Velvet

Author’s Note: When forbidden to write girl!Amis for the Frenchboys Mix-n-Match Challenge, it being a challenge to write every Amis!slash pairing possible, it was only a matter of time before someone asked “What about femslash?” Yes, that was me. I blame Manon for attempting to forbid girl!Amis.

Not again, she thought. She was halfway home when she remembered that the books she needed for tonight were sitting on a table at the café Musain. The only thing she could do was turn around and go back.

It was after ten, and everyone else was long gone. The private door from the street was locked, so she had to enter through the café itself, explaining to Louison that she had forgotten her books. The door squeaked open, and Rose-Marie nearly jumped out of her skin as she saw that she was not alone. She dropped the candle and counted herself lucky that it did not go out. She stamped ineffectually at the spilled wax, deliberately not looking at the other inhabitant of the room.

Grantaire had tensed the moment the door opened. “What are you doing here?” he growled, then sniffed and wiped his eyes with the heel of his hand.

“I left some books. You’ve been crying?”

“It’s nothing.” Grantaire’s voice was faltering again. Something in the way he sat, the way his eyes looked in the pale light of the single candle on his table, confused Rose-Marie. She had never had a good look at his face, his extremely angular face, through the messy curtains of dark hair that usually shielded it, but now she could see his eyes. Her eyes? She tilted her head, trying to see more closely without approaching and scaring him, or her, off. It wasn’t a likeable face, but neither was it entirely repellant. Perhaps the flickering shadows from the candle made it seem uglier than it was.

“It’s about Enjolras, isn’t it? You can tell me.” She took off her hat and leaned against a table, assuming she would be here for a while.

“Go away.”

“I’m willing to listen. I’m good with secrets, I promise. I’m terrific with secrets. Do you think I’d be here if I weren’t?”

“You could never understand.”

“Do you think you’ve been subtle? Do you think we haven’t all noticed the way you look at Enjolras? You’re hardly the only one, just the most obvious.”

“Who gives a fuck?”

“Enjolras is not worth crying over.”

“Go away.”

“You’ll feel better if you tell someone.”

“Tell someone what?”

“Why you’ve been crying.”

“I haven’t been crying. Don’t look at me like I’m - like I’m - some pathetic little girl whose first crush has broken her pathetic little heart. I haven’t got a fucking heart!”

“If that were true, you wouldn’t have been crying.”

“Go to hell.”

“I’ve already been there, didn’t like it much,” Rose-Marie answered flippantly. “How many bottles have you had tonight?”

“What does it matter?”

“It doesn’t, I suppose. If you think I don’t understand, if you think I haven’t been there, you’re wrong.”

“I’m not in love with him,” Grantaire protested quickly.

“I didn’t say you were.”

“Yes you did.”

“No, I didn’t. You read that in.”

“You said I wasn’t the only one looking at him that way.”

“I never said anyone else was in love with Enjolras either.”

“And what about you? You’re just an open book?”

“More so than Enjolras, I daresay.”

“All right.” Grantaire leaned back. “Answer me this. Why do you shave your head?”

She glared at him. “I don't. Any more stupid questions?”

“Liar. You think your behaviour is normal?”

“No, but it’s about as normal as trying to overthrow the government, so I don’t see a conflict. Yours, on the other hand, no one understands. Why are you here? Just to stare at Enjolras? If that’s the case, why don’t you keep your mouth shut more often?”

“None of your fucking business.” Grantaire tried to get up, but he fell back into his chair.

Rose-Marie moved to help him but stopped short. She had been right. Before Grantaire hunched over again, she swore she had seen a lump. A very smooth, rounded, wide lump. That was a breast.

“All right, cards on the table. You think you’re in love with Enjolras. He’s never going to marry you, and you know it. Probably can’t do it legally, anyway. You despise yourself, you hate the rest of us whom you only think have been closer to the chief, and you don't think there’s any way out of the trap you’ve set for yourself. He, or she, doesn’t pay a bit of attention to any of us. Maybe Combeferre. Though that’s hardly a love match, either. You’re looking for love in all the wrong places.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. As if Cupid ever paid a bit of attention to me. I haven’t got a heart, didn’t you hear?”

Rose-Marie dropped the rough edge to her voice. “Yes, I did hear that, but you’re wrong. I think a have a clue, mademoiselle, because I’ve been there.” Her voice was naturally low, but not unfeminine and rather pleasant. It was her coarse features that made her unattractive, her frog-like eyes and wide, smooth brow.

Grantaire’s head jerked up. “You’re -”

“Rather like you, I think. Home was intolerable, Paris is freedom, and being a woman is about the worst thing one can be, especially when you know you should have been born a man.”

Grantaire dropped to the table again. “So now you know,” she mumbled.

“I like you better for it. We’ve actually something in common now.”

“Is this why you shave your head?”

“How long have you been waiting to ask that question?” Rose-Marie asked wearily.

Grantaire shrugged. “A while.”

“You think I did this for fun and games? You think I like it?” She shook her head. “It’s a disease. It’s not a painful one; it’s just annoying as anything. It won’t grow back, or at least, it hasn’t made a sign of growing back in six years.” She shrugged. “You look at me like I’m a freak. Everyone does. It’s the looks I don’t get used to. But the charade is easier. I don’t have to worry about a lack of five o’clock shadow when I have to paint on eyebrows. What is it you’ve been using?”

“The left one is smudged.” Grantaire ignored the actual question.

“Don’t worry about it.” She leaned her head on her left hand, smudging the errant eyebrow still further. “It’s not as if I was ever pretty or I ever wanted to get married. I didn’t want to be a lawyer either, mind, but I was going out of my mind at home. I had to get out, get away from Lisette’s pitying looks, let her have some semblance of a life if it wasn’t too late. My aunt,” she explained. “She’s only ten years my senior, and when this all happened, my parents were already dead and she was the one living with me. The local schoolteacher proposed to her, so I grabbed the next coach to Paris. I was sure my life was over, but why drag her down with me?” She looked up at Grantaire. “It’s a terrible disease. There’s no pain at all. No coughing, no sneezing, no headaches, no sign of illness except that your hair starts to fall out in chunks. Chunks. Braids and hairpins don't help when your hair falls out. Courtship is impossible. I was having tea with a suitor, properly chaperoned, everything was going well enough, when I go to move a bit of hair out of my face and it comes off in my hand. He didn’t stop staring at it until he bolted.”

“You’re joking.”

“I don’t have to joke, the truth is bad enough. Don’t believe me?” She pushed up her sleeve, exposing an arm nearly naked except for a couple scraggly patches of half-hearted fuzz. “There’s hardly any velvet left to tip. I look moth eaten down there.”

Grantaire just stared at her, uncomprehending.

“Thomas Joly knows. He’s my cousin. I had to get away from home, so I ran to Paris and went looking for him. Doctors are all quacks; you know that, right? If they don't know what’s wrong with me, then what’s the point of medicine? He won’t listen to reason. But this masquerade was his idea, and I’m grateful to him for it. It’s nice to walk around practically unmolested. How’d you end up here?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Grantaire mumbled.

“You at least have a name.” Lesgle indicated herself. “Rose-Marie.” She rolled her eyes. “As if I ever looked like a rose.”

“Clarisse,” Grantaire muttered with a strong flavour of disgust.

“I do pity you that one. She’s not worth crying over.”

“What?”

“Enjolras. She’s not worth crying over.”

“You don’t know for sure!”

“Yes, I do.”

“No, not worthiness. Gender!”

“True. No one has been inside those trousers. But do you really think that face belongs to a man? He’d be prettier in my dresses than I ever was!”

“Mine, too,” Grantaire admitted. “That doesn’t mean he isn’t a man.”

“But you aren’t sure, either, now that I’ve brought it up.”

“But why does it have to be so goddamned complicated?! The only thing that could be worse is if that’s a girl! Why aren’t these clothes as unnatural as I get?”

“It's Paris. Nothing is unnatural in Paris.” Rose-Marie leaned over and brushed the hair out of Grantaire’s face. “I have my own place for the moment. It’ll be far more comfortable there than here. You’ve had too much to drink already.”

Grantaire shook her head. “I can get home just fine.” But as she tried to stand, she had to grasp the edge of the table to keep from falling.

Rose-Marie rushed to help her. “I’ll take you home.”

She had to bear most of Grantaire’s weight on the stairs, but they eventually attained Rose-Marie’s fourth floor artist’s hovel. It was one small, shabby room, in which the bed took up most of the space, but it was empty except for them. Rose-Marie visibly relaxed once she had bolted the door.

Grantaire lay on the bed, flat on her back, the small rise of her bosom quite evident, though obviously diminished, in this position. Her eyes were closed, and when Rose-Marie had lit another candle, she still did not open them.

Rose-Marie found she had leisure to at last examine the resident enigma. The dark hair had been roughly chopped around chin-length. It did not seem often brushed. The eyebrows were heavy and nearly met above the nose. In a man of stature, the nose would have been called aquiline, but on Clarisse Grantaire, it was simply hooked. Her chin came to a point. Her prominent cheekbones merely showed off the hollowness of her cheeks. Her skin was sallow, even greyish, and her fingers were stained yellow from tobacco. Looking closer, Lesgle saw that the greyish tint was painted on, burnt cork leavened with powder, perhaps, though such a variety of smells came from the girl’s clothes that it was difficult to isolate just one.

At the feel of a cold washrag on her face, Grantaire’s eyes flew open. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” Her guard was down, but her voice was still harsh as a crow.

“Cleaning you up. What good is painting your face if you streak it up with tears? You’ll have to start again anyway.”

Her colour was not good, but it was more natural than the grey she hid behind. Rose-Marie dug in her trunk and tossed a nightgown onto the bed. “Get a real night’s sleep. I’ll see if those clothes can be washed.”

“What do you care?”

“Is that it? Has no one ever cared?” she asked tenderly. Grantaire rolled over and curled into a ball. Rose-Marie stroked her hair. “You’re not alone. You think you are, and I know how you feel. But you’re not the only one like you. The world isn’t as lonely as you think it. You think too much about her, that’s your problem. Until now, she was the only one like you that you’d seen, that’s all this infatuation is. You just didn’t know that you knew.”

“You don’t understand,” Grantaire muttered. “I have these dreams, and they’re so real.”

“Oh, you do have it bad, cherie. You really dream about her?”

“Him! Him! Enjolras!”

“Yes, I know whom you mean. What are these dreams?”

“You don’t give a damn. You’re just going to mock me.”

“I promise I won’t mock you.”

“I wake up tasting his kisses.”

“Ah, those dreams. How chaste is Enjolras in your dreams?”

“All we do is kiss. I don’t think I could bear any more.”

“What, you were raised properly?”

“Weren’t you?”

“Yes, but I educated myself in Paris.”

“I didn’t need Paris for that.”

“So you are completely corrupt, but you think Enjolras is an innocent.”

“Yes.”

“What corrupted you?”

Grantaire rolled over onto her back. “Have you ever seen a prick?”

“Is that a question or an answer?”

“A question. Are they really so big? I don’t know how they could fit inside anything.”

“How big do you think they are? A rolled up handkerchief makes me look as if I have one. Do you ever look between a man’s legs?”

“His doesn’t make a great bulge like Bahorel’s.”

“I think that’s because it’s a handkerchief. I’m serious. How big do you think they are?”

Grantaire made some clumsy gestures indicating a monstrous, impossible size.

“What gave you that idea?”

“My father had a collection. I wasn’t supposed to be going through his things, but someone had to when he died. I don’t think I want something that big shoved up my ass.”

“Is that why as far as your dreams go, it doesn’t matter what gender Enjolras turns out to be? If you want kisses, I could kiss you.” And she did, lightly, on the cheek.

Grantaire turned away with a grunt, like a petulant child.

“I know, I’m not Apollo or Athena or whatever Enjolras turns out to be. She’s a vain one, isn’t she? Can’t bear to cut the rest of that beautiful hair. Not a sign of fuzz on that face either he is incredibly vain or she won’t muck herself up. Come on; sit up like a good girl. You’ll feel better in a clean nightgown.”

Silently, almost pouting, Grantaire forced herself up, but beyond pulling off her poorly tied cravat, her fingers were worthless. “Can’t.” She fumbled at the buttons again, even more clumsily in her anger. “Just fuck it.”

“I’ll help you.” She slowly unbuttoned the filthy shirt and pulled it over Grantaire’s head. Then she unbound the tell-tale breasts, rubbing them to bring back the feeling. Grantaire moaned softly, but she did not complain. Nor did she object when Rose-Marie unbuttoned her trousers and ran her soft hand over her naked hips to help her out of them. Rose-Marie was surprised how simple it had been to get the girl naked. Usually it was something of a dance with a new girl. Grantaire merely acquiesced, neither shamed nor completely aroused. Rose-Marie undressed herself, but when she turned back, Grantaire was already asleep. All she could do was settle down to sleep with the girl in her arms.

As the morning light grew stronger, Rose-Marie awoke and stretched. Too late she realised she was alone in bed, sprawled nearly sideways. A couple dark hairs on the pillow were the only sign that last night had not been a dream.

 

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