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Enjolras was seventeen and graduating from high school when he realized he had to run away.

He was standing on the stage of some opera house that his school was hosting their graduation at, and the crowd was cheering at them, clapping and acting all uniform and lovely. There was a man sitting a few seats down from Enjolras who stared down at his hands, the knowledge that he was going to leave the auditorium to meet nobody outside almost palpable. There was a girl to Enjolras’s right who was shifting uncomfortably. The boy next to her kept gripping her knee, and Enjolras had tried to pretend he hadn’t noticed, instead looking forward. That’s when he’d met his father’s eyes in the crowd, and instead of smiling at him, he jerked his chin up—telling Enjolras through his eyes that he must do the same. He was telling him to sit still, and to be silent.

That was when Enjolras realized with a sudden clarity that he was tired of being silent. He was tired of sitting through injustice and sitting through watching a woman be uncomfortable sitting in her own graduation. He was tired of keeping his chin up and being above suffering. What was cushioning him from the fall that many others were taking all around him? Money? Money meant nothing; money was just paper and metal exchanged for goods and services. It meant nothing if you had a million papers or if you had just one; in the end, they were just paper. Enjolras didn’t want to be propelled forward in life by this concept, by the idea of being above somebody just because he had more paper than them. He needed to escape this concept, and in order to leave it behind, he had to leave this life behind.

When he and his graduating class descended from the stage one by one in uniform lines, Enjolras was itching. He was itching to rip this gown from his body and take off, getting away from this life once and for all and finding happiness wherever it could be found. The need swelled in him like something caustic, and it burned inside him. He knew he could only sate its hunger with the night wind in his hair pouring through his window, with the sight of unknown lands that he would learn street by street and house by house.

He pressed the doors open, coming out into the air, and he didn’t even bother waiting. No time to be nice, he reasoned, when there was something waiting for him out there that was unfamiliar, that was a cure to the illness he hadn’t known was growing inside him, to that illness he had only covered with the balm of ignorance and left to rot. Birth was not the only sudden awakening Enjolras would have in his life; this was his second birth, and the birth that he would celebrate every year afterward.

He broke free from the rest of his classmates, from his past, and he walked the small distance to his car, all the while taking his gown off of himself and rolling it around his arms, bundling it messily. When he got to his car, he opened his door, tossing his cap and gown into the back before he hopped inside, closing the door and sliding his seatbelt on so quickly he nearly burnt his fingers on the metal that was sitting in the sun. He angled the mirror, started the car, and sped off down the street.

Enjolras didn’t know where he was going, following one road and taking turns as he saw fit, living for once not by any written or unspoken rule, but by something natural that simmered inside him. It took him a while, but he eventually lost the city, the world petering out into countryside, and he reveled in the night air coming through the car windows, ignoring his phone as it rang and rang and rang away.

(~~~~)

On Facebook, his classmates bragged about being on Dean’s List and others talked about their new children. In the few months—nearly a year, actually—that Enjolras had spent running away, he hadn’t said a word. He’d settled down somewhere near a small town in New York—and how had he gotten all the way out there from where he’d started?—and helped an old woman run a consignment shop in an even smaller village that had only one four-way stop, and no traffic lights. The nights were quiet save for animals and frogs, some cicadas that strayed too far north crackling their strange songs into the summer air. He often thought about how he would have been awaiting his sophomore year in college by now. Instead, he was happy.

“Are you going home late tonight, Enjolras?” the old woman asked, washing the countertop with a shaking hand. Enjolras didn’t know how many years were left in her, but he knew much of the years she had already spent.

“I’m not needed anywhere,” he replied, setting a few items up onto the shelves. There was a sweet old man who blew glass that made beautiful bottles for collecting or vases for placing home-grown flowers in. He often made eyes at the woman behind the counter and Enjolras always had to hide his smile behind his fist, or a few books he was putting up. His happiest day was spent looking at her smiling eyes after he’d brought in a few vases he’d made, and had handed her one full of her favorite flowers. “I’ll close for you, ma’am, if you’d like.”

She scoffed, throwing the rag into the bucket full of soapy water and hanging it in the crook her elbow, giving Enjolras a scolding look. “You’ve been here for nearly a year,” she said, her voice firm, “and the only one of us who’s had a date so far is me.” Enjolras gave her a smile, but turned back to his re-stocking. She continued anyway. “I get that you’re a hard-working young man, but sometimes I worry about you.” His arm paused in mid-air, holding up an old porcelain swan, and he turned to look at her, his brows furrowed. She moved toward him, putting her bucket on one of the tables and looking at him, really looking at him. “You’re so quiet, and you live your life in solidarity. You don’t talk about where you come from, and you can’t be a day over eighteen, or I’m not a woman.” Enjolras laughed, but she took his face in her hands, a slight smile in her eyes but nowhere else. “You can’t live your life like this, dear. Not forever.”

He set down his work and grasped her wrists gently, smiling down at her. “It’s not forever,” he replied. “I’m fine. I am alone, but I’m not lonely. Not yet.”

She smiled at him. “I know,” she said, as if admitting a fault, and she huffed a sigh that made him grin even more. He didn’t remember grinning this much in school, with his father looking over his shoulder and dictating his every move. “I don’t know what shadow you ran away from,” she said as she picked up her bucket and walked away, “but don’t let it keep you from being happy.”

Enjolras stared at her as she dumped out the bucket in the sink near the back, hanging the rag to dry, and he was there at the front of the shop when she was shrugging on her coat and going to meet her beau. “He wants to see a movie with me,” she said, a smile on her face as Enjolras helped her with a particularly troublesome sleeve. “I think he’s screening something he likes at the theatre. To think, he rented out the thing just for us.” She shook her head. “That man is impossible.”

Enjolras smiled back at her, putting his hands on her shoulders and taking in her face, the light dancing in her eyes and her soft, gentle expression, and she looked back up at him for a moment, narrowing her eyes at him. “You’re leaving me, aren’t you?” she asked after a moment, and Enjolras couldn’t hide it.

“Yes,” he replied, and her face dropped slightly, her eyes tearing as she pulled him forward in a hug that he returned.

“Be good to yourself, my lovely, lovely boy,” she murmured into his chest, and Enjolras could feel his cheeks blossoming red as he tried to conceal his own tears. “Don’t lose yourself out there, okay? Because you’re lovely, and whatever you wanted to run from can’t hold you if you stay who you are.” She pulled away, nodding at him, and he nodded in return, her hands seeking his cheeks again and holding him steady. “I hope you can find a place where it can’t find you.”

Enjolras swallowed hard, his eyes glistening and his hands shaking. “I hope so too,” he replied, and she rose up on tiptoes to give him a kiss on his forehead.

“Come on,” she said, wiping the tears from his cheeks and pulling his coat from the coat rack. “We’re closing up together.” He shrugged it on obediently, and together, they stepped into the night air. Together, they looked up at the stars. Together, they locked the doors and stared at the building. Then, Enjolras got into his car and drove off alone.

(~~~~)

Enjolras drove, because driving was becoming a normal thing for him. Running was his rapture, and it seemed to deliver him from all of his fears. He traveled, and he became well-versed in the fights he would speak up about. He spread his words like hushed whispers in the places he stopped in. He started reading stories of revolutions and dreamed of starting a movement so large it could engulf the current ideal in a viscous liquid that would wear away the tar it had trapped itself in. He dreamed of wiping clean the idealism of those who thought of tomorrow.

He stopped in Memphis for a month before he had to go. He had to leave one night when his hands were shaking and his drink had tasted funny and the man that he’d been spending time with—Montparnasse, he’d called himself, because he liked the French and their alcohol, he’d said—had tried to make an advance on him that hadn’t landed, and due to the mishap and Enjolras’s subsequent fleeing from Tennessee, never actually would.

He ran and ran and ran after that, never once accepting a drink from a stranger and developing an aversion to drugs. He tried to see it as something positive, as just another thing not to stay silent about. But all he could recall when he thought about it was just how close he was to being that girl at his graduation, or worse.

He was nineteen when he stopped in Texas, settling down at an old bar run by a man who lived a carefree life. He treated Enjolras with respect and care, admiring him for his youth and his feet, which constantly moved. He adored the holes in Enjolras’s shoes and asked him about California, Tennessee, and Illinois. Enjolras answered as best he could and all the while, he waited tables in the bar and tended it after hours when it was busiest. He watched as the man laughed and circulated around the tables, talking up his favorite regulars and making new friends, kissing his waitresses on the temples like children, gripping their shoulders tenderly and steering them away from hurt.

Enjolras got into his first bar fight when a young brunette threw up after waiting a table and, shaking, could only say she didn’t know what to do about the man who had just groped her. Enjolras woke up from seeing red to find he had a broken nose and a blackened eye, and the bouncers had ejected the man an hour ago. His boss hadn’t been angry, instead laughing with his eyes and smiling like he was proud, picking up Enjolras off the floor and patting his back, swiping the dust from his shoulders and saying, “I was worried about you for a while. Now I know you ain’t so bad.”

It was only two months after the anniversary of Enjolras’s first birth (the birthday he didn’t celebrate anymore) when the man disappeared, and the bar was left quite unexpectedly to his girlfriend and their daughter. She was seventeen, just graduated from high school, a few freckles bridging her pale nose. Her mother was frazzled and ill, clearly unfit to run the bar, but she tried as hard as she could. She put money into Enjolras’s account when she heard that he was alone, hadn’t seen his parents in two years. She tried her hardest to smile at him. She smiled at him with holes in her joy when he talked about changing things, about changing the world.

Some nights, he mixed her drinks, and she smiled at him for real.

Cosette was her daughter’s name, and she didn’t spend much time at the bar, knowing how unsafe it was. But the nights when she was there, Enjolras invited her to stay behind the bar, and used his eyes alone to beat back the lions that prowled, obviously interested in the fresh meat. He taught Cosette how to mix a few drinks, how to pour a few kegs, and she laughed like a songbird and she smiled like the sun. Enjolras fell in love, called her “sister,” and was always met with a wink and a “brother” in return.

One night, though, Cosette came into the bar in tears. Enjolras’s smile died when he saw her, and the light in his eyes died when Cosette came to whisper in his ear that her mother had been attacked, and was definitely going to die tonight, and that she’d asked for him.

They closed the bar early, and they closed it together, and Cosette beat a drunk out of the bar herself with a broom she’d swept up with. They raced to the hospital in Enjolras’s car, and he asked permission to roll down the window. Cosette had looked at him with tears in her eyes and on her cheeks and in her heart, and she’d said yes. Enjolras was glad, because he remembered the night air had taken away the hurt in his heart before, and maybe it’d help him again.

In the hospital, he’d gotten into Fantine’s room because he was her son. His heart lurched when he saw her, surrounded by his sisters, all of the barmaids in various states of appropriate dress (one of them still in uniform, crying her eyes out). She called him to her, her voice meek and her face pale, and his heart lurched in her direction. He did what she asked, kneeling by her bed, taking her hands and looking at her face and wishing to a god he didn’t believe in that he could reach across the world and draw the curtains of life closed. The world had stopped spinning, he was sure of it.

From Fantine he learned about a man named Valjean, who she was very close to. He had offered to take Cosette in, she said, and she wished very much for Cosette to go to him, because Valjean was both well-off and humble, a philanthropist, and here, she touched Enjolras’s cheek. He knew the value of money to the blind man, she said, and he knew the value of life. And she wanted Enjolras to go with her, to take care of his sister, and to love her eternally in France.

Fantine died with a chorus of angels around her, the barmaids that Enjolras had grown to know so well, and each and every one of them hugged him and Cosette as they piled all of Cosette’s belongings into the car. Enjolras left his things to the girls, including his love. “Sell my things,” he’d said as he climbed into the car. “You need the money more than I do.” They drove away into the night, and Enjolras was beginning to see a pattern here. He always left and realized he was gone as the night was falling to see dawn rise elsewhere.

(~~~~)

Three days later, they were in New York. One day after that, they were in France.

Enjolras had left his car in a garage in America, sitting and sighing its memories into a rented garage that he’d pool money into until the day he died, because if there was one thing he would never forget, it was how that car had been his only companion, taking the weight of his worries and the brunt of his travels with admirable resistance. Until Enjolras had found someone he loved more, he had never had a greater companion.

Cosette sat sweetly in the seat next to him, her head leaning against a bunched up hoodie as she slept, and Enjolras could see the bags under her eyes, the restlessness of her sleep. Enjolras tried his hardest not to wake her as he headed toward Paris, muttering quietly under his breath and trying to remember, two years later, all of the French he’d learned in his high school classes.

It was enough to stop on a corner in Paris and ask if someone knew where Jean Valjean lived. He was pointed to a nice house at the end of a dead-end road and pulled into the driveway just in time for a man in a nice suit to leap out of the front door. As soon as he and Cosette were out of the car, they were fussed over, the man speaking in heavily-accented English as he checked them over, instantly going for their things and bringing them inside. Enjolras could barely keep up with him, instead grabbing a few of their things if only to ensure the man didn’t single-handedly carry everything inside his house alone.

“I am Jean Valjean,” he said, “and I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to meet you at the airport. I had some business I had to get done, but it’s all over now. Please, please, come inside. Let me show you your rooms.”

And so they took up residence with Jean Valjean, and Enjolras learned more about him as time rolled slowly on. He was a criminal, convicted of certain crimes in his past, but he had since become exemplary, to the point of which even the police chief, an old curmudgeonly enemy of Valjean’s, grudgingly respected him. Having lived many years on the streets after being released from prison, he knew the plight and pain of the poor and homeless, and did everything he could to share in his wealth with others. “This fortress,” he said, knocking on one of the walls, “is just for appearance’s sake.” All of his employees were previously homeless and stayed in servant’s quarters in his home. Valjean ate dinner with them and often held movie nights or game nights. He helped one of his employees, a young girl that reminded Enjolras very much of Fantine, with her ex-husband, having convinced the man to pay child support. Valjean provided healthcare for his employees, and often visited homeless shelters to volunteer and give all the help he could. Enjolras came to respect him, and Cosette came to love him. She called him “papa,” and Enjolras did not.

Every night, he and Cosette took French lessons from Valjean. They picked it up easily and often tested their skills going out shopping, or walking, just listening to others speak and taking in the sights of Paris. Enjolras picked up a job in a bookstore across the street from a coffee shop that Cosette loved, and eventually got a job in. Valjean helped her get into school, and she started her college education. Some nights when Enjolras got home from work and simply fell into bed, she crept into his room and crawled into bed next to him, hugging him tightly and running her hands through his curly hair, soothing him into sleep. They were happy.

Enjolras changed his name to Enjolras and forgot what it was before. It didn’t matter: not anymore. Cosette and Valjean said nothing of it.

(~~~~)

One day he was listening to The Beatles and stocking a few old books in the used section when a pair of college students walked in bickering about Robespierre.

“You have to admit that Robespierre was a madman,” one of them said, his French fluid and elegant, and he was flipping a book over in his hands, reading the back cover. A mess of black curls fell over his eyes, and he had big brown eyes that reminded Enjolras of a few of the bovines he’d seen in rural New York when he’d worked the consignment shop. “Terror to combat apathy is taking two huge steps backward, in my opinion.”

“Robespierre was a believer in the people rather than a believer in the government,” the other man replied, his voice softer and more pensive, and Enjolras noticed that his hair was much lighter. This one wore glasses and a nice dress shirt, and he was thumbing through what looked like a potential textbook. “His methods to combat ignorance and oppression could be seen as radical, but who isn’t, really, when change is involved?”

The black-haired man snorted, batting at the other man with his book. “Sane people,” he replied, and Enjolras dropped his book, moving toward them and rounding the corner, swinging suddenly into view.

“Passion is not a mark of insanity,” he said, his voice firm and alive, and it was clear he was passionate about this subject. The two students stared at him in awe as he continued. “One of Robespierre’s ideals was that the people were not infallible, but they were not intrinsically evil. He was arguing the point against William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies,’ if you’re in need of a more current reference point. ‘Any institution which does not suppose the people good, and the magistrate corruptible, is evil.’ Part of the government’s purpose is to serve the people. Robespierre saw the only way of changing the status quo of the time as violent action, rendering any mistake the government made, however intentional, as inexcusable. There was more at stake than just reputation; it’s the people that have to be thought of.”

The two men stared at him for a moment before the black-haired man furrowed his brows and looked down at Enjolras’s iPod, which sat on the shelf near him. “Is that The Beatles?” he asked.

Enjolras’s own brows met. “Yes,” he replied, and the black-haired man smiled.

Their names, he learned, were Courfeyrac—the dark-haired man with an easy smile and the quick wit—and Combeferre, the studious-looking one who spoke little but whose words meant so much. The two were university students that were taking an infuriating Politics class and they were assigned something on Robespierre. They recruited Enjolras to help them, mostly to “get him out of the stuffy bookstore” as Courfeyrac so kindly put it. They showed him around Paris and talked to him, coaxing him away from his comfort zone. They got him to say all of the things that he wanted to say since he ran away, and they listened, their attention turned to him completely.

“You’re an amazing public speaker,” Courfeyrac said, grinning at him. “Have you thought of going into politics?”

Enjolras laughed bitterly. “Politics and I don’t get along in any country,” he replied. “This one’s probably no different.”

“If not politics, then maybe something a step down,” Combeferre suggested, sipping on his tea. “I don’t think we should leave you as you are. You have some good ideas, Enjolras.”

“I think he’d explode if he didn’t get them out there, somehow,” Courfeyrac joked, nudging Enjolras gently with his elbow.

Enjolras shrugged. “I’d be willing to get a group together,” he said, turning his attention to his tea, still slightly shy and unused to having friends outside of work, hell, still unused to having friends at all. “But I don’t know many people here in Paris.”

“I know a lot of people who would be interested in what you have to say,” Combeferre said, smiling at Enjolras in a way that almost disarmed him and made him feel comfortable. “If I were to gather a bunch of people together, would you hold a sort of meeting? We could see if they wanted to keep this going or if it’s not a good idea.”

Before Enjolras could reply, Courfeyrac piped up with his own two cents. “You can leave crowd control to ‘Ferre and I,” he said. “We’ll take care of the odd dissenters and those who aren’t taking it seriously. All you have to do is talk.”

Enjolras thought about it, staring down at his teacup. He didn’t know if he could talk in front of other people. He hadn’t really tried it besides in private places with two or three people at a time. What if it happened and he just choked in front of a group of people? He would never know, though, if he didn’t at least attempt it. He turned his saucer in circles on the table. There could be no harm in at least giving it a try, right?

“Fine,” he said, looking up and giving Combeferre and Courfeyrac a smile. “You get the people and the location, and I’ll do it.”

“Deal,” Combeferre said, and he didn’t try to mask his smile.

That’s how Enjolras found himself at the Café Musain on a Friday night, loitering outside the door, too afraid to take that final step and go inside to speak his piece. He hadn’t done this at all in his entire lifetime, though he knew that this is what he had been thirsting for. He knew that this was the opportunity he had hopped in his car to find at graduation: a chance to say what he needed to say, a chance to stop being silent and start being loud for what he believed in. He thought about the orphan boy who was alone on graduation and hurting. He thought about the girl who had been touched without her consent and the barmaid who threw up because she was so afraid and powerless. He rolled his head on his shoulders and let the anger from those nights flow straight into his head. He felt like he was glowing with the warmth of his outrage, invincible in the strength of his emotion. Yes, this was it. There wasn’t any topic he was better-equipped to speak about right now.

Enjolras went into the café and was directed upstairs by a barmaid who smiled genially at him. He thanked her with a nod and ascended the stairs. When he arrived at the top, he was surprised to see there was actually quite the group of people waiting. There was a small area set up, presumably for Enjolras to stand in when he spoke, and Enjolras loitered in the doorway for a moment, just observing. There were two men sitting close to one another, holding one another’s hand while talking to two different people sitting on either side of them. Courfeyrac was speaking to one of them, Combeferre looking down at a notebook in his hands and scribbling something. There was another man sitting there, his arms large and crossed over his chest, and next to him sat a man who looked entirely too young to be there. This wasn’t too bad, Enjolras thought. There weren’t as many as he was expecting, and maybe that was good. With much trepidation, he heaved a sigh and stepped into the room.

Courfeyrac looked up, greeting him with a wide smile. “Come on in, Enjolras!” he cried, and the people sitting there looked up at him. Where he would have expected complete stoniness, he instead found accepting smiles and waves, as if they had met him before. “I want you to meet everyone before we get started.” He crossed the room, grabbing Enjolras’s hand and tugging him back with him. Enjolras, helpless but not resistant, followed after him, allowing him to take the lead.

He stopped him in front of the youth, smiling and gesturing to him. “Enjolras,” he said, “this is Marius. Marius is a sophomore at university.” Marius offered his hand, a bright smile coming to his face, and Enjolras took it.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Enjolras,” he said, his enthusiasm reaching his voice. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Courfeyrac. I hope you don’t find me wanting or anything. I’d much like to be a part of this.”

“Assuming it takes off,” Courfeyrac murmured, but Enjolras simply blinked.

“This is not a judgment of your character, Marius,” Enjolras replied. “You’re here to critique me and my arguments. If anyone is to be found wanting, it’s me.”

Marius’s smile dropped, but he nodded, his expression taking on something akin to serious admiration. Enjolras didn’t know why, though he suspected from the look on Courfeyrac’s face that he had something to do with that.

Next, he was pulled to the large man who had his arms crossed in front of him. He didn’t give off any imposing air, though, when Enjolras got to him, but merely one of relaxed acceptance. “This is Bahorel,” Courfeyrac said, giving out his introductions. “Bahorel, this is the rebel I was telling you about, Enjolras.”

“He looks like a rebel,” Bahorel said, though Enjolras didn’t know if he was being sarcastic or not. He took Bahorel’s hand and shook it, and Bahorel’s eyebrows shot up. He glanced between Enjolras’s hand and his face. “You’ve got an arm, rebel,” he said, his tone something else entirely. “You’re not all you seem, are you?”

“Guess not,” Enjolras replied, and he was shuffled off to the next person, which was ironically the pair.

“This is Joly and Bossuet,” Courfeyrac said, and Joly gave a little wave, clasping his hands in front of him. He simply nodded at Joly, having become sort of a master of realizing when people didn’t want to be touched. Bossuet, meanwhile, just extended his hand and grinned, and Enjolras shook it politely.

“You should excuse my not shaking your hand,” Joly said. “I’m studying medicine and I don’t know you that well—”

“Not that your knowledge of people in any way mitigates the affect their germs have on you,” Bossuet interjected, giving Enjolras a grin. “If anybody out of the two of us is going to get sick, though, it’s probably me. I have the worst luck.”

“I don’t carry anything, as far I as know,” Enjolras said, which was met with a laugh from Joly, and an even bigger grin from Bossuet.

Before Enjolras could say anything else, though, he was once again tugged away by Courfeyrac, who pulled him in front of Combeferre. Combeferre looked up at him with a smile.

“Are you ready?” Combeferre asked, and Enjolras gave a short, sharp nod. “I’ve been going over a few things about Robespierre, and I want to have a chat with you after this is over, if that’s okay.” Enjolras nodded again, and Combeferre gave a warmer version of his smile.

“You’ll do fine,” Courfeyrac said, smoothing down Enjolras’s shirt. “Remember, we’re crowd control.” Combeferre nodded his assent, and, feeling more confident, Enjolras moved to his assigned spot. Expectedly, the café quieted, and everyone’s attention turned to him.

Enjolras closed his eyes, thinking about his graduation again, trying to muster some of that anger and heartache from before. He thought of his sister, one of many, who sat in a bathroom crying and afraid to leave because of a man’s hand. He thought of that happening to someone he loved, someone like Cosette—

The rage was enough. He opened his eyes and began to speak, and his words poured like magma from his lips. He spoke sharply, his brow set into a hard line, and up in front of others, speaking his beliefs, he was marble in the storm. He was untouchable, and his words were poignant weapons.

When it ended and his steam had run out, he closed his speech as eloquently as he could, and his ears perked at the sounds of applause. He was surprised to find that he was assaulted with compliments and thoughtful responses, and promises to bring others next time to join them.

“We’re definitely coming next week,” Joly said, squeezing Bossuet’s hand and giving Enjolras a smile.

“I’ll try and bring Feuilly,” Bahorel said, laughing a bit. “He’d love this guy.” He turned from where he was talking to Marius to give Enjolras a smile. “I think he’d agree with you on some issues.”

“I certainly hope so,” Enjolras replied, relaxing a little in the face of his first presentation going so well.

When everyone cleared out after saying copious goodbyes and exchanging a few numbers, Enjolras joined Courfeyrac and Combeferre at their table, sitting down. Combeferre looked up at him, giving him an once-over before fixing him with an approving look. “Everyone seemed to like it,” Combeferre said. “And I noticed discussion at the end was getting pretty active. I think this is going to work.” Enjolras let out the breath he didn’t know he was holding, and Courfeyrac patted his shoulder encouragingly. Combeferre straightened gently and pulled out a pen, flipping his notebook open to a certain page and adjusting his glasses, putting on a serious face save for his smile, which he couldn’t seem to shake. “Now,” he began, “about Robespierre.”

(~~~~)

Enjolras slowly became accustomed to France. He still worked his job at the bookstore, though he did it with much more fervor. Courfeyrac and Combeferre still spent time with him after their classes, getting meals with him and planning things, or simply enjoying one another’s company. Cosette was still schooling, and doing incredibly well, though she occasionally asked Enjolras questions about her homework. She still came into Enjolras’s room to nestle with him in his bed when the day was long or hard, or on the nights when she was thinking about her mother. One night she crawled into his bed to tell him in excited whispers she was thinking about a boy.

“A boy?” he’d asked, and she nodded. He bristled, but in the dark, her joy was immune to his ire.

“He came into the coffee shop in a hurry,” she replied. “He caught my eye and we just stared at one another for a moment before he left. He clearly had places to be, but…” Here, she trailed off, but he gave her a nudge. She huffed, nudging him back. “But he looked at me like I was worth everything.”

Enjolras’s previous annoyance evaporated. A man who looked at a woman like that certainly knew her value. He was less concerned, now. “Do you have his number?”

“No,” she replied, sulking. “He left too quickly. He looked as torn up as I feel right now.” She sighed, flopping onto her back and staring at the ceiling. “What are the odds, meeting your soulmate at the most inopportune moment? What are the odds of seeing them, only for them to be pulled away right after?”

Enjolras wanted to tell her he didn’t believe in soulmates, but her happiness meant more to him than his logic, and it was late at night, and she’d been having nightmares lately. One more pleasant thought among her nest of bad ones wouldn’t hurt anybody. “I’m sorry you missed him,” he whispered instead. “Maybe you’ll find him again.”

She sighed, and the draft ruffled his hair. “Maybe,” she said.

Just as Cosette’s web of connections was expanding, so, too, was Enjolras’s. Over the months, Enjolras’s influence grew. Their group had grown slowly but surely, and Enjolras grew even closer to each member, though he was at his happiest with Combeferre and Courfeyrac.

Combeferre was always there when Enjolras needed a hand, and he took over vice-leadership of their organization (though Enjolras insisted repeatedly that he didn’t claim leadership of their group, but everyone seemed to ignore him on that point). He and Enjolras often hashed out certain issues after and before meetings, usually huddled together. Courfeyrac, however, was always there to lighten the mood when they got too engrossed in their work, whether it be by bringing them drinks that he had mixed himself, or by simply popping into their conversations with a few comments. Enjolras had no idea how he found such great friends just by being a creepy bookstore clerk with a penchant for revolutionaries, but he didn’t want to question it out loud.

Enjolras was formally introduced to Musichetta, the barmaid he’d met downstairs—and, ironically, Joly and Bossuet’s partner—along with several others, such as Éponine, a friend of Marius’s, Jehan, a poet who had found one of their flyers and had instantly fallen in with Courfeyrac, and Feuilly, who came with Bahorel. Together, they came up with a name, something that was both a pun and catchy at the same time. They settled on “Les Amis de l’ABC,” which Enjolras had to ask in a hushed whisper about, because his French was still a little broken, but if anybody noticed, nobody said anything. In the end, Enjolras had ended up liking the name; to be a friend to the downtrodden was all he’d wanted to be in life, and now he’d get his chance to fulfill that.

One particular day when Enjolras was spouting something about drugs and their detriment to health and to society, Cosette had popped in. He’d startled in the middle of his speech when he suddenly saw her appear among the people near the back, and she wove her way up to the front to hand him something—which he realized was his notebook with some financial records he was planning on presenting to Combeferre today after the meeting.

“You wouldn’t have gotten far without that,” she said cheerfully but quietly, using English so only they could hear and understand.

He smiled, leaning in to kiss her cheek. “You’re a saint,” he replied, and she smiled at him, turning to leave and freezing in the spot. Her eyes were glued to something across the room, or someone.

“Cosette?” Enjolras asked, looking between her and where he thought she was looking, which was at Marius, who was staring at her like—no, it couldn’t be, could it?

But it was, because Marius stood, and the look on his face was one of pure awe, and he looked at Cosette like she was worth everything. All of Enjolras’s fears, however miniscule, evaporated. Marius, as far as he knew, was a good man, a hard worker, and was studying to go into Business, so he had his priorities very straight. He attended meetings and usually agreed with what Enjolras had to say; his heart was in the right place, and when they had rallies, as small as they were (for now), Marius was always right beside him, loyal and enthusiastic. He cared.

Cosette needed people in her life who gave a damn.

She stood there, still staring, as he made his way toward her, stumbling a bit over his step and smiling sheepishly. “Hi,” he said softly, very, very softly, and Cosette’s smile bloomed like it hadn’t in a long while.

“Hello,” she said, her French soft and dainty, and Marius, too, smiled. Enjolras, unbeknownst to either member of their romantic party, was also smiling.

In the end, he’d stopped the meeting early so everyone could meet the girl that Marius had been waxing poetic about since he lost her at the coffee shop, and really, if Enjolras had at all been paying attention, he might have been able to bring them together sooner. Enjolras had managed to pull Cosette aside for a moment to give his apologies, but she waved his worries away with a smile and a laugh.

“Brother,” she said, her hands on his shoulders, “you have nothing to worry about. You didn’t know it was him, and you’ve been busy planning your rallies and being Le Ami de l’ABC. And really, I couldn’t be more proud of you.”

He smiled, and it felt like his chest was full of butterflies. He kissed her forehead and she hummed quietly, and they reveled in their sibling moment before Enjolras said, very seriously and in English, “But honestly, Marius is one of the kindest men I know. I’m glad it was him, and not somebody else on the street. You could do much, much worse.”

“I don’t need your approval,” she said in a reproaching manner, but she was laughing. “But thank you,” she added after a moment, giving him a shy smile before she slipped back over to where Marius was sitting, sitting on the arm of his chair and lacing her fingers in his.

“Will you be coming to meetings now, Miss Cosette?” Bahorel asked, and Enjolras cocked his head, wondering the same thing.

“If it’s alright with all of you,” Cosette replied. “I’d love to be a part of my brother’s work. He’s very passionate about it, you know.”

“Oh, trust us,” Feuilly said, a grin on his face. “We know.” Everyone laughed a little at the comment, Enjolras included.

The meeting ended with all of the Amis wandering out into the night to celebrate newfound love, with Éponine staggering in the opposite direction, already drunk and a little upset, though she wouldn’t say why.

“Should you be going off alone?” Cosette had asked her, looking concerned, and Éponine simply turned to her and shrugged.

“I’ll call a friend, if it makes you feel any better,” Éponine replied, her voice dull and slurred, and Cosette had enthusiastically insisted she do so. Enjolras lingered with Cosette, wanting to be sure that Cosette didn’t have to walk to the bar alone, and Éponine made the call. She only had to ask once, and it seemed the person on the other end of the line was adamant, because she kept asking them “Are you sure?” and saying “You don’t have to,” to which they seemed to respond overwhelmingly with friendly concern.

It took only ten minutes for a taxi to pull up and a man with dark hair to climb out, walking up to Éponine and checking her. “Are you okay?” he asked, his voice low. “We can go to mine, if you want.”

“Got any liquor?” Éponine asked, and he smiled a world-weary smile.

“Do I ever not have liquor, Ép?” he asked. “Come on. We can talk about it in my apartment. Or we can sit on the couch watching Disney movies and complaining about how attractive Scar is, and how that shouldn’t be possible because he’s an animated lion.”

She smiled, but it was bogged down by sadness and possibly her alcohol intake, and she turned to Cosette and Enjolras, giving them a slight wave. “Thanks for sticking around, guys,” she said, though it didn’t sound terribly much like she meant it. The man with black hair looked at them, taking them in as if he hadn’t noticed them there.

“Of course,” Cosette replied, and Enjolras simply gave her a nod. “If you aren’t feeling better by next week, don’t let Enjolras drag you to the meeting. He’s bullheaded and stubborn, but don’t let him make you do anything you don’t want to.”

Enjolras gave Cosette an affronted look, which she simply pat his shoulder at, clearly ignoring his outrage. The black-haired man simply gave them a strange look, his gaze lingering on Enjolras before he turned to Éponine and said, “Come on,” wrapping an arm around her shoulder and helping her into the taxi. Then, he got in, and they disappeared down the street.

“Let’s go meet up with the others,” Cosette said, taking Enjolras’s hand and tugging him down the street toward the bar that they had disappeared into. Enjolras couldn’t stop thinking about the dark-haired man and the strange look in his eyes.

He woke up the next morning with questions about the dark-haired man who had stolen Éponine into safety for the night, and also a few angry text messages in the group message he shared with the group about their hangovers. Cosette burst into his room after he spent half an hour just lounging in bed, demanding that he come speak French with her over breakfast, and he forgot about the dark-haired man for a while.

(~~~~)

Next week, he was asking everyone to help him set up for a rally pertaining to homelessness, and they were scouting prospective areas in which to hold the rally, staring at a huge map set up at the front of the room, when the door to the stairs opened. Éponine walked in, looking more like herself than she did last week, and behind her walked the dark-haired man. Their eyes were on their shoes and they took a seat at one of the back tables, setting their bottles, which Enjolras just noticed, on the table in front of them. He didn’t say anything, instead going back to his work.

“We could always use the quad at school,” Jehan suggested, stopping in his weaving of a bracelet to offer his input. Jehan loved to keep his hands busy, and he was always doing something with them. His optimism seemed to stem from his ability to create, it seemed.

“It would have good publicity and it’s right on the street,” Combeferre added, looking at the map. “We can draw attention to ourselves and maybe gather some passers-by if we use the quad. I can ask the student association if they’d give us a license to do so. It seems promising.”

“You’re also prone to attack that way, I hope you know that.”

Enjolras looked up from the map at the dark-haired man, who he had no doubt had made the comment. “Attack? Who would attack us when we’re simply trying to raise awareness about homelessness?”

“Well, for one, those who don’t believe in welfare,” he replied, setting his bottle down and leaning forward, placing his elbows on his knees and looking up at Enjolras from his position. “For another, simple douchebags. You have to account for the majority of the male population in a college consisting of those who don’t think much about others. It is a time of self-absorption. We perpetuate the situation as being ‘our time’ without pressing that it is also a time for self-growth. As a result, people become douchebags, particularly entitled men who can afford university.”

“Do not discount the female ability to be a dick,” Cosette said from where she sat next to Marius. “We are self-absorbed as well, and that stereotype is also perpetuated in female regards as well. We could say that the young are generally self-absorbed, but I don’t think the curtain falls over just one sex.”

“Not to mention that curtain doesn’t fall over everyone,” Enjolras said, looking back at the dark-haired man. “I have faith that people won’t do that. Not when all we’re trying to do is help.”

“Faith,” the dark-haired man said, drinking from his bottle, “is wasted on humanity.” It all spiraled down from there.

After the meeting, when everyone was gone save for Courfeyrac, Combeferre and Enjolras, Enjolras was still staring at the door where the dark-haired man had left. His mind was swirling with rebuttals and retorts against his arguments, his thoughts teeming with facts and figures that could pull apart his words. He wanted to make him eat them. He wanted to make him choke on them. He wanted to make him see.

“Who was that?” he asked, and Courfeyrac laughed a little.

“Calm yourself, Enjolras,” he replied, patting him on the shoulder. “I can hear your teeth grinding from here.”

“That was Éponine’s friend, Grantaire,” Combeferre replied. “I think he’s the only one out of us who isn’t in university besides you and Feuilly, Enjolras.”

“He’s the only one who doesn’t seem to hold our beliefs,” Enjolras said, still staring emptily at the door, and Courfeyrac put his hand on his shoulder, drawing his attention. Courfeyrac looked concerned, though Enjolras didn’t know why.

“Do you want me to ask him not to come anymore?” Courfeyrac asked, and Enjolras’s brows furrowed.

“Why on earth would I want you to do that?” he asked. “This is good for us. We need a dissenting point of view if we’re to tackle a problem properly.”

There was a slight pause before Courfeyrac smiled, sliding his hand away from Enjolras’s shoulder. “If you say so,” he said, and Enjolras was too busy looking back at the doorway with a pensive expression to notice Combeferre’s knowing look and small, secretive smile.

(~~~~)

They hosted rallies with growing frequency as the weather got better and the school year was growing closer to its end. The university crowd reacted pretty well to their rallies, taking up some of their causes and starting small movements within campus, and Enjolras could feel hope rising like a blackbird beneath his breastbone. He grew even closer to his companions, occasionally going to visit them at work or to hang out with them after hours. Cosette was going on more dates with Marius, and loving every moment of it.

“He’s so sweet,” she hummed quietly, gently stroking the petals of a flower he’d bought her. Enjolras wasn’t sure exactly what flower it was, but Cosette had told him it was a carnation, so he believed her. “He took me to this sweet flower shop that Jehan runs after school and he asked me what flowers I wanted. All I wanted was this carnation, though, so he got it for me. He makes me feel like my life hadn’t started until just now.” She stopped for a moment before looking up at him from where she was resting her head on his collarbone. “Are you happy here? I know you didn’t have a happy life before you came to Texas, and even while we were in Texas, you were so quiet about where you came from.” Her eyes were downcast again. “I just want you to be happy.”

He had to think a moment about whether or not he was happy. It wasn’t as easy to answer as he thought it would be. He thought of his phone sitting on his nightstand, buzzing occasionally with messages from Courf, or from Combeferre, or from one of the assorted Amis asking if he wanted a coffee tomorrow, or if he was interested in watching a movie, or if he needed anything from the store, because they were heading that way and he could just pay them back tomorrow if the need arose, or if they needed to do anything for the next rally or the next meeting. He thought of the other phone that sat untouched at the bottom of his dresser, the one that he had turned off roughly a year ago. He thought about whether or not it was still full of text messages from his parents, or missed calls from people he used to know before he disowned his previous life.

He thought about Cosette and Valjean, his new family that he loved dearly but barely said as much to. He thought of his job at the bookstore, about the days when he’d use his lunch hour to pop onto campus with lunch for the Amis when midterms were coming, the joyful looks on their faces when he presented them with food. He thought of laughing at Courfeyrac’s jokes, of conversing quietly with Combeferre over tea or coffee, of Bahorel’s booming laughter and Feuilly’s quiet strength, of Marius’s open enthusiasm and Cosette’s infectious happiness, of Jehan’s caring nature and Joly’s doting concern, of Bossuet’s easygoing laxness, of Éponine’s striking character and Grantaire’s contrary opinions that left him thinking for hours afterward. He thought of their hardworking cooperation as a rally rolled on, rain, sleet, hail or unforgiving sun, and he thought of their smiles when they got it right, and their optimism when they got it wrong.

He thought of how he couldn’t do this without all of them.

“I’m happy,” he replied, looking back down at her, and her lips split in a grin. It was more than enough for him.

(~~~~)

Enjolras had learned a ton about his fellow Amis by now, enough to know two things about planning a rally; just in case, he had to create up to three contingency plans, and he always needed to avoid hospitals.

The first time a rally had gone badly, it had gone so badly that Enjolras had ended up bleeding in Joly’s apartment with the rest of the Amis around him in various states of injury, with the smallest injury just being some bruised knuckles and the most severe injuries actually belonging to Enjolras. That was the day they’d decided to tackle having a MOGII rights rally and to bring awareness to violence due to identity. It was also the first time they’d had a rally in a more public place than the university.

Enjolras was on a makeshift stage, giving his speech with as much fervor as he could muster despite the hot sun and the large crowd (larger than any they’d ever had, according to Combeferre), when he heard some dissenting shouts from the crowd. One man, a particularly burly man, had spoken so loudly that other people had turned to him, and Enjolras knew he had to address the man instead of ignoring him, because he clearly wouldn’t be ignored any longer.

“We shouldn’t have to cater to the needs of fags,” the man had said, his words inspiring varying degrees of attention from the audience.

“It isn’t catering,” Enjolras said, looking directly at him. “It’s allowing them the same rights that you have. I assume you are a heterosexual cisgendered man, am I correct?”

“I don’t care what the fuck you think I am,” he replied, growing louder. “The fact of the matter is, marriage is a thing between a man and a woman, and no amount of fairies asking nicely is going to change that. It’s the way it’s always been.”

Enjolras felt the familiar prickle of annoyance in the back of his mind. “Traditions do not always work well for the people as a whole,” Enjolras replied. “You could recall the traditions of the English government, for example, during Industrialization. You could clearly see that if they hadn’t made reforms to their traditional laws, many men would have died working in the mines with no compensation being paid to their families.”

“But those were men,” the man said, folding his arms. “Hard working men deserve their dues, not little faggots prancing around and asking for it without earning it.”

“How does one earn the right to marriage, then?” Enjolras asked. His skin was prickling, and he could tell he was frowning. He was having trouble reigning in his thoughts, his instinct just telling him to do as he once did in the bar a year ago.

“By fucking working and making a living,” the man replied. “By getting a woman to love you and say yes.”

Enjolras had had enough. He crouched, resting his elbows on his knees and holding the mic. “First of all, you earn marriage through mutual respect and trust, as well as mutual love and a working relationship. You do not ‘make’ a woman, let alone anyone, love you. Second of all, MOGII people, including homosexuals, which seem to be your specific enemy here, have jobs. They are in no way different from the heterosexual workforce. Their interests do not differ from yours. They, too, want to marry, whether it be for love or for the benefits. They want to raise families, too, and they have that right. I believe the thing with which you hold issue is that your society-constructed sense of masculinity is being threatened by those who are different from you. Your lashing out on this subject is clearly due to your ignorance and misplaced sense of masculinity—”

At which point the man, being close enough to the stage, had actually grabbed Enjolras by his ankle and pulled him off the stage. Enjolras could only hear the loud feedback from the mic as it hit the stage as the man hauled him off the ground by the front of his shirt. Enjolras’s head was spinning from where it hit the ground, but he gripped the man’s wrist with his hands, twisting the skin as hard as he could in two different directions—Indian burn, he remembered it well from his youth—and the man growled, his hand shooting away from his shirt. He did, however, manage to pound Enjolras with his free hand, sending him sprawling back to the ground.

Enjolras heard his nose crack for the second time in his life, and he retorted by getting back up, grabbing the man by his shirt and headbutting him, the satisfying sound of his nose crunching underneath his forehead music to Enjolras’s ears. Enjolras was by no means a violent man, and tried to avoid violence when he could, but when people attacked him or his loved ones first, there was little he could do to refrain from attacking back.

He felt a hand tugging on his arm from his left, and he turned to see another man there, clearly friends with the other guy. He was bodily tugged away from the man’s shirt by this new adversary, the second man’s arms wrapping around him and squeezing him. Enjolras grunted, his nose bleeding on the man’s arm, before he was suddenly dropped. The man behind him groaned, scrabbling uselessly at the arm around his neck, choking him from behind. Bahorel was laughing, pulling him to lean back so far he lost his footing, unable to hold himself up properly and relying on Bahorel’s weight to keep him up. It was either choke or fall, and Bahorel wasn’t giving him long to make his choice.

Enjolras had to turn his attention to the main problem, who was trying to kick him from where he was on the ground. He actually caught his shoulder, and Enjolras groaned, could already feel the bruise forming on his shoulder as he shot up, gripping it and hissing, baring his teeth at him. The man swung for him, but he ducked, the days at the bar coming back to him easily. He stood up straight, but the man was staggering from a particularly aggressive shove from his right, and there was Grantaire and Feuilly, Grantaire cursing in Spanish and moving closer to Enjolras as the man turned to Feuilly, swinging at him. It was a haymaker, flimsy in its execution, and Feuilly easily swept out of the way, instead delivering a nasty slap to the man’s face before knocking the wind out of him with a fist straight to the diaphragm. The man heaved, buckling onto the ground like a rag doll and clutching his stomach.

Grantaire turned to Bahorel, yelling at him to put the man down, and Bahorel obliged, the man falling to the ground and coughing a fit. He still punched the side of Bahorel’s knee, though, and Bahorel reeled into the stage, leaning against it and grimacing. Grantaire stepped over the man, one leg on either side of his stomach, pulled him up by his collar, and punched him so hard that he collapsed, unconscious, to the ground.

That was when they heard the sirens, and then it was their group racing through the streets, trying to avoid being stopped by the police. They had all split up in their haste, which was a good idea, looking back at the situation. They ended up all texting one another, deciding to meet up at Joly and Bossuet’s, because Joly was “worried sick about Enjolras, he hit his head and I heard a smack and I’m worried sick, you idiots could have been beaten to a pulp,” as he had so eloquently put it.

Half an hour later, everyone was there, some of them leaning in close and watching as Joly re-set Enjolras’s nose with a sickening crunch and a gurgling groan from Enjolras. “Serves you right,” Joly said, his voice clipped as he dabbed antiseptic on a small cut in Enjolras’s forehead, presumably from the headbutt, which was so hard it had actually split his skin. “I don’t know what you were thinking, Enjolras, but baiting that man was not the answer.”

“He was baiting me, if anything,” Enjolras retorted weakly, but he was too busy closing his eyes and reminding himself that the human tolerance of pain was higher than people generally thought it was.

“I thought it went pretty well, all things considered,” Bahorel said, but all he had was a sprained knee and raw skin on his arm. “I feel kind of glad it happened. Made me feel useful.”

“What are you talking about, Bahorel?” Combeferre asked from where he was seated at the table readying a few stray bandages for Bahorel’s knee, his brow furrowed. “You’re useful to us all the time.”

“Yeah, but it isn’t necessarily in my strengths, now is it?” he replied, folding his arms. “I’m good at physical stuff, like heavy lifting, and I can set up a pair of speakers for the rally, but that’s about all I feel useful doing. Knowing I’m Enjolras’s bodyguard makes me feel so much more important.”

“You’re not just my bodyguard,” Enjolras said, looking at Bahorel. “You’re everybody’s.” He turned his gaze to Feuilly and to Grantaire. “And same with you two. If it hadn’t been for you three, I would have easily been beaten.”

Feuilly smiled, but Grantaire snorted, flexing his bruised knuckles. “You were already beaten,” he said, nodding at Enjolras’s various injuries. “We should’ve gotten to you sooner.”

“The crowd was thick, Grantaire,” Jehan said, putting his hand on Grantaire’s shoulder in a reassuring gesture that seemed slightly out of place to Enjolras, but nobody commented on it. “Nobody blames you for not getting to Enjolras in time. Besides, nobody knew he was going to get pulled off the stage, did we?”

Bossuet laughed. “No, we certainly did not,” he replied. “And I’m sorry for laughing, but oh my God, that was easily one of the funniest and most horrifying things I’ve ever witnessed. Enjolras was there, and then he just…” he mimed a magic trick with his hands, “vanished, right into thin air.”

“He slid off the stage is what he did,” Joly grumbled, working at a cut in Enjolras’s lip.

“It was incredible,” Courfeyrac said, his voice sounding far off, and he was staring off into space, as if he was reliving it over and over again. Enjolras didn’t know if he was doing it because of shock or because he wanted to see it happen again. Enjolras wouldn’t be surprised if it was the latter.

“Bahorel, if you’d sit, please,” Combeferre said, tapping on the table, and Bahorel obliged, slowly raising himself to the table, grunting as he put pressure on his knee. “I’ll wrap this right up and it should work itself out.”

Marius, who had been chewing his lip pensively and leaning on a wall out of the way, finally spoke up. “I don’t know,” he said, his tone dubious, “you seemed to be able to hold your own pretty well, Enjolras. I don’t think they would have taken you down without more of a fight.”

Before Enjolras could retort, Éponine spoke, too. “I noticed that, too,” she said, giving Enjolras a look like she was proud of him and pleased with him all at once. It was honestly horrifying. “Where did you learn to fight, Enjolras?”

Enjolras didn’t know exactly how to respond. He hadn’t really told any of them about his previous life, so none of them really knew save for Cosette, who was there for a part of it, and Courfeyrac and Combeferre, who knew he was American, but that was about it. He didn’t even know if they knew his birth name wasn’t actually Enjolras. He looked up at Cosette, who was standing next to Marius, chewing the edge of her thumb, her face pale and her eyes trained on Enjolras, as if waiting for his next move.

“Would you believe me if I said the American South?” he replied, and Éponine’s eyebrows shot up.

“No shit, really?” Bahorel asked, wincing a bit as Combeferre tightened the bandage. His knee was a mottled purple that he seemed adamant to ignore.

“Yes,” Enjolras replied, focusing on his knees as Joly gently finished cleaning his wounds. “I worked in a bar for about a year. I wasn’t a bouncer, but I still got into a brawl every now and then.”

“Why?” Feuilly asked, and Enjolras gave him a wry smile.

“Usually, it was because the patrons touched the barmaids,” Enjolras replied. “I wasn’t going to stand by and let them get hurt. They were like my sisters.”

Cosette scoffed. “We were your sisters, Enjolras,” she said, grinning at him, though she was still chewing on her thumb. “We still are your sisters.”

Enjolras smiled at her, pleased with the admission. He was so distracted he didn’t even notice Grantaire disappearing through the doorway until Bossuet called for him.

“Where you going, man?” Bossuet asked, and Grantaire turned, giving Bossuet a look that bespoke both panic and tired resignation.

“I gotta go,” was his only response, and then he disappeared through the door.

“I’m going to go check on him,” Jehan said, coming to a stand from where he sat on the arm of one of Joly’s chairs. “He doesn’t look too good.”

Éponine was already moving toward the door. “Me too. Thanks for everything, guys. Meeting next week?”

“Of course,” Combeferre replied from in front of the table. “Just post-mortems, no need to put on war paint or anything.”

Éponine sighed with mock relief. “That’s a good thing,” she replied, and with that, she and Jehan swept out the door.

Joly put down the gauze he had clipped, evidently pleased with his patching up of Enjolras’s visage. “If you do this to me again without warning or without taking more cautions as to who you piss off,” Joly said, his voice low and his hands on Enjolras’s cheeks, “I will murder you myself.”

Enjolras would’ve smiled if he could see any ounce of mirth in Joly’s eyes, but there wasn’t any. “Duly noted,” he said quietly.

Joly smiled, suddenly calm again, and then turned to Feuilly. “Come here,” he said, patting the sofa next to where Enjolras sat. “I want to check your knuckles.” Feuilly obeyed him without hesitation.

(~~~~)

“I have never seen a crowd react so passionately before!” Courfeyrac said after a rally a few months later, his cheeks red with excitement and his lips split into a huge smile. “That was easily our best rally to date.”

“We must have fundraised at least a thousand dollars for the shelter,” Jehan said, also grinning ridiculously. Enjolras couldn’t tell for sure, but he was fairly certain they all looked that crazily ecstatic. “I can’t believe it.”

“How on earth did you get them to do that, Enjolras?” Bossuet asked. “Your public speaking is like voodoo or magic or something.”

Enjolras didn’t respond, instead just grinning. Bahorel was smiling and laughing when he walked in, trailed by Feuilly, and Éponine and Grantaire walked in not too long afterwards, both of them panting from running, presumably staying behind to wrap up a few things.

“I say,” Bahorel said, throwing his arms in the air, “we fucking celebrate. Let’s go out tonight to dance and get smashed.”

Enjolras’s expression dropped a bit. He was slightly unsure, mostly because he hadn’t really been on the club scene since that one night in Tennessee—

“That sounds fun,” Éponine replied, clearly full of energy she needed to expel. She’d been happier than she was before as of late, and Enjolras didn’t know who or what to attribute it to.

“I’m definitely in!” Courfeyrac said, already buzzing with excitement, and Enjolras could tell this was a lost cause when Courfeyrac turned what he called his “legendary lashes” on Enjolras. “Pretty pretty please come with us, Enjolras? It’ll be oodles of fun, I promise!”

“Who even says oodles anymore,” Enjolras replied, but Courfeyrac’s spirits were not deterred.

“That wasn’t a no,” he said, holding up his finger as if he was making an important point. Enjolras fixed him with a blank stare before rolling his eyes and nodding, and like magic, everyone began heading for the door, Courfeyrac enthusiastically taking the lead.

Combeferre lingered behind with Enjolras as he slipped his coat on. “Are you sure, Enjolras?” he asked, fixing Enjolras with a gaze that seemed all-knowing. Enjolras should have known that Combeferre would take in what habits he kept, and which ones seemed out of character for him. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I’m sure Courf will understand.”

“I’ll be fine, Combeferre,” Enjolras replied. “Let’s text Marius and Cosette and tell them the fundraiser was a success. I don’t want to interrupt their date, but I think they’d want to know.”

Combeferre nodded, already getting his phone out to send the good news.

That was how Enjolras ended up at a club, the music thrumming through the building like the drumming of a million heartbeats, the drinks passed around like magical elixirs, sipped as if they were the finest of potions, like ambrosia from the gods.

Enjolras had finally relented after an hour or two of whining from Courfeyrac to order a drink, and he ordered Fantine’s favorite, watching as the bartender mixed it (and noticing that they were a novice, considering how much of the vodka they splashed in there) before they set it in front of him, smiling at him. He took it with a “thank you” and sipped it, turning to look at the crowd and their dancing. From here he could see Courfeyrac dancing with Jehan, the two enjoying themselves, while Éponine and Grantaire leaned against a wall with Bahorel and Feuilly, the four of them laughing and enjoying the sights. Combeferre wasn’t too far down the bar talking to Bossuet and Joly about something. Everyone seemed perfectly at ease, and pleased with the day, and Enjolras allowed himself to revel in that, if nothing else.

As he drank, slowly but surely the night wore on, and he thought nothing of the way his limbs loosened and his heart was pumping, blaming it on the extra vodka in his drink and the victory song in his heart. He actually joined Courfeyrac and Jehan on the dance floor, enjoying the smile he got from Courf and the laugh he got from Jehan when he decided to let loose. It wasn’t until he started seeing him, him, of all people, out of the corner of his eye that he realized something must be terribly wrong.

He suddenly stopped dancing when he met the tall stranger’s eye, and he recognized above all else the wickedness of his smile and the subtle nod he made toward the drink in Enjolras’s hand.

Enjolras dropped it immediately and ignored the way the glass shattered on the floor as he moved through the crowd, ducking low to avoid being seen above the bodies dancing to the music. He couldn’t stop his jagged breathing to save his life, and he couldn’t help the way he hitched every breath on the back of his throat. He was panicking, trying not to be noticed, because he was in France, he was in France, how did he get into France, how did he find him, how

He burst out into the night air, attempting to breathe, putting his hands on his knees and letting his head loll on his neck. This feeling of nausea rolling over him was somewhat nostalgic, he realized, and the way that he wanted to just run, just get into his car and run, was a feeling he couldn’t ignore. Except his car was in America, and he wasn’t, and neither was Montparnasse, who had drugged him again—and no, he couldn’t be here in France, could he? Enjolras heaved a breath and a sob broke out of his lungs. He didn’t want to open his eyes because he could be waiting for him.

Someone touched his arm and Enjolras actually jumped. His eyes shot wide open, expecting the worst, expecting Montparnasse, but it was just Grantaire, looking at him with a fading look of mild concern that was growing into a greater version of itself. “Enjolras,” he said softly, “it’s just me. Are you okay?”

He didn’t know why he couldn’t stop himself, but Enjolras began to tell Grantaire everything, because a familiar face was all he needed, and he remembered how Grantaire’s fists knocked a huge man out cold, and he needed that kind of safety. “Montparnasse is here, in France,” he said, struggling to get it out around his tears, which he now realized were materializing for the whole world to see. “He’s here, he found me, he followed me from Tennessee, I told him that I didn’t want him but he wouldn’t listen and now he’s here and he did it again.”

Grantaire leaned in low, close to his face, looking deep into his eyes. “Shit,” he cursed vehemently, his eyes clouding at something that he saw. “Fuck,” he said, scraping a hand through his hair. He was nervous and on edge, constantly fidgeting for some reason, and he looked angry. “I need to get you home, Enjolras,” he finally said, and Enjolras’s whole body froze in terror, because he couldn’t go home, because Montparnasse would follow him there, and then he’d see Cosette, Cosette, Cosette

“No!” he cried, grabbing Grantaire’s hands and tugging on them, begging him. “No, Grantaire, please don’t take me home. He’ll find Cosette if you take me home and I can’t let anything happen to her, I’ve worked so hard, please, please…”

“Okay, okay,” he said soothingly, twining his fingers in Enjolras’s hands and looking at him gently, pityingly, and Enjolras was too far gone to analyze his looks. “I won’t take you home. Montparnasse isn’t here, Enjolras. He’s not in France.”

“No, no, he is, I know he is,” Enjolras said, growing closer and whispering conspiratorially, because Grantaire had to know that he was in danger, and that Enjolras needed help, because the car was so far away in the garage and he couldn’t run. “I saw him in the club, Grantaire. He’s here and he’s found me and he still wants me, and I still want to say no. I’m so far away from Tennessee but he found me anyway, and I can’t run away this time, the car’s gone, and I need…” he choked on a sob, “I need…”

Grantaire shushed him softly, pulling one of his hands free to place it against Enjolras’s forehead, and the coolness of his skin was calming and soothing, so much so that Enjolras’s eyes fell shut. “It’s okay,” he whispered, his voice calm and deep. “I’m right here. I won’t leave you alone, okay?” Enjolras nodded, and Grantaire’s hand moved with him. Eventually, though, it fell away, and Enjolras’s eyes opened again. Grantaire was giving him a soft look that was neither happy nor sad, or angry, for that matter, and Enjolras was glad for that. He was tired of people being angry with him. “I’m going to text Combeferre to let him know where we are,” he said, pulling out his phone, “and then we’re going to catch a ride back to my place, okay? You’ll be safe there.”

Enjolras did not like the idea of Montparnasse knowing where Grantaire lived. “What if he comes for me?” he asked, clutching to Grantaire’s sleeve, afraid. “What if he comes for you? I couldn’t live with myself if he came after you because of me.”

“I can handle him,” he replied, clicking the screen of his phone off before putting it back in his pocket. He gave Enjolras a wry smile. “I’m your bodyguard, remember?”

Enjolras smiled, pleased, and he clutched at Grantaire’s arm. “Not just me,” he hummed, not feeling so afraid anymore, but pliably relaxed. “Bodyguard for everyone. Hero to the people.”

Grantaire snorted. “Not a hero,” he replied, but there was something warm in his voice that gave Enjolras pause, and made him smile, too.

The cab ride to Grantaire’s apartment wasn’t long, but all the while Enjolras was clutching at his arm, staying close to his side, knowing that if he stayed near Grantaire, Montparnasse wouldn’t go anywhere near them. Eventually they stopped in front of a building that Enjolras was unfamiliar with, and Grantaire let them in and led him up the stairs, onto the third floor. He easily unlocked the door to his apartment and, instead of just walking inside, he turned back to Enjolras and gently coaxed him in, grasping his wrists so lightly Enjolras could barely feel it.

“Come in,” he said, and Enjolras followed him, allowing himself to be settled onto the couch with relative ease. He sank into the couch, looking around the apartment, unsurprised to find records sitting in a stack the corner, or the easel that was folded up and tucked next to an old entertainment center.

Grantaire reappeared after a moment in front of Enjolras, shaking him from his reverie with his gentle appearance. Enjolras looked up at him, staring at the robin’s egg blue teacup that he had in his hand sitting on a mismatched saucer.

“I made you some tea,” Grantaire said, his voice quiet. Enjolras took the teacup and saucer, quietly thanking Grantaire. He couldn’t feel them very well in his hands, oddly enough, and when he could, they were incredibly heavy and cold. He tried not to think about it too much, instead sipping his tea and looking around the apartment again.

“Are you okay?” he asked Grantaire, noticing he was still hovering over him, though he was looking down at his feet with an expression quite like focused consternation.

Grantaire came back to life with a shake of his head, looking down at Enjolras with a bewildered look. “Am I okay? Enjolras, I don’t know if I should tell you, but you’re not yourself right now.”

Enjolras nodded, his eyes closed. “I know, I’m drugged,” he said, his tone belying the severity of the admission. “I’ve been drugged before. I know how this feels.”

“You’ve been drugged before?” Enjolras opened his eyes, looking up at Grantaire. His face had fallen into something that bespoke heartbreak, though why, Enjolras wasn’t sure.

“Grantaire, why are you sad?” he asked, trying to come to a stand, but Grantaire put his hands on his shoulders, pushing him gently back into his seat. Enjolras followed his lead willingly, but his eyes never left Grantaire’s face. “Did I say something wrong?”

“Did you—No, Enjolras, you didn’t say anything wrong.” Grantaire sounded weary.

“Sit down,” Enjolras said, scooting over on the couch and patting the cushion next to him. “You sound exhausted.”

Grantaire gave him an even look before obliging him, sinking to the couch next to him. His skin radiated heat, especially his bare forearms, and Enjolras gravitated toward it, smiling secretively to himself and sipping his tea. “Thank you for keeping me here,” he said, trying not to smile around his words and failing.

“Of course,” Grantaire replied.

“You could have just left me at the club,” Enjolras said, and Grantaire turned to fix him with an incredulous look. He jerked away from him, putting his teacup and saucer down and fixing him with an honest look. “Well, you could have. I know we don’t get along very well, and I’m always saying stuff that makes you mad, and you’re always doing roughly the same. You could have just left me and it wouldn’t have made a difference.”

“I couldn’t have left you,” Grantaire said, putting his face in his hands, visibly frustrated and perturbed at the thought. “I’m—to just leave you—I’m not a savage, Enjolras.” He turned to fully face Enjolras, his expression earnest. “You couldn’t have fended for yourself out there. I couldn’t have left you, even if we hated each other.”

“You could have left me,” Enjolras replied. “You just didn’t.”

Grantaire glared at him, and Enjolras could tell this was a different kind of anger than the sort he usually inspired in Grantaire. “I couldn’t have left you.”

Enjolras snorted. “You’re making it sound like it’s a physical impossibility.”

“Because it is.”

Enjolras didn’t understand that, and the look that Grantaire had coupled with it was just as mysterious to him. He frowned. “Nevertheless,” he said, turning to face Grantaire. “You could’ve left me, but you didn’t. And I wanted to say thank you for that.”

Grantaire sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “You’re welcome, Enjolras,” he replied. Enjolras realized that he hadn’t really heard his name from Grantaire’s mouth before now, and he quite enjoyed it.

“I like the way my name sounds coming from your mouth,” he said, feeling something like butterflies in his stomach, in his fingertips, in his throat, though he didn’t know what it meant. “You don’t say it often. I like it when you do.”

Grantaire removed his hand from his face, his eyes wide with shock and his mouth resolutely shut. “I wish you weren’t on drugs.”

“I wish I wasn’t American,” Enjolras replied, his mind already elsewhere. “I mean,” and here, he swapped into his native English, “we’ve got something good going for us, being American; we have some of the greatest upbringings in the world, I guess, but that’s why I ran off. I hated being the privileged boy, because it automatically meant I was somebody that I don’t think I am.” He turned to look at Grantaire. “We have some awful prejudices. We don’t admit that it’s okay to be anybody but the middle-class white man. Women are attacked regularly by strangers and people they know alike. There’s racial profiling in law enforcement. There’s strict reprimanding for people of color perpetrating crimes and a slap on the wrist for white people, when white people commit a greater percentage of the crimes. Those with brain disorders are not treated until it’s too late, and then they’re stigmatized as dangerous. Sexuality is black and white, and heteronormativity runs rampant. People are driven to suicide and violence by the actions of people like the one I was supposed to be. I don’t think I could be somebody who supported that kind of thing, like my father did.”

“Enjolras, you’re speaking English,” Grantaire said, very gently, like the way he spoke when he handed Enjolras his tea, “and while I can speak some English, it’s not enough to gather everything you just said.”

Enjolras sighed. “I was just saying that I wish I could be free of who I used to be. I’m trying to rip that part of me out but everywhere I go, it follows me. I can’t forget my father though I haven’t seen him in years, and for all I know the old woman could be dead, and Montparnasse followed me into France.” Here, his eyes welled with tears, and he found it suddenly hard to breathe. “Montparnasse—”

Hands found his, pulling gently, and he awoke as if from a night terror to find Grantaire kneeling in front of him, holding onto his hands and looking up at him. “Hey, hey,” Grantaire said softly, smiling slightly. “It’s okay. He’s not getting into this apartment while I’m here. Breathe for me, okay? Deeply in, through your nose, and out through your mouth.” Enjolras did as he was told, breathing in deeply and exhaling through his mouth. “Good, thank you.” Enjolras looked down at him, at his black hair and his eyes, and he grew suddenly calm at the sight. “How about we go to bed, okay?”

Enjolras’s breath threatened to seize again, but Grantaire stood, pulling him gently to his feet—and where did all of this gentility come from? He had seen Grantaire’s calloused hands, stained with paint and covered in cuts and bruises, and he’d never thought them capable of such softness.

“I’ll take the couch, and you can have my bed. It’s safer.” Grantaire gave him a smile before tugging him toward a certain door. He put Enjolras to bed, making sure he was comfortable, and staying by Enjolras’s side until his eyes slid closed and he drifted into a dreamless sleep.

In the morning, Enjolras woke up to the smell of coffee, his head slightly throbbing and his stomach slightly turning, but other than that, he wasn’t any worse for wear. As he sat up, though, he recalled everything he’d said last night down to the last detail, and stared at the wall in front of him, considering attempting to shimmy his way down the fire escape in the hopes of not seeing Grantaire this morning and subjecting himself to what could only be further humiliation. It was with no small amount of trepidation that he decided to just bear with it, coming to a stand and moving to the door, leaving the relative safety of Grantaire’s empty bedroom.

He was greeted in the kitchen with the sight of Grantaire cooking what could only be breakfast for two, unless Grantaire ate like he awoke from hibernation. The coffee machine had only just stopped croaking, a pot full of pristine black coffee sitting tantalizingly in place. Enjolras could do with a cup of coffee, he realized.

Grantaire turned to the counter behind him, stopping when he spotted Enjolras in the doorway. “Morning,” he said, waving at him with a spatula but otherwise going about his usual business. “Did you sleep well?”

Enjolras shifted his weight between his feet. “I slept well enough, thank you.”

Grantaire smiled, and it was soft and gentle, an echo of how he was last night. “That’s good,” he replied. “Coffee’s ready, if you want to pour yourself a mug.” He jerked his head in the general direction of the coffee pot, and there were two mugs sitting not too far from it that Enjolras hadn’t noticed before. He moved forward, easily pouring himself a mug of coffee before thinking on it and pouring Grantaire’s as well.

“Cream or sugar?” Enjolras asked, and Grantaire let out an absent “hm?” before looking up and spotting Enjolras slipping sugar into his own.

“Oh,” Grantaire said. “No thanks, you don’t have to do that for me. I can get it.”

“You let me sleep in your bed,” Enjolras said, leaning his back against the counter to better level Grantaire with a stare. “It’s the least I can do. Cream or sugar?”

Grantaire sighed, but the look on his face was fond. “Spoonful of sugar, please,” he said, his tone exasperated, and Enjolras obliged him. The serenity of their co-existence was strange. Enjolras never found himself in a room with Grantaire and was able to keep himself from arguing a previously dropped point from an earlier conversation, or without Grantaire bringing something new up that sent him into a frenzy. But now that they were here, at this point, in a room with nothing but silence between them, Enjolras couldn’t help but notice a subtle harmony at play. It was soothing, especially after last night’s ordeal.

He shuddered and sipped his coffee.

“Want eggs?” Grantaire asked, cracking a few eggshells and pouring the contents into a sizzling pan.

“Yes, please,” Enjolras replied.

“How would you like them?”

“Sunny side up, please.”

Grantaire gave him a cheerful grin. “Just like you,” he said, and Enjolras shot him a look and hid himself behind his coffee. There was a brief lull in the conversation then, which even the promising crackle of eggs cooking couldn’t mask. Enjolras knew he had to say something, even if he didn’t know how to say it.

In the end, he decided that being forward was the best way to go about saying anything with Grantaire. “I know Montparnasse isn’t actually in Paris.”

Grantaire didn’t stop moving, but his motions did slow and turn methodic in their nature. “Good.”

“I don’t know who drugged me,” Enjolras said, shooting a sidelong glance at Grantaire, “but I’m thankful that you brought me away from there and let me sleep it off. I could have ended up in a very bad way if you hadn’t helped. So, thank you.”

This time, Grantaire did pause. He turned himself to fully face Enjolras, an honest expression on his features. It was very unlike Grantaire’s usual nonchalant behavior. “You’re welcome. Really.” His brow furrowed, then, and he looked back down at the food he was making. “Though I do have one question, if you don’t mind my asking.”

“Fire away,” Enjolras said, sipping his coffee. He was waking up, now, and feeling more and more like himself with each passing moment.

“When you said that you didn’t think I would have brought you home,” Grantaire said, avoiding looking at Enjolras. “Did you actually believe that?”

Enjolras shrugged. “I didn’t expect anything more from you, to be honest,” he replied, crossing his legs and wrapping his hands around his mug. “We aren’t particularly close, and I’ve never been anything more than an acquaintance to you at the best of times. It certainly wasn’t a predicted outcome.”

Grantaire snorted, shaking his head and smiling down at the eggs. “You clearly don’t know me at all,” he mumbled, and Enjolras shot him a glance.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Grantaire replied, pulling the skillet off the stove. “Sit down at eat something before you go, will you? The sooner we get you fed, the sooner you’ll feel normal again.” He gave Enjolras a winning smile. “Swear to fish.”

Enjolras quirked a brow, but said nothing.

(~~~~)

The next meeting was less eventful than the one previous—that had been spent feverishly planning the rally, which had gone swimmingly, though Enjolras’s spirits had significantly dampened since then—and when everyone walked in, in their usual order though with noticeably larger smiles on their faces, Enjolras barely spared them a glance. He was glad that the possibility of success, even if it was for something so small as raising funds and awareness for a shelter, had so infectiously implanted itself in his friends that they were beginning to see the very edges of his vision: a world of peace and plenty, and capability for every man.

But he was also haunted by the worrisome thought that he had not cut himself so completely from his past as he would have hoped, and so he was occupied, his mind swimming with the blurred hallucination of a tall dark man nodding to his drink, invading what Enjolras had hoped would become his sacred place once and for all. He remembered the old woman’s words and wondered if there would ever be a place in which his shadows could not reach him.

He remained in this deep state of thought, pensively staring down at the table, until a hand landed on his shoulder. He jumped slightly at the contact, turning his head slightly and expecting to see Combeferre or Courfeyrac. Instead he was met with Grantaire’s dark curls and a small, sheepish smile. “Are you alright?”

Enjolras was slightly taken aback, though he didn’t know why, and his breath was sucked in swiftly through his nose before he managed a clipped, “fine,” and watched with a slight feeling of horror as Grantaire’s expression slipped into something more resigned. He didn’t want to be the cause of that, especially when he’d only gotten to know that friendly openness in Grantaire’s face six days ago.

“I’m fine, Grantaire,” he said, schooling his features into something he hoped emulated contentedness. He put his hand on Grantaire’s, noticing the strange color that leaped into Grantaire’s cheeks as he did. “I’m just lost in my thoughts. Don’t let me distract you.”

Grantaire raised an eyebrow, his expression seeming to say “are you serious?” though Enjolras didn’t understand what there was to be incredulous about on Grantaire’s part. Before he could question it, Grantaire simply smiled and murmured, “okay,” before sliding his hand from underneath Enjolras’s and heading to his seat, flopping down and starting a conversation with Éponine and Bahorel.

Enjolras felt a slight tingling on his shoulder where Grantaire’s hand rested, and felt the same in his fingers where his skin had slid underneath his touch. This time, when he became lost in thought, it had nothing to do with Montparnasse, but another person with dark hair who had suddenly become much less infuriating.

(~~~~)

Days passed into weeks, which faded into months, and one day Enjolras was sitting in bed with Cosette, both of them just staring at the phone sitting between them.

“It’s been a year,” Cosette had said, her eyes wide and bright, her cheeks still retaining their pleasant flush, and Enjolras thought she was aging beautifully. A year in France has done her worlds of good. He only hoped he looked as happy.

But, he thought, all things considered, if the first thing he had done that morning was not go through his usual routine, but was instead take out the phone that he had shut off two years ago and stare at it in some kind of morbid fascination, wondering whether or not he should turn it on, he reasoned that maybe he wasn’t as happy as he’d thought he’d been. The incident with the drugs had changed Enjolras again, and he was constantly in doubt as to whether or not he was really free, and if the freedom he craved was even feasible. With a past as broken as his, could he even be redeemed by his ideals?

Cosette was a comforting presence in front of him, her ankles crossed and her eyes bright. She was wearing one of Valjean’s shirts—a huge thing that sported an AC/DC logo, for some reason—and some old, ratty capris made from cotton. Her hair was up in a messy bun. It was the perfect picture of comfort. She didn’t say anything about the phone when she came in, but simply looked at it for a moment before coming to sit in front of Enjolras.

He felt like he owed her an explanation. “I don’t want to turn it on,” he said at length, looking up at her. “I think I’m just looking at it like a portal to a past life.”

She gazed back at him evenly, her face betraying nothing. “Do you think you can’t run away from it enough?”

Enjolras drew his own knees up to his chin, mirroring Cosette’s sitting position. “Feels like it caught up.” He was perusing books of poetry by older poets in the bookstore and looking up older movies on Netflix late at night. He was mixing drinks for Valjean and the staff in the late evenings, his muscles instantly replaying the memory as if he’d done it yesterday. He rarely drank from a glass he hadn’t filled himself. He ducked his head further behind his knees, still focused on that phone.

Cosette was quiet for a moment, and then she let out a world-weary sigh. Enjolras looked up at her in time to see her shuffling across the bed toward him, sitting next to him and resting her head on his shoulder. She looked tired. “The past makes us who we are, Enjolras. It is our experiences that define what we do in the future and how we go about doing it.” She curled her arm around his, and he pulled her closer. It was a subconscious action but it brought him a sort of comforting relief he hadn’t known he’d wanted. “I’m afraid that all the horrible things that happened to you—all the reasons you turned off that phone—are what created the man that I see before me today. The man who saw me and loved me at first sight, who beat back the wolves for me—don’t think I didn’t notice—and the man who took me away from America, to a country we’d never been to, and who has been nothing but supportive of me since I first caught his eye.”

She sighed again, curling closer to him, and he shuffled, gently pulling forward until they were lying prostrate on the bed, facing each other, entangled in one another’s arms. Cosette placed a hand on his cheek, looking at him very seriously.

“You thrive within your anger, Enjolras, and your anger is only fueled by those things that happened to you. I know it because when I first met you that anger was already there; you just hadn’t given it a true voice yet.” She closed her eyes. “And you don’t have to tell me anything that ever happened to you unless you want to, because I know that sometimes we have to keep these things to ourselves. But,” and her eyes opened again, “I want you to know that I have loved you since first I saw you, brother, and I’m glad we’ve both been hurt by life, because it inevitably led me to you.”

Enjolras simply stared at her for a moment before drawing her into his arms, curling around her protectively. She pulled him closer, her arms around him, holding him in a tight but soothing embrace. She fell asleep this way moments later, content in her dreams, and Enjolras made himself comfortable before doing the same.

In their shuffling, the phone was kicked to the floor. It had bounced under the bed. Enjolras forgot all about it.

(~~~~)

Summer faded into fall. Cosette was getting ready to go back to school. Enjolras had gotten a raise after the owner of the bookstore—an older gentleman by the name of Lamarque, who was also a small-time player in government affairs—had come in quite unexpectedly one day and had congratulated, not the manager, but Enjolras for organizing the books. His manager, a grumpy old man by the name of Thernardier, was making gaping faces akin to the expression of a somewhat bewildered fish as Lamarque offered to raise Enjolras’s salary.

“But I’ve been working here for years!” Thernardier said, floundering for the right words.

“And you’ve nearly run it to the ground as you did with your own business!” Lamarque replied, and Thernardier’s mouth flew closed with a slight click. Lamarque turned his attention back to Enjolras, a smile blooming across his wrinkled features. “Is it okay if I raise your salary by two euros? You’ve done an excellent job making this place easy to navigate. I was able to come in here to find William Butler Yeats—for once!” He smiled conspiratorially. “I always pop in every once and awhile to check the place out. That’s my test—if I can find Yeats, it’s still in good shape. And I can see it’s in marvelous shape. I found it nearly instantly.” He straightened again with a laugh. “So what do you say? Two more euros an hour?”

Enjolras was gaping, but he managed to nod. “Excellent!” Lamarque replied, moving toward the office in the back, which was in total disarray (because Thernardier never let Enjolras in there to sort it out). “Come with me and we’ll get it in writing.”

Enjolras dutifully followed, minding to shut the door after they went in to prevent Thernardier from snooping. Lamarque sat down at the desk, grimacing at the disorganization before flipping through the papers until he found the one he was looking for. He pulled out a pen from seemingly nowhere and began to write.

“What’s your name?” Lamarque asked.

“Ah, it’s Enjolras,” Enjolras replied, looking around the office. “E-N-J—”

Lamarque’s head shot up, his grin widening. “The Enjolras?” he asked, and Enjolras was wary at once of the gleam in his eye. “As in the one starting rallies to collect money for poorhouses and directly protesting social issues? The one who staged the rally on the University campus the other day about the despicable use of homeless spikes?”

Enjolras didn’t know what to say, so he said, “Yes.”

Lamarque shot to his feet and enveloped him in a hug, squeezing him with a strength belying his elderly stature. “I’m so pleased to finally meet you!” he said, pulling away with a bright smile. “I’ve been admiring your work for some time now. I have never seen someone so passionately putting themselves at risk in public just to speak out for what they believe in! I’d like to give you some funding,” he said, slightly rambling, “if you wouldn’t mind. I can make your rallies a little bigger, if you can handle it. All I ask in return is that you keep doing what you do. Do we have a deal?”

Enjolras was too busy being shocked at every turn to even come up with an appropriate response to that. His eyes were wide, his heart hammering in his chest. Funding? To expand operations? Les Amis could use an extra push in the right direction to directly influence regional legislation, to expand their reach, and to broaden their impact on the local government. He couldn’t believe it. The little bird in his chest sang and sang and sang.

“My God, really?” he asked, unable to notice how uncharacteristic his sudden reference to a deity was. “You really want to invest in us?”

“Of course!” Lamarque replied, but before he could say any more, Enjolras was beaming and doing a bit of rambling of his own.

“Then yes, yes, of course, we’d love to have your patronage Monsieur Lamarque, you don’t know how much this means to us—”

“Actually, I’m pretty sure I can tell,” Lamarque replied, but there was mirth glittering in his eyes. “Take the rest of the day off. I’m sure you have plenty of Amis to tell, yes?”

Enjolras was already scrambling toward the door. “Of course, Monsieur Lamarque, thank you, thank you!” He flung the office door open, sliding toward the front of the store, grabbing his bag from behind the counter, much to the annoyance of Thernardier, and rushing toward the door. Before he could open it, though, it flew open from the other side, and Cosette barreled into him, gripping him so tightly the breath flew from his lungs.

“Cosette!” Enjolras said, his happiness dying to make room for concern, but when she pulled away, she was beaming up at him, and his smile returned full force. “Has something happened?” It couldn’t have been the funding; she wouldn’t have known, and even if she had, she would’ve been pleased, not ecstatic. Her cheeks wouldn’t have been this flushed, her eyes not this bright, her smile not so wide.

“Marius,” she said, breathless with something akin to wonder, “has just asked me to marry him. And I said yes!”

Enjolras’s heart both soared and fell, but the only one to reach his face was the euphoria that he could feel wafting from her. “Cosette, that is amazing news!” he said, picking her up and twirling her, pulling her close in a hug. “I’m so happy for you! Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” she said, pulling away and fussing with her hair. She was still in her café uniform. “I can’t stop smiling, I feel like an idiot. But he came in and ordered a coffee and used his card for it—he bought me one too, and a bunch of muffins, actually, so the order was over twenty dollars—and when I gave him the receipt for his signature, I turned around to grab his order and when I turned back, the ring was on the receipt and he’d written ‘Will you marry me?’ across the line.” She closed her eyes, wrinkling her nose and smiling. “He said he thought it was a terrible way to ask, but I thought it was so sweet. I couldn’t stop saying yes!”

Enjolras smiled. “That sounds like Marius,” he conceded. It definitely wasn’t the most romantic proposal Enjolras had ever heard of, but it fit Marius so well that he couldn’t think of any way better to propose to Cosette. Besides, Cosette loved it, if her constant smiling was anything to go by. “Come on. We must get home and make some calls. Maybe talk about it while drinking tea. You can braid my hair.”

He tugged on her hand and pulled her out into the street, heading in the direction of home. “Enjolras, you’re in such a good mood!” Cosette replied, skipping to catch up to him but not releasing his hand. “You never let me touch your hair.”

Enjolras thought about telling her about Lamarque, about the huge boost Les Amis had just gotten, about their first political ally, but then he looked at her bright smiling face and could only hear distant wedding bells in his head. No, he decided, he wouldn’t tell her now, not while the bells were still ringing. They weren’t coming from inside him, though. They sounded like they were probably echoing from Cosette’s heart.

(~~~~)

The next meeting, Enjolras decided, could be devoted to Marius and Cosette’s announcement. Cosette, in a show of over-awareness, asked Enjolras if that was okay, because she and Marius wanted to deliver the news to everyone in person. Enjolras could begrudge her nothing, and her joy was infectious, so of course he said that was okay.

That was how he ended up starting the meeting as per usual only to say, “And now I ask that you give Cosette and Marius your full attention,” stepping away from where he usually stood when he spoke. The couple rose to a stand hand-in-hand and made their happy announcement, both flushing pleasantly and sending one another soft, sweet smiles.

Enjolras moved to the back, away from where everyone was crowding around the happy couple, congratulating them and giving each of them hugs, asking questions, and generally being excited for them. Enjolras watched, a small smile tugging on his lips, all the while a sadness brewing somewhere in his heart.

Combeferre sat down next to him. Enjolras didn’t need to look at him to know who it was. “You look pleased.”

Enjolras shot him a grin. “It isn’t hard to be happy for them,” he replied, turning his gaze back to them. “They’re beyond ecstatic. Cosette was smiling for hours after it happened.” They had spent the night talking about what the wedding would be like, and how Marius said that he had come to Valjean to ask for his blessing before asking Cosette. Enjolras knew there was a reason he liked Marius; for all of his romantic pandering, he was a man of honorable intentions.

“You don’t mind giving the meeting over to this distraction, I presume?” Combeferre asked, his secretive smile already belying his knowledge of the answer to that question.

“Not at all,” Enjolras replied, turning to face Combeferre. “I actually have news that I think would best remain between the two of us until the engagement excitement has settled.”

Combeferre raised a brow, and Enjolras took that as his cue to continue. “Les Amis has an official sponsor.” Combeferre’s other brow shot up, his eyes growing wide. “And it’s Monsieur Lamarque.”

“Lamarque? The Lamarque?” Combeferre asked, leaning in closer and speaking in more hushed, private tones. “The philanthropist?”

“The one and only,” Enjolras said, and he launched into his story about how Lamarque was actually his boss, and how he said he admired the work of Les Amis and wished to contribute. “With his funding, we can do so many things we had only dreamed of.”

“We’ll need to get this settled on paper later,” Combeferre said, but his tone was one of agreement. “This is an incredible opportunity.”

“It is indeed,” Enjolras replied, smiling.

Combeferre grinned back at him before looking up and noticing something that made his expression grow softer and warmer. “Opportunity knocks,” he said, his voice barely audible over the voices of their companions, “but who’s to answer?” Then, giving Enjolras a smile, he rose to his feet. “We’ll talk more about this later, in private,” he said, and he moved away, presumably to either go back to his books or get roped into a conversation with Courfeyrac.

Combeferre’s place was taken by none other than Grantaire. He flopped down, flushed and happy in the dim light of the Musain, grinning from ear to ear. “So,” he said, nudging gently at Enjolras’s foot with his own, “Marius and Cosette.”

“Marius and Cosette,” Enjolras replied, his tone suggesting the finality of the statement.

“It seems like romance is in the air,” Grantaire said, and Enjolras looked around. Surely enough, everyone who had a significant other present was cuddling (which, oddly enough, included Jehan and Bahorel, though Enjolras didn’t think there was actually anything going on) or holding hands (Courfeyrac and Combeferre included; again, odd). “Your Cosette and her Marius are quite the infectious pair.”

“She’s not my anything,” Enjolras said, a knee-jerk reaction, but his heart still slumped in his chest, the blackbird strangely quiet even in the face of such happiness. A look of defeat crossed his face, and when he looked up at Grantaire, Grantaire seemed startled.

“You’re going to miss her.” Enjolras felt foolish even as Grantaire said it.

“I know what you’re going to say,” he interjected. “You’re going to say that she isn’t going anywhere, and that she isn’t going to change, and that Marius isn’t going to keep her from me. That missing her is stupid. I already know all of that, so I don’t need it reiterated.”

Grantaire was taken aback. “I wasn’t going to say that at all.” Enjolras gave him a withering look. Grantaire’s brow hardened. “I wasn’t. All of those doubts you’re having are not reasons for your feelings to be invalidated. Marriage does change people. You’re allowed to miss someone who hasn’t really gone.”

Enjolras looked down at his hands for a moment before looking back up at him, his gaze a bit softer. “You don’t have to say things just to make me feel better.”

“I’m not just saying stuff to make you feel better, Enjolras,” he said, and Enjolras remembered the night he was on drugs, how nice it had felt to hear his name coming from Grantaire’s mouth. It still sounded lovely. “I’m saying it because it’s the truth.”

Enjolras didn’t know why, but he couldn’t stop himself from saying, “You don’t owe me anything, especially the truth.”

Grantaire’s laugh was unexpected, all at once light and low. “No, I don’t owe you anything,” he agreed, and then he gave Enjolras another cryptic look, the same one he’d given him right before he’d said he wished Enjolras hadn’t been drugged. “But you deserve it.”

Enjolras didn’t have enough time to ask what he meant before Grantaire rose to his feet and moved away. Feuilly sat down next to him and started a rousing discussion involving wedding politics. Enjolras wasn’t able to catch Grantaire later at the end of the meeting, either, because Grantaire had gone home early.

Enjolras walked home with his arm around Cosette’s shoulder, listening to her hum something and feeling her playing with the tips of his fingers as they walked. They didn’t say a word to each other, their minds strangely elsewhere.

(~~~~)

Courfeyrac was in charge of the bachelor party. Naturally, nearly all of Les Amis were invited.

“I won’t come,” Jehan had said, causing Courfeyrac to frown and whimper pathetically, Bahorel nudging him none-too-gently with his foot to get him to stop. “I’ve been invited to Cosette’s bachelorette party, and I think I might enjoy that more.”

“Why? The company’s sweeter?” Feuilly asked, and though the question seemed loaded, everyone knew that Feuilly was one of the few Amis who would ask something like that out of genuine curiosity, and not to poke any fun.

“No, not exactly,” Jehan replied, a secretive smile on his face. “The alcohol is nicer.”

“You have no idea what I have planned for drinks!” Courfeyrac said, put out. “Ye of little faith!”

“If it’s a cocktail of various alcoholic beverages placed inside one incredibly huge pitcher and served Russian roulette style, then yes, I do know what you have planned for drinks.”

Courfeyrac remained oddly quiet, and Bahorel and Grantaire laughed.

Enjolras was shaken from his reverie (which was, coincidentally, fixed on Grantaire’s throat) by Combeferre dropping a sheet of paper in front of him. He shook his head, looking at Combeferre, who was smiling a smile that said he knew something Enjolras didn’t. Before Enjolras could ask, though, Combeferre looked down at the paper and pointed something out.

“Lamarque sent his numbers over to me today,” Combeferre said, “and we drew this up. Take a look at the total funding for rallies alone.”

Enjolras did, and his eyebrows arched even higher. “Holy shit.”

“Numbers like these mean Lamarque is serious about this,” Combeferre said, folding his hands in front of him. “I assume he isn’t just leaning on us in good faith. We must have done something. We must have caused a ripple somewhere.”

“All he told me was that he was a fan of Les Amis and the work we do,” Enjolras replied. “He said us bringing exposure to overlooked social issues was what he admired us for.”

“What social issues have we advocated for recently? Anything in particular that seems like Lamarque would take notice of it?”

Enjolras racked his brain, trying to think of all the issues they’d pressed—and they’d pressed many, if he was going to be honest, possibly too many to narrow down. He thought back to Lamarque, to the conversation he’d had with him in the office—

And suddenly it seemed to make sense. “Homelessness. When we talked, the issues he brought up were those of the homeless.”

Combeferre smiled, nodding to himself and scratching something down in a memo notebook he seemed to carry with him everywhere. “Maybe we should press that issue, then, if it means so much to him. He is, after all, extremely involved in politics, especially when it has to do with welfare. He pays a good deal of attention to those who are in need. Maybe we should give him help with that.”

“It seems like a good idea,” Enjolras said, his brow furrowing, “but we shouldn’t forget our own goals, Combeferre. As much as advancing Lamarque’s agenda will give us an edge, particularly where financial issues are involved, I don’t want that to become our primary focus. We’re still working on another MOGII rally, and there’s been animal rights issues that we wanted to look into. Les Amis isn’t going to change just because we’ve got Lamarque behind us. He only asked that we continue doing what we do, and I assume that also means how we do it.” Enjolras leaned forward, lowering his voice. “How about we try functioning by our usual methods and see if he expresses any displeasure? If he doesn’t, it can be safe to assume we are fine.”

Combeferre looked at him for a moment before nodding, closing his notebook. “Alright,” he said. “We’ll see how this goes. I hope you don’t think I meant that we should abandon our beliefs entirely to cater to Lamarque’s. I just don’t want to risk losing this opportunity.”

Enjolras smiled. “I never thought you meant that, Combeferre,” he replied, and Combeferre’s lips broke into a sheepish grin.

“Enjolras, my darling,” Courfeyrac said, moving forward and embracing him from behind, his head resting on his shoulder. “The light of my life, my shining star—”

“What do you want, Courfeyrac?” Enjolras asked, ornery, though there was the slightest bit of amusement in his voice.

“Can a man not just compliment his incredibly attractive friend without any ulterior motives?” Courfeyrac asked, sounding affronted, and Enjolras smiled, putting his hands on Courfeyrac’s arms and holding him there.

“A man can indeed do so,” Combeferre said from across the table, his eyes gentle with mirth, “but rarely do you do so, Courf.”

“Combeferre has his grumpy face on today,” Courfeyrac murmured into Enjolras’s ear, garnering a laugh from him. “Anyway, I was just wondering if you were up for going to Marius’s bachelor party. I haven’t asked you yet because usually you’re the definition of ‘party-pooper.’”

“I am not!” Enjolras replied, indignant, looking to Combeferre for confirmation. “I can be fun, can’t I?”

Combeferre scratched at his neck and looked away, taking in the worn interior of the Musain, and Enjolras gaped at him. “Combeferre!”

“Combeferre is many things, but a liar is not one of them!” Courfeyrac said, grinning. “Come on! Come to the bachelor party! I know it’s in a few weeks, but the earlier I get your answer, the better I can make the party!”

Enjolras rolled his eyes. “How, by adding all of the things you’ve always wanted me to do to the list of things to be done at the party?”

“How did you know? You’re such a smartie.”

Enjolras had to refrain from rolling his eyes again. “I will be attending the engagement party, if that makes any difference,” Enjolras said. He obviously had to, considering that Valjean was throwing the engagement party, being the family of the bride. Not to mention he was Cosette’s brother. It was only appropriate for him to be there.

Courfeyrac groaned, his arms loosening around Enjolras’s shoulders. “But that’s so bland,” he whined, “and nondescript, and… There won’t be any strippers! Will you deny me that one moment that I wish for in my life where I can just stare at you in a room full of strippers?”

Why,” Bossuet said, threatening to bust a gut, “is that a fantasy of yours?”

“You are in no position to question me, Mr. The-Lovers-Three,” Courfeyrac shot back, and Joly put his face in his hands. Bossuet just laughed harder. “C’mon, Enjolras,” Courfeyrac pleaded. “It will be fun for the whole family.”

“Strippers aren’t child-friendly,” Bahorel said, holding a hand up in the air. “I can testify that.”

Feuilly shot him an incredulous look. “What—”

Anyway,” Courfeyrac interrupted, looking at Enjolras again. “Your presence will be sorely missed at the bachelor party if you don’t come, Enjolras.”

“Then I’m afraid I’ll just have to be missed,” Enjolras replied. “It really isn’t my cup of tea, Courfeyrac.”

“You don’t even drink tea, Enjolras,” Courfeyrac groaned, taking issue with every part of Enjolras’s argument.

“I drink coffee, though,” Enjolras said. “So it’s not my cup of coffee, then, if you’re taking issue with my usage of metaphors.”

“Cup of tea would have made sense in either context,” Combeferre added, but Courfeyrac was already giving wheedling whines into Enjolras’s ear, and Enjolras blindly swatted at him, his face pinching in mild annoyance.

“Oh, you like your coffee in such a specific way, Enjolras. With x amount of cream and x amount of sugar—”

“No cream, two sugars,” Grantaire interjected, and Enjolras’s gaze shot to him where he was scribbling madly on a napkin, clearly struck with an idea. He remembered how Enjolras took his coffee? He didn’t know why that set butterflies loose in his stomach, but it did. The blackbird in his chest chirped a little, and he felt warm all over, as if he’d been left in the sunshine.

Courfeyrac didn’t notice, or didn’t care, continuing on with his tirade. “And my brand of ‘coffee,’ if that’s what we’re calling it now, isn’t specific enough for your tastes?”

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate your ability to party, Courfeyrac,” he said, patting at Courfeyrac’s arm gently. “It’s that I’m not that kind of party person. Believe me, I’d love to be a part of your frivolity. But I’m not cut out for it. I’ve tried, though.”

Courfeyrac was silent, then, and Enjolras realized by the looks on Combeferre and Grantaire’s faces that he might have cut too close to the Montparnasse thing, which—he’d actually forgotten for a bit, actually, too focused on Grantaire remembering how he took his coffee to really realize what he was implying.

“It’s okay,” Courfeyrac mumbled in his ear, shaking him from his reverie. “I still love you,” he said softly, a smile in his voice as he pressed a soft kiss to Enjolras’s high cheekbone. “We’ll just party all the harder without you.” His voice grew a little in volume now, their discussion no longer a softly shared secret between them. He threw his head back, turning away from Enjolras’s ear, thankfully, as he shouted, “Right guys?”

There were whoops and cheers from that end of the room, and Enjolras smiled. Courfeyrac leaned back into his ear and whispered, “You know I was just joking when I was acting angry, right?”

Enjolras smiled. “Of course,” he whispered back, and Courfeyrac gave him one last squeeze before he moved back over to where he had been party planning. Enjolras chanced a look at Grantaire, noticing that he was still bent down over the napkin, but there was a small smile tugging at the corner of his lip.

(~~~~)

Enjolras had been fairly calm about Cosette’s engagement party, having spent a good amount of his time with his thoughts elsewhere. Les Amis, thanks to Lamarque’s funding, had greatly expanded their resources, and were able to print flyers, pamphlets, and had even been able to have a small print created on the university campus to help the student population keep tabs on what they were doing. Most of their support came from the students, some of them getting incredibly involved, but the meetings at the Musain were always consisting of the root members, and Enjolras preferred it that way.

Demonstrations had gone better, rallies had ended less violently (though there was the occasional time or two when Enjolras would either get hit by something or have an attempt made on him, but Grantaire or Bahorel always seemed to be on hand, and Feuilly was always standing by the exit to make sure Enjolras had a getaway plan in case things went sour), and overall, everything was looking a mite brighter than it had before. Enjolras was getting happier by the day.

Of course, when the time came for them to actually celebrate Cosette and Marius’s engagement, he suddenly realized that he wasn’t quite as happy for the couple as he thought he was. In fact, he had a sudden epiphany in front of the mirror, dressed in a fitting dress-shirt and nice slacks, deciding whether or not to roll up his sleeves a bit, that he was absolutely frightened.

Of course, it had to happen as he could hear the door opening and Valjean jubilantly welcoming guests to his home and imploring them to make themselves comfortable, introducing them to the rapidly-growing amount of people in the room. Many of Valjean’s business associates and friends had actually come, and a few political activists had been on the guest list. Enjolras had thought this was a great opportunity to mingle and extend the reach of Les Amis even further, if at all possible.

But now, staring at himself in the mirror, he was thinking about the personal aspects of his future. He felt stupid; surely he should’ve thought about how he’d feel about all of these things, instead of just pushing and pushing and pushing everything he had for the sake of their group. But he hadn’t thought of it until just now, staring at himself in the mirror and looking a lot like his father.

He had his father’s golden curls, the hard shape of his jaw and nose, and his mother’s eyes looked cold settled in the sharp angles of his face. He knew that he could easily pass as the kind of man his father was, the unaffected, cold man who thought of nothing except for the way things looked in perspective to himself, including his family.

Enjolras stood up straighter, his shoulders sloping slightly downward, and he thought of all the ways he wasn’t like his father.

For a start, where his father was all hard lines in his body, Enjolras was slim and slender. His nose curved up gently at the end where his father’s ended in a straight line. His eyes were a bright blue, not cold at all, not when all of the ideas he had hiding behind them were so inspired. He was working to help the people, not trying to keep everything close to the chest, to play it out to suit his benefit.

Enjolras had been all around the country of America, and was now a native to France. He was not going to marry and have a picket fence and two-point-five children, but rather spend his life working to make the lives of others better.

He wasn’t going to tilt his chin up and smile. He was going to tilt it down and fight when he could.

He smiled a little to himself, and left the room.

(~~~~)

All of Les Amis were invited, so Enjolras wasn’t surprised when he finished descending the stairs to see Combeferre engaged in conversation with an older woman he recognized as a councilwoman for the city of Paris. Combeferre seemed to be thoroughly charming her, laughing as she said something, and he turned his head slightly, catching Enjolras’s eye. He smiled at him, excusing himself from the conversation with her, and moved over to him.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Enjolras said, but Combeferre just smiled.

“You looked kind of lost when you came down,” he replied, close enough to be heard above the chatter. “I figured you might want some company.”

“Thanks,” Enjolras replied gratefully, looking around the room. The house was nearly full of people that Enjolras mostly recognized, not from meeting in person, but from newspaper articles and things of a political nature. Valjean could be seen circulating around the room, talking to everyone and sporting a large smile.

“Ah, Enjolras!”

Enjolras and Combeferre turned to find Lamarque approaching them, a smile on his face. “I’m so glad to see you here in the frivolities!” He turned to Combeferre and extended his hand. “You must be Combeferre. My secretary nearly had a hernia because of you.”

Combeferre shook his hand, a good-natured smile coming across his face. “I apologize for my insistence on matters,” he replied, “but I would rather have all the information than rely on flights of fancy.”

“I don’t blame you a bit,” Lamarque replied, nodding sagely. “Especially when it comes to politics and politicians, words are just that; words.” He shuffled his glass between his hands. “So tell me, what is on the agenda for Les Amis next? Your most recent campaign has ended smoothly, I see—no bumps along the road this time.”

“It went better than we could have expected,” Enjolras replied, smiling. He almost wished he had a drink of his own, but his skin crawled at the thought of not pouring it himself. “Right now we want to press animal rights issues. I’ve heard of organizations euthanizing pets that cannot find homes—I think if we bring that to light, we could make enough of a fuss to do something about it.”

Combeferre stiffened, clearly remembering their chat from before, but Lamarque nodded, his smile brightening. “A very noble cause!” he replied, raising his glass. “I’m excited to see how this one turns out. All the best to you, of course.” Enjolras and Combeferre both nodded. “But we shouldn’t talk of business on a night like this!” He turned his smile back to Enjolras. “I believe congratulations are in order, Enjolras. Your younger sister is about to be happily betrothed! It’s a marvelous thing, isn’t it, marriage?” He turned his eye to the crowd. “Look at the happy couple. It’s hard to believe that they’ve come this far, isn’t it?”

Enjolras turned to follow his gaze, and, surely enough, Cosette and Marius were standing, dressed quite wonderfully and holding hands as they were doted upon by both guests and friends and family alike. Most of Les Amis were near them, not knowing many other people in the room.

Enjolras’s heart once again both flew and sank. A sad smile stretched across his face. “I’m glad she’s happy. That’s all that matters to me, sir.”

There was silence, then, and Enjolras turned to look at Lamarque, finding him looking back with a sad smile of his own. It reminded Enjolras of the old woman in New York. “I should wish them all the best,” Lamarque said, and he moved over toward them, not turning back.

Enjolras was melancholy all through the rest of the evening, not taking a drink but desperately wanting something to hold in his hands. Combeferre was near him the entire time as a comforting presence that exuded understanding and support, occasionally laying a supportive hand on his shoulder or, in one memorable case, putting an arm around his waist and pulling him in close. Enjolras hadn’t said anything, instead just resting his head in the juncture of Combeferre’s neck and shoulder and staring off into space.

“Sorry about that,” Combeferre had said afterwards, his hand sliding away from his waist, “but that woman was hitting on you, Enjolras. I don’t think you noticed.”

He hadn’t, actually, far too busy thinking about the future and how stupid he was for thinking nothing would change to notice anything as mundane as some woman making eyes at him. Enjolras didn’t move his head. “I hadn’t,” he murmured, turning his face into Combeferre’s neck. “Thank you.”

Combeferre didn’t say anything, his gaze locked with something in the distance.

At length, Valjean clinked his glass and told everyone to assemble in the foyer. It was time for the toasts.

Enjolras should have felt the slightest bit chagrined by the way he was clinging to Combeferre’s arm, but in his current state, he wasn’t able to fully think about it. Instead, he let Combeferre lead him into the foyer, standing near the family. Valjean raised his glass.

“I would like to say a few words about my daughter,” he said, turning to smile at Cosette, who smiled sheepishly back, lovely in every way, “and her soon-to-be husband.” Marius, too, smiled, giving a smaller, more intimate smile to Cosette and squeezing her hand. “When Cosette joined my household a year ago, I had known that I was doing a service to her mother, with whom I had been very close. But Cosette,” and here he smiled at her again, “has shown me things since that have made me come to realize exactly what her presence has meant to me. She has shown courage in the face of all that has happened to her, and I am entirely grateful that even after all she has seen, she has still given me the chance to become her papa. I could never wish for something more than I already have; Cosette, you have given me even more reason to do good for all, for you have proven to me that you can do the same. Marius,” he looked to the man in question, “you are like the son I might have known, if God had granted me a son. Your hands were made for building, and I can see in you a desire to do good. I have faith that you will take the greatest pains to ensure Cosette’s happiness, and I could not ask for more in that regard, either.” He turned back to the crowd of people, raising his glass. “So I propose a toast, to Marius and Cosette. May your years be full of happiness and joy. To Marius and Cosette!”

The crowd repeated the toast, raising their glasses and drinking. Cosette was glowing, smiling up at her papa, and Marius linked her arm in his, smiling at his wife-to-be.

A few others gave toasts—one memorable person being Jehan, who had written them a poem for their union—and after the final toast, which was Lamarque, who was apparently a close friend of Valjean’s, the guests went back to mingling, and food was served. Enjolras finally released Combeferre’s arm, moving to the back door and stepping out into the night air. Combeferre didn’t question it and didn’t follow.

(~~~~)

Enjolras was leaning against the back railing of the house when he heard the door open and close behind him. Not-so-silent footsteps approached him and a figure leaned on the railing next to him, staring out over the back of the estate and watching the fireflies dance in the tall grass.

“I somehow expected you to be out here alone. You always end up outside when there’s a party going on.”

Enjolras grinned slightly. “I always need an escape,” he confided, not sure where his confidence in Grantaire was coming from but glad for it all the same. “I don’t do well in crowds.”

“You either run off or get punched,” Grantaire replied, amusement in his voice. “There is never a happy medium with you.” Enjolras “hmm”ed quietly, but otherwise said nothing. There was a lull in the conversation. “Should I go?”

Enjolras finally turned to look at him, surprised to see Grantaire looking so good. His slacks hugged his legs elegantly, his shirt—an emerald button-up—tugging snugly across his chest. Enjolras had to blink a few times before saying, “No. Why would I want you to leave?”

Grantaire looked sheepish, playing with a stray leaf on the porch. “Well, you said this was your escape. I didn’t know if I was violating your alone time.”

“You seem to be a notable exception to that,” Enjolras said, and it was true. He never minded when Grantaire was near him. He never minded when Grantaire was talking to him, and he didn’t get angry with him nearly as often as he used to. Even when he did, there was a slight underlying fondness to his anger that seemed to render it moot. He turned his gaze back to the world around him. “I don’t understand it.”

“What, that I’m an exception?” He sounded a bit bitter.

“No, you’re not just an exception,” Enjolras replied, looking back at him and standing at his full height. “You’re more than an exception. You’re more than anything I’ve ever had before.” He couldn’t stop his tirade, no matter how he tried. “You’re a second pair of eyes in this world I can only see in one way. You’re someone I’ve had to practice walking on eggshells around but you’re also someone to whom I can say anything. You’re maddeningly brilliant, your hands are multifaceted, and you can still look me in the eye and think of me as someone you can respect even after I was drugged in your apartment, or after you saw me running away.” He furrowed his brows. “How can you do that? How can you make me so infuriated and so happy all at once? How did you make it so that I love the way my name sounds coming out of your mouth?”

Grantaire was watching him with wide eyes, all previous hints of bitterness gone. “Enjolras…” he murmured, shock radiating from his form, and it suddenly all rolled together. The infuriation, the absolute happiness, the small smile at Grantaire’s mouth, the feeling like he’d been left in the sunshine, the sudden feeling of safety when he was around…

Enjolras moved forward, leaning in and kissing Grantaire, and Grantaire’s shock lasted for all of two seconds before he huffed a hard breath and leaned in, moving his hands to Enjolras’s waist and tugging him gently closer. They kissed for a few moments, their lips moving lazily against one another before they pulled away, still entirely ensnared in each other and not caring.

Grantaire pressed their foreheads together and smiled, eyes gleaming in the dark as he looked at Enjolras. “I’m so glad Combeferre sent me out here,” he murmured, and Enjolras huffed.

“Combeferre knows everything, doesn’t he,” he replied. “He knew it before we did, I think.”

“At least before you did,” Grantaire replied, skimming his hand up and down Enjolras’s arm. “I knew it for a very long time.”

Enjolras’s smile grew, and he pulled Grantaire closer, closing his eyes and relishing in the feeling of being close to him. Slowly, the world around them phased back in, the soft music from inside signaling that the couple had started their dance. Slowly, wordlessly, Grantaire and Enjolras also began to sway, the world outside their own private celebration. Eyes closed and smiling, trapped in the safety of Grantaire’s arms, Enjolras was no longer worried about the future.

(~~~~)

Enjolras tried to look back on his life with an air of someone who knew it would end up this way.

But, to be honest, if he was able to go back in time to that fateful day (when he realized in front of the family and friends of his peers that he wasn’t meant for their lives) and tell himself that three years later on his new birthday, he’d find himself with a new family and new friends in France who understood that every breath he took was one vying for freedom from the muck that he had been surrounded with all his life, he knew that his younger self would never believe it.

If he told himself that he was going to have a sister he loved above all else, a new father who he never called father but for whom he felt a stronger connection than the one he had to his own blood kin, he knew he wouldn’t understand how.

And if he told himself that he would be swaying on the back porch of a French estate in the arms of a strange, cynical man with whom he found himself in love, he wouldn’t know what to say.

Because back then, he’d thought himself incapable of any kind of love in a world that wouldn’t allow it, save for the love he felt for the wind whipping through his windows at night, or the love he held for the song in his heart. But he stood now before the grave of his previous life, and he could see how this would happen, and he was glad for it; for all the misery of his past life had led him to the old woman in the store, to Fantine, to Cosette, to France, to Grantaire, and, finally, home.