eponine, gorgeous costume. How’s the latest canvas coming along?’
‘Brilliantly,’ she says. ‘Nowhere near done, though.’
‘Of course not. And you must be Mollie, they pronouns,’ he says to you. ‘I’m Enjolras, the nominal leader of this lot of queers. It’s very nice to meet you.’ He shakes your hand quite formally. ‘Have you thought about coming to one of our meetings?’
‘I’m still finding my feet a bit,’ you say nervously, ‘but I’d thought about it.’
‘Well, we meet every Tuesday during term-time, and you are genuinely welcome anytime,’ Enjolras says.
‘I might come, then,’ you tell him. You are surprised to find that you are not lying, either. Everyone you’ve met tonight has been really nice to you, and you realise as Grantaire gets the drinks that you have spent nearly two hours surrounded by people and don’t feel a bit panicky.
‘Cosette!’ Eponine suddenly shouts. You turn, and see Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom crossing the room. This must be the infamous Marius and Cosette.
Marius, it has been explained to you, is actually a cisgendered, straight guy. But, he really does try, Combeferre had told you. He gets in because of Cosette, his girlfriend of five years, who is a bisexual transwoman.
‘I’m sorry I’m late,’ Cosette is apologising as she hugs everyone she sees. ‘I just had to get this massive piece recorded before tomorrow…’ You get the impression that Cosette is universally loved and impossible to dislike – she even hugs Enjolras with impunity!
Marius is a little less enthusiastically received, you think, but you watch as he thinks carefully before saying names and pronouns and think that he’s probably alright. Eventually the two of them end up being introduced to you, Cosette offering you a hug but not seeming at all bothered when you decline.
After that, Combeferre pulls you back up to dance with him.
It is nearly one in the morning when you end up walking home. Most of the ABC’s, apparently, live near to you, so you stumble through the streets in a large group. Jehan, Ben, Grantaire, Elena and Eponine are singing some very dirty drinking songs quite loudly, while Enjolras is alternating between walking some way ahead, pretending he doesn’t know you, and concernedly checking that everyone is okay to walk. Combeferre and Courfeyrac are keeping each other upright beside you, and Joly is holding onto your arm, or possibly you are holding onto his.
You sleep well that night.
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
You go into your Monday afternoon seminar to find that Wednesday morning’s lecture is cancelled this week. That is the final thing needed to cement your decision to go to an ABC meeting; if it goes badly, at least you won’t need to get up the next day. You shock yourself by actually planning your next assignment on Tuesday morning in what you can only call a fit of nervousness, even though you have now met all of these people.
You spend Tuesday afternoon lying on your bed with Lucifer on your shoulders, half-heartedly scrolling tumblr and trying to talk yourself out of going.
But you don’t succeed, and come half past seven you are walking upstairs to meet Combeferre and Joly.
‘Come in,’ Joly says. ‘Combeferre’s got to finish this murdeous assignment by tomorrow, so he’ll be coming late. I’m just getting ready.’
You read some of Combeferre’s essay over his shoulder while Joly gets together what he needs – he travels everywhere with a first aid kit – and are pleased by how much you understand.
Then you and Joly walk over to the ABC meeting, which is upstairs in the Musain club. (You did try once referring to it as a ‘Queer Alphabet Society meeting’, but as it took the two of them a minute to remember what you meant, you think you won’t bother again.)
When the two of you get there, you find that, although you are early, you are by no means first. A large round table dominates the room, and Enjolras, Courfeyrac and Feuilly are sitting together at the other side, debating over what looks like a petition. Jehan is sitting on a chair at the edge of the room; ze is furiously writing in a notebook. And Grantaire is sitting on the small bar at the back of the room, sketching lazily and drinking something suspiciously clear from an unlabled bottle.
Enjolras looks up as you enter.
‘Mollie, you came,’ he says, smiling. ‘How are you? Courses doing okay?’
‘Yes, thank you,’ you say. ‘I got a plan done this morning for my essay due in next week.’
‘That’s great,’ he says, and you have a feeling that he really means it. ‘Are you okay, Joly? Not succumbed to any devastating illness?’
‘Not yet,’ says Joly. ‘I’m sticking to my healthy diet and exercise routine, though, which accounts for it.’
‘Well done,’ Enjolras says, not at all sarcastically. ‘Is Combeferre okay?’
‘He’s got a bastard of an assignment due in tomorrow, so he’ll be along later if he finishes it,’ Joly says.
‘Fine, that’s fine. We’re just writing a petition over here about Feuilly’s engineering tutor, who has been outright homphobic – do you want to help before the meeting starts? Couldn’t hurt to have an English student look it over.’
‘Sure,’ you agree, and go over to sit next to Courfeyrac. This puts you directly in fron of Grantaire, who leans forward.
‘Drink?’ he asks. You decline for now, as no one else has one.
Over the course of the next half hour or so, Eponine, Elena, Ben, Musichetta and Bossuet trail in. They sit or sprawl around, and you hope that you haven’t ‘taken anyone’s place’. But no one acts as if you have, mostly just greeting you cheerfully as if they expected you to be there.
Finally, Cosette enters, carrying a large biscuit tin and followed by Marius. Silence falls abruptly, everyone sits up straighter, and she smiles widely. With a little flourish, she sets the tin in the middle of the table, and opens it to reveal homemade cookies.
‘And now, the meeting may begin,’ Eponine says happily, once they have all taken a cookie. Cosette laughs, and sits next to her. Enjolras brushes crumbs slightly self-consciously from his shirt.
‘Right, I call this meeting to order,’ he says. ‘Feuilly, would you please read the minutes of the last meeting?’
There is an indrawn breath.
Feuilly shuffles the paper in front of him. ‘Last meeting, Tuesday October 28th. Present: Enjolras, Combeferre, Courfeyrac, Feuilly, Bahorel, Eponine, Grantaire, Musichetta, Ben, Joly, Elena, Cosette and Marius.
‘8.30 Meeting came to order at the presence of homemeade flapjack, courtesy of Cosette.
‘8.31 Minutes from previous meeting were read.
‘8.34 Minutes from previous meeting were argued over.
‘8.45 Hallowe’en fundraiser was discussed.
‘9.01 Peaceful protest was suggested by Enjolras re: the refusal of the university to consider our proposal on gender-neutral bathrooms.
‘9.04 Protest approved.
‘9.07 Petition was suggested by Enjolras re: homophobic engineering tutor.
‘9.10 Petition approved.
‘9.11 Offer from Bahorel to break said tutor’s nose.
‘9.15 Offer narrowly not approved by a vote of 7 to 6.
‘9.19 Recount of votes. Vote still at 7 to 6, however Bahorel wished it to be noted that it was a different 6. Joly wished it to be noted that it was also a different 7.
‘9.28 Cosette accused Enjolras of not eating enough flapjack, a claim which he was unable to defend himself against.
‘9.31 Musichetta wished to know what she should wear for Friday’s fundraiser.
‘9.32 Eponine suggested she wear as little as possible, in solidarity with herself and Elena.
‘9.33 Rude comments were made by an unnamed member or members of the Society.
‘9.37 Jehan arrived late, and ze was fed flapjack.
‘9.40 Several group costume ideas were suggested, including Smurfs, Avengers, Jesus and his disciples, and Shakespeare characters.
‘9.42 Disparaging comments were made by the above unamed member or members of the Society.
‘9.44 Ben would like it to be known that he is not the unamed member or members.
‘9.45 Enjolras, Combeferre, Courfeyrac, Feuilly, Bahorel, Eponine, Musichetta, Joly, Elena, Cosette, Marius and Jehan would also like it to be known that they are not the unamed member or members.
‘9.47 The unamed member or members considers this slander, and while they have everyone’s attention would like to point out that Enjolras is a perfect combination of Director Nick Fury and Jesus.
‘9.50 Open verbal warfare commences.
‘9.52 The note taker abandons his post. End of minutes.’
Feuilly puts down the paper and looks up. You try very hard not to laugh. There is total silence for a few moments, before everyone speaks at once.
‘I didn’t say –’ ‘Did you have to put –’ ‘I voted for –’ ‘Who said –’ ‘What –’ ‘Who counted –’ ‘Why didn’t you say –’ ‘Lies and slander!’
That last was Grantaire. You tense, a little, at the noise and, the next thing you know, he puts your favourite drink on the table in front of you.
‘This might be a bit loud, but it shouldn’t take too long,’ Joly says to you. And, indeed, no more than five minutes later the ‘argument’ has turned into conversation, into which you are drawn quite naturally.
As the meeting goes on, you begin to feel as though you actually belong. These people surrounding you all care about the same things you do, and after all those years at school it is a liberating feeling.
Combeferre finally joins the group just before ten, when proposals have given way to casual conversation. Courfeyrac budges up, which means that Combeferre is sitting next to you. You are particularly amused by the way he takes a cookie without Cosette having to do anything except glare.
It is almost midnight by the time the meeting ends. The same group of you walk back together, on the whole, you think, less drunk than you all were last week, but you wouldn’t know it from the roughly similar volume of the very similar litany of rude songs led by Grantaire and Ben.
When you get back to your building (in which Courfeyrac, Grantaire and Enjolras also live, though you don’t know exactly where) Combeferre and Joly invite you and Courfeyrac to stay up with them for a bit. Courfeyrac declines, citing an assignment, but you go up with them to Joly’s room, where the three of you just sit and talk easily for more than another hour. For possibly the first time in your life, you aren’t particularly worried that the two of them are only tolerating your company. Instead, you feel comfortable with them, sure that they like you at least a bit, if not as much as you like them.
In fact, you realise as you are walking down the stairs to your room, at not quite two in the morning, you are fast developing terrible crushes on both of them. This seems immediately to present three problems to you; first, how will you ever choose between them, second, they won’t be interested in you anyway, and third, you are pretty sure they are together. Oh, and four, how the hell are you going to act normally around them now that you’ve figured this out?
Those are officially problems for tomorrow, you decide. Even though it is only two, you are far too tired to think about it now, and end up trying to answer all of the outstanding asks in sincerely the dead poets society. After about an hour, you get bored, put Lucifer back in his tank and go to bed.
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
After two more weeks, and two more ABC meetings, which pass in a similar fashion to the first, it is just about time already for everyone to start leaving for Christmas. Joly and Combeferre are two of the first to leave, which you try not to be disappointed by. You are staying an extra week, because you aren’t really looking forward to going home and your mother implied that it would be easier for her if you did. Enjolras is staying for most of the holiday, as apparently his super rich parents are in the Canary Islands for Christmas. You are warned not to talk about that by Grantaire, who is staying for the whole of the holiday. (You are warned not to talk about that by everybody.)
It turns out that Grantaire is right across the hall from you, and you think it is a testament to how anti-social you both are outside of the ABC society that neither of you noticed that all term. However, the first night after everyone else leaves he is knocking on your door, asking if you have any alcohol to share and offering cigarettes in return. You open the door, if only to say that you didn’t think he smoked.
‘I don’t,’ he says, ‘but I like the smell of smoke sometimes, so I always keep a pack or two in my room. They set the fire alarm off, though,’ he adds, ‘so I have to smoke them on my balcony.’
‘You have a balcony?’ you ask him. You don’t.
‘Yeah, only our side of the building has them. Here –’ his eyes are sharp, ‘– bring that bottle, and we can share it outside. Get a coat.’ He waits for you to get those things, and then you walk across to room 402, which does, indeed, have the smallest strip of stone you ever saw sticking out from the window and surrounded by railings.
At first you don’t really talk, just share the alcohol and watch the sun sink. But then he asks if that was a lizard in your room, because he loves reptiles. From there, your conversation flows easily. You begin by talking about university; Grantaire is studying Art and Philosophy, and he loves and hates it. You end up, both quite drunk, talking quite seriously about what would happen if you fed marshmallows to a hippopotamus. But somewhere in the middle, you are pretty sure that you have made a friend you will keep for life.
You sleep all through the next day.
The next night, Grantaire knocks on your door and holds up another bottle of the same stuff. You grab your coat.
Grantaire seems to be your long-lost twin. He loves Andrew Jackson Jihad and the Antlers (his favourite song is I’m Hibernating), he adored Merlin, his favourite film is ‘probably the dead poets society, no one’s ever heard of it though’, and he wants to own a coral snake. It would be way more convenient if you were in love with him.
You say as much, and that is how you end up having that conversation, on a freezing cold balcony at three in the morning. You tell Grantaire that you are worried that they are dating and lying to you about it, but he promises that they are not.
You feel much younger again, talking about how hopeless your situation with Joly and Combeferre is. You fall harder for them both every day, but you don’t think either of them has any idea.
Grantaire just sympathises with you, and that is how you find out that he has also been hiding his feelings since first year – feelings for Enjolras.
‘Hard to believe, I know,’ he says, and laughs slightly as he drinks. You hate that laugh, because it means he hates himself. (Well, he is a lot like you, although you think you are ‘getting better’, just a bit.)
‘No, I believe you,’ you say – you hope you sound comforting. You tell him that you don’t see why he shouldn’t just talk to Enjolras. But Grantaire doesn’t answer, and the subject is dropped for now, in favour of less confusing topics.
The next night, you are out there with him again, and you talk about his art. Some of it is very angry, and scares you, and you try not to let him see that but aren’t sure how well you do. But then he shows you his sketches, and you adore them. He appears to have sketched all of the ABCs individually, including you. You flick through the book carefully, aware of the trust he is showing in you. All of the drawings look so happy, even yours. Then you realise who is missing.
‘You didn’t dare to draw him, then?’ you say, forcing it to sound casual. The last thing you want to do is hurt Grantaire.
‘Only ever from memory,’ he admits. He goes back into his room, leaving you on the balcony, a little drunk, looking at two brilliant sketches of Combeferre and Joly. You sigh, and shut the book. Then Grantaire comes back, and he has a smaller sketchbook, which he opens to a particular page and shows you.
‘Does it – does it look like him?’ he asks. You think he has sobered up, somehow, in the last few minutes, and you make an effort to be just as serious. The pastel drawing does, indeed, look like Enjolras. It is slightly stylised around his coat, which turns into the French flag, but his posture and his face are perfectly him. You tell Grantaire that, and you think he might cry, but he puts the book away and comes back out to sit next to you again. You don’t say much more, that night.
You spend the next night out there, and the next. In fact, you are disappointed when it is eventually time for you to go home for Christmas. Before you leave, you make Grantaire promise to say something to Enjolras about how he feels.
Then you spend a month at home. It isn’t particularly fun. Your little brother seems to have turned into an obnoxious, sulky teenager while you weren’t watching, and the time spent apart from your mother appears only to have served to make you less tolerant of one another. She spends a lot of time disapproving of your hair, your clothes, and anything else you dare to do in her presence. You spend a lot of time in your room, online and texting; Joly, Combeferre and Grantaire in particular. You also invent a holiday assignment to go along with your actual task, which is just reading. Anything to keep yourself from having to be downstairs…
Time drags on. Christmas. New Year. You get miserable again, almost like you were at school. But the light at the end of this tunnel is much closer than it was back then, and whatever time of night it is you can always count on someone texting you back or being on skype. So it is bearable.
But you can’t wait to get back.
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
It is obvious to you that something good has happened to Grantaire, the moment you see him. He has not changed in appearance, he is certainly not smiling, and the bottle is, as ever, present in his hand, but there is something. You attempt to look meaningfully at him, and you are not sure whether you succeed, but he seems to get the question.
‘I took your advice, my darling, and now I owe you a thousand thanks,’ are the first words out of his mouth.
‘Buy me pizza sometime,’ you say. ‘I take it he likes you too?’
‘Mollie,’ Grantaire says seriously. ‘He claims to be in love with me. He has told me that he has never been nor ever will be attracted to anyone else.’
You congratulate him, impressed. He nods at you.
‘What about you, then?’ he asks. ‘Where are your boy toys?’
‘They get back tomorrow, after spending half the holidays together,’ you tell him. ‘Are you sure they aren’t-’
‘Quite sure,’ he interrupts. ‘Would I lie to you? Would they lie to you?’
‘No,’ you admit.
‘Exactly,’ he says. ‘Now stop worrying, and drink with me. Only a little,’ he adds, seeing your face. ‘I won’t be drinking as much, anymore.’
‘You told me you weren’t only drinking because of him,’ you accuse.
‘I kissed him sober, that first time, and he kissed me back’ Grantaire says, and you can tell it takes him courage to admit it. ‘I have more reason not to drink, now that I know someone thinks I am worth something without it.’
You feel a little guilty. ‘I always thought you were brilliant, whether or not you were drinking,’ you tell him. ‘I should have said something, but I think I liked the drinking too much.’
‘It’s okay,’ he says. ‘You shouldn’t be responsible for my health. You’re young, and you’re dealing with a lot. Worry about yourself first.’
You are impressed. From anyone else, that would probably have sounded patronising. From Grantaire, it just sounded like he really cared about you. You smile.
It is a few days later that the rest of the queers start to come back, and nearly two weeks before the first ABC meeting of the term, although it is a testament to how included you are that you have already seen them all again by then.
You have taken some time to get used to coursework again, and so are working that afternoon on something due in the next day. As a result, you wave off first Grantaire’s offer of company on the walk over, then Joly and Combeferre’s. In fact, it is far gone nine by the time you reasonably think you can hand in the work you’ve done, and you hurry over to the Musain club, thinking hopefully about what Cosette might have made.
The room is in chaos when you enter. Cosette, who appears to be refereeing the discussion, pushes a plastic box of chocolate truffles towards you distractedly, then goes back to keeping Marius away from Bahorel, and Feuilly away from Ben.
‘What is going on?’ you ask no one in particular.
‘Today, we debate the most difficult question that has ever faced this society,’ Enjolras’ voice says sarcastically from behind you. You turn, and find him leaning against the wall by the door.
‘What is the question?’ you ask. Enjolras sighs.
‘It has been suggested that we should be Tolkien characters,’ he says solemnly. ‘They are discussing whether I would be Gandalf the Grey, or Gandalf the White.’
You chance another look at the mob, then turn quickly away again.
‘Really,’ Enjolras confirms tiredly. ‘They’ve been at it for twenty minutes.’
‘Wow,’ you say expressively.
The two of you lean against the wall and wait. Eventually, Enjolras gets bored.
‘Right!’ he roars, ‘Shut up!’ Miraculously, it works, everyone suddenly seeming to realise how ridiculous they were getting.
‘Okay, I am banning Tolkien,’ Enjolras declares, walking with purpose around the table and retaking his seat. ‘No Lord of the Rings characters. No Hobbit characters, no Silmarillion characters, nothing. Got it? Good. Now perhaps we can make another attempt at civilised conversation.’
There are mutters of ‘yes,’ and ‘sorry Enjolras,’ from all around the table. You take a seat, too, as Grantaire leans in and says, ‘yes, Sir,’ in a tone of voice that makes Enjolras’ cheeks go bright pink.
‘cough*boyfriends*cough,’ says someone; you think it was Musichetta.
‘As a matter of fact,’ says Grantaire, ‘we are.’
There is a moment of dead silence as everyone mentally tries to process that. Obviously, you were the only one to know. Then, half of the people in the room groan, while the other half look expectantly to Ben. He gets out a small notebook, and flicks through it.
‘Pay up,’ he says, and Bossuet, Joly, Elena, Bahorel, Feuilly and Jehan hand him various amounts of money.
‘You couldn’t have waited?’ the last of these complains. ‘I had quite a bit down on the last day of term.’
‘You bet on whether we would get together?’ Enjolras asks, shocked, as Ben hands money out to Cosette, Courfeyrac, Musichetta and Eponine.
‘On when, actually,’ Ben says.
‘Of course we did – you could have cut the romantic tension between you two with a knife as far back as our first year,’ Eponine tells him. ‘It was only a matter of time.’
Enjolras opens his mouth to say something, but he is cut off by Grantaire’s laughter.
After the meeting has finished, you pull Ben aside.
‘Mollie?’ he asks. ‘Anything wrong?’
‘No, just – I wanted to check. Are there any bets about me?’
He laughs, a little. ‘Not that I know of,’ he tells you. ‘Did you want me to start one?’
‘No!’ you say sharply. ‘No, I was just…’ You aren’t really sure how to finish that sentence, so you don’t.
‘That’s fine,’ he says. ‘If you don’t want me to ever take bets on you, then you can let me know that and I won’t. Seriously, there is already a list for that and it would be no trouble to add your name.’
‘Yes, thank you,’ you say. You just feel uneasy about the whole idea, especially if all the bets are about people getting together.
‘Come on then, I’ll walk you home.’
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
After that, your workload finally starts picking up. You get to one ABC meeting, then miss the next. Enjolras is planning another costume fundraiser, for the weekend before everyone is leaving for Easter. On paper that is months away, but in reality you have very little free time.
You spend most of that time either with Grantaire, or with Combeferre and Joly. Mostly the latter, as Grantaire is spending more and more time with his boyfriend. (He still won’t tell anyone whether they are having sex, and you, along with the rest of the ABC’s, are insanely curious.)
Tonight, is it March already? you, Joly, and Combeferre are in your room, because Combeferre has recently fallen in love with Lucifer. You try not to be jealous, watching Lucifer climb all over him, but it is hard when all you can think is, look at me instead, aren’t I more interesting than a lizard? You feel particularly hypocritical when you remember that you think that Lucifer is more interesting than nearly everyone you know.
You don’t think either of the boys notice anything off, however, and you chat easily about life, the big things and the small. Eventually, the topic naturally drifts to the costume party, as you debate about what to wear. The three of you seem to take it for granted that you will come as something together, like you did last time, but you struggle initially to find something suitable.
‘What we need,’ says Joly, ‘is costumes that aren’t too difficult. That’s the most important thing.’
‘We have to match the characters, though,’ says Combeferre. ‘I mean, we have to pick characters that we like and identify with, not just what would be easiest to create on a low budget. Otherwise we might as well all be Nazgul or something.’
‘No Tolkien,’ you remind them. ‘Enjolras would kill us.’
‘Grantaire likes you – he would distract him,’ Joly says dismissively. ‘And I wasn’t saying that who we are isn’t important, I was just saying that we can’t be, say, the Dead Poet’s Society, because blazers are expensive.’
‘Not to mention everyone would think we were from Hogwarts,’ Combeferre agrees.
‘Okay,’ you say. ‘So what can we go as? Game of Thrones? The costumes are a bit hard on that one, too.’
‘Yeah, and anyway, who would we be?’ Joly asks. ‘You forget I don’t watch it.’
‘What we want,’ Combeferre says slowly, distracted by the lizard carefully climbing into his t-shirt, ‘is something where there are actually only three main characters.’
‘Oh yeah?’ you say. ‘Name one – apart from Harry Potter.’
‘I was thinking The Perks of Being a Wallflower, actually,’ Combeferre says.
You pause for a moment, then beam.
‘Yes!’ you practically shout. ‘Perfect! And I’m Charlie.’
‘Okay, well I’ll be Sam if you’ll be Patrick in a corset,’ Joly says quickly to Combeferre.
‘Deal. But you have to come with me to the costume shop when I buy one, both of you,’ Combeferre says.
‘Fine,’ Joly agrees. You agree too, already mentally going through the clothes you own.
Luckily, you find that you do have a light blue hoodie just like Charlie’s, because you aren’t sure when you would find time for another clothes shopping trip in the next month. Combeferre finds a corset online, so you don’t have to help with that, but you do spend an enjoyable afternoon with Joly looking for something for him to wear.
The two of you go out to the high street and just browse through the shops. He finds a red jumper in the second shop you try, but has more trouble with a skirt to match.
The conversation is easy between you, Joly doing much of the talking, but a couple of times you think he is hiding something. But then, you are paranoid when people are talking to you, especially people you like, so you try to just ignore that thought. (No, the crushes haven’t gone away, but you seem to be coping fine. And no one else has noticed, unless that’s just wishful thinking on your part.)
After that, between regular ABC meetings and your ever-increasing workload, it seems like the next time you catch a break is the night of the fundraiser.
It only takes you five minutes to dress up as Charlie, but you are still very nearly late, as you have been working on your most recent assignment all day. As a result, by the time you get upstairs to Combeferre’s room, he and Joly are both already dressed; Combeferre in a red and black corset and jeans and Joly in the black skirt and red jumper you helped him buy. They are both wearing make up, unlike you.
You head over to the Musain club, discussing what everyone else might be wearing. Ben has taken lots of bets about people’s costumes tonight – you gave your permission, this once – and you yourself have a fiver resting on the hope of Grantaire and Enjolras being in matching costumes.
The evening is very similar to the first night you met all of these people, and you can’t believe you’ve known them for half a year. Jehan is on the door, as usual, now dressed as a sunflower. Ze hugs you lightly, as you’re kind of getting used to that now, and ushers you inside, where you are instantly rushed by a group of people, all trying to see what costumes the three of you have chosen.
From their costumes – oh wow – you make out some of the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Eponine is obviously Faith, Elena is clearly Willow and Musichetta must be Buffy. Then Coufreyrac, beside her, is Angel and Bossuet is Xander. They drag the three of you through to the main part of the club, where Ben, as Giles, is holding court.
‘We are matching, yes; we’re from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I am Patrick, Joly is Sam and Mollie is Charlie,’ you hear Combeferre say.
‘So you are dressed as a man,’ Ben confirms, to various groans, ‘and you do match…’
Money is passed around, and then you head to the bar for a drink before you have to dance, only to find Grantaire dressed as Spock.
‘Please tell me Enjolras is dressed as McCoy or something,’ you demand, as he sets a glass in front of you.
‘Better,’ he says, ‘Checkov.’
You smile at him – a genuine smile, and when did those become so easy? – but before you can say anything else to each other, a loud cheer goes up from behind you. Turning, you find your view blocked, so you walk back to the crowd.
‘What’s up?’ you ask Bahorel, who happens to be closest. He is dressed as Spike; beside him, Feuilly as Oz completes the Buffy cast.
‘Marius and Cosette have come as Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom,’ he says, between small bursts of laughter.
‘Again?’ you ask.
He looks over, realises that you can’t see and moves so you can. Then you see it; Cosette is dressed as Neville, and beside her, Marius makes a fair impression of Luna. Somebody wolf-whistles. Ben is collecting money faster than he can physically take it off people.
You laugh; suddenly, shockingly happy. Okay, your life isn’t perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was when you first came here.
‘Are you okay?’
Combeferre and Joly have appeared on either side of you. At the sight of the three of you together, both of the boys crossdressing, Cosette beams widely.
‘Who are you, then?’ she says, hand feeling for her wallet.
‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower,’ Joly says, and she beams loudly.
‘Really?’ says a voice from behind you. It is Enjolras, who is almost as attractive as Pavel Checkov himself. Grantaire is beside him, and they are holding hands.
You are happy for them. You are happy for everyone right now.
‘Really?’ Enjolras says again. ‘You know, I always thought those three got together after the end of the story.’
You hear a sharp intake of breath, and realise it was you. Risking a glance left and right, you see both Joly and Combeferre carefully avoiding looking at you or each other. But then Joly’s hand brushes the back of yours, and you feel Combeferre’s fingers at your other wrist.
‘Well,’ says Joly. ‘Maybe we will too.’