Everything is white. That's the first thing that Grantaire notices about the room. It is crisp and clean and linear and so white that it is almost otherworldly in its absence of colour. He wonders if this is life in greyscale. He thinks his life has always been in greyscale, brief interludes of washed-out pigmentation provided by the bottom of a shot glass. He wonders if he is in Heaven. He can't imagine a place on Earth being so devoid of anything earthly. It is a vacuum.
The second thing he notices is that he is not alone. At the other end of the room, sitting on the bed – and there is only a small metal cot with white sheets, white pillow, white blanket – there is a man, or perhaps an angel if this is Heaven, with a halo of blonde hair and a book with a red cover on his lap.
Grantaire cocks his head, and the man looks up at him and smiles. He makes the room seem less washed out, less devoid of colour. He is living in a world of technicolour, thinks Grantaire. He can't imagine this man in a greyscale world. He seems out of place here. Too ordinary, or perhaps not ordinary enough. The room is otherworldly, but this man is ethereal.
"Who are you?" asks Grantaire. The man closes his book and sets it aside next to him on the bed before standing up and crossing the room towards Grantaire. The room is small enough that the man crosses it easily in six steps, and extends his hand. Grantaire takes it. It is cold, but his own is colder.
"My name is Enjolras," the man replies. Enjolras. It sounds a little like water.
"Are you my cellmate?" Grantaire questions. Enjolras furrows his brow.
"Roommate," he corrects. "This isn't a cell. It's just a room."
Grantaire huffs a bitter laugh. He knows a prison when he sees it.
"I'm locked up," he says. Enjolras shakes his head.
"You're not locked up," he says. "You're locked in. Like me. Do you see?"
"We may as well be in chains," he says. "There are bars on the door and the only light is electric."
"Rooms are man-made," he responds. "Easily escapable. We are organic. Bone and sinew. We are the real prisons, you know. This room is just four walls. The door has a key. We are tissue and flesh on the outside, and on the inside we are everything else. That's where we're locked in. Not here."
Grantaire blinks. Enjolras smiles thinly.
"I think you are mad," says Grantaire. Enjolras's smile widens and reaches his eyes.
"Why do you think I'm here?" he asks teasingly. "Same reason as you. I'm unwhole. Unmade."
"Unwhole isn't a word."
"Then think of a better one."
"It wasn't my mistake."
"It wasn't mine, either. I didn't invent the language. I didn't leave out a perfectly good word."
Grantaire rolls his eyes.
"I am sharing a cell with a madman," he states, to no-one in particular. Enjolras raises an eyebrow.
"You are sharing a room with a like-minded individual," he says. "And perhaps a friend."
"I need a drink," says Grantaire, because he does, and Enjolras's face falls. It hurts Grantaire to see it, the shift from happiness to the other extreme – sadness? Anger? He can't tell – and he looks away from Enjolras' eyes so he can't see the disappointment that he knows is there, because he's seen it on the faces of everyone he knows, on the face of his mother when she caught him skipping school to drink, on the tight-lipped face of his father when he collected him from the police station last month, on the grey-palloured face of his own mirror image when he woke up with no memory of the past week.
He drinks. In every tense, in the past, the future, the conditional and the present, he drinks. He has always drunk, and God, he will always drink, because everything is brighter and everything is somehow more when it is dulled and brightened by the haze of bourbon, of whisky, of red wine –
- Enjolras is looking at him, a little sadly, and his expression is so strong, so stark, that Grantaire feels as though it is he himself who is sad. Almost. He would be sad, he thinks, if he weren't empty.
"You know why you're here, don't you?" asks Enjolras, quietly, and Grantaire nods.
He is here because he is not good. He is here because he drinks. He is here because he has to be.
Enjolras takes his hand again and holds it, lacing their fingers together, and he is warm this time. Grantaire is struck by how familiar the gesture feels. It is almost as though he is holding his own hand.
"We're all here for the same reason," says Enjolras.
"Because we are lost," says Grantaire. Enjolras shakes his head.
"Because we are found."
And Grantaire knows that he is right, knows that deep down there are those just like him who are yet greyer, yet colder. In another life, he thinks, he is buried deep underground with only the worms to love him.
He misses the comfort of being lost. Being lost is easy, he thinks. It's not so hard to wake up if you don't know where you are or where you need to be. It's more difficult to wake up when you know you are in the wrong place.
"I felt safe when I was lost," says Grantaire. He doesn't know why he feels able to confess everything to Enjolras, but the words come easily. Enjolras squeezes his hand more tightly.
"It's easy to feel safe adrift when there's an anchor," he says. Grantaire shivers, despite the warmth of Enjolras' fingers.
Enjolras wraps his other hand around Grantaire's wrist so that he is holding Grantaire's left hand with both of his own, and his eyes are kind now, not disappointed at all.
"You," Enjolras tells him.
Their days pass like that. They sit and talk, and Enjolras reads his red book, and their food comes three times a day on a blue tray. Grantaire still wonders sometimes if this is Heaven, but Heaven looks a lot like a hospital room and Enjolras is too unholy to be an angel. He is too good to Grantaire. Not even a guardian angel would hold his hand, he thinks, lest they fall.
Enjolras is something else. He is blonde hair and warm hands and Grantaire does not understand him one bit, for all he has told Enjolras about himself.
He wants to know. He wants to learn Enjolras like Enjolras has learned him, wants to know why he is even here at all when he is not empty, not sad, not bruised. Why does he let Grantaire sleep in the bed at night? Why does he offer him the first portion of food? He has never looked anything other than content, and he should not be locked up in this little room; should not be locked in at all.
"Why are you here?" he asks. Enjolras does not deign to look over his red book.
"For the same reason as you. We've discussed this."
"You are too good," argues Grantaire. "You are not grey enough to belong in this place. You're not like me at all. Why are you really here?"
Enjolras sighs and regards Grantaire coolly.
"History calls those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good," he says. Grantaire frowns, and Enjolras continues. "Experience acclaims as happiest the man who has made the greatest number of people happy."
"I don't understand."
"Karl Marx, 1837."
"Is that in your book?"
Enjolras turns around the book to show Grantaire the page. Grantaire frowns. It is made up of letters that don't match. Enjolras must notice the confused crinkles at the corner of his eyes because he sets the book down and laughs.
"It's in German," he explains. "They're letters from Marx to his father. I don't know what Marx would have thought about them being published, but they were, and now I'm reading them. Well, I'm trying to. My German is rudimentary."
"Karl Marx," muses Grantaire. The name tastes like red. "I remember. I studied him at university. I read one of his works on literary theory. I'd forgotten about him."
"He's still there," says Enjolras, tapping his temple. "You hadn't forgotten him entirely."
"No," agrees Grantaire. "My professor would be proud."
Enjolras grins and picks up the book again. Grantaire places his hand on the spine and lowers it. Enjolras raises an eyebrow.
"What did you mean by that quote?" questions Grantaire. Enjolras sighs.
"History calls those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good," he repeats, "means that, according to history, the most important people are those who do the most good things to help society."
"I think that makes sense," he says. Enjolras blinks. "What does the second part mean?"
"Experience acclaims as happiest the man who has made the greatest number of people happy," Enjolras says again. "In other words, what makes someone happy is making others happy."
Grantaire knits his brow in contemplation.
"That's the same thing," he says.
Enjolras shakes his head.
"Not at all," he says. "What makes a man go down in history is to make the greatest mark he can. To affect the biggest change. But what makes a man happy is to make the brightest mark. To affect the one change that matters. To raise someone from the darkness."
Grantaire tilts his head thoughtfully.
"And are you raising me from the darkness?" he queries. Enjolras picks up the book again.
"Perhaps," he answers. "Or perhaps you are raising me."
"You have never been dark."
"I have been dark enough."
"If you are dark, then I am midnight."
"I am black ink."
"You are red ink," Grantaire says, and they are both smiling now. "You are colour on white."
"I think red is my favourite colour," says Enjolras musingly. Grantaire smiles.
"I think it might be mine, too," he agrees.
"Why do you drink?" asks Enjolras, when it has been seven days and Grantaire has almost forgotten how it feels to be drunk.
Grantaire is not so found now. It's new territory. He's treading and claiming new ground.
He shrugs. He isn't sure he can put it into words.
"There is nothing else to me," he answers finally. "I don't know what I am without the alcohol. Not anymore."
And he's not sure what he expected of Enjolras, whether he thought he'd scoff or look at him like he hadn't known him at all, but he hadn't expected him to cry. Enjolras looks away, blinking quickly, and Grantaire shifts closer to him, takes his hand in his.
"Why does that make you sad?" he asks. Enjolras doesn't look at him, but holds his hand more tightly.
"You think you are nothing," he says after a few moments. He looks up at him, meets Grantaire's gaze with blue eyes shining with tears. "How can you think you are nothing?"
Grantaire doesn't know how to respond.
"What else can I think?"
"It is the truth."
"It could not be further from it," says Enjolras, and he sounds angry through the sadness, thinks Grantaire. His hands are colder today than they have been, and Grantaire wants to warm them in his own. He thinks he would only make them colder if he tried. "You think you are amplified by the drink, that it makes you more, but it makes you less. It dulls you at the corners. It doesn't round them, doesn't make them softer. It makes you hard and it makes you someone else."
Grantaire's heart rate beats betrayal in his chest. He has heard this speech before, but never expected it from the lips of Enjolras.
"You don't know what you're talking about," he retorts, wrenching his hand free from Enjolras and folding his hands in his lap. "You've never met me when I'm drinking."
Enjolras stares at him, and Grantaire can trace the path his tears have taken. They have fallen onto the bed sheets and would stain them if the linen weren't so white.
"I don't need to," says Enjolras. "I am no angel."
Grantaire tries to imagine Enjolras under the influence of something other than words and ideas, but he can't manage it. Has Enjolras ever stumbled out of a bar after midnight, with a whore on his arm and a stain on his memory? Has he ever woken up when it is so dark that it could be before or after sunset? Has he staggered through rain-soaked streets with a pain in his skull that not even the bottle can soothe?
Has Enjolras ever thought himself nothing?
The very thought of it makes something run cold in Grantaire's veins, and he quickly reaches out to claim Enjolras' hand again. Enjolras accepts the gesture eagerly and warmly, and his fingers fit between Grantaire's own just as well as they had before.
They sit in silence, until Grantaire sees that Enjolras is still crying, and something breaks in him.
Something. Something snaps, bends and bends and bends until it is torn in two, and he is not empty. He feels. He is not a vessel to be filled. He is not hollow or unfeeling. Not now. Perhaps not ever. He is not nothing.
"I am not nothing," he says, more to himself than to Enjolras, and then, when Enjolras looks up at the words, Grantaire says them again, more loudly this time so that Enjolras can hear them and see that Grantaire believes them. "I am not nothing."
Grantaire understands. This is not Heaven, and Enjolras is not an angel, not even Grantaire's guardian. Enjolras is a red book, a smile, a warm hand. Enjolras is a friend. Enjolras is everything, and with Enjolras, Grantaire is something.
"Thank you," he says, when Enjolras is sleeping on the floor under a pile of white blankets. "I think you might have lost me just at the right time. In the right place, too."
Enjolras doesn't answer, but Grantaire thinks he heard.
Three days later, their breakfast is served on a green tray. The portion is smaller; just one plate with four slices of toast and a plastic cup of orange juice. If they share this, they will be hungry within the hour. Grantaire wonders if this is the plan of their helpers, to starve them into sanity. While Enjolras still sleeps, Grantaire catches the wrist of the porter as he opens the sliding compartment of the door, and the porter bends down so he can meet Grantaire's eye.
"There isn't enough here for two people," says Grantaire. The porter narrows his eyes.
"Why would there be?" he asks. Grantaire blinks.
"For my roommate," he answers. The porter is clearly stupid. He must be on work experience. Perhaps he is an inmate.
The porter's eyes dart from left to right, and he shakes his hand free of Grantaire's grasp.
"I'll see what I can do," he promises, and closes the door quickly.
"Thank you!" calls Grantaire, and he turns back towards the room. Enjolras is sitting up, wide-eyed and awake, red book open on his lap.
That afternoon, lunch is served on a yellow tray. There is enough for one person; one plate with two slices of bread, a bowl of soup and a cup of water. On a small side dish next to the soup is a tiny white pill. Grantaire frowns.
"He must have forgotten," he says. Enjolras bites his lip.
"You shouldn't have asked," he says.
Grantaire doesn't take the pill. He doesn't know what it's for.
It continues that way for two days. Grantaire requests larger portions and his efforts are rewarded with forgetfulness and a small white pill.
"I don't know why they keep giving me this," he sighs, inspecting it under the harsh white light of the bulb. "What's it for?"
Enjolras glances up over his book.
"You know what it's for," he replies. "It's because you requested an extra portion."
Grantaire doesn't think one white pill will feed another person. He puts it under his pillow and forgets about it.
On the third day, Enjolras closes his book and sets it down at the end of the bed. Grantaire is sitting by the room door next to a blue tray, on which sits a plate with two slices of toast and a cup of milk. He holds the pill in his hand. It's smooth and round, like a tiny egg.
"You know what that's for," says Enjolras, placing his hand on Grantaire's shoulder and kneeling beside him.
Grantaire shakes his head. He doesn't know. He refuses to know.
He is something.
"No," he replies, stubbornly. Enjolras sighs.
"You know that it's because you asked about me."
"They can't starve us. It's evil."
"They're not starving us. They're feeding you."
"They should feed us!"
"You know they can't do that." Enjolras' voice is soft and almost far away, and Grantaire turns around quickly to check that he's still there.
"Don't say it," he says. "Don't. Stay there. Please."
Enjolras is still close.
"I'll stay," he tells him.
That evening, Grantaire is given only a plate with a small white pill on it. Enjolras sits next to him, cross-legged on the floor, and Grantaire wonders why they are starving him into nothingness.
"Why can't you just stay?" he asks. Enjolras shakes his head.
"You don't need me anymore."
"I'll always need you. I'm something when I'm with you."
"And I'll always be with you. You know that." He smiles, but it's faint, ghostly. "I'm part of you."
"I don't think that any part of me is as good as you."
"I'm not even your best parts. I'm just the ones you don't know very well."
"Then I'm glad I don't. I don't want to know myself if it means I can know you."
"The more you know me, the more you know yourself," Enjolras counters. "And the less you know me."
"I don't believe it," Grantaire cries, his voice loud enough for the two of them. "I won't believe it! Do you?"
"I believe in you," replies Enjolras, "and if I believe in you, then that means that somewhere, somewhere deep and too dark, you believe in yourself too."
"I don't. I believe in you, Enjolras. Not me."
"Then perhaps you need to stop believing in me."
Enjolras' words aren't meant to hurt, to sting, but they bruise all the same, linger beneath the membrane, and Grantaire can feel him grow further away.
"How?" he whispers. Enjolras reaches out and takes Grantaire's hand. He is not cold. He is not warm. He is not.
"Do you remember what Marx said?" he asks. Grantaire nods, and Enjolras laughs. "Of course you do. If I know, then you know. Then perhaps you're familiar with this quote: 'Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form'."
"How can I not understand you?" Grantaire asks. Enjolras smiles.
"You don't know me very well," he answers. "What do you think it means?"
Grantaire doesn't answer.
"I don't know."
Grantaire sighs. He wants to wake up yesterday.
"That you're unreasonable," he says. Enjolras is unreasonable. He is entirely too dissimilar to Grantaire to make sense. Enjolras nods.
"I suppose I am," he agrees. "But I hope I showed you reason."
Grantaire thinks he's shown him everything.
"You've shown me myself," he says. Enjolras smiles, and it's benevolent. Angelic.
"Then I've served my purpose," he says, and he looks at the pill in the palm of Grantaire's hand. "Now you have to serve yours."
Grantaire doesn't know what his purpose is. He knows he won't find it at the bottom of a wine glass. Perhaps his purpose is to find out.
Perhaps his purpose is to get lost the right way. To live in technicolour.
The pill will be the last white thing he takes. Everything else, he thinks, will be in Enjolras' memory. It will be red on white.
He picks up the cup of water from the tray he was given earlier, and Enjolras lets go of his hand. Grantaire looks at him, and he is crying.
"You left the brightest mark," he tells Enjolras, and Enjolras smiles through faint tears.
"Thank you for raising me from the darkness," replies Enjolras, and Grantaire wonders where Enjolras will go now. He knows it won't be somewhere dark.
The water is bitter and stale, and the pill tastes like old blood.
The next morning, everything is still white. Grantaire wakes up and turns to wake Enjolras, but Enjolras is not there. Grantaire frowns. He sits up. The room is bigger now that he is alone.
He does not want to live in greyscale without Enjolras.
Then, his eyes are drawn to a lump at the end of the bed, under the covers. He reaches for it and pulls back the white bed sheets.
It is Enjolras' red book. Grantaire opens it to the first page and reads the name inscribed on the inside front cover, and smiles.