He stares at his hands in the candlelight: thin, worn, callused in places from doing the same thing for years. They have begun to pain him, on occasion, despite all the precautions he was taught at the outset. Don't bear down so hard, Paulin, the tenser you are the more you shake, and this way your hand won't get tired so soon... But he is forty-one, and repetition takes its toll, and there is no longer much left of the boy who listened so earnestly to that instruction. He has changed, in twenty years.
They have all changed.
Laughing Courfeyrac, who was half the time in debt, is a householder now, a man of substance, a father of children; Courfeyrac's spitfire, daredevil mistress is a neatly-pinned matron. Combeferre is secluded in the provinces with his girl-wife; he hasn't heard from Combeferre in ten years. Jean Prouvaire, gentle, awkward, lyrical, is dust.
And Enjolras blanches at the mention of revolution. Shrinks from it, turns his back on it. Takes refuge from the idea of it in the arms of a man he would gladly have drowned, twenty years ago. Not that Feuilly has anything against Grantaire, but -- my God, do things change.
I am not one of them anymore, he thinks bleakly. It had not come home to him, before this. He hadn't seen any of them for years, no, but that very lack of contact let him believe that if he did, it would all be the same between them. Now he has no such illusions. Courfeyrac said it: they are lost to him, and to those like him, as surely as Prouvaire and Bahorel and poor vague Pontmercy.
Who, more than anyone, has been his friend since he came here, after Maman Marie died; who has stood by him through all the trouble of twenty years; who was the closest thing to a brother that Feuilly has ever known, and who is gone. Not on the inevitable tide of age like Maman, not in a blaze of idealism like Jehan, but ground down by the simple, stupid, predictable course of things.
Weaken for a moment, and society writes you off. Catch cold, and you're dead. Stumble, and the world will run you down and trample you. We are the abaissť, Alain and I, Marie and Jeanne and Annette; and our Friends have outgrown us like their schoolbooks, as boys will. We are all we have.
Which is why, if and when there is fighting again this summer, he will be in the midst of it. Not out of youthful confidence, the enthusiasm of belief, but in grim and bloody determination. Because of the friends he's lost.
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