A/N: This little one-shot centers around Hadley Fraser's very intriguing performance as the National Guard army general in the Les Mis Film. I couldn't help but notice every time they showed his face that he looked extremely conflicted, even sad throughout the entire final battle, something you don't get to see during the stage-version. In an interview with Aaron Tveit, he discusses what Tom Hooper said to he and Hadley Fraser about this moment : "Tom [Hooper] said to Hadley and I, 'Listen, you guys happen to be on different sides of this conflict, but you guys grew up in the same neighborhood. You probably grew up together, and now you're standing in front of each other.' And when Grantaire and I are standing there, I think that played out in Hadley's eyes. He knows he's doing his duty, but he's killing somebody that easily could be him. And I think that's something that we were able to play out in that moment, because we had freedom to change what was on the page. I think that's a great result of the live signing — not just that we sung live — but that moments like that could be fully realized."
Whew, that was a long explanation, I realize. But I hope you enjoy this!
In French, the name Antoine means "praiseworthy."
But everything considered?
Parisian National Guard Army General Antoine Bardin didn't feel praiseworthy in the least.
His men milled about him, but he couldn't take his eyes off the pool of rainwater in front of him.
A pool of rainwater stained with blood.
He tore his eyes away, but there was only a line of dead bodies to greet him. Those boys…they were only a few years younger than him. He'd known some of them in passing, gone to school with them, had grown up with them in these very same streets…these dirty, bloody, violent, poverty stricken streets.
For the first time he noticed the body of a young girl at the end of the line, the girl who had gotten shot before the barricade nearly blew up. Bile and anxiety formed a knot in his stomach at the sight, and it writhed painfully.
He spied Inspector Javert inside with the bodies, watched him hover over the little boy, a glimmer of sadness in his usually stern eyes.
Antoine had a son, too. He was just four-years old, and the joy of his life, aside from his wife, Cecile, and his two year-old little girl, Marie. He closed his eyes briefly, a haunting image of his own son replacing this little lad, his dead body lying here on the cold, unforgiving stone.
But he knew for a fact this little boy had no parents to speak of, because Gavroche was a well-known street urchin, finding food and shelter where he could get it, likely in the homes of these young men.
And that just made this scene even more tragic.
Before he quite knew what he was doing he walked toward Javert, who took the medal-of-honor pin off his own jacket and placed it on Gavroche's. Tears pricked his eyes at the sight, so simple yet so telling, but he pushed them back; this wasn't the time.
This little boy had worshipped these students, had died trying to get them more ammunition despite their vehement protests telling him to come back behind the barricade.
Antoine didn't think he would ever forget the scream of agony that pierced the air, a scream that rang louder than all the others when Gavroche fell.
It was the scream of the young man who had died beside Enjolras.
He stopped briefly in his tracks, his own guilt overwhelming him, flashes of the final moments in the café blazing before his eyes, his gun once again pointed at the two young men in front of him; Enjolras, the leader (he'd seen him a number of times at the café, the others gathered in a circle around him, inspired), and the other boy (he'd heard him called Grantaire) who ran up, grabbed Enjolras' hand, and died by his side. He'd hesitated before firing, his brain telling him to do his duty, but his heart telling him something else entirely.
We're just the same, he thought, only we were on different sides of a gun.
He continued his steps toward Javert, his feet seemingly carrying him there without his permission. The inspector's hand lingered where he'd placed the pin, and Antoine, who was relatively well-acquainted with the man, thought he looked a bit lost. Unhinged, almost.
In truth, he looked how Antoine felt.
"I have a son," he heard himself saying to Javert. "Younger than this little one, but…" he trailed off, unsure how to continue. Had he decided to join this revolution, this so easily could have been him. He could be lying dead right now, but had been lucky enough to dodge the bullets "All these young men…it seems…"
He fell quiet, unable to continue. Javert met his eyes for a moment, his expression unreadable, but still fragile, somehow. Less full of his usually steely resolve for justice.
Because really, what justice had been done here?
"You did your duty, Bardin," Javert said, suddenly snapping back to his usual rigid self. "Nothing more. You followed the law. That is what is right."
Even as Javert spoke, Antoine heard the doubt in his tone, a doubt he'd never heard there before.
If the law was right…he didn't want to be right anymore. The people in power made the laws, and France was so tumultuous right now, had been so tumultuous for so long, how could you even decide if it was morally acceptable to follow whatever law they came up with?
"Nevertheless, sir," Antoine said, pressing forward. "I intend to speak to Broussard about shooting unarmed children, even if they are taking ammunition to the enemy."
"See to it," Javert said with a nod. A small noise echoed behind them, and without another word, Javert turned on his heel and left, leaving Antoine alone.
One more look at Gavroche's body sent a burning fury racing through his veins and he stalked outside, eyes darting toward the pool of bloody rain once again.
"Broussard!" he shouted, gesturing sternly at his underling. "Here."
The man in question walked toward him looking both sheepish and petulant all at once. The other men were looking at them curiously, but Antoine had no intention of keeping his voice down…he wanted them all to hear what he was going to say, and it was a part of their job to listen to him.
"Sir?" Broussard said, looking fearful already, but also defiant.
"Listen to me," Antoine snapped, a growl in his voice. "Next time you decide to shoot an unarmed child, don't."
"He was taking ammunition to the revolutionaries, sir," Broussard argued. "And I fired a warning shot first."
"And then you shot him," Antoine repeated. "Without an order."
"I was doing my job," he protested, but was cut off.
"Doing your job!" Antoine exploded. "Your job," he said, poking Broussard hard in the chest. "Is to protect the children of France from going to an early grave, not to send them to it!"
"Oh come on sir," Broussard protested, but still backed up in the face of his superior's fury. "It's not as if anyone is missing this child! What's one less urchin clogging up the streets and stealing from the markets! There's no honor among thieves."
Antoine curled his fingers together in a fist, willing himself not to deck the man directly in the face; he was absolutely determined to report him to his own superiors, though he was unsure if it would make any difference.
"Honor," he said, his tone deadly but soft. "Those boys had more honor than you do!" He pointed back toward the line of dead bodies, hand trembling ever so slightly.
Keep it together, he told himself silently. Keep it together.
"They were fighting against France!" Broussard shouted, but all the men were backing slowly away from him, clearly afraid of Antoine's wrath.
"From my perspective, it looked like they were fighting for a different version of France," Antoine said. "Perhaps a better one. But enough, we'll discuss this later at length. Let's finish up here," he said, exhaustion running through him.
"Sir," another solider said, running up behind him. "I think there may be a survivor. The Pontmercy boy, Marius…he isn't here. The leader's right-hand man."
Antoine turned, intrigued.
"How do you know his name?"
"His grandfather is a well-known supporter of the monarchy," he explained. "I saw them arguing at the rally two days ago, some sort of family split over the boy's politics. Obviously."
Antoine squinted, a very, very faint memory of an older man he didn't recognize dragging one of the boys away from the barricade… that had to have been Marius, although he hadn't recognized the man.
"Thank you, Authier," Antoine said.
He walked away, knowing that perhaps Authier wished to know if they were apprehending the boy; Antoine had no intention of doing so, but an idea sprang to life in his mind, an idea that soothed his crippling guilt in the tiniest way.
It was the least he could do.
"Authier," he said, turning his head. "Get me that address."
Two hours later Antoine reached his front doorstep, still in his powder-burnt uniform, his face streaked with dirt. He reached up to open the door, noticing a few spots of blood on his hands…they must have gotten there when he volunteered to help movie the bodies. Bile rose in his throat at the images of the glassy-eyes corpses of all the boys.
Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men!
The words of their chant echoed in his head and rung in his ears.
Red, the blood of angry men! Black, the dark of ages past! Red, a world about to dawn! Black, the night that ends at last!
He felt like his own personal night was just beginning.
He steadied himself, because his children were inside and he didn't want them to see him like this. He pushed the door open carefully, every step increasing his guilt and his exhaustion.
Cecile was upon him immediately, dark blonde hair flying behind her as she rushed to his side.
"Antoine!" she exclaimed, taking in his haggard, slightly terrifying appearance. "We thought..." she stumbled over her words. "We thought you might be dead, oh God."
She embraced him, dirt, blood, powder and all, and he felt his resolve giving.
"Papa!" Alexandre called, little Marie toddling along beside him. "You're home!"
The boy stopped in his tracks at the grim sight of his father, his grin faltering a little.
Antoine couldn't stop thinking about how much he looked like a younger Gavroche; his hair was blonde too, and nearly as long. He willed what he knew was a mortified expression off his face, but it seemed frozen there. Cecile let go of his arms, turning momentarily to the children.
"Alexandre?" she said softly. "Can you please take your sister into your room for a few minutes? I need to talk to Papa."
"Is Papa okay?" he asked his mother, eyes still locked on his father.
"He's fine," Cecile lied, trying to smile. "We just need to have an adult talk for a few minutes, then you can come out and talk to Papa."
Alexandre nodded, taking Marie's hand and tearing his eyes away from his father. The minute Cecile heard the door close, she turned back to Antoine.
"Love, what happened?" she asked, releasing a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "The revolutionaries at LaMarque's funeral…"
"God, Cecile they were just schoolboys," he said, feeling the emotion building in his throat, fighting desperately against the tears flooding his eyes. "They were only a few years younger than me…I knew so many of them in passing, and two of them, Enjolras and Courfeyrac, they lived down the street from me when I was a child. It was just…they didn't have a chance, it was a massacre."
He pulled away, swiping at his eyes.
But Cecile would have none of it.
"Come here," she said, taking his hand and leading him to the couch. She took his hands in hers (he still couldn't take his eyes off the blood. It seemed like it was multiplying, spreading and pouring off his hands) and forced him to look at her.
"Antoine, I see the guilt in your eyes," she said. "But you were doing your job. Your duty is to keep the peace in these streets."
Duty, he thought. Some duty.
He ripped his hands away, shaking his head.
"For the first time," he whispered. "I didn't want to do my duty."
He was trembling so hard now it was shaking the couch, and understanding flickered in his wife's eyes. She wrapped her arms around him, and he found he couldn't fight against his emotions anymore. He buried his head into her shoulder, sobs wracking his body.
"I can't get their screams out of my head," he said. "I practically begged them not to throw their lives away, I told them they didn't have a chance, but they were fighting for something, they wouldn't give up because they wanted to see it through…" He grasped the material of her dress, words failing him. "I didn't have a choice, but I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to…"
He remembered the sickening thud of bodies hitting the floor when they shot up through the ceiling, remembered the door banging open as Grantaire raced in, remembered Enjolras' expression that seemed to say "Kill me all you want, but this cause will live on." The two of them had died silently, Enjolras falling half out the window with Grantaire at his feet.
"Oh darling," Cecile said, understandably lost for what to say, rubbing her hand up and down his back. "It will be okay, I promise."
"Broussard shot a child," he continued, sobs quieter now, but tears still streaming down his face, his stomach aching. "But I didn't stop him, I should have known that's what he was doing, should have seen it the moment he fired the warning shot…those boys' blood, it's on my hands. It's all on my hands."
"It's not all on your hands, love," she corrected him gently. "It's on the hands of the leaders of this tumultuous country we're living in."
He nodded, but the guilt still twisted agonizingly in his throat; he couldn't forgive himself, not yet. Her words, however, struck him.
He didn't want to fight in the name of those mentioned leaders anymore, because what was he fighting for? What was he protecting?
"Cecile," he said slowly, allowing her to thumb the tears away. "I know we've got some money saved…I think…I might have to resign my commission. Look for a different job. I just…" he breathed in deep, the line of dead bodies pounding against his psyche once more. "I don't think I can do it anymore. I can't fight for a government that demands I kill young men like that, rebels or no. Young men that so easily could have been me, were this turned the other way." He squeezed her hand, feeling like she was currently his only tether to sanity.
Cecile nodded, tears forming in her own eyes as she hugged him tightly for several minutes before retrieving a cloth to wash the blood off his hands.
But to him, it would never be gone.
That night, Alexandre and Marie crawled into bed with them and he held them close, swearing the next time he had the chance to help an urchin like Gavroche, he would seize the opportunity.
Two weeks later, after retrieving the address of M. Gillenormand from Authier, Antoine stood on the doorstep of said residence, a letter in his hand. His hands were sweating, his heart beating rapidly in his chest, but he was not going to turn back now. He had resigned his commission two days ago, and was required to work a month more before taking Cecile and the children to stay in the small country home he had inherited from his parents when they died, and near where Cecile's brother owned a farm, to which he had heartily offered Antoine employment.
Living directly in Paris, he had decided, was not for him.
Not after what happened, because walking down those streets only plagued his nightmares. He knocked, surprised when the door was opened not by a servant as the majestic home might suggest, but by a young woman with golden blonde hair and a ready smile.
"How may I help you monsieur?" she asked curiously, not recognizing him.
"Afternoon mademoiselle," he said, bowing slightly. "My name is Antoine Bardin, formerly Army General of the Paris National Guard…"
Fear leapt into her eyes at hearing his title, the door shutting slightly as a frown marred her features.
"Don't worry, I'm not here to harm Monsieur Pontmercy in any way, or to arrest him," he reassured her, holding his hand up. "I just wanted to drop off this letter to him."
He handed it to her and she took it, still unsure.
"You may read it, if you like," he pressed. "It's not long."
She opened it, eyes fixed on him until she looked down to read:
Dear Monsieur Pontmercy,
I am so heartily sorry for the loss of your friends, who were some of the bravest souls I've ever encountered. And I am even sorrier for my overwhelming part in it. This letter can't take away your grief and it can't take away my guilt, but I wanted you to have it nevertheless.
I don't know if it's any consolation, but you and your friends…you've made a believer out of me.
My prayers are with you as you heal.
It wasn't signed, but Antoine wanted it that way. This wasn't about making himself feel better (although it did) it was about trying to apologize to the one sole surviving member of the doomed barricade.
The girl looked up, and to his surprise, offered him a smile.
"Thank you," she said. "Thank you from the both of us."
He nodded, returning her smile. "Good day, mademoiselle. I wish Monsieur a speedy recovery."
With that, he walked away and back into the street.
Away toward something new.
Away from the blood-stained memories that would never completely leave him.
A few days later, when Marius was coherent enough to read the letter, and as Cosette and Valjean sat at his bedside, his heart warmed a bit through his grief. This was undoubtedly a man responsible for taking the lives of several of his friends, it had been his duty; but watching them refuse to give up had served to make him believe in their cause.
They had created a believer of a man whose duty it had been to fight against them; they succeeded in continuing their cause.
And he knew his friends, Enjolras especially, were cheering for that in Heaven.