January 10, 2016: *tiny waves* Hello, everyone! I realize it's been awhile. To say that last semester was hard on me would be a major understatement. I drowned in last semester. *sigh* And my writing suffered in a HUGE way. Anyway, part of the reason it suffered is because I let it fall way to the bottom of the priority list and I ended up putting it off for so long that I developed a near-phobia about it. And that's not good. For so many reasons. I'm mentally healthiest when I have writing as an outlet. Not having that outlet was part of what made last semester so damned awful. So, I'm making the decision, right now, to make writing a priority again. My own mental health is way more important than all the other responsibilities I have. So. Here's hoping that means I'll be posting more regularly. ^_^
Anyway, here's hoping this chapter was worth the wait! We're finally heading into the part where the plot will start moving. I'm excited that we made it here, and hopefully you will be, too. ^_^
Muet - Chapter 8
Tuesday, 3:27 PM
Solid, stripe, solid, stripe, solid, stripe, 8 ball in the center. One by one, Feuilly lifted the pool balls out of the case and placed them in the rack. Once he had them positioned, he slid the rack forward, then back, then forward again, fingers tucked into the base of the rack to pack the balls tightly into the apex. He then lifted the rack off the table, leaving a neat triangle of balls behind. Only then did he look up from the table.
"You do nice work." A soft smile. "Then again, you always did."
It took every ounce of self-control Feuilly had not to launch himself over the table and grab the one who'd spoken in a bear hug. He consigned himself to offering a small smile in return and saying, "One has to take pride in the things that one does or else why do them?" A pause, a shared look, before Feuilly continued. "Can I buy you a drink, sir, and perhaps tempt you into joining me for a game?"
It was almost scary how easily they slipped back into code with one another. With a glance and a question, Feuilly had indicated that he had words for Courfeyrac's ears, alone; that they needed to speak in private. And in a wide smile and winking eye, Courfeyrac had shown that he understood.
"Well, now, who could refuse an offer like that? But as I've intruded on your solitude, I insist we delve into my pockets and not your own. R?"
Unnoticed until now in Courfeyrac's shadow, R stepped up beside him and raised an eyebrow. Courfeyrac's smile widened and he clapped a hand on R's shoulder. "Why don't you go grab us a few beers while my new friend and I see about this game, hm?"
R frowned, reaching for his back pocket, and, no doubt, his ubiquitous notepad, but Courfeyrac stopped him with a small shake of his head. R and Enjolras had had their own code, Feuilly was sure, every pair of operatives did, but R wouldn't be privy to theirs. He wouldn't understand. It was clear from the look in his eyes, however, that, even if he had understood, he had no intention of leaving Courfeyrac unsupervised. Feuilly didn't blame him. If their positions had been reversed, he wouldn't have wanted to walk away, either. But there were things Feuilly had to say to Courfeyrac that he didn't want R to hear—that R couldn't hear. This was the only way.
Courfeyrac drew R in close to him to whisper a few words into his ear. When R drew back, his frown was deeper, his eyes narrowed, but he took the offered $20 bill from Courfeyrac's fingers, sent one last piercing glare in Feuilly's direction, and turned to head towards the bar. The moment he was gone, all joviality left Courfeyrac's expression. His smile fell, his eyes narrowed, and under the guise of reaching for the chalk to chalk up his stick, he leaned in close to Feuilly and said, "It was a real feat to get me here, and I'd never have managed it without R. What do you have to say to me that he can't hear?"
Feuilly moved away long enough to chalk up his own cue stick and move to the other end of the table for the break. What did he have to say? Nothing that he wanted to. He still wasn't quite certain what that meeting with Eponine had been about last night, but one thing he was certain of was this: it had meant nothing good. The last thing he wanted to do was tell Courfeyrac what they had discussed… but he'd made a promise. And you simply did not break a promise to Eponine Thenardier.
So distracted was he that Feuilly only skimmed the edge of the cue ball when he lined up his shot for the break, wincing when he saw what a bungled job he'd made of it. He'd barely loosened the triangle and the cue ball was sitting right next to the other balls, chalk smudge up and facing him as though giving him the stink eye. He sighed.
Courfeyrac raised an eyebrow. "That good, huh?"
Feuilly cursed under this breath as he leaned back from the table and in a moment of candor quite out of place for the intrigue of their surroundings, he said, "If it were my choice, we wouldn't be here." Before Courfeyrac could answer, Feuilly shook his head. "No. How long do you figure before R gets impatient with us and comes back? Five minutes? Ten at most? I'll pass along Eponine's offer because I made a promise to her that I would, but that is all. And I swear on the life of every child I've ever saved, if you consider taking her up on this for even one second, I will do my damndest to truss you up and drag you back to the house by your hair if that's what it takes to knock some sense back into your head. You hear me?"
Courfeyrac's eyes widened. "You're rattled." Feuilly opened his mouth to protest, but Courfeyrac ran right over him. "No, I mean it. She shook you up but good last night. She must have made an offer to help with this situation with Enjolras. But why would that have you so upse-? Oh. Oh, I see." Courfeyrac lowered his head for a moment, laughing softly to himself before raising it again. "What's her price?"
Feuilly swallowed hard against a throat gone suddenly dry. He reached for the chalk, touched up the scuffed mark on the tip of his cue stick, and then placed it precisely back down in the spot he'd picked it up from. Anything to avoid giving Courfeyrac an answer to that question. But this was what he'd promised, the thing he'd sworn on his life he would pass along. The price for her assistance. The price for the name of an unaffiliated psychic who could help them with Enjolras. The price was nothing more nor less than the very soul of Les Amis.
Forcing his eyes up from where they'd been fixed on the pool table, Feuilly met Courfeyrac's gaze dead on. He owed him that much.
"Her price? You."
14 hours earlier
Feuilly eased his car towards the curb, slowing and turning off his headlights as he approached the abandoned gas station that was the location for the night's meet. There was no sign of activity, no sign of life. He didn't know what he'd expected, but this wasn't it. He eased forward a little further, loathe to leave his car too far away lest he need it for a fast getaway. He didn't trust Gavroche. He wanted to, but he didn't. He didn't dare. Not after last time. And, having never met her, Feuilly didn't trust Eponine, at all. Cursing himself for being ten kinds of a fool for not finding a way to bring back-up, Feuilly finally turned the key back in the ignition. The soft rattle of the idling engine fell to silence.
Feuilly crept from the relative safety of his car, slowly approaching the long defunct garage. If he'd been the one planning this meet, that was where he would be lying in wait. As he walked deeper into the shadows, his heart began to beat a frantic tattoo against his ribcage. The silence was so pervasive, so complete, that even the sounds from the road seemed muffled. Feuilly could have discovered that he was the only person left on the planet in that moment and not been surprised by the revelation. A tune jumped into his mind unbidden.
Whenever I feel afraid… I hold my head erect…
Four more steps brought Feuilly in line with the old gas pumps. The smell still lingered; like the smell of old death, the smell of gasoline never really left. His heart now beating so hard that it all but choked him, Feuilly forced himself to leave the shelter of the gas pump and take another step.
And whistle a happy tune…
One more step. Another. Feuilly stepped into the deeper darkness of the old garage, swallowing hard against the choking sensation, fighting to draw in a full breath. His head swiveled wildly in an attempt to catch any possible movement in the shadows. He was such a fool. He should have listened to Bahorel and brought a panic button, at the very least. If this went wrong, if something happened to him, no one would even know. He would be just another mystery.
So no one will suspect…
White teeth flashed in the darkness just moments before the garage door slammed shut behind him and the overheads flooded the sealed garage with light. Hands gripped his arms and jerked him back a pace as his breath wheezed like a dying thing in his throat. Moments later, those hands were the only things keeping him on his feet as Gavroche popped up under his nose and said, "You should see your face, man! You look about ready to shit your pants. We didn't mean to scare you or nothin', did we, guys?"
Feuilly couldn't even get his racing heart under control enough to stand under his own power, much less put together enough brain cells to curse at the boy. He'd let Enjolras' misfortune, his own worries, and the apparently deserted ambience of the place get to him, as sure a sign as any that he'd been running on his own too long. His imagination had far too much fuel these days and he had no partner to act as a buffer between it and reality. He didn't want to admit it, even to himself, but if Gavroche and his friends had truly meant him harm in that moment… he'd have been dead.
Gavroche's smile merely widened in response to Feuilly's silence, then with a small jerk of his head, the two pairs of hands holding Feuilly upright abruptly let him go, their owners following Gavroche to the other side of the garage. Though his legs trembled still with reaction, Feuilly managed to keep his feet. Seeing Gavroche's eyes fixed on a point just behind him, Feuilly turned just in time to see someone else slip into the garage from the office. Dark of skin and dark of hair, wrapped in a voluminous coat and tapping an unsheathed knife gently against pursed lips, Feuilly couldn't help but shudder as they advanced. When a distance of only a foot separated them, the other tilted the knife forward and tapped it against Feuilly's lips. He forced himself to remain still. If it was to be games tonight… he played to win.
They stared each other down for a minute, then two and on towards three, the silence stretched between them like a rubber band. Any moment, Feuilly thought, It will snap and take one of us down. Then they would pick up the pieces and see what they both had left to bargain with. Power and intimidation. That was how the game was played. And right now, they held all the cards.
The silence stretched on between them, another minute ticking by. Gavroche and his friends started up a friendly game of blackjack behind them and the absurdity of the situation was suddenly more than Feuilly could stand. Squaring his shoulders, he said, "My name is Feuilly. I heard you wanted a meet. I'm here. Let's get on with it."
Finally a smile stretched those pursed lips, and in the twinkling gleam of eyes so dark they were nearly black, Feuilly finally saw the resemblance between the silent figure in front of him and the gleefully cackling one behind him currently cleaning up at blackjack. "You really don't waste any time, do you, Feuilly? No sense of moment. Not like your friend. Where is Courfeyrac, these days, anyway? I miss him." A swiftly assessing look swept up one side of him and down the other, settling into a soft expression of disdain. "He cleans up better than you do, too."
That was the last straw. Feuilly's fists clenched so hard he felt a knuckle pop in his left hand. He took a step forward, one that Eponine didn't mirror, refusing to give ground even in light of Feuilly's sudden temper. She merely turned her knife, resting the point almost delicately against the base of Feuilly's throat. "Take one more step with that look on your face and you'll be trying to breathe out the hole in your neck, not-as-pretty-boy."
Feuilly froze, mouth working around words that refused to emerge. Eponine merely raised an eyebrow, waiting. Finally, Feuilly forced his hands to relax and took a step back. Raising his eyes to meet the amused gaze of the person who had followed Eponine into the garage, Feuilly spat out, "I would think you'd know better than anyone where Courfeyrac is these days. Since your boyfriend's the one who put him there."
Eponine turned to look over her shoulder, scowling as though she'd just realized Montparnasse was there. A flick of her wrist had him retreating back into the office and Feuilly marveled at the ease with which she commanded him. The specter of Montparnasse had hung over Les Amis like a shroud ever since Courfeyrac had been taken. And this delicate figure, this boy, so quick to answer commands, was the one of whom they'd all been so afraid?
Eponine turned back, a shrug on her shoulders and a soft smile on her face. "He has his uses." The smile fell, the point of her knife coming back to rest against Feuilly's chest as she took another step forward. "Make no mistake, though. He's my father's dog and always has been. Personal uses aside, their causes aren't mine and they're not why we're here." With a brief flourish, the knife disappeared, and Eponine was all business, her tone brusque, her movements clipped. "I have something you need and you have something I want." She leaned forward, then, and lifted her hands to bracket Feuilly's face. She smiled again, this time wide and full of teeth. "But I don't bargain with errand boys. So, you will deliver my message to Courfeyrac exactly as I give it to you… and he will return here in 24 hours to deliver his answer to me in person. Do we have a deal?"
Tuesday, 3:42 PM
Courfeyrac paced the length of the bathroom, mind working frantically over Feuilly's story… and Eponine's offer. Feuilly had barely gotten the words out before R returned with their drinks, and Courfeyrac had taken that moment of distraction to retreat to the single bathroom in the back of the pool hall. He had to think. Think. On the surface, this was a simple matter. Turn over a crippled, useless team member for the chance to get another up and functioning, again. Anyone with half a brain would take it in a heartbeat.
…if one wasn't the crippled team member being handed over.
Courfeyrac cursed and turned to pace back along the length of the bathroom again. Four steps, turn, repeat. Four steps, turn, repeat. Like a rat in a cage. Courfeyrac's heart started to speed up, pounding hard in his chest. This was no choice at all, and Eponine had damned well known it when she'd asked Feuilly to deliver her message. Feuilly, R, Enjolras… if he went back to the safehouse with Eponine's offer, they'd never allow it. They wouldn't even allow him to entertain the idea. And Enjolras would remain locked in the past, possibly with a ticking time bomb in his head even more devastating than the one Courfeyrac carried in his. But there was no other way, and Courfeyrac knew it.
Beyond that, though—beyond all considerations of what his friends would want—Eponine owed him… and Eponine Thenardier was not one to take a life debt lightly.
So, there it was: take a risk on his own intuition, take a chance that Eponine was trustworthy, that she held her word close enough to protect him from Montparnasse, take a chance that in so doing both he and Enjolras might be remade whole again… or go home and destroy everything and everyone he'd ever loved.
Courfeyrac made his decision.
Five minutes later, when Feuilly and R finally picked the lock on the bathroom door to find out what was taking him so long… Courfeyrac was long gone.
Thanks for reading! As usual, all beta'ing was done by me. Apologies for any mistakes.
Feel free to stop by on tumblr at eirenical and say hi! ^_^