A/N: For Hannah, who got accepted to art school today! Congratulations again!
It was swelteringly hot in Courfeyrac's apartment, which was just another reason why he was in a foul and particularly argumentative mood. He, Jehan, and Combeferre, still sweaty and exhausted from three days of barricades, then the massive disappointment at the Hotel de Ville had crowded into Courfeyrac's room after it had become very clear that Louis-Philippe had, somehow, managed to steal an entire revolution and was not going to apologize and give it back any time soon. Enjolras, of course, was still at the Hotel de Ville, and the other lieutenants had organized shifts. The three Amis in Courfeyrac's apartment had been sent back for provisions and because no one wanted to see how Jehan's nose refused to stop bleeding, how Combeferre's treatments did not work, or how ranty Courfeyrac could be sans curling iron, sans clean linen, sans tobacco and sans anything interesting to do. Courfeyrac had been ranting the entire way from the Hotel de Ville to the Rue de la Verrerie and showed no signs of stopping even after he had begun to change.
"I mean," he said, furiously unbuttoning a blood-splattered waistcoat, to the utter disinterest to the other two Amis, "they just stole our revolution! We take over the town and then once we're all at the Hotel de Ville Lafeyette betrays the revolution again." He flung off his waistcoat in disgust, drew himself up to his full height and hooked his thumbs into his suspenders. "Oh, I see, a grand republican revolution? Not on my watch, I'm going to tack charge of the Hotel de Ville after you lot have done all the hard work, and we're going to have a constitutional monarchy!" Courfeyrac, having worked himself up to a cutting apogee of fury, whipped off the tricolor sash around his waist and held each end between two fingers. He took several mincing steps, his nose still in the air. "Now let me step out onto a balcony of the Hotel de Ville and defame the tricolor by getting an Orleans to hold the other end. The people are too stupid to realize that I have just symbolically handed over their republic to another monarch."
"Calm down, he's better than Charles X," said Combeferre, sorting through one of Courfeyrac's drawers for spare handkerchiefs. "I'm not any more pleased about it than you are, but it is a step in the right direction."
"A faltering one," snapped Courfeyrac, "which at any point can turn into a full-on fall into absolutism! I respect no monarch but God and even he has some explaining to do. King of kings, damn it to hell, let him be the Supreme Being I chose. I elect God as the president of my personal pantheon—"
"You're going too far, Courfeyrac," Combeferre said warningly.
"So did Lafayette!"
Jehan managed to find a torn cravat and held it up to his nose. "Courfeyrac, that's why we're still at the Hotel de Ville. There's still time- he tried to stop the revolutionary apocalypse, but when the trumpets have sounded, one can never make them unsound. It doesn't work that way, even from a scientific point of view, right Combeferre?"
"Right." Combeferre looked longingly at the basin of water Courfeyrac was using to alternatively wash away the grime of the barricades and to just splash around to express his general hatred of Louis-Phillipe and Lafayette.
"I mean- God damn it's hot in here, there should be water around here somewhere, since I pay for two buckets a day, though I don't even know if the water carriers got through- here's the pitcher anyways Combeferre, but goddamn Lafayette, how could someone- ow!"
"Are you alright?" asked Jehan, a bit muffledly, as he attempted to wad up the cravat under his nose.
"It's alright, Courfeyrac merely found the buckets of water," replied Combeferre, after he had taken a long drink out of the pitcher.
"That's handy," Jehan said absently. He had found several melting candles and was absorbed in the triple ecstasy of discovery, creation and self-expression. So far his artistic endeavors had only led him to smash together all the wax, with a Romantic glee in destruction.
Courfeyrac grumpily dunked his head into the bucket of water, feeling irrationally annoyed that Jehan could be enjoying himself at a time like this. "For God's sake, a man can be sent to prison for years for breaking into a house to steal a loaf of bread that costs two-thirds of his pitiful salary, yet an aristo can steal an entire revolution and be rewarded with a crown for it! My God, what a nightmare!"
Combeferre was very quietly washing the blood out from underneath his fingernails and made no response, though Courfeyrac could see that Combeferre had pressed his lips together so tightly they had gone white. It was particularly noticeable thanks to the fine layer of gunpowder and dust that had settled over Combeferre like a second skin. Since he couldn't get a reaction out of Combeferre and Jehan was busy smashing wax candles into a lump, Courfeyrac splashed water around angrily and muttered to himself as he finished cleaning himself and making himself into the presentable dandy he always felt himself to be. There was such a comfort and a confidence that came from being well-dressed, though Courfeyrac did not take much comfort in his appearance that day. Some disobliging Swiss guard had shot off his hat on the second day of fighting and Courfeyrac could not find his spare one. Besides that, he could not rant and tie his cravat at the same time, so the trone d'amour he had been attempting to tie ended up being, not the metaphorical throne of knots, but a knot that was closer to the sort of broken seated- chair that formed the staple of their barricade.
Feeling more than unusually angry, Courfeyrac turned to try and drag Combeferre or Jehan into a quarrel and trailed off upon seeing Jehan's masterwork. "Jehan, what the hell is that?"
"It's an art!" Jehan declared, sounding quite pleased with himself. What it really was, in Courfeyrac's opinion, was a lump of wax that Jehan had played with and dripped nose blood on. "It's liberty."
"Is it?" Combeferre asked politely.
"I call it Liberty Achieves the Sublime."
Combeferre studied the spindly, pink concoction of wax and nose blood. "I… suppose you are going by Hugo's definition of the sublime, as a combination of the grotesque and the beautiful as opposed to the classic ideal of perfection."
"Certainly," Jehan replied, poking what Courfeyrac assumed to be Liberty's head into a more head-like shape.
"I hesitate to correct you, but elbows do not bend like that," said Combeferre, now gathering together the haphazard contents of Courfeyrac's pantry- which mostly consisted of wine and brandy, but Courfeyrac very much doubted that the others would much mind.
Jehan frowned and, since he had either run out of blood in his nose or had successfully stopped the bleeding, began using both hands to shape Liberty into something a bit more human shaped. Courfeyrac watched this not-quite transformation with mingled distaste and fascination, and eventually ended it by tying his tricolor sash around his waist and saying, "Come on, we'd better see if we can find some bread anywhere."
They did, eventually, and Courfeyrac had the great pleasure of letting the baker and everyone else in the bakery know about how incredibly distasteful he found Louis-Philippe and Lafayette. Courfeyrac grew so impassioned on this particular point, and Combeferre provided the facts so mildly and sensibly that they attracted quite a crowd. Jehan, perched on a counter and happily molding his wax figure to better suit his Romantic vision, was content to pipe in with his momentary spurts of eloquence about the barricades he rather hoped were the precursors to a revolutionary apocalypse that would destroy the old, corrupted society that had so oppressed and disillusioned them, and allow everyone to reshape the world according to their ideals.
Though most were quite at ease with Combeferre's matter-of-fact presentation and Courfeyrac's passionate and somewhat jumbled explanation of the past three days, Jehan's Romantic fervor provoked more vehement reactions. Though several members of the crowd seemed downright inspired there were a few who were not quite so pleased, and made themselves known once the baker finally convinced Courfeyrac to pay for his bread and go already. They managed to leave and Courfeyrac started in on a rather moody cigarette.
"Nothing cheers me in the face of this treachery," Courfeyrac declared, unfortunately sounding more sulky than melancholy. "Not even a cigarette and they always remind me of the Battle of Hernani."
"That was something, wasn't it?" Jehan said dreamily. "Hugo's latest play, set in the Spain of his childhood, the Spain of troubadour ballads, performed at the theater renowned for its rejection of Romanticism- and then the greatest assembly of Romantics ever assembled in the history of theater to applaud it and defend it from classicists- oh, we tore the veil between worlds, we made the classicists see the truth!"
"I am still ambivalent about cigarettes," said Combeferre, "as I am not entirely sure if they are so linked with revolution and solidarity with the working class as I thought they might be when they first came out. The fact that they are so associated with the Spanish working class is both for and against its favor. Though it promotes the idea of the solidarity and brotherhood of all peoples, our working class still see them as foreign—"
"I refused to smoke cigars," Courfeyrac declared grandly. "My father smokes cigars, like the wretched bourgeois he is—"
An ebony cane appeared, quite suddenly, in front of Courfeyrac's determined march back to the Hotel de Ville and wherever there might be action.
"And you thus smoke cigarettes like a quarryman," someone said.
Coufeyrac glanced down the cane to see a behatted student whom he vaguely recognized from his Roman law class. Courfeyrac could not entirely place him but replied, with a broad grin and a puff of smoke, "Yup! I much prefer that."
"You are among your equals that way, I suppose," the behatted student drawled out.
"Why, of course! We are all equal, Valmont."
Courfeyrac had guessed correctly, as the student's lip curled.
"That is de Valmont, thank you."
"I'd rather not."
Courfeyrac took a deep and nonchalant drag on his cigarette. "Thank you. I don't see that you've done anything at all to deserve it."
"Courfeyrac," Combeferre said warningly.
"What, you think particle-boy here, with his… you call those yellow gloves? They're nearly brown."
"You are also looking a bit unfashionable there, de Courfeyrac," said Valmont quite smugly.
Courfeyrac was not sure if he was being insulted for his lack of a hat or for the tricolor sash he had around his waist, but made a rude hand gesture all the same.
Valmont eyed Jehan, attired in a dusty, torn and approximate reproduction of representative-on-mission uniform, if the representative-on-mission had been given a coat several inches too long and trousers several inches too short and had also been allowed to create his own hat, and shuddered eloquently. "What the hell is that?"
Jehan was not entirely sure who or what this new-comer was talking about, and so helpfully held up his hideous statue. "Art!"
"It's a symbolic representation of liberty," he replied, a little shyly. "I made it."
Valmont curled his lip again. "And made it hideous."
"Shut the hell up!" snarled Courfeyrac, at Jehan's hurt expression.
"I thought your lot believed in liberty of speech?"
"I thought your lot believed in goddamn manners!"
"Philistine!" chimed in Jehan, in a suddenly manly moment. "It's a Romantic re-interpretation, after a classical tradition!"
"What it is," replied the monarchist, "is a shoddy piece of work, just like your revolution. God be praised that there are still intelligent people in Paris who can clean up the mess you made—"
"You bastard!" Jehan bellowed, his voice cracking down into a baritone. Without any further ado, Jehan hauled back and punched the other student in the face.
The monarchist had not been expecting it, tripped over one of the many ripped up paving stones littering Paris and fell flat on his back.
"Ha!" said Courfeyrac, dropping his cigarette and stealing the monarchist's hat. "Looking a bit undressed yourself, aren't you, Monsieur?"
The monarchist pushed himself up and kindly asked Courfeyrac to do something anatomically impossible, at which point Courfeyrac either displayed the remarkable fecundity of his imagination, or a yet greater misunderstanding of human anatomy. Courfeyrac himself was not entirely sure which, but, as the monarchist attempted to struggle up and punch him in the jaw, Courfeyrac started beating the monarchist around the head with the top hat and could not be bothered to come down on one side or the other.
"What the- Jacobins!" someone shouted. "It's bloody mob rule!"
"That is not the appropriate interpretation of Rousseau's concept of general will," Combeferre replied. "I do not mean to judge your ability to understand philosophy, but I must correct you on that point—"
"You threw paving stones at my brother! He's an officer in the Army!"
"I beg your pardon?"
Combeferre's opponent made a very swift, nonverbal argument as to why he was morally in the right. Combeferre very quickly dismantled his opponent's argument and proved the validity of his points very emphatically, by beating his opponent around the shoulders with Valmont's abandoned cane. Several other monarchists attempted to turn the debate in their favor, but Jehan, roused to a fit of Romantic eloquence, used his art to very effectively convince all the monarchists that they really did have a taste for liberty.
About a quarter of an hour later, the three Amis arrived at the Hotel de Ville with a mostly empty bucket of water, a basketful of provisions and a handful of smooshed wax. Jehan's nose had begun to bleed again and Courfeyrac had his cravat wrapped, not around his neck, but around his bleeding knuckles. Combeferre, quietly furious, had managed to break his glasses, but had also managed to supplement his already impressive arsenal by relieving the monarchist students of their weaponry- as, he pointed out, the willfully ignorant really could not be trusted to understand basic firearms safety if they could not be trusted to understand basic political philosophy.
Enjolras glanced at them with a vaguely questioning look.
"Political dispute," Combeferre said briefly.
"Monarchist bastards," growled Courfeyrac.
"I made an art for you," said Jehan, holding out the lump of wax. "It used to be candles."
"That was very kind of you," Enjolras said gravely, taking it.
"It made more sense before we had that run-in with the monarchists," Courfeyrac replied. "While I was changing, Jehan made you a wax state of liberty achieving the sublime by way of the grotesque but the monarchists disagreed with his artistic vision. So… one thing lead to another and Jehan ended up quite literally shoving liberty down their throats."
Enjolras almost smiled and he laid a hand on Jehan's shoulder. "I thank you for your efforts."
Jehan smiled around the bloody rag under his nose. "The point of art is to express the truth, after all. I've always liked art best when it's interactive."