Les Hommes de la Misericorde
(Men of Mercy)
A/N: Sorry my delay everyone! Life things rather got in my way recently. But here is the next installment! Much thanks as always to the wonderful ariadneslostthread, who is ever an inspiration for this fic, and to diminutive-fox, whose ideas contributed to a section of this chapter. Enjoy!
Chapter 34: Passing Afternoons
Enjolras isn't used to this kind of quiet.
Perhaps on his worst days after being so ill, in his most troubling hours after the debacle with Javert there had been such a silence, but he'd been too focused on either his physical pain or his frothing, uncontrollable emotions to give it much thought. Then his and Courfeyrac's families arrived, adding more noise to the household, and their departure a few days ago left a significant quiet in its wake.
Now though, it's so quiet he hears it ringing in his ears. It won't last for long, he knows, soon his friends will return to sit and talk and fuss over him, the hallways of this large home filled with chatter. Cosette, Marius, and Courfeyrac left for the Avignon shops a few hours ago to search for Marius' wedding suit, but when they'd asked if Enjolras might accompany them, Valjean gently said no.
"It's too soon, yet," he'd said, looking at Enjolras in slight apology. "Perhaps in a few weeks, but my instinct tells me no, at the moment. The papers were only released two weeks ago, announcing that Enjolras was dead. We need to let the murmuring die down. This might not be Paris, and people's memories fade quickly when they've only seen a sketch, but we've risked too much to move too soon now." He'd paused, looking at Enjolras. "You understand, I hope, my lad?" he'd asked. There was such affection in his tone, such worry, that Enjolras could not even try pressing the matter, even as Courfeyrac's merry expression faded ever so slightly.
"I do," he'd said quietly. "I do."
And he did. Even if he didn't want to. His freedom was restricted now, and even when he was allowed out into the world, he would have to watch his step, consider his movements, his words. He comforted himself that some of it was not so different from being the leader of an illegal republican society in Paris; he'd been forced to watch his rhetoric in certain places, did a great deal of work in secret. But even still, this was different, particularly in contrast to the semblance of freedom his friends still possessed here away from the watchful eyes of Paris.
Feuilly was also in Avignon in his not so secret quest for some type of employment, even if only part-time. Enjolras understood: even though there was certainly no immediate need for his income, Feuilly was used to fending for himself, and despite the fact that he no longer needed to pay rent on rooms or make his way in Paris, he still wanted to help, in his way, and had found a few leads in shops that required painting skills. Grantaire, in need of air at Combeferre's behest, had accompanied him. Combeferre was borrowing Valjean's study to write to his professors about taking his final exam, which Enjolras had been poking and prodding him about for days. Valjean was somewhere about the house, and Gavroche was out at the stables with Madame Bellard, who was introducing him to the horses.
So Enjolras sits with an open book on his lap (a favorite novel of Courfeyrac's, who had joyously discovered it in the library and thrust it upon Enjolras), restless as a dull ache throbs up and down his leg. There is another physical therapy session in store this afternoon, and as much he wants his leg and arm to grow stronger, as strong as his pain threshold is, he has to admit it hurts him, has to admit to taking it slowly, day by day, even if he wants it healed now, immediately. He looks out the window, considering how much his life has changed in the space of a few short weeks. He's always lived so firmly in the future in a plethora of ways, but now he does so in an entirely different way. Before the barricade the future was all made up of dreams of the republic, of how to achieve it, and in a number of ways that's still true, because those things are a large part of who he is, what he lives and what he breathes, but now he's forced to consider what his future is more than ever. He survived where he might have died, he's imprisoned where he was once free, he must find new ways to fight, new ways to live, new ways to exist in this world turned upside down.
He's deep in thought when he hears a pair of now familiar footsteps entering the room.
"May I join you?" Valjean asks, his tall figure standing in front of Enjolras.
"Of course," Enjolras says, gesturing at the chair next to his, separated by a small table upon which rests a cup of tea Toussaint thrust upon him a few minutes ago. He'd half-pleaded for coffee, but she'd refused him, insisting tea would help him relax.
"You didn't wish to go into Avignon with the others?" Enjolras asks by way of conversation, not missing the intensity of Valjean's gaze upon him.
"I thought you might like some company," Valjean says, soft, sipping at his own, similar cup of tea.
Enjolras smiles, thankful as he lets Valjean continue, suspecting there is more.
"I spent a great deal of time alone, particularly in my first years after breaking my parole," Valjean says. "It is not the same situation, obviously, you are surrounded by a great many people, but it will be difficult for a time, I suspect, while they integrate into their new lives here and you must bide your time before you may enter the world."
"I want them to start their lives," Enjolras insists.
"I know," Valjean says, smiling at him with the expression of an indulgent father, and Enjolras, much to his surprise, finds it endearing as opposed to frustrating. He's not a child and Valjean doesn't treat him as such, but there is a level of understanding and affection between them that still surprises Enjolras with its suddenness over the past few weeks, blossomed from tragedy, bonded through similarity of experience despite a difference in age. There's something kindred in their souls sometimes, Enjolras thinks, something unspoken but extremely prevalent.
Silence falls between them for a few moments as Enjolras contemplates Valjean's expression, the slight uneasiness in his tone, the way his hands grip the arms of the chair lightly, but enough to cause the blood to rush out of his knuckles.
"Did you want to talk to me about something in particular?" Enjolras asks, tilting his head and meeting Valjean's eye.
"Yes," Valjean says, pausing for a few seconds before responding. "I know we've spoken about the story we will tell people, your story, how we all came to be here. But wanted to set it in stone, stress the importance of it with you before I do so with the others. Are you amenable?"
A knot forms in Enjolras' stomach, a lump in his throat, but he swallows it back, nodding.
"The first part is essentially the truth," Valjean begins. "That we are renting this house from M. Gillenormand as his grandson and his bride to be are looking to start their lives here in Avignon. You are my son who was injured in a hunting accident and have come here with your sister and me while you convalesce."
Enjolras smiles slightly at the idea that Cosette will be his sister, imagining how thrilled she will be at the prospect. Valjean smiles in return and continues.
"Gavroche is my orphaned nephew who I've taken in. So your cousin."
"I will be a Fauchelevent, then?" Enjolras asks.
"Rene Fauchelevent, if you wish," Valjean says. "It would be simplest to keep your first name, as it's not all that conspicuous, and easier for everyone to remember. But you can only go by Enjolras here at home, which I know will take some getting used to."
"What of my friends?" Enjolras asks. "How will we explain them?"
"Combeferre came to help look after your medical care," Valjean explains. "Particularly as the air in Paris disagreed with him. Courfeyrac, Feuilly, and Grantaire are childhood friends of yours who I am allowing to live with us as they start their lives here in Avignon, away from the recent outbreaks of Cholera in Paris. No one will question that."
Enjolras nods again, letting it all sink it, repeating it to himself, memorizing the details. He finds, at the mention of the cholera outbreak, his thoughts fly to the city, to its people and even with the bitter tang of defeat on his tongue, he yearns for them. Avignon must be his Paris now, and he yearns to learn of her and know her streets, but knows he must wait.
"It will still be a while yet, before I may go into town?" Enjolras asks, already knowing the answer.
"A few weeks at least," Valjean says, a sympathetic expression lining his face. "The news is too fresh, even this far out. It may have only been a sketch of you, but people have keener eyes than you initially suspect."
"The wedding is in a few weeks," Enjolras points out. He hasn't missed the whispered conversations between Marius and Cosette, between Combeferre and Courfeyrac, about how he can possibly attend, how they will manage the situation. "Courfeyrac jokes of disguises…"
"He is not so wrong there," Valjean says, chuckling a bit. "It will be easier, I think because the only people attending the wedding, aside from a few Gillenormand family friends, know exactly who you are, and I suspect we can trust M. Gillenormand to handle those people. It will be a small ceremony in the church, and Marius and Cosette have elected to have the celebration here at home afterward."
Enjolras' ears perk up; this is news to him.
"Because of me?"
"Yes," Valjean replies, noting the guilt already marring Enjolras' expression.
"I don't want them to do that," Enjolras says flatly, swiping through the air with his hand.
"They want to do that," Valjean argues good-naturedly. "Cosette will not be moved, and neither will Marius. I am personally not inclined to make them. We all want you to be able to attend the wedding and the celebration. It wouldn't be the same without you."
"I am not well-versed in the goings on of weddings," Enjolras admits. "I have been to a few, of course, but I simply do not want Cosette to miss out on having exactly what she wishes. I may not have spent any time considering a wedding, but I know she has."
"Cosette has a dress she is incredibly fond of and a lovely flower selection," Valjean says. "All she wanted was that and all of her loved ones present. She was a lonely child, you understand, and now she has found herself with a gaggle of practical brothers."
It is this, more than anything, which silences Enjolras' protests.
Enjolras has never seen it before, and even to Valjean himself it looks foreign, but just for a moment, the older man grins wide. It is not just a smile playing at the corner of his lips, gentle and soft and safe; his teeth are visible, the light reaching his dark grey eyes.
"What?" Enjolras asks, gruff, red tinting his cheeks.
Valjean continues grinning. "You fall silent at the idea of arguing with Cosette over this," he points out. "She will be pleased at the power of her persuasion, even at her absence."
At this, Enjolras cannot help but laugh, the sound slipping past his lips despite himself.
"I may not be at all versed in romantic interactions with women, and until recently the only women I usually interacted with personally were the ladies who staffed the Corinthe and the Musain, as well as my friend Joly's mistress Musichetta. Also of course the working women we spoke with, and the republican women interested in our cause," he says, meeting Valjean's eyes in amusement. "But growing up with my mother and my grandmother taught me that there are some circumstances in which it is best not to argue with them, as they are most fierce when their minds are made up, usually because they are right. Besides, it is Cosette's wedding, and if she wants me there, I will not argue, no matter how I worry over causing trouble. I am learning to defer to my friends in the case of my own well being."
"So I see," Valjean replies, a mild teasing in his tone Enjolras doesn't miss.
There is something different about Valjean than when they first met; he is a bit less grave, a bit more playful, some of the years on his face washed away despite the incredible stress they've all been under. There is life in the aging man's face, purpose, color, where before it was pale and fading.
"I cannot thank you enough," Enjolras says, still contemplating this change in Valjean, remembering Cosette's stories of her father when she was a young girl, memories of him picking her up and swinging her in circles, of how, as she grew older, he grew quieter, grew even more solemn. "For everything you've done for me. For all of us. I know I've said it a dozen times, but…" Enjolras' mind drifts back to that day outside the jail, Valjean's hand covering his own as the knife sliced through his flesh, Valjean's voice in his ear, reassuring him as he hadn't been reassured since he was a child, an instant warmth, immediate comfort flooding through him despite the situation. "I cannot say it enough," he finishes.
"You are most welcome," Valjean says, reaching over to give Enjolras' hand a fleeting squeeze. "It might sound odd, given the circumstances, but I should thank all of you boys as well."
"Thank us?" Enjolras asks, bewildered but curious, wondering if this has anything to do with the changes he senses in the man who has very rapidly become a father figure to him, someone he trusts implicitly when such a thing would normally take some time.
Valjean remains silent for a moment, glancing out the window at the driveway, presumably watching for the carriage containing Cosette to arrive back home, before turning back to look at Enjolras, scanning his face, lips curving upward again in a small smile.
"I never thought I'd get to remain in Cosette's life after she was married," Valjean admits. "I never pictured a life for myself after she was settled and happy. It seemed like that would be the end for me, my purpose extinguished after a long and treacherous life, a life I feared would taint her new happiness. And now, I'm so pleased to find that hasn't ended up being so. But then sometimes, I'm not sure how to proceed forward when I had no plan in place. There was always a plan for the future even as I looked behind to ensure my past wasn't catching up with me."
Enjolras feels the breath catch in his chest as the empathy floods through his veins, fluid and warm.
"I thought of the future a great deal," Enjolras says. "But it was the future in abstract as far as my own personal life was concerned: the future of France, the future of the people, a future where a republic would exist. It was never really my own future, because thinking of myself beyond the barricade never seemed to happen. I wasn't expecting to die, necessarily, nor did I wish, I was only willing…and I of course went about completing my studies, though it took longer because of my work for the revolution. I just… I'm not sure."
"I know," Valjean says, and Enjolras feels an odd relief rush through him. He's never heard those words uttered before, exactly. Not in this type of conversation. "It is difficult to explain, isn't it, the idea of feeling, of knowing, your fate is intertwined with someone or something other than just yourself?"
Enjolras nods, folding his hand as he contemplates the patterns in the wood floor for a moment. Since a moment he is not sure he can quite put his finger on, perhaps it was a string of moments, he's felt his life intertwining with the revolution, with the cause, every inch of him living and breathing for it. For that, and for the friends who were all tied up with the very same cause. It is the same for Valjean, he imagines, when it came to Cosette. Cosette is still Valjean's most important priority, as the revolution and said friends are Enjolras', but now both are faced with new worlds, forced to adapt to their new situations, looking for new ways focus on these priorities: Valjean because Cosette is now set to be married and is no longer a child, Enjolras because he is now a fugitive, surviving where he easily could have died, free where prison nearly awaited him, encouraging his friends to live their freedom even as he must always live in some semblance of secrecy.
"You and your friends," Valjean continues, and Enjolras looks back up once more. "You have given me renewed purpose, now that Cosette, though of course she still loves me, does not need me in the same way as before, which is something I still grapple with. I would not have wished this situation on any of you, but I am pleased to be the one to whom it fell to help."
"So am I," Enjolras says, smiling fully for the first time all day. The sound of Combeferre on the stairs reaches their ears and they both look up to greet him, their hearts connected in feeling.
Sometimes, Combeferre regrets choosing medicine.
He doesn't do so often: he's not a man who spends a great deal of time regretting things, doing his best to focus on the here and the now, focusing even more on the future, on putting his thoughts into the actions Enjolras always urges him toward.
The first time he recalls the prickly, uncomfortable feeling of regret spiking at his stomach was when he'd watched a ten-year-old girl die of Cholera. Her poor, desperate parents brought her in to Necker; the father with a stoic expression etched into his face but with tears in his eyes, the mother with shaking hands she tried desperately to keep steady. All he could do was make her comfortable, and he'd stood at the edge of the bed as her parents held both her hands, her young life slipping away before him. They weren't like so many of the others, so poor they could not afford food enough to keep their children from starving, even before the cholera took them, never mind medicines. These people had money enough, and still the girl had died, Combeferre's best efforts all for naught, and he had been helpless. Regardless of money, of politics, of any of the injustices in the world, illness and disease would claim it's due. If they'd brought her in earlier, he thought. But he'd known it was also possible that she would have been dead nevertheless. If he wanted to enter the sciences he could have done anything else, research, his infinite curiosity was enough to study ten different fields and it would never be enough. But he'd chosen medicine because of the inherently human side of things, the people he could help, the lives he could save.
So despite the moments when despair threatened him because of all the death he saw, he always saw the light flooding in from all the lives he saw saved because of excellent doctors, their compassion, because of slow but sure medical advancements. One day, he prayed, everyone would have access to quality medical care, and he would fight for that. So in the end, he could not regret.
He senses a familiar sensation however, as he watches Enjolras sweat and shake in front of him; he's made a great deal of progress, but today is a bad day. He's having Enjolras attempt to walk back and forth across the parlor without his cane-he will need the cane as some support for a good while, but this will strengthen his muscles in the meantime- while Grantaire stands by, ready to catch him if he stumbles.
Then, he does.
The carpets are Enjolras' greatest enemy, and he stumbles, his bad leg crumpling beneath him. Grantaire seizes him as gently as possible before his injured shoulder comes into contact with the floor, and quickly sits him in the nearest chair. Enjolras visibly shakes now, resting his head in one hand as the other clutches at his leg. Combeferre squats down beside the chair as is his habit.
"I fear I might be sick," Enjolras admits.
Combeferre grimaces: this would not be the first time Enjolras vomited from pain.
"Focus on breathing for a moment," Combeferre says, eyes flickering up to a concerned Grantaire before focusing back on Enjolras. "It may pass."
Enjolras nods, one hand sliding down to grasp Combeferre's.
"Should I get a glass of water?" Grantaire asks, looking obviously unsure, still growing used to his role in Enjolras' rehabilitation.
"That would be excellent, yes, thank you," Combeferre says, looking back over at Grantaire with a smile.
Grantaire nods and leaves the room in a rush, heading toward the kitchen.
"Still feeling sick?" Combeferre asks as Enjolras sits up again.
"Yes," Enjolras says, still surprising Combeferre with his honesty about his physical condition. "But not as if I will vomit my last meal, I think." He pauses for a moment before a flicker of amusement sparks in his eyes. "I do wish we had moved on to the fencing or the Savate; at least that way I will have done some real physical activity before being reduced to such a state."
"You are too hard on yourself, as usual," Combeferre says, but it is with a soft tone and a fond smile. There is no room in his heart for even the hint of a lecture when he sees how pale Enjolras is. "I think we are done with this for today, but there is something I'd like to try."
"What's that?" Enjolras asks, understandably wary.
"Hydrotherapy," Combeferre replies, watching Enjolras' face. "It's been proved to be effective in rehabilitation."
"An ice bath?" Enjolras asks, and just for a moment, Combeferre sees a flash of what five-year-old Enjolras' expression might have looked like as his friend scrunches up his nose disdainfully.
"No, not ice," Combeferre corrects. "Just cool water."
Enjolras frowns, surveying him, then releases a sigh.
"It will help?" he asks, unsure, but clearly giving in.
"That is my hope, yes," Combeferre replies. "It cannot hurt, in any case."
Silence falls between them for a moment while they wait for Grantaire's return, until Enjolras' voice breaks through.
"You got your letters to your professors out to post today?" he asks. His voice is soft, but there is the barest hint of a demand within it, yet oddly mixed with a strained sort of pleading.
"Yes," Combeferre says with a smile, a reassurance. "Hopefully I shall hear back promptly, and with positive news."
"I'm sure you will," Enjolras replies. "You were, as Courfeyrac might say, the darling of your professors."
"Oh," Combeferre scoffs, rolling his eyes, looking pleased nevertheless.
"Who is whose darling?" Grantaire asks, returning with a glass of water in hand.
"Enjolras is trying to convince me that I was the darling of my professors," Combeferre answers, watching as Grantaire takes care to make sure both of Enjolras' shaking hands are firmly around the glass before he lets go. "So much so that they will allow me to take my exam at a university nearer to Avignon. In Marseilles, hopefully."
"Ah well," Grantaire says with a smirk. "I'm sure he's right there."
"You all flatter me," Combeferre says. "But they will allow it because they are reasonable men."
"And because you were ever their favorite," Grantaire prods, drawing an amused smile from Enjolras.
"Anyway," Combeferre pronounces, shaking his head at the pair of them. "Grantaire, I was just speaking with Enjolras about trying this procedure I was reading about, hydrotherapy. It essentially involves soaking his leg in cool water for a period. Are you amenable to helping?"
Grantaire pauses for a moment, hesitant, before replying, confidence brimming in his features.
"Certainly," he says, oddly brief.
Twenty minutes later they are in the privacy of Enjolras' room, door locked to prevent intrusion, tub filled with cool water. Enjolras stands at the foot of the tub in his dressing gown and underthings, looking massively unsure. This does not slip past Combeferre, who knows Enjolras well enough to know that he needs the situation normalized, if possible, in order to feel comfortable. Grantaire too, looks nervous at the intimacy of the moment, so Combeferre does what he knows best: he picks up the textbook from Enjolras' bed, and begins explaining the origin of the procedure.
"Hydrotherapy has been around in different forms for quite some time," he begins, catching Grantaire's eye, inclining his head in indication that he should help Enjolras in so he doesn't slip. "Though it re-emerged in the modern world with Vincenz Priessnitz, a farmer, of all things, in the Austrian Empire."
Enjolras, looking up from his preoccupation starting at the bathwater, smiles fleetingly at Combeferre, realizing what he's doing, and slips off his dressing gown, putting his hand out to Grantaire rather than crossing his arms over his chest in embarrassment. Grantaire takes it, loosely at first, then grasping firmly, his hands no longer shaking from withdrawal.
"There was also a work written by an English physician, John Floyer, last century, about the use of springs and cold bathing, and then another by a Dr. James Currie, speaking on its uses for helping with fever," Combeferre continues, watching as Enjolras winces while he slips in, letting go of Grantaire's hand to grasps the sides, white-knuckled. "And though your fever is gone, Enjolras, I want to continue to watch out for it, which is more than enough reason to try this." He halts for a moment, watching Enjolras. "All right?"
Enjolras releases his grip on the sides of the tub, stretching his legs as far as they'll reach, his knees still bent.
"I'm rather cold," he says. "But it does help with the pain, a bit."
Enjolras grits his teeth against a momentary wave of pain, and Combeferre watches it pass over his face. Grantaire too, watches Enjolras, concerned as goosebumps wash across the pale skin.
"I can read a bit, perhaps, to distract you from the chill?" Combeferre suggests. At Enjolras' nod, he points to the table on the far side of the room. "Grantaire, if you might hand me that book there?"
Grantaire does, raising one eyebrow fondly.
"Thomas Paine's 'Common Sense' and 'The Rights of Man' published together," he says, handing the book over. "How am I not surprised?"
Enjolras narrows his eyes at Grantaire, clearly at the end of his rope what with being cold, in pain, and naked all but for his underthings, half dunked in water.
"Oh do not look at me in such a way," Grantaire says. "Your glare does not pose much power at present, and I only tease. Of course words of liberty and revolution would put you more at ease."
Enjolras continues glaring for a moment before a small smile breaks out, clearly pleased that Grantaire challenged him as he might any of the others. It is a return to normality and a progress all at once, and Combeferre feels his heart lift a little as he opens the book.
"Well read, that one," Enjolras remarks, glancing at the worn cover. "That was the copy I stole from my father's room after he confiscated it. He never did find it again."
"You must have been a handful," Grantaire says, dry. "As ever. And was Tom Paine not an enemy of Robespierre?"
"My, you are on this afternoon," Enjolras says, amusement in his eyes, and Combeferre thinks, a flash of Joly and Bossuet. "And 'enemies' for given meaning of the word, I suppose. But both men and revolutionaries whose ideas I respect, and look to. I fight the battle they both lived for: liberty and a republic. Not the specifics of their own political differences. Quiet now, and listen to Combeferre."
At those words, Combeferre looks down at the page to words he's nearly committed to memory, lines underlined by the quill of an adolescent Enjolras:
Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time make more converts than reason…
Courfeyrac did not think he would ever witness the day when Marius could speak more words in a day than Courfeyrac himself.
Turns out that was an incorrect assumption, because even as Courfeyrac quietly shuts the door to the drawing room where Marius and Cosette sit, Marius is still talking. Something about shopping for the groom's suit bolstered Marius' confidence, bolstered his excitement for the wedding even more. And as truly pleased as Courfeyrac is to see that, to see his friend blossom and grow into himself, to see him happy where he'd once been so sad, right now, Courfeyrac is worn out.
Between spending most of today shopping with Marius and Cosette before meeting Feuilly and Grantaire at a café in Avignon to discuss the potential employment opportunities Feuilly found (experienced painting jobs, it turned out, were not too far between in Avignon), and the new round of nightmares plaguing him through most of the previous night, Coufeyrac feels his mind screaming at him for silence, for quiet. He loves people, revels in company, but for now, he desires quiet company, and few moments to close his eyes and recharge.
Before he quite realizes himself he's at the top of the stairs and in front of Enjolras' door. He did a great deal of walking in Paris, but as of late he's been more sedentary, so all the walking around Avignon left him sore and aching. Sleeping tensely, he muses, was likely not much help. He gives the door his signature knock and enters at Enjolras' call.
"I thought that was you," Enjolras says, closing the book he was reading and placing it on the bedside table. He surveys Courfeyrac's face for a moment, eyebrows furrowing in concern before he realizes what's happening; this isn't new between them, this silent exchange. He fluffs up the pillow beside him, and at that signal Courfeyrac walks over and flops rather dramatically on the bed, landing on his stomach, facing Enjolras.
"Tired?" Enjolras questions.
"Mmmmmmmm," Courfeyrac grumbles. "Marius has somehow learned there are not a limited number of words one might speak in a day. I love the fellow, but he has worn me out. Which I never thought I'd say."
Courfeyrac trails off, leaving the mention of his nightmares hanging in the air.
"And you are having nightmares again?" Enjolras questions, tentative. He doesn't want to push, but Courfeyrac is also aware that Enjolras knows him well enough to sense these things. Enjolras' instincts about his friends' distress, Courfeyrac thinks, is always spot on.
"How did you know?" Courfeyrac asks, drawing small patterns with his finger on Enjolras' shirtsleeve.
"You look so tired," Enjolras says, watching Courfeyrac's finger. "You so rarely look this tired. Your smile falters a bit. I know you, Courfeyrac."
"So you do," Courfeyrac replies, feeling the smile tug at his lips.
"Anything I can do?" Enjolras questions, reaching down to flick a curl out of Courfeyrac's eyes; this is one of the things Courfeyrac loves most about his friend, because while Enjolras might not be someone to tackle anyone to the floor in an embrace, he is naturally tactile, so much so it is almost a reflex as opposed to anything he thinks on. There is always a shoulder grasp here, a hand clasp there, returning hugs full on when they are given to him and he senses the person needs the affection.
"This," Courfeyrac says simply. "This is enough."
"You found Marius a suit then?" Enjolras asks, and Courfeyrac doesn't miss the small pinch of momentary pain in Enjolras' face, his hand going down instinctively to his leg.
"Indeed we did," Courfeyrac says, rolling over onto his back and closing his eyes. "It took him AGES to decide on a color for the waistcoat, I thought we were going to be there for a year. He never cared a damn dash for any of the fashion tips I gave him in Paris, walking around in that hat that was too big for him, but now he suddenly is consumed. He decided on blue because it matches Cosette's eyes. That is romantic, I suppose. But Marius is a romantic, so."
"And you are not?" Enjolras asks, raising both eyebrows in disbelief.
"Hmmm," Courfeyrac replies, thinking on it. "I am, in a sense, but not in the same way as Marius is, or Jehan was. Of course Marius is lowercase romantic, while Jehan was Romantic and romantic if you understand me." Courfeyrac stops, feeling the smile on his face even as the metaphorical knife twists in his gut. What a strange thing grief is, utter joy at the memories he possesses and holds onto for dear life, mixed with near complete agony at missing the friends he's lost. At everything they've lost, at everything they are trying to keep hold of.
He feels Enjolras reach over to squeeze his hand, opening his eyes to look over, seeing just how tired Enjolras himself looks. Combeferre too, had looked tired when Courfeyrac saw him downstairs, and he suspects there was a rough rehabilitation session today.
"I miss them, Enjolras," Courfeyrac says, feeling the tears fill his eyes, and he does not try and stop them.
"I know," Enjolras says, voice a hoarse whisper. "I do too."
Courfeyrac moves over so that his head rests on Enjolras' good shoulder, Enjolras' head leaning on his, their height difference just enough.
"Sometimes I do not know how to move forward without them," Enjolras says. "But I also know that every day I am thankful that I have you, Combeferre, Feuilly, Grantaire, Marius, and Gavroche, that we made it out. That we have Valjean and Cosette. That Jehan, Bahorel, Joly, and Bossuet," he continues, saying each name with a holy reverence. "Would want us to find a way to keep fighting. I didn't know it possible, but I want to push forward more now than even before. In their memory."
There is a slice of the fervor to which Courfeyrac is so accustomed in Enjolras' voice, and though Courfeyrac knows there is a long road ahead of them, knows that grief ebbs and flows, something about the sound comforts him as he nods into Enjolras' shoulder.
"We found suits for everyone, actually," Courfeyrac says, darting back over to the other thread of conversation. "Since none of have anything wedding appropriate here yet."
"You…" Enjolras begins, bemused. "How?"
"Don't be foolish," Courfeyrac scoffs, sitting up momentarily on his elbow. "I know my friends' measurements, I've dressed all of you at least once. Combeferre was not surprised by this."
Enjolras chuckles, and Coufeyrac feels his eyes drooping out of exhaustion.
"Of course not," Enjolras says.
"Read to me?" Courfeyrac asks, allowing his eyes to close and his mind to breathe, smiling at the image in his head of just how delighted Marius and Cosette were today.
"It's a mystery novel of some sort," Enjolras says, sounding unsure.
"Now that's something I never thought I'd hear," Courfeyrac says, burrowing further into the pillow. "You finished the other novel I gave you already?"
"I did. And Jehan taught me the power literature can have and I appreciate it a great deal," Enjolras answers, offended. "I rather enjoy analyzing it and seeing the messages."
"Of course it can have power," Courfeyrac says, almost mumbling now. "Much power. But I don't know about a mystery novel."
"I needed something simple," Enjolras admits, yawning himself. "I am rather tired after today."
"I know," Courfeyrac says, popping one eye open, sympathy in his voice. "I don't mind it's a mystery novel. You read delightfully out loud, and it shall relax me."
Enjolras smiles again and Courfeyrac closes his eye, listening to the pleasant, passionate sound of Enjolras' voice.
Cosette has just finished changing for bed when she hears a knock on the door. Out of habit, she assumes it's her father, and as her hands are currently tied up in plaiting her hair, she calls for him to enter.
So when Enjolras cracks the door open, book in hand, and pokes his head in seeing her only in her nightgown, he steps back.
"My apologies Cosette," he says, uncharacteristically mumbling, his natural modesty overcoming him.
"Oh, Enjolras, don't apologize," she says. "Let me just slip on my robe and you can come in."
Enjolras nods, shutting the door a bit for a moment, and Cosette slips on her new silken light blue robe that Marius says matches her eyes.
"All right," she calls. "Come in."
He does, and Cosette notices he looks tired, leaning on his cane more heavily that he has over the past few days. He's still dressed, though he's in his sock feet and devoid of his waistcoat and cravat.
"You've brought a book!" she exclaims, putting her hands silently on his shoulders and guiding him to her reading chair. It's a sign of how tired he is that he makes no protest or move to say he's fine, simply allowing her to sit him down, taking his cane and leaning it against the ottoman and helping him put his slightly trembling leg up.
"Yes," he says, clearly thankful for her silent help over fussing. "Combeferre and I were perusing through the box of his things his parents sent and we found this."
He holds out the book to her and she takes it, reading the title of the cover aloud.
"Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen," Cosette reads. "By Olympe de Gouges. This is the piece you mentioned to me before."
"It is," he replies with a nod. "You don't have to read it of course, you just mentioned wanting to learn more, so I thought I'd perhaps bring it by."
"You thought correctly," she says. "What happened to this woman? Did she survive the revolution?"
"Er, no," Enjolras says. "But nor did many of the most influential men and women: Robespierre, Danton, Desmoulins, Marat, Saint-Just, Madame Roland. There was much in-fighting between the Jacobins and the Girondists, in the end, and paranoia on all sides, given that so many foreign countries were attacking and siding with the king. But the loss, the rise of Bonaparte, the return of the king, it doesn't make the words of revolutionaries past any less powerful. In fact I believe it makes them more so, the fact that it all fell apart. They remind us that we cannot stop fighting until we achieve our end. Perhaps not even then. They started something, broke down pre-conceived notions about society and the way it should work, and that cannot be trodden down. Ideas are powerful."
Cosette smiles, feeling admiration fill her up to the brim. Enjolras, seeing her enthusiasm, continues, and she can almost see the light surrounding him, can almost feel its warmth tangible on her fingers.
"I grew up surrounded by women like my mother and my grandmother, women who had, at least to my eye, an equal standing in their husbands' eyes. The revolutionary works I read were exclusively by men, because the men were more well-known and far more in print. In fact the first thing I read wasn't even French, it was Common Sense by Paine. Anyway, for a good while, I was so focused on getting the vote for all men, landowners or not, on the land taxes on the poor, on establishing a republic at all, that I admit, women's rights, women's suffrage, things like that did not wholly occur to me."
"Well," Cosette says. "I admit that until I met all of you, the idea of not having a king was not something that occurred to me. Papa and I have always helped the poor, handed out food, and I wanted things to be better, but overthrowing a system of government? We all learn and grow in time, expand our minds."
"We do indeed," Enjolras says, breathing a small sigh of relief. "But when I came to Paris, when I met Combeferre, I started learning more, as he has always been a proponent of women's rights, looked to the examples from the revolution and criticized some of the leaders for not always paying enough attention to equality between the sexes. He is an avid reader of Condorcet, whose wife Sophie was a great friend of Olympe de Gouges," he continues, pointing at the book. "I am still learning, but I know more now, that while we are of course out for the equality of all, that each group of people has their own set of problems and hardships they face, including women. I often find myself looking at the larger picture, as they say, and sometimes I need to be directed toward the facets."
Enjolras looks away for a moment as if he does not see her, and there are ghosts in his eyes in the form of his lost friends, in the form of the world he sees so clearly in front of him and which he must find new ways to fight for. After a minute or so, Cosette reaches her hand out and lightly covers his, drawing him back into the present.
"You know, before all of this happened, my world was a bit small," Cosette begins, and Enjolras meets her eye again, holding the gaze. "First it was the Thenardiers and vague memories of my mother, and all I knew was misery. Then papa came and opened my world a little wider, and I was happy; there was the convent, my books, little things, a life where I was loved, and yet I always wanted some sort of adventure, felt that the wider world was maybe just outside my window, but I didn't quite know how to reach it. Then there was Marius, and that love broke open everything and I felt alive. Then papa came home with all of you and suddenly there was this entire universe." She stops, abruptly feeling unsure. "I don't mean to make your loss and your grief about me or make less of it, I…"
"Cosette," Enjolras says with a soft, sad chuckle. "It's all right. You have been through much yourself, and I know you would not make light of anyone's pain."
At this, Cosette simply cannot help herself; she wraps her arms around Enjolras, hugging him tightly. It takes him a moment to realize what's happening, before he wraps his good arm around her-his injured one is in a sling for the day to prevent further pain after the physical therapy-and embraces her in return.
He pulls back first, smiling at her.
"You know, I think you would have gotten along well with our friend Joly's mistress, Musichetta," he says, contemplative. "Courfeyrac has long wanted to write her a letter since the barricades fell, and the loss of Joly and Bossuet, to let her know we are alive at least, to send her some comfort, but Combeferre believes we should wait a while, for our safety and hers. Unless we can find some clever way of coding it. I'm sure with Combeferre's and Feuilly's intelligence, we could, but the point is, as I learned after getting to know her, she was quite interested in the rights of women, very literary and easy to speak with. The books I'm sure the two of you could converse over would be many."
"You were all friends with her?" Cosette asks, as usual intrigued by the goings on of these young men her fiancé so respected. Marius once admitted to her that he had initially been intimidated by them, had even ceased going at one point, before Courfeyrac practically bodily dragged him back.
Enjolras laughs, and the sound makes Cosette smile. "Musichetta and I got rather off on the wrong foot due to some preconceived notions. But once we understood each other better, yes. She did not fear to challenge me, and I learned to appreciate that a great deal. Grantaire knew her quite well also, due to the amount of time he spent in Joly and Bossuet's rooms."
Cosette watches the laughter disappear from Enjolras' eyes, feeling her soul sink simultaneously at the sight. She squeezes his hand lightly, and he looks at her, a spark of light returning to his gaze. There's silence between them for a moment, until Enjolras speaks once again.
"So, are you quite sure about…"
"My plans for the wedding and having the celebration here for your safety?" Cosette asks, quirking one eyebrow. "Quite. Going to argue?"
"About that?" Enjolras scoffs with a wave of his hand. "Never. Though of course there are other things about which I might argue."
"You have Courfeyrac's sass," she comments.
"Or perhaps he has mine," Enjolras says, and there is the tiniest hint of a Courfeyrac-ish smirk on his lips.
"Touche," Cosette replies, laughing. "Thank you for the book. I'll make sure to thank Combeferre as well. I can turn to reading this to keep my mind off all the wedding nerves. It is only three weeks away, after all!"
"Nerves?" he asks, unbelieving. "I have so far only seen excitement and much talk of ribbons and cake frosting."
"You tease me again, you foul man," she says, flicking his arm gently.
Enjolras purses his lips for a moment, disguising a twitch at their corners, "It is, I think," he says solemnly, "What brothers are for?"
Cosette reaches and out flicks him playfully on his good arm, then Enjolras silently allows her to help him to his bed. Here in Enjolras, in all these young men she thinks, she truly has found all the sibling love a part of her always longed for.