Unable are the Loved to die / For Love is Immortality. --Emily Dickinson
Hecate's portal is a dark and forbidding thing, as is the place she calls home. Apollo looks out of place there like sunrise at midnight. It is difficult for him to explain to Hecate why he has come. He stumbles over words, forgets Grantaire's name and refers to him as "this mortal," and neglects to mention why this mortal is present at all. Hecate, who looks like an old woman with long black hair streaked with grey, matted into elflocks, listens to his petition while caressing an owl that is perhaps the size of a condor or perhaps smaller. It is difficult to tell from moment to moment. She studies Grantaire with the eyes of a grandmother who knows you stole her cookies when they were just out of the oven, and hasn't yet decided whether she ought to punish you or let you go. When Apollo has finished his halting speech, one hand on Grantaire's shoulder, she nods. The owl takes to the air, its huge wings making a great wind. "Follow me," Hecate says, and turns away, leaning on a cane.
She leads them into a cobweb-covered forest. Between two of the trees, there is blackness instead of web from where the lowest branches cross to the ground. "You must go through this," she tells Grantaire, pointing to the nothingness. "You know where you ought to be, and it will take you there." She looks him over closely, then spits on her fingers and wipes his forehead clean. "Take off the ring, and all of your clothes. Nothing must bind you."
He obeys after a moment, shivering in the cool breezes through the forest. Apollo watches this, frowning, and reaches to accept the clothing, ring, and sandals so that he can make them disappear before they are further covered in webs.
"Are you ready?" Hecate asks.
Grantaire looks from her to Apollo. Then, he embraces Apollo, shaking with more than cold, and kisses him for a long moment. Apollo holds him tightly until they break the kiss. "I love you."
"I adore you," comes the response, though it is choked with tears. Grantaire bows his head for a moment, then asks Hecate, "All I have to do is walk through that?"
He looks back at Apollo again for such a long time that it seems he will never be able to do anything else. Then, he shakes his head as if to clear it and walks toward the portal and through it.
The forest was cold. The portal is not cold or warm. There is no sense of heat, touch, anything. He had had the sense of having a body before he entered the portal, but now that is gone. This goes on until he begins to doubt that it will ever change, and wonders how he might stop thinking in this nothingness where there is nothing to think or do.
The nothing becomes grey, which is an interesting shift if nothing else, and after another interminable period the grey begins growing lighter until it reached white. There is a flash of light, and he abruptly has what feels like his body again. He is standing on a featureless plain, but in the distance there is something that may be a low cloud or may be something else. He wishes with a sharp pang of loss that he were not alone, and he hears a familiar female voice. "François, where have you been?" Jeanne, looking as she might have when she was young if she had never married and had had three times as much money for food and clothing, runs toward him.
He stumbles blindly into her arms. "Jeannette--"
She embraces him. "What happened? Why are you so late?"
"Am I?" Grantaire clings to her as though she might dissolve at any moment.
"It's been years, mon frère. We were all wondering how you could take so long."
"I was--" He hesitates, lost for words.
"You found him!" a joyful voice that should not be present cries. Jeanne lets Grantaire go and turns, half-smiling.
"He won't tell me where he's been, m'sieur."
Grantaire stares, half in shock, half in sudden hope. "Cher--" in what voice he has left. "What are you doing here?"
Enjolras puts a hand on his shoulder and looks wry. "The same thing you are, I imagine."
"Beloved-- you don't belong here." It is said with some effort.
He frowns. Jeanne chuckles. "I said something like that, too, but -- that's not how it works, I suppose."
"Please." Grantaire reaches out to touch his cheek, then stops himself. "I don't understand."
Enjolras looks worried, and, it must be noted, quite a bit different from Apollo once one has become accustomed to Apollo. He looks older and weaker, and does not have the same illusion of height. There is also quite a difference between the god's eyes and the eyes of this man. "What don't you understand, chéri?"
"I thought... oh, God, love." And Grantaire embraces him fiercely. "I don't understand at all."
"I'll give you a while to work it out," Jeanne says, and walks away.
"I still don't know what has you so confused," Enjolras says softly.
So Grantaire explains, awkwardly and with many hesitations, ending in wonderment, "He was you, I'll swear to that. But you aren't him. Surely."
Enjolras looks thoroughly bemused by the end of the story. "I'm certain I'm not him. I don't know how -- how that could be. But it must have been, somehow." He touches Grantaire's cheek. "I'm sorry, my love."
Grantaire catches his hand and kisses it. "It's all right. More than all right. Now."
Enjolras smiles. "Do you know how much I missed you?"
"I can imagine," soberly.
"I'm sure you can. My God, love, it's good to see you. It makes -- this -- seem all right."
Grantaire looks at him. "Is it so terrible?"
"It was without you."
Grantaire shivers, and pulls him close again.
"It's all right."
"If you say so."
Enjolras chuckles. "You act as though I know something about all of this. He might, but I don't."
Grantaire looks away. "I'm sorry. I--"
"It's all right, mon cher," gently. "Don't look away from me, please? You don't know how happy it makes me to have you here."
"I know." He looks back after a moment, with the beginnings of a smile. "I-- God, Marcelin," hugging him again.
"I love you so much."
"Ah." A little wistfully, "I wasn't myself without you, my love."
Grantaire squeezes his shoulders, then pulls back a little with a small, awkward smile. "Call me by name, won't you?"
Enjolras blinks. "Of course, François."
He chuckles. "You-- he kept forgetting, you see," a little sadly.
"I don't understand."
"That I had a name, or what it was." Grantaire strokes his hair. "I wanted to be sure you remembered, that's all."
"That doesn't make sense."
"I never make sense. I thought you knew that by now."
Enjolras kisses his cheek. "I don't think it's entirely your fault, this time."
"Well, no. Perhaps not." Grantaire's arms tighten around him again.
"I love you," softly.
"I love you, too, chéri. Always." He takes a deep breath. "I still don't understand. But I love you."
"I know less about this than you do, but I am so glad you're here. I didn't know what to think when -- when --" he swallows. "When I didn't see you, and I don't know anything about this place but what they've told me."
"And I thought I had lost you for good. --Hush, my love, it's all right."
"It's all right now." Enjolras takes a deep breath. "It's all right. Yes. There are people who will be glad to see you."
He smiles. "Jehan would not believe a word of it until I found Jeanne and had her talk to him."
"Jehan-- Ah, God, of course, I'm a fool even now," and Grantaire laughs suddenly. "Wouldn't believe what?"
Enjolras strokes his hair. "What do you think, François, mon coeur?"
Grantaire blinks, and smiles crookedly. "Ah. I suppose he wouldn't have, at that."
"He said that he decided not to -- to watch over the people he'd known," Enjolras explains. "Some do, apparently, and some would rather not."
"I see." Grantaire shivers a little.
"What's the matter, love?"
"Nothing. Takes getting used to, that's all."
Enjolras nods. "I would have thought you would know more about all of this than I do -- but then, there were rather odd circumstances." He smiles.
"Mes amis--" comes a light masculine voice, before Grantaire can answer. "Oh, at last!"
Grantaire turns in Enjolras' arms to blink at the new arrival, and for a moment is caught between embarrassment, bewilderment and joy. Finding his voice, he says gently, "It's been too long, Jehan."
Enjolras lets Grantaire go, a bit reluctantly, and smiles at Jehan.
"Far too long," and Prouvaire embraces them both indiscriminately. "For all that I don't quite know how long it's been."
Grantaire hugs him back roughly. "Even so." And, bemused, "God. I don't know what to say."
Enjolras chuckles. "You might start with 'Bonjour'."
"Yes. 'How are you' doesn't seem to cover it, does it?" Jehan grins. "You might, but then you might just as well say 'bonsoir'. I think it's mainly a matter of opinion." He glances briefly at what may be assumed to be the sky.
"I suppose so." Grantaire shakes his head.
"It becomes less strange after a while," Enjolras assures him. "Oh, of a certainty," agrees Prouvaire. "Very much like life, it is what you make of it."
Grantaire grins. "I'll have to take your word for it, then."
"It is -- and it isn't -- like being alive." Enjolras falters before the last two words. "I can understand why some people would choose to live again, rather than stay who they were, forever."
"It makes it hell for some of us," Prouvaire says soberly. "They don't go mad, you know, unless they already were, but..." He shakes his head.
Grantaire squeezes Enjolras's shoulder, and changes the subject. "Well, and who else is here?"
Enjolras blinks, then remembers. "Most everyone is here, chéri; at least, everyone you would want to be close to." He shakes his head. "Apparently, from what they tell me, one has to be much more sinful than we'd thought to go somewhere unpleasant. Or, rather, to go to Hell. -- You ought to tell Jehan your story, François. That must have been unpleasant, and it was singularly odd."
Jean Prouvaire looks quizzical. "What story is this?"
"It wasn't unpleasant," Grantaire protests uneasily, "not until the end. Only... strange."
"No? -- Well, it must have been exceedingly strange." Enjolras takes his hand comfortingly.
Grantaire presses his fingers. "Yes. It was."
"What was strange?" Jeanne asks as she walks towards them again. She nods to Prouvaire.
Jehan smiles at her. "Your brother was about to explain where he has been all this time."
"Ah. I'd like to hear that." Jeanne sits down on what would be ground if it were more than blank space.
Grantaire lets Enjolras go, sitting beside her to put an arm around her shoulders. "All right, then." And taking a deep breath, he starts again from the beginning.
After the first few sentences, Jeanne stares at Enjolras. "Tell me he's making this up. -- You're making this up, aren't you?"
Jean Prouvaire looks bemused.
"Why in God's name would I?" Grantaire slants a wry look at his sister. "You give me too much credit, Jeannette. I couldn't invent this if I tried."
She shakes her head. "Of all the things." She looks up at Enjolras, amused. "I suppose this explains a few things."
He shakes his head. "I didn't know -- and I have no memory of any of this. Let him talk." Enjolras sits next to Grantaire, close enough to touch him.
So Grantaire goes on, taking care with the details, his eyes mainly on the ground, and pausing every now and then to explain or let Prouvaire explain an arcane mythological detail to Jeanne.
As the story progresses, Enjolras looks increasingly uncomfortable. Because he's heard it before, he knows that it is just going to get worse. He begins fidgetting and occasionally blushing at a particularly painful anecdote.
Grantaire for his part is careful, throughout, to emphasize precisely with whom he has been spending his time. He keeps an arm reassuringly around his sister.
Jean Prouvaire listens keenly, attentive as a child at bedtime.
Jeanne occasionally interrupts with incredulous, "He did what?" or "They actually spoke to you?" sorts of questions.
"...but it was plain he was right, and it would only get worse." Grantaire pauses. "So I left, and here I am, wherever exactly here may be."
Enjolras squeezes his shoulder. "I'm sorry, chéri."
Grantaire smiles gently at him, taking his hand. "No need."
"It's worse to hear it for the second time," Enjolras says sadly. "I heard more of what I missed at first because I was so surprised by all of it, then. Damn him."
Jean Prouvaire shakes his head, mute with wonderment.
Jeanne lays her head on her brother's shoulder. "It's a good thing you left."
"It is," he agrees quietly.
Enjolras laces his fingers with Grantaire's. "We would have missed you horribly."
"Indeed." Prouvaire shakes his head, earnest as a boy. "It all sounds remarkable-- but oh, it's good to see you here."
Grantaire half grins. "It's good to see you, too. All of you."
Jeanne gives him half a hug. "Good to see you got some sense, somewhere. Even this one --" with a negligent gesture at Enjolras and a smile "-- sounds better than the god."
Grantaire chuckles, and presses a kiss to 'this one's' fingers with a gesture of long familiarity. "Yes."
Enjolras blinks, then chuckles. "Thank you, Jeanne."
Jean Prouvaire blushes slightly, watching, but smiles.
Jeanne nods. "It could obviously be much worse."
Grantaire grins. "Certainly."
"What could?" inquires a mild voice, accompanied by a light hand on Jeanne's hair.
"I could, Paul," Enjolras says in an amused voice. "And I have been." Jeanne looks up and smiles, catching at Feuilly's hand and tugging him downward.
Jean Prouvaire grins, forgetting his embarrassment. "Ah, there you are. Look who's found us."
"Haven't we all," and Feuilly sits down, with what passes with him for a smile. "Hello, Grantaire."
Jeanne puts an arm around Feuilly's waist.
"Hello yourself," returns Grantaire, suddenly awkward.
"It's all right," Enjolras says softly. "We have time to work everything out, now."
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