Author's Note: My muse has been demanding some peculiar things lately… A brief explanation: This is an alternate universe which is your signal to forget what you know about history and maybe part of what you know about the book. The revolution has succeeded but the republic has not. After it has fallen apart, Ferdinand-Philippe, the former king's son, has come back to take over the throne. Enjolras has left the country. The rest of Les Amis have moved on.
It is raining today. Grantaire stares out at the dark wet streets and hates himself for waiting. Hope is a wretched beast and one he has slain many times. And yet, it keeps coming back. Like an old beaten dog comes to rub in the legs of its unwilling master. His lips twist in a crooked grimace of a smile at his own harshness but he knows this hope deserves no kinder comparison. What is he hoping for? A few fragments of attention from a creature as pathetic as he is. The cold touch of a woman who sells her caresses but not her affection. He doesn't even know why he keeps this pretense of companionship. Perhaps because it often saves him money. She doesn't ask any and he often has none to spare. All he offers is food, cheap wine and a shelter from the rain. All she offers is a temporary reprieve from loneliness and a shivering, gray little hope which resurrects every time it rains.
The first time he sees her she is standing, soaked and shivering, on a street corner. A raggedy figure, dimply illuminated by a street light, cursing the weather under her breath. He nearly passes her by with only a flicker of amusement at her inventive turns of phrase. But he has barely spoken to anyone in days and barely been touched by anyone in weeks. His deprived mind latches on to the excuse for interaction.
"I cannot afford you," he informs her from the start. "But clientele would be scarce in this weather and I can offer you a dryer place to be and dinner. Not far from here."
It is a blunt offer which she accepts with a shrug. They converse a little on the way – about Ferdinand-Philippe. Most of France likes the new king better than his late father and better than they liked the short-lived republic of 1832 – 1833. Ferdinand has had much popularity even as a prince and there seems to be an amount of faith in him even from some of the lower classes.
"They come and go – regimes," she says. "And yet I am to be found on the same corner doing the same old thing." She gives a small unpretty laugh. "It's all the same as before."
He swallows a much bitterer reply and instead copies her laughter and agrees.
"All the same."
It is not all the same to him, though. He can remember a time when the loneliness was not so suffocating. He can remember youthful faces and soulful eyes. Laughter, and the glow of a belief stronger than any doubt. And he can remember it all withering away after the revolution. The republic had failed them after all, much like its predecessors, and faith had died faster than it had been born. Louis-Philip had unexpectedly died as well, leaving his son to take advantage of the climate of uncertainty and return triumphantly to reclaim the throne. The ABC had scattered.
Grantaire tries to take comfort in the fact that they are all alive. He sees some of them sometimes but does not dare approach them outside of these chance meetings. Gone is the thread that connected them all. Perhaps because Enjolras has left France and rumor has it he has taken ill. And perhaps even if he were here, he would not be able to resurrect what is dead and buried.
Sometimes he almost wants to mourn them as if they have lost their lives at the barricade. They are lost to him anyway, only in a way that does not present an excuse for tears. He hears some are even married by now. Life goes on. Well, not his. His is stuck where it has always been. He misses them and, above all, he longs to see him again. Apollo, or maybe better – Helios. Grantaire has never been able to set himself on fire but he used to bask in the flames and feel warm.
He senses he has been silent too long and strives to fill the void with more idle chatter.
They reach his apartment – the same shabby, messy place, he has always rented ever since his arrival in Paris and one that he is not sure he will leave after his graduation this year. He lights a lamp and starts a fire while she sits on the bed and removes first her shoes, then her coat and shawl. It is not yet warm enough or he is sure she would remove her dress as well – it is quite soaked and shyness in this situation would only look grotesque.
She is not beautiful, especially in this pitiful state. She is short and a little plump and her face, though not unpleasant, lacks any defining features to make it look attractive.
He tries to avoid whores when he can. Their attitude depresses him and he is always acutely aware that what little he can pay won't even buy him an attempt at friendliness from those prematurely aging girls who are as cynical as he is. It is not their lack of beauty that often puts him off but the lack of any effort to look beautiful, the confirmation that nothing really matters anymore. The girls that match his pocket are the ones that have been robbed of their last shred of vanity. Much like him. But perhaps it is for the better. Perhaps on faces and bodies such as his and theirs, any evidence of vanity would only induce laughter and pity.
He offers her food and talks nonsense while the rain outside peaks to an angry hiss. He fills their glasses with alcohol and the minutes with words that she probably does not understand or care about. But she listens without protest and for that he is grateful. He has been told before to shut up and get down to business. He realizes he doesn't particularly want her so it is all the same to him if tonight their business is never gotten down to. He wants something but he can't quite formulate it. All that he can clearly identify is a sense of disappointment and dissatisfaction. With her? With himself? With the miserable cold night?
When she finally asks, he shrugs.
"I told you I could not afford you so you'll be losing no business without me. And I'm not as much in the mood tonight as to ask repayment for some bread and cheese. So you can simply wait for the rain to stop and go."
She snorts and after a moment's consideration offers again.
"As a thank you. Not business," she says with a small smile, bordering on cynical but just far enough from it to sway him.
Of course, they both know it is still business. But because it is she who has started the arrangement and not he, he can sometimes pretend.
The next time it rains she finds him at home. She requests shelter and makes the same offer. He accepts.
The third time she does not come – busy with a client, perhaps or something else.
Three rainy nights pass with no sign of her and he decides she's gone for good.
But she eventually comes back on the fourth night and he welcomes her. It is all sad and tired but it is company.
From then on he never knows.
So he waits and hates himself for hoping. Waiting rather reminds him of the first year after Enjolras had gone and he knows there is nothing worse than the slow decay of a dying hope. Even now his heart wants to leap at every letter in his mail. Upon each meeting with a former member of what once was the ABC society, he half-expects to hear news of their leader's return.
Of course, such news never comes and tonight, neither will she.
He should not wait for her but there is very little else to wait for. The small gray hope still grips his heart with the cold fingers of a dying infant. It scares him, but not as much as loneliness does.
Reminder: No, it's not technically supposed to end here, there should be subsequent chapters. If you want to put some fuel in the fire and make them come faster, I will very much appreciate your reviews.