A/N: The title is taken from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, but has less to do with Victorian manners and Orientalism than with the fact that I liked the phrase and if one is going to be silly and use the words 'object' and 'sublime' far too many times, one might as well steal a bit of Gilbert's wit. Mme Javert has been having a tough time of it lately and requested something ridiculously adorable. Being me, I zeroed in on the ridiculous.
...it also turned out to be really, really long. I am so sorry.
Um. Enjoy it anyways?
Joly had caught another cold and, in a semi-feverish delirium, had been trying to magnetically realign his apartment. His bed must not have been perfectly aligned with the magnetic poles, he had reasoned. That was why it felt like there was an angry cat trying to claw its way out of his throat and that was why his right ear ached (but not his left, which worried Joly more than he could say) and his nose ran faster than the Seine, his head ached as much as if he had been out with Courfeyrac the previous evening and the various, disease-laden miasmas in the Parisian air had suddenly decided to manifest themselves as an angry pugilist with a desire for a Joly-shaped punching bag. It was at that point that Joly realized that it was a Friday and he had to go doctor in the slums of Saint-Marcel with Combeferre. To now go and throw himself out into the miasmas Joly was certain were out to get him, and; in particular, to go into an area of Paris rife with disease as was....
Joly stopped trying to calculate the lines of longitude crossing his apartment, and ransacked his storage room. With the seriousness of a Spartan before the Battle of Thermopylae he adorned himself in a flannel-lined vest, his long winter overcoat, a pair of thick twill trousers and a terribly long scarf his grandmother in the Vendee had made him when she thought he would grow to be much taller than he actually had.
Combeferre found Joly sitting in the doorway of his storage room, feverishly winding a scarf around his neck and the lower half of his face, only to realize that he could not now check his tongue if the need arose, and just as feverishly unwinding the scarf.
"Joly," came Combeferre's calm, unruffled voice from the doorway. "What are you doing?"
Joly blinked at him, astonished that anyone had to ask what he was doing. Surely it was obvious? "I cannot see my tongue."
"Most people usually cannot without the aid of a mirror," replied Combeferre. He then looked around Joly's apartment. The three rooms Joly rented were usually in a state of controlled chaos, as in, one could see the floor, but there was usually a pile of books, papers and various medications on the desk, and a mountain of God-alone-knew-what on the battered wooden table. The chairs were very precisely arranged, the carpet was kept obsessively clean and the book shelf had a semblance of order even if it did not have any actual system of organization. As of that particular moment, the armchairs were squished into a corner with the desk, the carpet had been rolled up and was now leaning drunkenly against the wall, the floor was covered in magnets, compasses and chalked lines and equations, and the chairs were, for no readily apparent reason, stacked on top of the table. "Is... something the matter, Joly?"
"Influenza," replied Joly, with grim relish. "From the Latin influentia, initially ascribed to unfavourable astrological influences, now held to be an influence of miasmas and cold weather, from the Italian influenza del freddo, a sickness that manifests in chills, fever, sore throat, muscle pains, severe headache, coughing, weakness and general discomfort which, when it moves into the lungs, causes pneumonia. I think I am moving into the pneumatic stage. I told you all my cough was getting worse."
He had been saying that his cough had been getting worse for the past two months and was pleased that all his worrying had finally paid off.
"I cannot quite understand why you have decided to treat your... illness by reorganizing your entire apartment—are those alchemical symbols on the floor?"
"No, just algebraic ones. My handwriting is not that bad." Joly stood to go check in tongue in the mirror over the fireplace and took a moment to re-examine the scrawls adorning the floorboards. Hm. His handwriting really had deteriorated, even if he could now draw internal organs that looked like internal organs, as opposed to amorphous blobs of ink. "It... I wrote in chalk, which always smudges." Joly sneezed, which he took as a sign that He Was Right. Chalk dust was such a terrible irritant to sensitive nasal passages already trying to barricade out the miasmas of Paris with mucus.
"Mm hm," said Combeferre. "Come on, Joly, grab your bag and come with me."
"I have influenza!"
"You had the bubonic plague last week."
"That was a misdiagnosis."
"And I wondered why you didn't have an internship at a hospital yet."
Joly unearthed his medical bag from underneath a pile of books on his writing desk. "Hmph. It's only first semester of second year. I have two and a half years to go, if I do not die of pneumonia first."
"Mm-hm. Hurry up or we'll miss the omnibus."
Joly did so, only returning once to his apartment after leaving it (he had only put five handkerchiefs in his coat pocket, and Joly didn't feel safe with only five against the dread forces of influenza). He kept pace with Combeferre, even if he did occasionally sniff more loudly than necessary to prove his point. He generally had to overemphasize his points for Combeferre to acknowledge them as valid. It really wasn't fair, Joly thought miserably. No one ever believed him when his chest started to ache and his head hurt and he couldn't breathe and he felt so awful, so terribly afraid that something was wrong and that he didn't know how to fix whatever had broken.
Still, Joly was glad to be out of his apartment and thus, out of his looping thought process of 'something wrong- disease- influenza- pneumonia- death- must fix- something wrong- disease- etc.' Even if leaving his apartment meant exposure to the air and therefore the deadly miasmas just waiting to inflict newdiseases upon him… and even if leaving his apartment with Combeferre meant going to the largest sources of contamination in order to treat sick workers from the Gobelins Factory. The air at Saint-Michel was just dreadful.
Combeferre had approached one of the doctors at Necker, Doctor Billard, on Joly's behalf, on the grounds that, if one went by Joly's constant self-misdiagnosis, Joly was probably going to kill any patient stupid or unlucky enough to have him, unless some kindly doctor took him in hand. Doctor Billard spoke French with a Southern accent and who was rumored to be a Luddite. Some of the more terrified interns had warned Joly that Doctor Billard had set fire to several textile machines Lyons during the Empire, and had moved to Paris a. because there were very few factories and b. because the authorities in Lyons were out for his blood. Whether the rumors were true or not, Doctor Billard had a quickness of temper that was matched only by his quickness in surgery, a dedication for charity work and liberal sympathies somewhat at odds with his reliance on medical tradition. He had been skeptical of Joly, whom he had heard enthusiastically praising André-Marie Ampère's work with electrodynamics and how it could fit into Hahnemann's theories of magnetic homeopathy, until Joly displayed his encyclopedic knowledge of diseases, causes and treatments in various fits of hypochondria.
Doctor Billard became convinced that Joly was a clever student, not intelligent like Combeferre, but a clever one who simply did not know how to apply his knowledge in a world full of damnable distractions. All he needed was someone to take him in hand and show him the right way of applying his good, old-fashioned skills of memorization.
Joly would have liked to protest that it wasn't really memorization. Sometimes an idea just got stuck in his head and he couldn't get it out, and most diseases were like that. He kept thinking about them and couldn't forget them or get himself to stop thinking about them, to the detriment of anything else he was supposed to be doing. Still, it helped to have someone yell him out of his thoughts and into proper action. Joly believed himself susceptible to many natural forces, including the magnetic pull of the moon on the electricity he was sure was stored in his leg muscles, but believed himself to be most susceptible to inertia.
Doctor Billard asked (or demanded, rather) that Joly and Combeferre accompany him on a charity round one day and found it so pleasing to be able to scold Joly into proper medical procedure and to have Combeferre to quietly and efficiently taking care of all other details that Billard demanded they come with him every Friday. This suited all everyone; Joly actually acted instead of worried, Billard got assistance and therefore got to see to more of the workers he idolized as innocents crushed by the uncaring force of monarchal capitalism, and Combeferre got to measure the workers' sentiments against the government and gather statistics and facts about them and their living conditions to give to Enjolras.
The other Amis knew this and, since Bossuet had informed them that Joly really was ill, several of them were loitering in a café near the omnibus stop to see if Joly really had been right about his impending death this time.
"Jolllly, dear fellow, you look as if you are about to set off for Antarctica, not Saint-Michel," observed Bossuet, sitting, as usual, slouched against the wall. Courfeyrac, Bahorel and Bossuet were also seated behind a table, drinking coffee and eating macaroons.
"My four ls—" or 'ailes', wings "—cannot lift me over the miasmas of Paris," Joly informed him, with a forlorn sniff. "I have influen—" He was interrupted by a fit of coughing that not only proved the veracity of his claims but made Joly momentarily worried that he had already moved into the pneumatic stage. Ah, and to expose himself to the even worse air of Saint-Michel! Oh, the sacrifices he made for his fellow man.
"Poor Jolllly," said Courfeyrac, shaking his head. "Actually ill! Is the end of the world upon us?"
"That would be interesting," Prouvaire said dreamily, nibbling on a macaroon. "Has anyone heard the drumming of the hooves of the horsemen?"
Joly blew his nose.
"No, but there's one of the seven trumpets," said Courfeyrac.
"Ah, the Angel of Death calls," said Bahorel, in tones of mock horror. "We shall drink to your memory, Jolllly."
"Your ls shall certainly keep you from the fires of hell, so your fever shan't get worse, at least," Courfeyrac said cheerfully. "I shall make some mulled wine for when you get out of the clinic and are in need of a little restorative. Eau de vie, and treating an overabundance of phlegm with a more choleric treatment, as you yourself once advised me, Joly old fellow. I am so pleased to be able to turn your doctoring on you. Combeferre, say you'll join us?"
Combeferre hesitated. He had a weakness for mulled wine and took a rather furtive pleasure in eating the wine-soaked orange slice afterwards. He always looked awkward if someone caught him at it, as if the enjoyment of a purely sensual pleasure was somehow degrading, and, depending on how much mulled wine he had beforehand, would offer the room an awkward, orange-rind smile. "I... ought to... I have to study—"
Courfeyrac pouted at him. "Combeferre, do you doubt my ability to make mulled wine? I make excellent mulled wine. Grantaire himself assures me that no one has mastered the art of slicing citrus the way I have. Besides, when you said you were busy last week, you were drawing silkworm moths in your room all evening. I cannot, as your friend, allow you to be a young man in Paris who spends his Friday nights alone in an ill-lit garret in the Latin Quarter drawing silkworm moths from memory."
"I really shouldn't...."
Joly added a forlorn sniff to this and assumed his most pitiful expression. "Oh, Combeferre, you would leave me to the Hotel de la Porte Saint Jacques from Saint-Michel on my own? I might collapse along the way or hack up a lung."
"Or you could just take the omnibus," said Combeferre. "It goes from Gobelins to the Latin Quarter as well as from the Latin Quarter to Gobelins."
"How can you deny poor Joly?" demanded Courfeyrac, with a forlorn look that rivalled Joly's. "We have sworn to go through fire together and you would let him die of asphyxiation somewhere because, all alone, Joly got off at the wrong stop, wandered the streets in a feverish delirium, got panicked, hyperventilated and then, to his horror, discovered that he couldn't breathe because his nose is clogged up."
"Then we shall meet you there," Courfeyrac said, with the disarming smile that usually let him win an argument. "I shall bring the mulled wine, already made, and charm your porter, even if she has a thousand eyes, into letting me in."
"Instead of telling her stories, oh Mercury, you could remind her that you are the fellow with whom I occasionally sing duets," Combeferre pointed out.
"Ah, I thought someone listened at the keyhole. Sweet music soothes even the beastliest of porters." Courfeyrac lifted his cup of coffee. "To the sphinx guarding the gates to the Castle Combeferre! Oh, there's the omnibus. We shall be at your apartment at eight, then. If I ever find out where I put the rest of my allowance, I shall bring you dinner as well. If not, you shall just have to subsist on mulled wine and friendship."
"Or we could pick up something on the way back," pointed out Combeferre, as Joly waved down the bus and began chasing after it. It wasn't until after they had scrambled up the steps on the back of the omnibus, paid their fares and found seats next to each other that Combeferre realized he had invited Courfeyrac to wander around unsupervised in his, Combeferre's, apartment.
"How did that even happen?" Combeferre muttered to himself, polishing his glasses.
Joly blew his nose. "These things just happen with Courfeyrac. There's something about him that repels usual causality. Maybe it's a case of magnetic repulsion?"
"Courfeyrac is the polar opposite of logic?"
"Maybe only metaphorically."
The rest of the ride Combeferre tried to make up for his moment of unknowing stupidity by trying to convince Joly that his illness was really just an illness of the mind. Joly was adamant that he really was ill this time and the two of them began to debate over methods of diagnosis.
"Joly, you cannot just randomly apply science at any problem that comes your way," Combeferre pointed out. "Magnetism is a fascinating field, but there are limits to what we know about it and therefore how we should apply it."
"Combeferre, it's not like you to condemn progress."
"I am not condemning progress, I am preaching moderation. One must compile evidence before arriving at a conclusion, not leap to wild conclusions over any evidence placed in one's way."
"And one must have a hypothesis going in," pointed out Joly, with a particularly vehement blow of his nose. "I know you favour detached observation, Combeferre, but I cannot cultivate the same doctoral indifference you have. My intellectual curiosity always gets the better of me, even when I don't want it to."
"That is—a man cannot deliberately cut another man open without thinking of all the parts that makes him a man, without—"
"It vaguely reminds me of watches," said Joly.
Combeferre gave him an odd look, as did the passenger in front of them who was trying very hard not to appear as if he was listening to their conversation. Combeferre took off his glove and felt Joly's forehead. "Perhaps you are a little feverish."
"My grandfather on my father's side was a watchmaker in the Vendee," Joly explained, with an indignant and quite congested sniff. "He made my father learn too, though my father only puts them together when he wants to unwind, ha ha. Euh, I mean... the way I had to rationalize dissection my first year was that it was like fixing a watch. You have to take a good watch apart and look at all the pieces and figure out how they ought to fit together before you can take a broken watch, take it to pieces and fix the pieces that need fixing. I never have been able to apply that to an actual patient, though. It's always, 'here's the poor fellow that has a gallstone. I thought I had a gallstone last week, it was dreadful and I was in such pain, what did I do about the gallstone in me, and what can I do about the gallstone in him'."
"You engage in a sort of projection with your patients, then," said Combeferre, with just a hint of disapproval. "Joly, no one denies that it is important for there to be a doctoral rapport with someone receiving your treatment, but—"
"But what?" asked Joly, beginning to get annoyed. "I know how the human body fits together rather well now, and I know of some of the things that can go wrong mostly because they've happened to me... but, really, Combeferre, if I move from self-knowledge to universal knowledge, doesn't that—"
"Give you a limited mindset? One must approach medicine with the understanding that all are equal, all deserve treatment—"
"Oh, and discard the doctor as a useless variable in the equation? The doctor is not, ought not to be a detached observer."
"Yes, he must, in the preliminary stages."
"... alright, that is true, he cannot make judgements without rationally gathering information before forming his hypothesis, that is, the treatment, and then—but no, that makes the poor fellow with the gallstone like a—a beaker full of mercury you want to test."
"So you would rather have done with objectivity altogether?"
"Why do you have to be so calm and Socratic about these things?" Joly demanded wretchedly. "I always end up sounding like some sort of idiot. I'm ill, I haven't any humours except the phlegm I keep coughing up and my cough is becoming pneumatic. All this argument has accomplished is an increased ache in my throat." He rummaged through the pocket of his overcoat and unearthed a small box of lozenges. Joly popped one in his mouth and then, when Combeferre opened his mouth to protest, popped one in Combeferre's mouth too.
"Oh, aniseed comfits," said Combeferre, after a moment. "There are more effective ways of ending a debate than offering me hard candy."
Joly sucked on his lozenge in sulky silence.
Doctor Billard, a tall, burly man with a crooked nose and greying hair, was waiting for them at the omnibus stop and greeted them with his customary, "In my day we walked. Humph. Well, what are you dying of this week, Monsieur Joly?"
"Pneumonia, sir," said Joly, with a forlorn cough. Or, at least, he had meant to give one forlorn cough, not start hacking up the mucus in his lungs into his scarf.
"He is a little feverish," Combeferre admitted.
"Monsieur Joly is always feverish," said Doctor Billard, walking briskly past the factory and towards the rooms he rented on the corner of the Rue de Banquier where he lived and did his charity work. "He is naturally sanguine, which suggests an overabundance of blood, odd to think of in one so scrawny, but from time to time suffers from an overabundance of phlegm. It is good for him to cough them both out."
"I am so glad you think my impending death will balance out my character flaws, sir," said Joly.
"You did apparently advise Courfeyrac to drink mulled wine when he was down with the flu," Combeferre pointed out.
"Ah, he can be taught!" exclaimed Doctor Billard, with a rare smile at Joly. "Balancing the humours? Good. Someday you might remember how to treat diseases as well as how to diagnose them."
"I live in hope, sir," replied Joly before engaging in an involuntary coughing fit.
"Cheeky lad, there's hope of getting that excess phlegm out of you yet. Ah, queued up already. Come on." Doctor Billard owned a set of rooms on the first floor of the building, for reasons no one could ever explain. Joly was firmly of the opinion that Doctor Billard chose the rooms to mock the bourgeois he blamed for oppressing the working class he tended to idolize. Combeferre liked to think that it was to avoid making an injured patient climb stairs. In either case, it was much cheaper to own a suite of ground floor rooms in a fauburg than a garret room in a hotel in the Latin Quarter.
Much to the annoyance of the concierge, a long line of women, children and retired workers had already queued up by the door.
"Accident yesterday in the dye lab at Gobelins," Doctor Billard explained, with grim relish. "Some idiot nearly managed to set fire to an experiment in the dye lab. The smoke got into all the apartments around it, and some of the dye got into the water supply. Ha, royal factory—the only thing they produce is misery!"
"Well that and tapestries," said Joly, in an aside to Combeferre.
"Joly, you ought to know better," replied Combeferre. "They have recently begun weaving carpets as well."
Doctor Billard opened his door, ignoring the screeching of his landlady with really admirable indifference. "Monsieur Combeferre, in the back room you will find my laboratory, limited as it is, with samples of the dye, the infected water and a blood sample from an infected patient. So far I have been administering purgatives, but I should like to know if the dye can infiltrate any of the humours of the body. Monsieur Joly, you shall assist me. I spent last night mixing purgatives. You should be capable of distributing them correctly, and checking for signs of smoke inhalation."
Joly sneezed. "Oh no, smoke? My throat already feels like it has been put through a meat grinder—"
"It's mostly cleared out of my rooms, Monsieur maladie imaginaire."
It hadn't. Joly moved though the sitting room to the office and coughed the entire time. Combeferre and Doctor Billard were not sympathetic, Combeferre being too interested in playing with chemicals, and Doctor Billard being too busy ignoring his landlady.
Joly found some syrup of poppies in the cupboard of the office and self-medicated. He therefore spent most of his time in a semi-feverish opiatic daze, not coughing, but—after checking for signs of smoke inhalation had turned into a pleasant little routine—not actually paying attention to anything he was doing. He was thus rather grateful that Doctor Billard always came in to check on his proscribed treatments, though Joly's ability to get things stuck in his head included Doctor Billard's oft-shouted lesson on how to correctly administer more common medications.
After a few hours of this, the factory workers themselves came in, as did a frightened workshop of fan-makers whose atelier was near the factory. By that time, the efficacy of Joly's dose of syrup of poppies had faded somewhat, but had given him a bedside manner that combined his natural cheerful solicitude with the scientific detachment Combeferre often rebuked him for not having. Doctor Billard was of the opinion that Joly had finally coughed the laziness and silliness out of himself and was, shockingly, becoming competent.
He thus left Joly on his own with the atelier of fan-makers and went to check on the length of the line. Joly was smiling kindly at them all and asking them to please sit down and tell him if they had any symptoms in common when their appointment spokesman, a thin, wiry fellow with an air of unexpected determination said, "Hunh, and who are you?"
"Joly," said Joly, a little surprised. "A medical student. I've been shadowing Doctor Billard here for... about two semesters now."
"And do you know just what happened at the Gobelins Factory?"
"You promised, Feuilly," said one of the other fan makers, wincing. "We elected you because you knew some Latin and you in turn promised you weren't going to turn this into—"
"I am not; I am just asking if a medical student is qualified to treat us."
Since Joly doubted his own ability to diagnose anything that wasn't a disease or a broken bone, he just smiled a little too brightly and said, "Euh, I'm just supposed to ask about your symptoms, really, to see if it's smoke-inhalation or poison—"
"Are they easy to mix up, then?" snarled Feuilly. "God, when someone gets access to a university education and wastes it—"
"Oh shut up, Feuilly," said one of the other fan makers, annoyed. "You always have to turn everything into a class struggle."
"That's because it is," insisted Feuilly. "Would this have happened to a law firm? No. A royal institution engages in-in deliberate stupidity and we, the workers, suffer for it—"
"How could it have been deliberate?" demanded another worker, with a dirty cap jammed over his red hair.
"Did you see reports of it in any newspaper today?" Feuilly demanded.
"No, but I can't read," said the red-head.
"I didn't see anything," Feuilly pressed on. "Did you, Monsieur Joly?"
Joly blinked. He had never heard the word 'Monsieur' flung at him as an insult before. "No, but—"
"But nothing!" Feuilly exclaimed.
"You promised!" wailed the first fan maker.
"I only promised I wouldn't bring up Poland!"
"And now you've broken it," said the red-head, disgusted. "Look, we aren't paying' this Jolly fellow anything, and same goes for Billard. The atelier's all aired out, so I'm not worried about that. The brushes I was using today turned red when I rinsed them out, and I wanna know if any of you were stupid enough to use that water for our tea."
"No one knows who made the tea yesterday," said a different fan maker, "and today we sent out, so unless the café used the bad water—"
Joly was beginning to regret not taking more syrup of poppies. His throat was starting to hurt again and he needed to blow his nose. He lacked the charisma and the confidence to bring his patients to order and he had no idea what he was supposed to be doing besides administering purgatives anyways. If only Enjolras were here, Joly thought, rubbing his nose. Enjolras would just sort of smile and look at them, not condescendingly or anything, just look at them and they would all fall silent.
As it was, Feuilly was ranting about Poland. Joly had no idea why.
"—and we hear nothing about them anymore? God, it makes me sick to think about how one country can just rip another country away from its citizens. What is a man without his country?"
"Here's a more relevant question," said the red-head, clenching a fist. "What's a Jacobin fan-painter without his teeth?"
"Hey now, we haven't covered dentistry yet," Joly said, in a desperate attempt to regain order. "I would like everyone's teeth to remain where they were when you all walked into the office." He glanced at the notes he had been automatically jotting down. Joly smiled in relief. Thank God! He wasn't an utter failure as a doctor after all! He had unthinkingly been doing something right. He could check for symptoms, this was just like a disease.... "Ah ha, do any of you have the following symptoms—"
"And you! With your smiles and your coat and gloves still on—afraid to catch something from us?"
"... wait, what?" Perhaps the syrup of poppies had been a bad idea.
"God, you're no older than I am and you're trying to—when the barricades rise, where will you be, is all I'm saying!"
"... ah, I... believe I will be on them." Joly pulled at his scarf. "I happen to be a Robespierrist."
"Ha! And you—what will you, Monsieur Medical Student, do on a barricade?"
Joly had no idea what he had done to make Feuilly almost frantic with rage and was still too medicated to care. "Well, as a medical student, cadavers do not scare me, and I understand the necessity of a little blood-letting to promote the health of the body. The body politic is not so different. Now, have any of you been feeling nauseous or—"
"Eureka," Combeferre said quite happily, not quite bursting into the office. Combeferre, in general, did not burst. He went where he needed to be with a minimum of fuss. "I know what it is. I still need to test its effects on the blood to be sure, but it appears to be brazilin with only trace amounts of lye. It will make everyone nauseous, but it appears to be sufficiently diluted by the water so that it will not blind them. I think. If Billard ever kept records or if we tested the effects of our sample—"
"Test its effects?" Feuilly burst out.
"He did not mean, 'test its effects on a person'," said Joly, involuntarily adding a sneeze as punctuation.
It didn't matter. Feuilly began ranting about the subjugation of the workers and how about this whole clinic was just what he expected, bored members of the bourgeoisie testing their odd medical theories on those too poor to protest and, god, it reminded him of Poland, it really did.
"And I haven't once used my magnets here," said Joly, in an aside Combeferre did not appreciate. Since Combeferre was frowning and listening to Feuilly mangle Latin proverbs, Joly thought of his mental Medicinal Measurement chart and began measuring out the right amount of purgative for each worker.
When Feuilly paused for breath, Joly said, "Alright, any cramps, nausea and burning feelings in the oesophagus? That's the bit that connects the mouth and the stomach, so anything between... ah ha; you three probably had the tainted water. Here you take—no, take this bag, not that one, you take that big and you take this one. Dissolve it in wine, red or white, though I recommend a nice, robust red this time of the year, to keep the phlegm down and to lessen the chance of catching a cold. You—" said Joly, looking at Feuilly with a smile "—should avoid the wine. It's a choleric drink."
Feuilly quite seethed with rage. Joly's smile faltered. Well, there went teasing someone out of a bad mood; he ought to leave that tactic to Courfeyrac.
"He means no harm," said Combeferre. "Just as he means no harm keeping notes. Foucault may condemn it as objectifying the patient, but I agree with this application of science. The application of basic statistics will advance medicine more than we know. It is not enough to apply the scientific method in discovering the disease; one must also apply it to discover the efficacy of the treatment. It's not to get you into trouble; it's to help the People."
"We aren't some Rousseauian ideal out of your textbooks," replied Feuilly, glaring at Combeferre. "We are people and our wages don't rise with the food prices, and if someone dumps something in our water supply, no one cares."
With that, Feuilly stalked out.
"Did something happen in Poland recently?" asked one of the fan makers.
"Dunno," said the red-head, opening his bag and sniffing the purgative. "Can't re-whew. I can see why you'd want to put this in wine. Hey, don't be offended M'sieur, Feuilly's just like that—oh hell. Your friend's not a nark, is he?"
"Who, Combeferre?" Joly asked, surprised, as Combeferre had swivelled around and followed Feuilly out the door. "No, he's just... I think Monsieur Feuilly really threw him for a loop. Combeferre's rather keen on the progress of society and the People and all that and he doesn't like being wrong about anything."
"And you?" asked the red-head.
Joly blew his nose and opened the office door. "I come down on Voltaire's side over Rousseau's. Though I'm all for the will of the people, I don't have any beliefs that could be injured by a little mockery, or even that many ideals. I get too caught up in the particulars. I hope you feel better. If that doesn't work, Doctor Billard never charges for visits Friday afternoons, since he has me and Combeferre to help out, and you can come back next week."
"Unless we die before then," pointed out a fan maker.
Joly blew his nose in lieu of any other, wittier response.
"Are you quite done nursing your hypochondria?" asked Billard, coming back into the sitting room. "There are still patients out there, Monsieur Joly, and Monsieur Combeferre is chasing after someone who suffers from a very marked excess of choler."
"Euh, yes. Next in line, please?"
Eventually, they managed to finish for the evening, Combeferre returned looking thoughtful, and Joly insisted that the only way he was going to sleep tonight was if he had mulled wine first.
Combeferre agreed, but said nothing on the omnibus ride back to the Latin Quarter, and smiled vaguely when his landlady said that Monsieur de Courfeyrac, such a charming young man, was up in Monsieur Combeferre's room with some other associates and would she be hearing Monsieur Combeferre adding his tenor to Monsieur de Courfeyrac's lovely baritone?
"One never knows," said Joly, who often played the accompaniment. "I—oh, there he goes. Combeferre, wait up! I am too congested to run up stairs!"
Combeferre was in an Enjolras-like fit of abstraction, however, so Joly had to wheeze his way up to Combeferre's room on the fourth floor on his own. Courfeyrac had already opened the door and pulled Combeferre in the room, so, when Joly arrived, he was left to stand in the doorway, feeling winded and ill-used. He took pleasure in the thought that his apartment was much nicer than Combeferre's. Combeferre had only two rooms, his bedroom and the large sitting room dominated by his desk, a dinner table, the inordinate number of bookshelves, a stove and a beat-up old piano. Courfeyrac was at the stove, cheerfully ladling out two cups of mulled wine from a pot.
"Ah, mon joli," said Bossuet, turning from Jehan and Bahorel with the smile that always made Joly feel better, no matter the problem. They were seated at Combeferre's table, with papers, cups and plates of bread and sausage spread out in front of them. "Joining us at last? I now have a good reason to put aside my translations. These Romantics here keep pestering me for more Blake. They are worse than my publisher."
"I like Blake," said Jehan. "He saw the horrors of his society and sought to shake us all free of our mental chains, carrying on the great work of Rousseau in the form of art, which liberates the imagination from its mind-forged manacles."
"You just like all his violent prophesies," said Bahorel.
"So do you!" Jehan exclaimed indignantly.
Bossuet said, "Immaterial of that, I dislike translating. Have some wine, mon joli, if you can ever find your way out of your scarf."
Once under the influence of Bossuet, Joly began to relax and to feel much better about his impending death. Combeferre was rather out of sorts, which was unusual, but Courfeyrac was exerting himself to cheer Combeferre, and when Courfeyrac actually tried at something, he usually succeeded. However, since Combeferre was just drinking moodily and refusing to be drawn into Courfeyrac's silliness with a truly Enjolratic resolve, the others began to feel as if they ought to Do Something.
"What's wrong with him?" asked Jehan, in an undertone.
Joly rubbed his nose on the back of his hand. "Wish I knew. He hasn't said a word to me since coming back from Gobelins. He ought to be pleased with himself and going on philosophic tangents about the glories of the progress of science, not pulling a Grantaire. He figured out the chemical composition of the dye in the water supply there."
"That is odd," said Bahorel, frowning. "Combeferre is never exactly lively, but this is…."
"I know just the thing," exclaimed Bossuet. "Bahorel, look in the right pocket of Courfeyrac's coat. It's hanging on the back of your chair."
"What on earth is this?" asked Bahorel, pulling a slender metal rod out of Courfeyrac's coat pocket.
Courfeyrac turned from Combeferre. "Hm? Curling iron."
"Why is it here?"
"To curl hair, presumably," said Combeferre, who had drunk his way into a slightly more garrulous mood. "That is why it is called a curling iron."
"I one used it to seal some wax to a letter," replied Courfeyrac. "I always bring it with me when I am not sure where I will sleep on a given night. Many women turn to me in a dawn of anguish and weep o'er unsolvable problems that I, thoughtful friend that I am, am already prepared to solve."
"You are the soul of compassion," said Bossuet.
"Byron slept in curl papers," objected Bahorel. "If one must improve upon nature, at least follow the spirit of the age."
"Do curl papers even work?" asked Joly. "I cannot see how they can."
"Not work!" exclaimed Bahorel, feigning shock and clasping at his heart dramatically. Or at least, where he presumably thought his heart was; Joly was relatively sure that Bahorel was actually clutching at his oesophagus.
Courfeyrac shook his own perfectly curled head at Joly. "Ah, Jolllly, you fly on four ls and yet you cannot see that Byron's lofty spirit has an immaculate crop of Romantic curls? It works better than a dream. Here, let me show you!"
Courfeyrac bounded off to Combeferre's desk and returned with several long strips of brown paper.
Joly eyed the papers distrustfully. "Courfeyrac, dear fellow, you are not going to demonstrate on me, are you?"
"Who better?" asked Courfeyrac, seizing immediately onto the idea. Whoops, thought Joly, probably should not have mentioned it. "Hold still. I need to dampen your hair first."
Joly decided that discretion was the better part of valor and just let Courfeyrac do as he wanted. After all, Bossuet was now busy defending his translation from Jehan's merciless pen, Bahorel was too busy laughing to defend him and Combeferre had returned to his previous occupation of sitting on the piano bench and Brooding Over a Glass of Mulled Wine.
"Look, part of the process of translation is exercising one's own imagination," argued Bossuet.
"And lose all of the glorious meaning of Blake's text?" demanded Jehan. "Bossuet, I love you as a brother, but you do not see visions of the last judgment and have dinner with Ezekiel and Isaiah. Look what he writes here: 'If the Spectator could Enter into these Images in his Imagination approaching them on the Fiery Chariot of his Contemplative Thought, then would he arise from his Grave.' This is art meant to free the world!"
"Or to free poetry from the helpful confines of grammar," replied Bossuet. "There was absolutely no need to capitalize every other word.
"It's part of his artistic expression!"
"And one I could do without. What the hell's the Fiery Chariot of his Contemplative Thought and why does it need to be capitalized? It doesn't, I tell you."
While this was going on, Bahorel and Courfeyrac were discussing Combeferre in lowered voices and deciding that, Hamlet-like, he was merely thinking too much and needed to be brought back into the real world.
Bahorel, after several quite insistent, 'have you ever even used a curling iron before's from Courfeyrac, managed to heat the curling iron and sneak up behind Combeferre.
"What are you doing?" asked Combeferre, as there were too many bookshelves along the wall for Bahorel to sneak successfully.
"Converting you to Romanticism," replied Bahorel, brandishing the curling iron.
"Quite happy as a scientific deist, thank you," replied Combeferre.
"You clearly are not," said Courfeyrac, finishing off Joly's paper curls. "Bahorel, you're holding that wrong, let me."
"Fine," said Bahorel, checking his pocket watch. "I have an assignation with my mistress that I am just late enough for to be considered a pleasant surprise. Goodnight."
"Goodnight!" said Joly, as everyone else was too busy quarreling.
"Geroff, Courfeyrac," protested Combeferre, as Courfeyrac, balancing precariously on one foot kept trying to wrap a strand, any strand of Combeferre's hair around the heated metal rod.
"Put some effort into your appearance!" Courfeyrac demanded, aggravated. "I am even willing to put it in for you! Come now, Combeferre, I have a burgeoning reputation for dandyism; why would you kill it by wandering around in my company as if you just came out of a dissection?"
"Some of us actually attend classes," Combeferre replied, though his usual potency was much diluted by the mulled wine.
"—to give into desire is to acknowledge the will of the soul, as it manifests itself in the five senses!" Jehan exclaimed. When he started losing an argument, he started shouting, as if to make up in volume what he had lost in logic. No one had ever had the heart to tell him that when he shouted, his voice tended to zoom between the awkward contraries of childhood and adulthood, and his indignant tenor would suddenly crack into a soprano. "To deprive oneself is to add to the chain, not to break it, because one subjugates the soul, which manifests itself in desire, to the arbitrary rules of an external force that has no right to limit the senses. It is only though an acknowledgement of sensual experience, though the enjoyment of it, that we can produce poetry, art and music and therefore break free of limited, ignorant understanding and see with four-fold vision! To deny a desire is to plunge a dagger into the soul!"
Oh dear, time for a distraction. Joly picked up a key off of the table and held it up.
"What's this?" asked Joly.
"The key to the piano," said Combeferre, batting away Courfeyrac.
"Ah ha, a sign from God. Do you feel like a waltz?"
Joly did not have much control over his impulses at the best of times; when drunk and still slightly feverish, he had none at all. He shooed Combeferre out of the way, sat down at the piano, lifted the lid and began to play. Though Joly was by no means a virtuoso, and in the past year his piano practice had been limited to making up accompaniments to crude songs about absolute monarchy with the occasional musical hall tune thrown in for drunken variety's sake, he could play well. Joly lived in an odd state of constant anxiety intermixed with an overwhelming and optimistic faith in Science. He had learned from Bossuet how to laugh off the anxiety, to release it as a joke as one would cut open a vein to release bad humours from the body, and the cheering effects of alcohol did what Bossuet could not. Joly's usual fug of nervous anxiety dissipated completely and his Enlightenment upbringing shone through. He was bright, he was philosophic, he was egalitarian in the warmest way possible and, best of all, there was nothing to keep him for expressing his ability and desire to understand how everything worked, and his joy in trying to do so.
When in front of a piano, playing a piece he knew by heart, Joly shone.
He played with more liveliness and expression than accuracy, but he played well enough that Jehan impulsively asked Combeferre to waltz with him, and Bossuet started smiling. Joly liked to have Bossuet smile. It made him feel like he was doing something right.
Combeferre seized Jehan's hand with the desperation of a man being pulled out of a pit of lions. Unfortunately, Combeferre was too drunk to waltz with any semblance of grace, so he did not dance so much as lurch around the room like Frankenstein's monster.
Courfeyrac, who was hardly sober himself, valiantly stepped in to save Jehan from Combeferre's fumbling attempts at moving in three-beat measures. "Whoops, no, right—other right, by which I man your left..., no, my left, so that's your right. Back—straight back, pivot, no not all the way."
"Ninety degrees then?" asked Combeferre, obediently pivoting back and dragging Courfeyrac around in a wobbly half-circle.
"Ooh, stop leading," said Courfeyrac. "You cannot grab me by the shoulder and pull me around, you have to lean into my hand and trust me. Follow my lead dear fellow, follow my lead!"
"I only know the man's part and at that, very little of it," said Combeferre. "Theoretically, this ought to be easier for me to learn."
"Theory sometimes fails in application," called out Joly, smiling at them over his shoulder. "That is the important part of experimentation!"
The word 'experimentation' had acted as an oddly galvanizing force on Jehan, who wriggled in between Courfeyrac and Combeferre and said, "Oh, let me then; you are taller than Combeferre and cannot take the woman's part. Combeferre is an excellent guide by nature; leading might work better for him than following."
Courfeyrac ceded his place quite gratefully and sat down (later rubbing his feet when he thought Combeferre could not see him), and devoted himself to taking the curl papers out of Joly's hair.
Unfortunately, Jehan was not entirely sober either, and proved to be a much worse dancer than Combeferre.
"You appear to have given up on dancing," said Bossuet. "Perhaps if you spin fast enough, you can make yourselves too dizzy to remember what exactly you did to Joly's very nice waltz."
"A whirling dervish may spin his imagination out of this world and into the next!" Jehan exclaimed, as Combeferre's attempts at turning grew increasingly erratic.
"There is a science to it," said Joly, emphasizing the one-two-three even more, to give Combeferre a chance to recover. "Centripetal force, Combeferre! That by which bodies are drawn or impelled or in any way tends, towards a point as to a center."
"Newton may stifle himself to death in his limited view of the universe," exclaimed Jehan, trying to look at Joly and dance with Combeferre and failing to do either, "but we shall not! Tonight is a night of Blake's and we shall have done with the blind ignorance of Newton's sleep. We shall exceed ourselves, fling ourselves past the corporal world into one of eternal imagination or—" Combeferre finally lost in his ongoing battle against gravity and the two of them went crashing into Combeferre's desk. Several books, a couple of quills and five or six drawings of silkworms fluttered down upon them.
"Or seriously injure yourself in the attempt," finished Bossuet, straightening up. "Are you alright?"
"A little wine and all will be well," said Courfeyrac, removing the last curl paper from Joly's hair. "Ha, you look like one of those Italian cherubs gone on a starvation diet. I'll fix it for you in a moment. Combeferre is in desperate need of mulled wine."
"I think he's had enough," observed Joly, pulling at some of his new ringlets to lengthen them. Bossuet, kind, drunken friend that he was, began doing the same.
"Better kill an infant than deny a desire," came Jehan's muffled voice. "Combeferre, I desire to breathe. Dearly as I love you, please get off of me."
"Alright to both," said Combeferre, rolling off of Jehan and accepting the mug of mulled wine.
Someone knocked on the door.
"It's open!" said Combeferre.
The door swung open to reveal Enjolras, looking politely puzzled and not entirely certain as to why Combeferre was leaning on Jehan, drinking, why Bossuet was pulling at Joly's hair, why Joly suddenly had ringlets, or why Courfeyrac was attempting to sneak up behind Combeferre with a curling iron. "I heard a crash."
"Combeferre cannot waltz," explained Bossuet. "He thought it best to erase out memory of the event by ending it with a bang."
Enjolras clearly did not know what to make of them. "Combeferre, what are you doing?"
Combeferre offered Enjolras his awkward, orange-rind grin. "Mm-hng."
"I see," said Enjolras.
"Enjolras, my excellent fellow!" exclaimed Courfeyrac, with his most charming smile. He had managed to wrap a section of Combeferre's hair around the curling iron and was understandably pleased with himself. "I was just wishing you were here. Bossuet cannot walk straight, let alone dance, Joly is our orchestra, Jehan is dancing with Combeferre and Bahorel is out with his mistress. I am partnerless!"
"...are you asking me to dance, Courfeyrac?"
"Only if you agree. If not, I was tossing out asides and you didn't hear a thing."
"Ah." Enjolras looked so oddly out of place, in his usual, sombre black coat, his top hat hiding his blond not-quite curls, one gloved hand still on the doorknob. "I had no intention of disturbing you all."
"You aren't in the slightest," chirped Joly. "I can play less frivolous pieces too. I know most of Ca Ira, or at least the chorus and the chords, and I know La Carmagnole and Le Marseilles by heart."
Enjolras smiled at that, or rather, his lips twitched and there was an amused warmth to his blue eyes that had not been there before. "How kind of you to keep my preferences in mind, Joly."
"I live to please my audience," replied Joly, blowing his nose.
"Ah, a trumpet section and a piano!" exclaimed Courfeyrac. "Oh, Jolllly, how you spoil us!"
"Our Jolllly can even play them in the same key," said Bossuet, causing Joly to try and blow his nose to match the frequency of a concert A. "You are a marvel of the Enlightenment."
"You are too kind," replied Joly. "Oh and... oh, hullo. Enjolras, there's someone behind you."
Enjolras stepped into the room and glanced behind him. A workman, complete with cap, tunic and corduroy trousers stood in the hallway. He was a thin, wiry fellow with paint stains on his hands and cuffs and an expression of defiance mixed with determination. It was the man's look of disapproval and muttered, 'waste of an education' that allowed Joly to place him.
"Oh, I saw you today at the clinic," said Joly, with an awkward smile. "Monsieur... Feuilly? Is everything alright?"
"Yes, I...." He looked down at his hands, absent-mindedly picking at the paint on his right forefinger, before deciding he wasn't done glaring at Joly. "I... Citizen Combeferre said that I could borrow a book."
He said this rather defiantly, and looked around the room, as if daring anyone to question his presence. It was, admittedly, a little awkward. Courfeyrac was eyeing the fan-maker with some interest, as a kitten would eye something that might be a toy or might be a crumpled bit of paper to be ignored, and all of them were very obviously students who had money to spend on mulled wine and pianos. Joly felt uncomfortable in all his layers, and noticed, for the first time that Jehan was in velvets. Why was it always coming down to class struggles these days, Joly asked himself. Things would be so much better when they could actually do something instead of just discussing it, when they understood, at least, how society worked, how to take it apart and how to put it together again in a way that made sense. Joly instinctively looked to Enjolras.
Enjolras was studying the workman, not with Courfeyrac's playful friendliness, but with a detached mixture of puzzlement and curiosity. In the past, they had always gone to the People whom Enjolras loved and for whom Enjolras would be willing to give his life. The People had never sought the Amis out, except for a few of the braver grisettes who did not know Enjolras's knowledge of women was limited to some vague ideas on Republican motherhood and a couple of speeches of Condorcet's that Combeferre had probably gotten him to read.
"Ay-o," said Combeferre, forgetting he still had a mouthful of orange peel.
Joly passed one of his many handkerchiefs to Combeferre. Combeferre took it gratefully.
"Ah, excuse me Citizen Feuilly. Please, enter and make yourself comfortable. You are very welcome here." Combeferre had slipped into 'tu', an informal address, though Combeferre always used the more distant, formal 'vous' with his patients, even after they stopped being his patients. Joly that it was partly the wine and partly the effect of Enjolras. Whenever Enjolras was around, the Amis did not necessarily stop quipping, drinking or fooling around, but they always ended up drifting towards Enjolras's way of seeing the world, and Enjolras's method of acting. They remembered, on some subconscious level, that they were servants of the Republic and, in gradual steps, too small for them to see, they became revolutionaries instead of students.
"Would you like a drink?" Courfeyrac asked, with a disarming smile. He shut the door behind Feuilly and ushered him inside. "There is still some mulled wine left, even if Combeferre has eaten all the oranges, and I think I saw a good bottle of kir somewhere around here. Combeferre, how can you find anything? It's all put away!"
"A well-organized home is the reflection of a well-organized mind," replied Combeferre.
"So says the man who would have spent his evening drawing silkworm moths from memory had I not intervened," replied Courfeyrac, opening cupboards at random.
Bossuet quietly got up from where he had slouched and offered the chair to Feuilly.
Feuilly glared at him a moment, and then sat down.
"I'm Joly, if you don't remember," said Joly, determined to be friendly. "This is the best fellow in the world, Legles, though no one knows how to spell his name and we usually end up just calling him Bossuet."
"Hallo," said Bossuet, with a smile.
Feuilly jerked his chin at him in greeting. "'lo. Feuilly. I paint fans." It was almost a challenge to single combat at dawn.
"You are a worker?" asked Enjolras.
Joly was desperate to point out that the detached curiosity in Enjolras's expression was not disdain or snobbery, but merely Enjolras processing new information, but didn't know how to say it. Enjolras always had to come at a situation from his inner world of symbols and archetypes and, oh no, he was going to say something that all of them would think was perfectly reasonable because they knew Enjolras, but Feuilly was going to throw a chair into the wall—
"Tell me," said Enjolras, "what is the current discrepancy between your static wage and the cost of living?"
Bossuet and Joly exchanged glances and then stared at Feuilly, who was doing a remarkable impression of an angry terrier.
"Excuse me?" Feuilly demanded.
"Forgive me," Enjolras said, with a frown. "I was not...." He extended his hand. "Occasionally I get carried away by the force of my enthusiasm." He, half-smiling, nodded at Combeferre, currently sorting through a bookshelf, probably to acknowledge an earlier rebuke. "My name is Enjolras, citizen. It is an honour to meet you."
"Right," said Feuilly, eyeing Enjolras's hand with distrust. "Feuilly."
Courfeyrac bounded over and offered Feuilly his most dazzling smile and a cup of mulled wine. "An absolute pleasure! Our little party was growing rather small. Bahorel left. But now you and Enjolras are here, and the only thing better than an old friend—" This with an arm slung around Enjolras's shoulders, much to Enjolras's surprise "—is a new one. I'm Courfeyrac, but if I am a good host, then you will not remember it and I shall take great pleasure of informing you of it the next time we meet."
"... isn't this Citizen Combeferre's apartment?"
"Yes, but his idea of fun is studying the polarization of light," replied Courfeyrac. "Can I get you anything else? There is no kir, alas. There's some bread and sausage... well, no sausage and... actually no bread either. Jehan, have you eaten all the macaroons already?"
Jehan was, for no easily discernable reason, trying to balance on one foot. "You never told me not to."
"You wouldn't have listened if I had," Courfeyrac said, with a laugh.
"Those who restrain their desire," Jehan informed him indignantly, "do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained."
Combeferre, in turn, reappeared from his brief sojourn to the bedroom (and his water basin, where he had apparently attempted to splash himself into sobriety) with several pamphlets. "Here you are, citizen. These are mostly joint pieces, mine and Enjolras's." He smiled at Enjolras. "I gathered the facts from the clinic along with Joly. You may credit Enjolras with the more stirring bits of rhetoric, and me for the sadly prosaic factual analysis."
"You publish these?" asked Feuilly, flipping through a pamphlet and wincing at Courfeyrac and Bossuet's stick-figure political cartoons.
"One more or less every fortnight, depending on exams," said Combeferre. "I have hopes of moving from pamphlets to newspapers, if we can ever get the funds and the contributors to do so."
"You're quite welcome to contribute, if you'd like," Joly said, with a quick, bright smile. "I was quite impressed by the force of your political convictions today. Have you ever thought of writing a pamphlet yourself?"
"I ha...." Feuilly tugged his cap down on his head, as if trying to extinguish his sudden outburst of enthusiasm, and hunched over his mug of mulled wine. "I mean, maybe. It—dangerous stuff, this. I mean, fine for you lot. You happen to be students. No policeman would throw you in prison for writing a pamphlet. Your fathers would complain. I could lose my job."
"I hope Courfeyrac hasn't unduly influenced your opinion of us," said Combeferre, ignoring Courfeyrac's 'hey!' of protest. "We take every precaution. Enjolras is the only one who knows the other sections leaders, and those who might become section leaders. I'm the only one who knows the various channels to get to our publisher, and he doesn't know any of us aside from our pennames."
"I, ah... hunh, this smells good." Feuilly drank hastily from his mug to keep himself from admitting Combeferre had a point.
All of the Amis had experienced Combeferre's uncomfortable ability to say the one sentence capable of making his opponent feel like a blithering idiot and were immediately sympathetic. Courfeyrac quipped something about wine, which Bossuet turned into a pun, which Joly turned into a punch line and, very gradually, they drew Feuilly out of his distrust. Combeferre regained his confidence enough to speak with his usual intelligence, even if he stumbled a little over his consonants, and, as the conversation gradually evolved from wine into economics Enjolras unthinkingly showed himself at his best.
Enjolras was well-versed on the subject and brought more into the present than usual by the double presence of Combeferre, who always grounded him, and Feuilly, who was new and interesting enough to mentally engage Enjolras. Enjolras managed to perfectly display the ideals and ideas he spent so much time silently refining, particularly with Combeferre (and, to a lesser extent, Joly) to give him context, Courfeyrac to interpret them with his own particular mix of warmth and wit, Jehan to add in an occasional note of oddly beautiful poignancy and Bossuet to rephrase some of Enjolras's more obscure points to make them not only brilliant but clever.
Once Feuilly forgot that he hated politically-minded students and everything they stood for, he proved himself to be an extremely passionate, eloquent fellow, well-versed in philosophy and contemporary politics and, what was more useful, extremely knowledgeable about the daily struggles and harsh realities of the poor. The Amis vaguely knew about poverty and had, when allowances stretched thin or prices went up, occasionally gone around poorly clothed or badly fed, but none of them had ever been terrified of an illness because, even if they didn't die, it meant they had lost a week's wages and might starve that winter. Their own, minor brushes with poverty had made them empathetic, just as their political idealism had made them sympathetic, but they had no real understanding of living from one day's wages to the next aside from the general feeling that It Was Unpleasant.
Though Joly was always rather painfully aware of his own ignorance, he had not been quite so aware he was idealistically committed to the good of a group he did not understand. He had some vague idea of The People when Enjolras wrote or spoke about them, but, more commonly, he thought about the beggar he couldn't bear to look at on the way to the medical school, or the patients poor and desperate enough to want his doctoral opinion. He had a sense of individualized cases of misery, but no real way of knowing how to contextualize them. It was almost like his absolute terror of feeling sick before going to medical school; he could spot the symptom and start to panic and feel dreadful, but he only vaguely knew what it meant or how to fix it. Joly hated himself for thinking of the metaphor, but there it was. He could be as bad as Enjolras sometimes, reifying even the misery of his patients as symptoms of a disease.
Eventually, Feuilly's voice started giving out and he, unthinkingly, asked for more wine.
Nothing could have pleased Courfeyrac more. He bounded off at once and began prodding the fire in the stove. That successfully ended the political conversation for the evening, as Feuilly mentioned that Combeferre had promised to lend him a book of introductory Latin, and the two of them wandered over to a bookshelf. This left Enjolras to withdraw inward, to meditate on Feuilly's points, Jehan to go collapse on the couch, Bossuet to slouch against the wall and Joly to start picking out the tune to Ca Ira on the piano.
Courfeyrac bounded over to Enjolras, cupped his hand around Enjolras's ear and whispered something Joly thought was, 'Can we keep him?'
"He is not a kitten, Courfeyrac," Enjolras replied, a little absently. "But... come up to my room. I am on the floor below Combeferre's. This way." He tapped Courfeyrac on the wrist and led him out the door.
Combeferre waved absently at Enjolras and continued to sort through his books. "This one's good for Latin... or, hm, I have a better copy in my bedroom. Wait here."
Feuilly drifted over to Joly and shot an uneasy look at Jehan, who had decided to lie upside down on the couch, with his feet in the air and his head dangling down.
"He's a poet," Joly explained.
"Oh," said Feuilly. "That explains it. Bohemian?"
"Tries to be."
They lapsed into an awkward silence. Joly rubbed his nose and looked around for Bossuet, who had taken over Courfeyrac's duties with the mulled wine. Bossuet gave him a reassuring smile and motioned that he would bring Feuilly a cup. Joly was so pleased he didn't even mind the reappearance of his hacking cough.
"Oh, by the way, don't let Enjolras alarm you," said Joly, once his coughing fit had subsided. "Or that. Combeferre says I have no other symptoms of consumption, so it's just influenza. Alas, just influenza! But, euh... Enjolras. He... has an idiosyncratic way of seeing things. I do not think I could even describe it, but it... somehow or other, Enjolras looks past the front you put up for the world and tries to find the best parts of your character, the parts you weren't even sure existed, and pulls at them until that's all he sees of you. In his mind, I mean. Oh dear, that was horribly unclear. I mean, he... he's got these images of people, of all of us, that wouldn't occur to anyone else but that somehow end up being true. Sort of." Joly rubbed his nose absent-mindedly. "I like Enjolras. He makes me feel... more than myself. Like a Platonic sphere version of Joly and not the one that is anxious all the time and has an odd way of obsessing over things and little to no control over his impulses. Sometimes I just get a thought in my head, like 'smallpox' and it sticks there and the more I pry at it or try to get rid of it, and the more it sticks there and the more I obsess over it until I've worked myself up into a panic. Bossuet, he's the one with the smile... euh, not the grin, that's Courfeyrac. Bossuet's the one with the smile and the bald spot, poor fellow, who's over there ladling out mulled wine. But, euh, Bossuet can always help me to laugh it away. When Enjolras is... euh, how to put it? Fully engaged with me, it never happens. The idea that sticks is 'republic' or 'revolution' or 'light', and it's the sort of thing you want to be unable to pry up. Sorry, I am rambling. I am a little drunk."
"I believe you are," said Feuilly, with a sardonic sort of lip twist that Joly chose to interpret as a smile. "He's an odd one, Enjolras. I still don't know what to make of him. What do you think he makes of me?"
"Ah, he probably hasn't decided yet," said Joly. "It takes him a week or two. Once he remembers your name, he transmutes you into something better than you were before and you've become part of the revolution." Joly offered Feuilly a bright, cheerful smile. "Would you like to be?"
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers," Bossuet quoted, handing Feuilly a refilled mug of mulled wine.
"Transmutes you?" asked Feuilly, eyeing the wine uneasily. "Like alchemy? Like an object?"
"Alchemy keeps popping up today," said Joly, with a cough.
"All this gold is going to your head," quipped Bossuet, tugging on one of Joly's new curls.
"More blond than gold," protested Joly. "But, euh... what was... oh, transmutes us. Yes, he does do that."
"So," said Feuilly, with a less pleasant lip twist, "he objectifies you all."
"Not in the way you mean," said Bossuet. "Even I, who have taken the same law class on interpretation three times, and ought to know how to puzzle out enigmas lesser than case law under absolute monarchs, cannot say for certain how Enjolras's mind works, but I can say that that is not it entirely. He just happens to see the world through his ideals. If something doesn't match up with an ideal he changes it."
"And if I do not wish to be changed?" demanded Feuilly. He almost glared at the two of them, Joly with his nose in his handkerchief and Bossuet still absent-mindedly twirling Joly's hair around his fingers.
"Then...." Joly blew his nose again, in an attempt to clear his head. "Then... don't. You have no need to, really."
"Enjolras just changes things by being around them, eh?"
Bossuet pulled on one of Joly's tighter curls and, instead of springing back, the strand of hair just limply gave up the effort and straightened out. "Whoops. Sorry mon joli, you are a little less pretty."
"How can I ever forgive you?"
"True. You are quite forgiven."
"I could never have lived with myself otherwise. Enjolras is... an odd one. But, if you don't change, probably his understanding of you will."
"You talk about Enjolras a good deal," observed Feuilly.
"Of course," said Joly. "We don't understand him."
"What drives such a fellow?" asked Bossuet. "He has no mistress, even though one of Jolllly's kept chasing after him, even after Jolllly became seriously ill."
Joly blew his nose. "Rosalie always did chase after the ideal. There's something rather Greek-philosopher-before-Socrates-in-The-Symposium about that, loving that which we lack. The fact that my hair wasn't long enough to curl might have contributed to it. Well, that and I kept panicking that I was going to die and trying to win her back by getting her to pity me, which never works." He attempted to heave a sigh, but it turned into a hacking cough half-way through and Bossuet had to fetch him a glass of water. "I have loved and lost and learned and I daresay I shall love again. Bossuet, Feuilly, do you feel like going out to a café?"
Bossuet agreed and Feuilly, eying Joly warily, gave a slow nod. "Haven't eaten yet."
Joly was worried that that meant Feuilly had not eaten at all that day. "Ah, that is probably my fault, then. I made Combeferre late getting to Saint-Michel, so we started late and everything went late. Allow me to treat you?"
Feuilly's eyes flashed. "I don't need—"
"No, I know. I just know that Bossuet, the dear fellow, constantly has his pockets out to let and feels better about me picking up the bill at the end of the evening when I announce I am doing so in advance. The bald are always more vulnerable to surprise attacks."
"You are, as ever, so considerate of my feelings," said Bossuet. "Particularly when I am sitting right next to you."
Joly grinned at him. "I am a marvellous friend, aren't I? Ah, Combeferre, Jehan, will you come with us?"
Combeferre had emerged from his room and handed Feuilly the book. He sat down on the couch next to Jehan, looking rather weary. "No thank you. I am quite worn out."
Jehan had passed from elation to exhaustion and absent-mindedly draped himself over Combeferre. "Mm?"
"We probably ought to stay here," said Combeferre, absent-mindedly stroking Jehan's long hair, as one might stroke a cat. "Courfeyrac will probably want to go, once he comes back from Enjolras's room."
"Alright," said Joly, peaceably. "We'll go up and get him."
Courfeyrac was extremely excited to be going to a café with an actual member of the working class and nearly leapt down the stairs as soon as Enjolras politely declined the invitation.
"I forgot my hat again," said Courfeyrac, once they had reached the bottom of the stairs and Bossuet had, in his quiet, witty way, completely won over Feuilly.
"I'll get it," said Joly, since he was still on the stairs. "You probably left it in Combeferre's apartment." He went back up and, entered with a quick, "Courfeyrac forgot his hat!"
Jehan was lying with his head in Combeferre's lap, looking like a well-loved cat, and said, "It's probably in Combeferre's bedroom."
"What was Courfeyrac doing in my bedroom?" asked Combeferre.
"Looking for pictures of silkworm moths."
"Humph. Feel free to look around, Joly."
Joly went into the bedroom, which looked a little bit as if Combeferre's bookshelf and dresser had collapsed. Well, this would be fun. Joly began sorting through the mess and soon got bored enough to eavesdrop on Combeferre and Jehan's conversation.
"... as if I treated him as something less than human," Combeferre said, rather miserably. "Jehan, I never meant to... I mean, I was pleased he forgave me enough to come borrow a book but... I know... Enjolras has a bad habit of taking the things he cares about most and sticking them into this ideal world of archetypes and philosophy he carries around in his head. Do I do that?"
He sounded so unhappy Joly looked up and through the door. Jehan lazily reached up to cradle Combeferre's cheek in one hand. "I don't think so."
"But I… he was so angry at me, Jehan." He leaned into Jehan's hand almost gratefully. "As if… I was just playing at being a doctor, dispensing out charity to be pompous and bourgeois, not out of any humanitarian impulse. It was as if all my actions, to him, sprang solely out of self-interest. I was just an object of revulsion to him."
"He just did not wish to be an object of pity," said Jehan, who seemed to have the situation well in hand. Joly went back to sorting through piles of books.
"And even then," Combeferre pressed on, "I know... Enjolras sometimes... is not the easiest person to understand, or the most grounded in practical reality, but I see nothing wrong with his ideals, with his purity of vision. I applaud it. I laud it. I wish I could be as devoted to a better world as he is. He truly sees, Jehan."
"He has cleansed the doors of his perception," Jehan agreed. "Combeferre, I know you belong to Enjolras heart and soul. There's no need for you to justify it to me."
"I'm not trying to," said Combeferre. "It has no need of justification. It is only… I cannot soar to the heights Enjolras does."
"You have no need to. You can see clearly enough as it is."
No luck with the hat. Joly turned to the door to tell Combeferre, but was too amused by the sight of Jehan removing Combeferre's glasses and polishing them with the ends of his cravat. "And if you cannot see with perfect accuracy, I can clear the matter for you. Enjolras may see the world for what it can be, but you see something more. You see the world as is, the world as it can be, and the gradual diminution of the difference between the two. You are part of that diminution."
"But if I don't see the world as is…." Combeferre closed his eyes and leaned his head against the back of the couch. "Jehan, even Joly pointed out that I objectify my patients. I don't… mean to, exactly, but there is a difference, a distance between them and me and—"
"Because your eyes are fully open to their awful situation and on the means of improving it." Jehan attempted to sit up but was far too drunk. Joly was rather offended at that 'even Joly' comment and was trying to think up of something scathing and clever to say, or otherwise he would have gone out and offered Jehan some assistance. As it was, Jehan nearly fell off the couch in an attempt to give Combeferre back his glasses, Combeferre caught him around the waist, Jehan flung his arms around Combeferre's shoulders and, from where Joly was standing, it rather looked as if they had kissed.
Joly blinked, then closed his eyes and rubbed them. Surely the fever wasn't affecting his brain that badly? He looked again and began checking his pulse. Nothing abnormal, but his forehead was hot and his tongue! Oh God, what did his tongue look like?
Once Joly assured himself that he had not suddenly become delirious with fever, he looked back into the main room.
Combeferre looked awkward, his one curled strand of hair falling over his forehead, and Jehan looked supremely unconcerned.
"I, er…?" said Combeferre.
"A poet is the conscience of any civilization," replied Jehan. "If I'm not scolding you for objectifying the working classes, then you shouldn't scold yourself. There is great nobility in poverty. It makes that which one has, such as love, even more wonderful than it is already. It is almost sublime."
"Yes. It's different than beauty, it's more… sweeping, with the power to compel and destroy us when it does not fill us with a delight more powerful than pleasure. Enjolras is like that. Sometimes… sometimes I feel as if you are too."
"Yes, because you mix the real and the ideal so well."
"I do?" Combeferre echoed, sounding so lost Joly decided he'd better intervene before Combeferre had some sort of breakdown.
Joly faked a cough and then suddenly managed to hack up a sizable amount of mucus.
"Are you alright, Joly?" asked Combeferre.
"Pneumatic," Joly croaked out, emerging from the bedroom. "And Courfeyrac's hat is still missing. I'll, euh, be off. Good night."
At the foot of the stairs, Bossuet was entertaining Courfeyrac and Feuilly with his attempts to translate Burke's essay on the sublime. "I mean, I never thought I would agree with Kant, but Burke just jammed a bunch of observations together and waited for his poor translators to clarify his ideas. I mean, what is beautiful? That which is aesthetically pleasing, like the curve of a woman's breast. Where did he get that example? It is obvious that he had just seen a breast, but I think his mistress may have gotten annoyed that her sublime bosom inspired both attraction and fear and thus Burke had to write an essay to explain that her breasts were not sublime after all, but merely beautiful."
"Your hat is lost, Courfeyrac," said Joly, hopping down the stairs.
"That's the third this month," said Courfeyrac, with a sigh. "Well, waitresses must be used to seeing me hatless by now. Shall we head off?"
Once they left the building, Joly automatically fell into step with Bossuet and tugged on his sleeve.
"Euh, about… the sublime. It's sort of… delighting in that which can destroy us?"
Bossuet linked arms with Joly. "Not entirely. It is a great rejoicing in that which is grander than ourselves. It is the object of every Romantic."
"Could an ideal be a sublime object?"
Bossuet thought about this a moment, as Courfeyrac debated the merits of various cafés in the Latin Quarter with no one in particular. "I suppose so. It fits the criteria, though that is… rather objectifying an ideal, isn't it? An ideal tends to be the intrinsic part of one's character, or at least, it is among our circle of friends."
"But you could idealize someone or something to the point where it becomes… not… I don't even know how to describe it. Part of the Platonic sphere of perfection. Something that doesn't really exist except in your mind. The opposite of reifying something. Then you could make it sublime?"
"Yes, I suppose." Bossuet looked at him curiously, the lamplight gleaming off of his bald patch. "Why?"
"Jehan…." Joly hesitated. He wasn't even sure what he wanted to say. This was what came of being a realist among a bunch of Romantics, Joly thought miserably. Everyone else was so set on chasing after their ideals they no longer realized they were doing it, or realized that they were misinterpreting the people around them to find that ideal. Joly, though he didn't like to admit it, preferred something to be slightly wrong, in an odd attempt to control the necessary chaos of a newly Romantic universe. He liked knowing what was going to kill him, as odd and contradictory as that sounded.
"Do you object to Jehan's behavior, mon joli?" asked Bossuet, with a quizzical half-smile.
Joly rubbed his nose with the knob of his walking stick. "Do I…? I don't even know what the object of my question was anymore. Does my forehead feel hot to you? I'm sure I have pneumonia."