Preliminary Gaiety

[In the beginning, there was Narcisse, and he was lonely. And Combeferre said, Let there be snuggling, and the snuggling was good. At that point, the typist said, Excuse me, laddie. You seem to be having a grand old time, you boys, but exactly why are you in bed? Combeferre -- or, I should say, Denis -- stammered out some sort of explanation about how neither of them could have the presumably straight object of their affections. Cathy, smart lady that she is, thought that if 'ferre was pining for Enjolras, then at least the lads would have Something in common. I agreed with her, after a few moments' thought. So Combeferre, not one to rest on his laurels -- we leave that to the more Apollonian among our friends, apparently -- said, Let there be wild sex, and that was good, too.]

For a year and a half, I have dreamed of him, both while I was awake and when I slept. I have made great, searching studies of his blue eyes, his fair cheek, and the sunshine shimmer of his hair. I could draw him in my sketchbook with my eyes shut, solemn with the gravity of his geas, declaiming to his loyal followers the next step in his -- their -- quest for liberty. I know the timbre of his voice and his myriad turns of phrase, the meter of his rhetoric and the metaphors he favors. All of this is not odd, given that I am one of those disciples, listed among the faithful on every roll-call, particularly his. He would not be overly perturbed that I am familiar with him, nor that he often inhabits my thoughts. I shan't explain to him about any of the dreams. Some of those might worry him indeed, particularly the ones of a more intimate nature than anything he would consider regarding me.

It is rather pathetic of me to admit that I am in love with him; that I listen to him and watch him, these are signs of friendship, but that I imagine touching him, that is too much. I have tried not to think such things, because it seems like an invasion of his privacy, though he would never know. I have dreamed countless nights of the feel of his skin and the press of his body, but I cannot allow myself to recall those dreams while I am in possession of my faculties. That is not him. It is only a chimera, a creation of my sleeping mind. How can I suppose he would smile at me if I kissed him? To suppose such a thing entails lying to myself, because he would never smile at anything of the sort. He would doubtless rebuff me as sharply as he turns away any young lady who finds his face as charming as I find his entire person. And yet, I have hoped against hope and common sense, for so many months, that he would return my affection, if there were some crisis that brought us closer together emotionally, or merely physically.

It grew too much for me, after some time. I came to my senses, in a manner of speaking, two weeks ago, when we were walking together. I had been thinking of how the setting sun lit his eyes, particularly lovely at that hour of the day. A young lady, her hands dusty from a day's work with looms or needle or some such thing, approached him, a little too closely, and called out, "Have a good evening, m'sieur." It was no offer, nothing, but he ignored her completely and kept walking. I paused long enough to wish her a good evening, though she had not been speaking to me, then continued on, my earlier mood shattered like a wineglass. I had seen similar scenes before, where he turned away from an overly forward female, but this woman had not been forward at all. She had been polite, and he had not. If he was that rude to a girl, simply because he acknowledged the possibility that she might have been interested in him, what would he think of me if he thought I could be attracted to him? Surely, I would lose the small intimacies that we now share, the friendship and conspiratorial amity. He would certainly withdraw from my company, not only because I was perverted in his eyes, but all the more so because it might be directed at him. Let that hope die, then, because it is wasteful. He will never smile at me for such a thing; he will never return half of the affection that I have lavished on him for so long; he will never, ever love me.

And so, for the last two weeks, I have been avoiding looking at him with the same avidity that I once devoted to the study of his expressions. It would do me no good, now, to attempt to return to my earlier infatuated state. Instead, I have been truly listening to what he says, and paying more attention to our group of mutual friends. They seem entranced by him when he speaks, much as I must have seemed, before, but I doubt they feel what I felt, in any measure. They have their mistresses, their loves, their grisettes, and I have never had nor wanted any such thing. Except -- I have long suspected that Grantaire must feel something beyond the pale for Enjolras, or he would not trail after us so, nor heed Enjolras' chastisements. He does not heed anyone else's, to be sure, not even to return taunts.

It is not the sort of question one can ask outright, and neither is it one that much lends itself to subtlety. One can hardly lead up to it with a series of leading questions, and yet leaping in at the beginning with the most important question of all is not a tactic many would like to employ. There is no way to approach it or pose it by itself. Given all of these difficulties, I simply avoided asking, not because I was so very sure of myself and my deductions, but because the subject of my inquiries professes himself to be quite the libertine. I doubt that he would have been terribly shocked that someone might presume him to be open in his affections, even if he was not.

As it was, I walked Grantaire home, a block and a half, on the pretext that he was terribly drunk. He was not, but it was a sufficient reason and no one asked for more justification. Just outside his door, I kissed him. He stepped away, and stared at me. I was on the verge of apologizing when he returned the kiss, hesitantly. I smiled at him, more boldly than I felt at that point. He unlocked his door and we went inside. I told him what I assumed -- that we were both pining fruitlessly after our mutual acquaintance. He did not contradict me, but neither did he acknowledge the truth of what I had said. I proposed some sort of arrangement to distract both of us from the painful longing.

He did not believe me, any more than I was sure that he would have agreed to such an agreement in the first place. It seemed more outlandish, the more he looked at me in the half-light, until I was incredulous. How could I propose anything resembling a romance with this man, who was my friend as other men were my friends, and for whom I felt -- it was not love. Nor longing, which I am careful to reserve for one person. It was hardly even attraction. What it was, I think, was a combination of pity and recognition. Grantaire was in my position, as surely as I was. He felt the same sorts of pains and losses that I did. To reach out to him would be reaching out to myself, offering myself distraction and diversion, except that it would involve -- Grantaire.

I realized that he thought I was joking, lying, or mad, speaking words that I could not mean. I did mean them, up to a point. I was not entirely prepared to do what I boasted I would do, though I had been considering it for days on end. I could see that he was not going to continue what I was obliquely discussing. I had been counting on that, to some degree. I thought that if he wanted what I assumed he wanted, and I offered him an alternative, he would jump at the chance, and I would know that my assumption was correct. I would also be in a compromising situation. I wanted such a thing, or so I thought, but I did not have clear ideas about how to get there. The only thing I knew I could do with any competence was to kiss him, and so I did.

He still looked dubious, his eyes a handsbreadth from mine, but not so thoroughly disbelieving. I kissed him again, tasted the wine he had been sipping all evening, and felt him embrace me. I felt such a great surge of relief at this that I would have laughed, if we had not been in the middle of yet another kiss. My assumptions had been correct, or at least he would accept this small display; and if he would accept such a display, surely he would not take further liberties too much amiss.

Grantaire seemed to have quite overcome his previous hesitation and was gaining confidence as he went along, kissing me and struggling to untuck my shirt. He seemed excited, nearly frantic, perhaps even hungry for what I had offered. He did not say anything much, nor leave off kissing me lest I stop him. I had no intention of that, even if I had been able to speak. I wanted something like this mad flurry of kisses, and something akin to the stumbling pace with which we struggled with buttons. It was not the clean room of my dreams, not lit by candles, not sweet with the scent of flowers nor heady with endearments, as I would have liked. He was not the man I wanted to share this with, but neither was I anyone he would have considered. Still, there was something that made me want his embrace, and something that made him willing to kiss me. It may have been loneliness or the weight of desperation, but it was there, and it was enough.

I surprised myself, and him, with my own response. I had thought that perhaps I would need to ignore my own desires in order to fulfill his, and that that would not be too much of a burden. It would at the very least have proven my sincerity. I did not want to seem as though I was turning to him for comfort and would disregard what he wanted. He, in turn, seemed to have something of the same idea, which meant that we were working at cross purposes for a time. He lost sight of his gracious ideal for a moment and let my head clear, enough that I was able to accomplish what I had set out to do. He whispered my name, which I had not entirely expected. If he had been dreaming of the person he truly loved and imagining that I was him, it would only have been in keeping with the rest of the confused evening. But he knew me, even at that moment, and afterward he kissed me and said, "Merci," in his rough voice, before he acknowledged the obligation to return the favor. I understood, then, how impossible it would be to make anything of this in the imagination save what it was. When I could think again, I regretted that, and yet regretted that I had wanted anything else.

"It would be easier if I loved you," I said to him, not knowing whether he was asleep.

"Why the hell would you want to do that?"

I embraced him and kissed his cheek as any friend might, except that we were both naked in his bed. "Then, I would not wish you were someone else. I should be able to appreciate what I have." He was unimpressed by my attack of conscience, or if he was impressed, it was not sufficient to keep him from falling asleep before he thought of a suitable answer.

In the morning, I left while he was still sleeping soundly. I borrowed a piece of paper from his disordered desk and wrote, "Thank you. -- Denis Combeferre" on it, so that he might not think it had all been a convoluted dream. I left the note on his chair, where he would find it when he sat on it and crinkled it, if nothing else.

That evening, and the next, I went to Le Café Musain late and left early, for I could not look at Enjolras, and I could not imagine conversing with Grantaire. My friends must think that I am ill, and that is not far from the truth. I do not feel entirely myself, yet, and I cannot approach Grantaire, though he haunts my thoughts as unremittingly as Enjolras ever did. Tonight, there is no official meeting, but I expect they will all be there. I should discuss something else with Grantaire, so that he knows I do not hate him. Perhaps, if he does not resent me, we can speak to each other.

I would like to repeat that evening, if only to see how well it would go. I want to find out if I have been lying to myself in my memories of mutual desire, and that, again, is not a question I can ask with words. Maybe tonight, I will be able to make an excuse to walk with him. Perhaps he will kiss me, when we are alone. Perhaps he would just as soon forget the incident, as I have seemed to these past few days. I cannot be sure, but I want to know.

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