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Stand (Last Line of Defense)

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***

 

Enjolras had heard people say how the familiar, unmistakable sound of the buzzer at the end of a game, ending a game, was the most beautiful sound in the world. Dreams come true. He hadn’t believed it when the very same people had said it was too, the most terrible sound.

He thought he understood now.

Maybe he didn’t agree wholly because it wasn’t really the sound of the buzzer, the terrible thing. It was the minute before, the minutes before, the desperation building up with just that sliver of hope left still, still at the very end, the very last seconds, all of it building and building and then erupting in one moment.

 

The buzzer sounded, and that was it.

 

Their entire season, another year was over. And it could have as well been the world in that moment.

 

Enjolras was frozen on the ice, the stick in his hands useless, his hands useless.T he people in the stands were cheering, loud and ecstatic and happy and Enjolras thought, at least they hadn’t lost at home.

Silence would be worse. Maybe. He didn’t know. He couldn’t stand thinking about it. He wished he could stop but it was like nothing else existed but the feeling of loss, loss, loss and defeat and his burning lungs.

 

Enjolras didn’t even notice at first when Combeferre skated up to him, only when the other man softly laid his hand on Enjolras's wrist, the small strip of skin between his glove and jersey.

“Hey,” Combeferre said, so softly Enjolras almost couldn’t hear him over the noise of the crowd. “It’s okay.”

He looked like he was about to cry. Enjolras felt like crying. He knew he shouldn’t but he felt like he could have, for days, if they let him.

Courfeyrac was there next and where Combeferre had approached Enjolras softly and cautious, Courfeyrac threw his arms around both of them, even though he was much smaller, had to stretch to get an arm around Combeferre’s shoulder, even on his skates.

“I’m so proud of you,” Enjolras heard him saying into his ear and he couldn’t help it, he crumbled into Courfeyrac’s embrace, allowed himself just a moment, just that moment to let go.

He knew there was a C on his chest for several reasons but it was nothing, just as he himself was nothing, without Courfeyrac and Combeferre by his side.

He unravelled in their tangled mess of arms and defeat, let himself come apart before he needed to straighten up, to keep his composure for the sake of the team, his team that he needed to be strong for. He did, eventually, and entangled himself reluctantly from the other mens’ arms.They shared a look and Enjolras nodded an ‘It’s okay, I’m okay’ for them that they all knew wasn’t true but had to do for the time being.

Enjolras skated over to the bench even though his legs suddenly felt like lead but the adrenaline still running through him was making him shake. He knew Courfeyrac and Combeferre were following him without having to look back. But ahead was the sight of the bench, his team, where some were standing, frozen just as he had been, staring into nothing or sitting down without moving anymore.

Enjolras tried not to count the ones who were crying.

Coach Lamarque looked just as defeated as Enjolras felt but he held stood upright like a warrior who was ready for war, not one that just lost it. Enjolras caught his eye, a moment of shared loss, then Coach nodded.

Enjolras looked at the team, his people, and hit the bench with his stick, a loud clanking sound, loud enough to be heard over the cheers, to get their attention.

 

“I’m proud of you. All of you.”

They weren’t many words but this wasn’t the time. Enjolras doubted half of them had even comprehended what he had said. He didn’t blame them.

 

“So am I,” Coach said. Then he sighed and clapped the nearest shoulder he could reach. It was Jehan, who just rocked forward a little, nothing more. “Let’s get this over with.”

 

Handshake lines were a better tradition for the team on the winning side, Enjolras thought. They were terrible otherwise, for the ones who just wanted to get out, get the cameras out of their faces to wallow in misery alone. Everyone else who just wanted to go home.

It was an endless line of shoulder claps and friendly hugs to bear from people who tried not to smile even though the happiness was all over their faces. An endless line of deep blue jerseys, of mumbles ‘good game’s.

 

Maybe in a couple of days, weeks, Enjolras would say that with all honesty because they had been, good games, exciting, all-compassing hockey, but not right then. Not anywhere close in time.

 

When it was over, they could finally all fill into the dressing room. The silence and impersonality of the visitor’s locker room pressed on Enjolras’s mind and his chest felt constricted like all the air was gone from his lungs.

He sat down heavily in his stall and took a couple of deep, deep breaths, trying to clear his head.

 

“Guys.”

 

It didn’t get more quiet in the room. Enjolras’s voice was just breaking the silence. It was impossible to say the right words but anything would do, Enjolras could see it in the eyes of his teammates. Just some words, a little relief from the feeling of having failed.

“We did good,” he said because even if they had lost, they didn’t need to be embarrassed, even if it didn’t feel like that now and even if it was going to hurt for a while, did hurt right then like a knife to the heart. The ‘not good enough’ hung unspoken in the room where it would stay for a while. “We did good, all of us.”

There was a quiet scoff somewhere to Enjolras’s right and the knife twisted a little further.

He didn’t have to turn around to know it had been Grantaire.

Enjolras was too tired, too exhausted to deal with the backup goalie right then. Or maybe he just didn’t want to see him look like he felt, frustrated and hollow. Enjolras hadn’t known him for that long, Grantaire only being part of the team regularly since early March, just two months ago. In two months Enjolras had gotten the impression that Grantaire already looked like that too often. Not only after a loss, they hadn’t had many of those in two months. (Only when it mattered.)

So Enjolras didn’t turn to look at him and just said, “Next year.” Forcefully.

There was another moment of silence.

“Next year,” Combeferre said, and then more followed, mumbled "Next year"s, the words still sounding hollow but later, later they were going to be comforting, the hope, the conviction of ‘next year’.

Enjolras didn’t hear Grantaire’s voice again and even though he hadn’t expected to, it was another stab of disappointment, another stick on the burning pile of it.

“Hey,” Courfeyrac piped up. “Evening after locker room clean-out, my place everyone. I’m not asking. Let’s get home and you can mope, I know I will. But after, don’t bring the season with you. It’s summer now.” And he smiled, just a little, but already more real than anything Enjolras could have come up with. It was the reason Courfeyrac was there, heart of the team, picking up their pieces.

 

Enjolras felt terrible, ungrateful, for only wishing he wouldn’t have to.

 

***

 

It wasn’t a raging party, a couple of days later at Courfeyrac’s house, understandably. But Enjolras had to admit, it was much less miserable than he had expected it to be.

Courfeyrac had an enormously big house for the sole purpose of filling it with people whenever the opportunity arose. Mostly it wasn’t an occasion like this, more like ‘Hey, it’s an off-day tomorrow’ or ‘You know, I really want to try out this new catering service to see if they can handle a hockey team’. It also wasn’t just the team around, people had brought their families along, kids and dogs and enough alcohol to run not one but two hockey teams into the ground, especially if one was as exhausted as theirs from too many months of playing hockey and not enough weeks of playoff hockey.

Which meant that by nine almost everyone who hadn’t gone home with their kids was somewhere on the spectrum from just tipsy to raging drunk.

Somehow it helped to lift the spirits which had probably been the purpose of the whole event.

Joly was laughing so hard, he was crying into Bossuet’s shirt and it kind of made Enjolras feel like things were going to be okay.

He had given a lot of slaps on the back and received many in return that evening and was just heading out of the kitchen, deserted in favour of the bonfire outside, when he saw someone sitting in the dark on top of the stairs to the upper floor.

Enjolras stopped at the foot of the stairs.

 

Grantaire always looked smaller, almost slender without his goalie pads, his dark, black curls sticking up in every direction without a helmet to keep them in place.

 

“Captain,” he said when Enjolras looked up at him.

Enjolras rolled his eyes on reflex.

It was the only thing he had had time to get used to around Grantaire in the short time he had been around after being called up from the minor leagues for good, their other backup goalie out with a knee injury and retiring at the end of the season.

Enjolras still didn’t really know what to do about Grantaire, why he even had the bizarre feeling of having to do something about him, an unshakable feeling that he just couldn’t get rid of, that had nothing to do with how Enjolras sometimes found himself distracted by the sarcastic curl of Grantaire’s lips or when he looked at the other man’s hands.

They were hockey players, their hands had jobs to do, especially goalie hands. But Grantaire’s hands were oddly fascinating, long fingers that looked almost delicate for all their strength and… right.

 

That had happened again.

 

Enjolras shook his head that felt a pleasant shade of numb from the alcohol, and got up the stairs to sit down next to Grantaire.

They could see the bottom of the glass front to the garden, from the top of the stairs, where everyone was gathered around the fire in the summer dusk.

Grantaire held out his bottle and Enjolras raised his so they could clink together.

 

“Sucks,” the other man said quietly.

 

Enjolras could feel his heart twisting. He took a long gulp of his beer. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Next year though.”

Grantaire’s lips twitched. “Sure.”

Enjolras would have been able to hear the sarcasm in his voice from ten miles distance. “You don’t believe that.”

It wasn’t a question exactly, he thought. Enjolras had tried to wrap his head around Grantaire’s pessimism for a while now and had never really thought about how deep it really ran.

Grantaire shrugged. “Not in my hands, is it?”

He hadn’t played for more than twenty minutes during their playoff run, just the one time they had already been down three goals, beyond salvageable. They had won the next three games. Still, Enjolras couldn’t help but be surprised when Grantaire continued. “Who even knows where I’ll be next year, right? Somewhere sunny would be nice for a change. What do you think about Cali?”

Enjolras started at him. “What ?”

He… he had to be kidding, he couldn’t- Enjolras couldn’t believe how he could be possibly thinking that their team was going to get rid of him, trade him off to California of all places when he was so… so good even if he had only played less than twenty games as a starter last season but it was enough to show that he was ready, that he might even be great.

But Grantaire simply shrugged again and took a sip from his bottle. “You never know what happens.”

Which was ridiculous.

“You know some things,” Enjolras said decidedly.

Grantaire glanced at him and the way his mouth curled up into a half-smile was at least a little more amused than sarcastic. “Okay.”

Somehow, it riled Enjolras up even more.

“Do you not want to stay?” he snapped and immediately Grantaire’s expression turned into one of honest confusion.

“What? Why wouldn’t I want that?”

“I don’t know, we just lost?” Enjolras couldn’t help but let some of the bitterness still bubbling at the surface bleed through his words.

Grantaire frowned, looking even more confused. “Yeah. In the second round of the playoffs. The second year you even made it to the playoffs. And you could have won, right? Call me cliche but those were some fucking stupid bounces, those the other way and who knows? Your line’s been great, every line really and you outplayed their defense way too easily, especially that right side, you made them look even more shitty than most of the times, I mean, the third pairing played basically five minutes because you were shredding them. They were just taking shots and they were taking lots of them. And they went in. Good for them, not for you. Alright, you lost. And it sucks. So what?”

Enjolras didn’t think he had ever heard Grantaire saying more words at once to him. Especially not some that were so… comforting. Things that Enjolras had tried to tell himself over the last couple of days and had a hard time believing. It was slightly overwhelming, hearing it all thrown back at him, but in a surprisingly good way. Even though something felt decidedly off about Grantaire’s speech. It took Enjolras a moment to realize what it was.

“We,” he said eventually, having figured it out. “Not you, we. Our team.”

Grantaire looked like he wanted to say something but closed his mouth again. Instead, he looked at Enjolras for a moment longer, his eyes more green than blue in the dark. Enjolras could never really tell which colour his eyes were. “Do you believe you can do it?”

And that was an easy question.

“Of course we can.” Enjolras did believe that, with all of his heart. They had lost, yes, and it felt terrible but they were going to win, win everything.

“No,” Grantaire shook his head. “Do you believe you can do it?”

Enjolras had gotten his first media training lesson with fourteen and people had begun saying words like ‘generational talent’ and talking about him going high in the draft, going first. And maybe for some people phrases like ‘We’re a team’ and stuff about the logo on the front being more important than the name on the back were just that, phrases that had to be said.

For Enjolras they had never been just that, he believed in his team, his family. But… he wasn’t talking to the media here.

He was talking to this strange, confusing man he didn’t really know much about but the shape of his hands or the way his voice sounded heavy with sarcasm, the tilt of his mouth when he smiled at Joly and Bossuet… And maybe Enjolras did know some things about Grantaire even if they didn’t make sense yet. He knew that he was a person whose opinion felt like it mattered an awful lot, that Enjolras wanted to be honest with him, and so he would be too.

“Yes,” he said quietly but convinced. Because he knew he was good enough, he couldn’t just not believe in himself when he knew so many people did, so many he couldn’t and he wasn’t going to disappoint. “Yes, I do.”

Grantaire looked at him for a long while, and longer. Enjolras didn’t look away. He didn’t know what the other man was looking for.

Eventually, Grantaire bit down onto his lip and looked away, down the stairs and outside.

 

“Next year,” he said.

 

Enjolras blinked. He didn’t think he could have heard that right.

“Next year?” he repeated shocked, taken aback because. He hadn’t expected Grantaire to say that, to just…

Grantaire sighed, a small sound but it ended on an even more quiet laugh that Enjolras thought might have sounded just a little bit shocked as well. “Yeah.”

 

Enjolras didn’t know what it was then, surprise, gratitude maybe, drunkenness, disappointment still fresh but hopefulness stronger suddenly, that made him lean forward.

 

Whatever it was, Grantaire must have had his own reasons to not move away when Enjolras kissed him, his own reasons to kiss back softly, slow and quiet. His lips moved with Enjolras’s and against them, pressing their mouths together, guiding, gentling Enjolras’s slightly clumsy force like a comfort, like solace.

Enjolras head was spinning.  

One of his hands was still wrapped around his bottle, the other clasped around the edge of the step. Enjolras raised it to reach out wanting - wanting to be close, to sink his fingers in Grantaire’s curls to feel if they were as soft as they looked, as Grantaire’s lips felt against his and-

 

The door downstairs opened and Enjolras flinched back at the sudden sounds streaming inside.

 

Grantaire was staring at him and Enjolras was staring back. He couldn’t help but raise his fingers to his lips.

“Oh captain, my captain!” Bahorel stumbled inside, shouting loud enough that Enjolras flinched again. “I need you to show these fuckers they’re a fucking disgrace to fucking beer pong!”

Grantaire still hadn’t moved, wasn’t looking away. Enjolras swallowed hard, his heart beating fast in his chest like it did after the end of an incredibly exhausting, electrifying shift on the ice.

“Next year?” He heard himself asking and desperately needing an answer even if he wasn’t sure what exactly it was he was asking for.

 

Grantaire licked his lips, breathed out. “Yeah.”

 

And Enjolras - Enjolras didn’t even know what they were talking about anymore, really, but it felt like the right answer. He felt light-headed, a little shaky around the edges. He thought that he should be panicking. He also thought if he could have, he would have leaned back in to keep kissing Grantaire until he couldn't breathe. That thought, in particular, was a lot. Also really impractical. 

 

Enjolras stumbled up so he wouldn't do anything stupid (more stupid?). He looked at Grantaire until he almost fell down the stairs where Bahorel could just catch him even though he himself seemed to be swaying already. “Dude, what the fuck?”

"Just had a little too much," Enjolras said which made Bahorel laugh and ruffle his hair with one of his hands. Enjolras couldn't help but smile and lead himself be herded back out into the garden. 

It was warm outside, star-bright sky.

Enjolras head felt light, he felt light-hearted in the warm night, no obligations ahead for the next weeks, months. He took a deep breath.

It was off-season. He could live with that. 

 

 

***