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City of Stars

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Enjolras slowly pushed his way through the crowd, a tepid and strained smile on his face as he avoided making eye contact in any way that would invite conversation. He hated parties like this, insipid industry bashes where everyone pretended they were so much more important and interesting than they really were. If it weren’t for the fact that playing the game was the only way to get to where he wanted to be, Enjolras would be far from here, his black shirt and red tie exchanged for his favorite red hoodie.

He meandered without meaning to towards the band, which was just wrapping up a cover of a rather generic eighties hit. Enjolras paused in his step, his eyebrows raising when he saw the ridiculous outfits that the band was raising, and he stifled a laugh.

His laugh died in his throat, though, when he saw who was standing in front of they keyboard, his long fingers resting lightly against the keys, his slicked black hair looking completely out of place with his neon green tracksuit. For a moment, Enjolras just stared at him, almost daring him to look up and meet his eyes, but then the singer of the band leaned towards the microphone and asked, “Any other requests?”

Without even thinking, Enjolras called out, “Piano Man”, and the keyboardist’s eyes flew up to his, a startled look on his face that morphed first to a look of recognition, followed almost instantly by a glare that could’ve melted lead.

Enjolras just smirked at him before walking away, well aware that the keyboardist’s eyes were on his ass as he walked away.

As soon as the song was over, the keyboardist stalked away from the band, weaving through the crowd to find Enjolras and glower at him. “I remember you,” he said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “And I’ll admit, I was a little...curt that night.”

“Curt?” Enjolras repeated. “Funny, that’s not how I remember it.”

The keyboardist narrowed his eyes at him, but Enjolras met his gaze evenly, because he remembered that night well...

Another night, another Hollywood party, this time exacerbated by the fact that his ride had left him and his cellphone had died, leaving him without a way to call a ride to get home. He had set off walking, hoping to stumble on a bar or late-night café in hopes they’d have a phone he could use.

He was almost tempted to skip the first bar that he came upon, since it looked a little shady and Enjolras was no idiot. He knew what L.A. was like after 1 a.m.

But then he heard the music, and it was enough to stop him in his tracks.

Enjolras was not hugely into music beyond dancing along to the radio, but the soft, almost longing notes of the piano moved him, rather literally, as he changed direction to head into the bar. He froze as soon as he walked through the door, because the pianist looked up and locked eyes with him.

It was one of those moments that lasted only mere seconds yet seemed to linger for hours, blue eyes meeting blue eyes as the music swelled and ebbed between them. Enjolras felt his heart beating an almost painful rhythm against his chest, and he never wanted the song to end.

The pianist tore his eyes away, dropping them to the keys as the song crescendoed to its finale, the last notes hanging in the air, and only when they had fully faded did the pianist drop his fingers from the keys. Enjolras expected raucous applause, sure that he was not the only one moved so deeply by the music.

Instead, the dull roar of late night bar talk resumed as if it had never been interrupted.

Enjolras shook his head as if to clear it, but it was still as if in a daze that he slowly picked his way across the bar, his eyes on the pianist, who slowly stood, confronted almost instantly but what Enjolras assumed was the bar owner, who started a heated conversation with the pianist that Enjolras only caught bits of—

“—promised you’d stick to the set list—”

“—last straw—”

“—fired—”

The pianist turned away from his boss, something like defiance on his face as he took the tips out of the tip jar prominently displayed on the edge of his piano, and Enjolras took a step towards him, clearing his throat. “I just heard you play,” he offered, unsure how to even put into words everything he had heard and felt, “and I wanted to—”

Without a word, the pianist brushed past him, heading out the door.

Enjolras stood there for a moment, stung. Then he swallowed, hard, and headed to the bar to ask to use their telephone, the numb slap of rejection still stinging in his chest.

“Ok, I was an asshole,” the keyboardist admitted, something flickering across his face. “I can admit that. But I had just been fired, for what it’s worth. And requesting ‘Piano Man’ from a serious musician is just too cruel.”

Enjolras raised an eyebrow at him. “Serious musician?”

The keyboardist had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed. “I didn’t say that,” he muttered, but Enjolras’s lips curved into a smirk.

“Can I borrow what you’re wearing?”

The keyboardist glanced down at his outfit and back up at Enjolras. “Why?” he asked suspiciously.

Enjolras fluttered his eyelashes at him. “Because I have an audition next week. I’m playing a serious doctor.”

The keyboardist looked affronted for a moment, but then he lifted his chin slightly. “So you’re an actor,” he pronounced, saying the word like it was dirty. “I thought you looked familiar. Have I see you in anything?”

It was the worst thing anyone could say to an actor or actress, especially one who hadn’t had their big break, but Enjolras took it well. “Maybe in the coffeeshop on the Universal Studios’ lot.”

“Oh, so you’re a barista,” the keyboardist said with understanding. “So I can see how easy it is for you to look down at me from all the way up there.”

Enjolras looked pointedly over the keyboardist’s shoulder. “Your band leader is calling you,” he said, saccharine sweet, and the keyboardist tossed a look over his shoulder, his expression souring. “You wouldn’t want to leave him waiting.

The keyboardist’s scowl deepened. “He doesn’t tell me what to do.”

“He just did,” Enjolras pointed out, raising an eyebrow at him.

“I know, I let him,” the keyboardist said, scuffing his shoe against the ground as he narrowed his eyes at Enjolras. “What’s your name?”

Enjolras was tempted to not tell him, but decided not to be overly cruel. “Enjolras.”

“Enjolras,” the keyboardist repeated, shoving his hands in his pockets and slowly backing away. “My name’s Grantaire.” Enjolras just looked at him, not sure what to do with that information, and Grantaire shrugged. “I guess I’ll see you in the movies.”

He didn’t say it as a compliment, and Enjolras glared as Grantaire turned and walked away.


Three insufferable hours later, Enjolras was waiting in the valet line to get his car keys back, trying his best to ignore the guy next to him who seemed insistent on talking his ear off. “I wrote an entire play based on just one glance,” he was saying, a wistful look on his face. “She was so beautiful, but almost like a ghost. So that’s what I wrote, a story about a guy who fell in love with a ghost.”

“Mm,” Enjolras hummed noncommittally, craning his head to see over the line. His eyes narrowed as he watched Grantaire, who had changed out of his tracksuit and into ripped skinny jeans and a slouchy t-shirt, cut the line with a winning smile at the valet. “Did you ever talk to the girl?”

“Well, not yet…” the guy hedged, and Enjolras rolled his eyes and stretched on his tiptoes to wave an arm at Grantaire.

“Hey, Grantaire!” Grantaire stopped and turned to scowl at Enjolras, who offered an apologetic smile to the guy next to him. “Sorry, I know him,” he said, and looked back at Grantaire. “Will you grab my keys?”

Grantaire made no attempt to move. “No.”

Enjolras rolled his eyes. “Please?”

“There we go,” Grantaire said, shuffling back to the valet stand and staring at the keys. “What kind am I looking for?”

“A Prius.”

“Of course you drive a Prius,” Grantaire grumbled, though Enjolras could still hear him over the crowd and scowled. “This is L.A., that doesn’t really help me any. These are all Prius keys.”

Enjolras rolled his eyes. “It has a guillotine keychain on it.” The guy next to him shot him a startled look and Enjolras smiled tightly. “Vive la révolution.”

Grantaire held up the car keys and Enjolras squeezed his way out of the line and headed over to Grantaire, who held the keys out silently. Together, they headed down the street away from the party, Enjolras relaxing for the first time all evening. He glanced over at Grantaire. “So, uh, thanks for saving the day back there.”

Shrugging, Grantaire crossed his arms in front of his chest as he walked next to Enjolras. “Well, you didn’t really give me much of a choice.” He glanced sideways at Enjolras. “Strange that we keep running into each other.”

“Is it?” Enjolras asked lightly. “Small town like this. You’d expect it, don’t you think?”

“Cute,” Grantaire said dryly. “You know, they say sarcasm is the lowest form of humor, so I’m imagining you don’t do a lot of comedic acting.”

Enjolras’s lips pursed slightly. “Actually, the quote is ‘puns are the lowest form of humor’, and I do plenty of comedic acting, thank you very much.” Grantaire smirked at him and Enjolras scowled, his shoulders hunching slightly. “At least, I’ve auditioned for plenty of comedic roles.”

“So what made you decide to become an actor?” Grantaire asked as they strolled slowly down the street, assumedly in the direction of their cards. “Because, no offense, but you don’t exactly strike me as the type. Not self-serving or vain enough.” He shot Enjolras a furtive glance. “Hot enough, though.”

Enjolras smiled slightly and looked down. “Thanks, I think,” he said. “But my story’s really no different than most. I’ve always loved movies and used to spend hours at the library across the street in their old movie section. But…” He trailed off, his tone turning thoughtful. “I mean, I’ve always loved being in front of people, because once I could get them listening to me, I could get them to believe things. And when you couple that with how film can change the world…” He shrugged. “That’s what I really want to do, I guess. Change the world.”

Grantaire made a small noise of understanding. “And that seems much more like you.”

Shrugging again, Enjolras mimicked Grantaire’s posture, crossing his arms tightly in front of his chest. “I realize that sounds stupid, especially if you consider that my last audition was for a TV show pitched as Beverly Hills 90210 meets the O.C.”

“Aren’t those basically the same show?” Grantaire asked.

Enjolras snorted. “Yeah. Pretty much.” He shrugged. “Should’ve been a lawyer.”

Grantaire glanced over at him, a smirk curling the corner of his mouth. “Yeah, cuz the world needs more lawyers.”

“Well, it doesn’t need more actors,” Enjolras said dismissively, eager to change the subject. “So what brought you to L.A.?”

Grantaire shrugged and waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, I was born here. Product of the Los Angeles Unified School District.” He shrugged again. “I don’t know, half of me has always wanted nothing more than to get far away from this bullshit, but…”

Enjolras nodded. “Yeah, I know. L.A. is…” He trailed off, searching for the right words. “Pretty much the worst.”

“Got it in one,” Grantaire said with an easy grin.

Shaking his head slightly, Enjolras told him, “Still, I love being near this stuff. Not the industry bullshit—” He waved a hand behind him in the direction of the party. “—but the films and the history, and…” He trailed off at the look on Grantaire’s face. “And you think I’m an idiot.”

“A romantic, maybe,” Grantaire said.

“And what does that make you?” Enjolras shot back. “A cynic?”

Grantaire considered it. “More of a capital-R Romantic. But cynic works too.”

“So why do you stay in L.A., if you hate it so much?”

Grantaire shrugged, his expression falling slightly. “It’ll be your turn to tell me you think I’m an idiot,” he muttered. “There’s this jazz club...the Musain. It’s incredible. All of the big swing bands used to play there. And I...I always wanted to play there.”

“So what’s stopping you?” Enjolras asked. “I’ve heard you play, you’re definitely good enough.”

Grantaire looked surprised at the praise, and shook his head. “Well, um, thanks. But unfortunately, it’s a samba tapas place now.”

Enjolras looked at him blankly. “What’s a samba tapas place?”

“You know, a samba place where they serve tapas.” Enjolras made a face and Grantaire laughed. “Yeah, exactly. So the joke’s on...history, I guess.” He shrugged and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I don’t know, that’s L.A. They worship everything and value nothing.”

Enjolras nodded with complete and emphatic understanding before shooting Grantaire a cautious glance. “So I should probably get out of the way now before we get all the way to my car, which has to be around here somewhere: I hate jazz.” Grantaire stopped dead in his tracks, his expression completely blank, and Enjolras paused to raise an eyebrow at him. “Um, are you ok?”

“What do you mean, you hate jazz?” Grantaire asked, in lieu of answering Enjolras’s question.

Enjolras shrugged. “It means that when I listen to it, I don’t like it.” Grantaire looked at Enjolras like he was nuts, and Enjolras added, a little defensively, “Where I grew up, there was this smooth jazz radio station, WNUA 95.5, and people would just put it on in the background and talk over it.”

Grantaire shook his head emphatically. “But that’s part of the problem! You can’t just put jazz on in the background, you have to know the context, to know what’s at stake.” He shook his head again, his fingers twitching in mid-air as if itching for a piano to show Enjolras exactly what he meant. “Here,” he said abruptly, digging in his pocket for what looked like a several-years-old iPod, offering one of the earbuds to Enjolras. “Here!”

Cautiously, Enjolras took the earbud and put it in his ear, taking an automatic step closer to Grantaire, who was navigating through the songs on his iPod. “It’s such a blanket statement to say that you don’t like jazz. Listen to this.” He pressed play on a song and Enjolras closed his eyes, letting the music wash over him. “Listen to music,” Grantaire said softly. “Feel what’s at stake. Every one of these guys is composing and rearranging, they’re writing and playing the melody all at the same time.” He sucked in an almost longing breath. “It’s conflict and it’s compromise and it’s new every time.” His tone abruptly turned sad, so sad that Enjolras opened his eyes, startled to see how close he was standing to Grantaire. “And it’s dying.”

Enjolras swallowed, hard, the tone of Grantaire’s voice reminding him of the utter pain and longing of the song he had heard Grantaire play in the bar. “When you talk like that…” he started, breaking off when Grantaire looked up at him. He looked away, feeling his cheeks flush. “It makes me think you might not be as much of a cynic as you pretend to be.”

Grantaire smiled slightly. “Maybe there’s a little bit of a romantic in me as well.”

Enjolras looked back at him, their faces merely inches apart. It would take nothing to close that space, to kiss Grantaire the way he wanted that night so many weeks ago.

Instead, he took a step back, looking distractedly around. “Where is my car?” he asked, chuckling awkwardly.

Grantaire shrugged, his expression turning carefully neutral as he put the iPod back in his pocket. “It’s gotta be around here somewhere,” he said reasonably.

Enjolras shot him a look. “Thanks,” he said dryly. “You’ve been a real...what’s the word I’m looking for?”

“Knight in shining armor?” Grantaire supplied, leaning against a lamppost with a cocky grin on his face.

“Weirdo,” Enjolras said instead, a small smile on his face. “That’s the word.”

Grantaire snorted. “Oh. Weirdo. Sure.” He shrugged. “You know, it’s really too bad.”

Despite himself, Enjolras looked over at him. “What’s too bad?” he asked.

“This, right here, under a streetlight, with music…” Grantaire shrugged again. “It’s a moment tailor-made for two. Like I said, it’s really too bad that the two is you and me, and, well…” He winked at Enjolras. “You’re not really my type.”

Enjolras laughed incredulously. “Oh, I’m not your type?” he said. “Well, gosh, how will I ever console myself at such a loss?” He took a few steps toward Grantaire, who straightened. “Thankfully,” Enjolras whispered, leaning in towards Grantaire and stopping just inches from his face, his eyes searching Grantaire’s and his lips almost grazing Grantaire’s as he said, “I’m not one for romance anyway.”

Grantaire shook his head, looking a little dazed, and Enjolras smirked, skirting past him down the street. After a moment, Grantaire followed. “Like I said, it’s a shame,” he called at Enjolras’s back. “What a waste of a lovely night.” He smirked. “But not a waste of a lovely sight.”

“I heard that,” Enjolras said without turning.

“Hate to see you go, but love to watch you leave,” Grantaire retorted, rewarded with Enjolras half-turning, a scowl on his face. “Of course, I’ve seen better.”

Enjolras was about to retort when he suddenly brightened. “Oh, there’s my car.” He pressed a button on the remote and the car obediently beeped. Enjolras turned back to Grantaire, suddenly hesitant. “Do you, uh, do you want a ride to your car?”

Grantaire shook his head. “No, it’s just up here,” he said, jerking his head a little up the road.

“Oh,” Enjolras said, shifting his weight. “So, um, goodnight, I guess.”

“Goodnight,” Grantaire said, and before he could stop himself, he grabbed Enjolras’s hand and lifted it to his lips, pressing a light kiss to his knuckles before releasing his hand and slowly backing away.

It was Enjolras’s turn to look a little dazed. “What was that for?” he demanded, and Grantaire grinned.

“Something to remember me by,” he replied. “Until we run into each other again.”

He turned his back on Enjolras, waved a hand in a final goodnight, and began trudging back up the hill, well aware that Enjolras was watching him for a few minutes afterwards. Almost against his will, Grantaire began whistling a song to himself, a song he hadn’t felt the urge to play in many years. “City of stars,” he sang softly, humming the bars in between before adding softly, “Is this the start of something wonderful?”

He whistled the song on repeat for the twenty minutes it took to make his way all the way back up the hill to his car, which was parked almost directly across the street from the valet stand.