39. Ami, Amour

Enjolras sits at a table looking moodily at a plate of bread and cheese.

Feuilly is ensconced at a back table near the window, with pen and battered paper, writing something out laboriously. He is sufficiently absorbed in this task that it is not till he's through that he notices he is no longer alone. He sits up a bit. "Afternoon."

Enjolras takes out a watch and looks at it, then smiles slightly at Feuilly. "So it is."

Feuilly quirks a brow at him, with a sort of bemused semi-smile, and leans sideways on the table. "How goes it?"

"Not very well, thank you for asking. And you?"

"Decently. What's the matter?"

"More like what isn't the matter." Enjolras assumes that Feuilly's heard all about his own indiscretions from Grantaire's sister, or perhaps figured them out himself. "I should have known this would be more complex that it looked at first." He pushes his hair away from his forehead. "But if he'd only listen to me, it'd be easier."

Feuilly considers this a minute. "If who'd only listen to you?"

Enjolras blinks at him. "Grantaire, of course."

Of course since when? Feuilly regards him in mild bewilderment. "Oh."

Enjolras understands the confusion not at all. "I don't know why I..." he trails off and shakes his head. "No, that's not true. I do."

"What?" It's quiet, carefully nonintrusive.

Enjolras looks at him more closely, and realizes that he's talking to someone who doesn't know what he's saying. He looks away, blushing. "You don't know."

Feuilly runs his fingers through his hair as though that might clear his thoughts. "No, I don't think I do," he admits.

Enjolras falters. It was so much easier when he assumed Feuilly knew what was happening. "Oh God, do I actually have to tell you?" Under the circumstances, it's a rhetorical question, and not a happy one.

"Is it that bad?" queries Feuilly kindly. "If he's been pestering you, you know..."

Enjolras laughs. "No, not that at all. More like I've been pestering him." The humor fades and he muses, "Bad? No, I shouldn't say that."

Feuilly is sorely puzzled by this time. The truth, not unnaturally, doesn't begin to dawn on him, and Enjolras' remarks fail to add up to anything he can make sense of. He's quiet.

Enjolras opens his mouth, pauses again, and then elaborates, "We've been spending quite a bit of time together recently."

"Well, that's..." Feuilly stops, trying to make that make sense. It takes doing; but he is unsuspecting, not blind. Light begins to dawn. "Time as in time, or time as in..." He pauses, not even sure what he means.

Enjolras loses his nerve again, and mutters, "Yes." Not enlightening.

This tense nonconversation is broken up by Combeferre's entrance into the cafe. "Bonjour, Paulin, Marcelin."

Feuilly might come to a conclusion then, except for the distraction of Combeferre. He looks up in some relief and reflexive welcome. "Afternoon."

Enjolras looks worriedly at Etienne. They didn't exactly part on the best of terms. "Bonjour."

Combeferre looks at Enjolras's empty table and asks, "May I sit down?"

Enjolras nods. "Please do," then looks back at Feuilly, still nervous.

Feuilly looks much less befuddled now that Combeferre is here. He quirks a brief half-smile at Enjolras, as if to say it's all right.

Combeferre sits. "I wanted to talk to you, Marcelin."

"Oh?" Enjolras looks at Feuilly again. He's no less nervous; perhaps more so.

Feuilly politely looks back at his document, pretending to proofread or some such thing.

"Yes, well." It was much easier in theory. "I wanted to ask you how you are."

"Fine!" The answer is too quick, and even to Enjolras's own ears, it rings false. "I'm healthy."

"But are you happy?" That is the real question, and Combeferre has to ask it, even though it sounds intrusive and odd.

Enjolras looks at him levelly. "I don't know."

Feuilly listens unobtrusively.

Combeferre puts a hand on Enjolras's shoulder. "Is it about... him?" It's not any easier for him to say it.

"Listen to me. I don't know. I don't understand at all." Enjolras puts a hand over his face. "I hate all of this."

Combeferre frowns. "All of what?"

Enjolras waves his free hand at the cafe. "Being confused. I don't know what's happening with him. With me. With anything. What should I do with myself?"

Feuilly very carefully traces each of his painstakingly written letters with a fingernail in turn. The train of thought interrupted by Combeferre is getting back on track, and is heading inexorably toward the inescapable conclusion.

"I don't know." Combeferre is not being particularly helpful, but he suggests, "Perhaps you should spend some time alone until you work it out."

Enjolras frowns and shakes his head. "No. I would go mad. Anything but that. I'd have no one to talk to -- after all, you're so busy..."

"Chantal is going home Saturday," Combeferre points out, "and then I shan't be busy at all." He sighs. "I wish you knew what you were doing."

Feuilly regards the tabletop with slightly lifted brows.

"So do I, believe me." Enjolras remembers that Feuilly is here, more or less listening, and glances at him. "And now you know, don't you? Will you laugh and point like everyone else, or almost faint like René or Etienne here?"

Combeferre says quietly, "I didn't almost faint, Marcelin. I was merely surprised."

Feuilly looks up with that uncanny calm of his. If he had any doubts left, this dispels them. He blinks twice at Enjolras. "I imagine you already know how ..." a nod of acknowledgement to Combeferre "surprising it is, I don't suppose I need to demonstrate."

"Yes, I know." Enjolras is no less bitter for this reprieve. "I know how damn surprising it is that I could actually be human." When he realizes what he's said, he adds, "Not to you, though, Paul. You gave me a chance."

Combeferre looks from Feuilly to Enjolras, perplexed but not displeased.

Feuilly smiles fleetingly, which is cheer from Feuilly. "Knew you had it in you."

Enjolras returns the smile, slightly. "Thank you."

Combeferre objects, "I don't think it's a good idea, Marcelin. Not now."

Feuilly inquires, "What isn't?"

"I don't think it's your decision, Etienne. Let me be confused all I want. You're not helping me; you're in love." Enjolras puts a scornful emphasis on the last word. "At least I know I can just walk away."

Combeferre ignores the insulting tone. "I don't want you to hurt yourself or anyone else," meaning Grantaire. "If you want something you can walk away from, buy a pet."

Enjolras glares at Combeferre. "I don't want a pet. I want a friend, and I have gotten mine killed."

Feuilly listens in silence, dark eyes intent.

Combeferre shakes his head slightly. "I don't think you want a friend at all. Or if you do, you are going about acquiring one in entirely the wrong fashion." More quietly, and a little more intensely, "Don't let love be involved."

Enjolras startles, then looks away. "It isn't." He does not sound very confident of that.

Feuilly ventures, very diffidently, "Why not?"

Combeferre shakes his head at Feuilly. "It's not a matter of love! It shouldn't be!" He is as upset as if it is his own life in question.

Enjolras frowns at Combeferre, and does not entirely agree, but ventures, "I don't understand love, not what you mean by it, or what it's supposed to be. But if I was going to choose someone to love, it wouldn't be him. Not like he is now."

"Why not?" again, still in that mild, deferential tone that makes it an actual question. But it gets lost under Enjolras' answer, which is just as well.

"You always hated him," Combeferre points out in a less than reasonable voice. "It'd be -- I'd be confused, to say the least, if you decided you ...loved him." He makes it sound inconceivable.

"I'm not going to decide anything of the sort, so don't worry about that, Etienne." Enjolras speaks as if it is a matter he can thoroughly control.

Feuilly is silent again, looking down at his hands, folded on the table.

Combeferre's tone changes again. He is almost pleading. "I worry about you, Marcelin. You've been acting so strangely."

"Yes, you worry, when you have time. But you don't need to make time for me. I can worry about myself." Enjolras pushes his chair back and stands. "Let me make room in your schedule for someone whom you can fix, Etienne. I'm not going to get any better by your efforts."

"Martyr," Feuilly says, mildly but audibly.

It is at this juncture that the door swings quietly open and Grantaire enters, unobtrusively as he can on occasion.

Combeferre was about to correct Enjolras, but Feuilly's comment stops him. The single word only serves to incite Marcelin to further oration. "I am not a martyr. Other people were, in my stead, and I wish sometimes that I could exchange places with them. Now, I can only do the best I can under the circumstances, and I believe that, at present, I should quit inflicting my problems on my esteemed friend Etienne, who certainly has much more sensible people to deal with, and find myself a suitably insane companion to blather at as I sink into madness." He looks toward the door, then finishes, "Ah, there you are, Grantaire."

"Of course you aren't," returns Feuilly as calmly as before, "that's why you're going on so about madness and despair, isn't it?" He might almost be talking to himself, so detached is his tone, but he's watching Enjolras wryly. And, without a flicker, "afternoon, capital R."

Combeferre begins, "If you think I'll let you out of my sight in this state..." but stops when Grantaire comes in, and looks embarrassed.

Grantaire regards the three of them with no particular expression. "Afternoon. --Marcelin. Feuilly. Hel-lo, young saint." He mostly wanders over to join them, supremely casual.

Enjolras glares at Combeferre, but not so much at Feuilly, whom he thinks is being merely silly. "I believe I shall go home now."

Combeferre protests, "I don't think you should. Just stay here a while, and talk to me. Please." Implicit in this plea is a threat of 'Don't make me follow you home.'

Feuilly glances ceilingward, very briefly.

"What," Grantaire agrees, resting a hand on his shoulder, "already? Day's young. Here we could all be talking pleasant trivialities before dinner, you want to go kiting off home already? Sit down. Be comfortable. Talk at us."

Enjolras is losing what little patience he ever had. "I have been sitting, thank you. I have been talking with Feuilly and Combeferre, and come to no conclusions." He drops the pretense of familiarity under duress. "This is useless. I have only embarrassed myself. Again." But he does sit, and put his head in his hands.

Feuilly relents somewhat. "People do," he says more gently.

Enjolras says, though it is muffled by his hands, "But I don't."

Combeferre sighs. "Perhaps now that you're here, François, you can offer your opinions on the situation." To clarify, he looks significantly at Enjolras.

Grantaire does his innocent look. "I, opinions? Are you asking me to be of use, m'sieur?"

"No one else is." Combeferre is very tired of this whole thing, and it is not yet resolved. "What say you, friend Grantaire? Is love a good idea?"

Feuilly takes in a long breath, as though to steady himself for the oncoming tempest.

Enjolras shakes his head vehemently. "Don't talk about this with him, please."

Grantaire quirks a brow. "Is this one of your philosophical questions?" And then: "Don't talk about what with me? Am I all unwittingly interrupting something? Have I profaned the mysteries, here?" There's a certain edge to his voice, though it might be taken for mere mockery.

Combeferre answers, "Not at all. In fact, I was referring to a specific situation," indicated by another look at Enjolras, who is still in denial. "And he does not want this discussed because, as Paul pointed out so succinctly, he is trying to be a martyr. Talk to us, François, or at least to me if Marcelin must leave."

Feuilly is very quiet, observing.

"I'm not going anywhere." From exodus straight to petulance, Enjolras crosses his arms over his chest and stays firmly seated in his chair. "If you must discuss the minutiae of my private life, you should at least find an audience who is thoroughly engaged by the subject." He gives Feuilly a look that suggests that he, at least, should not be interested.

Feuilly colors somewhat, and almost looks away; but he holds his ground.

There is a long pause. "In a specific situation," Grantaire says quietly at last, and at least in part to the floor, "I don't think I can answer the question."

Combeferre persists, "Then in a more general hypothetical situation?"

"That's a stupid question, Combeferre," Enjolras expostulates. "You don't give a damn what either of us thinks generally, only about this situation, so why ask like that at all?"

Grantaire's hand tightens slightly on Enjolras' shoulder. He is silent.

Combeferre tries to calm himself, but does not succeed entirely. "Give me some credit, Marcelin. I am not as foolish as you presume. Calm down. Everything is not about you."

"So what are we talking about?" It is, unexpectedly, Feuilly, who is apparently not entirely daunted after all. His tone is reasonable.

"Have you been paying no attention at all?" Enjolras, on the verge of hysterics, goes over it and begins to laugh. "This whole fiasco of a discussion is about whether or not I ought to fall in love. Right?" he asks Grantaire, who has no way of knowing.

Grantaire looks to Combeferre. Feuilly does. Both of them look wry.

Combeferre capitulates. "Caught red-handed," he says lightly, hoping to defuse the situation. "But Marcelin, you must understand how worried I have been about you."

"Of course you were worried about me, Etienne. It's all you could do, and it's almost your profession." There is something of an apology about that. Enjolras is very bad at admitting fault. "And I haven't been precisely myself for weeks now."

Feuilly murmurs, "You're allowed."

Grantaire's fingers work soothingly at Enjolras' shoulders, while he watches Combeferre somberly.

Enjolras more or less affects injured dignity. "I had better be allowed! I'll fight for my own right to be horrifically idiotic, if no one will grant it to me." He is not exactly reassured by this backrub, but it helps somewhat.

Feuilly actually chuckles at that.

Combeferre finds this little display discomfiting. It reminds him unpleasantly of a morning visit paid to Enjolras not so long ago, and he has to look away. "Falling in love is part of being human, and stupid," he points out, almost gently.

"This is true," Grantaire remarks, "heaven knows." He observes Combeferre's discomfiture ruefully, but doesn't leave off what he's doing.

Enjolras asks worriedly, "An intrinsic part?" He doesn't fancy being human if it must include love. Love is so inconvenient -- and he's half convinced he's fallen into it already.

"Usually," Feuilly agrees. "Preferably, even."

"Oh." Enjolras is quite depressed at that idea. It quiets him.

Combeferre takes perverse reassurance from his friend's silence. "After all, love is a large part of humanity," he points out in an almost merry voice, "but, really, it's not required. Just pleasant, if you can find it. But if you can't, why worry?"

Enjolras looks rather intently at the table and tries not to think about Grantaire for the moment. Under the circumstances, that would be excruciatingly difficult.

Grantaire, seeming to sense this, unhands him, and steps away to lean against a nearby table, regarding them all somewhat sardonically.

Combeferre is at least temporarily satisfied that, whatever else Enjolras does, he will not fall in love with Grantaire. That's enough for him, for today. He stands, smiling almost beatifically at Enjolras, and says, "Adieu, all of you. I need to be off, see to Chantal, all of that."

Feuilly pushes to his feet rather abruptly. "I should, too. Walk with you?" His tone is rather close to Combeferre's own when Combeferre thinks someone needs talking to.

Enjolras turns, and instead of looking regretfully at Grantaire, gives the two standing men a farewell wave. "Take care."

Combeferre is quite distracted, and merely nods to Feuilly. "Of course, Paul."

If Grantaire sighs, it's quiet. "Till later."

Feuilly nods, picks up his near-forgotten papers, and moves to follow him. "Take care, your own selves."

Combeferre gives a final wave to the two remaining in the cafe. He is almost unwilling to leave them there, but it must be done, and so he goes.

Feuilly ducks out after him, a small, determined shadow.

Grantaire does let out a sigh once the door is closed. "God," he says, at random.

"I am surpassingly stupid," Enjolras announces. "That was hideous. I didn't think Etienne had it in him."

"What?" Grantaire slants a look at him. "The capacity to be damned aggravating? Everyone does, eventually."

"I thought he would understand." Enjolras shakes his head. "God knows I was understanding enough about Chantal." He considers that for a moment, then allows, "I did have an ulterior motive. And I suppose he's worried about me. Thinks I'll start drinking to excess, or something of that sort." He smiles wryly. "I don't think so. Not unless I must."

Grantaire pushes away from the table rather abruptly, kicking out a chair and dropping into it. "Doubtless. Doubtless his reasons are of the purest." Who's bitter?

Enjolras observes, "I hardly think he's jealous."

Grantaire snorts. "No more than you are of the illusive mademoiselle your sibling." He slouches back in his seat, still with that contained violence of energy. "If I know Combeferre, he merely wants to save you from yourself. Saint-Etienne and his missions of mercy."

"He doesn't want to save me from myself, he wants to save me from you," Enjolras explains didactically, "and I, for one, am having none of that. I'll save my own self from whomever I please, or not."

Grantaire rakes a hand through his hair vehemently, jaw clenched; then bursts out suddenly, "What does he think? Ah, God, does he think I would hurt you, that I'd let you come to harm? Do any of them honestly think that? Sweet Jesus, after all we've gone through, you and they and me, after all the shouting and carrying on, all the flag-waving, speech-making, the blood and the tears, I did think there was a little more trust than that." His voice breaks then, and he looks away sharply.

Enjolras puts a hand on his shoulder. "I trust you. And I don't think it's that they doubt you; Etienne is half-convinced I'm going mad." He smiles without mirth. "I can't refute that with any confidence, and so I let him ramble on." The smile fades. "I should have stopped him. I didn't realize how much it hurt you."

Grantaire is trembling. "Hell. Of course you didn't. Nobody does. I don't get hurt. Don't hold with it. Damn it all to bloody hell." He scrubs a hand over his face, fiercely. "I'm sorry."

Enjolras gives his shoulder a squeeze. "I don't see what you have to be sorry for. You weren't giving me hell for daring to have an emotion or a relationship. I -- I'm not a very good companion, am I, if I can't stop my best friend from giving you trouble?"

"Oh, God." It comes out brokenly. He catches at the hand on his shoulder, blindly. "Don't. God, don't say that. It's not you."

"Perhaps I am going mad, then, because I did say it." More quietly, "I meant it. I'm sorry -- I didn't want to have that discussion. Not now."

Grantaire draws a shaking breath, not looking up. "No need to have it at all."

After a moment, Enjolras says, "No, I suppose not."

There is a strained pause, then. Grantaire hangs onto his hand, trying to steady himself. When he speaks again, it is quiet, even hesitant. "I don't ask anything of you. I won't. You know that?" The last is almost a plea.

"I know." Enjolras sounds repentant. "Even when I ask too much of you."

"No. God, no, that's not-- that's not what I mean." He looks up in despair, lost for words.

Enjolras tries to make sense of that, and fails. "What did you mean, then?"

Grantaire takes another unsteady breath. "I meant-- you don't have to-- oh, hell. I don't know. I can't think." He leans his forehead against their joined hands.

"That's funny, neither can I." Enjolras lets the silence sit for a minute, then says, "I know I don't have to love you."

Grantaire jerks upright as though he'd been scalded instead of spoken to calmly. "God -- Marcelin --" He catches himself then, says more steadily, "No, you don't. And you don't."

"I don't?" It's a very gentle question.

They are on steadier ground here, or at least familiar enough that Grantaire can answer without more than a faint tremor, even with a semblance of his worldly-wise manner. "Of course not."

"I suppose you would know, having had so many love affairs." Enjolras speaks lightly, still, but he is not really teasing. "And I would not know." His voice becomes harsher as he continues. "No, I must listen to my friends, who have been in love, and think they know me so well they can tell me what is best for me. How should I know? It's only my life."

"Of course." The mordant tone brings the edge back to Grantaire's manner as well, though it's tempered with intensity. "Listen to me, lover, this is not your life, this is just you finding things out, this is an interlude. Trust me on that much. Don't delude yourself."

Enjolras frowns. "I didn't say that this is my life. I don't mean that this is forever; really, it can't last." His voice is detached and analytical. "None of it makes any sense, nothing is permanent here." With a little irritation and a good deal more emotion, he continues, "That doesn't mean I'm not in love." And now that he's said it, really, this time, he loses whatever else it was he was going to add.

Grantaire buries his face in his hands.

Rather than being discouraged by this, he takes it as a reason to try to explain. "Haven't I seen enough silly boys in and out of love? Jehan gave away his heart to a new girl every month. Was that not love, just because it was shortlived? I don't want you forever, maybe, but today. And today, maybe I'm in love."

"Don't." The word is muffled, but no less vehement for that. "Just-- don't."

"It isn't your choice."

"I don't want to hear it!" He straightens, pushes to his feet, heedless of the chair which nearly goes over; ends up leaning on the windowsill, staring out into the twilight, tense. "So, I lied. I'll ask one thing of you: Don't say this to me."

Enjolras falters, saying hesitantly, "I thought it was important. I thought you might care."

"Damn you, my demigod." Grantaire's hands clench on the sill. "Four years. Four years, I've -- loved you. I know it now. Don't talk to me about shortlived. Leave me a couple of illusions. Let me pretend awhile longer."

Enjolras looks at him blankly. The words do not make sense, not in that combination. "You don't mean that. You can't."

Grantaire turns back sharply, still holding to the windowsill as though he might otherwise fall. "It's not your choice." Gone mockery, gone hysteria. He is deadly calm. "I love you, Marcelin. I would die for you happily. It has been this way since I've known you, and it will be till I die or God strikes me sane. Do you understand me? Don't tell me can't."

Enjolras closes his eyes, taking the only escape he can find. "I don't understand why you're saying this, or what you want me to say. What can I give you? What could I possibly have that is equal to that?"

Grantaire says steadily, "I don't want you to say anything. You don't have to do anything. All I want--" He does falter then, and has to take a breath. "You can do what you like with me. That's all. Sleep with me, shout at me. Lecture me. Toy with me if you must; I just want you to understand. And let me help you, if you will, if I can."

Enjolras opens his eyes and gives Grantaire a stricken look. "How could I just --" words escape him for a moment, "just treat you like that? You give me a huge gift of devotion I didn't want, adoration I rejected and ignored, and expect me to go on as I was? I may have been cruel before this, but I am not. If I knew what to do, I would do it in a heartbeat, but I cannot be so thoughtless." He turns away for a moment, then looks back. "You are right; I don't love you, or if I do, it is so weak it pales to insignificance beside this insanity of yours. What did I do to deserve this from you? What do you want me to say to you?"

"Nothing," Grantaire says rather tiredly. "You don't need to say anything. You don't need to do anything. I shouldn't have said it."

"But it matters." The compulsion to act did not go away on that fateful night in June. Enjolras cannot see a problem without trying to solve it, even now. "You can't tell me there's nothing I can do."

Grantaire studies him in silence a moment. Then, very low: "No." And: "Do what you like. I told you. ...If you want to keep me with you, if you'll even tolerate me, it's more than I've a right to expect. If not, I..." He breaks off with a small shrug.

"Tolerate you? Listen to yourself! Listen to me." Enjolras's voice is serious, now, and in the same tone as a speech. "You are not here because I tolerate you. I do not spend time with you because I tolerate you. You make me feel alive. You make me content, maybe even happy. You. You're a better man than I am; if I could help you in the same way, you wouldn't say such things about yourself. What do you have a right to expect? You should be able to expect what you give, but I do not know how to return that. Please, accept what I can give you, feeble need, pathetic desire, in return for love. Perhaps I will learn what love is from seeing it in your eyes."

Grantaire bows his head, silent throughout this declaration. At last he looks up, somber, and mutely holds out a hand as though to offer an embrace, though it's tentative.

Enjolras takes his hand, then embraces him.

Combeferre walks home from Le Musain. A weight has been lifted from his mind; there is a spring in his step.

Feuilly walks along with him, quiet for about ten paces; then: "It really bothers you, doesn't it?"

"What? Oh, no, not now." Combeferre laughs, mocking himself. "I was a bit worried about the state of Marcelin's mind, but, no, I'm reassured. He'll be all right."

Another several paces of silence. "Even if this goes on?"

"How could it? The whole thing is ludicrous." Combeferre shakes his head. "It's just Marcelin being confused. When he's got it figured out, it'll be over."

"Supposing it isn't?" Feuilly is not bothering to do his innocent-wish-to-know tone. It comes out nearly sharp.

Claude walks quietly down the street, near Musain. She is staying in her cousin's flat and has decided to get the lay of the land around it. She sighs quietly, feeling pangs of sorrow again, but forces them away as she tries to enjoy her evening walk.

"Surely you're joking." Combeferre pauses to give him a searching look. "They don't get along well."

Feuilly stops as well, looking up at him calmly. "Well enough, looks like. God knows how, but that was friendly, back there."

"Friendly. Yes. That's one word for it." Combeferre glances at the pavement. The whole thing does make him uncomfortable. "Not so much friendly as intimate."

Feuilly returns to his original point. "And that bothers you."

As she approaches the cafe, Claude starts to hear a pair of voices speaking in the darkness. She realizes her current path will take her right to them, but has no real desire to avoid them. Especially not if they knew her cousin.

Combeferre hesitates a moment longer, then admits, "Yes, it does. I can't count the times I've tried to stop Marcelin from killing him, and now..." he shudders slightly. "I don't understand the attraction. I don't understand any of it. I wish he'd come back to his senses."

Feuilly studies him quietly for a minute, turning over words in his mind. What he says, finally, is, "He's still Enjolras."

"He's not at all the same. I feel as if I hardly know him." This makes Combeferre dejected. "I've lost my friend. I thought -- I mean, it would have made sense, about his sister and all, but this. I never imagined anything of the sort."

Claude recognizes the name and keeps walking toward them. Their conversation is cryptic to her, but she doesn't slow as she approaches them quietly.

Feuilly notes, but does not quite register, the girl's approach. He tucks his hands in his pockets, glancing down a moment.

Combeferre is distracted and does not notice her. "Don't you think it's odd? After all these years, he suddenly runs off and -- I don't even know what."

Claude pauses, staying a distance away from them. She remembers the man they're speaking of, she'd met him at the wedding, but the way they're speaking of him now makes her wonder what's changed about him.

"You know perfectly well what," Feuilly points out with a wry half-smile. "I grant you it's unexpected. Difficult to believe, even."

Combeferre rubs at his eyes, trying to eradicate an unpleasant mental image. "Seeing is believing, or so they say. I believe." His voice takes on more of an edge. "That doesn't mean I like it."

"Why?" says Feuilly simply, and this time it is a genuine question.

"It's wrong." That sounds entirely too judgemental. Combeferre elaborates, "I mean, they're wrong for each other. You've seen them fight. How can Marcelin choose to be with someone he hated so much? Even if he was wrong in that emotion, that does not mean he's right in this one. He's going from one extreme to the other. It's not sane. It's not sensible. It's not good for either of them. They'll hurt each other."

Claude furrows her brow, trying to think of who the other person is that they're discussing. Unfortunately, due to her short acquaintance with said person, she is unable to think of him.

Feuilly mulls this over. "They may," he says after a pause. And after another, lesser pause, "That's their choice, isn't it?"

Combeferre protests, "If François is hurt, at least that will not be on my shoulders, but, mon Dieu, I'll go mad if I have to take care of Marcelin again. He's not the most pleasant man when his heart's broken."

Claude's eyes widen briefly at the name. François. She gazes up at the moon for a few moments, thinking. That must have been the man that followed Enjolras out. She smiles slightly, then wonders why one of these men seems so averse to the relationship.

Feuilly's brows lift slightly. "You're not bound to take care of him, Combeferre."

"Tell him that."

"I may. Right now it's not you he seems to be leaning on, and by God I'm glad of that much." Rather suddenly his tone is vehement. "He puts too much on you. We all do. I'm not innocent. But you deserve a respite."

"But he's leaning on a rotten stick." Combeferre may think that Grantaire is a nice enough fellow, but Combeferre thinks everyone is a nice enough fellow, and he doesn't have many illusions. Nice does not equate with reliable. "Marcelin will hate him again as soon as he drinks."

"Marcelin hasn't been entirely blameless himself in that department, recently. And he knows what he's getting into. They both do. They've known each other for years." Feuilly is intent, almost fierce. "My God, man, you have got to let people make mistakes."

"They will, no matter what I say." Combeferre is a bit surprised at Feuilly's vehemence. "Heaven knows I've made enough mistakes. I just don't want to have to clean up after other people."

"I don't see why you should have to." Feuilly glances aside for a moment, and catches proper sight of Claudette for the first time. He pauses, and possibly reddens a bit. "---Evening, mademoiselle."

Combeferre looks up when Feuilly breaks off. Oh, dear. "Evening," he echoes, wondering what she's heard him say.

"Bonsoir, messieurs," she answers quietly, stepping forward. Though it's the first time they've said anything, she has a feeling they realize she's been there for a long time. Long enough, at least, to hear quite a bit of their conversation. She says nothing more, however.

After a moment Feuilly's memory coughs up this girl's identity. "Mam'selle Prouvaire, isn't it?" He is deferential, now. "You're well?"

Combeferre avoids looking at her. He's not normally self-centered, and it really embarrasses him that she has overheard him being so.

"I am well, thank you, Monsieur." She acknowledges the query reflexively as she attempts to remember his name. She's met both of them before, but names were never her forte.

Combeferre asks, "Are you enjoying Paris?"

Claude nods slightly. "So far, yes, thank you. Though it's difficult--" She cuts herself off. She will not mention him to them. They have enough troubles of their own without her adding to them.

Feuilly's expression softens, and he nods slightly.

Combeferre tilts his head to one side a little, and frowns. "I'm sure it is. We miss him, too." Good old sensible Prouvaire.

Claude tries to cover her hesitation. "I'm terribly sorry, I cannot recall either of your names. We met at the recent wedding, I believe." She mercilessly chokes off any thoughts of Jehan, chiding herself for her weakness. It is not the place.

Combeferre extends a hand. "I'm Etienne."

Claude takes it gratefully. "Claudette. My friends call me Claude." Her cousin used to call her Claude. He was the only one who had persisted with it into their adult years.

Feuilly has volunteered quietly, "Paulin," before he remembers that he's twenty-five and doesn't call himself that anymore, even if he knew this woman well. He looks slightly wry, but ventures to smile at her.

Claude nods to him briefly, smiling. She holds out her hand. "A pleasure to meet you."

Combeferre glances at Feuilly, a bit surprised. "Where are you off to, Claude?"

"Nowhere in particular. I was simply out walking." Trying not to think of certain things. "If you were on your way somewhere, don't let me delay you."

Combeferre shrugs slightly. "More away from than to somewhere."

Feuilly grimaces slightly, but holds his peace.

Claude half-smiles. "Mind if I join you?"

Combeferre looks at his watch and nods to both of them. "I really should be going."

Feuilly glances up in mild surprise, then nods. "Take care."

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Etienne. Good night."

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