4. One Of The Boys

Courfeyrac is sitting at a table with Feuilly and Combeferre. Both of Courfeyrac's feet are on a chair, and he looks very relaxed. Feuilly is carefully rubbing some sort of lotion into his hands. Combeferre is reading some thick work of literature.

Feuilly notes to Courfeyrac, "Still think you ought to shout back at her."

Courfeyrac rubs his own neck, then winces, both at his stiff muscles and at Feuilly. "I don't think that would help. Even talking back has some strict penalties. It's not much fun to sleep on one's own floor."

Feuilly grins his understated grin. "Evict her."

Combeferre looks up from his book and winks at Courfeyrac. "Perhaps you ought to try the method of Lysistrata, only in reverse."

Feuilly raises a brow quizzically.

Combeferre elaborates, "That would be almost like evicting her, but mostly from his bed."

Courfeyrac frowns and moves his hands to his shoulders. "That would punish me at least as much as her."

"Oh--" and Feuilly half-chuckles, casting an amused dark glance at Courfeyrac.

Enjolras walks into the room in time to hear Combeferre say, "Ah, but you will have the comfort of knowing she is as lonely as you."

Christian trails Enjolras in, in that cautious manner of his, his hands tucked a trifle self-consciously in his pockets.

Courfeyrac objects, "But still..." then trails off as he sees Enjolras. "Bonsoir! Who's your friend, Enjolras?"

Christian, bitten once already, reddens slightly but wisely keeps his mouth shut.

Enjolras nods to the three at the table. "Bonsoir, Courfeyrac, Feuilly, Combeferre. This is Caron." He gestures with one hand to present the newcomer.

Combeferre grins. "Ah, yes, Caron. I recall. How are you finding Paris?"

Feuilly glances up and lifts a hand in greeting, then pauses, regarding Christian curiously. He nods politely at the introduction.

Christian takes in a breath. "I, ah... Interesting."

Courfeyrac smiles brightly. He has a very charming smile. "Yes, isn't it? It's good to meet you, Caron, is it? How did you come to join our merry crew?"

Christian gives a little shrug, as though to say, 'happened on it', though he darts a glance at Enjolras.

Enjolras explains when Christian pauses, "He is my cousin. He's come here to study, but he hasn't found a place in a school yet, so he is staying with me to conserve funds."

Feuilly smiles quietly, and nods. Offers a brief, "Welcome."

Combeferre nods as if he has already heard this, although, of course, he has not. "That is a wise move."

Christian murmurs, "Thanks." And can't help flashing an almost-smile to Combeferre.

Courfeyrac agrees wholeheartedly, and nods, then grimaces and goes back to rubbing his neck. "Marius is staying with me until he finds a way to support himself. Not to mention Joly and Bossuet. It's a tradition, nearly."

Feuilly inquires far too solemnly, "With you and Manon?"

Courfeyrac looks horrified. "Heavens no. He's in a different room."

Christian blinks, and goes pink.

Enjolras also looks rather horrified and gives Christian a 'don't listen to my sick friends' look.

Feuilly looks back down at his ragged fingernails with a veiled, wicked "got 'im!" grin.

Combeferre chuckles. "Are you casting aspersions on Marius's honor? He's a sweet lad."

Courfeyrac shakes his head. "Monsieur Pontmercy is, shall we say, not my type."

Combeferre asks innocently, "Oh, he's too nice and demure for you?"

Christian darts a wry, half-amused glance at Enjolras, and edges over to lean on a vacant table.

Another half-snicker escapes Feuilly. "Now now."

Enjolras frowns at the rude boys and decides to sit with Christian instead of them.

Courfeyrac rolls his eyes. "No, he's male. I hardly need to antagonize Manon any more as it is, and look, you've frightened off Enjolras and his friend."

Christian essays a reassuring grin, to let them know he at least is not really that frightened, but for the life of him he can't come up with anything to say.

Feuilly, never one to protract a quarrel, ventures mildly to Enjolras, "Sorry."

Enjolras looks over at Feuilly. "If you would all keep your minds on your own lives instead of everyone else's, you wouldn't offend me. As it is, I'm not quite offended, but I think you are insufferably silly."

"We are," Feuilly agrees with that half-smile again. "Insufferably." He leans back in his chair.

Combeferre shakes his head a little. "Ah, but we can suffer each other without pain."

Courfeyrac looks at Enjolras and wonders why he's in such an unpleasant mood, then shrugs and smiles at Feuilly. "I like being silly." He sticks his tongue out at Enjolras.

Christian snickers at that.

Enjolras glares, first at Courfeyrac, and then when he turns away to officially Ignore the childish ones, at Christian. "I don't know what you think is so amusing, Caron," he says in a tone intended to stifle the mirth.

Feuilly snorts in amusement, and shakes his head. Adds after a pause, eyeing the righteously indignant Enjolras, "Not as if Pontmercy couldn't stand to loosen up a little, eh?" And not as though Feuilly goes in for double meanings, now is it?

Christian flushes, and -- blasphemously enough -- shoots an impatient glance at Enjolras.

Courfeyrac chortles. "Indeed." He makes another silly face at Enjolras, just because he can.

Combeferre laughs quietly, not wanting to offend Marcelin unduly, but he cannot resist noting, "Marius is not the only one who would benefit from a little loosening up." He is no more given to double entendres than Feuilly. Or at least, that's what we thought.

Enjolras turns bright red and stands up. He gives Christian a significant 'we're leaving now' look and says "Au revoir" to these rude boys, then heads for the door.

Courfeyrac wrinkles his nose and sticks out his tongue at Enjolras's retreating back. "Adieu."

Combeferre looks over at Christian. "Are you leaving, Christian?" he asks, pulling out the empty chair next to him invitingly.

Christian blinks. Apparently he's not used to Enjolras' sudden snits. He stares at the door a moment; then his look of shock gives way to one of annoyance, and he squares his shoulders, turning back to the others with a slight toss of his head. "My cousin," he says clearly, "has no sense of humor sometimes." And he straightens away from the table and comes over and sits down, with a quick smile of thanks to Combeferre.

Enjolras leaves, happy in his assumption that Christian is right behind him.

Courfeyrac winks at Christian. "Yes, we know."

Combeferre nods. "At least it is not a congenital condition." He beams at Christian in the elder-brotherly way that he does so well. "Now that Marcelin has stormed out, let me truly introduce you to René," he turns over his hand and gestures at Courfeyrac, "and Paul," with a similar gesture at Feuilly. "And this is Christian. Not just Caron."

Feuilly watches Enjolras out with a bland look, unworried. "He'll be back when he feels the need to orate." He flashes a rare, full grin at Combeferre and Christian, amused, and nods.

Christian settles into his seat, looking a touch disgruntled. "I apologize for him." He blinks up at Combeferre, and starts to blush again. "Er... Pleased."

Courfeyrac muses to himself. "Perhaps he enjoys his speeches more than our company. Sometimes it seems so, that we are only ears to hear his words, and sometimes minds to respond, but rarely friends." He catches himself, and explains to Christian, "I admire your cousin, but he certainly is unique."

Christian looks a tad uncomfortable, but he nods.

Feuilly shrugs. "He'll figure it out someday."

Combeferre nods firmly and gives Christian a comforting look. "We all care for him, even when he is in one of these moods. Don't worry, Christian, we'll give you a fair chance, cousin or no."

Courfeyrac nods. "'course we will."

Christian reddens further. "Thank you," he mutters. Welcome to self-conscious.

Courfeyrac gives Combeferre a rather despairing glance and thumps Christian on the shoulder. "Don't fret. I'm sure we'll adopt you."

Feuilly half-grins again. "'course."

Christian still looks embarrassed, but he manages a grin.

Combeferre is encouraged by the grin. "Ah, yes. Smile. Smiling is a lovely thing to do. What do you want to study, smiling Christian?"

Christian blushes to the ears. "...not sure yet."

Courfeyrac shakes his head at the blush. "Start with the classics and go from there. They'll help you out."

Christian tries valiantly for self-assurance. "I'll remember that."

Combeferre nods. "There is always something interesting to see in Paris. Take some time while you can, and see it."

"Give the boy a hard time," Feuilly chides mildly, though the look he gives said boy is quizzical. "He's got time."

Courfeyrac objects, "I wasn't trying to give him a hard time at all. He'll figure it out, in time, just like the rest of us." He grins at Christian.

"I expect so," Christian agrees diffidently, tucking his feet neatly under his chair.

Combeferre chuckles. "Don't worry, Christian. If René can decide what he wants to do, anyone can."

Feuilly gives another understated snicker at that. "True."

Courfeyrac sniffs and pretends to be upset. "I would take offense at that were it not true." He nudges Combeferre and asks, "How did you get stuck staying with our ever-forgiving Marcelin, Christian?"

Christian looks wry. "I, um." He clears his throat, coloring yet again. "'m low on funds. And," inspiration strikes, "my-- my parents think he'll keep an eye on me."

Courfeyrac nods. "Don't be embarrassed. We aren't all as rich as your cousin." He lifts one elbow and shows the others that it is rather threadbare.

Feuilly breaks into another of those fleeting white grins and nods wry assent.

Christian flushes more, but nods with a slight grin.

Combeferre agrees. "It's good to have someone who keeps such a close eye on you, isn't it?" He waves a hand vaguely toward the door. "What with him walking away and all of that, I'm sure you feel quite safe."

Christian blinks at Combeferre, darts a glance at the door, and nods earnestly.

Courfeyrac looks between the two of them, then raises an eyebrow at Feuilly.

Feuilly catches the glance, and lifts his shoulders in the subtlest of shrugs. Search him.

Combeferre rather expected Christian to pick up on that sarcasm. There is a slight lull, after which he tries to change the subject. "When is the next opera performance? Does anyone know?"

Feuilly shakes his head, not that he'd be expected to know in the normal course of things.

Courfeyrac contemplates this. "I don't know. Isn't it next week?"

It dawns on Christian that he has been stupid, and he glances down for a minute.

Combeferre shrugs. "I don't recall, but I do think that Christian should go to a performance."

Courfeyrac leaps to this new suggestion with relief. "Yes, what a good idea!" he says, a bit too effusively.

Feuilly winces faintly as Courfeyrac knocks his elbow in his enthusiasm. "Do him good," he concedes to Combeferre, and to Christian: "You think?"

Combeferre nods. "I certainly do. Preferably without Marcelin, at that. He tends to criticize the tenors overmuch."

Christian takes in a breath. "I'd like that," he says, rather gruffly in the manner of a boy trying to sound older than he is.

Courfeyrac chuckles. "I'm sure you would," he says, not unkindly, but poking fun at Christian's hero worship. "Of course, Etienne does not like the sopranos."

Christian, predictably, reddens.

Feuilly smiles, observing quietly while he idly traces designs on the tabletop with one slender finger.

Combeferre defends his position. "Most sopranos have their jobs merely because they can hit those notes, not because they can act. Some can hit notes I do not care to hear, and yet have no expression. I tolerate them, yes, but when a woman my mother's age pretends to be a little girl, it wears thin." He shrugs. "And then when they all die of tuberculosis, singing, I would at least like the soprano to sound sad."

Christian gi-- no, chuckles. He does, really. "That's terrible."

Feuilly half-grins. "You'll just have to write one yourself with no sopranos in it, yes?"

Combeferre nods. "Someday, in between writing a novel and that play we worked on with Jehan." He smiles. "And then there was the symphony."

Courfeyrac groans and puts his hands over his ears. "Don't sing it, not now. I just ate, and I doubt my stomach can bear it."

Christian turns an awed look on Combeferre. "You've done all that?"

Feuilly chuckles. "Oh, poor Courfeyrac," mock-sympathetically.

Combeferre laughs. "Of course not! Do I look eighty to you?" he asks, raising one hand to better frame his face. He turns and shakes his head at Courfeyrac. "We plan glorious works of art that are never painted, and lovely songs that are never written. It is all almost a joke."

Christian looks only a little less impressed. "I see."

Courfeyrac unplugs one ear, then the other, and gives an exaggerated sigh of relief. "We plot and plan all sorts of things that never happen. It's great fun."

Christian laughs, actually turning those admiring wide eyes on Courfeyrac. "I can imagine," he agrees.

Feuilly says idly, "Operas, novels, business ventures, revolutions... oh. Did I say that?"

Courfeyrac blinks at the big eyes. It's disconcerting to have this pretty boy looking at him like that. It was funny when it was Combeferre, but now, it's disturbing. He leaps to the next part of the conversation, hoping that the boy--Enjolras's cousin, he reminds himself--will stop looking at him like that. "Yes. Sometimes we plan revolutions. We have the Fearless Leader's cousin with us. Surely you know of his vocation?" he asks Christian offhandedly.

Christian grins lopsidedly, and nods.

Combeferre asks rhetorically, "How could he not know? I'm sure the room is veritably papered with books and treatises of all sorts." He winks at Christian.

Christian clears his throat. "Nearly, yes," he says, deadpan.

Feuilly grins.

Courfeyrac smiles. "But of course."

Christian says, still gravely, "With tricolor curtains."

Courfeyrac tries to keep a straight face. "Is there furniture, or are there only piles of books and oddments for chairs and tables?"

Combeferre muses. "It would be rather difficult to eat one's dinner off of a miniature barricade."

Christian nods sadly. "He's sleeping on a pile of old republican newspapers. I told him it's not hygienic, but he won't get a mattress. He says it's not patriotic."

Courfeyrac gives in and starts laughing first.

Feuilly ducks his head, shoulders shaking.

Christian says, still poker-faced, "I don't know why you're all laughing, I think it's quite tragic..." but his voice quivers with suppressed mirth.

Combeferre chuckles at first, then says, "Not patriotic. No wonder he won't have a mistress. She would hurt her back on his bed of bulletins."

Christian cracks a grin at that, ducking his head much as Feuilly did, blushing but amused.

Feuilly, for his part, lets out a small hoot and sits back in his chair, grinning broadly.

Courfeyrac laughs again. "Ah, I don't see what's so wrong with that," he says when he has begun to regain his breath. "It can't be worse than my floor."

Feuilly snickers outright. "The floor? No wonder she's cranky." He ducks then from the inevitable cuff.

Courfeyrac gapes a moment, then aims a gentle blow at Feuilly. "I'll have you know I only sleep on the floor alone."

Christian is scarlet, but he's still laughing.

"Suuuuuuure..." Feuilly drawls.

Combeferre shakes his head at the lot of them, still laughing. "At least you have a bed when it isn't occupied, René. Poor Marcelin, lying on his newspapers, all alone..."

Christian scrubs his hands over his face, chortling helplessly. "It is. It's t-t-touching...." He dissolves in another spurt of mirth.

Feuilly murmurs, "Marcelin the Martyr."

Courfeyrac blinks and looks around for the source of the giggling. He notices that it must be Christian, because Combeferre is not laughing and Feuilly isn't, either, and Louison isn't even in the room. "Yes," he echoes, though he isn't laughing, "a martyr."

Christian sputters a few times, and recovers enough to dart a nervous look at the suddenly somber Courfeyrac. "What's the matter...?" he ventures, moderating his voice again.

Courfeyrac shakes his head. Yes, now Christian is a boy again. There's still that matter of the doe eyes, but it's pleasant to have the world partially back into its correct order. "Ah, nothing. I just twisted my neck slightly, and the muscles are still sore."

Feuilly, an observant fellow in his way but not as wise in the ways of women, slants an odd look at the afflicted Courfeyrac.

Courfeyrac returns the odd look with a reassuring grin.

Combeferre watches all of these glances and shakes his head. "I am glad you are brave enough to tease your cousin, Christian."

Christian tilts his chin up in a mannerism very like Enjolras', and shrugs. "If I can't, who can?"

Courfeyrac answers with another, more obvious, look around the table. "I'm sure you'll find some volunteers."

Feuilly grins. "True."

Christian flashes a grin at Courfeyrac, and rakes back his hair again. And then, seeming suddenly shy, ducks his head once more.

Feuilly agrees, "We're harmless."

Courfeyrac elaborates, "We only tease because we care."

Feuilly grins. "For the good of our health, as Joly would point out."

Christian grins crookedly at them. "I believe you." He sits up a little, glancing toward the door. "I suppose I should go."

Combeferre straightens in his chair and prepares to leave, too, if that is necessary. "Must you?"

Christian's grin gets even more lopsided. "Unless I want to be written home about." He pushes back his chair. "I'm, er. Glad to have met you all..."

Courfeyrac nods. "Likewise."

Feuilly dips his head politely. "Take care."

Combeferre pushes back his chair as well. "I think I ought to apologize to Marcelin on our behalf. I shall accompany you, if you don't mind."

Christian's eyes light, though he covers with a shrug. "All right."

Combeferre nods to the other two. "Goodnight, René, Paul. Take care."

"Night," Feuilly murmurs with a quiet smile.

Courfeyrac smiles to Combeferre. "Fare well. Don't let Marcelin tear too many strips out of you."

Combeferre stands, crosses the room, and holds the door for Christian as he would for anyone. "I shan't."

Christian grins faintly at that, and slips out with a murmured thanks.

When they've gotten a few doors down, a small girlish voice says to him out of the dusk, "Thank you."

Combeferre relaxes considerably. He grins at Chantal and ruffles her hair playfully. "Do you often tease your brother at home?"

Christian ducks her head. "Sometimes. Not..." she coughs a bit. "Not like that."

Combeferre's mouth twitches. "I should hope not. You'd give him fits."

"I know." She looks up at him, half remorsefully, half amused. "He's just very..."

Combeferre offers, "Contained?" He stops when he sees her unhappy look. "Did we offend you? I do apologize."

"No," Chantal says at once, and then, "I mean... it's all right. I mean.."

Combeferre waits for her to sort out her thoughts and finish.

Chantal finishes shyly, "Not very much."

Combeferre frowns. "I should have thought of it. Please, forgive me."

She shakes her head earnestly. "It doesn't matter. I just..." A quick, embarrassed shrug.

Combeferre thinks he understands, so he nods. "Welcome to Paris," he says with a slight sigh. "No doubt you were expecting us all to be moral and perfect on the order of your brother, but alas, we are but flesh and blood." He speaks with a rueful smile.

Chantal takes in a breath as though to speak, but bites her lip.

Combeferre pauses to allow her to speak if she wishes, then adds, "I care about Marcelin. He worries me sometimes; I fear he is too bound up in being perfect to enjoy himself. You seem to help him with that, somewhat."

Chantal blushes crimson. Yet again. "...I'd like to think so." She looks up at him soberly. "So do you."

Combeferre looks down at the pavement. He is slightly embarrassed. "I try, but I have little success." He glances up at her. "He will listen more to you than to me. Make the most of your time here."

Chantal stands very still, silent for a long moment. When she speaks, it's in so husky a voice that she sounds more like her alter ego. "I suppose you want to send me home after a week too."

Combeferre stops walking. He considers his answer. "Perhaps you should write to your mother, but not tell her where you are. I would not want to send you home against your will, but I think she does not deserve to worry about you when you are safe and well."

Chantal sets her jaw in a familiar expression. "You don't know my mother." She pushes her hands in her pockets, and looks down at the pavement in her turn. "I suppose I could do that."

"No, I do not know your mother, but I know mine." He smiles as calmly as he normally does at Marcelin when he gets this way, especially when there is a difficult suggestion to be made. "Perhaps she is harsh partially because she feels she needs to be. If my daughter ran away and my son consorted with rebels, I would not be inclined to give them any more freedom than necessary."

The hands come out of the pockets and the arms fold. She really does sullen-boy quite well for someone with no practice. Anyone passing would probably figure some poor kid's catching hell from his older brother. "It's none of her business who he consorts with. And I..." she bites her lip again for a moment.

Combeferre is used to confused, rebellious attitudes. He waits for her to be ready.

Chantal says in a small voice, again, "You don't know her."

Combeferre nods. "You're right."

"Oh!" Chantal growls in frustration, and looks up at him crossly, only to wilt. "...Don't let him send me home."

Combeferre frowns slightly. "I can't promise you anything, but I will try not to allow it."

Chantal hesitates, but seems to be content with that. Very, very shyly, she reaches to take his hand.

Combeferre takes the proffered hand much less shyly but no less slowly. He smiles at her in the gloaming and says, "I shall be quite upset with Marcelin should he send you home before you are thoroughly ready to go. I enjoy your company too much to feel otherwise."

Whereupon Chantal goes red again, and ducks her head, finding nothing to say to this. She squeezes his hand mutely.

Combeferre gently shepherds Christian through the streets, not because the lad will come to any harm, but because it's pleasant to have company. When they reach Enjolras's door, he smiles at the boy. "Will you knock, or shall I?"

Christian bites his lip, then squares his shoulders and knocks.

Enjolras answers from within, in a grouchy voice, "Yes, come in."

Christian slants a look up at Combeferre, and swings the door open.

Enjolras is sitting at one of those pathetic sort of desks that comes with furnished rooms. He has two candles set up in sort of an altar covered in books and essays, and his hands are slightly smudged with ink. When the door opens, he looks up and says, "Ah, thank you for bringing her home, Combeferre. I would not have trusted those louts had you not been there."

Chantal is already a little put out with her brother, what with lack of humor and sending her home in a week. "That's not a very nice way to talk about your friends," she says tartly, stepping in.

Combeferre follows Chantal into the room, saying quietly, "They are not used to the company of young ladies, and neither are they prepared to act thus by Christian's presence." He consciously and deliberately emphasizes the name. "They were some better after you had left, but do not expect them to be angels. We cannot all stand the direct sunlight."

Enjolras frowns at Chantal. "They were being imbeciles." Since Combeferre is right there, he amends, "At least, most of them. And yes, they would be better in front of Chantal than they are in front of Christian, but what terrible view of Paris are you getting from this?"

Chantal says stubbornly, "I like them. And he's right," glancing at Combeferre with the air of one calling on an authority. "Nobody's perfect."

Enjolras relents slightly. "If they bother you, do leave, won't you?"

Combeferre tries to be reassuring. "They won't get too bad, at least not while I'm around. I will try to stop them."

"Of course." She pokes her hands into her pockets again. "But they don't."

Enjolras looks more concerned than ever. "But when you aren't there, she's not safe. I went into the Musain earlier and found her drinking!" It would be safe to say that he is furious, with her, with Combeferre, and especially with himself. He stands up and embraces her protectively. "Chantoinette, I love you, but I cannot stand by and let you be so stupid."

Combeferre has not heard this story. He looks a bit worried, but not unduly so. Chantal seems like too sensible a girl to drink too much in public.

Christian returns the hug, until he gets to the last bit, whereupon she pulls back and scowls up at him. "I am not stupid. And I wasn't drinking drinking. What do you take me for?"

Enjolras returns the scowl full force. "What do you know about drinking, really? Especially with the sort of man you were with then. He could have put any manner of thing into your drink and you wouldn't know."

"I would too. Besides, he wasn't like that. He was just... silly." She looks to Combeferre for support.

Combeferre puts two and two together. "Jaden would never do anything like that."

Enjolras tries to hug her again. "I don't know him, but I worry about you."

Combeferre shakes his head. "You don't have to worry if the biggest fear is Jaden."

Christian relents, leaning against his shoulder. "I know. I know." Then she giggles at this analysis. "Yes, exactly."

Enjolras sighs. "I just wish you were more careful. Perhaps if you were I would not want you to go home so soon."

Christian says stubbornly, "I am careful."

Combeferre nods. "Really, Marcelin, she is being responsible. I think I saw her with that Jaden fellow not half an hour after you left, and she was just talking with him, not drinking at all."

"But..." he trails off. "Maman will send out the police soon if we do not write her."

Chantal darts a look at Combeferre, and takes a deep breath. "I'll write her. But I won't tell her where I am."

Combeferre raises an eyebrow at Chantal. "I could write to your mother in your name. Then she couldn't trace the letter to you, and perhaps you could sign it."

"Or that," Chantal agrees readily.

Enjolras looks between the two of them and feels slightly overwhelmed. He can't be knocked over with a bulldozer, but he can be coaxed with kindness. "All right. If you will write to her, Maman, and Chantal will sign it, well, you can stay at least until we hear back."

Combeferre smiles. "Of course." He goes to the paper-covered desk and finds a clean piece of paper and a writing utensil. "Dear...no, I can't say Maman, she's hardly my mother. Dear Madame Enjolras."

Chantal wanders over and collapses on the bed, as though suddenly worn out.

Enjolras asks, "Are you ill, or tired by your carousing?" He doesn't say it meanly, but his low opinion of carousing is painfully clear.

Chantal gives him a look which is not a glare, but not affectionate either. "I am tired from the walk."

Enjolras nods and says mildly, "I am sure you are used to this little sleep at home. It is so proper for a young lady, after all. Go to sleep. We can work on the letter quietly." He looks to Combeferre for confirmation.

Chantal says mutinously, "I didn't say I was sleepy."

"You didn't have to say it. It's obvious. Just take your shoes off, if you would." He sits on the end of the bed to help her.

"Marcelin," Chantal says tightly, "I can take off my own shoes."

Enjolras frowns. "I know that, but there's nothing wrong with a little help."

Combeferre tries to catch Marcelin's eye. "I have the letter started, but I don't know where to go from here. 'Dear Madame Enjolras, your daughter Chantal is among friends of her own free will.'"

Chantal sets her jaw. She's not going to bed till she's darn good and ready. And certainly not while Combeferre's here. She looks over at him, then back at Marcelin expectantly.

Enjolras is on the verge of crossing his arms across his chest when he catches himself. "It's your letter, Chantal. What do you want it to say?"

Chantal pinkens, fidgetting a bit. "Just... that I'm safe and I'm happy" mostly "and I don't want to go back."

Combeferre nods. "But if I say it quite like that, she will not listen to the message, only the words, and she might throw the letter on the fire."

"Well I don't know." Chantal rubs her nose self-consciously. "I'm not good at letters."

Enjolras is irritated by this whole state of affairs, but not so much that he won't help. "'She is gaining facets of her education that cannot be found in Vezet, and every day grows more proper. Observing the court has been of great help to her.' Not that we will let her do any such thing, but it will please Maman, and she would never guess I would write that, let alone do it."

Christian abruptly explodes into sputters of laughter. "Oh! Oh, that's marvelous, Marcelin."

Enjolras smiles. "I understand her better than she understands me."

Combeferre writes this down with a flourish. "Very nice, and completely unlike you, Marcelin."

Chantal grins at her brother, irritation forgotten for the moment.

Enjolras thinks. "And put in something about how much she's enjoyed the opera, because I know she will."

Chantal pinkens a bit at that.

Combeferre writes it down. "That reminds me that there's a matinee tomorrow, and we'll have to go."

Enjolras agrees. "The three of us, yes."

Chantal rolls her eyes at this last, but says nothing.

Combeferre finishes off the letter and hands it to Chantal to sign. "Just write your name here, then."

Chantal tucks her hair back, and picks herself up off the bed to go over and do that.

Enjolras stands up as well to read over Combeferre's shoulder.

Combeferre gives Chantal the writing utensil and points to a convenient empty spot. "Something like 'I love you, Maman--Chantal' would work."

Chantal rolls her eyes again. Neatly, she writes: Tell Elise hello. Chantal. "There."

Enjolras smiles. "Neatly done." He kisses Chantal on the forehead. "Thank you for your help, Etienne."

"Yes," Chantal murmurs, putting down the pen.

Combeferre stands. "It was my pleasure. Goodnight, Marcelin." He nods, smiling. "Sleep well, Chantal." She gets an extra few crinkles worth of grin and a wink, and he sails out into the night.

... Previous ... Book One ... Table of Contents ... Next ...