There was a single candle left burning in the Musain, flickering in the darkness. There was enough light to see by, but only just, and the only two men left in the back room were huddled around it scribbling at lists. They were writing down some names and crossing out others with the air of the Moriae spinning and snipping the threads of life.
" So," began the blond, overlooking his list, " There's twenty-eight who are certain, ten who need a bit of working on, but are probably with us in spirit, six who could go either way and need to be checked on, and…" he read the list over once more, " Twenty who want nothing to do with us any more." Enjolras sighed. " Our numbers are dwindling. Why, Combeferre?"
"Who can say? Our 'beloved' monarch is no more popular than he ever was, if anything, he's losing favor by the day—by all logical thought, we should have more members, not less."
" And yet, their blood turns milky in their veins."
" Don't be disheartened. There is time still—plenty of time. Things happen that we cannot foresee—a sudden fire can leave a family homeless, and a young man with nothing to lose."
" I do not want to depend on that sort of event for soldiers."
" Nor do I, but a man must take a crucial step in his own mind before he decides he is willing to give his life for the Republic. More often than not, that step occurs when a man has nothing to lose."
" And some come and go—that dreamy fellow, Pontmercy, was it? He seemed to be warming up to us, and then, from nowhere, he was gone." Enjolras smiled, " You frightened him, my friend."
" We all frightened him. He was not ready. If he is, he will come back. Better for a soldier to leave us while the plans are being made, than to be loyal when we talk of war, only to desert on the battlefield."
" You are right, as usual." Enjolras admitted. He rested his forehead in his hands, looking so thoughtful and sad that Combeferre could not help but comfort him. He left his own chair at the opposite end of the table and sat next to Enjolras, laying his hand gently on his forearm.
" Some come and go, but there are others who we would trust with our lives, aren't there? Courfeyrac, Provaire, Bossuet and Joly, Bahorel, Feuilly. We have a strong command center in the eight of us."
" That is true."
" And yet…" Combeferre trailed off, casting his eyes at an empty table in the corner of the room, " There is one who does not come and go, one who stays, who I would trust with nothing."
" Who are you referring to?" Enjolras asked, seeming thoroughly mystified.
" Our own Monsieur Grantaire, of course."
" Ah, him." Enjolras mumbled, glancing at the table where Grantaire sat, day in, day out, drinking, talking, eating, and watching him with spellbound eyes.
" Why do you let him stay? He has no interest in our cause, nor in anything we do, and he compromises our security. Not that I dislike him as a person, I must admit, he's rather interesting when he's somewhat sober—"
" And a source of amusement when drunk, no?" Enjolras completed.
" Yes, I admit that as well, but he has said to you, on more than one occasion, that he is not here for republican talk—he couldn't care less. He's really a liability, Enjolras. I know he spends most of his time here, but he frequents other cafes as well. If he gets drunk enough, he's liable to say anything—we've all heard the speeches about Carthage and Athens." The ghost of a smile seemed to be playing around Enjolras' lips. Combeferre went on. " All it will take is for him to make one wrong remark to the wrong person, and we could be raided—arrested!"
" I do not think Grantaire would do that."
" Can you be certain?"
" No, I cannot, but I think that Grantaire is too loyal for that."
" Grantaire is loyal to nothing, except his bottle." Combeferre grasped Enjolras' hand, looking at him earnestly. " Why do you let him stay? There's no love lost between you; I believe you've even told me you detest him, and he compromises our security."
" The others don't mind him."
" Yes, like me, they don't mind his company, but Courfeyrac has told him to leave when we discuss business, to no avail, and I'm quite sure Bahorel has attempted to kick him out a few times as well. We don't need an observer knowing our plans."
" I doubt he remembers a word we say."
" You're avoiding the question, Enjolras. You hate the man, we realize he has no business here, no one would argue with you if you told him to leave, and he would obey if it were you who said it; yet you do not. Why do you allow him to stay?"
" It's not my intent to dictate whether a person can stay or go—"
" Why, Enjolras?" Combeferre demanded, incapable of being distracted when he was pursuing an answer. Enjolras sighed.
" He was one of us once." Combeferre looked mystified, but Enjolras went on, staring at the table in the corner that was almost part of the man. " He told me, the first day we met. A Herbertist—he was even further left than I am, if I may assume so. We spoke once or twice of politics, though I can tell he does it just to please me. He's had an education, that's plain, and strangely enough, he knows the history of the Republic as well as I do, better perhaps, because of his knowledge of the Roman republic, and such things. He's read the Social Contract and the Prudhomme and knows the Constitution of Year II by heart—you should hear him at it! He recites it like he's reading lines, of course, no passion behind it, but he knows it, and more besides. Even I am a little rusty on my Cicero, but he remembers every word.
" He told me once he believed as we did, and when I asked him why he no longer does, he said he got tired of waiting for something that would never happen. He comes in every day, talks with us, drinks with us, laughs with us. He wants so to be a part of us, Combeferre, and he can—or will—not. He is what happens when the Republic deserts the people—the people then desert the republic. When we get lazy, or tired, or there is dissent within, or we lose our focus, or fight for personal gain, the people can see that. They become disenchanted, they lose interest. They say ' These Republican dogs are no better than the monarchists. They talk big, but they have no action behind their words.' And some, probably those who were the most ardent believers, become like Grantaire. Why do you suppose he drinks? He has never made it clear, but I have always thought it is because he is trying to escape from the sorry fact that thar which he had once put his faith and trust in has deserted him. He stays with us, he admires me, because he longs to be one of us again, but you know the old proverb, 'once bitten, twice shy.'" Enjolras fell silent, staring into the flickering light of the candle, as if in fear that at any second it would extinguish itself.
" And yet, you despise him."
" We all despise what we fear. I fear becoming like him—I fear any of us becoming like him. I don't know what I'd do if you, or Joly or Courfeyrac, say, suddenly decided there was no point in believing any more, and took to drink, or women, or even the law, because I could not deliver on my promises. Fear is weakness. I cannot afford to be weak."
" So if he frightens you so, why do you let him stay?"
" To remind me." Enjolras said, combing his fingers through his hair, " To remind me of what we are fighting for, and why we must do this. I cannot allow France to turn into a nation of Grantaires; aimless, hopeless, drinking to forget, to escape. To remind me what could happen to any of us if we lose sight of our goal, and our hope for tomorrow." Combeferre nodded thoughtfully.
" Yes, you're right I suppose. As long as he does not compromise our security."
" He is not so far gone."
" You pity him, don't you?" Enjolras shook his head.
" No—well, somewhat. It is difficult to pity him, since he has made his own choices, as we all have. He knows very well that if he were to leave his absinthe and his wine and join us I would welcome him with open arms, as a friend and comrade. He claims to love me, he has told me as much, and says he would do anything for me, but he will not do the one thing that will make me accept him. He will not hope. He will not believe. He irritates me."
" You would want him as one of us?" Combeferre asked, in shock.
" Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm quite sure there's something in Matthew about a lost sheep? Besides, just because the people desert the republicans, it does not mean the republicans can desert the people. I weep for Citoyen Grantaire."
At that moment, the subject of their conversation appeared, in what passed for sobriety in Grantaire. Combeferre returned his nod of greeting, but Enjolras did not deign to notice the man.
" Forgot my hat." Grantaire mumbled in explanation, and began searching around in the darkness, stumbling as he went. Combeferre reflexively glanced around their own table, but Enjolras, in an impulse, rose from his chair and brought the candle over to Grantaire, who was feeling blindly under a table.
"It would be somewhere around here, I think. Bahorel was sitting here, wasn't he? Yes, and I was sitting with him. I would have forgotten it with him, it's so easy to forget yourself with Bahorel. The man makes you forget everything."
" I thought that was the absinthe." Enjolras said icily. Grantaire was stopped, mid-rant. He turned around, disturbed by the sudden light, and Enjolras' comment. He stared at Enjolras with the eyes of a believer witnessing a holy apparition.
" Enjolras, I didn't see you there."
" There is not much light in here. We only have the one candle, but it will do. Any way, there is your hat." Grantaire cast his eyes down and spied the hat, crushed under a chair leg.
" Thank you," he mumbled, releasing his hat and attempting to straighten out the dents. " Hopelessly bent." He commented, " Well, it would be. Fine, that's all I came here for. I'll be on my way. Good night, Combeferre, Enjolras."
" Good night," Combeferre responded, but Enjolras said nothing.
" You know, like all riddles," Combeferre remarked after Grantaire had left, " One feels stupid after hearing the answer."
"Yes," Enjolras said, not seeming to have heard. He was still holding the candle, and his eyes were focused on the flame. Combeferre saw him, and understood.
" Not everyone is like a candle flame, Enjolras." Combeferre said, by way of comfort. He could almost hear the whirling thoughts in Enjolras' head.
" No, I suppose not. But candle flames give off light as well, don't they?"
" Yes, enough to find a hat by, but the light of the dawn is better. Come, Enjolras, we've been here for far too long. It's late." Enjolras nodded and returned to his table, shuffling their lists into a neat pile and laying them carefully in his satchel.
" It feels wrong to blow it out." He commented, indicating the candle with a nod of his head.
" Yes," Combeferre agreed, " It does. But left alone it could start a fire. We will light it again tomorrow."
" Tomorrow," Enjolras repeated.
" Yes, tomorrow. Enough for tonight. Come on." Combeferre held open the door meaningfully, and reluctantly, Enjolras blew out the candle, watching for a second the smoke rise towards the ceiling.