Author: Fleur-de-Lys (mask_and_mirror)
Characters/Pairings: R, of course! Enjolras secondary.
Notes: I recently found fragments of this in an old notebook that I brought with me to school… dated two years ago. I put them together, did a tiny bit of adding and editing, and hopefully it’ll make sense in the end. Also, why haven’t I touched Les Miz fic in over two years? I forgot how much fun I used to have with it.
Summary: The historiography of Grantaire, and what Enjolras means to him, past and present.
“…For everything that is lovely
is but a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O, never give the heart outright…”
-“Never Give All the Heart,” W.B. Yeats
There were times that he forgot all about that first moment. Those were dark, truly dark times, when he spent a night or two beside the Seine with a pile of heavy stones at his side. Those were times so besieged by the present that the very idea of everything going on around him was enough to make him clench his fist and cause his teeth to grind a little in his closed mouth.
If he hadn’t been a drinker, perhaps those times would have been easier to elude. It is easy to speculate about such things. The best times were when he thought about sobriety whilst drunk out of his mind. It was not the present passing him by; he was looking and pondering the manifold layers of a state of Grantaire that would never exist.
No Grantaire would ever exist without Enjolras.
Grantaire was someone who had always thought of himself as a man. Not “Man,” but a man. When he was twelve and his thirteen year-old brother Pierre died, he had taken over his fatherless home as the “man of the family.” When he got a good job a year later at the docks, he made sure he got one with a “man’s load” work of labor. When he fooled around with a female behind a stack of shipping crates, she was a “girl giving him his manly dues.” And when he got stone drunk, that same night at those same docks, he knew he was “a lucky man” with a good life.
He was twenty-eight years old in 1830, and not much had changed.
The family was gone—that was one responsibility he was rid of. He had grown altogether too small to work as a stevedore at the docks, so he had moved further inside Paris. He was also not getting many girls to go up against walls or inside abandoned tavern rooms for him much these days.
He nested behind a laundry. He though perhaps the smell of lye had changed a lot of things for him.
What he did for money—even he did not know, sometimes. He had stolen and begged more than once, but usually he found odd jobs… not just small work, but truly strange employment. He worked for several months as a clerk to a madam who was blind, which worked in his fortune, as he had terrible penmanship, until she died. She had grown somewhat fond of his irreverent conversation during their time together, and she left a generous purse to him in her will (which he had copied for her). He spent it within the week on booze and cheap hostelries, and on her own girls.
In his younger days (he was an old twenty-eight in 1830) he had been handsome enough to act as a personal buyer for some of the upperclass, who overpaid for his services in running their errands. That was how he had received his education; he watched and read and listened as the bourgeois boys came home from their schools to the family townhouse, where they lounged across sofas and ordered new pamphlets and encyclopedias, and engaged in heated debates over glasses of the finest Tuscan wines. He liked the smell of the Italian grapes they drank as they discussed with him the latest trends in Paris and where money was most valued, and he liked the way their pale faces turned in the firelight while they reclined after their philosophical symposiums. He thought they were just like those Romans they talked about when he caught their upraised voices from his work in their foyer, or at least they could be like them. This was where he learned his mythological compendium (orally, as he figured it was meant to be), but most importantly this was where he learned that idealism and reality were never meant to peacefully coexist.
Grantaire was eighteen years old in 1820, and beginning to think of any way he could get into this elite society of beautiful young men, when he began to feel a little repulsion, sometimes, from his student clientele. He had heard, often enough, praises sung in Napoleon Bonaparte’s honor, but the discrepancy between the classical pratings he was beginning to understand and the Great Failure weighed on his mind when he bedded down in his modest flat. They talked, too, of some place called “Utopia,” which, being the intelligent man he was, Grantaire quickly assumed to be a popular allegory for the classless society.
A few of them shouted in drunken revelries, between outbursts of Voltaire or Byron, of a changed France. They shouted until they disgraced themselves enough to pass out for the night; until they awoke on the floors of their own bedrooms, where they turned and turned in a pile of dirty laundry, and counted the days until they returned to their schools, where they could debate with other students and attend to the student library.
When he was with these students—not under their employ, but almost as if they were some place he might be included—he loved them, and he felt that there was something worth loving about life. When he left them, he adopted a short life, with but a handful of sober days.
How did he leave them? As he did any other job; he showed up drunk, when he showed up at all. He was careless with their wares, but even more carefully careless with their money, which broke hearts on both sides. This last transgression was much longer to affect any sort of response from the students, but when it did, it cut right to the quick. A few were industrious enough, or tight enough, to go over their books, when they were in a mind. They might spend a few hours poring over Grantaire’s scrawled receipts, running their thin fingers through close-cropped academic haircuts, and periodically staring into the fire. A week or so later, they might mumble a casual mention of it to him as he delivered the latest Swiss chocolates for their salone on Friday, and Grantaire would look them directly in the eye, smile, and say in a voice of booming false confidence that Parisian society was inexplicably expensive, and what hell was the world coming to, anyway? The student would nod, but would not clap a hand on his shoulder and say, good man, as they used to.
At this point, he had a month left of crafted rude service to perform. He took less money, but they were noticing anyway; the damage had been done, the rest was an easy ride to the bottom. He did not want or need that money. It was only an instrument, or sometimes, an unwanted, beloved possession that he merely took for the purpose of being taken from its possessor. However it was, he was precise in the amounts that he took, and careless how he spent it. Of course, a good portion went to this vices (wine, women, and a back-alley brawl), but as to where the rest parted with him, he could never say for certain.
However it all was, there it was, and he was not much longer in employment. There came the obligatory trial period, sometimes a half-hearted warning rebuke. In the end, it was always the same; he was called in on errand, they gave him the month’s wages (he was most curious about this element of the whole dance, but it happened at each employment he dropped), and then they would grasp their scotch in hand and say I am sorry, you know, but I shan’t be needing your services anymore. A few looked him in the yes; only one managed a clenched fist and a blatant threat, should Grantaire ever darken his doorstep again. Grantaire didn’t hold it against him personally; forced imitations of Papa was how things were often done among these Bourgeois sort.
He slipped along for some time, then.
It is not important what he did, only that he remained in Paris. Were the other things important, he could not recall them to save his life. He might blame it on the persistent abuse of alcohol, but in fact there were many contributing factors to the nine years-long void in his memory.
First, he did not want to remember. He supposed he was bad, and it was best to put behind him all his savage multitude of sins.
Second, he had done nothing worthy of remembering. That is all, and then it is gone.
When Grantaire first saw him, it was like staring into some horrid mirror that projected fantastic images, both repulsive and intensely attractive.
Grantaire knew they looked nothing alike now, but they might have, nine years ago. Grantaire had been a handsome creature, optimistic, hard-working. He had been smart. He could pick things up from a word or two of conversation, and he was persuasive. This was why he was repulsed; they had taken separate paths in life that could never be retraced, and Grantaire had clearly taken the wrong path. Choice or not, he was bad.
This boy was all good.
There, too, was the inherent attraction that seemed to seep out of the very pores of this boy’s white skin. He was a boy; he may be twenty years of age, but he appeared close to seventeen in mien and manner. Delicate ginger lash on the white, untinted cheek. Grantaire had never been there.
This was the age that Grantaire had left the beautiful boys behind, but this one was only just joining them. In his eyes, too, that swept the room as the Seine sweeps and tears at its boundaries, was an intense, pulsating, I will never leave you. Here we are.
“Here we are, then,” he spoke so softly that, had Grantaire not been centering on him, he would not have hear, despite the nearly empty room.
“You’re very welcome, Sir. And I’ll bring something? Out to you?” There was some inconsequential maid near him. She was not with him; he was somewhere else entirely. Then she was away, as the sparrow is blown far from the tempest, and the beautiful boy was alone, stirring in his corner.
Grantaire never accounted for how he came to the beautiful boy’s side. His legs, weakened by a day’s worth of boozing within the past hour, had somehow carried him across the room to stand steady next to him. He could not have imagined the few seconds it must have taken, because Time did not seem to follow its regular course that night.
The important thing is that it was the last time Grantaire and Enjolras would ever be separated.
Just now, as Enjolras turns his head, the tendons tightening in his white neck, the wide blue eyes focusing inexplicably on this, our Parisian trash, is all that matters. Perhaps, as some theories propound, the moment goes on and on, even when Time seems to continue.
This is how it was.
If Revolution is an essential element of existence, and Enjolras is its patron god (for he was born of ’93, after all), then Grantaire is the vestal virgin. He was the second child of an unremarkable family given as tribute to Paris. He had dallied out of unhappiness a good deal longer than those erstwhile Roman girls, but when he felt the timeless first tast of ecstasy he was lost to the world. He laid gifts of street knowledge at this deity’s marble toes, became drunk in passionate paroxysms, and returned in shame at his Human failings, flogging himself in spirit and in body.
Enjolras, as is the wont of some distant patron, remained unseen. The people came and prayed to his visage, men pledged their lives in his name. His word was wonderful an intangible. But his marble brow never wrinkled, and when the end came the people would question his true nature.
His hand never came to rest on the grizzled head of his most devout servant.
Once Grantair was drunk. He sprawled across a table in the corner and spent the evening examining the feel of oak against his cheek. When the usual burble of voices had softened to just a few murmurs, he leaned back and turned to contemplation of the ceiling. One of the men he had seen tonight, he knew, had been at Waterloo. After that recognition, he had turned to his first bottle.
Enjolras was standing next to his chair (the god comes down form on high to block the sun, ravish virgins, or write political tracts). He slid a tumbler of red wine so that it scraped hard across the grains of oak. The liquid darkened before Grantaire’s eyes.
Enjolras had eyes the blue shade of a blind man. Even drunk, Grantaire could not read them.
“I want you to drink this.”
Grantaire felt his world tilting to the left. What Enjolras was saying to him was not like what doctors, whores, friends and innkeepers had said to him throughout his life. There was something not quite wrong about this statement. Before he could think twice, the tumbler was in his hand, the red wine trickling down his anesthetized throat.
“Thank you,” said Enjolras. His lips were stretched in an odd manner.
“Why…” said Grantaire, until he realized his words were coming out as whispers. “Why would you…”
“Why would I buy you a drink? That is what you are trying to articulate, isn’t it?”
Something was not quite wrong. And Grantaire had felt like this before, when his life was about to change.
Enjolras remained motionless beside the chair. Every once in a while, his gaze drifted above Grantaire and the rest of the café. At such times, it was said, he resembled Thomas Jefferson.
“It is what you want,” he said finally. “I buy you what you want.”
Grantaire was struggling with his thoughts of the day, drunkenness, and the slow breaking of his heart. “Yes,” was all he finally responded.
“And ‘no’,” continued Enjolras. “Your existence, rather, demands that I give this to you. At least, that is what our establishment would have us believe. There are They, who are born better and therefore rich with other’s labor, and there are The Rest, who do work for no payoff other than the drugging products they buy. Or drugs given to them. The very practice of consuming such substance gives credence to Their statement that The Rest will never rise above their lot in life. I think, given a choice, The Rest will prove Them wrong. I will replace one drug with another. The Rest will forego drink for the embalming fluid of Revolution. They will imbibe it, and awake as the victorious dead. Their own freedom will bring them back to life, but with the equality of death.”
Grantaire rose to his feet, his thighs shaking. “O, who would you be? Orpheus? It does not bode well. Perhaps Romeo’s Apothecary? Not much better.” He reached for the tumbler, took it from Enjolras’s loose grip.
“You’re not the flaw in the plan, you know. You still have time to choose. You don’t have to prove me wrong.”
He did it. From three feet away, Grantaire hurled the tumbler at Enjolras. It thudded lazily against his waistcoat, and as he walked away, Grantaire knew it would leave no mark on him.
Marble does not bruise.
When they burn our bodies, we will both be gray and white. We will only be a mote in time. When we come again, you will be great, and maybe, someday, I will stand beside you.