Many good ideas started and failed calamitously with Bossuet, but tonight he was regaling them with a tale of complete triumph. He looked Enjolras in the eye and spoke with the bright conviction that would do him well in front of any sort of court, and was reserved for gatherings of intimates when sober, or grimy corners of seditious cafes or apartments filled with treasonous rebels when not.
Or in this case, a bit of both, Enjolras thought.
Bossuet told him, "I arrived shortly before eight o'clock, shaved, bathed, powdered and cheered." He raised a palm into the air as if to invoke birds fluttering from his shirtsleeves or stars shooting across the sky. "The setting sun was crosshatching the city with that glorious pink-tinged light that provides balm for somnolent souls. At my knock upon her door she, thrilled, sprinted to the window to look out onto the street discreetly, ever hoping that someone had come to visit her. And he had! You see I wear a superior redingote, with tidy brandebourgs fastened; the coat is a most flattering shade of rich brown, is it not, like a soil that could grow fields of golden wheat; and I wore my finest hat--"
Courfeyrac coughed into his fist.
"--Courfeyrac's finest hat. Our dear mademoiselle -- Noémi, she told me I could call her that and I will oblige -- was not, of course, the person to answer the door, but I was introduced into her presence at once. Ah, the graciousness of her welcome! Ah, the flush upon her cheek!"
Combeferre, mouth quirking, did not look at Bossuet's dramatic swoon. Instead he stared at a hairline crack in the wall that had developed months ago after being struck with the heel of Bahorel's boot, during a wager Enjolras had not participated in but which had earned Feuilly a glass of brandy plus two mealy green apples and a used waistcoat in a similar hue.
Grantaire had won it back eventually. Enjolras did not imagine either its wrinkled visage or the wrinkler, or if he did it was so fleeting a thought as to be unfit for further recollection.
Bossuet was telling them, "I looked, if I may say so, délectable." Bossuet's eyebrows wiggled like inching caterpillars as he drew out the pronunciation of the final word and managed to make it seem thoroughly indecent. "She was, as I predicted, unable to resist."
Enjolras suppressed every urge: to scratch behind his knee, to think of apple green when he closed his eyes, to sigh as if an immense boulder were rolling across the apartment's creaky floor onto his chest and pressing all air from his body.
It wasn't that he wanted to be crushed by inharmonious rocks, though Combeferre's rooms contained plenty enough oddities that accidental landslide didn't seem to be entirely out of the realm of possibility; to be fair, one was vastly more likely to be maimed or killed by a teetering tower of books. Enjolras was far too aware of what greater injury a text could inflict to be intimidated by potential tome burial -- he was warmed by this most meager pun, but regretted there was no useful reason to share it aloud -- yet still, an excuse to lie in bed for a week's recovery was not without its appeal.
Bossuet was watching him, waiting for a response. He no longer appeared histrionically gay nor romantically intoxicated.
"I appreciate your efforts with regards to," Enjolras began and stopped. What noun to use for last night's hostess?
"Our victim?" Courfeyrac suggested.
Combeferre made a sarcastic little tsk. Enjolras felt a pang of envy that he too could not show distaste for the whole charade.
"Your efforts in this mission are most appreciated," Enjolras told Bossuet.
"By everyone," Bossuet agreed, and Courfeyrac coughed again, smirking. Bossuet took the small book of Lamartine's poems from the depths of his coat and with a wave of his hand presented it to Enjolras.
While Enjolras thumbed through its pages Combeferre said, "We do not require the details."
"Noémi and I had a delightful conversation about geese," Bossuet said, undaunted, scratching his chin. "As a child she was attacked by one near a pond."
Courfeyrac blinked. "Was she harmed?"
"Not in a permanent manner, but she does prefer ham at holiday meals. I felt a kinship." Bossuet winked at Combeferre.
Combeferre rolled his eyes and looked over at Enjolras. "You did not wish to fetch the book yourself?"
"Her house was on my route today," Bossuet explained.
"And Enjolras does not know poetry," Courfeyrac said.
"I know some."
"Did we think Mademoiselle Martel was going to require a recitation before letting Bossuet borrow Les Méditations?" Combeferre asked. "Would Prouvaire not have been better suited for such a performance? He may have whole passages memorized."
"'Nowhere happiness awaits me,'" Bossuet said, drooping against the wall by the mantelpiece as if too forlorn to continue standing upright. "I am wounded by your misgivings, Combeferre. She led me to the library without hesitation."
"No misgivings, just curiosity," Combeferre said.
Courfeyrac cleared his throat.
"Not that much curiosity," Combeferre clarified.
"I fully trusted Bossuet could accomplish this with imagination, if necessary, but most of all with tact and decorum," Enjolras said. "He has done so and I am grateful for his assistance."
Bossuet grinned at him and straightened up from his slump. "Noémi did mention you specifically, Enjolras. As usual you left quite the impression."
"No doubt she was not alone in her regard," Courfeyrac said. He tried to pin Enjolras with a look and a theatrical eyebrow of his own; Enjolras, having known Courfeyrac for years, was skilled at evading such tactics.
He found the loose slip of paper between two tortured columns of poetry about a lake, and gave the book back to Bossuet.
"If you have any messages for her, I can relay them Friday when I return her book," Bossuet said.
"None," Enjolras said shortly.
"Very well, citizens, I shall away to Joly's, and leave you to whatever it is you're planning to do before dawn," Bossuet said.
"I do enjoy sleep," Combeferre said, very dry.
"Oh yes, sleep is the loveliest." Bossuet put on Courfeyrac's top hat and in an instant looked five times more respectable.
Courfeyrac walked him to the door. "Are you lodging with Joly again?"
"Possibly! But also this is his luxurious redingote."
Enjolras did not want to know how Joly had gained ten pounds and two inches of height since he had seen him last week. Maybe the coat seams had been taken out. Here Enjolras met the limit of his tailoring expertise.
Combeferre waited until Courfeyrac had refilled their three mugs and returned to the dining room table in use as a desk. Despite not being the least thirsty Enjolras took a sip of wine and refused to fidget, examining an outline for a pamphlet. There were snoring dogs sketched in the margins, but he assumed Courfeyrac's final draft would be devoid of canine illustrations.
He saw Courfeyrac tap his fingers on the table in Combeferre's general direction and a pantomime developed at the periphery of his vision. He looked up.
Because the three of them recognized there had been multiple conversations occurring in silence for the last hour, Courfeyrac had no need for prefaces.
"You don't seem to have slept well of late," he said.
"My forgetting the book -- it was a careless mistake and will not happen again. I am sorry," Enjolras emphasized.
"No, no, we know," Combeferre said.
Courfeyrac said, "But you do seem tired. And why shouldn't you be, Enjolras? There is so much to be done and it feels like we haven't an hour to spare."
"You are allowed to rest, you know," Combeferre continued.
Enjolras, to some shame, did not want to have to apologize again, and remained silent while he took a minute to memorize the letters and columns on the little slip of paper -- incoherent to anyone who did not know their translation -- before sliding it across the table to Courfeyrac. "Feuilly was right about Lamar's men. It seems there are five more of them near Saint-Eustache than we had originally counted on."
"Yes," Courfeyrac said with a happy hiss. He and Combeferre studied the coded missive for a few minutes. When both were satisfied with their memorization, Courfeyrac asked, "Who wants to eat this?"
Combeferre, a droll expression on his face, rolled up the slip and tossed it into the hearth, where it was quickly devoured by flame. "Is there anything else we should discuss tonight?" He asked it to both of them; it was Enjolras who would need to answer.
"We'll discuss what's to be done next with everyone tomorrow. Thank you, as always, for your hospitality."
They set to separate tasks: Courfeyrac taking his coat and Enjolras's from the rack; Combeferre clearing away papers, mugs, and something that might have been a terrapin shell; Enjolras tugging on his boots.
After goodbyes, Enjolras and Courfeyrac walked a few blocks in the same direction.
"Are you all right?" Courfeyrac said finally, as Enjolras knew he would.
"You made a mistake literally anyone could have made. We're none of us exactly schooled in these secretive maneuvers. You've shown more aptitude at clandestine communications than most of us." Courfeyrac stopped at the corner where his route home and Enjolras's would diverge and touched Enjolras's lapel. "I was surprised he was there last night though saw no harm in it. I can ask him to stop joining us, if you want me to."
Enjolras made himself look at Courfeyrac. "That isn't necessary. He's... It doesn't matter if he attends."
"If you're certain." Courfeyrac looked like he wanted to say many more things on the topic, and Enjolras was thankful for his friend's refraining.
"Yes. See you tomorrow evening," Enjolras said, giving Courfeyrac the smallest of smiles.
He knew he was watched sympathetically as he turned to leave, the same way he knew, with confidence, that his rooms were unoccupied upon opening the door to his apartment.
The same way he knew he should not think about Grantaire. The same way he knew he would, a tightness in his hands as he prepared for bed. After reading two letters that had been left for him, after making several annotations for himself on the next page of a ledger he was filling up with ideas, after lighting and blowing out and lighting again two or three candles, drinking a glass of water, opening a window and then closing it when a smattering of rain blew onto his desk, choosing clothing for the morning, and trying without success to scrub an ink stain from his right middle finger, Enjolras laid down.
I miss him, he thought, and immediately regretted it. Wadding his pillow into a more comfortable shape, he let himself think on it further, embarrassment and resignation warring for space in his mind.
Logically, his longing -- yes, he could call it that in the dark of earliest morning, when no-one but the mother who lived upstairs was awake, pacing the floor with her disgruntled infant -- seemed ridiculous. There was no common measure by which Grantaire could be considered distinguished or worthy of Enjolras's notice. He had been at the gathering last night, not to help any great cause but because libations were freely given; he had heard Enjolras speak to a number of men who might prove courageous and yet remained unmoved to further engagement. He had not apologized for anything.
Enjolras felt his face burn. Foolish, he thought, I have been so foolish.
It was only the way, the reckless, ludicrous way Grantaire had talked. As though he was one of us, and would in his apple green -- no, red -- waistcoat dedicatedly rally the workers at the Barriere du Maine and beyond.
It was only that I liked the way he looked at me, he thought.
Like, he thought. Looks.
When sleep came, it was fitful. He woke a few hours later with the sound of footfall in the hallways and the infant upstairs crying for more milk, dawn snaking onto the crevices of the floorboards, the tightness in his hands unrelieved.
Spring had exploded all over Prouvaire's table.
Enjolras stepped into the back room of the Musain and dodged Louison muttering about damn schoolboys while she carried a precarious-looking stack of teacups out to the front of the cafe. Feuilly glanced up from a conversation with Prouvaire and Joly and gave Enjolras an expression fifty percent glad to see him, fifty percent pained there were dried violets covering a good fourth of that corner of the room.
"Do you care to weigh in on sugar, Enjolras?" Joly asked.
"Er. I like it?" Enjolras said.
"The issue of the abominable slave trade," Feuilly clarified.
"We've a job to re-abolish such miseries," Joly said. "And it must be done. I am not arguing that."
"But," Feuilly prompted.
"What's left of my loaf is already here. Purchased ages ago and preserved scrupulously. I had to hide it from mice and Bossuet both." Joly gestured to a sack on the floor under the coat hooks.
"You brought it with you?" Prouvaire asked.
"Why not?" Joly said. "You brought violets."
"The Musain's mice will have it if you leave it there," Feuilly said and Joly lurched away to fetch the paper sack.
"I'm going to make Joly violet syrup," Prouvaire explained, though Enjolras was not convinced it was an explanation. "My neighbor's daughter was kind enough to pick these violets for me when they were blooming in April. I dried them and will boil the petals with the sugar." He pinched a petal loose and dropped it in a glass jar, where other dried petals were piling up.
Combeferre's waving caught Enjolras's eye. Enjolras approached him and a stranger who stood at the window. The man had clearly attempted to brush some kind of dust out of his hair, and what remained made him appear older than his unlined face would otherwise suggest. His hands, though clean, were chapped from frequent use. He introduced himself as Edgar, and Combeferre gestured to Enjolras.
"I believe this is who you were looking for," he said to Edgar. Enjolras was very good at reading Combeferre's expressions and tone of voice, but tonight he had no idea what either were indicating. "He is a marble worker," he said to Enjolras.
"You come highly recommended," Edgar said. "I was told you were seeking more volunteers, and that you were exactly the sort of leader who earned his men's loyalty."
Combeferre's expression remained inscrutable; Enjolras could not picture what was on his own face either. "It is, of course, for France that we do this," he said. "I would not have you mislead by some cult of personality. What I do, I do in cooperation with these citizens here."
"No, no," Edgar said. "I understand. Nevertheless, you are aware of your reputation in some circles?" Enjolras nodded uncomfortably. "I confess it made me hesitant. But I made the acquaintance of someone who spoke as naturally as any I have heard -- his manner was blunt to the point of cynicism, but his regard for you was unmistakable, and made me think that above all else he was telling the truth, about you and about what you wish to accomplish. And I would like to help."
"We are glad to have you," Combeferre said.
Edgar looked around the room. "I thought he might be here tonight too, but perhaps he is still healing from his losses."
"Losses?" Enjolras said.
"Oh yes, he was deeply in debt by the last round," Edgar said, smiling. "I myself have ended many nights with my throat cut, and resurrected in the morning wiser, if only for a little while, and poorer, usually for much longer."
Dominoes, Enjolras thought.
Combeferre smiled; Enjolras smiled? His mind felt far afield. Courfeyrac called to Combeferre from across the room.
Combeferre, perhaps sensing that Enjolras was having trouble formulating a response, spoke to Edgar. "You should meet Courfeyrac," he said, leading their new friend to the table where Courfeyrac and Bahorel were rearranging chairs.
Grantaire arrived nearer midnight while Enjolras and Feuilly were inspecting a pistol concealed by an oversized napkin -- Louison had walked through multiple times, collecting empty wine bottles or bussing away plates -- that Prouvaire had purchased from an elderly neighbor. Feuilly thought the gun might have been German-made.
"Wherever its origins, it has not seen use since Chénier was guillotined," Grantaire said by way of greeting.
Someone who had never met him would probably not have noticed his subtlest of slurring.
Prouvaire looked scandalized by the comment. "Do not sneak up on us like that. A little oiling is all it needs. And do not speak of Chénier so blithely."
"Pardon," Grantaire said, taking in the secretive huddle and the pile of dead violets Prouvaire was dismembering. "Perhaps this weapon is not the sole item which requires lubrication." Prouvaire made a noise between a squeak and a snort. Feuilly groaned outright. Grantaire said, "Speaking of which, I seem to recollect we have debated Chénier's merits before, at length even, and you conceded--"
"Grantaire," Prouvaire hissed. He was blushing. He blushed frequently. But he was also grinning a small fond grin. Grantaire's was far slier. The look he exchanged with Prouvaire had, suddenly, the weight of some past Enjolras had never suspected lay between them and now seemed as obvious as the bottle in Grantaire's hand.
Enjolras stood up. Loud laughter was issuing from the corner where Bossuet and Edgar were, it seemed, about to stage a performance. Grantaire saw the newcomer, whose eye he caught. Edgar nodded in acknowledgement and then handed Bossuet a silvery harmonica.
Grantaire looked to Enjolras, said nothing. His pressed his lips together; his eyes were soft. If Enjolras cared to accept it, there was an apology there.
He held Grantaire's gaze.
A rousing instrumental rendition of 'Ça ira' blasted forth from Bossuet's new toy. All in the room rose from their seats to sing along. Enjolras felt his mood brighten more than it had in some days. Except for Bahorel's entrancing bass his friends sang badly, with enthusiasm wine alone couldn't have produced. Even Louison, plonking down a plate of oysters on Joly's table, seemed a hair more enlivened by the merriment.
Grantaire moved to stand next to Enjolras. He never spoke to Enjolras that evening; Enjolras did not speak to him. Grantaire's right hand brushed against Enjolras's left. Enjolras let his hand rest there, touching Grantaire's in the most insignificant way.
On the sidewalk in front of Joly's apartment, Enjolras could hear Prouvaire and Courfeyrac mangling something that sounded tragic and operatic and the opposite of covert.
As he climbed the small steps to the small porch, Enjolras heard Prouvaire interrupt from inside the apartment, "Wait, am I meant to be Floreski or Lodoïska?"
"You are meant to be Polish," Courfeyrac replied loudly, holding the door open for Enjolras.
In an otherwise unfurnished bedroom Bossuet and Prouvaire sat shoulder to shoulder on the floor in front of an old sopha on which Joly was sprawled and humming something mournful.
Joly stopped humming long enough to wonder. "Frenchly Polish? Polishly French?"
"A pity Feuilly is not here to give notes," Bossuet said.
He and Prouvaire were counting bullets and putting them in a brassy snuff box Enjolras recognized as Courfeyrac's. As they emptied the various bags the bullets had been in Joly was folding and stacking the bags on his chest. All four of the non-Enjolras occupants were drinking a liquid with an unappealing lavender hue, presumably thanks to the violet syrup in a decanter next to a lidded jar of some clear spirit.
Enjolras asked Bossuet, "I trust everything went well when you returned Mademoiselle Martel's belongings to her?"
Bossuet raised his eyebrows at him. "Perfectly. We remain fast friends." Joly flicked him in the ear. "I maintain my visit took no longer than originally anticipated."
"Well. Good." Enjolras took the glass Courfeyrac pressed into his hands and sipped. "What is this?" It tasted purple.
"You will be happier not knowing," Courfeyrac said. Prouvaire threw a slipper at him.
"You're welcome to stay for lunch, Enjolras," Joly said. "Grantaire will be here soon with sustenance."
"Ah. Thank you, no. I have a long list of chores to manage today," Enjolras said with a look to Courfeyrac that he hoped would be interpreted as responsible-as-ever instead of secretly-intrigued-but-making-excuses.
Courfeyrac followed him back out. "They're anxious," he said quietly in an apologetic tone. "The magnitude of what we're doing is starting to wear on everyone a bit more than before. It's hard to be patient."
What they were doing was as small as a single bullet, as large as a pulling a king from a throne -- the upending of the world as they knew it. It probably warranted a drink or three, even in broad daylight.
"It's fine," Enjolras said. "But close the curtains when you go back in, at least."
"Yes, right," Courfeyrac said. There were lines around his tired eyes Enjolras had not seen before.
Enjolras left him on the porch. Three blocks away he thought he might have heard Grantaire's voice ringing out a greeting to Courfeyrac. Enjolras didn't turn around. He walked towards Rue du Champ de l'Alouette. He thought about the impatience he felt for what was coming -- what we are going to do; he thought about the lines around Courfeyrac's eyes, and the circles often beneath Grantaire's, and Enjolras's throat ached.
"The sensible thing for me to do is wait right here, in case you meet with trouble," Bahorel said.
"I would prefer to attract as little attention to as possible," Enjolras countered.
When Bahorel had said, "I have something I think you should see," Enjolras would have spent the rest of his life guessing before he guessed rope ladder.
"In case we need to, you know, liberate useful items by untraditional means," Bahorel had said. His face was full of sunshine when he contemplated this. He was at his usual table at Cafe Lemblin, drinking what appeared to be steaming tar from a demitasse and eyeballing a lacy grisette coming through the door. "Come to my building tomorrow evening," he said sotto voce.
At present Enjolras was almost regretting having agreed to. He was almost certain Bahorel had invented the exercise in jest; however, there was always the possibility the next few weeks would actually present a crucial need for creative solutions. At least he'd have an atypical story to relate to Combeferre and Courfeyrac when they met for dinner.
The rope ladder strung out Bahorel's window made Enjolras think of Persinette. He wondered if he would meet with anyone witchy in Bahorel's apartment and grouchily remembered a friend of his mother's, when he was a little boy, saying his hair reminded her of the fey princess's magical braids.
"Let's see you get off the ground then," Bahorel said.
Enjolras reached up for the first rungs above his head and stepped onto the rungs nearest his feet. The ladder seized and he fought to stabilize it. When he felt passingly sure the rope would bear his weight he began, with more strain than expected, to climb. It was awkward, with the ladder knocking back and forth against the building with just enough momentum to make the climb rickety; Enjolras had never felt gravity's tug quite so keenly. As he neared the top edge of a tall second floor window, he looked down at Bahorel.
"All right?" Bahorel called up.
"Yes," Enjolras called down. He looked up at Bahorel's window ledge, which did not seem too far away. "I can do this."
"All right, I'll meet you inside."
After what felt like thirty minutes of unhurried climbing (but was probably more like three), during which Enjolras was pleased to note that there didn't appear to be anyone on the streets at all -- which made him more careful, since if he fell he would not be discovered until already quite dead -- nor were the curtains open in a single windowpane he passed, Bahorel's ledge could just be touched. Enjolras was almost breathless and his palms stung in a way he also recalled from childhood. He held himself upright and took as many deep breaths as he could manage.
Feeling contented, he turned his head back and forth to take in a bit of the view. There wasn't much scenery to recommend Bahorel's neighborhood. The factory across the river with its sooty brick and its incongruous jewel-toned windows was nice enough, but Enjolras felt reaching the window seat would not really be akin to standing barefoot on the limb of a big old oak, surveying one's grassy lawn, wind quickening, black clouds ambling up and over the horizon. A world he would not return to in this life.
In the present there was a similar scent of rain. As he pushed himself to make the last few rungs of the ladder a spicy trail of smoke began to drift toward him. It led to a pipe in Grantaire's hand. Enjolras half heaved, half crawled onto the padded window seat, kneeling, panting hard, and grabbed the window frame so as to not tip back out the window.
Grantaire's hand was attached to wrist, arm, and shoulder; there could be no mistake that he was truly there in the room. His cravat was loosely tied, revealing skin where his shirt collar should have been buttoned, and several days of beard darkened his throat and face. His presence seemed unnecessary and unfair.
"You match the decor," Grantaire said, pointing like Enjolras had planned the coordination of his red waistcoat and Bahorel's striped red window seat cushion.
Finding his balance well enough to let go of the frame, Enjolras asked, "Why are you here?"
He heard himself ask it: he sounded upset. He did not feel upset, not exactly. He had not inquired as to Grantaire's health; he had not said hello; he had not explained why he was climbing up a rope ladder into Bahorel's bedroom window. He was very short of breath but not deprived of air enough to revise his feeling that Bahorel was playing an odd-humored sort of prank on him.
"Bahorel had to check in on a neighbor," Grantaire said. He knocked his pipe on the windowsill and some ashy detritus was whisked away by the breeze. "You have not met her? She is a fussy woman, exceptionally short and prone to shrieks, with many shrill squat grandchildren who toss balls around in the hallway and always paw at one as though we are made of candies. I've yet to determine what Bahorel does to assist her, save merely dousing her with his unbridled masculine presence when she is feeling low, but whatever his efforts he often returns with small cakes soaked in liquor, and therefore it is most important that she be made to feel secure in his neighborly affections."
Enjolras could not think of an appropriate response to this news, so instead of talking he crept his way to the bedroom-side edge of the window seat and with difficulty arranged himself to stand. His arm and stomach muscles felt distended and shrunken, watery and leaden; his legs wobbled in commiseration. He plunked down on the seat, almost missing it entirely.
"Hello," Grantaire said, amusement in his tone. "That cannot be comfortable."
It wasn't. Enjolras looked down. He was sitting on the part of the ladder that draped over the window seat onto the floor and further to be tied around one of Bahorel's clawfooted bedposts. Enjolras had never seen a larger, heavier bed. He wondered if Bahorel always kept a rope ladder tied onto it, for emergencies or just for sport. He shifted off the rope closer to Grantaire.
I should, he thought, stand up. I should go find Bahorel. I should not think about Grantaire's rough jaw, what that beard would feel like prickling my fingertips; I should not think about the large, heavy bed.
"You have proven your value as a climber," Grantaire said. "What do you plan to do with this Olympian adroitness?"
Enjolras found his voice. "Do you think I could pull off an act of sensational thievery?" he said, feeling daring.
When he turned his head to regard Grantaire, Grantaire smiled, slowly. "If what you were stealing was to be located in the unlocked, unguarded room of a dear acquaintance, and if there was no rain nor sleet, and if no-one, from the street or across the river or out one of the many windows in dear acquaintance's building, saw you climb the rope during the perilous minutes it took you to reach the unlocked, unguarded treasure vault of your desire--"
"'Treasure vault of my desire?'" Enjolras repeated, feeling less daring but with something tickling in his chest. He tilted his head at Grantaire, knowing there was a glint in his eyes, knowing Grantaire would see it.
"A master burglar, I'd proclaim," Grantaire said, leaning just the slightest bit nearer. "Hermes would reinvent fire for you, to help illuminate your escapades."
Enjolras mirrored Grantaire's slow smile, and leaned just the slightest bit nearer.
The door banged open and Bahorel sprang into the room as if crossing the final distance of a great marathon, like he expected applause.
"Baba!" he said, thrusting a plate of petite cream-filled cakes under Enjolras and Grantaire's noses. "No trouble with the ladder, I presume?" he asked Enjolras, who took the plate from him.
Grantaire grabbed a cake; Bahorel grabbed a cake; Enjolras took the last one. The cake was moist and fragrant with something clearly alcoholic (rum, was it?). Grantaire and Bahorel ate theirs as if food had been denied them for a desperate period of time. Enjolras chewed his before swallowing but could confirm it was delicious.
"Have you been given cause to think this ladder could be of use to us soon?" Enjolras asked.
Bahorel dusted his hands free of crumbs. "Feuilly has heard of a warehouse that could be, hmm, worth exploring. Grantaire and I will meet up with him tonight on our way through Sceaux." He opened his wardrobe and pulled out a waistcoat that did in fact look to be cut from the same cloth as the window seat. "Feuilly already knows how to use the ladder."
"Well, I won't keep you," Enjolras said, ignoring Grantaire's noiseless snickering.
"Tell Combeferre I'll return his Mécanique Céleste next week," Bahorel said absently. He was reeling in the ladder.
"Of course," Enjolras said, wondering what on earth Bahorel was using the five volumes for but not enough to ask.
He followed Grantaire to Bahorel's front door.
"Goodnight," Grantaire said, standing aside for Enjolras to leave. "Best of luck with your noble larceny."
"Thank you," Enjolras said. He paused; it seemed like there should be something else to say. "Goodnight."
He and Grantaire stood looking at each other until Bahorel barreled into the room and whatever current was strung between them fractured.
He was still thinking about the moment when he reached Combeferre's door.
That's me, he thought. When he opened his eyes relief flooded Grantaire's face, which struck Enjolras as incongruent since there was a crooked line dried down his cheek, as though Grantaire had cried a single red tear.
"I'm here," Enjolras tried out. He was sitting in his apartment, in the shaggy rocco chair Prouvaire had lent him. Grantaire was squatting in front of him. Enjolras looked at the clock on his desk: 11:21. The room was rather dark and cool. Night, then. A fat candle burned on the table beside the door. His boots sat fallen over at the wall, and his coat was sprawled over a chair like a tanner's hide.
"You have rarely looked more like a man in need of a drink," Grantaire said, straightening up, "but I think Joly would murder me if I gave you one, considering you may have sustained a grievous harm. Or perhaps he would insist on a drink -- I honestly do not know which at this juncture." He reached out his hand as if to touch the back of Enjolras's head; he pulled his hand away without making contact.
Enjolras was sorry to have caused the fright that had come, for a second, into Grantaire's eyes.
"It also does not appear you own a bottle of anything other than this sad slurry that may pass for sherry if the drinker is blind or without the ability to taste anything whatsoever." Grantaire took a sip of the liquid in a glass Enjolras recognized from the cupboard and grimaced. "Or perhaps it is that first one drinks this, and then the blindness befalls you. Either way, I do not recommend it."
Grantaire walked over to wring water out of a washcloth into Enjolras's favorite ceramic basin. When he came back, he handed the cloth to Enjolras. "There's still a bit of blood at your temple," he said, his voice tentative.
"Will you…" Enjolras said. As he came more and more back into his skin, he was sore everywhere. He had seldom done much manual labor -- he noted this with a pang of guilt -- but he thought this must be what it was like after a week of backbreaking work with meager hours afforded for sleep: soreness like your bones would ring with the strain for all your days.
Grantaire cupped Enjolras's jaw and wiped the cloth gingerly over the wound. Enjolras felt a sting but knew it was not a dangerous injury: a scrape, little more.
"Hold this there," Grantaire said, bringing Enjolras's hand up to the cloth. "It should stop bleeding in a few minutes."
"Fetch another washcloth for yourself."
Grantaire scrubbed at his cheek. "I've had worse from warm ups with Bahorel." Beneath his right eye a bruise was beginning to spread downward, blossoming blue from a cut already scabbing over.
Enjolras stood, holding the cloth to his temple. The floor did not warble or tilt under his feet, nor did shadows lurch. His assailant had been young, dressed indifferently, nothing to indicate he was a police spy per se. Enjolras had not recognized him, and had not thrown the first punch. Had not seen which direction he ran in after Grantaire had materialized in the middle of the fray.
"Were you following me?" he asked in a way he hoped would seem curious instead of accusatory.
Grantaire stepped toward the hearth. "Combeferre said you had forgotten this and would need it before the inventory," he said, toeing a lumpy bag Enjolras recognized. "And I volunteered to bring it on my way home."
"You live near the Musain."
"We were at the Musain."
"I do not. Live near the Musain, that is."
"No, though it is not too far. This is normally a quiet avenue, I suspect."
"Normally. But never any closer to the Musain than it is tonight and every night."
"And the Musain too."
"Its location remains static. It does not stray from its foundation to go flitting about town when we are not watching."
"Not to my knowledge."
"It is-- The contents of that bag might have been more logically delivered by Courfeyrac, or even Prouvaire."
"Prouvaire was not halfway finished listening to Joly's dismay with regards to that recent lecture on onanism he fears he will be mandated to attend -- my cup may occasionally runneth over, but I was not in my cups enough yet to countenance those who would find this a proper arena of science, thank god Joly seemed to concur -- Courfeyrac was muttering something to Bossuet about our elusive M. Pontmercy, and I enjoy walking."
"Indeed! A leisurely constitutional after supper, it does one's heart a world of service. The fresh air clears the mind, quickens the blood."
"So I've heard."
"You were not misled. What sights one sees on the streets of Paris! Children with sticks, women arm in arm, whispering gossip, men shuffling along planning a new world. Can we not agree? She is a city without rival, seldom more beguiling than at night. Attackers leaping out from behind hedgerows notwithstanding, of course."
"At night it is harder to see the urchins in alleys, begging for alms. The widows who weep for scraps and the workmen we have abandoned to all manner of abuse," Enjolras said.
Grantaire inhaled sharply. Whatever had been in his eyes -- the humor there, the light -- vanished.
Enjolras struggled with himself. To take a mere step forward until his toes met the toes of Grantaire's boots would not have been difficult, which had long been the problem. Yes, this was the simplest truth: Grantaire wanted him, and Enjolras knew it. Enjolras wanted Grantaire -- recklessly, stupidly -- and could not have him.
"I--" he began. "Had that youth discovered the contents of that bag." Grantaire looked at him. "There could have been worse trouble." Enjolras kept his words steady: this was something he was practiced in doing.
"Not even capable of throwing aside a bag to deliver a blow, is that your assessment." Grantaire's voice was flat. He moved to take his coat from the desktop. "If there is nothing further, then."
"We should report this to the others," Enjolras said.
"What do you need me to do?"
Enjolras picked his way through the words. If there was self pity in them, he could find none; if there was bitterness it was hidden; if it was insincere--
Grantaire was shrugging back into his coat but not leaving. He was plainly waiting for Enjolras to instruct him.
"Put the bag under the bed and come with me to Courfeyrac's," Enjolras said, picking up his boots.
Outside they were both comically cautious of the street's irregular patches of dark and darker. At the corner Enjolras decided to take a round-about path, in case they were being watched or followed. Grantaire kept pace and did not question it.
Conversationally, he said, "It's a shame you did not have a chance to show off your newfound ladder climbing skills in that melee." A woman they were passing shot Grantaire a baffled look.
Enjolras bit his lip. As they passed the window of a well-lit tavern, he saw Grantaire glance at him, something vulnerable in his otherwise indelicate features.
Enjolras looked ahead; he was, after all, very good at it.
In the attic space Combeferre had rented from a cousin, the Amis had amassed a dazzling amount of weaponry. These particular munitions, culled from a variety of conscientious citizens, would be moved by the end of the week. Enjolras was set on having everything counted before the evening was out.
Unfortunately, he had counted two boxes of cartridges twice each without being able to swear the accuracy of the quantity. Coming up through the floorboards Grantaire's too-loud salutations to the others were beguiling and disruptive. When his dark head appeared above the barrels by the ladder and threw a shadow across a row of rifles, Enjolras did not know whether to be annoyed or placated.
"Ah, here you are, then," Grantaire said. "Joly was about to commandeer a search party."
He sounded pleased, as though king's guardsmen might have abducted Enjolras through the attic's single window, a triangle of glass over which a woolen blanket had been hung to blot out the candlelight Enjolras worked by.
Enjolras rubbed his shoulder against the rough beam at his back to pacify an itch.
After maneuvering into the corner where the ceiling dropped and Enjolras was seated on a squat bench, Grantaire put a cloth napkin filled with a slice of crusty bread and a mug filled with red wine on the crate beside him.
"There's ham," he told Enjolras, "and a little brie Feuilly brought from a sympathetic worker he met at an impromptu Faubourg Saint-Antoine rabble. Joly found apricots -- well, Louison found apricots and Joly is taking credit for having the sense to buy them from her -- and there's a fig of such assumed succulence Bossuet and Prouvaire almost came to blows over it. The fig, lonesome, ripe, and a shade of beckoning plum often reserved for the strewn velvet pillows of Bourbon mistresses, has been set aside for anyone else who might like it."
"Thank you," Enjolras said. "The bread and wine are plenty."
Grantaire noticed him looking. Enjolras glanced down at his ledger, willing himself to maintain a neutral expression.
Without further preamble, Grantaire said, "They're worried, you know. You've been quieter than usual these last days. I would not have thought a threat upon you would conjure undue modesty in one such as yourself." He shrugged, like he was not concerned about Enjolras at all, as though they had not been recently involved in a violent street incident.
Enjolras dusted off his elbow and returned a tin cartridge-box to the larger crate. "No-one should worry over me. I should say, Courfeyrac needn't worry over me more than he already has." Grantaire laughed in understanding. "I'm fine," Enjolras concluded.
His visibility was bound to draw the attention of the most unsavory characters eventually; he'd known that and truth be told the number of incidents they all faced had increased since winter's harshest winds began to dwindle. As a primary target of hostile intentions Enjolras, to the detriment of his personal autonomy, had not done much of anything in days without someone hovering nearby.
Grantaire said, "It is only, as they have said repeatedly, there is ever more work to be done: equal measures of literature, charcoal, and caution to deploy, scattered volunteers to assemble. We've been waiting for your return to form, the daily recitation of impassioned, inspirational oratories, while instead you puzzle us with grave silence."
Enjolras was examining an old flintlock blunderbuss, considering if Combeferre would be interested in it, and Grantaire's almost-earnest tone made him look up. Grantaire had put away three bullet moulds Enjolras had forgotten he'd moved onto the floor -- that was going to mess up the inventory if he didn't make a note of it -- and was much closer than Enjolras estimated.
To reach the crate Grantaire had knelt, and his face was level with Enjolras's. He was, essentially, kneeling between Enjolras's legs. His body did not touch Enjolras's anywhere but Enjolras could feel the heat from his and obliged himself not to lean forward.
He bought a moment by counting again the loose buckshot in a burlap bag Bossuet had turned up with and accidentally blobbed ink into the wrong ledger column. He blotted the tiny puddle of ink with the cuff of his sleeve, and he saw Grantaire's mouth twitch. Say something, Enjolras thought, not knowing if he was mutely commanding himself or Grantaire.
Grantaire watched him so gently Enjolras put down the fountain pen and tried to gather his racing thoughts into something resembling reason. In the last weeks, few of the Amis and their associates had eaten well or slept overmuch; more and more apartments and rooms were being abandoned for perilous shelters with hastily established connections, with many taking care not to be anywhere with any consistency.
In the city a notable increase in rioting and outrage had been observed, a whole apparatus of insurgency clambering to life -- revolution had never been more imminent. The people would rise again from a tide of ash and blood, and France would be unchained, triumphant, transformed in liberty and love.
Grantaire had ever been a distraction, with his rumpled waistcoats and untended cravats and all those disbelieving, defeatist, sometimes deafening words that used to spill out of him, like he would be engulfed if he didn't purge them. Words Enjolras used as a whetstone, whether he meant to or not, and Enjolras would bring him fully to France's defense if he could.
And if Enjolras couldn't-- Well. He remained sharper for Grantaire's devotions; he would have him speak.
Something in Grantaire's eyes shifted when Enjolras didn't say anything. "Hmm," he hummed, like Enjolras's taciturnity was fascinating and Grantaire's own present proximity unexceptional.
If someone had asked Enjolras why he remained seated on a low bench in a cold attic while Grantaire practically knelt between his legs, he'd have no idea what the answer should be either. This thought caught at him.
Grantaire canted his head. The patient look in his eyes darkened. His throat, exposed where his cravat was loosened and shirt unbuttoned, would be hot as if fevered if Enjolras pressed his face to it -- Enjolras imagined this, rebuked himself for the absurdity, and imagined it again.
Grantaire must have been competing for something, to watch him so quietly. Shouldn't I be exhausted with the way he looks at me, Enjolras thought, studies me, always, like I'm a lock, puzzle, sculpture, map. Maybe I should give his patience more credit, except as usual it is being misapplied. Isn't it?
Grantaire must have known he was needling Enjolras; there was a smile hinted on his lips. The cut beneath Grantaire's right eye was mostly healed. Observing the scab and fading bruise at close range caused an unaccountable twinge behind Enjolras's sternum.
I have been waiting for you, he thought. For a panicky moment he was certain he'd said it aloud.
Grantaire exhaled a slow breath, and Enjolras stared at Grantaire's throat as a wolf would appraise a deer's. He managed to keep from putting his mouth to the faint pulse visible in the hollow of Grantaire's throat but could not delay his fingers.
At Enjolras's touch Grantaire's small smile disappeared. The abrupt effort he made to stay still was like its own measurable force. Enjolras leaned into him, cupping the nape of Grantaire's neck with his left hand.
"Contrary to popular assumption, I do not miss the sound of my own voice much," he said finally, hearing himself as if from far off.
"No?" Grantaire swallowed, though Enjolras had rarely known him to be nervous.
"No," Enjolras agreed. With the pad of his thumb he traced the rim of Grantaire's ear.
Grantaire did not seem to be breathing now. His eyes were wide; his heartbeat tapped at Enjolras's fingertips.
Enjolras brushed his lips against the mark on Grantaire's cheek, and then against his lips, just the barest touch. Gentle, he thought. It did not escape him that there could be a kind of cruelty in gentleness.
Grantaire didn't flinch but sighed a tremulous sigh, perhaps the most satisfying sound Enjolras had heard in days. Oh, he would take pains to be kind. The energy it was otherwise taking Grantaire to not move could, Enjolras estimated, have fueled a star.
"I've missed yours," Enjolras said against his mouth, and it might even have been true.
Grantaire pulled back, an expression close to agony crossing his face. "Enjolras," he said, voice tight.
His expression changed, however, in another instant; Enjolras felt his stomach lift with the sheer thrill of it. It wasn't base infatuation, he thought. That was never the right description for the way Grantaire looked at him.
Grantaire was leaning against him and whatever he saw in Enjolras's face must have been a masterpiece of persuasion because then his mouth was on Enjolras's, gentle, deliberate and meticulous.
Enjolras swore Christ inside his head, thinking on all the years he'd spent feigning -- no, convincing himself -- Grantaire was gentle with him sometimes to mock, that it was an act, that he did not truly think of Enjolras with such reverence. Enjolras deepened the kiss and Grantaire let him, until the way they were kissing was almost unbearably familiar.
How did I know this is what it would feel like, Enjolras thought, hungry and perfect and right, oh god, how could I have possibly known?
All he wanted was to kiss Grantaire too. Such a terrible, imperative idea. He could not compel his way past it.
"Please," he said between kisses, "please."
Grantaire's fingers drew under the frayed cuffs of Enjolras's shirt, seeking the skin of his wrists, a strange intimacy. The touch trailed across Enjolras's skin everywhere, and he fought to suppress a shiver. Grantaire kissed his way up his jawline.
With his warm mouth at Enjolras's ear he whispered, "Since you ask politely, dearest listener: what would you have me say?"
What would Enjolras have him say, so little space between his body and Grantaire's scarcely a ghost could slip between them? He tightened his knees at Grantaire's hips to hold him in place and have the assuring, hard heat of him pressed against him as they kissed. Grantaire had been kissing him like he believed him, Enjolras suddenly understood, he was looking at Enjolras like he believed him.
We must stop, Enjolras thought, breath hitching. His very next thought was no. No. Please.
He felt his eyes begin to burn. He tipped Grantaire's head in his hands to taste the soft, vexing hollow of his throat. He wondered how he was ever going to be able to give him back.
I won't, he realized.
It seemed odd to speak aloud fully formed words after so many hours without them. Enjolras's bedroom was pleasantly cool in contrast to the heat of two bodies tangled up in quilts. Candlelight cast the barest golden hue upon the scene. Drifting, he rubbed the sole of his left foot against Grantaire's ankle and wound one of Grantaire's curls around his fingers.
"I am not the only one who has been quieter lately," Enjolras said.
"I remain at your disposal," Grantaire said, opening his eyes. He moved to accommodate Enjolras in the crook of his arm. "May I interest you in a sermon about Jesus's apostles, sent out two by two, to plague devils without wallet, bread, or bag, God stingily providing staffs but a mere single chiton each, a dirty manager forever on the cusp of insolvency; or perhaps we discuss suicide by asp. Has this tradition waned in the modern age? The snakes have taken up residency at the palace again and again. Or shall we talk of venomous spleens -- mine as you know is hateful, soaked with melancholia, Semper Grantaire, semper dolens -- or maybe a short comparison of France's illustrious absinthes versus England's inferior, to my taste, purls? Ah, wormwood, that divine celestial herb, able to repel lice and expel plaguing internal parasite and spice honey wine and sit upon one's mind like lead, so that sleep is as a dreamless death--"
"Shh," Enjolras said, covering Grantaire's mouth with a kiss.
This interruption continued for another half hour, after which Enjolras was too serenely worn out to move for several minutes. Grantaire was doing something with the tossed sheets and quilts at the foot of the bed -- rearranging? unravelling? -- and Enjolras rallied strength to grab his elbow and reel him back up the mattress to use him as a pillow again.
"We've misplaced the washcloth," Grantaire whispered.
Enjolras yawned and splayed his fingers against Grantaire's breastbone. "Doesn't matter. I'll have the linens laundered tomorrow."
"Mmm. Yes." Enjolras let himself luxuriate in the feeling of Grantaire's fingers kneading the base of his skull.
After a few breaths, Grantaire said, "It will be soon, won't it?" His voice was somber.
Enjolras felt the insurrection coming the way the sun could be sensed more potently on one's forearms as summer crept closer. A month, or a week. Students and workmen had outlined the avenues of Paris with trails of gunpowder that waited only for a righteous spark to ignite a firestorm; they would pull up cobblestones and climb barricades to secure France's freedom.
He lifted up on elbows enough to be able to look Grantaire in the face. He searched for signs of sullenness or derision and found instead a banked sorrow Grantaire's calm gaze could not entirely hide.
"Yes," Enjolras said.
Grantaire nodded, accepting. He brushed damp hair off of Enjolras's neck. He watched Enjolras as intently as ever but it was a changed study, sadder, sweeter: Enjolras understood it not as lionization which would keep him at arm's length but as veneration which would draw him near.
We will be reborn together, Enjolras thought, gripping Grantaire's hand. We do not have long now.