A/N: Many thanks to all my lovely reviewers! I'm just going to put a little note up here about the positions of the not-Amis characters in this fic-Eponine is still dead, I'm afraid, as is Valjean, but Javert is not, due to popular demand ;) Marius isn't dead, obviously, but he's not involved at present. He's lying low. For now, at least. Still managed a big fancy wedding with Cosette, though. Now, on with the chapter!
In a tiny, sprawling town huddled to the land about two days' ride from Brest, the guards are rowing with the town prison bailiff in the prickling evening heat.
"Don't you bloody know how important these prisoners are? They need to be separated as much as possible! They can't all go in one cell!"
"I told you before, it can't be done! I've got my job to do, same as you've got yours! And I'm telling you, there's only one free cell. What, do you want me to let criminals go just so that yours can have their space?"
"These are prisoners of national importance! We cannot cram them all into one cell, it's an invitation for an escape attempt!"
"Well, guard them, then! Is that not what you are paid to do?"
"We're meant to be getting our rest for the journey tomorrow!"
"You mean you want to go out and find the nearest tavern and the ladies with the freest favours? One cell, or no cell at all," the bailiff states flatly.
The guards glance between themselves, their faces shadowed with anger.
"I suppose we have no choice, then."
And this is how it transpires that the Amis find themselves all together again for the first time since they left Paris, if only for a night. The air is clinging and humid and the dirt-streaked walls of their cell seem to press tight around them, crushing and oppressive. With any others, it would be suffocatingly claustrophobic, but they are familiar enough with one another to be comfortable with and even take pleasure in such closeness, after such separation.
Feuilly smiles for the first time in what feels like an age as his friends file into the cell with him. He clasps Combeferre's shoulder, squeezes Bossuet's hand, reaches down to ruffle Gavroche's hair and presses his forehead briefly to Jehan's. They all greet one another, not with words-how could 'hello' even begin to cover it, in their situation? -but quick, tender gestures, reaffirming their affection for one another. His smile barely slips until he sees Grantaire and Enjolras approach. It does not, at first, seem very odd to Feuilly that Grantaire is unsteady on his feet or that strips of red flush paint his cheeks against the pallor of his skin, until he realises that the man cannot possibly be drunk. And then he notes the protective arm that Enjolras has wound tight around Grantaire's waist to guide him and the taut concern in their leader's face, and it strikes him that something is very wrong.
This is not least because ordinarily, Enjolras would not even deign to touch Grantaire, let alone wrap an arm around his waist. As the cell door clangs shut behind them, Feuilly notices how the yellow candlelight glistens wanly on Grantaire's skin, how heavy and ragged his breaths are.
"Feuilly," Enjolras murmurs, warmly grasping his arm in greeting. They both glance towards Grantaire, who manages to tip Feuilly a strained grin. Enjolras's eyes narrow critically and he continues: "Can you get-"
Before he can finish, Feuilly has found Joly's sleeve in the crowd of his friends, judging him to be closer than Combeferre, and tugs him into their corner.
"Jolllly," Grantaire drawls, and it's difficult for them to tell whether it's the fever or his sense of humour that has caused his tongue to smear his friend's name so. Joly's answering smile is tight and anxious.
"Better sit him down, I think."
Enjolras nods and gently deposits Grantaire on the floor so that he sits against the stone wall of their cell and then crouches back onto his heels, staying hunched at Grantaire's level. Joly drops to his knees at Grantaire's side and lays a slender hand on his brow, as Enjolras had done in the carriage.
"Combeferre," he calls urgently, and his summons is sudden and harsh over the soft, muttered conversations taking place between their other friends. There is a silent pause, then Combeferre shoulders through their friends towards them and the conversations resume, more hushed than before. Feuilly steps back to make space for him. Combeferre squats down, mimicking Enjolras, and peers into Grantaire's eyes. The flickering light casts all of their faces into plunging shadows and glowing angles, their features either thrown into candlelit relief or cast into black obscurity. Scraps of darkness and gleams of light dance over their countenances as they speak.
"He's definitely feverish," Joly supplies, carefully taking hold of Grantaire's chin and tilting his head so that he too can see his eyes, which are starkly blue against his bloodless skin.
Combeferre hums in agreement. It is not difficult to deduce the problem here.
"M'fine," Grantaire mumbles, his lips dragging on the words as he bats Joly's probing hands away. "Don't fuss, Joly. M'all right."
"When was your last drink, my friend?" Combeferre inquires carefully and comprehension rises in Joly's eyes. Grantaire squints into his cloudy memories.
"At the barricade... The day we were arrested, prob'ly. Can't be sure..."
There is tension in the glance between the two medical students. Worry is carved into Combeferre's brow and bitten into Joly's lip.
"What? What is it?" Enjolras's tone is so sharp that it could cut glass, sensing an understanding in the air that has left him behind.
"Alcohol withdrawal," answers Combeferre, darkly.
"Then he should recover, should he not? He will be all right," Enjolras's voice has not mellowed.
"He has been drinking heavily for a long time, so his body has come to rely greatly on the alcohol. Withdrawal is not kind, Enjolras. Especially not in a case such as this," Joly replies quietly. There is a moment of silence, and the shadows betray the muscle that clenches briefly in Enjolras's jaw.
"M'fine," Grantaire insists hazily. "S'nothing. Don't waste your concern on me. Got bigger things to worry about."
Enjolras ignores him. "Can anything be done?" Even as it passes his lips, he knows it is a futile question. Regardless of whether anything can be done or not, they are hardly in a position to do it.
Combeferre purses his lips and shakes his head. "He'll have to ride it out, I'm afraid." He turns to direct his words at Grantaire. "Though you should sleep, if you can."
Joly reaches over to squeeze Grantaire's shoulder as he nods his acquiescence, too tired now to protest further. "Sleep well, R."
He goes to join Feuilly as Combeferre gets Grantaire settled, and together they observe Enjolras standing over him like a guardian, his vigilant gaze trained solicitously on the cynic's face. His watchfulness and care is not in itself strange, but applied to Grantaire, it makes an odd sight for the rest of the Amis.
"Well, this is a curious turn," Joly murmurs thoughtfully into Feuilly's ear. "I did not think that Enjolras held any great love for Grantaire."
"It is only the same love that he bears for us all, shown to Grantaire," comes Feuilly's whispered reply.
"And therein lies the curiosity, my friend," says Joly wryly. "I thought he detested him."
Feuilly is quiet for a moment as they watch Enjolras shrug off his waistcoat and fold it deftly before sliding it under Grantaire's head. "Whatever kind of a turn this is, I am glad of it. The last thing we will need in prison is to be divided amongst ourselves. If Enjolras has decided to accept Grantaire, then it allows us all to be unified."
"Just so," smiles Joly, then breaks into a cavernous yawn. "Come, Grantaire is not the only one who must sleep."
As Joly and Feuilly find an open patch of floor to lie on, Enjolras gingerly caresses Grantaire's cheek then rises and turns away, dismissing him into sleep. He casts his eyes around for an empty spot-the Amis have all curled into the spaces of one another's bodies and are slumbering like a litter of new puppies, heads resting on others' shoulders or stomachs or laps, arms flung over each other, hands loosely entwined. It draws a fond smile from Enjolras.
He picks his way across the cell floor and is about to sink into a space between Jehan and Bahorel when a hand seizes his elbow and he finds himself nose to nose with Combeferre.
"What are you doing?" Combeferre mutters, wary of waking the others. His tone is not accusatory, but it is pressing, confidential but searching. "I have never known you show such fondness for Grantaire."
"I..." Enjolras is abruptly uncertain. There is no brief summation of the debate he has been waging with himself in his mind these past few days, no few words to convey to Combeferre the complex and agonising deliberation. He wishes fervently that he could simply open his mind and show Combeferre, show all of the Amis, the searing memory of those few radiant moments as the dawn bled out over the barricade and he had locked eyes with Grantaire, blue on blue, across a room smoky with sunlight, and known that they would stand together for the end of their world, and say here, this is why. I am doing what I am doing because of this.
Enjolras is suddenly conscious of another wakeful presence in the room. He feels Courfeyrac's keen, astute eyes on him from the other side of the cell and knows that he is listening, but he does not mind. A conversation between the three of them is as private as a conversation with himself.
"I once accused Grantaire of being incapable of believing, of thinking, of willing, of living and of dying. He proved me wrong in every respect that morning at the barricade, so I am resolved now to treat him like someone who can do all of those things. To treat him as one of us. It is my wish that..."
He trails off, hesitant. What if he has misjudged, and in reality his Amis are no keener for Grantaire's earnest friendship than he himself had been before the barricade?
"That?" prompts Combeferre, a smile plucking at the corners of his mouth.
"That he should be as much a brother to us as any man in this cell is. I am not, however, under the impression that this will always be easy. I had thought that his greatest problem was that he valued nothing, but I think now that it may rather be that he does not value himself."
Combeferre's smile escapes restraint and blooms wide across his face. "Savour this, Enjolras," he teases lightly. "Emotional insights do not often come along for you."
A muted snuffle of mirth is heard from across the room and Enjolras darts a wrathful glance towards the place where Courfeyrac is lying.
"I was merely saying-" Enjolras begins stiffly, struck with annoyance.
"I know, I know," Combeferre chuckles, laying his hands on Enjolras's shoulders. Enjolras relaxes again at the touch as Combeferre's face grows serious once more, but somehow no less glad. "You know we meant no harm. Your emotional insights are rare, but they would seem to be accurate. For what it is worth, I think it would do Grantaire no end of good if you showed him a little warmth, and the rest of us would feel all the more comfortable in our friendships with him for it. You made him believe in you. Give it time, perhaps you can make him believe in himself."
Enjolras snorts softly, but feels a heavy sadness drop into his chest. It strikes him very suddenly, like a fencing blow, what a melancholy thing it must be to have no belief, when he himself is a being made up of belief entirely. "I doubt even I am up to that task. Yet...perhaps it is worth a try, anyway."
"It is, I think. We will all try, whatever comes of it."
"It is unlikely to be success," Enjolras reminds Combeferre tersely.
Combeferre shrugs. "We'll see. For now, though, we should sleep. We will be at Brest before long."
A/N: I just realised that this chapter is very Grantaire-centric...ah, well. Got to love R. I'm probably just feeling more R-attached than normal because I recently found out that weirdly, George Blagden went to the same school as my friend's brother. Heh, it's a small world. I totally wouldn't gatecrash their next school reunion ;) Please review, I'd love to know what you think!