43. Company Manners

Lyon.  July 31st

Grantaire is unwontedly quiet as they approach Great-aunt Claudette's modest but eminently civilized house. His hands are lodged in his pockets.

"It's nicer than I expected," Enjolras observes, then realizes how rude that sounds. "I mean, you're not exactly rich, or your sister."

Grantaire flicks that semi-sour grin at him. "Not exactly. Aunt married well. Grandmama... didn't. I'm glad you approve."

Enjolras blushes slightly. "I just -- I didn't think, when you said your aunt wanted a visit, that we'd be going to anywhere like this."

Grantaire snorts, but holds his peace. He pauses dourly at the gate, then swings it open and holds it for Enjolras.

Enjolras walks through it, looking at him and smiling very slightly. "Does she know about your normal manners?"

"And what is that supposed to mean, monsieur?" retorts Grantaire, though it carries more mockery than annoyance.

"Well, you know," though now he is asked, Enjolras does not. "You seem to be on your best behavior."

Their discussion is interrupted as the door to the manor opens, revealing an elderly butler. He peers at the two of them for a moment before nodding, as if confirming their identity in his mind. "Welcome back, young man. Your great-aunt is expecting you."

Grantaire lets the gate fall shut again. "Damned right." Then he shuts up swiftly as the door opens. Mutely he nods, casting a glance at Enjolras, and moves to go in.

Enjolras hangs back a step or two, then follows with barely a glance at the butler.

The butler steps aside slowly, allowing the two young men entrance. He peers at Enjolras again, then seems to discount him. "Madame awaits you in the library." He walks away slowly, without closing the door, and disappears around a corner. Obviously not the brightest of men.

Grantaire sighs, and patiently shuts the door. "I hate this," he comments in an undertone, before turning to follow.

"How bad can it be?" asks Enjolras, just as quietly.

"Oh, well," Grantaire amends kindly, "I've met your mother, I shouldn't complain." Thus revenged for any previous unconscious snobbery, he heads down the hallway.

They catch up with the butler easily, as he's not making good time. Finally reaching a pair of doors, he turns, again peers at Enjolras, and opens them. "Your nephew has arrived, madame," he says slowly.

"Thank you, that will be all. Come in, François, let me see you!" comes a voice from inside the dim and dusty room.

Grantaire rakes a hand through his hair, gives Enjolras' shoulder a quick fierce clasp, takes a deep breath, and enters. "Hullo, Auntie."

Enjolras enters silently and observes the not-exactly-frail old lady and her suddenly well-behaved grandnephew. He makes no move to introduce himself, just yet.

The small but healthy-looking woman smiles as she beckons him over. "Come along, it's not every day I get to see my favorite nephew! Come over here and give your Aunt Claudette a kiss."

Grantaire manages to contain a wry grimace, and crosses the room to comply.

Enjolras is grinning at the predicament of his companion, but does nothing to alert the lady to his presence. It wouldn't do.

Claudette smiles as Grantaire places a delicate kiss on her cheek. "That's better, my boy." She smiles at him and gestures to the chair opposite hers. "Please, sit down. Tell me how you've been. What have you been doing?"

"Getting by." He pauses, then, in what's either scrupulous courtesy or a neat dodge, glances back at Enjolras. "Auntie, let me introduce a friend of mine, Marcelin Enjolras..." It's perfectly casual.

Enjolras steps forward and makes a little bow. "Pleased to meet you."

Auntie looks over immediately, spotting him by the door. "Why, François, I had no idea you'd brought someone with you! Come closer, M. Enjolras, please. This is the first time François has brought one of his friends to visit."

Enjolras obeys the command.

Claudette nods approvingly at him. "It's a pleasure to meet you as well, my dear."

Grantaire continues effortlessly, "Marcelin, my esteemed grandaunt, Madame Lambert. I thought you'd like each other."

Enjolras nods slightly, and begins wondering where he might sit. "I am sure you are correct, François." There's only a slight pause before he says the name, and he's not laughing. Smiling, yes.

"Sit down Monsieur, make yourself comfortable." She gestures at another chair in the vicinity. "And you as well, François."

"Thank you, Madame Lambert." Enjolras takes a seat.

Grantaire darts him a look, but is otherwise unruffled. He takes a seat dutifully, looking out of place in Claudette's elegantly styled armchair.

Claudette looks overly happy as she leans forward and pins R with a kindly-aunt-looking-out-for-the-well-being-of-her-nephew look. "It's been awhile since you've visited, François. Have you been keeping yourself occupied?"

Grantaire does not look at Enjolras. No. "More or less."

Enjolras volunteers, "We've been studying together," and he does it with a straight face.

"Good, good, it's wonderful to see two young men so engrossed in their studies." Her smile turns a bit on the crafty side. "Of course, studies aren't everything, and you're not in Paris solely to get an education." She leans back and studies him. "Are you seeing anyone?"

Enjolras, for no reason at all, turns bright red and stares at one of the bookshelves. There will be little help from that quarter.

Grantaire colors slowly, but amazingly manages one of his cheerful gargoyle grins. "Not to speak of," he says, which is after all literally true.

She sighs long-sufferingly. "Too involved in your studies, I suppose... what about you, young man?" she says suddenly, turning to Enjolras. "Have you a ladyfriend waiting for you back in Paris?"

"Oh, Marcelin's far too busy for women," cuts in Grantaire gaily. "Far too much else to think about."

Enjolras stutters, then glares at Grantaire. It's just like the old days. After a moment, he manages to compose himself, if one ignores his red face and irritated demeanor. "No, Madame, I have no mistress."

Grantaire exchanges a conspiratorial grin with the carpet. Definitely like the old days.

Auntie, dear old thing that she is, senses nothing of the awkward conflict between her nephew and his classmate. "You young men these days, always so busy with more important things... no time to think of love." She sighs, reminiscing for a moment, before returning her gaze back to them. "Your studies are progressing then, François?"

"Yes, ma'am." Grantaire is perfectly glib. "As well as can be expected."

Enjolras takes a deep breath, but says nothing. He seems to be relaxing slightly. High blood pressure must run in the family.

Claudette nods with approval. "Very good. A good education is a lifesaver in times like these." She does not elaborate on "times like these," which considering her present company is probably for the best.

"Indeed, Madame." Enjolras can agree with that, easily. "If a man knows how the world works, after all, he can work within it and with it to his own best advantage. Unfortunately, many citizens of Our Fair Country are at the mercy of those more educated than they, and cannot fend for themselves." Not quite patronizingly, he continues, "I believe it is a wonderful thing you are doing for your nephew, in trying to raise him to his family's standards rather than those of the peasantry."

There's an odd noise from madame's nephew. It might be a stifled snort.

"Well said, my boy, well said!" Claudette smiles happily at him. "It's quite refreshing to hear a young man show an interest in the world around him. François, you'd do well to follow his example."

Enjolras realizes what he has done. "Oh, truly, Madame, he does." This is the case; Grantaire pays attention to all sorts of things, except the ones Auntie means.

"Oh, I know," Grantaire rejoins with all solemnity. "He inspires me to no end."

Enjolras blushes at that, and looks away from both of them.

"Well, good. I'm pleased he's met someone he can listen to that will have a good influence on him." She smiles at Grantaire, oblivious to Marcelin's discomfort.

Enjolras admits faintly, "I try."

Claudette smiles cheerfully at him. "And that's what's important, my dear. If we didn't try, we'd get nowhere." The ancient grandfather clock suddenly chimes quietly and she looks up. "Good heavens, it's this late already!" She looks back at them. "Will you be staying for supper, François?"

"If you like," Grantaire says easily.

Enjolras gives Grantaire an almost irritated look, then says mildly, "If we are staying, we really ought to clean up first. The dust of travel makes for poor gravy."

"Of course, you boys must be exhausted after your journey. François, your room is prepared, I'll have Isabelle make up the one next to it for your friend." She rises and extends a hand. "It was a pleasure to meet you, M. Enjolras, I thank you for coming. Dinner will be in an hour if you'd care to join me."

Grantaire stands carefully, quiet.

Enjolras takes her hand and kisses it. "I'd be honored, Madame."

Claudette smiles as he does so and turns to François. "It's good to see you again, nephew." She kisses him on the cheek, having to stretch to do so and aided by him patiently leaning over. Sweeping out of the library, they can hear her calling to Isabelle to prepare another room for her nephew's guest.

Grantaire murmurs something polite and dutiful, and watches her departure a little dazedly.

"Did you have to say that? 'Far too busy for women.'" Enjolras shakes his head. "I thought we had an agreement about that, at least."

Grantaire glances sharply back at him, collapsing to lean against the back of the chair. "Well, what did you want me to say? It's the truth, after all. Even leaving all else aside." His tone is acerbic.

"Leaving all else aside? I have no time for a girl because I make time for you." He makes it sound almost like a favor. "You know that damn well. And if I didn't..." more quietly, "I wouldn't have some petticoat hanging around, no matter what." Enjolras appears as scornful as ever at the idea of a woman. Some things don't change.

"Exactly, so what are you in a tizzy about, fair-haired boy?" Grantaire regards him with mingled irritation and affection.

"I didn't know what to say."

Grantaire's grin is wry and a trifle brittle. "Really? You managed awfully well for a man who didn't know what to say."

"Spouting unhelpful nonsense?" Enjolras laughs shortly, shaking his head. "That's not managing. That's dodging the issue."

Grantaire quotes dryly, "'Raise him to his family's standards'. Ye gods." He pushes to his feet again, shaking his head. "You'll make a lovely lawyer."

"I'm sorry." For once, he actually sounds it, but he continues in a more defensive tone of voice, "I was only trying to distract her."

"Damned patrician," Grantaire says mildly, and holds out an arm to him. "Come here."

"Someone had to do it." Enjolras accepts the arm, and closes most of the distance between them. "Forgive me?"

"My God, you have to ask?" And Grantaire leans in to kiss him, heedless of who might walk in.

Enjolras pulls away slightly. "Not now. The maid." He presses a finger to Grantaire's lips. "I do have to ask. And now I'm answered."

"Damn the maid," but Grantaire desists, for the moment. He catches the hand. "We should go, I suppose, get cleaned up. Impress the aunt."

"That sounds like a plan." Enjolras retrieves his hand for the sake of image, and goes to the library door. "Do you know where your room is?"

"I do." Grantaire moves to follow him. "Upstairs on the right, it's not hard to find."

Enjolras steps back. "Why don't you show me?"

Grantaire sketches a mock-formal bow. "Very well."

The elegant table is lit with silver candelabras, which throw a gentle glow onto the walls. The table, previously set for two, has been modified to accomodate a third party. Aunt Claudette has only just entered and is patiently waiting for her nephew and his engaging friend.

Enjolras, washed up and wearing a less dusty shirt, arrives in the dining room with Grantaire, who is likewise cleaned.

Grantaire ventures a subdued "Evening" to Claudette as they enter.

Claudette looks up as the two of them enter and she smiles. "Good evening, François, Monsieur. Please, sit, dinner will be out momentarily."

Enjolras takes a seat. "Thank you, Madame."

Grantaire follows suit mutely. Let Enjolras do the talking; that seems like a good idea.

A maid enters quietly, bearing a soup tureen and followed by the elderly butler. She sets the soup on the table, curtseys prettily, and exits without a word. The butler starts for the soup but is stopped. "That will be all, thank you." He blinks confusedly but bows and exits. Claudette sighs quietly. "He's been in the family for years, I simply can't bear to let him go."

Enjolras looks at the soup, and at his taciturn tablemate. "That's a pity," he ventures, not sure of the correct response.

Grantaire peers toward the door, starts to run a hand through his hair again, stops himself. "Thought he seemed awfully absent," he agrees, rather mutedly.

"He is quite absent-minded, but he's such a dear. However, his hands aren't as steady as they used to be." She calls for another servant to come and finish serving the food. Isabelle comes in and curtseys before beginning to ladle the soup.

"Ah. That could be a problem when one is serving soup." Enjolras never had to worry about the quality of butlers. He generally ignored them. Talking about one at any length is uncomfortable for him.

"And it has been a problem in the past. But we've managed to solve it, haven't we dear?" she says to Isabelle, who's just finished serving. Isabelle smiles quietly and says nothing about it.

Grantaire glances up from the tablecloth long enough to half-smile awkwardly at Isabelle, and then away again.

Isabelle smiles gently back at Grantaire before departing quietly to leave the three of them to their dinner.

"What a relief," Enjolras says, though he has no idea what's going on in the woman's mind. He tries to catch Grantaire's eye and get him to relax.

"Isn't it," Grantaire says rather brittlely. He pauses, catching Marcelin's glance, and makes an effort. "How've you been, Auntie?"

Claudette waves her hand airily. "Oh, the same, my boy, the same. The spring colds caught me this year, I was hoping to avoid them. But the doctor says I'll be fine with more fresh air." She laughs. "Fresh air indeed. These days, all the fresh air I'll get comes from the open window. But he's such a dear." Her opinion of everyone seems to be that they're such a dear.

Grantaire manages a grin. "We'll have to get you out more. Take you for a walk in the gardens."

Enjolras looks slightly frightened at the prospect. "That sounds like a lovely idea."

Claudette smiles at him. "It would be lovely to spend time in the gardens, they're quite lovely this time of year. Thank you for thinking of it, we shall have to do that sometime soon."

Enjolras nods, and looks gratefully at his soup. It, at least, makes more sense than this old woman.

Grantaire cannot thereafter think of a thing to say. He glances down as well.

Isabelle and the other maid come in a few minutes later to collect the empty plates and bring in the entrees. They disappear again after more curtseys. Auntie smiles. "Eat well, boys, you look a bit pale. What do they feed you at that university?"

"Knowledge," Enjolras answers almost immediately. "But not much else."

Grantaire mutters something about Corinth and horror stories, and chuckles.

Enjolras catches Grantaire's comment, and grins at him.

Grantaire grins back, looking for once more boyish than ironical.

Claudette sighs worriedly. "Students these days, they'll starve themselves for knowledge." She misses Grantaire's quiet comment, which is probably just as well. She'd be scandalized to know they ate in places like that, dear old sheltered thing.

"Some of us have no other way to pay for our studies," Enjolras explains. He sounds almost as if he is talking about himself, despite all evidence to the contrary. "And some of us... spend the money other ways." Give him credit; he doesn't look at Grantaire when he says that.

"Mmm." Grantaire looks utterly neutral.

She nods in understanding. "Some don't realize the value of a good education. I'm pleased to see that you do, M. Enjolras."

Enjolras nods, but already gave that speech, and does not feel like reiterating it.

Grantaire examines his fingernails a moment, searching for words. His mind lights on a topic, and he pounces on it thankfully. "Jeanne said to say hello."

Claudette's eyes light up at the name. "Oh, how wonderful, I haven't heard from her in weeks! How is she?"

Enjolras remembers Jeanne, vaguely, but holds his peace.

"Better than she was. Due in large part to you." A fleeting smile; it doesn't hurt to flatter the old lady. "Her friends are helping her out, I guess."

"I think it's wonderful the way young people are helping each other make their ways in the world today. I'm so pleased to hear that she's well. Tell her I send my love, will you dear?"

Grantaire smiles again, briefly but genuinely. "I will."

The rest of dinner proceeds with relative ease. Finally, Claudette sets down her fork. "It's getting late, I'll have to retire soon." She smiles. "I used to be able to speak for hours after dinner, but alas, I'm growing too old for that sort of thing. And you boys have had a long day." She rises. "I thank you both for a very enjoyable evening."

Enjolras stands. "Thank you for a delicious dinner, Madame."

Grantaire rises as well, diffident. Nothing occurs to him to say beside Enjolras' effortless courtesy, so he's quiet, only venturing a bit of a smile.

Claudette smiles affectionately at Grantaire. "Take care of yourself, François." She turns to Enjolras. "Again, a pleasure to meet you. I do hope you'll accompany my nephew again at some point."

"It would be my pleasure to do so." The graceful phrase reflects no feeling at all, which is probably good, considering Enjolras's feelings on this subject.

Grantaire murmurs, "Take care, Aunt."

Claudette smiles at the two of them again before sweeping out and off to bed, leaving them to themselves.

Enjolras sighs in relief as the door closes behind her. "A very nice lady," he says, almost sardonically.

Grantaire rakes both hands through his hair. "She is. She's a good old baggage. But, my God, I never know what to say to her."

"I noticed that." In a teasing voice, Enjolras notes, "I didn't think anyone in the world had the power to hush you."

"Besides yourself," Grantaire mocks back. "Yes, well."

Enjolras does not smirk. It isn't in him. But he looks awfully smug. "Yes, well, and you can shut me up, just the same, so we're even."

Grantaire grins crookedly. "I suppose so." He stretches surreptitiously; none of Auntie's chairs were really built for a gawk like him. After a moment he adds, mildly, "Thank you for coming with me."

"You're welcome. After all, you've had to meet my mother. I should return the burden." Enjolras smiles slightly. "She's not so bad."

"At least I'm not marrying your sister," Grantaire says wryly. "No, Auntie's not bad. She's just... well. You saw."

Enjolras coughs. "No, no, you're not." Forgive him if he says, "Thank God." In a louder tone, he continues, "She's an old woman. It's enough."

"One feels obligated not to scandalize her." Grantaire shrugs, quirks a self-mocking grin. "Is it any wonder I'm never awfully comfortable in her house? --But I can't grudge her the occasional visit."

Enjolras's eyebrows lift. "You must do your filial duty, indeed. It's not so horrible."

Grantaire seems oblivious to any hint of rebuke. "No, no, it's not. Just that, God, I always feel such an idiot." Again the slight stretch, less disguised this time.

Enjolras withholds comment on that, and chooses a different subject. "If you're so uncomfortable in the chair, why don't you stand?"

"That would take effort." Grantaire grins at him, the familiar hellion's grin.

"Heaven forfend you should expend energy." That is very dry. "Do you intend to spend the night there, then, and be waiting for breakfast in the morning?"

"No, I should think there were much better places to spend the night," blandly.

Enjolras nods, and returns in the same tone of voice, "So I've heard."

Grantaire darts a bright glance up at him. "Indeed."

"Bed, for example."

"Exactly." Grantaire leans back for a moment, regarding him with lifted brows, then pushes to his feet. "That sounds like a good idea, actually. What with the long journey, and all."

Enjolras stands, also, and yawns over-dramatically. "Yes. I don't know about you, but I'm quite tired."

"Quite. Shall I show you to your room?" Ever helpful.

"I would appreciate that no end." He sounds quite as if he means it.

Grantaire inclines his head with great politesse, and crosses to swing the door open.

Enjolras, equally formally, nods as he goes through the door, then pauses. "Which way was it?"

Grantaire rests a hand on his shoulder, and guides him toward the stairs.

"Ah, yes, I remember now." The house is not all that large; moments later, they are outside the doors of the bedrooms in question.

Grantaire pauses there, and looks at his companion. "Good night," he says, but he doesn't unhand him.

"Good night." Enjolras glances at the doors, which remain steadfastly two instead of one. Some flicker of caution returns, and he steps away. "I do hope you sleep well."

Grantaire nods, letting his hand fall. "And you." He pauses. "If you... need anything, I... you know where I'll be." A small, wry grin.

"Yes, I shall." Enjolras still doesn't go anywhere.

Another awkward pause. "Well," Grantaire says. He's articulate again, it seems.

Enjolras turns away. Once, he actually had some self-control. Perhaps this is a vestige of it, but after he opens the door of his room, he turns back. "Sleep well."

Grantaire starts to say something, stops, and chuckles. "You said that."

"Did I?" Enjolras gets flustered, and looks away again. "I must have meant it."

"That's good to know." Grantaire tucks his hands in his pockets, as though to keep them from wandering, and half-grins, fleetingly. "Well. Good night."

"You said that," Enjolras is quick to point out.

"Did I?" Grantaire summons all his force of will, for what that's worth, and repeats gently, "I must have meant it then."

Enjolras looks at him blankly for a moment, then withdraws into his room before the chance is completely lost.

Grantaire takes in a sharp breath, shuts his eyes a moment, then nods, and follows his example.

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