Title- What Happens After
Summary- What can an idealistic revolutionary do when his dreams of a better world have been crushed? When you've lost your cause, sometimes you need to find a new one...
A/N- Because I can't help myself. This a lot of musical and a heavy sprinkling of book, so I just filed it under the musical category, since it wasn't quite one thing or the other (though it leans more toward musical). It picks up about three months after the barricades.
Enjolras stood on the Pont Neuf. The old bridge with the youthful name had become his daily haunt at twilight in the last few weeks since he'd been allowed out of bed. It was, he supposed, a little bit ironic. He had hoped for a new world, and had to content himself with the New Bridge.
How had it come to this? How the hell had it come to this? His injuries had healed, at least on the outside (the doctor was amazed that not a single one of the eight bullets that pierced him had struck anything vital), but he still woke at night in a feverish sweat, crying out the names of his friends. Feuilly, Bahorel, Joly, Little Gavroche, who had been so brave and so young and hadn't deserved to die, Grantaire, who had probably saved his life, Combeferre... especially Combeferre, his best friend since childhood...
Why did it happen this way? he demanded of the great darkening dome of the sky and Whoever was out there listening. He had thought they had a deal! He had accepted Death. That had really been the only option for him. Either France would be delivered from Her bonds, or he would die throwing himself to the last upon that great, rusting chain. Living in the aftermath- living having failed- had never even occurred to him. It was only made worse by the fact that he was the only survivor. Well, he and Pontmercy the Bonapartist, but from what he'd heard, Marius was still convalescing.
Enjolras stared at the swirling dark water beneath the bridge, and bitterly wondered if that would cool the fire in his head.
"Monsieur Enjolras?" a voice asked, interrupting his thoughts. He looked up, and swore he saw a ghost.
Eponine Thenardier was dead. He had seen her die in Pontmercy's arms, and had fought with her name on his lips as a battle cry. But here she was, hale and bright and looking healthier than he could recall seeing her. He had known her for probably two years, since she had first started following Marius around, and this was the first time she had worn a clean dress, without holes, and she looked regularly fed, and her auburn hair was well cared for. He would not have called her beautiful, but she looked better, almost pretty.
Vaguely, he immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was hallucinating.
"It is you!" she exclaimed in her low, warm voice. "I thought I was dreaming it!"
He wondered if she was real, and reached out to touch her cheek softly. She was solid beneath his hand, and he dropped his fingers away, but not before a blush rose on her cheek. "How are you alive?" he asked wonderingly.
"At night, after the first assault, some women came out from the houses around the barricade. Do you remember, Monsieur? Of course you do, I'm being silly! One of them found me and realized I wasn't quite dead after all. She brought her husband, who was a doctor, and they fixed me up good and proper! I've been staying with them since then while I healed, I've even got a proper job now, no more running for my Papa!"
"That's good," he murmured, looking back at the water. "That's right." Honestly, he was truly glad she'd found some peace, but he couldn't bring himself to care much. He hadn't been able to care much about anything for awhile now.
Eponine moved to stand right beside him, leaning on the side of the bridge just as he was, watching the water. "But what of you, Monsieur? How have you fared?"
"Poorly," he said with a humorless laugh. "Things did not go as I expected."
"I should say."
For a few minutes, they were silent, trying to reconcile the newfound knowledge of the other's survival. Though Enjolras did not know it, Eponine was delighted to know he was alive. They had never been what one would call friends, their interactions having been limited to the occasional greeting or a request regarding Marius's whereabouts, but with everyone else they knew dead or beyond reach, any familiar face in these days was a friend.
"You look sad, Monsieur," she said suddenly. "What's wrong?"
He turned his head abruptly to look at her, and his crystalline blue eyes were wild and haunted. "I was prepared to die," he told her. "I was ready for that. I would have died for the Cause. I would have died knowing that others would rise up to take my place and continue the fight. But this..." He shook his head, and his voice quavered as he continued. "Eponine, they do not rise up! I thought what happened that day would inspire the people. I thought, 'Surely, even if they do not join us tonight, they will follow our lead and fight for their freedom.' But they do not. It is just the opposite. That bloodshed... that massacre... it has terrified them."
Enjolras broke off and buried his face in his hands, his elbows resting on the stone parapet. He trembled. "I have tried, Eponine. I have tried so hard to start anew, to continue the work, but the people are afraid of the might of tyranny now more than ever. Instead of being the spark that kindled the flame of revolution... that night was nothing but a slaughter. I thought we would lead France into a new day... instead I only led my friends to death, and for what? For nothing!"
He looked up again, just for the tiniest moment, despair etched in his every feature. Eponine only caught a glimpse of his face before he looked down at the water again, but one thing struck her like a physical blow. Enjolras' eyes were full of tears.
She simply could not reconcile this dispirited- indeed, almost broken- figure before her with the man of fire and ice he had been not so long ago.
She was not in the habit of offering comfort to anyone, except sometimes her sister, but his obvious misery pulled at something deep within her. The marble façade had crumbled at last. She reached out her hand over those last few inches between them and tangled her fingers through his.
"Three months ago, I'd have told you you were insane to believe anything could ever change," she said quietly. "Life is hard and that's that. But I think... I think maybe you were right. And I'm not the only one."
He looked up at her, those blue eyes that had once held so much passion now containing only the tiniest spark of hope.
Eponine realized quite suddenly that he was hanging on her words, and it shocked her. He needed to hear this. He needed her. Well, maybe not her so much, but she was the bearer of this message and it stunned her. She was unused to feeling needed in any capacity except as her father's pawn and that was not nearly so good a thing as this. She felt warm down to her toes.
"Monsieur, you might not see it, but you made a change after all. I hear things, when I'm walking around. What you did that night made people think. It made me think. I mean, I spent all that time in the cafe listening to you make your grand speeches, but that's all it was: talk. Just rich boys talking, like rich boys will. But then you actually stood up and did what you said. You fought, your friends- my friends... they died for it. It's made people think that maybe... maybe it doesn't have to be like this. Maybe it can be better. They're scared. You're right about that. But something's still changed. It'll take time for anything to happen, maybe not while you or I are still alive, but the idea's good and planted now. My little brother didn't die for nothing. None of them did."
Enjolras stared at her, at this gamine-turned-grisette with hair the color of the rebel flag, and felt hope flare up in him once more. "When did you become such a speech-maker?" he asked.
"I didn't," she replied. "But all those nights of listening to you talk, even if I was mostly there to look at Monsieur Marius, must have had some effect, anyway."
"Ah, yes, Marius. Have you seen him?"
Eponine shrugged. "Just the once. Cosette was with him. They're engaged now." There was sadness in her face, but to Enjolras's (admittedly untrained) eye, it seemed more nostalgic and wistful than the look of pained longing she used to wear when Marius would ignore her blatantly obvious love. "She'll be good to him, I think," she mused, mostly to herself. "I hate to admit it, but she'll be better for him than I would have. She's braver than I am, probably."
"I doubt it," Enjolras said. "The future baroness did not stand by us on the barricades."
"That was desperation, not courage," she insisted.
"And there can be no courage in despair? Eponine, Marius told me about you. You are stronger than you seem to think. You go about giving hope to despairing revolutionary fools. That's some good, in any case. Thank you, Mademoiselle, you have given me something to dream of again." He looked at her intently, blue eyes resting on green.
They realized at the same moment that her hand was still wrapped around his. Immediately he disentangled his fingers. It was the first time he had ever held a woman's hand.
"I should go," she said with a smile. "It's growing dark."
"And I," he replied.
"Will I see you again, Monsieur?"
His lips twitched at her utterly guileless expression. "Yes, I expect so."
She turned and went away, and he watched her go with her careless, long-legged walk, his head still aflame, but now with hope instead of despair.
A new day was dawning in his mind, and this time, he thought Combeferre would have approved of his plan. He could not attempt another rioting, tumultuous rebellion. There would be no barricades and no long, despairing nights, no feverish dreams of fire and glory. No, that was foolishness, as it had always been. But he would feed the revolutionary fires nonetheless. He would spread the word, not the words of rebellion, but the words of wisdom and logic and human dignity.
And perhaps he would need some help in his crusade of words. Perhaps he would need a friend, who could reassure him on the days when he began to lose faith in the peoples' ability to bring about the future on their own terms. Perhaps he would need someone eloquent by his side, someone who knew the people, who knew how to talk to them.