Eight weeks to Christmas
It's not like he's happy to have lost his job. The timing's crap, for one thing. Happy holidays! Your services are no longer required. These very large security guards will see you out. But it isn't until Grantaire is standing in the subway station with a box full of his desktop possessions that he understands. The rising flutter in his chest isn't panic--it's relief.
In retrospect, laughing to oneself on a crowded subway platform is not necessarily appropriate behavior, but once he starts, he can't seem to stop himself. Fuck it, he is happy. Even though this means ramen noodles and Bud Light for the foreseeable future, even if he has to update his resume and look for a job and interview for a job and convince someone to actually hire him--he's happy. It's an altogether foreign feeling.
And he's got a fairly decent severance package, too, which should get him through the holidays. He might not have to start the ramen-and-Bud-Light diet until after the new year.
He manages to calm the laughter by the time the train pulls in. It's too late for the lunch rush and too early for commuters, so there's space for him to sit down and tuck the box beneath his seat. He catches furtive looks from the other passengers, all clearly wondering what he'd done to get fired. Everyone knows what it means when you see someone clutching a box of office supplies on the subway, and there's an awkwardness in which everybody notices and pretends not to notice at the same time.
He goes home, and he pours himself a glass of whiskey. After a while, and a couple of refills, he's still feeling oddly jubilant about the situation. He pulls out his phone and taps the Twitter app.
God bless corporate takeovers. #andseverancepackages #sayonarasuckers #ARTco
Eventually, he falls asleep on the sofa.
When he wakes up the next morning, the adrenaline rush is gone, replaced by a dull hangover and a sense of impending doom. The tweet, he realizes, might not have been the best idea.
When he goes to delete it, he sees that it's too late. There's a letter from HR in his personal email box. As it turns out, passive-aggressive hashtags can be considered violations of non-disclosure agreements.
So much for the severance package. Grantaire runs a couple of quick calculations, scribbling them out in the blank squares of an abandoned crossword puzzle, and discovers that he is fucked.
Really, really fucked.
Six weeks to Christmas
Two weeks after he leaves ARTco for the last time, he finds himself on a northbound train out of the city. He's got a pair of suitcases and a key to a storage locker that he'll probably never go back to. It's mid-November, and the fields outside the window are full of patchy, graying snow.
The sun has long since set by the time the train pulls into the station, and Grantaire's first glimpse of home is a smear of streetlights through a foggy window. He's the only one who gets off at the station.
It isn't much of a station, really, just a ticket window and a couple of vending machines. It looks empty, aside from a bored ticket agent who is unsubtly playing Candy Crush on his phone. Just as Grantaire's about to tap on the window and ask if the car rental place is still around the corner, he catches sight of a man with a short gray beard and a knit cap, sitting in one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs by the entrance. A polished wooden cane is propped against the wall next to him.
Despite himself, Grantaire smiles. "Jesus, Dad, you didn't have to come out here and meet me."
"Well, how the hell else were you going to get home?" he demands, rising to his feet to hug Grantaire. Grantaire returns the hug fiercely, pretending not to have noticed the hitch as his father stood up.
"I could have rented a car," he says, when he steps back.
His father claps him on the shoulder. "Kiddo, the car placed closed down two hours ago. It's Sunday night."
"Right." Green Bend is only two hours away from Manhattan, but it might as well be a different universe. It's amazing how quickly he forgets that.
"Can I get your bags?" his father asks, and Grantaire knows that he really means it, that he'd happily gather up the suitcases and try to manage the cane at the same time.
"I've got them," he says instead, hefting the suitcases again. "Lead the way."
There's only one car in the parking lot, and Grantaire stops dead at the sight of it. "I thought you were going to sell this thing," he says, eyeing the battered blue pickup suspiciously.
His father waves a hand. "She's still road-worthy. No reason to replace something that still works."
They're going to have to disagree about the definition of 'still works.' The radio, for example, hasn't picked up anything but static since Grantaire was nine, and as far as he knows the truck has never had a functioning dome light. Sometimes the starter conks out, and you have to pry out the ignition mechanism with the glove-box screwdriver and literally hotwire the damn thing to get the engine to turn over.
But there are plenty of ways a pickup truck can come in handy when you own a Christmas tree farm, so his father has never been able to rationalize getting rid of it. And since it would cost forty thousand dollars to buy a comparable truck right now, maybe keeping the truck isn't the worst decision his father could make.
"You gonna ride in it or just stare at it?" his father asks, swinging up into the driver's seat. Grantaire rolls his eyes and climbs in, wedging the suitcases in the foot-well on his side.
His father takes the scenic route through town, even though it isn't much more than a wide place in the road--there's only one major intersection, and Grantaire can count the number of stoplights within the town limits on one hand. Ten minutes outside of town, the neighborhood starts to give way to farms, and then to the massed pine trees that line the property of Grand Aire Tree Farm. His father turns down a long dirt drive, and despite the cold Grantaire cracks the window. They drive down a lane of half-grown trees, and Grantaire closes his eyes as he breathes in the sharp pine scent of home.
They bypass the gravel parking lot and pull the truck up behind the barn. Grantaire hauls his suitcases out of the truck while his father crosses the lawn to unlock the back door of the farmhouse. Grantaire wants to tell him to be careful, that he's only got one good hip as it is, but he'd get a middle finger for his efforts and he'd deserve it, too. He follows his father inside.
Twenty-seven is a little late to be doing the whole post-college move-back-home-with-your-parents thing, but as long as he can rationalize it as "coming home to help Dad at Christmas," it doesn't feel quite so pathetic. His old room hasn't changed since he was in high school--the few weeks he'd spent in it during breaks from college were never long enough to think about remodeling. Even last winter, when he'd come out to help his dad while his hip was healing, the room had just been a place to sleep for a few hours at a time before getting up to check on him.
There are fresh sheets on the twin bed, but the artwork on the walls is more than ten years old now, and the sight of his old efforts makes him cringe a little. The desktop PC is running a version of Windows that's several generations out of date--if it'll even boot up, considering the layer of dust on the tower. It's not important; he has his tablet, and the farm's wi-fi is just about the only modern thing that his father hadn't grumbled about purchasing.
Grantaire leaves his suitcases next to the bed, where they'll probably stay for a while--there's a certain inertia involved in unpacking, and he's not quite ready for that yet. He fishes the mostly-empty bottle of Ambien out of one suitcase and sets it on the edge of the nightstand, so he'll know where it is when he goes to bed. Then he goes back downstairs, so that his father doesn't have to climb the stairs to come and find him. When he'd broken his hip, Grantaire had suggested getting one of those chair lifts for the staircase. His father had cussed for five minutes straight. It's just as well--Grantaire isn't quite sure that the old stairs would support a lift like that.
His father is making coffee, and Grantaire absently sorts through a pile of mail on the kitchen table while the coffee maker hisses and sputters. "How's business?" he asks.
"It's early yet," his father says, which sounds evasive to Grantaire.
"That bad, huh?"
"I said, it's early. Too early to tell if business is good or bad."
"All right, all right." He'll see for himself soon enough, anyway. He hopes his father is still using the spreadsheets to keep track of inventory--the ancient log-books had definitely given the farm a nice old-fashioned air, but it had also given Grantaire a week's worth of migraines every year when it came time to make sense of his father's crabbed handwriting and inexplicable abbreviations. He'd convinced his father to switch over to Excel a few years ago, but he can't be sure he hadn't gone right back to the old way as soon as Grantaire got on the train back to New York.
He frowns at the envelope on the bottom of the stack. It's a big, official-looking manila envelope, stamped with a red capital URGENT over the flap. "Dad, what is this?"
He sets Grantaire's coffee mug down on the table for him--it says Espresso Patronum on the side--and wrinkles his nose at the envelope. "Oh, that," he grumbles. "Put it in the box with the others and I'll get the shredder out later."
"What others?" Grantaire looks in the box on the table and sees several other envelopes waiting to be shredded, all with similarly dire red stamps on the outside. "What's this about?"
"It's just the company wanting to buy us out again."
"What company? Someone wants to buy out the farm?"
"Group called Thenardier Enterprises. They say there's a natural gas deposit under our property, and they want to mine it, or extract it, or whatever. Used to be, a group would just offer to buy the place, but now they're getting lawyers involved."
"Eminent domain, underground property rights--something about shale oil. I haven't read any of the letters since the first one."
"Shale oil. They want to frack our tree farm?"
His father waves a hand. "Oh, people have been trying to buy this farm every year since you were a little thing. I've had more offers for this land than you can imagine, at prices that would make your eyes pop out of your head. But this was my daddy's farm--"
"And his mother's farm before that," Grantaire finishes, smiling. "I know. So you're not selling, right?"
Grantaire opens the envelope and skims the dense text inside. It looks serious, but it might not actually mean anything. He'd need a lawyer to make any sense of it. And on that note... "Have you talked to a lawyer about this stuff?"
"So, what, you're going to ignore them and hope they go away?"
"I haven't exactly had a lot of time lately," he snaps, and the guilt practically stabs Grantaire in the heart. He could have been helping more--should have been helping. He should have told ARTco to fuck off last winter when his dad got hurt, instead of waiting for the corporate takeover to boot him out and coming home as a last resort.
"All right, I'll look into it," Grantaire says. "Maybe I can get in touch with someone." Someone inexpensive, he adds silently. The tree farm makes good money, but most of it goes right back into the farm--planting for next year, overhauling outbuildings, fixing whatever part of the truck goes bad this year. Their capital is pretty limited, at least until Christmas.
He wonders if Cosette is still working part-time in the greenhouse while she finishes school. Her father used to be the mayor of Green Bend, and if there's a reputable lawyer to be found in the area, he'll know.
But that's for later. His father sits down at the table, and Grantaire pulls out his own chair on the opposite side.
"So how many people do we have working for us this season?"
His father brightens. "We, huh?"
"What, did you think I was just going to loaf around this winter and let you do all the work? Fill me in, so I know who to keep an eye on."
"Well, there are six of them. Cosette and Bossuet, you know, and the others are high-school students who work after school. Dumb as a box of rocks, but good kids."
"Right," Grantaire says, hiding a smile behind his coffee cup. "Cosette's still running the nursery?"
"She won't let anyone else touch the plant food."
"Bossuet still forbidden to work the tree baler?"
"What do you think?"
"...I guess I'll run the baler, then. What else do you want me to do?"
He shrugs. "You know what needs doing around the place. You don't want me breathing down the back of your neck. Time comes, I won't be able to, anyway."
"Morbid much?" Grantaire huffs. He knows his dad is getting up there--he'd been a mid-40s surprise for his parents--but he doesn't like thinking about what the future might hold. Eventually he'll have to decide whether running the tree farm is what he wants to do with his life...or he'll have to sell the place.
Neither thought fills him with unbridled joy at the moment. The stress and the train ride have left him exhausted, even though it's barely nine. "Do you mind if I go on up to bed?" he asks.
"Not at all. We open at nine tomorrow."
So he should be up and ready to go by seven, at the latest. "Got it." He picks up his mug and dumps out the dregs of his coffee before sticking the cup in the dishwasher. "Night, Dad," he says.
He's halfway down the hall when his father speaks up. "I'm sorry about your job, kiddo."
"I'm not, really. But thanks."
"I'm real glad you're here, though."
He has to smile at that. "Yeah," he says. "Me too."
* * *
Six-fifteen feels earlier than it has any right to, considering he'd been used to getting up at five-thirty. He's just glad they don't have chickens anymore--the rooster had had a habit of going off at five-thirty every morning, regardless of the actual time of the sunrise.
He rolls out of bed and stumbles through a shower. He doesn't bother shaving; a decent scruff is good protection against windburn. There's coffee in the pot, which means his father is already up and working, turning on the heat in the barn and counting out the deposit from yesterday. Grantaire's always been a night owl--he's fairly certain that came from his mom, if that kind of thing can be hereditary--but his father has always been up with the sunrise.
He pours the coffee into an old plastic thermos and puts on a heavy canvas coat before venturing out into the cold. The farm looks deserted, and the sky is gun-metal gray with only a hint of light near the eastern horizon, but he can hear a few scattered sounds of life.
He angles across the lawn towards the glass greenhouse walls of the nursery, crunching through the thick layer of frost on the grass.
It's so warm and humid inside the nursery that he almost immediately overheats, and he yanks at the zipper on his coat with something approaching desperation. He can hear the Supremes playing over the speaker system, so Cosette is definitely here. She'll switch to the playlist of instrumental Christmas songs the minute they open, but not one second before.
He waves through the rows of live trees and wreaths and holly bushes before he finds her in the poinsettias, carefully watering them with the old metal watering can that had once belonged to Grantaire's mother. She's singing along when he walks up.
"Babylove, my babylove..." She breaks off and grins when she sees him. "Hey, stranger, how are you?"
"I have a favor to ask you."
She makes a face at him. "Hi, Cosette. How was your summer? How are your classes going? Oh, they're going great, Grantaire, thanks for asking. How's life in New York?"
"It sucks. I got laid off."
She fumbles the watering can. "Oh, no! Seriously? I thought you were just up for a day or two, I'm sorry--"
"Don't worry about it. I'm not exactly heartbroken over the situation. And...I don't know, it's kind of nice to be here for the holidays."
She smiles. "It's the best place, isn't it?"
"It's pretty nice." There have been plenty of times in his life when he thought the tree farm was literally hell on earth, but he thinks maybe he's grown out of that now.
"So what's this favor that's so urgent it's got you up before noon?"
"I need to know if you or your dad can recommend any lawyers in town. Good ones, but preferably inexpensive."
"Why? Is something wrong?"
"There's some shady oil company that claims they can get the rights to frack underneath the farm."
"Whoa. Wouldn't that, like, completely wreck the farm?"
"Pretty much. But they're sending really grim-looking letters and stuff, so I want someone with a law degree to look them over and see if we have anything to be worried about."
"Wow, yeah. I'll ask Papa tonight and see what he says. By the way, I'm sure he'll want to have you over for coffee as soon as he knows you're home."
"You mean he wants me to come over so he can theologically ambush me?"
"He enjoys a good debate, that's all."
Grantaire has to admit that he enjoys his conversations with Valjean, too, odd though they inevitably are. "I'll make sure to stop by."
He goes back outside, where the cold immediately worms its way beneath all of the layers he's wearing, and he crosses to the barn to check on all the equipment. The heaters are on, for whatever meager warmth they can provide, and the baler is in good shape. His father is tinkering with one of their chainsaws in a way that makes Grantaire wonder how exactly any of them still have all of their limbs attached.
"I thought you were a proponent of hand-saws," Grantaire says mildly.
"I am. But when they want the big twenty-footers, it doesn't make a damn bit of sense to go hacking away with a hand-saw for half an hour when you can have it down in thirty seconds with one of these."
"Fair enough, I guess. Just be careful, okay?"
His dad gives him a disgruntled look. "I've been running this farm since before your mama and I ever met. Go outside and make yourself useful, would you?"
"All right, all right," Grantaire says, throwing up his hands in surrender, and he smiles as he steps back outside.
It doesn't seem possible for time to pass as quickly as it does. He feels like he's barely finished his coffee when the first few customers come through the front gate. He gives them the practiced spiel about live trees versus cut trees, including the price for cut-your-own trees--a flat $60 this year, whether it's six feet or sixteen. One person goes out with each group. This early in the day, there are only three of them, so it's not long before Grantaire finds himself heading off with a younger couple looking for a seven-footer. He offers to cut it down for them when it becomes clear that neither one of them has ever so much as held a saw before.
He can't blame them; it's not exactly a glamorous business. Gloves or not, he always winds up getting scratched by the needles or poked with a stray branch. And even if he gets the tree back to the barn unscathed, there's the baler to deal with. It's deceptively benign-looking, all bright yellow plastic and foam wrap, but he's snagged the sleeve of his coat hard enough to rip the canvas fabric before. Between the scratches and the sap and the dirt from tromping through the field, he looks like a mud-caked serf within the first ten minutes of his shift.
So Grantaire isn't necessarily looking his best when the most beautiful man he's ever seen steps out of a car and walks up to the gate.
He's tall, or taller than Grantaire, at least, and his blond hair is the perfect sort of curly that falls in loose ringlets utterly unlike Grantaire's unruly mop of curls. It's long, and it's held back in a loose ponytail that should make him look like a metalhead or a Revolutionary War re-enactor. Instead, it just looks gorgeous. He's wearing an expensive black pea coat and black leather gloves that don't look especially warm, but look like they'd be great for cat burglary. He wonders if the guy is a cat burglar; Grantaire would definitely let him climb into his bedroom in the middle of the night.
He's alone, which isn't the norm for a trip to the Christmas tree farm, but the gloves don't let Grantaire see whether he's wearing a ring. Of course, the absence of a ring wouldn't necessarily mean anything, but it would at least offer him a sliver of possibility...
"Do you work here?"
"Huh?" He's been so lost in contemplation that he hadn't realized that the guy had come close enough to talk to him. "No, I'm just an evergreen enthusiast."
He raises an eyebrow.
"Sorry. Sarcasm isn't good business practice, I know. I'm Grantaire. Can I help you?"
"Grantaire. The owner?" the man asks doubtfully.
"His son, actually. Dad's in the barn, I think. Are you looking for a tree?"
"Not today. I'm a lawyer for--"
Grantaire rocks back a step, and his hands curl into fists entirely without his permission. "Are you working for Thenardier Enterprises?" he snaps. "Because if so, you can personally tell them to fuck off. We're not going to sell the property, and if you're the one drawing up those little scare-tactic memos, then you can fuck right off, too."
His lips part in surprise, and then they tip up into the faintest hint of a smile. "Well, at least I know I'm in the right place," he says mildly.
"Yeah, the half-dozen Grand Aire Tree Farm signs should have tipped you off. What do you want?"
"A minute to talk, if you have it. I swear I'm not working for Thenardier--in fact, my agency is trying to assemble a case against Thenardier Enterprises, and if you're having trouble with him then I'd like to offer you my services."
"I'm sorry?" Grantaire says. He does not say anything about the services he would like to render unto this tall blond stranger.
He pulls a crisp white business card out of his pocket and passes it to Grantaire. Enjolras, Bahorel, and Courfeyrac, it reads. Attorneys at Law. Instead of the traditional scale motif, there's an image that combines elements of Blind Justice with Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People.
It's a really nice card. Grantaire turns it over in his hand. "So are you Enjolras, Bahorel, or Courfeyrac?"
"I'm Enjolras," he says. "Sorry, I should have mentioned that."
Grantaire hands the card back. "Well, Enjolras, thanks, but we can't afford you."
"Your coat is worth more than I made in a week at my last job. And my last job wasn't bad."
"There wouldn't be a charge. We'd just like to know how your farm has been affected by Thenardier Enterprises. You'd really be doing us a favor."
"You're kidding me, right?" Grantaire asks. "No charge? What exactly makes a--I'm going to say extremely successful--lawyer offer to work pro bono for people he doesn't even know?"
"I don't like Thenardier Enterprises," Enjolras says, his voice low and sharp. His eyes narrow in a glare, and god, he's even more gorgeous when he's angry. "Their business practices are appalling, and they've been squirming out of legal consequences for years now. They've had suits brought against them for environmental infractions, worker's compensation--you name it. But their pockets are deep enough to get them out of trouble every time, and I'm sick of it. I want to get them on something big enough to put them out of the picture, whether it's civil or criminal."
"How did you know?" Grantaire asks, when he can work a bit of moisture back into his mouth. "How did you know we were having trouble with Thenardier?"
"The company bought fifty acres of land adjacent to yours and has had surveyors running over every inch of it. I took a wild guess that they were interested in further expansion."
"You could say that." Grantaire thinks of the pile of letters in the office, and he's relieved that his father hasn't gotten around to shredding them yet.
"Do you have time to talk about what's been going on? I understand if you don't. We can make an appointment for later this week, maybe?"
The address of the law office had been in Manhattan. If he'd traveled two hours just to get here... "I'm not the one who makes the final decisions, but I can go find my dad, if you don't mind waiting for a minute."
"Not at all."
Grantaire tromps off to the barn, where his father is guiding an eight-footer through the baler. When he's finished, the branches are bound up close to the trunk, and it should be easy enough for the tree's new owners to get it tied down to the top of their car.
"Hey, Dad, do you have a minute?"
"Why? Somebody lose a finger?"
"No," Grantaire says, with a glance at the customers to make sure they haven't overheard. "Everyone's fine. There's a lawyer here."
His father's expression clouds. "For Thenardier?"
"He says he's working against Thenardier. And he's interested enough in what we have to say that he's promised there won't be a charge."
"A promise from a lawyer, huh? I'm sure that's got a lot of value." He scoops up his cane anyway. "Bossuet can handle things for a little while. Let's go hear what he has to say."
"Actually, I'm really more interested in what you have to say," Enjolras says, when they're all sitting at the kitchen table with cups of coffee. "How long have you been having trouble with Thenardier Enterprises?"
Grantaire's father shrugs. "It's been a few years, I guess, but lately they've been getting more insistent. They've got a lawyer of their own, thinks sending me letters full of big legal terms will frighten me into selling the land."
"Do you still have the letters?"
"Sure." He waves a hand at Grantaire. "Grab the letters from the shredder box, will you?"
Grantaire gets up, and Enjolras nearly chokes on his coffee. "You haven't already shredded them, have you?"
"Nah, I've been putting it off. Might be for the best," he adds, as Grantaire sets the box down on the table. There are a few pieces of junk mail in the box, but most of it is big manila envelopes from Thenardier's legal department. Enjolras pulls one from the box and opens it up, skimming through the pages inside.
He makes a surprisingly civilized sound of disgust. "Patron-Minette," he says.
"I'm sorry?" Grantaire's father asks.
"Thenardier has retained the legal services of a group called Patron-Minette. They're corporate lawyers, defending big business from the greedy common folk. They're good at what they do."
Grantaire isn't surprised to hear that; Thenardier can afford to hire the best. "The letter that I read says that they can do whatever they want underneath our property," Grantaire says. "Like we only own the first twenty-five feet down, or something?"
"Ad infernos," Enjolras counters, without looking up from the page. "That claim has no merit."
Grantaire mentally dusts off his high-school foreign language requirement. "Did you just say 'go to hell' in Latin?"
He does look up at that, flashing a brief smile. "Sort of. There's an old doctrine that says if you own property, you have the rights to that area up into the sky and down into the earth--from heaven to hell, essentially. Now, it's been modified over the last several hundred years, to allow for things like air travel, but courts will usually back the ad infernos rule if they're talking about anything that infringes on the first hundred or so feet beneath the surface. And since fracking would undoubtedly have a negative effect on your livelihood no matter how deeply it was done, there's no way they'll get a judge to agree with them."
"Whoa," Grantaire says.
"Nothing, that was just really..." hot "...smart."
He shrugs. "That's what I'm trained for."
"Isn't fracking kind of illegal here, though?"
Enjolras' expression sours. "It is for now. That could change any day. There are lobbyists working to repeal it--and plenty of them are in the pay of Thenardier Enterprises."
"That's not to say there isn't hope, though," Enjolras adds. "It's just going to take some work on our part. Would you mind if I took these papers back with me? I can make copies and bring the originals back to you. I just need to have a copy that I can make notes on and share with my partners."
"No need for that. You could just scan them here," Grantaire's father says.
"You have a scanner?" Enjolras doesn't quite hide his surprise.
Grantaire grins. "I admit that we live in the sticks, but we own a business and this is the twenty-first century. There's a flat-bed in Dad's office, and I've got an empty flash drive you can use."
"That would be fantastic--if you don't mind."
Grantaire shows Enjolras into the office and points him in the direction of the scanner that's hooked up to his father's PC. It's not new by any means, but does its job. Grantaire leaves Enjolras scanning page after page of the letters and goes out to brew another pot of coffee.
"Where did you find him?" his father asks.
"I didn't. He found us."
"Well, if that's not serendipity, I don't know what is." He takes a sip of coffee. "I don't believe I saw a ring, did you?"
Grantaire's not going to say he didn't notice that as soon as Enjolras took his gloves off, but he refuses to read into it. "Dad, please. He's helping us out here, don't play matchmaker."
"All right, if you say so." He goes back to his coffee, and Enjolras comes out of the office a moment later, with the original letters under his arm. He lays them down on the table.
"Is that all you need?" Grantaire asks. "Is there anything else we can do?"
"I think this is enough for now. I'll probably need to talk to you both again after I've gone through these. Is there a phone number where I can reach you?"
Grantaire fetches one of the farm's business cards from a drawer. He flips it over to write his own cell number and email address on the back. "That's just about every way you can get ahold of us," he says, sliding it across the table to Enjolras. "One of them is bound to work at any given time, and it's a lot less time-consuming than driving all the way out here, I imagine."
Enjolras tucks the card into his pocket. "I'll be in touch, then--probably sometime later this week." He stands up, and Grantaire and his father stand up, too. "Thank you very much, Mr. Grantaire," Enjolras says, holding out his hand for a handshake.
"Call me Phil," Grantaire's father says, and Grantaire stares. He can count on one hand the number of people outside Green Bend who are allowed to call his father Phil.
"I'll, uh, walk you out to your car," Grantaire offers. "I should go make sure everything's still running smoothly, anyway."
They step outside, and Enjolras shivers, ducking his head down against the collar of his coat. "I'm sorry to have kept you away from your work."
"Are you kidding? If you can help us with Thenardier, any amount of time spent will be worth it."
Enjolras smiles. "I'll do my best."
After he drives off, Grantaire makes his way back to the nursery. Cosette is sweet-talking a customer into buying a fresh evergreen wreath to go with their poinsettias, and he lets her work her magic before he approaches her.
"Um, don't worry about finding us a lawyer."
"You've already got one?" she asks, blinking.
"Looks like it."
"Well, then." She kisses him lightly on the cheek. "I'm glad to hear it."
"So am I. I think," he says doubtfully.
He gets an email from Enjolras the following afternoon. Well, it's from a Gmail account called EBCassociates, so he's pretty sure it's from Enjolras.
I went through the papers last night, it says. Grantaire wonders when exactly Enjolras finds time to sleep, or if he's fueled entirely by dark roast.
I still have a few questions I need to ask, so would it be all right if I came back out to the farm next week? I understand that you're in the middle of the busiest part of your season, but the sooner we can hash out our case against Thenardier Enterprises, the sooner things will be settled for the farm. Please feel free to give me a call.
It's followed by a block signature with phone, fax, and email, but attached at the bottom of the email is a note and another phone number.
If you need to contact me after hours, this is my cell phone. Call any time.
Grantaire can't help but smile. It doesn't mean anything really, and he'll never be able to bring himself to use it, but technically Enjolras just gave him his number.
The thought keeps him warm for twenty minutes.
* * *
Grantaire is surprised to see Enjolras, not the next week, but only three days later. It's Thursday, one of the slowest mornings of their week, and Enjolras is not alone. Two other people are with him, an extremely tall and broad-shouldered guy in a brown leather jacket, and a small, wiry man with a Santa hat pulled down low over the tops of his ears.
Grantaire comes out to meet them. "Hey! I didn't think you were coming out until next week--not that it isn't good to see you. And you brought company?"
"It wasn't my decision," Enjolras replies, his lips twisted into a wry smile.
"Are these the other lawyers?"
"To my continuing chagrin, yes," the tall one says, holding out a hand. "I'm Bahorel, and this is Courfeyrac."
Grantaire shakes his hand, then Courfeyrac's. "Hi. I'm Grantaire."
"Oh, and Marius is...where's Marius?" Bahorel asks, frowning as he looks back over his shoulder.
"No idea," Courfeyrac replies, looking supremely unconcerned. "He'll find his way back. He's like a passenger pigeon."
"Those are extinct."
Courfeyrac brightens. "Yeah, those!"
"Marius is our intern," Enjolras explains. "He's a law student."
Bahorel nods. "I keep trying to talk him out of it, though. It's a terrible fate, to be a lawyer."
"But you're a--" Grantaire begins.
"Yeah, I know. Anyway, Courf and I decided that Marius needed a road trip. You'd think the kid had never left the city before, the way he was gawking at everything on the way up here."
"He also made us stop three times," Enjolras says.
Courfeyrac snorts. "Yeah, because you insisted on making a coffee run before we left!"
This all seems a little too light-hearted for a business meeting, and Grantaire is increasingly confused as to the reason that they're all here. "So, is there some kind of trouble? Is the case more serious than you thought?"
"No, it's not," Enjolras says reassuringly. "They just insisted on coming out to see the place themselves."
"Because we need a tree!" Bahorel announces.
Enjolras sighs. "We do not. It's culturally insensitive. We can't put a tree up in the office--we have clients who don't celebrate Christmas, and I'm not going to make them uncomfortable by putting up a religious symbol in our office."
"But it's festive!" Courfeyrac argues.
"Courf, you're Jewish," Enjolras says, despairing.
"So we'll hang a dreidel on it. Come on, Enje!"
Grantaire clears his throat. "Arguably, it's a pagan symbol, anyway. The Yule-tree, you know? Evergreen being a symbol of rebirth and all. Christianity just appropriated the midwinter festival in order to ease the forced transition to monotheism."
"See?" Courfeyrac says, rounding on Enjolras. "It's Christian and it's pagan, so it'll offend everyone equally."
"Or you could just put it up in your own apartment, like we suggested," Bahorel says.
Enjolras hesitates, clearly on the point of giving in. Then he shakes his head. "No, I'm sorry. I just don't see the point in sawing down a living tree just to prop it up in the corner to die."
Courfeyrac whines and covers his face with one gloved hand. "Oh my god, how are you this tacky? You just insulted Grantaire's livelihood to his face."
Enjolras whips around, his eyes wide and his cheeks pink with either cold or embarrassment. "No, I didn't mean--I don't object to it in principle, I just--"
"I get it," Grantaire says, holding up a hand to forestall the tide of apologies. "No offense taken. But you know, if the thought of cutting down a tree bothers you, you could just get a live one."
Enjolras blinks. "You can do that?"
"Yeah. We keep them in the nursery. The root ball is wrapped in burlap, so it doesn't make a mess, and then at the end of the season all you have to do is dig a hole and drop it in."
"Ah. Unfortunately, my eighth-floor apartment is sort of lacking in lawn space."
"So come out here," Grantaire says easily. "We've got a hundred and ten acres--you can plant it anywhere you want."
"I bet he can," Courfeyrac snickers.
"And then you'll turn around and sell it to someone else next year?" Enjolras asks skeptically.
"What, you're not into recycling?" Grantaire returns. "Okay, don't worry. We'll put up a plaque or something, to preserve it for posterity." At least until Thenardier gets hold of it, he thinks, and his smile fades.
Courfeyrac makes a gagging sound. "Okay, we're going to go pick out a tree. You two can stay here and flirt like twelve-year-olds. Come on, Bahorel."
Enjolras, whose face is definitely a bright shade of red now, ducks his head and makes to follow them towards the greenhouse. Grantaire decides to join them, for guidance and moral support. He falls into step beside Enjolras.
"So how high are your ceilings?"
"You don't want to buy a ten-foot tree only to get home and realize that you have eight-foot ceilings."
"Oh. Well, they're...high," he says carefully.
Grantaire grins at him. "I already know you're rich. You don't have to apologize for having twenty-foot cathedral ceilings in your penthouse apartment."
"It's not a penthouse!"
Courfeyrac looks back over his shoulder. "It's a hipster boho converted factory loft space," he says, blithely ignoring the furious glare that Enjolras directs at him. "So I would say the ceilings are like fifteen feet? In the main area. The lofted part is about half as high, of course."
"Of course." Grantaire really likes Enjolras' friends. They make Enjolras blush, and he's very pretty when he blushes. Actually, Grantaire has yet to see an emotion that does not make Enjolras look pretty. "So we could go as tall as thirteen feet or so, but you probably don't want to have to decorate thirteen feet of tree. We can look at something in the nine to ten-foot range, maybe? You'll need a stepstool to get the topper on it, but not, like, a ladder truck."
"Okay," Enjolras says. "This is your area of expertise--I'm in your hands."
Bahorel has a brief coughing fit, and Grantaire is no longer entirely certain that he loves Enjolras' friends.
The nursery is warm and humid, and contains a bonus Marius. At least, Grantaire assumes this is Marius. He seems to be composed entirely of freckles and elbows, and he's peering through the branches of a row of live trees.
"Marius!" Bahorel booms cheerfully. Marius turns around so fast that he snags the sleeve of his coat on a tree branch. He ducks his head immediately, like he's been caught doing something wrong.
From the next row of trees, Grantaire hears someone humming the Supremes.
"Ohh," he says.
"Oh, what?" Marius says. He looks nervous, but that might just be his default expression.
"Don't creep on Cosette."
"I wasn't--I didn't mean to be--I just...I saw her but I didn't know what to say to her, and then she started coming down the row so I ducked into this one..."
"Hello is a good start," Grantaire suggests, and then he nudges Marius out into the aisle. He waits long enough to hear his stammering hello, and then he leads the other three back towards the larger trees.
"I swear, he's much more articulate than that in a courtroom," Enjolras says.
"It's true," Courfeyrac says. "Once I heard him say a complete sentence without blushing."
It takes them almost half an hour to pick a tree, most of which is Bahorel and Courfeyrac arguing over the relative fullness and circumference of their three "finalists." Enjolras has long since retreated to a corner with his cell phone, reading emails or the news or whatever while the other two bicker. Grantaire hopes Enjolras has a good data plan.
It comes down to a heated game of rock-paper-scissors, which Bahorel wins. The tree he picks really is the best of the three, in Grantaire's opinion, which he long ago learned to keep to himself. Bahorel helps him haul it over to the baler while Enjolras pulls the car around. It's a sedan, not a minivan or an SUV, which means that transport is going to be...interesting, to say the least. Grantaire is glad he's not the one driving it home.
Enjolras helps Bahorel carry the tree out to the car, and then he ducks back inside to talk to Grantaire. "I'll be honest, this wasn't entirely a pleasure cruise," Enjolras says in a low voice. "We drove around the perimeter of Thenardier's property before we came here. I wanted to get an idea of what we're dealing with, and Bahorel and Courfeyrac needed some context, too."
"Did you see anything interesting?"
He shrugs. "Nothing conclusive. Although if the surveyor's map I downloaded is correct, Thenardier is fudging his property lines a little. Keep an eye on the eastern edge of your property where it abuts his, okay?"
"And I'm sorry we've wasted so much of your time again."
"Are you kidding me? This is kind of my job," Grantaire says.
"I guess. What do we owe you for the tree?"
Grantaire shakes his head. "Forget it."
"No--we can't just take the tree."
"You can, and you will. You're already helping us out with Thenardier for nothing. The least I can do is get you a tree. Oh, and a wreath. Cosette makes them herself," he adds. "She always makes sure to tuck some juniper in them, so it smells especially good."
"Nope, we're not discussing this. Tree. Wreath. Yours. Go home."
"We will, as soon as we find Marius."
Grantaire grins. "My best guess? He's still in the nursery with Cosette. You'd better go and make sure she hasn't intimidated him to death."
"You say that like it's a joke, but Pontmercy would be the first to tell you that he's sort of hopeless with girls."
"I can sympathize. I'm sort of hopeless with guys," Grantaire replies lightly. He immediately regrets it when Enjolras' head shoots up. "Sorry, was that over-sharing?"
"No, not at all. I just--I need to go find Marius."
And Grantaire has officially scared him off. Of course the cute ones are always straight or in a relationship...or nervous bordering on homophobic. Oh well.
He expects Enjolras to take the long way back from the nursery, so that he doesn't have to talk to Grantaire anymore, but five minutes later he walks past, accompanied by a slightly dazed Marius and carrying a wreath.
"Did she get your number?" Grantaire calls after him.
Marius' only response is a slow, disbelieving nod as he walks to the car. Enjolras pauses to talk to Grantaire again. "So we agreed that Tuesdays are good days, right?"
"Yeah. But you don't have to come all the way out here. I could drive down, or we could meet in the middle--or we could even Skype, if that's easier."
"I don't mind it," Enjolras says, shaking his head. "I've always thought I was a city person, but...it's nice to get away from it, sometimes."
"Sure, whatever you want." His tone fails him, and the words come out much too sincere, but Enjolras doesn't seem to have noticed.
"I'll see you on Tuesday morning, then," Enjolras says. "Maybe without the rest of this rabble." He looks back to where Courfeyrac and Bahorel are squabbling about the best way to tie down the tree to the top of the car.
"Good luck getting that thing back to the city," Grantaire says cheerfully.
Enjolras eyes the preparations with something very close to despair in his eyes. "Yeah...thanks."
- The town of Green Bend is loosely based on Red Hook, NY, and by loosely I mean "I spent twenty minutes wandering around in the Google Maps street view and I liked what I saw." Also wow, there are a lot of antiques shops.
- There is no such thing as ARTco. ARTCO is actually a rotary tool company. ARTco is a graphic design firm with, apparently, a shitty business culture and ironclad NDAs.
- Obviously, there is nothing at all wrong with living with your parents at twenty-seven. Grantaire's self-image is not the best.
- Fracking is illegal in the state of New York as of December 17th. Assume this happens in a slightly different world from ours.
- I have no idea why Bossuet is forbidden to use the tree baler.
- The summary of the original movie is as follows, if you're interested: An unemployed executive helps her injured dad sell Christmas trees on their family's tree lot, but a store owner attempts to force them out of business.
Five weeks to Christmas
The weekend passes in a blur. Since most people have weekends off, it's the busiest time of the week for the farm, and Grantaire feels like he hasn't stopped moving since Friday. Everything is backwards; he needs a weekend to recover from his weekend. Monday morning is actually a relief, because it represents a significant slow-down in customers.
He hasn't taken an Ambien since he's been back--he hasn't needed one. Maybe that says something about the stress of his old job.
On Tuesday morning he's up before his alarm, filled with a restless energy that he would prefer not to examine too closely. He has a cup of coffee even though it's the last thing his jangling nerves need, and he's grateful that the first few customers of the morning want to cut their own trees, instead of having him do it for them.
It's almost eleven when he sees Enjolras' black sedan pull into the lot. Grantaire watches him climb out of the car, all blond hair and black coat. He's got a folder under his arm, and he smiles when he sees Grantaire, but the smile is oddly tight and tense.
"Hey," Grantaire says. "How are you?"
"I'm all right. Listen, I know you have a lot of work to do, but is there any place we can go to talk? Somewhere else, I mean, besides the farm?"
Grantaire frowns. "Is there something wrong with the farmhouse? Do you need a better Internet connection or something?"
"No, no." He shifts his weight awkwardly. "It's just that I slept like hell last night, so I'm going to need at least two shots of espresso if I'm going to survive the drive back home."
Grantaire coos at him. "Aw, poor little city boy, lost without a Starbucks on every corner."
Enjolras glares at him, and okay, maybe he does look a little tired. Grantaire decides to let up on him a little.
"There are a couple of good coffee shops in town. I'll clean up a little, and then I'll go get Dad, and we can go, okay?"
"Oh, I don't want to bother your dad. You'll do. And I promise this won't take long."
You'll do. What does that even mean? "That's fine," Grantaire says. "You want to come inside and wait? I'll be quick."
"I can wait here. It's not too cold out."
Surprisingly, it really isn't. The temperature's over forty, but there's a promise of rain later on that will keep all but the most intrepid of tree-seekers from heading out today. Grantaire goes inside and scrubs the worst of the dirt and sap off of his hands and his face. He tries to tamp down his excitement--this is just coffee, it's business, it's not a date. Definitely not a date.
He changes out of his muddy work clothes anyway and attempts to loosen some of the tangles in his hair before giving up and just pulling a slouchy knit cap over the worst of it.
If the jeans he's wearing are the tightest he owns, that's definitely coincidence. He pulls on a coat and pauses in the kitchen long enough to text his father.
Coffee run with Enjolras. Text if you want anything.
He's going to get the third degree later on, and he knows it, but that's later. Grantaire tucks his phone into his pocket, and then he locks the front door. Enjolras is still waiting for him on the front porch, and his eyes travel over Grantaire quickly before stalling out on his scuffed polka-dot Converse.
"Problem?" Grantaire asks.
"Not at all. I'm just surprised that you own anything other than work boots."
"Oh, am I blowing your mind? If it'll make you more comfortable, I'll go put them back on. I just didn't want to track mud into that pretty car of yours."
"Am I driving, then?"
Wow. Way to be an asshole, Grantaire. "No, we can take the truck. I just have to pull it out from behind the barn and--"
"Relax. I don't mind driving, as long as you can point me in the right direction."
"I'll be the best GPS you ever had," Grantaire promises.
Enjolras' car even smells nice, not so much a new-car smell as a well-cared-for-car smell, with a hint of something sharp and woodsy that might be Enjolras' aftershave. Enjolras is not the kind of person who forgets a bag of tacos in the passenger seat on the hottest day of the year so that the car forever after smells faintly of carnitas.
Grantaire sort of misses the Stinky Bug, but he'd sold it off when he moved to the city. The cost of parking it for a year would have been about twice what the car was worth.
"Okay, which way are we going?"
"Make a left out of the parking lot and keep driving until you see civilization," Grantaire says.
Enjolras turns left, and they drive past woods and fields and a few sparse houses. Then the houses start to become closer together, the fields give way to fenced-in yards, and suddenly they're in Green Bend.
"Welcome to historic Green Bend," Grantaire says. "No one knows precisely why it's historic, but everyone always says that."
Enjolras smiles, and Grantaire takes that as encouragement.
"If you look in literally any direction, you'll see evidence of the Great Antiques Plague of 2002," Grantaire intones, "when the town suffered a violent insurrection of knick-knacks. Once quelled, the survivors were priced at twice their worth and sold to gullible weekend tourists as a warning to future generations."
Enjolras laughs. "You should be the official tour guide."
"I should, shouldn't I? Turn right up here, and the coffee place is on the left."
Enjolras pulls into the parking lot of the ominously-named Burial Grounds. It's kitschy and Halloween-themed every day of the year, but the coffee is the best in town.
He's sort of looking forward to seeing Enjolras' reaction when they walk inside. The bells over the door jingle in a minor key, and Enjolras pauses just inside to look around.
There are tiny orange lights lining the front windows. The tables are draped in black lace tablecloths designed to look like spiderwebs. The tip jar is a plastic skull with glowing yellow eyes. And all of the drink specials have terrible names.
"What do you think?" Grantaire asks.
"It's definitely no Starbucks," Enjolras replies, and Grantaire thinks it's an insult before he catches Enjolras smiling.
They walk up to the counter; Grantaire is pretty sure he went to elementary school with the barista, now that he thinks about it. "Hi, can I get a Boneshaker?" he asks.
"Sure. Small, medium, or large?"
"Better make it a large," Grantaire says. "This could be a long day. Enjolras?"
He's eyeing the menu board and looking both amused and slightly befuddled. "I have no idea."
"I think he needs a Wake the Dead," Grantaire says to the barista.
Enjolras frowns. "What's that? I don't even see that on the menu."
"It's three oversized espresso shots in a large dark roast with hazelnut syrup. They invented it for me, when I was in college."
"Oh my god, yes, please," Enjolras says fervently, and Grantaire definitely does not file away the sound of Enjolras saying those words for later daydreams. He quickly pays for both drinks before Enjolras can pull out his wallet.
"Hey, you didn't have to do that. I could have written it off as a business expense," Enjolras says.
Grantaire picks up their drinks and carries them over to a table in the corner. "It's coffee, Enjolras. I may have lost my big-city job and the severance package that went with it, but I can afford a cup of coffee."
He frowns. "Wait, what? You worked in the city?"
"Yeah. At ARTco, in Manhattan. We were practically neighbors. Hell, we probably shared a subway car once or twice. Did you think I'd spent my whole life on the tree farm?"
"I guess maybe I did," Enjolras says. "I shouldn't have assumed. But how did you lose your serverance package?"
"Ill-conceived passive-aggressive tweet," Grantaire admits. "It was my bad." He takes a sip of his coffee and sighs--he always, always burns his tongue on the first sip. "So why are we really here, and not at the house?"
"Coffee," Enjolras reminds him, taking a sip of his own. "Oh, this is good."
"Told you. But seriously, I could have brewed you all the coffee you wanted at home. So why are we here, really?"
Enjolras sighs and sets down his cup. "I wanted to talk to you, and I didn't necessarily want to have this particular conversation at the house."
"Because it's a little sensitive, and I didn't want to upset your father until I know whether there's anything to be upset about."
"Okay..." Grantaire would like to think that this is a prelude to Enjolras asking him out, but he looks entirely too serious for that. And then there's the manila folder that he's still carrying with him.
"Can you describe what happened the day your father broke his hip?"
The sudden professional tone catches Grantaire off-guard. "Am I on trial here?" he asks. He's three-quarters joking. Well, two-thirds, at least.
"Not at all," Enjolras says reassuringly. "I just need to have some gaps filled in, so I can work on the case more effectively."
"And what we're saying here is off the record, all right? If I need an official statement, we can do that later."
"Okay." Grantaire takes a breath and tries to sort things out into a coherent narrative. "Dad fell on February second of this year. He says he got up in the morning like he always does, went down the front steps to get the newspaper, and slipped on a patch of ice at the foot of the stairs. He had his phone in his pocket, which was a miracle, frankly--he's always leaving it plugged in and charging--and he called me before anyone else. I told him he was an idiot and made him call 911, and then I drove up there as soon as I hung up. He was in the hospital for a week, and then in rehab until mid-March. Cosette's dad took over a lot of the farm work for my dad while he was recovering. I was able to stay out here until Dad got out of the hospital, but that was all the paid leave that ARTco was prepared to give me, so I had to settle for coming up on weekends after that. He was back on his feet by late spring, and he's been getting better ever since."
Enjolras taps his fingertips on the table. "February second," he repeats.
"I want you to look at something, okay?" He puts the folder down on the table and flips it open so that the documents inside are facing Grantaire. "This is the National Weather Service's official report for January and February of this year. According to this data, the temperature in the Green Bend area hadn't exceeded freezing since the twenty-first of January, and there hadn't been even a trace of precipitation in six days. If the ice had been on the walk since the last melt, then it stands to reason that he would have either noticed it, or slipped on it much earlier. It seems evident to me that the ice wasn't there until the morning he fell."
Grantaire follows the train of thought to its conclusion. "So if there was no thaw and freeze, and it hadn't rained or snowed...then how did the ice get there?" He's afraid he already knows the answer.
"That's a very good question."
"Jesus." Grantaire shoves his chair back. "We have to get back to the farm. What if Thenardier--"
"No names," Enjolras says swiftly. He wraps a hand around Grantaire's wrist and tugs him back into his seat. "There's a chance that it could have been a real accident. We don't have any concrete evidence, and Patron-Minette would be delighted to put up a slander suit against you. And your dad's fine--he's not alone."
"Oh, yeah, because a group of suburban tree-hunters is going to be a ton of protection."
"I promise, he's fine. About five minutes after I left, Bahorel pulled into the parking lot."
"Bahorel? What's he doing up here?"
"He was on his way back from visiting family in Buffalo," Enjolras says. "I asked him to stop by. He'll go find your dad to ask if he's seen me. And when your dad inevitably tells him that you and I have just left, Bahorel will opt to stay at the farm and wait instead of going after us. He'll kick around and do whatever odd jobs your dad can come up with, all while scoping out the potential security risks of the farm."
"And how is Bahorel is qualified to do this?"
"Oh. He's an ex-Navy SEAL."
"Who is now a lawyer."
Grantaire sighs and slumps down in his chair. "You keep very strange company, Enjolras."
"Tell me about it. But trust me, if Bahorel notices anything suspicious, he'll let us know right away."
"And what are you going to do about it? You're lawyers--good lawyers, obviously, but you're not the Secret Service."
"No, we're not," Enjolras says. "But we know enough to help. It's clear that you're being harassed--the letters are proof enough of that--but if it goes beyond harassment, we'll be prepared to handle it. I don't want you to worry too much."
"Right. My dad's fall might have been orchestrated, but don't worry. I mean, what if he'd hit his head on the steps instead of his hip? He could have died, Enjolras."
He nods. "I know that."
Grantaire rakes a hand through his hair and ends up tangling his fingers in the edge of his hat. "Okay. There's an alarm system for the doors and windows. Dad usually doesn't bother with it, but I'll make sure it's turned on every night before I go to bed. It won't help if they decide to ice the sidewalks again, but at least we can keep them from getting into the house."
"Good." Enjolras flips the folder closed. "Why don't we make Tuesdays a regular thing?"
"You want to make a four-hour round trip every Tuesday?"
"I told you, I don't mind the driving."
"Well, if you're sure it's not a problem, then okay. The next few Tuesdays should be fine, but not the one on the week of Christmas. We'll be so busy we won't even be able to spare you a glance unless you're dressed as a pine tree."
"Till Birnam wood do come to Dunsinane?"
Grantaire stares at him. "Macbeth. Seriously?" Brilliant, beautiful, and well-read? It isn't fair.
"Nothing. Anyway, yeah, the week of Christmas is no good for us."
"That's fine. By then, I hope we'll have a good plan of attack in place against...you know."
"Right." No names. Grantaire takes a last swallow of coffee and discovers that Enjolras has already finished his. He wonders if Enjolras' fingers are all tingly now--that's a well-known side effect of chugging a Wake the Dead. "I should get back to the farm, though. And you probably want to get home before dark." It's barely lunchtime, but dark comes very early at this time of the year.
They step out of the shop, and Enjolras looks up across the square. "Oh, wow."
Standing near the center of town is a twenty-foot Christmas tree, decked out in twinkling multicolored lights.
"Is that one of yours?"
"Yeah," Grantaire said. "The mayor buys one from us every year. It's mostly a photo-op, you know, supporting local businesses or whatever, but it looks pretty good, doesn't it?"
"And it's not on public land, so you don't have to call the ACLU," Grantaire teases.
"I wasn't going to!" Enjolras protests, but he's still smiling when they get into the car. It's not a long drive back to the farm, and when Enjolras gets there Bahorel is waiting. They have a quick, quiet conversation before they go, probably filling each other in on what they've learned this afternoon.
Grantaire waves goodbye to them both and goes back to work.
He's not even sure his absence has been noticed until everyone else has gone home. He's poking around on his slightly outdated tablet, listlessly job-searching, when his dad comes into the living room with a pair of beers. He hands one off to Grantaire, who twists the top off and clinks it against his dad's bottle in a toast.
"How's the job hunt going?"
"It's not," Grantaire says, laying the tablet aside. "Anything I'd want to apply for requires samples of recent work. And my portfolio is three years out of date."
"One way to fix that, you know."
He's not wrong, but Grantaire isn't ready to dive back into that yet. For one thing, his skills have probably gotten rusty, and he'll have to turn out two dozen shitty pieces before he gets one that's worth the canvas it's painted on.
His dad settles onto the sofa next to him. "So," he says quietly, and then he stops.
Grantaire looks up at him.
"How was your date?"
Grantaire splutters. "Jesus, Dad. It wasn't a date, it was just coffee. We talked about the tree farm. That’s not anyone's idea of romance."
"I see. Do you not like him, then?"
Grantaire would very much prefer to suspend this conversation until he's at least three beers deep, but there's no way he can stall for that long. "Trust me, that is not the issue."
"You think he doesn't like you?"
"It's not that he dislikes me. But there's never going to be anything there. I looked him up, you know. The establishment thinks he's the end of the world, and the activists think he's the second coming. And his family is ridiculously wealthy."
"So? I own a non-ironic pair of overalls, Dad."
"And you think that would bother him?"
"This isn't a 'Green Acres' rerun. He wants to save the whole damn world, and all I want is a job that pays enough that I can make rent and have a little left over for beer money."
His father shakes his head. "Don't be an idiot. I've spent less than two hours in the man's company, and he could barely stop looking at you. He'd like you just as well in Carhartt or Armani. Or nothing at all, I imagine," he adds as an afterthought.
"I'm only saying. You sell yourself short."
"I am short."
"Don't look at me, that's your mother's fault."
Grantaire can't help but smile. "Yeah, it is." His mother had been five-three, and while Grantaire has managed a nearly average five-seven, he's still six inches shorter than his father. He's also considerably shorter than Enjolras, not that he's factored their height difference into daydreams of kissing him.
"Are we going to put up a tree or not this year?"
It's not the smoothest change of subject, but his father just shrugs and points out the window. "Cut whatever you want. You have to haul it in yourself, though, and I'll be damned if I'm putting the lights on it this year. I'll get a couple boxes of ornaments from the basement--and I'll put the star on for you."
"Short jokes," Grantaire says, shaking his head. "All right." He'll get a live tree instead of cutting one, though. There's not much point in--how had he put it? 'Propping up a tree in the corner to die.'
He can hear Enjolras' voice just the way he said it, and that's one more indication that Grantaire is already much too far gone to save.
- I have definitely never left a taco in my car.
- The tip jar is named Bob.
- I do not know what's in a Boneshaker. It probably involves a dangerous amount of caffeine, though.
Four weeks to Christmas
When Grantaire wakes up Tuesday morning, the lights are still off downstairs, and there's no coffee in the coffee pot. He starts some brewing and then goes back upstairs to tap on his father's door. "Dad? It's after eight. Are you dead?"
There's a muffled sound of swearing from the other side of the door. "I'm getting up, hang on." After a long moment, the door swings open, and Grantaire knows that this is a Bad Day.
His father hasn't had many of them lately, and none at all since Grantaire has been home. But there's no mistaking the tightness around his father's eyes, the way that the little lines on his face seem to be carved deeper than usual. The hand gripping the head of his cane is white-knuckled.
"You okay?" Grantaire asks.
"I'll be fine. Just got a slow start. Give me a couple of minutes and I'll meet you downstairs."
Grantaire shakes his head. "No way. Your hip is bothering you, and you know you're not supposed to be overworking yourself. Go on back to bed. I'll bring you up a coffee and something for breakfast, and I can take care of the farm today."
"I'm not a damn invalid."
Grantaire raises an eyebrow.
"And do you really think you can run the whole farm?"
"For one day, and a Tuesday at that? I'll be fine." Bossuet knows everything that needs to be done; Grantaire can just piggy-back off of him if he needs to.
"It's Bossuet's day off."
Well, hell. Cosette's working, but she has to run the nursery, so that leaves Grantaire on his own, aside from a handful of high school kids who a) won't be in until three and b) aren't even allowed to touch the saws. "We'll manage," he says flatly. "But if you mess up your hip worse, you'll be flat on your back for a week and you know it."
His father's glare slackens, and Grantaire knows that he's won. "You nag like your mama did."
"Damn right, I do," Grantaire says, lifting his chin.
"Fine, fine. I'll give it a few hours and then come out."
"Whatever you want." Grantaire goes downstairs, toasts a bagel, and pours a cup of coffee for his father. He takes everything upstairs and leaves it on the nightstand. Then he goes back downstairs, retrieves his father's phone from the charger, and sets it next to the tray on the nightstand. "Call me if you need anything, okay? Or if you want to tell me how to do my job," he adds, grinning.
"Don't you think I won't," his father warns.
"I'll keep the ringer on high." He goes downstairs, pours the remainder of the coffee into a thermos, and tries to sort out some kind of battle plan for facing the day. It shouldn't be busy until after five, and by then he'll have the kids to help out. Until then it's going to be a one-at-a-time thing, and the customers are just going to have to deal with it. Maybe he can get the online orders sorted out before anyone shows up...
He steps out the front door without looking up from his phone and almost collides with Enjolras.
"Shit," he says, as soon as he regains his footing. "I forgot you were coming."
Enjolras doesn't look offended by that, just faintly concerned. "It is Tuesday, right?"
"Yeah, it is. I'm sorry, I'm just kind of--Dad's hip is bothering him, so I made him stay in bed. That means I'm in charge, and I've been so distracted trying to figure out how to run the farm today that I completely forgot about you. I mean--I didn't forget about you, just that you were coming. Today."
"Oh. If you don't have time, then we can reschedule."
"But you came all the way out here, I'd hate to make you turn around and just go back." Maybe Enjolras can walk with him, and they can talk while he's cutting down trees.
"So put me to work."
Grantaire blinks. "Um. What?"
"You're short-handed today, so let me help you out. I've never worked on a tree farm before, but I'm not bad at following directions."
"Enjolras. Your time is worth way more than this. You can't just--"
"Yes, I can." He frowns. "I might need to borrow a pair of boots, though."
Grantaire looks down at Enjolras' shoes and barely suppresses a laugh. "Yeah, Italian leather and farming just don't really go together. Come on inside, and I'll find you something. What size shoe do you wear?"
That means that none of Grantaire's shoes will fit. But there might be a pair of his dad's that will serve. He rummages through the hall closet until he finds something more or less suitable. "Here, try those on."
There's nothing he can do about Enjolras' dress pants. He'd lend Enjolras a pair of his jeans, but they're not remotely built the same way. Enjolras' hips are so narrow that Grantaire's jeans would just fall right off him.
Not that Grantaire would necessarily object, but Enjolras probably would. Anyway, it's not his fault that Enjolras chose to come out to a working farm in pressed pants and pair of perfectly polished wingtips.
"I think these will do," Enjolras says.
"All right." Grantaire studies Enjolras critically. Black coat, black trousers, black gloves. "Would it absolutely kill you to wear a little bit of color?"
"What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"
"Nothing, you just look like a funeral director. A very handsome funeral director, mind you, but we're selling Christmas trees here, not coffins for Great Aunt Edna."
"Coffins are traditionally pine, though, right? So it's all related."
Grantaire stares at him. "Morbid. Very morbid." That said, he's pretty sure that his dad would be delighted at the prospect of being buried in a coffin made of Christmas trees. "Also, you don't have a hat. You can't spend all day outside without a hat. You'll freeze."
"Well, if I'd known I would be outside all day, I would have brought one."
"Is it black?" Grantaire guesses.
Enjolras hesitates. "No..."
"Well, at least we know you'll never be able to perjure yourself, if that's how you lie. I'll find you a hat, hang on."
And that's how Enjolras ends up wading out into three inches of snow in a borrowed pair of boots a half-size too large and a red-and-white tasseled cap with ear-flaps and an enormous red pom-pom on the top.
There might have been less-ridiculous hats in the hall closet, but Grantaire will never, ever tell.
They get about three steps off the porch before Enjolras turns to him. "All right. What are we going to do?"
Grantaire checks the farm's email on his phone. "I am going to cut down a tree. You can watch."
"Did you sign a waiver indemnifying the farm in case you sever something important?"
"Exactly. I'm cutting down the tree." Grantaire climbs into the cart they use to get around the farm. The open trailer attached to the back will carry just about any size tree. He pats the passenger seat, and Enjolras climbs in next to him.
"Who's getting the tree? There's no one here."
"It's an online order," Grantaire says, holding up the phone.
"You can do that?"
"Yeah. You fill out a form, tell us what size tree you want, and we have it cut and baled and ready for you when you get here, for an extra twenty bucks."
"Do you deliver?" Enjolras asks, smiling.
"We used to, back when the truck was a little more reliable. Now you have to come get your own, no exceptions. Unless you're an old friend of Dad's, or he knows you don't get around well, or he's feeling especially generous."
"Are you sure your father isn't actually Santa Claus?"
"Nah. Beard's too short." He fires up the cart and drives down one of the lanes that wind through the property. There should be some trees down here that match the absurdly specific notes accompanying the order.
They pull up in front of a seven-footer. It's nicely shaped, not too wide around the base, and the branches are balanced. It's the Platonic ideal of a Christmas tree. "This one," he says. "Reach in and hold the trunk steady while I cut, okay?"
Enjolras awkwardly reaches in to hold the trunk of the tree while Grantaire saws it down. Enjolras hisses out a startled curse as the trunk gives way and the whole weight of the tree sags into him, but he catches it and lowers it down onto the back of the cart.
"Now what?" he asks.
"Now we bale it up, put the tag on it, and prop it up outside the barn. One of the kids will help the buyers get it out to their car when they get here. They'll fight each other to get that job, because usually the families will tip you. But first, I thought we might take a detour on the way back to the barn."
"Yeah. We could swing around and check the edge of the property. On the eastern side?"
Enjolras nods. "That sounds like a good idea."
They climb back into the cart and set off along the track that leads out to the edge of the property. Out here, everything feels strangely secluded. Even the sound of the cart seems muffled.
A bright orange fox darts across the path, well ahead of their cart.
Grantaire smiles. "Have you ever seen a fox before?"
"Not in the flesh, no," Enjolras says.
"I guess it's your lucky day, then--you don't see them very often even out here."
They drive out past the little grove of apple trees--Grantaire's father's idea from years ago. Apple-picking extends their busy season by a couple of months, and Grantaire has developed a truly excellent recipe for spiced cider.
They come around the final bend, and Grantaire stops the cart. "Shit," he says quietly.
The little fence that they'd put up to mark the edge of the property is smashed, and six rows of infant trees have been flattened. Tire tracks are still visible in the snow and frozen mud. He turns off the cart and hops out, examining the damage. It looks like they accelerated and reversed several times, just to make sure they got all the trees. In short, there's no way that this could have been accidental.
"Was it a car?" Enjolras asks, picking his way through the scattered branches to join him.
"Four-wheeler, I think."
"How bad is it?"
"It won't put a dent in our stock for five or ten years," Grantaire says. "And this isn't the only patch of young trees that we have. But it sucks."
Enjolras pulls out his phone and takes a series of pictures to document the damage. "We need the evidence," he says, "in case we have to file a suit. They're infringing on your property rights."
"But we don't know it was them, not technically," Grantaire counters. "Sure, someone clearly veered off their property and onto ours, but you know they'll just claim that someone was trespassing on their land, too."
"Probably. How much do you think the damage is worth?"
Grantaire shakes his head. "It's hard to tell. Half an acre of trees, at a potential sixty bucks a tree...even minus the cost of fertilizing and watering them, it's a lot. What are you going to do, send a strongly-worded letter?"
"Well, yes," Enjolras says blankly. "For a start, at any rate."
"And you really think that's going to help?"
"Given what we know about Thenardier? No. But it's important that we follow proper procedure. It'll make us look better when the case comes before a judge."
When, not if. Grantaire isn't really looking forward to that. Although if it means he gets to see Enjolras in full Atticus Finch mode, it might actually be worth it.
"Come on, let's go back to the barn."
They make three more trips, and by the end of the fourth one, the high-school kids have arrived to help--for a definition of help that appears to mean "building a snow fort on the front lawn." Zel and her brother are holed up behind it, undoubtedly building a snowball arsenal. It's an impressive structure, considering the meager snowfall, and Grantaire feels bad about the fact that he's going to have to ask them to knock it down.
Then Zel's little brother rears up and flings a snowball that pegs him directly in the face. Grantaire bites back a curse and drops the tree. He scoops Gav up and holds him upside down by the ankles, dipping his head in the drifted snow while Gav laughs and squirms.
"Was it worth it?" he asks, when he finally sets Gav upright.
His face is a mask of snow, but he grins. "Totally. I told Zel to throw one at your boyfriend but she chickened out."
"He is not my boyfriend," Grantaire says in an undertone. "And Zel's got a lot more sense than you. Now knock the fort down, and you and your sister go help Cosette in the nursery, okay?"
"O-kay," Gav sighs, and he runs off to help.
Grantaire goes back to where Enjolras is standing, hopefully out of earshot of the 'boyfriend' comment. "Sorry about that."
"Is he legally allowed to work here?" Enjolras asks, frowning in Gav's direction.
"Nah, he's ten. But Zel and her brother are in their sister's custody, and Zel can't leave Gav alone to come out and work here, so Dad just lets Gav come with her. Gets into all kinds of trouble, but he's great. Even if he is eerily accurate with a snowball." Grantaire scoops the last bit of melting snow out of his collar. When he looks over at Enjolras, he finds Enjolras looking back at him.
"You look happy," he says.
Grantaire blinks. "What?"
"Here, on the farm. With the kids and all. You look happy--like you belong."
Grantaire shrugs and picks up his end of the tree to haul it into the barn. "I don't know if belong is the right word. I've been helping out here since I was old enough to walk. I'm accustomed to the place, and I guess maybe it's accustomed to me, too."
"Were you happy at your old job?"
Grantaire hefts the base of the tree into the baler. "You push from that end," he says, and he goes around to pull the tree through the far end. The wrap stretches around the tree, pushing the branches up and holding them close to the trunk. When the far end comes through, Grantaire ties off the top and cuts the wrap. They tie a tag onto the tree and then line it up with the others out in front of the barn.
"No," he says, tucking his hands into the pockets of his coat. "I wasn't happy at ARTco. But I'd been unhappy for so long that I stopped realizing it, I guess."
"I was an assistant design director. I started out doing the grunt work, but I moved up the ladder until all I was doing was managing other people. The day they laid me off, I realized...I couldn't remember the last time I picked up a paintbrush."
"And that was what you really loved?"
"Yeah. Getting out of there was probably a blessing in disguise. If nothing else, I'm sleeping better now. That says something about my old job, I guess."
"It does," Enjolras agrees.
"Come on, let's go cut one more, and then I'll let you go."
"Can I cut this one?"
Grantaire eyes him suspiciously. "Are you going to sue us if you cut all your fingers off?"
"I am not going to cut all my fingers off."
"Answer the question please, counsel," Grantaire says commandingly.
Enjolras laughs, bright and beautiful. "No, I am not going to sue you."
"Okay, then. You can cut a small tree." Grantaire drives them out to a patch of little four-footers. Apartment trees, he likes to call them, although he'd never bothered with a tree while he lived in the city.
"Here you go." He hands the saw to Enjolras and takes an exaggerated step backwards.
Enjolras kneels down and starts sawing at the tree trunk. He must have been watching Grantaire pretty closely, because his technique is pretty good. He stops halfway and rolls his shoulders a little bit--it's more taxing than it looks, especially to someone who's never done it before.
When the tree topples over with a small puff of snow, the look of triumph on Enjolras' face is almost comical.
"You're a regular George Washington," Grantaire says. "Come on, let's get your trophy baled up and ready to go."
By the time the get back to the barn, Grantaire's father is up and on his feet. He's still leaning pretty heavily on the cane, but he's barking out orders and the rest of the staff is cheerfully scrambling to obey. He gives Grantaire a sharp look when he sees the two of them.
"Did he press-gang you into helping out?" he asks Enjolras.
"No, sir. I volunteered."
"You must be freezing your ass off. Grantaire, make him a cup of cocoa before you let him go, would you?"
Grantaire nods. "Yes, sir."
"Oh, you don't have to do that," Enjolras says.
"Yes, I do. Boss's orders, you heard him. Come on." Grantaire leads him inside, where Enjolras trades the slightly overlarge boots for his own shoes, and Grantaire heats water for the cocoa.
"What are you doing for Christmas?" Enjolras asks, when they're sitting at the kitchen table with a pair of mugs.
Grantaire smiles. "Working."
"Even on Christmas?"
"Some people get their trees on Christmas Eve, or even Christmas morning. Somebody's got to be here to bale up the trees and take their money. We give everyone else the day off, but Dad and I keep the place running."
"Oh." Enjolras' face falls, just slightly.
"Nothing, it just doesn't seem fair. You spend so much time making other people's Christmases good, and you don't even get your own."
"We still have our own Christmas--we just celebrate it a day or two late. It's not about the day, anyway. Not really."
"I guess not."
"What about you? Do you go to visit family in the Hamptons or wherever?"
Enjolras' face turns pink, and Grantaire knows he hit pretty close. "On Christmas morning, yeah. But on Christmas Eve my friends and I get together at my apartment. I was going to say that you'd be welcome, if you didn't have plans."
Grantaire smiles. "Thanks. That would have been nice."
Enjolras gets up and rinses his empty mug in the sink. "I should get going--Courfeyrac is going to think I got eaten by a bear."
Grantaire has a pretty good idea of what Courfeyrac will think Enjolras has been doing up here, and bears don't enter into it. "Thank you so much for helping out today. You have no idea how much it means to me."
Enjolras just shrugs. "I was glad to do it. Take care."
"Yeah, you too." Grantaire walks him to the door. Enjolras takes half a dozen steps out into the yard, and Grantaire can't help but call him back. "Hey, Enjolras!"
He turns back.
"That hat looks great on you."
- Zel and Gav are in Eponine's custody. They have nothing to do with their parents, and they don't even use the same last name. Basically there is no connction between them and the Thenardiers, which is probably for the best.
- There is no correlation between shoe size and other measurements, and Grantaire is shocked, shocked, that you would even suggest such a thing.
Three weeks to Christmas
Everything starts to pick up after that. Mid-week doesn't even mean much of a break anymore. As soon as Grantaire sends one tree through the baler, there's another one waiting. The online orders have to be filled either before they open or after they close, because there just isn't enough time to do them during regular hours, unless he can steal five minutes in between customers.
So he's actually in the middle of a field on Tuesday morning when Enjolras arrives. He's opted for one of the axes instead of a saw this time, and the first thing Grantaire hears is the voice behind him.
"Where's Papa going with that axe?" Enjolras says, and Grantaire nearly drops the axe on his steel-toed boots.
"For fuck's sake, Enjolras. You cannot just pop out of the shadows quoting children's books at me," he complains.
"I didn't pop out of anywhere. Your dad said you were back here, so I came out to find you. It's not my fault you weren't paying attention."
"I was concentrating."
"Well, don't let me stop you." Enjolras climbs into the passenger seat of the cart to wait, and that's when Grantaire sees the package under his arm.
"What's that? More paperwork?"
"Not exactly. Cut down your tree, and then we'll talk."
"Bossy." Grantaire rolls his eyes and takes a swing at the base of the tree. It feels awkward, with Enjolras watching him, and he really doesn't want to fuck up with an audience.
But the tree falls perfectly into the empty aisle, barely brushing the trees on either side. Grantaire takes hold of the trunk and lays it in the back of the cart, and then he climbs into the cart with Enjolras. "You said you wanted to talk?"
"Has anything changed, with the case?"
"Not much. I filled your father in before I came out to find you. There's been no response to the letter I sent, which is more or less what I expected. Your dad said you hadn't had any more contact from them, so they must have at least read one of the letters I sent, because we informed them that all communication should be held through the law firm, instead of being sent to the farm itself. It goes without saying that you shouldn't open any letters or packages from Thenardier or Patron-Minette."
"If you do get something, you should call the police, and keep the package away from the house. Not that I really expect them to send anything dangerous, but paranoia might serve us well for the time being."
Grantaire nods. He's going to be very, very careful about checking the mail for the next few weeks. Or possibly forever.
"I'm waiting for documentation from a few other sources on Thenardier's past business ventures, which should help us shut them down--or at the very least, we should be able to craft an injunction that will keep them from taking over the farm by any legal means."
Something about the way Enjolras says that, the subtle emphasis on legal, makes Grantaire's shoulders tighten. It's already clear enough that Thenardier's people don't care if anyone gets hurt, and it's only a matter of time before they try something else. "So what's in the package, then, if it's not paperwork? It's not from Thenardier, is it?"
"Oh." Enjolras looks down at the parcel like he's forgotten about it. "Well, this is, um...for you." He holds it out, and Grantaire sees that it's not just a box, it's a wrapped box, a brown paper package tied up with string--Julie Andrews would be proud. "You said that you had to work on Christmas, so I thought that now might be a better time."
Grantaire takes the package when Enjolras holds it out to him, but he shakes his head. "You didn't have to get me anything. You're already doing so much..."
"Just open it--please? You might not even like it," he warns.
Grantaire gives in to curiosity and the anxious look in Enjolras' eyes. He unties the twine and pulls off the paper to reveal a flat wooden box. He glances up at Enjolras, whose expression says nothing. He unfastens the clasps and he raises the lid.
Inside the box are palette knives, brushes, and two dozen tubes of paint. But not just any paint--Old Holland oil paints. Grantaire picks up a tube of cerulean blue. "Oh my god. Enjolras, oh my god, do you have any idea what these are?"
"Not really," he admits. "I had to ask at the shop. Are they okay?"
"Are they okay?" Grantaire's voice goes a little squeaky and he takes a deep breath. "These are like the Lamborghini of oil paints. I have never painted with shit this good in my life."
"So you like them."
"Of course I like them." Grantaire holds tight to the edges of the box. He's afraid that if he lets go, his hands will betray him and pull Enjolras in for a kiss. "But why?"
He lifts one shoulder in a shrug. "Because you shouldn't have had to give up something that made you happy," he says, without smiling.
Grantaire looks at the paints for a long moment, and then back up at Enjolras. "What did you give up, then?"
"When you said that, you sounded so sad, and I don't think it was just for me. So what did you give up?"
Enjolras gives him a rueful smile. "You're good at reading people."
"No, I'm not. You just wear your emotions on your face."
"I do?" Enjolras looks horrified.
"A little, when you don't have your lawyer-face on."
"Your lawyer-face. The professional look you get when you're working. It's not a bad face, don't get me wrong, just sort of closed-off and hard to read. Which is probably good, I guess. But you're trying to distract me, and it's not going to work. What did you have to give up?"
"I...used to play the piano," he says, like it's a confession, like he's hoping to be absolved. "I loved it, and I was pretty good at it, too. But once it became clear that I wasn't, you know, concert-pianist material, my parents stopped seeing it as a priority. When I was fifteen, my mom just kind of offhand said, 'Oh, you don't want to take piano lessons anymore, do you?' And I didn't know how to tell her that I did."
"Well, it wasn't really a productive use of their money--"
"And money was scarce?" Grantaire asks doubtfully.
"Then it was shitty of them," Grantaire says, before he can rein himself in and be diplomatic. "Taking away something you loved just because you weren't going to be a pro? That wasn't fair to you."
"I guess it wasn't. But I got over it."
"It made you happy, though, didn't it?"
Enjolras sighs. "There's this feeling you get, when you play through a passage and it's flawless, you can hear the music and you can hardly believe that you're the one making it, and--I'm sorry, I'm being ridiculous. I can't even describe it. But I miss that feeling. There's nothing like it."
Grantaire nods. "My mom played, too," he offers. "I remember the Christmas carols she used to play around this time of the year."
Enjolras nods, and he must not be bad at reading people either, because he doesn't even ask where is she or did they split up, he just knows. "How long has it been?"
His voice is gentle, so gentle, and Grantaire's eyes start to sting. "She died when I was fourteen."
Enjolras' gloved hand settles lightly on Grantaire's shoulder. "I'm so sorry."
"Yeah." He swallows hard and nods. "Thank you. For the paints, I mean. I can't--I shouldn't accept them, it's really too much..."
"But I'm not taking them back, so you're just going to have to."
"Oh, I wasn't going to give them back," Grantaire says with a hollow laugh. "I'm not that good of a person."
"No. You're a very good person," Enjolras insists, and he's wrong, he's so wrong, because if Grantaire were a good person, he wouldn't be leaning towards Enjolras right now--
His phone rings, a blast of "Jingle Bell Rock" that obliterates any mood that might have been developing. He pulls out his phone and checks the message. "Dad wants to know what the hell is taking me so long. I guess we'd better get back."
"I guess so," Enjolras says. "I need to ask him a few more questions, anyway."
They drive back up to the barn in silence. Enjolras holds the box of paints so that Grantaire can drive. Grantaire is already thinking of the things he wants to paint, in blue and gold and and deep gray for the shadows in his coat...
* * *
Late that evening, Grantaire approaches his father with a question of his own. "I had an idea," he says, "but I wanted to ask your permission first."
He looks up from the spreadsheet on his laptop and pushes his computer glasses up into his hair. "Okay, shoot."
Grantaire takes a deep breath and lays out his plan. His father's eyebrows climb toward his hairline, and then fall again, and the lines around his eyes crinkle into something that might almost be called a smile.
"...Anyway, if you'd rather I didn't, I'll find something else, but I just thought that maybe...maybe it would be a good thing."
His father nods slowly. "It's fine with me. And Lord knows, it would be fine with her, too. But I've got a question for you in return, if you don't mind."
"Are you still gonna sit there and tell me you don't like him?"
Grantaire looks down and rubs at the back of his neck. "No...I don't think I can say that anymore."
After his father goes to bed, Grantaire tidies up the kitchen, and then he wanders into the living room. He managed to get the tree put up late last week, and it looks beautiful with the multicolored lights woven in among the branches. True to his word, his father had put the star on top, a weird 1970s thing that he and Grantaire's mom had gotten the first year they'd been married. The only thing missing is a fire in the hearth.
He walks past the tree and the fireplace to the far corner of the room, and he tugs at the painter's cloth that covers the high wooden cabinet. Dust flies into the air, making his eyes water as he traces one fingertip over the ivory keys. He digs out his phone and sends Cosette a text message.
Hey, C. Do you still know that girl who does piano tuning?
* * *
Her name is Musichetta, and her price doubles when you point out the pun in her name. She knocks on the door at seven o'clock Friday morning, because that was the only free time on her schedule. Apparently, everyone wants to get their pianos tuned before Christmas.
"Hi," Grantaire says. "Come on, it's in the living room."
She hefts the box of tools and steps inside.
"Can I get you a cup of coffee or anything?" Grantaire asks her while she's unwinding a thick purple scarf.
"Nope, just point me in the direction of the beast and I'll be fine," she replies.
"Okay." Grantaire leads her into the living room, never more aware of the piano's shabby appearance than he is at this moment. "Sorry, it's not exactly pretty, but..."
"I've seen worse. The main thing is the inside," she says. She carefully removes the panel and lays it aside. Grantaire watches her lips curl in distaste. "How long has it been since you tuned this thing?"
"About thirteen years." He's lived almost as long without his mother as with her; it's a strange thought.
"Fuck my life, no wonder it's such a mess."
Grantaire's heart sinks. "Can you fix it?" If it's too far gone, he'll have to come up with something else to get Enjolras...
She hums a noncommittal answer with him and pokes at a couple of keys, watching the hammers tap the strings. "The action looks good, but you've got a couple of loose pins, and I'm going to have to tune it twice to get the pitch where it's supposed to be."
"So it's going to be expensive."
She looks up and flashes him a bright grin. "You catch on quick."
Grantaire retreats to a corner of the room and lurks there while she works, aware that he's annoying the hell out of her, but he's not quite willing to let her--or the piano--out of his sight. If she's Cosette's friend, then she's probably on the level, but he's not going to let a stranger have free run of his father's house, no matter how nice she seems.
She's been working for more than an hour, and is looking mildly more pleased, when Bossuet pokes his head through the doorway. "Hey, your dad wants to know if you're going to be able to fill the Hoffman order by--ah, fuck." His boot catches on the rug, and his jacket snags the doorjamb when he tries to regain his balance.
He falls directly at Musichetta's feet. "Um, hi," he says.
"Hi yourself." She reaches down and pulls him to his feet in a smooth, easy motion. "Are you always that graceful?"
"More or less," he says ruefully. "Thanks for the assist."
Bossuet turns back to Grantaire. "Your dad wants to know if the order will be ready by noon."
The order is three trees and thirty poinsettias, and it's not even ten. "Tell him yes. We're almost done here--I think?" he hazards, glancing at Musichetta.
She plays a bright major chord, perfectly in tune. "Yep, I'd say we're in business. You can varnish the cabinet if you want, to brighten it up a little, but you're now in possession of a functioning upright piano. I'll email you the invoice, okay?"
Grantaire nods. He's got enough put away from his job that he an afford it; money stretches pretty far when you're not paying New York City rent prices every month. At any rate, it probably won't come to a quarter of what Enjolras must have paid for the oil paints.
"As for you," Musichetta says, looking over at Bossuet. "You can give me a call." She hands him a card and walks out the door, tool-box in hand.
Bossuet watches her go, and then he grins and tucks the card into his back pocket.
Grantaire clears his throat. "Far be it from me to intrude, but don't you have a boyfriend?"
"Oh, I do," Bossuet says smugly. "But he's very into sharing."
- "Where's Papa going with that axe?" is the first line of Charlotte's Web.
- Enjolras is developing some severe lumberjack fantasies at this point.
- Old Holland oil paints are ridiculously expensive. A 40ml tube of cerulean blue can run $80 or more. Enjolras could have easily spent $500-$1000 on the set, which he probably did because he has no grasp of appropriate price ranges for gifts. One day we may even see the scene in which Enjolras picks out the paints.
- The weird 1970s tree-topper looks something like this and is in no way based upon the star that still sits on my parents' tree every year.
- It's not dust that makes Grantaire's eyes water, but that's the story he's going to stick to.
Two weeks to Christmas
Grantaire cannot wait for Enjolras to arrive on Tuesday. He's up before his alarm again, puttering around the kitchen and half-cleaning things before he gets distracted and moves on to something else. This is the last time he'll see Enjolras before Christmas, and he knows he's a hopeless case, but he wants it to be a good visit.
A quick visit, because the weather's supposed to take a turn for the worse this evening, but a good visit nonetheless.
Enjolras knocks on the farmhouse door just after noon. Grantaire flings the door open with a little more force than necessary, and he silently rues the last two cups of coffee he drank. "Hey! Come on inside," he says.
Enjolras carefully knocks the snow off his boots--actual boots this time, though they're more the dress kind than the work kind--and unties a bright red scarf from around his neck.
"That looks nice," Grantaire says, because he is entirely without a sense of self-preservation. "New?"
"Mm-hm," Enjolras replies. "Someone mentioned that I could use a little more color in my wardrobe."
Oh, god. Enjolras is taking fashion advice from him? Enjolras went out and bought a scarf because Grantaire teased him a little? "Red's a good color on you," he says. Apparently he's determined to die of embarrassment before he even gets Enjolras out of the front hall.
"Well, if it comes from the resident artist, then it must be true." Enjolras hang his coat and scarf on a hook by the door, and Grantaire adds a slash of crimson to the painting in his mind's eye.
Grantaire shifts his weight awkwardly and clears his throat. "Um, about the paints you got me."
Enjolras frowns. "Were they not the right kind after all? I asked the woman at the shop, and she said that those were the best ones, but I didn't know if you painted in oils or acrylics or watercolors, so I just guessed--"
"You guessed fine," Grantaire says. "I mean, you got taken for all you're worth, but you guessed fine. I would have been delighted with something at a tenth of the cost. But what I was going to say is that it's totally rude not to get someone a Christmas present when they've gotten you one, so, um...I did."
"Grantaire, you didn't have to do that."
"Too bad. Come on." He takes Enjolras by the wrist and leads him into the living room. The upright piano is glistening under its new coat of varnish, free of the dust-cloth that has covered it since Grantaire's mother died.
There's a hilariously tiny red bow sitting on top of it.
Enjolras frowns at him curiously, and Grantaire has to smile. He marches Enjolras over to the piano and stands him in front of it. "Merry Christmas," he says.
Enjolras goes pale. "Oh." He turns around, and suddenly he's standing very, very close to Grantaire. "But this was your mother's, wasn't it? You can't just--"
"She'd want you to have it," he says firmly. "It deserves to be played, and it hadn't been touched in ages. I thought the piano tuner was actually going to kill me."
"You had it tuned for me?"
"No, I was just going to give you a dusty piano that's thirteen years out of tune," he shoots back. "Cosette's dad owns a moving company. I talked to him already--he says he'll ship it down to you, in exchange for a nice tree. I mean, we already gave him one, but I think he wants to sneak this one into his partner's yard and decorate it in the middle of the night. I don't ask questions. The point is--it's yours, shipping and all."
"Grantaire...I don't know what to say."
"Don't say anything, then. I've got to go get Dad for our meeting, and that'll probably take a little while, so you can, uh--you can play a little, if you want. Nobody will be here to listen, so you don't have to be self-conscious."
True to his word, Grantaire leaves the house without hanging around to listen. When he comes back in with his father in tow, there's no music from the house, but Enjolras is sitting in the kitchen beaming, and Grantaire would do absolutely anything to make him keep doing that.
They all sit down, and Enjolras' smile vanishes under the lawyer-mask, but sometimes Grantaire can still see the expression tugging just a little at the corners of his mouth.
"I think the best course would be to file a temporary injunction after New Year's," Enjolras says. "That should keep the company from making any attempt to contact you or trespass on your property while we decide the best case to present against them. Courfeyrac has a friend who works with the parks office, and he got a sample of water from a creek that runs through Thenardier's property. We're waiting on the official report, but Jehan's preliminary response was 'yuck,' so I imagine it's going to go well for us. Considering that their property is at a higher elevation than yours, contaminated run-off could present significant danger to your livelihood."
They talk for almost an hour, and Enjolras gives them copies of the papers he's drawing up. It's pretty much Greek to Grantaire, but he does his best to follow along anyway. He's got kind of a headache by the time they wrap up. He collects their coffee mugs and goes to rinse them out in the sink, but he pulls up short at the view outside the kitchen window.
"What?" Enjolras comes to stand at the window beside him.
Snow is falling thickly on the back lawn, all but obscuring the barn fifty yards away. The evening's storm has moved in faster than expected.
"Shit," Grantaire's father says. "We'll have to shut down early. You go tell Bossuet and Cosette, and I'll make sure the kids get home all right."
"What about Zel and Gav?" Their sister's house is even farther out in the country than the farm, and the roads are probably already covered.
"Might need to break out the snowmobile," he says, and Grantaire grins.
"They'd love that."
Enjolras collects his papers and tucks them into his briefcase. "I should get going," he says, and Grantaire and his father both balk.
"No way," Grantaire says.
"But--" Enjolras begins.
Grantaire shakes his head. "You cannot go out there tonight. Do you see what it looks like out there? That's a white-out. You won't be able to see ten feet in front of your bumper."
"I have work to do tonight."
"Just do it here. We have wi-fi, and I know you've got your tablet with you. There's absolutely no reason to risk your life just to get some work done." He steps closer to Enjolras and lowers his voice. "Besides, if we're right about what happened in February, Thenardier would like nothing better than for you to slide off the road and freeze to death in a ditch. You'd be doing his work for him."
"All right, all right." Enjolras surrenders. "Is there a hotel in town where I can stay?"
"Every hotel along the highway is going to be packed. Nobody's going anywhere tonight. You can just stay here."
Enjolras glances between Grantaire and his father. "I don't want to put you out..."
"You won't," Grantaire's father says, pulling on his coat. "I'm going to go get the kids home. You okay here?"
"Yeah, we'll be fine."
His dad heads out into the snow, leaving Enjolras and Grantaire inside.
"Are you sure it won't be a problem?" Enjolras asks, already three-quarters of the way convinced.
"Not at all. I'll sleep on the sofa downstairs, and you can take my room. The bed's small, but it's comfortable."
Enjolras nods. "Fine. But I'm sleeping on the sofa, not you."
"You want to bet?" Grantaire mutters.
Enjolras pulls his phone out of his pocket. "I'll call Courf and Bahorel and let them know I'll be staying the night up here. The roads should be clear by tomorrow, don't you think?"
"It depends on when the snow stops. We got stuck out here for almost a week once, when I was in high school."
"A week?" Enjolras looks horrified, and Grantaire tries not to take offense.
"Don't worry, you won't be stuck with us for that long."
"I didn't mean it like that. I just--I'd hate to impose on you."
"You're not imposing. You've got the wi-fi password, right? So you can go ahead and get some work done while Dad and I close down."
"Are you sure you don't need me to help?"
"I'm sure. You do your thing, we'll do ours." Grantaire flashes him a smile while he pulls on his coat, and then he heads out to put up the 'Closed' sign on the gate. There's already six inches of snow on the ground, and the snow is still falling thick and fast, in huge clumps of snowflakes that melt in his hair and drip down the back of his neck. He makes sure that Bossuet and Cosette get out of the parking lot okay, and then he goes back to the house.
Enjolras is bent over his tablet when Grantaire gets back inside. He can only imagine how knotted up his neck is going to be by the end of the evening, and he wonders how offended Enjolras would be if Grantaire volunteered to help him work the kinks out. Probably very.
"I was thinking spaghetti for dinner," he says instead. "Do you do meat?"
"Hm? Yeah, meat's fine."
"Okay. Spaghetti and meatballs, then." He could have left out the meatballs and made it vegan, if Enjolras preferred, but he's really proud of his meatballs. It's the one meal that he can reliably show off.
"Can I help?" Enjolras asks, peering into the kitchen doorway.
"Nope," Grantaire says, brandishing a wooden spoon in a vaguely threatening manner. "I've got this. Go do something lawyer-y."
Enjolras rolls his eyes and ducks back out of the kitchen.
By the time Grantaire's father gets back from delivering Zel and Gav to their sister's place, the table is set, and dinner is ready. It's nothing fancy, really, and he'd give a lot for a good bottle of wine to go with it, but it's a decent meal, and he knows it.
Enjolras shyly asks for seconds, and Grantaire has never been more proud of himself.
After dinner, Grantaire's father builds a fire in the fireplace. It's the perfect complement to the swirling snow outside. He sits in an armchair with the newspaper, leaving the couch for Enjolras and Grantaire to share--subtle as a sledgehammer. He blithely ignores the glare Grantaire sends his way.
They could have put on the TV, he supposes, but it's fine to just sit here. Enjolras marks up some document in blood-red ink, and Grantaire pretends to job-search and absolutely does not spend most of the time looking over at Enjolras.
Night falls quickly, and Grantaire's father makes an early night of it. "I'll have to plow out the driveway first thing tomorrow," he says. "Enjolras, if there's anything you need, take it. Don't hesitate. Grantaire, you'll get him settled in, won't you?"
"Of course. Good night, Dad."
There's a brief, awkward sort of silence once Grantaire's father goes upstairs. Enjolras is the one who breaks it, with a faint smile.
"Your dad calls you Grantaire?"
"Yeah. I've never much liked my first name."
Enjolras is dying to ask him, he can see the curiosity in his eyes, but he holds his tongue. Probably because Grantaire would immediately turn the question on him. He introduced himself as Enjolras that first day, last name only, so he must not be accustomed to using his given name, either. It's a stalemate, but they're still sitting on the couch, alone, and it's entirely too much for Grantaire to handle. He stands up.
"I'm just going to go upstairs and put some fresh sheets on the bed. I'll be back in a minute, okay?"
He runs upstairs and buries his head in the linen closet, trying not to think about spending the night under the same roof as Enjolras. He finds a matching set of sheets and puts them on the bed. Then he realizes that Enjolras probably doesn't want to sleep in a button-down, so he digs through the clean clothes in his dresser to find an old t-shirt and a pair of flannel pants that will probably--probably--not fall off Enjolras' hips. He leaves those on the neatly made bed and goes downstairs.
"I left some things for you to sleep in upstairs, if you want. They're not going to fit right, I'm afraid, but it's better than sleeping in your clothes."
"Thanks," Enjolras says. "I really appreciate you and your dad letting me stay here like this."
"As opposed to what, turning you out into a blizzard?"
"You could just say 'you're welcome,' instead of starting an argument."
"Yeah, but what's the fun in that?" Grantaire asks, grinning. "Listen, I was going to have some egg-nog. Do you want some?"
"Sure," Enjolras says. "I think I might go upstairs and change, first."
Grantaire nods. "Let me know if they don't fit, or something. I'm sure I can find you something else."
Grantaire pours them each a generous glass of egg-nog. He hopes that Enjolras isn't offended by the clothes or anything. Maybe he's used to sleeping in silk pajamas on satin sheets--though now that Grantaire thinks about it, that would be really slippery and not at all conducive to any activities requiring leverage.
He comes back out into the living room just as Enjolras comes down the stairs. He's taken the tie out of his hair, so it's loose over his shoulders. The flannel pants hang low on his hips, but they still hit above the bone in Enjolras' ankle. The t-shirt Grantaire found for him is old and soft, with a faded Lions Lacrosse logo on it. Grantaire hands him a glass, and Enjolras tugs at the hem of the shirt a little.
"Did you play?"
"In high school, yeah," Grantaire says. "You think my nose was always this shape?"
Enjolras blinks. "There's nothing wrong with your nose."
"You don't have to be polite about it."
"All right, so maybe it's not perfectly straight, but it suits you."
Grantaire's face heats up. "Oh?"
"Anyway, I didn't know lacrosse was that dangerous."
"It's not--if you're good at it."
"Ah." He tips the glass of egg-nog in Grantaire's direction. "Thanks."
"It's a little heavy on the nog, so watch out."
"What does that even mean?" Enjolras takes a sip, and his eyes go wide. "Oh."
"Told you." Grantaire takes a long drink, and then he folds himself onto one end of the sofa again. It's smallish, for a sofa--larger than a loveseat, but not by much. He's careful to keep from infringing on Enjolras' cushion space.
"Why don't you let me sleep on the sofa?" Enjolras asks.
"What? No. The vengeful spirit of Emily Post would rise up and slaughter me in my sleep."
"But you said that you used to have trouble sleeping. You shouldn't mess up your routine by trying to sleep somewhere else."
"It's not the bed that's the difference. It's...not being in the city anymore. Not working at that job. I'll sleep just fine down here. I insist."
"If you're sure," Enjolras says doubtfully.
Enjolras nods and curls up on the sofa like a contented cat. They sit in quiet for a few minutes. Enjolras looks at the fire; Grantaire mostly looks at him.
"This is nice," Enjolras says, and he's right. The crackling fire, the tree, the snowstorm still raging outside.
Grantaire sets his glass on an end table. "Hey, come here." He crawls beneath the tree and lies down on the floor, looking up at the tree from underneath. He cranes his neck and sees Enjolras looking at him with confusion and concern.
"How much egg-nog have you had?"
"As much as you. Come on, trust me." He pats the rug next to him. Enjolras still looks perplexed, but he ducks under the tree anyway to lie down next to Grantaire.
"Now just look," Grantaire says, his voice dropping to a whisper. This is his favorite view of the Christmas tree. Looking up from beneath, he can see the lights woven in among the branches like constellations. Everything is jewel-toned and pine-scented, dancing in the light and shadow from the fireplace.
Enjolras' hand is down at his side, his knuckles just barely brushing the back of Grantaire's hand, and it would be so easy to turn his hand over, to twine his fingers with Enjolras' just to see what would happen next...
"It's beautiful," Enjolras says, and his voice is hushed, too. They lie there like that for a long time, scarcely touching. Grantaire's eyes start to feel heavy, and his back is starting to stiffen up, but he'd lie here until the world ended if he had the chance. The fire slowly burns down to embers and ash.
Enjolras yawns and shifts, his shoulder brushing Grantaire's with the movement. "We should go to sleep."
"Right," Grantaire replies.
Neither one of them move.
After a moment, Enjolras laughs and starts to sit up. He's nearly upright when he lets out a sudden and undignified noise that might almost pass for a squeak. Grantaire scrambles out from beneath the tree to see what's going on.
Enjolras' hair is tangled in the lowest branches of the Christmas tree.
"Oh, no! Hold still," Grantaire says. He kneels next to Enjolras and carefully frees the curls from where they're snagged in the needles. Enjolras waits patiently until Grantaire has disentangled him, even though the position can't be comfortable for him. Grantaire unwinds the last few strands and then, suddenly brave, tucks them behind Enjolras' ear. "There."
Enjolras turns to look at him. "Thank you."
Grantaire's traitorous hand is still hovering near the nape of Enjolras' neck, so it's easy to slide his fingers into Enjolras' hair and pull him gently into a kiss. Enjolras' lips part. He leans forward, leans into the kiss, and it's everything Grantaire wanted it to be and more.
The sofa-bed is not sturdy enough to support them both, and even if it was, he's not going to waste the time pulling it out and making it up. The twin in Grantaire's room is awfully small, not to mention creaky. He's not looking to give either one of them a case of rugburn, so staying here on the carpet is out of the question, but that's really all right, because just kissing Enjolras is more than enough right now.
Enjolras' hand settles on Grantaire's chest, and okay, maybe the rug isn't the worst idea in the world--
Enjolras pushes him back. Grantaire opens his eyes and blinks at the serious expression on Enjolras' face. "What's wrong?"
"Grantaire, this isn't ethical," he says gently. "I'm involved in a legal case on your family's behalf, I can't--we can't..."
Horror coils in Grantaire's stomach. He pushes himself to his feet, wavering with the sudden head rush. "Sorry. I shouldn't have--I'm so sorry." He can't look Enjolras in the eye. He can barely force out the words. "Help yourself to whatever you need, okay?" he says. Without listening to Enjolras' reply--without even hanging around to see if there is a reply--he slips into the downstairs bathroom and locks the door behind him. He sits down against the door so that he doesn't have to look at himself in the mirror.
He waits until he hears the tell-tale creak of the top stair, and then he waits another minute, just to be sure that Enjolras is gone. Then he comes out and makes up the sofa-bed, rakes the coals in the fireplace to make sure they're going out--anything to keep moving, to keep from thinking.
He drops down onto the sofa bed without changing out of his sweater and jeans. With the fire almost out, the room is chilly and dark. It doesn't seem possible that it was warm fifteen minutes ago, that he was lying under the tree with Enjolras, and everything was all right in the world.
He can't sleep. His mind jumps to the bottle of Ambien. He hasn't taken one in a while, and he hasn't refilled the prescription, but he knows that there are two last, lonely tablets in the bottom of the bottle. If he takes one, then at least he could stop staring up at the ceiling and hating himself for having fucked everything up. He could take both of them, even, which would knock him out for twelve hours or so. That would more or less guarantee that he'll sleep through Enjolras' departure in the morning. He'd like that. Hell, Enjolras would probably like that, too.
But the bottle of Ambien is upstairs, sitting on the edge of his nightstand. He'd have to knock on the door and get it from Enjolras, and that's more than he's capable of. Enjolras would immediately get the wrong idea, and the thought of having to explain everything to him, of looking him in the eye and speaking coherent words, is so exhausting that, entirely unexpectedly, he falls asleep.
* * *
Grantaire half-wakes to the sound of shattering glass. A bottle out on the street below, maybe, or a fender-bender. Not even worth waking up for...
Except he's not in the city anymore. Grantaire tries to place the sound. Maybe an ornament falling off the tree--but how would he have heard that over the crackling roar of the fire?
The fire, which had been nothing but embers when he'd fallen asleep. Grantaire surges up out of bed to find the hearth-rug in flames.
"Shit. Shit!" He flings the blanket aside and grabs the fire-extinguisher from the cabinet in the corner. The needles on one side of the Christmas tree are dangerously close to the flames; if it goes up, it'll set half the room on fire.
He yanks the pin out of the extinguisher and sprays the side of the tree, just in case. He draws in a breath to shout and inhales enough smoke to double him over with a coughing fit. He tries again.
"Dad! Enjolras! There's a fire! Enjolras!"
He shifts his grip on the fire extinguisher and keeps spraying.
He can't spare a glance for Enjolras, but it sounds like he's standing at the head of the stairs. "Help Dad down the stairs and get out of here," he says.
Enjolras doesn't need to be told twice. Grantaire works his way inwards from the edges of the fire, to keep it from spreading further. Most of the rug is covered in thick foam, and the fire is almost contained by the time Enjolras comes down the stairs with Grantaire's father.
"Come on," Enjolras says. "Grantaire, come on."
He shakes his head. "I'll be right behind you. I think I've got it."
"And what if you don't?"
Enjolras swears, but he goes. Grantaire's father has an arm slung over Enjolras' shoulder, and his cane is nowhere in sight.
It will be okay. Enjolras will call the fire department, and they'll come in to make sure the fire's really out. Now it's mostly just smoke and foam, aside from one little spot near the hearth...
Something sparkles in the back of the fireplace just before Grantaire drowns it in foam. A piece of red glass, maybe? He doesn't have time to consider it any further. He sets the fire extinguisher down--it's empty now, anyway--and surveys the damage. The fire's out, but the room is hazy with smoke, and he's going to leave the rest of this to the professionals.
He grabs a pair of boots from the mudroom and reaches for the kitchen door, but before he can grab the handle it's flung open, and he collides with Enjolras at approximately half the speed of sound. The impact knocks the wind out of him, and they both fall backwards into an enormous snowdrift.
Grantaire pushes himself upright, wincing at the way the cold bites into his exposed skin. He shakes the snow out of his hair until Enjolras catches him by the shoulders, holding him still.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, I--" Grantaire breaks off to cough, and Enjolras panics.
"Can you breathe?"
"Yes, I can breathe, I said I'm fine." He presses his lips closed around another cough. In a different world, one where this evening's disastrous kiss hadn't happened, he might have made a joke about CPR. "Where's Dad?"
"He's out in the parking lot, waiting for the fire department. Here." Enjolras helps Grantaire up out of the snowdrift. Grantaire retrieves his boots from the snowdrift and tugs them on, hopping awkwardly on one foot each time rather than risk leaning on Enjolras for support. Enjolras has his dress shoes on, and his dad is probably wearing house slippers. He'd like to go back inside and get their coats, but right now the prospect of freezing to death doesn't even make the top five on the list of his concerns.
"What were you thinking?" Enjolras demands. "You could have gotten hurt."
Grantaire flashes him a smile. "Well, I couldn't let your piano burn, could I?"
A fire engine rolls down the drive with lights flashing, followed by an ambulance and two police cars--fifty percent of the entire police force of Green Bend. Grantaire and Enjolras step out of the way while the firefighters rush inside.
"Come on," Enjolras says, and Grantaire thinks they're headed towards the parking lot, where his dad is waiting, but then Enjolras veers to the left, towards the ambulance.
Grantaire pulls back. "No, I don't need the ambulance. I said I'm fine."
"And when the EMTs tell me the same thing, I'll believe you."
Grantaire sighs, but he can tell there's no point in arguing. He's relieved when it's Joly who steps out of the driver's seat, wearing an unlikely purple scarf over his uniform. It's good to see a friendly face, at least, and Bossuet's boyfriend is probably the most capable medic for fifty miles.
"Grantaire!" he says, rushing forward. "Is everyone out of the house?"
"Yeah," he says. "We're all accounted for."
Enjolras nudges him forward. "He put out the fire and now he's coughing," he says shortly. "Make sure he's okay."
Joly nods and pulls open the back door of the ambulance. "Climb in."
Grantaire mutinously sits on the back bumper instead, and Joly ignores the small act of rebellion. Enjolras walks away, apparently content to give Grantaire at least this much dignity, and Grantaire seizes the opportunity.
"I'm okay, really," he says. "My throat's just a little dry."
"Uh-huh, sure." Joly hands him an oxygen mask.
"Standard procedure. Put it on."
Grantaire makes a face but puts the mask on anyway. Joly tosses a blanket over his shoulders, which is probably for shock, but it feels good. He produces the world's coldest stethoscope from a drawer and instructs Grantaire to take several deep breaths. Then he lets Grantaire take off the oxygen mask, only to spend what feels like half an hour peering down his throat with a pen-light and a tongue depressor.
"Okay," Joly says at last, switching off the light. "You should be all right. Your throat will probably be sore for a couple of days. Drink some tea. In fact, drink lots of tea. Also, your body just went through some major fight-or-flight stress, so you'll probably have some muscle aches over the next day or two. If you're still coughing tomorrow night, or if things start to get worse, go straight to the hospital, okay? Nothing ruins Christmas like a surprise case of pneumonia."
"Yes, Dr. Joly," Grantaire says obediently.
"Stop that. I've still got like two years to go before I earn that title."
"Yeah, yeah. Tell Bossuet I said hi--but, uh, maybe wait until morning." He has no idea what time it is, but he's pretty sure that it qualifies as late.
"I'll let him know in the morning. I'll probably wake them up just by coming home, anyway."
"Yeah." Joly tugs a little on his very purple, very familiar scarf. "Did Bossuet thank you for introducing him to Musichetta?"
"I didn't introduce him. He literally fell at her feet."
"Felix culpa," Joly says solemnly. "We really like her."
"I'm glad. Now can you please tell Enjolras I'm all right, before he freaks out and insists that you take me to the hospital?"
Joly chuckles. "He's just worried about you. It's sweet."
Grantaire is ninety-nine percent sure that Joly has the wrong idea about Enjolras and his reasons for being in Grantaire's house at awful o'clock, but he doesn't have the energy to correct him right now. They walk across the lawn to where Enjolras is standing with Grantaire's father.
"Told you," Grantaire says, a little sharply.
Enjolras just looks expectantly at Joly.
"He's fine. There's a little irritation from the smoke, but no damage. I'm prescribing tea with lots of honey."
Enjolras nods, and Grantaire's father steps up to give Joly a hug. "Thank you," he says.
"No problem. Take care," Joly says with a little wave. He goes back to the ambulance to wait for the all-clear from the fire department.
"You okay, Dad?" Grantaire offers him the blanket, which he refuses.
"I'm fine, thanks to the two of you. Don't know how I would have gotten out, otherwise."
"Dad--" Grantaire breaks off when the police chief steps out of the house and comes over to them. Jennifer LaMarque is about ten years younger than Grantaire's father, and Grantaire has had the dubious honor of occupying the backseat of her cruiser twice.
"How are you holding up, Phil?" she asks.
"I've had better nights' sleep," Grantaire's father admits. "How does it look in there, Jenny?"
"Not nearly as bad as it could have been. You got to the fire fast enough."
"Hell, I don't do anything 'fast' anymore," he says, tapping on his hip for emphasis. "The kid's the one who put the fire out."
"You did well," she says, turning to Grantaire. "Were you awake when the fire started?"
"No. I heard something breaking, and when I opened my eyes the rug was on fire."
"Lucky you woke up in time." She looks at Enjolras. "Were you in the house when the fire started?"
He nods. "I'm a lawyer working with Mr. Grantaire. The weather kept me from making it home last night, so they were gracious enough to let me stay here."
Grantaire's father clears his throat. "In other words, he's welcome to hear anything you have to say to us."
"All right then." Her expression turns grim. "What I want to know first, is why the hell there weren't any batteries in your goddamn smoke detectors."
"No batteries at all?" Grantaire asks.
His father shakes his head. "Not possible. I replaced the batteries back in October, when we had that dry spell. Tested them, too--I think my ears are still ringing."
Chief LaMarque exchanges a sidelong glance with Enjolras, to quickly for Grantaire to interpret it. "Well, we're still investigating, so you might not be able to go back inside right away."
"That's all right. There's heat in the nursery--we'll wait there for you."
The nursery stays warm all night, to keep the poinsettias and the live trees safe, so it's just a matter of turning on the lights and pulling up a few crates to serve as makeshift seats. Enjolras doesn't take one, though; he just folds his arms and shifts his weight awkwardly, looking faintly ridiculous in borrowed pajama pants and leather dress boots.
"Grantaire, can I talk to you for a second?"
"Sure." Grantaire desperately hopes this is about the fire, and not about what happened earlier in the evening. But Enjolras walks off to one side, clearly angling to get them a little bit of privacy, and Grantaire steels himself for a rough conversation.
Enjolras doesn't stop until they're halfway through the nursery, screened from Grantaire's dad by a low wall. Even then, he doesn't say anything right away.
"What's up?" Grantaire asks him. Better to get it over with.
"I, um...I wanted to know if you'd noticed anything unusual with your father."
Enjolras looks uncomfortable. "Has he been--forgetting things? Little things, maybe, like the date, or turning out lights?"
Grantaire goes cold in a way that has nothing to do with the weather outside. "You think he forgot to put the batteries in the smoke detectors."
"No, I don't think that, or I don't want to, anyway. But he's almost seventy, right? Things happen. Even the fall could be related..."
"He slipped on some ice and broke his hip. There's nothing wrong with his memory," Grantaire says flatly.
"There isn't, okay? I'm here all the time, every day. If he was forgetting things, I'd know. I know you think I'm in denial or something, but if he was that bad, I wouldn't be able to explain it away."
"Look, I know it's a frightening thought--"
"Don't you dare patronize me, you asshole."
"I'm not patronizing you. I'm trying to help you."
Grantaire's hands tighten into fists. "So, what, Thenardier's off the hook now? Case closed, my dad's just going senile. Hell, why not go all the way? Maybe I set the fire myself, to get the insurance money."
"No, that wouldn't make sense," Enjolras says.
"But you thought about it, didn't you? Just now--you thought about it."
His expression sharpens. "Of course I thought about it. That's my job, Grantaire, to look at a situation from every possible angle. It's how we build cases and defenses, how we determine the best way to cross-examine a witness. I'm sorry if that hurts your feelings, but I can't afford to let my judgment be clouded by emotions."
He's not even talking about the fire anymore. Grantaire opens his mouth, but before he can say anything, Chief LaMarque steps inside the greenhouse. "Phil?"
Grantaire comes around the corner to listen in. He's vaguely aware of Enjolras following him.
If anything, LaMarque looks even more serious than before. "Has anyone in your employ been up on the roof lately?"
Grantaire's father shakes his head. "I can't manage a ladder anymore, and I haven't sent anyone up there since the last time we had the gutters cleaned. Why?"
She takes a deep breath. "There were footprints in the snow, leading from the edge of the roof to the chimney and back again."
"Footprints," Grantaire echoes dumbly.
"There's more, I'm afraid," she says. "The burn pattern on the floor shows a clear splash pattern emanating outward from the fireplace, consistent with a liquid accelerant. We also found shards of thin, colored glass melted to the hearth."
"A Christmas ornament," Grantaire says, thinking of the red glass he'd seen, just before he put the fire out. A thin glass globe, filled with lighter fluid and then dropped down the chimney, would function just like--
Enjolras hisses out a breath. "A Molotov cocktail."
"Festive," Grantaire's father murmurs with wry humor.
LaMarque nods. "We're going to be investigating the fire as a potential arson case. Now, there does seem to be some sign of tampering around the chimney cap, so that might give us a few leads. You'll be able to go back in once we've cleared the scene--it's habitable, though the living room's not exactly pretty. For now, if there's anything you need from the house, one of the officers can escort you inside."
"I could use my cane," Grantaire's father says. "And I'm sure the boys would like a change of clothes."
"Come with me, then." They leave, and then Enjolras and Grantaire are alone again. Grantaire doesn't say a word; he just pulls the watering can off its shelf and fills it, and then he starts watering the long rows of poinsettias.
Enjolras puts up with the silence for almost four whole minutes.
"Are you mad at me?" he asks, like he's offended. Like he can't possibly fathom why Grantaire would be upset.
Grantaire turns around and gives him a flat look. "Mad at you? I'm sorry, someone just tried to burn my dad's house down, so I'm afraid I don't have a lot of emotions to spare for you at the moment." Grantaire goes back to refill the watering can, and when he picks up where he left off, Enjolras is gone.
Grantaire is relieved by that, and definitely not at all disappointed. He keeps his head down and waters the plants methodically. It doesn't matter what kind of chaos is going on outside the nursery--the flowers still need water. It's sort of comforting, when you think about it.
The nursery door swings open, and Enjolras marches inside, looking astonishingly dignified for someone still wearing borrowed pajamas. He shoves something at Grantaire, and Grantaire almost drops the watering can as he takes it.
It's a thermos from the kitchen.
"Drink that," Enjolras snaps, and then he walks away.
Grantaire unscrews the lid to find that the thermos is full of hot tea with a truly ridiculous amount of honey. Grantaire imagines Enjolras taking out all his frustrations on the little bear-shaped squeeze bottle, and he has to bite his lip to hold in a half-hysterical giggle.
Enjolras doesn't come back. Grantaire's father returns to the nursery a few minutes later with Grantaire's coat, phone, and tablet--the bare minimum of supplies he needs to get through the rest of the day.
His father clears his throat. "Enjolras left."
"You two okay?"
"We're fine," Grantaire says shortly.
"Didn't seem that way."
"Are we going to open today, or what?" Grantaire asks, closing the subject.
His father shrugs. "Way I see it, they didn't set fire to the farm," he says, and that's that.
* * *
The day after the fire is the busiest of the entire season. It seems like everyone in the county has heard about the fire, and they've all come out to check on Grantaire's father--and to buy a tree or two in the process. Cosette's father stops by with a casserole. The Ranganathans from across town come out and buy three wreaths, and Grantaire knows they don't even celebrate Christmas.
To an outsider, it might seem like charity, but Grantaire knows better. This is just what you do for a neighbor.
It keeps him busy enough not to think about Enjolras, which is a relief. They're allowed back inside the house that evening, and every second that isn't spent cutting down trees is spent going over the damage in the living room.
The other damage is less quantifiable. He knows that it was the kiss that fucked everything up, that broke through the thin ice they'd been skating on for the last few weeks. They probably would have snapped at each other after the fire anyway--Grantaire is not at his best when he's under stress, and it doesn't seem like Enjolras is, either--but maybe it wouldn't have been quite so vicious.
To put himself to sleep, he starts cataloging all of the things that need to be done to fix the fire damage. The floor, first of all--they won't be able to mess with that until summer, so maybe he can just go out and get a rug instead, for now. He'll see if any of the ornaments from the tree are worth salvaging, and if they're not then he'll buy some new ones after Christmas, for next year. The chimney obviously needs an overhaul, but they can get by without it until spring...
It doesn't occur to him until he's halfway asleep that he's been thinking about the farm like he's going to stay.
- Cosette's father, the ex-mayor of Green Bend, owns a moving company. Javert is his only full-time employee, even though he's practically a co-owner at this point. Valjean has a tradition of guerilla-decorating Javert's house for Christmas, much to Javert's (mock?) outrage. At this point everyone has given up trying to figure out whether or not they're flirting. (They both answer when Cosette says "Papa," so even that doesn't help.)
- Jehan works for the parks department. Everyone thinks he's some kind of woodland sprite until they see him frighten off a bear on a hike with a group of Cub Scouts.
- Felix culpa is Latin for "the fortunate fall." It's related to Christian theology, but Joly means it literally because he is a dork.
- Grantaire's first ride in a police car came at fifteen for vandalism (graffiti on the side of a park sculpture). The second was the next year, when he got extremely drunk at a party and was too embarrassed to call his dad, so he called the police department and asked for a ride, like a dumbass. She dropped him off at his door and Grantaire is still pretty sure that his dad doesn't know about it. (He is wrong about this.)
- The amount of research I did on arson and liquid accelerants has probably landed me on half a dozen different watch lists, so I hope you are happy.
Grantaire hasn't heard from Enjolras in two weeks. All of their communications have been through the farm's email address, and Grantaire doubts he's the one writing those anymore. They're as professional as ever, but the writing style has completely changed.
He's probably made Marius do it.
He's not upset about it. He doesn't have time for that. If he's not helping customers cut down their trees, then he's baling the trees, or taking the online orders, or tallying up the totals from the day before. If he does think about Enjolras, in the moments before falling asleep, it's only to remember what an asshole he'd been in the aftermath of the fire.
But aside from Enjolras' absence, everything about the farm has more or less returned to normal. There's a new rug in front of the hearth, covering up the scorched floorboards, and a new tree as well. Neither of them has felt like lighting a fire recently, so last week Grantaire painted a picture of a fire (studiously not thinking about the person who gave him the paints) and set it in front of the hearth as a joke. It's still there, for some reason.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, the coffee maker breaks. Since neither one of them is going to survive the afternoon without caffeine, Grantaire's dad sends him out to the Burial Grounds for sustenance.
He emerges with two Boneshakers and a box of cinnamon scones, and he carefully arranges everything in the car so that it won't spill on the drive back.
As soon as he turns the key in the ignition, his phone rings. Grantaire hits the speaker button without looking down at it.
"I'm coming out to the farm."
Grantaire jumps half a foot at the sound of Enjolras' voice. "You're what?"
"We need to talk. About the case," he clarifies quickly. "They matched a partial print from the chimney cap, which means--well, it means a lot of things, and I don't feel like explaining it all over the phone. I'm already on the way. I'll be there soon."
"But it's Christmas Eve." Grantaire pulls out onto the road.
"Oh." There's a pause. "Are you too busy?"
"No, but I thought you would be," Grantaire replies. This whole conversation is baffling. "You said you were going to have Christmas with your friends tonight." Also, you hate me now.
"I can make it back by tonight. The weather is supposed to hold until tomorrow, at least."
"All right." He wonders if he should go back and get another coffee, but he doesn't turn back. Enjolras can just have his. "Can I ask what's so important?"
"The police have identified the man on the roof. His name is Brujon, and he's got prior convictions, one for larceny and another for assault. The police have a warrant for his arrest. Now, the average sentence for arson is fifteen years, but if you can prove intent to kill, there's precedent for judges handing down a life sentence."
"Okay, but how does that get us Thenardier?" Grantaire asks, turning down the long driveway to the farm.
"If Brujon is willing to turn on Thenardier in exchange for a reduced sentence, then he can testify and we'll be able to tear the whole organization down."
And then you'll be finished with us. Grantaire sort of hates himself for even thinking that, because of course he wants the case to be solved. He just wishes it didn't have to come at the cost of never seeing Enjolras again. Not that Enjolras even wants to see him, after what happened last time. He parks the car behind the barn and walks up to the back door with the phone tucked between his ear and his shoulder.
"The other important thing is that it's a criminal case now," Enjolras says. "EBC won't have to file a suit against Thenardier, because the state of New York will indict him."
"That's...good?" Grantaire hazards. He juggles the coffees so that he can slide the key into the kitchen door.
"You have no idea how good," Enjolras says fervently.
"You'll have to explain it to me, then," Grantaire says. He pushes the door open and immediately drops the coffee on the floor. "The hell?"
His father is sitting at the kitchen table, and he's not alone.
The man standing across the room is tall and thin and grizzled, and he looks strange without the faint blur of newsprint. Grantaire has never met him, has never really expected to meet him, except maybe on the witness stand.
Mr. Thenardier has a gun in his hand. As soon as Grantaire steps inside, he swings it around to aim at Grantaire's chest.
"Drop the phone," Thenardier says, and Grantaire bends to set it down on the floor, without hanging up.
"I said drop it, not lay it down."
Grantaire sighs and tosses the phone down onto the linoleum. It skids a little on the back of the case, and he thinks it might still be in working order.
Until Thenardier grinds the heel of his boot against the screen. It goes dark, and cracks spiderweb out from the center of the glass. So much for that.
"Leave him out of this," Grantaire's father snaps. "This is between you and me, Thenardier, there's no need to get the kid involved."
"He involved himself. It's far too late now."
"What are you doing here?" Grantaire asks.
"Conducting a little business," Thenardier replies, gesturing to the contract sitting on the table.
"With guns. Is that how they 'conduct business' these days?"
"If you can't keep your mouth shut, I can help you with that," Thenardier says, shifting the gun's aim, and Grantaire decides that silence might be the wisest course of action. Thenardier turns back to Grantaire's father, although he's not so focused that Grantaire thinks he might be able to get the gun away from him.
"Now, as I was saying. You'll see that the agreement in front of you provides you with quite a fair sum of money. Enough to buy a very nice house in a place very far away from here. Even your pretty blond lawyer won't be able to find fault with it."
Enjolras. How far away is he? Is he about to walk into a stand-off? Thenardier would be more than happy to shoot him. But there's no way for Grantaire to warn him away--or ask him to send in the cavalry.
Thenardier slides an ostentatiously plain black fountain pen out of his shirt pocket and lays it on the table next to the contract. Clearly he doesn't know that the Grantaires are universally left-handed and doomed to smear fancy ink all over the signature line.
If his father signs that page, it's all over. Thenardier won't need either of them alive anymore. They have to stall for as long as they can, and hope that Thenardier makes a mistake.
Grantaire clears his throat. "You do realize that a contract signed at gunpoint is invalid, right?"
"I believe I suggested that you stop talking."
"Yeah, I know, I'm just wondering what it is you're hoping to get out of this. The farm, obviously, but how do you think this is going to play out? You think we're just never going to tell anyone that you stole the property out from under us?"
"You won't," Thenardier says calmly. "Because if you levy any accusations against me or my company, I will kill your father. If your father does so, I will kill you. I am more than capable of that, as you're well aware."
"You're oh-for-two so far," Grantaire counters. "By the way, your arsonist left a partial fingerprint on the rooftop. There's a warrant for his arrest, and I imagine he'll have a lot to say about you, if it keeps him from getting a life sentence."
Thenardier sneers. "Brujon was on a plane to Quito before the fire department left your farm."
He could be bluffing. Or Brujon could be sunk down at the bottom of the Susquehanna with a cement block around his ankles. Cliché, but effective. Grantaire tries another tactic.
"Even if you can stop us from talking, do you really think Enjolras is going to let this go?"
Thenardier shrugs. "Of course not. There's a plan in place for him, as well."
Grantaire's heart sinks. He hadn't thought it was possible for a person to be more frightened than he already was. "What are you talking about?"
"New York is such a dangerous city. Do you know how many muggings and carjackings take place there every day? And sometimes people get hurt. In fact..." He looks up at the clock on the wall. "It may be over already."
"No," Grantaire says reflexively. He'd just talked to Enjolras, he can't be...
"I will admit, he presented a particular challenge to us. He uses a number of different methods of getting to and from his office, but there are only so many routes he can take. There will be people waiting for him in every alley along the way, and when the right moment comes...well."
"You can't. Please, you can't."
"Oh, it isn't anything personal," Thenardier reassures him. "There's simply no way around it. He's caused too many problems for us already. He'll never agree to leave the company alone, so he needs to be removed."
"And you think that's going to stop him? You think something as simple as death is going to stop Enjolras from doing what needs to be done? He'll have saved backups of all of his information, sent them out to people he trusts. I'm not just talking about the partners in his law firm. Other people, lawyers and activists all over the country. This isn't like the company you run. Without you, Thenardier Enterprises is nothing. With or without Enjolras, they'll keep fighting you. And they'll win. No matter what it costs them, they'll win."
Thenardier rolls his eyes. "That's a very nice sentiment, and I've no doubt you really believe that. But as of this moment, I am out of patience." He lifts the gun again, and Grantaire finds himself staring down the barrel. He freezes in place.
Thenardier turns to Grantaire's father and says, very calmly, "Sign it, or I'll shoot him."
Grantaire draws in a shaking breath. "Don't do it, Dad. I'm pretty sure he's going to shoot me whether you sign it or not."
"Probably," Thenardier says. "But I can be generous, and make it non-lethal. Tell me, which hand do you use to paint?"
"I'd rather you just killed me," Grantaire grits out.
"Hm. Maybe a leg, then, and the two of you can be a matched set." He looks back at Grantaire's father. "Refuse, and it goes through his head."
Grantaire's father reaches for the pen.
"Dad, don't. He'll do it anyway, he'll shoot me and then he'll shoot you. Or there will be another fire, or a car accident--he can't take the risk of leaving us alive."
"Give me your word," his father says, looking at Thenardier. "Let him walk out of here, and I'll sign the paper."
"Now would be a great time to shut up, kiddo," he says, his lips curving in a tight smile. "The business is mine to sell, and if it gets you out of this room alive I'll count it as a win."
Thenardier considers. "You'll sign it?"
"Then he can go."
"You heard the man," Grantaire's father says. "Get the hell out of here."
There's a phone in the barn. He can call the police from there, but by the time they get here everything will be over. Still, he has to try it. He turns around and makes for the door, and then he sees a shifting shadow on the back porch.
He's three feet from the door when it suddenly bursts open, and half a dozen police officers swarm into the kitchen. One of them pulls Grantaire out of the way. He slips on the spilled coffee and lands hard on his ass, but he's glad to finally be out of Thenardier's line of fire.
It's all over in a matter of seconds. Thenardier sees that he's outnumbered, and he surrenders the gun without a fuss. Chief LaMarque herself fastens the handcuffs around Thenardier's wrists and leads him out to her cruiser.
Grantaire climbs to his feet and crosses the room to where his father is standing. "You all right?"
His father catches him up in a tight hug. "I'm fine. How did you call them?"
Grantaire shakes his head. "I didn't. I don't know how they knew. When I came in, I was on the phone with--oh god, Enjolras. Thenardier said he was going to--do you have your phone?"
"It's in the living room, charging. Might as well have been on the moon, for all the good it did me."
Grantaire takes off for the living room at a run, only to find one of the deputies blocking his way. "Where are you going?"
"I have to call a friend of mine," Grantaire tells him. "Thenardier threatened to have him killed. I have to get in touch with him, I have to make sure he's--"
"He's fine," a voice says from the back door, and Grantaire looks up.
"Enjolras. God--" Grantaire brushes past three different officers to hug him. "You're okay."
"I'm okay? Thenardier had a gun to your head, and you were worried about me?"
Grantaire steps back. "He said he was going to--"
"I heard. I heard everything. The call didn't end when you dropped the phone. I was almost to Green Bend, so when I got here I pulled in at the police station and explained what was happening. They told me to wait at the station, so of course I followed them up here. Your dad didn't sign the papers?"
"Does this mean it's over?"
"Not quite. There will be a trial. You and your father will have to testify. Hell, after all of this, I'll probably have to testify as a witness. But the worst part is over, I think."
Grantaire forces a smile. "And you won't have to make the four-hour trip every week."
"I told you, the drive was never a problem. None of it was a problem. The thing is, what I was trying to say on the phone--"
"Mr. Grantaire?" One of the officers is standing by with a notepad, and it takes Grantaire a second to realize that the man is talking to him, and not his father.
"We need to get your statement."
"Oh--okay," he says, casting an apologetic look at Enjolras.
"Go on, we'll talk after."
Grantaire lets the officer lead him into a corner of the kitchen, where he recounts what happened. His father is at the other end of the room giving the same report to another officer. Tedious questions follow one after another, and it feels like an hour before the officer thanks him and lets him go.
Enjolras isn't in the kitchen anymore. Grantaire peers into the living room, which is empty, and then he goes outside. Enjolras is standing off near the barn, talking to someone on the phone. Grantaire can hear bits and pieces of the conversation as he approaches.
"--Yes, everyone's fine. No one got hurt. Courf, seriously, I don't think now is the right time. That's inappropriate. ...That's even more inappropriate. Give the phone back to Bahorel." He looks up and sees Grantaire. "You know what, never mind, I'll call you later." He ends the call and tucks his phone into his coat pocket. "Are they finished with you?"
"Yeah, for now," Grantaire says.
Enjolras nods. "Listen, I wanted to...apologize, I guess. For what happened the last time I was here."
Grantaire knows he's not talking about the fire. "You don't have to apologize. I was out of line. I shouldn't have snapped at you like that--you were just doing your job."
"Oh, that. I meant...earlier, actually. Before the fire."
It's twenty degrees, but Grantaire's face flares hot anyway.
"I need you to know that I didn't push you away because I wanted to. I had to do it, because I was afraid it could compromise the case against Thenardier."
He's not sure exactly what's going on, because he can't possibly have heard Enjolras correctly. "You didn't want to stop?" he ventures.
He shakes his head. "I would have stayed under that tree with you all night, if I could have. I hated to put a stop to it, knowing how it must have made you feel. It...I haven't been able to stop thinking about you. Bahorel and Courfeyrac have been making fun of me for weeks now because I've been so distracted. You're really affecting the quality of my work," he adds with a frown.
"My bad?" Grantaire says. He's still stuck on I haven't been able to stop thinking about you.
"Since I know I ruined the first kiss, I was wondering if you might give me a second chance."
"You want a do-over."
"Yes. If...if you'll let me."
Grantaire doesn't answer, he just stretches up to kiss him. He doesn't quite have to stand on his toes, but it's close. Enjolras' lips are warm, but his nose is cold when it bumps Grantaire's cheek. Grantaire slides his fingers into Enjolras' hair, and Enjolras steps closer, wrapping his arms around Grantaire's waist.
They stand there for a long time, ignoring the cold and the snow that's just starting to fall. Everyone can probably see them, and Grantaire could not care less. He's going to enjoy every second of this, because sooner or later Enjolras will have to leave for home...
"I wish you could stay," Grantaire says, his lips barely leaving Enjolras' skin.
"I'm not going anywhere."
"But you have your party tonight. You have to go back."
Enjolras draws back just far enough to smile at him. "And miss our first Christmas?" he asks. "Not a chance."
- There will be one final part to this, set at New Year's Eve.
- Brujon gets a flight to Quito because Ecuador does not extradite to the United States.
- Some of the ways in which Courfeyrac and Bahorel have been teasing Enjolras: Courfeyrac changed his ringtone to the lumberjack song. Bahorel barricaded Enjolras' office with packages of Brawny paper towels. And someone replaced the plain curtains in his bedroom with plaid flannel ones, but no one will own up to it.
Thanks so much to everyone who has read and liked and encouraged this enormously silly fluffy Christmas fic. I hope you all have a lovely season filled with good things!
Epilogue: New Year's Eve
The movers are supposed to be here for the piano in fifteen minutes. Enjolras has been at the farm for an hour already, but they haven't had time to do anything more than kiss each other hello.
They haven't had time for more than that at all, in fact. Enjolras has been busy organizing the data on the Thenardier case to hand over to the prosecuting attorney's office, and Grantaire has been helping his father total up the accounts to see how they're doing for next year. (Not too badly, as it turns out. And there's a fifty-acre plot of land next door that's rather suddenly appeared on the market--Grantaire's father is thinking of expanding.)
Tonight, Grantaire is driving down to the city with Enjolras for the New Year's Eve party he's throwing, after which they will hopefully, finally get some time alone together. Grantaire has already stowed an overnight bag in the back seat of Enjolras' car, including a small stash of lube and condoms, just in case.
The moving van rolls down the drive, and Grantaire watches Valjean and Javert climb out and open the back doors. Enjolras fidgets next to him. "Are you sure they don't mind doing this?"
"Relax," Grantaire says. "Cosette's dad is a pro. Here's how it's going to play out: Valjean and Javert are going to load the piano into the van. They're going to have a shouting match about how to load it or secure it or where to position it so that the van's handling is least affected. Javert is going to threaten to quit at least twice, and Valjean will completely ignore him."
"Uh-huh," Enjolras says. He still looks skeptical, but then Valjean knocks on the door and he doesn't have another chance to express his concerns.
Valjean and Javert successfully extract the piano from the room, but, as predicted, the trouble starts when they get it out to the van.
When Javert starts shouting about quitting, Enjolras leans over to Grantaire. "Should we help them, or offer to mediate...?"
Grantaire gives him an incredulous look. "Why? This is quality theater, right here. I'd go in and make popcorn, but I'm afraid of what I'd miss."
"If you say so," Enjolras says, all tolerant amusement. "Listen, I wanted to tell you something, before we get distracted by, um, anything."
"You should look into the NDA that ARTco gave you."
Grantaire frowns. "What about it?"
"Well, without overstepping my bounds or anything, I requested the text of their standard NDA. And I searched the tweet you sent--it's publicly viewable, after all, or the ARTco team couldn't have found it. Anyway, it doesn't look like your tweet technically violated the NDA. The phrase 'corporate takeover' had already been used by the press, so you weren't releasing private information. You might be able to get a settlement out of them--not the full value of the severance package, but something. You'd have to talk to a lawyer, though, if you wanted details."
"I see." Grantaire clears his throat. "Hey, Enjolras, you wouldn't happen to know any lawyers who could advise me about suing my former employers, would you?"
"I know a great one, his name is Courfeyrac," he replies brightly. "I'll give you his card."
"I'm pretty sure I've already got it," Grantaire mutters, but he smiles.
"Okay. That's the last shop talk for today, I absolutely promise." He reaches out and catches Grantaire's gloved hand in his. "Have I mentioned that I'm really glad you're coming down tonight?"
"You have," Grantaire replies. "And I appreciate your offer to give me a ride. Bahorel threatened to zip-tie me and throw me in the trunk of his car if I didn't agree to come."
"He's a master of hyperbole. I'm sure he would have let you ride in the back seat."
"Well, thanks for saving me from the zip-ties, anyway. I can't wait to see this hipster boho factory loft of yours."
Enjolras makes a face. "It's not that bad. And it's not just mine, anyway. I have a roommate--Combeferre. You'll like him."
"I'm sure I will," Grantaire says.
"I just hope the piano fits up the stairs."
* * *
The piano fits. There's a space for it beneath one of the tall windows, on a side that faces the late afternoon sun. It looks perfect there.
"Are you sure they're not going to kill each other on the drive back?" Enjolras asks, as Valjean and Javert take their leave.
"Nah. Cosette would be very disappointed, and they wouldn't risk that."
"Is it safe?" someone asks, peering out of a bedroom door.
"It's safe," Enjolras says. "Come out and meet Grantaire."
Enjolras' roommate steps out of his bedroom. He's tall and dark and thin, with a pair of wire-rimmed glasses that seem to be in danger of falling off the end of his nose. "Hi, I'm Combeferre."
"Grantaire." He reaches out to shake Combeferre's hand. "Enjolras said you're a surgeon?"
He nods. "And you're the lumberjack artist, right?"
"Uh...I guess I am."
"It's great to finally meet you. Enjolras has been refusing to talk about you for ages."
"Refusing to talk about me?" Grantaire gives Enjolras a sidelong look.
"I didn't want to let on how much I liked you," he admits. "So I kept changing the subject, which I now understand was just making matters worse."
Combeferre nods. "So much worse. Listen, I hate to run, but I need to go out and get the champagne."
Enjolras frowns at him. "We don't have champagne? That's kind of a core component of a New Year's Eve party."
"I know. I've been meaning to get it, but I've been on call. I can go now, though--I have a couple of other errands to run anyway, so it'll probably take me a couple of hours."
Combeferre smiles at Grantaire. "I'm glad you came down."
"Me, too," Grantaire says. Combeferre lifts a coat off a hook and walks out the door. "Oh, I like him," Grantaire tells Enjolras.
"Good. If you didn't, we'd have had to break up."
"I especially like the part where he point-blank told us that he'd be gone for a couple of hours, in case we wanted to have sex."
"Did you miss that? 'It'll probably take me a couple of hours'?"
"I mean, if you don't want to, that's fine. Obviously. You can play the piano and I can sit and listen to you rapturously."
"Believe me, you would not be in raptures if you heard how terrible I am. I need to find an instructor to bring me back up to speed."
"Well, then. I guess we could find something else to do with our time," Grantaire says.
Enjolras eyes him grimly. "You're going to make me say it, aren't you?"
"Oh, yes. Definitely."
He takes a deep breath that isn't quite a sigh. "Grantaire, would you please come to bed with me?"
Grantaire takes Enjolras' hand. "Lead the way."
Enjolras' room is the lofted space above Combeferre's bedroom. It's open on two sides, which ought to make it feel exposed, but instead it's just bright and airy. Enjolras' bed is neatly made, because of course it is, and it's a king.
Suddenly Enjolras goes quiet, and Grantaire squeezes his hand. "You okay?"
"I'm just thinking. My parents made me take etiquette lessons when I was a kid...but somehow I never learned the proper way to ask someone to fuck you."
Grantaire laughs. "Well, I don't really know about etiquette, but I'd be happy to oblige."
Enjolras kisses him, and after that, there's very little talking. There's some sighing, a little bit of laughter, and something that Grantaire will insist was not a whimper, and afterward they're both too breathless for words.
"What time does the party start?" Grantaire asks, when he's confident that he can form a complete sentence.
Enjolras sits up just enough to see the clock on the bedside table, and then he drops his head back to Grantaire's shoulder. "Two hours."
"Okay." He closes his eyes. A little nap isn't going to hurt anyone...
"We need to get up," Enjolras says.
"Yeah." Grantaire doesn't open his eyes.
"Or we could just lock the door, cancel the party, and stay in bed all evening."
Grantaire smiles. "Somehow I don't think your friends would let us get away with that. Anyway, I don't know about you, but I could use a shower."
"We could save water if we went together," he suggests.
Enjolras laughs into the curve of Grantaire's shoulder. "You can't possibly--"
"Nah. But I could wash your hair for you, if you wanted." He's recently observed Enjolras' tendency to melt when someone's hands are in his hair. (Enjolras' reaction to someone tugging on his hair is even more delightful, as Grantaire has only just discovered.)
"Promise?" Enjolras says sleepily.
"I promise," Grantaire says, and Enjolras leans in to kiss him again.
* * *
Grantaire loves Enjolras' friends. Bahorel has promised to teach him jiu jitsu in exchange for boxing lessons, Jehan wants to commission a tattoo design from him, and Courfeyrac's drink-mixing skills are unmatched by most professional bartenders. By eleven-thirty, he feels as if he's known them all for years.
At five till midnight, Courfeyrac starts handing out flutes of champagne. Enjolras tilts his glass to watch the bubbles run up the sides. "You know, I've never really been a fan of the whole midnight New Year's kiss," he says, and Grantaire feels something deflate a little inside of him. It's not like he doubts Enjolras' feelings--how could he, after this evening?--but he as cheesy as the ritual is, Grantaire had been looking forward to it.
"That's all right," he says, flashing a smile that he doesn't quite feel. "We can just toast, then, I don't mind--"
"Wait, let me finish. I was never a fan of it, because I didn't really get the point of it. But now I think I do."
Enjolras nods. "Begin as you mean to go on, right?"
In the background, Bahorel is leading the countdown chant. They're only on fifteen, but Grantaire can't wait any longer. He tips his head up and kisses Enjolras.
Enjolras smiles against his lips, and a new year begins.
Enjolras' apartment is in no way based on a fancier version of my own converted factory hipster loft. (One day they'll discover that I own boot-leg jeans, and they'll drive me out of town with fair-trade torches and artisanal pitchforks.)
In my head, les Amis eventually all form a weird, happy little commune out on the edge of the tree farm. They put in a few acres of organic produce on Thenardier's old property, and they build a couple of tiny houses to live in. (Jehan has chickens. The chickens will peck anyone who is not Jehan.) Papa 'Taire spends a lot of time with the fire chief, but neither one of them will admit if anything is going on.
No one has ever been happier.