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A crisp wind blows their group through the Musain door, Joly and Bossuet jostling past the loud unruly crowd and unfettering themselves of scarves as they go. Grantaire wends his way after them, stomach clenching.

Even under his armful of coat, he cannot avoid the student who brushes brusquely past him. The man sets Grantaire’s skin crawling, so full of a need to hurt someone that Grantaire shudders. Then a little grisette tries to twirl Grantaire in memory of another bar, another dance, but her touch shows her filled with aching misery behind her smiling eyes. “Later, m’mselle,” he says, and ducks down the corridor.

He finds his usual table in the shadows of the small back room, half-hidden behind Bahorel’s bulk, and adds his coat to the pile cast off in the close hot fug. He keeps his hands in his lap, twisting and waiting for a glass to hold.

It took a long time to grasp that not everyone feels these sensations he does. It took less time to understand that talking of them was a quick way to bring a beating or a curse. A few years ago, he’d hoped that coming to an anonymous city would make it easier to escape others’ moods, or even to find a cure, but that wish died faster than other dreams.

Joly sets a bottle on the table and Grantaire grabs at it.

When he was five, Grantaire learned from a game of cache-cache what a bore he was to his cousins; when he was twelve, he learned from hands on his shoulders how his father felt about the neighbor’s wife, and his mother’s sadness. By then, he was wise enough to keep his mouth shut. The emotions kept closest to the surface of the skin are so often those most important to hide.

“Grantaire, why the long face?”

“Excuse me, I cannot help if my nose is imperial, even if it is out of fashion in our club.”

“Reclaim it for the Republic! And in the name of socialism, let me embrace you! You look to need it.”

Bahorel is a truth-teller, a man with opinions as bold as his trousers, and he’s happy to share both with the world. He throws an arm (and some of the contents of his glass) around Grantaire, and Grantaire is suffused with bonhomie, with elation, with a low-simmering constant need to joyously fight. Bahorel is one person whose touch does not make him flinch, although the sudden change rocks him.

He laughs. “Alright, and what do I owe you for this brotherly love, now that you have lost your wine in its pursuit?”

Bahorel winks at him and settles back into his seat. “I would never charge you for something I’m pleased to give freely.”

“And with great enthusiasm, if what Prouvaire overheard is any judge.”

Bahorel reaches across and raps his knuckles. Again Grantaire is enveloped by his lust for life, enough that he can feel a grin spread across his own face, involuntary.

“It’s not unlike Jehan to tell tales out of school,” Bahorel says, “but in this instance perhaps he should have stayed to learn his lessons better. One does not kiss and tell.” He pauses to refill his glass with Joly’s wine. “But I can confirm the lady laughed with delight.”

Grantaire smiles at him, helpless before such self-satisfied jocularity.

Bahorel loses his cup a second time to Bossuet’s elbow, and Grantaire is wrapped in their cheery bustle. It’s a good thing to sit here in a corner set back from the city, surrounded by friends.

In moments like these, he could pretend Les Amis de l’ABC exist only to educate the children of the slums, a cover-story he’s played at as well as any of them; teaching a child her letters is not beyond him. It is the attempt to change the children’s world that is.

The hazy warmth of the room doesn’t last. It’s blown away by the precision of Enjolras coming through the door, firm strides and firm lines and firm purpose. Les Amis come to order around his valence, the blinding light that makes Grantaire long to hide his eyes in the dark crook of his elbow, that makes him too often stare empty with want.

When Enjolras speaks, he almost makes a different future possible.

“Laws are the stories the crown tells to justify horror,” he begins, an anthem to goad those who will fight with sword and rifle to bring the monarchy down. They’re off, reports coming thick and fast of which other groups stand in readiness too, of who has promised more arms, of what intrigues have been undertaken to rekindle the struggle for a republic.

Enjolras loosens his cravat and his throat gleams bronze in the candlelight.

Grantaire buries his head in the pile of coats and wishes he could stop his ears as well.

*

He cannot tell if the days are running faster or slower as spring quickens the blood of his friends. Daylight lingers longer but time gallops. Grantaire walks with his hands jammed into his pockets and tries to avoid coming too close to anyone; he hunches his shoulders against the rank hopelessness, feeling the hunger and the terror on every quai, every base emotion in this place that raises kings but casts its people in the dirt.

“Grantaire!” he hears, and Courfeyrac grabs his arm. Excited lightning echoes through him. “Will you take a commission for me?”

“You know I’ve given up that painting lark; too readily distracted by all the artists’ models.” He attempts a leer.

Courfeyrac shakes his merry head. “I’d bandy words with you any other day, but please, I’m in a hurry, can you take a message to Enjolras? His rooms are near enough to yours.”

“Perhaps the only thing we share is an arrondissement.” Grantaire sighs. “If you know I’ve given up my studies, you know I’ve little enough to do. Very well.”

Courfeyrac leaves him with a sealed note and dances onward, lit with anticipation. The shadows of the buildings barely graze him.

Grantaire turns toward Enjolras’s apartment, and a young boy careens headlong into him. The boy doesn’t say anything, just steps back with wide eyes, and it would be easy enough to know what he feels even if Grantaire’s body were not now contracted with reflected alarm. He digs a few coins from his pocket and tosses them to the boy.

“Your pardon,” he says, and slinks away, trying to raise his shoulders and shake off the ghost of fear.

Enjolras opens the door fast enough when he knocks. Grantaire braces himself and holds out the letter, and Enjolras’s fingers skim his with quick impatience.

“From Courfeyrac,” Grantaire manages.

“Come, there may be an answer.” Enjolras waves him in, brusque attention already on opening the note.

“I’m not your errand boy,” Grantaire mutters, but steps inside, hungrily drinking in this sanctum sanctorum: the unmade bed in the alcove, the desk piled high with papers, the obeisance to necessity that is a loaf of good bread half-eaten on the table.

“Mm, aren’t you?” Enjolras grabs a sheet and begins scribbling a response. “What else do you have to do with your days?”

Enjolras is the desideratum, the salvator mundi, that faceted jewel around which the world rotates, with his planning and his hope and his gold mane and the gaping neck of his snowy shirt – but for all that, he’s a man too. It shouldn’t startle Grantaire when he bites.

Grantaire wanders to the window and sees children playing in the street below. Would they flinch in expectation too? He tries to keep his greedy eyes from devouring instead the intimacy of Enjolras in his shirtsleeves, brow furrowed, mouth quirked up in some kind of delight. If Enjolras bore this curse, surely he would use it to judge the wicked and uplift the wretched; it would not weigh on a useless heart.

“Here,” Enjolras says, and Grantaire knows the unsurprising impulse to impale himself on Enjolras’s teeth, his sudden feral grin.

“Good news?”

“Very. The factory workers at –”

“Don’t waste your breath and tell me; messengers don’t need to know what doom we carry.”

Enjolras rolls his eyes. “Alright, Cassandra, but if you worked a little harder to help, you might find it a little easier to hope.”

Grantaire laughs, an ugly broken sound. “I don’t think so,” he says, and receives the letter and more than a hint of aversion with it.

“Would you like a drink before you go?”

Enjolras dislikes him, but is bound by principle to be a good host. It would be simple to get in the habit of taking from him, with his sharing of words and visions, his absurd generosity of faith.

Some temptations are too impossible to countenance.

“No. The city is large enough to afford me distraction on my way, thank you.”

“Not too much distraction, please. What we do may be unimportant to you, but it’s worth more than one man’s wine bill.”

“Don’t worry,” Grantaire says, halfway out the door and aching to be gone and aching to stay in the presence of Enjolras’s commitment and the ruddy extravagance of his mouth, “I always keep walking out of habit, unless I fall over.”

“Don’t fall. These messages are too crucial to end in the gutter.”

“Unlike me, you mean? Or unlike yourself? You’ll all end in the gutter, if you aren’t careful.” Too bleak for a jest, but when Grantaire looks at his friends, sometimes all he sees is the street red with their blood. “You’re going where we cannot follow.”

“I thought the gutter was your natural home,” Enjolras says. He pushes Grantaire out the door, not forceful but finished with this distraction and with any gesture at politesse. His hand on Grantaire’s back is hot with frustration.

“I’d rather it stayed mine alone than that I had to welcome you to it as well,” Grantaire snaps, and leaves.

*

“It’s not like I deliberately provoke him,” he says later to Prouvaire, and passes him the pipe.

“Don’t you?” Prouvaire breathes in and holds the smoke, head lolling to look at Grantaire out of the corner of his eye.

“Well, I grant you that I am not so eager for your ends as he seems to be, because without you I’d have to take this pipe all for myself – which, please share it, I’d like to take at least some for myself – and I don’t mind him knowing I cannot see any blaze of glory in your future except that with which he burns, eternal as Helios circumnavigating the sky –”

“Grantaire,” Prouvaire sighs, “if you were a man of conviction, don’t you think that it would gall you for a friend to be always foretelling your death?”

Grantaire tries to blow a smoke ring and fails. “I don’t know that Enjolras and I are friends, so much as that I presume on a true friendship with all of you in order to prolong a mere acquaintance with him.”

He reclines further into the velvet cushion.

“Why don’t you think you’re friends?”

Prouvaire wrestles the pipe from him.

Because I know the disdain with which he touches me, Grantaire doesn’t say. Because he does not hide what he thinks, and so feeling it from his hands is no shock. “If we were friends, don’t you think he’d listen to my predictions?”

Prouvaire hiccups.

“I wish you could see what we see,” he says at last. “I know your melancholy does not allow for it, but I would share the joy to come if I could.”

He places a propitiating hand on Grantaire’s head and tugs a curl. After a thoughtful moment, he pinches Grantaire’s side. Grantaire feels his lazy contentment, and under it his calm certainty that makes Grantaire want to cry.

“You’re a good cabbage, Jehan,” he says instead.

Prouvaire burrows into his side, nearly asleep; the pipe goes out.

*

It is easy to set himself as tinder for Enjolras’s spark. Grantaire cannot help it, the air smelling like lilacs and the city winding tighter and tighter, ready to split apart and reveal the decay beneath its beauty. He can’t stop prodding, not when it’s a relief to argue with someone who would not deign to lie with words any more than he can with his body. Prouvaire was wrong; Enjolras and Grantaire are not friends. Enjolras greets his friends with a hearty honest embrace, and Grantaire with a raised eyebrow.

In his lonely room Grantaire shoves blankets at his back like the shadow of a lover, curls against them and strips his cock, teeth sunk into his bottom lip. He tries to exhaust himself, a bulwark against nightmares. It doesn’t often work, and he is accustomed to wake with salt on his face.

It would be simple enough to give his coin to someone for better company, if he did not mind knowing their feelings about his body and what pleasure he can bring them, and if he did not mind what else of their history he might learn.

“Why do you insist on grieving us?” Enjolras asks, late on a warm night when that narrow bed is all Grantaire has to return to, and some of the candles have guttered, and the Musain’s front room is long since empty.

“It is my right as a member of this company,” Grantaire says, truculent.

Enjolras is brisk, shining high above the mortal sphere. He doesn’t even look at Grantaire, but only at some papers on the front table. “Yes, but its other members contribute when they criticize, and offer an alternative. You only tell us humanity is too low to rise. The refrain is wearisome.”

“That doesn’t make it less true,” Grantaire says.

On the way to tonight’s meeting, he caught a stumbling drunk who would otherwise have fallen heavily. The man’s weary ache was too much a mirror for Grantaire to do anything but buy him another drink.

“No man here is unaware of the danger. We all know what we might face.”

Enjolras gets up to peer at the map of Paris mounted on the wall, dismissing Grantaire from his attention.

“Might?” Grantaire asks. “Might?”

He tilts his glass, makes sure there is no red drop left.

“The question is neither whether you go, nor whither, because that’s as plain as the nose on my face, and as apocalyptic, but only when you will wither.”

“We won’t,” Enjolras says, still staring at the map.

He rubs at a smudge on the rim and glances over. “What, you think only the fleur de lis fades? You’ll behead that flower from the stalk, maybe, but please recall that summer’s blossoms are all gone by autumn, and the harvester’s scythe does not distinguish between encroaching weeds and valiant lilies –”

“Grantaire,” and Enjolras – polished and precise even though laconic, clearly bored of an unworthy opponent – is an effective cork, “you’re just talking to be talking.”

“Maybe. When I declaim, your politeness forbids you to interrupt.”

Enjolras laughs, unexpected and loud, lapidary. “Hardly.”

He turns to Grantaire, and Grantaire is abruptly aware that all their friends have gone. The weight of Enjolras’s gaze is a heady thing.

“When you declaim, it is impossible for anyone else to be heard.”

“We hear you well enough. That’s the trouble.”

Enjolras curls his lip. “You clearly don’t.”

This is so familiar, the sudden quick pulse jumping in Grantaire’s throat, the knowledge of a precipice Enjolras drives them toward, the fragility of the glass in his hand. His body is too small for the skin that covers it.

“There is a difference between hearing and heeding, Enjolras. What you preach is a sickly hope, robust enough in you I’ll grant, maybe even strong in the other rebel societies too, but otherwise a faint thing unlikely to survive at large in the world. We are not capable of nurturing it.”

“A degraded notion –”

“Aren’t we all degraded?”

“No,” Enjolras says, flame to the core and looking him up and down with contempt, “but some of us clearly wish to be.”

Grantaire sits back. “You’re not gentle in your rage.”

“Aren’t I? Is it not gentle to wait and work for what is coming, to educate children and ready the people to nurture a future without a tyrant, as you say – to cache the arms, to be patient for the necessary moment, instead of setting fire to the city tonight?”

A bitter wanting crosses Enjolras’s face, and Grantaire shivers.

“If gentleness is the enaction of restraint, then I am the gentlest of men, Grantaire.”

There is no air left in the Musain, not when Enjolras torches it all. Grantaire would burn up in an instant if he touched him, can feel the ghost of what he would know in that moment: the gaping unending nullity of what Enjolras thinks of him. Would that be worse than anger? Is it better to be nothing at all, or a thing worthy enough to be despised?

“You cannot make me more than I am,” he eventually responds. “Humanity craves tyranny. At least then despair can know its author, and those of us rooting in the mud do not have to blame ourselves for our condition.”

“I would like to help build a staircase out of that mud,” Enjolras says. “I would like you to choose to stand up from it, Grantaire.”

Grantaire lays his head back on his arms without a word.

*

“Grantaire! We’ve not glimpsed you for a week. Where have you gone? Are you haunting a new haunt?”

“Boo,” Grantaire says, and jumps backward from Joly to spread his arms, make himself a gothic horror. He ducks around Joly’s outstretched hand and wails a ghostly noise in Bossuet’s ear. He holds himself carefully apart.

Enjolras unbends enough to grin at the antics, a lion momentarily amused by a mouse, and the meeting comes to order.

Grantaire cowers low in his seat. Ghosts are never far from his mind, not now, not when the caresses of his friends are a shroud. He feels their bodies hardly present as they stumble toward what comes.

“Don’t stay away,” Joly says afterward, soft and close to Grantaire. He taps Grantaire’s cheek with a finger, a bloom of worry. “Your absence is noted."

“What, because you can hear yourselves think?”

Joly flicks his ear. “I like carousing as much as the next man.”

“I know, jolly Joly. But I’m not very comfortable company these days.”

Now it’s a hand on his shoulder, a steady warm friendliness, underserved.

“Few of us are, not even counting the very uncomfortable contretemps when Bossuet accidentally tripped two separate policemen on our way here.”

“I’d have liked to see that.”

“You would have, if you were with us.”

Grantaire shrugs. “You already know I’m not with you.”

“So don’t try to play preacher again; just be present. Carry presents with your presence, if you feel you must buy yourself a welcome.”

“What did I do to merit this largesse?”

Joly stands and groans, theatrical. “How do you come to every meeting but have not yet learned that ABC stands for socialism? Merit doesn’t come into it. Your lack of agreement with our aims has never been an obstacle, and you ought not make it one now. The barricades will be obstacle enough for Paris!”

The unkindness of ravens that lives in his stomach opens his mouth and croaks, “I could not climb one.”

“So don’t. Throw a wheel of brie over it, instead.”

“An offering?”

Enjolras is at the front of the room, calling light to himself. He leans over a pamphlet, lips taut.

Joly follows Grantaire’s gaze. “I’m no idol.” He sighs, and says quietly, “He’s not, either. But I think you know that, or you wouldn’t be held so captive.”

Grantaire cannot help himself. “You don’t think marble is hard enough for a cage?”

“I don’t think that’s what you imagine being hard, my friend.” Rueful, Joly laughs and claps him on the shoulder once more, kindly concern.

*

He can continue a messenger even if he cannot be an acolyte, and he brings Enjolras supper at Combeferre’s behest. Each Ami is busy with his own part of the plan, each responsible for his own web of like-minded citizens, a network of guns and societies across Paris, and Grantaire shunts between them, a billiard ball fetching and carrying with the gamins. If he is always moving, he is not still long enough for a casual embrace, or to be drawn into prophecies of what awaits.

It is nearly summer and the hollows in Enjolras’s cheeks, the shadows under his implacable eyes, are deepening. Grantaire is a carapace, filled with nothing but wanting to offer himself to be devoured.

“I have your rations, capitaine,” he says to the dark-eyed angel at the door, and Enjolras steps aside silently to let him in. He is staid, stayed by hunger or excitement or simply facing inward to a different horizon.

Grantaire puts his parcels on the table and looks around with an air of intelligent interest. The room is much the same, except the bed is messier and a thin layer of dust has collected on everything except Enjolras’s desk. He is not often at home these days.

“Have you any other service I may do for you?” Grantaire’s mouth twists. “One which is within my capacity?”

Enjolras seems obscurely wounded, as though he marks Grantaire. “Not if you will not speak for the right.”

“Only what is within my capacity, please, capitaine.”

“I would have thought silence outside of it, in truth.”

Enjolras’s smile is a tired thing.

Grantaire’s hands flex.

“Won’t you sit down? You won’t hasten what you wish by fainting, you know.”

A frustrated breath.

“You’re not responsible for those who remain in the shame of their own silence, Enjolras. If we will not join your chorus even though we listen to your argument, you cannot bear it on your shoulders.”

“Are you ashamed, then?” Enjolras measures him with a glance.

“Perhaps. I am of the world even if I know I cannot save it.” He wallows in shame every day, and now as always, he is found wanting.

“Compassion does not live in isolation – it seeks those it serves, a plant to the sun.”

What are all of Enjolras’s actions, after all, but a declaration of love for a more equal future, again and again? Love is an active verb, and Grantaire an indifferent soldier.

The fool’s gold of his untrammeled mouth offers something he knows Enjolras will not stoop to take. “You don’t have to do this; there are other ways.”

“Why are you so against us?” Enjolras sits heavily in his brocade armchair, unexpected garnet opulence.

Grantaire longs to stroke it, to feel the fabric warm from Enjolras’s body.

“I know you don’t think anything will come of it, but why do you so resist our trying? You’re no coward, not when I also know the brawls and scrapes you get into, not when you boast of them; you care for your friends, and even sometimes for strangers. I’ve seen you give away your last pennies.”

He passes a palm over his face and Grantaire cannot watch, instead opens a parcel, pulls out a bottle to pour Enjolras a glass of wine.

“Enjolras,” he says abruptly, hand on the bottle starting to shake, “do you know much of science?”

Enjolras looks up. “I’ve listened to Combeferre’s lectures when I cannot escape them, if that is what you mean.”

“Would you think a man mad who said he could understand another’s feelings from a touch?” Grantaire holds his breath, but Enjolras snorts.

“Don’t you think I’ve heard enough bad propositions from Courfeyrac’s group?”

Grantaire swallows. “That’s not quite what I mean, for once.”

He brings Enjolras his glass, and pours another for himself unprompted. He tries not to see Enjolras react.

“If a friend of yours, say Prouvaire, told you he could intuit what emotion was in another’s mind by touch – fear or anger or lust – what would you do?”

“I might ask if he had enjoyed much opium recently.”

“If he hadn’t. If it were true. Indulge me.”

Enjolras shrugs. “There are more things in this limitless world than my mind can countenance. I do not follow new scientific developments, and I would not be surprised to learn myself ignorant.”

“Would you not ask what he might have learned from such exposure?” Grantaire fiddles with his glass and almost spills it.

“Would it be my place to know? Is it his?”

“No,” Grantaire says, “but if he could not help it. If every time he passed through a crowd he knew the hunger of a child or the hurt of a woman, if he felt the anger of an unjust man against those beneath him… if he knew the ugly things of the world, would you not factor that into all your counsel?”

Enjolras is bemused. “How is that different from what I learn when I walk out my front door?”

He takes a long drink of his wine and stands, ready at last to eat something. Mechanically, Grantaire begins to cut him a piece of bread.

“So even if – a friend – were to tell you the despair of the people will keep them from joining you, you would continue on your course?”

“Grantaire,” Enjolras says, and takes the knife from his hand, and lifts his chin with strong fingers, and Grantaire knows him puzzled and restive but not wholly angry, “we also feel joy.”

Grantaire steps back, shines a plum on his sleeve, offers it like a supplicant to a divinity. “Not as much as you’d think.”

“Maybe not.” Enjolras is muted, a wildfire contained, but terrible and inexorable still. He gestures with the knife. “But the Amis are not the only such group in Paris, and this is hardly her first revolution. We are not alone. And if you can feel what others feel, then you know why we must do what we do, even if we were alone. What is wrong can only be answered by what is right.”

Grantaire is still holding out the plum, stupid and inarticulate. He has told his secret, and had it almost believed, and the only consequence is that Enjolras takes the plum delicately and does not smite him for wantonness.

He bites it, and the flesh is a ruby.

Grantaire shapes his grievous mouth to say, “You asked me why I grieve you. It is because I know the grief you will cause me, soon enough.”

Enjolras looks at him with eyes that see the infinite. “If I accept your condition as truth, I would ask you to discover what else you may feel. Those small things that are good are easily hidden, perhaps, but they are not lesser. Hope was at the very bottom of Pandora’s box, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a fight.”

Juice from the plum runs down his hand, and he licks it.

Grantaire turns away. He goes back to the window, the sky lavender like an old bruise.

Lamps beckon in the rooms opposite, other lives with other cares, and he runs his finger through the dust on the sill. Will these rooms be better lived-in, by the time this mad season ends and sober autumn takes its place? “Pardon my impertinence. After all, what are tears but a waste of water and a waste of salt?”

“A waste? We’re not on a ship; neither is rationed.”

“No, but I’m saving mine for when I need them.”

“And when is that?”

“Don’t play the fool. It suits you less even than your republican raiment suits me.”

“You wore the scarlet well enough until you attempted the du Maine.”

Grantaire whirls around. Enjolras holds his half-eaten plum casually, diffidence worn as a suit like he is not still simmering over that betrayal, and Grantaire’s own tongue tastes something rotten now. A corpse, perhaps.

“I tried, but on my way there were too many who were wretched, Enjolras. Do you know what it is to drown in that much sorrow? How could I continue to play at tomorrow when there are so many hungry today?”

“Tomorrow is all there is,” Enjolras tells him. “For what you suffer I am truly sorry, but you gain no footing by pretending I’m blind to what the world holds. If you’re drowning, ask for a hand to pull you out.”

Grantaire shudders, shutters, stultifies. Even if he became a tree and grew roots through Enjolras’s parquet down four stories into the earth, he could not be more wordless than he is now.

“That look does not suit you.”

Grantaire shakes his head.

Enjolras makes as though to reach out, and Grantaire twists away. “Feel what we will become. If I could give you hope, I would do it.”

Be instead of become,” Grantaire pleads. “I can live with being ugly; I cannot live with death.”

Enjolras’s smile is a ruin. His body is always an altar, a place Grantaire wishes to do homage, but now his mouth is a reliquary.

“If you would take my hand I would show you that what I work for is more important than death,” Enjolras says, and when Grantaire will not, he sits again in his chair, ready to begin that work anew.

Caromed, Grantaire mumbles a goodbye, and goes out.

*

He tries not to end every interminable day at the Musain, but every road leads here.

They are alone again. The other Amis are about some great work, rousting comrades who fought in 1830 or in the food riots – or they’re in some happy bed, remembering what a body can do beyond begetting violence.

Enjolras leans his head on his hand; tonight it is the tawny tousled head of a boy, not an unfeeling statue. Grantaire’s bitten lip feels is under his teeth, looking at auric Enjolras, sat as always at the largest table so he has room to spread his papers. His ideas and plans encircle him, a storm of white filled with densely-scratched black ink.

“Why keep all your lists on a page?” Grantaire finally asks, when the silence is too heavy and his own head too loud. He strikes an elbow against the table behind him, chair backed against it. “Don’t you worry some spy will find you, some latent Dolon discover and speak your secrets?”

“Were he dressed as a wolf, I’d know him,” Enjolras says absently. “The world has not changed so much. Besides, Dolon betrayed his intent soon enough, and was justly punished for it.”

“So bloodthirsty! I know you would remove the offending crown, but will you remove a head so easily? These enlightened times are not 1793, you know.”

Enjolras looks up. “Not for want of my attempt. We could all learn from their resolve.” He glows in the burnishing candle at his wrist, earthy for all that he is radiant. “Is resolve ever something you feel when you walk in a crowd?”

“No.”

With studied patience like a bit between his teeth, “Do you ever try?”

“No.”

“That is your choice, a poor one though it may be, and I am weary of this argument,” Enjolras says. “I am weary, Grantaire, of these circles.”

“I thought you liked revolutions.”

Enjolras snorts. “I like to do good work. Your metaphysic is beyond what I know. If it is real, it is a mystery to me.”

“If I chase the mysteries of life, you chastise them. You want everything ordered, everyone marching to your orders.”

“So what if I do?” Enjolras scatters ink from his pen.

“And what if no one follows?”

“There is nothing but to try. If it is not our tomorrow, then it is some other person’s, in some future time; if we cannot triumph now, at least we will not have died on our knees. Another may yet learn from our example. I do not fight for myself.”

“I know that. If I know nothing else, I know that much.”

Enjolras stands, moves his piles of pointless fruitless death knells around the table, reorders them. “I appreciate the acknowledgment. Perhaps you’ve been listening after all.”

“Don’t you know I’ve been listening?”

Grantaire is anguished, pretends otherwise, leans his chair back on two legs as though this were any other night, maybe in the early months of Les Amis when a craven cynic could still amuse a true believer. Now, he would stick his heart in the embers and roast it as an amuse-bouche for Enjolras’s fancy, but Enjolras would never deign to eat it.

Enjolras is unabashed. “How should I know you do? You despair of our work, Grantaire, and you mock us for our dreaming. It is a cold act of friendship.”

This living thing, this demon sitting like a weight on his tongue, opens his mouth and says: “I would set myself on fire to keep you warm.”

The words are stark truth, haloed and unalloyed. Even Enjolras cannot ignore them.

He straightens. His eyes are deep pools, depthless. “What do you mean?”

Grantaire’s chair rocks down, squarely on the ground now. “Please don’t make me say it any plainer than I have.”

“Yours is a personal cause?”

Grantaire rolls his shoulders. “I feel a hollowing out of myself,” he says. “I am hollowing out myself.”

“What do you lack?”

In this moment, Enjolras fills the room.

Some pain is too obvious to be articulated. Grantaire makes an unhappy noise, and cannot look away from the wonder of his face. It is curious, surprised.

“You didn’t know?”

Enjolras stares at him abstracted, as though he is here and also somewhere far distant. “I knew you came for friendship’s sake, and enjoy our conversation. I knew you did what services you felt you could, but have failed at the larger call. I did not imagine your pessimism allowed an… admiration of anything more.”

Grantaire moves backward in his chair, elbows behind him on the table, as though he can make himself too small for Enjolras’s notice. Shadows run before the sun.

He says lowly, “Your revolution is not for me. But I could wish it were.”

“Why?”

“I would like to know hope, Enjolras,” Grantaire says plainly. “I would like to believe there is something beyond the next unfriendly hand. If I were able, I would like to better serve my friends.”

“And me?”

“I would like to see what you envision, and not just marvel that you see it.”

“Enjolras, the fool who leads his friends to certain doom because he sees a fantasy?” His voice is self-mocking, suddenly exhausted, and Grantaire cannot stand to hear him laid so bare.

“No,” he says, “Enjolras, the man I wish could be right, celestial in his belief but too of this earth to escape it.”

Enjolras is arrested. He lays his pen on the table like he does not quite know what it does. He stops to roll back his sleeve from where it’s fallen toward his wrist, and looks up again. “Grantaire,” he says, “I wonder if now you will let me show you what I feel, although you avoided it before.”

Grantaire scoffs, bluster in place of courage. “Someone once told me that he could see the truth by walking out his front door. What could you wish to show that I can’t learn from your speeches, or from the begging hordes of Paris?”

“You are a provocation.” Enjolras comes toward him, eyes still fixed on Grantaire and making the room even narrower than it is. “Did you know that?”

He leans forward, not touching.

Grantaire is only a few inches from where Enjolras hovers, and he can almost feel Enjolras’s warmth. It makes him nearly sick.

“A wise man can admit he knows little, though if I should call myself wise, we’ll know the end is truly come.”

“Do you disagree?”

Enjolras rests his hands beside Grantaire’s elbows, strokes the rough grain of the wood, makes Grantaire make room for him between his knees. His legs spread so wide will feel the strain before too long, locked open so he will not brush against Enjolras.

“How could I dare, when you have me thus caged?” Grantaire tilts his face further up, a question to trail Enjolras’s question. He tosses his head to hide uncertain dismay.

Deliberate and slow, Enjolras hovers a finger over Grantaire’s jaw. “You would find a way to protest Saint Peter unlocking the gate for you,” he says.

Grantaire quirks an eyebrow, breathless but only ever himself. Badinage is the only thing to cling to now. “Of course I would; how you can think eternity with prophets a pleasure, when your prophesying has led us to this pass, is beyond me.”

There is an immeasurable distance between them, and Enjolras cannot mean to bridge it.

Enjolras wraps a hand in Grantaire’s curls, and Grantaire’s mouth falls open. “You find no pleasure in our conversation?” he asks, dry as the desert they’ll never see.

He so carefully holds the curls taut, and does not touch Grantaire’s skin.

“Maybe a little,” Grantaire manages, panting, undone, this waiting unbearable. Whatever Enjolras will give him will at least convey the disdain that will return him as Icarus to earth. “But you might consider doing something with your other hand.”

“Like what?” Enjolras raises it, all contemplation on his free fingers even as Grantaire is pinned by his hair in Enjolras’s fist, mouth agape.

He swallows, throat dry. “Give it to me,” he suggests, “and let me demonstrate the many earthly delights that heaven misses.”

His lips yield when Enjolras presses them with his thumb. “Alright.”

It sears.

Enjolras is the world made flesh.

On Grantaire’s tongue bloom friendship, interest, compassion – but also a potent selfish lust that goes to his head like strong liquor. The whole future Enjolras fights for is clear in his touch, underpinning his quickened breath, an impulse to harsh action and to deep love.

But the human salt taste of him is no afterthought, his thumb holding Grantaire in place. He slides it out and two slim fingers press down and in instead, a brand.

“You see?” Enjolras murmurs. “I can learn from a new reality.”

Grantaire shuts his eyes against their sudden dampness. He feels no pity or disgust from Enjolras, only his steadfast certainty and a growing desire. Enjolras rubs his fingers against the inside of Grantaire’s cheek as though he is some new terrain to be mapped. He presses Grantaire’s tongue again and Grantaire feels the spike of his want.

“Grantaire. Look at me.”

Helpless to disobey, he opens his eyes and Enjolras is glowing, intent. “Have I guessed rightly, even if I cannot read you with a touch?”

Grantaire nods, and Enjolras kisses him around the fingers in his mouth, pulls them out and wraps them spit-slick in his hair. He tugs, and Grantaire gasps. He is drunk on sensation redoubled.

Enjolras’s tongue shocks him. He has the mouth of a voluptuary, surely made for kissing as well as for calling citizens to arms. All is fervor, ambition, fierce belief in a more just world to come – and a fascination, an impulse to be present now.

Grantaire is burning. If this flame were a funeral pyre he would throw himself on it, grateful to be its ash scattered across the earth. He is a gnarled broken thing, and this carmine carnal act rebuilds him, baptizes him into something new.

Enjolras draws back but keeps a palm pressed to Grantaire’s chest. He breaths unsteadily, gulps of air like he too is unmoored. He rips off his cravat and throws it aside. He stands to lock the door, decisive.

Grantaire must be in some dream state, that he has been given so much already and Enjolras plans yet more to come.

There is an apartment on the first floor, and the Amis sometimes use it. “We could go upstairs.”

“No.” Enjolras crosses the room with long strides and lights another candle. “I do not wish to wait.”

“Eager for experience?”

“R,” he smiles, and comes back, “do you imagine I have never explored what Paris has to offer?”

“You have accepted propositions?” None of mine, he doesn’t say.

“I have sought them out.”

Enjolras bends again, kisses him until Grantaire cannot doubt that in this moment, he is glad to be kissing Grantaire.

“You have concealed it well,” Grantaire says at last.

“Well,” Enjolras kneels before him and all the breath goes out of Grantaire, “it is only ever something outside our club, something to keep the body from distracting the mind. Why advertise it?” He begins to undo Grantaire’s trousers and starts to pull them down.

Grantaire shifts to help him. He is going to shake apart. “You may not have known of my feelings, but you must have known what the answer would be, had you asked.”

“I did not think of you,” Enjolras says, still terrible, although his hand on Grantaire’s knee tells no unkindness. “And also, I did not know you thought of me. Sometimes we see something in a new light.”

The back of the chair presses hard into his spine. He looks down at Enjolras, not in any lurid imagining a supplicant, but only a man waiting to do that which he wishes to do.

“What’s changed?” he asks, and dares to brush Enjolras’s browbone. “I am the same man I always was, and you have never been enraptured before.”

“We can agree in this,” Enjolras says, like it’s simple. He nips at Grantaire’s thigh, a rosy impatience atop his want. “Can’t we?”

“Yes,” Grantaire whispers.

“I am not enraptured,” Enjolras says, and indeed, he is as calm as Grantaire has ever seen him, but that he thrums with leashed tension. “I did not see beyond your reluctance. You have plagued me, and I did not know we could seek this resolution.”

Enjolras’s hands tell Grantaire that he wants this, the same as other bed-fellows might, but felt against his yearning for the horizon, Grantaire cannot parse it.

He makes a bitter face. “You would sink to my level to resolve our argument?”

Enjolras runs his nose against the hair on Grantaire’s thigh, blows against the skin there. “I cannot say more than what I know now: I thought you saw a figurehead. I did not know you saw in me a man, and I’m glad to know it. If you’ll have me, I would begin a different kind of conversation.”

Grantaire twines a finger around Enjolras’s ear. He always thought Enjolras could not lie with his body; now, confronted with its truth, he is conquered.

There is no artifice to Enjolras on his knees, and no deception in his touch. This is no act to convert an unbeliever.

“Please,” he says.

Enjolras tugs Grantaire’s trousers almost to the floor, and runs a slow warm palm up his calf. He is restrained, but Grantaire feels him tempestuous. At last, he reaches for Grantaire’s ready cock, and – quirking an eyebrow at him, levity as unexpected as anything else tonight – runs his knuckles along the length. Grantaire feels his hot quick rush of excitement.

The flush of his skin is a goad against the thin linen of his shirt, open at his throat. The sleeves are pushed back to his elbows, baring tendons when he twists his wrist.

“Are you silenced?” he asks.

“I am overcome,” Grantaire answers, everything else fallen away, made nothing but a creature of honesty and longing.

“Mm, perhaps I should have tried this before,” Enjolras says, and bends to swallow Grantaire’s cock.

He is luminous, and Grantaire is illuminated by his blazing mouth. There is nothing in the world except this, the heat and the speed of him, the irrefutable knowledge that the heady way he braces himself on Grantaire’s thighs and holds Grantaire’s legs apart is an enaction of his own desire.

Grantaire is wanted.

Enjolras wants the infinite, but here and now in the back room of the Musain, a place of laughter and deadly earnest, Grantaire is bathed in the knowledge that he also wants Grantaire. Enjolras knows him, and wants to do this even so.

Enjolras chokes himself on Grantaire’s cock, draws back and dips again.

In the light of the flickering candles, he is incandescent, and Grantaire is a reflected flame. He is lustered. He makes a low sound, and runs a tentative finger up Enjolras’s proud neck.

Enjolras holds him firmly, pulls back and licks around his fingers. The temerity of Grantaire seated above him does not bother him; with a small sigh, he rubs his nose against Grantaire’s knee.

Grantaire raises his hips to chase him, involuntary.

“Impudent,” Enjolras grins, and begins anew.

He makes himself an anchor for Grantaire, no ambiguity, only his eager mouth over and over.

Grantaire’s heartbeat thunders in his ears, staring at Enjolras’s glinting hair and feeling the way he wants this. He is a furnace, a crucible.

His skin is lacquered against the white of his shirt, gleaming in the candles’ shadows, and Grantaire hooks a finger in the fabric. He pulls it further open, runs his fingers over Enjolras’s gilded throat. The sight of it has so often been a torment, untouchable and only a tool for the Republic’s praise – but now Grantaire touches Enjolras, who wants him to, who has set aside tonight for this.

“Enjolras –”

He pulls back long enough to say “I don’t mind,” and swallows again.

Grantaire comes, fingers clenched, every muscle locked in place by the solid pressure of Enjolras leant against his legs.

Enjolras, who raises his golden head, eyes lambent and mouth crimson, panting and content. He sweeps his hands up and down Grantaire’s arms and Grantaire cannot escape his bewildering, almost bewildered tenderness.

He stands and pats Grantaire’s knee – more gentleness, a crest of it overlaying his constant yearning toward the unseen, that banked fire – and retrieves his cravat from where it lays. He uses it to wipe his mouth and clean Grantaire with steady hands. He steps back. He looks at the cravat as though surprised to find he cannot wear it now, and, shrugging, stuffs it in his pocket. He waits for Grantaire to speak.

A pause, and then Grantaire makes himself ask, “What now?”

The future yawns, a pit; is he to be allowed to service Enjolras, in recompense? Enjolras, who is clearly hard, and who now stands apart, contemplating him? Or is this an experiment in mercy, never to be spoken of again, locked away with those other nights when Enjolras sought or gave pleasure?

“You could come home with me. My rooms are near enough, and there are hours yet that we might fill.”

He laughs to make it a jest, rasping, a way to withdraw the offer if it were not fully meant. “What, me for a breakfast companion? At least in the dark, all cats are grey.”

“The morning is wiser than the evening,” Enjolras agrees. “But I have lit candles here tonight, and I cannot think I will regret this.”

“You might.”

“I don’t believe so,” Enjolras says, and with devastating frankness, “I’d like to fuck you.”

Grantaire sucks in a harsh breath, imagines Enjolras pressed atop him, his long graceful limbs and the sweep of his golden curls and all of him – all of him – touching Grantaire.

Grantaire, who may disappoint him in this as in so much. “It has been some little while for me.”

“You talk of conquests often enough.”

“And you heed me? Would you often lay yourself open to discover the truth of what others think of you?” He grimaces; Enjolras would, and readily without fear. What others think is of little consequence to him, too much of the degraded grubby present to matter.

“So we’ll take the time to convince you of what you truly are. The night is yet young.”

“Youth! The night may be; myself, I feel like an old man.” Grantaire stands, still disbelieving, and his knees creak. He does up his trousers, starts to put himself to rights.

“But not a wise one.” Enjolras smiles at him. He is a pillar of fire and a boy both, full of grace.

“No, not that.”

With all he has felt from Enjolras tonight, all the belief that has encompassed and held him close, wave upon wave of conviction and expectant hope, there is nothing that proves his friends will be saved. There is nothing that promises that, if they fall, they will be honored by the progress of some later time.

But he thinks of Enjolras in this time, spread against the cerulean silk blanket on his bed; his bed has lingered in Grantaire’s dreams ever since he glimpsed it. He thinks of Enjolras spread against its sheets in the soft morning light, lit by the dawn.

He reaches out to take Enjolras’s strong hand, so they may go together.