76. "I Belong To It"

Winter, 1871

The modest house has never been welcoming to uninvited vistors, but it bears the weight of this winter with more resentment than usual, its windows tightly shuttered against cold breezes and neighbor's eyes. A light dusting of snow has sparkled on the porch for a week, and it is undisturbed save for the small footprints of a woman, departing and returning. The most recent trail leads away from the door. When the maid returns again, it is in a cab with the doctor she was sent to summon. They share each other's expression, a tightness around the mouth and worry around their eyes. Monsieur le Medecin helps the woman out of the carriage before paying the driver and sending him on his way. As they walk to the door, "You're sure he hasn't been taking his medicine, Felicia?" Asking again, perhaps expecting a different response.

Felicia stumbles after him, clutching her shawl around her. "I don't think so, m'sieur."

"Damn it, François," the doctor mutters under his breath before entering the house.

Felicia follows, offering reflexively to take his coat, even as she blinks back anxious tears.

Enjolras meets them at the door, showing the same strain, but to a much greater degree. One of his hands is clenched into a fist by his side, white-knuckled. The other trembles slightly. "Joly -- thank you for coming at short notice. I -- I don't know what to say."

"Of course," Joly answers almost before he has finished speaking. "I only hope I can do something."

"I hope so," Enjolras echoes. "You know your way -- tell him I'll be right back, please. I need to --" he breaks off and turns away, going into the kitchen instead of toward the bedroom.

Felicia blinks after him. Turns a pleading look up at the doctor. And then flees.

Joly shakes his head, but he does know his way. The door is ajar. He taps on it. "May I come in?"

"Damn it," is the reply, but it's faint.

"I'll assume that that means 'yes,'" Joly says, as lightly as he can, and enters. A chair is set by the head of the bed, and another by the foot. Various bottles and powders are on the nightstand. "And how are we today?" still a touch cheerful, but forced, because the answer is painfully obvious, even to those who have no medical training.

Distressingly pale, a trifle thinner than when they last met, Grantaire still manages to scowl at him. "We are... damned aggravated."

Joly takes a seat in the chair by the head of the bed. "Are we, now. Why would that be?" His face has changed from the expression of a man visiting friends into its habitual doctor mode, where it betrays no emotion but an affected mild curiosity.

"Get out of here," Grantaire breathes. "I don't ...need your prodding ...or your pills."

"I can see that," Joly answers, waving a hand at the table full of medicines. "You seem well-prepared for a siege. I'm not here to prod you, mon ami, nor to drug you -- unless you ask me to." There is a slight rising inflection to the last sentence.

Grantaire closes his eyes a moment, his face tensing, and draws a careful breath. "....Oh. This a social call? Should've warned me. I'd've... met you at the door."

"No, you wouldn't have." Joly takes his wrist in a brisk, professional grip that is nearly impersonal, and takes out a watch. "It's not precisely social, but I was invited." He begins counting under his breath.

"Damn it," mutters Grantaire again.

After a minute, his wrist is released. "The prodding is over; the socializing can begin, but you'll have to start a conversation. I can't think of anything to say." Joly glances toward the door. "And if there's anything you want me to do -- anything you want to ask -- he'll be back soon. Ask now."

The dark eyes blaze suddenly. "--Nothing he can't hear." And, after a breathless pause, "I gave up... running away... years ago."

The doctor façade drops. "I know, cher." Joly blinks rather too rapidly. "I know. But he's worried enough without hearing the truth."

"What would you have me do?" Grantaire's face twists slightly. "I can't--"

"Let him lie to himself for a little longer," Joly says softly. "He wants me to make you well, of course. But even he can't expect that I can. Let him pretend that it will be all right, as long as you can. He must know the truth by now. Why force him to admit it?"

Grantaire is silent, staring at the wall.

"I'm sorry," Joly says, and takes a deep breath, doing his best to be professional again.

Slow footsteps in the hallway, then Enjolras enters, without knocking, and looks from Grantaire to Joly with reddened eyes. Joly relinquishes his seat; Enjolras sits and takes Grantaire's hand with a practiced motion. "How are you, chéri?"

Grantaire looks up at him, with a fleeting anguish that fades into an almost desperate happiness, and squeezes his fingers lightly. "Been worse," he allows. "You should have... told me we were having company."

Enjolras makes himself smile. "If I'd known, I would have. But you know how Joly is; he just happened by."

Joly takes a seat in the chair at the end of the bed. "I hoped it would be a convenient time," back to the doctor-voice. "If it isn't, I'll go."

"Ah. That explains it." Grantaire half-shrugs, half-smiles. "May as well... stay, now you're here," though it lacks conviction.

"Please stay," Enjolras says in a tight voice, glancing at Joly with genuine emotion for a moment before he blinks and makes the fear look more casual. It does not disappear as it had before.

"Who am I to refuse such a gracious invitation?" Joly sets his bag by the chair. "If I'm welcome, I'll stay."

Enjolras bows his head for a moment, eyes squeezed shut, and swallows heavily, heedless of Joly. "How is Musichetta?" he asks, in what is certainly meant to be a casual tone, but it fails.

Joly studies the bedpost so as to appear appropriately unaware of the emotion. "She's fine, thank you. Sends her love to you both, of course."

"'s good to know," Grantaire murmurs.

Enjolras squeezes his hand. "Yes. Thank you."

Silence falls for a minute.

"Damn this," Grantaire says suddenly. "Marcelin--"

"Yes?" immediately.

Grantaire has gone from pale to stark white. "I love you."

Joly stands and goes to the doorway, silently.

"I love you, chéri," Enjolras answers, his voice choked.

"Always--" a hand reaches up, trembling, as though to touch his cheek, though the touch falls short. "Oh, beloved. I'm sorry."

"No, don't apologize." Enjolras lifts his hand and kisses it. "It's all right. I love you. Don't be sorry."

"Stay with you..." Grantaire's breath catches. "Fair-haired boy."

Enjolras's grasp tightens past the point where it would be painful, if Grantaire could still feel his fingers. "If only, my love. Forty more years with you -- the last were like a day."

Grantaire makes an effort to steady his breathing, closing his eyes. "...Hold me?"

Enjolras obeys, slightly awkwardly, kissing his pale cheek. "Anything, chéri."

"Ah..." A sigh. His fingers rest terribly lightly against Enjolras' shoulder. "That's all right. --God --it's quiet--"

"Quiet?" Enjolras asks, sitting up a fraction to look at Grantaire's face. "Oh, God, don't do this to me, chéri. I need you. Please."

"Quiet." He looks dazed, blank. His fingers knot weakly in Enjolras' sleeve. "Love you. So much."

"And I you." Enjolras can hardly speak. "Beyond words. Forever. Please--"

Silence, except for labored breathing; and then, by degrees, that too ceases.

Enjolras buries his face in Grantaire's shoulder, his body wracked with sobs. Joly stays in the doorway for a few minutes, his head bowed, then crosses the room and lays a hand on Enjolras's back.

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