WHAT YOU SEEK

It was a cold afternoon in autumn and Grantaire was crouched in the shadows - his customary place- bottle in hand. He'd been sent away with a note for Joly at the hospital, but he hadn't delivered it yet. Then again, he hadn't drunk from the bottle either.

He also hadn't eaten, although he had bread and meat ready to hand. He hadn't done much of anything for the past few days, because an idea had formed in his mind and it wouldn't leave him alone. Scrawled in his notebook, in a wobbling hand, were fragments of this idea:

Enjolras doesn't look at women...I doubt he's ever spoken at length with one. What should become of him should some pretty girl ensnare him? I cannot see it, but there's much I cannot see.

He was in the awkward position of playing jealous lover when he wasn't loved, and most likely never would be. It was becoming a threat to his very existence, but then again Enjolras himself was.

He drank from the bottle.

There was a girl nearby, thin and dark-haired, watching him. He had a vague recollection of seeing her before- she watched everyone, hunger written on her face. As she came nearer to him he thought she perhaps reminded him of his sister- the hair was similar- but then he saw her eyes, and they were the same eyes he saw in the mirror every day.

She slumped on some stairs nearby. He thought perhaps she was avoiding someone. Time ticked by, and Enjolras, Combeferre and Courfeyrac came back into view on the street- they'd gone somewhere, Grantaire couldn't remember where. They were talking animatedly and he felt a sting in his heart like a knife.

The girl was looking at him. He looked back.

"Will you do me a favour?" he asked.

She looked up, her eyes instantly alert.

"See that man?" he said. He pointed to Enjolras, even as he thought that 'man' wasn't a good enough word for him. "He sent me out to do something and I haven't done it. Will you go and tell him you did it? You delivered a note for me."

She gathered up a corner of her skirt. "Why should I say you haven't done what he asked?" she said noncommitedly.

He held up the bottle. "Tell him my affliction is too strong to overcome," he said flatly. "That the pull of the wine soon reached me. Or that not having it proved to be worse, that I fell straight to the void and haven't yet crawled out." He looked at her. "Will you tell him for me?"

"For half your bread."

"Take it all."

She did, and started on it instantly. She turned her back when she ate: Grantaire thought this was a mechanism to stop the food being snatched from her mouth. "One other thing," he said when she'd turned around, about to leave.

"What?"

"A jest," he said, hands quivering. "Ask him for a kiss."

She frowned as she brushed the crumbs from around her mouth. "Ah!"

He couldn't quite read her. "I only-"

"A jest," she said bitterly, and she adjusted her blouse. "Well, I've eaten your bread, so I suppose I'm in your debt. How nice it will be to see others laugh!"

"He is the object of the joke," Grantaire said quickly, "not you."

"It's all the same to me," she said flatly. She glanced out at Enjolras. "I suppose you mean to contrast us. Not to worry. Better men than you have thought me ugly."

"No, wait," he said, but she'd already scurried off. He felt lower than he had felt in quite some time, but after a moment he did go after her. He followed her at a distance, and didn't have the courage to listen to the excuse she gave for him: he hoped she gave the one about him going back to the drink. The later disdain of his friends would, ironically, make him feel a bit better...

Enjolras had his back turned, so Grantaire couldn't see his expression. Then, as he drew closer to them:

"I want something in return," the girl said to Enjolras.

"What is that?"

"A kiss," she said. She said it in such a tone that it could be mistaken for playfulness.

"No," Enjolras said. "That would be a cruelty."

"Why so?"

"Because a kiss is not something to be given lightly." He looked at her with great sympathy. "It would devalue the meaning and I don't wish to do that."

"If you think it would devalue me, I cannot be more so."

"Don't speak so meanly of yourself."

Grantaire watched from his spot in the shadows.

"Thank you for your help," Enjolras said to the girl. He handed her some coins from his pocket. "But I don't think you'll find what you search for here." Grantaire winced. The girl just smiled sadly.

"You're kinder than your fellows," she said, and fled. Enjolras didn't watch her go, he just turned back to the others- some of them did watch her, though, Courfeyrac did. The girl had her coins hidden in her hand, and when she reached Grantaire she threw them at his feet.

"You laughed, I suppose," she said, "at all of that."

"No."

"That one's barely earthbound," she said. "No wonder you seek to drag him down. Though you would do the job just as well as me, I think."

"I know."

She looked at him and for a second they may have been on the verge of a connection, but then she bent over to pick up one of the coins.

"This will do for my sister," she said to nobody. "For her I'll bow to men's amusements. She'd do the same for me. She will one day."

"What's your name?"

"Is there anything else you want?" she asked him, ignoring the question.

"No." He shifted the coins towards her with his foot. "Please take these. I didn't mean to insult you. Forgive me."

She didn't take them. "You won't find what you search for here," she said sardonically, and then she was on her way. Grantaire nearly followed her, but then he realised her route would take him past his friends and he had no wish to face them. He wondered if any of them- kinder, smarter as they were- had been curious and gone after the girl.

He drank down the last dregs of what was in the bottle, and went on his way.