Author's note: I thought I'd crossposted this already, but apparently not. This was my contribution to the Miserable Holidays fic exchange on AO3. It's a stylistic experiment as much as it is a content one, and I still don't quite know how I feel about it.
Grantaire is always at his most vulnerable in art museums. The Louvre is the closest he has to a cathedral, its galleries more sacred than Notre Dame could ever hope to be. He wanders its halls when he's feeling particularly self-loathing and gazes upon masterpiece after masterpiece with the eye of a craftsman who knows he will never be a genius. It leaves him raw and defenseless, strips away the carefully applied numbness and exposes him to the elements. He laughs at that, laughs with mirthless bitterness, because of course he would derive such pain from something meant to be beautiful.
Jehan Prouvaire fell in love with life at five and discovered its flaws at seven. He gave himself wholly to the beauty of the world and immersed himself in its hatefulness, adoring the first and mourning the second and filling his being with both. He reveled in the beat of a bird's wing and the sound of a crying child, embraced the stink of the city and the taste of winter, wept as women were mistreated and at the way the sunset pooled pink at the horizon. He saw the beauty in death and the tragedy in life and closed his heart to nothing at all.
When they're together things come into focus. Nature is as it has always been but when around Prouvaire Grantaire notices the sweetness of the air and the softness of the clouds and the terrible cold of the night sky as he never does alone. He notices too the curve of Prouvaire's collarbones and the delicate perfection of his wrists, sees his perpetually messy hair and the too long nose and wishes he could sculpt. Prouvaire in his turn hears the poetry in Grantaire's movements and harmonies in his words and dedicates a song to the way Grantaire's feet strike the cobblestones of Paris' streets.
Prouvaire has a funeral for his violets every year at the first frost, complete with full mourning dress and eulogies for each blossom. Grantaire stands in the background and watches with a sardonic smile on his face and does not point out that there will be more next year.
"I've decided to start worshiping the moon."
"Make sure you don't catch a glimpse of her bare flesh."
"Don't be absurd, I would never demean a Goddess so. Will you come?"
"And leave the comfort of my bed to traipse through the woods all night singing hymns? Certainly not. And I fear I would offend Her with my singing."
Grantaire has neither an ear for poetry nor an inclination to develop one, but he illustrates each of Prouvaire's works, penning gruesome representations of the apocalypse or rude caricatures of well known figures depending on the subject. He makes a point to subtly misinterpret every single poem, taking metaphors as literally as possible and emulating the styles of artists known for their royalist sentiments. Prouvaire pouts ferociously and improvises songs insulting Grantaire's ancestors, which only causes Grantaire to laugh uproariously and buy him drinks, for none mock Grantaire's ancestors as eagerly as Grantaire himself. The songs flow thick and fast between them, with the others signaling their approval with applause and alcohol, until the hour has grown late and Grantaire's original irreverence has been forgotten.
The first time they kiss they are both more than a little drunk. It's late, late enough that half their friends have already left, but neither Grantaire nor Prouvaire count themselves among those who enjoy mornings. Outside the noises of the street have faded to the occasional clatter of horses or yelp of a disturbed beggar, but the wind is warm and spring is in the air. The two of them have long since given up their game of dominoes, a game Prouvaire plays badly even at the best of times, and, though they started on opposite sides of the table, Prouvaire now finds himself practically in Grantaire's lap, head laying on his shoulder as he laughs at nothing. It seems only natural for him to turn his head slightly and capture Grantaire's lips with his own, a clumsy gesture born of curiosity and whimsy more than true desire. It lasts only a few instants, but neither are surprised when, a little while later, Prouvaire staggers to his feet and takes Grantaire by the hand, leading him out of the café and into the night.
"I have always admired those with the talent for painting."
Grantaire pauses in his work to find Prouvaire standing at the door to the studio, hat in hand and hair falling into his eyes. He does not bother to ask how or why Prouvaire followed him; Jean Prouvaire goes where he wills. Instead he shrugs.
"May I watch you work?"
Again a shrug. He has neither pride nor shame left to him, no reason to deny his friend this request. After a moment Prouvaire slips to a seat on the floor against the wall and Grantaire turns back to his work, deliberately not noticing how his hands have developed a slight tremor.
Prouvaire keeps no set schedule, preferring to sleep when the urge takes him and spend his nights roaming in the moonlight. The buildings take on entirely different appearances in this new light, become menacing and deceptive, a mass of sharp angles and flattened depths and deep shadows. He slips around corners and down empty streets, head turned first towards the sky then towards the cobblestones, mouth open as though he could swallow the very essence of night. Arms held close to his sides, he seems to be nothing but a shadow himself, a spirit of darkness who seeks out the shadows and revels in their secrets.
Grantaire hates the darkness.
Prouvaire's mouth tastes like absinthe and poppies. He molds his body against Grantaire's when they kiss, pressing himself into Grantaire as though trying to make them both into one single being. His long fingers tangle themselves in Grantaire's unkempt hair, tugging insistently when Grantaire makes to pull away. Grantaire wraps his arm roughly around Prouvaire's middle, securing him until such time as the other tires of the activity. Once Grantaire worried about accidentally hurting his friend; now he worries only that Prouvaire will one day ask it of him.
Prouvaire crowns them both with grapevines and declares them disciples to the gods of wine and song. With a laugh Grantaire slings his arm around the smaller man's shoulders and drains his glass in mock tribute. They sit next to each other, legs tangled together, a fawn and a satyr offering honor to their maker. A set of pipes would make the picture complete, but neither of them have one at hand and so they make do with their voices, Grantaire's off-key tenor complementing Prouvaire's enthusiastic bass late into the night.
They were both of them drawn to Paris for different reasons, called by its reputation and its promises, ensnared by its delights and its tragedies. Grantaire left his home to become an artist, left with his parents' mixed blessings and a heart full of dreams only to wash them away with wine and women and disappointments. He became the embodiment of the darker streets, an empty husk who promised entertainment and delivered only disappointment. Prouvaire, by contrast, came to the city with an open heart and found in it romance and wonder, found the peal of the church bells and the clatter of footsteps over uneven pavestones. He drew its atmosphere into himself and gave back art, an exchange of emotions that left him sated and the city satisfied. It owned them both, held them tightly, brought them together.
Lying with Prouvaire feels strange, comforting, bewildering. Grantaire longs for a drink to clear his head but cannot bring himself to move and disturb the young man whose bed he shares. Beside him Prouvaire shifts, reaches out, draws him back down, and reminds him without words that there exist more than one way to drive away unwanted thoughts. Grantaire succumbs to the twin desires of flesh and mind and lets himself be convinced.