Visions of the Past, Looking toward the Future
A/N: This was a graduation gift for ariadneslostthread that I posted on tumblr and thought I would post here as well. Enjoy!
"Do you know what the best thing is about law school graduation in particular?" Enjolras asks, as he stands in the procession line with Courfeyrac, Bossuet, and blessedly Bahorel, who finally took it upon himself to graduate, because 'what better did he have to do, anyhow, he was tired of arguing with this particular set of professors?'
"That we aren't leaving this graduation knowing we have to spend three more years in the prison of the academic world?" Coufeyrac asks, straightening his hat on top of his chestnut curls. "That the world is, as they say, our oyster?"
"That we all blessedly have jobs in the same geographic area so we can continue our work together?" Bossuet chimes in, standing on his tiptoes to try and spot their friends in the crowd, but his ankle turns, and he's saved from falling by Bahorel. "On the catch that we pass the bar, of course."
"That the party after this will be infinitely more entertaining than some sort of undergrad shinding?" Bahorel questions with a grin. "And that I can now use my degree as a tool when arguing with ignorant people?"
"No," Enjolras says, a smirk pulling at his own lips, eyes landing on Courfeyrac. "It's that with these types of hats, Courfeyrac does not have the ability to draw something atrocious on the top unbeknownst to his sleeping friends."
"Oh," Courfeyrac says, offended, mouth dropping open in protest, placing his hands on his hips. "Well excuse me Mr. Fancy Pants Law Review Editor, Graduation Speech Maker and new employee of the ACLU. I thought you had long forgiven me for that; it was three years ago, after all."
"And my memory is long," Enjolras says, amused. "And you're working for the ACLU too, Courf."
"Well, it's not my fault that you happen to look dashing even in hideous graduation hats, you'll have to blame genetics for that," Courfeyrac says. "Or some sort of kiss from the angels. I had to do something to make you as embarrassed as the rest of us."
"That does seem fair," Bahorel says, unable to stop from laughing, the sound booming across the lawn with delightful fervor.
"I looked just as awkward and ridiculous as the rest of you," Enjolras argues, prodding Courfeyrac in the chest.
"You certainly did," Courfeyrac says, but he's smiling fully now. "With 'freedom or bust' written in lime green glitter pen on the back of your hat. You were so annoyed, Enjolras, you should have seen your face. But you can never stay mad at me for more than a few minutes."
"Where did you even get that glitter pen?" Bossuet asks.
"Jehan," Courfeyrac says in a matter of fact tone as the procession starts walking forward. "He's handy for that sort of thing. On another note, this humidity is doing nothing for my hair not looking utterly ridiculous in this hat either. It's damn hot for only being the sixth of June."
Something about the date hits Enjolras in the stomach; he's heard it mentioned before, and not in relation to D-Day. It means something to him, he thinks, and he looks down at the ground for a moment, eyebrows furrowed. He's always had an odd love of French political history, took a class in it specifically, and he feels like he remembers something about a very small rebellion, the June rebellion…
"All right, E?" Courfeyrac asks, voice popping into Enjolras' confused, darkened thoughts, the warm affection behind his voice washing away the sudden goosebumps on Enjolras' skin.
"Fine," Enjolras replies, smiling again, that unsettled feeling in the pit of his stomach mixing with his elation at the occasion.
They start walking with the rest of the procession, their teasing falling silent as they take in the moment; Enjolras feels Courfeyrac squeeze his hand from behind, and he takes reassurance in the heartfelt, familiar feeling.
He's had disconcerting dreams lately, dreams involving barricades, a hot, sticky summer day, blood running around his feet in rivers of red, gunshots exploding in the air, whispered words of French in his ear; flashes of what seem like real memories strike in his mind when he's awake, mental videos of events playing in his head at the mere touch of a friend's hand. As Courfeyrac touches his hand now, an image paints on his brain.
The backroom of an old café bathed in candlelight, Courfeyrac sliding a book out of his hands and capping the inkwell sitting to his right.
A smile so bright even the stars were envious.
"Time for you go home, my friend. Combeferre will have my head if I let you stay here until two in the morning again while he's stuck in an emergency at Necker. Don't think I didn't see your eyes fluttering closed."
The strange image fades and Enjolras squeezes back, thinking of the new apartment Combeferre, Courfeyrac, and himself are moving into next week, an apartment with a bathroom bigger than a broom closet and an air conditioning unit that actually blows cold air. Grantaire and Bahorel live two floors up in the same building, and all the others within a few miles, and Enjolras knows that with his friends by his side, he feels like he can set the world on fire, that they can change the world together, each of them sparking the flame in their own way, with their own talents.
They walk past the crowds of family and friends as they file into their chairs; Marius and Cosette, first year law students themselves now, wave exuberantly at them from their seats. Eponine, who just landed her first newspaper job, sits next to Cosette, rolling her eyes at her friends' enthusiasm but smiling nonetheless, winking at the four of them as they walk past.
Enjolras waves and smiles at his parents, but his smile grows almost painfully wide when he spots Combeferre, Feuilly, Grantaire, Joly, and Jehan as near to the graduates' chairs as they could manage; Joly shoots them a thumbs up, Jehan clasps his hands together in excitement, Grantaire sticks his tongue out and Feuilly smacks him in the arm, trying not to laugh, and Combeferre smiles softly at them, a proud twinkle in hazel eyes.
The ceremony, his speech, walking across the stage all blur together in Enjolras' mind. It's what happens after the ceremony that stands out clearly in his mind in Technicolor snapshots.
Combeferre embraces him tightly, and Enjolras relaxes into the touch as words he's never heard Combeferre utter before form in his mind in his friend's usual voice, images racing across to join them, and he pulls Combeferre closer.
"We will share your fate!"
A hand grasping his, even as they both tremble.
His own shout of grief echoing in his ears, his heart cracking in half.
Courfeyrac comes at them from a running start, nearly knocking all three of them to the ground, but Enjolras cannot reprimand him, he can only laugh, the feeling soaking him in relief against the strange memories, and he holds his two best friends even more snugly against him.
Courfeyrac sitting so close to him their sides touch, waistcoat unbuttoned, a serious expression etched into the usually gleeful countenance.
Grantaire nicks the hat off his head and dances just out of his reach with it, grinning wide, and Enjolras chases him across the lawn. He finally catches him, and as he snatches the hat back with a victorious "ha!" his hand brushes Grantaire's.
The back room of a café.
Soldiers with guns pointed directly at him.
"I feel as if I'm about to shoot a flower."
A familiar face approaching, a cry on his lips, turning into a soft, whispered request.
"Long live the republic! Two at one shot…Do you permit it?"
His own smile, a rush of love.
Grantaire's hand securely in his own.
Pain, but pain he doesn't experience alone.
Feuilly clasps his hand, quickly slipping a 2nd edition of The Social Contract into his grasp, which he'd found buried at a garage sale. This time, Enjolras hears his own voice in his head as Feuilly's hand touches his.
"Listen to me, you, Feuilly, valiant artisan, man of the people. I revere you. Yes, you clearly behold the future, yes, you are right. You had neither father nor mother, Feuilly; you adopted humanity for your mother and right for your father."
He sees himself atop a barricade, fire in his eyes and donning a red jacket.
Jean Prouvaire cries happy tears all over him, and Enjolras returns the embrace wholeheartedly, heart swelling with gratitude as Jehan presses a handwritten poem into his hands, nearly losing his breath at the next rush of memory.
"Vive la France! Long live the Republic! Long live the future!"
His own voice, crackling with intensity, with rage as he turns to a man in a long black coat.
"Your friends have just shot you."
Joly ruffles his hair, his ever cheerful smile spreading from ear to ear, Bossuet's cap resting ridiculously atop his auburn locks, and while melancholy once again flows through him, Enjolras almost laughs.
"What is the cat? It is a corrective. The good God, having made the mouse, said: `Hullo! I have committed a blunder.' And so he made the cat. The cat is the erratum of the mouse. The mouse, plus the cat, is the proof of creation revised and corrected."
Bossuet insists that Enjolras rub his bald head for good luck and won't leave him be until he does, and Enjolras rolls his eyes good-naturedly.
"I admire Enjolras…His impassive temerity astounds me. It is a thing unheard of that a man should be as cold as ice and as bold as fire."
Bahorel seizes him bodily from the ground in a bear hug, his signature laughter ringing merrily in Enjolras' ears.
"Each in his own way Enjolras…you have the cold burning style; I amuse myself. Besides, I am not exhausting myself , I am gaining new energy; and if I tore down that charge, by Hercules! It was to give me an appetite."
"Your speech was one of your best," Combeferre tells him when they return home with Courfeyrac to change before the aforementioned party Bahorel is throwing. "I think I saw Feuilly getting teary. I think you inspired a group of exhausted law students, Enjolras, and I'd say that's an accomplishment," he remarks wryly. "How do you feel?"
"Free," Enjolras says with a sigh, his mind spinning with memories of the past, contemplations of the future, and the strange words and images in his head. He'd looked up the June Rebellion on his phone on the way home, and he'd been right; the barricades erected fell on June 6th, and he hasn't been able to brush the information off, and he doesn't know if the things in his head are real or invented from dreams.
Or possibly he's gone insane.
"Something wrong?" Combeferre asks, surveying him with a keen, knowing eye.
"I…" Enjolras begins. "Strange dreams recently, but we can talk about it later. If we're late to the party Bahorel will never forgive me. We should celebrate."
Soft, gentle hands on his forehead, feeling for a fever.
Passionate debates over politics and philosophy lasting late into the night.
A voice that always comforts him, calms him, corrects him.
"Positive," Enjolras answers, squeezing Combeferre's fingers. "It's a bit convoluted anyhow, and today is a special day. It…it can wait till morning."
The sound of a bottle of champagne popping cuts through the small apartment.
"I'm king of the world!" Courfeyrac shouts, his voice carrying in from the kitchen.
"You are offending the sensibilities of anyone ever oppressed by a monarchy, you know!" Enjolras calls back over the sound of Combeferre's laughter.
"I can't even make a Titanic reference," Courfeyrac says, appearing in the doorway. "Fine. We are all kings of the world. Equal voices and everything awesome that goes with that."
"Much better," Enjolras says, slipping one arm through Combeferre's and the other through Courfeyrac's pulling them close for a brief moment.
One day to a new beginning! Raise the flag of freedom high! Every man will be a king! There's a new world for the winning! There's a new world to be won! Do you hear the people sing!
Enjolras shakes the chant away, latching onto Courfeyrac's words.
"Yes," Courfeyrac agrees, a glimmer of pleasure in his eyes. "Now let's go before Grantaire and Bahorel drink all the quality champagne."
Enjolras and Combeferre follow in Courfeyrac's wake, and even though they changed quickly and live in the same building, they are still the last ones there. Jehan is in the midst of proclaiming the talents of the first year freshman poetry students he's teaching to Joly and Bossuet, waving his drink about in the air in excitement. Bahorel and Grantaire are inexplicably playing a game of Jenga on the breakfast bar, their beers resting next to them, and Bahorel's shout of tickled frustration chases away Enjolras' anxiety as the Jenga blocks go falling when he pulls out the wrong one.
Enjolras takes the glass of wine Combeferre hands him, smiling as Feuilly comes over to the two of them.
"You look pleased, my friend," Combeferre remarks.
"Four of my friends just survived law school," Feuilly says, sipping the hard cider in his hands. "I'd be a fool not to be pleased," he continues, grinning at Enjolras. "I do have some news I'd like to share, if that's all right?" he says, shuffling his feet.
"Of course!" Enjolras exclaims. "Why would you hesitate?"
"Well it is your graduation day and I…"
"Feuilly," Enjolras reprimands affectionately. "Please tell us."
Feuilly pulls something out of his pocket, handing it over to Enjolras and Combeferre.
"You got in the architecture master's program!" Enjolras says, eyes scanning over the letter. "Congratulations!"
"I did," Feuilly says, shy. "I wanted the two of you to know first."
"We are honored," Combeferre says, placing his hand on Feuilly's shoulder in congratulations.
Enjolras grasps Feuilly's arm; Feuilly graduated from college through a combination of working, scholarships, and a few loans, and he was the first person in his family to graduate with a degree. But his plans to pursue graduate school had been put on hold when his foster mother (he'd been put in her care at twelve after being shuffled around after his parents died at seven) fell ill, and he dropped everything and took the role of her main caretaker while he worked.
Enjolras is unceasingly proud of his friend, but even as admiration floods him, unbidden images fill his mind once more.
A worker's cap.
Paint stained hands and tired eyes.
A ginger-haired man that looks astonishingly like Feuilly bent over a pile of books on Polish history.
After a few minutes Combeferre pulls Feuilly away to tell the others, and Enjolras sips at his wine, quirking his eyebrow when Grantaire sees him alone and walks over, leaning against the counter.
"René Enjolras, esquire," Grantaire says. "Sounds pretty catchy."
"Indeed," Enjolras says, looking over at Grantaire, the sounds of Courfeyrac's cries of outrage ring through the room as the Jenga blocks fall once more. "I see you're beating Bahorel pretty soundly at Jenga."
Grantaire laughs. "Bahorel is terrible at Jenga," he says. "Although he seems to have met his match in Courfeyrac, though our dear center did break into the champagne while you were in the elevator up, so. That might have something to do with it."
"I'd think so," Enjolras says fondly, looking over at Courfeyrac before his eyes dart to the pile of brown-wrapped packages by the door. "What's that by the door?"
"What's that?" Enjolras asks, pointing.
"That?" Grantaire asks, voice going a smidge higher than normal, piquing Enjolras' curiosity further. "That's nothing."
"Looks like wrapped paintings to me," Enjolras says, raising both eyebrows.
Grantaire sighs, rolling his eyes, but relents.
"Oh all right, nosy," he says. "My paintings got selected for the art show at the university."
"Oh?" Enjolras says, feigning ignorance. "You mean the one I mentioned to you, and you protested that there was 'no way in hell that was happening' because you thought they weren't good enough?"
"Yes, Enjolras," Grantaire sighs, but there's a rare twinkle in his dark emerald eyes. "That would be the one. I believe you also said I was 'wasting my talent and not thinking of all the people I could inspire'."
"You are talented," Enjolras insists with zeal. "And you listened to me. I'm going to remember that."
"You're an ingrate, Enjolras," Grantaire says, but he elbows Enjolras gently in the ribs as he speaks. "I always listen to you, the only difference is this time I followed through on the advice. Unsolicited advice, mind you."
"Oh, quiet," Enjolras murmurs, flicking him gently in the arm. "You talk too much."
"You don't believe in anything."
Grantaire's voice, not as heavy with alcohol as usual.
"I believe in you."
"Thinking of your next speech already?" Grantaire asks, breaking through his thoughts. "Thought you might take a break from everything for a few days."
"No, sorry," Enjolras says, distracted as he tries focusing on the moment. "Just thinking."
"As ever," Grantaire says, topping off Enjolras' half empty glass.
Something Enjolras doesn't understand compels him to move closer to Grantaire, so he does and they stand side by side, arms touching lightly, but comfortably. After a few minutes the others are drawn to them, and Enjolras feels a wave of joy overcome him, and his lips curve upward, the light reaching his eyes. More words form in his mind.
"Citizens, the nineteenth century is grand, but the twentieth century will be happy."
He agrees with those words, he thinks.
There are surely problems in the word, he muses. Problems he and these friends surrounding him will fight to solve with their every breath.
There will always, inevitably, be a battle to fight, and he will be there to fight, to improve life for humanity in any way he can; he dedicates his life to that fight.
There have been world wars, there are nuclear weapons, there is genocide, and racism and sexism and discord. There is any number of things that set him aflame with anger, things that send a sadness so wretched into the pit of his stomach that it makes him feel ill, things he fights against, things he will always encourage others to fight against. This is not a world where apathy and lack of empathy are acceptable.
But there is also advanced medicine that prevents people from dying of even the most basic diseases, something essentially unheard of before, there are programs that feed, cloth, educate, and house orphaned children, that help the unemployed and the destitute. There is public education and the internet and access to information. People can vote no matter their gender or their race or their class. There is frequent news of states and countries legalizing gay marriage. There is democracy and freedom of speech and the press, and where there is not there are people standing up against tyranny, against oppression, raising their voices in one song.
There is beautiful, blessed progress.
And these friends of his, they will fight to keep that light spreading over the darkness of complacency.
People have a much greater chance of being happy in this century.
Enjolras sees the strange, hazy barricade from his dreams once again in his mind, hears the gunshots, sees the smoke, feels the cold edge of death in his bones. He feels his own voice from a distant past overtaking his mind.
But it hadn't been for nothing, no. Their sacrifices were for something. France kept fighting, the people finally rose, establishing the second republic, and then a third.
Into a grave illuminated by the dawn.
Enjolras shakes his head again.
He's never been one to believe in reincarnation, and perhaps he's putting far too much stock in strange images and words that might be made of dreams, stress, a full to the brim schedule, and perhaps an overactive imagination.
But perhaps not.
What he does know is that he's happier than he can express that in this century, in this life, if it is a second one, that he and his friends can live to fight another day, can live to see their cause full-filled, a bubble of love burgeoning in his chest as he looks once more at all of them gathered around him.
Love, thine is the future.
He's grateful for that world.