Miserables Month Day 21: "Hug"
Written for the Miserables Month @themiserablesmonth
Enjolras was not a fan of touching other people.
There wasn’t a particular reason. He wasn’t worried about germs, he hadn’t had a traumatic experience as a child.
It just made him want to crawl out of his own skin.
Growing up was difficult with an aversion to contact. Adults give children very little agency over their own bodies- a problem that Enjolras will rail on whenever given the opportunity.
But as he got older, it got better. Not the revulsion of contact, but people’s attitude towards it. An adult asking for personal space was considered a reasonable and valid thing. Enjolras surrounded himself with people who understood this about him, and didn’t care. And in his opinion, anyone who did care could fuck off. After he argued with them about for a while, of course.
He also grew to know himself better as got older. He knew what made it worse- strangers, large crowds, public transportation. He also knew what made it tolerable. Close friends, initiating the contact himself.
The worst part, he supposed, was that occasionally he felt a strong desire to be touched by someone. A platonic hand on a shoulder, a joking elbow to the ribs. Sometimes he wondered what it would be like to kiss someone, to have sex. He was a college kid, his hormones were still out of his grasp, and his mind and body were at odds.
He had long since come to terms with it. He didn’t see it as a bad thing, an affliction or disease that needed to be cured. The only thing that bothered him was when he did want something more. He couldn’t understand how he could crave something that time and again had felt entirely dreadful. Not being able to understand the illogical nature of his own brain disturbed him.
He watched the way his friends were with each other. So easy with their affection. The way Jehan loved to braid other’s hair. Courfeyrac enjoyed holding hands. Bahorel giving someone a slap on the back was akin to his seal of approval.
And he knew he could be part of it, if he wanted. All he had to do was say the word. But most any time he tried, bile would climb up his throat, his heart beating fast enough to hurt.
There were moments. He was human, despite what people said about him.
He could count them on his fingers, but he held each of them close to him. Gripping Combeferre’s shoulders when he got into his top university choice. A hand on Courfeyrac’s cheek the day his father died. A kiss from Cosette when the two of them met and she didn’t know better. When he didn’t panic, he knew that Marius had found someone special.
But those were few and far between. Which was okay with him. Except when it wasn’t.
He found himself in the Musain, post-meeting in early December, having one of those unbearably contrary moments.
Grantaire was having an art opening. He had told everyone after the meeting tonight that a gallery in town was putting up his work.
Everyone was ecstatic. Grantaire has tried to tell them all that it wasn’t a big deal, but no one was hearing any of it. Jehan had essentially flung himself into Grantaire’s arms, which caused a round of hugging and high fives and a patented Bahorel back slap.
Enjolras watched from the sidelines, appreciating his friends joy. But part of him wanted to partake. To throw himself in the middle of the mayhem without a second thought. To give Grantaire a hug, despite that being uncharacteristic on multiple levels.
When the absolute chaos started to mellow into casual revelry, Enjolras left his spot by the wall and approached Grantaire. He was still in the middle of the room, telling Jehan about the opening in more detail.
“Congratulations,” he said with a smile when he reached them. Jehan smiled back before making his way over to Courfeyrac and Bossuet.
“Thanks,” Grantaire looked down at the beer in his hand. “But it’s not as big as everyone’s making it out to be.”
“I doubt that,” Enjolras said matter-of-factly. He had a hard time believing Grantaire on a normal day, never mind when it came to his accomplishments.
Grantaire looked at him critically. “Weird way to compliment someone, but okay,” he said, but there was a lilt in his voice that betrayed amusement.
“I’m looking forward to seeing it,” Enjolras said.
Grantaire visibly paled. Enjolras watched his face fall flat for a fraction of a second before turning to something more casual.
“You really don’t have to, it’s just going to be a bunch of art snobs,” he shrugged.
“I want to,” Enjolras told him truthfully. He’d never seen Grantaire’s art, save for a rogue sketch in his notebook here and there.
Grantaire sighed. “You say that now, but,” he trailed off, taking a sip of beer. “Thanks, again,” he said, giving Enjolras a wry smile. Enjolras took that as his cue to leave, retreating back to his seat against the wall.
The gallery opened only a few weeks later. Enjolras joined the rest of his friends on opening night, all of them wanting to give Grantaire their full support.
Enjolras wandered around the gallery, joined by some of his friends here and there. He stopped to look at each piece, but he spent most of his time looking at Grantaire’s paintings.
Grantaire had five pieces in the show, and it was immediately obvious to Enjolras which they were. They stood out from the rest in two ways. The first was in quality. Enjolras was embarrassed to realize how completely unaware he had been of Grantaire’s talent. The second was in size. Grantaire had painted lifelike scenes on towering canvases, each taller than him by at least a few feet.
He rounded a corner of the mazelike white walls to find most of his friends, as well as a few strangers, standing around Grantaire in front of another gargantuan painting. This one felt eerily familiar to him. It took him far too long to realize he was staring at a life size recreation of the empty bar in the upstairs room of the Musain.
Enjolras approached, standing to the side of the crowd. He tried not to ogle the painting too much, instead watching his friends offer their congratulations to Grantaire. Lots of hugs and kisses on the cheek. Enjolras again found himself obnoxiously overcome with the idea of joining in, allowing his body to participate in the excitement of the evening.
Frustrated with himself, he turned back to the painting instead. He focused on the scene in front of him, one that Grantaire had painted with fierce accuracy. Enjolras should know, he spent enough time there. Down to the shadowing of the bottles along the back wall, it was exquisitely precise.
“It’s for sale, if you like it that much,” a voice pulled him from his reverie. He turned to find Grantaire by his side. The crowd had dissipated, only a few people left in the room.
“For how much?” Enjolras asked, unaware that they could be bought.
Grantaire snorted. “I was joking,” he shook his head.
“It’s amazing,” Enjolras told him earnestly. Grantaire searched his face for a moment.
“Thanks,” he said simply.
“Can I hug you?” Enjolras blurted out before he could lose his nerve. It sounded so stupid out loud, he felt his face growing hot in embarrassment. Grantaire raised his eyebrows, surprised etched on his face. Enjolras looked at his feet. “I mean, to congratulate you, is it okay,” he tried again, stumbling when he realized it didn’t sound any better, “if I-”
“Sure,” Grantaire said, and when Enjolras looked back up, he’d rearranged his features into an effortless smile. Enjolras was grateful for that small gesture to preserve his dignity.
“Can you just,” Enjolras wanted to die, seriously what was wrong with him, “just don’t move,” he told Grantaire. Grantaire gave a little nod of understanding, looking at him steadily.
Enjolras had to move now or he’d panic. He took a step forward into Grantaire’s space, trying not to think too hard as he wrapped his arms tentatively around his shoulders. Grantaire, true to his word, didn’t move a muscle. Enjolras felt his heart pounding, but he didn’t move. He waited for the bile in his throat, for the panic to make his blood run cold. It didn’t come.
“Enjolras,” Grantaire said gently, as if trying not to startle him. “You kind of have to breathe.”
He didn’t realize he’d been holding his breath. Enjolras did as he was told. Grantaire smelled like whiskey and something earthier, maybe pine.
Enjolras was paralyzed by indecision. He didn’t want to let go, purely because he didn’t want to peel his skin off and he was pretty sure that was a miracle in and of itself. He felt like the moment he let go, it would disappear. But on the other hand, he had already made enough of a fool of himself tonight. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to live with himself if he continued to stand in the middle of a public place, clinging to Grantaire, of all people.
That thought was enough to finally convince him to drop his arms and take a step back from Grantaire. He forced himself to make eye contact, difficult as it was in his current state of chagrin. Grantaire looked back, same steady gaze that didn’t betray anything. He managed to look like nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
“Thanks,” Enjolras didn’t know what else to say. He looked away, unable to bear it anymore.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to thank me for that,” Grantaire said, and Enjolras heard a hint of his usual smirk in his voice. He was relieved, a sense of normalcy returning to him. “But it wasn’t a problem, for the record. The opposite of a problem, really.”
“That’s good,” Enjolras cringed at himself. He made a mental note to ask Courf to teach him social skills.
“I’m here any time you want to practice,” Grantaire said, and Enjolras looked up to find him wearing a full-blown smug smile now. He couldn’t tell if Grantaire was making fun of him or not.
“I should go now,” Enjolras said, wondering if it was appropriate to turn around and bolt out of the gallery. He decided on no. “Your paintings really are amazing, though,” he added. He figured that was enough, turning on his heel to go.
“Enjolras,” Grantaire stopped him, and he turned. “I meant it,” Grantaire looked at him earnestly. “That I’m always here.”
Enjolras contemplated him for a moment, thinking of Grantaire and his paintings and his whiskey-and-pine smell.
He closed the three steps between them and embraced Grantaire again.
“You can move this time, if you want,” Enjolras said.
Grantaire wrapped his arms around Enjolras, holding him close.
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