40. Sororal Instincts

Jeanne pats Robert on the bottom until he belches. Ah, the joys of motherhood.

There comes a rap on the door.

Jeanne sets him on the bed and calls out, "Come on in!"

Grantaire enters, moderately kempt and with a spray of wildflowers in one hand. "Delivery for the lady of the house," and he presents the flowers elaborately.

Jeanne presses a hand to her mouth as she accepts them. "Oh, they're lovely. Thank you." She narrows her eyes and peers at him. "What do you want?"

Grantaire looks mildly injured. "The pleasure of your company, that's all. What do you take me for? If I wanted something, I'd bring roses at least."

Jeanne raises her eyebrows, considering, then nods. "All right. How have you been?"

"Oh, me, I'm all right." It's far too prompt to be considered. He leans on the doorframe. "How are you managing?"

Jeanne looks around the room, which is empty of all except the youngest, as the others are out playing. "Oh, you know. It's hard, but I'm surviving."

Grantaire studies her. "If there's something I can do, you tell me, Jeannette, right?"

"Oh, I will." She pats Robert slightly.

"And how are you doing?" Grantaire addresses the child, conversationally.

Robert waves at him, gurgling slightly. Everything's fine with him.

Jeanne translates, "He's happy. He's just had lunch." With an appraising look at her brother, she asks, "Have you eaten?"

Grantaire looks heavenward. "Yes," longsufferingly.

"Actually, you're looking rather good," she admits. "Cleaner than normal. Rested."

Grantaire looks back down, blinking at her, and chuckles a bit. "Thank you, I think." He slouches comfortably against the wall, arms folded, figuring that if he sits on her table he'll jeopardize its mended leg.

Jeanne regards him for another moment, then nods curtly. "All right. Out with it. What's going on that you haven't told me yet?"

He tenses, slanting a look sharply at her. "Nothing."

"Don't try that on me." She sounds a bit disgusted. "It's lunchtime, and you're neither drunk nor hungover. What's going on?"

"Thank you very much, sister. It's nice to know that at least my family has a good opinion of me." The flippancy is back.

Jeanne rolls her eyes. "I have a realistic opinion of you. Is that so bad? Now come on, tell me."

Grantaire starts to scowl. "Nothing is 'going on'. Why should anything be going on?"

"Because you're not acting normal." She shrugs. "Is it a holiday I don't know about?"

"I'm acting perfectly normal, you just up and start demanding to know what's going on..."

Jeanne chuckles. "All right, so you are acting normal. Complaining. Yes, that's my brother."

"There, you see?" He straightens a bit, triumphantly, which does not fully disguise his relief.

"But soberly, which is not mon frère at all." She gives him another searching look. "Have you finally found a nice girl who's willing to put in all the time and energy necessary to straighten you out?"

That touches a nerve. "No," half defensively.

"But there's something, isn't there?" She isn't about to drop the subject.

Grantaire sighs; he is not capable of deceiving Jeanne for any period of time. "There's something," he acknowledges tiredly, "yes."

Jeanne smiles, or rather smirks. "Yes?"

"Yes." He has rather suddenly withdrawn; he stands there, arms still folded tightly, and looks away from her. "All right?"

Jeanne blinks. "All right? What is it?"

Grantaire's gaze shifts to Robert, as though the toddler's going to know or care what he says. "I don't-- Jeannette, I..." He pushes away from the wall, then. "I should go."

Jeanne refuses to capitulate just because he's hesitating. She walks to the door and stands in front of it, hands on hips. "You're not leaving until you explain."

Grantaire stops, watching her with a curiously helpless look in his brown eyes. "I don't know how, you don't want to know, and there's no use anyway."

"Don't assume what I want to know," she says, getting slightly testy. "I wouldn't have asked. And if you don't know how, try a few times, and I'll tell you which worked best."

Grantaire just stares at her another moment; then he turns away, scrubbing a hand roughly over his face. His voice comes out rather small. "It isn't a girl."

Jeanne looks at him silently for a few moments. "Ah." Another pause. "But it's someone?"

He nods, very slightly.

Jeanne considers this. "Well, he's good for you, then."

Grantaire is startled into a sort of laugh, glancing back at her. "You think so." He pushes a hand through his hair again, acutely self-conscious.

Jeanne grins. "Yeah. You're better off than you usually are when you drag your sorry, sodden carcass through my door."

Grantaire grins back at her, very wryly indeed, but spontaneously. "I suppose so."

"So, do I know this reforming influence?" She thinks of all of the eligible males she knows, but it's a pretty short list, and none of them seem the type.

Grantaire winces faintly, glancing off toward the cobwebby corner, and after a moment another half-laugh escapes him. "Who do you think?"

Jeanne shakes her head. "I give up. Tell me."

He quirks that acidic half-grin again. "Of course you couldn't. The least likely thing in the world, I'm expecting you to guess?" There's a certain tremor to his voice which borders laughter.

Jeanne waxes impatient. "Then don't just stand there teasing me, tell me."

It comes out soft, almost confidential. "Enjolras." He laughs again. "Of course. God forbid any of this should make sense." And he looks back at her ruefully.

"You're joking. Ah, François, don't pull that on me." Jeanne shakes her head, laughing.

"I'm not," he says to the bedstead, wryly. "Even I couldn't make this up."

Jeanne blinks, reevaluating the situation. "My God, you're serious? You mean it?" Those two questions are already answered. "What happened?"

Grantaire dissolves into laughter. It's that or a breakdown. "What do you mean, what happened? How the hell would I know?"

Jeanne watches him, bemused. "I don't know how you would know, but you have a better chance of it than I do." In a more serious tone, she adds, "I am glad something helps. Even if it is your mad leader."

Grantaire gestures uselessly, still laughing without much humor. "He just, I just-- he drank too much at the wedding. Hell if I know. Just happened." He shakes his head, and takes a breath, sobering. "He's nobody's leader right now. Except maybe mine, and I hardly count. He's-- oh, God, Jeanne." The semihysterics are quite gone now. He rakes a hand through his hair again, leaning on the foot of the bed.

Jeanne glances at Robert, who is sleeping, before she embraces her brother. "Is it working?"

"Is what working?" But he doesn't really want her to answer that. "Nothing's working." He hugs her tightly, ducking his head against her shoulder. "God."

Jeanne simply holds him, for his benefit and her own, because she doesn't get many hugs from adults nowadays. "It'll be all right," she murmurs, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Grantaire murmurs, "I don't know how."

"Same as it always is. Lots of heartache, not knowing which way is up, and, hell, maybe it won't work in the end, but at least you can say you gave it a try." She gives him a little squeeze. "That, and you had the chance."

A shiver goes through him. "Scares the hell out of me. --He's frightened, Jeannette, he's only a boy, some ways, and he wants me to help him and I don't know how." This last comes out in a rush.

Jeanne does not have the first idea what to say. She considers the situation, though it still seems quite impossible. "Do what you can, tell him what you know, and call it enough." With a gentle prod at Grantaire's shoulder, she adds, "He can't expect you to be perfect, of all people."

Grantaire laughs despite himself. "No."

"So don't think you have to be. He doesn't." She smiles at her brother, then asks, "It makes you happy, doesn't it?"

"Except when it scares the hell out of me." He tries to smile back at her.

Jeanne tousles his hair for the simple reason that she can. "Right, then, it's like life, only better, if you get happiness in between instead of hunger."

Grantaire half quirks a grin at that. "Something like that." He leans over to kiss her forehead.

Jeanne looks up at him. She seems young, all of a sudden, and almost innocent again. "Is this what you always wanted, and I didn't understand?"

Grantaire's hands tighten on her shoulders. He glances down, looking oddly lost. "I don't know. Maybe. I don't --know." His voice is very quiet.

"Well, all right." Her confidence is back. "Just so long as you didn't know, and not tell me, I forgive you." She gives him a kiss on the cheek.

He chuckles faintly, and ruffles her hair lightly. "I could never keep anything from you." It's rueful, but affectionate.

"Secrets are lighter when they're shared," she observes, quoting some aged auntie or other. "And I'll carry this one." A slight consideration of this promise, then, "Am I not to tell Paul?"

Grantaire's eyes crinkle a bit. "Paul, it is now." A dubious flicker of a smile. "He knows. I should think. It's not that secret by now."

"Ah, then we can talk about your love life." She grins at him. "What a relief."

Grantaire colors somewhat, but grins back. "As long as I can talk about yours."

This is her turn to be awkward. "I haven't rightly got one, anymore." This does not sound entirely truthful.

His eyes light with mischief. "No? If I asked Feuilly would he tell me the same?"

Jeanne wrinkles her nose at him. "I don't know. We haven't discussed the matter." The levity fades. "He's been a great help to me. That's all. I don't want to love him, really." She looks up at Grantaire, blinking, then says wryly, "Although he'd be a much better man for Robert to remember than Marc."

Grantaire quirks a grin. "Probably." He puts out a hand to pat her shoulder apologetically. "I'm just teasing you. Don't mind me."

"I know." She tries to smile back. "You're just making me think about things I've already considered, and now I'm off wondering again."

Grantaire tilts his head slightly at her. "He likes you, I think."

"He's a good man." She smiles. "And reliable." The smile deepens into a grin. "I guess that means I should tell him to go away. Can't break the pattern, you know."

"You damn well can." He is serious, now. "You deserve better, Jeannette, better than what you've had."

"And he is, isn't he?" She knows the answer, but she wants reassurance. "You know him better than I do."

"He is," Grantaire agrees after a perceptible pause. "I don't think anyone knows him all that well, but I do know that much."

Jeanne nods at that, having figured that out, mostly, and observes ruefully, "It's not as if I'm perfect myself. I can't expect much."

"You sound like me." He smiles crookedly, and reaches out to ruffle her hair.

Jeanne bats his hand away, chuckling. "Ah, but you know he's good and right and pure and all of that. I'm not looking for an immortal, just a man."

Grantaire draws breath to protest, but it seems not worth the fuss. "I know. So, you're on the right track."

She laughs. "Well, I wasn't going to fight you for him."

Grantaire's grin is bemusedly wry. "Which?"

Jeanne blinks. "Well, no offense, cher, but I hardly think Paul is interested in you."

He laughs at that. "No, I don't think so either."

"So that wouldn't be much of a battle. Not one worth mentioning." She shrugs. "I think I was teasing you, but I don't recall if I had a point."

Grantaire chuckles, and cuffs her shoulder playfully. "Of course not."

Jeanne catches hold of his hand, then opens her arms to embrace her again. "You look good. I'm so glad to see you taking care of yourself."

Grantaire hugs her roughly. "Well. One can but try."

"You don't always," she chides him. "Otherwise I wouldn't notice, now would I?"

"I know." He kisses the top of her head. "I'll be good."

"I'll just bet you will."


"What more could I ask?" She pokes his arm. "Not like you're suddenly going to stop drinking, or anything."

Grantaire looks wry. "You never know."

"Mon Dieu, if he can get you to do that, I'll give him laurels myself." She shakes her head at Grantaire.

Grantaire goes quiet again. Shy would not be the wrong word. "Well. We'll see."

Jeanne grins at him. "Yes, we will, eventually." With a more stern look, she asks, "You'll not put up with anything, right?" She remembers old complaints of how unpleasant Enjolras could be, far too well to let this go.

Grantaire is silent.

"Do I have to talk to him myself?"

He sighs. "I don't 'put up with' anything, Jeannette."

"Don't lie to me about that." She may have been teasing earlier, but not anymore. "I've heard your stories. You're important, too, damn it."

"Only to you, chérie. No, don't scold me, all right? Don't worry." He squeezes her hand gently.

Jeanne sighs. "God, I've talked to enough girls who didn't care what their men said or did, but you? Don't do this to me, François. Don't let him walk all over you."

"No." Grantaire pats her arm. "I'll be all right. Aren't I always?" And, after a hesitation, "He's not that bad, Jeannette."

"How can you say that? This is the man who hit you for talking to his cousin... sister... whatever, isn't it?"

"It's his sister," Grantaire says patiently. "I don't blame him."

Jeanne covers her face with her hand. "What's wrong with talking, for heaven's sake?" She sighs. "No, I don't think he'd do that again, but... I don't like it."

Grantaire is quiet, and looks at the floor.

Jeanne admits defeat. "All right, fine, I know I can't change your mind." She holds up a hand, palm out. "You always reminded me how useless my husband was. The least I can do is try to protect you from yourself."

Grantaire glances up again, with a half-smile. "I know. I appreciate the thought. But I know what I'm doing." This is a flagrant lie, but is the best he can express himself.

"Of course you do." She shrugs slightly. "Just, if you need me, you know where to find me."

"Yes." He smiles a bit more, and adds with friendly malice, "and if I don't, I can always ask Feuilly."

Jeanne frowns. "Don't you trust me to tell you what's going on? Nothing's happened with him, yet."

Grantaire pats her arm again. "I know. I know. Don't mind me." He straightens to his feet with a slight sigh. "I should be on my way, I suppose."

"If you like. It was good to see you."

"And you." He quirks a grin. "Take care of yourself, love. Be good."

"You, too." She gives him another hug.

Grantaire hugs her tightly, and lets her go. "I will." With that, he departs.

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