A/N I really have no excuse for this, other than the fact that reincarnation!au is the best modern!au. So I guess I wanted to attempt it myself.
He remembers it all, from the very start.
Of course the thoughts cannot be fully formed in a child's mind, but they're still present, achingly so in all their flashing colors and sharp noises, pressing in on him so severely that, at times, his parents and the others will find him curled in on himself, his arms around his knees and his back shaking in sobs that they can't pinpoint the source of. It is easy enough to dismiss at first, because he's just a boy, and later on because he's just a teenager; they do not need to go out of their way to help him, so long as they reassure themselves that there's no way to. They let it stew, but perhaps they can't be blamed; for whatever their intentions, it's true enough that the cool hand of therapy or the stuffy sting of prescribed pills will do nothing to soothe the current of memories that forms the very blood in his veins, the air in his lungs.
The crying, after all, is really all they see. It's all that breaks through the surface, and all, at that, which can be targeted as unusual. His quietness is typical, his fascination with the dark drink in his mother's glass endearing, his murmurs of a better tomorrow quirky. They don't see the reflections, and neither does he, for he himself is the mirror. To him, it is natural. To him, yesterday—or over a century ago, but the years truly make no difference—is the most real thing that there is.
And so he grows in such a manner. He paints as soon as he can lift a brush, and his parents praise him for the talent, though of course he keeps his favorite works to himself. They all depict the same thing, the same face, and it's not one that they need to see. He drinks, of course, from a few years decidedly before what the law lays down as acceptable, but anyone who could correct him is willing to turn a blind eye or even a full back—as soon as he can take care of himself, they're happy to let him go. He does love the wine, so very much, for it hasn't changed—it tastes as he recalls it, varying only in the most superficial of ways, and sometimes, if he forces himself deeply enough into it, he can trick his wearied brain that nothing has changed, that he is still there—still then. It always fades, however, come morning.
He rarely chooses to slap a label on it. Reincarnation feels idealistic. It's a purer thing than that, anyways. Re, as a prefix, implies duplication, a secondary process that either adds or subtracts from the initial one. When he, of course, is neither. His name is different, but it is only a label, and that which is important remains the same—even extending so far as to his external appearance; dark curls tumble about a fine-boned face, set with glittering dark eyes and only occasionally graced with a smile that's more tentative than rowdy, to contradict all that his personality lays down. And even if he did look different, it wouldn't change, for he would still be the same—precisely the same, measured impeccably, as if the God that he still won't believe in simply whisked him right back out of whatever Heaven or Hell he'd been plunged into, didn't so much as give him a dusting before tossing him back onto Earth. He is not regenerated or reborn. He is back. Here again, and nothing beyond that.
The memories, vivid as they are, do hurt sometimes. Severely. Devastatingly. Flaying him apart from the inside out. Their names rush through his mind, and with them their faces, and everything else about them—their determination, their bravery, their movements, their laughter, their voices. He loved every single one of them, spoken or not, and one above all else—the one, of course, is what makes it hurt the most.
For the emotion contained towards that valiant angel of his dreams is something which nothing else in his life can come near. It is an isolated and revered sensation, placed high above all else, constantly untarnished even as it rips itself apart with its own intensity. It is, perhaps, love, though the clichéd images of roses and tears that he sees dashed over television screens or whined, straining, through the static-filled speakers of his rusty green car's radio are something else entirely—something weaker, dirtier, more pitiable. Nothing about this is pitiable, though the looks thrown his direction when he dares to mention it certainly suggest that it should be. It is beautiful, and he treasures it, even as it agonizes him with its fundamental impossibility.
So they hurt, even as they drive him. He learns to accept the pain, because it is all he knows.
And that is how he moves forwards.
He meets Courfeyrac on a dreary October afternoon, lounging at the edge of his college campus because his roommate has a dog and he detests dogs. His books are shut, but the brittle protection of the covers does little to save their soft pages from the hissing cut of the raindrops that chill his neck.
"You look like you could use an umbrella," a voice muses.
He knows the voice, and he's looking up, and then seconds later he's on his feet with his heart pounding and his ears roaring and his palms sweating and "Courfeyrac" is all that comes out of his mouth and he can't breathe he can't see he—
"Easy, there," a touch at his shoulder, wide eyes conveying clear alarm; "are you doing okay? Hey, man, seriously—I think you need to get inside, you're not looking good."
"Courfeyrac," he says again, barely feeling the word touch his tongue, and he half-falls into the hug that's accepted more as a gesture of alarm than anything else. He's holding him tight, as tightly as he can, he can feel an ache in his throat, he's shaking and an awkward hand is patting his back in what might be attempted reassurance.
"It's you," he whispers.
"Alright, sure, if you say so. Now come on, before you freeze to death. I've been told I make an absolutely beautiful hot chocolate, and if I'm right—I usually am, by the way—there's nothing you need more right now."
It takes very little time to establish that he does not remember. Grantaire tries to explain, futilely, but Courfeyrac—he can't possibly know him by any other name, and the one given slips repeatedly from his mind like water from his hands—dismisses him as drunk, which is understandable enough, given that he probably is. Yet that does not mean that Grantaire will allow him out of his sight, and so, slowly—throughout the week and the semester and then the year—they become friends.
The dreams begin to come back, then. Up till now, he's managed to suppress the subconscious repetitions, at least to some extent, but their vibrancy suddenly returns more colorfully than ever, so that he'll wake up in the silver hours before dawn with his sheets tangled and his lips sweaty and all of his thoughts soaked in barrels' worth of blood and wine. He contemplates little else in his free time as well as that which should be spent more wisely—their names return, parading around his mind like Hell's finest marching band, drumming their syllables into his skull with aching precision. Because if Courfeyrac is here—and it is, it's him; though the physical appearance is what first struck him so profoundly, everything else, cloaked as it is below the fragile guise of conventionality, couldn't render him more sure—if Courfeyrac is here, then the rest must be, too. Somewhere.
He must be.
The next two are Bossuet and Musichetta, together as they should be—something which warms him just to see. He's more careful introducing himself to them, calls them properly by the names they declare, and he doesn't become as close to them as he had to Courfeyrac, but that's alright. It's enough to see them every so often, to give a wave and have it returned, to sense that glowing reminder that there's hope for the rest; that, scattered across the world as they may be, he'll still be able to find them at some point, and that is undoubtedly worth living for. He hopes, burningly, that they'll be able to find Joly; thinks with an aching smile of just how lost and anxious the medic must be without them, unaware, even, of what he needs so frantically.
Then comes Marius, over a year after Courfeyrac, and Grantaire's initial impulse is to punch him in the stupid identical face; he does, however, restrain himself to a grumbled "hello," the additional, secretly fond snap of damned Bonapartist trapped behind his tongue. His irritation at the love-struck idiot's mere presence is its own form of affection, anyways, so he tries his hardest to convey the positive aspect of it without dwelling on his personal impatience for the tousle-haired young man, who seems now just as starry-eyed as he ever was over a certain young woman—Grantaire has no way to tell whether it's the same one, for he never did hear more than a whisper of Marius's longed-for mistress, but he finds himself hoping that it is. Less because he thinks they deserve each other—more, perhaps, because if they can find each other, if Musichetta and Bossuet can find each other, then maybe he, Grantaire, can find his own completion. His own, he thinks late one night with his fingers curled around a bottleneck and his tears hidden behind a smile, Orestes.
It happens in a clothing store.
An unremarkable clothing store on an unremarkable day, the morning's events of which have faded into a blurred canvas, further stirred about by the grind of the hangover that he's grown to accept as constant. He's here because one of his friends told him to—not one of them, but a different person, somebody irrelevant to his dreams and pressingly attached to what he detests to accept as reality. She told him that he wore the same damn shirt every day, and that if he ever wanted to get a proper girlfriend—words spoken with a nervous glance down that he wished had escaped him—then he really ought to at least look less like a drunk hobo. He barely cared for her words—a girlfriend, certainly, was the last thing he wanted; the couple which he'd had were only ever upsetting in the long run—but they did bring a fair enough point to mind, which is why he finds himself here, now, mulling through endless racks of jeans and sweaters in search of the least decadent item he can find.
He looks up from a cringe-worthy price tag and sees, across the aisle, golden hair.
It's shorter than he remembers it, straighter, and yet it adorns the graceful neck below it in a way impossible to forget. The melt of muscle into shoulders and slender arms is scorching in its familiarity, and though it's not possible, though it can't be, he feels the freeze in his veins, a thousand times more intense than it had been with Courfeyrac, completely paralyzing him in its potency.
It can't be. It can't possibly be.
He doesn't realize that he's standing motionless, or that his lips are parted in pure awe, or even that there are tears rearing behind his eyes. All he feels is the pound of his head, and his legs, impossibly, are carrying him around, closer, letting him see the profile.
It is him.
The forehead, brows, eyes, nose, lips, chin; his unblinking stare caresses them again and again, savoring their presence, their reality, their absolute beauty. His veins are boiling, and surely every second of his life—of both of his lives—has been leading towards this, so perhaps he ought to preserve the moment, and yet he can't, can't do anything but move closer with a hand half-lifted and his heart howling.
The seraphic man is contemplating two shirts, one held in each gorgeously tangible hand—both plain in a way that he surely detests. One is a soft powder blue, and the other, spilling over his fingers in shadowy ripples of smooth fabric, is brilliant scarlet.
"Red," Grantaire breathes.
Eyes flicker up to meet his. Blue. Blank. Curious.
A wine-shop. A window. A flag. A look. A touch. Gunfire.
"Go with the red… it suits you."
Surprised yet charmed, Enjolras's lips spring into a smile.
And that is how it begins.