Night had fallen on Saint-Michel.
The scrape of chair legs raking over floorboards lingered in Enjolras' ear though his friends had departed long before. And now it was night, and he stood alone, observing his little corner of the world through the open window.
Inside, the Musain was empty; outside, the city trundled on as it ever did. People came and went beneath the flickering gaslights, attending to business licit and illicit. Crimes were committed, minor deeds of good were done. Things were bought and things were sold. Men pressed up against the walls to empty their bladders, or up against some poor woman to empty their cocks. Even the thrumming anticipation of unrest did not serve to distract the streets from their trivial rhythms: Saint-Michel was now as it would ever be.
Grantaire, of course, was asleep in his accustomed chair with his head on his accustomed table, fingers still loosely clutching the half-empty bottle he had wheedled Jehan into procuring for him once his own money had gone. Plus ça change,Enjolras thought bitterly. An empire could crumble and still Grantaire would be here, at this table, with this bottle of wine. Plus c'est la même chose.
And while Grantaire slept the sleep of the inebriated and the indifferent, the Friends of the ABC had all set off like shots, each to his appointed task- the rallying of the crowds, the gathering of ammunition- faces bright and beautiful with the fire of revolution, with the determination of the just.
And tomorrow they would all be cannon fodder. Bright, beautiful cannon fodder.
Enjolras was not built for doubt; he was a creature of absolutes, and thus prepared to become a martyr. Truth be told, he had not allowed himself to contemplate a life beyond the stand they would make at the barricade, unless it was merely to bless providence and stand one day more. His entire being had become fixed on this moment, the whole of his spirit strained toward it, this culmination of all his efforts, this intersection of righteousness and fate.
But he claimed his fate for himself alone: it was one thing to die for one's cause; it was quite another to feel the millstone of guilt around the neck when one had, in effect, consigned every last friend to the same fate.
Oh, he did not doubt they shared a common cause. Each of them believed in their principles and held them dear to their hearts. But Enjolras knew- had always known-that without him, they would have been content merely to converse about those principles, and to wish with all their hearts that someone else might take action. Enjolras was the flint that struck the spark, sharp and unyielding, and without him, they would have remained an unlit fuse. Primed yet inert, they would have, in all probability, grown corpulent and staid. They would have married well, and fathered children, and all thoughts of revolution would have eventually been relegated to the past, regarded fondly as some well-meant but unfeasible folly of youth.
Yes, Enjolras was the flint that struck the spark, and in so doing, he had condemned them all not to a quotidian life, but to a quotidian death.
It would have been cause for laughter if it did not make him want so much to weep.
He lifted the bottle from Grantaire's hand, half expecting the man's fingers to grasp for it, some dim awareness in him registering that the future of his inebriation was in imminent jeopardy...but Grantaire's hand lay as limp and insensate on the table as the rest of him.
Returning to the window, he watched the scuttle of the people below like roaches. Faintly, the wrack and rattle of the growing barricade could be heard, the pulse of an organism that had not yet fully come into being. The stage was being built; the curtain would soon rise on the final act.
He raised Grantaire's wine in a mocking toast. "Thee, o'er whose limbs the bloody drops shall soon be from the lavers sprinkled, I lament." A meager libation flowed out out of the bottle and splashed down on the street below. A woman shrieked in surprise, then shook an angry fist at him.
"To friends unwish'd, who leave their friends to die."
Enjolras startled. He had not expected a chorus.
Turning swiftly, he found that Grantaire had righted himself in his chair. Only the mussed hair, the bleary gleam in his unfocused eyes, and the flat red patches on his cheek where it had been long pressed against the table suggested he had been anything but wide awake.
"Had I known we were doing Euripides, I would have rehearsed." Grantaire stifled a hiccough behind his fist. "I was not quite finished with that, by the way. Tragedy is thirsty work."
Enjolras scoffed aloud, as much from the embarrassment of having been unveiled in a moment of uncertainty as from surprise at Grantaire's sudden oration. "So you are to be my divine encouragement, then, Grantaire? The voice of fate?" He shook his head. "No. You are an unacceptable Pylades."
Grantaire's shoulders rose and fell, half a shrug and half a sigh. "Courfeyrac is the Patroclus to your Achilles, Combeferre the Hephaestion to your Alexander." He plucked the bottle back from Enjolras' hand, eyed it as if he could will the dregs to weep wine by sheer insistence of thought, then set it back on his table. "I was left with the scraps, as usual."
Satisfied that his expectations had not yet been upended, Enjolras gestured at Jehan's largesse. "You rather excel at taking."
"Oh, I excel at many things." Grantaire cocked his head regarded him doucely. "Annoying you, for example. In that, no one is my better.
"And drinking," he added, very nearly as an afterthought. "It is a métier in which I particularly excel."
In the face of such a simple and irrefutable truth, Enjolras could do nothing but concede.
The silence that followed was not disagreeable; it was merely a lapse in which each man marshaled his thoughts. Well, Enjolras marshaled his thoughts. He could not speak to what Grantaire's mind got up to in its unoccupied moments. He had only just come to that conclusion when Grantaire did, in fact, upend his expectations.
"I would fight with you, you know, if only you asked it of me."
It was an unexpected pronouncement. It was also unreliable aid from an uncertain quarter, and given the maudlin turn of his thoughts, Enjolras was not inclined to welcome it. Better he should rail against it and prove it false than find himself faced with the evening's second uncomfortable epiphany. "Oh, of course!" He honed his voice to its most cutting edge. "Grantaire will defend us all-but only if I ask it of him." He crossed his arms over his chest and stared the man down. The words 'Barriere du Maine' sprang to mind, as they frequently did, but that was ammunition long since spent. "I suppose even a craven must eventually cow to some sense of greater obligation. Or is it simply that if we die, you would have to find new friends to buy your wine?"
His indignation took a long moment to subside, but when it had, he read in Grantaire's expression honest and defenseless pain. He had struck too hard, and too close, and he had not even known until the blow had fallen. It shamed him; no honor came from senseless cruelty, and in his choler he had indeed been senselessly cruel.
To his credit, Grantaire squared himself and lifted his chin with the remnants of his scalded pride. He was very nearly handsome, Enjolras thought, when he wished to be; it was only that he seldom wished to be.
"I am not so cowardly as you think," Grantaire countered. "But I will not throw my life away where it is not wanted. 'Don't meddle in our affairs, Grantaire!' 'What are you good for, Grantaire?' 'Put the bottle down, Grantaire!' Yet the kicked pup still returns to its master." Something twitched across his face, some emotion manifesting and vanishing again in such short order that Enjolras could not read it.
"Tell me that my presence is welcome," Grantaire persevered, "and that it is wanted, and I would force their bullets to pass through me to reach you." He spoke each word with his eyes firmly fixed on Enjolras. He did not blink even after he had finished.
"Why?" was all Enjolras could think to ask.
"Why?" Grantaire parroted. "Why, because I believe in you, of course." This was a fundamental fact, the very précis of Grantaire's unshakeable faith.
Enjolras frowned and shook his head, still uncertain if the man were mocking him or speaking in earnest. In Grantaire, mockery and earnestness were often indistinguishable. "How can you say you believe in me when you take such pains to convince everyone that you believe in nothing at all?"
"Because you must be right."
Grantaire's tone was more than sober. It was grave. It was the agnostic's final pleading call to God.
"You simply must be right, and that is all. Because If you are wrong, that means that I am right: that life is meaningless and ugly, and that nothing will ever change.
"You cannot be wrong." His voice was a whisper now, and Enjolras found himself leaning in to hear. "I...I cannot bear the thought that I am right."
The man's face had softened into more noble lines with this admission, and it seemed to Enjolras that perhaps he had underestimated Grantaire's capacity for conviction. "Is this why you drink, Grantaire? Because you dread your own cynicism?"
"Sometimes," Grantaire replied, looking away.
"Other times," he looked back, "I simply like to be drunk."
Enjolras groaned and pounded his fist on the table. "To hell with you, then!" The empty bottle tipped and rang hollowly against the wood.
Rubbing at his forehead with one hand and clutching at Enjolras' arm with the other, Grantaire rushed to apologize. "I have ruined the moment. I have tarnished your new image of me."
"No," Enjolras returned tartly, "you have merely burnished the old one."
He attempted to extract himself, to turn and depart, but Grantaire restrained him with surprising tenacity.
"Wait. I am sorry. I never know when to leave off. I meant what I said: I would stand with you, if you permitted it. And I would ask for nothing in return. Well, perhaps one thing. But it is only a small thing."
"What is it, then?" Enjolras huffed and sighed. "What price, the exalted loyalty of Grantaire? A fresh bottle to give you courage?"
Again, he saw too late that he had struck too near. His capacity to wound Grantaire was not a skill he had known he possessed, nor one he ever would have wished to cultivate. Damn the man, but Grantaire brought out his basest instincts!
And perhaps that, after all, was why Enjolras felt so driven to dismiss him, felt so swiftly moved by him to lofty pity...because he reminded Enjolras of this most basic fact of humanity: that even those men in whom the best of all impulses prevailed remained flawed. Remained fallible. Remained mortal. And Enjolras, who dreamed that revolution might inspire man transcend his nature, was forced to acknowledge that, just as Saint-Michel was now as it would ever be, men would always be merely men, and nothing more.
So intent was he on this disheartening consideration that he did not hear at first what it was that Grantaire had requested, and had to ask him to repeat himself. And once Grantaire had repeated himself, Enjolras likewise had to speak the words aloud to make sure he had heard them correctly.
"A kiss? Thatis your request?"
"If it was good enough for the Greeks, who am I to look askance? What's one more excess among all the others I have cultivated?" Grantaire did not entirely succeed in hiding his nerves behind his humor, but held his ground nonetheless. "Men have died for less."
Of all the things in this world of which Enjolras could have conceived Grantaire demanding, this...this was not one of them. Thus, he could offer only honesty: "Grantaire, I have not-"
"-It's no different than kissing a woman." Grantaire's words spilled out in a rush. He was girding himself for condemnation. "Not much different, anyway."
"No." Enjolras found himself quite lost for words. For these things, he had never bothered to learn words. "That is, I have never."
Grantaire, it seemed, had no words left for a riposte.
They faced off warily, each man watching the other prepare his defenses. But on this night, Grantaire was not finished upending Enjolras' expectations: once again it was he who stepped first into the void. His hand, the open and unarmed palm, reached up to cup Enjolras' cheek.
"Patria may be a beautiful mistress, but she is cold and chaste. And I do not think she would begrudge us one kiss when we stand prepared to give our lives for her."
Ourlives. So he had chosen his fate.
"Rémi. Please. Let us pretend that we are friends. Just for this moment."
"Rémi." Enjolras laughed, abruptly. "Capital R! I had assumed it was a joke!"
Grantaire-Rémi-looked down. "It is, but not of my own making. I am a joke by nature, a sad clown, a-"
"-Stop." Enjolras laid a finger over his lips. Grantaire had stripped himself bare of his armor and, naked of his scepticism, presented himself for judgment. It was a small act, but a brave one. It both surprised Enjolras and softened him. Otherwise, he would not have said then what he did, which was: "Kiss me, then, Ré will have to show me how."
And so he did. Grantaire kissed him softly, tenderly. Grantaire kissed him with such infinite care and reverence that Enjolras' heart nearly broke for it.
Standing at the precipice of his fate, Grantaire- Grantaire, of all people!-granted him his first and last token of common affection.
Enjolras blinked and found Grantaire gazing at him raptly with eyes both bright and clear. If only he had chosen for himself something other than wine and irony, Enjolras thought, he might have made of himself something grand.
But then, he also thought, Grantaire would not be Grantaire.
The hour for sophistry, though, had long passed, and only the hour of reckoning lie ahead. And so it seemed only right to offer intimacy for intimacy. "Please," he said, "call me-"
"-Enjolras." Grantaire shook his head emphatically. "Only that. Alwaysthat. Perhaps Orestes, if you must."
And to this, Enjolras respectfully bowed his head.
Something had become clear now at this late hour, something unseen had been revealed by the light of a quinquet on a drunkard's table: the others had chosen their fates for love of the ideal; Grantaire had chosen his fate for love of Enjolras. But all of them, Grantaire not least of all, had made their choice with open eyes, and in that, Enjolras was absolved. And now, resolved.
"Pylades," he said- for now Grantaire had earned his sobriquet in earnest- "we shall die; but let us die with glory." He held out his hand, all lingering doubts dispelled, and Grantaire took it.
"Draw thy sword," he whispered, "and follow me."
The other youth
Wiped off the foam, took of his person care,
His fine-wrought robe spread over him; with heed
The flying stones observing, warded of
The wounds, and each kind office to his friend
Attentively perform'd. His sense return'd;
The stranger started up, and soon perceived
The tide of foes that roll'd impetuous on,
The danger and distress that closed them round.
He heaved a sigh; an unremitting storm
Of stones we pour'd, and each incited each:
Then we his dreadful exhortation heard:-
"Pylades, we shall die; but let us die
With glory: draw thy sword, and follow me."
- Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris