Notes: I still can't believe all the great feedback and amazing support my little AU has gotten, both here and on Tumblr. You guys are the best, I cannot stress that enough. This is the second-to-the-last chapter, and fans of Catherynne Valente will see her influence here. There's only one more part after this, but, to tide you over, I have a little drabble collection on my blog which includes outtakes from Years Built on Sand ( youarethesentinels . tumblr . c*m / post / 42925046612 / the-history-books-forgot-about-us-e-e-drabble ). So I hope you like that, and this update, too. Corrections, suggestions, and constructive criticism are very welcome.
Day Six: Koschei the Deathless
The shot had woken Enjolras up. He and the other Amis had rushed out of the Corinth in their bare feet and their un-tucked white shirts to see the sentry at the Rue Mondétour crying and gesturing weakly at something beyond the smaller rampart.
"I didn't even see the kid slip away," the sentry choked, rambling with grief, "but the guards did. He's dying, he's bleeding out, I have a son his age, he's dying, this isn't how a child should die-"
Courfeyrac had peered through the gaps in the furniture and dropped to his knees, and Enjolras… hadn't looked.
He tried to. He took one step closer to the barricade, but something inside him froze abruptly with the realization that he wouldn't be able to bear it, the sight of Gavroche on the cobblestones. It would be too much for the heart to hold.
And so he walked away, shoulders sloped with the crippling weight of his shame. What a fine general you are, he told himself savagely in his father's voice. What a man. To lead them to their deaths and not watch them fall. You are a boy playing soldiers.
When he heard her screaming, it had almost sounded like salvation.
Madame Huchloup's chairs are at the barricade; there is nowhere for him to sit except for the bed, but the throbbing pain in his jaw makes him wary. Éponine has an impressive right hook, for such a spindly little thing.
He kneels on the floor by the bed, his arms folded on the mattress. Her head drops forward on the thin pillow and her long, dark hair splays out, the tangled strands grazing his knuckles. He stares quietly at the wall as she cries herself to sleep.
Forgive me, he thinks, her sobs wrenching at his chest. Forgive me, because I know you loved him. I carried his bullet, but I couldn't even watch him die.
She drifts off at some point past midnight. Her ragged breathing evens out and she sinks into the grace of oblivion, turning her back to him, her cheek curving in the lamplight. He thinks about the way she'd felt in his arms, all skin and bones and restlessness. It would have been like trying to hold on to water, if she hadn't been so warm.
He thinks about that, because he cannot think about Gavroche, or Mabeuf, or Le Cabuc, or Jehan.
Once he's satisfied that she's out for the night, he stands up and tucks the flimsy blanket over her huddled frame. He douses the lamp and returns to the Corinth, where his friends are sipping wine from dingy glasses. They've left the seat at the head of the table empty, and he takes his place with a heavy, exhausted thud, chair legs scraping across the floor.
"I think," says Combeferre, "that I have imbibed more this revolution than during that week we spent in Provence, which, even now, remains a blur to me."
"Be grateful for small mercies," snorts Bahorel. "You do not want to remember what you did."
"The day before we left, I saw the vineyard owner putting up a 'No university students allowed' sign," Bossuet remarks.
The others chuckle. Combeferre bows his head, good-naturedly accepting the taunt.
"I should have liked to, though," he muses, gaze full of distant light. "I should have liked to remember."
"Jehan was in fine form that week," says Grantaire, still laughing. "He wooed the milkmaid, the washerwoman, and the vineyard owner's daughter."
Feuilly smiles, shaking his head. "That sign was for him, then. Not Combeferre."
"It was for all of us," declares Courfeyrac. "We are sworn to go through fire together, to trample grapes together-"
"- To steal Professor Babineaux's wig together!" Joly pipes up.
Bahorel chokes on his wine. "Grantaire," he gasps out, helpless with guffaws, "Grantaire- hid it down- his pants-!"
"And when Babineaux called me over for inspection, Jehan put his hand down my ass, grabbed the wig, and stuffed it into his pants!" Grantaire exclaims. "I told him afterwards- I told him I had never felt so close to him as I did in that moment!"
They're howling now, pounding on the table, clapping one another on the back. Even Enjolras cracks a smile, because there it is again in his mind, Jehan fidgeting in the classroom, trying not to scratch at the bulge of the wig tickling his thighs, the afternoon light pouring through the windows, falling on him as light always had, always will in Enjolras' memories. His gaze flickers to the empty chair beside Feuilly. Even now, there is light there, the feeble glow of the lamp shining brightest on that spot. He is rarely fanciful, but he thinks that, if he squints, he might be able to see Jean Prouvaire.
Wait for us, my friend. He grips his wine glass so that his hand won't reach out to the vacant seat. Wait for us awhile.
Courfeyrac wipes tears from his eyes, but whether they are of mirth or sorrow, it's impossible to tell. "I will never forget that day," he says. "It was the first act of anarchy Enjolras ever instigated. We were so young, weren't we? We weren't even twenty yet, were we?"
"Speak for yourself," Bossuet mutters, provoking another round of hilarity which ebbs quicker than the previous ones, the Amis falling silent, their faces bearing the weight, the glorious weight of times gone by.
"Santé, then," says Enjolras, raising his glass. "From professors' wigs to the revolutionary flag! Let us hope Grantaire does not put that down his pants!"
They laugh again, his friends, his comrades, who will follow him until the end, whom he will lead into the land of the dead. "Santé, my brothers," Enjolras continues. "To the days that were ours."
They toast. They exchange grins. They talk some more about Jehan.
"Javert has disappeared," Marius announces early in the morning. "I went to check on him, and he's… not there."
Enjolras processes this information with disbelief and more than a little annoyance. "Where could he have gone?" he demands.
"Probably went off to bite more people," Joly mutters darkly. "Spreading his filthy Javert germs…"
"Joly," Enjolras grits out, fed up, "I swear to God, you try my patience."
Overhearing this exchange, the old volunteer Valjean shakes his head to himself, as if he thinks they're all schoolboys who have no idea what they're doing.
When Enjolras sees Éponine again, she's sitting on the front stoop of one of the houses, her chin propped up on her hands as she watches the cow go through the last of its feed.
"You changed," he says, eyeing her chemise and skirt. In the past few days, he's gotten used to her in male attire, and this sudden return to femininity unsettles him.
"I ransacked Madame Huchloup's daughter's wardrobe," she says dully. "I couldn't wear my old clothes any longer."
Unspoken words hang in the air: I was wearing them when he died.
He slips his hands into his pockets, clears his throat. "Have you eaten?"
"There's nothing left to eat, Enjolras."
He glances around the street. The other rebels are slumped and lackadaisical today, more sullen than ever.
"I'm sorry," Éponine blurts out, "for what I said last night. I wasn't thinking clearly. You don't get my blame, because there's no blame to give. My brother chose. It wasn't your fault."
He can't bring himself to look at her. He turns his head in the direction of the barricade, and she follows his gaze. "I carry all your bullets."
"No." Her voice is sad and soft, and it sounds like what he imagines a woman's smile in the dark must be. The red flag streams in the air. "You carry us."
"Enjolras." Combeferre's voice is low and somber in his ear at sunset. "The men are starving."
"All right," Enjolras replies, quiet and resigned. "All right."
In the fading light of day, the cow is almost a mere shadow at the end of the street. He approaches it with a racing heart, with shotgun in hand. Aurore moos plaintively, as if sensing its doom.
"No." Éponine is a blur in front of him, walking backwards, matching his pace, panicked and agitated. "No," she begs, her dark eyes wide, her quick little hands fluttering on his arms, "no, please-"
He comes to a stop, determinedly pushing her to the side, and he takes aim. She steps in front of the barrel, and the gun almost slides from his grasp. The entire street is hushed, watching.
"Move, Éponine," Enjolras hisses.
She shakes her head.
"Marius!" he barks out. "Take her away." Don't make her look.
As Marius walks toward them, a change comes over the girl. Enjolras watches the muscles under her face shift, watches her shoulders throw themselves back, watches her chin lift. She holds out her palms.
"Let me do it," she says.
"No," he snaps, fiercely.
She glares at him. "At least let me have that much."
Defeated, he passes the shotgun to her. She trembles a little bit at its weight, but her form is steady when she pulls the weapon into her shoulder. He steps back. The red-gold rays of the setting sun glance off her hair, her skin. Her bottom lip quivers as she looks into the cow's eyes. She is magnificent in the dusk, braver than he is, sighting down the barrel, her finger curling around the trigger, ragged and ruined and angry about all the things she has lost.
Patria, Enjolras thinks, and Éponine fires.
The Amis eat their rations inside the Corinth. The meat is bitter on Enjolras' tongue.
"It's charred," Bossuet complains. "Who the hell cooked this?" His eyes snap to Joly and he growls out the other boy's name in accusation.
Joly sniffs. "If you knew the dangers of raw meat- better overdone than underdone, I say."
Bossuet's fist abruptly slams down on the surface of the table, making the plates shake. "You are a terrible doctor and a terrible chef!"
"You're bald!" Joly retorts, raising his voice.
"Everyone, calm down," Combeferre starts to say, but he is interrupted by Bahorel.
"Welcome back, the pacifist! Where were you before this mess?"
Enjolras raises an eyebrow. "I am relieved you think so highly of my revolution, Bahorel," he says coldly.
"No," snarls Bahorel, thin-lipped and white-faced. "You do not get to use that tone with me. I am stuck here because of you. Surrounded by idiots and people who can't cook!"
The dam finally breaks, after days of tension, days of ennui. Everyone starts talking loudly all at once, every single drop of pent-up frustration spilling onto their tongues, except for Grantaire, who pours himself another glass of whiskey.
Upon seeing this, Feuilly knocks the glass away. It shatters on the floor. "Will! You! Stop! Drinking!" he yells at Grantaire.
"I drink when I please!" roars Grantaire. "You ill-mannered lout! You- you Poland-lover!"
They are young men, and restless and disappointed and itching for a fight. It's not long before they come to blows. Courfeyrac stands up, points an unsteady finger at Enjolras.
"You promised us we would die together!" he shouts, he who had been the first of them to see Gavroche's corpse. "But you let them take Jehan first-"
A low rumble of rage curls up in the back of Grantaire's throat. He hurls himself across the table, fists swinging, raining blows on Courfeyrac. The other Amis join in the tussle, exchanging savage kicks and punches and curses that carry a hint of despair. Knives and forks fly everywhere and plates break.
"What on earth is going on here?" thunders Marius from the entrance.
Feuilly throws a plate at him, which he only barely manages to dodge. "This is none of your business, Pontmercy! Go back to mooning over your tramp!"
"Don't talk about her like that," Marius growls, stalking over to them.
And it is chaos, and fury, and bile, the bonds of friendship being set loose to rage against the mind-numbing hopelessness of a slow, slow death. They dare not touch Enjolras, because, even after all's said and done, he is still their leader, but he feels every fist, every boot as keenly as if he is the one being hit. He watches, blankly at first, and then helplessly, all his grand dreams turning into ash.
Boys playing soldiers, whispers his father's voice.
A booming shout from farther away cuts through the commotion. "You at the barricade! Listen to this!"
A hush and a stillness overtakes the Amis, although Grantaire can't resist shoving Combeferre roughly one more time. The other boy glares at him as he dusts off his shirtfront with an affronted huff.
"This is the beginning of your last grace period, and your longest yet!" shouts the army officer. "We will attack tomorrow. Whoever is still behind the rampart at three in the afternoon will be killed on sight! Think carefully before you throw your lives away. You have until three in the afternoon tomorrow!"
This announcement is greeted by a shocked silence. Finally, Courfeyrac starts laughing through the cuts in his lips.
"Enjolras was right," he wheezes. "They got bored before we did."
The others start chuckling, tentatively at first, but soon the sound of mirth is bouncing off the walls, falling against the windowpanes, and if some of them start to weep, it is kindly unremarked upon.
"General." Joly picks up the stem of a broken glass, holds the sharp end out to Enjolras, as if it were a sword. He's nursing a black eye, but he's beaming. "We who are about to die salute you."
He goes to her that night with every intention of making her leave. He will tear out the damn boards himself if he has to. Fury lingers on his tongue, in the hidden parts of him; although he had left his friends in good terms, their accusations still ring in his ears.
His temper getting the best of him, he knocks perfunctorily on Éponine's door and lets himself in without waiting for permission. She's standing in the middle of the room, staring at the loose wall, but she whirls around at the sound of his entrance, looking slightly guilty.
He is startled by the bitterness that rises up in him. This is what you wanted, he tells himself. You wanted her to go, and she's going.
"Be my guest," he tells her, gesturing to the wall.
"I've already been your guest far too long," she says with wry humor.
And he realizes that this is it. He will never see that smirk again, never again see her roll her eyes or hold a gun like a warrior. He will never go back to university or drink coffee at the Musain. It all ends tomorrow.
He starts to tremble. He had tried so hard to be strong all throughout this endless catastrophe, but he is exhausted and all nerves. Look at you, little man, shaking in your shoes. You're afraid to die, after all. Your song fades, Orpheus. Eurydice slips from your grasp.
"I didn't ask for this," he grates out, breathing harshly. "I wanted to fight, not to wait. This is not a revolution." He remembers those who had been killed, he remembers those who had left. "We are getting picked off one by one, like flies. I wanted a spectacle!" His voice rises, sounding almost like a whine, a tantrum. Poor little spoiled bourgeois, all your life you thought you could have the world just by asking for it. It's not that easy, it's never that easy. "I wanted to be glorious! This is not it; this is a laughingstock, a farce!" Leave us, Éponine," he finishes, glowering at her. "This grave of fools is not for you."
Slowly, she closes the distance between them. "You don't get to tell me where my grave is. I decide, always."
Unexpectedly, she reaches out to brush a lock of hair from his forehead. A woman's touch, his first and his last. "Do you have any idea what you've accomplished?" she murmurs, always and forever the shadow, the voice in the dark and the lamplight. "You barricaded a street for- it will be one week tomorrow. You halted business, you prevented anyone from passing through here. You stopped the world, Enjolras. You beat the National Guard, because they blinked first." Her hand falls away from his face, and he is surprised by how fervently he wants to grab hold of it, bring it back to him. "You're going down in history, every single one of you and your friends. The last barricade, the seven-day Republic. France will remember you." Her voice lowers, becomes raspier, more tender. Affectionate, almost. "You will never die, bourgeois boy."
A chill runs through him. "That is even worse." Pages of textbooks flip in his mind. Classroom discussions, debates. "My motives will be misconstrued. They will lose sight of who I was. They will resurrect me, again and again." All his old speeches come back to haunt him, their flowery metaphors, the minor errors in Latin declension. "I will have to get up and say my lines over and over throughout the long years. They will know we fought for them, but they won't know about Grantaire's drinking problem, or Joly's hypochondria, or the notebook of poetry in the pocket of Jehan's coat." He's rambling, but he doesn't care. These are the important things, he realizes that now, now that he is about to lose them, his death looming on the horizon. These are the things that matter, but they will be lost. "They won't know about you, Éponine."
"But you do," she quietly replies. "You know about me."
He is suddenly very conscious of how clearly he sees, feels, smells, and hears things. Old wood and linen. The sputter of oil, the soft and tattered pattern of her breathing. The flecks of gold in her dark eyes, the shadow of lashes on her cheek. The flow of blood in his veins. It's as if his senses are soaking up the world, in preparation of all that is to come after it.
He reaches for her hair, running his hand through its thick mass, feeling every tangle, every wave. You are the night, he wants to say, you are the streets. But that would be inaccurate, because she is no longer smoke. She's turned into something real, his first and his last. Her eyes are all he can see as he wraps the ends of her hair around his fingers. He tugs gently, and she follows, collapsing into his arms, crashing against him like an ocean. He bends his head, his fingers still filled with the loops of her hair, and he moves his lips, and she is there, waiting for him.
"Amidst great rocks
Koshchey the Deathless leaping,
Wild and fierce
And free again from chains.
Like the storm he howls and weeping,
Sprays the steppes
With burning tears of rage."
To Be Concluded