I wish I could believe
Enjolras crumpled the scrap of paper in his fist, savoring the feel of the creased corners cutting into his palm. How could he leave? How could he go, tonight of all nights? Enjolras recalled with a stab of guilt the nights he had thrown Grantaire from the café, sent him out to stumble drunkenly home on his own.
What he wouldn't give for him to be here now, for him to joke and drink, to lighten the mood with lewd songs and rude comments. You only know what you need once you've lost it, his grandmother's voice warned in an echo of a memory.
Enjolras was suddenly seized by an overpowering urge to pick up the chair beside him and throw it as hard as he could across the room, to smash everything within arm's reach and scream like a wild man, scream at the government for dismissing them, scream at the soldiers for outnumbering them, scream at the world for being unjust. Scream at Grantaire for leaving him. Them. But he resisted. It would not do at all to break down before his troops on the eve of battle. He was the fearless leader. Fearless. Faultless. Doubtless. So, instead of screaming, he shoved the note deep in his pocket, so deep he imagined it burrowing down, down through the floor and through the ground all the way down to join the skulls in the catacombs, so deep he would never see those five words, those five such traitorous words, ever again.
Instead of screaming, Enjolras walked along the barricade. He readjusted superficial bits of furniture, grasped outstretched hands, clasped shoulders, shared a sip of wine, made promises he knew he couldn't keep. What he did was be fearless. Act fearless.
He found Gavroche curled beneath an upturned desk, humming softly to himself, folding a refolding a tattered piece of paper in his hands. Enjolras knocked lightly on the top of the desk and Gavroche looked up at him, squinting against the lightly falling rain.
"How are you?" Enjolras bent is knees so he was level with Gavroche. Others had tried to send the boy home already, tried to convince him he wasn't needed, that he should stay where it was safe, leave the fighting to the grown-ups. Enjolras knew better than to try. The petit gamin would always worm right back in, the way he did. "Like a bad penny," Courfeyrac had joked once, he'd always turn up. But it was more than that. Enjolras knew the boy would always return because when he looked in Gavroche's eyes he saw the spark, that fire of rebellion that blazes through the soul and heart and mind and can never be extinguished. It was the same fire he saw every day in the mirror.
Gavroche shrugged his narrow shoulders and looked back down at his piece of paper.
"You don't need to be afraid," said Enjolras gently.
"'m not afraid," said Gavroche softly. "Not of dying."
"Nah." Gavroche shook his head, making his dirty, lanky hair swing back and forth. "It's like I tell me boys at the elephant: you live your life 'ere, and when you go, you go. Maybe it's coppers, maybe a dirty scumbag wants your coin, or maybe you just go to sleep, all quiet like, and never wakes up." Enjolras knew the boy had seen plenty of that. "And then you see it."
"See what?" Enjolras asked.
Gavroche looked back up at him. "The garden of course. There's a massive great garden in the sky, an' it's huge, like a whole other world. An' it's beautiful, an' everything grows and no one's hungry or scared or nuffin'. And everybody's there." He smiled a glowing smile like the face of the just risen sun. "Eponine, Madame Renvier…" Gavroche snickered with far too much bitterness for a little boy. "Even my parents'll be up there, eventually. An' it's beautiful and light, an' there's no more fighting, no more dying. Yeah," Gavroche smiled and reached up to pat Enjolras on the shoulder. "Don't you worry. You'll be alrigh'. We all will."
Slightly stunned by the young boy's words, Enjolras raised himself up to his full height again and looked around. Feuilly, Joly and Prouvaire had struck up a chorus, wistfully singing an old country song Feuilly's father had taught him when he was a boy.
Drink with me to days gone by, Sing with me the songs we knew, Here's to pretty girls who went to our heads, Here's to pretty girls who went to our beds, Here's to them and here's to you
Enjolras felt a small smile touch his lips, but it changed to an expression of disbelieving surprise a moment later when he heard a gruff, familiar voice chime in, Drink with me to days gone by, Can it be you fear to die?
Grantaire had climbed atop the barricade and was swinging his legs over the side, bottle in hand, as though he had never left. His face was uplifted in an odd mixture of contentedness and grim resignation. Perhaps, Enjolras now realized, he'd always looked like that, and he'd never paid enough attention to notice.
Will the world remember you when you fall? Can it be your death means nothing at all? Is your life just one more life?
A morbid silence fell in the wake of these words as the students contemplated them. Their faces grew still and ashen, the patter of rain seemed to grow louder and meaner. The world felt darker.
In the silence, Enjolras recalled another night, some weeks ago, when all this fighting had been an abstract plan floating out in the dim future. He was walking home, night was falling, the sky just darkening from dusky purple to black, when he heard Grantaire's familiar, slurred voice nearby.
"Leave off. I don't answer to you."
Enjolras paused, his curiosity getting the better of him. He neared closer to the voice, as close as he dared, and listened.
"No, that's right," sneered a man's voice. "Now you have your precious revolution."
"It's not my revolution," Grantaire spat with almost tangible disdain, and Enjolras was surprised by how deeply the words cut him. He'd heard Grantaire say the same to his face a hundred times before, but somehow he'd always managed to convince himself that the drunk was mostly jesting, teasing Enjolras, clinging to his high horse of aloof disregard for their political endeavors. Not that he had much of a horse to which to cling. Enjolras had criticized the drinking, had insulted him, had sent him away, and still the drunk stumbled back through their doors. Some part of Enjolras had had to believe that it was determination that brought him back, because he'd seen Grantaire's eyes when he was finished speaking, seen them glow the same as all the others', with determination and hope for tomorrow. Perhaps Enjolras had fooled himself by believing he'd gotten through to their resident cynic. Apparently he had.
Grantaire's companion seemed to be reading Enjolras' mind, because he demanded, "Then why do you keep crawling back? They're all goners and you know it. Why stay on a sinking ship?"
Yes, Grantaire, Enjolras found himself thinking. Why stay?
There was a long silence, so long Enjolras began to think the men had moved away, but then Grantaire said, so softly Enjolras almost missed it, "Because he's worth it."
"You're a damn fool, Remi." The sound of a glob of spit hitting the pavement.
"A dead fool," said a different voice, higher, but still definitely a man's.
"I don't fear death," replied Grantaire, in the most steady and sincere voice Enjolras had ever heard him use. There was no slur, no gruff sarcasm, just pure honesty, which Enjolras suspected was a rare occurrence. He wasn't like the others. He wasn't a fearless Ami preening before comrades and swooning girls, shouting himself through valiant battles. He was exactly what he appeared: a cynical, sarcastic drunk with no motivation, no conviction, and no beliefs at all that he would be ready to die for.
"Of course you do," came the snide response. "You're a drunk and a coward, Remi, left alone at the end of the party. You're not a hero or a martyr. You're not even using your real name."
It was then that Enjolras realized who Remi was, that Grantaire must have come from "grand aire." Capital R. He wondered where he'd gotten the nickname. Had his mother called him that, or the friends with whom he'd used to run in the churchyard on Sundays? What friends had Grantaire had before they were replaced by a glass bottle? Before he stumbled into Café Musain and latched onto Enjolras and Les Amis like a drowning man to a lifeline. With whom had he played and laughed and learned before his world was reduced to sarcastic, wine-soaked anti-politicism? When had he lost his belief?
"No one will remember you when you get yourself killed over some students' rebellion. You're just another life."
Enjolras blinked the memory away just in time to see Grantaire pass by him, heading back into the café. Enjolras caught his arm and Grantaire raised bloodshot eyes.
"Why did you come back?" Enjolras murmured.
Grantaire twisted his lips in something that might have been an apologetic smile. "Someone's got to keep you sorry sods out of trouble."
Enjolras said nothing, waiting to see if Grantaire would continue, say something serious, but all Grantaire did was drop a hand on Enjolras' shoulder, nothing more than a friendly clap on the back. But he left the hand there, pouring into it all the words he would never say. Thank you and I'm sorry and You're right even if I won't admit it and I'll never forget you as long as I live.
Enjolras nodded, saying with the gesture so clearly he might have spoken it aloud, I will remember you, and Grantaire must have known what he was thinking because he snorted with a trace of his old snarky sarcasm and dropped his hand to his side as if to say, Not that any of us will live to see tomorrow anyway.
Enjolras squeezed Grantaire's arm and released it, left him to spend his last night how he would. Little did he know all Grantaire wanted was to stand by his side.
The next morning, he got his wish.
If you permit it…