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.
Enjolras releases him when they're in the bedroom, moving around to turn the lamps up to a warm glow against the darkening sky outside. Grantaire watches him, standing awkwardly motionless just inside the door. When Enjolras finishes with the last of the lamps and faces him again, they have the whole width of the bed between them.
Grantaire turns aside, hiding the motion by wrestling his shirt off over his head as he does so. Behind him, Enjolras takes a swift, quiet breath. When Grantaire reaches for his trousers, Enjolras's boots sound on the floorboards.
He turns just as Enjolras reaches him, his hands settling on Grantaire's waist. They're too close and Grantaire wants this more than he expected. Enjolras is lovely, and he's his, and this is the last, final step needed to cement their marriage. It's no burden at all.
Enjolras is looking at him, hands on his waist but not doing anything with them. His fingers curl against the waistband of Grantaire's trousers and Grantaire thinks he means to remove them. Grantaire would have done it himself a moment ago, but now, with Enjolras standing so close, he's not sure his nerves can bear it if he's bare while Enjolras remains fully dressed. He reaches for Enjolras's shirt, grabs it with clawed fingers and drags it up until Enjolras has to take his hands off Grantaire's skin in order to finish shrugging it off.
Now they're matched, and Grantaire feels on a little more of an even keel. Enjolras returns his hands to Grantaire's waist, and Grantaire puts his own on Enjolras's chest. He's broad and firm and Grantaire wants him with a swiftness that's shocking.
"Will you—" he starts, but then stops himself, frowning. None of the words he has feel adequate, so he abandons them, steps forward instead and slides his hands around to Enjolras's back as he places his mouth on Enjolras's again. This time, he lingers. This time, when Enjolras starts to draw back to end the kiss, Grantaire maintains the pressure and glides his tongue over the fullness of Enjolras's lower lip. Enjolras freezes and makes a sharp sound into the kiss, his fingers going tight on Grantaire's waist.
Grantaire eases back once Enjolras's mouth has softened a little, blinking his eyes open to find Enjolras already staring back at him. "I'm sorry," he says, the words pulled out of him by Enjolras's poleaxed expression. "Was that--"
"It was fine." Enjolras's thumb sweeps an arc across Grantaire's hip. "It was just a kiss."
The way he says it makes Grantaire smile a little, but he thinks he knows what Enjolras means all the same. It was just a kiss, and how does that compare to what they're about to do here together? He nods to show Enjolras he understands, and brackets Enjolras's hips in his hands as he leans in for another.
This one works better. Enjolras leans in to meet him and his mouth is soft, his lips faintly parted. Grantaire laps at them, then presses the kiss tighter and slips his tongue inside. Enjolras's chest jerks against his and his hands go abruptly tight, just on the wrong side of painful.
Grantaire eases back and toes out of his boots. When he kicks them away, Enjolras strips the rest of his clothing from him in quick, efficient movements. He drops down to his knees to help Grantaire pull his feet free from the garments and Grantaire has to tip his head back and stare up at the ceiling because the sight of him like that, golden and beautiful and Grantaire's, is too much for him to bear.
Enjolras doesn't touch him, doesn't take him into his mouth like Grantaire half hopes he means to. Once he's helped Grantaire out of his clothing, he rises to his feet and strips his own trousers off just as efficiently. Grantaire only has a moment to admire him before Enjolras's hands are on his waist again, guiding him to the bed and up on it.
Grantaire climbs up blindly, groping behind himself to feel the way, and Enjolras climbs up with him. He bears Grantaire down onto his back and presses close, vast stretches of warm skin pressed together. Grantaire's breathing goes a little ragged, a little uneven.
"Have you done this before?" Enjolras asks him, very solemn, and Grantaire has to tip his head back and laugh.
"If you wanted to marry a virgin you should have specified that in your advertisement." He smooths a hand over the side of Enjolras's face, gets momentarily distracted tangling his fingers in the hair that curls there. "I'm not inexperienced." Some weeks, the only way he had a bed to sleep in at all was to share another's.
Enjolras nods once in acknowledgement. "It'll be easier."
Yes. Grantaire is grateful for the experience, grateful that when Enjolras produces a tin of oil to grease his fingers and presses one against his entrance, Grantaire knows to bear down against the pressure to ease the way for him.
Enjolras is careful, methodical, kneeling between Grantaire's splayed legs and working his finger into him with an expression of intense concentration. Grantaire groans and shifts his hips, rising up against Enjolras's touch to take him in deeper.
Enjolras only adds a second when Grantaire has loosened up enough to take the first easily. Grantaire hasn't been with anyone since before the train ticket arrived — it seemed insincere to solicit marriage from one man while bedding another. It's been many long weeks since he's been like this with anyone, not long enough to be clumsy at it but enough that Grantaire's hunger had settled down. It reawakens now with a force that surprises him. He throws an arm over his eyes and begs Enjolras to be merciful.
When Enjolras gentles his touch, his movements turning slow, every fiber in Grantaire cries out in protest. He drops the arm to push up onto his elbows and stare down at him. "Don't. Why are you--" The concern on Enjolras's face is answer enough. Grantaire grabs him by the wrist to keep him from withdrawing completely. "That's not the kind of mercy I want from you."
The tension in Enjolras's expression eases, but he remains careful as he resumes his touches, painfully courteous. Grantaire laughs wildly as he collapses back onto the bed and moves against him, straining for more.
It seems to take an eternity before Enjolras adds a third finger, and then Grantaire can't help but take a sharp breath at the sudden stretch and burn of it.
Enjolras goes still. His gaze slides up Grantaire's body to meet his. His brows are furrowed, his eyes worried.
"I'm fine," Grantaire says, because he fears if he says otherwise they'll backslide and his nerves can't take that. "I'm fine."
Despite his insistence, Enjolras gentles his touch again. Grantaire scrubs his hands over his face and groans into them when Enjolras holds his fingers still inside him. Finally, when the stretch has eased and hunger risen to take its place and Grantaire's starting to think that he'll never get relief, Enjolras turns his face against Grantaire's thigh and breathes unsteadily against the skin as he begins to move again. He starts slow, just rocking his fingers in and out, tiny movements but they light up the nerves across Grantaire's skin.
Enjolras laps at the inside of Grantaire's thighs, where the skin is thin and sensitive and every gust of his warm breath feels like a caress. Grantaire's breath catches and he hitches his hips up, loses all his breath at once when the movement catches Enjolras off guard and takes him inside of Grantaire all the way up to the next knuckle before he can pin Grantaire's hips down or counter the movement.
After that Enjolras finally seems to relent, or maybe Grantaire's eagerness has finally proved to him that he's ready. He braces an arm across Grantaire's thigh to keep him on the bed, but he's moving, actually moving, fingers sliding in deep until there's no more to take, then pulling out almost all the way only to slide in once more, so Grantaire doesn't mind the restraint.
He'd be embarrassed about the noises he's making, sharp and needy and pulled out of him unwittingly with every slick glide of Enjolras's fingers, every time he punctuates the kisses on Grantaire's inner thighs with the surprising scrape of his teeth. Except that Enjolras's breath gusts against his skin with every sound. His hand tightens where it's curled around Granatire's thigh, and he doesn't say as much but Grantaire is almost certain he likes the noises he's drawing from Grantaire.
"Enjolras," he says, a strained gasp, and Enjolras goes perfectly, immediately still. Grantaire has to run his tongue over his lips and fight for coherence. "If you mean to consummate our marriage tonight, you should stop that."
He's not so close as that would imply, but he's rapidly approaching the point where he'll stop caring whether it's Enjolras's fingers in him or his cock.
Enjolras answers with another scrape of his teeth on Grantaire's thigh, then holds Grantaire's hips down as he slides his fingers out all the way, leaving Grantaire gasping and empty, his muscles tightening down on nothing.
He reaches for Enjolras, fingers scrabbling on the sweat-slick skin of his back as he tries to pull him up. He can't get purchase but Enjolras comes all the same, climbing up Grantaire's body and letting their skin drag together the entire way, until he's braced above Grantaire on outstretched arms, his elbows locked and his gaze intense and their hips fit firmly together. He's as hard as Grantaire is, and Grantaire can't help but arch against him, pressing in against all that warm skin and the solid muscles that life on his farm has wrought.
Enjolras curves a hand behind Grantaire's knee to draw it up, adjusting the angle until he can settle between Grantaire's legs. He doesn't ask again if Grantaire's ready or if he's sure -- Grantaire might have to scream and strangle him if he did -- but Enjolras keeps his eyes on him as he reaches blindly for the oil again, and Grantaire knows he's searching for any signs of discomfort or reluctance.
He's not going to find any. Grantaire curls his hands around the back of Enjolras's neck, threading his fingers into Enjolras's hair so he has something to hold onto. He meets Enjolras's gaze and doesn't look away, even when Enjolras lines himself up at Grantaire's entrance and shifts his weight forward, bearing him open. Grantaire's mouth falls open and his body shudders beneath Enjolras's weight as he slowly, slowly fills him, but he still doesn't look away.
There's something fierce and intense about Enjolras now, more than just the concern that had been there before. They both groan when he's sheathed his full length in Grantaire, hips matched together, their bodies straining. Enjolras's hands curl in the sheets where he has them pressed beside Grantaire's shoulders. Grantaire braces himself when Enjolras eases out of him, almost all the way -- and then slides back in with a solid, forceful glide that rocks Grantaire up the bed a little and forces a strangled cry out of him.
He tightens his fingers in Enjolras's hair automatically, holding him close, afraid Enjolras will take the cry to mean something it doesn't and try to leave or to stop. But he doesn't, he just leans down to kiss and suck at Grantaire's throat, his mouth roaming and hungry as his hips flex and he drives into Grantaire again, and again.
Grantaire keeps one hand closed tight at the back of Enjolras's neck, but loosens the other and drops it down between them to curl around his own cock, stroking it in time to Enjolras's thrusts. He can't keep his eyes open any more. They fall shut as shudders course through him, need wrapping him up in a grip as tight as a noose -- until Enjolras slows in him, enough that he can shift his weight to one arm and slide the other down to where Grantaire's fist is moving frantically over his cock. Enjolras pushes it away and takes over, his fingers still coated with a thin layer of oil. It makes it slick and easy and good, so good. Everything is building up in Grantaire, making it hard to breathe, making his skin burn beneath Enjolras's touches.
The long weeks of abstinence meant that he was half on-edge by the time they both got their clothes off. It wasn't going to take him long at all to get the rest of the way there to begin with, and now with Enjolras's hand on his cock he can only hope that Enjolras is keeping pace with him because there's no holding back. He squeezes his eyes shut and shudders, gasping for air that does little to ease his burning lungs. He wants to come, and he wants this to last forever, and he wants to make sure Enjolras comes with him, that he isn't disappointed.
Enjolras is a mind-reader, because almost as soon as Grantaire has the thought, he leans down and closes his teeth on Grantaire's shoulder. The sharp flare of pain makes Grantaire cry out. Enjolras growls against his skin, "Stop fighting it."
"I'm outpacing you."
Enjolras shakes his head, then presses his face against the curve of Grantaire's throat as he strains against him. His hips snap with a powerful rhythm that has Grantaire's hands clawing at his back, his breath gusting out of his lungs every time Enjolras drives into him. "You're not. I'm close."
It's gratifying to hear. Grantaire holds onto him tighter, legs wrapped around his waist, hands delving into his hair again. He lifts his hips to meet Enjolras's thrusts and fights against the tension curling through him, until at last Enjolras gives a long groan and locks himself deep.
They're both motionless for a moment, Grantaire breathing hard and Enjolras shuddering within him. Grantaire strokes his hands through Enjolras's sweaty hair and that seems to bring him back to himself. He reaches for the oil again, wets his fingers and wraps his hand around Grantaire's cock again.
It's slippery and wet and Enjolras's grip is relentless, his face pressed into Grantaire's shoulder but his hand pumping a steady rhythm. It doesn't take half a minute before Grantaire is following him over the edge, jolting beneath Enjolras's steadying weight as he spends in his fist.
Enjolras slips out of him, and Grantaire bites back a noise at the sudden overstimulation. Enjolras rolls off to lie on his back beside him, still catching his breath, his skin as sweaty and sticky as Grantaire's. There are a few points of contact between them: Enjolras's wrist against Grantaire's arm, his knee brushing Grantaire's thigh, their hair a tangle of black and blond on the pillow between them. The air of the room carries a chill after the heat of Enjolras's skin burning against his, and Grantaire has traveled across the vast width of the country to be right where he is. He's so tired -- from travel, from anticipation, from exertion and release. He lets his eyes slide shut, lulled by the warmth of Enjolras beside him and the knowledge that he has finally found a place he might be able to claim as his own, and sleeps.
Years of being forced to catch sleep wherever he's able have left Grantaire with the ability to do so practically anywhere, and through practically anything. Even the presence of a strange body beside him isn't enough to disturb him, and he wakes slowly with the light of morning across his eyes. He stretches, working out the aches and pains that have come from weeks of rail travel and the train's narrow sleeper beds, and reaches across the bed for Enjolras and the reassurance of skin contact.
He finds only empty blankets and cool sheets, and that at last is enough to get him to blink his eyes open and rub the grit from them. The bed is empty but for him, the covers on Enjolras's side disheveled from the night but unoccupied, and the clothes they left scattered across the floor have been picked up. Grantaire sits upright and pulls his hands through his hair, a habitual gesture despite his hair's refusal to be tamed. Disappointment works its way through him, a slow, seeping tide that weighs heavy on his chest and has him frowning at nothing — at the vacant room, at the space beside him that ought to be filled but has been left empty.
When a brief search doesn't turn up last night's clothing, he opens his bag and chooses from there instead, wrinkled and travel-worn as they are. In minutes he's dressed, and he ventures out of the bedroom to find Enjolras.
The kitchen and main room are also empty, despite the fact that it's scarcely morning. Grantaire frowns and steals a handful of cherries for breakfast, then ventures outside, to survey Enjolras's farm — their farm, he is going to have to get used to saying that — in the light of day, with a solid night's sleep behind him and without the haze of mingled exhaustion and intimidation that had left him half-blind to it the evening before.
The fields are green and growing, varying shades of the hue where different crops have been planted. The corn is already to mid-calf and Grantaire expects to find Enjolras out there, pulling weeds and tending to the crops, but he's nowhere to be seen, until Grantaire makes his way around the house and catches the faint, muffled sound of an axe coming from the cluster of outbuildings.
He makes his way over there, comes around the stable to find Enjolras chopping wood, a stack of logs to one side and a growing pile of broken-down firewood to the other. The morning still holds a hint of night's chill, but Enjolras's shirt is wet with sweat, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and the wet fabric plastered against his chest and across his shoulders with every high swing of the axe.
A sudden memory of the night before seizes Grantaire, of Enjolras's strong chest and the sweat that clung to it as they moved together. He takes a steadying breath, and another, and waits until Enjolras has set the axe down to reach for the next log before he comes forward. "Where's the woodshed?"
Enjolras turns to him, his brows raised, but otherwise shows no sign of surprise. It takes him a moment before he responds, tilting his head back the way Grantaire had come. "On the south side of the house."
Grantaire nods and fills his arms with the chopped wood, and carries it over to pile neatly into the woodshed. By the time he's returned, Enjolras seems to have added just as much to his pile as Grantaire removed.
They work until the day grows warm and Grantaire is just as sweat-soaked as Enjolras is. Grantaire is painfully aware of Enjolras's presence beside him as they work, the pull of muscles across his shoulders as he lifts the axe, the quiet way he grunts when he swings it down again, the broad stance he uses to brace himself. Grantaire is glad for the excuse of carrying the wood to the shed to give him a little bit of space, a few minutes in which Enjolras can't see him and he can't see Enjolras, in which to steady his breathing and collect himself before he returns.
His shirt is wet and his arms are aching by the time Enjolras decides he's done, and Grantaire meets him halfway between the shed and the wood pile, Enjolras's arms full of logs.
Together, they're able to finish storing the wood in the shed before the worst of the day's heat is upon them. When they've stored the last of the logs in the shed, Enjolras steps back to survey the work, to adjust the lay of things a little to make everything fit together more tightly. Then he turns to Grantaire and gives him a smile. "Thank you for the help."
Grantaire lifts one shoulder, a quick shrug. "It's what I'm here for, isn't it? To help."
"That doesn't mean I'm not grateful."
Grantaire's arms hurt and his hands are sore, a few splinters in his palms that he hasn't been able to work out yet. He rubs at a scrape on one hand and doesn't look directly at Enjolras as he asks, "So. What next, then?"
Enjolras wipes his brow with the back of his wrist and lets his gaze go distant, sweeping across his land. "There's a fence at the east end of the fields that's been needing to be fixed, but it's a two-man job and I haven't been able to get anyone from town out here to help yet."
He doesn't ask for Grantaire's help, just leaves it implied, and Grantaire didn't really expect much otherwise. He flexes his hands, easing out the ache in his fingers, and gives a nod. "Well, now you don't have to. Lead the way."
By the time they break for lunch, every muscle in Grantaire's body feels well-used and some hurt outright, protesting the morning's work after the vigors of the night before. He tries to hide his discomfort as best he can while they return to the house to eat, a hearty meal of stew and cornbread and braised vegetables, but Enjolras watches him closely across the table and he thinks he's not as successful as he'd like.
"It will get better," Enjolras says when Grantaire's eaten enough to satisfy the worst of his hunger, and slowed down a bit.
Grantaire freezes with the spoon halfway to his mouth, feeling caught-out. He takes the bite and clears his throat, says as easily as he can manage, "I don't know what you mean."
"The sort of work we do out here is different than is called for in the city. It will take you some time to get accustomed to it. I expected that. I don't expect you to be as quick or as strong as someone who's done this for years."
Grantaire's brows pinch with a frown. He stalls for time by dipping his cornbread into the stew and eating it thoughtfully. "I think maybe I ought to be insulted. Do you think everyone who lives in a city is weak and slovenly?"
Enjolras takes some time before he responds, but he doesn't mask it with the excuse of eating. "I think anyone who was weak or slovenly wouldn't volunteer themselves for the difficulties of life on a farm. I knew you weren't weak, and you proved me right in that today. But there are different kinds of strength, and you're not accustomed to the sort this work requires. You will be soon," he adds. "It only requires time."
Grantaire grunts and keeps eating to save himself from having to reply. Enjolras sounds like he means it, but Grantaire still feels patronized. There's no helping that, though. Perhaps Enjolras is right, and it will get better with time.
After lunch there's weeding to be done, and Grantaire's grateful for work that doesn't require heavy lifting, but even so his back is sore from all the bending and pulling by the time they've finished the first of the fields. Enjolras straightens and looks toward the sun where it's dipping toward the horizon while Grantaire leans against the sturdy trunk of a tree and tries to stretch the aches out of his back.
"That's enough for today, I think," Enjolras says, and Grantaire only barely manages to keep himself from groaning in relief. "You'll want to wash the sweat off of you, I imagine. There's a stream down past those trees." He indicates the direction with a jerk of his head. "Come back to the house with me, I'll get you the soap and you can bathe while I cook supper."
Grantaire is used to bathing with a pitcher of cold water, a coarse rag, and a sliver of soap. A stream sounds like an unimaginable luxury. He walks with Enjolras back to the house, takes the soap and a fresh change of clothes, and follows his instructions on how to get down to a part of the stream that's slow-moving enough to bathe in without having to fight the current.
The water is cold in comparison to the heat of the day, and it's a refreshing change. Grantaire strips his sweaty clothes off and wades in, laughing at the chill. There's a place a few yards upstream from where he entered where the rocks form a deeper part, deep enough to submerge. He jumps in all the way without giving himself time to contemplate it too well, comes up spluttering and shrieking at the cold as he swims back to the bank and the bar of soap he left on a boulder there.
It takes little time to soap up and to rinse off, but then Grantaire does it a second time, and scarcely resists the urge to do it a third. The dirt and wear of the long train journey feels like it's caked up on him a mile thick, like he'll never be clean of it. But he finally relents and runs the bar of soap through his hair instead, and when he climbs out of the stream his skin is scrubbed pink despite the cold.
He lies out on one of the larger, flatter boulders, waiting for the heat and the sun to dry him before he dresses, and idly contemplates the strange, clear blue of the sky overhead and the soreness of his muscles that has nothing to do with the work today, and everything with the night that came before it.
He's only been here a day. He hasn't settled in well enough yet to be content, but he thinks he could be, with time.
There are branches and pieces of wood clinging to the banks, here where the water slows enough for them to drift over and be caught. Grantaire frees a piece no larger than his hand from where a higher tide must have washed it up the bank. The heat of summer has dried it out, and he tucks it into his pocket as he rises and dresses, so he'll have something to whittle on and pass the time as he walks back to the house.
He walks leisurely, letting the easy movement stretch out his overworked muscles, and by the time he makes it back the air smells like good, cooking things and he's carved the piece of wood into a rough shape.
"Good timing," Enjolras says over his shoulder as Grantaire lets himself into the house. "It's just about ready. Do you feel better?"
They eat quietly, too busy filling their stomachs for conversation. But after, when they've had their fill and cleaned up together, Enjolras settles in a chair in the main room with some sort of book or ledger spread across his knee, jotting notes.
Grantaire moves around the room before he settles, turning up the lamps against the growing dark, then pulls over a chair from the kitchen to sit in since Enjolras only has the one. He brings his whittling and works on refining the shape he's roughed-in, gathering up the little shavings of wood to toss into the woodstove later .
He's got it looking like something intentional, rather than just a misshapen piece of driftwood, when Enjolras gives a little grunt of satisfaction that should not be as endearing as it is, closes the ledger, and seems to notice Grantaire for the first time. He lifts a brow, and a bemused smile stretches across his face. "What are you making?"
Grantaire holds the wood up and considers it a moment. "A horse, I think. Maybe."
"A horse?" The brow lifts higher, and the smile starts to fade. "You know, there's mending to be done, if you need something to keep your hands busy."
"My hands are busy," Grantaire points out, and tries to carefully carve away the space between the horse's front legs without splitting the wood. Half a minute later, he glances up from defining the edge of a hoof to find Enjolras frowning at him, every line on his face set with disapproval. "Oh Christ, what?"
"There's work to be done. There's always work to be done, and anything that's shirked today will still need to be done tomorrow. We don't have the luxury of idle pastimes here."
"It's a quarter of an hour," Grantaire says, bewildered.
"It's a quarter of an hour that could be spent being useful."
Grantaire slaps the carving and the knife down on the end table that rests between their chairs, sparing barely a passing thought for hope that he didn't just break off one of the fragile legs he worked so hard to form. "A quarter of an hour is not going to mean the success or failure of your farm. It's not going to mean the difference between food on our table or empty bellies. I'll do your mending in a few minutes, and then we'll both be satisfied."
But Enjolras does not look satisfied, he looks like he means to press the issue until Grantaire is tempted to do something other than whittle with his penknife. Before he can speak, Grantaire rises from his chair and crosses the few feet between them.
"This is ridiculous," he snaps. "Perhaps I have better things I could be doing than whittling, but we have better things we could be doing than bickering about it." He braces his hands on Enjolras's shoulders and climbs up onto the chair with him, straddling his thighs, and leans in for a kiss.
Enjolras's eyes go wide a moment before he closes his hands on Grantaire's arms, holding him back. "No."
Grantaire stares at him, incredulous. He was willing enough the night before, and he seemed to enjoy himself as much as Grantaire had. "Why not? Because it's not useful? Because you'd rather spend the time mending than--" He drags his hands down Enjolras's chest to make his point.
Enjolras catches his hands before they dip too low. His expression is implacable. "Because," he says. "Our marriage is consummated, confirmed. There's no need for it and there is, as you've pointed out, other work to be done."
Grantaire sits back, putting more of his weight onto Enjolras's knees, and stares at him. "Did you not enjoy yourself last night?"
"That is beside the point."
"It is precisely the point."
"Grantaire," Enjolras says, a warning growl. And Grantaire isn't feeling particularly much like being close to him at all anymore, so he climbs off of Enjolras's lap and stalks away. "What are you--"
"I'm going to bed," Grantaire snaps, cutting off Enjolras's bewildered question. "Or is that not productive enough for you either?"
It's not a real question. He doesn't care a whit about Enjolras's answer, so he doesn't wait for it, just stalks straight into the bedroom and swings the door shut hard behind him.
He's not sure if he expects Enjolras to follow after him and continue the fight or to leave him to sulk like a recalcitrant child. He's not sure which he'd prefer, even, so he changes into his nightclothes with sharp, brusque movements and climbs under the bed's covers, careful to keep to his own half of the bed. He shuts his eyes and wills himself to sleep before he can find out how Enjolras intends to respond.
The sun is scarcely off the horizon, but it's warm enough that Grantaire's ride into town -- with the horse hitched to a cart, because he'll be bringing provisions back, and because neither he nor Enjolras trust himself to be able to make it to town and back on horseback, unaccompanied, without falling off and breaking his neck somewhere in between -- leaves him with a layer of sweat sticking his shirt to his back before he's even arrived.
It's no better inside the general store, where there's an escape from the sun but the hot air lies stagnant between the shop's four walls. He wipes the sweat from his brow and walks along the shelves.
"May I assist you?"
Grantaire turns, surprised, and finds a man with a familiar face standing behind him. It takes a moment to place him -- he was one of the witnesses at their wedding, one of Enjolras's friends. "Combeferre, right?" he asks, struggling to recall Enjolras's introductions. It had been so quick, and Grantaire had been so overwhelmed, he's lucky he can place the man's face at all, much less recall his name.
But the man smiles and nods. "That's right. And you're Enjolras's--"
"Right," Grantaire says, short, and turns back to the shelves. Because Combeferre is Enjolras's friend and the fighting between him and Enjolras may have eased over the past few days but the tensions are by no means gone, and complaining that his husband won't bed him to Enjolras's friend seems like an idea that is doomed to end poorly.
Combeferre lets a moment pass, acknowledging the discomfort between them without prolonging it. "Did you need help with anything?"
Grantaire lets out a desperate little half-laugh. "I'm supposed to be buying provisions but it's not as though he gave me a list, and I'm afraid I'm going to end up bringing home a cart full of things he can't use, and none of the supplies he actually needs. I didn't exactly do much from-scratch cooking back in the city." And it's not as though he hadn't said as much, but of late, Enjolras seems to have adopted the attitude that the best way for Grantaire to learn is to be thrown in and left to drown or learn to swim on his own.
"Ah." Combeferre smiles, and it seems genuine. It goes all the way up to his eyes. "That I think I can help with. Come, we'll make a list." He inclines his head toward the front of the shop, where there's the counter and the register and a glass jar of penny candies.
Grantaire follows him up to the front, stays on his side of the counter while Combeferre circles around to the other and pulls up a stool and a sheaf of paper. He grabs the pencil that's tucked behind his ear and starts writing a list. Flour, sugar, lard, salt…
He gives a running commentary as he adds to his list, writing something down and then saying, "You're best bet for that is Mrs. Houcheloup over on the north end of town, you won't find any better" or "He just bought a bag of this last week so he won't be needing any more just yet, but keep an eye on your stores and be sure to buy some more before they run out."
It takes some time — there is much more that goes into provisioning a household than Grantaire might have first expected — but eventually Combeferre has a list written out and all the supplies gathered up, and Grantaire pays him with the handful of bills that Enjolras gave to him that morning and that Grantaire tucked in his pocket and has been regularly patting all day, quietly terrified of being in possession of that amount of money and the idea that it might fall out of his pocket or be stolen in a moment of lapsed attention and Grantaire will be responsible for it. Combeferre even helps him carry everything out to the cart and load it up, and shows him how to pack things so that they won't topple over and spill or break during the bumpy ride back home.
Morning has given way to midday by the time they've finished, securing a tarp over the cart's load to keep it secure, and the temperature just continues to climb. "Thank you," Grantaire says to Combeferre as they stand together in the shade of his store, looking out in satisfaction over the cart that stands as evidence of their morning's work. "That was kind of you, to help me." He doesn't have much that he can call his own, but he shoves his hand into a pocket and pulls out the horse he's been working on in spare moments. It's all finished now, its rough-hewn shape given over to smooth lines and careful curves. "Here. I'd like you to have this."
Combeferre takes it and holds it up for inspection, turning it around and over. When he's finished, he closes his hand around the wood and smiles at Grantaire. "You made this?"
Grantaire shrugs. "I like to keep my hands busy."
Combeferre's smile is broad, and seems genuinely delighted. "Thank you. It's wonderful. You're very good."
"It's just a trinket. But it's the least I can do to thank you."
"It isn't necessary, but I appreciate it all the same." He rubs his thumb over the horse's side and looks at it again, for a long time, like there's plenty there to admire when Grantaire knows there isn't. "Folks around here don't have much money to spare for things that have no purpose besides their beauty, but if you ever felt like turning your knife to something a little more utilitarian, I'd make space on my shelves for it."
"Thanks," Grantaire says, startled. "That rather defeats the purpose, though. Spoons and cups and things are terribly boring."
"I suppose they are if you make them that way." Combeferre closes his hand on the horse and smiles again. "Thank you, Grantaire. I mean it." He tips his head toward the cart. "Do you need help with anything else?"
"I don't think so. I'm going to go track Enjolras down and make sure I didn't miss anything vital. Do you mind if I leave the cart here for a bit?"
"Not at all. It should be safe enough. Most folks in Amity are good people and wouldn't touch it anyways, but anyone who might be tempted knows better than to mess with my customers."
Grantaire raises his brows. "Why's that?" In his experience, even good people will take advantage of an opportunity if they're desperate. He may be half a continent away from everything he used to know, but things here couldn't be that different.
Combeferre's smile grows, and turns just a little bit smug at the edges. His tips his head across the street, to the building that stands on the opposite corner with black smoke drifting out of a chimney and a sign over the door that bears an anvil and a hammer. "Because anyone in town who might knows that starting something with me, or any of my customers, means starting something with the blacksmith. That's usually deterrent enough."
The blacksmith is Courfeyrac, Grantaire remembers, the other witness to their wedding. He recalls the breadth of the man's shoulders, the easy bulge of muscles when he'd crossed his arms over his chest during the ceremony, and he smiles. "That's a handy arrangement to have."
Combeferre's smile turns softer, fonder. "It has its uses." He waves a hand, shooing Grantaire away. "Go on, find your husband. I'll be inside, if you need anything else."
Grantaire nods his thanks and heads off through town to do just that.
"There's something we need to address."
Grantaire puts down the breakfast dishes he's been washing in the sink and turns to face Enjolras. He's still sitting at the table, looking thoughtful and troubled. Grantaire's breakfast turns hard as stone in his stomach and he tucks his hands behind his back as he leans against the sink's edge to hide they way they clench with sudden uncertainty.
He can't imagine what he might have done to bring such a serious look to Enjolras's eye. He's done everything that's needed doing around the homestead, and if he isn't always as strong or as fast as Enjolras is at it, Enjolras has always been unfailingly kind and reasonable, assuring him that he'll get faster and better as time goes on. And if the issue is that Grantaire lies in bed at night curled at the edge of his half of the mattress, hands gripped tight in the sheets as he struggles to sleep without thinking about the first night he spent there and how very different it was than all the rest-- Well. Enjolras can hardly blame him for wanting, not when Grantaire has made no move to initiate another, not since the first one was rebuffed.
"What is it?" Grantaire tries to keep his voice steady, tries to keep all the dread he's feeling out of it. If the furrowed look Enjolras sends him is any indication, though, he doubts he's entirely successful.
"You're going to need to learn to ride if you're going to be any use at all out here. I'd rather have you able to be independent than necessitating my company any time you wish to go anywhere."
Grantaire dries his hands on the rag hung over the sink's edge, mostly for the excuse to turn his back to Enjolras for a moment while relief washes over him. When he's mastered himself, he leaves the sink and the last of the dishes behind and goes to sit with Enjolras at the table. "I don't mind walking."
Enjolras dismisses it with an impatient sweep of his hand. "No, of course you don't. You don't mind much, do you? But that's beside the point. You're too valuable around here to waste your time traveling on foot when a horse could get you there and back in half the time." He pauses and considers Grantaire a moment. "You aren't afraid of horses, are you?"
"Not exactly," Grantaire says slowly. He hadn't felt a trace of fear when he had ridden home with Enjolras that first night. But the thought of riding solo, without Enjolras's strength behind him or his sure hands on the reins, makes him more nervous than he cares to admit.
Enjolras smiles, satisfied by his answer, and gives a nod as though something has been decided. "Good. We'll start before it gets too hot, then."
"I thought you said yesterday we needed to weed today."
Enjolras dismisses that, too, with the same quick sweep of his hand. "It won't hurt it to wait a day, and this is important." He gestures Grantaire after him as he starts toward the door.
Grantaire follows after him, reluctant but unwilling to admit to it more than he already has. They walk together to the stable and Grantaire waits outside while Enjolras leads out one of the horses, a placid mare with a speckled grey coat who regards Grantaire as though she's seen his like before, and isn't impressed.
"She's the calmest I have," Enjolras says as he hefts a saddle onto her back and tacks her up with a few quick, practiced movements. In moments she stands before them in saddle and bridle, one rear leg cocked in an insouciant pose. "She'll do well by you. She won't take off for the hills at the slightest tap of your heels, and she won't throw you unless you do something to really deserve it."
"I'll try not to," Grantaire promises, more to the horse than to Enjolras.
Getting into the saddle is the first challenge, and Grantaire is no more graceful about it this time than the last. Enjolras grabs onto his waist to help him up, and when he's risen high enough that Enjolras can't reach, steadies him with a grip on his leg instead.
Grantaire drops down hard into the saddle at the feel of Enjolras's fingers wrapped around his thigh, digging in, and the flash of heated memory it elicits. He takes the reins in his fists and resolutely does not look at Enjolras.
The mare snorts and stamps a hoof. Enjolras straightens from adjusting the positioning of Grantaire's foot in the stirrup, his hand warm and maddening on Grantaire's calf, and looks him over to find the source of her distress. "Loosen your hands up, R. She's not going to go anywhere you don't tell her to. You don't need a death grip."
Grantaire forces his fingers to loosen around the leather reins, drawing in a deep, fortifying breath of the morning air. He doesn't correct Enjolras's assumption. Let him think that Grantaire's tension is borne of fear -- he'll like it better than the truth.
Enjolras paces circles around Grantaire and the horse, adjusting the position of his heels, the press of his knees against the mare's flanks. He puts a hand on the small of Grantaire's back and presses until Grantaire straightens in order to pull away from his touch. It's a struggle to keep his breathing even, but Enjolras doesn't seem to notice, or if he does, he pays it no mind. He looks Grantaire over with a critical eye, his gaze raking the straightened line of Grantaire's spine, and gives an approving nod. "There. Keep that form and tap your heels against her side once. Gently, now. She only needs you to ask for what you want, you don't need to scream it at her."
Grantaire recalls Enjolras's comment about heading for the hills, and he taps his heels very, very gently against her sides.
She shifts her weight from one side to the other and cranes her neck around, sniffing at Enjolras's pockets.
Enjolras gives a breathless laugh and rubs a hand through her mane. "Not quite so far in the other direction. You do have to ask, she's not going to take a subtle hint."
Grantaire takes a breath and tries again, trying for something just a little firmer. This time the mare lips at Enjolras's pocket, heaves a disappointed sigh, and starts forward at a plodding pace.
The slow, rolling gait is unfamiliar and feels like being rocked about on an unsteady boat. Enjolras walks along beside them, keeping his hand as a point of connection on Grantaire's calf, his fingers a light pressure, his palm warm through the fabric. It takes effort for Grantaire to keep his gaze forward, to not flinch and accidentally drive his heel harder against the mare's side and provoke an unexpected response to get away from Enjolras's distracting touch. The unstable back of an animal that's several times his size is not the place to be distracted.
Enjolras smiles up at him, encouraging. The low angle of the morning sun makes angles across his face and turns his hair to yellow flames. "Comfortable?"
"Not exactly," Grantaire says, entirely honest.
"You'll get there. It only takes time." He lifts his brows in query, tilts his head toward the fence up ahead, slowly growing nearer. "Do you want to try her on your own? Take her up to the fence, turn, walk her to the edge of the orchard, and bring her back this way?"
Grantaire eyes the path Enjolras described. It seems simple enough -- and if on his own means without Enjolras's hands all over him like he hadn't been the one to refuse intimacy, then Grantaire would brave much more than a gentle walk on a placid horse for the chance of it. "Yes. I'll give it a try."
Enjolras smiles like he's proud. It's entirely unfair, and Grantaire is only glad when he drops his hand from Grantaire's thigh and lets them move ahead of him, out of Grantaire's sight until they reach the fence and Grantaire pulls on the reins to guide her into a left-handed turn.
She snorts and tosses her head and Grantaire relaxes all the tension on the reins instinctively, his heart hammering within his chest. When she settles at that, he tries again, gentler. This time, she heaves a sigh that makes her sides move like a great bellows against Grantaire's thighs and angles into a broad curve that brings them up beside the fence, walking parallel to it.
Grantaire might be tempted to whoop with victory, but he suspects half the credit belongs to the mare. They walk with the same regular pace until the fields give way to the homestead's small orchard, the long shadows of the trees blocking the sun's warmth and sending a chill prickling over Grantaire's skin.
This time he's careful with the reins and the horse doesn't protest, simply follows his direction into a tighter turn, heading directly back to where they left Enjolras behind him. He's leaning against the fence now, his arms crossed, smiling a broad smile that makes Grantaire's heart clench tight in his chest.
This is going to be a problem, he thinks, as the sun shines through Enjolras's hair and lights up his smile and makes Grantaire want a hundred things that Enjolras has already made clear he isn't willing to give more than once.
When he gets closer, he makes himself return Enjolras's smile with one of his own, and he makes himself mean it. "Well?" Enjolras asks, pushing off the fence to come meet them.
"I didn't fall off?"
Enjolras's smile turns sharp with amusement. "That's a very important foundational skill." He comes forward and takes hold of the mare's reins just beneath her chin, guiding her to a stop with a gentle tug. "How do you feel?"
There are so many ways to answer that question, and so many of them have nothing to do with the horse beneath him. Grantaire drops his gaze and clears his throat, then forces himself to look up again, and to smile bright. "I'm feeling all right. Think I did okay with that."
Enjolras is proud, his face glowing with it. It really is completely unfair. "You did great. Feeling good enough to keep going?"
"Depends," Grantaire says, but keeps his smile in place. "What did you have in mind?"
"Something a little faster this time."
"Oh God," Grantaire says, and tightens his hands instinctively on the reins. The horse tosses her head and gives him a dirty look, and Enjolras just laughs at them both.
By the time they break for lunch, Enjolras has taught Grantaire how to bring the horse up to a trot, and by the end of the day he's brought his own horse out and mounted up to ride at Grantaire's side. Grantaire's backside feels numb from the jarring impact of the gait, his spine aches in protest, and his nerves are raw from the constant presence of Enjolras right beside him, looking far more appealing than anyone has any right to.
Enjolras offers to cook supper, and Grantaire doesn't even think of protesting, just drops down into his chair, pillows his head in his arms on the table, and tries not to hate Enjolras a little bit for being able to walk normally.
"You'll get used to it," Enjolras says sympathetically as he brings their plates over and sets Grantaire's down before him.
"You keep saying that." Grantaire forces himself upright so there's room on the table for both of their plates. His back protests even that much movement. "I'm starting to think you're a liar."
Enjolras's grin flashes. "I didn't say it'd be easy getting there. But you will. We just have to keep you in the saddle enough to get those muscles built up."
"That sounds ominous."
Enjolras just laughs and nudges Grantaire's plate a little closer to him. "Go on, eat. You need it. Riding's hard work, even when it doesn't feel like it."
"You don't have to tell me that," Grantaire mutters, and tucks into the meal laid before him. He's hungry enough that, at least for a little while, it clears his head of all other thoughts, of his sore muscles, of his battered spine, of the constant tension that's been wrapping through him all day at Enjolras's proximity and the casual touches he doesn't seem to even realize are driving Grantaire mad. It's a blessed relief, even if it is short-lived.
By the time they need to make another trip into town, Grantaire has gotten in enough time on his horse's back that it's starting to become a familiar place to be, and Enjolras declares him capable of riding in to Amity on his own mount, no cart and no Enjolras standing there at his side in case something goes terribly wrong.
They ride together, their horses shoulder-to-shoulder, and Enjolras keeps them to a walk for the sake of Grantaire's spine. The first five minutes are nerve-wracking -- Grantaire's been riding for days, but always around the familiar landscape of their homestead, with no one but Enjolras and their crops for company. Here on the road it's different, the paths unfamiliar, and Grantaire is keenly aware that they might meet anyone along the road and he's not sure he's grown comfortable enough in the saddle to be able to react quickly to anything that might require immediate action. Were something to happen, he's still dependent upon Enjolras to keep it from spiraling into something catastrophic.
It's hard to remember proper riding form when he's got worry twisting up through him. Half a dozen times along the road, Enjolras nudges his horse near enough to reach down and give Grantaire's knee a pat, or to kick his foot out of his stirrup and use it to prod at Grantaire's heel, reminding him to keep his weight upon them. Eventually, when a few strangers have passed them by and nothing horrible has happened, Grantaire begins to be able to relax, ever so slightly.
They're coming in to town today to stop by Courfeyrac's forge, to get the horses shoed and to pick up some items Enjolras had ordered that are finished and ready. Grantaire ties his mare up beside Enjolras's horse outside the shop and leaves him to go in and talk business with Courfeyrac while Grantaire darts across the street and into Combeferre's store.
Combeferre is there with a welcoming smile, as he always is, and it only grows warmer when he recognizes Grantaire. "We didn't miss something when we stocked you up with provisions, did we?"
"No, not at all. We got everything we needed, thanks to you." Grantaire tips his head toward the street. "I figured I'd come in and say hi, leave them to talk business without me getting under their feet." Even he knows it's bad form to linger in a store with no intention to purchase something, though, so he selects a length of rope from a shelf and puts it on the counter for Combeferre to ring up. Enjolras was just complaining yesterday that the rope he used to tie the goats up was starting to wear through; it's only a matter of time before they'll need a replacement.
He passes a handful of change over when Combeferre gives him the total, then, that obligation satisfied, leans against the counter to chat aimlessly with him. Customers wander in and out, and Grantaire moves a few steps away to give Combeferre room to conduct his business when they do, and settles for watching the townsfolk instead, trying to place faces with the descriptions Enjolras has given him.
There's an older woman with grey just beginning to thread through her hair inspecting the lanterns with a critical eye. She's wearing trousers and a broad-brimmed hat and Grantaire thinks it can't be anyone but Fantine, a local cattle rancher. She seems very serious, and sharp-eyed as an eagle, and Grantaire turns away before she notices him staring.
The door swings open again, ringing the bell that hangs from its frame, and Grantaire glances over to see that it's the girl from the carriage, the new banker's daughter. She's dressed just as she had been the last time he saw her, too fine for this dusty town, and Grantaire feels an unexpected sense of kinship with her. They're both outsiders here still and identifiable as such with no more than a glance, for all that they've chosen to make Amity their home. She could dress the part of a frontier girl, with plain bonnet and gingham dress, but in a town this small it doesn't matter. Newcomers are the only unfamiliar faces around.
She smiles at him when he nears, warmer than he expects from a relative stranger. "Oh, hello. From the carriage, right?"
Grantaire looks at her, surprised. He spent most of that ride asleep with his hat over his face, and she spent most of it conversing with her father. He wouldn't have expected her to pay that much notice to someone like him. "That's right. Grantaire." He offers his hand. "I don't think we ever got properly introduced."
She smiles and shakes his offered hand. "Cosette Fauchelevent."
"Fauchelevent? Isn't your father Valjean?"
Her laughter is bright and clear. "It's a lengthy story." She moves forward into the store, drifting down a row of shelves in a way that makes it easy for Grantaire to follow along, so natural he scarcely even notices he's doing it. "Perhaps I'll tell you sometime."
Outside, a sudden holler makes everyone in the store turn from their shopping. It gets louder as it gets nearer, with an undercurrent of thundering hoofbeats that clamps down on Grantaire's chest like a fist. He may still be learning how to keep his seat on a horse, but he knows enough to know that no one rides like that unless there's trouble riding behind them.
Everyone in the store, it seems, moves outside as the commotion nears, as though drawn by the same string. Outside, Grantaire can see that others are doing the same from the other buildings along the street, Courfeyrac standing opposite them with a hand raised to block out the sun, others dotted up and down the street, all looking in the same direction, where a great cloud of kicked-up dust barrels down upon them like a storm.
"What is it?" Cosette asks from Grantaire's side, her voice hushed. He's not sure if she means the question for him or any of the others around them, but he can't look away from the oncoming storm to find out. He doesn't know any better than any of the others, aside from the obvious.
From Grantaire's other side, Fantine swears. When he glances at her, she's got a grim set to her mouth. "Nothing good. Go on, everyone, back inside. Now." She swats at Grantaire with her hat as though he's a bothersome fly she can shoo away.
He just gives her an incredulous glance and looks back to where several figures on horseback are resolving out of the cloud of dust. "What if someone needs help? They sound like they're in trouble."
Fantine snorts. "That ain't anyone who's in trouble. That just plain is trouble, and there's no need for either of you to get caught up in whatever Patron-Minette's up to now."
"Patron-Minette?" Cosette echoes quietly. She edges back toward the wall of Combeferre's store, but doesn't hide inside, either.
"Amity's very own gang of outlaws. Go on, now, it'll only be worse for all of us if they realize there's fresh meat in town."
It takes Grantaire a beat longer than it should to realize that when she says fresh meat, she means them, him and Cosette. And he's not the sort to cower just to save his own hide, but he can do it to spare the others. He grabs Cosette's hand in his and takes a single, aborted step to drag her with him back into the shop. But it's too late -- Patron-Minette is nearly upon them by then, and one of them is looking straight at Grantaire with a gleam in his eye.
"In," Fantine hisses, shoving at them both. "In!" But the horses are faster than they are, and one rider splits off from the group and comes in behind them, forcing them forward with his mount's bulk and its flying hooves.
The rider at the head of the group pulls up in front of them, wheeling his horse about in flashy circles. "Well, who have we here!" His voice booms out for everyone on the street to hear. "Newcomers. And no one thought to invite us over to say hello?"
"This ain't your town, Montparnasse." Fantine's hand is still on Grantaire's shoulder and her fingers go tight, though her voice remains steady and strong. "It's no concern of yours what goes on in it."
"Oh, it is, though." His eyes flash danger, even as his smile flashes charm. "And I hear what's been going on lately is a banker has come to Amity." He clucks his tongue. "What wealth! Seems a little too rich for such a dusty town, though, don't you think? You haven't even got a sheriff, and you know how money draws outlaws like honey draws flies. Seems to me you need protecting."
"The only outlaws with any interest in Amity is you lot." Fantine steps forward smoothly. Between one blink and the next she's got a revolver in her hands, leveled at Montparnasse's head. "And we protect our own just fine, I reckon."
Montparnasse grins at Cosette, as though he hasn't even noticed he has a gun trained upon him. "Come now, girlie." He nudges his horse closer. Fantine draws the gun's hammer back, and Montparnasse's horse tosses its head in concern, but Montparnasse doesn't blink. "What's your name? Are you that banker's girl? You've the look of the city about you, too fine for a place like this."
Cosette jerks her chin up and doesn't quail. "I'm Euphrasie," she says, like a queen addressing a peasant. Grantaire has to bite back the urge to give a low whistle, impressed. He wouldn't have guessed she'd have it in her to lie with such confidence. Grantaire didn't notice a single tell.
Fantine's head jerks around toward them and the arm holding her gun out falters. She recovers herself almost instantly, between one pounding heartbeat and the next, and whips her focus back to Montparnasse and the men behind him.
"You tell your father, then, girl." Montparnasse's smile does little more than bare his teeth. "Tell the whole town. We ain't the only outlaws in these parts, but I'd wager we're the nicest." His movement is sudden, a kick to his horse's ribs that sends it leaping sideways, close enough that he can reach down to grab Cosette by the wrist and haul her half off her feet before they even know what's happening. The smiling facade is gone now, leaving only an ugly sneer in its place. "So you'd better keep us happy, you hear? Or we'll gather up every gang for fifty miles and ride down on this town, and take all that lovely gold from your father's shiny new bank."
And Cosette, who wears fine dresses too nice for this town, who walks around in silk trimmed with lace, her hair in careful curls and her bonnet tied primly beneath her chin and who looks like one of those china dolls in the windows of shops too expensive to ever let Grantaire through the door, who's in the grip of an outlaw with her arm twisted up so hard Grantaire's half expects it to snap — Cosette looks Montparnasse in the eye and says, "I'd like to see you try."
The tense stillness of the street erupts in a single moment. Montparnasse snarls and throws her from him, sending her sprawling in the dirt. Fantine fires off a shot and the whole town, it suddenly seems, is crowded around, trying to stop Patron-Minette or to come to Cosette's aid. Someone cries out, more gunshots ring out across the streets. Grantaire is jostled in the sudden crowd and he pushes his way through to find Cosette, sitting upright with Combeferre beside her, a soothing hand on her back. Her dress is ruined with dust.
"Are you all right?"
Grantaire isn't the only one at her side asking her that, but for some reason, he's the one she turns to. Her eyes are a little wild, a little angry. She nods once, quick and jerky. "I'm fine. I didn't fall so hard as all that. Could you please help me up?"
Grantaire does, and releases her elbow as soon as he's sure she has her feet beneath herself, so she can beat at her skirt and try to knock the dust from it. "That was clever of you, to give him a false name. Quick thinking."
She glances up at him quickly, as though surprised by the praise. "It wasn't false." She waves a hand, brushing off Grantaire's protest before he's even formed it. "Euphrasie's my given name, though it's not the one I go by. He isn't the first to try to get to Papa's money by going through me. I learned long ago that lying to these sort of men does nothing but give them an excuse to hurt you once they discover the deceit. And what good does knowing my name do them?" She grabs handfuls of her skirt to lift the hem up out of the dust, though that's a lost battle now. "No one was hurt, were they?"
There's a strange, milling sort of activity as all the townsfolk check at those nearest them. In the end, they turn up only two injuries that are anything near serious -- a man the others call Bossuet, who narrowly avoided being trampled by one of the bandits' horses but earned himself an ankle that's sprained or maybe even broken for the trouble. And Enjolras, who Grantaire hears protesting before he sees him, and his heart seizes up in his chest at the sound of it. He hadn't even known Enjolras had returned to this part of town.
Grantaire pushes his way through, snarling, "I'm his husband," at anyone who tries to stay him, and finally comes upon him sitting upon the edge of someone's wagon. There's blood on his shirt, a bright, vivid stain of it dripping down his arm. Grantaire doesn't recall moving, doesn't have any recollection of how he crossed the five paces between them, all he knows is that suddenly he's at Enjolras's side, grabbing hold of the arm that isn't injured as fear rises up to drown him. "What happened?" he demands. "Are you all right?"
Enjolras sends him a bemused look. "I heard the shooting and came out to try to help, just as they went tearing away. I tried to stop them and, well." He lifts his uninjured shoulder. "They took exception to that."
"You're shot." Grantaire sways, feeling woozy.
"It's just a graze."
"You're shot. Oh Christ. Can you stand?" He drapes Enjolras's good arm across his shoulders and shifts close to help Enjolras get onto his feet.
"They got my shoulder, not my foot. I can stand just fine, and I don't need assistance. Will you find Joly, please? He's our doctor, and he'll be able to patch me up and send me on my way."
Grantaire hesitates, reluctant. The red stain on Enjolras's sleeve is still growing, not fast enough to be dangerous but enough to know the wound's still bleeding. Rather than following the instructions, he settles for wrapping his hand around Enjolras's arm and squeezing tight. Enjolras hisses loudly and shifts in his grip. The fabric of his shirt is wet and warm and sticky beneath Grantaire's hand, and if he thinks too much about why he's going to lose his breakfast right there in the middle of the street. But the wound needs pressure and they both know it, so Enjolras doesn't pull away, despite the discomfort, and Grantaire squeezes his eyes shut and does his best not to get squeamish. That's not what any of them need right now.
Someone else moves away, and he hears them shouting for Joly in Grantaire's stead. He's grateful for that, and wraps his other arm around Enjolras's waist and holds him in tight against Grantaire's side. Perhaps he is able to stand, as he insists, but Grantaire feels better knowing he's supported all the same.
Minutes pass, or hours, Grantaire can't tell, but eventually the crowd around them parts and a man comes toward them, looking solemn and with his gaze fixed on the red of Enjolras's sleeve and Grantaire's hand clamped around his arm.
"Joly?" Grantaire guesses, and at his nod, he relinquishes Enjolras with a wave of relief. "Thank God. He's been shot."
"Sit down here, Enjolras," Joly says, guiding him back to the wagon's edge. Enjolras sits, more obedient for Joly than Grantaire has ever seen him for anyone else.
Joly rips his sleeve open, all the way up to the collar and all the way down to the cuff. The skin underneath is mottled with blood, and Grantaire has to shut his eyes for a moment as nausea surges up within him, and remind himself that it's just from the soaked shirt. The wound isn't that bad, Enjolras would have said something if it was.
Enjolras hisses suddenly, and then grunts, as though in pain, and that gets Grantaire's eyes open because nausea be damned, he has to know what's happening. He has to know Enjolras is going to be all right.
Joly is mopping up the blood-stained but uninjured skin around Enjolras's shoulder with a handful of bandages, making thoughtful sounds as he probes at the edges of the wound. He looks back over his shoulder and catches Grantaire's eye. "You held pressure on this?"
Grantaire nods, feeling helpless and useless. "It was still bleeding," he says unsteadily.
Joly nods once. "You did him good. He's still lost a fair amount of blood, but he'd have lost more if it weren't for you."
"I'm right here," Enjolras says, dry.
"So you are. But not for long." Joly winds a roll of clean bandages around Enjolras's arm, pulling each wrap tight as he layers them over the wound. "That needs stitches, and I won't do that out here and risk infection. You're coming back to my clinic so I can do it properly."
"Bossuet's ankle's broke, you'll see to him first."
Joly's mouth sets into a hard line. "The day you have a medical license is the day you can tell me how to triage my own patients. Come on, now, up you get. Grantaire, may we borrow your shoulder?"
Grantaire comes over and Joly helps him sling Enjolras's arm around his shoulder so he can support him as they make their way the few blocks to Joly's clinic. Grantaire grips Enjolras's hand tight, fingers threaded together, and tries not to think about what might have happened if the shot had hit Enjolras half a foot to the right.
The street is chaos, a dozen people or more all rushing about, calling to one another, helping the injured or reassuring themselves that loved ones are unharmed, and the chaos follows them to Joly's clinic, where Grantaire eases Enjolras down onto one of his beds and resolutely ignores his protests that it's a shoulder wound, he doesn't need to be laid out like an invalid. Grantaire pulls a chair up to the bedside and grips Enjolras's hand between his own.
Combeferre joins them in the small room, Courfeyrac beside him, both of them on the other side of Enjolras's bed. There are others, too, people Grantaire doesn't know but whose drawn faces and worried expressions speak volumes to how well they know and care for Enjolras.
Outside of the room there's a sharp cry, as though of pain, and Enjolras stiffens, tries to sit up in the bed. "That's Bossuet." He frowns at Grantaire when he braces a hand on Enjolras's shoulder and pushes him back down into the bed. "If you won't allow me to see to my friend, then will you at least go in my stead, and find out if he's all right?"
"I'm not going anywhere." Grantaire tightens his grip on Enjolras's hand. "Don't argue with me, Enjolras, you won't win this one. I'm not leaving." Enjolras seems as though he truly intends to climb out of bed and go see Bossuet for himself, though, so Grantaire lets his gaze slide across the bed, to Combeferre and Courfeyrac and Enjolras's other friends. "Will one of you go ask after Bossuet, please, before he does something stupid?"
A brief hint of a smile flashes across Combeferre's face, before worry leaves it grim again. "I'll go." He clasps Enjolras's uninjured shoulder, leans down close enough to murmur, "Listen to him, Enjolras. He's good for you," and then slides away through the crowd.
Enjolras sighs and settles back onto the bed. His fingers curl through Grantaire's, a brief squeeze before they release. "You needn't look so concerned," he says quietly, dropping his gaze. "I told you, it's just a graze."
"You got shot. Of course I'm concerned."
Enjolras looks like he means to say something else, but then he glances up at the others in the room with them. Most of them are preoccupied, talking to one another in low, urgent tones, sticking their heads out into the hall to say something to someone out there and then coming back in to repeat the message, bandaging up their own minor cuts and bruises gained during the skirmish. Still, their presence makes Enjolras hesitate, and swallow back whatever he meant to say.
The room goes quiet when Combeferre returns, all eyes on him. He clears his throat and offers a thin smile to them all that settles, at the last, on Enjolras. "Joly's seen to Bossuet, and he's comfortable. As much as one can be, anyway, with a hurt ankle. Joly's wrapped it up tight in case it's broken, and given him laudanum for the pain, so he'll be the happiest of us all in a quarter hour. He says he can't know if it's sprained or broke until the morning when the swelling's had a chance to go down some, so Bossuet'll stay the night here and then we'll see." A collective sigh goes through the room, everyone wiping their foreheads or shaking out the tension in their shoulders as Combeferre's news brings relief.
Enjolras looks pleased, but serious. His expression doesn't lighten any when Combeferre makes his way through the room to sit on the side of his bed, opposite the side Grantaire has occupied. "He'll be in in a minute, he says, to see to you."
Enjolras scoffs a protest. "I don't need seeing to, there are more important injuries than mine--"
"He'll see to you," Combeferre says, as unyielding as the mountains. "If that graze turns septic you'll lose your arm, or your life, and then who will see to your farm?"
"I would," Grantaire says quietly, and is a little surprised to realize he means it. Marriage vows are one thing, but they end at death. What loyalty would Grantaire owe a dead man, to stay and live in his house and tend his fields and grow his crops? Grantaire isn't sure, but he knows it's the truth. He'd stay and finish out the job he promised to perform, if Enjolras found himself unable to do it himself.
Both men look at Grantaire in quiet surprise and silence stretches between them as they all consider what to say in response to Grantaire's unexpected promise. It's Joly who breaks it, bustling into the room and looking about in consternation before he gives a sharp sigh. "No, this won't do. Out, all of you! I need space to work, and he needs air. You'll suffocate the life out of him, crowding in like this."
Most of the others file out, with various amounts of grumbling protests. Combeferre is the last to leave, and when Joly turns back to the bed, Grantaire gives him a hard look. "I'm not going."
Joly looks surprised, but then his expression is softened by a smile. "No. That's fine, you stay. Slide down this way a bit, though, would you? So I can see what we're working with."
Grantaire moves as directed, taking up position by Enjolras's hips, still gripping his hand tight but with room now for Joly up at the head of the bed, to move in and press his fingers to Enjolras's shoulder and make clucking noises over it like a disapproving mother. "It'll need to be sewn, if you don't want it to infect."
The corners of Enjolras's mouth tighten. Whether it's displeasure or reluctance, Grantaire can't be sure. "Do it," he says, and fixes a distant gaze on the ceiling overhead.
Joly hesitates, his fingers gentle, his gaze sympathetic. "Enjolras. It'll need to be cleansed."
Enjolras's throat works in silence for a moment. His fingers spasm on Grantaire's hand, and Grantaire grips him back just as tight. "Just do what you must. I can't lose my arm."
While Joly sets up his equipment on the table beside the bed, Grantaire takes advantage of the emptied room and circles around it to Enjolras's other side, where he can crouch down by Enjolras's head and be closer, be a greater comfort.
"You can't lose your arm, Enjolras," Grantaire breathes into the space between them. Enjolras's fingers tighten briefly where they're threaded through Grantaire's. "Who else will teach me how to work about the farm without making a complete fool of myself?"
Enjolras grits his teeth. "That's what I just said—"
"So you're going to do everything Joly tells you, absolutely everything, and you're not going to complain, and you're not going to try to find ways around it, do you hear me?"
Enjolras glares at him, but then Joly says, "Brace yourself, this won't be pleasant," and presses a wet rag that stinks of alcohol to Enjolras's shoulder, and Enjolras's words are lost beneath a terrible groan. His hand seizes around Grantaire's, hard enough to break the bones it seems, and Grantaire just holds on to him in return and speaks to him, low and quiet, a babble that's meant to soothe and distract more than it's meant to make sense.
"It's all right, Enjolras, it's all right, I know it hurts but it'll be over soon, it'll hurt worse if you let it fester, have you ever had a wound lanced before, I have, it's horrible, I don't recommend it, but you've endured worse than this before, I know you have, I've seen that scar on your arm, it looks like you near got flayed open, you'll have to tell me how you got it someday, but this can't be worse than that was and you made it through that. You're the strongest man I know, Enjolras, just keep holding on to me and you'll be fine, we'll get through this together, he's almost done now, just a little longer."
Enjolras's fingers tighten around Grantaire's and his breathing goes ragged and uneven as Joly works at cleaning the wound. Every time Joly touches the cloth to the wound Enjolras groans, an awful, agonizing sound like he's being tortured in the lowest circle of Hell. A sweat's broken out across his face, cold and clammy. Grantaire smooths his hair back with gentle touches and tries to do what he can to reassure him.
When Enjolras turns his face into Grantaire's hand so that they're pressed cheek to palm, Grantaire's heart stops in his chest, then clenches extra hard to make up for the missed beats. His own breathing unravels and he stays like that, holding Enjolras with one hand gripping his and the other cupping his cheek, until Joly sets the cloth aside and starts wrapping Enjolras's arm in bandages.
Enjolras slumps abruptly, all the tension draining out of him at once and he gasps like a drowning man who's finally broken through the surface. Grantaire strokes his cheek carefully, fearful that Enjolras will rebuff this as he has all Grantaire's other attempts at intimacy. But Grantaire means only to comfort and soothe, and Enjolras must sense that, because he allows it.
Joly gives them time, moving quietly around the room cleaning up the bandages and the bloody cloth. When he returns a few moments later, he asks quietly, "How do you feel?"
"Like I've been shot," Enjolras says through his teeth. "And had alcohol poured on the wound. How do you think I feel?"
Joly doesn't react to the sharpness of Enjolras's words, just comes toward them and crouches by the bedside. "Do you need to stay the night?"
Enjolras groans and struggles to sit up, but the moment he tries to get his injured arm beneath him he drops down onto his back again, gasping. "Not if you want me to have a chance in hell of actually resting."
Grantaire stares down at him, at the ginger way he holds his arm against his side. "You can't ride." And Grantaire could go home and get the cart, bring it back for Enjolras, but that's a long, bumpy ride and the thought of the sort of agony it would cause Enjolras is unbearable. He already looks ashen.
"You can," Enjolras says, and Grantaire doesn't know what that has to do with anything until he catches Enjolras's pointed glance and has a sudden, vivid memory of the day he arrived and the ride home — of Enjolras sitting securely behind him, an arm around his waist and the other on the reins, because Grantaire couldn't ride but Enjolras could.
"I'll be the death of you," Grantaire says faintly.
"Give me some credit, please." Enjolras tries again to sit up, this time careful to use only his uninjured arm to do so, and manages to get his back against the headboard with a minimum of groans and pained grimaces. "You lack the skill, and I lack the ability, but we can manage it together, I think. We'll have to take it at a walk, but we can manage it."
Grantaire looks to Joly helplessly. "Is he always like this?"
"Worse, usually," Joly says brightly. "He must be hurting, if he's not insisting that he can ride his own damn self all the way home and don't either of us dare to say otherwise."
Enjolras looks annoyed, but doesn't object. "Can you make me a sling, so my arm doesn't jostle any more than is absolutely necessary?"
Joly nods and does so, using the spare bandages to wrap Enjolras's arm and bind it in place against his chest, secure enough that Grantaire thinks nothing less than a fall from the horse's back would be enough to disturb it. It's something, at least. Perhaps they'll be able to make it back home without Grantaire giving himself an ulcer, after all.
"Are you ready?" he asks Enjolras, half hating to do so, because Enjolras looks so grey and so worn, and despite his insistence Grantaire thinks what he needs now is a bed to sleep in and some time to rest. The ride home will give him neither, and if Joly thinks that Enjolras will rest once he's back home, with his farm and its endless list of chores right there in front of him, then he's not half so smart as Grantaire gave him credit for.
But Enjolras nods and says, "Yes," and slings his good arm around Grantaire's shoulders so he can help him from the bed, and there's nothing for it.
Joly hovers, looking concerned, as they make slow progress through the clinic and out to the waiting horses, whom someone was kind enough to bring over from where they'd been tied up before Patron-Minette had descended upon the town. Once they reach the horses, Grantaire frowns in consideration. The placid mare seems the best choice, the gentler ride for Enjolras and the familiar mount for Grantaire, but she's taller than the other and Grantaire has yet to master the art of getting himself into the saddle without aid. Normally that aid would come from Enjolras -- but today it's Enjolras who needs the help, and Grantaire doesn't know how he's supposed to get himself up behind him without sending Enjolras toppling right over the other side.
Joly comes to their rescue after a bemused moment, linking his hands together to form a makeshift stirrup for Grantaire to step in. He boosts Grantaire up into the saddle, then does the same for Enjolras. Grantaire helps to steady him as he comes up, one hand going to Enjolras's waist and the other on his good shoulder. "Got it?"
"I'm fine," Enjolras says, short and irritated. Grantaire shares a conspiratorial grin over his shoulder with Joly, then releases the reins long enough for Joly to tie the other horse's to them so they can lead him back home beside them.
When everyone's settled and Enjolras seems secure and Joly has reassured himself that he didn't aggravate his injury in any way by climbing up onto the horse, Grantaire wraps his arms around Enjolras to take the reins and guides the mare away from Joly's clinic and up the street, on the way back home.
It's a torturous ride, on more than one front. The mare's pace is slow, steady. It's been good for learning and it's good for keeping Enjolras's shoulder from being jostled any more than necessary, but it still wears on Grantaire's nerves. He wants to be home, where he can put Enjolras to bed and be sure that he gets the rest he so badly needs.
And, too, there is the strain of riding with Enjolras in his arms, his chest pressed to Enjolras's back, the slight friction as the horse walks, shifting them against each other. He can feel the warmth of Enjolras's skin through their shirts, he can smell the sharp, herbal scent of their soap lingering in his hair. He can shut his eyes and allow himself, for just a moment, to forget that Enjolras is wounded and that Enjolras has refused him and he can envision what it would be like to be this close for reasons that have nothing to do with injury or invalidity.
If he were a better man, if he were stronger, he wouldn't allow himself to be distracted by such thoughts while his husband is wounded and in need of recuperation. But the thoughts come to Grantaire, helplessly, despite the depth of his concern. He has had nothing but the remembrance of that first night together to cling to ever since, and he cannot help but inscribe this into his memory alongside the first, as something to hold on to when the bed is too big and the nights are too lonely and the distance between them too great.
Finally, they come over the crest of a hill and the road turns and their farm stretches out in front of them, familiar fields with their rows of crops, greener now than they were when Grantaire first arrived, everything growing and strong. Grantaire releases a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and urges the mare forward. Even she seems anxious to get there -- she sticks to a walk, but her pace is a little faster, her head held up a little higher.
Grantaire shifts the reins to one hand and wraps his other arm around Enjolras's waist. "All right?" he asks, leaning in close to speak it against his ear.
Enjolras grunts and gives a sharp nod, but he holds his spine tense and straight, and Grantaire knows better. He pulls on the reins a little, slowing the mare back down to her easy walk. A moment passes, and then Enjolras sighs and it sounds like relief.
"You should have just said something," Grantaire says, admonishing.
Enjolras says nothing, just keeps his gaze turned forward, fixed on home.
The last five minutes of the ride feels like they take as long as the first hour, but finally they reach the house. Grantaire grabs onto Enjolras's shoulder when he starts to shift his weight as though he means to dismount. "Don't be stupid," he says, gruff, and swings down first. Enjolras stares at him a moment when he reaches his arms up, then sighs like it's the greatest burden in the world and allows Grantaire to grab his waist and help take his weight as he drops.
It's still jarring when he lands, and it still leaves him leaning forward against the horse's side, gasping with his face pressed to the saddle like he's trying to hide it. Grantaire gives him a moment, and when he straightens and steps away, he takes Enjolras's arm and drapes it over his shoulder and ignores every protest Enjolras tries to make.
"The horses," he says as Grantaire leads him through the kitchen and into the bedroom, and at that one Grantaire relents enough to respond, because God knows Enjolras would kill himself before he'd let his animals go neglected.
"I'll take care of them," Grantaire assures him. "Just as soon as I've taken care of you."
"You don't have to."
Grantaire sighs, sharp and annoyed as the many stresses of the day suddenly seem to come crashing down on him all at once, leaving him exhausted and strained to his limits. "I'm not doing it because I have to, Enjolras. Now stop arguing, you're just making it take longer."
Enjolras stops arguing. In the bedroom, Grantaire throws open the curtains and turns up the lamps so there's light enough to see by, then comes back and helps Enjolras unwind the bandages holding his arm in place against his chest, so they can get his bloodied shirt off.
When the bandages are off and Enjolras's arm hangs at his side, Grantaire goes still a moment, struck by the sight of him.
His sleeve hangs in tatters where Joly tore it open, stained with blood and its edges turning brown where it's drying out. There are still faint streaks of it across his skin, too, despite Joly's attempts to clean him up, and the bandage underneath is a shocking white against it all. Grantaire swallows down the thick feeling in his throat and reaches to pull open the ties securing Enjolras's shirt, to pull it up over his head and free him of it. He tosses it aside when it's off, to throw out or cut up into rags later, and then Grantaire can't help but reach for him.
The rest of him looks just the same as it always has, broad and strong, and Grantaire presses his hands to Enjolras's shoulders to remind himself of it. That Enjolras is still strong, that one wound hasn't taken that away from him, that he'll be fine, with a little rest and a little time. He presses his palm flat over Enjolras's thudding heart and tries not to think about how different things would be if he'd been standing a little bit to one side, or if the outlaw's aim had been just a little bit better.
Enjolras is very still beneath his hands, except for his heart, which pounds out a rapid beat against his chest. "R," he says at last when Grantaire doesn't move, just stands there touching him, reassuring himself that he's alive and mostly whole and hasn't been harmed in a way that can't be recovered from.
Enjolras has to say his name again before Grantaire manages to drag himself back to the present, away from the land of possibilities and what-ifs.
"Hmm?" He lifts his gaze to Enjolras's, finds him looking at Grantaire, a frown drawn in the crease his of his brows, the downturned angle of the corners of his mouth.
"You need to stop," he says quietly.
It takes Grantaire longer than it should to realize what he means. His hands on Enjolras, their skin pressed together. He lets out a sharp breath and scowls. "I'm worried, that's all. A man isn't allowed to be concerned for his husband's welfare when he's been shot?"
Enjolras runs his tongue over his lips, looks like he's struggling with what to say, or perhaps just how to say it. His gaze slides sideways and doesn't meet Grantaire's as he says, quieter, more firm, "I need you to stop."
"Why--" Grantaire starts, but then goes silent because he understands. Their skin pressed together, standing closer to each other than they have in weeks, Enjolras's pulse racing beneath his touch.
Enjolras wants him, and that revelation is startling and infuriating. All this time Grantaire had thought that Enjolras was refusing any further intimacy because he didn't want it, that he'd consummated their marriage out of duty and necessity but nothing more, and didn't care to lie with him again because he felt nothing when he looked on Grantaire, or when they touched.
The thunder of his pulse beneath Grantaire's palm disproves the lie. Enjolras wants him, enough that Grantaire's hands upon him now are a strain. Enjolras wants him, but still won't have him.
"You can't even ride a horse," Grantaire says, his words harsh, his voice rough. "You're injured, you need my help, and you still can't bear to have me touch you?"
"It's not--" Enjolras stops himself and grimaces. His hands come up like he means to ward Grantaire off, or pull him back, but then they just hover in the air between them while he stares at Grantaire, his expression twisting with frustration. "If I wanted someone to keep my bed warm, I could have found that here in Amity, without the trouble or expense of searching halfway across the country. That's not what I need from you. You're here to help me with the farm -- that's all I ask of you."
"We're married." Grantaire crosses his arms over his chest. If Enjolras weren't wounded, Grantaire would be sorely tempted to take a swing at him. "That means something."
Enjolras sighs. "It's not a love match." He says it like that's supposed to mean anything at all.
Grantaire runs a hand over his face for a moment, struggling to retain control of himself. "Do you expect me to be faithful?" he demands, his voice strained.
Enjolras is silent for a long, long moment. He doesn't answer until Grantaire drops his hand and looks to him for some indication what the silence means, and even then, he's stiff and uncertain. "I expect you to honor the promises you made, as I honor mine to you. I didn't ask you to make any vows about chastity or fidelity--"
Grantaire spins on his heel and stalks out of the bedroom, outside to where the horses are waiting patiently. He curries and brushes them both, removes their tack and sees them settled into the stable, and even then he doesn't feel prepared to return to the house. To Enjolras.
He goes anyway, because there's little else to do, and he won't let Enjolras turn him into a coward. He half hopes that Enjolras will be sleeping by now, but when he comes into the house he can see Enjolras through the bedroom door, sitting on the bed's edge, watching him with an expression Grantaire can't read.
"R," Enjolras says, and then, "Grantaire."
Grantaire comes into the bedroom and then just sighs, looking at him. "I'm not going to fool around on you, Enjolras. Not even if you give me permission." He can feel the weight of Enjolras's gaze upon him, but he pretends as though he can't and pulls on his nightclothes with quick, jerky movements. "And if you can't stand to have me touch you, then I suppose next time I'll just let you walk home." He climbs into bed, his back towards the middle, toward Enjolras, and jerks the blanket up over his shoulders.
Enjolras is still a long moment. Grantaire shuts his eyes, but he can still imagine what he must look like, sitting there looking at the curve of Grantaire's back beneath the blankets, probably with that same wounded, frustrated expression, as though Grantaire's the one being unreasonable here.
"I'm sorry," Enjolras says at last, quietly. It surprises Grantaire enough that he opens his eyes and stares at the wall opposite him, fighting the urge to roll over and look at Enjolras.
Another moment passes, but Enjolras doesn't seem to have anything more to say, and Grantaire doesn't know what sort of a reply he wants. When the silence has become nearly unbearable, Enjolras sighs and turns down the lamp, casting the bedroom into shadows. The mattress shifts beneath Grantaire as Enjolras settles down onto his side of it and tugs the blankets over himself.
He's very careful not to get close enough that they touch, but Grantaire imagines he can feel the warmth radiating off of him all the same. He stares through the darkened room, at the shadows where the far wall was a moment ago. It's easier to find his voice now, to whisper, "We're married. That means something to me," and let the darkness swallow it.
Grantaire starts volunteering whenever there are errands that need to be run in town, whether it's picking up supplies at Combeferre's store or calling Courfeyrac out to see to a horse that's thrown a shoe. "I need the practice," he says with a thin smile whenever Enjolras answers his eagerness with a dark look from beneath furrowed brows.
It's only half the truth. He does need the practice, and he suspects Enjolras doesn't protest only because it's obvious to the both of them how much Grantaire's comfort in the saddle has grown with these longer rides. But the rest of the truth is that Grantaire's running. He can hardly be in Enjolras's presence now without wanting him, and knowing that Enjolras wants him back. The fact that it's an impossibility only makes the desire more difficult to live with. And so he runs, kicking the mare into a spine-jarring trot or even a rhythmic canter, whenever he's feeling desperate and foolish enough to risk it. He turns his face into the wind and lets it cool the flush crawling over him, and tries not to think that this is an unsustainable solution. It works for now, but they're wed, their lives inextricably linked, and the future that they're bound to share together now feels impossibly long and thoroughly unbearable.
Grantaire's barely surviving now. He's not sure how he's meant to endure years and decades of this. And so he does his best not to think of it, to keep his thoughts only on the horse beneath him and the wind threatening to steal the hat off his head and the immediate needs of whatever task it is that's sent him in to town.
Today, he doesn't have the whip of the wind or the sensation of flying to distract him. His mare is harnessed to the cart today, their pace slow and plodding as they bring a broken plow to the carpenter's for repairs.
Feuilly comes out to meet them, drawn by the sound of the cart. He waits leaning against his doorway as Grantaire climbs down and pats the mare's neck. He's got rough calluses on his hands and a sprinkling of sawdust in his hair, like snow, that makes Grantaire grin as he approaches.
"You must be Enjolras's— Grantaire," Feuilly calls, dusting off his hands.
Grantaire lifts a brow, wondering what it was Feuilly stopped himself from saying, but only answers, "That's right, I'm his Grantaire. We've got a broken plow we were hoping you could help us out with."
"Sure thing, let's take a look at it." They walk together to the back of the cart. The plow is big and heavy, and it takes both of them grunting and heaving to get it out of the cart and on the ground, where Feuilly can crouch and run his hands along the wood, and the broad crack where the wood's begun to split. "It's weathered," he says with a frown. "I told Enjolras last year he was going to need to replace it or it would end up doing something like this, he doesn't listen."
"So it's not just me?" Grantaire asks with a lift of his brows and a wry smile.
Feuilly laughs without even looking up at him. "Hardly. He does it with everybody."
"Good to know." Grantaire crouches opposite Feuilly with the plow between them. "So, can you fix it?"
Feuilly hums thoughtfully. "I can replace this piece that broke, and see what I can do to condition the rest of the wood so it doesn't split, as well. And the blade here--" He reaches down to touch the metal, warm in the summer sun. "It's not dulled yet, but it's getting there. So long as it's being repaired anyway, I'll speak with Courfeyrac and see if we can't get replaced as well, or at least honed. The rest of it will last longer if it isn't having to work quite so hard to do its job. Help me get it inside?"
Grantaire nods and does, grabbing the end opposite from Feuilly. It's awkward work fitting it through the door into his shop, but they manage it, and Feuilly directs him where to leave it, in a corner of his shop where it won't get under foot as he goes about the rest of his work.
"Tell Enjolras I can have it ready for him in a week. Perhaps a little longer, depending on Courfeyrac's workload."
"I will. Thank you." Grantaire nearly takes his leave at that, but as he turns his attention is caught by the sight of the workshop, wood everywhere, beams and boards and broad, fat chunks of logs, half a dozen different pieces in varying states of completion, from the raw material on one side of the shop to what looks like it's meant to be cabinetry, to a sturdy-looking chair with simple turning on the legs, just waiting for a coat of wax.
"Feuilly," he says, a little sharper than he intends, but his gaze is riveted by the work before him. "Could you teach me some of what you do?"
Feuilly glances up from taking measurements of the broken arm of the plow, his brows lifted with surprise. His mouth pulls into a crooked smile. "You looking to put me out of business? Start fixing broken plows your own self?"
"No, nothing like that. I just--" Grantaire shoves a hand in his pocket and pulls out his penknife and his latest bit of whittling, a block of wood that he's slowly shaping into a prairie rose. "Combeferre said I should make useful things, that people would buy them if I did. But this is all I know how to do. If you would teach me just a little bit, just a few tricks--if it's not too much trouble--"
Feuilly's expression breaks into a proper smile. "That's lovely." It isn't, it's half-finished and still rough, but Grantaire smiles his thanks at Feuilly for saying so, all the same. "You should show that to Jehan, if you haven't already. The hell with useful, he'd buy it from you in a minute just for the prettiness of the thing."
"You think so?" Grantaire frowns down at it.
"I'll tell you what." Feuilly sets down his tools and comes over to stand nearer Grantaire, leaning back against a work bench. "You show that to Jehan, see what he thinks, and in exchange I'll teach you a couple tricks you might find useful. Deal?"
Grantaire nods, smiling, and reaches a hand out to shake on it. "Deal."
A week later, word passes around town that Éponine found the remains of a campsite out in the hills while she was riding out to chase down a calf who escaped from a broken section of fence. A day after that, what seems like the whole town of Amity squeezes into Joly's. Ostensibly, Enjolras is there so Joly can take a look at his shoulder and reassure himself and Grantaire that it's healing clean, and Bossuet is there so Joly can test out his ankle and decide whether he's cleared to put his weight on it yet. The rest of the others have no excuse, but they're there all the same, and there's much more angry conversation going on than there is medicine.
Grantaire sits at Enjolras's side, keeping him on the bed with one hand on his thigh and the other on his arm while Joly eases off the bandages. Enjolras isn't even paying attention to the doctor, and Grantaire's fairly sure that the fact that he hasn't shaken Grantaire's hand off its place on his thigh and given him a tongue lashing over taking liberties is fair compelling evidence that he's paying little attention to Grantaire, either.
"Who else would camp on the outskirts of town and not ride in to find a place to sleep for the night?" he demands, bristling. "It must be Patron-Minette. Éponine, did you see any signs of horses about the camp site?"
"There were hoof-prints all over the ground around it," she says, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. "Too many to count their number. And a cluster near a tree where they must have tied them up at night."
Enjolras makes a thoughtful noise, his eyes narrowing, his gaze going distant. "Do you have any idea how old the site was?"
"How would I know that?" She huffs out an irritated breath. "A few days, maybe, from the state of the fire pit. Any longer than that and the winds would have started to cover it over with dirt."
Enjolras brings a hand up to scrub over his face, earning himself a sharp reprimand from Joly. "They're near, then. Casing out the town before they make their next move?"
"It does seem likely." Combeferre speaks up, quiet, from where he's been leaning against a wall looking troubled and contemplative. "We know these men. We know they're not the sort to get off one shot and call themselves satisfied. If it's cash they want, or gold, they won't be satisfied until they've got it."
"Are we sure it's them, though?" That's Cosette, standing with her arms folded and a scowl that's fierce enough it makes a strange contrast with her fine, fancy dress. "They said there were other bandits in the area. They said they'd gather them all up and ride on the town with them if they didn't get what they wanted."
Fantine clears her throat and is very careful not to look at Cosette as she speaks. "I think they'll try a time or two more, first, before they decide it's worth splitting their take with others." She shuffles around like she's nervous, though she doesn't have the look of the timid about her. She only relaxes when Courfeyrac and Bahorel, a cattle hand on her ranch, stand between her and the girl. But even still, Fantine won't look at her. Grantaire frowns watching them, trying to figure out what it is that's between them, if Fantine feels guilty for not getting Cosette to safety quick enough when Patron-Minette rode down on them or if it's something else entirely. "The fact of the matter is, we can't know unless we send someone out to do reconnaissance."
Bahorel perks up and looks like he's about to volunteer his services, but Fantine lays a hand on his arm and quiets him before he's spoken. "And that would be foolhardy at best. If we send out one or two and they find Patron-Minette, they'll be outnumbered and we'll be lucky if they come home alive. If we send enough out that they can match them, they'll be that much easier for Patron-Minette to spot, and maybe ambush. And even if they're not, that leaves Amity without enough here to protect her, should they make a move before the scouts return."
She pauses and looks around the small, crowded room, meeting the eye of every person in there, waiting for any dissenting opinion. Only Cosette doesn't get eye contact. Grantaire frowns a little, but no one else seems to have noticed. Fantine continues once everyone has had an opportunity to disagree, and everyone has passed it by. "The only sensible option is to assume that it's Patron-Minette alone and carry on as though we know it for certain. If they've gathered reinforcements already then we're doomed either way."
"You're right," Enjolras says quietly, the first to confirm it, though near everyone else in the exam room is nodding their agreement. "We'll plan for just the four, then. We'll have to be careful about it, we can't seem as though we know or we'll tip our hand. But we'll make sure there's always a few of us on watch, keeping an eye out on the hills and the road into town. We'll make a code, a whistle, so we can warn the whole town faster than a single man can ride."
His mouth goes hard, his eyes like flint, throwing sparks. "And we'll protect our town. This is our home, and we won't let them take that from us. They think we can be scared off easy because we live in some small, dusty town with no sheriff to stand at our backs." Enjolras smiles, but it's as cold and sharp as a knife's edge. "We'll show them how they've underestimated us. We'll show them how fiercely we'll fight in defense of our homes and our friends and the people we love."
Grantaire has to look away, staring down at the knees of his trousers where they've gathered dust. Because Enjolras is glorious like this, his face shining with conviction. He looks like he did when Grantaire first saw him coming off the stagecoach, so golden and bright it takes Grantaire's breath away. He wants to kiss him, the desire so strong it makes his hands shake, and so he drops his gaze and breathes, and carefully pulls his hands back and tucks them into his lap to avoid the temptation of Enjolras's warm skin beneath his palms.
He doesn't take part in the planning -- he doesn't know the town or its people well enough, and everyone seems to agree that he and Cosette both would be poor choices for lookouts, considering Patron-Minette's interest in them both. Grantaire settles for staying where he is, at Enjolras's side, and even if it's unwise to touch him now he thinks having him there is grounding. Enjolras seems less inclined to jump off of the bed and run off to do something foolish, in any case, which is as much of a victory as Grantaire can ask for.
The group breaks up eventually, with Joly's declaration that Enjolras's shoulder is healing nicely and Bossuet may start to put weight on his foot.
"Carefully, mind you," Joly adds with a warning scowl. "You push it too hard too fast, you'll set yourself back to the beginning, or do damage even I can't repair. You'll take it easy, and you'll work up to putting your full weight on it, and if it starts hurting you'll go back to the crutches immediately, you hear?"
Bossuet shows his understanding with a salute and the group breaks up shortly after that. Enjolras is quiet on the ride home, and Grantaire rides beside him, similarly pensive.
"I'm sorry," Enjolras says at length, and that startles Grantaire's gaze up to him. "This isn't what you signed up for when you packed your life up and boarded a train out here to live a frontier life. I'd have warned you up front about the bandits, if I'd known they were going to be a problem."
Grantaire takes a moment before he responds. "I'm fair sure there was something in those vows we made about better or worse." He clears his throat and turns his eyes back to the road ahead because the surprise on Enjolras's face is more than he can bear. "I didn't come out here expecting a life of ease. I'm not that naive. I know it doesn't usually work out that way."
"It should, though," Enjolras says quietly, fiercely. He's scowling out at the road before them as though it's the source of all their trouble. "We should be able to live in peace, without the threat of bandits and outlaws hanging over our head. We should be able to have things, without fearing they'll be taken."
Grantaire's laughter is breathless, and a little shocked. "That's a fool's fantasy, though. There will always be those who'd rather turn to crime to make their living, because it's easier than hard work. You can chase Patron-Minette out of town, but someone else will just come to fill the space they've left. Even back East in the city it was like that. You don't get rid of the bastards who surround you, because you never know what bigger bastard might take their place. You just learn to get by."
Enjolras is silent for a long, long moment. "That's a terrible way to live," he says at last.
"Worse would be to live in false hope, believing things will change but they never do."
"I'm glad you're here," Enjolras says quietly. He doesn't look away from the road, but he doesn't have to. "I'm glad to have the chance to show you a different way."
Grantaire shakes his head. He could point out the truth, that all he's shown Grantaire since his arrival is proof that he's right after all. He could tell Enjolras that the greatest change he hopes for is in the distance between the two of them, and if he wants to show Grantaire a different way he'd love to be proven wrong in that.
He doesn't say any of it, he just sighs and lets the silence ride along with them as they make their way home.
Fantine looks surprised when she sees Grantaire riding up to her ranch house, the sun still hugging close to the horizon like it yearns to be back in bed. "Grantaire." She swings down off her horse and walks it the rest of the way to meet him. "What can I do for you?"
"I brought bread, and butter, and honey," he says, pulling the still-warm loaf from his saddle bag and folding back the corner of the towel he wrapped it in to show her.
Her smile makes her face warm, and less severe than he's used to seeing on her. "Come on in, then. We were just about to sit down to breakfast, it will make a fine addition."
Grantaire follows her into the house, where Éponine and Bahorel and the other ranch hands are all sitting around the broad kitchen table, passing around pots of beans and eggs and a pitcher of coffee. His addition to the meal is greeted with a cheer, and an even louder one when he reveals the honey and the butter that he brought along with it.
"Sit, join us," Fantine says, waving a hand at the others to squeeze together to make room for him along the bench seat.
Grantaire balks. "I didn't come here to eat your food, I just want--"
"Eat," she insists, and the imperious look she gives him tolerates nothing but obedience. "The rest of us are, so whatever it is that's brought you here, you'll have to wait until we've finished anyway. You may as well feed yourself while we do."
Grantaire sits reluctantly, perched uncomfortably at the edge of the bench. He takes a small scoop of beans and a single egg, waves off his own bread when it's offered to him, and eats slowly so no one will see an empty plate before him and take it upon themselves to refill it. He praises the food, and even means it, and lets the conversation of the others drift around him without impediment until everyone's cleared their plates and had their seconds and sat back with satisfied expressions.
"All right, you layabouts." Fantine swats at the nearest ranch hand with a towel, but she's smiling as she does so, fond. "Go on, those cattle won't feed themselves. Éponine, you know what needs to be done, you can keep everyone on target. I'll join you in just a few moments."
"Yes, ma'am," Éponine says with a dip of her head, and then turns to the others and takes command, ushering them out of the kitchen and onto their horses.
Grantaire watches them go, then turns to Fantine, who's watching him. "Now, then." She settles back into her chair, fingers laced together across her stomach, and watches him with a sharp gaze that misses nothing. "What is it you want of me?"
"I don't," Grantaire starts, and that's stupid because he does, but he wasn't expecting to be included with the rest of the household the way he was, and he wasn't expecting to have Fantine watching him like a hawk as he explained what he wanted.
Fantine waves that away, like the lie is no more than a gnat, easily disposed of. "Of course you do. You've been in Amity weeks, now. If you were the sort to be neighborly and bring bread over just for the sake of sharing, you'd have done so before now."
Grantaire is stricken by a sudden weight of guilt. "I'm sorry," he says. "I should have."
Fantine waves that away, too. "Time and money are both short when you work a farm, same as when you work a ranch. You don't need to apologize, we all have to take care of our own first and foremost. But that leads me to wonder." She tips her head to indicate the remains of the loaf of bread, a few thick slices still lying upon the kitchen table. "Why now?"
Grantaire looks down at the table, at his fingers where they curve around the table's edge. He's getting stronger and more capable around the farm every day, but he still feels his lack. "I wanted to ask you if you'd teach me to shoot a gun," he says quietly.
Fantine is quiet for a long moment. "This is about Patron-Minette, isn't it?"
Grantaire lets his breath out all on a rush. "I can't protect Enjolras, or myself, or our home. Enjolras got shot and I was useless." His fingers curl against the tabletop, his hands forming into fists. "I don't want to be useless. I want to be able to help."
The silence stretches between them again. Grantaire risks a glance up and finds Fantine contemplating him, a thoughtful look on her face. She doesn't look scornful or mocking or like she's going to refuse, at least, and that's a rush of relief all on its own. He had considered the possibility that she might laugh him right off her land as soon as he voiced the request.
"I can teach you, if you like," she says at last, rising from her chair. "But I think you might want Éponine instead. She's our resident crack shot. There's no one who can teach you better than she can."
Grantaire's heart leaps in his chest, but he holds himself back, hesitates. "Isn't she needed around the ranch?"
Fantine shrugs, easy, dismissive. "No less than I am. What you're asking's an inconvenience for us, of course. You know that, that's why you brought the bread." She grins. "But it was very good bread, so we can work around the inconvenience of it." She jerks her head toward the ranch house's front door. "Go mount up, she's bound to be out in the hills by now, you'll have to ride with me to go find her."
Grantaire nods and hurries to obey. He's so grateful not to have been refused entirely that he doesn't stop her to protest that he still needs a boost to help him get up into the saddle. While she heads off to get her own horse from the barn, Grantaire struggles to stand in the stirrup without Enjolras there gripping his waist, helping to take some of his weight.
It's not quick and it's not graceful, the muscles in his leg burn fiercely and he suspects he looks rather like a fish flopping about on dry land, but he gets himself up onto the mare's back and into the saddle all by himself, and then sits there, puffing with exertion and grinning from ear to ear, before he kicks his heels to her sides and directs her over to the barn to wait for Fantine to ride out and show him the way.
By the time Éponine has grudgingly declared his marksmanship good enough for a first lesson, and sent him home with a revolver of her own and a box of bullets with which to practice, and a promise to return in a week's time for the next lesson and, Grantaire is sure, an assessment of whether he's been practicing well enough, Grantaire stinks of sweat and horse, gunsmoke and saltpeter. He's weary and his hands hurt from the shock of the gun lurching in his grip with every bullet fired, and his hair is plastered to his head with sweat, and not even home and the sweet promise of his bed is temptation enough. If he crawled beneath the blankets now, he'd just leave them soaked and stinking of sweat.
As he and the mare come over the crest of the last hill, then, Grantaire steers her away from the house, ignoring the way she swings her head toward it, clearly expectant. "Not just yet," he says, and pats her neck as she plods with obvious reluctance down the smaller side path, so narrow Grantaire has to hold a hand up before himself to guard against any branches positioned at just the right height to catch him in the face.
The trees give way abruptly to the soft soil and then gritty sand of the stream's bank. Closer down to the water, sand turns to boulders, large enough to clamber over, and water churns happily over the stones before it drops down into the same small pool Grantaire washed in the first time, still new and awkward and searching for a way to make this unfamiliar place into a home.
Grantaire ties the mare to a tree, secure enough she won't wander off in a fit of boredom, then strips his own clothes off, all the way down to skin. He leaves them hanging over another branch, up off the dirt and out of the reach of insects, where they won't easily be blown away.
The stream's water feels like ice in comparison to the heat of the day. Grantaire bites back a shout and eases in deeper, edges his way toward the pool, where the rocky bottom drops off abruptly. He stands at the edge of it, toes slipping on precarious stones, fills his lungs with air, and plunges in.
He comes up swearing, low and violent, and treads water until he starts to acclimate to it, until it no longer feels like he's going to turn to an icicle right there in the pool. He didn't think to bring soap with him when he left for Fantine's, but he does what he can, pushing fingers through his hair beneath the water to work out the worst of the dirt, scrubbing his skin pink with handfuls of coarse sand from the stream's bottom.
He's nearly done, and feeling remarkably more human, when the sound of footsteps crunching through the underbrush sends his pulse racing. He drops down deeper into the pool, floating with just his head above the water, and scans the bank for a good-sized stone or a broken branch he might use for a weapon should the intruder turn out to be a wild animal, or something even worse.
The sounds come nearer and Grantaire relaxes a fraction, because he's pretty sure if it were Patron-Minette sneaking up upon him for something nefarious, they'd be a little less obvious about it. But that still leaves any number of wild animals who might take exception to finding they've got unexpected company at their watering hole, and—
The branches above the little path part and Enjolras steps out of the trees, carrying a basket with their laundry and frowning at something somewhere between his feet and the water, so he doesn't even notice Grantaire at first, not until Grantaire sinks lower in the water and swears harder, and then Enjolras freezes as he's picking his way down the bank, every muscle gone stiff. His gaze flies up and scans the water until he finds Grantaire, and when he does, he releases a sharp breath but he doesn't relax. If anything, the tension in his shoulders pulls even tighter.
"What are you doing here?" he demands, his voice rough and a little harsh with surprise.
"I should think it's obvious." Grantaire treads water and contemplates whether he ought to make his way to the bank and climb out, now that he knows he's not about to be attacked, or if it would be more prudent to just stay there in the pool until Enjolras has gone. "I'm bathing."
Enjolras is still standing frozen at the stream's edge, the laundry basket in his arms and his gaze fixed on Grantaire. "I didn't realize you would be here."
That much is obvious, and Grantaire only barely manages to resist the urge to roll his eyes. "I was on my way back from Fantine's and I figured I may as well stop by. I didn't realize I needed to go home and get your permission first."
That gets Enjolras to move, at least, huffing out a sharp, irritated breath and coming forward to drop the basket down on the dry rocks at the stream's edge. "Of course you don't need permission, I only meant-- Never mind. I'll let you finish your bath in peace."
"Actually," Grantaire says quickly, before he can retreat. "Did you bring the soap with you?" That earns him a flat, don't-be-stupid look that Grantaire supposes he deserves. "Can I use it? I didn't think to bring any along when I left this morning, and I imagine you'll thank me tonight if I don't smell like wet horse in bed."
Enjolras digs the soap out of the basket and tosses it to Grantaire. He has to rise up a bit out of the water to catch it, and Enjolras abruptly spins on his heel and moves off a ways from the bank. "I'll leave you to it." His voice is strained, his shoulders tight again.
"Wait," Grantaire calls after him, and he freezes. "It won't take a minute. If you stay, I'll help you with the washing when I'm out."
Enjolras sighs and doesn't leave, but he doesn't turn around, either.
Grantaire starts by ducking under the water to get his hair wet again and scrubs the soap through it, working up a lather before he ducks under again to rinse it out, letting the stream's gentle current carry the suds away in long, winding ribbons. When he can scratch a hand through his wet hair without feeling like it comes away gritty or grimy, he swims in closer to the bank, where he can get his feet beneath him in the waist-deep water and quickly wash his chest and arms.
Enjolras clears his throat behind him as Grantaire crouches down to scoop up water and rinse off. Grantaire turns to find that Enjolras has made his way over to one of the nearby boulders. He's sitting on it, facing the stream.
He's not looking away.
Grantaire raises a brow, waiting. Enjolras clears his throat again. "You can't reach your back like that. If you come to bed smelling like wet horse because you didn't do a thorough job—"
Grantaire tosses the soap to him, interrupting him. He catches it then looks startled at himself, or maybe at Grantaire. "Help me, then."
Oh, he's playing with fire and he knows it. His pulse speeds as Enjolras looks down at the lump of soap, then up at Grantaire again. He pulls his shoulders back and pretends he's unaffected by the thought of Enjolras joining him in the water, of Enjolras standing close and running soap-slick hands over his skin.
It's a fool's game because he knows better than to expect that Enjolras will abandon his rules about intimacy just because of this, but Enjolras looks just a little bit tormented by the sight of Grantaire before him, the same way that Grantaire has been tormented every night since their first together, wanting something and knowing he can't have it, and Grantaire is pleased enough by that to let the game play out.
Enjolras is still for a long, long moment. Long enough that Grantaire starts to suspect he pushed too hard, and Enjolras will just throw the soap back to him, snap something about figuring it out his own self, and storm off back to the house.
Enjolras says nothing. When a moment has passed and Grantaire's fairly sure his heart's going to pound its way right out of his chest, and he doesn't dare move for fear of spooking Enjolras like a wild creature, Enjolras finally clears his throat and tightens his fingers around the lump of soap.
"Turn around, then." His words are brisk, his brows drawn down into a pre-emptive frown, just in case Grantaire says something worth Enjolras's disapproval. "I can't very well reach your back like this, can I?"
Grantaire is tempted to say something unwise, but he swallows it down and settles for simply turning his back. His hair's longer when it's wet, all the curl pulled out of it, and he draws the strands of it over his shoulder so it's not in Enjolras's way.
He can't help but twist to look behind himself at the sounds of splashing. Enjolras has his trousers rolled up to the calf and is wading out barefoot into the water, and for just a second Grantaire wants to laugh. There's no point to rolling up his cuffs unless Enjolras intends Grantaire to abandon the meager cover that the water provides, and allow himself to be exposed. If Enjolras comes to him, he'll be wet up to the waist no matter how high he rolls his trousers.
Enjolras clears his throat, and a moment later there's the touch of something wet and slippery on Grantaire's shoulder -- the remains of the soap, smoothing along Grantaire's skin like there's nothing untoward about this at all. Grantaire curls his hands into fists beside himself and struggles to hold still beneath Enjolras's ministrations.
Enjolras works the soap across the whole of Grantaire's back, and by the time he's finished working up a lather, it's all Grantaire can do not to squirm beneath his touch. This was a terrible idea, this was such a horrible idea, he'd thought he'd be teasing Enjolras but he'd failed to account for his own temptation. And then, when Enjolras is satisfied with the lather spread across Grantaire's back, he throws the soap up onto the bank where the current won't take it and he spreads his hands across Grantaire's back and he starts to rub it in. Grantaire's mouth falls open and he counts himself lucky that he has no air left in his lungs, because if he did he would be making the most embarrassing noises.
When Enjolras finally drops his hands away and says, "There, that ought to do it," Grantaire is shaking, a fine trembling taking over him as he turns and stares at Enjolras, a mess of raw nerves and need beneath the touch of his hands.
"Enjolras," he breathes, and Enjolras's gaze is hooded, he wants him, but when Grantaire reaches a hand out to spread over Enjolras's shoulder, he doesn't react to the touch.
Grantaire shuts his eyes. Enjolras hasn't said a word, and Grantaire already feels the sinking emptiness of defeat. "Please."
Enjolras's shoulder shifts beneath his hand, giving him warning, but he still startles when Enjolras brings a hand up to press gentle fingers beneath his jaw. "I can't," he says, barely a whisper, almost lost beneath the sounds of the stream.
Grantaire's fingers curl on his shoulder, as though he can keep him there if he only holds on tight enough. "We're wed." He bends forward, leaning his forehead against Enjolras's chest. Enjolras's hand slips around to the back of his neck, holding him. "Why can't you want the person you're wed to? Where's the harm?"
Enjolras shifts, leaning down, guiding Grantaire up. Grantaire's breath catches in his throat the moment before Enjolras's mouth slides against his. For a single moment he's frozen still, shocked, and then he wraps his arms around Enjolras's neck and leans into it.
Enjolras cradles his face in his hands and kisses him gently, and it's only a moment before he draws back. When they part, it feels like an apology.
"I can't," Enjolras breathes into the space between them. His fingers are gentle on the edge of Grantaire's jaw, their brows pressed together. Grantaire slides his fingers through Enjolras's hair, and the dampness from the stream makes the strands catch and tangle around them. "I can't need you."
"You married me." Grantaire closes his fingers on Enjolras's hair, grabbing handfuls of it. "You sent away for me because you need me. To work your land, to help you with the farm--"
"Yes." Enjolras's voice cuts him off quickly. "For that. Not for anything else."
Grantaire pulls away. Enjolras looks like he's lost something when Grantaire steps back far enough that his hands fall away, and that's so stupid when he's the one who's refusing it in the first place. "You got all wet," he says, brusque, as he drops down into the water to rinse the soap off his back. "You'd better get out, or you'll never dry off."
Enjolras hesitates a moment, looking torn. He looks like he wants to say something, but Grantaire turns his back and ducks under, letting the cool water chase away the heat of desire.
When he comes up, Enjolras is on the bank again, his trousers dripping puddles around his feet. Grantaire climbs out of the stream and pretends to ignore his nakedness. Enjolras's eyes go a little wider and his lips part on a swift breath before he turns his back, busying himself by pulling clothes out of the laundry basket.
Grantaire dresses, grimacing at the way the fabric sticks to his wet skin. When he's clothed, he moves over to where Enjolras has been studiously ignoring him and crouches to help him pull the laundry out of the basket.
"You don't have to," Enjolras says quickly, reaching out to still his hands.
"I said I would."
"But you don't have to. If you'd like to go back to the house--"
Grantaire lifts his gaze to Enjolras's, and he's not sure what it is Enjolras sees there, but it silences him abruptly. "I made a promise." He says it quietly, but it still makes Enjolras flinch. "If you don't want me here, then say so and I'll go. But otherwise, I made a promise and I intend to keep it."
Enjolras's brows crease. He pulls his hands away from Grantaire as though he's hot enough to burn. "I was only trying to be kind," he says, sharp in that way he has when Grantaire has out-debated him but he doesn't want to admit it. "You'll just work up another sweat, after all that trouble washing off."
Grantaire gives that protest the consideration it deserves, which is none at all. He just grabs another handful of clothing out of the laundry basket, scoops up the soap from where it's lying in a crevice between two rocks, and hauls what he can back down to the water to scrub.
The edges of his sleeves get wet within five minutes, and though Grantaire pushes them up to get them out of the way, they keep sliding down until he finally loses patience, sits back with a frustrated growl, and rolls his sleeves up to his elbows.
When he glances over to the laundry basket to grab the next shirt that needs scrubbing, he notices from the corners of his gaze that Enjolras is preternaturally still, his hands closed on a pair of trousers from the basket but not actually doing anything with them. Grantaire frowns at him until Enjolras jerks his gaze up to his, flushes, and throws himself back into the work.
Grantaire considers it as he scrubs the shirt against the washing board. Enjolras hadn't been staring at Grantaire's face when Grantaire had caught him -- he'd had to jerk his gaze up in order to meet his eyes. Up from...
Grantaire turns his face into his shoulder to muffle his quiet laughter. Up from his arms. Enjolras had been staring at his arms, as distracted as if Grantaire had paraded himself in front of him in the nude. He goes back to his washing, grinning hard.
He leaves his sleeves rolled up right where they are. It's no less than Enjolras deserves.
The next time he's in town, Grantaire stops by the schoolhouse. He has good timing -- the children are just pouring out of the door as he arrives, hollering their joy at their newfound freedom. He slips through them and finds his way inside, where Jehan is gathering up the class's slates and beginning the tedious job of wiping them clean.
"Am I interrupting?" he asks quietly, hesitating at the doorway.
Jehan's gaze flies up to his, startled, but a moment later he's smiling and setting the pile of slates down at his desk. "Not at all. To what do I owe this pleasure?"
Jehan barely even knows him. Grantaire smiles and shakes his head at the idea of him taking pleasure in a stranger's company. "I have something for you." He pulls the prairie rose carving out of his pocket and holds it out. It's finished now, all its rough spots shaved or smoothed away. Jehan comes forward to take it and makes a soft sound as he looks down at it, lying in his palm like a real flower suddenly petrified.
"It's lovely," Jehan says, his voice hushed and awed as though Grantaire has given him a treasure beyond imagining, rather than just a simple carving. "Why would you give this to me?"
"Someone made me promise." Grantaire boosts himself up to sit on one of the desks, swinging his legs. "But if you'd care to barter, I'm sure we can think of a fair trade."
Jehan watches him cannily for a moment before he closes his fingers around the flower and lets his hand drop to his side, claiming possession of it. "You have something in mind?"
"Do you have a spare composition book?"
Jehan's brows fly high at that. "You want to trade something this lovely for a notebook?"
Grantaire smiles at him for the praise, then shrugs a shoulder. "It's no use to me now that it's finished. But Feuilly said you might like it. He said you like pretty things."
Jehan grins, dopey and pleased. "Feuilly was right. And if you want a notebook, it's yours, but don't call it barter because that's drastically undervaluing your work. Call it returning a kindness."
"All right. Thank you, then." Grantaire accepts the thin, bound notebook when Jehan digs it out of a pile and hands it to him. He stays and makes conversation for a few minutes more, helping Jehan as he gathers up work to take back home, and then excuses himself.
Afterwards, he walks through town until he finds himself at Combeferre's store. He slips inside and gives a wave when Combeferre turns from helping a customer to acknowledge Grantaire with a smile, then browses the shelves of dry goods until his customer has left satisfied.
Combeferre gives him a warm smile as he approaches the front register. "Anything I can help you with?"
"Not today." Grantaire lays the notebook down on the counter between them, and Combeferre reaches for it automatically before he hesitates, and frowns. "That isn't one of mine. We don't sell those here."
"No, it's not to buy." Grantaire nudges it across the counter, closer to Comheferre. "It's a gift. For you."
"What--" Combeferre picks it up, baffled. "But why--"
"For your help, when I first came here. I gave you my carving and you pointed out that it was purely decorative, no useful function at all, and you were right. And how is giving you something useless an adequate display of my gratitude? So this is for you, as proper thanks." He nudges it again. It's going to fall off the far side of the counter if Combeferre doesn't master his surprise and take it. "Please accept it."
"R." Combeferre stares at him helplessly. "This isn't necessary. A thing can be appreciated for its decorative value, even out here. It was a lovely gift, and I value it. I don't need more."
"Nevertheless. I'd like you to have this."
He sighs and picks up the notebook, stares at it for a moment like he doesn't know what to make of it, and then gives Grantaire a pleased, if baffled, smile. "Thank you. In a profession like mine, you can never have too many ledgers. I'll be sure to make good use of it."
"Good. I'd hoped you would." Grantaire nods, satisfied, then tips his head over toward the shelf of dry goods. "And I'll take a sack of flour, for occupying your time."
"R. That really isn't--"
"I know. But I'm doing it anyway. Will you please stop arguing and let me?"
Combeferre snaps his mouth shut and goes about ringing Grantaire up in silence, but his smile is broad enough to split his face into two, and that's worth everything.
The weather turns hot over the next few days, the sun burning in the sky until the air outside feels like an oven. Grantaire rides the mare upstream, letting her take shelter in the shade of the trees that line the banks, and walking her through the shallows so she can at least get some relief from the water splashing around her fetlocks. Every so often, her steps kick up a spray that reaches high enough for Grantaire to catch some of it, and it feels like a gift from heaven.
A few miles upstream, when he's just starting to think of turning around, the sound of singing drifting over the water catches his attention. It's not a tune he knows, and he can't quite catch the words, but the voice is rich and lovely, and it draws Grantaire further upstream like a siren's song.
He is aware, distantly, of the fact that Éponine found evidence of Patron-Minette lurking outside of town, and that this could be those same bandits moved to a new campsite. He should ride back home and gather some others to come with him, because Éponine may be teaching him to shoot but he still can't hope to take on four bandits to his one gun. Éponine could, perhaps, Fantine wasn't kidding when she called her a crack shot. But not Grantaire.
Still, he rides on, holding his breath and knowing it's stupid, because what if he rides back home and gathers people and comes back and they've packed up and left? They shot Enjolras, and Grantaire is not inclined to allow them to slip away unnoticed and unscathed.
The stream curves up ahead, disappearing behind the trees that crowd its banks. Grantaire holds the mare's reins in a death grip and doesn't dare breathe as they come around the bend and the music gets louder. Closer.
All the air he's been holding explodes from his lungs when he comes around the curve and finds Bossuet, not a bandit, lying out on the bank with a lunch spread open around him. Grantaire sways, a little light-headed with relief and disappointment, and dismounts to splash the rest of the way to Bossuet's makeshift campsite on foot.
Bossuet beams and hails him, waving as Grantaire gets nearer. "What brings you up this way?"
"I didn't mean to interrupt, I didn't expect to find anyone else up here. I was just trying to give the both of us a chance to escape the heat." He leads the mare up out of the water, into the shade of a broad oak where he can tie her up.
"Not at all. I'm not one to turn down a bit of company." Bossuet shifts against the boulder he's propped himself up against, sitting up straighter, and Grantaire notices the way he's got his leg extended out in front of him, kept straight and stiff while the other one is bent to a more comfortable angle.
"How's the foot?" Grantaire asks as he settles down beside Bossuet, shifting around until he's found a comfortable seat on the rocky shore.
Bossuet gives a grunt that could mean anything, waving a hand at his foot with a grimace as though that explains it all. "It's a damned pain in my ass, is what it is. It's hard to make a living as a gold panner when the doc's forbidden you from getting your bandages wet."
Grantaire looks at his foot again, alarmed. "Is it that serious? I thought it was maybe just a sprain."
"I think it is, most likely, he just likes to play things carefully. Though that may not be the best of luck, Joly says sprains can be harder to heal than breaks are, where's the sense in that?"
Grantaire makes sympathetic noises and eyes the stream and Bossuet's foot as he unpacks the lunch he'd brought and lays it out next to Bossuet's spread, for them to share. "Could I help?" he asks when they've made their way through half of the meal together. "I could do the wet parts, if you told me how."
Bossuet's grin is broad and friendly, like the whole world is some great joke he can't wait to share with others. "Are you tired of farm life already? Thinking of ditching the fields for a life of panning and uncertainty?"
Grantaire smiles back at him and shakes his head. "I'm not tired. I'm just offering to help."
"Well. In that case, pull up a pan and I'll teach you everything you need to know about panning for gold."
Some time later, when the sun is starting to dip down toward the trees and the promise of the relief of cooler temperatures is at hand, Grantaire drops down next to Bossuet again, wet and sweaty and tired but with a small collection of gold flakes and nuggets in the bottom of his pan as the fruits of his labors. "This is a hell of a way to make a living."
Bossuet's grin is lopsided and wry. "You don't say. Here, let me see that." He reaches out for the pan and gives a low whistle when he sees what Grantaire has collected there. "Not bad for an afternoon. You've better luck than I do, kid." He digs through his pack until he comes up with a little glass jar with a cork stopper, carefully taps the gold into and stops it up before holding it out to Grantaire.
Grantaire hesitates, pulling his hands back from the bottle as though if he touches it, he might never be able to be rid of it. "No." His voice comes out hoarse, startled. "No, I was trying to help. I was doing it for you, that's yours."
Bossuet laughs a little and only gets more insistent about trying to push the bottle into Grantaire's hands. "I can't take your first gold from you, that's bad luck, and I've more of that than I can bear at the moment. Go on, take it. You found it, you earned it. If you want to come back some other day and do my job for me, I won't say otherwise, but not today."
Grantaire sighs and accepts the vial since it seems he has little choice in the matter. He holds it up to the sun, squinting, and shakes it, rattling the gold flakes against the glass sides. "What am I supposed to do with a few nuggets of gold?" he wonders, mostly to himself.
"Mr. Valjean will exchange them for cash for you," Bossuet says. "I brought him some before my foot laid me up and he gives a fair value, you could do worse than going to him." His grin flashes, and his eyes glint. "And if what you get off of that isn't enough to satisfy you, you can always invest what he gives you and pan for more."
Grantaire tucks the vial into a pocket, where it'll be safe. He's not sure how much those few flakes are worth, but he's pretty sure that the contents of that one little bottle are worth more than anything he's been able to call his own in a very long while. "Are you trying to seduce me away from my husband to live the carefree life of a gold panner?" He grins and rocks his shoulder against Bossuet's, so he'll know he's teasing. He's getting to know the people of Amity better as the days and weeks go on, but he's not sure Bossuet knows him well enough to tell when he's joking and when he means it.
"Tempted?" Bossuet asks, waggling his brows and making a show of his injured foot, and Grantaire relaxes at being teased back.
He thinks about Enjolras and the tension between them lately, about that day in the stream and Enjolras's broken insistence that he can't need Grantaire, when Grantaire accepted his offer of a home and a family on the understanding that they would both need each other. He thinks about the hard work of the farm, rising with the sun and not stopping until the dark of night has chased them inside, and how he came upon Bossuet here lounging about beside the stream as though he hadn't a care in the world.
"Perhaps a little," he says, and grimaces because it came out a bit too sincere.
Bossuet lifts a brow at him and Grantaire knows that he noticed, but he doesn't comment upon it, just grins and leans back against his sun-warmed rock once more, looking somehow as though he hasn't a care in the world despite his injured foot propped out before him. "Well, you ever feel like coming up here and sharing your lunch again, you know where to find me. Bring some cheese next time and I'll teach you how to find the best places for panning, increase your odds a little bit."
"I might," Grantaire says with a smile, grateful beyond words to Bossuet for not bringing up what Grantaire so desperately doesn't want to talk about. "Thank you for the company. I should probably be getting back, though, there's work to do still before dark comes."
"There always is." Bossuet waves him off, and his singing rises up as Grantaire clambers gracelessly up into the mare's saddle and leads her back downstream, following them for more than a quarter mile before the sounds of the stream drown out the tune.
Grantaire spends most of the ride back home lost in thought, letting the mare guide them both. The little vial of gold sits in his pocket, the slightest pressure against his hip, but somehow it's impossible to ignore, and it wiggles into his mind and lodges there like a seed, sprouting into the first delicate tendrils of an idea.
It takes care, and thought, and time. Grantaire takes to volunteering to do the laundry on his own so Enjolras can see to some of the chores about the farm, and at first Enjolras refuses and insists upon helping.
The first time he does so, Grantaire doesn't argue, he just helps Enjolras carry the laundry down to the stream, rolls his sleeves up to his elbows, and pretends he doesn't notice the way Enjolras stares when he thinks Grantaire isn't looking, or the way he fumbles with their soap and nearly lets it get swept downstream, or how he goes tense and still every time Grantaire reaches to take a shirt or a pair of trousers or the lump of soap from him, as though he's terrified of being touched but unwilling to move to avoid it.
After that, the next time Grantaire offers to do the laundry on his own, Enjolras opens his mouth as though to protest, then stops and gets a little frown between his brows before he snaps his mouth shut and says, "Well, if you insist. I've been needing to see about replacing some rotten boards in the barn anyway."
Grantaire smiles to himself, where he's sure Enjolras can't see, and tucks the pan he bought from Combeferre with his first few flakes of gold into the laundry before he hauls it all down to the stream.
He drops the whole basket into the deeper part of the stream, where the water can flow through the clothing and begin to loosen up the dirt, and spends the first hour while it soaks panning on the stream's bank. He comes up with a few flakes and one tiny nugget, not nearly enough to make a living on, but that's not his purpose. He tucks them into the vial Bossuet gave him, tucks that safely into his pocket, and finishes the washing before he hauls it all back up to the farm to hang on the line to dry.
It takes a little work to find a place to hide the pan and the growing vial of gold, and some days Grantaire has to forego his panning time because Enjolras is doing work about the house and there's no way to retrieve the pan without his notice, but over the course of several weeks he manages to find and collect enough to make a respectable little collection. It's enough, at least, to begin to turn his idea into a plan.
His first attempt at useful carving is a hair comb, with lavender decorating the edge because he grew bored of whittling such a plain shape and needed something to alleviate the tedium. He trades it to Cosette for a recipe, something indulgent and rich from before she and her father came to Amity. He uses the gold to buy most of the needed supplies from Combeferre, and the next time he goes to Fantine's for his lessons on shooting a gun with Éponine, he bakes another loaf of bread and brings it along with a serving bowl he carved using tricks that Feuilly taught him, and trades them both to Fantine in exchange for a few thick cuts of meat from a freshly-slaughtered steer.
Cooking is not one of Grantaire's strengths. There are many things he's good at, he's realistic enough to know that, but making meals that are anything but functional is not one of them. Back East, when he'd been living hand-to-mouth, he'd been too poor for anything fancy enough to make a meal of, had survived on what little scraps he could afford and hadn't had the luxury of being choosy.
He's learning now. Enjolras has been teaching him, slowly. They take turns cooking their meals, and Grantaire cooks almost as often as Enjolras does, but there's still nothing particularly skilled about it, he sticks to the simple things and doesn't try to stretch himself too far or too fast.
This is a stretch, but Cosette sat down with him when she gave him the recipe and walked him through it, explained everything that confused him, and gave him tips and suggestions that the recipe simply assumed any cook would know. He's pretty sure he can do this.
By some miracle of happenstance, he ends up timing it perfectly, despite worrying all afternoon that Enjolras will get home while it's still half-done, or will be delayed and everything will be cold and unappetizing by the time he walks through the door. Instead, Grantaire has just pulled everything off the stove and is frowning at it, trying to decide what to do with it now that it's done, when he hears the mare whinny from the stable, which she only ever does to welcome Enjolras and his gelding home.
He sets the table quickly, and dishes the food up onto their plates, and is standing with his arms crossed over his chest to keep them from shaking with nerves as he listens to the familiar sounds of Enjolras taking care of his horse, taking the tack off and brushing and currying him and cleaning the dirt from his hooves, everything that he's taught Grantaire how to do along with how to ride.
It feels like it takes an eternity before he's finished, the familiar rhythm of his stride approaching the door. He's frowning when he opens it, not in anger but in puzzlement, and his gaze slides straight to Grantaire's before he's even stepped across the threshold.
"R? Something smells wonderful, what--" He stops when he sees Grantaire standing there, waiting. Looks around and notices the table, the plates set, the food steaming upon it. His face goes soft and surprised. "Oh."
Grantaire clears his throat and steps back, making room for Enjolras to pass him and reach the kitchen. "I made supper," he says quietly.
"You--" Enjolras pulls his chair out but then forgets to sit in it, staring down at the food. "What is this? You told me you couldn't cook."
"I couldn't, until you taught me."
Enjolras gives a breathless, disbelieving laugh and shakes his head. He sinks down into his chair slowly. "I didn't teach you this."
A ghost of a smile pulls at the corners of Grantaire's mouth. He takes his seat opposite Enjolras. "Cosette may have helped a little. And she gave me the recipe. I wanted--" He hovers his hands above the table, awkward, uncertain. "I wanted to make you something you hadn't already had a hundred times, for once."
"R," Enjolras breathes, staring across the table at him like he's done something incredible, instead of just cook a meal.
Grantaire doesn't think he can bear that, and he certainly doesn't know what to do with it, so he clears his throat and stares down at his own plate and says, "It's not going to be as good if it gets cold, and I'm not terribly sure it's much good to begin with, so we ought to eat. Please." He gestures at Enjolras, and keeps his expression set and stubborn until Enjolras relents and picks up his knife and fork.
Grantaire waits, hardly daring to breathe, while Enjolras cuts a bite and eats it. He makes a sharp, surprised sound and wipes his mouth with a napkin before he meets Grantaire's gaze in order to say, "R, it's wonderful." He sighs when Grantaire just eyes him dubiously. "Try your own if you don't believe me. It's good."
Grantaire tries a bite, and is startled to realize that Enjolras is right. He doesn't know about wonderful, but it's good. It's the best thing he's made yet, and it's definitely edible. That, at least, is a relief. He lets out a breath and takes a second bite, and that seems to be what Enjolras was waiting for because as soon as he does, Enjolras tucks into his, and in moments they're both absorbed by the meal. Grantaire's stomach, absurdly, waits until it's being filled to start aching with hunger, and they both eat with too much focus for conversation.
Afterwards, when they've both slowed down and Grantaire's stomach aches from a pleasant fullness rather than a persistent hunger, Enjolras rises with his plate in his hands. Grantaire starts to rise as well, to help, but Enjolras lays his hand on Grantaire's shoulder and keeps him in his chair. "No," he says, quiet, and leans down to press a kiss to Grantaire's forehead. "You cooked. Let me do this, to thank you."
Something sharp and sweet and poignant rises up to lodge in Grantaire's chest. He curls a hand around Enjolras's wrist before he recognizes the impulse to move, holding him there. Enjolras stills and something charged and electric goes through the connection between them. Grantaire's pulse speeds for no sensible reason at all, and when he turns his face up to Enjolras suddenly they're very close. There's only a breath of space between them, and Enjolras's eyes are large and dark in the fading light of evening. He doesn't move, but his fingers tighten on Grantaire's shoulder, and his throat jumps.
"Enjolras." Grantaire breathes his name against his lips and shifts minutely, just enough to close the space between them and feel the warmth of Enjolras's mouth on his.
Enjolras's breath shudders out hard and his hand leaves Grantaire's shoulder to grab at the back of his neck. His grip is demanding and his voice is rough when he turns his head aside just enough to say, "No."
Grantaire shuts his eyes and hates him desperately. "Enjolras."
"For God's sake, why?"
"I told you why--"
"What you told me is an excuse." He opens his eyes, frowns at Enjolras fiercely. "You can't need me, fine. But it's just a kiss, Enjolras. You can kiss me without needing me."
Enjolras's mouth pulls crooked, a wry, bitter smile. "Oh, you think so, do you?" He shakes his head before Grantaire can respond. "No, Grantaire. I told you what I expect of you, and of this arrangement. It's a business proposition at the heart of it and you knew that from the start. I made you no promises about intimacy."
He'd said no words, but the grip of his hands on Grantaire's hips that first night had felt like a promise, the future unexpectedly spooling out in front of him, full of passion and heat where he hadn't expected it to be.
Grantaire rises because he suddenly hates the feeling of Enjolras standing over him, looming like a shadow. Enjolras doesn't back down and they end up standing close enough to embrace, only a hair's-breadth of space maintained between them. "It's just a kiss," he says, soft in the face of all Enjolras's hard edges. "It's just wanting me. It's not the same as needing me."
"Oh Enjolras." Grantaire sighs and brings a hand up to the side of his face. Enjolras flinches, but then settles. "I know that's not true, you know I do. You can lie to me if you like, I won't take it personally. But I'm starting to think you're lying to yourself, and you deserve better than that."
"For God's sake," Enjolras snarls. His hands tighten on Grantaire and Grantaire braces to be pushed away. Instead, abruptly, Enjolras jerks him in. Grantaire stumbles and loses the air from his lungs when he slams against Enjolras's chest.
Enjolras crashes their mouths together before Grantaire can catch his breath, and he's swearing even as the kiss goes straight to fierce and frantic.
"Damn it. God damn it." Enjolras crowds him back against the table, his grip demanding, his mouth forceful. Grantaire gropes behind him with one hand, bracing against the table, and brings the other up to grab a fistful of the hair at Enjolras's nape, holding on for dear life. His pulse is racing already, his breath coming short and sharp. When Enjolras's teeth scrape his lip, he gives a breathless moan into the kiss.
He's like a wildfire, a conflagration set off by one tiny spark. His hands race over Grantaire's chest, pull at his shirt until it comes loose, then comes off. And he keeps pushing until Grantaire is half-sprawled back across the table, the cutlery and napkins that were still waiting to be cleared off shoved aside and probably fallen to the floor, and Grantaire couldn't possibly care less because Enjolras is pushing forward, making room for himself between Grantaire's legs.
He braces himself above Grantaire with one arm outstretched and the pressure of their hips together is staggering, dizzying. Grantaire rocks up against him with a helpless moan. He is nothing like he was the first time, all patient care and concern then. Now he's rough and harsh, aggressive with it, and Grantaire knows he pushed him to this but he can't find it in himself to regret it. He's halfway gone already and they're still practically clothed.
"Enjolras," he gasps, and grabs on tighter to him, both hands in his hair now, turning his face up to Enjolras's fierce, biting kisses.
"This isn't what I wanted," Enjolras growls, tearing away to rear up and stare down at Grantaire, and Grantaire would sidle away and slink off to pull his clothes on maybe go douse himself in the frigid waters of the stream until he could get his head on straight, except that Enjolras isn't letting go of him. Is, in fact, dragging his hands down Grantaire's stomach and pulling at his trousers like he can't remember how clothing works and he'll rip them off Grantaire if he has to.
Grantaire wouldn't mind the loss, but after a moment of snarling, Enjolras gets them open and pulled down to mid-thigh and he drops, down onto his knees in the middle of the kitchen and before Grantaire can do more than gape at him, Enjolras has swallowed his cock down to the root.
His mouth is hot and wet and demanding, and Grantaire drops his head back so hard it thunks against the table. His lungs heave and his hands scramble at Enjolras's hair as Enjolras takes him apart with the skilled heat of his mouth.
His hands are on the inside of Grantaire's thighs, pushing his legs open and holding them there, giving himself room. And he sucks Grantaire's cock like he's desperate for it, like he's a starving man set before a king's feast. His hands leave bruises on the skin inside Grantaire's thighs, and his touch wrings desperate, animal noises from Grantaire's throat, and he's going to come, it's so soon and he's going to come already, and he can't even be mortified about it because Enjolras is demanding it from him, driving him on and demanding everything he has.
He tightens his hands in Enjolras's hair and hunches over, all the air forced from his lungs in a gasp. "Enjolras." It comes out breathless, thin, a feeble gasp. "Enjolras, God, wait, I can't, I'm going to--"
He's babbling and he doesn't care, can't care. Enjolras just makes a sharp sound like victory vibrating all around him and he keeps swallowing him down, until Grantaire comes with a hoarse shout and a tremor so powerful it shakes the table beneath him.
And Enjolras-- God, Enjolras swallows it all down, every drop, and then he licks Grantaire clean and doesn't relent until Grantaire is gasping and twitching beneath him, so sensitive even the caress of Enjolras's breath against his skin is almost too much.
Grantaire lets Enjolras pull him upright, follows along limp as a rag doll, stunned and sated and dopey with all of it as Enjolras gets him on his feet, strips his trousers from him the rest of the way, and guides him back to the bedroom.
He reaches for Enjolras once he's shut the door behind them, half-dazed but still aware of the bulge that's straining the front of Enjolras's trousers. Enjolras catches him by the wrist in a flash of movement, but he doesn't force Grantaire's touch away, he just guides the hand up his chest until it's close enough that Enjolras can turn it over and leave not-so-careful bites across the inside of his wrist.
"Let me," Grantaire gasps -- and he's begging, really, there's no other word for it — but Enjolras is so close and still holding himself back, and Grantaire feels like he's going to die.
Enjolras crowds him back until they reach the bed, then keeps going, bearing Grantaire down onto it. Grantaire scrambles away, dragging himself into the middle of the bed and then pulling Enjolras along with him until he's kneeling over Grantaire, stretched out over him, and he sucks kisses in a haphazard pattern across his throat that sting, and will be sure to leave bruises. Grantaire buries his hands in Enjolras's hair and holds him there, bends his neck up for more.
"You're under my skin," Enjolras groans against the hollow of his throat. He catches Grantaire's wrists and pulls them up over his head, pins them to the bed there. Grantaire gasps beneath the sudden weight of him and writhes, straining for more. "I didn't want you there. I wasn't supposed to--"
Grantaire waits for him to finish, pleads silently with any god who's listening for him to finish. But they all must be shielding their gazes from this, because Enjolras's mouth goes tight at the corners and the silence stretches between them, punctuated only by their gasps and Grantaire's strangled groans.
He squeezes his eyes shut and presses up against the solid weight of Enjolras bearing down against him. "I didn't, either," he admits quietly, shuddering at the friction as Enjolras's hips rock against his. He's not hard again yet, but at this rate it doesn't seem like it'll take long before he is, and that's staggering. "I thought it would just be business, like you said. But there's something here." He turns his face toward Enjolras blindly, ends up with his lips on the edge of his jaw and follows it up to catch Enjolras's ear between his teeth. Enjolras hisses out a sharp breath and drives against him. "You know there is. It can't be bad, can it? To desire your husband?"
Enjolras is too quiet, and the lack of an answer feels damning. So Grantaire pulls at the grip on his wrists despite the futility and hooks his legs over Enjolras's hips. The position lets Enjolras's settle more fully against Grantaire, presses their cocks together so hard the both gasp simultaneously.
"Get them off," he snarls, dragging at Enjolras's trousers with his thighs. It's a pointless endeavor, but he's too desperate to care. "Enjolras, take them off."
Enjolras bites off a snarl and shifts Grantaire's wrists to one hand, freeing the other to pull roughly at the front of his trousers until they come loose, and he can shove them down off his hips.
Grantaire helps, then, twisting and writhing beneath him until he can help Enjolras kick them off and away. And then it's just Enjolras's skin against his, his cock warm and soft as velvet and hard as iron. When he thrusts against Grantaire this time, they slide together and Grantaire's eyes roll back in his head. If he wasn't fully hard before, he sure as hell is now.
There is profanity dropping off his lips, a string of city curses so fervent than Grantaire would be embarrassed, except that every time he voices one Enjolras growls and grabs onto him tighter and pushes against him harder.
Enjolras bites down his neck and sets the edge of his teeth to Grantaire's nipple as he gropes out blindly for the little tin of oil they used the first night and that's been neglected ever since. He thumbs the lid off while Grantaire tries to hold very, very still beneath him, makes a mess of it across his hand and then pulls back enough to work it between them, and then Grantaire has to move, he has to, and to hell with the threat of teeth, because Enjolras's fingers are pressing slick and warm against his hole and Grantaire's strength of will is only so strong, there's no way he can keep himself still at that. He arches and shudders and swears even more violently when it makes Enjolras's teeth dig in harder. Enjolras has two fingers against him, rubbing demanding circles and Grantaire opens helplessly for him, whimpers catching in the back of his throat and coming out tangled and wanton.
"Fuck. Fuck," Enjolras growls, and it startles a burst of delighted laughter from Grantaire. "You're so tight." And he sounds so angry about it, like Grantaire's thwarting him deliberately.
"Whose fault is that?" Grantaire asks breathlessly, and writhes down onto the pressure of Enjolras's fingers. "God. Enjolras."
It comes out a desperate whine and Enjolras is abruptly a flurry of movement, catching Grantaire's legs behind the knees and dragging them up until he's bent near in half, sliding his greased hand over his own cock and then shifting all his weight forward, the head of his cock a broad, blunt pressure against Grantaire that makes him gasp like he's drowning. "I won't hurt you," Enjolras says down at him, and he sounds like he's angry about that, too.
Grantaire just nods, wild, and bears down against him, begging, "Now, now, please," until Enjolras shifts and pushes into him, and Grantaire's voice ravels and falls apart until all he has left are wordless animal noises.
It's not as easy as before. Enjolras was so careful then, so gentle. Now he's a force of nature bearing down upon Grantaire and it's good, it's so good. He's so glad he already came once because he wants this to last forever.
Enjolras is sweating, his hair damp and dark with it, and it hangs down in his face as he bends over Grantaire. When he's worked himself all the way in and Grantaire is so full he feels he may burst, Enjolras gives a grunt like maybe he's finally, finally satisfied. He cups a hand beneath Grantaire's jaw and tips his face up and claims his mouth as he fucks him.
Grantaire feels like one raw nerve, all of him alight as Enjolras moves in him. He whimpers and gasps and twists beneath him. When Enjolras releases his wrists to brace himself and get better leverage for his thrusts, Grantaire brings his hands down and takes Enjolras's face between them and just leans their brows together, when they're too breathless to keep kissing.
"R," Enjolras gasps, tinged with desperation, and it's like music. Grantaire beams at the sound of his name on Enjolras's lips, kisses it off of them and tightens around him so that Enjolras shudders on the next stroke. He's closer than Grantaire is, but that doesn't matter. Grantaire wants to see him, he wants to watch as Enjolras crests and crashes.
Enjolras's thrusts get sharper and more desperate. His eyes are wild and Grantaire doesn't look away from them, just holds him in his hands and watches, bears witness, as Enjolras's breath turns thin and tight, his movements grow erratic, and he finally he groans and locks himself deep, his eyes wide and fixed on Grantaire, stunned, blown dark with need.
Grantaire pulls him down for frantic, darting kisses. He rains kisses on his face, breathing praise he's sure Enjolras won't thank him for voicing once the moment's passed. He bites back a small cry of loss when Enjolras carefully withdraws from him, drops back onto the bed and counts himself satisfied, and is shocked speechless when Enjolras slides down the bed and takes him in his mouth to finish him.
His tongue is clever and greedy, coaxing responses from Grantaire the way he coaxes nourishment from the land. In a minute, Grantaire is gasping, his fists dragging at the bedding beneath them. In two, he's breathing out a warning that Enjolras ignores in favor of taking him deep and once again swallowing down every last drop of Grantaire's spend.
It leaves Grantaire slumped, staggered. He stares at the plain ceiling above them and fights to catch his breath, filling lungs that ache from the exertion. Enjolras settles beside him and is quiet, thoughtful. Grantaire can tell how serious he's feeling by the quality of his silence, and this one speaks to nothing good.
"Don't," Grantaire says, and rolls over toward him just as Enjolras is drawing breath to speak. "Don't."
Enjolras shuts his eyes as though he's pained. "R."
"Just leave it for morning." He closes his eyes and presses his face against Enjolras's chest, arms wrapped around him and clinging, more desperate than he wants to admit. "You're going to say this was a mistake and I can't hear that right now. Not now." Not when his body is still loose and pliant and humming from the pleasure Enjolras brought him. "You can tell me what a terrible idea it was in the morning. It can wait that long, at least."
Enjolras sighs like he disagrees, and Grantaire braces for the argument to come. But a moment passes and Enjolras doesn't break the silence. Eventually, he wraps an arm around Grantaire's back and pulls him down onto the bed, close to Enjolras, closer than they've slept since the first night. "Sleep," he says, gruff and obviously not entirely happy. But he's warm and strong and right there next to Grantaire, and he doesn't protest when Grantaire takes advantage of the opportunity and wraps all around him in the process of settling down. He uses Enjolras's chest and arm as a pillow, and wraps his arm across Enjolras's broad chest, and slings a leg over his so that they're all tangled together.
Enjolras sighs a little, his chest rising and falling beneath Grantaire's cheek. But he doesn't shove Grantaire off, and after a moment his arm curls, bringing his hand up to the back of Grantaire's head. Grantaire smiles against his skin, and falls asleep to the feeling of Enjolras gently sifting his fingers through his hair.
Inevitably, the bright light of dawn chases away whatever spell they'd cast in the night, that had allowed them to coexist peacefully. Enjolras is still in bed when Grantaire wakes, despite the sun shining through their window, and that's a bad sign in and of itself. He's always the first up, shaking Grantaire's shoulder and urging him out of bed before the rooster's even crowed.
Grantaire scrubs his hands over his face, braces for the worst, and sits up gingerly. Every muscle in his body is pleasantly sore, a reminder of their exertions the night before, and Grantaire wants nothing so much as to slide back under the covers and luxuriate in the feeling of a body well-used. But there's a taut set to Enjolras's shoulders, rolled onto his side with his back facing Grantaire, and he did promise that Enjolras could speak his piece come morning. So he keeps himself upright, back braced against the headboard, and says, "Very well, out with it."
Enjolras rolls over and looks at him for a long, long moment. "You provoked me."
Grantaire gives a breath of laughter. "I was upset. We were arguing. It happens. I didn't have an ulterior motive, if that's what you're thinking. This--" He waves a hand between them. "--was as much a surprise to me as it was to you."
Enjolras's mouth sets to a tight, unhappy line. He pushes himself upright, but leaves space between them. "You can't get me angry every time you want me to bed you."
"I told you--"
"I hurt you," Enjolras says, reaching out to finger a new bruise, circling Grantaire's wrist like a manacle. "I wasn't careful."
Grantaire snaps his mouth shut and stares at Enjolras in startled silence for a moment. "Did I seem like I was unhappy with anything that happened last night?"
The set of Enjolras's mouth turns tighter, and even more displeased. "Promise me, R."
Grantaire sighs heavily and rolls his eyes up to the ceiling. "I promise I won't provoke you with the intent of getting you to bed me. But we're still going to disagree, Enjolras. We're still going to fight, and I won't have you holding me responsible if you lose your temper."
Enjolras's eyes go shadowed and he drops his gaze. "I shouldn't have last night. I'll try harder."
Grantaire leans forward, enough that he can reach out and graze his fingers against Enjolras's jaw. It takes him a moment, but eventually Enjolras takes his cue and lifts his gaze. Grantaire smiles. "You don't have to."
Enjolras goes still and tense beneath his hand. His throat works, jumping once, before he pulls away. "I have my reasons, R."
"You could share them with me. I might understand." That last part might be a lie, Grantaire's not at all sure that he'll ever be able to comprehend Enjolras's reluctance. But he's willing to try.
Uncertainty flickers across Enjolras's face, flashes briefly through denial and settles at last on resolve. "Everyone calls Fantine a widow because it's easier that way, but that's not the truth. The truth is, her husband left her, packed a trunk and walked away from her and the ranch they'd built together. She nearly lost it all when a cattle baron came through here a few years back looking to buy, and then where would she have been? It's only down to her tenacity and the help of Amity and more than a little good luck that she's been able to keep it running single-handed."
Grantaire waits, quiet, for Enjolras to continue. He sounds like he has a point he's building to, and if Enjolras is finally going to talk about this, Grantaire will be damned if he's going to interrupt him.
Enjolras leans forward, intent now, hands clenched on his knees. "Éponine worked her family's ranch, neighbor to Fantine's. Until one bad drought year, her folks decided it would be easier to live a life of crime than to watch their cattle die one by one of dehydration. So they packed up and left too, and left Éponine to choose between a brief, violent life as an outlaw, or trying to run a ranch all on her own. Now her cattle aren't even hers anymore, they're part of Fantine's herd while Fantine teaches her the ropes, and all she has left of that life is a dream that maybe she can someday put that fence between their lands back up and have a ranch of her own again."
Enjolras breaks off and stares down at his knees for a long moment. He's breathing hard, like just telling this story is an exertion. When he speaks again, it's softer, quieter. "They nearly lost everything because they put their faith in someone else, and those people let them down."
"Enjolras," Grantaire says. "They nearly lost everything because they had to do it by themselves. You don't. That's what I'm here for. That's why you sent for me in the first place."
Enjolras just shakes his head, quietly miserable. Grantaire watches him for a long moment.
"You don't trust me," he says at last, quiet. The realization hurts more than it should. "You don't have faith in me. All this, everything we've accomplished here together, and you still don't think I'll stay."
Enjolras flinches, a little. His hands curl into tight fists. "It isn't that."
"I made you a promise."
"And I believe it. But I can't depend on it. This farm, it's all I have. If the only way it runs is with you, then it's at risk of falling apart if you're gone."
"I'm not going anywhere, god damn it, Enjolras, aren't you listening?" Grantaire wants to strangle him, he really does.
"You can't promise that, though. It's a wild land, out here in the West. There are outlaws and droughts and dust storms and probably some man who will be able to give you what you want the way I can't. You can't promise me forever. You don't know what the future holds."
"Isn't that what wedding vows are?" Grantaire demands, his voice harsh. But Enjolras is still looking miserable and set in his ways and Grantaire is tired of arguing when Enjolras only hears his own half of the conversation, so he sighs and climbs out of bed, rooting around through their drawers for a clean change of clothes.
When he's dressed, he stomps out of the house, foregoing breakfast. Enjolras's voice carries after him. "R?"
"I'm going out to feed the pigs," he snaps, and slams the door shut behind himself before Enjolras can get any stupid ideas about following him.
The next time they've dirtied enough clothing to justify a trip down to the stream, Grantaire gathers it up automatically, and then hesitates, looking to the little-used cupboard where his gold pan is tucked away. Indecision wars within him. The only intent he ever had with the pan was to scrape together enough gold flakes to be able to afford the ingredients for a nice dinner without having to stretch their provisions budget to accommodate it. Now that the meal is behind them, there's little point in it, little need for it. But he finds himself reluctant to leave it behind, and he retrieves it and tucks it in amongst the folds of laundry just the same as he always has.
He's been doing this for weeks now and Enjolras has never voiced any suspicions, but for some reason this time, Grantaire's nerves are on edge as he goes through the now-familiar routine of getting everything ready to take down to the stream and wash. Every small sound of Enjolras moving around elsewhere in the house makes him jump, makes his breath catch and a dozen excuses poise at the tip of his tongue.
Enjolras doesn't say anything, just sees Grantaire going about gathering the laundry and goes to get the soap for him. Grantaire gives him a brief smile of thanks when he returns with it, the best he can manage. Enjolras wavers, looks uncertain, and then clasps his shoulder for a moment.
Grantaire shuts his eyes when Enjolras walks off. The heat of his hand is imprinted on Grantaire's shoulder, and he longs to lean after him like a flower turning to follow the sun. He forces a deep breath of air to fill his lungs, forces himself to grab the basket of laundry and head down for the stream, where maybe the greater distance between them will return his sense.
It only cements his uncertainty into a hard, heavy surety that this is necessary. Enjolras clings to his farm and his independence as a safeguard, should he find himself alone unexpectedly. And what does Grantaire have, with which to do the same? Nothing.
Nothing but this.
He pans for gold while the laundry rinses, just as he always has, and he comes up with a few bright flakes and a small nugget. He taps them carefully into his emptied vial and, when he returns home, tucks it safely back in its hiding place. But this time, he's not collecting the gold for Enjolras. This time it's for himself, a little glass vial slowly filling with everything he'll need should he find himself unexpectedly alone out here in this vast, half-tamed land.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Things were supposed to be different, when he came out here. But he's still a city boy, at the end of it all. If there's one thing he knows how to do, it's survive.
If their first night together was a revelation, their second felt like an avalanche, like an earthquake, shifting the ground beneath Grantaire's feet. But for all that, little changes. There is still work to do. The crops still grow tall, and the animals grow fat. Grantaire still does the laundry, and gathers gold, and keeps it secret.
He still goes to Fantine's regularly and eats breakfast around her crowded, boisterous table. With Éponine's lessons, he's getting better with a gun — he hits the targets she sets for him more often than he misses, even if it's only slightly more often. She's stopped sighing in despair over him and has settled instead for a noncommittal grunt every time he fires the gun and she walks out to examine his aim.
Sometimes there's too much work to do for Fantine to be able to spare Éponine for even an hour, and so Grantaire takes the opportunity to linger around the ranch and watch them work rather than heading home. He leans against the rails of the fence and watches Fantine and Éponine and Bahorel and the other cattle hands steer their horses around as easily as though they were born on them, driving the cattle in an effort so coordinated it looks like a dance.
Once, Fantine breaks away from the others to swing over to where Grantaire is watching them, in the shade of a tall oak that's the only thing that makes the heat of the day at all bearable, and looks down at him with her brow raised. "Go saddle up. You're no use to anyone just standing there gawping."
"Oh God, no, you don't want me to do that. I'm lucky if I can even manage to keep my seat on a horse. I'll be no use to you out there. I'll probably just spook them and force you to work twice as hard."
Fantine grunts, unimpressed. "Saddle up," she says, as though it's already been decided. "Bramble's in need of exercising, anyway. You'll find his tack in the tack room, it's hard to miss."
Bramble, it turns out, is a gelding, and he's easily the biggest horse Grantaire has ever seen in his life. He's taller at the shoulder than Grantaire is, and his back is broad, and his saddle weighs a ton if it does an ounce. Grantaire scarcely manages to get it cinched on him by himself, and once he does, the prospect of getting himself up to that height unaided seems daunting, to say the least.
He manages it, though it probably takes him three times as long as any half-decent horseman, and he maybe uses an upturned bucket to get a little bit of a boost up. When he rides out, grimacing and uncertain at the unfamiliar gait of the new horse, Fantine is waiting for him by the fence, though all the others are little more than an indistinct smudge in the distance.
"Let's go." She jerks her head in their direction.
Grantaire nods and taps his heels against the gelding's sides, urging him into a trot, but Fantine laughs and brings hers around in front of him, forcing him to slow back down to a sprightly walk. She circles around and comes back up at his side. "You've been spending more time out here lately."
Grantaire gives her a startled look before turning his attention back to the landscape ahead of them. Keep your eyes where you're heading was one of the first lessons Enjolras had taught him about horsemanship. "Éponine's been teaching me to use a gun. It seems more expedient to come to you, than to expect her to come to me."
Fantine hums thoughtfully. It's a happy sound, or a pleased one, or at least not a dissatisfied one. "She's not teaching you today. And yet you stayed."
Grantaire sighs and lets his gaze slide over the rugged landscape stretching out before them as he struggles to think of a way to explain that isn't My husband doesn't care to lie with me. "Enjolras says you're not really a widow."
"No," Fantine says easily. "But it's an easier way to explain the situation to those who don't need to know the whole story."
"What is the whole story?" Grantaire asks desperately.
"Ah, well." He can hear the smile in her voice without looking at her. "The whole story will take far more time than we have today, I'm afraid. But the truth, if that's what you want… The truth is Félix left me, and left the ranch, and we were all each other had."
"Did you…" He frowns, struggling to choose his words. "Did you know, before he left? Did you have reason to suspect?"
The silence stretches longer than it should. When Grantaire can't bear it any longer and glances at her, she's fixing him with a stern look from beneath a frown. "Enjolras is not going to leave you."
Grantaire draws an unsteady breath and wishes he could believe it so easily as she says it. "You can't know that."
"I know Enjolras. And if you think he will, then you obviously don't."
"He thinks I will."
Fantine's frown deepens. "Have you given him reason to?"
"I want--" Grantaire chokes back the truth, because those aren't details Fantine needs to know. "I want something he doesn't want to give. It's stupid, but I'm not going to leave over it, but what if he decides he'd rather leave me first than take the risk I'll go, and leave him in the lurch?"
Fantine sighs like she's got the weight of the world on her shoulders. "You are both idiots."
Grantaire doesn't respond, just waits for her answer, because he's pretty sure she's right. He's an idiot. What else can you call a person who panics over starting to fall for his husband?
"If you truly think that's something Enjolras might do, and you don't want him to, then you need to show him you're sincere about staying. Show him you want to be here."
"I made him dinner!" Grantaire throws his hands up in exasperation, then has to grab onto his horse's mane when he startles at the sudden movement.
When he's steadied himself and looks up, Fantine's watching him sidelong with a little smile hovering about her face. "The steaks?" He nods, and her smile spreads to something well-pleased. "Good. I'm glad they went to a good cause. How did that work?"
Grantaire thinks about that night and how to qualify it. "Really well," he says at last. "And then really poorly."
Fantine makes that thoughtful, humming noise again. "Well, like I said. He's at least as much of an idiot as you are."
That, at least, Grantaire can agree with.
They continue to talk about Tholomyès for the rest of their ride, and the next time Grantaire comes for his shooting lesson Fantine wanders over and watches them with a keen eye, and when Éponine declares that she's done as much as she can for him for one day, Fantine pulls him aside and asks with a smile how he is, and he knows what she's really asking is how things are with Enjolras.
He doesn't know what to tell her. Things are with Enjolras the same as they've always been. But they talk about Tholomyès again, and it becomes a habit to spend time with Fantine after he has with Éponine, helping her with little tasks around the ranch as he asks her what her relationship with her husband was like, before it all went wrong.
"We had a child," she says quietly one day, unexpectedly, smiling softly to herself. Grantaire startles and turns to stare at her. "A daughter."
Grantaire hasn't heard a word from anyone in Amity about Fantine having a child. And he knows that life can be harsh and difficult out here, and that there's a reason there's sadness in Fantine's eyes even as she smiles. "You lost her?" he asks quietly, careful of treading on old wounds.
"In a sense. I gave her up. She was born not long before Félix left. And I could barely take care of the ranch on my own, much less a child. She deserved better than that. And if I neglected the ranch to care for her, I'd have lost it and she'd have grown up in poverty. I wanted better than that for her, so I gave her up, to a man who was kind to me when I had nothing at all, and who was doing well for himself. I knew he could do well for her, too." Her smile is back, so sad and tender it makes Grantaire's chest hurt. "I was right. He gave her everything I couldn't. She's happy, I think. It's what I wanted for her."
Grantaire can't think of what to say to that, can't think of what there is to possibly say in the face of such a loss, such a sacrifice. "What was her name?" he asks at last, because Fantine seems to want to talk about her, even if it pains her.
"I named her Euphrasie," Fantine says with a quiet, strangled laugh. "But I called her--"
"Cosette," Grantaire gasps, spinning about to face her, to gape at her.
Fantine tips her head back, face turning up to the sun. "It means little one. It's a term of endearment. I didn't think anything of it, when I heard her answer to it. She's not the first I've encountered who goes by the name, and I wager she won't be the last."
"Patron-Minette," Grantaire says quietly. "You were there when they asked for her name. And she gave them her real one." And Fantine had startled, he remembers now. He'd scarcely paid it any notice at the time, but now, it all seems so obvious. "Have you told her?"
"Why would I do that?" Fantine's mouth has gone tight and unhappy at the edges, and her words sound sure but her expression is much more conflicted. "She's happy and cared for. Valjean cares for her, has cared for her, and what have I done for her at all?"
"You gave her up," Grantaire says quietly. "You don't think that was a sacrifice?"
Fantine ends the subject with an impatient wave of her hand. "She's not mine anymore. If Valjean cares to tell her, it's his choice. I won't force myself onto either of them. It's not my place."
Grantaire thinks privately that she's as much a fool as he and Enjolras are if she thinks that Cosette would take it as anything but a good thing, to learn there was someone else out there who loved her. But he's earned enough scolding looks from Fantine for one lifetime, so he holds his tongue and lets the conversation drift to other, less-fraught topics.
Grantaire had thought he'd experienced a true Western summer, but halfway through it a heat wave settles over the area that makes the whole town feel like a furnace. By now Grantaire's used to rarely sleeping well, half of him always awake and wary of crossing the invisible barrier that divides their mattress into halves. Now, he tosses and turns, unable to sleep because even in the middle of the night, the heat is oppressive. He and Enjolras soak their sheets every evening and make the bed with them, draping the sodden sheet over their backs and opening the windows so the air can circulate. Even then Grantaire only manages to sleep fitfully, and halfway through the night the sheets are dry and the heat is suffocating again.
A week into it, while Enjolras is riding out to town for supplies, Grantaire spends the morning hauling endless buckets of water out to the animal troughs to slake their unending thirst, and finishes before Enjolras has returned. He flees the burning sun, ducking back inside the house, but it feels as much like an oven as outside does. His clothes are drenched with sweat from the work and the heat, and the house is stuffy, the air stagnating, not moving at all.
In a fit of impatience, he drags the sheets off the bed, drags the mattress off as well, hauls them all out of the bedroom and spends an hour shoving furniture around, until the bed is positioned in the middle of the room so they can have the window open, and the bedroom door, and the windows in the rest of the house, and the cross-breeze will come through right over them.
It leaves little space in the rest of the room for maneuvering around the bed, or the rest of their furniture, but after a week of restless sleep, Grantaire couldn't care less.
When Enjolras returns from town, Grantaire's making dinner, which mostly consists of vegetables from the garden because neither of them can bear the additional heat from lighting the stove. Grantaire gives a little wave of greeting, and Enjolras heads straight for the bedroom, grumbling something about needing to get the dirt of the road off of himself.
He's back out inside of a minute, still wearing the same clothes he arrived in and giving Grantaire a hard stare. Grantaire doesn't pretend he doesn't know what this is about, just wipes his hands off and turns about to face him. "It's going to be better tonight. Trust me."
"I can't even get to my clothes."
"You can, I made sure of it. You have to go over the bed and I know that's a hassle, but it's going to be worth it. Trust me." Enjolras takes a breath and starts to respond, but Grantaire speaks over him. "Just give it one night. If it doesn't work out, I'll put it all back myself, all right?"
Enjolras snaps his mouth shut and struggles obviously, but finally just throws his hands up and stalks back into the bedroom. This time, he doesn't return quite so quickly, and when he does come out, he's wearing a fresh change of clothes and looking slightly rumpled from having to clamber across the bed and back again.
Grantaire just says, "Dinner's ready," and sets their plates on the table.
That night, Grantaire moves throughout the house opening all the windows while Enjolras readies for bed. He's on his half of the mattress by the time Grantaire returns, and has already opened the bedroom window. Grantaire leaves the door open, propped there with a boot so it won't swing shut in the night, and already he can feel that the air flow is better than it has been past nights.
Enjolras isn't complaining, so Grantaire figures he can feel it, too, and he changes into his thinnest, lightest nightclothes and slips into bed beside Enjolras.
They don't sleep well, neither of them — it's too hot for that — but they sleep better than they have in a week. In the morning, Grantaire could weep with gratitude, but he made a promise so he turns to catch Enjolras's eye and asks him, "Well? Shall I put everything to rights?"
Enjolras looks like having to admit he was wrong is about as painful as losing an arm, but he gives his head a quick shake and a terse, "No, it's fine, just leave it."
Grantaire grins to himself and goes to see what they can throw together for a cold breakfast.
A few days later, they're both in better moods now that they're sleeping more easily, and Grantaire's only half surprised when Enjolras stops him from cleaning up after breakfast and says, "Will you go saddle the horses while I finish up here?"
"Both of them?" Grantaire gives him a curious look. "Where are we going?" They don't need to restock any of their supplies yet, and so far as he knows nothing around the farm has been broken or damaged to an extent that they'd need to take it into town for Feuilly or Courfeyrac to repair. In this heat, riding into town is a strain on both themselves and the horses, and the horses are too vital for their work to risk them needlessly.
Enjolras just smiles to himself, though, and waves him off. "Go on, before it really starts heating up."
Grantaire goes, still mystified, and has both horses tacked up and waiting by the time Enjolras comes out to meet them.
"Mount up," he says, patting Grantaire's mare's shoulder, and pulls himself up onto his own horse. Grantaire follows suit, only struggling a little to get in the saddle unaided, and he beams to himself with pride at the accomplishment.
When he looks to Enjolras, Grantaire finds him watching him, smiling a little. Self-consciousness threatens to settle over him, but Enjolras just sets his horse walking and calls back, "Come on, then, while it's still not too unbearable out."
Grantaire hurries after him, and reins his mare in to keep pace at Enjolras's side once they've caught up. To his surprise, though, Enjolras doesn't lead them onto the road into town, but instead along a beaten-down path and through brush that forces them to duck out of the way of wayward branches. It eventually leads them to the stream, burbling gently across the rocks, its cool water looking frightfully tempting in light of the heat the day promises to bring. Grantaire would dismount and wade right in, but Enjolras says, "Not yet. If this was where we were going, I'd have had us walk, and spared the horses."
Grantaire is curious enough to follow, with just a single, longing glance at the water before he settles in at Enjolras's side again, making their way upstream. They swap places every half mile or so, alternating whose horse gets to walk with their hooves in the shallows so that both get relief from the already-warming day. A few miles on, past the bank where Grantaire came upon Bossuet, the stream flattens out, growing broader and shallower with coarse sand for a bottom rather than uneven stones, so they're able to both ride through the water together.
The warmth of the morning is turning to sweltering heat and Grantaire's shirt is starting to plaster itself to his back by the time Enjolras makes a triumphant sound and announces, "We're nearly there. Another mile, maybe," and sits up a little straighter in his saddle.
Grantaire looks around, but he can't see anything that might have served as a landmark to alert Enjolras of their imminent arrival, and he can't see anything that might hint as to their destination. He trusts Enjolras not to have led them on an hours-long ride just to sit about at another part of the same stream, but he's not sure what to expect from all of this.
A quarter-hour on, Enjolras's plan is revealed when the trees fall back and the land opens up, revealing a broad, shimmering lake before them. Grantaire's weary mare picks up her head at the sight of it and walks a little faster. In minutes the horses have carried them to its bank and stand with their hooves in the shallows, drinking eagerly.
Grantaire fumbles out of the saddle, doesn't even bother trying for a controlled descent just drops and lands with his boots in the water, and only stops long enough to wrench them off and throw them up onto dry land before he wades out, clothes and all, into the cool, refreshing waters of the lake. When the water's up to his waist, he dives into it, submerging completely.
He doesn't come up until his lungs start burning and when he does, his hair hangs limp and sodden, trailing rivulets of cool water down his face. Enjolras is nearby, floating rather than submerged, and he seems to have taken the time to remove both his boots and his shirt before he joined Grantaire.
Grantaire swims up quietly, then cups his hand and beneath the water and splashes it at Enjolras. He sits upright, sputtering and wiping the water from his face, and he glares at Grantaire but his mouth is stretched into a grin. Grantaire just laughs, says, "You looked hot," and ducks under again, swimming away for the sheer, visceral pleasure of the water flowing over him, cooling his overheated skin.
He doesn't realize Enjolras is in pursuit until a hand clamps around his ankle, dragging him back. Grantaire comes up flailing and laughing, and kicks up a great plume of water in Enjolras's face with his unrestrained leg, until Enjolras lets him go so he can turn his back and catch his breath.
"Worth the ride?" he asks, turning back around when Grantaire has ceased his attack and settled for floating upright instead, treading water lazily.
"Worth it." Grantaire lets himself sink low in the water, so the water's up to his chin and his head is the only thing that isn't submerged. "You've been holding out. You couldn't have shared this little secret weeks ago?"
Enjolras makes a gesture that sends up an inadvertent splash, spraying them both with water. He grimaces and wipes it from is eyes, but Grantaire just laughs. "It's not worth the ride, for us or the horses, until the heat gets truly unbearable. Otherwise, it's quicker and easier just to go cool off in the stream."
"But it's gorgeous here." Grantaire drifts onto his back and waves his hands through the water beneath the surface, guiding himself around slowly. The sky overhead is a clear, bright blue, and in the cool waters the heat of the sun feels nice, rather than oppressive. Trees line the shores of the lake and reach their broad, leafy branches up to the sky, just visible at the edges of Grantaire's vision when he floats on his back like this. And when he sits upright, there's the stretch of blue water glinting in the sunlight, and the land rising up beyond it in the distance. "I don't know how you could ever bring yourself to leave."
"You spend a night or two sleeping on rocks," Enjolras says, "and pretty soon the promise of bed is one you're not willing to pass up on."
He swims off a moment later, drawn by something, and Grantaire lets him in favor of floating on his back some more. When the sun starts to feel too warm, he swims back to shore and strips his shirt off, tosses it up the beach to join his boots, and then wades back out again.
Enjolras is a short distance away, his back to Grantaire and absorbed by something. Grantaire eyes him as he slips into the water, then ducks underneath and pushes off from the bottom, swimming beneath the surface until Enjolras appears from the murk. Grantaire reaches out and catches him by the ankle, holds on as Enjolras jerks and his shout of surprise reaches him, muffled and distorted by the water. He comes up laughing and tosses his wet hair out of his face.
He's barely caught his breath before Enjolras is countering, dragging him back under again. In seconds they're engaged in a fierce battle, each scrambling to get the upper hand on the other. Enjolras's face glows bright with victory when he gets a grip on Grantaire, only to transform into dismay and laughter when Grantaire slides out of his grip and turns the tables.
They're evenly matched, Enjolras stronger but Grantaire quicker and more limber, and the battle seems to be caught at an impasse, neither of them able to keep the other down for long, until Grantaire tries to escape Enjolras's grasp with a sharp twist just as Enjolras loosens his hold to adjust his grip, and Grantaire turns about further than he'd intended. It brings him around to face Enjolras squarely, and instinct has Enjolras's hands tightening around him, pulling him in to keep him secure, but suddenly it doesn't feel like restraint. They're pressed together from chest to hips, skin wet and slippery and warm despite the cool water.
Grantaire's been hard for minutes, ever since they started grappling with each other, but ignoring it. But there's no ignoring it now, not with it caught between them and Enjolras's cheeks going red at the realization. Not with the revelation that Enjolras is just as affected, his lips going tight when Grantaire shifts in, pressing his hips to Enjolras's to test the hardness of him.
"R," Enjolras says quietly, a frown creasing his brows as he looks at him, and then doesn't continue, as though his name on Enjolras's lips should be enough to understand his meaning.
Grantaire carefully places his hands on Enjolras's shoulders, bracing himself but not pushing back. He holds Enjolras's gaze and waits to see what he'll do.
For a moment, he's motionless, the only change a growing desperation in his eyes. Grantaire just holds on and waits until finally it breaks, Enjolras leaning forward to press his face to the curve of Grantaire's neck and breathe raggedly, his breath cool on Grantaire's wet skin.
Grantaire sighs and strokes a hand over his hair, as soothing as he can be. "What's the worst that could come of it?"
"I have already told you."
"And you've lain with me twice." Grantaire kisses his temple, as great an intimacy as he dares. "The world has not ended. The crops grow, the farm thrives. I haven't left. What else is there besides the baseless fears of a man more cowardly than I know you to be?"
That, perhaps, is the wrong thing to say. It makes Enjolras stiffen, makes him lift his head from Grantaire's shoulder and push back to arm's length, the water sloshing between them, abruptly and uncomfortably cold after Enjolras's warmth. "It isn't cowardice."
"My mistake." Grantaire releases his shoulders and shrugs Enjolras's hands off of him. He swims for the shore, climbs out and takes a seat on a patch of dry rocks where the sun can beat down on him, dry him out, and warm him up from the chill of the lake.
Enjolras follows after him, slower, and comes out of the water dripping and so lovely Grantaire has to avert his gaze because it hurts too much. He settles down wordlessly on the rocks beside Grantaire, close enough that they could reach out and grasp each other's hands without undue strain, but only just.
He says nothing, just sits there plucking at the fabric of his trousers as they dry beneath the sun's heat. Grantaire sighs and leans back on his elbows so the light can reach more of him, shuts his eyes and tips his face up to its warmth mostly as an excuse not to have to look at Enjolras, sitting right there beside him and yet so far out of reach.
The sound of the wind and the water and Enjolras breathing quietly beside him is a warm comfort. Grantaire doesn't open his eyes until he hears the sounds of rocks scraping against each other, and the sensation of movement at his side. He opens them and looks, finds Enjolras rifling through his saddlebags and returning with parchment-wrapped parcels that, upon opening, turn out to be a hastily-packed lunch, cuts of meat and slices of tomato and thick, hearty slices of bread slathered with butter, mostly melted in the heat of the day. Grantaire's stomach cramps with a hunger that has mostly kept at bay until now.
Grantaire tucks into the food, eating ravenously. He expects Enjolras to do the same, fueled by the healthy appetite that long days of hard work on the farm has given both of them. But when he glances over at Enjolras, halfway through his and just starting to feel the edge of his hunger begin to dull, Enjolras is picking at his own and has barely eaten a couple of bites.
Grantaire holds his tongue, biting it against the urge to inquire after what's wrong. He knows what Enjolras is upset about, and he won't help either of them in any way by pushing at the bruise. He eats quietly and glances at Enjolras occasionally out of the corner of his gaze, and lets the meal pass in silence between them.
Enjolras spends most of it with a frown pinched between his brows, as though in thought or puzzlement. But there's a tight, downturned set to his mouth that speaks to something else. Grantaire eats his lunch and licks the buttery crumbs from his fingers and keeps his gaze fixed out on the lake as much as he's able, allowing Enjolras the pretense that they're quiet because they're enjoying the scenery. He pretends he's still eating, even though they both know he's finished, until Enjolras has at last finished as well.
With their stomachs filled and their energy replenished, they soon find themselves back in the water, chased there by the heat of the sun beating through their dried clothing. They swim together, and Grantaire notices that even when he strikes out on his own, Enjolras is always nearby. Grantaire smiles at him, the first time he notices Enjolras watching him, and Enjolras startles as though he's been caught doing something he shouldn't.
They linger until the afternoon begins to fade in toward evening, and the day's heat fades along with it, sending them climbing back out of the cool water to sprawl out on the shore once more.
Grantaire props himself up with a fallen log at his back, staring out at the colors the dying sun inscribes upon the sky up above and the water below. Enjolras is quiet at his side, but this time it doesn't feel like a tense, planning sort of quiet.
Grantaire breaks the silence between them first, with a sigh and a, "It's so lovely out here. You don't realize what you're missing, packed into a big city, until you get a chance to see it for yourself."
He feels Enjolras's gaze slide around to him, catches his smile in the corners of his vision. "You're just a farm boy from the heart of the big city, are you?"
He's teasing, gently mocking, but Grantaire gives the question the weight it's due and answers after a moment, "Perhaps I am. I came here, after all, didn't I?"
"So you did." Enjolras's smile spreads until it's blinding, even witnessed sidelong. When he turns to look out across the lake again, Grantaire finally feels like he can breathe without the weight of that smile bearing down directly upon him. "I always loved the land," Enjolras says quietly, thoughtfully. "It's why I chose to farm it. I could have gone into any number of professions, I suppose, but this..." He grabs a handful of the pebbles that they're sitting on, lifts them up and watches them fall through his fingers, one by one. "I like having my hands buried in it. It's beautiful and it's wild and I love being out in the middle of it. I love trying to tame my little piece of it, even as the rest of it runs wild around us."
Grantaire turns his head toward Enjolras so he can smile at him. When he scoots over, scraping across the rocks, Enjolras stiffens but doesn't retreat. And when Grantaire hooks his arm through Enjolras's and leans his head on his shoulder, following his gaze out across the water instead of claiming any greater intimacy, Enjolras doesn't exactly relax, but he doesn't shove Grantaire off of him either.
"I know exactly what you mean," Grantaire says, and for at least that moment, he's content.
As the heat wave wears on and the work to be done around the farm remains endless, Grantaire's patience wears thin. When a calf escapes its pasture, interrupting the onerous and sweaty task of weeding with the equally-sweaty task of chasing it down and herding it home, they don't make it back to the house until twilight has just about given over to true night. Grantaire's clothes are sticky with sweat, he's exhausted and overheated and can scarcely even consider having a few pieces of fruit from the ice box for supper without wanting to cry a little at the idea of the effort it would involve.
It takes him a quarter-hour of sitting slumped at the kitchen table trying to decide whether the pained cramping of his stomach or the bone-weary exhaustion in every muscle is the greater discomfort before he manages to coax himself to his feet and across the kitchen with the thought of how hungry he'll be in the morning if he doesn't eat something now.
There are cherries in the ice box, just starting to get a little soft but still good. When Grantaire notices the hungry way Enjolras's gaze tracks him across the kitchen, he brings the whole bowl back and sets it on the table between them.
They both eat quickly, too ravenous and too worn for conversation. And when they've emptied the bowl between them, Grantaire drags himself to his feet with a groan and shuffles to the bedroom.
It's dark and muggy in there, hotter even than the rest of the house, with its windows shut against the day's sun. Even throwing the shutters open to allow the breeze through does little to help, not when the air outside is so still and so hot, and he still hasn't managed to cool down from running after errant livestock all day.
He gives a long look at the bed, and the dresser drawer where his nightclothes are folded. He thinks about the prospect of a night spent with his clothes sticking to his back, the same way he spent the day, and he doesn't even have the fortitude left to care. He just thinks, To hell with it, and strips his clothes off to climb into bed naked.
There is something burning fierce and hot inside his chest, and he'd call it defiance if it weren't such a worn-down sensation. He's tired, he's tired of the heat and he's tired of this distance between him and Enjolras and he's tired of his obstinate refusal to allow the closeness between them that they both obviously want, and so he sprawls out across his half of the bed, his skin bared to the night air, and doesn't even stir when Enjolras comes in a few minutes after him.
Enjolras's footsteps stop just inside the door. The moment goes fraught and tense and Grantaire keeps his eyes shut because he's sure they'll fight if he opens them and he doesn't have the will for that tonight. He just wants to sleep. He just wants to stop feeling like he's suffocating inside his own skin.
Enjolras's steps resume after a moment, slower and more cautious as they round the foot of the bed. He climbs into bed quietly. Grantaire lies tense, waiting for a comment or a criticism, but Enjolras just stretches out on his half of the bed, very careful to maintain the space between them so they're not touching, and says nothing at all.
Grantaire keeps his eyes closed and does his best to keep his breathing slow and even, though that's a challenge. The skin along his back prickles with awareness of the narrow space separating the two of them, of the fact that he's naked in bed with Enjolras, and the last time that happened Enjolras had him on his back, arms pinned over his head as their bodies moved together...
Grantaire's breath hitches despite himself. He squeezes his eyes shut tighter and braces for that, at last, to prompt a comment. But Enjolras doesn't react. Grantaire might be tempted to think he'd fallen asleep if it weren't for the rapid, shallow way he's breathing, and the taught line he holds himself in, as though he's afraid that if he yields even an inch he might fall apart completely.
After the day's work, Grantaire's so exhausted that sleep ought to be the easiest thing in the world. But time stretches on and he remains awake, eyes shut but every nerve attuned to Enjolras behind him. The small movements, the quiet sounds that he makes, and the really obvious fact that sleep is eluding him too.
When he can bear it no longer, both of them pretending to sleep even while neither of them are managing it, Grantaire gives a sharp sigh and speaks into the darkness. "Does it bother you that much?"
Enjolras's answer is too delayed for it to be anything but, Yes, even if what he actually says is, "I don't know what you mean. The heat is making it too uncomfortable to sleep."
That's true enough, but it's also the biggest lie Grantaire's ever heard him speak. He thinks about rolling over, thinks about opening his eyes and actually having this conversation. But that seems destined to lead to the argument he's been trying to avoid, and he may not be able to sleep but he's still far too tired to fight with his husband in the middle of the night.
"If you wanted," he says instead, quiet, daring, "you could do the same." And he reaches one hand across the space they've preserved between them and plucks at Enjolras's nightclothes, so he'll know what Grantaire's suggesting.
"You aren't sleeping any easier than I am," Enjolras points out.
Grantaire is quiet a moment, contemplating his answer. In the end, he decides he's far too tired to lie. "It's something other than the heat that's keeping me up."
Enjolras takes a sharp breath, then doesn't breathe at all for several interminable seconds. The tension that's stretched between them pulls even tighter. Grantaire lies there in bed, breathing fast and shallow, every nerve on edge, and considers what to do about it.
In the end, he decides he's far too tired to be smart about it, either. He rolls over to face Enjolras and pushes himself up on one arm. "That's something that can be addressed, too, of course."
Enjolras is on his back, staring up at the ceiling above them. Every line of his body is tense, like he's braced for a blow even now. He doesn't answer.
Grantaire forges ahead. He drops his voice until it's low and soft. "It doesn't have to mean what you think, Enjolras. It doesn't have to be a weakness. It can just be two people enjoying one another."
Enjolras still doesn't move, but his gaze swings over to Grantaire. Enjolras catches his eye and holds it, and his gaze burns. His breathing starts to fray, his chest stuttering with every breath. "Is that what you want?"
Grantaire runs his tongue over his lips and chooses his words carefully. Because the truth is that it isn't what he wants at all, and the skepticism on Enjolras's face proves that he knows it. If Grantaire missteps at all, Enjolras won't believe him. "It's what I'm offering," Grantaire says at last, and manages to keep his voice firm and strong, like he means it. He reaches a hand out, shocked at his own daring, and spreads it across Enjolras's chest. His heart pounds beneath Grantaire's palm. "It doesn't have to be one or the other. You don't have to deny yourself just to protect yourself."
There's another endless moment in which Enjolras doesn't move at all, doesn't speak, just breathes like he's being held at gunpoint. And then, between one blink and the next, he moves. Grantaire scarcely even has the chance to notice that he's done so before he's on his back, Enjolras holding himself up on his arms over him, staring down at him, a little like he's angry and a lot like he wants to eat him up with a spoon.
Grantaire relaxes beneath him, going soft and pliant. He spreads his legs, making room for Enjolras between them, a wordless yielding to the challenge in Enjolras's eyes.
Heat flares in Enjolras's expression, but he doesn't do what Grantaire's expecting, doesn't drag Grantaire's legs up by the knees and grab the oil and push inside him. He's frozen for a moment, staring down at Grantaire with only inches between them -- and then he's gone, sliding down, leaving rough bites across Grantaire's shoulder and down his chest. He bites at Grantaire's nipple, too, and his lips curve at the sharp, stunned noise Grantaire makes.
He follows it with the wet heat of his tongue, so rough and gentle by turns that Grantaire's undone by it. He coaxes Grantaire's nipple to a hard peak beneath his lips and tongue, then sets his teeth to it again and grabs Grantaire by the hips when he jerks beneath him, all the air forced out of his lungs in a hoarse shout.
There's a part of him that can't quite believe this is happening, convinced this must be a fever dream brought on by the heat. But the pressure of Enjolras's fingers digging into his hips is better than any delusion, and when he releases Grantaire's nipple to continue the trail of biting kisses down his stomach, Grantaire is sure he could have never in his wildest dreaming hoped for something like this. It's a blessing, it's a miracle, and it can't be anything but real.
Enjolras growls a little, a rumble in the back of his throat when Grantaire writhes as his kisses linger low on his stomach, where the skin is thin and sensitive. It's a rumble in the back of his throat that sets Grantaire's nerves alight in the best way, raw and primal and promising so much more.
Even so, Grantaire is distantly shocked when Enjolras curls the fingers of one hand around the base of his cock and slides his lips along the rest of it, gliding wet and soft up his shaft as though he means to take his time savoring it. Leave it to Enjolras to go all the way, when he finally decides to stop denying himself.
Enjolras torments him mercilessly with lips and tongue, keeping everything slow and gentle until he's mapped every inch of Grantaire's skin and Grantaire wants him so bad it hurts, like a physical cramp twisting him up. Only then, when Grantaire's got the fingers of one hand clenched in the sheet and the other closed tight on Enjolras's hair, only then does Enjolras part his lips and take him into his mouth.
The velvet heat of it leaves Grantaire gasping, his head thrown back as he struggles not to buck up into Enjolras's mouth. He doesn't know if this is punishment, if Enjolras is drawing this out in revenge for pushing him past the breaking point, or if it's just Enjolras's idea of finally letting go of his inhibitions and allowing himself to have what he wants. Either way, Grantaire isn't inclined to complain, though he may very well scream if Enjolras goes any slower.
Enjolras's mouth is eager and he works down onto Grantaire's cock with the same focused determination that he approaches every other task set before him. Grantaire moans and arches up against him at the sensation of being at the center of all that focus. He's already halfway gone, and he wants it to last in case Enjolras changes his mind again once morning comes and the moment has passed, but Enjolras will not be put off.
He swallows Grantaire down deep, until Grantaire skims his fingers against his cheek and marvels that he doesn't choke on it, with his nose pressed to the hair at its base. Grantaire can feel his jaw work, feel the stretch of his lips around Grantaire's cock. He can feel every breath, every little, hungry sound that Enjolras makes in the back of his throat. This is going to be so quick, and Grantaire has never in his life wanted so badly for time to slow down.
Enjolras draws it out, one hand braced wide on Grantaire's hip to hold him down while the other moves over him with maddening care. But even so, it's only moments before everything in Grantaire is drawing tight. Heat prickles across his skin and for the first time since he stepped off the train, it isn't unwelcome.
Grantaire empties himself into Enjolras's mouth, one arm thrown over his face to muffle the long groan his climax pulls from him, and Enjolras draws back slowly, then licks him clean with a care and attention to detail that only serves to reignite the fire that has set Grantaire's nerves alight.
He has had his release, but he is not satisfied. He sits up, pushing Enjolras back, and when Enjolras sits back on his haunches, Grantaire pushes his knees apart and bends low to swallow him down all at once.
Enjolras makes a sound like he's been shot, hoarse and breathless. He puts a hand to the back of Grantaire's head and Grantaire wonders if he'll grab, and wonders if he'll mind. But when Enjolras's fingers curl through his hair, his grip remains careful.
Grantaire doesn't want careful. He wonders if Enjolras is remembering the last time they were like this, the temper that Grantaire drove him to and how it had stripped Enjolras of all patience and tenderness. He wonders if Enjolras is remembering the rough grip of his hands and forgetting how it turned Grantaire wild beneath him.
Grantaire is ravenous where Enjolras was cautious. He presses down quicker than he's ready for, flirting with too much as his throat goes tight around Enjolras's cock.
But the sounds Enjolras makes above him are worth the slight discomfort as his body reacquaints itself with how to do this well. They've lain together twice, but Grantaire has never heard him make noises like that before.
When Enjolras's grip gets tight and his hips twitch up into Grantaire's mouth at every touch of his tongue, Grantaire pulls back a little. Enjolras makes a sound of loss, but Grantaire doesn't go far, stays close enough to drag his tongue up the length of his cock even as he grabs at Enjolras's hip with one hand and his knee with the other. He uses it to push Enjolras around, getting him off his knees and stretched out onto his back, where his bent legs rise up to create a cage around Grantaire and Grantaire can stretch out his back and swallow Enjolras down much easier than before.
Enjolras stops protesting as soon as Grantaire has him back in his mouth again. Grantaire makes it fast and intent, his hands kneading at Enjolras, his lips wrapped tight as he sucks hard, and moves with Enjolras so he can't choke him when he bucks at the pressure.
"R," Enjolras gasps, and the sound of his name spoken like that makes Grantaire groan around his cock. His own interest is returning, slower to waken this time than the first, but he can't help but be aroused when he has Enjolras beneath him like this, too wild to remember not to be noisy.
"What do you want?" he asks, licking long strips up Enjolras's cock with the flat of his tongue.
Enjolras's expression twists like he can't bear to choose. "Your mouth," he says at last, gasped out like a prayer.
Grantaire nods and gives it to him, lips wrapped around him, sucking at just the head of his cock as he pumps his fist over the shaft. As his mouth works over him, Grantaire strokes a hand over the inside of Enjolras's thigh. The muscle there twitches beneath his touch, jerking every time Grantaire grazes his tongue against Enjolras's skin.
Grantaire's never seen Enjolras do that before. He's experienced it himself, but only ever when desperately turned on. The thought of that makes his lips curve around Enjolras's cock, makes him swallow him down deep again as he slides that hand up to stroke valley where his thigh and his hips join, and then delve deep, seeking out the tight pucker of muscle with a gentle fingertip.
Enjolras jerks beneath him when he finds it, snarls an oath and then he comes almost violently, shaking apart beneath Grantaire like a tree caught in a storm. His hands go tight, in Grantaire's hair and on his shoulder, and the salty bitterness of his release settles on Grantaire's tongue.
Grantaire swallows it, and licks him clean as Enjolras did for him. And if he spends perhaps just a little bit longer than necessary doing so, making sure to work his tongue over every ridge and into every crease, well, who can blame him for thoroughness?
It's Enjolras who ends it, catching Grantaire's face between his hands and pushing him back with a gasp. Grantaire lets himself be guided off of his cock, then crawls up Enjolras's body and stretches out over him. He lets his hips settle against Enjolras's, lets him feel the effect that bringing him to release has had on Grantaire. "Can I?" he asks, his eyes on Enjolras's, as he shifts his hips and gives a shallow thrust.
Enjolras's breath catches. Grantaire isn't sure if it's interest or oversensitivity, and he's prepared to pull away and deal with his arousal by himself. But Enjolras slides the hands on the sides of his face down to lace together at the back of his neck, and he holds Grantaire's gaze as he gives a slight nod. He pushes his hips up the next time Grantaire rocks his down, increasing the pressure, making it better.
Grantaire drops his head forward, letting it hang down between his shoulders as he lets himself move against Enjolras the way he's been wanting to. The friction of Enjolras's skin dragging against his cock is staggering. And Grantaire is already primed from the first time, so when Enjolras tucks his fingers beneath Grantaire's jaw and guides him up into a kiss, it only takes a moment of shared, shaky breath between them before Grantaire's coming once more.
He shakes so hard he feels as though he'll come right out of his skin from it. It's all he can do to lower himself carefully, half-draped across Enjolras. And they may have found a way to distract themselves from the heat for a time, but it's still just as oppressive as ever. Grantaire turns his face against Enjolras's chest and breathes against his skin, enjoying it while he can before Enjolras remembers that it's sweltering and shoves Grantaire off of him.
He waits, but it doesn't come. Enjolras's hands turn gentle on the back of his neck, fingers twisting idly through the hair at his nape. Grantaire lies still, just as he is for fear any movement will make Enjolras stop. His eyes are shut and his body is loose and lax, but Enjolras is touching him gently, almost fondly, and he couldn't possibly sleep so long as that's happening.
"Sleep," Enjolras says at last, gently, though Grantaire can't imagine what might have given away the fact that he wasn't. "We've squandered enough of the night, and dawn will come sooner than either of us would like, I imagine. There's work to be done, and we'll need our rest for it. Sleep, R."
Grantaire turns his head to the side, his cheek on Enjolras's chest instead of his face, so he can speak without it being garbled against his skin. Enjolras's touch doesn't fall away. "Don't stop," he says.
"Go to sleep, R," Enjolras says again, and this time, he sounds like he's smiling.
Grantaire does, and even as he's drifting off, he's aware of Enjolras's careful fingers still twisted through his hair, stroking gently across his scalp.
When the heat wave finally breaks, leaving the days hot but not unbearably so, they take advantage of the cooler temperatures to ride into town and take care of all the errands they've been putting off for weeks. They split up when they reach Amity, Enjolras to Combeferre's store to replenish supplies while Grantaire stops by Joly's practice for an ointment he'd promised them to treat a cow's abscess.
Joly's clinic is empty of patients, his head bent over accounting books when Grantaire arrives, and so he doesn't have to wait at all to make the barter — some of their tomatoes in exchange for the ointment — and he makes his way back to Combeferre's earlier than either of them had planned for.
The store looks mostly deserted when he steps inside. He hesitates just inside the doorway, blinking until his eyes have adjusted from the bright midday sun to the dimmer environment inside and he can move around without risking Combeferre's wares.
His pause at the doorway gives him enough time to realize that it's not as abandoned as he first thought. There's the sound of quiet voices from elsewhere in the shop, familiar enough to have Grantaire moving forward, seeking them out.
"You seem well." That's Combeferre, his voice as easy and pleasant as ever.
"Do I?" The surprise in Enjolras's voice makes Grantaire's steps slow. He reaches the end of a row of shelves and leans out carefully, looking around its end. Combeferre and Enjolras stand together a few strides away. They look as though they've paused in the middle of gathering supplies, a sack of sugar still in Enjolras's hands as though he's forgotten about it.
Combeferre lifts his brows and his smile widens, though it remains gentle. "Are things working out, then?"
Enjolras is motionless for a moment, and then he spins on his heel so he's in profile to Combeferre, his back to where Grantaire remains hidden. "He works hard and learns fast. He's all I could have asked for. All I did ask for. I'm not displeased."
Grantaire realizes with a start that they're talking about him. The jolt of it goes through him like a lightning strike and destroys any thoughts he might have had about coming forward and making himself known.
"Not displeased!" Combeferre laughs, still gentle about all of it. "Now that's damnation by faint praise if I've ever heard it. What's he done to justify that?"
"He is maddening," Enjolras says all at once. Grantaire huffs out a breath and rolls his eyes, but neither of the other men seem to notice.
Combeferre's face goes solemn and concerned in an instant. "You were just singing his praises a moment ago. Is he not working so hard as you need him to after all?"
"It isn't that." Enjolras turns back to face Combeferre again, so Grantaire can see the side of his face once more rather than just the back of his head. His brows are lowered and his mouth twisted into an unhappy curl. "He is... distracting."
Combeferre's brows twitch up in silent query.
"I cannot keep my wits about me when he's near. And you know the sort of work a farm requires, it's a rare day when he isn't working right at my side. Yesterday I nearly lost a foot while chopping fire wood because I couldn't keep my focus. I am not doing him or myself or the farm any favors like this."
Combeferre eases, smiling once more. "Did you really? How terrible."
His words are gently teasing, even Grantaire can tell that, but Enjolras seems to take them seriously, his expression growing more troubled, his fingers plucking at the seam of the sugar sack. "It isn't what I wanted from this. From him."
"You wanted a husband," Combeferre points out. Grantaire could hug him. "Is it so terrible to find you have one in truth, rather than in name only?"
"I can't work like this."
Combeferre's laughter is light and genuine. "Plenty of homesteaders work the land and make fine livings for themselves, even with husbands and wives and partners back home whom they love to distraction. I hardly believe that you cannot manage where they excel."
"I don't love him." Enjolras sounds panicked, desperate.
Grantaire shuts his eyes and wishes he had made his arrival obvious when he'd first come into the store. This isn't what he wants to hear.
"You care for him."
"I--" There's a sharp huff of air and a snarl that Grantaire knows all too well as Enjolras's frustrated one, the one he only makes when he's feeling helpless and furious about it. "I care for him as I would you, or Courfeyrac, or anyone else in Amity."
"Enjolras. You don't expect me to believe that you do not love your friends, do you? Because I know better."
Grantaire moves away from the shelf he's taken cover behind and eases away. He can't stay here and listen to Enjolras justify all the reasons why he can love his friends but not Grantaire. His heart is heavy enough as it is. He doesn't think he could bear anything more.
He makes his way back through the store, as silent as he can be, and leaves, shutting the door quietly behind himself. He pauses a moment there, just breathing in the dusty air, before turning around and coming back in. This time, he is sure to swing the door shut hard enough that anyone in the store ought to be able to hear it, and he makes his footsteps heavy on the floorboards as he makes his way into the store and calls out, "Enjolras? Aren't you finished yet?"
Enjolras comes out looking flustered and not quite willing to look Grantaire in the eye. His cheeks are red, and Combeferre follows him out a few steps behind.
"Not just yet, I'm afraid I distracted him," Combeferre says, smiling as easy as ever, and circles around behind the register. "Let's finish up, I don't mean to keep you."
"Did you get the ointment?" Enjolras asks him as Combeferre starts ringing their purchases up.
Grantaire's smile feels strained as he holds up the jar Joly gave him, but Enjolras doesn't seem to notice. "Joly had it all ready and everything."
Enjolras nods and hands money over to Combeferre when he gives him the total, and Grantaire tucks the jar safely into a pocket so that he can come forward to help Enjolras load the supplies up into their cart. He climbs up onto the seat while Enjolras goes back to have a final word with Combeferre.
Grantaire tries not to watch, he really does. He knows nothing good will come of it. Still, he finds his gaze drawn to them despite himself. Enjolras clasps Combeferre's hand and says something that makes him smile. Combeferre says something back that makes Enjolras frown, his mouth turned-down and unhappy. Grantaire hears his own name reach him, though faint enough he can't be sure which man spoke it.
When Enjolras climbs up to join him and take the reins, Grantaire shifts so that he's looking off to the side, his back ever so slightly turned toward Enjolras. He doesn't want to have to look at him right now, and if Enjolras tries to strike up a conversation, Grantaire doesn't think he's going to be able to keep from spilling out everything that he heard and all the emotions that are rioting inside of him.
They're three-quarters of the way home and Grantaire hasn't said a word when the inevitable comes. Enjolras sighs and shifts on the seat beside him. Grantaire hopes it's just discomfort from the ride, but he hopes in vain: a few hundred more yards down the road, Enjolras says, "I spoke with Combeferre while you were at Joly's."
Grantaire shuts his eyes. He doesn't have the strength for this, to listen to Enjolras insist once again that he doesn't love him. That he can't, like he thinks somehow saying that makes it better. But refusing to respond won't make Enjolras any less inclined to talk, so he forces his voice bright and carefree but keeps his back turned as he answers, "Oh? Anything interesting?"
Enjolras is silent for a few hundred more yards. Grantaire can't bear to look at him, but if he did he's sure he would see the same contemplative look he's seen on him any number of times before. Maybe with an added frown for good measure, since Grantaire has hardly seen him without one any time the conversation has turned this way before. "He says you've been asking Feuilly for carpentry help. And learning panning from Bossuet. And--"
"What of it?" Grantaire demands, spinning about to face him at last.
Enjolras's face is solemn, reproachful. "This is a difficult life we live out here, R," he says. "There's always more work to be done. You know that, or you ought to by now. When you take the time of others for yourself, you rob them of it. That's time they could be spending on their own work, earning their living. Everyone in Amity is good people and they'll give you the shirt off their back if you ask them, but that's the problem. They'll never tell you so, but you burden them when you impose upon them like that."
"Impose?" Grantaire gapes at him. "No one but you has minded until now, and I've done what I can to repay the time they've spent on me with barter and trade. But no one minds, I've not imposed upon anyone, and half of them have been the ones to offer. And you listen to me right now, Enjolras, because I won't have you thinking you have any right to tell me what I may or may not do, and who I may or may not befriend. I'm your husband, not your servant, and if my work about the farm is lacking in some way then I hope you'll tell me so, but otherwise I'll thank you to keep your damned opinions to yourself."
The horses are plodding up a rise in the road, going slow enough that Grantaire hops down off of the cart while they're still moving. Behind him, Enjolras makes a sharp sound of surprise, or perhaps frustration. "Where are you going?"
"I'm walking," Grantaire snaps without turning back to look at him and stalks off through the brush, taking the more direct way home, where no path has been cleared and the growth is too close for Enjolras to follow with the cart.
There will probably be hell to pay for it at home, but that's for later. For now, all Grantaire wants is a little bit of space, and the nice thing about the West is that it's got that in spades.
Two days later, they've done nothing but either fight or maintain a stony, furious silence with each other. When Grantaire wakes in the morning to a room still shrouded in darkness, the sun not up and so the day's work still a distant thought with little urgency yet, he takes advantage of it. Beside him, Enjolras's breathing is quicker and shallower than it is in sleep, belying the fact that he's awake, too, even though he doesn't stir.
Grantaire takes advantage of the gift of time and rolls over onto Enjolras. He jolts beneath Grantaire, then frames his hips in his hands and pulls him down into a rocking motion that has them both hard in moments.
He's still furious, still hurt, still terrified. But he's tired of unrelentingly awful days, and maybe if they get this one off to a better start they can get back to how they'd been before. It hadn't been perfect, but at least it had been better than this.
They fuck, and by the time they've both come and recovered enough to drag themselves out of bed, the sky outside is starting to brighten. They dress and eat breakfast together and manage to make it all the way to dawn without snapping at each other, and Grantaire counts it a victory.
A few days after that, Grantaire is putting away their clean laundry. In the back of the dresser, his fingers brush against something hard and sharp-edged.
He grasps it and pulls it out before he's able to think too much about it.
It's a wooden box, rectangular and shallow, and Grantaire only hesitates a moment before he opens it, too curious to resist. Inside, he finds paper -- folded sheets of paper secured with twine, and it's only when he takes up the first and turns it over to see the shock of his own handwriting scrawled on the outside that he realizes what he's found.
They're letters. His letters, all the ones he sent to Enjolras before he came out here to Amity. Grantaire carries the box over to the bed and drops down onto the mattress, feeling out of breath and winded. He never thought...
Enjolras kept them.
That has to mean something, doesn't it? He takes out the next letter, runs his fingers over the fold where it's become worn and frayed, as though Enjolras has opened and refolded the letter over and over again, reading it repeatedly.
Why would he keep the letters if they didn't mean something to him? If Grantaire didn't mean something to him. They weren't romantic letters, it wasn't a courtship, just an exchange to determine if they were compatible with each other, if they wanted the same things, if this arrangement could work. Grantaire didn't write anything meaningful or poignant in any of them. There's no reason for Enjolras to have kept them unless they carried some sentimental significance to him.
Grantaire leafs through them, staggered by the number. Enjolras kept all of them, by his count. Every single one. He unfolds one at random and reads through it, searching for some meaning, some glimpse of understanding. Enjolras refuses to love him. He didn't keep these for the sentiment of it. So, why then?
He sees nothing in the letter to justify it being kept and stored so carefully. It's simply further discussion about the expectations Enjolras would have of him on the farm, and answers to some of the questions Enjolras had asked him in his previous letter. Grantaire recalls writing it, suddenly and vividly. He remembers scratching the lines out in hurried strokes, bent over a borrowed desk with a borrowed pen because he'd been between places at that point. He'd been hungry, Grantaire remembers, his stomach knotted up from days of it.
It was such a different life than the one he's living now. It had been hell existing on his own with no one to rely upon but himself, never sure where his next meal would come from or how he was going to pay for the rent that would keep a roof over his head. Life here on the farm is its own kind of stress, and he works longer and harder now than he ever did back in the city. But he has Enjolras to share the load, and a house that's his, and crops growing in the fields so he never has to wonder whether he's going to be able to eat.
He doesn't want to go back East, he's sure of that. He's glad to have that life behind him and he likes Amity, likes the place itself just as much as the people in it. He has friends here. He has a community the likes of which he's never had before, and there's value to that. He doesn't want to walk away from them.
But there are others in Amity who are unwed, and yet seem happy enough. Enjolras may have been the one who brought him here but they're his own friends now. He can have the friendship and the community on his own merits.
He made a promise to Enjolras, and he meant it when he made it. There's a twist of guilt in his gut at the thought of breaking it now. But how could he have known at the time that things would be like this? He meant what he said, but he's not sure he can bear the fact that he's falling in love with a man who acts as though loving him back would be the worst fate in the world. He's not sure he should.
The sound of the horses outside signals Enjolras's return. Grantaire hastily folds the letters back up and tucks the box back into the space where he'd found it. He tries to keep his thoughts off of it as he goes about his work the rest of the day, but they come back to it as though drawn by a magnet, no matter how hard he tries to focus. Still, even when Enjolras gives him concerned looks and asks him if everything's all right, Grantaire doesn't confess the thoughts that weigh on his mind. He's pretty sure nothing he has to say on the matter would be in any way comforting.
Later that same week Grantaire is out gathering beans, just pausing to lean in the shade of a tree for a moment and wipe the sweat from his brow when the rapid thunder of approaching hoofbeats makes him straighten, turning toward the road.
A horse comes over the rise a moment later, flying at a punishing gallop. Grantaire drops his basket and runs to open the gate and let their visitor through. It isn't until the rider slows to allow him to swing the gate open that Grantaire can even be sure who it is -- Bahorel, come racing over on Tulip from Fantine's ranch. The mare is worked to a lather, breathing heavy and white-eyed from exertion, and Bahorel looks little better himself.
"What's going on?" Grantaire demands as Bahorel guides the horse through the gate and kicks her through her paces, back up to a trot and then a canter.
"Patron-Minette's been sighted nearby," he calls back over his shoulder as they make for the house, and Grantaire only stops long enough to latch up the gate again before he's racing after them, running as fast as his feet will carry him.
Bahorel's just begun to tell his story to Enjolras when Grantaire reaches them. They haven't even made it inside yet, Enjolras having come out to see what the fuss was all about. Bahorel is leaning hard against the outside of the house, obviously exhausted, and Enjolras is focused upon him, so Grantaire starts pulling the saddle and blankets off of the sweaty mare and brushing her down. It's half because she needs it — the other two will do her no favors if they neglect her in favor of the news Bahorel has brought -- and half because it gives him an excuse to stay near and hear what's being said.
"We had a fence break last night," Bahorel's saying, his words gasped out in the spaces between each breath. "Figured it was just the cattle being rowdy on account of the heat, but Éponine saw them when she was out rounding up the last of the herd. It was a few miles off from town, they must have figured they were far enough out to be safe because they had a cook fire going and tents set up all around. They looked like they'd been trenched in there a while, she says, and it's out in the middle of nothing but arid land and scraggly weeds. I can't imagine what they'd be camped out there for unless it's--"
"Amity," Enjolras says quietly, his face gone grey and tight. "They're planning their next move, then. I suppose it was too much to hope they'd make their threats and then be done with it when they saw we couldn't be intimidated."
Bahorel's laughter is short and sharp and carries no humor in it at all. "You knew they wouldn't."
"Of course not." Enjolras looks as weary as if they'd worked all day and well into the night. His shoulders slump and his mouth takes a grim set. He glances at Grantaire and catches his eye across the horse's withers, and his expression only grows more bleak, more grim. "We'll need to meet, so we can plan," he says to Bahorel, and to Grantaire, "R, I need you here to stand guard over the farm. You know the alarm whistles?"
"Of course I know them." Everyone in Amity learned them after Patron-Minette's first appearance. They're not something he thinks he'll ever forget, not with the threat of losing home and friends and family to secure it in his memory.
"Good. Get you mare saddled, will you? Bahorel's is too spent to ride back into town." He clasps Bahorel on the shoulder and gives him a light push toward the house. "Go inside, get yourself something to eat and drink or you'll be too spent for the journey, too. We'll board your horse up tonight and send her back home in the morning."
Enjolras takes the reins of Bahorel's horse and leads her toward the stable. Grantaire walks along with him, and he saddles the mare while Enjolras does the same to his own horse. In a few moments, they're both ready to ride, and Bahorel is on his way up from the house.
"Be safe," Enjolras says to Grantaire as he pulls himself up into the saddle.
Grantaire laughs, the sound startled out of him. "I'm not the one riding down on Patron-Minette."
Enjolras's mouth goes thin and his brows furrow, every line of his face set with disapproval. He doesn't have to say a word for Grantaire to know what he's thinking -- that Grantaire may not be the one riding out on the gang's heels, but that he is the one Patron-Minette took undue notice of when they'd first arrived in Amity. Neither of them are stupid enough to think that their interest might have waned just because of the time that's passed.
"I'll be safe," Grantaire says, quiet and solemn. Enjolras nods once in acknowledgment. "I know the signals, and I'll keep an eye on the horizon."
"Good." Enjolras bends down in the saddle to take something from Bahorel. When he slings it around his hips, Grantaire realizes with a lurch that it's a gun belt. "I imagine I'll be late. We have much to discuss."
That thought only strengthens the queasiness that has already gripped Grantaire at the sight of the gun, and the thought that Enjolras might need to use it. "I'll wait up."
"You don't have to do that."
"I'm going to wait for you, Enjolras."
Enjolras hesitates, then nods once more. "I'll be back tonight," he says, and it sounds like a promise. Grantaire can only hope he meant it as one.
There's a new pattern to their days now, and while he's grateful for relief from the heat, Grantaire can't say he likes it any better at all.
There's still work to be done to ensure their livelihood, and it's still too much for one man to do on his own, so they work together as they always have during the daylight hours. It's not uncommon now, though, for someone to ride in from Amity or over from Fantine's ranch, to take lunch with them and bow their heads together with Enjolras's in intense conversation.
Grantaire doesn't listen too close and he doesn't ask, and they volunteer very little information. He's not excluded, but he's not exactly included either, and it's never been more obvious that while the townsfolk may have welcomed him openly, they still don't consider him one of their own.
It's in the evenings that the true difference can be felt, because now Enjolras scarcely stops long enough to gulp down supper before he's running out the door, riding in to meet with the others and plan what to do about Patron-Minette.
"Be safe," he always tells Grantaire as he stands in the doorway, quivering like a horse waiting to be loosed from its harness.
"I'll wait up," Grantaire always answers, and he always does, even on the nights when Enjolras makes it home closer to dawn than to dusk and they both suffer for it the next morning.
The late nights leave Enjolras too exhausted to do anything more than fall into bed. Grantaire should by rights be just as tired as he is, since waiting up for him means he sleeps just as little, but some nights he finds himself lying in bed beside Enjolras and unable to sleep. Thoughts and worries fly through his mind, brought to life by the fear for Enjolras's safety that churns through his stomach every evening until he makes it home safely.
He trusts Enjolras to tell him the truth, but he also knows him, and he's not entirely certain that Enjolras wouldn't exaggerate the threat if it gave him an excuse to be out of the house and avoid the temptation to indulge in his desires. For all that he claimed that night to be willing to lie with Grantaire so long as it meant nothing more than sharing in mutual pleasure, they've done so rarely since, and not at all since Bahorel's arrival created all this urgency.
Grantaire takes to whittling by lamp light in the evenings while he waits for Enjolras to return. It gives him a way to keep his hands occupied and his thoughts busy with something other than worry. Because he can still feel the tension in the distance between them, he sets himself to whittling useful things, spoons and forks and bowls and hair combs like the one he made for Cosette. And because boredom would drive him batty otherwise, he makes the functional things decorative as well. He carves squirrels or stalks of wheat into the handles of the forks and spoons, decorates the outsides of bowls with relief carvings of snow-capped mountains and twisting rivers.
The next time they both ride in to Amity, not for a meeting but just to run errands, Grantaire gathers up everything he's finished and brings it to Combeferre. He lays them out on the counter before him and watches as Combeferre looks them over, turning them about in his hands and gliding gentle fingers along the carvings.
"Grantaire…" There's a reluctant note to his voice that makes Grantaire's gut tighten with dread. Combeferre gestures helplessly. "These are lovely. City folk would pay well for them. But folks out here, they don't have the kind of money to pay for them. I could put them on the shelves, if you'd like, but I don't think they'll sell."
"You sell bowls and spoons and things, I know you do," Grantaire says, bewildered. "People buy those, why not mine?"
"They're simple. Plain. It makes them inexpensive enough to afford."
"Sell mine for what you do those."
"I can't—" Combeferre looks horrified. "They're worth so much more than that."
"They're worth nothing if no one buys them. Please, Combeferre?" He can feel the gulf between him and Enjolras widening, stretching the distance between the farm and Amity, and it frightens him. His little vial of gold is nearly full, but it's not enough to live on for any length of time if he finds himself suddenly left to his own devices. He needs more than that. "There's only two of us at home, we don't need this many bowls, but I'll go mad if I don't have something to keep me busy. Please? Sell them for a penny each, for all I care."
If anything, that only makes Combeferre look more horrified. He looks down again at the items laid out before him and scrubs a hand over his brow and sighs. "I'm not going to sell them for a penny," he says at last. "I'll— I'll see what I can do, I'll see if I can find a price they'll sell at that isn't grossly unfair to you and the labor you've put into them. I can't promise anything, but I'll try."
Grantaire feels like he can breathe for the first time since he walked into Combeferre's store. "Thank you," he says, and they shake on it.
A few nights later, Enjolras returns home from Amity earlier than Grantaire expected him. Grantaire sets aside his whittling and goes to meet him at the door.
He looks haggard and worn, as though he's been out all day rather than just a few scant hours. Grantaire steps aside wordlessly to let him through the door, follows him into the main room, and urges him down into a chair with the weight of one hand upon his shoulder.
"What is it? What's happened?" He pushes at the shoulders of Enjolras's coat, guiding it down his arms and off, then moves to the button of his waistcoat.
Enjolras shakes his head and leans his forehead in his hands. His shoulders slump, with dejection or defeat Grantaire can't be sure. "They disbanded their camp." His voice shows the strain he's been suffering in every word. "We had hoped it meant they'd grown weary of this sport and gone off to find other, more obliging towns to blackmail. But Bossuet found them while riding out on patrol this afternoon, camped out even closer than before. It's only a matter of time before they make a move on Amity."
Grantaire lowers himself to his knees before Enjolras's chair. He slides his fingers through his hair, pushing it back out of his face so he can look up at him. "Can you ride out and meet them? Take them by surprise and chase them off before they have a chance to know they've been found. If they aren't retreating, it's because you haven't yet shown them that Amity won't be worth their time."
Enjolras gives a sharp burst of air and an impatient sweep of his hand. "With what men? We could ride out and take them on, and I'd wager we have enough men we could make a decent showing of it, too. But what then? If we ride out with all our men, we leave Amity itself defenseless. If we leave some behind to protect the town, we'll never be able to match their numbers. And if we abandon the town in order to make a point, then what was the purpose of defending it in the first place?"
There are lines in his brow that Grantaire hasn't seen before, carved deep with worry and matched by the creases that bracket his mouth. Grantaire strokes his fingers over them, trying to soothe them away, until Enjolras sighs and lifts a hand to grasp Grantaire's by the wrist.
"Stop," he says, quiet and weary. "You're just trying to use my agitation to convince me to lie with you, and I won't be coaxed."
Grantaire sits back on his heels and laughs, quietly but with genuine amusement behind it. "Do you know," he says, reaching out to Enjolras again, "for once, I swear I wasn't. I was thinking nothing of the sort." His fingers brush Enjolras's cheek. Enjolras shuts his eyes and leans into the touch, ever so slightly. "I thought only to bring you comfort, and perhaps a moment's ease."
"Did you." It's not quite a question.
Enjolras is still frowning, still looking faintly troubled. Grantaire smooths his fingers over those lines again, then down to run along Enjolras's neck and the line of his jaw. "I had no greater motive," he says. "But if it would bring you comfort, or even a moment's distraction, you know I am willing."
Enjolras opens his eyes and looks at him. He's so solemn, and his eyes bore through Grantaire until it feels as though they've found the very heart of him. "It might," he says at last. "God knows, I have found it distracting enough before." His hand tightens around Grantaire's wrist, and the other slips behind his shoulder to guide him up.
Grantaire climbs into the chair with him, kneeling astride Enjolras's lap. They fuck like that, Grantaire riding him, keeping the pace slow and easy as Enjolras's hands grasp at his back. He winds his arms around Enjolras's neck and kisses him. He doesn't stop until they're both spent, leaning in against one another, their rhythm forgotten.
Grantaire tucks a knuckle beneath Enjolras's chin and tips his face up. He lays a chaste kiss on his mouth. "Will you sleep now?"
"Yes." Enjolras wraps his arms around Grantaire's waist and leans his head against his collarbone as though he means to do so right there in the chair. "Yes, I think I may be able to. Thank you."
Grantaire smiles a little and slides off his lap, rising to his feet and urging Enjolras up so he can lead him to the bedroom. "Come, then. Come to bed."
Enjolras follows him, and once they're in bed Grantaire wraps around him despite the heat, and does his best to keep the worries at bay.
There's a piece of fence out on the back pasture that's been needing to be mended for a few weeks now. It's not completely falling down yet, and the cows have mostly been leaving it alone, so it's been repeatedly pushed down the list of chores in favor of other, more urgent tasks. But with Patron-Minette's growing threat, neither of them are willing to take the risk of a weakened fence. That's how herds and livelihoods are lost.
Grantaire works on reinforcing one section of fence while Enjolras works on another at the far end of the pasture. The cows mill about, idly curious about their presence and occasionally wandering up to sniff at Grantaire's hair and huff hot breath on the back of his neck, only to amble away again.
The only one who takes any particular interest in the proceedings is one of the calves, who keeps close and occasionally nudges at Grantaire's elbow like an impatient child seeking attention. Grantaire scratches him idly beneath the chin while he fishes about for a nail and keeps a careful eye on him lest he spook once Grantaire starts hammering.
The calf seems immune to it all, until Grantaire bends down to grab another handful of nails just as Enjolras starts hammering from the other end of the pasture. The calf spooks and spins about toward the sound, his hooves flying up, and one of them catches Grantaire in the shoulder hard enough to throw him off his feet.
Pain flares in his shoulder, and he has just enough time to think, Oh shit before he's crashing back down to the ground, landing hard on the shoulder the calf kicked, and the pain erupts into an agony that leaves him twisting on the ground, biting back a strangled scream.
Distantly, he hears his name being shouted, but it's nearly lost between the thunder of his pulse in his ears and the shriek of pain tearing through him. Hands on his back urge him upright, and Grantaire groans a protest. He tries to throw his hands out to fend Enjolras off, but his right arm won't work at all.
Panic rises up to choke him. He fights back the tide of it, struggles to breathe past the iron bands that have cinched tight around his chest. "Enjolras?" His own voice comes out thin and strangled. He blinks back the haze of pain and looks for Enjolras, finds him in his knees in the dirt, his hands racing over Grantaire but conspicuously avoiding his shoulder.
"What is it? What's wrong?" He fights back the tide of bile surging up in him. If Enjolras is this frantic and his shoulder hurts this bad, it can only be dire, can't it? But Grantaire can't bear to look and see for himself.
"You--" Enjolras stops and clears his throat. He looks at Grantaire and his face is shining with worry, but he keeps his words brisk and efficient. "Dislocated, I think." His fingers brush Grantaire's shoulder, as light as a whisper, and Grantaire does a very stupid thing and looks down.
It doesn't look right. That's his first, delirious thought. It looks wrong, misshapen and deformed, and knowing is one thing but seeing it like that makes him want to throw up. "Dislocated," he echoes, a thin whisper. "You can put it back into place, right?"
A line forms in the center of Enjolras's brow, deep and troubled. "Not unless you'd prefer to risk a broken arm to a dislocated shoulder. Joly would have my head if he found out I'd tried." He sits back and pulls his shirt off over his head, then starts tearing it into strips at the hem. In a moment, his shirt is destroyed and he has a long, broad strip of fabric piled in his lap.
Enjolras reaches for him, but hesitates just before they touch. His gaze goes up to Grantaire's and holds it there. "I'm sorry," he says quietly. "If this hurts."
Grantaire shuts his eyes and shakes his head. "Just be done with it."
Enjolras takes his wrist with gentle fingers and bends his arm so his hand is over his heart. It makes his shoulder strain a little, makes him gasp as sweat beads on his brow. It's uncomfortable but it doesn't hurt, not really. But there's the threat of it lurking in the way his skin strains across the misshapen joint, and it makes Grantaire lightheaded at the thought of what's to come.
Enjolras uses the strip torn from his shirt to bind Grantaire's arm in place. He wraps it securely, pulling tight enough that Grantaire grimaces, and when he's done Grantaire feels as trussed up as a Christmas goose. Enjolras looks satisfied, though, as he surveys his handiwork. "There. How does that feel?"
Grantaire opens his mouth to tell Enjolras that it feels as though his shoulder's dislocated, but Enjolras anticipates him.
"Does it feel secure?"
He thinks about it and twists a little at the waist, testing how well the bandages hold at the movement. "Secure enough," he says.
"Good. We need to get you back to the house, but I want to be sure that'll hold while you walk." Enjolras gets his feet under himself but stays crouching, grabbing at Grantaire's good arm to try to take some of the weight. "Come on, up you get."
Grantaire has heard him speak that same way to an obstinate horse who didn't want to go where Enjolras lead him. It makes Grantaire smile a little, makes him feel unbearably fond.
It takes both of them to accomplish it, but he manages to get his feet underneath him and get up out of the dirt, and all without jarring his arm too badly. That still leaves the walk back home before him, though, and the distance from the pasture to the house suddenly seems as daunting as a thousand-mile journey.
"Come on," Enjolras says in that same careful, coaxing tone. He puts a hand behind Grantaire's good shoulder to urge him forward. "It's not so far."
"That's easy for you to say." Grantaire smiles, trying to play it off as a joke, but he's not sure the smile is terribly comforting if Enjolras's expression is anything to go by.
The walk back to the house is even longer than it would ordinarily be, because there's a fence in the way that Grantaire would just climb over to take the more direct route, any other time. But now they have to walk around to the pasture gate instead, and take the longer way home. Enjolras's bandages hold well, but they can't change the fact that every step jars him just a little bit, and every time his arm shifts his breath catches with the undeniable feeling that something is wrong.
They make it back eventually, though. Grantaire's nauseous and covered in a cold sweat by the time they do, and Enjolras leads him straight back to the bedroom and pushes him down into the bed. "You'll stay here," he says fiercely. "I'm going to go get Joly. If you've so much as moved a muscle by the time I get back, so help me--"
"Joly?" Grantaire shuts his eyes as another wave of nausea rolls through him. "That'll take you an hour, at least. Enjolras..." He gropes out with his uninjured hand and grabs onto Enjolras's hard. "Don't. Stay."
Enjolras looks agonized, but he shakes his head all the same. "I can't do that. You need Joly's expertise, and how else will he know to come? If I'd known you were going to do something so stupid and reckless, I'd have started training up messenger pigeons months ago, but as it is, there's only me."
Grantaire smiles at the joke, but it falls away quickly. "Don't leave me alone."
Enjolras stares at him, his fingers going tight around Grantaire's hand. He swears violently and bends over the bed, catching Grantaire's face between his hands and kissing him hard. "Don't ask that of me. You need help, and there's no other way." He steps back when Grantaire reaches for him. "I'll be back in forty-five minutes."
"Don't make promises you can't keep. It'll take you at least a full hour to get there and back again."
"Forty-five minutes," Enjolras says with conviction, and then he spins on his heel and is gone, running out of the house and toward the stable.
Grantaire shuts his eyes and tries to convince himself that he's just lying here to rest a little, that he's taking a nap, that everything's fine. But he's a terrible liar, and the knot in his stomach refuses to ease.
It's precisely forty-seven minutes by the clock when Enjolras bursts through the bedroom door, Joly just behind him. "You're late," Grantaire says with a wan smile.
"I'm here now." Enjolras drops to his knees at the bedside and grips Grantaire's hand between both of his. He looks to Joly. "Doctor?"
"Give me a moment," Joly says with a tight smile as he makes his way around the bed. He pulls at the knot securing Grantaire's makeshift sling and begins to carefully unwrap the bandages.
Grantaire keeps his head tipped back, his eyes fixed on the roof overhead and his thoughts focused on Enjolras beside him, gripping his hand tight as though to make up for his absence. Enjolras, staring at him with a desperate worry, his eyes shining as though he's suffering pain right alongside Grantaire. Enjolras kissing him before he left, and how marvelous it was, and how worrying, because he's never been moved to a display like that before and Grantaire can only wonder how bad it all must be to make Enjolras so afraid.
"It's dislocated," Joly pronounces when he's got all the bandages off and has run his hands carefully over Grantaire's shoulder. His fingers pause on the front of Grantaire's shoulder, pressing gently, and Grantaire hisses in a breath at the sharp pain. "And a fairly nasty contusion. What happened?"
"I was at the other end of the pasture. I didn't see." Enjolras looks at Grantaire, prompting him for an answer, an explanation.
Grantaire grimaces. He wants to run a hand over his face, to gain just a moment's reprieve from their attention because it was stupid and he knows it was stupid. But Enjolras is still holding onto his hand with a tight grip, and Grantaire would suffer a thousand torments before he'd make him stop. "A calf got spooked and I was unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He caught me with his hoof and knocked me back off my feet. I can't say if it was the calf or the fall that dislocated it, I was fairly preoccupied at the time."
Enjolras hisses out a sharp breath of air. "You idiot. Christ." He turns away, bringing one hand up to pass over his eyes. "You could have been killed."
Enjolras is shaking and Grantaire can't look away.
"Enjolras," he says quietly. "I'll be fine. You can fix a dislocated shoulder, right, Doc?"
"I can," Joly says, and he's grim too, his mouth set in serious lines. "But Enjolras is right. You're very, very lucky. Either the blow or the fall might have just as easily broken the shoulder as dislocated it." He touches Grantaire's chest, a hand's span from his shoulder. "And if he'd caught you here, he'd have broken your ribs and punctured your lung, and you wouldn't have survived long enough for Enjolras to get me and bring me to you." He moves his touch to the center of Grantaire's chest, just over his sternum. "Here, and he'd have crushed your heart. You'd have been dead before you hit the ground."
Joly's words are doing nothing to calm Enjolras. If anything, his breathing is only growing more ragged, the wildness in his eyes only growing more desperate. "He didn't, though," Grantaire says firmly, and squeezes Enjolras's hand. "I'll be fine."
"Of course you will." Enjolras releases his hand to brush stray tendrils of hair from Grantaire's face. "Aren't I supposed to be the one reassuring you?"
"That is generally how it's done, I think, yes. Did you want to try?" He smiles when it makes Enjolras huff out a breath, annoyed. "Yes, that's a good start. There can't be too much wrong with the world if you're still irritated with me."
Enjolras's eyes go soft at that. He takes Grantaire's hand between his again and holds it tight. His gaze goes across Grantaire to Joly. "You can relocate it, can't you?"
"Yes." There's a reluctance to Joly's voice that makes Grantaire grimace. He knows what's coming before Joly even says it. "It's going to hurt, R. It's going to hurt a lot."
"Best get it done with quickly, then," he says, and turns his face to Enjolras. "Distract me."
Enjolras gives a sharp, disbelieving laugh. "I don't know that there's anything I could say or do that's great enough to distract you from what's coming."
"I could think of a few things."
Enjolras's smile is strained, but he's trying so hard that Grantaire can scarcely point it out to him. "I'm sure I'll approve of precisely none of them. You can tell me all about it when we've finished, all right?"
"Just do it, Doc," Grantaire says to Joly, but he keeps his face turned toward Enjolras, so he's all he can see. "I won't be any more keen on it five minutes from now. Get it over with." He turns his attention back to Enjolras. "And you. You could try smiling, for a start."
Grantaire nearly laughs when the request makes Enjolras frown instead. "I hardly see how that will accomplish anything."
Joly grasps Grantaire's arm by the elbow and the wrist, uses it to bend and twist his arm about in ways that twist and pull things in ways they weren't ever meant to go. Grantaire gasps and forces his attention back to Enjolras, kneeling there next to him as worried as though Grantaire were on his deathbed.
"Tell me about your meetings," he demands, grasping out for the first thing that comes to mind.
"There's hardly anything to tell. We meet, we talk, we plan, I can't think what you might find interesting about--" Joly does something that sends a white hot bolt of pain through Grantaire's arm. He cries out, and Enjolras's face goes ashen. He's silent for the space of a single heartbeat before he continues "Cosette's come to some of the meetings, I imagine you'd find that interesting. And she's brought Valjean a time or two, as well. I think he feels guilty for being the temptation that brought Patron-Minette to town in the first place. There's something strange going on between the two of them and Fantine, though. She's never herself when they're around."
Grantaire laughs brokenly. Joly is tightening his grip on Grantaire's arm, and that can mean nothing good. "Do you mean there's something in this town that I know more about than you do?"
Enjolras's gaze goes sharp on him. "What is it?"
Grantaire shakes his head. "It's not mine to tell. You'll just have to figure out for yourself how to get her to confide in you."
Enjolras's mouth turns thin, but it only lasts for a moment. His gaze flicks across Grantaire to where Joly's standing and the irritation vanishes, leaving him looking flat and featureless, and Grantaire knows it's coming.
He does what he can to stay relaxed for it, but still, when Joly wrenches his arm around and the bone of his arm grates back into place, Grantaire screams.
When he comes back to himself, Enjolras has half climbed into the bed with him, hands racing over his face and his chest and his uninjured arm, a steady, frantic stream of reassurances running over Grantaire like water, cool and comforting. He floats on it a while as the agony in his arm fades to a throbbing ache.
"Try that," Joly says. "Can you move the arm now? Not too much, mind, just enough to be sure."
Grantaire flexes his arm up and down, forward and back. Movement hurts, but at least it's possible, and he breathes easier now that his arm is no longer hanging limp and useless at his side.
Joly urges him upright and Enjolras helps him sit. He presses in close against his back, helping him to remain upright, and only moves when Joly needs him to so he can wrap fresh, clean bandages around the arm, binding it into place.
"You'll leave the wraps on for three days at least," Joly says, fixing him with a stern look. "Five would be better. A solid week would be best. When the wraps come off, you can start using the arm again, but only a little at first. The muscles are damaged from the trauma, and they'll need time to heal. If anything hurts, you stop immediately, do you understand? If you don't give it the time it needs to heal and strengthen, it'll dislocate again, and it won't take a kick from a cow to manage it next time."
"I promise," Grantaire says.
Behind him, Enjolras clasps a hand on his shoulder and tells Joly, "I'll ensure he follows your instructions to the letter, don't worry."
Joly doesn't look reassured until Enjolras gives his promise. Grantaire thinks he should be insulted, but he's too exhausted and too relieved to bother. "Is that all?" He leans back against Enjolras's support behind him, relishing the strength and steadiness of him, the way he wraps an arm around Grantaire's waist to hold him close.
"Just about. I'll send someone by with a bottle of laudanum for the pain." Joly cleans up the bedside briskly, tucking his supplies back into his medicine bag. He looks past Grantaire to Enjolras. "Keep him resting. Three days, no less."
"I will," Enjolras promises, and Grantaire might be a bit more intrigued by the idea of Enjolras keeping him in bed for three days if he didn't sound so positively grim about it.
Enjolras is a terrible nursemaid. He hardly lets Grantaire out of bed for anything but the necessity of relieving himself. He brings him bowls of milk toast until Grantaire remarks that it's his arm that's weak, not his stomach. When Grantaire wonders at all the work that must be going neglected while Enjolras cares for him, Enjolras fixes him with a look that would make any man quake in his boots and insists that the most important task is right there in front of him.
He is caring and attentive and thoughtful, and by the third day Grantaire wants to scream. He wants to get out of bed and stretch the soreness from his legs. He wants to be able to cook a meal for himself again. He wants to be useful, not infirm.
Enjolras appears in the bedroom doorway as soon as Grantaire swings his legs over the bed's edge, looking fearsome. "Stop that. Three days, he said."
"It's the third," Grantaire says, and doesn't retreat back to the bed.
"Would you prefer five? Or seven?" Enjolras comes into the room, shooing him back until he has no choice but to go. "If you won't do as you're told, I'll see to it that you stay in bed until I'm satisfied, and I'd wager I won't be so lenient as Joly."
Grantaire drops back onto the bed and laughs up at the roof overhead. "You can't do that. That's terribly unfair."
"Don't blame me for it." Enjolras stands at the side of the bed, looking down on him. "I'm not the one who didn't have the good sense to get out of the way of a spooked cow."
"That's not what I mean." Grantaire gives Enjolras a moment to look bewildered before he takes pity on him. "You can't make comments about keeping me in bed until you're satisfied when I know damned well you don't mean to follow through on any of them, not in the way that really matters."
Enjolras sighs at him, as heavy as if Grantaire asked him for the world. "You're injured," he says firmly, and climbs up onto the bed beside Grantaire to lie stretched out at his side. "I won't have a hand in making that worse."
Grantaire rolls into him and presses his face to Enjolras's chest. For all his bluster, it feels like a miracle just to have Enjolras like this, close and comfortable and not tensing up every time Grantaire dares a fleeting touch.
"You're making it better," Grantaire murmurs against his skin, and lifts his head just in time to catch the flash of Enjolras's smile.
The next day is the fourth, and Grantaire persuades Enjolras to help him untie Joly's makeshift sling, even though Enjolras frowns at him like he's just declared his intention to start swinging axes and hauling firewood with his impending freedom.
"He said three days," Grantaire points out.
"He said five or seven would be better."
"My arm's going to atrophy. I'll lose all the strength I've been building up in it all summer and I'll be no use to you around the farm any longer."
Enjolras sighs and pulls at the knot, even as he says, "I'll take the sling off if you promise me not to use that arm for the full week. If you injure that arm or damage the shoulder you'll be no use to me around the farm, either. We can survive a week without you."
Grantaire makes a face but doesn't protest, and when Enjolras turns him around to fix him with a stern look, he says the words. "I promise."
"Good." Enjolras takes his face between his hands and kisses him lightly. Grantaire's still not used to that, to how easy Enjolras is with affection lately. It does occur to him to wonder if maybe the pain was worth it, if that's what it took to get Enjolras over himself. He'd have dislocated his shoulder weeks ago if he'd known this was the effect it'd have.
Enjolras continues, "Now go back to bed. I know you didn't sleep well, you were tossing and turning all night, and you need your rest."
"I'm hungry," Grantaire says.
"I'll bring you some--"
"If you say milk toast, I am going to dump the bowl of it over your head, I swear to God."
Enjolras breaks off and flashes another brief smile. "Breakfast," he finishes, and Grantaire is one hundred percent certain that that's not how he'd originally intended to end the sentence. "I'll bring you some breakfast. Go back to bed, R."
Grantaire goes, because he really did sleep terribly and his eyes feel full of sand, and the prospect of a hot breakfast that he doesn't have to cook himself sounds entirely too appealing to pass up. He crawls into bed and under the blankets, and is asleep in moments. He doesn't stir at all until some time later, when Enjolras shakes him awake with a hand on his good shoulder.
"Come on, R, sit up. I made eggs and bacon."
Grantaire sits up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and props his back against the headboard so he can balance the plate on his knees. Enjolras is smiling at him almost fondly and Grantaire doesn't know what to do about that, so he just eats, shoveling bites into his mouth. When Enjolras tries to leave, though, Grantaire reaches out and grabs him by the wrist.
"Stay," he says.
Enjolras huffs a laugh. "There's work to be done, R."
"If I know you at all, I'd guess that you haven't eaten, despite making this for me." Enjolras's grimace is all the confirmation he needs. "Get a plate for yourself and stay. Please."
Enjolras sighs and relents. "Very well. But you're going to have to release me for me to do so." He gives a pointed look at the fingers Grantaire has wrapped around his wrist.
"If you're not back in five minutes, I'm going to hunt you down."
Enjolras doesn't look terribly impressed by the threat, but Grantaire lets go of him anyway. He returns his attention to eating while Enjolras is gone, and by the time he returns with his own breakfast, Grantaire has emptied his plate.
He makes room for Enjolras to climb into bed, helps him steady the plate so he doesn't spill anything as he settles himself. And then, because the idea of sleep is still a seductive one and because he can hardly bring himself to have Enjolras in bed with him like this and pass on the opportunity to enjoy it, he slides down under the blankets again and presses in against Enjolras's side, head pillowed on his lap, an arm and a leg flung across his legs to hold him close. It's very comfortable, wrapped around him like that. Grantaire could sleep for hours just like this.
Enjolras goes very still for a moment. He lays a gentle hand on the back of Grantaire's head. "Don't mind me," Grantaire mumbles, already halfway gone.
"I don't," Enjolras says very quietly, and strokes his hair until Grantaire falls all the way back to sleep.
When Grantaire wakes again, he's still wrapped around Enjolras like a vine. Enjolras has an arm around his back as though to keep him there and Grantaire doesn't dare move at all, because he's hard and he's sure that any movement will draw Enjolras's attention to that fact and ruin how nice it is to wake up like this.
He thinks Enjolras is sleeping, too -- his breathing's slow and deep in the way that it is when he sleeps, in any case -- and he tries to think of a way to defuse the situation without either drawing attention to it or having to pull out of Enjolras's embrace.
He only has a moment, though. He hasn't moved, hasn't even so much as opened his eyes, but even so Enjolras sighs like he's disappointed and says, "Honestly, R."
The moment's ruined anyway, so Grantaire rolls onto his back and scrubs the heels of his hands over his eyes. "It's morning. I can't help it."
Enjolras hums a noncommittal noise that sounds like he's gearing up for a lecture about self-control and discipline. It's the last thing he wants to hear when Enjolras has been denying them both for weeks now. He misses the closeness — even lying with just a few inches separating them feels like too great a distance now — and Grantaire is still asleep enough to be brazen, so he catches Enjolras's hand in his and pulls it to his hip.
"You could, though," he says, and adds, "Help it," to make his meaning plain.
Enjolras doesn't quite sigh again, but it's a near thing. He presses his lips flat and gives Grantaire a look like he's a child who keeps failing to live up to Enjolras's expectations. He doesn't pull his hand away, though. His palm is warm on Grantaire's skin, his fingers rough and callused from work. "You are determined to re-injure that arm," he says, disapproving.
"I'm not. I won't." Grantaire grins because he already knows he's won. If Enjolras had truly been opposed to the idea, he'd have snatched his hand away the instant Grantaire had put it on his skin. He'd have started into another lecture about how their marriage is a business arrangement and nothing more. Instead, he stares at Grantaire as though he's a ship and Grantaire is a rocky shore and Enjolras just knows that he's going to throw himself at him and damn the consequences. He tightens his grip on Grantaire, pressing his thumb into the hollow of his hip until Grantaire catches his breath and can't help but move beneath him.
Grantaire stretches out on his back and makes a show of laying his injured arm at his side, his forearm draped across his stomach in the same position that Joly's bandages held it immobilized in. "I won't use it at all." He brings his other hand to Enjolras's cheek and skates a thumb across the curve of his lower lip. He's laughing as he promises, "I'll let you do all the work."
Enjolras still looks like he thinks this is a terrible idea but he's committed to doing it anyway. He shifts over Grantaire as Grantaire rolls onto his back, holding himself up on outstretched arms. His cock is already stirring, beginning to stiffen where his hips press it into Grantaire's stomach.
"If you strain yourself at all," he says, a dire warning, "this ends."
Grantaire nods eagerly and rears up to catch Enjolras's mouth before he can change his mind. Enjolras spreads a hand over the middle of his chest and uses it to push him down flat on his back again, but he follows with him and doesn't break the kiss.
His mouth is eager and maybe a little punishing, like he's angry and he wants Grantaire to know it. He nips more often than is his wont, his teeth sharp and relentless. But when Grantaire makes a sound beneath him, he eases back until they're scarcely kissing at all, just lips pressed chastely together and breath mingling raggedly between them. When he pulls back, he looks chagrined.
Grantaire strains after him. "Don't stop."
Enjolras slides a hand around his neck, his thumb stroking the edge of Grantaire's jaw. The frustration that was on his face before changes slowly as his gaze slides over Grantaire's face, his eyes, his nose. He lingers on his mouth and Grantaire hopes that means he'll kiss him again, but instead Enjolras's gaze travels on, down to stop at Grantaire's shoulder and the broad, mottled bruise that discolors it.
It's had four days to heal now and the deep purple-black at the bruise's middle has begun to fade to an ugly green on its edges. It's a good sign, one of healing and progress, but the corners of Enjolras's mouth tighten as he looks at it. When he leans down to Grantaire again, his kiss is so tender it makes Grantaire's chest ache.
This time when Enjolras breaks away it's not for long moments, not until Grantaire is gasping and moving beneath him, pushing his hips up in search of any sort of friction. Enjolras ends the kiss slowly, lingering until Grantaire strains after him, and then he starts working his way down.
He kisses Grantaire's jaw and scrapes his teeth over the edge of it, gentle this time instead of his biting kisses from earlier, and then leaves a trail of wet, open-mouthed kisses down his throat.
He hesitates at Grantaire's collar. Grantaire can feel Enjolras's breath blowing warm across his skin, across the bruise, but Enjolras doesn't kiss it. He skips over it as though he fears even the gentlest touch will hurt. Grantaire would tell him that he needn't bother, that it's not nearly so sore to the touch now as it had been. But Enjolras bends down to suck Grantaire's nipple into his mouth instead, and Grantaire's protest dies unvoiced.
He's gentle and careful with his touches, but he's not timid about what he wants. Enjolras's lips pull at Grantaire's nipple and his tongue flicks across its tip. When that makes Grantaire gasp and jolt beneath him, Enjolras hesitates. Then his lips curve around Grantaire's captured flesh and he does it again.
Grantaire's response seems to please him. He brings his hand to Grantaire's other nipple and teases them both until Grantaire is a wreck beneath him, his hips pushing up against Enjolras's weight where he's straddling him. Grantaire is desperate for more, but enjoying this far too well to ask Enjolras to move elsewhere and risk him stopping entirely.
When Enjolras rocks against him, timing the rhythm of it so that he bears down just as Grantaire comes up and the pressure is incredible, Grantaire tips his head back and groans.
Above him, Enjolras freezes. Grantaire's eyes fly wide with panic and he reaches for Enjolras, desperate.
Enjolras catches the wrist of his bad arm just as Grantaire lifts it from where it's lain across his stomach all this while, and his expression is suddenly stern. "You promised."
Grantaire takes a steadying breath, and then another. He hadn't moved the arm, not until Enjolras had stopped, and he can hardly be blamed for that. But his hand had clenched into a tight fist without him even realizing it. He makes a conscious effort to release it and lays his arm back down where it had been. "I meant it."
It takes a moment, but then Enjolras nods. "Good." He leans down, his arms braced beside Grantaire's shoulders, and kisses him for a moment. It's wet and glorious, and just when Grantaire wraps his good arm around Enjolras's neck to take it deeper, Enjolras ducks out from under his arm and slides down his body, kissing every inch of skin that passes beneath his mouth.
Grantaire catches his breath when Enjolras's lips graze the edge of his navel, and he struggles not to writhe when Enjolras dips lower and sucks a bruise on Grantaire's stomach, just beside the trail of hair leading down to where Grantaire truly wants his touch.
He doesn't tease, not this time. He continues his path down and wraps his lips around the shaft of Grantaire's cock, right at the base. Grantaire makes a hoarse sound and jolts beneath him, then holds himself very, very still. He has to shut his eyes because the sight of Enjolras down there between his legs is just too much for one man to bear, his golden hair a messy spill that hides what he's doing from Grantaire's sight even as it pulls him apart.
"Please," he says, a breath of sound gasped out between them. "Oh-- Enjolras. Christ."
Enjolras licks all the way up and around his cock. He teases its tip with his tongue for a moment, just until Grantaire gasps out an oath, and then he swallows him down.
It takes work for him to take Grantaire into his mouth all the way, he's not as practiced at it as he would be if he hadn't spent so many weeks fending off Grantaire's advances. But it's good, it's so good. Grantaire grabs double fistfuls of his hair, and doesn't realize he's broken his promise until Enjolras freezes and starts to pull back off of his cock.
"Christ." Grantaire drops his arm back to where it's supposed to stay, swearing. "It was an accident, I swear. I just--" Enjolras curves a hand around Grantaire's cock and strokes him idly, even as he frowns his disapproval up at him. "Fuck. I'll be better."
Enjolras huffs as though to say, We shall see, and then he slides even further down the bed, pushing Grantaire's knees up to his chest so he can bite at the backs of Grantaire's thighs.
When Enjolras grazes a finger against his hole, Grantaire jumps, and Enjolras goes still in a way that has Grantaire apologizing desperately even before Enjolras has said or done anything else. He's got the fingers of his bad hand clawed into his own stomach, desperate for purchase as Enjolras's touches twist him into a mess of need, and he relaxes them before Enjolras has a chance to remind him to.
Despite it, Enjolras doesn't touch him there again. He sighs like Grantaire has failed to pass some test that was meant to be simple, and releases his grip on the backs of Grantaire's knees so that his legs drop down, caging in around Enjolras's shoulders.
"This isn't going to work," he says even as Grantaire pleads with him to believe him when he says that he'll do better, he'll try harder, he won't mess up again. "Not like this."
"Please," he begs, and considers grabbing onto Enjolras with both hands and just refusing to let go.
Enjolras hushes him and crawls up his body. The drag of his skin against Grantaire's feels incredible and settles some of the frantic racing of his heart. He drops a few kisses on Grantaire's skin as he makes his way up, doesn't linger over it like he did going down, and doesn't stop until he's knocked Grantaire's bent legs down and thrown his own over them, so he's straddling them rather than knelt between them.
Grantaire settles back down into the bed, waiting to see what Enjolras intends to do.
Enjolras kisses him, one hand in his hair to gently tilt his head back, the other tracing gentle patterns over Grantaire's chest. They kiss and kiss until Grantaire's panic has all but disappeared and the only thoughts in his mind are of Enjolras and the lovely warmth building between them.
When Enjolras breaks away, Grantaire keeps his eyes shut to savor the last moments of the kiss, the way his lips tingle and feel swollen and sensitive from Enjolras's attentions. Enjolras's weight shifts above him, leaning far to one side, and they've done this enough now that Grantaire doesn't have to see to know what Enjolras is doing, how his back is stretched and lovely as he reaches for the oil they keep beside the bed.
Grantaire hears the lid come off and smells the oil, knows that Enjolras must be wetting his fingers with it. He tenses, knees shifting apart without thought as he waits for Enjolras's slick touch.
Enjolras shifts his weight back over Grantaire and kisses him again, long, deep, hungry kisses, but the touch doesn't come. Grantaire holds onto him with the one arm he's allowed to use and kisses him back, waiting, every nerve on edge as Enjolras draws it out.
When Enjolras's breath hitches against Grantaire's mouth and his kiss gets sharp though Grantaire's not sure he's done anything to warrant it, he pulls back from the kiss and opens his eyes.
Enjolras is above him, his eyes gone wide and dark and desperate, his lips parted on a panting breath. Grantaire isn't even touching him but for the arm wrapped around his shoulders, but as they stare at each other Enjolras groans and drops his head forward, his back shuddering.
Grantaire pulls back enough that he can see the way that Enjolras is holding himself up on one arm, the other pulled behind his back at a sharp angle. Grantaire loosens his grip around Enjolras's shoulders and trails his fingers down Enjolras's arm, hardly daring to breathe as he follows it until it leads him down to where Enjolras's hole is stretched tight around two of his own fingers.
Grantaire's breath explodes out of his lungs. "Christ. Oh Christ, Enjolras." He rears up to catch his mouth again, kisses him desperately as he traces his fingertips around that stretched skin and Enjolras shudders above him.
He reaches out blindly to find where Enjolras has left the tin of oil, dips his fingers into it to grease them and then returns to press one in beside the two of his own that Enjolras has already taken. "You should have told me," he says. "I'd have wanted to watch. I'd have wanted to help."
Enjolras squeezes his eyes shut, a furrow of concentration between his brow as he stretches to accommodate Grantaire. "You promised to let me do all the work."
"I didn't think--" Grantaire laughs, wild and delirious. "I didn't think you meant this."
"Objections?" Their fingers are tangled together inside of Enjolras, and Enjolras's chest is heaving.
"None at all," Grantaire breathes, and rears up to suck at the side of his throat, where he can feel the vibrations every time Enjolras hums or gasps or gives some other sign of his pleasure.
When Grantaire's worked a second of his beside both of Enjolras's, Enjolras makes a sudden, sharp sound and Grantaire freezes, afraid he's hurt him. Enjolras writhes on his fingers, panting, then grabs Grantaire by the wrist and pulls him out. Grantaire whines at the loss and sucks bruises onto his neck, but Enjolras removes his own fingers as well, and he's shifting up on his knees and reaching back to grasp Grantaire's cock.
Enjolras's face is very focused, set with concentration as he lowers himself down, shifting them both around with small adjustments until the head of Grantaire's cock is pressed against his entrance. He sighs and all the tension on his face turns to relief, and Grantaire can do nothing but grab onto his hip with his one hand and try not to lose it just at the sight and the feel of Enjolras slowly working down onto him.
He makes the most entrancing noises, sighs and grunts and half-strangled vocalizations, sounds that Grantaire has never heard him make, not even when they've fucked before. Grantaire releases his hip so he can brace the hand behind himself, pushing himself half-upright to bring them close, their chests pressed together and Grantaire's mouth on Enjolras's, swallowing down every sound that he makes and breathing the most lavish praise against his lips.
When Enjolras has worked himself down onto Grantaire entirely, their hips pressed tight together and his incredible heat surrounding Grantaire, clasped as tight as a fist, Enjolras breaks the kiss to press his forehead against Grantaire's and breath unsteadily between them. He lifts a hand, shaky fingers tracing along Grantaire's cheek.
"All right?" Grantaire asks him, barely a whisper.
Enjolras nods but he still looks shaken, still clings tight to Grantaire's shoulder like he's the only solid land in a storm-tossed sea.
Grantaire moves a little, the shallowest thrust just to test. Enjolras's breath hitches and he echoes the motion, rising up onto his knees only to sink down again. Grantaire exhales an explosive breath and does it again. This time they move together and it is so, so good.
"Oh," Enjolras breathes like it's some sort of revelation. He tips his head to the side as he comes down again to meet Grantaire's next thrust, cups his hand behind Grantaire's neck to adjust the angle, and then they're kissing, mouths wet and slick against each other, Enjolras's tongue eager as it glides against Grantaire's. Grantaire gropes for him blindly, needing some sort of connection, needing more, even when he's buried inside him, as close as two people can get.
Enjolras catches his flailing hand in his. He threads their fingers together and clasps them close and it's perfect, it's exactly what Grantaire wanted. He moans into the kiss and drives up into Enjolras, a solid thrust that Enjolras answers a hitch in his chest and an even tighter clench around Grantaire's cock. Grantaire's not going to last and it's tragic. He wants to be with Enjolras like this forever, just like this.
The noises that Enjolras is making above him, against his mouth, grow increasingly desperate. The grunts and sighs have turned to groans and wet gasps that leave his mouth gaping open against Grantaire's for a moment, like he's forgotten even how to kiss as the pleasure overwhelms him. Grantaire holds onto his hand and pushes up into him again and again, but Enjolras's brows still furrow, the corners of his mouth turned down like he's still not getting what he wants.
Grantaire would grasp his cock and stroke him through it with the same firm grip that is making him lose his mind. But Enjolras is still gripping his hand tight, and Grantaire wouldn't make him let go, not for the world. And his other...
He can't. Enjolras is far enough gone he might not notice, is desperately aroused enough that even if he did he might not care. But he'd care later, when sense returned to them both, and Grantaire won't risk making him think this was a mistake.
"Please," he gasps, and Enjolras's eyes fly open. It takes several long seconds before he's able to bring them to focus on Grantaire. "Please, Enjolras, touch yourself for me."
Enjolras's eyes go wide and he lets out a gasp like he's shocked by the suggestion. Or maybe he's just overwhelmed by it, because he doesn't hesitate. He has to sit up straighter, to free his weight from the hand he has braced in the bed. It means they have to stop kissing, but Grantaire only mourns the lack for a moment. Because then Enjolras is bared to his sight, the whole glorious length of him, from the red flush crawling down his throat and across his chest to the ripple of tension in his stomach every time Grantaire slides into him. His legs, bent and braced in the bed on either side of Grantaire's hips, the muscles in his thighs trembling and standing in sharp relief.
And his cock, rising up flushed and dripping from the mess of golden hair between his thighs. Enjolras grasps it at Grantaire's direction, his fingers wrapping tight around it and stroking. He matches his rhythm to Grantaire's, his fist sliding down to the base of his cock every time Grantaire buries himself inside him. His eyes are open and unfocused, but for all that they're locked on Grantaire, just as surely as their hands are locked together.
Grantaire hopes to God that Enjolras is close, because he isn't going to last much longer and he doesn't want to leave Enjolras behind him. He rocks his hips up to meet Enjolras when he lets his weight sink down, pushing into him just that little much deeper because of the way it makes Enjolras's mouth gape open like he can't quite believe it's possible, every single time.
The sight of Enjolras fisting his own cock and staring at Grantaire as he does it is too much for Grantaire, even sooner than he'd expected. He has to shut his eyes as his whole body tightens, but the image of Enjolras is still burned onto the backs of his eyelids, making him shudder and gasp and clutch too hard at his hand as he spends himself inside Enjolras.
Enjolras mutters an uncharacteristic oath and clenches tight around Grantaire, convulsing atop him as he comes as well. Grantaire can't be sure that Enjolras came because he did, but it's a fine idea. He pulls Enjolras down with the grip he still has on his hand. He doesn't even have a chance to regret that he can't wrap his other arm around Enjolras's back and hold him close, because Enjolras slips off of him and rolls him onto his side so he can slide up behind him, an arm draped comfortably over Grantaire's waist.
Grantaire's heart is still pounding wildly, his skin flushed and tingling with the aftershocks of his orgasm. He leans back against Enjolras, relishing the way they press together from shoulders to knees, their bodies curved together like they were made to fit that way.
"How's your arm?" Enjolras murmurs, his voice muffled in Grantaire's hair.
"Good as new."
Enjolras huffs a brief laugh that Grantaire's sure is meant to be skepticism, but he ignores it, too content to drift on the lazy lassitude weighing him down.
"You'll be comfortable like this?"
His weight is on his good arm, the injured one lying across Enjolras's where it curves across his stomach, no strain on it at all. Grantaire would say that, but there's something in Enjolras's voice that makes him frown. He'd thought he'd noticed it before, but had chalked it up to the strain of their coupling and the way its left them both breathless. Now, though, it's unmistakable.
"I'm perfect," he says, trying to figure out what it is he's hearing in Enjolras's voice.
Enjolras hums quietly, and Grantaire would like to believe that it's a sound borne of happiness or contentment, but he's pretty sure that's a lie. "Good."
Grantaire is replete, exhausted. He could fall asleep in a moment and not stir until dawn, but whatever it is that's going on with Enjolras keeps him awake. He lies still in Enjolras's arms and listens to the thunder of his heartbeat as it slows.
Behind him, Enjolras's chest is pressed to Grantaire's back, the rhythm of his pulse like the beat of a drum against his shoulder if Grantaire's still enough to feel it. And Enjolras's heart is racing, despite the long moments of quiet and stillness.
Grantaire waits, breathing quietly, every sense attuned to Enjolras behind him. There's tension in the arm that lies over Grantaire's waist, and a stillness to the way he holds himself bent to the shape of Grantaire's body that's unnatural. He's stiff as a board, and his heart is pounding, and it's only getting faster as the moments pass, not slower.
Eventually, Grantaire can't bear it anymore. He twists in Enjolras's arms, turning back to look at him over his shoulder. "What's wrong?"
There's a flash of panic across Enjolras's face, like he's been caught out at something, but it's gone as quick as it appeared. "Nothing's wrong." His smile is strained. "I'm trying to sleep."
"Are you?" Grantaire turns around fully, then, twisting until he's on his other side facing Enjolras. Enjolras doesn't even make any noises about Grantaire lying on his injured arm, and that's more damning than anything.
Grantaire leans in close, until their noses bump together, and brings a hand up to Enjolras's jaw. "Won't you tell me?"
Enjolras takes a deep, deep breath and lets it out all at once. "There's nothing to tell." He sounds like he's trying to convince himself more than Grantaire. "Please, won't you sleep? You need your rest."
"I'll sleep if you will."
Enjolras smiles. It's still strained. He leans in and kisses Grantaire, but pulls back when Grantaire tries to make it linger. "Deal."
Grantaire rolls over onto his other side again so he nestle back against Enjolras once more, but he's anything but reassured. Despite the exhaustion pulling down on him, it's a long time before he's able to get to sleep. And even then, Enjolras is still pretending that he's not wide awake behind him, his heart racing and his whole body as tense as though he's braced for a fight.
A week on, Grantaire's arm feels just about as good as new, and Enjolras has mostly consented to let him resume his usual duties about the farm. He still fusses over him as though he thinks the arm will fall off if Grantaire lifts anything heavier than a corn cob, but the necessities of the farm require him to let Grantaire help with the work load or risk being thoroughly unprepared when it comes time to harvest.
Even so, it took near an hour of arguing before Grantaire convinced Enjolras to take him into town with him today, to pick up their new wood stove.
"I'll ask Courfeyrac to help with the lifting," Enjolras had insisted.
Grantaire had lifted his chin and stared him down. "An excellent plan. But I'll still make the work easier for the both of you if I'm there as well."
Enjolras had relented eventually, and left Grantaire frowning at his back as he readied their breakfast. He'd been like this for a week, a strange combination of steel and acquiescence. He'd be firm in his resolve on a thing and argue with Grantaire over it like he'd never change his mind, and half an hour later he'd give in entirely, as though it didn't matter to him at all. Grantaire would touch him sometimes and Enjolras would go taut beneath his hand just like the first weeks of their marriage. But he never threw Grantaire off any more, never refused his touch. He always went soft in the end, and leaned in to increase the pressure of the hand on his shoulder or back, like a horse who never remembered that he loved the saddle until he had it firmly on his back.
Grantaire doesn't dare ask him again what the matter is, not when every attempt has been shot down with strained smiles and a complete refusal to admit that anything is wrong at all. He would stop pushing, stop touching, simply because this new yielding in Enjolras is too disconcerting for his own comfort, but that's not in his nature. And he's pleased, at least, not to have to fight overly hard for his own freedom, and to get to ride into town at Enjolras's side and help with the chores like he's used to, like he isn't an invalid or a cripple.
Grantaire finally feels like himself again, riding into town at Enjolras's side with a day of hard work before them. They reach Combeferre's in short order and he darts across the street to ask Courfeyrac for his help, and all four of them go around to the back of Combeferre's shop together to where to the new wood stove waits.
It's cast-iron and seems heavier than a full-grown cow. Even with Courfeyrac's considerable strength, it hardly seems the four of them will be able to manage it, and Enjolras regards Grantaire with a look of narrow-eyed consideration before they've even tried it.
Grantaire sighs and leans his shoulder against the cart, arms crossed over his chest. "You didn't let me ride all this way with you just to change your mind now, did you?"
"You'll strain yourself."
"We'll all strain ourselves."
"None of the rest of us have recently dislocated our shoulders!"
"For God's sake." Grantaire throws his hands up and pushes away from the cart. "Fine, then, do it your own selves, and I wish you every luck not breaking your backs at it. When you're ready to head back home come find me at the saloon, I'll be having a pint."
Enjolras calls after him, sharp and commanding. Grantaire ignores him entirely.
He's halfway up the dusty street when the first whistle sounds, a short series of high notes that stops Grantaire in his tracks. He knows those notes. He's practiced them, he's memorized them. It's the tune that means danger.
In the distance, a dust cloud rises up, thick as smoke.
"Grantaire!" Enjolras's voice rings out, sharp this time with fear rather than fury. Grantaire spins on his heel and races back to them as the sound of hoofbeats barrels down behind him.
Enjolras grabs Grantaire by the collar as soon as he's near enough to reach and drags him behind the cart. "Patron-Minette?"
"That seems the obvious conclusion." Grantaire drops his head back against the wooden sides of the cart, then flinches as shots ring out. "Shit. Shit." He grabs onto Enjolras just as tight as Enjolras is holding onto him, drags him in closer to the cart's protection. A bullet pings off of the iron sides of the stove, close enough to make Grantaire's heart leap up into his throat. "What do they want? They didn't even make any demands, they just started shooting."
"They already told us what they want," Enjolras says, grim. He has a gun in his hands and is checking it's loaded with sure, practiced movements. "They already made their demands, weeks ago. They want money, and if they can't have it, they'll settle for raising hell instead." He pulls the hammer back and twists, sighting through a gap between the cart and the wood stove.
Courfeyrac and Combeferre both have guns out, too. Grantaire presses his back against the iron side of the stove, trying very hard to keep himself narrow enough to fit behind its protection. Thunder roars around him as Enjolras, Combeferre, and Courfeyrac take up positions and start shooting back at Patron-Minette.
"Where's your gun?" Enjolras asks him curtly between shots.
His attention is on the outlaws, not on Grantaire, but Grantaire grimaces anyway. "We were just coming in for the stove. I didn't expect to need it."
Enjolras tears his gaze away from the riders long enough to stare at Grantaire. "No one ever expects to need it until they do. That's why you wear it, so it's at hand if a situation arises. Damn it, R."
"I have another," Courfeyrac says easily, and ducks down to come sit in the dust beside Grantaire. In a few quick motions, he's got a second gun freed from the holster around his waist and he hands it over to Grantaire. "You know what you're doing with that thing?"
"Éponine's been teaching me," he says as he checks that it's loaded and pulls the hammer back into position.
Courfeyrac's grin is quick and sharp. "Then I reckon you'll do just fine."
Grantaire nods and twists about so that he's kneeling, facing the wood stove so he can lean out past its side and see the outlaws in the street beyond. They're shouting and hollering fit to wake the dead, wheeling their horses about in circles as they cry for either their gold or Valjean to be brought out to them.
Grantaire isn't fast, he doesn't have the years of experience for that. But Éponine has taught him how to be accurate. He sights along the barrel, waits for the right moment. And when it comes, a breath of stillness while one of the outlaws stops his horse and twists at the waist to look for his companions, Grantaire squeezes the trigger and fires.
The recoil nearly knocks him onto his backside, and the shock of it sends waves of pain through his bad arm. He grimaces and rubs at the shoulder as he gets his balance again and looks to see if he made his shot.
Someone is on the ground, swearing fit to raise the devil himself, and the other three have circled their horses around him, firing back out into the street in all directions. Grantaire can't be sure if it was his shot that did that or one of the others', but it hardly matters.
He pulls the hammer of his gun back again, but Courfeyrac stills him with a hand on his shoulder. They're all leaning out, peering past the edges of their shelter. Grantaire looks as well, sees that one of the riders has dismounted and is helping the other to his feet. The injured one has a mess of blood and caked dirt on his side, but Grantaire doesn't think the wound is in the right place to be fatal, provided it doesn't fester. He's helped back onto his horse while they watch, poised for another attack.
Once they're all four back in their saddles again, Grantaire braces for another volley of shots. The gunsmoke is clearing, blown away by the breeze coming down the street and drastically improving visibility. But for all that, Patron-Minette keeps their guns holstered as they see to their comrade, all but for Montparnasse, who breaks away from the others to gallop along the street and back, his gun raised as he screams threats of vengeance.
Grantaire, Enjolras, Combeferre, and Courfeyrac stay hidden behind the cart and the stove as Montparnasse screams his fury, everyone still gripping their guns and waiting for violence to explode again. But Patron-Minette rides off, tearing down the street and out of Amity just as abruptly as they'd arrived.
When they've gone so far that not even the cloud of dust kicked up by their horses is visible any longer, Grantaire drops down onto his ass in the dirt and lets out a long, unsteady breath.
Enjolras is at his side as though summoned, holstering his gun so he can run frantic hands over Grantaire's shoulders and arms. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." Grantaire waves him off. "I'm not shot."
"That's not the only thing I'm worried about," Enjolras says with a stern look. Grantaire doesn't have to ask what he means. The way he grips Grantaire's bad shoulder is answer enough.
"It's a little sore," Grantaire admits, because anything but the truth will only make Enjolras more stubborn. "I haven't fired a gun since the accident, the kick took me by surprise. It'll be fine, Enjolras. It's sore, not injured."
Enjolras looks like he wants to argue, but in the end he just takes a deep breath, releases it suddenly, and gives a nod. "Help me unhook the horses from the cart," he says, rising. "You can ride home on one."
Grantaire stops and turns back to look at him. "And you?"
Enjolras's expression is as hard as granite, set with a cold sort of fury. "I'll take the other, and we're going to ride after these bastards. We're not going to let them have the chance to gather themselves and return. We're only lucky it was us on the street today, and not someone less able to defend themselves."
Grantaire lets out an unsteady breath. There's no talking Enjolras out of this, he knows him well enough by now to be sure of that. So all he says is, "Be safe."
Enjolras looks at him again, and seems to truly see him. The tension in his shoulders eases somewhat. "We'll be some time, I expect," he says, quieter, gentler.
"I'll take care of the farm," Grantaire promises.
Enjolras's mouth presses thin, then pulls sideways. "I never doubted you would. But you'll take care of yourself, too. If you dislocate that arm again while I'm gone, I'll be very displeased."
Grantaire swallows down the thickness in his throat. "If you get yourself killed while you're gone, I will be very displeased."
"We have to protect Amity at all costs."
Grantaire laughs, but there's no humor in it at all. "Not all costs."
"Go." Grantaire waves him off, putting distance between them to make it easier when Enjolras pulls himself up into the saddle and rides away.
Half the town rides out with Enjolras, it seems, and Grantaire quickly finds himself regretting how eagerly he'd wished to be allowed to work around the farm again. With Enjolras gone, Grantaire's pulling his own weight and Enjolras's as well. He works from before dawn until after sunset, and more often than not only stops because the darkness has made it impossible to continuing working. Then he falls into bed just to rise and do it all over again the next morning.
He rallies the townsfolk who remain behind to help him finish the task of moving the wood stove to the farm and into the house, so Enjolras won't have that task hanging over his head when he returns home. He works longer and harder than he ever has before in his life, and even so, he is desperately lonely.
He's grown too used to having Enjolras around, working at his side or within shouting distance, their easy camaraderie and conversation to help pass the time and ease the ache of tired muscles. Now that he's doing it all on his own, Grantaire scarcely has time to think, but that doesn't seem to keep him from missing him.
He thinks about how he'd entertained the notion of leaving, before the accident had given him other things to preoccupy himself with, and laughs weakly. If this excursion of Enjolras's has taught him anything, it's that he doubts his strength of will would have lasted long at all. Enjolras has been gone days and Grantaire has already had his fill of this quiet, empty house.
There are things he wants from Enjolras that Enjolras seems unwilling or unable to provide, and Grantaire had thought it might be best to move on because of it. Now he knows better. Now he knows that having some of Enjolras is better than not having him at all.
That realization carries him through the next few days like a fire, warm and comforting to help counteract the void left by Enjolras's absence.
When he does finally return home, the whinny of greeting from the mare in the stable and the familiar, if weary, sound of his horse's gait coming the road, Grantaire is burning bright with the urge to tell Enjolras about his revelation. To tell him that he needn't fear Grantaire pushing for more than he is comfortable with, because Grantaire has discovered that he is happy to have as much as he given.
He comes out of the house to meet Enjolras upon the road. His horse's steps are dragging, exhausted, and he looks no better. He is dirty from days upon the road, disheveled. There's a long tear in the sleeve of his shirt that will have to be mended, and there's a stain on his waistcoat that they'll be lucky to wash out.
As he comes nearer, Grantaire realizes that the stain is rust, not brown. Blood, not dirt or mud. He breaks into a run before he's able to stop himself.
Enjolras pulls up his horse as Grantaire reaches him, looking as startled as if Grantaire had appeared on the road out of nowhere. "R--"
"Are you hurt?" Grantaire grabs handfuls of his waistcoat and drags him down out of the saddle. "What happened? Are you shot?" A cold terror goes through him, even though Enjolras is obviously not at death's door. "Are you all right? Are the others?"
"We are all well enough." Even Enjolras's words drag. He sounds as though he hasn't slept in all the days he's been away. "All but Bossuet, who had the misfortune to catch a bullet. But we left him at Joly's, and he says he'll live, so long as it missed his intestines."
Gutshot, then. Grantaire feels woozy at the thought of it, and sick at the knowledge that it could just as easily have been Enjolras. That any one of them could have been coming home to a pine box and a tombstone.
"Is it his blood?" Grantaire grips Enjolras by the collar and barely resists the urge to shake him. "Is it Bossuet's?"
"It's his," Enjolras says on a sigh. "If any of it's mine, it's only from the damned brambles we found ourselves in."
Grantaire doesn't wait until he's finished speaking before he throws his arms around Enjolras and holds him tight. "I am very glad you're well," he says unsteadily into his shirt.
Enjolras is slower to wrap his arms around Grantaire, but he holds onto him just as tight. "Come," he says at length, loosening his grip. "I'm weary. I'd rather be home than standing about in the road."
Grantaire pulls away so Enjolras can pull himself up into the saddle again, and he takes the horse's reins so Enjolras doesn't have to worry about steering him home, and he leads the horse down the slope of the hill to the house, and lets Enjolras dismount at the front door so he can stagger inside while Grantaire takes the horse to the stable for a badly-needed currying.
The dust and dirt are thick on him, and on the tack. Grantaire clucks his tongue in sympathy as he scrubs him down. When the horse swings his head around to lip at the sleeve of his shirt, he laughs and pets his nose. "You're welcome. I'm sure he'd do this himself if he weren't so road weary. You're a patient boy."
He oils the tack, once the horse is clean enough to be lead to his stable, and leaves it hanging up in the tack room before he heads back to the house.
He half expects Enjolras to be fast asleep, considering how exhausted he looked coming down the road. But the bedroom door is open when Grantaire comes inside, and he can see Enjolras through it, sitting upright on the edge of the bed. He looks like a stiff breeze would knock him over.
Grantaire walks to him, comes in close and slides his palms against Enjolras's cheeks. "You should sleep. You look as though you haven't done so since before you left."
"That's nearly truth," Enjolras says with a little frown pinching his brows.
"Sleep, then. The farm will live without you for a few more hours."
Enjolras's frown only deepens. "I can't." Something crinkles between them. Grantaire pulls back enough to see that it's an envelope, creased and abused while Enjolras was in the saddle but recognizable nonetheless. "I have something for you. I want-- I need you to take it. Please."
"A gift?" Grantaire smiles a little, bemused, as he accepts the wrinkled envelope. "That wasn't necessary. You should have come home and rested instead. That's all I'd have asked of you, is to have you home."
Enjolras doesn't answer Grantaire's smile, he just waits, looking haggard and worn. After a moment, the smile falls from Grantaire's face. He looks down at the envelope in his hands and tears it open so he can pull out the slip of paper inside.
His breath catches and his fingers go tight on the envelope, crumpling it into a ball. He knows what this is. He's received one from Enjolras before, though the last one came by post, and not from Enjolras's own hand.
It's a train ticket. And unlike the first, this one is for passage all the way back East.
"What is this?" Grantaire's voice comes out hoarse and strangled. "What-- Why would you give this to me?"
There are lines bracketing Enjolras's mouth, lines on his brow, weary lines at the corners of his eyes. He looks as though the ride has aged him a decade. "It was only luck that Bossuet didn't die out there in the wilderness. He may yet die, despite Joly's reassurances and his expertise."
"What does that have to do with--"
"They're angry." Enjolras lifts his voice to speak over Grantaire. "Patron-Minette. They were angry before, and they're angrier still. They'll ride back down on Amity and take their vengeance, it's only a matter of time. And you... You can't be here when they do."
"You want to send me away."
Enjolras rubs a hand over his forehead. His gaze slides sideways, past Grantaire. When Grantaire twists to follow it, Enjolras is staring through the bedroom door to where they can see the new wood stove in the main room. Enjolras smiles wearily. "You did good work, getting that here." His smile falls away, leaves him looking solemn and run-down again. "Did you count the marks from the bullets on it? I did. You were taking cover behind it, you'll remember. Without it, any one of those bullets might have found you. You might be six feet under right now, with a hole in your head the size of a fist."
"We're married." Grantaire's voice shakes so hard he's surprised he hasn't fallen apart.
"We made vows that day. I vowed to protect you." He looks at Grantaire like he's willing him to understand. Grantaire can't imagine how he thinks that's even a possibility. "I can't do that with you here. Not now. Not yet. I need you to go so you're safe. I need you to go, Grantaire."
"Oh fuck you." Grantaire jerks back, as stunned as if Enjolras had slapped him. "Fuck you, you can't just--" Tears burn his eyes and make his hitching breaths wet and horrible. "Amity is my home, you made it my home, you can't just send me away because you're too much of a coward to face a little danger." He crumples the ticket up with the envelope and hurls them both at Enjolras before he stalks past him, grabbing down the bag that he hasn't used since the day he came to Amity.
Enjolras watches him stomp about the bedroom, grabbing his things and shoving them carelessly into the bag. He doesn't move, though, and he doesn't say a word.
Grantaire packs everything, everything that he can call his own. The last thing he grabs is his little vial of hoarded gold, snatched out from its hiding place without a care for the fact that Enjolras is watching.
"What are you doing?" Enjolras asks quietly.
"If you want me to leave, I'll grant you that." Grantaire is vibrating with fury, is humming with it. "But I'll be damned if I'm going to let you run me out of my own home."
For the first time, Enjolras looks truly alarmed. He struggles to his feet and takes an aborted step after him. "R--"
"Go to hell," Grantaire snarls. He grabs his bag from the bed and leaves with it, without giving Enjolras a chance to finish.
He saddles his mare, slings the bag across her back, and pulls himself up into the saddle. There's a shape coming out of the house that can only be Enjolras. Grantaire kicks the mare into motion and gallops away from the house, away from the farm, away from Enjolras, leaving them all behind him in the dust.
A few miles down the road he has to rein her to a stop because he's crying despite himself, the tears coming so fast he cannot see the road. His breath comes in ragged gasps and his chest aches as though the air is full of knives. He leads the horse over to the side of the road and slides down out of the saddle, then leans in against her, arms around her neck as he cries furious, violent tears into her fur.
The tears are like a summer storm, quick and violent and brutal, but then gone, leaving him gasping and aching but dry-eyed in their wake. He pulls himself back up into the saddle, as weary as if he had been the one riding for days, then nudges the mare into a walk with his heels.
He's not sure where he'll go, but he knows he spoke the truth. Amity's his home, and Enjolras may have been the one to make that happen, but it's his now. He's staying, no matter how many outlaws come, or how fast the bullets fly. He's finally found a place he can call home, and not even Enjolras is going to take that away from him.
He finds himself at Fantine's, though he can't remember making the decision to go to her. He rides up the road to her ranch slumped in his saddle, his posture all wrong but too weary and heartsick to care.
She rides out to meet him, waving while the distance is still too great to shout across. He lifts a hand to return her greeting and even from so far away, he can see the way she pulls herself up, then leans forward over her horse's neck as they race toward him.
She circles around him in a wide swoop and pulls her horse up at Grantaire's side, fixing him with a sharp look. She isn't watching where she or the horse is going, but that doesn't seem to put either of them off their stride. "What brings you here?"
Grantaire wraps the reins around and around and around his fingers, then lets it coil free and does it all over again. "You don't happen to need another ranch hand, do you?"
"I don't, as it happens." Grantaire flinches and curls his hand around the leather reins. "But that's not what you're asking me, is it?"
He looks up at her, uncertain. She watches him with a gaze that seems to see straight through him.
He has to draw a breath to brace himself and to give him the strength to ask. "Can I stay here for a while?"
"Of course." She says it at once, without hesitation. "Come — we'll get your things put away. Will you be needing to get that mare back to Enjolras?"
Grantaire flinches at just the mention of his name. "I don't know." His voice comes out rough and ragged.
Fantine gives him a long look. "Right, then," she says at last. "We can see to that later, in any case. No need to fret about it now."
She's got a room aired out, a fresh change of sheets on the bed, and Grantaire's pitiful bag unpacked before supper time. Everyone else is still out working, but somehow Grantaire finds himself at the broad kitchen table, just the two of them, a cup of hot, bitter coffee pressed into his hands and Fantine sitting opposite, watching him.
"Now, then," she says quietly, firmly. "Tell me what's happened."
Grantaire crumples, bowing forward to lay his head on his arms. He tells her the truth, slowly, haltingly. She listens in attentive silence. Halfway through the tale, Grantaire startles when she lays a careful hand on his head, but she just keeps it there, a quiet comfort. He draws a wet breath and continues, and doesn't stop speaking until he's gotten it all out, and the flood of it has left him dry.
Fantine is quiet for a long moment after he's finished, letting him breathe through it, hurt and grief still too fresh for baring them to be anything but excruciating. When he's gathered himself and his breathing is only a little unsteady, she draws her hand back. "You're welcome to stay as long as you like, of course," she says. "But I don't think life as a ranch hand will suit you."
"I'm not going back," he says roughly. "And I'm not going East."
Fantine gives him a gentle smile. "I shan't make you. You may stay as long as you care to. You may help out with the work if you're so inclined, and we'll do nothing but thank you. But if this isn't the sort of work you're inclined to spend your life at, you may want to take advantage of the opportunity to think about where the spirit does move you."
"I will," he promises, and silently adds, Later. It's too much right now. How can he decide what he wants to do with his life when, hours earlier, he'd thought he already had it all planned out?
Fantine takes his hand and gives it a squeeze. "There's time enough for you to think it through."
Grantaire is too grateful for words.
He works because it's a better alternative than staying in the house and dwelling on his pain. Bahorel teaches him the ropes and he rides with the others, and he's pretty sure that some days he manages little more than just keeping them company, but no one complains.
He's working on his horsemanship a few days in, trying to figure out how the others seem to be able to make their horses move in any direction at all with little more than a thought, when Éponine rides up and waits just beyond the area of grass where he is almost-successfully getting his horse to wheel about in circles. They've had limited luck going clockwise, but widdershins still makes his horse shy and buck in protest and Grantaire can't figure out what he's doing wrong.
Éponine watches him in silence for a moment. He pretends she isn't there until she clears her throat and calls out, "You have company."
Grantaire gives up the exercise and uses the reins to guide the horse around so he can stare at her. "Enjolras?"
Her smile is tense and unhappy. "Who else would it be?"
"Send him home," he says harshly. "There's only one thing I want to hear from him and he's never going to say it, so send him home."
"I did try, before he even got a word out. Bahorel tried. Even Fantine tried, but he's being remarkably persistent. He says he'll go when he's spoken with you."
Grantaire flinches and stares down at his hands, curled tight around the reins.
"You don't have to," Éponine says quietly. "None of us will make you. Let him wait until he grows tired of it. Let him wait all day if he likes. He'll have to go home eventually."
"No," Grantaire says, and hates himself for it. "I won't be able to relax while he's here." He taps his heels against the horse's side and they start ambling toward the house. "I'll send him away. If he won't listen to the rest of you, he'll have to listen to me."
Enjolras isn't even inside the house, Grantaire notices when he gets nearer. He wonders if that's by choice or if no one was willing to invite him in, and feels a surge of fondness for everyone on the ranch.
Enjolras must hear them coming, or sense it. He spins around as they get close, then pulls himself up short as though only barely managing to keep himself from crossing the last of the distance between them.
Grantaire dismounts when they reach the stable, and at Éponine's insistence lets her take his horse's reins and see that she's cared for and returned to her stall properly. He crosses his arms over his chest and keeps his gaze fixed on the toes of his boots as he walks the last distance to the house, to Enjolras.
"R," Enjolras breathes as soon as he's near enough to speak to.
Grantaire swallows down the painful knot in his throat and lifts his gaze, meeting Enjolras's. He's braced for it, but it still takes him by surprise how it rocks through him like a blow, stealing his breath. "Everyone else has told you to leave. Now I'm telling you. Go home, Enjolras."
Enjolras's shoulders heave with his fast, heavy breathing. "Come with me. Come with me and let's talk, R."
Grantaire clenches his jaw and tightens his arms across his chest. "You sent me away. You sent me away and now you want me to come back?" His laughter is sharp and awful to his own ears. It makes Enjolras flinch. "I suppose it's lucky I didn't take that ticket after all, I'd hate for you to have had your change of heart when I was halfway across the country."
Enjolras looks like he's somewhere between angry and desperate, his hands balled into fists and his eyes pleading. "I wanted you to be somewhere safe."
"Nowhere is safe!" Grantaire cries, then breaks off and rubs his hands over his face, laughing breathlessly. "You don't even know the first thing about it, do you? I wasn't safe there. I was hungry and lonely and desperate, I had no work and no money and no life to speak of. There were criminals there who make Patron-Minette look like children at play. I came here to get away from that." He drops his hands and crosses his arms again to hide the way he's trembling. "And you tried to send me back into it."
Enjolras's throat works in silence for a moment. "I'll buy you another ticket," he says, and Grantaire thinks it's lucky he doesn't have a gun on him or he'd shoot him, he really would. "Anywhere you want, anywhere in the country."
Grantaire breathes carefully and prays for patience. "Go home, Enjolras."
Enjolras takes a step toward him. "A round trip ticket, for heaven's sake, Grantaire. You can come back as soon as Patron-Minette's been dealt with, I'm not trying to send you away, I just want you safe."
"Go home!" Abruptly, Grantaire is shouting, and just as abruptly, Fantine and Éponine and Bahorel are at his back, flanking him and staring Enjolras down with identical hard expressions.
Grantaire turns and starts toward the house, leaving the others to see Enjolras off. He doesn't have the strength to face him anymore. Five strides past, though, he stops and turns back. "Éponine."
She looks at him over her shoulder, one eyebrow raised in question.
"If he won't go, you have my permission to draw your gun on him."
A hint of a smile plays about her mouth. Her eyebrow lifts higher. "Do I have your permission to shoot him?"
"You're the one who taught me to never draw a gun unless I was prepared to pull the trigger."
Her smile flashes, sharp and predatory. Grantaire leaves them when she turns back to Enjolras, sure in the knowledge that they will see him off, one way or another.
He walks right back to the house, climbs into bed, and curls into a miserable huddle with the blankets pulled over his head. He wants to cry, but he can't even manage that anymore. All his tears have been used up.
A few days after that, he finds himself in Amity standing out front of Mr. Valjean's bank, staring up at its tall facade. He stands there dithering long enough that someone runs into him from behind, knocking him forward a step, and says, "Oh!" in a high, sweet voice that Grantaire recognizes.
He turns to find Cosette righting herself, one hand holding her bonnet in place on her head. "I'm sorry." He holds onto her arm until she's gotten her feet back beneath her. "Are you all right?"
"Quite fine," she insists with a smile. Her gaze roams over him and the smile turns to an uncertain frown. "And you?"
Grantaire does not think that fine could in any way be used to accurately describe him, but he doesn't need to burden Cosette with that, not when she's only asking for the sake of politeness. "I was just about to head inside," he says instead, which is probably more of a lie than he'd like it to be, and doesn't answer to her question besides.
Cosette doesn't seem to notice, though — or perhaps just not care. She turns the brightness of her smile up a few degrees and hooks her arm through Grantaire's. "Well, then. We may as well enter together." She's got him heading up the steps and into the bank before he's even realized what she's done. "Are you here to see Papa?"
Grantaire nods and follows her in. Inside, the bank is mostly empty, and Cosette calls out, "Papa! I've a customer for you, I think," just as he comes out of a back room, smiling warmly at his daughter, and then at Grantaire.
Valjean takes a moment to greet Cosette, clasping her hands and letting her kiss his cheek, before he turns his attention to Grantaire. "What can I help you with?"
Grantaire squares his shoulders and ignores the nerves jumping about in his stomach. "I've come to inquire about a loan."
Valjean's brows lift up and he ushers Grantaire forward with a hand on the small of his back, guiding him to a desk with a chair sitting in front of it. Grantaire takes the chair while Valjean circles around and takes his seat behind the desk. "Now then. A loan, you say? What sort of loan are you interested in?"
Grantaire swallows down the lump in his throat. "A business loan, sir. I need--" He catches himself and swallows the words down, takes a moment to regroup before he continues. "I want to start a business of my own. I've a little bit of gold I can use to start out, but it's not enough, so I come to you."
Valjean makes notes in a ledger. "What sort of business are you looking to start?"
This is where Grantaire hesitates, because he never came to Amity with a mind to being anything more than a farmer. And even in his life before, back East, he never had any real skills worth selling. He only ever worked odd jobs to try to make ends meet. "I-- I can whittle?" he says, then immediately curses himself. "Carve. I carve things to sell. Bowls and cutlery and--" He breaks off there, grimacing, because he's recalled the conversations he's had with Combeferre about it. It was all right to sell his things below their value when they were only to augment his savings, but Combeferre was right. If Grantaire means to make a living at it, they're more valuable than that. Grantaire won't be able to afford to sell them below their value, not if he doesn't want to go right back to being hungry and homeless like he was back East. But no one in Amity will buy them at a fair price. "Or-- Or, Fantine and Éponine have been teaching me to ranch..."
Valjean goes still a moment, his pen paused mid-letter upon the page of his ledger. He glances up at Grantaire, then sets the pen down. "You don't sound as though you've given this much thought yet," he says gently.
Grantaire flounders. He knows he's doing this all wrong, but he's desperate. He leans forward and grabs the edge of Valjean's desk, holding onto it like it's the last piece of flotsam in an angry sea. "Please. Please, I swear I'll work as hard as anybody to make this happen, I just need a little help to get started. I'm smart, I'm determined, anyone in Amity could tell you so." And more to the point, he has a very compelling reason to make sure that he's successful at this, but he doesn't tell Valjean yet. If the whole town doesn't already know about what happened between him and Enjolras, Grantaire isn't about to help the rumors spread.
Valjean has that look about him, the one halfway between sympathy and pity that people get when they're about to try to let you down easy. "I don't need anyone to tell me that," he says quietly, gently. Grantaire cringes and leans his head in his hands. "I've seen you, from the day my daughter and I arrived in town. I know for myself how hard you work, and how determined you can be."
"But you're not going to give me the loan anyway," Grantaire says, his voice wooden and hollow.
"I'm going to tell you what I need from you." Valjean tears a sheet of paper out of his ledger and starts writing across it. "And you're going to work hard at that, and when you can come back to me with all these things, then I'll give you your loan, all right?"
Grantaire nods. The lump in his throat is too thick and too sharp-edged to be able to speak past it. He listens in miserable silence as Valjean tells him about how to create a business plan, how to find a niche that needs filling and utilize that to come up with a business that won't fail. He warns him about the risks of starting a business that overlaps too well with one that already exists, and Grantaire can see without him saying it plain that he means Feuilly and his carpentry, and how if Grantaire started a woodworking business they'd be gaining customers by taking them out of one another's pockets. That's not what Grantaire wants. He just wants to be able to earn his own living, but he doesn't want to do it by jeopardizing someone else's ability to do the same.
When Valjean has finished with his list, it all feels dizzying and hopeless. He takes the piece of torn-out paper with Valjean's instructions and thanks him for his time and his kindness. And he leaves feeling even more discouraged than he had been when he arrived.
The problem, he thinks, is that he doesn't want to be a woodworker or a rancher. He came to Amity with the intent to be a farmer and to be Enjolras's husband, and that's all he wants from his life. That's the future he wants, not one with business plans and collateral.
Cosette is sitting on the steps out front of the bank when he comes out, not even pretending she isn't waiting for him. The careful, cautious smile she gives him tells him all he needs to know about how much she overheard.
"The thing is," she says, falling into step beside Grantaire as he starts down the street. "Papa hates telling people no, but he hates worse than that to watch them fail when he could help them succeed."
Grantaire dredges up a smile for her, because she's trying to help and she deserves one. "He's a very kind man."
Her face shines bright with pride. "He is. He's a good man." She tightens her arm through his and pats his shoulder as they walk together. "You'll sort something out, I'm sure of it."
Grantaire can hardly bear to tell her that it doesn't matter, because his heart isn't in it. That if Valjean truly wanted to help him, he'd figure out some way to make Enjolras into someone other than he is.
Grantaire bites back a sigh and holds his tongue. That's the problem right there. If Enjolras were someone else, Grantaire wouldn't love him. But Enjolras as he is is excruciating to love, especially when it comes paired with the knowledge that Grantaire's feelings will never be returned. It's all he wants out of all of this, but it's much more difficult to obtain than a business loan.
They keep walking, Cosette maintaining an easy chatter that fills the silence and keeps Grantaire's melancholy mood from making it awkward. He's more grateful to her than he can express, and he lets her carry the conversation along with minimal input from him.
He's not paying attention. Neither of them are, too preoccupied by their company and their conversation. Their aimless wandering has led them toward the edges of town and Grantaire hardly even notices until Cosette abruptly stops, staring off into the distance.
Her vision's sharper than his is. She grabs his hand and drags him back, and only then does he see it, the smudge across the horizon that can only be horses coming at a gallop.
Patron-Minette. There's no point in even saying it — there's hardly another conclusion to come to. Grantaire grips Cosette's hand and they run together, whistling the notes that will sound the alarm and warn the town.
They're too far from the center of town, where there will be enough people about to spread the warning properly. Out here it's mostly just them, and there's nothing to do but run because stopping and taking shelter would mean sacrificing the rest of Amity.
Even going as fast as they're able, they've no hope of outrunning galloping horses. The gang's on them in moments, circling them so they're suddenly caged in by flailing, dangerous hooves. Grantaire tightens his grip on Cosette's hand and pulls her in close against his side, as out of the way of the danger as they can get.
Montparnasse gives a cry and they all rein their horses in as one, pulling them up short and coming to a stop around them. Montparnasse swings his horse around so that he's facing them. He's smirking, so pleased with himself it's revolting. "Well, now. If it isn't Amity's two newest faces." His gaze goes sharp on Cosette. "The banker's daughter, isn't it? Euphrasie?"
"That's right," Cosette says, hard and challenging.
"You're coming with us."
"No, I don't think so," Cosette says, at the same time that Grantaire says, "Like hell she is," and shoulders in front of her, drawing his gun.
Montparnasse looks at the gun Grantaire has trained on him with a smile flirting about the corners of his mouth. "City boy thinks he's got balls now that he's been in the West a few weeks, does he? Have you ever actually shot anything that wasn't a tin can, city boy?"
"Not yet." Grantaire lets out his breath and squeezes the trigger, just like Éponine taught him. It roars and kicks back hard enough to send him back a step into Cosette, but the shot goes wide and only nicks Montparnasse's shoulder. The outlaw clutches his arm and swears at Grantaire. Grantaire just smiles back at him, thin and dangerous. "I'm a quick study."
Montparnasse's gaze cuts past them, over their heads to one of the riders behind. "Grab her. Grab both of them."
Grantaire spins about and grabs onto Cosette just as the bandit behind them sends his horse leaping forward. He leans low out of his saddle, reaching for Cosette, and Grantaire holsters his gun. It's little use to him here, with everything so close and moving so fast. He hasn't yet developed the skill to be an accurate shot in a fight like this. He'd as soon hit Cosette as any of the outlaws.
This isn't a gunfight, besides. This is a brawl. And the horses may be a new element, but Grantaire's been in plenty of brawls before. Back East, they fought more with fists than they did with guns, and Grantaire grew up on those streets. He can hold his own with the best of them.
His fist catches the rider in the jaw just as he closes his fingers on a handful of Cosette's dress, sends him reeling back and tumbling gracelessly out of his saddle. The horse shies and rears, kicking out its forelegs in surprise at suddenly finding something underfoot — and there's an opening, brief and narrow but it's there, a few feet of space unguarded by horse or rider. Grantaire grabs Cosette and shoves her at it.
Panic sends her stumbling through it, arms over her head though they'd do little to protect her from the horse's hooves. She gets all the way out of the circle of riders before she pulls herself up and turns back, her gaze catching wildly on Grantaire's. She takes one aborted step back to him and Grantaire groans.
"Run!" he shouts at her as the fallen rider picks himself up. Grantaire takes another swing at him, and aims a knee at his soft belly. "Don't be stupid!"
Cosette still isn't running and Montparnasse is snarling at the others to go after her. Grantaire draws his gun again, shoots at the other two still on their mounts. He's not trying to hit this time -- though he wouldn't cry over it if he did get in a lucky shot -- just to keep their attention focused on him so Cosette has half a chance.
She's running, finally, her skirts hitched up and her feet flying as she tears away, not bothering with whistles now, just hollering a warning to the rest of Amity at the top of her lungs.
"After her, you cowards!" Montparnasse snarls, kicking his horse to get it to wheel about, ready to take off in pursuit.
"Leave her!" Grantaire shouts, striding up to stand right before Montparnasse. "She's no use to you. If it's ransom you want, then you want me."
That gets Montparnasse to stop, at least, and consider Grantaire with a curl to his lip. "You?" The curl turns to a sneer. "You're no banker's son."
"That's right." Grantaire positions himself in front of the horse, close enough to get in the way if Montparnasse tries to pursue Cosette again. Maybe close enough to grab the reins and interfere, if he doesn't mind getting trampled for his trouble. "I'm Enjolras's husband."
"Enjolras?" His expression shifts minutely. Grantaire isn't sure what it means, but it doesn't matter, not so long as he can keep their focus on him. Every second they're arguing with him, Cosette's that much closer to securing her escape. "A farmer's husband?"
"A farmer's husband." Grantaire pulls his shoulders back, lifts his chin high, and stares Montparnasse down with all the disdain he can muster. "What sort of a ransom do you think you'll get for the girl? Bankers aren't wealthy in their own right. The only coin they have is what people are willing to trust them with and place into their vaults. And Mr. Valjean is new in town. Do you think anyone here knows him well enough to trust him yet? I was at his bank just this morning, and there wasn't a soul to be seen there. If I were a gambling man, I'd wager it all that his vault is empty."
Montparnasse's men grumble at that, their focus going sharp on the both of them.
"Enjolras, though. His farm is flourishing. He's got seed in store for next season's planting. How long do you think it'd take him to sell that for the money to ransom his husband? He could sell a spare horse, too. Perhaps he'd sell all his cows and go without milk, in exchange for my safe return. And if that wasn't enough, well. He's well established in Amity. He has the trust that Mr. Valjean has yet to earn. Do you think his friends in town would hesitate to chip in, to ransom the man he married? Bossuet the gold prospector. Fantine the rancher, with a whole herd of cattle to her name. How much do you think they could gather together on short notice to save their friend's husband, and how well do you think it compares to what some half-baked, no-account banker has rattling around in his vault?"
Montparnasse stares at him, furious and considering, while the grumbling of the other three turns mutinous. Finally he gives one last look in the direction Cosette's gone, vanished out of sight now, and swears. "Tie his hands!" he snarls at the others. "Get him ready to ride!"
Grantaire would point out that tying his hands before he's mounted is asking for trouble — he's scarcely capable of getting himself in the saddle with the full use of his hands as it is — but in the end it turns out that the outlaws' idea of getting him ready to ride is to truss him up like a hog for market and sling him across one of the horse's backs, just in front of the saddle. It's horrifically uncomfortable, and only gets worse when they start moving and every stride the horse takes bounces Grantaire against his stomach. But it's him and not Cosette, and that's the important thing, in the end. Whatever he's to face at the hands of these outlaws, at least he's the one who'll be facing them, and she'll be safe.
It's a relief when the horses finally stop and Grantaire is dragged down ignominiously and sent sprawling on his back in the dirt, his bound hands pinned uncomfortably beneath himself.
At least he's not bouncing. His stomach is going to be bruised for weeks.
They're in some sort of cave, or at least a shelter in a rock outcropping that's large enough to fit the men, their things, and the banked remnants of a fire, with trees outside for shelter and to tie the horses to.
Grantaire scrambles upright so that he's sitting at least and scrambles away from the men to put his back against the cave wall, as far away as he can get. Montparnasse comes over to him all the same and crouches down right in front of him, all in shadow.
"Now, then," he says, his smile a curve like a knife's blade. "I'm sure that rich girl will have spread the word all through town about what's happened, but we don't want to take any chances that your man won't ransom you. So you're going to give me a message to send to him. Beg for your life, maybe. Tell him you love him. Whatever it takes to get him to pay up, you hear me?"
Grantaire strains back against the cave wall, sharp stone edges digging into his shoulders and his wrists and his scalp. "I hear you," he says quietly, and thinks desperately.
Enjolras can't give up his grain store or sell his cows or anything else Grantaire promised Montparnasse he'd be capable of, and he can't get his friends to do the same, either. They'll all be ruined, and Grantaire won't have that on his head. He doesn't think Enjolras will, besides, not when everything he's ever done has been to get and to keep that farm. He's smarter than that. But like Montparnasse said — Grantaire doesn't want to take any chances.
"Tell him…" he says. "Tell him he was right, what he said. About the things that have to be protected at all costs."
Montparnasse looks dubious, but Grantaire gives him a wan smile. "He'll understand."
Montparnasse eyes him a moment longer, then grunts and gets to his feet, moving off toward the others. "Claquesous! Ride out to the town, deliver our message, and our demand."
Grantaire turns his attention away from the men as they see Claquesous off, focuses instead on the cave he's in. It's not much, as caves go, scarcely deep enough to provide shelter from the rain, and the only way out that he can see is through the front. The wall behind him is rough and uncomfortable. When Grantaire shifts his shoulders against it to find a less painful spot, he feels the fibers of the rope around his wrist catch on the sharp edge of a small irregularity.
He freezes, hardly daring to breathe, and darts a glance at the others. They're sparing him little attention, though, as they gather around the remains of the fire and try to stoke it back to life.
Grantaire coughs once when the banked embers start smoking, and again when the dry grass they're using for kindling catches and takes the flame. He clears his throat twice as one of them starts carefully piling sticks over the flame to build the fire back up, and finally Montparnasse gives him an irritated look.
"What's your problem? Enough with that racket."
"Sorry, it's just—" Grantaire turns his head against his shoulder and coughs again, hard enough it makes his chest hurt. "Should you be doing that inside? It's a little smokey, isn't it?"
"Shut up," Montparnasse snarls and stabs at the growing flames with a stick, sending up a fountain of sparks and even more smoke.
Grantaire holds his tongue while they return their attention to the fire and argue over what to eat, but as the smoke grows thicker, turning the roof of the cave hazy, he coughs harder and longer. They're deep, wracking coughs, and Montparnasse snaps at him to shut up twice more before Grantaire wipes his wet eyes with his shoulder and says in a thin voice, "You don't suppose Enjolras is likely to pay much ransom for a dead husband, do you? He'll be furious if he gathers all that money and comes all this way only to find out you've suffocated me with your campfire."
"You ain't suffocating," one of the others — Gueulemer, Grantaire thinks — sneers at him. "We been in here just as long as you and we ain't dying, neither."
"I had a lung infection as a child," Grantaire says. He coughs again, thin and wheezing, and eases over sideways until he's stretched out on his side in the dirt, breathing shallowly. "It left them weak. I can hardly breathe at the best of times, and now…" He coughs again and lets his eyes slide shut.
He can feel Montparnasse's gaze on him for a moment before he snarls an oath. "For fuck's sake!" There's the rustle of movement, but Grantaire keeps his eyes shut. "Babet, get a stick from the fire. Gueulemer, go fetch some water to douse it with. We'll rebuild it outside where it won't bother his Highness."
Grantaire bites back a smile as he listens to them rummage around, obeying Montparnasse's orders. In a few moments he hears the hiss of the fire being doused, and the cave grows quiet as the men move outside. He cracks an eye open and strains his neck to see them, sitting around building the new one back up as they had the first.
Night is falling and the cave is even darker than it is outside. Grantaire gets himself upright again, though not without difficulty, and presses his back against the cave's wall, searching for that small, sharp bit of rock.
He finds it when he slices the heel of his hand on it, and sucks in a sharp breath and has to resist the urge to make a sound, or do anything that might draw the attention of the outlaws. When he's sure none of them have noticed anything they shouldn't, he repositions so the sharp edge is against the rope rather than his flesh and begins to slowly, carefully saw at it.
It's slow, tedious, imprecise work, and by the time the first strand of rope comes free, Grantaire has cut himself a dozen times more and his hands are wet and sticky with blood. The feel of his restraints loosening spurs him on through the discomfort and the danger, fueled by the knowledge that if Enjolras understands his message and refuses to pay the ransom, his life will have no value at all to these bandits.
And if Enjolras doesn't get the message, or doesn't understand, and agrees to pay… Well, that only makes it all the more vital that Grantaire get away, before Enjolras can do something hopelessly stupid.
Night has fallen completely by the time the second strand comes apart and there's enough slack in the rope that Grantaire can wrench his hands out of it and shake the restraints off. His heart pounds, but he forces himself to sit still and watch the men out by the campfire.
They set up the fire a little ways from the cave's entrance. Not far enough to make getting past them easy, but Montparnasse must have bought his charade about the smoke and decided to take no chances. The flames from the fire leap and dance up to the sky, casting an orange glow but leaving the shadows beyond as thick and dark as ever.
Grantaire creeps to the front of the cave, hardly daring to breathe for fear he'll be noticed and this will all be for naught. A log crackles and snaps on the fire, and Babet and Gueulemer bicker over who gets the last of their supper. No one seems to notice him.
Every step he takes away from the cave seems deafening. He clings to the wall where the shadows are thickest and prays, prays desperately. Every step away from the cave takes him deeper into the shadows, into safety.
He reaches the tree where the horses are tied up and grabs the reins of the first one he comes to. It's difficult work, easing the knot free with his fingers slick with blood and his hands aching from the damage he's done to them, but eventually it comes free.
Grantaire leads the horse away, praying again, this time that it won't make a sound and won't step on a rock and give them away with the sound of its shoes on stone. When he's away from the tree and the other horses, he stops and grabs the pommel of the saddle, gets his foot into the stirrup and jumps, hauling himself up.
It's one of the best jobs he's done getting himself mounted, but it's still nothing at all like graceful. This horse is taller than Enjolras's mare and it takes more effort, and when he's up he swings his leg over the horse's back and drops into the saddle a little too hard. The horse snorts and tosses its head, pawing at the ground, and apparently God's granted all the prayers he cares to today because there it is, the sound of metal on rock, so loud the outlaws couldn't help but hear it.
He doesn't wait for them to sound the alarm, he just kicks his heels against the horse's sides and slaps the reins against its neck, driving it straight to a wild gallop into the night.
It will take them time to get to their feet, to get to their horses, to get in the saddle. Not a lot of time, maybe a minute if he's very lucky, but he'll take anything he can get. And he has the added advantage that he isn't searching for someone in the dark.
It might be enough. Maybe. It has to be, or he's dead.
He pelts recklessly across the landscape, fully aware that he's risking both their lives. It's too dark, and the gait is too fast, and if he doesn't break the horse's leg on an unseen rock or prairie dog's hole, he's going to work him to the point of exhaustion but it doesn't matter, because he knows a canter or a trot would be more sustainable, he knows a careful walk would be safer, but none of it means anything if it lets Paron-Minette catch up to him.
The whine of a bullet past his ear makes him flinch away and nearly throw himself out of the saddle in the process. He ducks low over the horse's neck and grabs tight to fistfuls of its mane, urging it on faster though its sides are already heaving with exertion. It doesn't have much left in it, maybe another mile at the best, and Patron-Minette is close enough behind to shoot at him. Grantaire scans the landscape up ahead of him desperately, searching for anything he might take shelter behind, anything that might give him the slightest advantage.
There's a thicker area of shadow up ahead that must be a copse of trees, and an indistinct blur at their roots that Grantaire can only hope is underbrush thick enough to slow the outlaws down. He tightens his hands on the reins and steers the horse to it, comes around behind the trees and means to throw himself out of the saddle and take cover amongst their trunks, but he has to haul on the reins and force the horse to an abrupt stop instead because there are bluffs rising up just ahead of them, crumbling cliffs that sweep around in a sharp arc
He's trapped, and Patron-Minette's too close behind to repair his mistake. He throws himself out of the saddle and scrambles in amongst the trees just as the bandits come tearing up and around, fanning out to block any chance of escape.
Grantaire drops his head back to thunk quietly against the trunk of the tree behind him, doing his best to breathe quietly and carefully.
He's dead, there's no point denying it or fighting the inevitable. As soon as they find him and catch up to him they'll kill him as likely as not. And even if they don't exact their punishment on him for escaping, not with the hope of Enjolras's ransom still there to gentle their hand, he won't have that respite for long.
Shots ring out and bullets whizz past him. The solid impact of them burying themselves in the trees next to Grantaire makes him flinch and duck down, makes him cower. He can't even return fire. They took his gun when they tied him up and he hadn't dared try to retrieve it in his escape, not when he'd still harbored hope of getting away from the camp undetected. Now it seems foolish, and he feels helpless.
He's going to die.
He's not going to go without a fight, though. He searches the trees he's taking shelter in, scanning them all for any branches hanging low enough that he can climb up.
Treeing himself is stupid, he knows that. They'll just surround him and then he'll have no escape at all. But everywhere else around the copse is open land, so running will get him nothing but a swift death. And cowering here amongst the roots will only help him until they reach the trees and start to make their way in. Up is a terrible direction to go, but it's the only one he's got.
He finds a tree with a branch low enough that he thinks he can pull himself up onto it. He jumps up to grab it, fingers scrabbling for purchase on rough bark, and the sound of the bullets landing around him changes, from the solid thunk of metal on wood to something wetter and softer, just as Grantaire's left arm goes numb and useless.
He can't hold his weight up with one hand so he drops, landing hard and dropping onto his back. The numbness gives way to a sudden wave of agony, and Grantaire knows. He doesn't have to press his fingers to his shoulder and feel the wet, warm spread there to know he's been shot.
Shadows approach him, stomping through the underbrush, moonlight glinting silver off their guns. Grantaire scrambles back away from them, swearing as every movement makes the agony in his arm worse. He scrambles back and back as they keep coming, and when his scrambling takes him right out of the protection of the trees he doesn't even care because they're there, the trees don't mean anything anymore, but he's not going to lie down and wait for death like a lamb offering itself up to the slaughter. He's going to try.
But they're on foot and he's crawling backwards through the dust with one useless arm. He scarcely makes it to the deeper, darker shadows of the bluffs before they're on him, all three standing over him with guns leveled at his head. Babet steps on his shot arm to pin him in place and only grins viciously when it makes Grantaire scream.
"Shoot me!" Grantaire snarls at Montparnasse. "You'll never get your ransom either way so you may as well just fucking shoot me!"
Montparnasse's face is cold and flinty in the thin moonlight, his eyes sparking with a dangerous fury. He keeps his gun trained on Grantaire's head and cocks the hammer back with a slow, menacing click.
Grantaire tightens his jaw and stares him down. He watches his finger tighten on the trigger and prays the end will be quick.
The sound of the gunshot makes him jump, then gasp, stunned when he feels no pain, just the sudden absence of weight on his arm as Babet crumples to the ground beside him.
Montparnasse's gun swings away from him, swings up, firing into the night. Grantaire scrambles upright and twists, straining to see, to understand what's happening.
The edge of the bluffs overhead is turned gold by the flickering glow of firelight, cast by half a dozen torches held aloft, illuminating the dozen horses and their riders who stand there, their guns aimed at the two remaining outlaws.
The torchlight is inconstant and doesn't reach all of them well, but it shines bright enough for Grantaire to recognize Fantine, and Courfeyrac, and Bahorel and Bossuet and Cosette and her father. And Enjolras, there with gun smoke still drifting from his barrel, staring down on them like an avenging angel. It's the whole town, he brought the whole goddamned town with him. Grantaire drops down onto his back in the dust and laughs and cries.
It's over in moments after that. Montparnasse isn't stupid enough to stand his ground when he's outnumbered and outgunned. He leaves Grantaire where he is, turns and runs to where he left his horse. The dark of the night quickly envelops him, but the thunder of horse hooves chases him down. A single shot rings out, and an aborted cry, and then nothing.
Grantaire doesn't even bother tracking what happens to Gueulemer. He struggles to get himself upright and his back against the bluff, gritting his teeth to fight back a scream every time he moves his arm.
A horse gallops toward him, bringing with it a broad circle of light from one of the torches. It's Enjolras, bearing down upon him. He hurls himself out of the saddle when he nears and drops the torch to gutter in the dirt. And then he throws himself at Grantaire, in his knees in the dirt beside him, his hands on Grantaire's cheeks, running over his face and his shoulders and his chest.
"You are so stupid," Grantaire says weakly. "You brought the whole town out for me?"
"I didn't bring anyone." Enjolras's voice is short and clipped, but Grantaire knows him well enough by now to recognize fear where he might have originally assumed anger. "They all came of their own volition." His hands pause on Grantaire's shoulder and air rushes out of him. "R, you're bleeding."
"I'm shot," he says.
That makes Enjolras swear and brace a hand over the gunshot wound, leaning his weight in hard against it as he bellows for Joly, for Courfeyrac, for anybody, his voice drowning out Grantaire's agonized cries.
They're with him in seconds, a sea of faces swimming around him. Joly says something low and urgent, and someone else answers and their voice breaks halfway through the reply, and Grantaire doesn't want to be awake for this because he knows whatever comes, it's going to be excruciating.
When the darkness closes in on him, blacking out even the bright flames of the torches around him, Grantaire welcomes it, and slips under gladly.
He rouses a few times, just enough to know he hasn't died. On horseback, slumped over with Enjolras's arm wrapped firmly around his waist from behind. With tall, shadowed shapes rising around him that make him panic until he realizes they're the buildings and store fronts of Amity. As they lower him down off the horse's back, hands reaching to steady him but still making his arm scream with pain. In a room that's cool and dark and vaguely familiar, with Joly's hand on his forehead as he tips something thick and vile down Grantaire's throat. It makes him cough and choke and then makes him sleep, deep and dark and well.
The next time he wakes, he feels as though his mouth has been stuffed full of dirt and his head wrapped in cotton. His shoulder hurts ferociously, and he rouses with a groan.
A hand grips his immediately. A cool, wet cloth wipes across his brow. "R?" Enjolras says, with painful measures of hope and heartbreak in his voice.
Grantaire blinks his eyes open. There's a lamp burning low on the table beside the bed, but it still feels blinding. Enjolras is beside him, looking haggard and unkempt as though he hasn't been out of those clothes in days.
Grantaire runs his tongue over his lips. They feel chapped and parched, and as though Enjolras can read his thoughts, he's there with a glass of water, holding it carefully so Grantaire can sip from it.
It feels like heaven. When Enjolras takes the glass away, Grantaire protests, but Enjolras holds him down with a careful hand on his uninjured shoulder. "Just sips, Joly said, until we're sure your stomach is steady enough for it."
Grantaire looks at him then, looks at him and remembers everything, and sighs. "Didn't you get my message?"
Enjolras goes perfectly still for a moment. He sets the glass down with a sharp sound and turns to face Grantaire squarely. "The one about what's worth protecting at all costs? I certainly did."
"Amity. That's what you said, that Amity had to be protected at all costs. And then you brought the whole town out just for me. What if one of them had come for the town while you were out riding to my rescue, or someone else had taken advantage of the opportunity?"
Enjolras's mouth goes thin and flat. "What if we had been a minute later than we were? What if Montparnasse had been a second quicker to comply when you demanded he shoot you?"
Grantaire shuts his eyes and brings a hand up to press to his throbbing head. "They were going to ransom me. They'd have bled you dry, left you with nothing—"
"And you should have let them." Enjolras draws a breath like he's gathering his strength. Grantaire opens his eyes to look at him because he can't not.
"Are you angry with me?" he asks at last, incredulous.
Enjolras takes long enough to reply that Grantaire knows he wants to answer yes. "I am very, very angry," he says at last, his voice carefully controlled. "But not with you, as such."
"They'd come for Cosette, and I—"
"I know very well what happened." This time, Enjolras's voice is softer, gentler. "We had the story from Cosette first, and Claquesous later. It was very brave, what you did." His hand tightens on Grantaire, verging on painful. "And very, very stupid."
"You'd have done the same."
That, at least, earns a glimmer of a smile about the corners of Enjolras's mouth. "Perhaps so."
"I'm sorry," Grantaire says, and Enjolras deflates. "You shouldn't have had to come for me. I didn't want that. I was trying to keep you out of it."
Just as quickly as the tension had eased from him, it's back again. Enjolras stares at him with a deepening furrow between his brow. "Grantaire," he says slowly, like he's speaking to someone with addled wits. "I will always come for you."
"I will always come for you."
Grantaire takes a careful breath and pulls his hand from Enjolras's. "You sent me away."
"And then I tried to get you to come home."
"But you sent me away."
"I was afraid for your safety, and can you say that it was unjustified?" He sweeps a hand out that seems to indicate all of Grantaire, from his throbbing head to his wounded arm to his very toes. "You were very nearly killed. It's what I didn't want to happen."
"It wouldn't have happened if you hadn't sent me away." Grantaire struggles to sit upright because he's not going to have this conversation flat on his back. "I was with Cosette because I was at the bank asking Valjean for a loan."
Enjolras's face goes blank and expressionless with shock. "Why would you need—"
"Oh for fuck's sake, Enjolras, you know why! To live off of until I can find a way to make my own living. To start a business of my own."
Enjolras goes very, very still. His stare bores into Grantaire. "We're married," he says quietly. "You came out here to be with me and you made a promise. You took a vow."
Grantaire tips his head back and stares up at Joly's ceiling, fighting back the burn of tears. "I don't give a shit about my promises, Enjolras. I can't do this, I can't. It hurts too much."
He hears Enjolras breathe hard beside him. He feels it when Enjolras reaches out and grips his hand tight again. "Then you need to tell me what to do to make it easier," he says, his voice shaking with the sort of passion that Grantaire has only ever heard from him when talking about Amity, or freedom, or doing the right thing. "Because I've nearly lost the man I love once today and I am not going to do it again."
Grantaire straightens slowly, looking at him, staring at him. "What?" he says, hoarse.
Enjolras's mouth goes flat with impatience. "Tell me."
"Not that, Enjolras, for fuck's sake." He threads his fingers through Enjolras's and squeezes tight. "You have to say it. You have to." His voice breaks. There are tears in his eyes and he doesn't care if they fall. "You can't call me that and not tell me."
"Oh." Enjolras lets out a small breath. He lifts Grantaire's hand to his mouth and presses a kiss to it, then presses his forehead against the back of Grantaire's hand. His voice shakes when he speaks. "I love you."
All the air evaporates from Grantaire's lungs, leaving his chest aching and hollow. "Enjolras," he says, hoarse. "Christ, you're terrible at this. It's no wonder you had to write to a heart-and-hand catalog for someone to marry you. Will you look at me when you say it?"
Enjolras lowers their hands and kisses Grantaire's again, stares at him over their twined fingers. "I love you," he says, and for the first time, seeing all the wonder and heartbreak reflected in his eyes, Grantaire believes it.
Tears fall freely down his cheeks but he doesn't care. "You don't want to love me," he says, his words unsteady.
"You thought it was going to compromise you. That you'd end up needing someone and abandoned."
"And yet here I am, compromised. And still terribly afraid of that fate." He reaches out, stroking the side of Grantaire's face. "Please. I need you. Please don't leave me."
"I don't want to." Grantaire rolls up onto his knees and leans in to Enjolras, and to hell with his wounded arm. He loops his good arm around Enjolras's neck and holds on to him, raining kisses over his face. Enjolras circles his arms around his back and does what Grantaire cannot, holding him tight. "But this can't be business anymore. I love you. I want to be your husband, not your help."
"It hasn't been business for a while," Enjolras admits quietly. His hands run through Grantaire's hair, over his face, down his back. "I wanted it to be, but it hasn't. I love you." He lets out an unsteady breath as he says it and leans his forehead against Grantaire's. "It's terrifying. But it's better than living without you. I couldn't do it. I don't know how anymore."
"You don't have to." Grantaire tips Enjolras's chin up and kisses him. They're both too desperate and too shaken to keep it light. In moments they're pressed in hard against one another, gasping against the other's lips. Grantaire pulls back just enough to continue speaking against Enjolras's mouth. "Love me, and I'll never go anywhere again."
Enjolras's face is as bright as the midday sun. "It's a deal," he says and climbs up onto the bed with Grantaire to press in close against his side. Joly will probably have words with them both about the way they're abusing his arm, but Grantaire doesn't care. He rolls in close against Enjolras and holds on to his husband so tight he thinks maybe he'll never let go.
Chapter 18: Epilogue
The seasons change faster than Grantaire's arm heals, and Joly still has him restricted to the easiest of tasks when autumn comes, and brings the harvest with it. He chafes at being forbidden to help just when Enjolras needs his help the most, but Enjolras glares just as fiercely as Joly whenever Grantaire starts making noises about doing even slightly more strenuous work, and Grantaire shuts up because he has no doubts whatsoever that Enjolras will convince Joly to put him on bed rest if he thinks Grantaire is pushing himself harder than he should.
Still, when the day of the harvest comes, it leaves Grantaire feeling restless and furious. "You need me," he says, stirring the porridge on the stove as it finishes thickening, because cooking is one of the very few things Enjolras will let him do without putting up even a token protest. "That's why I'm here, because you can't do it on your own."
Enjolras is too quiet for too long. Grantaire twists to look over his shoulder and finds Enjolras watching him, much too somber. "That's not why you're here," he says, firm and unyielding. "Not anymore. I need you for more than just your strength, R. I've done the harvest on my own before, it hasn't killed me yet. But I won't risk you, not for anything. You can help when Joly says you're ready, and not a day earlier."
Grantaire ducks his head and stirs the porridge vigorously. He still doesn't know how to deal with the fact that Enjolras loves him, with the fact that he says it so freely and so earnestly. It makes his heart flip over and clench tight, every time.
When he's had a moment to collect himself and isn't feeling quite so overcome, he leaves the porridge on the stove and goes over to Enjolras, slides into his lap and wraps his arms around his neck, leaning in to breathe unsteadily against the side of his neck. "I love you so much," he says, and if their porridge is a little overcooked by the time they get back to it, neither of them mind.
Later, Grantaire goes out to bring Enjolras lunch and discovers that half of Amity has descended upon their fields, Fantine and Éponine coordinating their cowhands while Courfeyrac wields a scythe and Combeferre and Jehan follow behind him, tying the wheat up into bundles. Grantaire has to lean against and fight to catch his breath, overcome once again.
With the help of their friends, they finish with the harvest before the first frost descends, leaving everything crisp and pale and icy. It gives way to warmer temperatures within a few days, but soon enough winter comes in earnest, and Grantaire struggles to accustom himself to the idea of there being little work to be done about the farm, aside from feeding and watering the animals and the unending and thankless task of bringing firewood in to add to the woodstove.
It's strange to Grantaire to have so much time on his hands, with nothing to occupy it but to cuddle up close against Enjolras and get to know his husband in ways they scarcely had time for during the growing season. When Joly declares his shoulder healed up well enough to resume all normal activities, Grantaire celebrates his newfound freedom by dragging Enjolras to bed, piling the blankets high over them both, and not letting him out until evening, when the whole day has passed them by.
Winter is cold and harsh out West, but they find warmth and happiness with each other. And when winter gives way to spring and the cycle of the farm begins anew, Grantaire stands in the middle of the road leading to town, on the crest of the hill that overlooks their land, just where he'd been when Enjolras had first brought him home. The fields are dark and rich, fresh-tilled and already turning green as the sprouts of this year's crops work their way up out of the earth. There's a lot of work ahead of them, but there's nowhere else in the world Grantaire would rather be.
Enjolras is a warm presence at his side. He slips his hand into Grantaire's and presses in against his shoulder. "What are you thinking about?"
Grantaire shakes his head. "Nothing. Why?"
"You look happy."
Grantaire has a husband he loves, and who loves him in return. He has a home, family, friends, a community, a hundred and one things he'd never dreamed were possible back East. He has a life here, and it's a good one, and he's so grateful.
"That's because I am," he says, and pulls Enjolras in for a kiss.