2nd February 1914 - London
"Excuse me, Sir, but do I know you from somewhere?"
Grantaire looked up from his newspaper, and into the eyes of a young girl. She was sat opposite him in the rocking tube carriage, clutching a brown package and smiling gently with rouge-tinted lips.
"I'm afraid you must be mistaken." Grantaire said. The words came out harsher than he expected.
"Oh, I'm sorry." The young woman's eyes dropped to her lap as she fiddled with the string on her parcel.
The two of them sat in silence, well aware that they were alone in each other's company. Grantaire, whilst not a fan of crowds, wished he had chosen one of the busier carriages. At least that way he would have been safe from this girl's curious glances.
But now the intercom was announcing their next station, and the doors were opening, Grantaire was finally free. He jumped up and fled the carriage, leaving the poor girl to stare after him, slightly offended by his behaviour.
Offended was fine. Feelings didn't matter, nothing really mattered anymore.
Making his way out of the station, Grantaire finally found himself able to breath. He sucked in a large lungful of the smoggy London air, suddenly oblivious to the rancid smell of the Thames that followed him no matter where he went.
He felt silly, having calmed down, for reacting so strongly. The girl had probably mistaken him for an old friend, or someone she had seen at the theatre. After all, she was too young to recognise him, too young to remember.
Besides, he was always jumpy on nights like tonight. The smoggy mist reminded him of old times; of hands silently brushing against each other, of loving in secret and living a lie. It was all so long ago, but the wounds were still raw and deep.
Surely, it was all a dream. A fantasy he made up after working himself too hard again. Surely, when he arrived home, he wouldn't find it as empty as he left it.
He told himself this every day on the way back from work. Fourteen miserable years and it never got any easier.
And now he was walking faster, almost running, not even sure which direction he was going. Posters flew past him, government notices warning citizens of the coming war. Grantaire had known it was coming for years now. He'd always been a pessimist.
He only stopped when he realised he'd reached him apartment, bending forward to pant and retch into a gutter. Several people stared, and some whispered accusations to each other.
"Drunkard!" They hissed, "Good for nothing fool!"
They were right, but tonight not a single drop of whisky had passed Grantaire's lips. Tonight, he was drunk on memories.
He stumbled inside, wiping his mouth with his sleeve, and searched for his home, Apartment 32. The corridor was drab, with fading carpets and peeling wallpaper; his room wasn't much better, either.
The first thing he noticed, when he finally managed to unlock the door with his fumbling hands, was the mess. Break-ins weren't uncommon in this part of London, but this thief had clearly entered to purposefully create chaos.
A few of his paintings, which had been lying around the room in various states of completion, had been ripped to shreds, and the glass-framed photographs from his mantlepiece had been smashed, scattering glass all over the floor.
Grantaire wasn't surprised, not really. He hoped that the vandal was just that, a vandal, and not a murderer, lurking somewhere in the shadows. That was the last thing he needed.
Sighing, he flung himself down on his shredded sofa and stared at the mess in front of him. His eyes were drawn to a photograph lying face down on the floor, and somehow, he knew exactly what it was. It wasn't one of his photographs, of that he was sure.
With shaking hands and shuddering breath, he picked up the picture and turned it over, his blood running cold at the sight of it.
There he was, stood alone, laughing at some long-forgotten joke.
And there he was. Radient, as always, basking in Grantaire's joy.
God, they used to be so happy. Where did it go wrong?
Grantaire closed his eyes, finally letting himself be crushed by his own thoughts.
24th January, 1890 - London
Grantaire yawned as he poked at his fire, willing just a little more heat out of it before he had to go buy some more wood. Of course, coal would be better, but who had money for coal? Not struggling artists, anyway.
Sighing, Grantaire gave up on his useless task, he was running low on essential supplies anyway, it was best if he made the trip into town sooner rather than later.
So he grabbed his coat, and doused his fire. Money was tight at the moment, as it always was in Winter. But all he needed, all he really needed, was to sell a painting.
And, with uncharacteristic optimism, Grantaire also picked up one of his smaller paintings and propped it under his arm. He wasn't above selling wares on the street, after all.
The journey to town was a short one. He'd traded beauty and cleanliness for convenience, as had everyone else that lived on his street. It wasn't quite a slum, but the grease-slicked path beneath his feet was very different from the clean-swept streets of the rich and indulgent.
Luckily, he managed to make it into town without slipping over, he'd lost quite a few paintings that way, not that they were valuable. They probably sold for less than the paint he'd made them with but it didn't matter; he managed to scrape by buying nothing more than bread, paint, and firewood.
Today was a Sunday, arguably the best day for sales. Of course, some people devoted their Sundays to religion and quietness, but most spent it enjoying themselves, glad for a day free from work.
Even some of the more wealthy people came to this part of town on Sundays. Grantaire was sure that they didn't think anything of it, but for him it was a thrill to see such fine clothes, to smell the strange perfumes they covered themselves in.
He hated them. Most people did. But he was still inexplicably drawn to them, like a moth to a lantern, wings fluttering and ready to burn.
It wasn't long before he spotted a family, looking out of place amidst the crowd of unclean, ragged shoppers. There was the mother, who was nervously twisting a pendant between her long fingers, a father, who was scolding a grocery boy, and a son, who looked as though he was about the same age as Grantaire.
The son was, undoubtedly, the most beautiful person Grantaire had ever seen. His deep blue eyes were anxiously darting around, taking everything in as though he'd never seen so many people in his life. For a split second, his gaze landed on Grantaire, who stared right back at him, so unused to social situations that he didn't know to look away. The son blushed and smiled, his scarlet cheeks matching his red jacket.
Grantaire ached to go talk to him, but he restrained himself, numb fingers tightening around his canvas. A strange warmth came over him, burning holes in his lungs, though in reality he was freezing beneath his thin coat.
And the son was looking at him again, squinting against the harsh Winter light, his blonde hair whipping around his face. He was the vision of a storm, walking towards Grantaire, parting the crowd effortlessly.
"Excuse me," He said once he reached Grantaire, "But is that painting for sale?"
"This?" Grantaire croaked, his cheeks flushing as he held out the portrait, it's bright colours paling in comparison to the boy stood before him, "It- yeah, I suppose it is."
"How much?" He fumbled with his purse; Grantaire noticed he had the same elegant fingers as his mother.
"Oh, as much as you want, I really don't mind." Tongue-tied, Grantaire kicked himself for not seizing the opportunity to take advantage of the boy's wealth.
"Is fifty pounds enough? I'm afraid it's all I have on hand."
Fifty pounds! Grantaire's head reeled at the amount of money. Was his work really worth that much, or did the boy feel sorry for him?
"I'm sorry, is it really too little? I could go ask my father for more?" The boy said, concerned by the surprise on Grantaire's face.
"No, no!" Grantaire restrained himself from grasping at the boy's sleeve, "Fifty pounds is plenty, truly."
"I'd pay more if I could, have you any others?"
"I do at home, I could go get them?"
"Can you show me?" The boy asked, his eyes wide.
"Yes! If it's not too much trouble!"
"But, won't your… father mind?" Grantaire was dizzy, grasping at straws, desperate to get away from this strange boy and his blazing eyes.
"He doesn't need to know." The boy slipped his hand into Grantaire's for a heart-stopping moment, and pulled them both away from the crowded street.
"I'm not sure, you'll like it, though." Grantaire pleaded, "It's hardly up to your standards."
"You and your…" Grantaire gestured wildly, heart throbbing in his chest, "Your dinner parties, and ballrooms and-"
"You see what the class system has done?" The boy said, suddenly angry, "You're afraid to even talk to me!"
"That's not true!"
"Yes it is!" The boy placed his hand on Grantaire's neck to feel his pulse, raising his eyebrows at the too-fast thrumming of Grantaire's heart.
"I have a condition." Grantaire said defiantly, raising his chin to look the taller boy in the eye.
"I'm sure you do." The boy said seriously, before bursting into a fit of childlike giggles, which triggered Grantaire's own undignified snorts.
"But, really, I doubt a gentleman like you would want to see my house."
"I do." The boy became serious again, "Truly, I do."
Grantaire thought for a moment, before dropping his gaze to the floor, "I actually have some work to do. But if you want to come around later, when your dad isn't waiting around the corner, then I live on Marlow Street, number 14."
"Four o'clock, is that alright?" Grantaire asked anxiously.
"Perfect." A small smile appeared on the boy's lips, and he turned to look back at the crowded street, "I should be getting back, then."
"Oh, of course!" Grantaire took a step backwards, suddenly aware of how close together they were stood. It wasn't decent.
The boy pressed his hand and grinned before twisting away to leave, "I'll see you later!"
"Wait!" Grantaire shouted at his retreating figure, "I never got your name!"
The boy turned, the joy that had been alight in his eyes only moments ago now dulled, his mouth pulled into a downturned grimace.
"Enjolras." He said, his voice rough, not quite meeting Grantaire's gaze.
And with that, he disappeared into the crowd of shoppers, hair whipping in the wind like some romantic hero in the fairytales Grantaire used to read as a child.
He smiled to himself, slipping his hands into his pockets and breathing deeply through his nose.