July 12, 2014: I am so, so sorry that this took so long. I originally had this chapter written several months ago, but when I ran it by my beta, she pointed out several serious problems in story structure that were based on the fact that she needed background information that I hadn't been planning to share for several more chapters. Obviously that meant it had to be shared sooner and I needed to restructure the entire plot so that it wouldn't seem contrived. O_o;;; Then I had a massive workload hit at the end of the semester and a serious case of writer's block which followed hard on that. I've been fighting it for the better part of the last three months. SO. For whatever reason, it decided to break tonight and it decided to break on Muet and I'M NOT QUESTIONING IT.
*coughs* Anyway, for those of you who appreciate the extra warning, this is another of those chapters that earns the rating and warning. Definite noncon in this chapter. Just as a heads up. *nodnod* And it's late and I think that's enough rambling. ^_~
Muet - Chapter 4
When Enjolras left the meeting, it didn't take him long to realize that being relieved of command was anything but a relief. Any of the score of things he could think of which should have needed his attention were now things to which he could not be privy. And so he stood in the hall, watching the seconds tick by on the hallway clock, unsure what to do with himself now that his time was nothing but leisure. He was worse than useless right now; he was a liability. All because he'd been stripped of his memory - and not even all of his memory… just enough to ensure that his friends would be so occupied with dealing with him that they would ignore whatever else needed doing. Oh… whoever had done this had been clever. Deviously clever.
So, Enjolras couldn't help anyone. All he could do was stay out of the way. It galled, knowing that he was stuck in this tailspin of uselessness, but that was pride speaking. He'd set up Les Amis with the intention that no one person be indispensable. And so it was. His friends would carry on without him, and Enjolras just had to accept that.
He started walking, following familiar corridors that now felt ominous and strange. Things had happened in these halls, in these rooms - two years worth of events of which Enjolras had no memory. He felt adrift, unsettled. He'd never expected to feel thus in his own home. He let his feet wander, let them take him where they would. He had nowhere to be, nothing to do. It had been years since he'd last been this idle - since before he'd started this silent war with the government. Since his school days. His parents had been alive then.
When Enjolras finally stopped wandering, he was unsurprised at where his feet had brought him. With its walls made of nothing more substantial than glass, this sunroom drove Musichetta to distraction. She'd pointedly suggested, more than once, that they demolish it, that they at least take down the glass and put up real walls. It was too much of a risk, she said, too much of a liability, to keep it. Like Enjolras was, now.
Feeling more fragile than he had since walking out of the club last night, Enjolras walked over to his father's old armchair - still plush and soft and deep, after all these years - and curled up on the ottoman. He'd spend hours sitting here, listening to his father's deep baritone and his mother's husky alto discussing the news of the day, making their own plans to do what they could to help. Things had been better then. The government hadn't made such use - such abuse - of its psychics, then. Or perhaps they had simply kept it quieter. Who knew how long the general populace had truly been under their thumb? Perhaps they always had been.
Enjolras had no idea how long he sat there, had completely lost track of the hour by the time a quiet voice interrupted his reverie. "When Combeferre told me he didn't know where you'd gone, I thought I might find you here. Musichetta will have fits if she finds out."
Enjolras looked up, then, to meet a soft pair of brown eyes watching him sympathetically from under a fall of hair so dark it was almost black. Those tired eyes sat in a weather-tanned face that held the kindest smile Enjolras had ever known. "Feuilly…?"
Feuilly shrugged, took a step further into the room. "I came in to report. They told me what happened. I realize that this is most likely a stupid question, but… are you OK?"
Enjolras let out a harsh bark of laughter at that and shook his head. "No. No, I'm not OK. I feel like a stranger in my own head, like I can't trust my own thoughts. I just… I just wish I knew."
Feuilly crossed the room, settled down in the armchair and lifted an eyebrow. When Enjolras nodded, Feuilly picked up his feet to place them gently in Enjolras' lap, then allowed himself to sink back into the cushions of the chair with a satisfied sigh. He didn't speak again, not yet, but Enjolras was used to that. Feuilly was always cautious; he never spoke unless he had something useful with which to interrupt the silence. Enjolras had long suspected that that caution, that reticence, was left over from a childhood which had left far too many scars, but it was an unspoken rule among Les Amis that if information about a person's past wasn't offered, you didn't pry. In a world where privacy was a luxury many could not afford, it made one feel wealthy, indeed, to have a few secrets. And Enjolras was content in that silence, enjoyed the feeling that he didn't have to fill it if he didn't want to.
It was nearly ten minutes later, so said the old grandfather clock in the corner, before Feuilly spoke again. "Why not have Prouvaire look for tampering?"
Enjolras turned to look at Feuilly, eyes full of misery. "No one but I and R trust him. And there would be no one to verify if he tampered with my mind. And he could. Clearly my shields aren't as foolproof as I thought they were."
Feuilly nodded. "No one's shields are as foolproof as they like to think - even Prouvaire's. There's always a more powerful psychic out there somewhere. And your shields are further weakened because you leave them permeable to R. Such kindness does you credit… but it leaves you vulnerable. It makes one wonder…" He trailed off.
Enjolras leaned in closer but said nothing. Feuilly didn't offer up theories until he'd thought them through. When it became apparent that Feuilly was going to mull over that thought for some time before sharing it, Enjolras settled back. He'd learned not to push, had learned to give Feuilly time to think. He hadn't always known to do so, had missed out on some of his finer contributions in the beginning for believing that that slow way of thinking meant he was dim-witted. He now knew that it meant nothing of the kind. Feuilly simply processed information differently than most. In the old days, they'd had a word for it. When psychics became more commonplace, the word was lost, irrelevant, because parents would simply take such children to a psychic to be reconditioned... normalized. They didn't care if the removal of those abstract thinkers made the populace that much more pliable, that much more open to being controlled.
But, Feuilly was an orphan. No one knew where he was from and he'd been so young when he lost his parents that he didn't remember, either. He was so desperate to fit in with every foster family he was placed with that he'd picked up accents and mannerisms like a sponge as a child, to the point where he didn't even remember his original language. But it would all come to nothing the moment he started struggling in school. No foster family would waste the time or the money to have an unwanted child reconditioned to make his life easier.
Thank goodness for that.
Feuilly had fallen through the cracks in the system, staying himself, processing difficulties and all. In the end, that had served him well as a spy and informant, and his different way of looking at things also meant that he often saw solutions when the rest of the inner circle saw only problems. Enjolras couldn't care less about his difficulties. He'd put Feuilly's ability to solve problems against Combeferre's any day… and that was saying plenty.
When Feuilly finally spoke, his words were accompanied by a deeply drawn scowl. "Enjolras… is there any chance that someone could have known about your receiving ability before you did?"
Enjolras frowned. "I don't see how. Variations on telepathy are so rare as to be practically nonexistent in the population. Most people believe that other abilities are a myth, and the government encourages that belief to the extent of killing any wild talents they do happen to find. I'd never seen or heard of any psychic abilities outside of straight telepathy until I turned up with one, myself. I can't imagine that most people would even think to look, much less find it if it were latent. Why?"
Feuilly brought his fingers together into a steepled position, rested them against his lips for a while before speaking again. "Suppose someone did know. Suppose someone found out. Maybe this was the endgame to Philadelphia all along - to take you out of the game."
Enjolras' breath caught. It made a twisted sort of sense. If one supposed that someone had discovered Enjolras' ability before he had, if one supposed that R's injury and Enjolras' resulting need to communicate with him were the impetus for Enjolras' latent ability to blossom… and if one supposed further that that constantly open line of communication would weaken once impenetrable natural shields… then it wasn't so hard to believe that his current situation, the fact that he was well and truly on the bench, could have been the purpose behind what had happened in Philadelphia. As Enjolras' eyes widened, Feuilly nodded. Enjolras let out the breath he'd been holding, said quietly, "Combeferre thinks yesterday was an inside job."
Feuilly nodded again. "So he told me."
"Which makes this possibility that much more horrifying. It would mean that we've had a mole in our midst for…" Enjolras trailed off, overwhelmed by the ramifications of it.
"…two years," Feuilly said. "At least last two years, possibly longer. Enjolras… if I'm right…"
"If you're right, then we are in deep, deep trouble. Because the only person who could easily ferret out who that mole is is trusted by no one." Enjolras let his head fall into his hands and let out a soft moan. "This is not good."
Letting out a soft laugh as his head dropped back into the cushions, Feuilly said, "That is the understatement of the century, my friend. What are you going to do about it?"
Enjolras was already shaking his head. "I'm going to do nothing. For now. And so are you. This… if you're right in your suppositions, we can't afford to tip anyone off." He paused, then cursed under his breath. "Damn it. We can't even afford to think about it. Not with Prouvaire around. Because what if he-"
"No. Prouvaire is the only person it can't be. His very survival is dependent on us being able and willing to hide him from the government. He's terrified of being found out, of being taken back. He told me once - when he'd had a bit too much to drink - that he'd sooner join Patron-Minette than submit himself to government handling, again. And considering Patron-Minette… Enjolras, there are reasons that their pet psychics go mad. The things they make them do…" He shuddered. "You can't be forced to do those things to another human being on a regular basis without going mad with it, not unless you're mad already."
"You're right." Enjolras sighed, raised a hand to rub at his temple. "It's times like these that I almost sympathize with how the government started down this road. It's so easy, so tempting, to ask Prouvaire to just… peek. No one would ever need to know, and I'd get the information I needed to find whoever is behind this. But that's exactly the kind of underhanded oppression that we're fighting against." Enjolras took another minute to rub his hands over his face, trying to massage the tension away before it became a murderous headache.
A few minutes later, Feuilly's feet lifted off of his lap and a pair of hands descended onto his shoulders, began helping him massage the tension away. Feuilly's voice was close, nearly in his ear when he spoke again. "You'll think of something. You always do." And just when Enjolras began to relax… those hands were joined by a pair of lips which began pressing soft kisses into the back of his neck.
"Wait… what?" Enjolras leapt from the ottoman, whipped around to face Feuilly, mouth agape. "What… what the hell was that?"
Feuilly merely arched an eyebrow. "Huh. So you forgot that, too. OK. No worries. Won't happen again. Come back." He then patted the ottoman.
"Oh no. Not until you explain what that was!" Enjolras willed his heart to cease its desperate battering thrum against his ribcage. "Nothing you could say would convince me that in the last two years, I've started cheating on R. Nothing."
Feuilly's second eyebrow slowly lifted to join the first in rising. "Enjolras… in the first place, you and R haven't been together for over a yea- mój Boze. You didn't know that. You didn't know that you weren't together anym- I am so sorry. I shouldn't have assumed… I am so sorry." Feuilly's cheeks turned a deep shade of red beneath his tan when he blushed.
Enjolras sank back to the ottoman, felt the blood drain from his own face as he took in the meaning of those words. Quietly, almost to himself, he said, "So that's why he didn't stay last night. I wondered, but… he didn't explain, and I couldn't ask, and… Feuilly, what happened?"
His blush finally fading, Feuilly shrugged. "What always happens when disaster strikes. You felt guilty that he was injured. You felt unworthy of his love and continued devotion. So, you distanced yourself. And you know as well as I that you like to keep your own counsel. You never told him why. You just let the guilt eat away at you both, in equal measures. He, naturally, blamed himself for your distance, began drinking again, in quantities and frequencies that I haven't seen him do since he first joined us. You became disgusted with him for the drinking and further disgusted with yourself for bringing him to it… and that was that. He was done with you and you with him. How you maintained your working partnership, I will never be able to understand, but I respect you both for it. I don't know that I could have done so under similar circumstances."
Enjolras whimpered, lowered his head into his hands once more. "I feel as though I went to sleep one night and woke trapped in my own worst nightmare."
Feuilly reached out a hand, began rubbing gentle circles on Enjolras' back. "In a very real way… you did. As do all whose minds have been tampered with. We'll fix this, Enjolras. We'll find a way to get your memory back, we'll find a way to clear you of suspicion of any tampering but the memory loss, and we will find this mole of ours and bring them to heel. But, as for what went wrong between you and R… Enjolras, only you can fix that."
Finally raising his head, Enjolras met Feuilly's gaze head on. "Then it's as good as fixed. I don't care what happened to shove my head so far up my ass that I'd let my own doubts destroy what we had. Now that it's been forcibly removed, damned if I'm not going use that clear-headedness to fix this."
Feuilly leaned forwards, planted a soft kiss on Enjolras' forehead. As Enjolras blushed once again, Feuilly leaned back into the chair, pulled his cap down to cover his eyes, and gently nudged Enjolras off the ottoman with his feet so he could claim it as a footrest. Laughing softly, he said, "Well, then go. I've another few hours before I'm expected at work and I intend to take this opportunity to get what rest I can in a place where I don't have to constantly watch my back. If you have need of me, you know where to find me."
Enjolras stood watching him for another minute more, more grateful than he could possibly express that Feuilly was his friend, that Feuilly cared so much about him that he would rather see him happy than keep him. More than anything, he was glad that Feuilly hadn't treated him any differently than he ever had. Quietly, so as not disturb his now-sleeping friend, he said, "You're a good friend, Feuilly… I daresay you may be my best. Someday I may even find a way to thank you for it."
Enjolras then turned and left the sunroom. It was time to find R and get to the bottom of what had gone wrong between them. Enjolras only hoped that now that he'd been given a second chance, he wouldn't manage to screw it up again if, and when, he got his memory back.
R had spent the morning with Bahorel and Musichetta going over and over and over the events of the day before. It had been slow going without Enjolras and neither security officer would consent to bringing Prouvaire in to translate in his stead. After the third go round, R had finally called a halt, refusing to write another word or play one more game of charades. Throwing his pencil and notebook on the ground and flipping a gesture at Bahorel that he probably didn't deserve, R had left the office and would have gladly slammed the door in his wake had it not been of the swinging variety.
…and then R was at loose ends. No one but Prouvaire and Enjolras could partner with him and Prouvaire hardly ever left the house. He was as dead in the water as his partner. Building a veritable dictionary of curse words in his head as he trudged down the halls, R eventually made his way back to his room. There was nowhere else useful for him to be. At least here he would be out of the way… and he could drink in peace.
Two glasses into a very expensive bottle of Burgundy, the world finally started losing its jagged edges and R started to breathe a little easier. Lifting the bottle to stare through its deep red contents, R let a regret grow and make itself known. He regretted so much, so very much, these days, but nothing more than the simple fact that he'd let Enjolras drive him away. That loss was still a raw ache in his chest; the fact of his cold, empty bed was still a shock after all this time. The temptation to take advantage of Enjolras' memory loss and start anew from before it all went wrong was strong, but it was a temptation he was almost desperate to avoid. Because when Enjolras regained his memory, he wouldn't thank R for taking advantage. Of that, R was sure.
So, R would remain virtuously alone, and he would drink. Without Enjolras, that was all he was good for anyway.
By five glasses into a very expensive bottle of Burgundy, R was also beginning to regret having turned Prouvaire down the other night. Thoughts of Enjolras and his virtuously empty bed weren't helping, either. He'd just about made up his mind to damn the consequences and go looking for Prouvaire when someone knocked on the door. Knocking back the last of the wine in his glass, R rose to answer it - it wouldn't be the first time that his thoughts had pulled Prouvaire towards him just when R wanted him and he certainly wouldn't be one to turn him down if he were kind enough to offer himself a second time. When he pulled open the door, however, Prouvaire was not the person on the other side.
Enjolras, lips drawn down into a frown and brows knitted closely together, was his visitor. And he simply said, "R… we need to talk."
When R opened the door to his room - and Enjolras had been mortified to realize that he had to ask Bossuet for its location - his eyes were wide, a little unfocused… and he reeked of alcohol. The moment he smelled that, Enjolras almost decided to come back at a later time. R's drinking… R was never at his most receptive when he'd been drinking. He'd be argumentative, stubborn, even more down on himself than usual.
Or he'd be horny.
Neither situation was going to get them through what Enjolras needed to say- what he needed to ask. Taking a deep breath, he followed up on his first statement as quickly as he could, hardly daring to take a breath, lest R find an excuse to interrupt and derail him into an argument. "It has come to my attention that sometime in the last two years, I managed to make a complete ass of myself and drive you away. On behalf of that me, I'd like to apologize. And on behalf of this me - the me that hasn't screwed up so badly yet - I'd like to ask if you could ever consider giving me another chance."
That rush of words over, Enjolras finally lifted his eyes from where they'd fallen to focus on the scarf wound around R's neck. He hadn't realized where he'd been looking until that moment, felt his cheeks heat when he lifted his head, again. No doubt, R would be sensitive about that. No doubt, R wouldn't want to be reminded. No doubt, whether angry, depressed, stubborn or horny, R was going to give him the boot any second now.
When Enjolras finally dared lift his gaze the rest of the way to meet R's… he saw no intention of that kind whatsoever. R's eyes were slowly blinking, giving him a distracted, genteel look that was out of place in the situation, to say the least. And his lips were stretched into such a small, soft, smile, that Enjolras wasn't even sure he'd heard what Enjolras had said. That was, until R swayed just a little closer, leaned in… and pressed his lips to Enjolras' own.
Though he had every intention of pushing R away, of forcing him to answer that question first, to clear up any misunderstanding between them before they did anything more than exchange one chaste kiss, R was insistent… and Enjolras had never been good at denying him anything that he wanted. Though his mind stumbled over the fact that this was only the second kiss they'd shared in two years, and was the first one that had been real, Enjolras' lips remembered the way of it all too easily and parted for R's tongue when it slid across his lower lip. He lost time then - minutes, perhaps hours, even days, he didn't care - as their tongues touched, explored long forgotten depths. R tasted of wine and Enjolras would have gladly gotten drunk off of him in that moment if he could- except for the noise of a throat being cleared behind him.
Enjolras pulled back from R's lips reluctantly, trapped one in his teeth for a moment as he drew back, ready to scare off whoever had dared interrupt them. With R panting for breath behind him, Enjolras turned to face whoever was who'd interrupted them… and stopped, his harsh words unspoken.
Courfeyrac raised an eyebrow and coughed delicately. "I can come back at another time if it's more convenient…?"
Unsure where they stood after that debacle of a meeting, Enjolras was about to tell him that he could do exactly that, but R reached a hand past him to grip Courfeyrac's shoulder, and Enjolras just caught the shake of his head from the corner of his eye. He stepped out of the way as R motioned Courfeyrac inside and ushered him into the room's only armchair, then drew his desk chair over to sit nearby and motioned Enjolras to take a seat on the bed.
As he sat, a feeling like a hand trailing down his spine made Enjolras shiver. When that touch came a second time, Enjolras jumped, turned to glare at R just to find himself already being glared at. That shivery feeling came again. "Is that you, R? What the hell?"
R rolled his eyes, but this time the shivery feeling came with the impression of words.
"I was trying to get your attention. You shut me out. Please don't do it again. I've had enough communicating through charades for one day."
Enjolras crossed his arms over his chest. "How did I even do that?"
Before R could fire back the angry retort that was clear was coming from his knitted brows and deep frown, Courfeyrac reached out to grab R's hand and Enjolras' knee and said, "Stop. Just… stop."
When Enjolras turned and took a better look at Courfeyrac… any remaining bitterness at the interruption faded away. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his hair was dull, unkempt. The hand on Enjolras' knee was shaking. A wave of remorse swept through him as he cataloged all those signs of something wrong and he immediately backed down. "I'm sorry. I… somehow I shut R out of my mind and I'm not sure how and I don't know what I'm doing and no one will explain anything. The last thing I remember I didn't even have this ability and I sure as hell don't know how to use it!"
At Enjolras' agitation, R's face softened. "I keep forgetting-"
Enjolras snorted. "I thought that was my problem."
R's face softened further, into a true smile, and he touched his fingers to his head in a brief salute. Enjolras might have rolled his eyes at the antics, but he appreciated the sentiment behind them, the reassurance that even though things might not be right between them, R still had his back. He didn't need words to tell him that.
As R turned to offer Courfeyrac some wine from a bottle that Enjolras recognized as one his parents had saved from their wedding, R's voice returned to whisper into his mind, "Don't let on that I'm talking to you, OK?" Enjolras took the opportunity of declining a glass of his own to meet R's eyes and slip him their sign for "OK."
"Good. I'm going to tell you upfront that I've had just enough to drink that I can't manage you both as carefully as I should right now. There's a lot you don't know, Enjolras; a lot we didn't tell you last night. I still don't think you're ready to hear it, but I get the feeling that may be why he's here. So just… keep your mouth shut and let him talk if that's what he wants to do."
R's mental voice stopped then, as he watched Courfeyrac take down most of the wine in his glass in one long, continuous swallow and then hold out the glass for more. R's eyes widened and he pulled the bottle back, lips turning down into a frown. Courfeyrac snarled at that. "I can not begin to tell you how absolutely done I am with people making decisions for me 'for my own good'. If you know what's good for you, you'll pour me the rest of what's in that bottle and open another and keep it coming."
R winced and did exactly that, reaching down to pull out a Cabernet when the Burgundy was gone. By the time Courfeyrac was into his third glass, R looked significantly more sober, but the second Enjolras opened his mouth, R shook his head. No. Still not time. Though he bristled about it, Enjolras did keep his peace. He owed R that much.
By the time he reached his fourth glass, Courfeyrac finally slowed down, started drinking like he actually wanted to taste it, again. When he turned his eyes on Enjolras, they were bloodshot, puffy. He said, simply, "You have questions. Ask."
Enjolras didn't need R's widened eyes and wildly shaking head to know to tread carefully. Courfeyrac's mood from the very beginning of this conversation had already clued him in to that. So he started carefully, as neutrally as he knew how. "Have we accomplished anything towards our goals in the last two years?"
Courfeyrac let out a bitter laugh at that. Taking another swig of his wine, he leaned back in the chair, stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankles, turning them to tap at Enjolras' feet. "Nice try. That's not what you want to know. Ask again."
"Enjolras, don't you fucking dare-"
Enjolras turned quickly towards R, attempting to glare him into silence. R was having none of it.
"I'm serious, Enjolras. He's pent up and spoiling for a fight and if you're not careful you're going to end up giving him one. I don't want to have to be the one to clean up that fall-out."
Before Enjolras could respond, Courfeyrac reached out and tapped his second and third fingers against the middle of R's forehead. Once he had R's attention he said, "Stop. That. I don't need you to protect me and I don't need it from him, either. No one else is going to tell him anything and he needs to know. He should know." He turned his next words down into his wineglass, but Enjolras heard them loud and clear just the same.
"It's his fucking fault, anyway."
R glanced between them for a moment, then slumped in his chair and threw a hand in the air to indicate that he was washing his hands of the whole mess. Wordlessly, he poured himself another glass a wine and held it aloft until Courfeyrac clinked his against it.
Once they'd both taken generous drinks, Enjolras took a deep breath and said, "You want to tell me about Philadelphia."
Courfeyrac's lips pulled back into a brief laugh that turned quickly into a snarl. He shook his head, placed his wineglass carefully down on the table and pushed himself out of his chair to drop down beside Enjolras on the bed. Before either Enjolras or R could even begin to figure out what he was about, he said, "No… I want to show you."
With no further warning than that, Enjolras felt another shiver run down his spine, harder this time, more insistent - someone trying to kick down a door rather than politely knock - and what remained of his shields came crashing down. Then between that second and the next, he was lost in the maelstrom of pain behind Courfeyrac's eyes.
It was dark. It was cold. He was out of breath, had been running for so long that his feet felt heavy, lifeless and dead at the ends of his legs, the breath burning in his chest as he desperately dragged in another gasp. They were gaining on him. He couldn't say how he knew, but he did. Runrunrunrunrun!
Darkness again, but heat, this time. Heat so overwhelming that he thought he might faint. And then… a touch. Hands in his hair, trailing down his chest… his stomach… sliding between his thighs…
Enjolras lurched away from the memory, a memory he knew wasn't his, in spite of how much it felt like it was, but Courfeyrac was merciless in opening his mind to Enjolras' gift and at that proximity and with Enjolras having lost any ability to control his shields, he had no chance to keep him out. He fell back into the memory, drowning in tidal waves of hazel.
More than feelings now. There was context, this time. Small blessings, at least.
He was tied to a bed, a figure crouched over him, laughing at his struggles, his pain. He ground out, "I will fight you." He strained against his bonds, twisting to glare up at the smirking face bare inches from his own. "I will fight you with everything I am. No matter what you do, you won't win. You won't own me. I will fight you!"
Enjolras could feel it - the desperation bubbling in his chest, the fear that his words were but a boast. No one had ever fought this man for control of their mind and won. No one. And Courfeyrac had already lost every advantage he might have had when he'd been taken.
The man above him - Montparnasse, Courfeyrac supplied - nodded, eyes widening in glee as Enjolras' movements threw the lines of his shoulders into sharp relief. In a move at complete odds with the desperate struggles of the one beneath him, Montparnasse reached out a hand and stroked a gentle finger across his brow, tucking a stray lock of hair back behind his ear. When Enjolras tossed his head, jerked as far away from that touch as his bonds would allow, Montparnasse's only response was to make a gentle shushing noise and move to replace that hair again. After several more minutes of struggling, the only effect of which was to force him into taking ever deeper breaths as he fought off his growing panic, Montparnasse smiled. "I have no doubt you would have tried."
He was happy. He was loved. He felt so, so, so very good. He was good. He tried his best to be good. To make Him happy. To make everyone happy. Everyone He brought. Of all of them, he was the Best. That was what He said. The Best. Everyone asked for him. Everyone wanted him. Everyone. Because he was so very… very… very… good…
Enjolras tried to pull away, again, as desperate to break out of this smothering blanket of pleasure and blank obedience as he had been to break his physical bindings a moment before. He railed and screamed and begged to be released… not realizing until he was about to be pulled under again that that desperate wailing and beating at the cage of his own mind… that had been part of the memory, too.
He was scared again… so scared. There were strange cloths draped over his body, enveloping his every limb, constricting his movements, making him feel hot and trapped. Where was He? Hadn't he been good? Hadn't he been so good? He fought against the hand pulling him along, the hand that had swaddled his body in these cloths then taken him from where he felt safe. Whoever this man was, he didn't want to go with him, to go where he was leading. He begged, screamed, for help, but the man grabbed him, clamped a hand over his mouth so tight, so, so tight and he couldn't breathe!
The man turned in the darkness of the alleyway and said, "Damn it, are you trying to get us caught? Shut up!"
At the condemnation in that tone, he fell silent, cowed as he always was by harsh words. As guilt began to churn in his belly and tears began to fall from his eyes, Enjolras, for once, didn't fight that memory. He would stay there as long as he could, would listen to that voice no matter what cruelties it spoke, because he knew that voice… It was Grantaire's.
He was safe. He knew he was safe. There had been running and screaming and terror, but now he was back where he belonged… only He had been angry. So, so angry. He'd hurt him. He'd let other's hurt him. So many others. And then He'd brought in the other man. The one who'd stolen him away. And He'd said that he would be forgiven… if he proved he could be a good boy by killing this man. He'd taken the knife without any hesitation and crawled over, unable to stand after all the abuse he'd taken but desperate to do whatever it took to win back His good favor.
He'd stared down at the man - as bruised and broken as he was - and raised the knife. Only… there was a sadness in that man. A sadness that he didn't understand, that he knew instinctively wasn't for the man himself… it was for him. This man… was sad for him. This man had come here for him, to… help… him…?
Even now the man was crying, shaking his head and apologizing. "I'm sorry, Courfeyrac… I'm so, so sorry… I'm sorry I couldn't save you. I tried. I'm sorry that I landed you in this position, that I made things worse. I told Enjolras… Fuck, why am I such a screw up? But you… None of this is your fault. Even if you kill me… none of it, OK? That may not mean much to you now, but someday… G-d, I hope someday it will."
This man was his friend.
The man below him froze, lips stretching into a smile even as his eyes widened. He nodded and that sunny smile spread wider even as more tears fell from his eyes. "That's right! R! Grantaire! That's me. I'm your friend. Please… Courfeyrac, you have to remember! You have to fight this. It's just conditioning; I know you can do this!"
And he - Courfeyrac? - he did his best. He tried so hard to fight, to do what the man - Aire? - had told him to do, but… He intervened. Snarling, He came up behind Courfeyrac and grabbed his hands, holding them tight to the knife… and brought it down. Courfeyrac struggled as best he could, fought to turn the knife, but in the end…
The memory faded this time, washed out in a bath of red. When Courfeyrac screamed, Enjolras screamed with him.
"Jesus fucking Christ, Courfeyrac, be more careful, would you? I think Bossuet would like to keep all of his toes."
They were home this time, really, truly home. Enjolras knew these halls, knew these walls, the windows and doors, every stain on the carpet. They were home and Courfeyrac was himself again, no longer smothered under Montparnasse's conditioning only… something was still wrong. He could feel it under his skin like a thousand angry bees, and he lashed out with Courfeyrac's voice before he even realized what he was doing. "Well, he shouldn't have been in my way!"
Joly reached out, tried to take the pile of plates - and sharp pointy silverware - away from him before he could truly hurt anyone, but he wasn't having it, pulled the plates away… and dropped half of them on the floor in the process. And the noises they made when they hit the floor… Slowly, Courfeyrac knelt and put the rest of the stack on the floor, ignored it as Joly started insistently demanding that he get back up before he get shards of ceramic embedded in his knees. He only had eyes for those broken plates. He picked up one of the larger pieces, pulled his arm back and threw it as hard as he could, shivered in reaction when it broke against the wall. He ignored it as he sliced open his palm on another jagged piece, ignored the pain in his knees, too- no.
No, it was more than that. He didn't want to ignore it. The pain was even better than the breaking noises. When he picked up the next broken plate, he forewent throwing it and jabbed the point through the cloth of his trousers, instead. As the point drove into his thigh, he let out a low moan, bent over the wound, shivering in near ecstasy as he drove the point deeper.
By then there were more people in the hallway. Someone grabbed him from behind, trapping his arms against his chest and he screamed, kicked, raged like a wild thing as he fought to get free. He threw his head back, cracked the back of his head on the person's teeth as he struggled… and that was that. Dazed and exhausted, that gave Prouvaire an opening to reach in and touch his forehead and-
"…could the conditioning still be there? Still be acting on him from underneath the block- What? Oh!"
Enjolras winced, put a hand to his head as he pushed himself into a sitting position. He turned to face the one who had spoken - and came face to face with himself. It wasn't like looking in a mirror; it was far more disturbing than that. Before he could truly process it, though, his mouth was moving, words emerging, and that helped him remember that these weren't his memories. "What conditioning? What are you talking about?"
Combeferre pushed past the other Enjolras to sit beside him on the bed, one hand carding gently through his hair as he spoke. "How much do you remember, Courfeyrac?"
Not much. Enjolras could see that, could clearly see the holes in this memory within a memory, could all too clearly see the similarity to what had been done to his own mind… and shuddered. He knew what the gaping holes in Courfeyrac's memories contained, what sinister secrets they hid… no wonder Courfeyrac didn't trust him to run loose. Courfeyrac had been held captive for months… but it had taken them barely an hour to set the reconditioning to begin with. Who knew what might have been done to Enjolras in the hours he'd been gone?
Rather than answering the question, Enjolras asked one of his own. "What have you done to me? I… I feel like I'm coming apart at the seams, like if I don't tear myself open I'll burst. What have you done to me?"
Enjolras-in-the-memory knelt down in front of him and took his hands in his. "We needed you. We didn't… Courfeyrac, I'm sorry, but we couldn't risk taking the time it would take to let you recover from this on your own. There wasn't time."
Enjolras yanked his hands away from the other Enjolras and jerked his head out from under Combeferre's hands and ground out, "What. Did. You. Do?"
This time it was Prouvaire who stepped forwards. He snapped his fingers in front of Enjolras' face to get his attention, then said, "We cheated the system. Rather than fixing the damage the conditioning did to you, we simply made you forget it had been done and hoped that would prevent any fallout." Giving him a thorough once over that ended in a leering grin, Prouvaire shrugged, "Looks like it didn't work."
Too restless to sit still under the weight of this new knowledge, Enjolras jumped to his feet, pushed away from those crowded around the bed and began to pace. Within two passes, he had his hands buried in his hair, yanking harshly at the curled strands. Within five, he was digging his fingernails into his scalp, not stopping until he drew blood. When Joly reached out to try to grab his hands, he danced out of reach and lowered them on his own. Finally he said, "I don't know what to think of this. I really don't. You… to hell with what you wanted - you owed it to me to ask what I wanted." Turning towards Prouvaire, he continued, "And what you're telling me now is that this reconditioning I was under is still in my head and still acting on me. So what happens if I don't give in to it? If we do nothing?"
Prouvaire shrugged. "More of what's happening right now, I suppose."
"What? This jumpiness? This feeling like if I don't rip myself apart it'll kill me? Feeling like-"
"Like what you really need is someone to fuck you raw and bloody and choke you down and degrade you while they do it."
The shiver started at the base of Enjolras' spine and works its way up until his entire body was shaking with pure need at those words. He let out a low whine, choked it off the second he heard it emerge from his mouth, felt the blood rush into his face at the predatory look in Prouvaire's eyes as he pronounced those words… and then leave it just as quickly as those words and that look turned a shiver of arousal into a raging erection two seconds later. He let out another choked whimper, slid down the wall until he was crouched in the corner and wailed, "What do I do? I can't live like this!"
Prouvaire crouched down, slid a hand gently into his hair… a hand that turned not so gentle a moment later as it grabbed a fistful of strands and yanked. Enjolras' vision swam at that and he started praying that this memory would blink out soon and spare him the humiliation of what he suddenly knew must be coming next.
No such salvation was forthcoming, and the moment that thought passed, he was ashamed for having had it. What salvation had Courfeyrac had in any of this? What had he been spared? Nothing.
As Prouvaire jerked his head back and bit harshly into his neck, his breathing sped up into ragged pants. He was so overwhelmed with sensation, with desperate need, that he couldn't even think, much less form words. Vaguely, he could hear Prouvaire above him, saying something about pressure release valves and something more about what would happen if the pressure wasn't periodically released and something about adding another piece of conditioning to what was already there, something that would rip away the mental blocks Prouvaire had put there and leave him vulnerable and as wanton and obedient as he'd been when they first got him back - enough that someone could use his body in the way that conditioning was forcing him to crave, enough that they could indulge it safely, without doing permanent damage to his mind.
Somewhere, buried deep, Enjolras was screaming that they owed it to Courfeyrac to let him make this choice, that they couldn't take it away from him again, that it wasn't fair, but his body was too busy screaming out its need and Enjolras couldn't make himself heard past it. He was too busy trying to push against Prouvaire, rutting against him while desperate moans tumbled from his lips.
Prouvaire yanked his head back again, bit more bruises into the curve of his neck and into his shoulders as he bared them. With strength Enjolras would never have guessed that slim build hid, he manhandled them back to the bed in a room now thankfully empty of other visitors, pushed him down onto it and crawled between his legs. Enjolras whimpered, strained up against him, desperate for more.
Prouvaire leaned close, toying with him the way he almost remembered someone else - Montparnasse! another voice cried, but Enjolras was too far gone to listen - doing before. He pressed down against him, laughing softly when Enjolras arched up to meet him. Finally he leaned closer still and Enjolras felt that same shiver start at the base of his spine - now not even a kick but a battering ram - and suddenly Prouvaire was everywhere. Over him, under him, around him, inside him and nothing Enjolras did could dislodge him. He played Enjolras' body and mind like a harp, plucking whatever strings suited his fancy, and Enjolras could feel it, that sharpened desire, as though what Prouvaire really wanted was to finish what Montparnasse had started and take him apart for good.
When he was finished and Enjolras finally felt control of his own limbs returning, Prouvaire whispered into his mind, ~You can hate me all you need to for this. I won't mind. In fact, I encourage it - you should. I won't sugar coat it… I raped you. You shouldn't trust me, Courfeyrac… not ever. Now that I've had a taste of you… If I do this too many times, I'll end up pushing your limits until I break you completely, just to see if I can. That's my conditioning talking. So, we need to find someone else who can do this for you. Someone who will care enough about you to let you hate him just to help you survive. But that's a problem for another day. For now… sleep. Recover. You need it.~
And with those words, a hand closed around the side of his neck and-
Enjolras came back to himself to hear R's terrified voice in his mind screaming at him to wake up, to open his eyes, to fucking talk to him and- Enjolras held up a hand and croaked out, "I'm OK. Grantaire, I'm OK."
It wasn't until Courfeyrac let out a small gasp beside him that he realized what he'd said. He turned to apologize, but before he could, R's voice was back, insistent, "You can call me whatever the fuck you want to call me, just don't scare me like that again, OK?"
Enjolras reached out and grabbed R's hand to give it a reassuring squeeze. "What even… What happened?"
"Courfeyrac grabbed you and then you fucking seizured. Full on, Grand Mal seizure and it didn't fucking stop." R turned then, glared at Courfeyrac. And Enjolras didn't need words to translate that glare… but after what he'd just seen and experienced, he was loathe to even frown at Courfeyrac.
Courfeyrac rose from the bed and went to refill his glass. He didn't speak again until he'd downed the whole thing. "I'm sorry." When Enjolras moved to interrupt, he shook his head. "No. I definitely owe you that apology, Enjolras. But I… after this morning, I…" He stopped speaking then, his hand clenched into a fist, his eyes squeezed tightly shut.
When he finally regained control of himself, Courfeyrac ground out, "You needed to know. And no one was going to tell you. And I… I couldn't tell you. I can't talk about it, I can't-" He stopped again, fought with his breathing and the lump of tears that Enjolras could hear all too clearly under his voice. "You needed to know why we can't trust Prouvaire. You needed to know why we can't trust you. You needed… you needed to know." He turned, met Enjolras' gaze. "You needed to know because I know you. You'd have pushed. You'd have tried to find a way around the restrictions we've placed on you. And what if you're as badly off as I am - or worse - and we don't find out until it's too late? What then? What if I had fallen apart at a rally? On stage? In front of thousands of people? Can you imagine the field day the press and the government would have had? Watching the PR face of Les Amis turn into, into… fuck! Into some wanton sex slave right up on a rally stage? Can you imagine how much more disastrous if it were you?"
Enjolras could. He could imagine all too well. And the image made him ill.
Courfeyrac slumped, put his glass back down on the table. "That's why you needed to know. And that was the only way I could tell you. I'm… sorry. You have no idea how much."
Only that last… Enjolras got the distinct feeling that it wasn't directed only at him. Moments later, R rose from his own seat and crossed to envelop Courfeyrac in a tight hug. Enjolras felt that tell-tale shiver that accompanied R's attempt to get his attention and instinctively let him in. "Enjolras… translate?" When Enjolras nodded, Grantaire began passing him messages at just the right pace for him to get them out before the next arrived. They really had been doing this for a while.
As R cradled Courfeyrac in his arms, Enjolras relayed his words. "I told you then that it wasn't your fault. I meant it. Even if you'd killed me, it still wouldn't have been your fault. I hope that now is the time that those words will finally mean something for you, but if not… I'll repeat them as often as I have to. Whenever you need me to save you, I will. When you need me to help you breathe, I'll be there. I'll be 'Air' for you for as long as you need me to be. This doesn't change that. This doesn't change that at all." R pulled back, brushed the tears away from Courfeyrac's eyes and pressed a soft kiss to his forehead, "I'm proud of you. I'm proud that you found a way to tell him. Even if this isn't exactly the Enjolras who took away your choices, you still told him. It's good. It's a step forward." He hesitated, his smile fading as Courfeyrac stepped away, pulled out a handkerchief and started wiping at his eyes. "Courfeyrac… I didn't ask before, but… you and Combeferre…?"
Courfeyrac answered, in a harsh, guttural voice - a voice nearly as gravelly as what remained of R's own voice. "We're fine. We don't have a choice. I don't have a choice. It's him or Prouvaire and-"
Courfeyrac jerked, his eyes turning to look at Enjolras before darting back to R. "Which… which one of you…?"
Enjolras and R turned to look at each other and Enjolras, for once, was completely unsure which one of them had originated that thought that he'd just spoken. But as they stared each other down, a certainty began to form and R's small nod and signal of "OK" crystallized it. Enjolras turned back to Courfeyrac. "Both of us. Either of us. If you and Combeferre need to step away from each other, if it's getting to be too hard… it's the least I can do for putting you in that position in the first place. And thanks to what you just shared with me… I think I might understand better what it is that you need."
Courfeyrac spent several minutes turning his gaze on first one, then the other of them. Finally, he said, "I'll take that under consideration. And… thank you."
Enjolras would have pushed the issue - Courfeyrac was right, that was a tendency he had - but R caught him before he could. And Enjolras understood. Courfeyrac needed time to process what he'd done, needed time upon time to process the offer they had made. And they needed to think about what it would mean for them if he said yes. When he turned to leave, Enjolras didn't stop him.
Once Courfeyrac had gone, Enjolras cleared his throat and turned back to R, said softly, "I wondered why everyone was addressing you by your nickname and nothing else. I didn't realize…"
R shrugged. "He needed support and since I was the one to get him out of there, he trusted me in ways he didn't trust any of you. And I take if you saw… even reconditioned, beaten and gang-raped near out of his mind, that was the part of my name he remembered. When he couldn't breathe… I was his air. It was a necessity, then it became a joke… and then it became me. I'd been silenced. I wasn't who I'd been. I needed a name that reflected all of that. So… 'R'."
Enjolras reached out, took R's hand into his own. "If you'd prefer I…"
R's answer was quick, a smile playing about his lips when he gave it. "No. I don't. I… I hadn't realized I'd missed hearing you say my name until now." He looked up, and that smile reached into his eyes. "Second chances, right? Maybe I could use one, too."
Enjolras lifted his free hand and gently cupped R's cheek, guided his lips down to meet Enjolras' own. This kiss was soft, gentle - everything the other one hadn't been. When they pulled back this time, Enjolras smiled softly and said, "Grantaire… here's to second chances."
When R pulled him back into another kiss, Enjolras felt that shiver up his spine again, only this time it had nothing to do with his shields and everything to do with Grantaire… and this second chance. This time, he wouldn't screw it up.