I've been watching too many videos of police breaking up Occupy protests on YouTube, basically. I regret nothing!
"I'm just getting this…yes; we have confirmed reports of bodies being removed from the scene. So far three bodies have been removed by the paramedics. This is in addition to the ambulances on the scene to treat injuries sustained by at least five other victims of the stampede…"
"Christ, are you hearing this?" Grantaire pressed his phone harder against his ear in an effort to get his hand to stop shaking. He couldn't take his eyes off the TV, and he could feel his chest getting tight.
"Calm down," Combeferre said firmly, a soothing presence in his ear. "The area they're in isn't close to where we saw him last –"
"He could've been caught up in it," Grantaire couldn't stop himself speaking, voicing his fears. "There were so many, he could've stopped to help someone or something stupid like that –"
"I'm sure he's fine, he's very fast, you know that."
The screen started to show footage of stretchers being wheeled into ambulances, the bodies covered with white sheets. No attending paramedics – these people were beyond help now.
What if he was looking at Enjolras' body right now?
"Oh, fuck." Grantaire struggled to breathe. He had to stay up – if he sank to his knees right now, he was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to get up again, and he needed to keep watching the news, because there were still protestors in the background of some of the shots, and if Enjolras was there, he'd see him, and he'd know he was alright, safe, alive, unhurt –
"Grantaire! Grantaire, are you alright? Grantaire, say something, Jesus!"
"I'm here," he gasped. He couldn't handle Combeferre freaking out as well. Selfish of him, yes, but he needed Combeferre to be the sane one right now. "I'm here, I'm okay."
"Good." Combeferre took a short breath. "The bodies they've removed are the wrong heights, as far as I can tell. Too short, all of them."
Smaller people, trampled by their fellow protestors.
"Enjolras is strong," Combeferre continued, "Grantaire, you know he is. He's better in a fight than you think."
Grantaire laughed weakly, pain stabbing at his chest. "God, Combeferre, if he's…"
"He's fine." Combeferre said slowly.
"His phone…" Enjolras' phone was dead. Not even voicemail – a hideous metallic beeping that told them nothing.
"Doesn't mean anything. He probably lost it, that's all."
"Shh, hang on," Grantaire fixed his attention on the TV as the reporter began to speak again.
"We have it confirmed that five bodies have now been removed from the scene, and at least six people are on their way to the hospital now, in critical condition. The identities of these protestors are still unknown. There are still over five hundred people kettled at the junction in front of the bridge, and violence continues to break out sporadically between police and protestors."
"I can't see him," Grantaire muttered, desperately scanning the footage of the furious, roiling crowd as the camera panned over their heads. There were blondes in there, but he could tell that none of them were Enjolras. "We should've stayed, we –"
"Absolutely not," Combeferre snapped. "You know what we agreed. If it goes south, we go home." The Café was too risky – too close to the area of the protest. Everyone else had made it back. Everyone except Enjolras.
"Christ." Grantaire dragged a hand through his hair, nails digging in and tugging hard at the curls to feel the pain. "Jesus fucking Christ, Combeferre."
"Keep breathing, focus on my voice."
Grantaire tried, he really did, but he couldn't stop replaying the moment it had all gone wrong in his head, over and over. The sudden gunshot from up ahead, the spread of panic through the crowd, faster than wildfire. The screams, the bellowed orders from the police, the terrifying crush of the people around him, pressing against him, carrying him away from Enjolras' bright red jacket. He wasn't exactly weak – he was actually the strongest in their group, technically, though Bahorel was easier with his strength – but there had been absolutely no fighting the pull of the crowd.
And Enjolras had shoved him away, pushed him out of the way just before a mounted policeman cut through the crowd, separating them more effectively than a wall of riot shields, because once he'd lost sight of Enjolras, there had been no finding him again, not in the mass of screaming, pulsing bodies heaving against his.
He'd never known fear like that before. He'd fled like the hounds of hell were behind him, scared out of his mind. Scared for himself, for his friends, for Enjolras.
"I can't see him," he gasped, the footage on the screen blurring into dots of angry, colourful protestors and stoic black-uniformed police.
"Grantaire, close your eyes, stop looking."
"If he's there –"
"We'll see him, Grantaire; we're all looking as well. That's nine pairs of eyes. Wait, eleven – Chetta and Éponine are at Joly's. I'm on the phone with them as well, okay? We're all looking; we won't miss him if he's there. Close your eyes."
Grantaire obeyed, squeezing them shut and digging his nails into his palm. "Kay," he rasped.
"Just listen to me, okay? Breathe in and out. Concentrate on that. With me – in and out."
He tried, but couldn't get the air in. "Can't, my chest –"
"You're okay, you're safe, just breathe, okay? Breathe, Grantaire."
"The fuck is happening?" he clenched his hand in the front of his shirt, sucking in air as deep as he could.
"Possibly a panic attack," Combeferre's voice was blessedly calm. "It's okay. Concentrate on breathing, it'll pass. Try and slow down, it's going to be fine."
"Jesus fuck," Grantaire opened his eyes and caught a glimpse of the TV – an overhead view, they must be using a helicopter, he couldn't see Enjolras in the crowd, he couldn't see Enjolras at all. "Combeferre –"
"It's okay," Combeferre reassured him steadily. "Breathe. Ignore everything except breathing and my voice, alright? Try and slow it down. In for five, hold for two, out for five. Find a rhythm."
His sounded so composed, Grantaire could feel some of the tension easing already. If Combeferre wasn't worried, it was fine, right?
"Grantaire, still with me?"
"Yeah." He forced himself to close his eyes again and swayed unsteadily as he tried to focus on the air. "Fuck."
"With me, okay? In, two, three, four, five. Hold – don't let it out in a rush. Slowly out, two, three, four, five. Got it? Again, ready? In, two, three…"
The pain began to recede, but Grantaire couldn't stay focused on the counting, unable to stop himself freaking out about Enjolras. He opened his eyes again once he could breathe properly and stared at the TV screen.
"Grantaire, you okay?"
"Better." He swallowed. "Thanks."
"We haven't seen him."
Fuck. "Fuck." He fisted his hand in his hair again, trembling slightly. "How many confirmed casualties?"
"Five, so far."
So far. "Fuck. Injured?"
"Seven in critical condition, four more stable but still in hospital."
"Dozens. Probably more than they're saying."
They'd experienced police brutality before. Joly had had his nose broken, Éponine had been harassed, and Bahorel had been left in a cell for over a day with a broken wrist before he was taken to hospital. And Enjolras…Enjolras had a longer record than any of them. If he was caught...
Better caught than carted away on a stretcher under a white sheet.
He felt sick.
"It's going to be okay, he'll be fine –"
"You don't know that."
"He could be one of those fucking bodies!" Grantaire snapped, dragging nails across his scalp in an effort to translate his terror into something physical. "He could be one of those people in the hospital! He could still be there, he could be in a fucking cell by now, Jesus fuck."
Grantaire spun around and felt something drop out of his chest. Enjolras was there, barely a scratch on him, red jacket only a little scuffed. It took a few long seconds for Grantaire to find his voice. "You're…you're alright, you're alright, oh God…"
"Grantaire!" Combeferre almost shouted. "Grantaire, what's happening, is he there?"
"He's here." Grantaire hung up and the phone slid from his fingers to thud on the floor. His knees were so weak he was amazed he found the strength to walk across the room to Enjolras, who stood tall and still.
For half a second, Grantaire was scared to touch him in case it was just a hallucination, but his hand fell on solid flesh, and the air was knocked out of him in a savage blow. "Enjolras, Enjolras, fuck, fuck, oh my God, you…" He pressed his head to Enjolras' shoulder and clutched at his sides. When Enjolras' arms came up to hold him back he exhaled shakily before shoving him away. "You bastard, you fucking…Christ, what the fuck were you thinking?"
Enjolras stared at him, mouth open but unmoving. So uncharacteristic, the silence. Grantaire sobbed, an ugly sound, and stepped forward to hug him properly, pressing their bodies together and trying to mould every part of himself to fit Enjolras. "You fucking idiot," he gasped, and shook when Enjolras hugged him back, just as tight. "God, I could kill you myself, you asshole, what the hell were you thinking?"
"He would've run you down," Enjolras said quietly, muffled in Grantaire's hair. "If you'd fallen, you would've been crushed."
"Like the others were?" Grantaire pulled away to push his hands through Enjolras' hair. He felt grit and dust on his fingers, smelled smoke on his red jacket. He pulled Enjolras' head down until their foreheads were pressed together. "Christ, where the hell have you been?"
"I had to hide out for a bit, then double back around." Enjolras' hands pulled him close. "Are the others alright?"
"Yeah, everyone's…" His phone started to buzz furiously on the carpet and they both looked at it. Enjolras was the one who broke away to pick it up when it became clear that Grantaire wasn't moving.
"Hello?" he closed his eyes. "Combeferre. Yes, I'm fine. Bruises, a couple of cuts, nothing serious. Is everyone safe?" As he spoke, Grantaire walked around him to turn the TV off. Now that he knew Enjolras was okay, he didn't care about the protest anymore. He stayed there while Enjolras talked to Combeferre. "Yes. I know. Yes, yeah, I'm…I know. I know. Okay. Tomorrow. Yeah, I'll call tomorrow. Tell the others to stay inside. Yes. Okay, I'll speak to you later. Bye." He chucked the phone onto the sofa and turned to face Grantaire. "Grantaire?"
Expressions flitted across Enjolras' face – surprise, sorrow, and, infuriatingly, confusion.
Grantaire had to look away to quell the anger rising in his chest.
Enjolras approached him slowly, warily. They fought – of course, it was them, it would've been impossible for them not to fight – but it was always about each other's views. Personal insults very rarely came into it. Grantaire couldn't remember ever lashing out at Enjolras like that. Not while sober, at least.
God, why did he have to be so nice now?
Grantaire trembled, unable to move away, unable to reach out. The words slipped out too fast for him to filter them. "I hate you."
He felt rather than saw Enjolras become utterly still. Grantaire looked at the floor and waited, hating himself. But when Enjolras spoke, his voice was soft. "I love you."
His hands curled into fists, and Grantaire turned and only just managed to stop himself slamming them into Enjolras' shoulders. He grabbed his jacket instead, squeezing hard enough to leave creases. "I could kill you right now," he hissed, "do you have any idea how fucking scared I've been?"
"Don't you fucking dare!" he snarled, meeting Enjolras' eyes. "Five confirmed deaths already. Eleven in hospital, seven of them critical. That could've been you."
Grantaire held his gaze for a long second, fury glaring into remorse. Enjolras' hands came up slowly to his wrists, fingers brushing feather-light on Grantaire's skin. Grantaire was gripping the red jacket so hard his hands were shaking, but Enjolras' were infinitely gentle, barely holding on when his fingers curled. Grantaire sucked in a wrecked breath and looked down, letting go of Enjolras' jacket to grab his thumbs instead. Enjolras' fingers curved around his, still tender. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry, Grantaire."
Grantaire fought to stay on his feet and had to lean against Enjolras to avoid collapsing. "You stupid, stupid bastard," he growled, ducking to press his forehead hard against Enjolras' shoulder. "Christ, you fucking idiot."
Enjolras pressed two kisses against the side of his head and pulled him as close as he could. Grantaire's hold on his thumbs had to be painful by now, but he didn't make a sound of protest or try to pull away, and Grantaire swallowed furiously against the lump in his throat. "You could've been killed," he said harshly. "You could be in a fucking body bag right now."
"I saw them wheel the bodies away on the news, Enjolras. On stretchers, under white sheets. What if that had been you?"
"I'm fine, not even hurt."
Grantaire remembered the time Enjolras had leapt into a fight at a protest against local service cuts two years ago. He'd been literally beaten to the ground and dragged off in a police van. When he'd been released, the left side of his face had been a bloody mess, torn up from being scraped along the pavement, and he'd walked with a limp for a month.
Compared to that, he'd had a miraculous escape today.
"God." Grantaire turned his face against Enjolras' neck and inhaled deeply. There was smoke, lots of it, but under that was the familiar scent of their laundry detergent and Enjolras' skin. Warm, alive, safe. "You stupid prick. Christ, Enjolras." With effort, he relaxed his hands and released Enjolras' thumbs. Enjolras used the opportunity to thread their fingers together and hold tight, squeezing for a moment before he let go and wrapped his arms around Grantaire's back, pulling him in close. "You have no idea…Jesus, I've been waiting here for almost an hour, no one had seen you, no one knew where you were…God, what the fuck happened to your phone? We called you over and over –"
"I lost it," Enjolras ran a hand down Grantaire's spine, clearly getting him to try and relax a bit. "Must've been trodden on by half the protest by now."
"You…God, I could strangle you, I could just fucking…I couldn't find you anywhere, you just, you could've been under that horse, Enjolras. You could've been trampled to death and I wouldn't even fucking know, none of us would." He was aware that he was shaking, hands trembling where they were curled against Enjolras' chest. "How long would I have been waiting? How long would it take to identify you, call your parents, call Combeferre, call me? All night? Tomorrow? A day after that? Jesus, Enjolras, I've been losing my fucking mind."
"I'm sorry," Enjolras held him tighter, lifting a hand to cup the back of Grantaire's head. "I'm so sorry, I tried to get back as soon as I could. I didn't –"
"You didn't fucking think, you asshole." Grantaire pulled away and stumbled over to the sofa, finally sitting down. "You never do." He put his elbows on his knees and pressed his face into his hands, scrubbing away half-formed tears. "This stupid fucking protest, all the ones before, and all the ones you'll just keep going to…God, it only takes one idiot with a gun and everyone just fucking stampedes like dumb animals and it's so easy to get lost, like I lost you and I could've actually lost you, Enjolras." He looked up, agonised. "You could've fallen and that would've been it. People actually died today, and it could've been you." He dropped his head to his hands again and hunched his shoulders. "I mean…fuck."
Enjolras came to sit next to him and pressed his forehead against Grantaire's shoulder. "I know. I'm sorry." He sounded genuine, quiet and tired.
Grantaire could smell the smoke on him and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Lie to me," he whispered in a cracked voice.
"Lie to me. Just…" Grantaire turned and grabbed Enjolras' elbow, shuffling closer. "Tell me you'll never do this again. Please? Just this once, tell me you're done, and you'll never do something like this again."
Enjolras didn't say anything for a long moment. Then, "I can't say that."
"Fucksake, Enjolras –"
"Listen," Enjolras tried to take his hand but Grantaire got to his feet and shook his head.
"You listen –"
"No," Enjolras followed him and cupped his face with a hand that still smelled of ash. "Listen to me, Grantaire, please. Look at me."
Grantaire did, reluctantly. It looked like Enjolras was struggling with something, perhaps trying to hide something. "I can't lie to you," he said, meeting Grantaire's eyes squarely. "I can't. I never have, and I never will. So you know it's true, you know I'm not lying when I tell you I'm sorry. I'm sorry I lost my phone and lost contact with all of you. I'm sorry I scared you."
"Scared me?" Grantaire laughed humourlessly. "I had a fucking panic attack." Enjolras closed his eyes, and it was suddenly clear that he'd been trying to hide his pain. "How long do you think you'll be able to do this for?" Grantaire pushed anyway. "How long before something goes really wrong and you end up…Christ, seriously injured or put in jail or something?"
"They can't lock me up for participating in what was meant to be a peaceful protest."
How many times had they had this argument? "I don't think they'll care, you twat." He shook his head, dislodging Enjolras' hand. He missed the contact immediately and hated himself a little bit for that. "How long before it goes too far?" he pressed, glaring at Enjolras. "One idiot with a gun, Enjolras, that's all it took today, and we both know it doesn't even have to be that sometimes, not with people like you riling the cops up."
"I can't stop." Enjolras hissed, almost desperate. "I can't, and I'm sorry, I am, but this is just –"
"Just who you fucking are, I know." Grantaire went back to him and held his face between his hands. This close, he could catch every hitch in Enjolras' breath, every tiny hesitation – the way he worried just slightly at his lower lip with his teeth, licked his lips, huffed out through his nose, swallowed. Details Enjolras was usually so careful to hide. "You're just…you fucking burn with it, and I…what happens when you burn out?"
Enjolras made a visible effort to reign himself in, conceal his tells and become a statue again. "Do you want me to?"
Grantaire pressed one hand to his face, his other sliding down to grasp the side of Enjolras' neck, holding on. Fuck, what sort of question even was that? "I don't…no, you wouldn't…" He exhaled shakily. "You wouldn't be you, but you'd be safer, and I'd…fuck, I'm…" He let go and backed away, shaking his head wearily. "I'm too fucking needy for this." The admission was almost too quiet to hear, but of course Enjolras heard anyway.
"You need me no more than I need you," he said harshly, "remember?"
They'd had that conversation before. In bed, after dark, sleepy and confessional. Enjolras had told him more than once how Grantaire kept him grounded, made him human, made him feel wanted for something other than his political views and analytical skills. It had taken a long time for either of them to open up about stuff like that.
Grantaire didn't – couldn't – reply. Just closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on his breathing, because his chest was getting uncomfortably tight again. He heard Enjolras take a step towards him. "Grantaire, please…"
"This is so fucked up," Grantaire muttered. It was terrifying to be so close to Enjolras, to have him and know that he could easily martyr himself at any time for any stupid cause, but the possibility of life without him was just…it wasn't worth thinking about. Certainly wasn't worth living.
When Enjolras spoke, Grantaire hardly recognised his voice. "Please…" Hesitance and fear didn't suit him. "Please don't leave."
It was enough to shock him out of his stillness. Grantaire stared at him. "Leave?"
Enjolras was looking down and didn't see him, clenching and unclenching his fists at his sides. "I know I'm not…the easiest person to deal with –"
"You're a fucking idiot, is what you are." Grantaire crossed the distance between them in one stride and kissed him, fiercely, deepening it when Enjolras made a small surprised, relieved sound against his mouth. "Of all the stupid things you've ever said," he muttered when he pulled back, "that's probably the dumbest."
Enjolras' mouth twisted, almost a smile if it weren't for his still-closed, pained eyes. But Grantaire waited, and as he watched Enjolras take two deep breaths, the expression smoothed out and disappeared, though he didn't open his eyes. "I know you think you need me more than I need you," he said quietly, "but that's really not true."
Grantaire kissed him again, and again, putting his hands on Enjolras' hips and walking him backwards until he was pressed against the wall, pinned there by Grantaire's body. Frantic became comforting slowly, both of them relaxing at the familiar physicality of it. Words could get in the way sometimes, Grantaire knew, though he had a hard time persuading Enjolras of that. Occasionally, it was better to talk with skin.
They showered together, washing away the lingering smell of smoke from Enjolras' hair and rutting against each other under the spray until they both came, flopping heavy and warm afterwards into bed. Enjolras peppered Grantaire with kisses in the dark, covering his face, neck, shoulders, chest, fingers dancing everywhere else, and Grantaire heard what he was saying even though neither of them opened their mouths to speak. I love you, I'm sorry, I love you, I'm sorry, forgive me, I'm sorry, I love you, I love you, I love you.
It would never be perfect or easy all the time. There were always going to be days like this, because Enjolras couldn't stop being Enjolras, even for a second. Asking him to would be like asking him not to breathe, or asking Jehan not to write, or Grantaire not to question everything.
He stayed up after Enjolras fell asleep, lines of exhaustion on his face from the day's trials, and watched him breathe. Grantaire couldn't leave, and it killed him sometimes to stay, but even this was better than nothing, and it was only when he was with Enjolras that he was anyone at all. Days like today were periods of torment worth enduring, he felt, for that.