Courfeyrac paused outside of the backroom of the Musain and winced when he heard what sounded suspiciously like someone slamming a hand down on the table. Combeferre appeared at his shoulder with a fresh drink and frowned. “Why aren’t you going inside?”
Courfeyrac was about to respond when Enjolras’s voice raised enough that they could hear the words “Useless — misinformed — hypocritical —” and both men winced. “Well, that answered my question,” Combeferre said, taking a sip of his beer. “Grantaire?”
“Have you ever known anyone else who can make Enjolras yell like that?” Courfeyrac asked dryly. “Besides my roommate, that is.” He glanced at Combeferre. “And I don’t suppose you know what set them off this time?” Combeferre shrugged and Courfeyrac sighed. “Me neither.”
Combeferre just raised an eyebrow and shrugged again before glancing down at his watch. “Well, I have neither the time nor desire to wait around and ensure they don’t kill each other.” He took a long pull on his beer, draining it in one gulp as Courfeyrac watched approvingly. “Walk me home?”
Courfeyrac shrugged and grinned, and they left the Musain, the sounds of Enjolras and Grantaire’s fight echoing behind them. “—and I don’t understand why you even bother showing up half the time when it’s clear you don’t have any kind of ideals!” Enjolras was saying, his face red as he glared at Grantaire, who didn’t even look mildly perturbed as he sipped at whatever was in his glass.
“I come for the entertainment, clearly,” Grantaire said sardonically, raising his glass in a mock toast. “After all, where else can I find such enjoyment from someone pretending to understand what it’s like to be poor?”
“I know more about the struggles of the working class than you,” Enjolras shot back.
Grantaire just raised an eyebrow at him. “You really think you know what it’s like to be a part of the ‘working class’? Try switching places with Feuilly for a day, and you’ll see how much you can’t even begin to grasp.”
Enjolras crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Feuilly sure as hell doesn’t need you to speak for him, nor does he need anyone to step into his shoes. He has a remarkable and admirable point of view that he is incredibly capable of presenting all his own.”
Grantaire’s lip curled. “Fine. Then try switching places with me.”
Enjolras snorted. “With you? However will I manage when all it seems you do is drink and sleep all day? You’re so middle class that you don’t even recognize your own privilege!”
“And you have your head so far up your ass that you somehow think you’ve transcended yours!” Both men glared at each other until Grantaire shook his head slowly. “You’re rich,” he said, matter-of-factly. “You’ve always been rich. Your family has always been rich. And I just think that — pun obviously intended — it’s rich of you to sit here and lecture me about my lack of convictions — in case you’ve forgotten what you’re even yelling at me about — when you’ve never had to work a day in your life for anything.”
Enjolras rolled his eyes and countered, “You don’t exactly come from the streets, either. Your family has money.”
Grantaire just stared at him, something tightening in his expression. “Oh, yes, I come from money. My parents have enough to live comfortably. But the funny thing about that, though, is that I got cut off when I decided I wanted to go to art school instead of business school. So now the only thing I’ve got from ‘following my dreams’ is a shitload of student loans to pay back because despite being cut off, the government thinks that my family could afford to shell out for my tuition. And on top of that, I didn’t even complete my fucking art degree, so good luck finding a job to actually pay those loans.” He shook his head again, thoroughly defeated. “You have no idea what it’s like. Your ideals wouldn’t last a week in this kind of situation.”
“At least I would try,” Enjolras said determinedly. “Because when you’ve lost everything else, ideals are the only thing we have to hold on to, ideals and the hope that we can and will make things better.”
For a moment, it looked as if Grantaire might shoot something back at Enjolras, a barbed comment or snarky response, but then he just shook his head. “Yeah. Good luck with that.” He drained his glass and stood. “And in the meantime, I’m done.”
Enjolras watched him go with narrowed eyes. “Done?” he repeated. “What do you mean, done?” Grantaire just gave him a sarcastic salute before disappearing out the door, and Enjolras shouted at his retreating back, “Fine! Be ‘done’. But maybe one day you’ll actually find something worth sticking around and fighting for!”
There was no response from Grantaire — not that Enjolras expected one — and Enjolras turned back to what he had been trying to work on before he had gotten in a fight with Grantaire (not their first, by any means, though there was an unfamiliar edge to this fight). Still, Grantaire’s words lingered in the back of Enjolras’s mind, their tone infinitely more mocking in his head than they had been on Grantaire’s lips.
His hand clenched around what had once been the outline for a speech on the adverse effects of austerity measures passed recently and was now a crumpled ball of paper. He looked down at it and sighed, smoothing the paper so that he could read his scrawled notes. It was crap, plain and simple, and he crumpled it back up and threw it in the trashcan before grabbing his bag and leaving for the night, since it was clear he was not likely to get any more work done.
Not too far from the Musain, the bell over the door to the shop tinkled as Grantaire stepped inside, his expression neutral as he glanced around. The teller looked up and smiled at him. “Ah, R, is it a Wednesday night already?”
“You know me too well,” Grantaire returned easily. “Got anything on sale?”
The clerk smiled and nodded. “Your favorite. One or two?”
Grantaire shrugged. “Just one for the moment. Paycheck doesn’t come until Friday. But have no fear, I’ll be back.”
Laughing, the clerk rang up the same purchase Grantaire made just about every week: a bottle of cheap whiskey. “Oh, I’m not concerned,” he teased. “You practically keep me in business. A liquor store is only as good as its customers, after all!”
Grantaire smiled, though his smile was weak. “Well, we’ve all got to do our part in the corrupt capitalist economy.” He grabbed the brown-bag wrapped bottle of whiskey and lifted it in thanks. “And I’m sure I’ll see you next week.”
He tucked the bottle under his arm and trudged toward his apartment.
As soon as Enjolras made it home, he collapsed into bed, too frazzled to do anything else besides try to sleep it off. If only I could get him to listen, he thought, staring up at the ceiling. For all the people they had converted to their cause, for all the strangers who would stop and listen to him even when they might disagree, for all the people who had been made to see, Grantaire remained a stubborn outlier, and all of Enjolras and Les Amis’ accomplishments seemed soured when Grantaire was brought into the mix. He sighed and rolled over onto his side, closing his eyes as if he might somehow will himself to sleep. Maybe tomorrow.
Across town, the bottle slipped from Grantaire’s fingers, landing with a solid clunk against the wood of the floor but somehow miraculously not spilling what remained of its contents. Grantaire blinked blearily at the clock on his nightstand table and debated over texting Joly and Bossuet to cancel their longstanding breakfast date, though at the very least they’d enjoy themselves even if he didn’t show up. Maybe tomorrow… he thought, trailing into unconsciousness before he could even finish the thought. It wasn’t like it mattered anyway — tomorrow would undoubtedly hold the same exact thing that today, yesterday, and the days before had.
Grantaire’s alarm woke him and he scrambled for it, trying to figure out why the hell he had set an alarm when he had been drinking the night before. Setting an alarm when he knew he was going to be hungover was the worst trick drunk him had yet played on sober him.
But as he sat up, Grantaire came quickly to two conclusions: firstly, he wasn’t hungover, by some incredible miracle; secondly, he wasn’t in his own bed.
It was a surreal feeling, sitting up and glancing around and knowing that this wasn’t his apartment. He was about 99% sure he had gone to sleep in his own bed, so to wake up elsewhere was incredibly disconcerting. Still, as he looked around he couldn’t help but feel a sense of familiarity, because while this wasn’t his apartment, it was someone’s that he knew.
And as his gaze fell on the view outside his window, he realized exactly whose apartment this was — Enjolras’s.
“Holy fuck,” he gasped, almost falling out of bed as he came to the realization. He was in Enjolras’s apartment — he was in Enjolras’s bed! And he had no clue how he got there. He scrambled to his feet and looked around for his clothes, because of course he wasn’t wearing proper pajamas, just his boxers, but he couldn’t find them anywhere. In fact, he couldn’t seem to find anything familiar, which only threw him off more. The phone he grabbed off the nightstand was distinctly not the piece of shit flip phone he’d had for the past three years but a top of the line iPhone 6. And the laptop on the desk was a Macbook Pro, not the tablet he had scrimped and saved over the course of a year to buy.
Even the boxers he was wearing were unfamiliar since they were unstained and untattered.
And to make matters worse, as Grantaire was fishing around for him clothing, he caught sight of himself in the mirror, and froze, staring at his reflection. He was him, there was no doubt about that, dark curls and all, but he was...different. His curls were more tamed, not as unruly and frizzy as normal, even after sleep, and he positively gaped at his stomach, which was completely lacking the beer belly he’d spent the better part of five years working towards. In fact, his entire body seemed more toned and lean, and he was missing the smatter of acne across his back and shoulders that he just couldn’t seem to get rid of.
His face was still mostly the same, eyebrows a little too thick and close together, nose still with its bump from being broken when he was very little, but his teeth were no longer crooked but instead straight and white. He was missing the scar on his right eyebrow from when he had gotten drunk and tripped down the stairs, and while he wasn’t inclined to look, something told him that the old scars on his arms and thighs were also probably gone as well.
He couldn’t stop staring at himself.
It wasn’t as if he had somehow become handsome overnight — there was too much that was unfortunate inherent in Grantaire for that, but he just looked better. And it was really freaking him out.
“Enjolras?” he called, hoping that the man in question might somehow be able to explain what the fuck was going on. When Enjolras didn’t answer, Grantaire stepped in the hallway to look for him, his repeated call of “Enjolras” dying on his lips as he looked around.
This was Enjolras’s apartment, there was no doubt of that; Grantaire was an intimately familiar with Enjolras’s apartment as he was with his own, from the sheer amount of time he had spent there for various Les Amis functions (and the sheer amount of time he had imagined himself there, for markedly different reasons), and the layout was exactly as it should be. But everything that made the place Enjolras’s was...gone.
There weren’t four bookcases crammed in the living room and bursting with a variety of books on revolution and history and philosophy and politics and whatever else Enjolras had. Instead, the living room was open and spacious, with an easel set up towards the window, as if someone was using the view from the window as inspiration. A painting hung above the fireplace, one that Grantaire recognized from one of the galleries downtown where he had once tried to get his own work displayed — its artist was well-known and the piece had been ridiculously overpriced, and Enjolras didn’t know the first thing about art, so what in the world was it doing here?
And gone was Enjolras’s rag-tag collection of furniture that he had gotten from Goodwill because he didn’t see the need in investing in new furniture. Instead, the furniture was modern and eclectic and everything Grantaire had always wanted when perusing IKEA catalogues and dreaming of what he would put in his apartment if he only had the money to do so.
In fact, everything in the apartment was shockingly tailored to Grantaire’s tastes, and that freaked him out even more than his flat stomach and straight teeth. It was like the worst sense of deja vu, looking around at where the end table should have been almost collapsing under the weight of books but was instead empty save for a top-of-the-line sketchbook and some charcoal pencils. “What the fuck is going on?” he asked out loud to no one.
He heard his phone going off, with his same ringtone that he had used since since he got his first cellphone with downloadable ringtones in ninth grade (the Indiana Jones theme, naturally), and headed back to Enjolras’s bedroom, not entirely surprised to see that the phone ringing was in fact the iPhone, and he fumbled to unswipe it, missing for perhaps the first time ever the ease of his flip phone.
The one thing that the iPhone had that his didn’t, though, was a means of telling him who was calling — Enjolras. He almost dropped the phone just from seeing that name, both from relief — knowing that Enjolras was still here was like an anchor for Grantaire no matter whatever the hell was going on — and from panic, because how the hell was he supposed to explain everything? “Enjolras?” Grantaire asked when he finally got the phone unlocked, almost holding his breath in fear that something might have happened to him.
“Grantaire.” Enjolras’s voice was half-relieved, half-frustrated, and Grantaire let out the breath he had been holding, though his next breath caught in his throat as Enjolras demanded, “What the fuck is going on?”
When Enjolras had woken that morning, it had been to fall out of bed and sprawl in the most unflattering fashion on the ground. He had woken up in a panic because he was positive that he had set his alarm the night before, but had not been woken by the familiar beeping. Then, when trying to flail around for the alarm clock, he had gotten tangled in the sheets and fallen out of bed.
It was clearly not a good morning.
It was made even worse when he glanced around and froze because this was decidedly not his apartment. Those were definitely his clothes heaped in piles on the floor (and he wrinkled his nose at himself because, yes, while he tended to let the laundry pile up especially when he was busy, he didn’t normally just chuck his clothes on the floor), but this was not his bedroom. That was not his bed. The phone on his nightstand, a flip phone like what he had had five years ago now, definitely was not his.
The stacks of books in teetering towers against the wall because apparently there were no bookshelves in this apartment? Yeah, those were his. Or at least, they were titles with which he was intimately familiar. But instead of his gleaming hardcovers, most were ratty paperbacks. And instead of his trusted Macbook, there was some kind of PC sitting on a milk crate he assumed doubled as a desk.
Slowly he picked his way to his feet and carefully left the bedroom, still confused as to what was going on, but cautious as well, because he had no clue where he even was or who he might encounter. “Hello?” he called, padding out the door and stopping in his tracks. The living room/kitchen/all-in-one room beyond the bedroom was definitely not what he was expecting, and he frowned because there wasn’t anyone there.
But what the other room lacked in people it made up for in other things, mainly further makeshift furniture covered with notebooks, maps, books on political ideology, and more. It looked like Enjolras’s living during prep time for a rally or event, only this had an air of permanence, as if it was always this crammed.
He navigated through the maze of things, his brow furrowed, especially when he noticed, bizarrely, it was his handwriting in the notebooks, scribbled in the margins of the books, written next to circled areas of the map. For a brief moment, he wondered if he had an alternate personality living as a terrorist, because this was kind of what it looked like, even if that didn’t make any sense.
It was thus with significant trepidation that he pushed open the bathroom door, not entirely sure who he was going to see looking back at him in the mirror. And the sight...was definitely not what he expected.
It was him — he was him, still. Sort of. Maybe.
His hair was longer, almost unkempt, as if he hadn’t had a haircut or a proper wash in a while, and he had — good god, really? — acne spots especially along his jawline, a sight he hadn’t seen since puberty when his mother’s dermatologist put him on a strict regimen to get rid of the blemishes. And his teeth were crooked, just the way they had been before the very expensive and very painful braces his parents had forced him to get, and he made a mental note that his mother was going to kill him for apparently wasting all that money.
He took a step closer to the mirror, his brow furrowing even further. He had always erred on the side of pale, but now looked almost sallow, an unhealthy pallor to his skin, certainly not helped by the dark circles under his eyes. And he was...well, it was hard to describe. He would never have been described as muscular by any means, but he seemed to have gotten thinner, almost pinched and stretched, and yet at the same time, fatter probably wasn’t the right word but there was no other word he could think of as he stared at himself and the parts of his body that were now flabby, trying to make sense of what the fuck was going on.
As he was staring at himself, a sudden rumbling filled the apartment, accompanied by a loud train whistle, and he rolled his eyes and called distractedly, “Grantaire, how the fuck do you live like this?”
And then he froze, realizing what he had just said, realizing instantly where he was. Only one person he knew lived in a shitty apartment like this right next to the train tracks — Grantaire.
But this wasn’t Grantaire’s apartment. Layout-wise, sure, it looked like what he vaguely remembered from the few times he had stopped by (normally to apologize, normally at someone else’s insistence), but there was nothing in here that made this apartment Grantaire’s. Gone was the easel and the canvases and the paint dripped onto just about every surface. There were no sketchbooks lying around that he could see, no sketches tacked to the walls, which weren’t the various colors that Grantaire tried out on them when he was bored.
Most importantly of all, there were no bottles. No beer bottles rolling around on the ground, half-empty bottles of wine and whiskey dotting the room, nothing.
Which meant that while Enjolras now knew this was sort of Grantaire’s apartment, he still had no fucking clue what was going on. What it also meant was that there someone who might.
So he crossed back into the bedroom and grabbed the phone off of the nightstand, flipping it open in the hope that Grantaire’s number was programmed in it. He was startled by the picture on the tiny screen — it looked like him, Combeferre, and Courfeyrac, though it was hard to tell with how small the screen was — and it took him a moment to find the contacts. When he did, he held his breath and scrolled through, exhaling in relief when he found Grantaire’s name listed under ‘R’, and he quickly clicked the call button.
Grantaire answered after far too many rings, enough to leave Enjolras almost in a panic, and his voice was cautious as he said, “Enjolras?”
“Grantaire.” Enjolras didn’t know if he had honestly been more relieved to hear Grantaire’s voice in his life. “What the fuck is going on?”
When Enjolras saw Grantaire, he actually did a cartoonish double-take. Here he was, looking like his worst, and then there was Grantaire, sauntering towards him looking better than Enjolras had ever seen him.
They had agreed to meet at a café between their apartments to try to figure out what was happening, which was easier said than done since Enjolras couldn’t find a metro card and apparently had no cash or cards in his wallet and thus had to walk the ten blocks to the café (Grantaire had opened his wallet and almost swooned at its contents and had to actually talk himself out of taking a cab or, hell, hiring a limo to take him to the café). And now, to see Grantaire looking like this — well, it just wasn’t fair.
It was mitigated slightly when Grantaire drew closer and Enjolras could see that he looked distinctly uncomfortable, as if he wasn’t quite used to himself yet, and was about to say something when Grantaire unexpectedly reached out to pull him into a hug. “I’m so glad you’re still you,” he told Enjolras, his voice muffled slightly. “I was so worried because everything’s still different, but you’re still just as you were.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Enjolras said dryly, pulling back and frowning down at himself, at the hole in his skinny jeans and the way his t-shirt was stretched too tightly over his stomach. “I look awful.”
Grantaire frowned. “Of course you don’t—” he started, then sighed and shook his head. “Let’s get some food and some coffee, and then we’ll talk about it.”
They headed into the café, but Enjolras hesitated, remembering the state of his wallet. “I, uh, I don’t have any money…” he started awkwardly, and Grantaire glanced at him before realizing.
“Oh. Right. Well, I’ve got more than enough money for once in my life, so I’ll spot you.” They ordered and Grantaire paid for both their meals with cash, though his fingers lingered on one of the shiny debit and credit cards with his name stamped on them. “I feel like a character in one of those bullshit novels who suddenly discovers they’re an heiress or something, you know?” he remarked wryly as they made their way to a table, and continued, after putting on a fake British accent and raising his hand dramatically to his brow, “Oh, I’ve encountered such a change in my circumstances!”
Enjolras just stared at him, his coffee half-raised to his lips. “That’s it,” he breathed. “Grantaire, you’re a genius!”
Grantaire lowered his hand and raised an eyebrow. “Well, I’m sure I am, though I’m not sure why in this instance…”
“A change in circumstances,” Enjolras said urgently. “What was it you shouted at me last night? ‘Try switching places with me.’ Isn’t that exactly what we’ve done here?”
Grantaire was staring at him as if he’d suddenly grown an extra head. “Um, Enjolras, there’s no polite way to put this, but that kind of bullshit only happens in fairytales and shit, and if this is a fairytale, it’s the shittiest fairytale in the history of ever.”
Enjolras shook his head, his tone still urgent. “But it’s the only thing that makes sense! Why else would I wake up in your apartment, but with all of my stuff — kind of — and looking like I’ve spent the past several years living in squalor. No offense,” he added hastily, seeing the look on Grantaire’s face. “Though you have to admit you haven’t really been kind on yourself. And why else would you wake up in my apartment, but with, what did you say, all your art supplies and such?”
“Top of the line art supplies,” Grantaire said slowly. “The kind of things I would never be able to afford. And looking, you know, different.”
“Yeah,” Enjolras muttered, glancing around at the few men and women in the café, many of whom kept sneaking glances at Grantaire. “And we’re not the only ones who notice that we look different.”
Grantaire frowned. “What are you talking about?” he asked, confused, and looked around as well, making eye contact with one of the girls, who blushed and ducked her head while her friends whispered excitedly. He turned back to Enjolras, baffled. “What the hell was that?”
Enjolras raised an eyebrow at him. “Do you seriously not realize what you look like now?”
Snorting, Grantaire shook his head, though a blush rose in his cheeks. “Yeah, right,” he scoffed. “They’re looking at you, I’m sure. They always look at you.”
“But that’s just it,” Enjolras said quickly, eager to steer the conversation away from its current direction and back to his point before this derailment. “People used to, according to you anyway, always look at me. Now they’re looking at you. And again, how else do you explain the apartments?”
Grantaire propped his chin on his hand, his brow furrowing slightly. “Ok, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I believe you. That we’ve somehow switched circumstances like some bizarre, involuntary Prince and the Pauper shit. What else has changed, then? Obviously we’re still the same people if slightly different externally. I’m still a sarcastic shit, you’re still unbearable. Crazy.”
Enjolras was about to retort when they were interrupted by Joly and Bossuet who appeared at the edge of their table. “Grantaire,” Joly said, almost cautiously as he looked from Grantaire to Enjolras. “We’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
“You have?” Grantaire and Enjolras asked in unison before glancing at each other. “Did we have a breakfast date or something?” Grantaire continued, trying to figure out if there was anything different about them like there was with him and Enjolras. They both looked exactly the same, though there was something in the angle at which they were standing next to each other that seemed off. “Because you could have just eaten without me. Enjoyed some alone time yourselves.”
He waggled his eyebrows at them the way he normally would have, the way he had teased them ever since they got together years ago now, but was surprised by their reaction, which was to glance at each other and blush, suddenly awkward. “Um, not quite,” Bossuet muttered, avoiding looking at Joly, who was determinedly avoiding Bossuet’s gaze as well.
For a long moment, Grantaire couldn’t quite place where he had seen that reaction, but then recognized it — it was the same reaction Combeferre and Courfeyrac had whenever anyone insinuated that the two of them were dating (and really, they should just get on with it, because they weren’t fooling anyone and the unresolved sexual tension was palpable) — and he blanched. “I mean, um,” he started, trying to come up with something to say.
Joly, however, recovered faster than either Grantaire or Bossuet. “I’m surprised to see you, though, Enjolras,” he said. “You normally do have a breakfast date with Combeferre and Courfeyrac.”
“I do?” Enjolras asked, looking and sounding completely lost, as if he hadn’t followed anything that had just happened.
“He’s giving them some alone time,” Grantaire said quickly. “Get it? The joke? Cuz, um, they’re, you know, and he’s here, and—”
Both Bossuet and Joly somehow relaxed at Grantaire’s panicked babble and Bossuet nodded, his nose wrinkling. “Ugh, yeah. I get that. They can be a bit nauseating when they’re together. But we really were looking for you, Grantaire. We had a couple of questions about the meeting tonight.”
Grantaire stared blankly at him. “What meeting tonight?”
Joly frowned. “The Les Amis meeting,” he said, as if this was obvious. “We’re supposed to be planning for our next demonstration.”
Since Grantaire still looked baffled, Enjolras asked carefully, “What kind of planning do you have to do?”
He didn’t mean for it to sound nasty or accusatory, though admittedly as devoted as they were to the cause, and they were devoted, Bossuet and Joly rarely participated in the day-to-day planning — they shared that trait with Grantaire. But he definitely didn’t expect for Joly’s tone to turn frosty as he looked disdainfully at Enjolras. “If you would actually pay attention at the meetings for once instead of trying to derail them, you might know that we’re doing a public activist art installation in the park downtown. Grantaire was supposed to have asked the park officials about the need for a permit…” He trailed off expectantly as Grantaire just looked blankly at him and sighed. “Well, no worries. I’ll do it. Because we’re not going to just not get a permit because Grantaire thinks it adds a politically performative aspect to the protest.”
“To be fair,” Bossuet said, grinning, “watching Grantaire get arrested — again — was quite entertaining, especially when he started lecturing the policemen on the fact that the sidewalk was a public place, and that using chalk could hardly count as graffiti or destruction of public property.”
Both Enjolras and Grantaire laughed weakly, though they shot each other a look that clearly said they were thinking the same thing: they had no fucking clue what either of them were talking about. Joly rolled his eyes. “You wouldn’t think it was so amusing if you had to bail Grantaire out of jail. Again,” he said, though he was smiling. “I’m sure your parents never thought this would be what you put the art degree they paid for towards.”
Grantaire went pale. “I’m sure they didn’t,” he murmured. Then he straightened slightly and tried to sound as commanding as he could. “Give me a bit to finish up with Enjolras, and then I’ll meet up with you to discuss the meeting, alright? Joly, check on the permit situation. Bossuet—” He faltered slightly and finished up a bit lamely, “Do what you do best.”
“Always, Chief,” Bossuet said cheerfully, saluting Grantaire, and both he and Joly turned and left, Grantaire and Enjolras staring after them.
Grantaire was the first to voice what they were both thinking: “What the fuck was that about?”
Enjolras shrugged, though his expression quickly became contemplative. “I guess it stands to reason that if our circumstances were changed, it means everything is changed,” he said slowly. “Meaning I guess you’re in charge of Les Amis? And Joly and Bossuet are, I guess, your Combeferre and Courfeyrac.”
"But—" Grantaire started, looking panicked. "Combeferre's the second-in-command. He's—”
"He's my second-in-command," Enjolras interrupted. "He's my lieutenant and my closest advisor. Which of our friends would be yours?"
"Joly," Grantaire said instantly, then blanched. “And yeah, ok, Bossuet would definitely be my pick for keeping everyone together, but more importantly — how the fuck am I the leader of Les Amis?! I don’t even believe in any of that!”
Enjolras shrugged again. “Apparently, in the alternate world, you do. Just like, apparently, in alternate world, Courfeyrac and Combeferre are a couple and Joly and Bossuet aren’t.”
Grantaire did not seem reassured by that — if anything, he seemed even more panicked. “My best friends aren’t even together and somehow I’m supposed to run meetings for a group that I don’t believe in and how the fuck are you so calm about all of this?”
Enjolras did look calm — amused even — and he told Grantaire in a voice that was probably more than a little smug, “Maybe because for once I don’t have anything on my plate. And may I just say, it feels kind of good.”
For a moment, Grantaire looked positively furious, but then suddenly, he grinned and sat back in his seat. “Actually, you do.”
Enjolras’s brow furrowed. “Oh, really?”
“Yeah. Because assuming that we really have somehow switched places — and you seem pretty convinced that we have, in fact, done just that — you may not have work to do for Les Amis tonight, but you do have work. A six hour shift starting at noon at that sandwich joint down the street from the Musain, so you should finish up with just enough time to go back to my — I mean, your — place and change before coming back for the meetings.”
There was a moment of silence before Enjolras said slowly, “Are you kidding me?”
Grantaire’s smirk didn’t fade, though his expression tightened slightly even as he said with a forced levity, “I would never joke about something as serious as work, especially at a sandwich place with as charming a name as ‘Slice of Life’. Besides, compared to your other two jobs, it’s a great job. Trust me.”
“Do I even want to know what your other two jobs are?” Enjolras asked, a little desperately.
Now Grantaire’s grin turned positively evil. “I think you mean your other two jobs.” His smile softened when Enjolras looked slightly panicked. “It’s not a big deal. This is your only job today. As for the rest, well, we can discuss them later. For the moment, you need to get ready to go to work, especially since you have to make it through to payday — which is tomorrow, in case you were wondering.”
Enjolras nodded and together they stood, both looking a little nervous. “Well,” Enjolras said slowly. “I guess I’ll, uh, see you later? At the meeting.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Grantaire said, all humor fading as he suddenly looked anxious. “And hopefully I don’t completely fuck that up.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “And hopefully we don’t stay like this forever.”
After a brief hesitation, Enjolras reached out to squeeze Grantaire’s shoulder. “It’ll be fine,” he said bracingly. “We may not know how to get things back to normal yet, but in the meantime we have to keep living our lives, right?”
Grantaire snorted. “Yeah. You’ve got to live my life, and I’ve got to live yours.”
They looked at each other and said in unison, “Good luck.”
There wasn’t anything else for either to say beyond that, so they went their separate ways, both heading out of the café and then heading in opposite directions, Grantaire to his meeting with Joly and Bossuet to discuss the Les Amis meeting that night, and Enjolras to work.
Despite his previous calm over the entire situation, Enjolras couldn’t help but feel a low-level panic set in the further he got from Grantaire, over a variety of things. For starters, the meeting that night was undoubtedly going to be unmitigated disaster; Grantaire had his talents, undeniably, but Enjolras had seen no evidence during their course of their friendship that they lay in the direction of successfully leading a book club, let alone an activist group. And without Combeferre and Courfeyrac to assist him…
Enjolras paused in that thought, because he had never considered what Joly and Bossuet would be like in Combeferre and Courfeyrac’s positions. He instantly — if begrudgingly — recognized that Joly had many of the same skills as Combeferre when it came to keeping a group in line or a meeting on track, but that was only half the equation, as everything would fall to pieces without someone in Courfeyrac’s role to keep the group together.
Did Bossuet have it in him to be the center, to bring the warmth and light that Courfeyrac did? Certainly he had humor, and wit, but it was hard to tell if that would be enough. Joly’s skills were immediate and visible, but Courfeyrac’s talents — the talents Bossuet too must possess — were more subtle, often only apparent over a long period of time. But since neither Joly nor Bossuet had made any allusion to rifts among the group, perhaps Bossuet did have it in him. It made Enjolras wonder how easily any of them could be replaced, and then he immediately felt guilty for the thought.
Still, it kept him occupied on the walk back to his — Grantaire’s — his place, his walk to work, and at least the first hour of his six hour work shift. And as the monotony of the job got to him for the next five hours — Enjolras had a sinking suspicion that if nothing else he was going to come out of this with a much stronger appreciation for minimum wage workers — he started thinking about the different ways he could potentially incorporate Bossuet and Joly’s newfound talents into Les Amis’ efforts when things got back to normal.
If things got back to normal.
Well, there was something else to worry about for the next five hours, at least.
Grantaire was of the opinion that as far as mass hallucinations went, this was possibly the worst one of all time, and since he had taken some bad PCP once and hallucinated that Bahorel was a saber-toothed tiger intent on murdering him, that was probably saying something. The worst option, of course, would be that this somehow wasn’t a hallucination at all, but he wasn’t quite at the point of accepting that yet, in large part because he couldn’t quite believe that this was really happening.
He’s been trying to wrap his head around it for the entire afternoon as he sat across from Joly and Bossuet as Joly patiently walked them through the plans for that night and for the protest on Sunday because literally nothing about this situation continued to make sense, and he was kind of waiting for things to go back to normal, for Joly and Bossuet to kiss or hold hands or do something else like they always did, or for Joly to laugh and say that he was joking, that he didn’t expect Grantaire to actually lead the meeting or a protest or whatever, or, hell, even for Enjolras to stroll in through the door and take control.
He might have had a bit of a thing for Enjolras when he took control.
But not even that line of thought could rouse him from the impending panic that increased as the clock ticked steadily onward and the meeting grew closer and closer. Joly and Bossuet didn’t seem to notice that anything was amiss, but as soon as he opened his mouth to give a fucking speech at tonight’s meeting, it was all going to go to hell, and he knew it.
So at the first available opportunity, when Joly and Bossuet seemed engrossed in a conversation debating the merits of using traditional media outlets to advertise activist efforts (Joly argued that it subverted the capitalist intentions, Bossuet that it was feeding into the capitalist system and undermining their own intentions), Grantaire slipped away to the bar to order a drink — a large drink. He took a few cautious sips before returning to the table and interrupting Joly and Bossuet’s discussion with a loud, “So where are we for tonight?”
Joly glanced up at him and looked taken aback. “Are you...drinking?” he asked, wrinkling his nose.
Grantaire frowned at him and took another sip. “Yeah, just a little something to take the edge off. Is that a problem?”
“Only insomuch as you normally think that being on edge makes you more aware of what’s happening,” Bossuet said mildly. “But if you want to drink, drink. Just remember that you’re a lightweight and this meeting is important.”
Grantaire choked on his drink. “I’m a what?” he spluttered.
Bossuet patted his hand sympathetically. “You may be in denial about it, but even Joly can drink you under the table, and the man only needs to look a bottle of wine to feel drunk.” At the look on Joly’s face, Bossuet hastily added, “No offense.”
Though Grantaire automatically shook his head, he had a sudden sense of déjà vu, because he had heard someone say that before, but not Bossuet, and not about Joly. “You mean Combeferre,” he said, suddenly placing the words as something Courfeyrac had said not even a week ago, with Combeferre giving him the self-same glare that Joly was currently aiming at Bossuet. “Combeferre’s the biggest lightweight.”
Both Bossuet and Joly gave him strange looks. “Combeferre’s one of the biggest drinkers of us all,” Joly told him, frowning slightly. “That’s what he and Courfeyrac do during meetings, when they’re not too busy sucking face. I always wonder where he puts it, to be honest.”
“Oh,” Grantaire said, a sinking feeling in his chest. “Right. I, uh, I guess don’t normally pay too much attention to what they get up to during the meetings.”
“Well, your mind’s normally on other things,” Joly said briskly, turning back to the papers in front of him. “And speaking of…”
Grantaire continued sipping at his drink as Joly went over some details on the permit they had gotten for their protest art installation that Sunday and found to his utmost horror that Bossuet was right. Only about a quarter way into his drink he could already feel the fuzziness starting to gather in his head, and his fingers felt oddly heavy. He ruefully set his glass down — he had paid good money for that alcohol, since he figured he should while he had the money to actually spend on it — but not even he was stupid enough to think going into this meeting drunk was a good idea.
A little over an hour later, as the meeting got underway, as Grantaire slowly stood up in front of the room, everyone’s eyes on him, his hand clenching the edge of the table so he wouldn’t fall over, he couldn’t help but think that going into this meeting sober was the worst idea of all time.
“Um,” he said, particularly eloquent as he stared over the sea of faces, mostly their friends, but a few others who occasionally attended meetings. “Right. Well. Um. Welcome?”
He could feel his ears burn, and he desperately wished that the floor would swallow him whole. Grantaire wasn’t a bad public speaker and actually enjoyed it, but not when having to give a speech about a subject he didn’t really feel strongly about, and especially not when he had only been given a couple hours to prepare this speech anyway. He cleared his throat and said louder, and a little more desperately, “Welcome to this meeting of Les Amis. As you may, um, know, we have a, um, a protest planned for Sunday. That is — well, not a protest, per se, but we have plans to, um, to, well, no I guess protest actually works best in this context, and, um—”
“This is a disaster,” Enjolras hissed from the back of the room where he had been relegated with Combeferre and Courfeyrac, neither of whom even seemed to be paying close attention to what was happening in the meeting, which would have been a disconcerting fact on its own, but coupled with the fact that Combeferre and Courfeyrac were holding hands and Courfeyrac had just leaned in to brush a lock of hair out of Combeferre face left Enjolras feeling even more out of place.
He had long ago come to terms with the fact that his two best friends had feelings for each other, even if they refused to admit it to anyone but themselves, but seeing them actually act on it was a different thing altogether, not helped by the sort of lovesick voice that Combeferre used when he responded, “Yeah, Grantaire seems a little out of sorts tonight. He’s normally so good at this. Maybe you should say something?”
Enjolras shook his head and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “No, I shouldn’t,” he muttered, knowing that it would probably only make Grantaire worse.
Of course, that would be hard to do, since Grantaire had just dropped the notecards he had prepared on their efforts to emulate the work of the Artist and Homeless Collaborative, but Enjolras still didn’t want to embarrass him further. Apparently, though, that attitude was not what either Combeferre or Courfeyrac expected, since they both swiveled to stare at him. “Shouldn’t?” Combeferre repeated incredulously. “But mocking Grantaire is one of your favorite pastimes.”
Courfeyrac nodded in agreement before adding slyly, “Secondly only to rhapsodizing over how fabulous you think Grantaire’s ass is.”
Enjolras blushed because that thought had crossed his mind when he had first seen Grantaire that morning, but that certainly didn’t mean— “I don’t rhapsodize,” he snapped. “And certainly not about Grantaire’s, um, posterior.”
Grinning, Courfeyrac slung an arm around Enjolras’s shoulders. “Well, not always about Grantaire’s ass,” he agreed, but then added, “Sometimes it’s about his hair, or the way his shirt clings to him, or anything of that nature.”
Though Enjolras blushed even further at that, he nonetheless said stubbornly, “It sounds like you’re implying I have some kind of crush on Grantaire/”
“Of course not,” Courfeyrac said instantly, and Enjolras relaxed momentarily, until— “I’m implying that you’re in love with him.” Enjolras let out a shocked noise and Courfeyrac nodded sympathetically. “I know, I know, unrequited love is a bitch. But Combeferre and I managed to pull ourselves together, so maybe, one day, Grantaire will realize that behind the barbed comments and the arguments and whatever else, he secretly returns your feelings.”
Enjolras just scowled and jerked away from Courfeyrac’s arm, though he couldn’t help but think of the occasionally wishful glances Grantaire shot his way. He’d have to have been blind to not realize that Grantaire had a bit of a crush on him, but if their places were supposed to be swapped, did that mean that alternate-universe him feel the same about alt-universe Grantaire? He didn’t even give a second thought to the other implication — that, if he was in love with alt-universe Grantaire, then Grantaire was in love with him — because he didn’t think he could stomach even thinking about that right now.
Instead, he glanced over at Combeferre, hoping for moral support and instead finding sympathy. “I really do think that if you just talked to him about it, you’d save yourself a lot of heartache,” Combeferre told him quietly. When Enjolras just gaped at him, Combeferre held up his hands defensively. “That’s just my advice, anyway. But if you’re content to sit in the back of the room and just watch from afar, I will support you in that as well.”
“I’m not content to do anything,” Enjolras mumbled, though he lacked conviction, and he turned back to the meeting, where Grantaire finally seemed to be getting into the groove of his speech.
“—And I think it’s really important that we emphasize that this is not a matter of gentrification, but instead a protest against art for art’s sake as much as anything else,” Grantaire was saying. “Our art has a message, and—”
One of the meeting’s guests raised his hand. “What’s wrong with art for art’s sake?” he asked. “I mean, shouldn’t the message be that art in all of its forms is important, both to the community as well as the artists in question?”
Grantaire stared blankly at him before glancing nervously down at the notecards in his hands. “Um, well, I mean, art for art’s sake isn’t inherently a bad thing,” he hedged, looking lost, but thankfully, Joly stepped in smoothly, standing and laying a hand on Grantaire’s arm.
“What Grantaire means is that the focus of this particular installation is on the political message that art can bring and how censoring art, no matter the form, is an attempt to stifle that message. Art for art’s sake is a different conversation entirely, and one not particularly relevant today.” Grantaire flashed him a grateful smile and Joly squeezed his shoulder before addressing the group as a whole. “And on that note, I think we’re done here for the day.”
Bossuet stood as well, smiling at everyone. “Thanks everyone for coming,” he said cheerfully. “We really hope to see all of you on Sunday for the protest. As with last time, wear white if you have it so that the sidewalk chalk gets on our clothing and carries the message with us even when we’re done at the park. And just remember — we’re only trying to change the world, so no pressure or anything.”
The group laughed and dispersed. Les Amis hung around, breaking into smaller groups to chat, and Grantaire sank down at the table, looking ashen. “Well, that went well,” he said hoarsely, as Joly sat on his one side and Bossuet on his other.
Joly patted his shoulder. “It was an off night for you,” he admitted, frowning at him. “Are you feeling alright?”
Grantaire just laughed dryly, unsure how to even begin to explain how he felt. “Honestly, no,” he said, for lack of anything better to say. “I just...don’t really feel like myself.”
Though Joly looked concerned, Bossuet shrugged. “Well, nothing we can do about it now, and besides, I don’t think you did too badly. We’ll have to work on things for Sunday, though. We’re going to need a touch of your old fire back.”
Grantaire glanced over at where Enjolras still sat with Combeferre and Courfeyrac. “I don’t know,” he said reluctantly. “I think I might be coming down with something or...something. Maybe we should consider putting someone else in charge.” Someone better at this than I am, he thought. “Like Enjolras, maybe.”
Joly and Bossuet exchanged incredulous glances. “You want to put Enjolras in charge?”Joly asked, skepticism clear in his voice.
Glancing from him to Bossuet, who looked just as hesitant, Grantaire said slowly, “Well, I was thinking about it. Why, what’s wrong with putting Enjolras in charge?”
Bossuet snorted. “Do you want the short list, or the long?” Grantaire just stared blankly at him, and he rolled his eyes. “You...well, I don’t see why I should have to remind you of this, but while you don’t hate Enjolras, you two don’t really get along. You tend to have...differing opinions.”
Joly nodded. “Yeah. He’s a little...extreme. And cynical about everything that our group is working towards, like revolution through art and other peaceful protests.”
Grantaire’s mouth fell open. “Enjolras...cynical?” he repeated, unable to wrap his mind around the concept.
Joly nodded again, though he looked as if his patience at Grantaire’s questions was wearing thin. “Yeah. He doesn’t think that what we’re doing is going far enough or is going to have any kind of lasting change. He wants a revolution, to tear the system down. And we’ve tried to explain our message to him a number of times — education is the most important thing, teaching instead of anger. He just doesn’t listen.”
“But still he shows up,” Bossuet said, shaking his head. “Every meeting, come hell or high water. Even if he spends half of the time antagonizing you. You should be lucky he didn’t have a whole lot to say today. And none of us really knows why he bothering showing up. Or why you bother putting up with him.”
“Ah,” Grantaire said vaguely, still trying to wrap his mind around everything they have just told him, and how Enjolras could somehow fit a description that previously could only have applied to one other man: himself.
Bossuet and Joly exchanged glances again, Bossuet frowning, Joly with an arched eyebrow, and after a moment of silent discussion, Joly turned back to Grantaire. “Bossuet thinks that you put up with him because you see something in him that we don’t. Some kind of potential.”
For a brief moment, Grantaire thought of all the conversations that he had shared with Enjolras, all of the times they had argued and fought, all of the times Enjolras had accused him of everything Joly and Bossuet had just described alt-universe Enjolras as being, and wondered for half a moment if Enjolras saw some kind of potential in him, too. Not that it mattered, of course, since alt-universe Enjolras hardly had the same reasons for showing up at Les Amis meetings as he did. Not even alt-universe Enjolras could be as pathetic as real-world him, after all.
He was lost in thought for long enough that Joly cleared his throat and said expectantly, “So anyway…”
Grantaire blinked and looked guiltily up at them. “Right,” he said quickly. “So, yeah, it sounds like putting Enjolras in charge probably wouldn’t be for the best. So I guess I’ll, uh, I’ll make sure that I’m ready for Sunday.”
That seemed to satisfy Bossuet, though Joly didn’t look quite convinced, and he glanced down at his papers. “Maybe we should go over some of this again,” he suggested, but Grantaire shook his head and clapped Joly on the shoulder.
“We can do it tomorrow. I, uh, I have to talk with Enjolras very quickly about something.”
With that he stood and made his way over to the only person who made any kind of sense. As soon as Enjolras saw him coming, he perked up, a look of almost relief on his face, and Grantaire could have sworn that his heart skipped a beat at seeing that look on Enjolras’s face, especially directed at him, and had to duck his head to stop from blushing. “Hey guys,” he said, more to Combeferre than Courfeyrac. “Do you mind if I borrow Enjolras for a few minutes?”
Combeferre and Courfeyrac exchanged cautious glances and Grantaire couldn’t help but raise his eyebrows, since he most frequently saw that glance exchanged between Joly and Bossuet when Enjolras asked to speak to him after a meeting. And Courfeyrac’s forced smile and joking, “I hope he didn’t break any laws, officer”, was eerily similar to anything Bossuet would have said in that situation.
So it was with a rather forced smile that Grantaire waited for Enjolras to stand and join him in a different corner of the café. Then his smile faded and he shook his head. “Tell it to me straight,” he said gruffly. “How bad was it tonight?”
“I can’t tell it to you straight,” Enjolras said hesitantly.
Grantaire frowned. “Why not?”
Enjolras met his gaze evenly, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. “Because I’m gay.”
Laughing shakily, Grantaire ducked his head and ran a hand through his hair. “Christ Jesus, you make the shittiest jokes. Go back to being serious all the time, would you?” He chanced a glance back up at Enjolras. “Is this what you go through every time you try to get a serious answer out of me?”
Enjolras’s smile unexpectedly faded. “I guess,” he said quietly. “I didn’t...I mean...do you think we’re becoming the versions of us we’re supposed to be in this universe or world or whatever?”
Grantaire snorted. “If we were then I think I wouldn’t have cocked that up so much, don’t you think?” Enjolras shrugged, still looking uneasy, and Grantaire cocked his head. “What makes you think that we would be?”
Enjolras looked away, unable or unwilling to meet Grantaire’s eyes. “Just...something Combeferre and Courfeyrac said,” he mumbled. “About — well, it doesn’t matter. It’s not true. I would know if it was true.”
“You realize I have no idea what you’re talking about, right?” Grantaire asked wryly.
Now Enjolras met Grantaire’s eyes, and even managed a small smile. “Yeah. I know.” He cleared his throat before asking, “So what did you want to talk to me about?”
For a moment, Grantaire forgot what he had wanted, but then he remembered. “Oh! Right. Yeah. I wanted to fill you in on the rest of your work schedule for the week, on the off-chance that when we wake up in the morning we haven’t gone back to way things are supposed to be.”
Over the next few minutes he did just that, explaining each of Enjolras’s two other jobs and when he would be working, and when he finished, Enjolras sat back in his chair, already looking exhausted. “I hope for my sake that when we wake up tomorrow morning things are back to normal.”
Grantaire shook his head and sighed. “You’re telling me. If there is any justice in this world, if they’re not fixed by tomorrow, things will at the very least go back to normal before Sunday.”
“Well, if they don’t, just know that you’ll be fine,” Enjolras said bracingly.
Grantaire frowned at him before asking in what he hoped wasn’t too desperate of a voice, “Do you really think so?”
Enjolras nodded, suddenly serious. “Of course. I believe in you.”
Grantaire ducked his head, his heartbeat loud in his ears. “Right,” he said, his voice sounding somehow faraway to him. “Well. I should go plan more with Joly and Bossuet.” He stood, then added, so quickly and so quietly that Enjolras almost didn’t hear him, “Thanks.”
Then he went back to the front of the room and Enjolras slowly picked his way over to the corner where Combeferre and Courfeyrac had just opened a new bottle of wine, both men wishing, for the first time since this all began, not that their places were exchanged, but rather that they were back at that table in the other corner of the café together.
Unfortunately for Enjolras, when they woke up the next morning, it was still in the wrong apartments, living the wrong lives.
Unfortunately for Grantaire, Sunday dawned with him waking up at the crack of dawn in a queen-size bed with silk sheets and an overwhelming sense of dread in the pit of his stomach.
“Do you think it’s something we’re supposed to be doing?” Grantaire asked Enjolras morosely over coffee a little later that morning, something they had done every day since this ordeal began. “Like something that will trigger things going back to normal?”
Enjolras shrugged, scrubbing a tired hand over his face. He had worked a bartending shift until two in the morning the night before, and even though he had gotten paid on Friday, after paying the various bills he found lying around his apartment, didn’t really have any spare cash for any coffee stronger than the small cup in front of him. Grantaire propped his chin on his hand and sighed. “Do you want me to buy you an espresso or something?”
Shrugging again, Enjolras flushed and looked away. “I’d feel bad taking your money,” he said in a low voice.
Grantaire snorted. “Technically, I think it’s your money, so…”
“But in this universe, it isn’t,” Enjolras said stubbornly, and Grantaire sighed and rolled his eyes.
“Fine. Then I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
He returned with a large red-eye and plunked it down in front of Enjolras. “Don’t even bother trying to give it back,” he said as he sat down. “You’ve bought me coffee on more than one occasion — consider this the only way I’ll ever be able to afford to repay the favor.”
Though Enjolras wanted to protest, he didn’t, instead taking a sip from the cup and raising it slightly towards Grantaire in silent thanks. After a long moment, he rubbed his face again and asked, “Sorry, what you saying early about us needing to do something before getting back to normal?”
“Oh, right. Well, I’ve been doing some research and such, fairytales, fiction stories, those kinds of things, and it normally seems like in parallel or alternate universes there’s an action to be taken or a problem to be solved and only then can things go back to normal.” Enjolras was staring at Grantaire, who blushed. “I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands,” he muttered. “It’s been a while since I wasn’t working.”
Enjolras just shrugged again, playing with his coffee cup. “Well, I suppose it would make sense that we have to do something, since we haven’t gone back on our own yet, but I can’t think of anything that stands out as something we need to fix, other than, you know, fixing ourselves by going back to the way things were.”
Grantaire nodded slowly. “I don’t know if I want things to go back to the way things were,” he said abruptly. “I mean, some things, sure, without doubt, but…”
He trailed off and Enjolras frowned at him. “What things are you wishing would stay the same?” he asked.
Grantaire just looked at him for a long moment, because the things that he wished wouldn’t change — the time he got to spend with Enjolras, for instance, these mornings they shared, or else the way Enjolras looked at him as if he had come to actually enjoy Grantaire’s company — weren’t exactly things that he could say aloud, so instead he blurted, “I’m gonna really miss your iPhone. I mean, this shit’s pretty awesome, though I’m still not sure how I feel about iOS 8.”
Enjolras laughed and shook his head. “If it’s that big of a deal to you, when we get back to normal, I’ll buy you an iPhone.”
“I’m gonna hold you to that, you know,” Grantaire said before glancing at his watch and sighing. “Well, I have to go meet with Joly and Bossuet before this whole protest thing starts.” He stood and bit his lip as if debating over what to say, then told Enjolras, “Make sure to shower before you come. You smell like a distillery.”
Though Enjolras made a face and gave Grantaire the finger, he nonetheless drained his coffee and went to do exactly that, reveling in the way the lukewarm water felt against his tense muscles. Working three jobs sucked. Working three jobs sucked even more when Enjolras got his paycheck and saw how little money those three jobs brought in every other week. Working three jobs was mind-numbingly boring and awful and even though Enjolras had never really had more than a glass of wine or two with dinner, he found himself coming home from work and longing for a drink — or something stronger — just to get himself out of his mind for a little bit.
He might have thought that he was being too hard on Grantaire before, but Enjolras was nothing if not stubborn, and while he was exhausted, he didn’t find his idealism any less real. Besides, Feuilly worked just as much if not more and he didn’t have Grantaire’s cynicism issues. So clearly, Enjolras hadn’t been entirely wrong before.
But as he got dressed to head to the protest, he had no way of knowing just how wrong Grantaire was going to prove him that day.
Unlike at the meeting, Grantaire on the makeshift stage in the park looked confident, standing tall, his shoulders back, a determined look on his face as he wrapped up his speech. “We want to encourage everyone to make art here today,” he said. “The city is your canvas, the sidewalks, the walls, everything, and this is a conversation. We want everyone to be able to express how they feel, even they’re saying something that other people don’t want to hear.”
“What about drawing swastikas and shit?” some guy in the crowd shouted, and Grantaire didn’t even break stride, though he did mentally thank Joly and Bossuet for bringing up that very point with him.
“If that type of hate is really how a person feels deep inside of them, if that’s the message they want to pass on, then we can’t stop them. What we as a community can do, though, is transform those signs of hate and any other signs of hate that we see around this city into signs of support, hope, and inclusiveness instead.” He gestured at Bossuet and Joly, who stepped forward, bearing buckets full of sidewalk chalk to pass around through the crowd. “Remember, all thoughts and words are inherently political, and they should be. This is your chance to speak. What do you want your message to say?”
With that, he stepped off the stage to the sound of applause, a grin already breaking across his face. “You did great!” Bahorel told him, pounding him on the back. “I’m going to draw a motherfucking butterfly.”
Grantaire raised an eyebrow at him. “Please tell me the butterfly isn’t actually going to be fucking its mother,” he said drolly, and as Bahorel roared with laughter, stepped past him and further into the crowd, in search of the only person whose opinion he cared about. He found Enjolras in the back of the crowd, sketching a little aimlessly on the ground, though he looked up when Grantaire approached. “Hey,” Grantaire said, suddenly awkward.
Enjolras grinned at him. “Nice speech,” he told him. “I only caught the last half of it — there’s not a direct line from your — I mean, my place to here, but it sounded really good.”
“Thanks,” Grantaire said, beaming at him before nodding down at the attempted sketch. “What are you drawing?”
Shrugging, Enjolras sat upright. “I was going to try drawing you, but my drawing skills leave a little something to be desired.”
Grantaire blushed and tried to cover it up by scoffing, “Here I thought you were going to draw some great revolutionary thing.”
Enjolras met his eye and half-smiled. “And here I thought I was.”
Before Grantaire could respond to that, Joly grabbed his arm to tug him through the crowd, telling him, “There’s someone from the City Council’s Office here that I think that you should meet—” and Grantaire was only able to glance back over his shoulder to wave at Enjolras before he was swallowed up by the crowd and the hands that he needed to shake and the people that he needed to meet and the connections that he and Les Amis needed to make.
It was thirsty work and by the end of it, Grantaire was dying for a drink, though he remembered far too well what the whiskey had done to him on the night of the meeting. So instead he settled for accepting a water bottle from Joly and, despite knowing the superstition far too well about toasting with water, raised the bottle in toast to how well the protest had gone.
Because it had gone well. The City Councilwoman who came to talk to him thought that the idea had merit as a sort of open-mic or townhall meeting style for the artistically-minded. She also wanted to talk with Grantaire about his thoughts on combating graffiti — Grantaire had told her his honest thoughts, forgetting for a second that he was supposed to be in charge of this whole thing, but she hadn’t seemed offended at his scathing indictment of the whole anti-graffiti process, noting that public areas were open to public consumption in whatever way people thought best, and that graffiti was a tool of public engagement — and about the possibility of coordinating efforts in the future. Grantaire though privately that it wouldn’t be the best move to have a thoroughly anti-establishment group work with, well, the establishment, but he promised to bring it up at a future Les Amis meeting.
But that was for later, since Combeferre and Courfeyrac both proclaimed that there was going to be a protest afterparty/celebration at the Musain that night. Grantaire hoped this meant he might actually get a drink, but that was also not to be, since he was instead passed around from group to group and table to table to shake hands and offer congratulations and future plans.
He had watched Enjolras do this before and had always assumed that it was mostly just Enjolras being Enjolras and wanting to hold court — not that he would ever use that terminology where Enjolras could hear him (he may lack some self-preservation but not even he was that stupid) — among his loyal followers. Instead, he realized that, if Enjolras was anything like him, he had little control over any of this. Instead, there was always someone who wanted to shake his hand, to offer to buy him a drink, to want him to sit down so that he could listen to a story about what good things Les Amis had done for someone. In that way, it was incredibly gratifying — even if Grantaire privately knew he had nothing to do with what good things Les Amis had done.
But more than anything, it was exhausting.
So much so that he was actually relieved when Enjolras, who was scowling and looking almost back to his normal self, grabbed his arm and asked if he could speak to him. Grantaire followed him outside of the Musain, though he cast a longing glance at the bar as they brushed past it. “You need something in particular?” Grantaire asked mildly when they finally got outside.
Enjolras turned to face him, his brow furrowed and his arms crossed in front of his chest. “You’ve been holding out on me,” he said accusingly.
“I promise I haven’t,” Grantaire said quickly, even though he had no real clue what Enjolras was talking about. “But perhaps if you could be a bit more specific, I could be equally specific in my denial…”
Enjolras didn’t smile, just jerking his head back in the direction of the Musain. “What I saw in there. What I saw today in the park. You can do this. And you’ve been holding out on me with that. All this time you’ve claimed that you don’t believe in anything, that you can’t help Les Amis more, but you can.”
Grantaire shook his head and laughed, though there was a bubble of disappointment in his chest that Enjolras would of course be thinking about that. “No, I really can’t. Today was — I don’t know, a fluke. I’ve watched you enough times to be able to fake it fairly well, but that doesn’t mean I actually believe in any of what I was saying.”
“Yeah, right,” Enjolras scoffed. “You can fake some things, sure, and maybe you can even fake a bit of conviction, but you can’t fake the kind of fire that I saw in you today.”
Snorting, Grantaire shook his head again, though he avoided Enjolras’s eyes. “Sure you can. I just did.”
Enjolras made a noise suspiciously close to a growl, his hand clenching into a fist. “Why do you have to be like this?” he asked, seething. “Why is it such a bad thing to actually believe in something for once? I mean, look you! You’re finally using your talents for good! Look at everything you’re accomplishing with your artwork here! It’s everything I’ve ever wanted—” He cut himself off, looking frustrated, before adding in a slightly calmer tone, “It’s everything that you should be doing.”
Grantaire, however, looked delighted, though there was something almost sad in his eyes. “You totally have a crush on alt-universe me, don’t you?” he asked accusingly.
“Of course not,” Enjolras snapped. “That isn’t what this is about. This is about you finally having something to believe in, even if it’s not something that’s likely to make a difference.”
“Maybe I already had something to believe in,” Grantaire shot back, his expression tense as he glared at Enjolras, and his expression only darkened when he realized what Enjolras had just said. “And what the fuck is that supposed to mean, something that’s not likely to make a difference?”
Enjolras rolled his eyes. “Oh come on,” he said. “You can’t actually believe that this whole ‘saving the world through art’ thing is going to make a difference in the long run. I mean, I know you. You don’t even think our more revolutionary methods are going to make a lasting impact, let alone this kind of thing.”
Grantaire’s expression was steadily sliding past scowl and into snarl, and it was with practiced calm that he said in a low voice, “This kind of thing? You mean educating people and providing those might otherwise not have had one with a voice? Not everyone wants to carry picket signs and attend rallies and blow up government buildings! Shedding blood isn’t the only way to accomplish your goals!”
Now Enjolras was positively sneering as he told Grantaire almost haughtily, “Right, so ignoring the fact that I’ve never advocated for blowing up government buildings — yet — yeah, sometimes shedding blood is the only way to accomplish your goals. Because what kind of goals could you possibly be accomplishing by playing with the boundaries of what is safe and accepted? What kind of change can you actually pull off without tearing down what already exists and building new?”
‘Well maybe I’m not quite as ready to give up on what already exists!” Grantaire snapped, his eyes flashing. “Maybe there’s still something good in people that, when given the opportunity, can grow and become something better! And maybe you shouldn’t be such a goddamn cynic!”
They both stared at each other for a long moment, equally pissed, their eyes narrowed and their hands clenched into fists, then Grantaire broke first, his shoulders slumping and his expression relaxing as he laughed softly. “Oh my god, listen to me,” he said, his voice muffled slightly as he raised a hand to rub his face tiredly. “I sound like you.”
Enjolras didn’t seem to find the situation as amusing as Grantaire did, his expression turning almost somber as he took a step back from Grantaire. “Yeah, and I sound like you.” He glanced up at Grantaire. “Is this what it feels like when you fight with me?”
Grantaire shrugged. “Nah, I normally have the benefit of getting to see how attractive you look when incensed, which makes up for the less savory things that happen when fighting with you.”
Enjolras couldn’t help but think of what Grantaire had looked like only a minute ago, eyes flashing, a flush rising in his cheekbones as he argued passionately, something indescribable in his expression, something that made Enjolras’s heart beat just a little faster thinking about it. “Right,” he said, voice suddenly hoarse.
“Besides, normally I’m arguing just to piss you off, and this time, well…” Grantaire cocked his head slightly before saying slowly, half-smiling as he did, “You realize Combeferre agrees with me, right? I mean, in our universe. He’s always argued for education and slow reform above all, thinking that the system can change itself.”
“And Combeferre has also agreed that there comes a time when that experiment fails,” Enjolras said calmly, though he seemed almost amused that Grantaire would bring that up. “Besides, it’s something he and I have yet to agree on overall, so perhaps it’s something you and I will have to agree to disagree on as well.”
Grantaire snorted. “Right. Because we clearly need something else to disagree about.”
They again fell silent as they stared at each other, though this time there was animosity between them, just something close to a grudging respect. “I was wrong,” they both blurted in unison a moment later, and both were equally startled by it. It was the first time either had ever admitted it to each other — normally Enjolras would reluctantly admit it to Combeferre or Courfeyrac and then apologize without ever actually saying the words, while Grantaire would drink until he no longer cared if he was right or wrong, the words also never passing his lips.
Enjolras cleared his throat, but Grantaire spoke first. “For once, Apollo, let me go first.”
Though Enjolras shook his head at the nickname, he nonetheless fell silent at the command in Grantaire’s voice, a timbre unfamiliar coming from his, but nonetheless with a quiet confidence that Enjolras recognized and respected. Grantaire took a deep breath before repeating, “I was wrong. I thought you were being hypocritical, but you’ve watched all of us, your friends, the citizens of this city and this country, and while you may not have personal experience — until now, anyway — you’ve got, fuck, I don’t know, determination and justice on your side. And maybe that’s enough and maybe one day you might actually succeed in turning the most hardened of cynics into believers.”
“Like I have with you?” Enjolras hazarded.
Grantaire grinned but shook his head. “Only in alt-world, my friend. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying.”
Enjolras nodded slowly, his own expression becoming more serious. “I was also wrong. I thought that your life wasn’t hard or complicated and that you didn’t do anything more than drink, and most importantly, I thought that you didn’t believe in anything.”
Grantaire raised an eyebrow at him. “Have I somehow proven you wrong on that last part?”
Shrugging, Enjolras couldn’t help but smile as he said, “Not quite, but I imagine in time you just might.”
Though Grantaire rolled his eyes and shook his head, he nonetheless held out his hand for Enjolras to shake. “So can we, like, declare ourselves as friends or something? I feel like this needs to end on a moment.”
Enjolras laughed but shook Grantaire’s outstretched hand. “Sure. Friends. It seems the least we can define ourselves after this, don’t you think?”
“Yeah that whole ‘walk a mile in his shoes’ thing is quite different when you’re wearing $500 shoes,” Grantaire said, nodding sagely, and Enjolras broke their handshake to punch him lightly on the shoulder. “Ow,” Grantaire deadpanned, but his eyes were twinkling.
They fell silent for a third time, this time the silence awkward, charged almost with words that both wished to say but somehow couldn’t bring themselves to. Finally, Enjolras cleared his throat and said, a little awkwardly, “So I guess we should get back to the party then.”
Grantaure shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.” They both started to head inside but inevitably ran into each other as they tried to both go through the door at the same time, and Enjolras inexplicably blushed at the sudden contact while Grantaire just laughed and pushed him lightly. “Come on, friend. We’ve got other people to see.”
But neither could keep their focus solely on the party after that. For every new person that wanted to talk to Grantaire or to shake his hand, Grantaire couldn’t help but glance over at Enjolras, a contemplative expression on his face. And Enjolras found that what little conversation Courfeyrac and Combeferre offered when not busy making out with each other was not nearly enough to keep his mind from wandering or to stop him from staring at Grantaire.
Both men called it an early night. Both men made it back to their apartments even though both felt more confused than ever. Enjolras lay in the dingy room, looking up at the water-stained ceiling, and contemplated exactly what it would mean to be Grantaire’s friend, when the thought of Grantaire, when the very memory of what he had been like at the demonstration today, sent a inexplicable pang of longing through Enjolras’s chest. For his part, Grantaire lay on silky sheets, staring up at the pristine ceiling, and wondered what kind of new hell he found himself to know that Enjolras might actually have a crush on him — but a crush on alt-universe him.
It was to an uneasy sleep that both men finally succumbed that night.
And when they woke up the next morning, everything was back to normal, Enjolras waking up in his comfortable bed in his spacious apartment, Grantaire on the stained, old mattress to the sound of the train thundering by. Both got up and wandered through their apartments like ghosts to ensure that everything was back in its proper place and was the way it should be, and both were satisfied in that regard.
But while their possessions were in their proper places, and assumedly their friends were back to normal just the same as they were, everything had changed. And neither man knew exactly what do about that.
“So I guess that’s it, then,” Grantaire said, leaning against the railing of the bridge down the street from the coffeeshop, switching his half-empty coffee cup from hand to hand as he avoided looking at Enjolras, who was also leaning against the bridge, his own brow furrowed. “Just like that. Everything goes back to the way that it was.”
Enjolras shrugged. “I guess,” he said slowly. “I mean, not everything, of course. Some things can’t go back to normal. You and I, for instance. For one thing, I’m never going to be able to forget the memory of Combeferre and Courfeyrac making out at the Musain.”
Grantaire snorted and shook his head before taking another sip of coffee. “You say that as if you’ve never watched them make out before.” When Enjolras raised an eyebrow at him, Grantaire laughed. “Weren’t you at Courfeyrac’s 21st birthday party? He demanded we play spin-the-bottle, one thing led to another, and let’s just say I’ve known since then that Combeferre and Courfeyrac were eventually going to be a thing.”
Shaking his head as well, Enjolras turned so his back was resting against the rail. “No, I must’ve been busy with something else.”
“Yeah, you never were one for fun,” Grantaire teased.
Enjolras tipped his head back and closed his eyes. “That depends on your idea of fun,” he said. “I think at that point I was deep in my term paper on the July Monarchy, and that was certainly a fun topic to write about.”
Grantaire nudged him with his shoulder. “Nerd,” he said cheerfully, though his cheeriness quickly faded as he looked down at the river. “But seriously. It feels weird being back. I mean, it’s good in a lot of ways — I couldn’t keep up the facade for too much longer — but I also miss some things that I never expected to miss.”
Enjolras nodded slowly. “Yeah, I know what you mean. There’s some things that I miss, too.” He opened his eyes to glance over at Grantaire. “But nothing from that world is unachievable here, if we really miss it that much.”
Grantaire snorted and drained his coffee. “Easy for you to say, fearless leader.” He hesitated, then clapped Enjolras on the shoulder before heading back toward the coffeeshop. “But for me, it’s probably best if those things stayed in the alt-world. There’s no place for them here.”
As Enjolras watched him go, he muttered quietly, “But there could be.” Then he walked in the opposite direction, nominally to meet with Combeferre and Courfeyrac about that week’s plans for Les Amis, but he couldn’t seem to get his head or his heart into it. He was distracted and melancholy, neither of which suited him particularly well.
He just couldn’t get Grantaire out of his head.
More specifically, he couldn’t get the idea of what Grantaire had been like in the alternate-universe out of his head. Enjolras had never been one for romance — had never had the time, nor, really, the inclination — but he was pretty sure that this was what Courfeyrac had always described a crush as feeling like.
But at the same time, it was so much more than just a crush. He could somehow envision a life with Grantaire — well, with the alt-universe version of Grantaire, the one who would fit almost perfectly into his life. And, yes, ok, maybe Grantaire, the real Grantaire, wasn’t exactly like that, but he could be, right? Which made it only logical that Enjolras could, by extension, apply his feelings for the other Grantaire to this Grantaire, right?
That line of thought was giving him a headache just trying to parse through it.
He knew, with the sort of logical reasoning that would make Combeferre proud, that this Grantaire, his Grantaire here, was different from the version in the alternate universe. But there was enough of the Grantaire he had glimpsed in the alternate universe in this Grantaire to know that his feelings — such as they were — were still valid. When he looked at Grantaire now, yes, he was a little rougher around the edges, his cynicism more apparent and having taken a larger toll on him, but without doubt there was something of the alternate version of Grantaire in him. And shouldn’t that be enough? Maybe Enjolras could bring that out in him, if given the chance.
In any case, wasn’t it at least worth trying? Grantaire might joke that Enjolras wasn’t one for fun, but he didn’t agree with that. And the thought of doing nothing, well, that was definitely not something Enjolras was good at.
Which left only one option, and he decided he would take it after the meeting for Les Amis that week.
It was easy, so easy, to slip back into his natural role of leader that week, and Enjolras imagined that it was just as easy for Grantaire to sit in the back of the room. In fact, as their eyes met over the crowd at the very beginning, Enjolras imagined he saw a look of relief on Grantaire’s face as he raised his beer bottle to his lips.
Of course, perhaps that should have been an indication that there was less of the alternate universe Grantaire in this version of Grantaire than Enjolras might have thought, but he put that from his mind as the meeting started. He’d deal with that later.
In predictable fashion, he promptly forgot about it, concentrating instead on his single-minded objective of talking to Grantaire. So as soon as he was able after wrapping the meeting up, he picked his way across the room to where Grantaire was reclining with Joly and Bossuet. “Hey, guys,” Enjolras said in an easy greeting, smiling at all three of them. “Mind if I borrow Grantaire for a few minutes?”
He realized as soon as he said it that it was almost word-for-word what Grantaire had said with their positions reversed in the alternate universe, and both he and Grantaire smiled at each other. Joly and Bossuet exchanged amused glances, and Joly waved a dismissive hand. “Shoo, you two. Bossuet and I have some necking to do.”
“Necking?” Grantaire snorted, though he obediently stood to follow Enjolras outside, shoving his hands deep in his hoodie’s pocket. “Did you want something, mon capitaine?”
Enjolras leaned against the brick wall of the Musain’s exterior and shrugged. “We just hadn’t chatted in a while, and I wanted to touch base, see how you were doing.”
Grantaire mimicked Enjolras’s position and also shrugged. “You mean, we haven’t chatted since this morning over coffee,” he said, a little wryly. “Well, I’ve been good since then. I’ve been thinking about how we got back.”
Enjolras turned to raise an eyebrow at him. “Are you talking about your theory that there was some kind of action that we needed to take in order to set things right before we would be sent back?”
“Yeah, that theory,” Grantaire said. “I’ve gone over that last night and trying to decide what thing it was that realigned the world or whatever the fuck it is that got things done. And I’m not entirely sure I know what did it. I mean, I have my theories, but…”
“I’ve got my own theory,” Enjolras said quietly, though he looked away from Grantaire as he said it. “And you’re probably going to think it’s crazy—”
Grantaire snorted. “You and I just spent four days stuck in an alternate dimension or universe or whatever. I think I can handle whatever crazy theory you’re about to float by me.”
Enjolras didn’t smile, instead taking a deep breath and turning to face Grantaire. “I think the reason that we were able to come back is because I realized that I have feelings for you.”
Grantaire blinked. “Come again?”
“I said, I think the reason that we were able to come back is because I realized that I have feelings for you,” Enjolras repeated patiently. “It’s...I mean, it wasn’t an easy conclusion to come to, and I can understand if you need a minute or something, but it’s something that I realized and I honestly can’t understand why I didn’t realize it before since it kind of makes perfect sense in a way, and--”
“Enjolras.” Grantaire’s voice was quiet, but there was steel there, and Enjolras fell into obedient, if slightly confused, silence. “I get that we’ve been through a lot. I get that you might want to lighten the mood. But this isn’t really funny to me.”
Enjolras stared at him. “I’m not—” he started, breaking off in confusion before asking, slightly desperately, “You think I’m joking?”
Grantaire stared right back at him, his eyes hooded, a muscle working in his jaw. “Well I sure as shit don’t think you’re being serious.”
“Why the fuck would I joke about this?” Enjolras demanded, frustrated, and when Grantaire just wordlessly shook his head, Enjolras snapped, “You’ve never known me to make a joke out of anything, so why would you think that I would joke about this, of all things? Do you think I don’t realize how important this is? Or how much this changes things? But that’s why I had to tell you, because this is important and it does matter, and I wanted you to know. I wanted you to know that I haven’t been able to get you out of my head from the moment we got warped into whatever dimension it was we were in, and that it’s been even worse since we got back. I wanted you to know that I replay that moment of you in the park calling the people to action, of you arguing with me about how things you were trying to do matter. I wanted you to know that for the past hour the only thing I’ve been thinking about doing is grabbing you and kissing you. I wanted—”
Grantaire shook his head, suddenly pale and wide-eyed. “Holy fuck,” he managed, his voice hollow. “You really do think you mean this.”
Enjolras frowned. “I don’t just think I mean this, I actually do mean this.”
Shaking his head again, Grantaire let out a shaky laugh. “No. That’s where you’re wrong in all of this. I mean, you’re in a completely different stratosphere of wrong with this, but that’s specifically where you’re a certain kind of deluded. You don’t mean this. Because you don’t like me, or have feelings for me, or whatever you want to call it.”
“What if I want to call it being in love with you?” Enjolras asked quietly.
“For fuck’s sake, Enjolras,” Grantaire snarled, and Enjolras was taken aback, both by Grantaire’s sudden anger and the tears that he saw glinting in Grantaire’s eyes. “Don’t — don’t say shit like that. Not when you don’t mean it. Not when you don’t even have any idea what it would be like to mean it.” Enjolras started to speak, but Grantaire shook his head. “You think you have feelings for me. I’m not even going to begin to address your feelings because I can’t. What I am going to address is the me you think these feelings are directed at. Because the person that you seem to believe you are harboring feelings for is not me.”
Enjolras didn’t bother to interrupt this time, letting Grantaire gather his thoughts instead. Finally, Grantaire looked at Enjolras and sighed. “You found a version of me in that alternate universe that was finally everything that you were looking for: dedicated, passionate, still not willing to take your shit, hot, and trying to change the world. But the fact is that, with the exception of not willing to take your shit, I, the me in this universe, the me that actually exists and is standing here before you listening to this sham of a love confession, I am not and will never be that version.”
Shaking his head slowly, Enjolras said quietly around the lump that seemed to be growing in his throat, “That’s not true.”
Grantaire just looked away. “It is true,” he said quietly. “And you trying to argue with me is really only going to prove my point to you.” He turned back to Enjolras, eyes searching his for a long moment. “You have no idea how long I have wanted to hear those words from your mouth, but knowing that they’re not really meant for me...God, I want this so badly but it’s not me that you have feelings for. It’s just...not.”
Enjolras opened his mouth as if to speak but Grantaire didn’t let him. “You told me once that maybe one day I would find something worth sticking around and fighting for, and I don’t know if I have, and I don’t know if I ever will. The other me would have, but not me.” He paused, almost hesitating over his next words before saying quietly, “But maybe someday you’ll find someone worth sticking around and fighting for. But again, that’s not me. And in the meantime…” He trailed off again and almost angrily wiped the tears from his cheeks with the heel of his palm. “Maybe it’s enough to know that somewhere, there’s some version of you that’s in love with some version of me. Because when you don’t have ideals, you’ve got to find something else to hold on to, and maybe that’s enough for me.”
“But it doesn’t have to be,” Enjolras said softly, wanting to say so much more but not even coming close to finding the words to be able to do so.
“But it is.” Grantaire took a deep shuddering breath and turned away from Enjolras. “So let it go.” Enjolras made as if to touch Grantaire’s arm, but he jerked away. “Please,” he said, his voice breaking. “Because my theory is that we only got back into this world by realizing that we’re friends. So don’t...don’t ruin that. Ok?”
Enjolras opened his mouth to protest, to argue, to say something that would fix this or something that would make Grantaire feel better, but instead he heard himself say softly, “Ok.”
Then Grantaire took a step away from him, and without looking back at Enjolras, told him, “I’m going home. Make my apologies to everyone, would you?”
And Enjolras was left with nothing to say to that but a repeated, “Ok”, before watching Grantaire walk away.
It was in a very dazed fashion that Enjolras made his way slowly back inside the Musain. He had stood outside and watched Grantaire leave and then just kept staring as if somehow things might change and go back or something. Anything.
But when it became clear that this was not going to happen, Enjolras finally went inside. All of their friends were in there, still talking loudly amongst themselves as if nothing had changed, as if their entire worlds hadn’t just fallen apart. In a way, Enjolras supposed that they hadn’t. After all, nothing had changed for them while he and Grantaire were in the alternate universe. It was as if time hadn’t passed for them, as if nothing was different. And now, maybe nothing ever would be.
Courfeyrac was laughing at something Combeferre had just said when Enjolras sat numbly at the table with them, though he quickly sobered up when he saw the look on Enjolras’s face. “Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked, concern evident in his voice, and Enjolras wondered for one hollow moment what he must look like. “Did you have a fight with Grantaire?”
“Of sorts,” Enjolras mumbled, not willing to explain what had really happened — not even knowing how to explain what had really happened.
Combeferre reached out tentatively for Enjolras’s shoulder, and he looked surprised and a little hurt when Enjolras jerked away from the touch. “You can tell us about it, if you want,” he offered quietly. “We can listen, or try to help.”
“Help?” Enjolras snapped, his temper and the high emotions of the past few days finally getting the best of him. “How can you two possibly help when you can’t even stop this stupid fucking dance you’ve been doing around each other for years?” Both Combeferre and Courfeyrac looked as if they’d been slapped, but Enjolras ignored them as he growled, “No, there’s nothing you can do to help. Grantaire and I are just friends, just like you and Courfeyrac are friends.”
Abruptly, Courfeyrac stood, his face ashen, and he swept past Enjolras and out of the Musain without saying a word. Combeferre slowly stood, pale as well, his expression a cold mask of anger. “I don’t know what just happened between you and Grantaire,” he said slowly, “but while I may love you dearly, maybe you are the one who needs to pull your head out of your own ass before lecturing anyone on their relationships.” His eyes flickered to the door and then back to Enjolras. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make sure that you haven’t done irreparable damage.”
With that, he left, and Enjolras was left alone.
The buzz in the room had died down at the confrontation between Enjolras and Combeferre and Courfeyrac, and Enjolras realized for the first time that he had not been very quiet, and he looked around, shame mixed with defiance on his features. Joly and Bossuet were holding hands and looking almost disgustedly at him, while Bahorel and Feuilly seemed torn between disapproval and amusement, and Jean Prouvaire was staring at him with a kind of resigned sadness on his face.
That hurt Enjolras worst of all.
Without a word of apology or explanation, he stood as well and left, leaving from a Les Amis meeting before all of his friends for the first time in a very long time. Part of him was torn between going after Combeferre and Courfeyrac, to try to explain himself, or going after Grantaire, to also try to explain himself.
He did neither.
Instead, he pulled the hood of his red hoodie up over his blond curls, and slouched back to his apartment, kicking off his scuffed Converse when he arrived and all but collapsing onto the couch.
He was home. After spending four days trapped in someone else’s life in another dimension, he was home. Tonight, standing in front of Les Amis, delivering his address, the blood and adrenaline pounding in his veins, he had been home just as much. And here, among his possessions, such as they were, and his books and his plans and his life, he should have been home.
So why did it feel like his home was halfway across the city in a shabby apartment wanting absolutely nothing to do with him?
Enjolras woke the next morning to a series of texts from Courfeyrac verbally eviscerating him but finally ending in a stiff, “You’re forgiven.”
From Combeferre, he had a single text: “I’m still deciding.”
And from Grantaire, he had nothing.
He got up, showered, ate breakfast, drank the shitty instant coffee he had in his apartment and wished that he was having coffee with Grantaire like normal, and then went to work on Les Amis things. He barely remembered to eat lunch, and forgot to take something out for dinner and so ordered Chinese food instead. He worked until late in the night and then finally went to bed.
The next day, he did the same thing all over again.
On the third day, Courfeyrac called. “Have you talked to Grantaire yet?”
“There’s nothing more for us to talk about,” Enjolras said, a little distractedly, highlighting what he thought might be a relevant passage in a journal article on prison recidivism. “Besides, it’s not like he’s tried to talk to me either.”
Courfeyrac sighed. “And it’s not like he’s going to,” he said patiently. “Look, I still don’t know what you fought about, though I have my guesses, but Grantaire’s been carrying a torch for you for years. And if, say, he found out you might return said torch, well, that’d be a lot to wrap his head around. Especially when you haven’t even shown him that you want to be with him.”
Enjolras sighed. “It’s a little more complicated than that,” he told Courfeyrac, before hanging up on him.
That night, Combeferre arrived, bearing pizza. He didn’t bother trying to say anything to Enjolras; he knew better. Instead, they sat in comfortable silence, reading articles and occasionally bouncing ideas back and forth. Then, when Combeferre was packing up his stuff to leave for the night, he asked Enjolras casually, “So how would tonight have gone if you were dating Grantaire?”
Enjolras stared at him. “I’m sorry?” he asked.
“If you were dating Grantaire,” Combeferre repeated, slipping his notebook into his messenger bag and closing it. “Or, if you were dating anyone, really. What would you have done differently tonight? Or would you not have?” When Enjolras continued to just stare at him, Combeferre shrugged and straightened. “Just something to think about.”
Well, that it certainly was.
At first, Enjolras scoffed at the question, and in fact went to bed that night thinking that it was stupid, and irrelevant, and besides, Combeferre didn’t have a single idea what he and Grantaire had been through, let alone the dynamics of their relationship before and after everything that had happened.
But the next day, as he settled down to do exactly what he had done the three previous days, he couldn’t help but think — in that distracting back part of his mind that mostly lay dormant except to cut in at the most inopportune moments — of ways that Grantaire could fit into his life. As he made breakfast, he could certainly imagine Grantaire there, perched in a chair with a cup of coffee, keeping up a steady stream of conversation as Enjolras desperately tried to imbibe enough caffeine to be even semi-coherent. But after that, as Enjolras migrated to the couch with his laptop...what would Grantaire be doing?
He wondered if Grantaire would paint, or would read a book while sitting with him. But of course not. Grantaire worked, and often. Even if he had wanted to spend his day the way that Enjolras did, which given Grantaire’s personality, didn’t seem necessarily likely, he wouldn’t be able to.
In an absurd part of Enjolras’s mind, he thought about alternate universe Grantaire, who didn’t have to work, who would be perfectly suited to whiling the hours away with Enjolras, and in fact would probably be very willing to spend just as much time talking and arguing politics, and for one glorious second he thought of his trust fund, of paying off Grantaire’s loans, of—
Of, what, buying his love?
It was not only absurd but also against basically every principle that Enjolras believed in, and while there was no one there to see him, and no one there to hear his thoughts, he nonetheless blushed furiously and sat up on the couch, pulling his knees up to his chest.
Most if not all of Enjolras’s problems would be solved if Grantaire was just the version of Grantaire from the alternate universe, and yes, Enjolras realized that sounded awful. He also realized, with a sort of sinking feeling in his gut, that Grantaire had meant exactly that when he said that Enjolras didn’t have feelings for him.
But that wasn’t the full, complete truth — there was much of this version of Grantaire that Enjolras admired, enjoyed, perhaps even loved. The question was whether this version of Grantaire not only had enough in him that Enjolras loved but also could somehow fit into Enjolras’s life.
Enjolras lived life fully devoted to the Cause. He had done a year of law school before taking a leave of absence that was extending into permanence because his life was better served by helping those who needed it most. But that meant that he had also devoted every facet of his life to the Cause. And when it came to allotting time in his life to a significant other, well...could he actually do that?
Could Enjolras see himself reworking his schedule around Grantaire’s own work schedule? Could Enjolras see himself abandoning his work when he was in the middle of it because that happened to be the hour that Grantaire had open? Or was Grantaire right — could Enjolras only picture dating the alt-universe Grantaire because he could conceivably fit that version in his life with little to no sacrifice from him?
These weren’t questions he could answer immediately, as much as he might want to. Instead, he kept them in the back of his mind as he went about the rest of his week, occasionally brooding on them when he found a spare moment.
And the spare moments seemed to be coming more and more frequently. He was finding it difficult to concentrate on his work, and it was beginning to show. At his pre-meeting meeting with Combeferre and Courfeyrac, Courfeyrac sighed and set his phone down. “Have you talked to Grantaire yet?”
Enjolras looked at him, surprised. “No. Why?”
“Because you clearly need to,” Courfeyrac said shortly.
It was the end of that conversation, but Enjolras knew that it was true. He needed to talk to Grantaire, or else he needed to stop brooding, and he knew that the only way he would probably stop brooding would be by — shocker — talking to Grantaire.
His problem was that, though almost a week had passed since they had last spoken, he hadn’t yet come up with anything new to say. He didn’t have answers for himself or for Grantaire, only more questions and confusion. At that night’s meeting, what was he supposed to say to him?
Nothing. And so he endeavored to do exactly that.
If at the previous week’s meeting there had been a sort of geniality between Enjolras and Grantaire that the others might have picked up on, this week there was none of that. Grantaire didn’t so much as glance Enjolras’s way as he slid into a chair in the back, instead instantly launching into a conversation with Bossuet, turning his body as far away from Enjolras’s as he could.
Enjolras swallowed hard and looked down at his notes. He deserved that, and he knew it. Didn’t make it any easier, but he suspected this wasn’t the sort of thing that was supposed to be easy.
Throughout the meeting, Enjolras watched Grantaire as he went through his usual motions of friendship with Les Amis, observing Grantaire more closely than perhaps he ever had. Because he wasn’t just watching him while trying to project something onto him like he had in the alternate reality, and he wasn’t watching him with the rose-colored goggles he may have been earlier. He was watching him to try to understand exactly what Grantaire was like when Enjolras wasn’t around.
For his part, Grantaire was in a good enough mood, Enjolras excluded, and so seemed to have a good time chatting with everyone, joking with Joly and Bossuet as always, of course, but also sitting with Prouvaire, deep in conversation over something, and then up at the bar doing shots with Bahorel, sketching some design for Feuilly, who seemed excited by it, even having a nice conversation with Combeferre and Courfeyrac, who were—
Enjolras started at that, because what he hadn’t been paying attention to was his two best friends, who were currently holding hands. A part of him desperately wanted details. The larger, possibly more logical part knew that he needed to give them time and space, especially after the last week.
Still, it was with a small smile that he surveyed the rest of the group, their friends, the group that Grantaire fit in so well with.
It had been an interesting observation, to be sure, Enjolras mused as he headed back to his apartment later that night, seeing Grantaire hanging out with all their friends. He was in some ways a different version even of himself around them than he was around Enjolras, and for good reason, Enjolras supposed. Still, it was interesting to watch what Grantaire did with one of his only free nights.
And that thought suddenly stopped Enjolras in his tracks. Grantaire used one of his only free nights for Les Amis meetings. And Enjolras also knew that Grantaire kept a fairly busy schedule through the rest of the week, always seeming to be up to something when he wasn’t working. Which meant, well...it meant quite a lot.
Because he had never thought — he had never even considered — that as much as Grantaire may not fit perfectly in his life, he may not fit in Grantaire’s, either. But he also knew, in a way that caused his chest to ache and his throat to tighten so that he almost he almost couldn’t breathe, he knew that Grantaire would make room for him. Because…
Because he loved him.
That was what love was, wasn’t it? Making room for people in your life? And hadn’t Grantaire been doing that in spades for every single one of their friends? His breakfast dates with Joly and Bossuet, or his painting sessions with Feuilly, trips to the bookstore with Jehan, sparring matches with Bahorel, bringing Combeferre coffee at the library, dragging Courfeyrac to the latest café to open, and…
And coming to meetings for an activist group in which Grantaire did not believe, all for Enjolras.
Enjolras felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him, and he actually had to sit down, for just a moment, on some random apartment building’s stoop. Grantaire had been doing this for years. Sure, maybe it wasn’t grand gestures, but every time he had brought Enjolras coffee or convinced him to actually eat a meal or given up a free afternoon to come to a protest or even just sat in the back of the Musain and watched Enjolras for an hour — Grantaire had done all of that for him.
And every single one of those little moments was worth so much more than anything Enjolras had ever done for Grantaire.
He hunched forward, completely at a loss for what to do with this knowledge, this singular, indisputable knowledge that Grantaire...that Grantaire loved him. Just...loved him. Enough to give up his free time. Enough to do things he wouldn’t otherwise want to do. Because in the simplest way possible, that was love.
Which left Enjolras exactly where he had been at the beginning of this whole problem: did he, or could he, ever feel that way about Grantaire? Ever make those sacrifices, small though they may seem, for him? Could he honestly say that he loved Grantaire?
And just as at the beginning of this whole consideration, Enjolras had no fucking clue.
But he did know one thing that he hadn’t known then: he knew he wanted to find out.
For the first time since returning from whatever alternate reality they had found themselves in, Enjolras made his way back to what was literally the other side of the tracks to knock on Grantaire’s door at what he deemed an appropriate hour in the morning, since he now knew Grantaire didn’t work until the afternoon and he had ensured that Joly and Bossuet didn’t have a breakfast date with him.
Of course, what he hadn’t counted on was Grantaire sleeping in.
After knocking on his door for nearly twenty minutes, Enjolras was just about to give up and go home when Grantaire finally yanked the door open, his hair standing up every which way, a t-shirt tugged on backwards over threadbare boxers. “What the fuck do you want?” he growled as he squinted at Enjolras.
Enjolras tried not to smile at the sight. “You’re normally much more articulate in the mornings when we get coffee,” he noted.
“That’s because I’ve already had two or three cups before allowing myself in your or anyone else’s presence,” Grantaire grumbled, still squinting at Enjolras as if he was trying to convince himself that he was really standing there. “And you didn’t answer my question.”
“Can we talk?
Grantaire sighed and scrubbed a hand across his face. “You’re not actually a bad dream, are you?” he sighed, though he stepped back to allow Enjolras in. “Fine, but not until I have two cups of coffee in me.”
He ambled over to the kitchenette and Enjolras slowly trailed after him, glancing around the small, crowded apartment. “I like this apartment better with you in it,” he said abruptly. “When I lived here — I mean...well, you know what I mean — it kind of looked like a homegrown terrorist cell. I half-expected to be on a number of FBI watchlists.”
Grantaire snorted and threw him a look over his shoulder as he busied himself with the coffeepot. “And what makes you think you’re not currently on a number of FBI watchlists?”
“Touché.” Enjolras took a seat on the sagging couch, fishing a sketchbook out from underneath him and tossing it onto the coffee table already overflowing with other ones. “I don’t suppose I could get a cup of coffee?” Grantaire only responded with a growl and Enjolras quickly turned his laughter into a cough. “Right. I’m fine.”
They fell into a silence that was familiar, if a little tense, and Enjolras found himself surprisingly content to watch as Grantaire shuffled around the kitchen, chugged a cup of coffee, and poured himself a second. It was very domestic, very cozy. It made Enjolras’s heart warm in a weird way that he would never have suspected only a week ago. This was Grantaire, the Grantaire of this world and this universe, and it was this Grantaire that Enjolras was slowly beginning to see a future with, even if it involved nothing more than mornings spent in silence like this.
God, he had it bad.
Finally, though, Grantaire settled into the ragged armchair across from Enjolras and surveyed him over the rim of his coffee cup. “Sooooo,” he said, drawing the word out. “You’re clearly here for a reason that doesn’t just involve watching me drink coffee. Are you going to finally tell me now what that reason may be?”
Enjolras sat up, leaning forward in what he hoped conveyed his earnestness. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” he said carefully. “About what you said that night. About myself. About you. About why whatever weird ass powers that be thought they should switch our places for a few days, and I think I’ve finally realized what that circumstance switch was trying to tell me all along.”
“And what, pray tell, was that?”
“That we’re both a product of our circumstances. Yes, on the surface, being in your place for a few days showed me what it’s really like to be working minimum-wage jobs, and that’s all very well and good and you can bet your ass that I’ll be including what I learned in Les Amis’ initiatives going forward. But I learned so much more than that, Grantaire. I learned what it’s like to give up what little free time you have for your friends. I learned just how much effort it takes sometimes to get up in the morning and to keep going. I learned that your cynicism isn’t something innate but something earned. And I learned that if I cared for you, I needed to recognize those things as a part of you, and decide if I can really care for you, for all of you, everything your circumstances have made you.”
Grantaire was silent for a long moment. “And what did you decide about that?”
Enjolras managed a small smile. “Well, I’m sitting here now, aren’t I?”
Though Grantaire made a small, non-committal noise, he didn’t smile, and it took him a moment more before he asked quietly, “And what exactly do you expect me to do with this?”
“I don’t expect you to do anything,” Enjolras said, almost eagerly now, sitting forward as he tried to explain. “This is all on me, and I see that now. That’s what I spent the last week trying to figure out. You’ve done more than I could ever have asked, and I know that I didn’t ask, and that means more than I can possibly say. But now what I want from you is for you to do nothing more than give me a chance to try to work things out for myself, to try to make this, as crazy as this whole idea may be, work.”
“Ignoring the fact that I’m not entirely sure what you mean by ‘this whole idea’,” Grantaire said, a little wryly, “do I actually have a choice in any of this?”
Enjolras looked surprised. “Of course,” he said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “You always have a choice.”
Grantaire cocked his head slightly. “I thought you just said that we were a product of our circumstances. Where’s the choice in that?”
Shaking his head, Enjolras scooted closer, his tone turning passionate, the way it was when he was giving a speech in front of a crowd. “Circumstances aren’t fate,” he said firmly. “I’m not entirely sure that there is such a thing as fate, but whether or not there is doesn’t matter, because your circumstances are not fate. Circumstances may lead us, may define parts of our personality, may rub off on us, but they can always, always be overcome.”
Grantaire snorted. “Even my circumstances?” he asked, gesturing vaguely around his apartment, and Enjolras smiled slightly.
“Especially your circumstances. Grantaire, do you not realize all the ways that you have overcome your circumstances?” Grantaire just shook his head a little mutely, and Enjolras’s smile became gentler. “You didn’t have a great childhood -- we both know that. You were cut off by your parents. You dropped out of college. You’re a recovering drug addict who is also struggling with alcohol—”
“Say I have alcoholism and I will kick you out of my house faster than you can blink,” Grantaire said sharply.
Enjolras raised both his hands in defense, his smile fading. “I meant no offense,” he said quietly. “I promise. There was nothing malicious in that, I swear to you.” He waited until Grantaire nodded, once, before carrying on, his tone turning eager again. “And that’s exactly what I mean. With everything that’s happened to you, it’s kind of a miracle that the only thing you’ve internalized is cynicism.” Grantaire rolled his eyes and was about to respond, but Enjolras didn’t let him. “You know what I never realized until I was in your position, and until I watched you do everything that you do? I never realized how much you just plain love people. Your friends, sure, but other people, too. How many times have you bought a stranger a drink just because they were looking down? How many times have you—”
“Please don’t let this be a litany of things that you think are admirable about me,” Grantaire interrupted, a flush high in his cheeks. “It doesn’t exactly ring as true. In fact, it sounds like a lot of prettily spun bullshit.”
Now Enjolras sat back in his seat, a frown furrowing his brow. “And I don’t suppose telling you that I mean every single word isn’t going to help?” Grantaire just stared coolly at him, and Enjolras sighed and shrugged. “Fine. But what I will tell you is that I figured out that if I wanted to make this work, you’ve done enough to overcome your circumstances. Asking you to not be a cynic would be not only stupid but a surefire way to ensure this fails, as would any of the other things that I might want to somehow make this go more smoothly. Because the truth is that anything I asked of you would be to make this fit more easily in my life, and that’s not what a relationship should be.” He paused before adding, “In this case, if we wanted to make a relationship work, it’s me who has to overcome my own circumstances, and me who has to change my own life to make you and a relationship fit.”
Grantaire was silent for a long moment, staring at Enjolras as if trying to come up with some kind of response to what Enjolras had just said. “You keep saying ‘if’,” Grantaire said finally. “If you want to work this out, if you decide…”
Enjolras met his gaze squarely. “I don’t mean ‘if’,” he said quietly. “I want this.”
Though Grantaire nodded, he still didn’t look fully convinced. “And you think that we can actually pull this off?”
Enjolras shrugged. “I think that we can try.”
Grantaire nodded again, and tapped his chin thoughtfully before saying, “You do realize how difficult it is for me not to make a Star Wars reference here, right?”
For a moment Enjolras was torn between rolling his eyes and laughing, but then he decided to do exactly what he had wanted to do as soon as Grantaire had said that: he stood, crossed to Grantaire, and kissed him. Grantaire made a brief noise of protest before kissing Enjolras back, pulling him down to his level to better do so. “You realize I’m going to tell everyone that it was a Star Wars joke that made you fall for me, right?” Grantaire finally asked.
Enjolras laughed and rested his forehead against Grantaire’s. “Well, you wouldn’t be fully wrong. It was that and a million other little things.”
Grantaire rolled his eyes, but he was smiling, and he tentatively laced his fingers together with Enjolras’s. “So you really want to try this?”
“I really want to try this.”
“Regardless of circumstances?”
Enjolras shook his head. “Because of circumstances.”
Grantaire hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “Ok.”
“What, just like that?” Enjolras asked, a little surprised.
Grantaire shrugged. “What can I say — circumstances being what they are, it seems like the right thing to do.”
Enjolras laughed again, a quiet, breathy laugh. “Well, you’re not wrong there. Or at least, I certainly hope you’re not.” And with that said, he kissed Grantaire again, because he was willing to try, and all things being equal, and the circumstances being favorable, he didn’t really see the point in waiting.