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Threnody

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“I did not expect to find you here,” Enjolras says, attempting civility.

“No?” Grantaire sprawls in his seat, inattentive to the preparations on the dais at the front of the hall. Instead, he observes their fellow patrons, his eyes roving from one music lover to another. If, of course, they are music lovers; many gather here only to be seen.

“I had thought it difficult to listen to Bach with irony.” Enjolras cannot regret his acerbity, and now Grantaire turns to Enjolras standing in the aisle, arrested on his way forward by the familiar dark curls.

“Ironic? Me?” Grantaire smiles. “No, you are mistaken; surely by now you know that I only ever seek honest pleasure. Why pretend to love my lessons, when I can easily find better company? Not for me a sly simper, when a bare coin buys me no lies.”

A man presses past Enjolras, and he is jostled toward Grantaire.

“Sit beside me, if you dare,” Grantaire says.

Enjolras has never been called a coward. He steps over Grantaire’s legs, stretched long, and settles beside him. The seat is very hard, and a small part of him marvels that Grantaire should manage indolence against such a straight back. He is clearly not troubled by a steel spine.

“I did not expect to find you outside the walls of your confined life,” Grantaire says, looking intently at the bulbous ear of the man in front of them. There is a small tuft of white hair growing out of it, but Enjolras does not think it so fascinating as to merit so much of Grantaire’s attention. “Is all laid in readiness, that you can dally an afternoon away with the likes of me?”

Enjolras does not flinch, too practiced: Grantaire in public likes to almost name their cause. He skirts the edge of danger, brazen as his bottom lip, held now between his teeth. “I find the music restful.”

“Do you seek rest?”

“I seek serenity.”

Grantaire glances at him sidelong.

It is ridiculous to be discomfited by Grantaire’s fingers, innocent and quiescent where they rest against his thigh; it is intolerable to find his lashes provocation, when all Enjolras sought here was a clear head. “The fugues are mathematical problems, and resolve,” he says, and feels at once caught out.

“I cannot find you nor your field – of study, of battle, what youth can distinguish between them? – serene, but I can honor resolution here,” Grantaire answers. “As you say, one cannot be ironic about Bach.” There is a tinge of color on his cheeks, and Enjolras wonders at it as the concert begins.

The music at first seems stately, and with more pointed listening is a mosaic. The fugues progress like history ought, met by point and counterpoint, checks that over time weave themselves into the overarching theme. It is a vision that Enjolras had much anticipated, a known pleasure that is now faceted by the awareness of Grantaire beside him, still in a way he has never been at the Musain: his eyes are closed, no show of obeisance but instead a taut observance. His breath quickens at the minor keys.

Enjolras finds his attention divided between the deftness of the musical arguments and Grantaire’s response to them. Grantaire has always insisted on scrutiny, true, but rarely by his silence. Had he not deliberately goaded Enjolras into joining him, Enjolras would think him ignorant of any company. He holds himself like a man apart, his hands steady and his head slightly bent.

The slow shiver of epiphany grows inside Enjolras, becoming a surety as the music beckons, its passion not shallow despite its restraint. Grantaire is wholly absorbed. He has given himself freely to Bach, as Enjolras has seen him give himself to so many lesser pursuits. Here, Grantaire is sincere.

As the concert progresses, Enjolras tries to be as engrossed. He means to follow the threads of harmony and antiphony, but is distracted by the rough worn patches of fabric upon his seat; by the way that drags him to think of other rough textures, the music insistent like his thoughts; by the way Grantaire’s voice is rough when he surfaces after a night in his cups; by the way his hair looks like it would be soft, if grasped; by the way his voice might sound, if he let himself speak soft.

Thoughts of the bodies and the burnishing of other men are not new, but thoughts of Grantaire biddable in his bed and burnished by candlelight are new. Enjolras’s eyes fly open and he digs his fingernails into his palm. He focuses again on the stage, and breathes deliberately slow. He does not acknowledge that if imagining Grantaire bared to him is startling – Grantaire, who beside him now seems small, turned inward – he has in the past noticed Grantaire and his component parts. His hands gesturing have caught light. His lashes lowered have trapped it.

The recital ends calmly with no flourish, and the audience politely applauds. Grantaire’s approval rings loudest to Enjolras, and he tries to shake himself as from a dream. The future calls, and he has no time for discord.

“What did you think?” Grantaire asks, straightening his cravat as they find themselves stalled in the crush of the aisle.

“He played precisely,” Enjolras manages.

“Ah, precision! Truly, there is no greater compliment!” His voice bites.

In the past, Enjolras might have been stung or turned away. Now, having seen Grantaire vulnerable, he wonders at the derision. Perhaps Grantaire is only the irrepressible cynic he has appeared – but Enjolras angles toward him as toward a cipher. “What would you rather I had said?”

Grantaire confronted is Grantaire expounding. “Dictate your words? I’d as soon dictate to a statue! There is little that marble might announce, unless it is an oracle come to life; and I should be a poor student indeed did I think you an oracle, with your visions of horizons and possibilities.”

“We’ve already established you prefer to shirk your lessons,” Enjolras says, and waits for a woman to exit her row before he presses forward.

Grantaire grins. “In which case, how could my faint praise be an accolade to the performance of the player? If I liked it, surely that would be a mark against it, the approbation of one with poor taste.”

“But,” says Enjolras, caught in Grantaire’s mercurial face, “we were speaking of what I might say, had I performed as you wish.”

“True enough, and your taste is impeccable, save in your politics. Very well: I would have wished to hear you expound on his strength of mind, in grasping the themes of the pieces; I could have wept I’m sure for your oratory on the courage that undertaking Bach requires; I might have dared hope for your opinion on his passion.”

“It is hard for me to judge passion,” Enjolras begins, and there is awareness in his skin at the mirth with which Grantaire smiles. “No, not in the general sense, I can claim that judgment as well as any –”

“Don’t I know it,” Grantaire says, “France quickens your blood –”

“– but in the specific, nothing in my experience can compare to the concert I heard at the end of February, a young expatriate who came to Paris because Poland could afford him neither freedom nor scope; for me his was a new kind of playing.”

“A month gone, and you still thinking of him!” Grantaire holds open the gilded door of the concert hall, and bows Enjolras into the street with a flourish. “What dedication!”

“Dedication is accounted a virtue to some,” Enjolras says, and the shadow of the Barrière du Maine is between them.

“I am dedicated to my creed.” Grantaire’s voice is low.

They stand to the side of the doorway, late afternoon sun caressing the stone. Enjolras should
go, but he leans forward, half-fascinated. “I have never heard you profess one.”

A wry smile now. “Many times you have, but I do not merit your listening as the great Germans do; perhaps if I had Pontmercy set it for me in Bach’s language, and Combeferre dictate the cadences that most please the scientific mind –”

“Yes, or Feuilly could paint it on a fan for stylized balance, but I still do not know what creed you say. You do not wear a cross, and importuning Dionysus in a giddy voice does not seem to me a prayer.”

“I love my friends.” It is the simplest thing in the world, and now Enjolras has seen Grantaire honest twice in one day. “I love my friends, and I wish them to join me in merriment, while they can.”

“What use is that?” Enjolras asks.

“No use, but that it requires presence and breathing. It is very difficult to drink toasts with a corpse.” Grantaire looks at his hands, and when he raises his head his eyes are no longer cisterns. They are affable and blank and shallow, and he nods at Enjolras, ready to part ways.

“Nothing can be more important than presence,” Enjolras offers, still wrong-footed by the Grantaire he glimpsed, and by the glimpse of his throat where his cravat lies askew. “But I have never found it in carousing.”

“No, not you, a monk. Only in hymns to the brotherhood.”

“Hymns to the future,” Enjolras corrects.

“Sometimes we find our brotherhood in dominoes.”

It is the closest they have ever come to acknowledging Grantaire’s attempt and Grantaire’s sin. Enjolras had no energy to raise the question, because he knows in his bones that the day draws near, and his energy is needed for things other than chastisement. It was enough to let a cool silence be response to Grantaire’s jests. Now – “Or in music.”

“You, for whom a rosebush is nothing but a hiding place for a sword – you, here. It still staggers me.” Indeed, Grantaire sways a little nearer, until he rights himself.

“I am rededicated when my mind is pure,” Enjolras says. He shrugs. “For some, mass gives the same uplift. But I cannot find solace in a place of such hierarchy and aristocratic corruption, so I come to the concert hall, which celebrates both gifts and hard work.”

“There are other ways of clearing your head.” Grantaire sounds almost tentative, and he looks at Enjolras strangely, as with a question. He has broached the subject before, many times and less hesitant, but never as though he thought he might hear an answer.

“I know.”

“But you choose this one?”

Enjolras is on a precipice. “Courfeyrac has offered to show me the city and its beds, but my tastes are more circumspect.”

“Your tastes, or how you address them?”

“How I ought to, perhaps.”

Grantaire’s eyes reflect the coming evening. “I have been accounted both gifted and a hard worker, at this if at little else. If you want them, my services are yours.”

The precipice yawns; he jumps and smiles. “Grantaire, I consent to try you.”

That soft mouth falls open a little, allows a disbelieving indrawn breath. Then Grantaire squares his shoulders as against a blow, and, not looking now at Enjolras, he says, “I live only a little way from here. My bed is not celestial, so I cannot offer you heavenly bliss, but I can try to make amends between us.”

“Amen,” says Enjolras gravely, and Grantaire laughs.

They walk slowly through crowded spring streets. Grantaire beside him is alight, gilded by sun when he points them one way or another, down an alley and a thoroughfare and another alley. His cheeks are flushed, his gestures expansive as he lays out their catalogue of possibilities. “I might lift your spirits, if not provide you spiritual stimulation, for my means of rousing the blood are not wholly godly, but a vigorous discussion of positions of argument is of course stimulating –”

Enjolras’s pulse is loud in his ears.

“– or you are welcome to my store of spirits, if you care to indulge –”

“It is you who are indulging me,” Enjolras says.

“Am I?” They’ve reached Grantaire’s door, and after he unlocks it, his hand rests on the knob. He turns to look up at Enjolras. “Promise me you want this.” His voice is tight. “Say it is not amusement or charity or some misplaced attempt to win me to the war.”

Enjolras draws back. “If you think that, I’d rather leave. Grantaire, I am here because you offered, and because I wanted to accept.”

Grantaire nods, resolute.

When they’ve climbed to his attic room and he makes to unlock that door too, Enjolras stays him with a hand on his taut arm. “Promise me you want this, and that your offer is not only that here is the one place you espouse an egalitarian education.”

“Me, a republican? You know me better than that.” Grantaire shakes his head and turns the key.

Enjolras follows him inside, and stands unsure. The room is untidy but not filthy, the bed unmade but the bed clothes clean. The twilight reaches them through wide windows flung open to the air, and there is an easel angled to the light. There are books on every surface, and a peach sits beside a bottle of wine on the table.

“My kingdom,” Grantaire says behind him.

“Are you the master of it?” Enjolras asks, absent minded, and goes to look closer at the faint sketch awaiting paint on the canvas.

“Only enough to forbid you my art.” Grantaire’s voice is sharp.

Enjolras turns. “I thought your art was what you offered.”

“The art of pleasure is different from the art of the brush, and I am not equally practiced in both. Please don’t look at it.”

“Alright.” He goes and sits on the bed, a little lost now that they have come to the moment.

“Some wine?” There is a flutter in Grantaire’s movements, as though he may be nervous too.

Enjolras shakes his head.

“Dare I ask why you acceded today? It is not the first time you might have.” Grantaire’s fine-boned artist’s fingers unknot his cravat, and his face is still.

“I found I do not know you as I ought. I thought I did, and instead you presented other truths.”

“You may well boast of knowing me after tonight.” His grin is a wicked scimitar, flashing.

“Why did you offer?” Enjolras begins to divest himself of his boots, for lack of anything better to do with his hands.

“If you do not know, I shan’t enlighten you,” Grantaire says, and removes his shirt. His stomach is a flat plain Enjolras wants to map. “Men learn best by experience.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Of course you would.” Grantaire comes toward him and kneels, the better to look Enjolras in the eyes. He lifts Enjolras’s chin, and his hand is cool. “Enjolras, you are a man of parts; your rectitude does not prevent you from being in the world, only from continuing to live in it. You are shaped by your knowledge and your inability to forget it.”

“And if that is not enough?” This small garret has become a confessional, and Enjolras, who rarely shows his doubts even to Courfeyrac or to Combeferre, lays himself bare to Grantaire as to a stranger he will never meet again – the accord of music has found them bound in a rare sympathy. “If my experience is not enough to guide my friends safely to the other shore?”

“They are grown men, and choose for themselves.” Grantaire’s eyes are the blue of a pool at midnight, encompassing shifting stars. “It is not my choice for them, or for you, but they choose it freely.”

“What would you choose?” Enjolras asks, and can barely breathe. He is implacable, and will not turn from what is needed, but he searches Grantaire’s face.

“Only to show you what you want to know,” Grantaire says, easy, and rises. Methodically, he strips.

“I am not ignorant. I have read the literature, and seen the art.”

“The ancients in rust and black?” Grantaire is bent, pulling down his trousers.

“And what Prouvaire has brought to Courfeyrac,” Enjolras says, wooden on the bed. He tries to lift his shirt, but his hands falter. He waits for Grantaire to straighten.

Naked, Grantaire’s cock is proud, unashamed – three times he has been honest, today. Enjolras cannot look away, and wants to touch. “I am not so special,” Grantaire says, halting. Enjolras wonders what his own face reveals.

“You are outside my experience.” Enjolras tries to be abashed, but embarrassment is foreign. He can only feel what he feels, and Grantaire will either accept it or he will not.

“Not for long.” Grantaire comes forward, and his hands meet Enjolras’s. Together, they raise his shirt over his head, another layer gone.

“What now?”

Grantaire observes him. “There are many options, one of us here or one of us there, or one of us –” he eyes the way Enjolras sits, legs spread “– upon the floor.” He bites his lip again.

“Is there something you most wish to impart?” Enjolras’s mouth is dry.

“Perhaps.” Grantaire, decisive now, kneels a second time. “A good initiation, I think, must begin with the introduction of the melody, seemingly simple.” He undoes Enjolras’s trousers, and peels them back. “All is point and counterpoint, and there are some acts that make the theme most clear.”

His mouth meets Enjolras’s thigh, his nascent beard scraping against untutored flesh. He kisses chastely, and then begins to bite and suck, and Enjolras leans back, his arms locked to hold him a semblance of upright.

“Grantaire,” he says.

“Hm? Would you rather I approach the main entertainment headlong?” Grantaire’s hand, diffident, closes around Enjolras’s cock. He strokes once, twice, seemingly uninterested but that he breathes shallow and quick, his eyes bright.

“Use your best judgment,” Enjolras manages to say.

“We both know I have none of that.” Grantaire bends his head and swallows.

Enjolras tries not to shout.

Grantaire’s mouth is hot around him like nothing he has known. Grantaire sucks and is soft in equal measure, lets himself be used as Enjolras moves inadvertent. He finds his hand in Grantaire’s curls, wrapped tight. He finds his hips rise to meet Grantaire’s caress. He is undone –

Grantaire takes his time, takes everything Enjolras is, takes him into his throat until Enjolras is nothing but here, nothing but the act of knowing Grantaire. Grantaire receives his cock and receives his grasping hands and receives his unlearned noises.

Enjolras will remember tonight until he dies, long after the bruises at his hips fade. If this ever happens again without Grantaire, if Enjolras meets a likeminded man at a formal debate or an informal student gathering, he knows Grantaire will still be foremost in his memory, and Enjolras anchored now to the present can only hope that in the future he will always feel echoes of Grantaire’s soft mouth and Grantaire’s sure hands.

Grantaire curls his fingers around Enjolras’s bare ankle, and Enjolras imagines they tremble. He swallows again and pulls back, kisses Enjolras’s hip.

“Are you satisfied?” he asks, voice rough and panting.

“Grantaire!” Floating, Enjolras tries to grasp at outrage. If this moment is for ridicule –

Grantaire pets at Enjolras’s foot, tries to breathe. “I only mean, there are many acts that a man of little experience and great appetite can encounter in one evening; you may finish like this, if you wish, I live your servant, Enjolras, but if you seek horizons –”

“Show me,” Enjolras says.

Grantaire is unmussed except the back of his head where Enjolras’s hand fisted in his hair, too tight and not tight enough, and his mouth is very red. His cock lies hard against his thigh. “You might fuck, or be fucked,” he says. He’ll have something in the morning to measure himself by, Enjolras thinks; surely his voice cannot be smoothed by then.

“I’d fuck you.”

“The fugue progresses, then.” Grantaire rises, and helps Enjolras to remove his vestiges of clothing.

Enjolras tries to get his breathing, his pulse, himself under control – he cannot admit what this does to him, because surely he has already shared enough. A distant voice murmurs that it would be kind to let Grantaire know, honesty for honesty; but has Grantaire ever noticed him as Enjolras has looked? Has he ever, before today, spoken in more than jest? “And progresses well, though I am no judge,” he says, a poor shade of You do well, Grantaire.

Should he tell Grantaire what this feels like, encourage him, praise him? He bites his cheek instead, tastes blood and Grantaire looks at him almost sober. This is no heady contract, only two acquaintances who go to bed for sport.

Grantaire retrieves oil from his table, and clambers ungainly next to Enjolras. “The next step may be pleasurable, if the student is aware of his fingering,” he says.

“Do not profane Bach,” Enjolras murmurs, and settles back to watch Grantaire open himself.

“Nothing profane in this,” Grantaire responds, and closes his eyes, adds a second finger, “if you know how to do it.”

“The psalms do not speak of it.”

“No, but our palms might,” and Grantaire holds out a hand, insistent.

Enjolras joins him then, bends low so he can see exactly how Grantaire makes his body ready to receive Enjolras’s cock in this way too. He aligns his own slender hand to Grantaire’s, and adds a long finger to where Grantaire’s thrust.

Inside, Grantaire is hot and tight and grasping. Enjolras does not have words to say what this moment is, his finger sliding held with Grantaire’s into Grantaire, Grantaire’s legs spread wide to accommodate him.

Grantaire huffs out a breath, and removes his hand. Enjolras follows, reluctant. “Now you must lie like a witness,” Grantaire says, “and tell me you are ready, unless of course you are unwilling to stand at the dock, in which case there is no compulsion. I am not the state.”

“You lie in state,” Enjolras says, nonsensical. The velvet twilight gathers around them, and holds Grantaire’s bed a bower. Uncouth Grantaire, unready and unhelpful, awaits his pleasure.

“You are hardly a prince, nor am I for conquering.”

“Too wild by half,” Enjolras agrees, and lifts Grantaire’s legs around him. He pauses, and Grantaire nods. Enjolras enters.

Alone, acting on himself in his own cold bed, was no fair prequel. Grantaire around him is heady and blazing, and Enjolras holds, stretching the perfect moment; Grantaire waits shivering for Enjolras to move, but makes no complaint.

When Enjolras at last begins to give them a rhythm, a stuttering imperfect thing, Grantaire takes it and gives it back remade in the roll of his hips and the tightening of his legs. He is almost silent, and except for the desperation of his tremulous fingers and the imperiousness of his hips Enjolras might think him unmoved; then Grantaire sighs, and Enjolras can only clench his jaw and press in harder, deeper, try to answer Grantaire’s wanting with his own.

Grantaire spirals them on, and on, until Enjolras has the fleeting thought that the fire of this might consume him, and if it does not, how will he survive after, when he’s starving?

Grantaire tosses ink curls against his white sheet, and the thought is lost. “Enjolras, can you –” he says, and lifts his legs over Enjolras’s shoulders. “Faster, please.”

Enjolras bends Grantaire nearly in half, now, redoubled. They push onward together.

Grantaire tries to stoke his own cock, but his hand keeps falling lax, untethered, lying open on his stomach and grasping at nothing. His lip is swollen beneath his teeth.

Enjolras takes Grantaire’s cock in his hand and holds it, feels the hot hard length of it. Grantaire’s eyes are wild but he will not look at Enjolras now, does not look so does not realize how good he looks and how good he is. Enjolras lets himself imagine telling Grantaire how he keeps Enjolras present, but instead gives himself over to making Grantaire come.

He fucks Grantaire with all the force of frustration and the weight of a hot summer bearing down, with all the limitation of the future and with all the offense Grantaire has ever given. He fucks Grantaire knowing this will not likely be offered again, and tries to make the best recompense he can.

It must be good enough for Grantaire, throat exposed and yielding, eyes closed and hair damp with sweat; he comes across Enjolras’s hand and across his own stomach, with a small sound wrenched from him and his hips slackening.

Enjolras lifts his hand to Grantaire’s lips, and it is finally that, Grantaire tasting his own come on Enjolras’s skin, eager, that makes him spend.

Grantaire accepts him, eyes still closed and mouth tractable under Enjolras’s hand. He tongues Enjolras’s fingers even as Enjolras carefully separates from Grantaire. He parts his thighs again to Enjolras’s gentle touch, lets Enjolras see the traces of oil and the come there.

At last, he asks, “Have you found the melody?”

“I think so,” Enjolras says, unbalanced. Grantaire is half angled toward him and half away, but Enjolras cannot help himself. He is only ever what he is, and what he is needs to look. He reaches out and turns Grantaire to face him.

Grantaire runs a hand through unkempt hair. “I have dreamt of this,” he says quietly.

Enjolras’s knuckles would be white if he let his hands form the fists they want to; instead, he strokes Grantaire’s leg. “And when you woke?”

“You were gone.”

Enjolras has not let himself love beyond how he’d die for friendship, but the evening bruised purple around them and Grantaire’s face open before him expose a different path to the future, one he has not considered. “And so you offered?”

“And so I offered,” Grantaire agrees. “Even the fool can lift his face to the sun.”

“I like to see you do it,” Enjolras says.

“No,” and Grantaire stops Enjolras’s hand. “You are the painting, not its audience. You were made to be observed, and to enlighten.”

“You say this, even after seeing me stumble through my lesson?”

“You hardly stumbled,” Grantaire says. He quirks a smile, and a hand; a trace of come is left on his stomach. A moment later, he says, “Yours were not the marks of a poor student.”

Enjolras sits back on his heels, winded.

“You can see the sketch, if you like.”

He climbs off the bed and paces toward it, uncaring if any below look up to see him naked through the windows; this gesture, he thinks, is the ultimate offering Grantaire can make.

He peers at the easel in the dying light.

Grantaire has sketched the Amis, faintly and fully: the scene is a meeting in progress, everyone drawn with care and vigor. Bahorel’s mustache bristles with life, and Courfeyrac’s grin even in faint pencil is true warmth. Joly and Bossuet are founts of mirth, and Grantaire has drawn himself a clown with a shadowed face, his antics the japes that make them laugh.

Enjolras himself is sitting quietly, to the right of Combeferre and Prouvaire bent over a book with Feuilly. He is placed so the viewer can see how he contemplates his friends with a half-smile. There is no disdain for their cause or for the speech Enjolras can see gathered on loose pages under his hand, the map of Paris he guesses would hang on the wall.

“A little oil, and you are radiant.” Grantaire’s quiet voice fills the quiet room.

Enjolras looks at him, opaque in the dimness. “I did not understand you.”

“Unlikely.”

Enjolras gestures at the sketch, and at the tubes of paint. “This is how you see us.” He looks at the sketch again, and back at Grantaire. “This, but you cannot join us.”

Grantaire shakes his head. “Point and counterpoint.”

Enjolras, perturbed, goes to the table. He opens the wine, and takes it with the peach back to the bed. The peach is ripe, and glows in his hand like a jewel. “You have given me a gift,” he says.

“You honor me,” Grantaire says, serious, and then grins. “I insist on a boon in return.”

Enjolras settles the wine on the ground and himself more firmly against Grantaire.

“A kiss,” Grantaire says, playing at command.

Enjolras smiles into his skin, and when Grantaire’s mouth opens again, he learns that this too has its point and its counterpoint, the antiphony of Grantaire’s lip now under his teeth; Grantaire gasps. Enjolras pulls back, and Grantaire’s eyes are wide.

“Beautiful Endymion, will you not tarry here and sleep awhile?”

“Only if you let me wake,” Enjolras says, and bites the peach.

“I promise.”