71. Venice

"Venice is a lovely city," Enjolras observes, "but it does not quite have the appeal of Rome. It never accomplished the same level of grandeur, and so its decline is not as interesting."

Grantaire nods gravely as he listens, slouched easily in a chair by the window, with a half-smile of affection.

"Venice is simply Venice," Enjolras adds with a shrug. "Lacking intrinsic interest, it must have more superficial charm than Rome, which it does not quite achieve."

Grantaire chuckles mildly. "It's as well we aren't staying, then."

"Indeed. But there are some compensations."

"Such as."

"Other than the company? The canals are unique."

It wins him a grin. "True. Here we make do at home with one river."

"They have boats on the canals, you know," Enjolras says as idly as he can pretend to be.

Grantaire rests an arm on the windowsill. "So they do. Novel, that."

Enjolras chuckles. "These are much more relaxing because they do not have to fight a current. They simply drift."

"Do they?" Grantaire grins at him again. "I'll have to take your word for it. You're the one who always paid attention in school."

"Do you think I'm telling this to you for my health?" Enjolras asks, amused. "I intend to show you."

"Do you." The dark brows tilt in subtle merriment.

"If you want to sit here all day, I don't mind."

Grantaire shrugs, gestures vaguely with one hand. "I am at your disposal."

Enjolras smiles. "I imagined as much, chéri. It isn't as if we have many obligations here. The canals, then?"

Grantaire watches his face, still half smiling. "If you like."

Enjolras shakes his head slightly. "I asked you first."

Grantaire chuckles. "Oh, very well, then." He sits up, collecting his gangly self into some sort of order before standing.

Enjolras smiles and stands after him. He leaves several coins on the table after stuying them for a minute, then takes Grantaire's arm.

Although there aren't many boats in the water today, the canals are clearly alive and bustling with the commerce that keeps the city growing, and the sightseers that attest to its beauty. One gondolier sits on a plank near his docked vessel, feeding such gulls as come near.

Enjolras looks at the boat curiously. "It looks marginally sturdy to me. What do you think, chéri?"

Giuseppe doesn't look up, but smiles to himself.

Grantaire regards it in some bemusement. "I wouldn't know. I assume it won't spontaneously sink."

"It would have done so already, one hopes." Enjolras hails the boatman in fractured Italian. "Signore, the boat we want to rent."

Giuseppe eyes his clients up and down, and notices a distinct lack of mammary glands. Blessed Mary, what HAS happened to the tourist trade this season? Out loud: "Very good, gentlemen. Good boat. Nice boat. Only 15 lira for nice smooth ride."

Enjolras glances at Grantaire. "15 lira? I not sure." In French, "What do you think? Shall we?"

Grantaire works on deciphering this for a moment, then shrugs amiably. "Why not?"

Enjolras counts out the appropriate money. "How long ride?"

Giuseppe considers. "About two-thirds of an hourglass. Is nice, leisurely float through canals of beautiful city. Good value for price."

Enjolras pays him. "All right."

Taking the coins, the boatman steps aside to let his passengers on board, waiting for them to shuffle past before biting down on each piece to make sure it doesn't bend.

Grantaire chuckles suddenly, shaking his head, and offers Enjolras a steadying hand.

"What?" asks Enjolras as he wobbles slightly.

"Nothing. Nothing, cher."

"Then why are you laughing?"

"At myself getting into a bloody boat with the light of my life, at my age. Shut up and sit down," amiably, with a discreet squeeze of his fingers.

Enjolras chuckles and does sit. "It is not that uncommon."

Grantaire settles gingerly across from him. "'course not."

After murmuring a short prayer and crossing himself for taking French clients, Giuseppe takes his place on the gondola, picks up the long steering rod resting in hooks just alongside, and pushes off shore.

Enjolras catches himself slightly. "This is odd, you're right."

Grantaire chuckles again. "'Twas your idea."

"I did not say it was bad," defensively. "Just odd."

"You gentlemen came at the right time. It's a fine day for a boat ride." Slight twitch of the eye. "Are you planning to take your lunch in town?"

Grantaire grins, then peers over his shoulder quizzically. "Probably," he hazards after a pause, and glances back at Enjolras.

Enjolras smiles. "Most likely."

"In that event, Signores, you might consider a fine new café that just opened up, Serendipitas. It's just two stops before the one you got on at, easy to drop off there instead."

Again a pause while Grantaire works through this, then, "Ah. Thank you." He looks again to his companion.

"We will consider it, thank you," Enjolras answers. He grins at Grantaire, and, in French, "As if I know more than you do in this city. Besides, mon chéri, you always knew more about the right place to eat than I did."

Grantaire laughs at that. "Yes, well. Everyone's good at something."

The gondolier only smiles enigmatically, and falls silent.

"You are good at more than that," Enjolras says quietly. "It is merely one of your talents."

Which wins him a wicked look. "And you ought to know."

"I am in a position to know, yes."

Grantaire's foot nudges his ankle. "I've had help, of course."

"You needed it, most times." Enjolras nudges him back.

"So I did, so I did." Grantaire grins, and peers into the water. "Gods of perdition. Let's try not to fall into that."

All too quickly, the familiar dock nears.

Enjolras looks at the water with trepidation. "That is terribly disgusting." And then, at the dock. "Is it time?"

"Si. Two-thirds of hourglass exactly." Holds one up to verify, turning it carefully to hide the cassein glue stains holding the sand in place. "Was very nice ride. You should come back."

Enjolras stands, slightly unsteadily. "Perhaps we will." He tries to give Grantaire a hand up.

"Possibly," Grantaire agrees, batting at the offered hand with mock impatience. "Thank you."

Giuseppe pushes the vessel up to the dock at last, hopping off the boat before it stops and ties up quickly, the way they all learn in gondolier school.

Enjolras gets out, looking terribly relieved to be on relatively stable 'ground,' and reaches back to help Grantaire. He offers the boatman another lira. "It was fun. Thank you."

He accepts it with a wheedle and wide sticky grin. "And thank you. Enjoy your day."

Grantaire clambers ashore with no particular grace, grinning. "An experience," he remarks, in French, and then politely, "And you."

Enjolras nods. "Good day." Back to French, "Would you like to try the café he recommended?"

Grantaire shrugs easily. "No reason not."

"Except that we shall have to find it. 'Serendipitas,' did he say?"

"Think so. 'course, with a name like that, he may have been making it up. God knows."

"This is possible."

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