Author's note: this is a new AU, for tumblr user booksonalaska, who requested teenagers in conflict and, ultimately, love. This has been an immense but fun challenge for me. It will be four chapters in total.
It was one of the unavoidable facts of high school life that as soon as a teacher said the word "pairs," the pairs had formed. Silent eye motions magnetized the classroom and indivisible units sprang into being before the sentence was even complete. Even Enjolras, who generally took such pride in being above the usual machinations of high school, was not immune to this effect.
Or he wouldn't have been, if he weren't too busy arguing with Lamarque.
"What do you mean 'no trouble'?" he asked. "Aren't we guaranteed trouble once we start prying into the workings underlying the status quo?"
"Ah, yes, I thought you might take issue with that instruction," Lamarque said, lips twitching with an expression that verged on unprofessional. "But, alas, it stands. It seems that donors to our illustrious institution are turned off by a student body with criminal records and/or missing limbs, and the administration frowns upon any activities which frighten the trustees. So, in the interest of me keeping my job, I must humbly request that you all curtail your felonious impulses and keep all your work on this assignment safe and legal. Think of it as an added challenge."
That was why Lamarque was Enjolras's favorite professor. Most of his teachers had lost patience with him by senior year; their you know what I meant and please let me finish had taken on the same exasperation at his classmates' groans and eye rolls. The knowledge that he was smart seemed to make them like him less rather than more; his report cards, stocked with respectable Bs and speckled with the occasional C from Professor Javert, had contained at least one variation on "not achieving up to his potential" a semester since third grade. But in Lamarque's classes, Enjolras always earned an A.
As soon as he'd read on Lamarque's handout that the task was to "examine and challenge" societal norms, he'd had a dozen ideas for radical action. But they all carried some risk of arrest, and apparently he was bound to the law.
"But isn't the best way to challenge societal norms to subvert them?" Enjolras looked up at Lamarque. "And what's more blindly accepted than the law? How can we overturn the trappings of society if we are ourselves trapped in them?"
He knew better than to expect a whoop of agreement, but the complete lack of agreement expressed by his classmates almost made him doubt the validity of his message.
"Enjolras," Lamarque warned. "You know how I feel about students using my own words against me. You and your partner—"
"Combeferre," Enjolras supplied, without even looking to his right for confirmation.
Lamarque smiled, cool and sardonic. "Don't you think a good way to start thwarting expectations might be to partner with someone other than Combeferre?"
Enjolras kept his face impassive as he darted a look to the desk next to his, where Combeferre was blinking rapidly behind his glasses. "A good way to start any project is to partner with Combeferre," he said loyally.
"I think it would bring a fresh perspective for you to work with someone new," Lamarque sighed. "And, no, Courfeyrac doesn't count."
"Who else would I work with?" Enjolras asked. It was part sass and part genuine confusion; he had completed several 'group' projects as a solo practitioner after his classmates refused to work with him.
Lamarque cast his eyes about the room.
The students bowed their heads and shuffled papers, hastening to appear busy and shrinking into their seats to avoid drawing attention to themselves. All except one—a boy at the back of the classroom, fast asleep on top of his desk.
"Grantaire," Lamarque said.
The sleeping boy shot upward at a kick from the kid sitting next to him.
"Professor Lamarque—" Enjolras pleaded.
"You will be working with Enjolras on this semester's final project," Lamarque said, talking over him with an ease born of practice.
Grantaire rubbed his bloodshot eyes. "I'm working with Marius," he said.
The startled-looking boy next to him nodded.
"I'll work with Marius," called a voice from the front of the classroom. "I don't have a partner."
Lamarque beamed. "Lovely. Cosette, you work with Marius, and Enjolras with Grantaire. Is everyone paired up?" He paused for their murmurs of assent. "All right. You have the rest of the period to brainstorm."
"You walked right into that," Courfeyrac whispered, leaning forward in his seat to reach Enjolras's ear. "Didn't you realize it was a trap?"
"Leave him alone," Combeferre said, tugging his desk closer to Joly's. "He couldn't have outmaneuvered Lamarque anyway."
"The General strikes again." Courfeyrac grinned.
It was a nickname the student body had for Lamarque—a man not well-loved for his rigorous grading tactics.
"It won't be so bad," Combeferre murmured, straightening his tie. "Just go talk to him about the hundred ideas you already have."
Enjolras took a deep breath, certain he hadn't done anything worthy of this level of punishment, and headed across the room.
Grantaire looked up at him from under a mess of shaggy black curls. "Well, if it isn't General Lamarque's golden boy," he said, mouth curving into a lopsided smile. "Lucky me."
Enjolras felt heat creep up the back of his neck. "Are you going to move?" he snapped, indicating the chair where Grantaire had propped up his legs up.
Grantaire shrugged and—very slowly, presumably to show that he didn't have to—put his feet on the ground. "All yours," he said.
"Thanks," Enjolras replied acidly. He perched lightly on the edge of the seat. "I don't suppose you have any ideas about the project?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," Grantaire smirked, leaning forward. "I was thinking we could put your pretty face to work and dress you in the girls' uniform, then film people slowly realizing you aren't a girl."
"It could be a protest of rigid gender roles, or dress codes, or just how funny it would be."
Enjolras scowled. "If you aren't going to be serious—"
"Oh, you're serious enough for the both of us," Grantaire rolled his eyes. "Forget it. We'll go with what you've got."
"Okay," Enjolras said, in what was in his opinion an exceptionally patient tone. "Great. Well. I have a few thoughts—"
"Of course you do," Grantaire muttered.
"—but the best one is an examination of the plight of the homeless," Enjolras continued. "We could interview some street people about their experiences on the fringes of society and contrast it with common statements about homeless people by those who have never experienced it."
Grantaire nibbled his lower lip. "You have no problem talking over people, do you?"
"Not when they've proven they aren't going to say anything worthwhile," Enjolras snapped. "What about the idea?"
Grantaire shrugged. "Whatever."
"Well," Grantaire said, propping his chin on his hand, "do you really think people are going to want to talk to you about their problems?"
Enjolras stiffened. "People want their voices to be heard," he said. "I'm just going to give them space."
"No, you're going to exploit the helpless for your own personal gain," Grantaire said. "You're just a pretty rich boy dabbling in oppression for a good grade."
"Do you have a better idea?" Enjolras asked, jaw tensing around his fury.
Grantaire's left eyebrow twitched upward. "Just playing devil's advocate."
"Can you not?"
"I thought you wanted me to have an opinion," Grantaire said with an air of mock innocence. "Are you always this picky?"
Enjolras sighed. "Are we doing the project or not?"
"It's fine. How are you planning to relay these interviews to the class?" Grantaire had been listening after all. The project was slated to end in class presentations in lieu of a final exam at the end of the term. "Your voice is great and all, but I don't really see you as much of an actor. Plus the class might stone you to death if you do another Prezi, and I don't think that's the kind of martyrdom you're counting on."
Enjolras frowned. "Who told you about that?"
"No one had to tell me, Angelface. I was in your lit seminar last semester."
"No, you weren't." Enjolras didn't have a perfect memory but it rarely dropped anyone this infuriating.
"I was so," Grantaire argued. "I sat in the back left corner next to the door. I had a perfect view of the back of your head every time I showed up, which admittedly was not often."
"You're new," Enjolras said, though he felt less certain than his voice sounded.
"Not anymore," Grantaire said, but it sounded like agreement. "Have you given any thought to the presentation?"
Enjolras cleared his throat. "The school has video cameras. Professor Lamarque can check one out for us to use. We can edit the footage into an educational film. Maybe if we get something really good, we can send it to the Mayor's office as part of a plea for better legislation regarding the homeless."
Grantaire laughed. "Think a lot of yourself, huh? You really think you're going to change the world with a school project?"
"I don't think I'm going to change anything by mocking those who try," he shot back.
Grantaire's eyes met his. Steady. Unafraid.
The bell rang.
"Read Resistance to Civil Government for class on Wednesday," Lamarque called over the clamor of students gathering their supplies. "Come prepared to ask at least two good discussion questions, especially if you never ask questions. And put your desks back the way you found them! I arranged this room for maximum feng shui. Anyone who leaves a chair out of place receives an automatic zero, and you can take that up with the school disciplinary board."
Enjolras slid his binder into his backpack and stood. "We'll arrange a time to meet on Wednesday. Look at your calendar and bring a list of dates."
"And Grantaire?" He slipped the straps of his backpack over his shoulders. "If you call me 'Angelface' ever again, I will make sure every men's' restroom on campus contains a part of your body. Are we clear?"
Grantaire nodded. "Aye aye, chief."
Enjolras pivoted and walked out of the classroom, where Combeferre and Courfeyrac were waiting in the hall.
"Grantaire, can I speak with you a moment?" Lamarque asked, motioning toward the chair beside his desk.
Grantaire fidgeted. "I have art class."
"I'll write you a note," Lamarque said firmly. "Professor Blondel will understand."
"Is this about sleeping in class?" Grantaire asked. "My roommate snores. I'll hit him with a pillow or something, and it won't happen again."
Lamarque smiled faintly. "Glad to hear it. Have a seat, please."
Grantaire dropped into the chair, slumped shoulders and averted eyes broadcasting his intense desire to be somewhere less hostile, like the inside of a volcano.
"I had a look at your file yesterday," Lamarque said. "It made interesting reading. Six schools in four years."
Grantaire rolled his eyes. "I don't need another talk about last chances and applying myself," he said. "I know the drill."
"I wouldn't dream of being so cliché," Lamarque said. "Apply yourself. As if any eighteen-year-old has ever felt inspired by such a hackneyed directive. Your application of self is not really my business."
"So what'd you want me for?" Grantaire looked up at him. "Just to piss off Professor Blondel?"
Lamarque waved a hand in the air. "She owes me money from the student-staff Ultimate Frisbee tournament."
Grantaire raised one eyebrow.
"What, do you think I should tell you to watch your language? Is that how teachers gain respect from their students nowadays? By clinging to arbitrary rules designed to silence you?" He sighed. "Very well. I'd advise against that kind of language in the general vicinity of your other professors. They'll issue demerits or feed you to hyenas or whatever draconian method of punishment is currently in fashion." He picked up a pen and scribbled something Grantaire couldn't read on a scrap of paper. "Take this to Professor Blondel. It reminds her of her debt and also excuses your tardiness."
"Is that it?" Grantaire took the paper from him and stuck it in his pocket without looking at it.
"Would you rather I faked a speech about believing in you and having high expectations for your project?" Lamarque smiled. "I can arrange it if you like but I thought we'd both find it tiresome. Instead I'll just wish you luck with it."
Grantaire smiled back despite himself. "Thanks," he said, and stood to leave.
"Enjolras will make a good partner for you, I think," Lamarque mused. "You won't let him overpower you. You'll challenge each other. It'll be good for both of you."
"If you say so," Grantaire muttered.
"Oh, and Grantaire?"
Grantaire paused in the doorway, turning to face Lamarque once more. "Yes?"
"I neither need nor desire to know about the evening or weekend activities of my students," Lamarque said, "so if you could, in future, not be visibly hung over during my class, it would be much appreciated." He leveled his brown eyes on Grantaire in a knowing stare. "It isn't appropriate for me to reek of peppermint schnapps in class, and I'm of legal age."
Grantaire said nothing, but his cheeks darkened.
"You may go." Lamarque turned to the stack of papers on his desk, and Grantaire slipped out.
"I've checked out every book the library has that talks about homelessness in America," Enjolras said, dropping a thick stack of books onto the table.
Grantaire stretched, limbs lazily lengthening like a cat unfurling in a sunbeam. "Good morning to you, too," he said. "Did you bring breakfast?"
Enjolras frowned. "It's one-thirty," he said.
"It isn't my fault this was the only time you were free," Grantaire said. "Leave it to you to force me to give up a Saturday."
"I told you I'm available before classes and every night between nine and eleven," Enjolras pointed out.
"I can't work when the sun isn't working. It's too unfair." Grantaire shook his head.
Enjolras rolled his eyes. "The point stands." He lowered himself into the seat opposite Grantaire. "Take a book and get started."
"Bossy," Grantaire muttered, but he slid a book off the stack anyway. "I can't believe you didn't bring me breakfast."
"It's one-thirty," Enjolras repeated.
Grantaire pulled his backpack onto his lap. "I might have—ah!" He pulled out a package of peanut butter crackers. "Breakfast of champions."
"There's no food allowed," Enjolras said. The study hall wasn't reliably staffed on the weekends, and the rules were haphazardly enforced at the best of times, and Enjolras wasn't one for blind obedience—but if Grantaire hadn't refused to get out of bed in time to catch either of the two meals that had been served in the cafeteria already, he wouldn't need to snack illegally.
"Live a little," Grantaire said, offering Enjolras a cracker.
"No, thank you," Enjolras said coldly.
Grantaire shrugged and shoved another cracker into his mouth.
The crunching set Enjolras's teeth on edge. He forced himself to look away from the crumbs that fell from Grantaire's mouth onto the cover of the book in front of him. "Let's get started," he mumbled, opening a book and flipping a few pages.
There was no movement from the boy across from him.
A low growl of impatience started itself in Enjolras's throat. "If you aren't going to work, why did you come?" Grantaire's level of enthusiasm for scholastic pursuits bespoke someone who routinely blew off appointments; Enjolras had suspected he'd be working alone this afternoon. He was used to it.
"I told you I would," Grantaire said. "I'm a man of my word." He dusted cracker crumbs from his fingers (Enjolras tried not to think of them landing in the carpet) and reached for the book. "What am I looking for, exactly?"
"Anything that seems relevant," Enjolras said.
"How'd it go?" Courfeyrac asked, the second the door was open.
"Off," Enjolras intoned, pulling his key from the knob.
Courfeyrac rolled his eyes and slid off Enjolras's desk. "How'd it go?" he asked again, flopping belly-first onto Enjolras's bed.
"Fine." Enjolras set his messenger bag on the desk and started unpacking it.
"Were any of the books useful?" Combeferre asked, smiling from his desk chair.
Enjolras smiled back. "Not really, but that was kind of useful in itself. If there isn't much published information on the subject, that's really all the more reason for me to explore it. There were a few articles on the internet I might use for my proposal."
"Shouldn't that be our proposal?" Courfeyrac needled, swinging one foot in the air. "You aren't working solo."
"I might as well be," Enjolras griped.
Courfeyrac raised his eyebrows and shot a look at Combeferre. "New kid not up to your exacting standards?"
"He's got a name," Enjolras said, brows wrinkling.
"Grantaire, then?" Courfeyrac sighed. "I don't have to prove anything to you; I knew his name before this week."
Enjolras held up his hands. "I thought we'd done enough teasing me about that."
"Never." Courfeyrac said. "Did you find out why he's here? I could get major gossip brownie points with Fricasee if I deliver that intel."
"I didn't ask," Enjolras frowned.
"You disgust me." Courfeyrac reached under Enjolras's bed for the stash of snacks he kept there. "I heard he's been kicked out of every school on the east coast."
"You can't eat on my bed," Enjolras warned. "Last time you left crumbs in my sheets and we got ants."
Courfeyrac turned to Combeferre for support. "Come on, you can't let him do me like that."
"Sorry, you're overruled," Combeferre said. "We have to live here after you leave."
Courfeyrac shook his head sadly. "Sadists," he whined, sliding onto the floor and crossing his legs. "I'm going to bruise from the hard floor."
"Poor baby," Enjolras deadpanned, dropping into his chair. "He's useless."
Combeferre pursed his lips in the way he had of trying to be extra-serious to cover up his amusement. "Yes, but we love him anyway," he said, reaching one hand to pat Courfeyrac's hair.
"Not me! Stop it, you bastard, you'll mess up my hair!" Courfeyrac batted his hand away. "Is he that bad?"
"Worse," Enjolras said glumly.
"Surely he isn't that bad," Combeferre consoled. "He didn't blow off your meeting, did he?"
"He spent the whole time drawing cartoons in the margins of the books," Enjolras confided. "I can't trust him with the proposal. I want to be approved, not sent to guidance for a psych evaluation. "He opened his laptop and held the power button. "Have you started on your proposals?"
"Feuilly has," Courfeyrac said, unwrapping a protein bar. "We did an outline together and he's sending me a draft to look over before class on Monday."
"What on?" Combeferre asked.
"The ignorance of industrialized society with regard to where our goods come from," Courfeyrac recited. "We're going to quiz people about the origin of the items on their persons—clothes, phones, lipstick—and see if they can correctly guess where and how it was made. It's supposed to draw attention to how distanced we've become from manufacturing, the rights of workers, and so on."
"That sounds really interesting," Combeferre said.
"It does, doesn't it?" Courfeyrac grinned, taking a bite out of his bar. "What about you?"
Combeferre lifted one shoulder in an approximation of a casual shrug. "Joly and I have turned ours in already."
"Naturally," Courfeyrac snarked.
"Which idea did you end up going with?" Enjolras asked, typing in his password for the third time.
"Attitudes on sexual health," Combeferre supplied. "We're going to go into local schools and give surveys on sexual attitudes and activities, and also knowledge of sexual health information. We aim to find out whether more open-minded individuals are more knowledgeable than their more prejudiced peers, and then see if we can reverse the effect by providing accurate information." He adjusted his glasses.
"Aw, man, I should've partnered with you," Courfeyrac moaned. "You're going to know who all the sexually active girls are."
Combeferre frowned. "Don't be foul," he said. "It's all anonymous."
"Leave it to you to deliberately isolate yourself from all possibilities of losing your virginity," Courfeyrac tsked. "I am ashamed of you."
"It would be unethical to use my project to come onto girls just because I know they have sex," Combeferre snapped, cheeks flushing. "I'd rather date someone because I like her as a person, and not because she checked the right box on my survey."
Courfeyrac closed his eyes. "You're just—you're unbelievable. Are we in a Judy Blume book?"
"What are you talking about?" Enjolras asked, looking up from his computer. "Is that a sex thing?"
"I—no, Judy Blume is not a sex thing." Courfeyrac looked aghast. "Honestly, it's like the pair of you were in a cocoon during the middle grades. They're books. Girls really liked them right around the time we transitioned to the Upper School. They're about growing up—as a girl, with, like, training bras and periods and stuff."
"Why do you know that?" Enjolras looked back at his screen and began typing.
"How do you not know that?" Courfeyrac asked. "No, you, you're excused, but him, Mr. I See Women As People, he should have been paying attention."
Combeferre's mouth curved in a gentle half smile. "I guess I owe you an apology. You are seemingly as interested in what goes into girls' minds as what is in their sweaters."
"Thank you," Courfeyrac said, seeming gratified. "I do, indeed, pay attention to all the actions of the fairer sex."
"I don't think they like being called the fairer sex anymore," Enjolras said without turning around. "I think that went out of style in like the 1950s."
"What would you know about it?" Courfeyrac retorted, throwing his balled-up wrapper at Enjolras's head.
Enjolras smirked. "Thankfully, nothing."
"I'm surrounded by amateurs," Courfeyrac sighed. "I'm going to leave. I can't handle this right now, and Marius is probably wondering where I am."
"Tell him hi," Combeferre said coolly.
"If he stops freaking out about his study date with Cosette long enough for me to get a word in," Courfeyrac promised, holding up a salute on his way out. "Stay revolutionary!"
Enjolras frowned as the door slammed after him. "Do you think he'll ever exit a room like a human being?"
Combeferre smiled fondly. "He just does it for the attention. You know that."
"Slam the door, or give himself a catch phrase like a cartoon villain?"
Combeferre laughed. "Yes, I think, is the answer to your question."
"If only the rest of the world were as easy to win over as you," Enjolras said. "There would never be any need for violent overthrow."
"You don't have to violently overthrow Grantaire for control of your project," Combeferre pointed out. "He's letting you do whatever you want. That's pretty much the best case scenario for group projects."
"He's dead weight," Enjolras complained. "Which I might not mind if he weren't an absolute jerk about it. I'd rather be with you."
Combeferre nodded sympathetically. "I know, but that attitude probably isn't helping you get your work done."
Enjolras looked back at his computer screen and deflated. "Do you think this could wait?" he asked hopefully.
"It can, and it should," Combeferre agreed. "Until tomorrow. At least until after dinner. I'm guessing you didn't eat."
Enjolras shook his head. "I lost track of time doing research."
"I'll order in. Chinese or pizza?"
"Chinese," Enjolras said.
"The usual?" Combeferre asked, already typing it into the restaurant's online order form.
"Of course." Enjolras leaned against the back of his chair. "What would I do without you?"
"Starve," Combeferre chirped, and resumed clicking at his computer.
Enjolras smiled at him and pushed annoying thoughts of Grantaire and Lamarque's project to the back of his mind.