Red: The Colour of Roses
Lilies, peonies, daisies, roses...
It didn't matter which flower he brought because Enjolras wouldn't care. Grantaire rubbed his thumb over the petal on a rose. It was as red as blood in the centre and darker around the edges. Around him for miles there was nothing but ruined buildings and bare trees, but here beside the worn stone cottage flowers grew.
Snow fell softly around Grantaire, dusting his hair in white and capping the jagged tops of the buildings that circled the horizon. The world around him seemed trapped in a peaceful slumber, nothing stirred in the midst of the icy winter, although the darkening clouds overhead warned of the heavier falls yet to come. Grantaire shrugged his coat tighter around his shoulders. He’d best be getting on before he froze in the midst of the collapsed city.
Presently he drew a knife from his pocket and cut the stem of the rose. Sap bled over his fingers and the thorns pressed into his skin as he plucked another and another from the tangle of leaves and branches. Enjolras had never cared much for flowers or anything romantic really. He tended to blush and grow awkward when the topics of romance or sex came up and swiftly change the subject or excuse himself from the conversation.
Combeferre had once advised Grantaire, with all the subtly of a bull in a china shop, that Enjolras didn't so much hate him as that Grantaire made him uncomfortable. He told Grantaire that the way he looked at Enjolras scared him. Enjolras didn't want a lover. Enjolras doesn't need a lover.
Alone, Enjolras was a man who could light up a room with his smile. Once upon a long time ago, back before he had known better, Grantaire had thought of Enjolras as intense and vicious. In reality he discovered that amongst his friends Enjolras was as soft as butter under the sun. He saw the best in the world, no problem was unfixable and person too far gone. Even in the middle of Paris, blackened and dead from war and disaster, Enjolras radiated life and love, light that sharpened with intensity, as sharp as a razor blade.
"As soft as butter, as sharp as a razor..." Grantaire muttered to himself. A razor that cut deeper for the contrast, a razor that had cut Grantaire more than once, which had kept them safe none the less through the years of panic and despair that followed the war. ‘The End of the World’ was perhaps the wrong way to describe what had happened ten years ago, because the world had not ended, although the term was descriptive enough. The world had struggled on despite itself. It was the end of the 21st century and the beginning of a new world. With the constant struggle to keep going, with his friends… with Enjolras, Grantaire had never felt so alive.
As perceptive as Combeferre was, he didn't know the truth. He had no way of knowing the sweet moments that passed between Grantaire and Enjolras every now and then; The brush of fingers across his cheek, a smile, a look or two and the taste of his lips, so chastely given. Grantaire collected the cut rose stems in his fist and started shaving off the points of the thorns. He leant against the stone fence to do so, feeling the wind against the back of his neck, so cold it sent shivers down his spine. Red roses were a symbol of romance. Perhaps a little clichéd, but that was probably for the best, considering it was the only way to get his point across. Things were complicated between and Enjolras. They had never done more than kiss, like whispers exchanged between them. They'd spent long nights sleeping in the same bed for warmth and comfort without actually sleeping together. Enjolras would sit beside Grantaire sometimes and brush his hands through his hair, letting his fingers linger at the back of his neck. When food was short Enjolras would share his with Grantaire, who never had enough for himself. They disagreed on most things and Grantaire spent most of his time rambling off topic, neck deep in a bottle of poorly fermented alcohol Joly had cooked up in the supply shed. Still, despite all his flaws, all the flaws that they shared, Enjolras came back to him again and again, slotted his head against his shoulder and ghosted fingers along his.
The snow was falling harder now and Grantaire turned his head towards home. He left the cottage behind him with his makeshift bouquet in on hand, the other buried deep in his jacket, fingers a hairs width away from the hilt of his knife. Nothing stirred in the winter because hungry predators roamed the snow fields, jaws open and teeth barred, salivating for hot meat, scrawny and desperate to survive the cold. Grantaire had killed wolves and wild dogs before in barren Parisian outskirts but he was still wary of larger hunters. Out there there were people who were more animal than human—people prepared to eat anything to survive.
As he walked the streets, his boot sank ankle deep into half melted snow. The cold wind seeped into him through every gap in his clothing. By the time he finished his walk, his teeth were chattering and his hands were numb and sore.
They once lived in the centre of Paris sharing a mostly undamaged townhouse near the Seine. They got by trading with fellow outlaws and Wanderers. Now Paris was colonised with new worldies—people who lived together in small towns—with a leader (tyrant if you asked Enjolras) and a makeshift militia. Three years ago they had come and the result had now been pretty. It had left them all with scars, both physical and intangible. They were driven from their home and branded as criminals, simply for not submitting to the 'New World' order. Grantaire had been torched in the back during one of the rougher periods, leaving him with a white scar that covered his entire shoulder blade. It ached in the winter. He been bitten by wild dogs and beaten by rouges but that burn had hurt him the worst.
Thanks to that burn he had spent a large portion of their great escape to the outskirts howling in pain. He never found out what made his friends decide on the little cafe to make their new home. In recent years they had come to an agreement with the worldies: they traded food for immunity. The new worldies didn't hunt for themselves and food was scarce. Grantaire rarely ate anything he killed and starvation was the price they paid for their freedom. Enjolras still talked about teaching the new worldies to survive on their own, without their leaders and Grantaire couldn't make him see that those people didn't want to know how to survive. They wanted to be comfortable and protected. They wanted lives that were sheltered from the reality, which stretched out before them in miles and miles of burnt earth and bare stone.
The street Grantaire lived on was almost fully intact, if you ignored the crumbling facades and the vines that wrapped the buildings up in a tight green lattice. The asphalt was cracked and uneven and tree roots had broken through the pavement. The front windows of the buildings looked abandoned, the glass was long gone and dried leaves blew in and out through the doorways during autumn. Now in winter the snow had crept over the thresholds and during the worst flurries barricaded the buildings in an icy tome. They all lived on the upstairs floors. It was a safety precaution against the wild animals that might hunt them in their sleep. Grantaire shared an old studio apartment with Joly right at the end of the street, next to a building that had been reduced to a heap of rubble. No one actually lived on top of cafe Musain; rather it was their communal gathering point. On the second floor had an open room with timber floors and huge windows that still contained glass. The room also contained a huge fire place, which they lit on days like today to keep everyone warm. Grantaire saw smoke curling up from the Musain and made his way towards it. If everyone was in Musain then Enjolras would be there too.
As Grantaire approached the building the faded sign that read 'Musain' squeaked in the gusty wind. You could see right through the bottom floor of the building to the back courtyard and there Grantaire spotted Enjolras. He was dressed pathetically in the face of the snow storm brewing around him. He was wearing only a shirt and woollen cardigan over jeans, which Grantaire realised only appeared so dark because they were soaked through.
Grantaire clutched his fist tighter around the bouquet of roses, his nervous energy dissolving into irritation because of course Enjolras thought it was okay to walk around like it was the height of summer. He squared his shoulders and walked through the Musain. Enjolras looked up as he approached his eyes foggy and his smile vacant. He was off in his own world, which was full of dreams of justice and mercy and all that sappy crap.
"Hey," Grantaire greeted him. "Where are your clothes?"
Enjolras looked down at himself. "I'm wearing them?"
"Did you leave half of them somewhere?"
Enjolras frowned. "I'm fine Grantaire. I’m not cold at all." He glanced at the roses clutched in Grantaire’s hand. "Are those for Jehan?"
Grantaire laughed, because naturally Enjolras would just assume that.
"Actually, they are for you."
Enjolras blinked rapidly, astonishment clear on his face. "For me?" He repeated. "Why?"
"Well..." Granatire should have known Enjolras would make this difficult. "They are red roses." Enjolras stared at him expectantly. Grantaire swallowed. After a painfully draw out silence Granatire was forced to add. "Red is the colour of l--love."
He couldn't look at Enjolras' face anymore so instead he stared at his boots. They were good boots, very well made, very soft. very—
"Grantaire?" Enjolras stepped forward and pressed his palm to Grantaire's cheek. It was ice cold.
"Yes?" Grantaire wheezed in the direction of his shoes. His shoes would never reject him at least.
"You know I'm not good at this, right?" Enjolras continued. "And you know I don't always say the right thing or know what the right thing to do is? Well, I'm freezing cold right now and I really need to get warm."
"You really do," agreed Grantaire. He looked up in surprise when he felt Enjolras take the roses out of his hand, his flingers lingering on his skin.
"Won't you come with me?" Enjolras asked, looking away. He seemed so unsure, it was such a contrast to the Enjolras who stood in front of his friends and commanded their attention like a general standing in front of an army, or a president in front of his people. This Enjolras that Grantaire was just getting to know was surprisingly normal. Surprisingly human.
"Come with you?" Grantaire repeated and he regretted that he probably sounded like a broken record.
"Yes," Enjolras turned away and his voice was muffled when he said. "You look like you need to be warmed up too."
Grantaire felt his face burn. "Oh, I suppose so."
He followed Enjolras across the courtyard. Behind Musain there were two townhouses. They were modern affairs, which probably looked quite futuristic when they were new. Now the sharp angles and blocks of colour just looked odd against the untamed wilderness. The first townhouse was larger but also completely unliveable. The floors had rotten and the walls were infested with termites. The second, however, was made from a fibreglass structure and upstairs Enjolras had settled himself.
At the back door Enjolras hesitated. He was shivering Grantaire realised. He shrugged his jacket off and wrapped it around Enjolras.
"Don't--" Enjolras protested but he was already cocooned in Grantaire’s left over body heat. Meanwhile the freezing wind hit Grantaire like a smack to the face.
"Holy hell with handlebars!" he exclaimed. "Fuck its cold let’s get inside."
Upstairs Enjolras’ room was small and cosy. It was an old two room studio apartment. He had a grey leather couch, which was only a little bit dilapidated, that sat proudly in the centre of the room. The only other furniture in the room (which hadn’t been scrapped for firewood during previous winters) was a table and two mismatched chairs. Through a sliding door that had long since jammed open was his bed, heaped high with blankets. Despite the small interior the cold had penetrated the walls and floors with it’s long icy fingers and Grantaire found himself still shivering as he stood awkwardly in the middle of the room. Enjolras deposited the flowers on the table and walked around Grantaire into his bedroom. There he scooped up an armful of blankets and gestured towards the couch. “Sit,” he told Grantaire.
“Wait,” said Grantaire. “For god’s sake get into some dry clothes before you catch hypothermia.”
Enjolras nodded and pushed the blankets into Grantaire’s arms.
“Get warm while you wait,” he paused thoughtfully. “Do you think Ferre would mind if we used the generator to heat up some hot water?”
Grantaire sighed. “It’ll never get warm enough in this weather.”
“Ever the optimist,” Enjolras made a face that was a close as Grantaire had ever seen him to rolling his eyes.
Grantaire cast his gaze out the window. Snow was piled up against the houses in drifts that had to be at least a meter deep and more was swirling through the air.
"Well," said Enjolras. "You're not going anywhere tonight."
"So I'll just stay here?" Grantaire felt his cheeks heat up. "You realise that means I'll be here... with you... all night?
"That was the point," said Enjolras dryly. "You staying here... with me. I mean, I doubt you could even get outside. It looks like we're snowed in for the night.
"Ah, well then." Grantaire stared at his hands.
"I'm not sure I'm ready to you know," When Grantaire peeked at him out of the corner of his eye, Enjolras was beet red. "Have the--you know."
"No, No, yes, no!" Grantaire waved his hands desperately. "I know, and I get that, I don't want to do that either... well I do, but not like right now. Sometime. Or never. Whatever suits you."
"Grantaire," Enjolras leaned down and kissed Grantaire on the lips, soft and wet. Shivers ran down his spine. Grantaire reached up and wrapped his arms around Enjolras' neck, opening his mouth up and rubbing his tongue against Enjolras'. Enjolras pulled back a little, stroking Grantaire’s cheek.
“You’ll stay?” whispered Enjolras.
“Forever,” replied Grantaire.
The night wore on colder than the day. Enjolras breathed heavy asleep beside him, a cocoon of warmth. The blankets dipped onto the mattress between them like a valley snuggled between two mountains. Only Grantaire’s face was exposed to the frigid air and it stung his cheeks pink. He rolled over and all he could see of Enjolras was a tuft of blond hair poking out from under the covers. He was so close to Enjolras yet he was still afraid to reach out and touch him. In their budding relationship Enjolras had given a free pass to do what he wanted but Grantaire found himself unwilling to stretch his fingers out across the gap between them. There was too much empty air between them.
Grantaire was afraid of where their relationship would lead them. He didn't know if Enjolras would ever open himself up to him or whether he would be able to give Enjolras warmth and comfort, when inside he felt so cold. Absentmindedly he moved his hand up over the mattress until his fingertips were poking out of the blankets in the valley. He wiggled them gently inches away from Enjolras.
As he watched, the mound of blankets that was Enjolras shifted and a face appeared, sleepy eyes blinking at Grantaire. Grantaire almost jerked his hand back, but instead he stubbornly let his hand lie between him. A warm cosy feeling flooded through him when Enjolras smiled across the bed.
"Watching me sleep were you?" Enjolras murmured.
"You didn't give me a very good view," replied Grantaire. "With all those blankets."
Enjolras smiled again and Grantaire watched as Enjolras slowly walked his fingers up the valley. Grantaire's heart was pounding and his fingers twitched but he still didn't move his hands. He felt Enjolras stroke his fingers over his knuckles, gently, and then pressed his palm against Grantaire's. The whole time he kept his eyes locked with Grantaire’s.
“Is this okay?" Enjolras asked.
"Yes," choked out Grantaire. Enjolras closed his eyes and started rubbing circled with his thumb into Grantaire's skin.
"I could get used to this," he said. "This isn't bad at all."
"That what every boy--love--um, it's what every guy wants to hear," Grantaire stammered.
"Mm," Enjolras rolled on to his back, tugging Grantaire's hand. "Come closer."
"A--are you sure?" Enjolras was pulling on his arm. Grantaire shifted himself closer until his chest was pressed against Enjolras. He let his arms circle around Enjolras’ body and he felt Enjolras relax into his embrace.
“So those roses,” murmured Enjolras. “Do they mean you want to be my lover?”
Grantaire buried his nose into Enjolras’ hair, as though hiding his face would save him from answering.
“A little bit,” he said. He felt more than heard Enjolras laugh.
“Good night, lover,” Enjolras replied. “And sweet dreams.”
If Grantaire were to die in his sleep he would die with a smile etched on his face. He pushed back some of Enjolras’ hair and kissed the back of his neck.
“Good night, my love.”
When he woke the skies had cleared and Enjolras was still beside him.