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“Hey there! You might have heard what the studies keep saying: with increasing regularity, young people are getting their sex ed from watching internet porn. And we figure, well, if you can’t beat ’em ... well, join ’em while you beat it.” The girl on the screen laughs, and the camera pans back to show that she’s got a hand up her skirt and that beside her, a flushed-faced young man is working valiantly to cast dreamy eyes at the camera rather than staring at her while he strokes his boner.

“I’m Cosette. I’m 19, and everyone you see here, in our vids, is right around my age, because we want these to be by young adults for young adults. We’re going to show you real sex, real pleasure, real ways to know when to go on and when to pull back. There’s a good-sized crew of us, so you’ll see a bunch of different configurations and situations, but if there’s something you don’t see, hit us up. Our ask box is always open! Thanks for checking us out. Have fun watching, and if you choose to have sex, whether it’s with yourself or with other people, feel free to think about us while you do! Remember, we’re here because we want everyone’s sex to be fun and healthy.”

The pop-up video shrinks away, leaving a screen of thumbnail videos.

Enjolras is pleased to note that they’re not sorted how he expected—not M/F, M/M, F/FTM, etc.—but instead clearly if cheekily named and easily sorted by a bevy of tags.

He clicks through a few.

In the first video he opens, “The Shirts Got in the Way,” Cosette and the blushing jack-off guy, whose name is apparently Marius, kiss on a nice IKEA couch and gradually remove each other’s shirts, then Marius starts kissing Cosette’s breasts. There’s not music except what’s actually playing in the room with them, so you can really hear their groans, can hear Cosette murmur “Can I?” early on, with her hand on his collar, and him moaning, “Take my shirt off,” and the little yip Cosette lets out when Marius nips her a little too hard. In the follow-up video, the two performers rewatch the vid and offer their commentary—-what they liked, what they were thinking, how they knew what was okay.

“I felt soooo bad!” Marius says, watching Cosette yip. “Sometimes you like my teeth on your nipple.”

“And sometimes they’re more sensitive,” Cosette says. “Look what you did next, though—you stayed there, but super gentle, just licking at the tip of it a little, teasing, and oh god, do you hear how I’m breathing there? I’m getting hot just remembering it.”

This seems to be a not-uncommon feature of the commentary reels. At least a few of them end with the performers excusing themselves hastily, almost stumbling over the impassioned looks they’re throwing at each other.

Enjolras learned about the site about a week ago, while researching the uneasy relationship between philanthropy and campaign finance for a midterm Political Science essay. He was skimming through web results and idly listening to an interview with progressive super-donor Charles Myriel when he found his fickle attention snapping to listen to the interviewer, who was inquiring about a sex website.

Myriel explained that he was indeed funding a sex-ed web platform.

“It’s being called pornography,” the interviewer said.

“It is pornography,” said Myriel. “It’s also educational. At least, that’s what I’m given to understand.” He chuckled. “I’m no celibate, but I find that my tastes have aged in accordance with my body. I wish young people safe and pleasurable sex, and I’m happy to steer them in the right direction. Just don’t ask me to watch any of it.”

The interviewer didn’t press on the topic; for Myriel, even an investment of millions would be an insignificant fraction of his philanthropic efforts, and they had bigger ventures to discuss.

The idea, though, stuck in Enjolras’s brain. Tonight, for the first time in weeks not scrambling to finish three different assignments at once, he looked it up.

The cast of performers is, like Cosette said, both young and varied. They’re also clearly his contemporaries—any one of them could fit in right here on his college campus.

He’s never seen porn like this. He doesn’t think of himself as much of a porn watcher, but he’s seen some—and this is different. It takes him a little while to figure out what makes this novel. It’s not till the fifth or sixth debrief vid that he gets it: it’s belief. He believes these people are real. He believes they want each other. And this makes him want to watch them.

There’s one guy who pops up in a couple videos—first, in a woman-on-top sex scene, then in a mostly-clothed hand-jobs situation with another man. Enjolras finds himself mesmerized by the guy’s face, the self-conscious graciousness of his movements, the way his sleepy eyes latch onto his screen partners—but most of all, the tone of his commentary in the reflection reels. Everyone in these has a sort of uniformly sweet, enthusiastic approach to watching themselves have sex. Even the people with the hardcore makeup and piercings brim with blunt praise for their partners. Everyone but this guy—who for reasons unexplained here, where almost everyone uses a full name (not necessarily their actual full name, although Enjolras kind of finds himself assuming they’re real), just calls himself R.

“I just really like sex,” R says, watching his own brown-eyed face gazing up at Floreal, whose blue-and-green tattooed shoulder fills most of the screen. “You know, when we showed up for this, they didn’t tell us, like, do this position or that angle or whatever. Like, you could even walk away, at any time, and still get paid.” He tilts his head away for a moment to talk to someone off-screen. “Sorry, am I blowing up your spot?”

There’s a sound of laughter and what sounds like “No, you’re great. Maybe it’ll attract new talent.”

R continues. “You could come back and try with someone else later if you wanted. So, there’s no pressure this way.”

Beside him, Floreal snorts. “You thought I was going to leave, my friend? After that first kiss?”

“Nah,” R says. “Not exactly. But I knew you could, which is, like—”

“So important,” Floreal says, and R nods.

A couple weeks later, Courfeyrac comments on it, which is very fair; Enjolras is in the habit of jamming in earphones and zoning in on his computer for hours at a time, and rarely considers that his roommates can see what’s on his screen.

“Didn’t know you were into girls,” Courf says from the couch, where he’s kicked back reading Adichie, when Enjolras closes his laptop.

Enjolras turns. “Oh, shit. I forgot I was in the living room.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you watch porn at all.”

“Porn is gross and fake.” He tries to remember how long he was working in split-screen just now, half the screen a treatise on campaign finance reform while on the other half, that woman with the tattoos has laughing, gleeful, frenzied sex with a person wearing a massive blue strap-on.

“Was that an assignment or something? Gender studies? Human sexuality?”

“It’s not— It’s different porn. It’s kind of...” The words won’t come. “...educational?” He’s not sure how to explain that the very presence of this website, with its patient, cheerful, considerate actors, warms him. It makes sex into something new.

“You need tips?”

“I don’t know. I just really like watching it.”

Courf nods in approbation. “Samesies.”

“Oh my gosh, I cannot tell you how excited I am. And nervous. Excervous? Nercited? There should be a word. And maybe, honestly, I shouldn’t be filming this—except, like, obvs if you’re seeing it, it means something went right, because otherwise I can just delete it. I swear, Marius would have straight-up wept if I hadn’t deleted the first dozen or so takes of that how-to-touch-a-person-while-they’re-blowing-you video we did, he was just frantic with worry about hand placement, which—well, the Too Long; Didn’t Watch recap is Any hand placement is cool if you and your partner are both into it.

“But! Like I said, I’m nervous. Because there’s this girl. More Marius’s friend, really. And we were at her apartment last night, and we’re all sitting around the living room talking, and I don’t know exactly how, but then I was holding her hand, and it just felt so nice, like all over in me, and she looked at me, and she looked at my hands. And looked at me.” Here, Cosette’s eyes flick expressively up to the camera, dark and laden with meaning. “And she says, ‘You should invite me to that studio of yours.’

“So, dear audience: gulp!”—it’s a very cute gulp—“I did.”

The camera pulls back to admit a dark-haired woman who’s walking into the frame. She sits on the couch, then scooches over a little toward Cosette. “This is her!” Cosette beams. “This is she? This is Eponine.”

The other woman looks worried. The dozen silver hoops in her ears wobble as her lips twitch into the vaguest hint of a smile.

“I’m sorry. Real names? Is that okay? We can re-take it if...”

“No, that’s fine. I’ve just; I’ve never...”

Cosette seizes her hand. “It’s okay.”

Eponine’s eyes dance from their hands to the couch to Cosette’s blue-and-white striped shirt to Cosette’s open, compassionate face. “No, I want to.”

They make their way from the couch to a bed, Cosette asking gentle questions about exactly what it is Eponine does want, exactly how much will feel right. They end up lying side by side, not kissing and barely touching except where Cosette’s left calf overlaps Eponine’s lower leg, hands in their own underpants, getting themselves off. Cosette’s eyes keep fluttering shut as she chases sensation; Eponine, meanwhile, keeps that dark, watchful gaze fixed on Cosette. Despite the physical space between them, her eyes dart around Cosette’s face, never straying from it as she works herself to a gasping orgasm.

When she hears Eponine breathe her name, Cosette chuckles breathlessly and smiles at her for a brief moment. Then, only after that, does Eponine’s spare hand venture to the exposed skin of Cosette’s thigh where it approaches her own. Cosette’s leg quivers and she strokes herself harder. She chances a look at Eponine.

Cosette groans, arching upward. Eponine’s eyes are like stars. She runs her hand over Cosette, clearly marveling that she gets to touch, until Cosette screws up her face with tension and cries out, coming around her own fingers.

Still trembling with it, she rolls her head sideways to look into Eponine’s adoring gaze.

“You’re my new best friend,” she says, voice barely a squeak.

This video sticks with Enjolras because of what happens then. It’s not even a something, really—just a fleeting expression on Eponine’s face, at once joyous and unsure, that makes him almost actually mad that he can’t watch the commentary video right away, but Courf is blowing up his phone with texts, and it’s true that they were supposed to meet up ten minutes ago, and technically he is in flagrant violation of the terms of the library’s study carrels, and he has to go.

He watches the commentary video later that night. As he’d hoped, Cosette, too, is startled when she sees Eponine’s expression.

“What—?” she asks. “What was going on there? In your head?”

“I don’t ... have friends,” Eponine says haltingly. “Marius, I guess.” Her hands fidget in her lap—they’re back on that gray couch. There’s a little glass bowl of candy on the table in front of them. “I guess I have some. But not like we’d talk about being friends. You said... It was a nice thing to say,” she says.

Cosette places a hand atop Eponine’s and looks in her eyes.

“The way you looked at me there,” she says, “it makes me feel so many things. You don’t need to be good at friends to be my friend. Or to have sex with me.” She smiles. “Or both.”

Eponine’s face draws out, eyebrows lifting, eyelids opening higher, lips separating in surprise. She shakes her head, just a little, then laughs.

“I’m not supposed to kiss you, right?”

“You can definitely kiss me.”

“In the debrief?” She nods curtly toward the camera. “It’s all business here? Intellectual analysis?”

Cosette lifts a striped cushion from the corner of the couch and holds it up so it hides their faces. “Come here,” she says.

Enjolras doesn’t think of himself as a romantic, but fuck if he wouldn’t watch this forever.

“Is your boyfriend cool with this?” Eponine asks, once Cosette’s put the cushion back and they’re both pink and giggly.

“My boyfriend is very cool with this,” Cosette says. “But yeah, we’re going to make a video about that. So check out the link right...” She casts her eyes around, clowning a little for the camera. “How about right here?” Tilting her wrist like a butler with a teatray, she makes a little platform for the link that pops up.

The link is to a page of other videos on the site, about navigating non-exclusive or poly relationships, including a new one where Marius and Cosette discuss their own.

“I dunno if I’d be into it if you were with just anyone. Like, I for sure wouldn’t. If it was, say, like, Bahorel.”

“Because of his arms.”

Marius folds his own slender arms in front of himself. “I know you’re not into that, but—”

Cosette looks, wide-eyed and coy, at the camera.

“—but it’d feel different to me. I know it’s dumb, but I think I’d be jealous. I love you so much, Cosette. But Ep? We’ve been friends forever, and I’m crazy about both of you, and I kind of think it’s amazing, you and her having this thing.”

“Do you feel like you’re excluded at all?”

“I kind of—this is so ridiculous, but I kind of like feeling like you have this thing I’m outside of.” His eyes shift away from her for a moment, then back. “It’s really hot, actually. To me.”

Enjolras is surprised at the almost physical relief of these words. He likes these people, even if he doesn’t know them, and he wants them to have happiness. He’s never figured out how to make sex and love fit into his life. He wants to believe that they can be this uncomplicated. This good.

It’s not that people don’t want him, of course. He’s used to being wanted.

For example, he was a shoo-in for class president all through high school—because his school was exactly the kind of tucked-away liberal backwater prep academy where the politics nerds are actually popular enough to win. It felt nice to know that he could so easily rally public sentiment in alignment with his whims. But then he got to college and the political theory was too damn fascinating.

“I’m not interested in running some cult of personality,” he told his freshman-year dorm-mate, a constant reader named Combeferre. “Politics could exist to enlighten, to empower—but we just use it to manipulate the masses and concentrate our influence.”

“You can use an umbrella to poke unruly children and beat back assailants,” Combeferre observed, smiling up over his book as if he was always ready to welcome Enjolras’s interruptions. “Does it matter what else it could do?”

“My mom’s asking about the Campus Progressives again.”

“She wants you to run?”

“Eventually. Make inroads first, build a following.”

“Make friends.”

“Make admirers.”

Combeferre let the book fall shut around his finger. “Followers. People who will support you and promote you without expecting anything in return.”

“They’ll expect an image. Specific rhetoric. A palatably progressive leader they can see themselves voting into Congress one day. An I-knew-him-when story with fucking cachet.”

“This hair’s not part of the image, is it?”

Despite his head-in-the-clouds affect, Combeferre misses nothing, and Enjolras hadn’t cut his hair once that semester. “Just tell her you’re not going to do it,” ’Ferre said.

“Instead of passive-aggressively making myself ugly and unelectable, you mean?”

“You know that’s not going to work.”

Enjolras, whose only serious attempts at romance had ended in tepid disappointment when he figured out the other people liked their own ideas of him too much to spoil them with messy facts, said, “Yeah.”

His life coach had said the same, back in high school when he and his parents established the Plan and he started meeting with her to keep himself on track; “cute guy like you, people are going to wonder about the romantic angle. ‘Who’s this guy seeing?’”

“And if it’s another—”

“Homosexuality isn’t an automatic nope anymore. But too much sex kind of is. Gay sex especially, any gay sex is going to be too much for some people. The dream, for anyone in politics—and I say this to everyone I mentor, not just you—is a love story, yeah, but with all the sex scrubbed out. Sex looks like lust looks like weakness. Love, though—long-lasting love, commitment, dedication? Voters eat it up.”

“So you’re saying find someone nice.”

“Keep the PDA dialed to 2 or lower: some hand-holding, a little kiss maybe here and there. Whatever else you’re going to do with this person happens behind closed doors, and they’d better be discreet. Everywhere else, with everyone else, you keep it in your pants.”

It was pretty easy, really; in high school, he dated a few people very chivalrously, with occasional public hand-holding, and felt nothing for them, felt like they were props in a play he was putting on. Handsome, kind, refined people with interchangeable interests in charity and athletics and scholarly excellence. Wealthy people. Connected people.

And it was fine, because holding hands is usually fine if you don’t dislike the person, and don’t think too much about whether you actually like anyone. Come on. “Like”? What does that even mean?

Seriously, the one boy, the one over all those teenage years, who made Enjolras feel something different—an uncomfortable, eager, grabby kind of wanting that made him force his gaze down to his book or the lectern or the soccer game or whatever wasn’t that guy’s piercing eyes—Enjolras wouldn’t say he liked him.

He was brilliant and beautiful. A loose cannon, unpredictable except in his intelligence and intensity. The smartest guy he knew, with the worst grades you could get while still sticking around at Republic Prep. He was not the kind of person Enjolras liked.

For this reason, he was mystified by the fluttering in his throat when he would look down the long table at dinner and find those eyes on him—on him like they were there on purpose. It wasn’t friendship that made him want to get closer, wasn’t admiration, wasn’t pity. Then he knew.

It was desire. And lust looks like weakness.

The Plan would not accommodate either. Since Enjolras couldn’t think about this guy, Brujon, without the waves of wanting knocking him down, mostly he tried not to think about him.

After their last debate championship junior year, as their team was exiting the stage, stately in their triumph, Brujon suddenly shouldered Enjolras behind one of the curtains in the wings and the familiar fire burned in his eyes. When Enjolras kissed him, it was better than every other victory.

Then he remembered his parents would be waiting at the stage door. He remembered the Plan. He pushed away, anguished, breathing hard. “I’m sorry,” he said. The guy nodded. “Uh-huh.” Reaching to flatten one of Enjolras’s lapels, he let his hand linger for just a moment on his shoulder while he studied Enjolras’s face. “Okay,” he said, and walked away. Enjolras took and held a deep breath. He let it out. He let the feelings tingle through him, chest to muscles to fingertips. He let them go. Then he went to find his parents.

It should have ended there. But his mom wasn’t at the stage entrance like usual, and in the muddle of other parents and well-wishers, it wasn’t just easy to call out, “Brujon!” to the boy slouching toward the doors; it was, for one of the few moments Enjolras could recall having so clear a choice, obviously the right thing to do.

His mom found them ten minutes later, making out in the orchestra hallway. Their second goodbye was not tender or lingering.

His mom’s disappointment gutted him; it took him a full year of insipidly dating Kevin Johnson, lacrosse midfielder and chess club captain, before she seemed willing to contemplate her son’s political future viable once again.

“Vision without discipline is a recipe for self-destruction,” his coach emailed him. “Too many would-be worldchangers get tangled up in the sticky mess of their own desires. Keep your nice boy and keep on Plan.”

With Kevin, there was little desire to worry about. He felt a pleasant affection usually, and didn’t find the hand-holding and kisses too onerous, but that was a good thing, wasn’t it? He never felt any inclination to take things too far. Yet when they broke up, Kevin was gutted. Enjolras was handsome and caring and brilliant; he’d known he was the one.

It wasn’t much different with the few guys he dated in college. Sure, they had sex, but they took it slow and were deeply considerate of each other and spent much more of their time together at work on shared political projects than on any kind of pleasures of the flesh—but every one of them knew Enjolras to be the best guy they’d ever known, and nothing, even getting dumped, dissuaded them in that belief.

Late in freshman year, he took Combeferre’s advice and told his mom he wouldn’t be running for office any time soon. The political projects and studies were consuming every waking moment. Dating was the second thing to go; he’d been in between boyfriends anyway, and he was moving into an apartment with his two best friends, and he just let the singleness stretch. Combeferre didn’t comment on it much, which was no surprise, but even Courf let it go pretty quick. Maybe they, too, were sick of watching him police himself into respectability.

“So, this week’s mailbag starts with a question for Cosette.” The camera pans from the laughing-eyed woman on a laptop to the space beside her, where Cosette is sitting, then back to the host, who reads from her screen: “They say, ‘I really love Cosette’s vids, and I’m just wondering, in the one with the other girl, I saw they both came with some fingers on the clit and some partway in their pussies, and I’m wondering, is that a thing girls like? ‘Cause I’ve never seen anyone get off that way.’ So, Cosette? What do you think?”

Cosette’s legs are crossed demurely. She’s wearing a flower-print top and gray jeans with a torn knee and even though he knows she’s not, Enjolras can’t shake the feeling that this Cosette, in everyday clothes, could be one of the tens of thousands of students who cross his university campus every day. Or, he supposes, most other American universities. That’s the point, isn’t it? That they look not like made-up, gleaming porn stars, but like the people we all know?

Cosette is shaking her head in amusement. “I think it’s a good thing we’re doing these videos!”

“People aren’t seeing women getting off,” Musichetta says, nodding.

“Not like I do, at least. I’m not trying to say I’m an expert on anyone else’s sexuality, but—”

“No, I get off that way sometimes.”

Cosette grins at Musichetta. “I love this job. Where else is it actually totally appropriate for your boss to talk to you about her masturbatory habits?” She snaps out of it with a giggle. ‘Sorry! We can cut that.”

“You can love this job.” As an interjection, Musichetta adds, “You know, I’m not really your boss.”

“I’m supposed to answer the question. Friend,” Cosette says, leaning toward the camera earnestly, “I can’t tell you what girls like, in general, but I can say I now know at least three women like to get off the way I did in that video. Most people who have a clit can stimulate it from a lot of different places, but mainstream porn tends to just show the kinds of stimulation someone in charge deems most photogenic. Which often ignores what the actors actually want. Or like. I like to be touched in a couple places at once. A penis can feel really good, but for me, well, if you’ve watched my videos with Marius, you know I usually want something else too. I think that’s a pretty common situation.”

“Have you ever seen a woman experience orgasm?” Enjolras asks Courfeyrac while they’re walking back from campus one night.

Courf is drawing up, affronted—“Have I seen a woman—”

E rushes to add, “Not in person, I mean. Of course you have.”

“You fucking know it.”

“But in videos? Online?”

“Not much, I guess. Yeah, no. Sometimes. But it’s rare. Are you still researching? Sounds like someone’s curious...” Courf sings, doing a little dance to drive the teasing home.

“I don’t think I had. Not for real.”

“You know porn’s always a performance.”

“But for people with dicks... It’s harder to fake orgasm when it involves visible ejaculation. A lot of the time, in the porn that people used to show me, women just seem like they moan a bunch and we’re supposed to accept that that means they got off.”

“A lot of people get off to that moaning.”

“I think I feel gross about watching porn if I feel like it’s just for my pleasure, not for the performers’ too. I want to really believe they’re getting it. It’s like, I don’t want someone to make me dinner and then just pretend to eat next to me while I eat it.”

“Mmmm,” moans Courf theatrically. “Mmm, this is soooo good. Oh! Yes, Enjolras! Yes! Serve me seconds!”

“I heard you coming,” says Combeferre, who is waiting at their open apartment door with a laugh in his eyes. “I was going to suggest burritos, but clearly Courfeyrac’s been taken care of already.”

R is jacking off alone, slow and meditative.

It’s remarkable on its own, because it’s R; but what makes it exceptional is that his eyes are almost closed and he’s wearing big old-fashioned headphones over his disorderly hair, and it’s like he’s alone there on screen—just him and his private thoughts and music that no one else gets to hear, and the sounds he’s doesn’t even know he’s making.

His rough knuckles creep upward, hover over the head, stroke down fast. He’s wearing unbuttoned jeans that were once black and a black leather jacket, also well-worn, over a basic white T.

A moan catches in his throat and his mouth opens, like he feels so good it’s hurting him, before the sound escapes.

For the first time in years, Enjolras finds his mind back in that urgent, impassioned hallway embrace with Brujon.

After R comes—which is beautiful, a tightening in his whole body, then a release, his slack limbs gracefully undone—he rests for a moment, barely nodding to his music while a shadow of a smile haunts his face.

Then his eyes open and refocus, taking in the camera and whoever’s behind it.

“Fuck,” he says, letting out a harsh exhale that sharpens his features. “Hope that was good for you.”

After the third time Enjolras insists he doesn’t need to meet with a university counselor, Combeferre sits him down in early December to talk about how, specifically, Enjolras thinks he’s going to graduate on time. On his computer, ’Ferre pulls up the spring course catalog as well as Enjolras’s academic history. Enjolras doesn’t bother asking how ’Ferre’s able to access his private sign-in to the school’s web portal; he imagines Combeferre could hack into his bank account and medical records too, if he wanted, except that he would never.

“Enjolras,” ’Ferre says, “you still have to take an art class.”

He’s never taken an art class. He’s not the kind of person who looks at the world that way; music is fine, but he’s not trying to make it, and he sure as fuck can’t be bothered with what colors look good with each other or how lines on paper draw the eye across the page. Dance is out of the question. Music, a sheer impossibility.

Enjolras winces. “But do I really?”

“If you want to graduate.”

“Isn’t there some kind of lecture—art appreciation? or art history? or something else that’ll cover the requirement?”

“Sure!” Fingers quick on the keyboard, ’Ferre presents him with a page full of options. “This lecture looks relatively painless. But—”

“Oh shit, that’s when I have Benjamin. And this one overlaps with Coups and Juntas. And I’m pretty sure I’m getting Dr. Park’s okay to join her grad seminar on Wednesdays, but that means—”

Flipping back to the first screen, ’Ferre scrolls through the bulging digital transcript. “You and I both know,” he says, “that you’re always going to want to take every PoliSci seminar available. Buy yourself that time now, before you’re a senior. It’s just a semester—get it out of the way.”

“Didn’t we already talk about this?” In the back of his mind, he’s sure they’ve made a plan.

“In August? When I said you should do it now, and you said, ‘Next semester, I promise’?”

Hell. He looks seriously, for the first time, at the options, and eventually signs up for one of the only courses that fits with all the real classes he wants to take: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 5 in Lamarque Hall, which is just a couple buildings away from his lecture that gets out at 2:45. Drawing the Human Form: An Introduction. He’ll be terrible at it, he figures, but his pride can bear the blow.

WINTER BREAK

There’s a woman he doesn’t recognize at first on the couch. “Hi,” she says, and the low hum of her voice is familiar.

After a moment, Enjolras realizes he has seen her; she’s the host of the mailbag segments; but this isn’t mailbag.

“I’m Musichetta. I spend most of my time here behind the camera, but I wanted to introduce this one myself, since it’s sort of a gift to me. If you watched much, you know my boyfriends. Joly and Bossuet and I, we’ve been together a while. And for my Christmas gift, I asked them if they’d be cool getting off with another guy in the room. It’s a thing that—it gets me hot. But no touching. They can touch each other, of course—that’s a regular part of our relationship. No touching the other guy.

“Now, excuse me; there’s something I need to film.”

She gets up and walks around behind the camera, which then pivots slowly to reveal an extraordinarily plain set, with pale blue walls and three straight-backed chairs you might expect in a grandparent’s dining room, arranged in a little arc.

“I just need to text everyone to say it’s time...” she says behind the camera. There’s a tinny ding! as the message sends. Then from the right, Joly and Bossuet enter.

Enjolras has seen them before, in a range of scenes with each other. He likes the way they seem to counterbalance each other—Joly with his haunted, impassioned face and easygoing Bossuet who always seems ready for anything.

“Sit here?” Joly asks the camera.

“Just a sec. He’s coming in.”

The two men look off to the left, and both smile in disbelief.

“Oh, whoa, ’Chetta, you got—”

“Fuck yes.”

From the left, R walks on. “Hi guys,” he says, unzipping his black jacket and tossing it over the back of a chair. “You ready for this?”

Enjolras, watching from the white-on-white guest bedroom of the high-rise apartment his parents moved to as soon as he left for college, feels time slow down around him—except the video’s still rolling. He backs it up.

R’s steps are heavy; his tone is light. His hand is steady and quick with the zipper, the jacket lands true where he tosses it. His voice, his voice, his voice. “You ready for this?”

Enjolras is not ready. He pauses the video, but what the hell is going to make him ready? He cannot think; he cannot know; he just somehow needs to delay this, to draw it out, to protract the happiness of this gift so that it sees him through a larger segment of this day.

Leaving his computer on the bed and dropping to the white carpet, he does ten hard pushups. Then, spacing his hands farther, ten more. His shoulders burn. Then, fingertips touching so they frame a diamond-shaped scrap of floor, ten more.

He brushes his teeth, then returns to the bed.

The guys say hi, still shaken—in a good way, it seems like—from the reveal, and give him bro-hugs. R sits in a chair; Bossuet and Joly take the others.

“We were making out first,” Bossuet says, left cheek dimpling as he drops a hand on Joly’s thigh. “In the other room while we waited.”

“So you’re ready to get it?”

From under his poetic brow, Joly looks meaningfully up at R. “Yes.”

“Well fuck, don’t wait on my account. You can touch him.” R gestures to Bossuet, then Joly. “You gonna jack him or what?”

It’s more than enough invitation. As Bossuet grabs Joly’s hard cock through his jeans, Joly’s hand descends between Bossuet’s legs.

At Bossuet’s grunt, Enjolras feels his own pajamas tighten.

“I can talk, right?” Hearing R say this, Bossuet, who is mouthing at Joly’s ear, groans. “You guys are so hot. You’ve got fucking everything. But it’s fun to imagine, huh? You’ve got each other, you’ve got Musichetta. But it’s nice to think about someone else.” He slides his hand forward over his hipbone to the fly of his jeans. “Something else.” He undoes a button.

“About this.” Under his hand, his cock is filling out and pressing upward into the denim.

Joly is tilting his head to give his boyfriend access to his neck while also staring unabashedly at R.

“God, what the fuck,” R says, “I feel like in real porn you get a script.” His fingers, long and impatient, reach in and pull his cock out. “Which maybe means it’s not real? Or, less real? But we know that already.” He wraps his hand around himself and tugs.

“Do you want me to talk? I can talk all you want. Can I say their names?” he asks, turning to the camera and gasping a little as his fingertips glide over the head of his cock.

What he sees there must be emphatically affirmative, because he laughs as he says, “Joly. I want to watch you, Joly. I want to see you break down. I want to see Bossuet watching you, and getting himself so close watching you, and then me and Bossuet, we’re going to come together.”

Space-bar.

Enjolras has been watching these videos for months now. He wonders if it’s strange that this the first time he’s actually considered jacking himself off while he watches.

He’s on vacation. Maybe that’s why. With his sudden free time, he doesn’t need to keep his masturbation quick and pragmatic. Anyway, what else is he going to do with himself?

The thought of getting off watching these people, though.... That’s not a thing he does. That’s not a quick one-off to get his head back in order. That’s too close to desire—and desire is for people who don’t have a Plan.

He pulls on joggers and sneakers, gives his erection a moment to yield to a socially acceptable level, and goes out for a run.

At the end of this long day, after the distant relations and expensive impersonal gifts and elegant meal, and after a surprisingly lovely escaping-the-party walk with his second-cousin Vanessa, who’s working on a postgraduate economics degree in Paris, and who commiserates at the indignity of being required to study art, he settles back into his room and locks the door.

That last is unnecessary; no one in his mannerly family would dare to intrude on someone else’s bedroom. But it feels important.

Bossuet’s hard arms shudder, bracing himself against the chair with one hand while the other attempts to keep up some kind of rhythm on Joly’s cock. “Oh god,” he’s grunting. “God.”

His eyes, lit up with the kind of anguish that makes you wish you were experiencing a little more anguish, seek out the camera for a moment. “’Chetta.”

He is gorgeous, Enjolras notes.

“Come for him, baby,” Musichetta murmurs off-screen.

The silty edge to her voice sets off another kind of shiver along Enjolras’s shoulders. He doesn’t want any of those three—but ’Chetta feels almost like a friend now, and hearing her like this makes him just so happy. He wants them to have wonderful, fulfilling sex. Maybe he wants this for everyone in the world. And if R can narrate, all the better.

“Come for all of us,” R says. “We all wanna see.”

Enjolras wants to see. He really, really does. He has never in his life felt this invested in someone’s sexual satisfaction; not his lovers’; definitely not his own.

He’s hard, he notices, as Bossuet starts to shout and Joly, watching him, moans. Joly is about to come, Enjolras can tell. Bossuet’s hand is fast and strong on Joly.

Enjolras’s hand falls to his own cock. Experimentally, as Joly grips his chair and whimpers, Enjolras grips himself through his pajamas. He could stroke himself, he knows. Intellectually, he understands that it’s absolutely acceptable—expected, really—that viewers get themselves off while they watch. But he’s never really wanted to before, and now that he cares about these people, the thought of jacking off while he watches them feels awfully intrusive.

R, especially, shows so much on his face, like he’s conducting this from the no-man’s land between heartbreak and infinite hope. Watching, more than Enjolras wants to hold his cock, he wants to hold him.

They are giving him so much, just letting him watch.

“Yessssss,” R says, dragging it out. “My dudes.” He says it like they are his dudes, his bros; he says it like he loves them.

Joly jerks up into Bossuet’s hand and a stream of jizz cascades up and over the knuckles. “My dudes.” Bossuet gazes, thunderstruck and shaking, at R, whose smile is a thing whole and real and knowing—a thing of unthinkable sweetness.

Enjolras’s hand tightens on his cock.

Bossuet comes—

but all Enjolras can pay attention to is R, who keeps talking so warmly to the others that you could be forgiven for failing to notice that he, too, is coming unobtrusively with a pause of a few hard breaths.

“You’re fucking awesome, guys,” he says. His face is softer than usual, eyes glowing warmly as they gaze at his friends. “Towel?”

Someone tosses him a small towel. He cleans himself off, fastens his pants, and picks up his jacket from the back of the chair.

“R,” Bossuet says, finally recovering enough bones to sit back upright. “Thank you.”

“Yeah, that was—” Joly can’t quite find words.

“You got it.” R nods. Taking a deep breath, he stands up and lets his face clamp back down around the post-sex gentleness. He pulls the jacket back on. “Later?”

Enjolras re-watches a few times, each time noticing more nuance in R’s reactions. R watches his two friends so carefully while he instructs them; he’s making sure he’s not crossing any line, that he’s saying what they want to hear. He’s intuitive and attentive and really fucking good at this. It’s a curious thing: how does anyone discover that this is a thing they can do, a thing they can give to the world?

His cock. It’s all he’s aware of, his hard cock and a dream of pleasing darkness and its remnant voice in his ear whispering “That’s right, give it to me.” He wants to give it. He can; he will; someone is touching him and he’s propelling himself forward, into this, into the space created by this voice that wants him. He wants to; he will. The voice is deeper than ever, reverberating, “Yes. Yessss.” It enfolds him.

By the time he’s actually cognizant, his cock and hand and pajamas are sticky. But even cleaning himself off in the too-white bathroom at two in the morning, he wipes his hands on a warm cloth and feels a certain connection.

There’s no need to interrogate this, his sleepy brain assures him. He needs to go back to sleep so he’ll be sharp for tomorrow’s breakfast meeting with his life coach. He pulls on clean pajama pants and falls back asleep to the hazy remembrance of the bent end of R’s smile.

New Year’s Eve is a fine night to spend in a room alone, so long as you’re not actually alone alone, Enjolras is pretty sure. He’s got ’Ferre and Courf’s messages dinging into their group chat, and he’s been social all week what with the strategy sessions with his coach, and his mom’s unending stream of political friends, and at his uncle’s charity fundraiser and really, a night in seems like a well-deserved break.

Also, a few days ago, the site started advertising a “Bumpin’ NYE Livestream Chat!”—so there’s that, too.

He sees his parents off to their party a little after eight. By the time he gets back to his room, the stream’s underway.

“We’ve all got plans later—”

“Do we?” asks R.

Cosette rolls her eyes. “Some of us have plans later, and others of us have plans but would like us to think they don’t so we’ll feel bad for them maybe? even though we know exactly which show they’ll be dancing at a couple hours from now. But anyway. From now till eleven, we’re here for you, dear audience, streaming live, with what we hope will be the ultimate, best-ever...”

“First-ever,” cuts in Bahorel.

“LIVE MAIIIIILBAG!” everyone yells, waving their hands enthusiastically at the camera.

“We’re here, we’re ready,” says Musichetta. She’s wearing a sparkly silver-and-black dress and matching silver eyelashes.

“For the new year, maybe not,” R says—

—and he's saying this right this moment, somewhere in the world, living it at the same time as Enjolras is seeing it.

“But for your questions?” He shrugs, black t-shirt snug on his shoulders. “Sure.”

“So start typing!” Musichetta says. “Or, if you’re feeling really brave, give us a call. We’ve got Feuilly behind the scenes for us tonight, running tech, and he’s given me his word we’re actually gonna be able to cut in your video calls if you want.” She looks to the side for a moment. “Really? Already? Can we—”

A smaller video box, mostly filled by the too-close face of a dude in a backward baseball cap, pops up in the upper left corner of the screen.

“OMG, Feuilly, you’re a genius.”

“Hey guys,” says the caller. “Hey Cosette!”

“Heeey!” Cosette seems delighted. “You checked us out!”

“Yeah, thanks for the rec. This shit you’re doing, I totally support it. Great idea. Whoa.” He grins. “Sorry to swear. Forgot this is streaming.”

“No worries.” Cosette turns to the others. “We had a Sexuality class together last semester, and got to talking. You know.” To the guy, she asks, “Do you have a question for us?”

“Oh, right. Yeah, there’s this girl who I’m pretty into, and she asked me out tonight. We’re meeting up in just a couple minutes, actually, so the timing of this is super chill. So what I want to know is, she asked me out? On New Year’s? So does that mean, like, she wants me to kiss her at midnight? That’s still a thing, right?”

“Imma stop you right there,” Musichetta says, smiling as she raises a hand. “First, I think the thing you and maybe everyone needs to hear tonight is Consent is the only consent. So, don’t assume it.”

“Sometimes the word ‘consent’ feels like something clunky and ... sterile,” Cosette interjects.

“Just if you’re doing it wrong.” Bahorel is so smirky. “‘Hello,’” he says in a robotic voice. “‘Do you consent for me to kiss you on the lips with my lips?’”

“So rude,” Musichetta says, swatting him.

“It’s an important point,” Cosette says. “Just a sec.”

She scoots back from the table and reappears a minute later with Bossuet.

“’Chetta,” Cosette says, “I’m hoping you and Bossuet can kind of act this out.”

There’s a sparkle in Musichetta’s eyes when she says, “You got it.”

“So. Bossuet. ’Chetta asked you out for New Year’s. Bad example one: No consent. We’re counting down to midnight! Now’s the time! Ten! Nine! Eight!...

The others chant along. Bossuet grabs Musichetta and kisses her dramatically. She pulls back, trying to look affronted.

“That’s the worst option,” Cosette says, shaking her head. “Don’t do that.”

“But second-worst—”

“Yeah, Bahorel, we know. Example two—better, but not awesome.” She points at Bossuet. “Ten. Nine....”

“CanIkissyou!?!” Bossuet asks so suddenly and fearfully and loudly that Enjolras is momentarily embarrassed for him.

“Uh,” Musichetta says, blinking.

“Cut,” says Cosette. “She might say yes, she might not. But you really put yourself out there on that one.”

“So what am I supposed to do?” baseball-cap asks.

“Read the room,” says R.

Cosette nods. “Pay attention to what she says, how she’s talking to you. Make some eye contact, see if she holds it.”

Bossuet gazes into Musichetta’s glittery eyes.

“Introduce a little physical proximity, making sure she has plenty of room to get back if she wants.”

Bossuet leans forward a little. Musichetta holds for a beat, then inclines her head toward him.

“Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven.”

“Can I...” Bossuet’s voice is a throaty murmur. “...kiss you?”

Musichetta kisses him so lightly and sweetly, her silver lashes dipping down to dust his cheeks, that Enjolras could almost believe it was their first.

“Or!” R interrupts, snapping his fingers in the air and pointing. “She could say no!”

“But if we consider this from a probabilities angle,” says Bossuet, very pink and bright-eyed, having pulled back from his laughing girlfriend, “your odds of getting a yes are a lot higher if you’ve already confirmed that this person likes being close to you and looking at you romantic-style and all. If she doesn’t like any of that stuff—”

“I guess I already have my answer, then.”

“Probably. And then you just back off and go find some cupcakes.”

“The key here?” Musichetta’s face is particularly prim, if bright-cheeked, in the wake of her on-screen kiss. “Pay attention. If they don’t want it, neither do you.”

“Gotcha.”

“But we hope you both want it. And with that, we’re going to let you get this date started.”

“Have a good night!” Cosette says, waving. “Tell us how it goes!”

Enjolras is charmed, and also hungry. A rummage through the kitchen yields bounteous remnants from the week’s parties. When he returns with a cheese plate heavy with nuts and fruit and olives, the roundtable is wrapping up discussion of an email—something about oral sex, he gathers—and moving on to another video call.

“I’m Aliyah,” the new caller says, “22 years old, she/her.”

“Hi Aliyah!” says R, waving cheerily.

In the few minutes’ distance, Enjolras must have forgotten how incredibly much he likes to look at R. God. Enjolras wants him.

“I’ve been in the same relationship for three years, and well, my question is, we both really like each other, but we're both kind of interested in trying out being with other people. But I don’t know. Does that mean we should break up? Do open relationships really work?”

“Bahorel,” Musichetta says, to Enjolras’s surprise. “You want to take this?”

“If only my girlfriend was here,” Bahorel laughs. “But I can definitely weigh in. As you may know, ha ha, I am not sexually exclusive. But you might not know that every time I even think about fucking someone I’m running the possibility through a set of iron-clad agreements in my mind, making sure I’m in line with the terms we’ve set.”

R, looking on while Bahorel speaks tenderly about his long-distance girlfriend and their decision to open up, runs a finger along the sharp line of Bahorel’s jaw.

“’Cause I get it. The Earth’s people want to bone this.” His shrug is gorgeously, perfectly casual. Next to him, responding like a normal human, R guffaws. “And I like to get it, on the regular, with variety.”

R’s thumb slides down Bahorel’s cheekbone. “You always know you couldn’t do monogamy?”

“Nah. Not all the way. ’Cause, like, it took a whole lot of conversations, and I don’t think either of us knew going in what were trying to get out.”

“What are your agreements?” Aliyah asks from the little screen-in-a-screen. “If you don’t mind if I ask.”

Bahorel sticks his jaw sideways for a second, thinking. “Not too many times with one person,” he says. “Separate out what we want from other people, which is novelty and sex, from what we don’t want, which is love. Check in a lot; be honest if we think we’re catching feelings for anyone else.”

“So, you must spend a lot of time talking about me.” R’s got his whole damn arm around Bahorel’s shoulder.

That hard, knuckly hand, curled around the upper arm in an easy manner that nonetheless hints at a fierce possessiveness. It reminds Enjolras of how Courf cuddles him sometimes—but he’s pretty damn sure R’s hand would mean something very different to him than Courf’s does, or than it means to Bahorel, who’s looking at R with gorgeous, although probably friendly, disdain. Enjolras would never scorn that hand.

“For us, it’s not that hard. We’re solid; we’re probably more in love than we ever used to be—and it’s always been ride-or-die for us, so that’s a lot. All the conversations we have now—”

“Yeah, god, those conversations,” Aliyah says, biting her lip. “I guess, how do you know if it’s gonna work?”

“What it comes down to—” Bahorel says, mulling it over, “—well—”

“This whole thing you’ve got could go to shit in front of your eyes,” R says, letting go of Bahorel and gesturing toward the camera with his hands. “You could fall in love with someone. Your partner could fall in love with someone. Likeliest scenario, honestly, you could both fall in love with me. You want to risk that?”

“I mean...” Aliyah’s grin says she’s halfway to in love with R already.

Or maybe not? So hard to know what love looks like on other people. Her grin says she wants something, and that maybe she’s ready to go for it. And Enjolras, watching this, knows exactly what he wants from that group of people in the studio. He wants permission—the permission to want this.

R’s eyes lock on the camera. “The question we always have to ask ourselves, really,” he says, “is, How brave are you? Are you willing to risk whatever it is you have now, whatever it is—love, friendship, this idea about who you are, some kind of livable status quo—if it might get you the thing you think you aren’t allowed to have?”

Enjolras blows out a long breath, drops his fingers to the keyboard, and starts typing.

It’s past ten before they get to him. Marius has arrived in the studio at some point, and Enjolras has eaten everything from the cheese plate except the grapes, because grapes are just too aggressively sweet. He’s flopped across his bed, texting with ’Ferre, when he snaps to attention.

“This person says they’re still kind of figuring out sex”—that’s all of us, friend!—“and that they’re not really into the idea except when they, oh, he, really likes a person.”

“I feel that,” says Cosette. “I mean, sort of?” Everyone chuckles as she leans over to cover Marius’s ears. She stage-whispers to the camera, “I kinda want to have sex with everyone all the time.”

“Yeeeah,” says Musichetta. “We’re not a super-representative group when it comes to demisexuality, since most of us just really like sex in a whole lot of configurations—“

“We self-select,” says R through a laugh.

“But I have plenty of friends who don’t, in totally different shades and degrees, and I just think it bears saying again, a million times maybe, the sex that is right for you is the sex that is right for you.

“Is there a question?” Marius asks.

Cosette clarifies: “Does our demi letter-writer have a question for us?”

“Oh! He does. He says, I don’t usually think about other people when I’m getting off—it’s just about the physical sensations for me. But I find myself contemplating it when I watch your videos. (Or a particular subset thereof.)” Musichetta pauses to make eyes at the camera. “Oooooh. ‘A particular subset...’” She lets her gaze swoop to encompass the other people on screen. “Which feels strange, because I don’t know you, and I don’t want to permit my brain to deceive itself into thinking we have some kind of relationship we don’t.

“But I really want to jack off while I’m watching.”

They’re laughing. But it’s real, funny laughter—not cruel, or even pointed really.

“This is a porn website.”

“We fuck on camera for money.”

“I’ll be hurt if you don’t jack it while you’re watching me.”

“Bahorel, no one needs to jack off to you, ’cause they all blow their loads just looking.”

Bahorel nods and dips one eyebrow in statuesque acceptance.

“If I was going to get off to anyone—” Marius falters.

“Yeah, babe?”

“I just mean—if I was gonna, R’s the only person I’ve heard talk someone through it. In a way that made me...” A very pink Marius flaps his hand at the camera. “Pan away from me!” he entreats, as the others attempt to stop laughing at him.

“He is really good at it,” Cosette says thoughtfully. “He does that voice, you know?”

“Oh, we know.”

“This voice?” R asks, deep and sure of himself, and Enjolras is immediately and fully hard.

“R,” says Cosette.

“Yeah?”

“How dare you.”

“When you’re blessed with a gift like this,” R says, still using that voice that makes Enjolras’s whole body feel too small to contain itself, “you have a certain responsibility to grant it to the world.”

“Dare you to give this guy jack-off instructions.”

“Ah. Right now?”

The camera pulls in close to his face.

“Well—uhhh.” R’s eyes blink closed from their surprise, and when they reopen, they’re immediately different. They’re sultry, intense, curious. “Does our friend have a name?”

“He just signed it ‘E.’”

“Hmm. Eeeee.” R draws it out.

“More evidence he’s a fan of yours?”

“Eeeevander. Edward. Elijah. Something tells me I’m not gonna guess.” He winks and there’s a little smile, and it doesn’t matter how many times he’s fucked people on-screen: this, this here, is the most intimate shit imaginable. “It’s cool. You wouldn’t guess mine.” His hand rubs once over his jaw, then moves down to his pecs. “I might tell you, though. You seem...” His fingers slide down the center-line of his chest. “...compunctious.”

Enjolras freezes.

“That’s my second-favorite thing about you so far, E. My favorite? Up in the air. It might be that I think you’re probably the kind of person who gets off to words like compunctious. Punctilious, maybe.” He purrs the word so softly, so low.

“Hoo, boy,” says someone off camera.

So maybe it’s not just Enjolras who gets off to the idea of R using lush verbiage.

“I’m not going on a lot here. I could be wrong.” R tugs, just a little, at the neckline of his shirt. It’s not enough that anything new shows—but it’s definitely sufficient to remind Enjolras that R has a body under those clothes, and that he’s seen that body naked and unsteady with desire.

“E,” R says. “I want you—” His tongue touches the chipped underside of a front tooth. “—to touch yourself. Whenever you see me touch any ... any part of me. You can do that, right?”

And two of R’s long fingers slide in to dust across a cheekbone and down, where they take turns tugging at his lower lip. The bright pink of the inside, visible in momentary flashes, is shocking. It’s not a thing you show people.

Enjolras has watched this guy sink his face into a vulva, and, separately, take a substantial cock up the ass. And yet, this.

R’s fingers touch his face like it’s a lover, rubbing over the skin, pinching, sliding roughly into his mouth.

It’s like he’s watching R love himself, and that is a stunning and strange thing. A privilege that feels like crossing all kinds of lines, it’s so personal, so private—except that R seems to remember, the whole time, that he’s performing.

So it’s for him.

His hands should be on his cock, right? That’s what R said—that he should touch himself. Enjolras’s hands, though, are pressed to the sides of his face, holding him together while he watches this. With formidable effort, he drags a few of his own fingertips down the freshly-shaved cheek to his lips. This is what R is doing there—wherever there is.

“E, I love that you are so solicitous that you even want consent for your fantasies. And listen, you’ve got it. You want to imagine me—How? What—” his lips round on the word “—would you have of me?

“This mouth?”

There’s a giggle somewhere that gets drowned in a collective gasp when R’s tongue curls up to lick a path around his lips. “My fingers?”

His hands reach out to fill the screen, a few fingers stroking slow and long over those of the other hand. His hands are strong and neat except where one of the short-cut nails is torn back like it got caught on something.

“You want me to touch you with these hands? I could slide them under your shirt, tease your skin with just the softest contact. So light that later you’d almost believe I wasn’t there, but you’d smell me on your skin, and let me tell you, E, you’d remember.”

Enjolras is breathless.

Like, he forgets to breathe. He forgets to touch even his face. He forgets to participate in the passage of time. He’s transfixed by the man on screen, overwhelmed by the thought that he of course has a smell, is warm and human and made of flesh that is pretending so graciously and fully to want Enjolras.

On the screen, R is lightly biting, then licking at his fingertips, and still talking, still looking at the camera—at Enjolras’s dazed face—and settling into a rhythm, talking and touching and talking.

R’s pace speeds up. Enjolras’s hips are twitching; his cock vibrates upward against the cloth of his underwear as he watches R toy with himself. The pressure on his cock is definitely not enough, but to touch it more, he fears, might distract him from the unfathomable gift he’s being given, so he’d better not. He’s always distracted during sex. How do other people stay focused?

But then, too soon, he’s lost his chance.

R looks out at him with a pureness of intensity, like his viewer getting off is really the only thing he’s thinking about right now.

“...and you’re ready, yeah? You’re gonna come. Come so I can see. So I can hear you moaning for me. I mean, we all know the ‘particular subset’ is me, right? Say it for me.”

“Jesus, R,” someone moans from off-camera.

Another person hoots.

“What’s that? Oh, sorry, you’re still coming? Fuck yes.” R’s irises are huge and dark. “I bet you’re a fucking mess right now.” He winks. “I hope so. If I were there, I’d lick it up for you.

“You were so good, E. So good. Wish I could have seen it. But hey.” He pulls his shirt back into place. “Maybe next time.” R runs a hand through his hair, which is gloriously disheveled, and lets out a long breath. “That good enough? I’m hard as a lamppost, bros.”

“Um, we all are?”

Musichetta’s voice is steadier than the rest. “Since this is not a sex livestream, maybe there are a few people here who should take a break while the rest of us hold it down.”

They take several more questions, but Enjolras’s attention is undeniably divided. What an absolute goddamned fool, not to get off to R when R was full-on telling him to do so. Him. Telling him.

Enjolras has buried his head in his hands and is wondering where R is right now, and doing exactly what, when someone bangs hard on his door.

It’s Vanessa, of course, lightly drunk and deeply insistent that no one enters a new year alone, so instead he greets it at her friend’s house party, with a glass of sparkling wine in one hand and a gorgeous NYU grad student’s mouth on his for far more kisses than are strictly necessary for luck. Enjolras even takes the guy out to the fire escape for a little bit more.

It’s fine.

SPRING SEMESTER

Shocking no one, it turns out Enjolras is hopeless at art; no matter how carefully he observes and mimics the delicate flourishes of the instructor’s arm, his images end up stiff, unproportional, and lifeless.

“There is beauty in the line!” the instructor likes to crow while he demonstrates the quick movements that can capture a moving form on paper.

In Enjolras’s purposeless lines, there is no beauty.

He doesn’t mind, though. He likes the old turpetiney smell of the art building, and this drafty room with its buzzing space heaters that ring the center where the models pose.

He likes to look at the models and try. Sometimes they catch his eye and he does attempt to convey then, in his stance and mien, his absolute ineptitude; he fears that he will encounter one of them later around campus, since they all seem to be students too, and they’ll ask to see his work. He does not want to establish any kind of expectation.

Some of them stick around after they’ve put their clothes back on to sketch whatever model follows them. Art students. When one takes a seat beside him at his third class, Enjolras burns with embarrassment and wills her to keep her eyes away from his easel.

Thus far, he’s been lucky. But one Tuesday in late February, the first model walks in, removes her robe, and Enjolras has a moment of astonished recognition at the bright hydrangea tattoo that covers her shoulder and left arm. He’s seen her before, he realizes, trying not to gape.

He’s seen her on the website.

Her name is Floreal, and her green-and-blue tattoos are even more magnificent in person, and he’s seen her having sex.

She settles into a languid pose on her back on the table, one arm flopped behind her head, one knee bent under the other.

She’s facing Enjolras’s side of the room. Quickly, Enjolras averts his gaze. Except it’s hard to avert your gaze from the person you’re drawing. At least it’s acceptable to focus, in this case, on her body and not her face.

He attempts a quick oval to approximate her head. It comes out nearly perfect in its roundness—a geometry teacher’s dream.

God damn, Enjolras is abysmal at this.

The rest of the likeness is no better; those misshapen sticks are meant to be soft, strong limbs; that blob, at once too thick and too thin, a curving torso.

The instructor stops by. “The tattoo has distracted you, I think,” he says, pointing to the childish flowers that decorate one corner of an arm on Enjolras’s paper. “Focus first on the form. A body is big lines. Is motion. Is not details.”

Apparently observing this interaction, the woman on the table winks. Enjolras flips the sheet over and starts again.

As he watches the model slide down from the table, arms stretching back and shoulders rolling to release the tightness of the pose, Enjolras understands that the teacher is right: A body is motion. Is big lines. He can’t capture it on paper, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

The woman smiles at him as she exits. He wants to say something, but realizes it’s not currently in his power to say something without being creepy, so he doesn’t. But it’s her. Isn’t it? It has to be her.

Right?

That night, after he’s reread the assigned articles and reviewed last week’s notes for tomorrow’s Death of Democracy symposium, at which Dr. Park has asked him to present his paper on youth engagement that convinced her to let him join the class in the first place, he looks at the About Us page of the website.

There’s no address—and for good reason, he’s sure—so he starts to dig. Ten minutes of internet research turns up a holding company. The mailing address is a P.O. box right here in town.

Holy shit, he thinks a little later, watching R talk Musichetta’s boys through those breathless, grunting Christmas orgasms for the tenth time. Do these people go to his school? Has he been crossing paths with them? Maybe he’s been standing in the library checkout behind Cosette, or sitting three people down from Bahorel in his massive IR lecture, or buying coffee in the same shop where R was hanging out, without ever knowing it. Maybe he has. Maybe he will.

These people, already real to him, are suddenly superreal, unfathomably believable.

Here in his apartment, locking the bedroom door before he jacks off isn’t just a foreplay ritual; it’s the only way to know for sure that Courf won’t slam in asking questions while Enjolras has his cock in his hand and his head thrown back over the edge of the chair.

“You’re very beautiful like this,” Courfeyrac observed the one time this actually happened, when Enjolras had thought Courf was out all day at some pool party and was therefore unsurprisingly shocked and dismayed to find his roommate in the doorway of his tiny bedroom wearing fluorescent jams and holding a shaker of a similarly eye-catching drink.

“What the hell, Courf,” Enjolras had said, whirling away.

“Thought you might like a pick-me-up!” Courf said. “But it looks like you found—

“Out!” Enjolras said.

Now he locks his door. Sometimes Courfeyrac barrels into it with a bang, which is still disruptive to the psychosexual flow but way less embarrassing than being observed in the act.

What’s new this time, though: For the first time, he keeps his computer open. He pulls up that video—the one he can’t stop watching, the one with R and Bossuet and Joly, because he’s so into the way they look at R, and how he kind of shyly seems like he gets off on them getting off over him, and Enjolras wants to make him feel that way.

Which is stupid. He doesn’t know them. He doesn’t even know that they go to the university. But they might. Hell, they might live in this same college town. They could be his neighbors.

This is fine. They have to live somewhere. The trouble is, he just likes them all so much.

It’s true. He likes them all, likes to see them all—but also he’s starting to categorize those likes. Bossuet and Joly, they are cute and charming, and he likes to see them happy like he likes seeing his friends happy. Not that he wants to see his friends jacking off literally ever. He is not Courfeyrac.

But, he thinks, as he watches the video, matching his strokes to those of R’s hand and watching the tenderness that creeps into R’s who-gives-a-fuck facade as he approaches orgasm, the way he likes R is different. His like for R fizzes in his guts like a dangerous idea. Which is why it’s terrifying to think that R and the others share this same real world—because if he were to meet R, he would absolutely, ardently want him, and Lust looks like weakness.

There’s no room in the Plan for people like R.

Hours later, he’s still thinking about it, still shuddery inside from the way it feels to hear R’s voice in his ears, low and urgent like it’s just for him—even though this time it really wasn’t at all—while he comes.

It’s a good thing that livestream was transient, just there for the moment and then gone. If Enjolras had access to that? To that much R to himself, without the risk of real human interaction? Fuck. He’d never leave his room.

He braces himself for Thursday’s class. Sometimes they have the same model twice. If it’s Floreal again, he wants to say something. He just has to figure out what.

But then Thursday’s class comes, and he’s spared the difficulty of deciding what to say to Floreal, because when the first model comes in, it’s not Floreal at all; it’s R.

Enjolras looks up from where he’s been fighting with the alligator clips on his easel, and fuck the Plan, it’s R, and Enjolras doesn’t have to worry about what to say because he may never be able to speak again.

“How d’you want me?” R asks the instructor, who is draping a clean blue bedsheet over the sturdy table upon which the models often sit.

It’s his voice. His same voice, the voice that “I just really like sex.” The voice that asks “You ready for this?” The voice that once told a person he didn’t know was Enjolras, “You were so good.” But heard in the wild, not canned and streamed and processed through speakers, it fills every available space in the room.

Enjolras is not ready.

“Something casual?” says the instructor.

R pushes up to sit on the edge of the table. His muscled calves, bare and hairy, hang down. He shrugs a little so that the robe he’s wearing falls off one shoulder, and shifts his legs apart. Enjolras happens to be in exactly the spot in the room where an observer can see straight between R’s partly-draped thighs to his naked cock. “Like this? or—”

The instructor shakes his head. Thank god, Enjolras thinks, because along with speech, a future with breathing was looking increasingly improbable the longer he had R’s actual cock in his line of sight. “These are beginners, R,” the instructor says. “Lose the drape.”

R’s eyes sparkle as he pulls the sash and wiggles his shoulders free of the robe, which slumps down in a puddle around him on the table. “Better?”

Even if everything else could be chalked up to an uncanny similarity, those eyes could be no one else’s. Those eyes have glowered at Enjolras through a camera and a bunch of wires and miles of air and a computer screen, while he directed Enjolras to come on himself.

He’d winked. “If I were there, I’d lick it up for you.”

Enjolras tries. He really, really tries. And, for better or for worse, these not-speaking not-breathing not-thinking drawings he’s drawing right now are of disappointingly similar quality to all his others.

After some length of time and some number of poses Enjolras would happily look at forever and some number of agonized charcoal sketches Enjolras would happily burn, R gathers his robe around himself and exits the center of the room, high-fiving the new model who’s on the way in, who rolls his eyes about it but high-fives R back.

Enjolras is breathing again, brain spinning while he tries to mindlessly sketch this new guy—a burly dude who’s sitting backward on a chair like a son from an ancient sitcom—when someone pulls up a stool to the vacant easel beside him.

“Cool if I work here?”

It’s R. Of course. R must be, like many of the models, an art student who hangs around to sketch a little after, why not? Maybe he’s going to want to give Enjolras a few pointers—sometimes they do, before they see that he’s a hopeless case. Maybe R just wants to sketch this guy.

The years of elocution work pay off in this moment, when Enjolras says, with an entirely feigned calm and depth to his voice, “Please.” He wills his body to rise to the challenge too. Do not fidget. Do not look over.

He can’t not. As soon as R’s drawing, Enjolras looks over, and away, and over, and starts to blush. R’s wearing normal clothes now—jeans and a dark-green waffle-knit shirt that’s pushed back at the wrists. Enjolras is staring at R’s wrist, which barely twists as the rest of his arm, moving large, directs a stick of charcoal across the newsprint.

“How do you make it look like that?” he says, and despite his vocal cords’ valiant performance, the brain is not holding up its end of the bargain, just flailing to find any kind of words and coming up with dumb ones.

R looks over. “Like what? Like a person?”

“I mean, the distances—” Enjolras jabs his charcoal toward his own sketch, which looks more like a collapsing heap of sticks than a human being. “Where does a head even go?”

R laughs and ducks his head over for a better look. He nods thoughtfully, as if Enjolras’s drawings aren’t an absolute trash fire, then says, “Hugo’s taught you basics of proportion and line and all. So really, if you’re going to get any better, it’s going to be ’cause you train your eye.” He nods to the man on the chair. “Draw Tyven’s shoulders. Just the line of the shoulders. Not his head. No.” His fingers, long and quick, describe an arc in the air. “Just, if there wasn’t a neck there. See that line?” He sketches a long curve on his own paper, eyes on the model. “Try—” He scowls at whatever the fuck it is Enjolras is drawing. “No, just. Fuck, how about you put your hand here—” he taps the back of his left hand with his right “—feel my hand while I draw.”

He shouldn’t. It doesn’t feel right to touch him, knowing what he knows—and knowing R has no idea he knows. But R invited him to touch him.

Under his hand, R’s fingers are warm and jumping with minute movements. “Watch his left arm, outside edge, the way it bends,” he says, and together, they guide the charcoal over the paper in a line that mirrors the contour of that powerful arm. He sees it on the model and sees it on the paper, and can’t quite believe that they match.

“I couldn’t do that. Without you.”

R shrugs. “Try to see less and more, at the same time. You break it down to the parts you can capture. And you know they have to fit together eventually or you’ve just got a pile of mannequin arms.”

Then he draws six quick lines on his paper and the model is, unmistakably, right there staring facelessly out at them in those smudges of carbon on wood pulp.

“Holy fuck, you’re good.”

R winks. “I dabble. Mostly I paint, but today I’m here less as Artist and more as Muse. When do I get to see how you drew me?”

“God, never,” Enjolras says. “To say that they don’t do you justice is to do them too much justice.”

“You don’t know me. Maybe I deserve your shitty portraits.” He does not say No offense, like people so often do when they say something with such potential to offend.

“You deserve so much better.”

His register is too stern and earnest—his declamatory public-speaking I really mean these words I am saying tone—so even though he says so little, R squints at him, appraising. He raises an eyebrow. “Right, yeah,” he says, and the tone of resignation makes Enjolras’s stomach plummet, and his face confirm what R must have figured out. “You think you know me. You’ve seen me fuck.”

He could deny it, but he can’t think of any way that would help.

“Yeah.” He nods, too, but just once. “I—” He doesn’t know what to say. You’re great at it is obviously inappropriate, as is How do you come up with such effective dirty talk? as is—well, as is anything he could possibly say about having watched R have sex with people on camera.

“Ya like it?” R asks diffidently, then cuts himself off. “Kidding. Don’t answer that. You find out, how? Was it the campus radio ads? Or the stickers in the bathrooms? Targeted Google results?”

Enjolras wishes very much that he was good enough at art that he could look engrossed in the creative process right now, but he’s not and he can’t. Instead, he looks unevenly over at R. “I was researching something for PoliSci?” he says.

“Well, shit.” R breaks his gaze away from Enjolras, looks up at his own easel for a moment, then back. “Wait, ‘PoliSci’?” Air quotes have never made Enjolras tingle before.

"Charles Myriel threw more than 100 mil into the midterm elections.”

“You really—” He shakes his head. “My plan here, I was gonna come over to ask if you model—which isn’t a pick-up line in this case, exactly, because fucking look at you—” Fucking look at you. “—but also I was gonna try to pick you up.”

“Not now?”

“I’ve never asked someone out who’s already seen me in bed.” His hand moves again, sketching in a quick framework and soft curves to suggest the draped table behind the model. “You already know all my secrets. Shouldn’t risk it.”

Pick me up! Enjolras wants to say. Risk it! But what comes out is, “Can we go somewhere? Together?”

R makes a show of looking at the clock over the door. “You’ve made it clear you’re not here to perfect your craft, so I’m guessing this class is checking off some kind of requirement for you. So you’d better stick around, ‘cause I happen to know Hugo’s the kind of instructor who calls roll at the end of class, not the start.”

The model stretches and confers briefly with the instructor before standing, crossing his legs, and leaning one hand casually on the top rung of the chair back like a louche, if jacked, dandy of the Gilded Era.

“Last pose, folks!” says Hugo, pointing out some areas to focus on in this round of sketches: the tension in the right side of the body, the looseness in the left.

“You were going to ask me out when I’d literally just been drawing you naked!” Enjolras says a minute later, realizing.

“You are super attractive,” R says, hand flying across his paper.

“So I’d seen you naked!”

“It’s different.” A smudge and a quick squiggle give R’s almost-complete new drawing pubic hair and a cock. Meanwhile, Enjolras is working hard to just get one line that approximates the curve of this guy’s stance. R glances over and nods. “Not bad.”

“It’s a goddamn line.”

“Yep.” And R bundles his papers and walks away.

Unsettled, Enjolras adds some other lines where he thinks arms ought to go. They just make things worse. Did R ask him out? Or did he only say he would have asked him out, were circumstances different, meaning that, circumstances being what they are, he’s not?

The industrial wall-clock moves with deliberately cruel slowness.

Eventually, though, it’s ten till, and Enjolras shelves his supplies, files away today’s abysmal art on his allotted shelf, alongside all the other awful drawings he’s made over the past two months, and uses the attendance app to sign out.

Shouldering his bag, he exits with the masses into the concrete hallway, then out the main doors to the darkening night outside. He’s just starting down the stairs when someone behind him calls out “PoliSci! Hold up!”

He looks back to see R, now in a puffy coat and slinging on a backpack, dart out of the building.

Around him, students jostle their way down the stairs.

“Kinda rude, blocking traffic,” R says when he’s caught up, breathless, pulling a cap over his wild curls. “Let’s get some coffee.”

There are no tables left at the little coffeeshop down the hill from Lamarque Hall, so they stand at the counter by the window, looking out at other students hustling home from class or to meetings or dinners or rehearsals or practices or whatever else college students do at five in the evening.

In between the blasts of cold air from the swinging door, it’s warm and cozy here.

R leans close. “My name’s really Grantaire. R’s more a stage name.”

“Oh.” Enjolras grins at his drink, which is steaming enthusiastically between his curved hands.

Your name is...”

“Oh. Enjolras.”

“Oh, Enjolras.” Enjolras’s toes curl in his boots. “How many of my videos have you seen, Oh, Enjolras?”

“Maybe all.” Definitely all. Unless there’s some other website he doesn’t know about. “Not just you.” Does this confession make things better or worse? Better to sound obsessed with R—Grantaire—or just like he’s a porn addict? “But I really like—”

Enjolras isn’t sure how to say how much he likes R’s honesty on camera, and his respect for his comrades, and the irresistible quicksand of his eyes, so he instead says, “I like the stories you build there, on that site. Like Cosette and Eponine. And Marius. Is that for real? The whole romance thing?”

“It’s all real. We like, sort of sketch out what we think’s gonna happen beforehand, but we don’t script anything.” Grantaire takes a hot swig of his coffee. “You must have seen the crazy shit that came out of my mouth when I was supposed to be sweet-talking ’Chetta’s dudes. Full-on shitshow."

Enjolras, who would whack off to that shitshow on the daily, nods mutely.

“But more than that, it’s just us doing our lives. I fuck some friends who I’d be down to fuck anyway. Maybe it’s a little weird—like, I wouldn’t necessarily bone down with my friends. But I’m into it. We talk it out after. Me and Flor are closer than we’ve ever been.” A sharpness in Enjolras’s throat chooses this moment to make its presence known. He takes a tentative drink to dull it. “I don’t think we’ll ever have sex off camera, but it, it made us more thoughtful about each other. Kind of ridiculous to have a friend trust you like that.”

“It’s not romantic?”

R makes a face. “Not for me, no. For Cosette and Marius, maybe sex is always romantic. Idk. There’s a nice roundtable vid on the site, actually, about that. About what sex means to each of us.”

Enjolras has seen it, of course, but it’s one thing to believe a person you’ve never met, who’s chatting amiably over on-screen coffee with half a dozen other people you’ve watched pre-, mid-, and post-fuck, and a very different thing when their hot drink is literally fogging the glass in front of you.

“So, there’s a lot of porn out there. And you watch us—why?”

He’s not sure how much to say, but fortunately for him, his mind has decided to cede total control to his babbling tongue, and therefore, whatever comes out is going to have to do.

“It’s, like I said, it’s the feeling that you all create. That site. Like sex is just fun, not any kind of pressure. Like it’s okay to not know what you like, or what labels you’re supposed to give yourself, and to just enjoy being a person who has a body and a brain that want things.”

“We’re easy.”

“You make it seem easy.”

“You jack it when you watch?”

Enjolras doesn’t need to look in the window to know he’s gone brilliantly red. From the waist up, the hot blood floods him.

“Not—” God, this is hard. “Not usually?”

“Not for most of us, then. It’s cool. But for somebody.” R’s smile is sharp and toothier than Enjolras has seen before. “A lotta people have a fav on the site. There’s fan mail, if you can believe it. A lot of requests, too. You know how many people wanna see me take it up the ass?”

“But you already—”

“Yeah.” His grin gets bigger, stranger. “You know that one. Bahorel in the unbuttoned shirt. You like when he’s behind me, or when we flip around and—”

Enjolras likes the second part best—the part where they’re fucking face-to-face. In that part, the camera lingers on their faces, which are awkward together; Bahorel hard and handsome in his grunted profanity, while Grantaire’s eyes go wide watching him. He watches like he wants something more, but he’s not going to get it from Bahorel.

“When you’re wishing he’d kiss you.”

Enjolras has imagined—a bunch of times—every time he’s watched it—and that is a bunch—what it would be like to kiss Grantaire in that moment. Grantaire’s always in control, it feels like. Or he never lets enough of his own wants out for anyone to know otherwise. But in that moment, he wants a mouth on his while he gets fucked, and god, Enjolras would give that.

R blinks. Someone’s just come in the door, and another gush of cold air washes over them.

“You get it.” Grantaire’s looking out, afar. Outside, it’s all the way dark now. The campus lampposts light the paths in overlapping circles of color, smudged with the bright colors of people’s coats as they walk through.

“But it’s not romantic for you.” Enjolras says it as neutrally as he can, but R’s laugh is bitter.

He looks like he’s not going to say anything, like he’s shuttering back up. If a body is movement, the stillness of his body is incipient flight.

Enjolras holds his coffee and waits.

“Wanting things is dangerous,” R says finally, relenting, staying. “It’s not about Bahorel.”

“He seems really nice,” Enjolras tries, feeling vapid and embarrassed that’s all he can come up with to cover that he’s disintegrating inside from trying to process the concept that R, like him, is scared to want.

“Yep. Nice guy. Muscles for days. Serious lasting power. You see the one where he—” He looks down. “Wait.” Pulling a buzzing phone from his pocket, he types a quick reply one-handed. “Actually, looks like I’ll be seeing him tonight.”

Enjolras isn’t sure how the conversation moved so thoroughly to Bahorel. “You hang out?” he asks reluctantly. “The two of you?”

“Not really,” R says, reaching past Enjolras for a plastic lid and wiggling it onto the top of his cup, biting his lip in his focus. He must catch sight of the way Enjolras ogles this, because he suddenly presses too hard on one edge, and coffee sloshes up and over the rim, splashing onto the arm of Enjolras’s coat. “Shit.” Grabbing a handful of napkins, he dabs at the place where the coffee’s already soaked into the gray wool.

“It’s fine.”

Grantaire presses harder.

“Really.” He touches Grantaire’s hand, which is touching his clothes. “It’s no problem.”

Grantaire pulls away. “Damn, I didn’t ...”

“Thank you,” Enjolras says, to shut him up. “For. For this. It’s ridiculous, but it makes the world all seem so close, knowing that you’re part of this thing.” He chances a touch on Grantaire’s puffy jacket. “You all make so much seem possible.”

Grantaire shoulders his bag. “I’ll tell Bahorel you send your regards. If you don’t mind word getting around that you had coffee with a pornographer.”

The implications of this—that Grantaire will talk about him later, even if it’s just a polite lie Grantaire’s saying to facilitate the exit—are so solid and continuous that Enjolras can’t help but grin. He feels brave. He’s going to chance it.

“I have zero compunctions about that.”

Do Grantaire’s eyes flash in recognition? Hard to say. He nods, picks up his coffee, and heads out the door.

In that weekend’s new videos, there’s one of Bahorel on that gray couch sucking Grantaire off. Grantaire’s fingers sit restlessly on Bahorel’s head, like they want to sink into the long hair he doesn’t have. It’s quick and clean, and, to Enjolras’s great satisfaction, the final shots aren’t of Bahorel’s come-slicked lips but of Grantaire, wordless and dreamy in his green waffle-knit shirt, gazing into the near distance.

“Fuck,” he says.

He didn’t give Grantaire any way to get in touch with him. But then, if Grantaire wants, he knows where to find him.

R doesn’t get in touch. Not exactly. And next Tuesday’s model is someone Enjolras has never seen before.

But when he gets home Tuesday night, there’s a new teaser on the front page of the site.

“By Popular Demand!” says the headline of the post. Below: “Due to their spontaneous nature, we don’t usually post vids from our livestreams. But SOOOO MANYYYY of you have written in begging that we post this clip that, with R’s blessing, we’re finally doing it. Have fun!”

Enjolras’s heart hiccups as he clicks through.

The stream opens on the opening of R’s eyes, dark and inescapable. “Does our friend have a name?”

“He just signed it ‘E.’”

“Hmm. Eeeee.”

“More evidence he’s a fan of yours?”

Oh, of course—he hadn’t meant it this way, but now it seems obvious. Does Grantaire know? Has he put E and Enjolras together in his mind? Does he realize that of course of course of course he’s the one Enjolras wants?

“Eeeevander. Edward. Elijah. Something tells me I’m not gonna guess.” With a hint of a smile, he winks. “It’s cool. You wouldn’t guess mine. I might tell you, though. You seem...” Fuck, he’s touching his chest with his fingers—

—fingers that have touched Enjolras

—drawing them downward toward his junk, stretching this moment out—“...compunctious.”

On second thought, he’d better lock the door.

Mailbag roundtable:

“This one wants to know, well, they say, ‘You ever jizz yourself from just makin’ out?’”

“Hard to say,” says Bahorel, “’cause what do they mean, ‘making out’?”

“It’s a frustratingly imprecise term,” agrees Joly.

“Nah,” Cosette says. “‘Making out’ is great, because it can mean sort of anything from smooching to, like, rubbing off on each other.”

“Okay, so, but, for the purposes of the question at hand, do you think we’re talking—”

“Kissing,” Cosette says definitively.

“Sure?” Joly asks.

She leans an elbow against the padded arm of the sofa. “Otherwise, why even ask?”

“Well then, no,” says Joly.

“Maybe,” Bahorel says. He sounds doubtful. “In high school, maybe? I can confirm I got real close.”

“Not me,” says Cosette. “I freaking wish.”

“I can come from kissing sometimes,” ’Chetta says, “but only if I’m in the right headspace first. You know, like if I’ve been reading something full of sexual tension and I’m all worked up, or if it’s that perfect half-day of my cycle where my whole body’s just yearning for a fuck.”

“But, if I may?” Joly says, waiting for the nod before he continues, “you also got off from Bossuet giving you a piggy-back ride at the carnival that one time, so maybe the kissing’s irrelevant.”

“How dare you,” Musichetta teases, kissing him.

“Nothing to say, R?” Cosette asks.

Slouched on the colorful rug before the couch, R tilts his head up to look at her. “I’m not the kind of person that does a lot of kissing. Kind of a ‘fuck him and forget him’ type.”

“Liar,” says Cosette. “You remember Every. Thing.”

“Oh no,” R says, “I’m the ‘him.’ Was that not obvious?”

I haven’t forgotten,” Bahorel says from the armchair at the other end of the couch. On his face, that grin is just the right kind of leer for a magazine cover—alluring, sexy, but restrained.

Enjolras hits space-bar. Why is this Bahorel so handsome, with his hard bones and muscles and rakish hair? Why does he get to have the kind of voice so deep it scoops out your guts and fills you up with clacking marbles?

The screen is paused mid-pan from perfect Bahorel to R, who is rolling his eyes. Fine. Enjolras hits Play again.

“There wasn’t any kissing.”

“We all have our limits.”

“Okay, programming note,” Musichetta says crisply, looking at the camera. “Give R some kind of kiss-vid? I don’t know. Is that a thing people want?”

Enjolras would watch one million hours of it, and makes a mental note that he should write in to say so.

“But onward! The mailbag’s brimming over today, team. This next one I want to hold onto till next time Bossuet’s here, ’cause it’s about trans bi identity and I think he’d be the best of us to take it, but I do want to let you know, letter-writer, that we see you and we will be following up soon. Then, this next one’s maybe up your alley, Floreal. They say, I’m a cis woman and a feminist. How do I reconcile this with my desire to have men tie me down?

Grantaire comes to class again. This time, Hugo asks him to pose in a variety of positions lifted from famous works of art—like David, and Rodin’s Thinker, and Washington on the Delaware.

How on earth is he supposed to see less than Grantaire? Grantaire is more in every way—more compelling, more provocative, more interesting. He is not a bundle of lines. He’s not even motion. He’s blisteringly alive even in his smallest, stillest parts.

Enjolras’s drawings are a wreck.

When Grantaire pulls on his robe and exits, Enjolras is shredded with indecision about whether to hope Grantaire will join him again, which will mean Grantaire seeing his hideous portraits, or not—but he is spared the choice when a clothed Grantaire sidles back in and starts drawing beside him.

“You good?” Grantaire asks, eyes on the curving hips of the model he’s drawing.

“It was me,” Enjolras says. When Grantaire doesn’t say anything, he adds, “You probably got that already. But I’m the one. Who wrote in. With that question about—”

“Small world,” Grantaire says, inventing with a few scrawls an abundant garden behind the figure on his paper. “I hope you found the response satisfactory. My aims aren’t always noble, but generally speaking, I do aim to please.”

“You’re really okay with people—”

“We all like to feel wanted,” he says, cutting Enjolras off. “Honestly, that’s probably as big a driver as the money. Who doesn’t like imagining people jerk off over them?”

“I don’t.” He corrects himself. “I mean, I just, I wouldn’t be upset by it—I just haven’t considered that anyone might.”

Grantaire’s incredulous look at this definitely makes Enjolras go red. Hell. Grantaire is the most incredible person. To look at, to hear, to think about.

He wants to talk to R in absolutes, in superlatives—but to do so feels like too much pressure, so he checks himself and only says, “You amaze me.”

It’s hard to know if R hears him; he just keeps sketching, human forms developing shape and weight under the rapid movements of his hand.

“Look,” he says at the end of class, “There’s gonna be a one-year anniversary party this weekend, for the site. I was thinking, since you’re such a fan and all, maybe you’d like to come and meet the rest of us.”

“Are you picking me up?”

“If you want. Where do you live?”

That’s not what Enjolras meant, but to clarify will ruin him, so he just gives his address, which Grantaire types into his phone.

“See you Saturday at 7,” he says.

SATURDAY NIGHT

The headquarters is a nondescript little storefront in a business park a couple miles from campus, its frosted-glass doors and windows identical to those of the medical-supply and insurance companies that flank it. The sign says just “Educational Videos.” It’s the holding company’s name, R explains—and Enjolras declines to mention that he’s done his research.

R holds the door. They’re in a little reception room with a few beige chairs and a receptionist’s desk topped with a lovely arrangement of succulents that grow in a broad ceramic basin. Picking up the phone behind the desk, R presses two buttons. With a soft click, the door in the corner, which must lead to the rest of the place, unlocks.

“Come on,” he says, and Enjolras can’t tell if it’s brusque or cajoling, the way the words fall from Grantaire, but he follows through, closing the door behind him.

He is unprepared for the largeness of the space he enters. It’s one big soundstage that must extend all the way to the back wall of the building, although temporary walls occlude any windows that might be back there. The space is divided into sets, most of them familiar. Enjolras recognizes the space with the gray couch and blue rug, and the bed with the iron headboard, and the low seating area with the pillows and hassocks. This last seems to be where the party’s happening. A few dozen people are hanging out, draped across pillows and snacking from trays of fruit and cookies, and cuddling together.

Fuck. Enjolras has somehow not quite allowed himself to gear up for the reality of the cuddling. He’s going to see these people in the flesh, not having sex, but being normal humans, which seems, oddly, even more private and mysterious.

“You okay?” asks Grantaire, touching his hand.

Enjolras doesn’t care about whether he shouldn’t; he opens his hand to take hold of Grantaire’s. “Can I be here with you?”

Grantaire’s hand goes tight around his at first, then adjusts to find a fit. “Absolutely. When you decide you’re done, just—”

A woman comes up on them bearing two steaming mugs and a grin, and holy shit, Enjolras realizes, it’s Musichetta. He tries not to goggle.

“R!” she says. She smells delicious. “You made it! I’d hug you, but you’d get second-degree burns. Who’s your boy?”

“He’s not—”

“Enjolras,” says Enjolras.

Enchantée. Can I give you some cider?” She hands them each a mug without waiting for a reply, then reaches to shake his hand, which necessitates letting go of Grantaire. Enjolras’s fingers burn on the hot mug until he gets the handle turned around right. “No booze, you know, since Myriel keeps things on the up-and-up.” She winks and nods toward a bulky man holding court in the corner of the conversation pit. “Go ask Bahorel if he can help out with that.”

Enjolras finds it very difficult not to giggle at being in the actual company of Bahorel and Musichetta and probably a whole lot of other people he’s seen have sex. Not that he’s seen Musichetta have sex—but he knows so much about her, he feels like, that there’s an intimacy there, too. He can’t bring himself to look around yet; he knows confronting the reality of all these people at once will overwhelm him, so instead he follows Grantaire to the corner, where Bahorel pulls a bottle of brandy from behind a potted palm and pours a hearty shot into each of their mugs.

In person, Bahorel’s angular beauty is otherworldly. How in hell can someone be that jacked and still look like they’re drawn entirely in straight lines? Enjolras can’t decide if he likes it or not.

“So, what brings you here?” Bahorel drawls to Enjolras. “Looking for work? It pays great, and the benefits package...”

“Package,” another guy cackles from the pillows where he’s lounging at Bahorel’s feet. “My package is ready for benefits any time you—”

“Keep it in your pants,” Bahorel says to the guy. To Enjolras, he says, “You’ve gotta be one of R’s models.” He tugs at a long strand of Enjolras’s hair appraisingly. “You like it when he tells you what to do?”

“He’s an art student, actually,” R says on Enjolras’s behalf. He nabs another bottle from Bahorel’s stash and adds a second pour to his own drink.

“That’s cool. Where do your artistic passions—”

“Oh, there’s Joly,” says R, wrapping an arm around Enjolras’s shoulders to steer him away. “See ya, man.”

On the other side of the conversation pit, they sit in a cluster with Joly and Bossuet, and Enjolras tries very hard to greet them like new acquaintances and not like people he’s watched jack off with Grantaire approximately a hundred times at this point.

Bossuet turns out to be an Econ grad student, and Joly is in med school, and Enjolras is surprised at his relief in discovering that these lovely people are not only definitely not his type—Bossuet too genial, Joly too nervous—but that for all that they are warm, entertaining human beings, it seems like R, too, is generally uninterested in them on a physical level.

Still, every time Bossuet’s cheek dimples with a smile, Enjolras remembers the delight in his eyes when R walked in for that jack-off session, and hot rivulets of jealousy surge through him.

Musichetta and the tech guy, Feuilly, call for everyone’s attention. They project a short video message from Charles Myriel, who congratulates them on their first anniversary. Then Musichetta reads out some statistics about site use.

“Our surveys show a remarkable improvement in healthy sexual attitudes and practices in ongoing users of the site,” she says. “I know sometimes it seems like a nudge-nudge wink-wink joke, but we really are making educational videos here. People are learning from us.”

“I’ll drink to that,” says Bahorel, who is apparently capable of a sultry mutter loud enough to be heard across a room.

“To us!” Musichetta says.

“Doing the lord’s work!” someone chimes in.

“To education!” says another.

And everyone drinks.

A little later, Bossuet and Musichetta and Bahorel start doing push-ups in one of the “bedroom” sets iin what seems like a contest but which has no clear objective other than showing their really spectacular muscles.

“How often do they work out?” Enjolras asks, amazed.

“Too much,” says a wry voice behind them. “It’s unnatural.”

“Ep—” He pauses. It still seems impertinent to act like he knows these people.

“Eponine, yeah. This guy with you, R?”

“Oh my gooosh!” squeals another person. Enjolras doesn’t have to even look to know it’s Cosette. She hugs him before they’ve even been introduced, and Enjolras, who does not always love to be touched by people he’s just met, is so damn glad. Cosette hugs like Cosette does everything—wholly and fondly and with a firmness you might not expect.

Cosette is pretty handsy with Eponine, who, while more reserved, leans into her girlfriend’s touches.

“We were just talking about how ripped those guys are,” says R, with a shadowed look in his eyes.

“I mean—” Cosette makes a quick, comical glance around the room, and lowers her voice—“Bahorel’s arms? They’ve got to drive half our site traffic. I mean, who doesn’t want to get with that?”

“I don’t,” says Enjolras. It’s hard to say if anyone hears; Cosette keeps talking, but Grantaire’s taken his hand again.

“I mean, that’s why it was so powerful, that one vid Floreal did with Bahorel, where she called it off partway, and Musichetta begged them to let us run the video anyway because that’s such a good thing. People need to see that. That it stops. That even when you’re with someone so broadly recognized as ‘desirable,’ you make the calls about what you do. In the commentary for that one, that’s one of the only times I’ve seen ’Chetta make anyone re-record. Because, well—” She notices someone behind Enjolras, and laughs. “Hey Flor! You want to tell why?”

“Because I apologized,” Floreal says, like she’s scandalized at herself. “It was just—instinct, I guess, built on twenty years of conditioning, and the first words out of my mouth after we watched it were, ‘I am so sorry. I was going through some personal stuff, and it wasn’t about—’” She stops. “Musichetta cut the recording. She said, real stern, ‘You have nothing to apologize for.’”

Enjolras has seen this one. It’s a great video—sexy and fast-moving, with clothes flying off and bodies grinding against each other, until everything seems to pause. Bahorel says something like, “You want me inside you?” and Floreal, hand on his massive right bicep, just says, “Uhhh...” Bahorel pulls back and they assess each other for a second—a really nice stark shot, the two facing each other and breathing hard, flushed with color and arousal—and then Floreal says, “I’m not really feeling it right now.” Bahorel takes another breath and says, “Do you want some space?” and she says no, it’s cool if you want to hang out, and a minute later the clip ends with the two of them sitting together on the couch, back in their shirts, sharing from the decorative bowl of M&M’s, which rests precariously on the couch cushion between them.

In the debrief that went live on the site, no one apologizes. Bahorel praises Floreal’s honesty; she notes his attention to her shift in enthusiasm. They offer to replenish the M&M’s. Off-camera, Musichetta says “That’s what they’re there for, people. I don’t know why no one ever eats the candy.”

“Are you going to do another together at some point?” Cosette asks Floreal now.

“Bahorel pointed out that if we do, it might look like I feel like I owe him or something. We’ve both done some videos with other people since that. We both know we like each other. Our egos can take that one time not working out. Oh, hey!” She puts a hand on Enjolras’s shoulder. “I know you! You’re in Hugo’s class, right?”

A little later, he and R sit down to talk and E realizes they’re on the same sofa from that video. He picks up the candy dish and offers Grantaire some M&M’s. “Why did you decide to work here in the first place?”

R says, “Mostly the money.” His eyes are gray in this light, gray and glinting, but warm. Warmly glinting. What the fuck is happening in Enjolras’s brain. “And I’ve been posing naked for art classes anyway, since I turned 18—how different is this? It’s just, more naked. And more fun. Regular porn seems like shit to make. All those takes? The pauses? Staying hard forever?” He makes a dismissive pfft through his lips. “This shit here’s just easy. It’s sex. Come in hot, get off, talk it out...”

“Every part of what you just said seems nervewracking.”

“I mean it could be. If it was more real. But that guy on the vids? That’s not me. Not me most of the time.”

“Because you’re having sex on camera. But you seem open then. You let down your defenses.”

“It’s not about me. It’s that everyone around me is so—so vulnerable. Sex makes people vulnerable.”

“But not you.” Enjolras tries very hard to communicate his disbelief. How the hell does he get inside of Grantaire? Because this guy, brusque and funny and hot, is only part of who Grantaire is—Enjolras has seen hints of the rest. He wants more.

“It doesn’t matter about me. Everything I do, I feel it from my feet to my balls to my fucking ears, man. When you’re always there for it, you learn you can’t let people see that.” He tosses an M&M in the air and catches it on his tongue. Enjolras demurely averts his gaze. “Other people, it’s not so often you see inside them. So when I’m fucking someone, I just let them see me a little. Give ‘em something back so they don’t feel so raw.”

“When do I get that? You’ve seen me vulnerable. Just abjectly failing. Doing art!”

“That doesn’t count. You don’t care if you suck at it.”

“Oh. But you think I’d care if I was sucking cock.”

R is unimpressed at this vulgarity. “Probably. People tend to want to be good at sex. We like to please people.”

The only reason Enjolras has ever wanted to be any good at art is to please Grantaire.

“So, what if I suck you? Then you’ll talk to me like you trust me?”

This vulgarity, on the other hand, seems to land; Grantaire stiffens. “Fuck. No. That’s not what I meant.”

“I can’t suck you?”

“Jesus.” He looks beseechingly at Enjolras, with his lids low like they are in some of the videos, like he really truly only has eyes for you. “Come here and tell me something.”

Enjolras is right in front of him—kind of up in his face, really. So here? He’s unsure. How close is here?

“Touch. Your. Body. To. My. Body,” R says, with the deliberate pauses of a spelling-bee quizmaster. “Now.”

There’s not a lot of room in Enjolras’s head for thought. Hoping this is okay—not too little, not too much—he puts a hand on Grantaire’s shoulder. Grantaire looks at it, puts his own arm around Enjolras’s back, and pulls so that they’re side by side, with Enjolras’s hand still sitting foolishly atop Grantaire’s shoulder while Grantaire holds him close.

“What am I supposed to tell you?”

“You want to suck me.”

“I want to.”

“You think it’s gonna make me let you in here.” Grantaire gestures broadly at himself.

“I want to suck you because I want your cock in my mouth and you groaning like your heart hurts and coming in me. I know you want things; I know there are things in you that ache. I know you love people, that it’s not an act. I don’t know if you’ll act the same with me you do with your friends after you have sex with them. And if you don’t, I’m okay with that. If it’s just once, even.”

“So you can say you got with the guy on the website?” It sounds bitter, but when Enjolras cocks his head to look, Grantaire’s eyes are huge and looking at him intently.

“Exactly what the political-career consultant had in mind when she said I should start cultivating my story.”

“Fucking hell.” R’s arm tightens around him. “You’re gonna be a fucking politician.”

“The good kind.”

R makes some kind of noise that is not spitting but is approximately as polite.

“People are gonna vote for you.”

“If they don’t, my parents will be devastated. They didn’t invest all those years of healthy backstory for me not to be Time’s person of the year.”

“Do you give a shit?”

“If I fix this world before I die?” He shakes his head in disbelief. He can’t imagine anything else. “I have to. Otherwise, what’s the point of my life?”

“Suck strangers’ cocks at porn parties?”

Enjolras wants to say that R’s not a stranger, but that’s awfully presumptuous.

R goes on. “It’s not an uncommon idea of fulfillment.”

“I’m supposed to find someone photogenic and demonstratively charitable and fall in love.”

“Hmm. Have you met Bahorel.”

“I’ve met you.”

“Fuck off.” R laughs, leaning back on the pillows heaped behind him. He shakes his head. “‘Photogenic and charitable.’”

“First off, you are on camera quite a bit, so I don’t know how much more photogenic you think a person can be; and second, the reason you’re on camera is to educate young people about their bodies.” And you are so fucking hot, he thinks. So hot. Those dark eyes, that asymmetrical, rough, stunningly human face.

“It’s just easy,” R says now, like he’s answering a question from earlier, picking back up a line of discussion. “Sex with the fewest strings. Fucking for the greater good. Talk through all the mess after, drop it on the internet. Let everyone else remember so you don’t have to relive a million times all the ways it didn’t go.”

“You mean even artists aren’t getting regularly propositioned for hedonistic sex?”

Grantaire shrugs. “Power dynamics. Bullshit. Gets in the way.”

“Is that why we don’t we just ask that? By default, whenever we’re interested? If people want to have sex with us?”

“Because if no one says anything, it could be anything.”

“Whether they say yes or no—”

“It kills the possibility. For people who know how to think positively, I hear, possibility can be a glorious place to live.”

Enjolras glories in the possibilities of R’s fingers—those of the far hand are right now splayed loosely around the candy dish he seems to have forgotten he’s holding; instead, he’s gazing at something just over Enjolras’s shoulder.

“Do—” He glances over his shoulder. Just a curl of his hair and the bare wall. “R. Do I feel like a possibility? To you?”

“Oh, Enjolras,” Grantaire says, slipping into that rich register from the coffeeshop, from the website, “you are entirely possibility, and entirely impossible—two sides of the same discourteous coin, not legal tender. You are beauty and intellect and passion, and indifferent to—”

Enjolras wants a direct answer. “Are you saying you do want to have sex with me?”

Grantaire sputters and glowers. “Murderer.”

“Things aren’t possible until they’re not. That’s getting it twisted. They’re nothing until they’re possible.”

“Do you want me to want to fuck you?”

“I want you.”

It’s easy to say because it’s so undeniably true.

“Shit.” He looks around. “Then I guess the follow-up is, how many people do you want watching?”

“Ideally, none.”

“That politician thing.”

“I’m kind of shy,” Enjolras admits. He has rarely been concerned with his physique or technique—but it is suddenly dawning on him, in this room full of fit and promiscuous people, that perhaps he ought to be—and in this room full of cameras, that he’d better be circumspect.

Grantaire’s eyes burn into him. “I’m driving you home.”

The late-night drive in Grantaire’s ancient Jeep is preposterously cold.

“My roommates are hella annoying,” he bellows over the wind, which has rendered most of Enjolras’s thick layers useless. “Your place?”

“They can’t be worse than mine,” Enjolras yells back. He’s willing to risk the embarrassment of introducing Grantaire to Combeferre and Courfeyrac, but god, he’d really delay that first meeting till some time when he hasn’t got a hard-on.

Grantaire veers west at the campus, down the tree-lined boulevard nearest the arts complex, and into a parking space outside of Lamarque Hall. Only when the engine shuts off does Enjolras realize that its roar was cutting off all the other sounds of night. Across campus, an alarm is sounding. Closer, there’s the whirring click of a failing streetlamp and the creaks and guffaws of a couple of drunk kids passing by on the bike path.

“C’mere,” Grantaire says, and leads the way up the steps.

His studio, it turns out, is several floors up. “Twenty-four-hour access,” he says, “But no one’s ever here after midnight.”

Out of the little industrial windows, the university’s nighttime lights glint. Grantaire rummages around in a supply closet and comes out with a bottle of wine and a couple of empty glass jars. He sniffs one, then pours wine into it and hands it to Enjolras.

“So,” he says, pouring one for himself, too. “You want me.”

And Enjolras questions himself. He meant to do this in the car—he did—but in the car, it was too cold to think anything but Holy fuck it’s cold and I’m going home with Grantaire and I’m going to die of cold before I get there holy fuck. So he questions it now, because he should. To say it once was an act of passion. In the moment, it was clear. To say it twice, if there’s anything about it that’s not true, would just be a lie.

Wanting, Enjolras is prowling his way into feeling, is not a feeling that’s easy to track down and label. It’s not like righteousness or rage or triumph. Wanting just rings the bell and runs, so I’m left wondering on the doorstep about who it was I missed.

Even after so little time, he misses Grantaire when he isn’t with him. To say he longs for him feels pretentious and wrong; and yet, he longs for closeness. He wants it.

Grantaire is eyeing him like maybe he made a mistake.

“I want you,” Enjolras says.

He pulls Grantaire against him and kisses him.

How do you make a kiss say that you want to hold this whole person inside you, that you want to wrap yourself all the way around them, that you want to let everything between you melt so the two of you are like a charcoal drawing that’s been smudged by the heel of a hand till the lines have become an indistinct borderland of gray?

Apparently you do whatever the hell Grantaire’s doing to Enjolras right now, because that’s exactly what Enjolras is reading here. Or writing. So hard to separate, really—and isn’t that the point?

Grantaire bucks up against him, and they’re grinding against each other, trying to get closer as they kiss. Enjolras remembers Musichetta’s suggestion that they give R a kiss-video, and Enjolras knows he’s no performer, but he can’t imagine any video could possibly beat this.

“More?” Grantaire asks.

There’s no bed in this room. The only seating is hard-backed chairs and a bank of faded blue airplane seats, now mounted to a shipping pallet.

“I avoid those ones,” Grantaire says, following Enjolras’s eyes. “Especially at night—that’s when the mice come out.” His lips scratch across the edge of Enjolras’s jaw. “I don’t know if there’s—”

“No,” Enjolras says, kissing him. “This is good.”

But eventually, eons of feeling later, it’s not enough, because Grantaire’s hands are making their way into the back of his jeans, touching the swell of his ass, and god, he wants more.

“You have a bed at your place, right?” Enjolras gasps. “If it means I get more of you. I’m ready to brave your roommates.”

Grantaire’s roommates are in the room of the apartment that would probably be a living room if it weren’t entirely filled by beer pong, a keg, and half a dozen guys in backward ball-caps and sports jerseys, all yelling at once about some rules violation. One gesticulates with his own cup of beer, which sloshes on the table, and suddenly everyone turns on him, chanting “Sloppy seconds! Sloppy seconds!”

The guy laughs wetly, then circumnavigates the table, chugging everyone’s half-drunk beers. Killing the last, he burps loud and long, then notices Grantaire and Enjolras watching from the entryway.

“Bruhhh,” he grins. “Want in?”

“Not tonight, man,” says Grantaire. “We’re gonna—” He nods sideways at Enjolras.

“Oh, fuck yeahhhh,” he says, noticing Enjolras. His eyes light up. “Get it, bruh!”

“Get it!” chant the others, refilling cups. “Get it! Get it!”

“This way,” R says, and leads Enjolras past the hooting horde to a stairway.

“Is this their usual?” Enjolras asks.

“I don’t think we need to make small talk about the bros.” In the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, R pushes open a door. “I mean, we can. Or we can...”

Enjolras doesn’t even look around the room, just ascertains that the door’s closed behind them and they’re alone and there’s a bed. “I want to blow you.”

“Like Bahorel does in that video?”

Why does he have to keep bring Bahorel up? Like Enjolras doesn’t see it all the time, the way Bahorel in that one video stole the words from Grantaire and left him gazing at some higher plane.

“He’s probably really good.”

“Sure, I guess.” Through the wall, the chanting escalates, louder and faster. There is thumping and whooping, and someone seems to be singing a song. In many cases, this would be annoying, but right now, the noise means privacy. “You know,” Grantaire says, like he has to, “that Bahorel would totally be down. If you wanted.”

“To give me pointers?” He doesn’t think he’s that bad. Just less experienced.

“To bone. He’ll fuck me in a video, but the rest of the time? He likes his guys pretty.”

“I keep telling you I’m not interested in fucking Bahorel.”

“You sure about that?”

Enjolras laughs. He is ill-acquainted with jealousy most of the time, but he’s gotten to know it a little better lately, and it’s a staggering relief to realize he’s not the only one. “I feel like if either of us wants him, it’s you.”

“Oh.” Grantaire seems startled by this. “No. Fuck no. I don’t want him; it’s just he’s the kind of guy people want, not—”

“R,” Enjolras says, unbuttoning his coat and sitting on the edge of the bed, “I have wanted you so long. Will you ask me something?”

“What’s that?” R looks at him warily.

“Ask me if I’m ready for this. You know how.”

Grantaire peels off his own jacket. His arms, his real arms, strong from practical use, make Enjolras want to melt—and then he finds his deeper voice, and asks, “Are you ready?”

It’s a good thing Enjolras is already sitting, because even so, he feels his knees go soft. Grantaire’s eyes on him are serious and hard, and the things that does to Enjolras. He’s seen Grantaire playful during sex, and eager and wanting and bossy, but never like he expects to get something more than the ways bodies can touch.

He expects it, and still, he cannot help but doubt, and Enjolras sees all this in the tentative set of his face.

“I want you to talk to me,” Enjolras says. “Only if you want. But I want you to talk like you talk in the commentary videos, when you’re thinking back. I want to know what’s going on in your head. I’m crazy about you, R.” He reaches for Grantaire’s belt buckle. “Okay?”

“Good by me,” Grantaire says.

It’s a different thing to see a cock that you know on-screen when it’s hot and hard in your hands.

Enjolras touches his tongue to the tip, where there’s already a little slide of moisture. God, he tastes good.

“Oh fuck,” R says. “I thought earlier, I thought I was gonna... You see that vid, Enj, the one where we’re all talking about if we’ve jizzed from—ahhh!—jizzed from kissing? And I joked about it.”

Enjolras opens his mouth enough to surround the head of R’s cock, and lets his tongue run languidly over the tip.

“’Cause that’s what I do when. Well. Fuck. Oh, holy fuck. When I don’t want to talk about whatever.” The groans feel different, too, this close—especially since they’re the result of Enjolras’s own work, not just a distant person on a computer screen. “I thought I was gonna come in my pants tonight. At the studio.”

“Mmm,” agrees Enjolras, mouth full of R’s cock, hand gripping further down on the shaft.

“Kissing you.” In his chest, his voice vibrates under Enjolras’s other hand.

“God,” Enjolras says, pulling back so he can crawl up Grantaire to kiss him again.

With Enjolras’s hand stroking his cock, Grantaire kisses like Enjolras is about to leave him, lips hot, tongue driving in fast and searching.

“I’ve never...” Enjolras tries to find the words for what makes this so spectacular. “Never like this. It’s always slow and considerate and warm.”

“I’m warm,” protests Grantaire, pulling him closer so that Grantaire’s cock makes contact with Enjolras’s jeans.

Enjolras laughs. “A sweater is warm.” Grantaire is an open flame, ready to sear anything it touches.

Grantaire hesitates, and Enjolras takes advantage of that moment to suck at his neck.

“Will you fuck me? Fuck me like you? Fast, and hard, and...”

“I will certainly fuck you like me,” Grantaire says, but there’s a strange look on his face as he wraps a hand behind Enjolras’s neck and takes firm hold, so that he can dictate the pace of their kissing—which is suddenly, and thrillingly, a whispering, lingering tease of what they were doing a moment ago.

“You think you like it fast?” R asks, eyes inches away, watching him. His tongue runs along Enjolras’s lower lip, setting it on fire and retreating.

“It’s different with you.”

“This isn’t fast, is it?” Enjolras’s side tingles as R’s fingers push under his shirt and loiter against his ribs.

“It feels fast. My blood—” This is ridiculous; he can’t explain that his heart never pounds like this, that his dick is never this hard when no one’s even touched it yet.

“You’re beautiful.”

You’re the model.”

“Fuck off.”

“Fuck me.” He straining to kiss Grantaire, but every kiss is small, unsatisfying, leaves him more desperate and aching and eager. He’s no dummy; he sees what Grantaire is doing here, slowing it down on purpose to show that there can be no doubt that it’s not the speed that Enjolras wants, it’s the guy. This taunting? He is so here for it. “Please.”

It is so easy to want Grantaire.

“Take off your clothes,” R says.

“What about you?”

“You’ve seen me naked.”

Enjolras throws his shirt onto a chair in the corner. “So?” He pushes down his pants and underwear all at once.

“Holy fuck, Enjolras.” Grantaire is frozen, goggling at him. “If politicianing doesn’t work out for you—”

Enjolras throws himself backward on the bed. “How do you want me? I can roll over, get on all fours if you want, or—”

“Stay. There.”

Then R’s hands are on him, slow, maddeningly slow, and teasing—sometimes light, sometimes harder, but never quite on the parts of him that most ache to be touched. His cock is as hard as it’s ever been, bobbing above his stomach.

Grantaire’s fingers mark a firm line down Enjolras’s hipbone toward the cock. He can feel that he’s leaking. He groans.

“I’m not touching your cock today.”

Enjolras must look as aghast by this as he feels, because Grantaire laughs and reaches behind him.

“Gonna Scheherazade this shit. Keep you coming back.”

“Make me come once first.”

“Ooh.” His voice is taunting as his hand, now slick with lube, descends between Enjolras’s thighs. This is great. Enjolras asked to get fucked. He is very ready to get fucked. His hips lift off the bed to give Grantaire more access—but Grantaire pushes him back down with a stern hand.

“Not going there either.”

Enjolras breathes out hard to keep from swearing, from demanding that Grantaire just fucking give it to him.

“You ever do it like this?”

R’s sliding his hand up and down between Enjolras’s legs, just touching the upper thighs where they meet, getting them slippery. He twitches upward, and Enjolras groans as Grantaire’s fingers brush his balls.

“This way, I get to touch you just about everywhere. You’re gonna feel it so much and have no idea how I’m so good. You have no idea how bad you’re gonna want it.”

He says it like he doesn’t believe how much Enjolras already wants it, like he has something to prove, which is preposterous. “You know it was you, right?”

R’s hand coasts smoothly back down the balls to the perineum and almost touches Enjolras’s asshole before it starts, slowly, to withdraw. Through the lubricant, his skin hums with the touch. “I can do this all day,” R murmurs. “I can fuck you so soft you lose your fucking mind.” On one passage of his hand, he crooks a fingertip to hook—just for a second—the tender seamed flesh behind the balls.

“The whole time. When I wrote in. Before that.” Enjolras’s breath is shuddery, but he needs to get this much out. “You’re the one I wanted to jack off to. In case I didn’t say.”

“You,” Grantaire says, taking hold of his own cock, and gazing for a disbelieving second at Enjolras’s face, “are ridiculous. Fuck.” He punctuates this with a squeeze around the base of his cock. “I’m gonna fuck my cock right here, just like this.” The other hand slides, hard and slow, between Enjolras’s thighs, which are clenching involuntarily to draw those knuckles nearer to the twitching skin of his ass. His eyes seek out Enjolras’s. “No condom unless you want it.”

“No condom,” Enjolras says. “I want to feel you.”

“More lube, though,” says R. “I don’t get to do this that much. It’s not a pretty thing you show people on camera. It’s messy, and it’s easy.” The wry twist to Grantaire’s mouth seems to say, Like me.

Enjolras’s life is tidy and orderly, even when it shouldn’t be—even when that neatness is painfully difficult. Messy and easy sounds a-fucking-mazing.

Grantaire shoves his pants down so that the belt buckle, flapping loose, knocks into Enjolras’s knee, and the teeth of the zipper bite into his calf, and right as Enjolras is registering these discomforts, Grantaire’s cock pushes between his thighs and oh fuck, all these feelings belong together, like overblown and perfect opposites. The dull pain of the metal on his leg, and the sharp, excruciating softness of the pleasure of the head of Grantaire’s cock gliding past his balls, down the seam to his asshole, just glancing over the sensitive skin there before pulling back.

R is watching him closely. This is the most intimate thing, Enjolras realizes, that he has ever done. That he has had his cock inside other people, and theirs in him, is immaterial. Those sexual acts were acts. Were performed. Were not any kind of connection.

“You feel that,” Grantaire says quietly. He smirks. “Feel me. Want me in you. Doesn’t matter. I’m in you. You know I’m in you.” He thrusts shallowly, hitting the perineum with each little press forward. Enjolras feels like he can’t look at Grantaire, like it’s too much—but neither can he close his eyes.

“Want to feel me on your ass?”

Enjolras nods, wide-eyed, slack-mouthed.

“You want that?”

“Yes,” Enjolras manages. “Yes. Please.”

Pushing up on his arms—which makes the muscles stand out in ways that Enjolras is not accustomed to noticing, but now notices so much that he cranes his neck up to mouth at the exposed lower curve of the bicep where it emerges from Grantaire’s short sleeve—Grantaire nudges more deeply between Enjolras’s thighs so that his cock is sliding down into the cleft of his ass, slipping back and forth over the surface of his hole. Each time, it’s explosive, like tiny twitching fireworks at each leisurely pass of skin on skin.

“I want you inside me.”

“Oh, I know.” The fucking certainty in that purr. It makes Enjolras want to clobber things. It makes him want to do anything Grantaire tells him to.

“Oh fuck.” He’s blushing, he’s sure; he can’t hide how much he likes it that Grantaire talks to him like this, that Grantaire acts so sure that Enjolras wants him.

“Faster too, I’ll bet. There are lots of things you want from me.”

Enjolras can’t deny it. He’s wriggling under Grantaire, trying to find out how tightly he can squeeze his legs around him without pushing Grantaire upward and out of range of his asshole, because it’s amazing and he wants more pressure, more, because these glancing touches are making him loopy with want. He curls his body a little and is rewarded by Grantaire’s next thrust inward, which catches on the rim of his asshole, almost goes in.

R’s sharp intake of breath is accompanied by a hard hand on his chest, pushing down.

“Uh-uh-uh,” he says mildly. “No more of that.”

Enjolras is only disappointed for the smallest fraction of a second, though, because R’s solution to his questing is to just lie all the way flat atop him, stretched out long and muscular and heavy, god, Enjolras feels trapped, and he didn’t know till now that he would like this, feeling trapped under a man who is fucking with agonizing languor between his thighs, straight up, straight down, sloppy and squelchy but volatile and resolute as a lit fuse.

It is very stupid that Enjolras is mad that he’s going to come from this. But he is going to come, and he doesn’t want to.

“You feel that, yeah? The way my cock drags over your nuts? It’s maddening, isn’t it? And it’s gonna make you come.”

“But. I want—”

Grantaire’s mouth finds his for a quick kiss. “Next time. What’s gonna happen now”—he pulls up abruptly, sending sparks through Enjolras’s balls and leaking cock—“I’m gonna keep going, just like this”—he thrusts back down, sparking new explosions— “and when you think you’re gonna come, you tell me.”

Then they’re kissing for real, and Enjolras is thinking, You didn’t say this part, jerk!, but he’s also suddenly so goddamn close, and he sputters, “God, yes, fuck, I’m—”

“Wait,” says Grantaire, breathing hard against his cheek. “Waiiit.” He slides, so gently, in, out, in again. “When you’re ready, you can come. But let it out”—his lips curve into a smile—“slow.”

He licks Enjolras’s jawline. “Come when you can’t not,” he says, pulling upward, and everything in Enjolras that usually tenses to ejaculate does tense, but somehow in extreme slow motion, so that Enjolras can almost feel each passage of Grantaire’s rising and falling cock like the tick of a ratchet, readying and readying and readying, and then

“Fuuuuuuuck,” Enjolras moans, the world falling away while hot come jolts out in waves with three... four... five more strokes of Grantaire between his legs, of Grantaire kissing near his ear. “Fuck, Grantaire.”

Grantaire is still sliding between him, but just a little, gently, while the surges in Enjolras dissipate.

“Okay?” he asks.

“Incomparable,” Enjolras says, still short of breath.

“But that was slow, yeah? Like the boring fucks you’re used to?” The mocking murmur finagles its way right down inside Enjolras. People don’t joke with him during sex.

“So inconsiderate,” he says back, squeezing his thighs tight enough to make Grantaire gasp atop him. Pressed together like this, he can feels Grantaire’s shudders everywhere.

“Did I fail to give you what you wanted?” R teases. “You can always leave me unsatisfied if that balances the scales.” He kisses the corner of Enjolras’s mouth with unbearable gentleness. “What do you want, Enjolras?”

“Come on me.”

“Kinda cliche?”

Enjolras bites at his lip hard enough to make Grantaire’s eyes go wide. “Fucking come on me, Grantaire. I want you all over me.”

“Well, fuck.” Pulling back just enough to free his cock from Enjolras’s thighs, he ruts forward into the mess of jizz low on Enjolras’s abdomen. “When you put it that way.” He’s covering himself with Enjolras’s come, which strikes Enjolras as a questionable practice, but it feels so good, and he keeps thinking, It’s messy and it’s easy. Messy and easy. How did he not know till now that they can go together?

“You want to see it?” R grunts into Enjolras’s ear.

“I want to see you.”

R pushes up to an elbow, watching Enjolras intently. Bright beads of sweat shine on his forehead from the effort his restraint apparently costs him, but he doesn’t rush. “You wanted me,” he says, between deliberate, measured thrusts into the slickness between them. “You want. Me to fucking believe. You saw me. And wanted me.”

“I want you,” Enjolras agrees, straining his face upward to catch R in a kiss. Grantaire is panting and so unbelievably hard against him. When Enjolras’s tongue licks at his open lip, Grantaire thrusts again, and then holds still, muscles quivering, breath caught in his throat, hovering at the precipice.

“You want me to come on you, Enjolras?”

“God yes,” Enjolras says. “God, please Grantaire, please come.”

Covering Enjolras’s mouth in a kiss so hard it hurts, Grantaire doesn’t even seem to move his cock, but suddenly he’s spurting hot into the space between them, and Enjolras feels so full he’s not sure what to do with it except to wrap his arms around Grantaire and pull him close, kissing him over and over till their hearts slow back down.

It’s quiet out now; there’s a murmuring from above that is probably the roommates out smoking weed on the porch.

“I already want to fuck you again.”

“We are literally still covered in each other’s jizz,” says Grantaire, tugging off his t-shirt and mopping at their bodies with it. “Also, same.”

“Dear Sex Team,” Enjolras says, “is it true that my cock is going to fall off from overuse?”

R takes hold of it—still, or again, partway hard and twitching at the touch.

“That’s just use,” he says. “You want overuse, you better spend the night.”

LATER

“See, here’s the thing,” R says weeks later, in bed at Enjolras’s apartment now that Enjolras has had time to get him and the roommates used to each other. “When I first saw you, I didn’t know. Didn’t know you’d be this magnetic presence, this person who can fill a person’s brain. I just thought you were sulky and hot.”

“I’ve been carefully bred.”

“Gross.”

“I have. My people choose their mates methodically.”

“Is that so.” Grantaire’s tone is neutral, almost flat.

“It is.”

“I’m a fucking idiot for saying this, but really it should be obvious anyway: I’m a terrible match for you.”

Everyone Enjolras has ever dated has been perfect for him, and that’s exactly why he stopped dating. “I want to show you something.”

“Yeah?” Grantaire has such a great leer.

Enjolras pulls out his phone, loads the Plan. “This thing, it’s the roadmap of my life. Not ’cause anyone’s making me; it’s what I want. I like to lead, and my family has made sure I’m set up to lead effectively. Everything is planned out.”

“So you’re saying I’m not in the plan?”

“It’s one thing to plan out college majors and internships and volunteer experience and law school and first jobs.”

“Seriously? You’re gonna be a politician and a goddamned fucking lawyer?”

“Not the point. And of course I’m going to be a fucking lawyer; read your ballot. It’s basically a prerequisite. The point is I’ve tried to let the Plan dictate my love life, and it fails every time. I don’t give a crap how nice-looking and kind and accomplished a person is if I don’t want them. And I never want them.”

“So off-plan is good?”

“I don’t even know. But as I see it, I can either scrap the entire Plan because this part of it doesn’t work—or I can just take the dating off-Plan and see what happens.

“You’re not terrible for me, by the way. You’re just terrible for the Plan.”

“No, I’m terrible.”

“Shut up. You’re nice-looking and accomplished and kind, just like those other guys. But unlike with them, I also want you. In ways that could distract me.”

Grantaire grabs himself by the hair, like he’s both winning and losing in a battle with his own brain. “I’m not trying to fuck you up.”

Enjolras reaches for the lube. “Exactly how deeply fucked do you think I’m going to be?”

“Is Courf still home?”

“He won’t mind.”

“Obviously. I meant, can you lock the door?”

Enjolras is unsurprised to discover that he really really likes the way Grantaire fills his ass. It’s been a long time since he’s had anyone inside him, so he knows he’s tight; fortunately Grantaire’s work has given him the staying power to fuck Enjolras through before he comes. (Thus far, Enjolras hasn’t lasted more than a minute inside Grantaire.)

Grantaire means it when he says he’s not that into penetration, so most of their fucks are external—but nothing about them feels external to Enjolras; it feels like they fuck from miles inside of themselves.

After, they should really clean up, but it’s so comfortable in bed that Enjolras just throws some towels over them and pulls Grantaire close.

“I can’t believe I’ve never seen you do that before.”

“It’s not a thing I do that much. Feels like you’re asking a lot of someone when you fuck their ass. Really messing with their emotions. Demanding they make room for you.”

Enjolras mouths at Grantaire’s collarbone, smiling to himself. Grantaire tangles his fingers in Enjolras’s curls.

“You should talk about that in Mailbag sometime.”

“Can I talk about you?”

“Absolutely. Of course. Please. I mean, if you’re okay with me talking about—”

“On the site. Are you down for it, if you come up in a talk segment?”

Enjolras loves it. “Not my name, but—”

“I’ll give you a cute nickname.”

“That’s. Sure. That’s fine.”

Grantaire tends to lie low whenever a new video drops. He knows Enjolras watches them—it’s just sort of a given that he’ll be able to mention a thing that happened and Enjolras will already know all about it—but the actual watching-of-the-videos still happens in secret.

Enjolras is not sure if he should acknowledge that R’s still doing videos himself—demonstrating ways to incorporate a vibrator into oral with a pretty girl Enjolras remembers meeting at the party (and making her come so magnificently that her entire chest goes pink and scarlet), and giving a hand job to Feuilly, the tech guy, who’s decided with apparently equal parts enthusiasm and embarrassment to try being on the other side of the camera. He knows these have been filmed since they started seeing each other. The hickey on R’s collarbone in the oral video is definitely one Enjolras put there. He is so curious about R’s choice to wear a shirt that shows it; most tees would keep it under wraps.

He’s pretty sure he has some other feelings about R’s new videos, too—but he can’t talk to R about them, and it feels too private to bring up anything but the roughest outlines of Grantaire’s sex work with ’Ferre and Courf, so he sets those emotions aside in favor of being so damn glad to finally date someone he both likes and wants.

But tonight Grantaire asks if Enjolras will come by his studio after art class, and when, after a couple of beers and some clean-up, the other artists present head home for the night, R says, “Can I show you something?”

Enjolras expects it to be art, but Grantaire perches on one of the hard, paint-spattered chairs and pulls out his laptop. “New mailbag vid got posted tonight,” he says. “Get me another beer?”

The first few questions are pretty standard sex questions, and Enjolras, seated in another chair with his legs sprawled across Grantaire’s lap, chuckles at Musichetta’s diplomacy and Bahorel’s bravado and R’s gorgeous mastery of the art of understatement. He shares occasional swigs from the last bottle of beer. Then Grantaire tenses up under him, and his attention returns more fully to the screen.

“‘This is a question for the people who are dating someone off the set. Are they okay with you having sex with other people?’ Joly, you want to take that one first?”

“Obviously in my case, this is a little bit different, since you’re both here—Bossuet’s in all the scenes I do, and you’re always on-set. Of course we all had to talk through our fears about being so open with the public about our relationship, and about showing people our bodies, but that communication’s really been good for us.”

“The question asked about sex with other people,” Cosette points out.

“Right. That’s just been R, for us. And since ’Chetta asked us to, I think we’re all cool with it.”

Bahorel talks about his girlfriend, and their limits, and how she likes to text him performance notes after each of his videos drops. Marius says how glad he is that Cosette and Eponine have found each other, but also says with kind of a nervous chuckle that they’d better not open up the relationship any further.

“I don’t think I’d be okay with seeing her have sex with another man, even it was someone I know and like.”

Cosette kisses him. “And that’s why I won’t. You know I’m so in love with you, right?”

“Anyone else?” Musichetta asks, putting up a hand like a blinder to block her view of Cosette and Marius’s smooching. “What about Apollo, R?”

R shrugs. “He hasn’t said anything about it.”

“How do you feel about that?”

“I think he’s just respecting that, like, he’s cool with me doing me. We haven’t really set ... limits or whatever.”

Musichetta looks at him askance. “Have you told him about that job you turned down?”

Grantaire gazes steadfastly at the computer, where the other him is steadfastly not answering Musichetta. Enjolras wants to smile at him, to caress him, to—fuck. What does he want?

“You wish he’d say something.”

“Well, now he’s gonna see this, so...”

“I’m seeing this.”

“Yep.”

“He watches.”

“Big fan.” Nodding his head back, Grantaire twitches his lip toward the camera in a show of masculine insouciance. Then he drops the show. “Mostly your fan, really,” he says to Cosette, who is smiling a secret sort of smile at Marius. “You and Ep still good?”

“Awesome,” she says. “Amazing what can happen when you let it.”

Enjolras reaches out and hits the space-bar, then curves his hand around Grantaire’s stubbly jaw.

“Thanks,” he says.

“You can just break up with me now.”

“I’m not breaking up with you,” he says, rolling his eyes, because Grantaire is obviously scared of this conversation and a little disdain sometimes helps set him at ease. “But thanks for watching that with me. You’re right. We should talk about limits.”

“I’m not trying to make you say anything you don’t want to.”

“You just tried to make me break up with you instead of talking about this!”

“I... Just... It doesn’t have to be a thing.”

“I don’t care who you fuck.” Enjolras shakes out his head. “No. That’s a huge lie. Some part of me, down in my guts, is consumed with jealousy that you have sex with other people.” His hand has somehow found its way to R’s cock. His hand fits so well there. “But I can live with that so long as I’m one of them. As long as I’m the only one off camera.”

R studies him. “Oh, fuck you for being so earnest.” A curtain behind his eyes lifts. There’s light in there; vulnerability. And then it’s in his words too: “If it came down to it, you could be the only one at all.”

“This is your job. You like it. I’m not trying to force you to choose.”

“I said no to a fuck with Jehan.” He shrugs. “We’re cool, but I wasn’t feeling it. And ’Chetta wants me to do that kissing vid. Something real emotional and intense. ”

“Yeah?” Don’t show it, he instructs his face. Do not fucking show it. Unfortunately the only way to do this is total immobility. He holds still.

“I’m not gonna.”

He breathes again and pushes into Grantaire’s space.

“You’re really good at kissing.”

“With you.” Grantaire pulls him in. “Just you.”

He hasn’t asked yet, about what kind of Plan Grantaire has, or where he fits in. For now—because fuck it, when Enjolras strays, he goes all the way the fuck afield—he’s honestly in no rush to know.