1st of January, 1832. Grantaire looks at the empty bottle in his hand while the clock outside strikes midnight. Through the disappointingly thin walls his neighbours laughter is coming in, and Grantaire has no choice but to listen to them celebrate.
He can also hear the people of Paris running and shouting and getting drunk on the streets. Every one of the miserable crowd he passes by daily, every single one has apparently decided to give him more reason to hate them. And God, did they succeed.
Considering getting up and actually doing something on New Year’s Eve he reaches for another bottle. That however, serves as a reminder of his philosophy rather than a motivation; he can get drunk and enjoy celebration by himself, no need for annoying company, thank you very much.
He’s alone in the apartment, nothing new with that. The five sad bottles in the corner are just as usual too. Actually, if Grantaire thinks about it, five bottles means he’s been underachieving himself in the past few days, which is a shame. Something needs to be done.
The only thing coming to his mind at the moment is painting. It’s something he’s always found a good way of distraction, a coping method for this ugly word, and folks have said he wasn’t too bad in it. He feels like exploring the city, finding abandoned, yet charming places and sketching them in five minutes. Hell, he might even get money selling them. People have always loved cheesy drawings that brought back memories from the Very Special Night of New Year’s Eve. A Very Special Night that they spent exactly like the other millions of citizens in the town. Grantaire doesn’t even stop his thoughts to add pitiful comments.
Something really has to be done. Blowing the candle out, Grantaire wonders why he never thinks of getting his coat and scarf first - now he has to stumble his way out of the dark apartment. Again.
As soon as he steps outside, Grantaire regrets leaving the scarf behind that he couldn’t manage to find in the dark. What was he even thinking? Being a lazy man as he is though, he doesn’t turn back. It’s not like he’s going to climb up four floors just to keep his precious throat warm, it’s not happening. He can deal with it, his throat can deal with it, and if he does get sick, well, who said you can’t paint lying in your bed? All he needs is a little inspiration, a few hours, and then he can get back to the dark apartment and the sickening vibe of his room.
Being prepared to freeze to death in an hour he walks down the street.
A cough-like sick sound coming from his left disorients him from his peaceful stroll. A black thoroughbred returns his glance with the saddest eyes Grantaire has ever seen on a horse. There’s a blanket at his feet.
“Hey there, buddy. You must be freezing! Who left you like this?” he stands by the animal, pulling the fallen blanket onto him. The horse only lowers his head in response, looking even more miserable than Grantaire thought he could seem. Clearly he has seen better days. Not in the past few months though, that's for sure, but that’s a whole other question.
As angry as he is, Grantaire knows there’s no way he can help him now, it would’ve been his owner’s duty, for god’s sake. Actually, there is a way to help him when he thinks about it, if it still works, and it seems to be the only way. Worth a shot, right?
“You haven’t got much left, buddy, we both know it, don’t we? Come here. C’mon, I’m not gonna hurt you. Nothing’s gonna happen. Come to me buddy.” It’s a lie. Or at least not entirely true. No, it’s not going to hurt, with that part he was honest.
Grantaire steps forward, and one step more, then one more. He’s standing right by the horse now and can feel it breathing. He hates this. Hates it so much. He doesn’t dare to look in his eyes when he puts his arms around the horse and comfortingly pats his neck. A moment later, the weight of the dead animal is pressing his hands down to the ground. Grantaire starts walking away, steps heavy, and doesn’t turn back.
So, no change has come with New Year. Why has he been hoping so? It’s not like this ability, this sickness is some kind of curse that goes away when he takes his first walk of the new year. It’s not like it’s ever going to go away. He’s stuck with it, until the moment he dies, he’ll always have the ability to kill someone with a mere touch. And he’s never going to be able to be with another person. Ever. No holding hands, no cuddling on a bed, no Sunday-morning lazy kisses, no Friday-night hungry kisses up against the wall. Ever.
He’s pretty sure he wasn’t born with it. There are a few pictures of memories in his head, which are weirdly sweet and too innocent and too unbelievable to be about him. But there are, of him playing with other kids and he must’ve touched them at some point. Given that the police had never showed up at their house (okay, rather they’d never showed up with the charge of murder), he must’ve developed it later, maybe just before his teenage years when he left home and haven’t returned since. But as far as he can remember clearly, he’s always been able to scare people away with simply holding up a flower.
After learning about his dreadful power, Grantaire couldn’t do much; clearly noone would want someone like him around. That’s why he ran away into his paintings and drawings, and through his pictures he expressed everything he couldn’t express in the company of people, and everything he couldn’t give to his friends surrounding him. Back then he still had friends. On his pictures, like a frozen moment, all the people were captured alive.
A dead horse behind, dark alleys before him, Grantaire doesn’t stop, and even proceeds to get lost. He’ll find his way home of course just by a glance to the street signs, Paris is his hometown, for him there’s no such thing as getting lost. But right now he doesn’t remember which way he came from and neither does he recognise the shops and buildings, and that’s about as good as it gets in terms of losing his way.
Stability is such an overvalued term.
The ones with the burden of their families and houses tend to forget how good it feels to wander far from home. Just to forget everything and everyone you once knew and see the lowest of the low on the street, pick up tricks and hacks from the bests, to never stop educating yourself. Or to meet new inspirational people who are perfect to be pictured in the drawings; the ones who remind him that he isn’t just a creature born to take lives away, but also to capture shining eyes and keep souls forever on a canvas.
Grantaire hates cliches, he really does, but he has to say that coming across these people for the first time is always a magical moment. Not magical in a way of angels singing and the sky opening, it’s a rather quiet “so it’s you” moment. But it’s special. He’s always recognised this kind of moments instantly, so he doesn’t miss it today either.
The tall blonde man ahead in front of the Café Musain seems to be angry judging by his gestures. He’s also shouting something that Grantaire can’t make out, though for once, he’d actually be interested. Maybe it’s not anger on the man’s face, he thinks, but passion.
He would make a great leader. Or most likely, he is a leader already.That would explain the small - actually, not so small - crowd around him, which Grantaire has just realized.
He realises he’s already in the crowd, and finds himself listening to the blonde guy while cheering when it’s needed. Listening might be a strong term for that, though, as he can’t recall any of the words having been said in the past few minutes. Instead, he studies the leader’s face, tries to understand what makes it so special, so charismatic and attractive that all of the people around would take a bullet for him. Because they obviously would, no question about that.
It has to be the unique glimmer in the man's eyes, Grantaire finally decides. His eyes aren't particularly beautiful (firstly, he can’t observe it too well because he’s way too far from him, and secondly, for Grantaire, beautiful means green or maybe black eyes with long lashes, a sensual look if possible. And men - well, they usually fall out of this category). They’re not beautiful, but they are without doubt the most alive eyes he’s seen in a long time.
“...because it’s exactly what they’ve been working on for thousands of years. Wouldn’t you agree?”
What? When did this happen? The man is looking right at him now, between the eyes, and Grantaire already can tell how sceptical those eyes are. Sceptical, and secretly amused. Not funny.
“I....Yeah, that’s right.” He doesn’t sound too convincing, oh is he aware, but at least he had a vague idea about the question he had to answer. Already a progress, if you ask him. Way better performance than he usually manages.
“Of course. Thought so.” Now the amused part is more noticeable in the eyes. Still not funny. “Yes, my friends, happy New Year to all of us. Right, now could someone please hand me something strong before…”
The world goes still and quiet again, Grantaire’s trying to figure out what has just happened.
“Hey there. Happy New Year! And welcome to the ABC.”
Grantaire automatically reaches for the bottle handed to him, only after does he thinks about what the man said. ABC? Like the letters you learn how to read and write when you’re six?
“Thanks. So what’s this cool group involving lessons for first graders and taking down the bourgeoisie?”
The curly dark haired man looks at him with bright eyes, quite similar to the leader’s. Something about those eyes and mouth gives the impression of a mischievous boy. Grantaire likes it.
“Ha. That’s actually our name, though. ABC, as in l’abaissés.” The oppressed. “I think it’s witty.”
He could bet it was the leader who’s come up with the title. He definitely seemed to be the kind of person who insists on clever names. It still sounds a bit hypocritical, though.
“Because you guys are so oppressed. I just saw the judge’s kid in the crowd. Am I supposed to believe that they’re having a hard time getting by?”
“Not the judge, definitely not him.” The voice is so defensive, Grantaire could tell it’s the leader speaking even if he didn’t recognise the tone of it. (How can he not recognise it, that’s another question.) This man was literally everywhere and could appear anywhere if you were questioning his beliefs. “But have you actually talked with his son? Do you want me to find him? Or is simply assuming more comfortable?”
“See, that’s exactly my point. If your daddy’s got money, don’t try and play cool by throwing away everything you’ve got. It’s not heroic, it’s just stupid.”
“So if I say I’ve been provided everything I need, and I’m not struggling with anything, and yet I want to talk about inequality.. Is it more acceptable? Am I more okay?”
Was he walking into a trap? His instincts were intensively warning him. “If you’re not struggling, why the fuck would you be rioting? Now that’s hypocritical.”
“And see, with we’ve arrived to my point. What can we do to earn your hugely valued approval for speaking up for the lower classes? If we refuse to consume our daddy’s golds, we’re simply stupid. If we spend our money and then brag about the messed up system, we’re hypocritical. What do we do?”
“Nothing. Everyone could just sit on their asses. If the poor wanted to be freed, they would be doing something.”
“Yes. Breaking into bakeries for example, to get some bread, with the risk of being sentenced to years of prison - that’s what you call doing nothing? This is as much as they can do without education; they can’t be heard if there’s noone speaking up, if there’s noone to listen to.”
Grantaire shrugs. It’s not like he has strong feelings about the issue, and the time they’ve spent arguing and outwitting each other was way too much for him. Does it even matter in the end? Probably not.
“His name is Enjolras, in case you wondered. Bet you’ve heard about him, everyone knows him in Paris.” The curly guy appears again. Like he needs him right now.
“Thanks. No, haven’t been following up. Anyways, he gave a nice speech. Had a great time, really.” He continues, preventing the man from carrying on with the conversation. “Happy New Year to you too. I really should get going.”
Not that he doesn’t like the curly guy. It’s just too much for today. Too much arguing, and with the wrong person. On his way home, Grantaire can’t help but punch the bare trees and bushes that somehow survived the winter up to that point. Leaving grey mass of leaves behind he disappears in the cold night.
Four days later the morning light finds Grantaire lying on the bed, eyes opened. He sits up with a throbbing head and the smell of something rotten around him. It’s not even gone off food, but the true unfakeable stench of drunken nights. He’s not a failure, he thinks. He only had a four days long celebration. Besides, ignoring his eternal life philosophy, he met some of his old friends - if friend is an appropriate word for someone you knew once and now you only meet them to cut down the cost of getting wasted. He was socialising as a functional adult.
As he scans the room for any sign of a threat or whatever, two huge shining eyes stare back at him. Oh yes, the picture he has been working on. He really has to find that man again, the one they call Enjolras, because this might be one of his best creations of all time.
Fresh air. The trees with a small breeze look so inviting, Grantaire can’t resist, gets his shoes and coat and falters down the stairs. He really needs fresh air, and a huge cleaning wouldn’t hurt either; so he’s bound to get moving anyway. And Grantaire, a true and proud procastinator would rather walk through each street of Paris on his bare feet than go back to his room and tidy it properly. The city is beautiful, exciting, and tempting; none of these apply to the apartment he’s spent four days in. Besides, he’s not entirely sure which one would take more time.
Walking on the streets, he stumbles across the corner where he met the black horse. That’s how he knows he’s on the right route to the café. He eventually arrives at the Musain, not as beautiful as it was four nights ago, but it still has a bit of magic left around.
Inside there are lots of people, but then Grantaire realises not every one of them belongs with the ABC. This comforts him more than he’d admit. Crowds are really not for him, he realises again.
Grantaire instantly recognises the mischievous dark haired boy, and he’s even more relieved to see the boy moving towards him. Blending in is way easier in general when you have a common friend.
Not that he desperately wants to blend in and be friendly with everyone, and neither does he expect being treated nicely. He just wants a place where he can gaze at the leader without being considered a creep. Not much to ask for.
He eventually sits for the first time on a meeting of ABC, and tries to concentrate on the mentioned struggles of the working class.
By the last weeks of January, Grantaire gets to know almost every one of the members in the group. He becomes friends with the mischievous guy, the moth guy, the helpless romantic, the worker and all the others. He’s never been good with names, but he can identify people. And that’s kind of enough. They’re quite welcoming.
He also develops a vague idea about the background, the composition, every bigger detail of his painting. He just can’t start it yet, not without seeing Enjolras one more time. (And one more, and one more, and one more time again.)
He avoids touching others, obviously. People seem to get used to it, they stop seeking his shoulder to lie on after a while. It’s not that terrible. That’s what happens every time he meets a new group.
By the middle of February he’s already revealed his hated powers, in spite of all the work attempting to hide it. It starts with the kitten they find in the corner of the cafe, wet and shivering and looking helpless. The short man with the hilarious glasses (the names are still too complicated and too much for Grantaire to learn) picks it up, nuzzling it, and suddenly everyone’s around them trying to help the frightened kitten. He has to bite back a laugh - one would think this is a revolutionary group, made of the manliest of the men, and yet…
He shouldn't have let his thoughts wander. That's an old mistake he never succeeds to learn from. In the next moment he knows, the people are about to pass the animal to him, and they're pretty enthusiastic about it as well. While Grantaire attempts to explain why he wouldn’t hold it on any account, the curly haired guy has already shoved the kitten in his lap. A moment of silence passes as they see the little thing collapse on the floor, and then comes another moment of confusion. Then the third phase, the realisation of that’s why he would never shake my hand. Grantaire leaves them confused and terrified, because he can’t stand the eyes staring at him anymore.
That evening, he works on the painting for longer than ever. The burning gaze of the canvas is now appears to be filled with disgust and pity. Grantaire actually considers throwing it into the fire, or leaving it under the rain that has suddenly started falling.
A few weeks later, having been visiting the meetings again, he finds out they’re not the usual type of tough guys whose only dream is a huge riot and shooting and being a meaningless hero. It’s around late March when he starts listening to them for real, even if not saying anything, he never forgets the arguments others have had. Stupid arguments and important ones. And not only about strategies in case a sudden (blessed) rebellion was to break out, but also poems, love, mistresses, flowers, the lowest classes - this is a recurring topic, obviously - and surprisingly, art.
He would never mention his true passion about painting, but sometimes he has the temptation to join in and share his beliefs and experiences. However, every single time he decides on keeping his mouth shut, mostly because talking would be out of character. He’s pretty sure half of the Amis - that’s what they like to call themselves, the Amis of ABC - doesn’t know what his voice sounds like.
“You’re the perfect human metaphor of death.” Enjolras has once said. “You literally can kill anyone and hurt everyone. You never say anything. You’re almost invisible, but always here. Always observing.”
Grantaire’s taken aback to discover Enjolras actually looked at him, recognised and mentioned him, and that leaves him shocked on the outside. Which he partly is, but on the inside he’s hurting, so much he just wants to leave forever. But what about my other side? Where I create instead of destroying? Where I sneak life into cold paint? You’ll never see that side of me, because you’ll never want to. I’ll always remain Death for you.
April doesn't bring much. He’s doing great with the painting. However, the colours still aren’t bright enough for the man, and it could use more contrast as well. The leader’s everyday glowing doesn’t come through, which is a shame.
He also has to pay more attention to what he touches from now on. Given that everything’s green and alive again, he can’t relax as much as he used to in the winter. Once he picked up poet guy’s flower wreath to examine how beautiful it was - only to put down a bunch of parched flowers. He hasn’t felt more embarrassed in a long time.
By May, he’s already familiar with every small detail of the future revolution. He’s never taken part in coming up with ideas or volunteered to do any job, mostly because both he and the Amis knew it was the best this way. They’ve never asked him to do anything. Nice of them. They also have this weird trust, somehow the revolutionaries can’t imagine him being a snitch. Not that he’s planning to run to the police. It just feels comforting to have someone believe in you. They trust him with their lives, and as much as Grantaire looks down on sentiments and ethics, he knows it’s more than a simple friendship what’s binding them together.
Deep inside he feels he wouldn’t be able to make off if the rebellion started. He’s already too attached to the Musain, the Amis and Enjolras.
Although Enjolras seemed to have different ideas when he bursted out after a long and exhausting discussion.
“Just tell me why do you care, Grantaire. It’s not like you believe in anything.”
“I believe in you.”
“And how’s that supposed to make things better?”
It’s supposed to make everything better. Make him better. How did Enjolras not see it?
After that, Grantaire takes a short break. He goes home, gets drunk, then gets drunk again while still hungover, and finds and corrects unnoticed hitches on the painting for a change. He carries on doing this for a few days, but no matter how hard he works, he’s just never satisfied. He needs to get back to the Amis. Something’s happening, he can tell. People are talking about Lamarque’s death. He’s been taking enough mental notes to know it can only mean one thing.
Grantaire arrives just in time to see the barricade being built under the Musain. He even lends a hand while he’s there, getting quite a lot of curious looks. Mischievous guy makes a face. God, he’s missed them. What’s this if not pure luck, he wonders; he wouldn’t have been able to get in a few hours later when both of the sides have already started to firing shots.
He was right, then. He couldn't get away from the Amis of ABC.
That night they are grateful for all the good times and mourn all the bad times they’ve had together. Even Grantaire joins in. They drink, they sing, they tell anecdotes to forget that they’re in a café behind a barricade with hundreds of soldiers waiting for them. They bring back the sweet memories of each other. Grantaire doesn’t dare to bring it up that it feels exactly like a final goodbye, because if anyone, they deserve to be happy.
For the first time being there, the Amis dream without thinking about death, the soldiers, or the hopeless fight.
Grantaire feels the echo of a sound that woke him up. He’s alone in the building, or at least he can’t hear anyone. Can it be he’s missed everything? Where’s everyone?
He hears someone talking. A voice of a stranger, and then he hears the sound of rifles being loaded, and his only thought is it can’t be happening, it can’t be happening without him. He instantly knows who the only man alive is, without having a glance to his red coat or blonde curls.
The order comes as loudly as Grantaire imagines firing the actual shots would sound. Stumbling into the room, he finds Enjolras by the window, his ever proud head not lowered, not even in these final moments. So typical of him, Grantaire feels his face break into a bittersweet smile.
The words that leave his mouth surprise him more than they do the soldiers, or Enjolras, for that matter.
“Long live the republic! I’m one of them!” He more or less is. He’s with Enjolras. And Enjolras is for the Republic, that makes both of them the enemy. With knees weak he lumbers next to the leader.
Grantaire knows he doesn’t have a choice. It’s not like anyone’s going to miss him. Not like he has anyone to care for, anyone to look after.
The only thing he regrets, if he’s honest with himself, is not finishing his portrait. Not going all over it thousand times, for he could just never capture the exact warmth of the bright eyes, nor the sublime posture of the man, which is really a shame, because that’s what made Enjolras the leader he’s known and followed, and for whom he’s apparently willing to die for.
He really doesn’t have a choice, and neither does Enjorlas.
I can make this easier, he thinks gazing up to the man, just let me, please just let me.
“Do you permit it?”
Maybe this is the question Enjolras has been looking for all these time. Or maybe this was a question, meant only for today and this moment, and noone’s ever going to find that out, but a faint smile appears in the corner of the leader’s mouth as he takes Grantaire’s hand. Without hesitation, Grantaire reaches for the man’s face, tilts it back slightly and gives Enjolras the smallest peck, just to reassure him they’re both okay, and it’s over now, and you, Enjolras, you deserve so much better than a dozen of bullets through your body.
Enjolras doesn’t seem to mind, and between the moments of kissing the life away from his lips and the leader’s eyes closing, before the bullets hit and tear their bodies apart, Grantaire feels satisfied.
Satisfied and in peace, probably for the first time in his life. Also for the first time in his life, he knows he made the right decision.