Grantaire is not the sort to read the newspaper, even if he did have a nickel to spare for it. He is definitely not the sort to read the heart-and-hand catalogs — as if any of the ladies on those pages would ever choose him for a husband. He only ends up in possession of the broadside because he'd trampled in a patch of mud while dodging out of the way of a carriage whose coachman snarled at him for spooking the horses. The catalog was in the gutter, a little damp but mostly clean, so it couldn't have been there long. Grantaire had grabbed it and leaned against the corner of a building to try to wipe the worst of the mud from his boot.
A bachelor of 35 of good health and sufficient means seeks a wife. She must be under 30, of good disposition, and well-versed in housekeeping, reads the crumpled newsprint between his fingers. Grantaire snorts and tears off the soiled half of the page to cast back into the gutter. The other he spreads out, glancing over the dozens of advertisements of the lonely and desperate.
Another ad reads, A young lady of about 25 is desirous of opening correspondence with a young man in the West who is inclined toward matrimonial engagement. She is in possession of good moral character and considerable seamstress skills.
The sheet is full of them, men in the West seeking women willing to leave behind their homes and travel to meet a husband they'd never met, women in the East searching for men willing to marry in exchange for the freedom that crowded city life can't offer.
Maybe he should have been reading these catalogs all along, Grantaire thinks with a grin. God knows, they seem good for a laugh or two, at least.
Down in the bottom corner of the page, so small Grantaire nearly misses it, is an ad much like the others. Homesteader in the West seeks able-bodied partner to run household and assist with tasks around the farm.
"You're never going to get a wife like that," Grantaire murmurs as he ducks around the back of the boardinghouse to avoid his landlady and her demands for his overdue rent. "Not many city ladies here looking to volunteer themselves as farm hands."
He's halfway up the stairs to his room when the sound of a familiar stride coming down the hall makes him spin about, shove the paper into his coat pocket, and dart back down and out onto the street again. He presses his back against the boardinghouse's wall, just out of sight from the door, and listens for any hint of pursuit. When there's only silence, he releases the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and heads off the way he'd come. He'll just have to find somewhere to lie low for an hour or two, until he can sneak back up to his room for the night.
A week on, Grantaire still hasn't managed to scrounge up enough for rent, and his landlady has lost her patience and kicked him out. Winter is starting to ease its grip on the city, but the streets are still frigid once the sun sets. Grantaire walks to keep from shivering and shoves his hands into his pockets to try to provide some meager protection for his fingers.
Something in his pocket crinkles beneath his hand. He pulls it out — the broadside with all the hopefuls seeking marriage. He'd forgotten about it, but now his thumb rests squarely over the advertisement he'd noticed before, the one written by someone so clueless that they'd stated upfront their intentions to put their new wife to work, and hadn't bothered to ask for any particulars beyond being able-bodied. As though any city-born lady was going to be won over by that.
The thought sticks as Grantaire makes his way through the city's streets, mostly deserted now as those folks who have beds have retired to them. Whoever that poor bastard is, he's not likely to have found a prospect yet. He's not likely to find one soon. And Grantaire… well. Grantaire is able-bodied, and he's not above hiring himself out as a farm hand or making the long journey west.
He's heard it's warm out there on the other side of the mountains. Right now, with his fingers turning to ice inside his pockets, he'd gladly pay for the privilege of making that journey if he'd had the money for it.
Desperate times, Grantaire thinks, and turns his steps so they'll lead him toward the post office.
I have read your advertisement for a wife with great interest. Have you found any ladies yet willing to begin correspondence with you? If you have not, I might propose an alternative arrangement.
I am no wife, but I am strong and able-bodied and willing to work, and I'd do so as cheaply as any wife would.
Please write back if you might be interested in my proposal.
It's weeks before Grantaire hears anything in reply. He knows that mail sent to the West travels slowly, and letters coming back the same way arrive no faster, but even so he doesn't dare to hope for a response. Hope is dangerous, and it's painful, and he's had his dashed too many times to risk it again.
When the letter comes, he stares at it for a long moment before opening it. The script that's written his name across the envelope is unfamiliar and hurried, the letter is a little worse for the wear, though Grantaire supposes he'd look no better after making such a journey.
It's not from anyone he knows. There's only one reason a stranger would be sending him a letter from so far across the country.
He rips the envelope carefully. He doesn't allow himself to be eager, nor excited. Not until he pulls the letter out and unfolds it.
If I had required a wife I'd have said so in my advertisement. A husband would do just as well, provided he was amenable to the expectations I laid out. I have not yet received word from any other prospects.
I suppose I should tell you about myself. Courfeyrac says it is the thing to do when embarking upon such correspondence. I own a homestead on the outskirts of a town called Amity…
The wind is howling through the streets, threatening to tear the pages from Grantaire's hands. He folds them up and tucks them inside his coat to read later when he's found somewhere a little sheltered, though not before flipping ahead to the final page to see the signed valediction.
Grantaire runs his thumb over the slanted, hurried letters of the name. Enjolras.
He'd figured it for a gamble when he'd sent his letter off. A long shot he'd expected to come to nothing at all.
But sometimes, he thought, pressing a hand against his coat to feel the crinkle of the paper underneath, just sometimes, a gamble paid off.
The next month is a nerve-wracking one, until Enjolras's next reply comes. Grantaire responds the day he receives each letter, but the country is vast and broad and, as fast as the post travels, it still takes time to cross it. The weeks between letters are interminable, and by the time one comes with an enclosed rail ticket that will carry him across the country, winter has released its grip on the city and their brief spring is already giving way to the cloying warmth of summer. Enjolras writes of rising temperatures in Amity, as well, but Grantaire thinks he could survive any heat so long as he wasn't forced to do so elbow-to-elbow with a crowded, stinking city full of people.
The train ticket isn't for another two weeks — no doubt Enjolras chose it far enough out to be sure it would reach Grantaire in time, even if the letter was delayed. It's almost an unbearable torment to have the ticket in hand but still be trapped in this city, when there's a better future out there waiting for him, a town and a home and a place he can finally call his own.
And a husband. If the thought of that sends jitters through his stomach, well, that's no one's business but his own. He's got time yet to get his nerves under control.
Two weeks later Grantaire boards the train that will take him West, and three weeks after that he steps off, disheveled and dirty and weary from travel. The air is hot as an oven, and the sun shines brighter than he's ever seen it through the perpetual haze of smoke that hung over his city back East. Already he can feel his skin turning as dry and brittle as parchment beneath its onslaught.
But there's room here, space enough to move without banging his elbows against others, and land that stretches out to the horizon without the crowded press of the city to interrupt it, and that's worth everything.
Grantaire walks from one end of the train platform to the other to stretch his legs and work out some of the restlessness that nerves and three weeks on a train have left him with. When his blood is flowing again and the ache of disuse has eased from his joints, he makes his way out to the stagecoach that will take him into Amity.
There are two others already waiting to board the coach, a young woman with that careful air that Grantaire recognizes from the cityfolk he grew up in the midst of, and a man she calls "Papa," though there's little family resemblance between them. She smiles and greets him politely despite the fact that he looks like he's just been picked up out of the gutter compared to either of them with their clean, pressed clothes. Grantaire gives her a polite nod, and her father too when he frowns suspiciously at Grantaire, as though his unkempt appearance might be catching.
The two claim one half of the stagecoach, and when the coachman swings the door shut and it becomes clear they're not going to be joined by a fourth, Grantaire stretches out across the other half, tips his hat over his face, and tries to get some sleep.
There's a small crowd of people waiting when the coach clatters to a stop in the middle of the small, dusty town of Amity. Grantaire lets the girl and her father disembark first and he climbs out after, pushing his hat onto his head to shield his eyes from the glare of the evening light.
Most of the folks who came to greet the stagecoach crowd around those two. An excited buzz of conversation rises up as they move away from the coach and the others follow, leaving only a few behind. Only one of them bothers to pay any attention to Grantaire's descent, and Grantaire nearly misses the last step down and lands in his face in the dust because there's luck and then there's luck.
He can't be anyone but Enjolras, no one else there looks like a man come to collect his intended. But he looks like the sun, a wild halo of golden hair barely tamed beneath his hat, an uncompromising set to his mouth, a glint of something in his eyes as he watches Grantaire catch himself just before he trips over his feet like a nervous schoolboy. It might be amusement or disapproval or any number of other emotions. He has a face that's going to take study before Grantaire can hope to read it.
He comes forward as Grantaire takes that last step carefully down into the dust of the street, pulls his hat off his head and then frowns at it like he's not entirely sure what to do with it now. "You must be R." There's a note of strain to his voice that makes Grantaire frown and consider him again, the way his knuckles are white where they're wrapped around the brim of his hat, the tense set to his shoulders.
"Did you think I'd cash in the ticket and leave you in the lurch?" He asks it gently. As difficult as it's been to wait the interminable weeks between letters, how much worse must it have been to be on Enjolras's side of things?
Enjolras lifts one shoulder, a sharp shrug. "Where are your things?"
Grantaire gestures up to the roof of the stagecoach, where the coachman is clambering around, unstrapping their luggage. "I didn't bring much. And I wouldn't do that." Enjolras looks startled to find the conversation returned to the topic of his fears. "I made you a promise."
The corners of Enjolras's mouth twitch. It's not much, as smiles go, but it's the first hint of one Grantaire has seen on him, and it's a relief. "You're a man of your word." Enjolras says it as though it's the highest praise he could possibly bestow.
"Yes, well." Grantaire's not sure he can lay claim to that title. He's made any number of promises — to landladies, to creditors, to gambling partners — that he's found himself unable to make good on. But the whole point of coming to Amity was to get a fresh start, so he makes himself smile at Enjolras and makes himself sound like he means it when he says, "I do my best."
The coachman starts throwing down the luggage a moment later, forcing Grantaire to sidle out of the way of the trunks and bags falling from the sky. His own little bag looks paltry compared to the collection of luggage that the young woman and her father came with. He steps forward and grabs his when the last of it has come tumbling down, slings it over his shoulder and lifts an eyebrow when Enjolras makes an aborted movement forward, as though to take it from him.
"I came here to help you with the heavy lifting, didn't I?" He shrugs, shifting the bag on his shoulder. "I've got this. You just show me the way."
"You should leave it." Enjolras shoves his hat back onto his head with a determined air. "I'll have Bahorel drop it off at my home—at our home. He'll be on his way back to Fantine's anyway, it's not far out of his way, and there's no point in us traveling all the way home just to turn around and come back to town again."
"Back?" Grantaire lets the bag slide off his shoulder and drop down into the dust again before he turns back to Enjolras. "What do we need to come back for?"
There's a strange look to Enjolras's face, reticence maybe, and a hint of humor, and more than a little consternation. "You didn't come all this way only to leave me alone at the altar, did you?"
"You want to get married today?"
The consternation grows. A frown draws creases in the skin across Enjolras's brows. "Can you think of a reason we shouldn't?"
Grantaire is rumpled and road-worn, he's spent weeks traveling the width of the country and has barely had his feet beneath him on solid ground for five minutes. They're strangers despite the few letters they've exchanged with one another and though wedding Enjolras is precisely what he came out here to do, he'd expected at least a few days between his arrival and the nuptials, and at least a little time to catch his breath.
Enjolras is waiting for his answer, his brows raised and expectant. Grantaire gives him a smile that's maybe a bit too tight at the edges, but Enjolras doesn't seem to notice. "Not a one."
Enjolras nods and gestures with a jerk of his head. "The church is this way. I told Reverend Myriel to expect us."
"Of course," Grantaire says faintly, and keeps pace at his side.
The other newcomers to town still have the same small crowd gathered around them. Grantaire eyes them as he and Enjolras skirt around the group to continue down the street. "What's all that about?"
Enjolras follows his gaze and smiles slightly. "Mr. Valjean, if I had to hazard a guess. He's a banker from back East who decided Amity was just the place to establish a new bank. Everybody's very excited."
"So I see." The dust from the road is already starting to coat the cuffs off the banker's pressed trousers and the hem of his daughter's dress. Their clothing will be ruined inside a week. "This town seems a little rustic for cityfolk, don't you think?"
When Enjolras's gaze slides to Grantaire, it cuts like a blade. There's a wealth of warning in the smile he bestows upon him. "Here in Amity, we take anyone who cares to live here. And didn't you tell me you'd lived your whole life in a big city back East?"
"Sure, but I'm not rich cityfolk. They're a different breed entirely."
"There's no such thing. People are just people, in the end."
"That's…" Naive. Grantaire doesn't finish the thought. They may be relative strangers yet, but he can guess well enough how poorly Enjolras would react to that accusation, and he's pretty sure it's poor manners to antagonize one's husband on your wedding day.
The streets are quieter as they leave Valjean and his daughter and their crowd behind them. A few people make their way through town as Grantaire and Enjolras walk by, scurrying from one shadow to the next to avoid the heat of the fading sun, but they keep to themselves and the only real sounds are that of Grantaire's and Enjolras's boots scraping through the dust and the occasional creak of a door swinging open or shut.
The local church is tiny, barely big enough for the whole town to listen to the reverend's sermon together without someone being forced to remain on their feet. Reverend Myriel does, indeed, seem to be expecting them, as well as two others who give Grantaire appraising looks as soon as they come through the door. Enjolras introduces them as Combeferre and Courfeyrac. "Combeferre runs our general store, and Courfeyrac's our blacksmith. They'll be our witnesses," he adds, and that does nothing at all for the nerves twitching through Grantaire's stomach.
"You're ready?" the reverend asks, and he's facing both of them squarely but his gaze is on Grantaire, the question in his eyes directed solely at him. Courfeyrac and Combeferre, too, watch Grantaire for his response, their regard like a weight on his shoulders. So Grantaire pulls them back and meets Reverend Myriel's gaze, holds it steady and even as he nods.
Myriel nods in return and gestures them up to the front of the church. Enjolras falls into step beside him and they walk together up to the front of the nave. Combeferre takes up position behind Enjolras's shoulder, Courfeyrac behind Grantaire's. Myriel glances at them all once more to ensure their readiness, takes a breath, and begins to speak.
"We have come together today in the presence of God to witness the joining of these two in holy matrimony."
It's not a wholly traditional ceremony as Grantaire remembers them. Myriel doesn't speak of love, and for that Grantaire is profoundly grateful. There's no mention of either of them being given away, which is a relief, because they both stand there before the altar alone, not to be given but to give themselves.
It's not a lengthy ceremony, and Grantaire's grateful for that too. His hands are trembling by the time Myriel instructs them to give vows and exchange rings. It's stupid, it's so stupid. He's not nervous, and he's not suffering cold feet. This is what he came to Amity to do, to wed Enjolras and to work his land with him. It's only the suddenness that's affecting him. Three weeks ago he was alone on the other side of the country, and now here he is in a new town full of unfamiliar faces, with a new husband. It takes a little adjusting, that's all.
Grantaire says the words that are expected of him, and Enjolras says them back. Enjolras pulls a small box out of his pocket and opens it to reveal two simple rings. He holds one out to Grantaire and takes the other himself, tucks the box away and takes Grantaire's hand to hold it steady so he can slide the ring onto his finger.
All the air in Grantaire's lungs leaves him as the band of metal settles down against his knuckle. His fingers tighten around Enjolras's ring until it warms to the temperature of his skin and he can hardly tell it's there.
Enjolras meets his eye across the small space between them, holds it for a moment. He gives a slight nod without once breaking eye contact, like he thinks maybe Grantaire is doubting his conviction. But it's not that, it's just-- Fast. Very fast, and the import of it all is crashing down on Grantaire, leaving him staggering and light-headed.
He steels himself to take Enjolras's hand. They haven't even touched until this moment. His fingers are strong, his palms callused from the hard work of homesteading. The scratch of his calluses against Grantaire's skin sends a shiver through him that he fights to conceal. He ducks his head lest his expression give him away as he slides the ring up Enjolras's finger to mirror his own.
Reverend Myriel smiles over them both and pronounces them wed. "You may kiss," he adds, and Grantaire's fingers spasm where Enjolras is still holding on to them. He hadn't thought that far ahead. Of course they would have to kiss, it's how weddings are ended, but this isn't a love match and there's little point pretending it is. Perhaps it will be someday, but they've scarcely known each other an hour, and Grantaire hadn't expected this.
He hadn't expected just the sight of Enjolras to be enough to stop the breath in his throat. He hadn't expected to have to kiss him and pretend as though it doesn't mean anything more than what it is.
Enjolras's fingers tighten on his, easing Grantaire in as Enjolras steps forward, claiming what little space had separated them. He's very close and his breath is warm and he's leaning in, a hand light on Grantaire's waist.
His lips are dry and a little chapped, another testament to the hard word he does on the homestead each day. Grantaire can't even begin to guess what his own are like, but Enjolras pauses with their lips pressed together for the space of a single beat, and then he settles back onto his heels and Myriel is looking pleased and Combeferre is clapping Enjolras on the shoulder and coming forward to sign as witness upon their marriage certificate.
Courfeyrac jostles Combeferre's shoulder to let him have a chance to sign as well. In moments they are all embroiled in easy conversation that Grantaire envies. His own voice is lost, shriveled up somewhere like water beneath the heat of this Western sun. He signs the marriage certificate when Enjolras guides him forward to do so with a hand on his elbow, his lips still tingling with the shock of the kiss. None of this is what he was expecting, but his hand moves automatically to sign his name.
Enjolras glances at the certificate when he's finished. His brows lift and a crooked smile pulls at the edges of his mouth. "Grantaire?" he says, like it means something, and it's only then Grantaire realizes.
They're wed, and Enjolras hadn't even known his true name.
"R is a nickname." He keeps his voice as steady as he's able. "I thought it would be better if you called me by it. It seemed more..."
"Personal?" Enjolras finishes for him when Grantaire is unable to continue.
Grantaire nods, swallowing to wet his suddenly-dry throat. "No one who likes me calls me Grantaire."
"R, then," Enjolras says after a moment to consider it. His hand is on Grantaire's elbow again, a gentle guide that leads him away from the others, back up the nave to the church door. "You've had a long trip. Let's go home, now that we have that bit of business concluded."
Grantaire has never heard a more welcome suggestion. He nods eagerly and follows as Enjolras leads him out and back through town the way they'd come. His bag is gone, no doubt already taken by the man Enjolras had mentioned earlier. Nearby, two hoses are tied to a post, and when Enjolras leads Grantaire over to them, he balks.
"I--" Enjolras is looking at him, waiting for an explanation. Grantaire has never felt more like the spoiled cityfolk he'd told Enjolras he wasn't as he admits, "I can't ride."
Enjolras looks startled, and then taken aback. "How is that possible?"
"I got around on my own two feet, thank you very much, and I didn't need to borrow anyone else's to get where I was going."
Enjolras sighs. If Grantaire knew him better, perhaps he'd be able to tell if he were amused or not, but as it is, he can do no more than guess. "Well, we'll fix that. You'll have to ride with me, then. It's too far to walk, unless you want to take all day at it." He pats the withers of the nearest horse. "I'll make sure you stay in the saddle."
Grantaire feels worse than useless as Enjolras helps him up onto the horse. He grasps Grantaire's waist between his hands once Grantaire has his foot wedged into the stirrup and helps take some of his weight as he struggles to get upright so he can swing his other leg over and settle into the saddle. Once he has, Enjolras pulls himself up behind Grantaire in an effortless move that makes him feel even more inept.
But then Enjolras wraps one arm around Grantaire's waist and flicks the reins with the other, and the horse starts into an easy walk that rocks Grantaire back into the solid strength of Enjolras's chest with every stride, and his own ineptitude is the last thing on Grantaire's mind.
He has to clear his throat twice before he's able to speak. "How far is it to your homestead?"
"Our homestead," Enjolras says firmly, as though there were any chance at all that Grantaire might forget that he's been a married man for all of half an hour. "And we're about an hour out at a walking pace. Half that, if you're comfortable with a canter."
Grantaire is not so ignorant that he doesn't know what a canter is. It seems like a breakneck pace from where he's sitting now, high on the horse's back, but the thought of spending an hour tucked in close against Enjolras's chest like this seems like a greater torment than he can bear.
"Don't let me fall," he says, and loses all his breath when Enjolras tightens the arm about his waist and kicks the horse into a gait that feels like flying.
A breathless half an hour later, Enjolras eases the horse down to a trot, and then a walk as they come out of a copse of trees to the sight of sprawling fields and a house that seems massive compared to the series of cramped bedrooms Grantaire had been renting back East. "There she is," Enjolras says, and Grantaire doesn't have to see his face to hear the pride that fills his voice full to bursting.
There's the house and a small cluster of outbuildings, and a haze of green over the fields as the crops begin to sprout up through the soil. "It's nice," Grantaire says, because it seems like the sort of moment that requires him to say something. Enjolras seems satisfied enough with that, at least.
Soon enough they're at the house. Enjolras swings down off the horse first, leaving Grantaire momentarily unsteady with the sudden absence of his presence behind him. But Enjolras reaches up and takes hold of his waist again, helps ease him down so that the drop doesn't seem like quite so much of a fall. Grantaire's legs are sore and unsteady from the unfamiliar position in the saddle, but he follows Enjolras into the house and lets him show him the bedroom and the kitchen and the main room.
"You must be hungry," Enjolras says when there's nothing left to show him, and Grantaire would protest but the rumble of his stomach betrays him, so Enjolras sits him down at the narrow table in the kitchen and feeds him, strawberries and cherries and milk toast, which makes Grantaire smile at him in bemusement, because he's neither young nor ill nor infirm.
Enjolras takes a smaller bowl for himself, only one slice and a careful drizzle of milk, and Grantaire frowns at that but is distracted by the way that Enjolras fiddles with his knife and fork, frowning at his meal as though it displeases him.
Grantaire sets his own cutlery down, unease twisting through his stomach. "What is it?"
Enjolras glances up as though startled. "What?"
"You look troubled."
"I'm not. It's nothing." He cuts his bread and eats a bite with the air of someone who's doing it purely to make a point. If Enjolras means it to be reassuring, he fails.
"Tell me." Grantaire realizes belatedly that that is perhaps too great a demand from someone who is still a stranger, even if they are married now. He adds a rushed, "Please," that makes Enjolras huff out a laugh that seems to carry little humor with it.
"Eat first." Enjolras stabs at his own toast with his fork. "Then I shall."
Grantaire's first inclination is to protest, but he doesn't yet know how far or how hard Enjolras will tolerate being pushed, so he settles for a frown to show his displeasure and eats quickly.
It's a simple, comforting meal. Grantaire wonders if that's why Enjolras chose it, to ease the discomfort of a new place and new people. When he's done, Enjolras takes Grantaire's bowl as well as his own, still unfinished, and carries both to the sink. He leaves them there and returns, sits opposite Grantaire and twists his fingers together.
"We haven't been wed but an hour," Grantaire says, forcing a levity he doesn't feel. "Don't tell me I've done something wrong already."
Enjolras lets out a slow breath that does absolutely nothing to reassure Grantaire. "No. It's not—" He bites off a sharp oath. "Grantaire. R," he amends when Grantaire grimaces. "There is one thing left, to confirm the marriage."
Confirm. The word strikes a faint chord of memory. Grantaire was never pious, never went to church more than he was obliged to, but still he went enough that a moment passes and he realizes what Enjolras means, what he is trying to suggest but cannot bring himself to say. Grantaire would laugh, if the thought of it didn't make him light-headed. "You mean to consummate the marriage."
Grantaire leans his head in his hands and fights to breathe.
"It won't be considered a valid union until we have. I won't have you thinking I've held myself back with an intent to petition for annulment. If you harbor enough doubts that you wish to keep that as an option then I like to think you'd have said so before you gave your vows—"
"Aw Christ, Enjolras." Grantaire drops his hands and leans across the narrow table, pressing his mouth to Enjolras's because it seems the most expedient way of quieting him. It's as brief and as meaningful as the first kiss they shared. "Does that satisfy you, or shall I say it plain? Yes. I'll consummate our marriage. I'm not looking for an excuse to annul. Is that clear enough?"
Enjolras drops his gaze so that his eyes are hooded and Grantaire cannot read his expression. "Yes," he says, and guides Grantaire up from the table and back toward the bedroom.