Vezet. Spring, 1838.

There is a certain euphoria that comes with spending time with loving family and understanding friends, even if those friends and family are completely exhausted from attending to the sporadic needs of a new baby. This joy is fleeting, however, and is quickly erased by travel and the presence of other, less welcoming family members. Before the end of the first day visiting the Enjolras homestead, the son of the family and his friend both wish heartily that they were back visiting the Combeferres or at home, or, in truth, nearly anywhere else in the world. It is not until early evening that they are able to slip away -- discreetly -- to meet in the garden, in a clearing which is no less familiar for being grassy instead of frosty.

Grantaire, having fewer demands upon his time, escapes first and is leaning comfortably against a tree when Marcelin arrives. "Still intact?" he inquires gently.

"In body, at least," Marcelin answers, then presents said for examination by embracing Grantaire. "My father wants to know why I don't have children."

Grantaire's arms tighten around him. "Hell. Some people are never satisfied, are they?"

"Not him, no." Marcelin leans on him for a moment, then lets go. "I don't know why I accepted the invitation in the first place. I should have told them that we both had to get back to our work."

"Might have been wiser," Grantaire concedes. "Nor altogether untrue-- but here we are."

"Back in the stifling, frigid bosom of my parental home." Marcelin scowls in the direction of the building. "I'm going to own this accursed place someday if I don't manage to get myself disowned. What a thought."

Grantaire chuckles a bit. "You poor boy." He reaches for Marcelin's hand. "I still don't know where they got you."

"Under a cabbage," Marcelin says, taking his hand. "Père Noël. In a store, but they didn't pick the right one. Perhaps I was brought by the fairies. I don't know. The worst times are those when I think I must belong to them."

Grantaire drops easily to sit on the grass, tugging Marcelin down with him. "Well, it's plain where you got your looks. I assume you get your brains from your mother. God knows where you came up with a heart."

Marcelin sits half a step away, his hand on Grantaire's knee, but looking away from him. "For most of my life, I didn't have one, to speak of. Perhaps I got it from you."

"Well," allows Grantaire, his voice softening, "the last I saw of mine, you had it."

Marcelin blushes from collar to hairline. "Such a precious gift. I should put it to better use than this."

Grantaire traces a hand down his sleeve. "Better use than what, pray?"

"Than -- than hating my father. Than, I don't know." He moves his hand to rest on Grantaire's heart and closes his eyes, listening.

Grantaire watches him a moment, half-smiling; then recaptures his hand and kisses its fingers lightly. "It's all right, you know. I haven't any use for it anyway."

Marcelin smiles, his eyes closed. "Well, all right. For now."

Grantaire unfolds awkwardly to stretch out on the grass, leaning on one elbow, his hand still in Marcelin's, and grins at him. "Very well, very well."

"I -- " Marcelin blinks at him, then leans back, looking up at the sky through the branches of a tree. "I suppose that we'll survive."

"Oh, doubtless. We've gotten this far."

Marcelin squeezes his hand. "So we have."

"Without undue mishaps." Grantaire grins again, and leans over to kiss him lightly.

Marcelin puts a hand on his shoulder and returns the kiss.

"Absolutely lovely," Grantaire sighs, when he can speak again. "Are you quite sure there isn't any by-law that forbids you to be this beautiful?"

Marcelin turns a pale shade of red again, chuckling. "The only law necessary at the moment is one prohibiting ludicrous flattery."

"Nonsense, if I can't flatter you shamelessly, who can?" and Grantaire kisses him again.

"Mm," is Marcelin's answer to this. His arm slides around Grantaire's waist.

Grantaire sighs in wordless pleasure, pressing closer.

"You know," between kisses, "this," another kiss, "isn't a good idea."

"You don't think?" breathlessly. "Really?"

"Not here," but Marcelin does not let him go.

"No. Maybe... not here." This concession made, Grantaire desists, but does not move, his eyes still shut.

Marcelin considers alternatives and finds them flawed. "They are busy now."

"Are they, then?" Grantaire pauses. "That's convenient of 'em."

"Mother is planning to visit Chantal as soon as she can," Marcelin explains, tracing Grantaire's chin with his fingers. "Elise is probably embroidering under Maman's watchful eye. Father is off blustering about what legacy he's going to entrust to the child, and angry that it had to be a girl." He follows the line his fingers have been tracing with several kisses. "Besides, they don't walk in the garden habitually. Even Maman."

Grantaire's breath catches. "Ah, well." He turns his head to meet the last of these kisses with his own. "In that case."

Marcelin relaxes enough to smile up at him. "If you want..."

"Do you have to ask?" Another kiss.

"I know you, don't I?"

"I should hope so." A kiss brushes his cheek. "Don't like to think you'd let a stranger do this--" a hand shifts "--or this--"

Marcelin makes an inarticulate sound somewhere between a gasp and a chuckle and retaliates with a sincere effort to provoke the same reaction from Grantaire. "Never."

Grantaire's response is nonverbal and gratifyingly heartfelt. His fingers fumble at Marcelin's collar, the better to kiss his throat.

"God," Marcelin sighs. One of his hands cups the back of Grantaire's head. The other seems determined to distract him.

Grantaire is effectively distracted for a minute or so. This only serves to make him more assiduous in the undoing of buttons when he recovers.

"You're terrible," Marcelin tells him on the end of a sigh before demanding yet another kiss.

"Mm-hm," murmurs Grantaire, unrepentant, as his hand slides inside Marcelin's shirt.

A strangled shout makes Marcelin blink. He looks at Grantaire and finds confusion that mirrors his own, then disengages his hands and prepares to sit up. "What -- ?"

"Oh good Lord--" Grantaire struggles to a sitting position in a flurry of mingled frustration and anxiety, offering him a hand up reflexively; and freezes.

Marcelin stumbles to his feet, his open shirt and waistcoat forgotten for the moment. His father has collapsed on the path through the clearing. "My God. Papa?" The neglected endearment makes him sound like a small child, but earns no response. Enjolras père does not open his eyes.

Grantaire stands shakily, for once struck quite dumb.

"Papa, wake up!" Marcelin calls, his voice shaking. He runs awkwardly and kneels by his father's head, picking up his hand. "Please, let me explain." No response.

A faint shudder goes through Grantaire. He follows, more slowly, to stand a pace behind his lover. After a moment he says, "Marcelin." Gently, if not quite steadily. "I don't... think... it's any good."

Marcelin turns and blinks up at him, eyes wide. "What do you mean?" He takes hold of his father's shoulder and shakes roughly. "Wake up!"

"Don't, chéri." Grantaire leans down to restrain him, gone very pale. "Look at him."

"But --" Marcelin obeys, then falls silent. "He's not breathing," quietly, detached, then in an anguished whisper, "What in God's name?"

"You always said--" Grantaire seems to be fighting hysteria "--it would kill your father, if he knew."

Marcelin stares at him. "I didn't -- I would have -- my God." He buries his face in his hands.

Grantaire embraces him roughly, steadying, and is mercifully quiet.

"Why did he have to -- now? When everyone is happy?" Marcelin shakes his head. "We should fetch someone, God knows."

"I'll go." Grantaire lets him go, with an expression half scowling, half still stunned. "My own damned fault-- I should have-- I'll find someone."

"Your fault?" Marcelin shakes his head again, too much in shock to do anything else. "Not your fault. He didn't care what you did... oh God." With trembling fingers, he begins refastening his buttons. "But if you'd go. Please."

Grantaire nods once, and climbs to his feet. He stands uncertainly a moment, then starts for the house.

Once he is presentable again, Marcelin finds himself with nothing to do but stare at his father's body.

After what seems an unconscionably long time, Grantaire returns, trailing a white-faced Madame Enjolras. He hangs back at the edge of the path while, without a word, she drops to her knees beside her husband.

Elise follows her mother, her hands clenching in her skirts. She stares from her prostrate father to her brother, then half-swoons and leans heavily on a tree.

Marcelin reaches across the body to put his hand on his mother's shoulder silently.

Even in this extremity, Regine is nearly expressionless. She glances up at Marcelin for a moment, her eyes unreadable, and then down again.

An ungainly hand falls with surprising gentleness on Elise's shoulder, cautious because Grantaire does not know her that well, ready to tug her to his side if she should need someone to lean on. "Steady," he murmurs, very softly.

Elise clings to the tree, not acknowledging Grantaire's presence or touch.

Marcelin bows his head and says nothing.

Regine is quiet a moment, breathing deeply. At length she says slowly, carefully, "He was like this when you found him?"

"Yes," Marcelin answers in perfect truth. He seems about to add something else, but stops himself.

Grantaire leaves his hand where it is, perhaps believing that Elise can use the human contact, perhaps absentmindedly, for his attention is on the others.

Regine nods slowly, and closes her eyes a moment. She is trembling slightly under her son's hand.

Marcelin offers her a handkerchief without comment. She accepts it, and uses it, blindly.

After the priest has delivered the last rites and discussed funeral arrangements with Monsieur Enjolras's widow, it is nearly midnight. Elise volunteers to sit vigil in the parlor. This is convenient for the rest of the family; her mother is ensconced in her own space, with two uncomfortable guests to interrogate.

"Sit down," she says, to both of them. "I cannot abide young men looming over me."

Marcelin obeys with a glance at Grantaire and a slight nod indicating that he should do the same.

Grantaire takes a seat awkwardly, not quite looking at either of them.

Regine studies them in turn. "Well?"

"Well what, Mother?" Marcelin asks, hoping to deflect her from Grantaire.

Grantaire shifts slightly in his seat, silent.

Regine blinks once. "What is it you are not telling me?"

Marcelin blinks back, innocently. "Why would we refrain from telling you something?"

"I have no idea, dear, but evidently you think it necessary."

Grantaire protests, muted, "Madame..."

A slight pause. "I don't understand what there is to withhold. We were walking in the garden -- I hadn't told you that -- and we found him."

Regine's blue gaze is cool. "I will not be angry, Marcelin, or shocked. I assure you."

"I know of no reason why you should be angry or shocked," Marcelin says, answering her calm with a similar serenity. "Perhaps you know more about the situation than we do?"

"I know of no reason he should have collapsed without warning."

"Neither do I."

Grantaire looks decidedly uncomfortable.

"In that case," Regine says evenly, "there must have been a reason."

"Very little happens without reason," Marcelin agrees. "I am sure you know -- knew -- my father better than I ever did. Surely you can create a theory about his problems."

Regine gives him a long look. At last, without comment, she turns a questioning gaze on Grantaire.

Who shrugs, rather helplessly, and says nothing.

Marcelin observes this uncomfortably. "Maman, you know that Father and I always found it difficult to communicate. He barely tolerated me. Perhaps my presence here was too much for him."

Regine looks away, seeming suddenly tired. "Perhaps," she says indifferently.

"I'm sorry," Marcelin says, sounding nearly contrite. "Would you like to be alone?"

She casts him a look of mild, weary scorn, but says only, "Perhaps that would be best."

"Whatever you think is best."

Grantaire studies his hands intently.

"I think," Regine says blandly, "that we will all benefit from some sleep."

"That sounds wise to me." Marcelin stands.

Grantaire follows suit, mutely.

Regine watches them without expression. "Good night, then."

Marcelin nods. "I pray it will be better than the day which preceded it. Do try to sleep, Maman."

Regine inclines her head slightly, and does not answer.

"Madame," Grantaire murmurs politely, and moves to open the door.

Marcelin looks at her for a moment longer, then departs.

Grantaire slips out after him, closing the door quietly.

Marcelin shakes his head. "I am absolutely exhausted." He sets off toward his bedroom.

Grantaire trails him, hands in pockets, still looking worried.

Marcelin retains enough momentum to get him through the door before he collapses onto the bed. "God have mercy."

Grantaire hesitates a moment before dropping down beside him and embracing him. "I'm sorry. God-- I don't know. I'm sorry."

Marcelin buries his face in Grantaire's shoulder and returns the embrace.

Grantaire kisses his hair, and strokes his back gently, trying rather awkwardly to be soothing.

"I just want to go to sleep," Marcelin says, though it is somewhat muffled, "but I don't want to dream."

"I'm sorry," Grantaire whispers again.

"It wasn't your doing."

Grantaire's arms tighten around him. "Wasn't it?"

Marcelin leans back slightly to look at him. "No. It wasn't. No more than it was mine, in any case."

Grantaire looks as if he might protest, but changes his mind, looking down.

Marcelin kisses his cheek. "I told you; my father wouldn't give a damn what you were doing except in instances that included me."

"I know." Grantaire glances away. "But I should-- shouldn't have-- damn it. I don't know."

"I hardly objected."

"I know." Subdued.

"It's ironic. I couldn't tell you how many times I dreamed of killing my father when I was a child. This was a method that didn't begin to occur to me."

Grantaire looks back at him then, with the oddest sort of slight, sardonic half-smile. "Yes," is all he says.

"What a lack of imagination," Marcelin says. He is interrupted by a yawn. "I'm afraid I'm going to have terrible dreams."

Grantaire kisses him gently. "I'll be here."

"I know." Marcelin lets him go, hesitating slightly.

Grantaire watches him quietly for a moment. "It'll be all right."

Marcelin sighs. "Not immediately, but it will. I know. She wasn't even upset. I suppose that shouldn't surprise me." He folds his jacket and waistcoat and stands to put them away.

Grantaire falls silent then, and after a moment follows his example and starts changing for bed, still quiet.

"If she was heartbroken, I think I would feel more guilt." Marcelin begins taking off his shoes. "Maybe I haven't realized everything yet, but I don't feel particularly guilty."

Grantaire glances at him dryly. "Dreadful thing to have to admit, isn't it?" His tone is mostly one of rueful sympathy, although there is an undertone of something else.

"Yes, actually. But then," Marcelin half-smiles, "it wasn't exactly premeditated murder, was it?"

A long look. "No." Grantaire tosses his coat over the back of a chair.

Marcelin pulls back the covers. "This is not what I had in mind for the day. Better to end it sooner than later. Blow out the candle, would you?"

Grantaire complies in silence.

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