6. Revolutionaries, Violence, Strong Drink, and Loose Morals


Mathieu leans against the counter in Corinthe, chatting idly with Chowder and Fricassee. An almost painfully nondescript man, the type that blends easily with any crowd, he perversely draws the eye, standing out by his very lack of noteworthy qualities. Short black hair, curly and disarrayed despite the most assidious attempts at grooming, frame a thin, not-quite-narrow face in which are set eyes of deep brown - sparkling, inquisitive eyes, the kind that never rest. Plain, almost pedestrian clothes of a neutral gray, slightly shabby despite their cleanliness, hang on a slim frame, offset by pale, almost sallow skin, the result of long nights of study and thought rather than sickliness.

Grantaire makes his way in from the street, tired-looking and tousled, and heads for a chair without more than a token wave.

Mathieu glances over, nodding to the once-met and vaguely-recalled Grantaire.

Grantaire collapses into a seat, all ungainly, and leans his head in one hand for a minute.

Mathieu can't quite restrain himself. "M'sieu? Are you well?"

It takes Grantaire a minute. He peers up then, like a mole disturbed from hiding. "Me? I'm fine." He doesn't sound all that convinced, but he goes on politely, "And yourself?"

Mathieu raises one slim brow. 'Fine' is not the word he'd use. "Oh, well enough, one supposes. Might I buy you a drink, M'sieu?"

Well, it wouldn't be courteous to turn that down, would it? "If you'd like," he says mildly, and kicks out a chair. "Join me?" Sure. He looks like good company.

Mathieu shrugs. Might as well, after all - pick the man's brains while he's at it, and this might actually be worthwhile. Besides... he does look somewhat upset. Ordering a bottle of wine, he takes the proffered seat.

"Name's Grantaire," he volunteers, in an effort to be cordial.

Mathieu nods. "Mathieu. A pleasure. I believe we met once before...?"

Grantaire studies him, and a veil of wariness shadows his eyes just perceptibly. "That's right. You're the one got on so well with Combeferre, aren't you? Welcome back." He leans back in his chair.

Mathieu smiles gently. "I suppose so. He seemed a reasonable man."

A laugh explodes out of Grantaire. "Oh God yes."

Mathieu chuckles quietly. "Whereas your other... associate... seemed eminently less than reasonable..."

Grantaire says darkly, "Demigods aren't." He glances at Fricassee as she passes.

Mathieu smirks. "One supposes not."

Grantaire adds then, without irony, "He's reasonable by his lights."

Mathieu nods. "Passionate men most often are... and you, sir? Where do you fall in the spectrum betwixt reason and passion?"

Grantaire, as he's wont to do when touched too nearly, lapses into amused declamation. "Passionate men are idiots who think the world ought to make sense. Reasonable men are idiots who think it already does. Myself, I say to hell with it. The world wouldn't know what to do with sense if it had it."

Mathieu chuckles. "A beaten and broken man, then, bereft of motivation?"

Inertia dictates that Grantaire isn't done yet. "I say nothing against Combeferre, mind you. Combeferre's a saint, as I've said many times. I'm surprised he's not dead yet. God knows he's worked miracles in his young life. In ages to come they'll raise the shrine of Saint-Etienne on this very site, mark my words. Schoolboys adore him. So do schoolgirls, for that matter."

Mathieu chuckles a bit more, listening.

"And both make eyes at him, but being a saint, he doesn't appreciate it. Where did you say you were from?" Grantaire, master of the non sequitur.

Mathieu says, "I hadn't. My family is from Nice, though I've been here in Paris for several years now... and yourself?"

Grantaire slouches back further in his seat. "Almost two years, and, God's my witness, that's long enough. If I'd anywhere to go besides home, I would. We don't agree, Paris and I, we differ irreconcilably on several points."

Mathieu raises the other brow now, the very picture of surprise. "Oh? Whatever points might those be?" Keep him talking... learn, learn.

"Paris is a whore," Grantaire says with mingled gaiety and dourness, "and a liar, and a terrible housekeeper, and she never keeps quiet, and furthermore she is capricious, and in short, she tires me."

Mathieu shakes his head. "My my... you seem to have rehearsed that little speech." He grins.

Another bark of laughter. "Rehearsed, he says!"

Mathieu grins. "No? In that case, sir, you are a poet of rare talent, regardless of how skewed I find your vision to be."

"Skewed, he says." Grantaire looks dramatically wounded. "I am continually being told my vision is skewed. I should change my name to Cassandra."

"Oh? And here I was hoping to have a more original choice of words." Mathieu shakes his head. "Perhaps there is something to what you say, but I disagree. If Paris is a whore, she yet has the potential to rise above her station... provided her Black Davy might be excised."

"That's what they all say," Grantaire says darkly.

Mathieu nods. "And you disagree, I suppose?"

At this juncture Jean Prouvaire slips in, with an armful of books and a pleasant smile. "Good afternoon, monsieur. --Grantaire."

"I, disagree?" says Grantaire with equally dramatic innocence, and then drops it to say to Prouvaire in an almost matter-of-fact tone, "Afternoon."

[Jean Prouvaire is a slight young man of perhaps twenty-two, with light brown hair a little overlong, so that it straggles occasionally into soft grey eyes. He is somewhat shabbily dressed; his shirt is open at the neck in deference to the summer heat, but despite this he has a diffident air. His voice is generally soft and his tone mild; but he seems friendly overall, though shy.]

Mathieu glances over as well. "Good afternoon, m'sieu."

Combeferre comes through the door with a book under his arm. He looks around the room and smiles at each person. "François." A slight nod. "Jehan, funny seeing you here," with a wink, since they walked together. "And Mathieu! How good to see you again."

Mathieu nods to Combeferre with a smile - ah, look. Reason arrives.

Prouvaire deposits his books on the nearest free table, and grins at Combeferre. Then: "You've met, then?"

"If it isn't Saint-Etienne," mutters Grantaire by way of greeting.

Combeferre nods. "Oui. We almost had dinner together once."

Mathieu chuckles. "Almost."

Combeferre shakes his head slightly at Grantaire, but grins. He looks at a chair near Mathieu. "May I sit with you?"

Mathieu glances to Grantaire. It's his table, truth to tell.

Grantaire shrugs, seeming indifferent.

Combeferre sits, then, and sets down his book on the table. "Shall we try to eat dinner again, then?"

Mathieu chuckles. "No prickly pears, if you don't mind. I've never much liked them."

Jean Prouvaire pauses in the act of kicking out a chair by the door, watching to see what's decided; then turns back, sorting through the books. Like a certain young lady not yet born, he always carries more than he strictly needs around with him.

Combeferre laughs quietly. "No, no. Perhaps oysters."

Grantaire snorts quietly, but says nothing. The arrival of Combeferre seems to have dammed the flow of random comments.

Mathieu nods. "Ah, oysters. A pleasant enough dish. Surely, then."

Combeferre catches Chowder's eye and asks her to bring enough oysters for several people, at least.

Prouvaire unearths the volume he's looking for, near the bottom, naturally, and subsides into a seat, casting an amused smile toward the other table.

Mathieu can't help but look inquisitively to see what Prouvaire is reading, even as he notes the sudden silence.

Chowder brings a few plates with oysters. Combeferre thanks her and pays her, including a large tip. He puts one plate in front of Mathieu, one in front of himself, and offers the larger platter to any who want some. "Enjoy."

From this distance it looks vaguely scientific, which perhaps explains Prouvaire's air of resignation as he cracks it open. The trials of an artistic temperament.

Mathieu chuckles quietly. Not a tome he's had the pleasure of perusing, sadly, which means that conversation about it seems to be right out. Ah well. Oh, look! Food! Maman Dufresne didn't raise no fools, and so Mat hesitates only so long as proper manners require before diggin in.

Grantaire shakes his head, and for a wonder, since he doesn't usually stir once he's ensconced, pushes back his chair and stands, murmuring something about air.

Combeferre raises an eyebrow at Grantaire. "Aren't you hungry, François?"

Prouvaire slants a bemused glance at the R, but doesn't comment.

"No," says Grantaire tiredly, even patiently, "thank you, no." And pushing his hands in his pockets, he wanders over to stand near the window.

Mathieu shrugs a little. He'd say something - possibly suitably witty - but his mouth is full, so that kills that idea. Ah well, another missed opportunity.

Joly and Bossuet come through the door. Joly seems to have come from class, because he's carrying a textbook or two. Bossuet, on the other hand, seems to have come from the boudoir. He has his arm around Joly's waist.

Jean Prouvaire glances up, and chuckles. "Bonjour, you two."

Bossuet nods to Jehan with a smile that's really more of a smirk. "Bonjour." He shepherds Joly to a seat away from the door, clucking his tongue a bit and saying, "It should be a bit warmer here."

Mathieu smiles quietly. "My my... and here this room was near to empty, only a few moments ago."

Combeferre sets down an empty oyster shell, and explains, "Classes let out a few minutes ago, and we normally come here afterward."

"Or Musain," agrees Prouvaire. You can tell he's studying hard over there.

Combeferre nods. "It depends on our moods."

Mathieu says, "Much does... much does, in this town."

Joly sneezes. Bossuet shakes his head. "Do you think it's a cold again?" he asks.

Grantaire just rolls his eyes at the latest arrivals, and wanders over to sit back down, although not in his original spot. It might be construed as a snub, except that it's Grantaire, which means he's probably just lost track. He collars one of the girls on her way by, and you can guess what he asks her for.

Fricassee brings Grantaire two bottles of wine.

Mathieu idly sets aside a shell. "When you say 'we', m'sieu Combeferre... what is it that you mean, I must wonder?"

There's a thump as Prouvaire shuts his book. "Forget this," he says to no one in particular, "if I want unpronounceable words I'll study Russian."

Combeferre shrugs. "Us. The people here, and a few more. My friends." He winks. "And that includes you, if you like."

Mathieu smiles quietly. "You'll have to excuse me, m'sieu... but there seems to be more at work here than simple friendship."

Joly dabs at his nose. "I don't know what it is. Must be this weather." Yes, that bright sunshine will get you every time.

Mathieu adds, "Else I assume that M'sieu Grantaire would long since have throttled some of the other patrons, judging by his expression."

Combeferre glances at Bossuet and Joly. "That's just them, not the rest of us. They are the lucky ones. Rene Courfeyrac has his Manon when they are not fighting, but she does not get along with Marcelin, the blond young man you met when I saw you last."

Grantaire in fact is looking dour as he drinks, though it's settling slowly into mere melancholy.

Mathieu nods. "Ah yes... the epitome of passion, as I recall, the opposite end of the spectrum."

Prouvaire sits back with a sigh, and hails Fricassee to ask her for tea, of course. Guess which Ami's mother lectured him from infancy about the evils of drink?

Combeferre nods. "He's quite devoted, but not to anyone." He glances around the room. "Sometimes it feels as if he just tolerates us." When Bossuet begins cooing, he chuckles. "Sometimes, we just tolerate each other."

Fricassee brings Prouvaire his tea, looks over at the twee boys cuddling, and sighs.

Mathieu chuckles. "Ah, well... is not all friendship thus?"

"Indeed. Fortunately, it is easier to tolerate some people than others." Combeferre looks at Jehan with his tea. "For instance, Jehan and I get along quite well." More loudly, he asks, "Jehan, would you care to come and sit with us?"

Grantaire coughs audibly at the couple, but doesn't actually say anything.

Mathieu nods to Combeferre, and then again, by way of greeting, to Jehan.

Bossuet stops talking. There really isn't anything coherent for him to say at this point. Joly ends up at least partially on his lap.

Prouvaire glances up in mild surprise, then shrugs, smiles that small-boy smile, and pushes to his feet. "Very well."

Grantaire slants another glance toward the corner, and winces. "Get yourselves a room, mes amis."

Mathieu manages to successfully ignore the scene in the corner, mainly by turning away from it.

Joly stops whatever it was he was doing and pouts a little at Grantaire. His lower lip protrudes in a way that might be fetching, if one likes that sort of thing, and he sniffles slightly. "We have as much right to be here as you."

Prouvaire just glances at the ceiling as he drops into Grantaire's abandoned seat.

Combeferre shakes his head and suggests to Joly, "It might be nice if you could just, well, talk, like the rest of us."

"There are ladies present," Grantaire retorts ironically, and turns away again.

Bossuet and Joly look up at Combeferre. Joly finds a chair of his own. "Is that better?" Bossuet asks, not particularly nicely.

The door swings open to admit Feuilly, his dark face creased in an unaccustomed scowl. "God damn all arrogant self-righteous pigs landed by pure chance in positions of responsibility, I ought to quit, I ought to glue his shoes to his feet, I ought to complain." This rant carries him all the way to the oyster table, where he pauses, and adds as an afterthought, "Afternoon."

Mathieu eats another oyster. My, this gets more entertaining by the minute.

Grantaire * beams. each arriving Ami increases the weirdness exponentially, it's quite simple.

Combeferre frowns slightly at Feuilly. "I'm sorry you had trouble, Paul. Do sit with us." He waves a hand at Mathieu. "This is my friend Mathieu."

Feuilly takes a breath, blinks a couple of times. "Sorry," he says after a moment, apologetically if not entirely contritely, and offers a hand to Mathieu. "Pleased. Paul Feuilly."

Mathieu takes the hand and gives it a single firm shake. "Mathieu Dufresne, m'sieu Feuilly. My pleasure."

Combeferre looks over at Bossuet and Joly, who are now managing to snuggle even though they're in separate chairs. "That's better, yes," he answers Lesgles's question.

Grantaire blinks owlishly at Feuilly, shakes his head and looks away again.

Jean Prouvaire smiles faintly, leaning folded arms on the table.

Combeferre shakes his head. "I do apologize for Bossuet and Joly. They normally have more manners than this," he says in an undertone to Mathieu. "This isn't exactly normal behavior... though it isn't far off the mark."

That wins a reluctant snicker from Feuilly as he pulls out a chair.

Mathieu chuckles quietly. "I've seen worse."

Combeferre raises an eyebrow, then grins. "There is much worse to be seen in this city."

"That's for certain," mutters Grantaire, mostly to himself.

Mathieu shrugs a little. "'When in Rome,' as they say..."

Combeferre winks and waves a hand dismissively at the once-again intertwined boys in the other corner. "They certainly are doing as the Romans would, at that."

Jean Prouvaire snickers. There isn't any other word for it, though since it's Jehan, it's a good-natured snicker. He ducks his head a moment.

Mathieu chuckles, having another oyster. Never turn down a free meal.

Feuilly snorts. "Mm-hm." He rakes a hand through his hair with a suppressed sigh.

Christian enters unobtrusively just then, hands tucked in his pockets as usual.

Combeferre looks down at the other plate of oysters and is on the verge of offering them to Feuilly when the door opens. He turns, and beams at Christian. "Christian! Come join the throng, have some oysters. It's a lovely day for a party in the Corinth."

Mathieu shakes his head, quietly chuckling. My my... with this many people, he could even start to think something was planned...

Christian blinks, turning pink. "Hullo," he murmurs diffidently.

Combeferre hears Mathieu laughing, and turns from Christian to Mathieu. "Mon ami, you are meeting the whole crowd tonight, it seems. This is Christian, Marcelin's young cousin. Christian, this is Mathieu."

Mathieu nods to Christian. "Good evening, m'sieu."

Jean Prouvaire glances over and smiles to Christian, the kindred spirit.

Christian dips his head politely, coming a bit nearer. "Pleased," he says to Mathieu, and casts a fleeting smile at the others.

Grantaire slowly raises his eyes, regarding the boy darkly for a minute before glancing away.

Combeferre picks up the remaining plate of oysters and offers them to Christian. "Pull up a chair." There's no room at the table, but he tries to shuffle his own chair to the side all the same. "Oh, never mind." He stands up, moves the plates, and sits on the table.

Mathieu chuckles, not giving up his own seat for an instant, though he does push it to the side to make more room.

Feuilly raises an eyebrow.

Combeferre points to his now-vacant chair. "Have a seat, Christian."

Christian goes from pink to red. "Er, that's all right, really..."

Mathieu looks to Feuilly. "Is it always like this?"

Combeferre grins, and spreads his hands. "Come now, there's a chair. Go on. Sit."

Feuilly rakes his hair back again, still looking at Combeferre slightly oddly. "Often," he murmurs.

It would look odder to protest further than to give in. Christian, still blushing, sits, or rather perches.

Combeferre hands Christian the oysters without giving him much of a chance to refuse. "There. Now. We're all comfortable, right?" He leans back on one hand, still sitting on the table.

"Etienne," Prouvaire says mildly, even banteringly, "pull up a chair."

Chowder peeks out from the kitchen, observes the mob of college students variously lounging on tables, crowding in chairs, and kissing passionately, and ducks back into the kitchen where she puts her head in her apron and sobs for a while.

Bahorel strolls in at this point, eyes narrowed, nostrils flared. Apparently something's got him excited again. In this, all is as it should be.

Combeferre half-grins at Prouvaire. "Why, Jehan? This is comfortable, and I can see everyone." He waves a hand at the room, the domain he can survey, then turns slightly pink when he realizes that Joly and Bossuet are still kissing, and show no signs of stopping.

Christian clears his throat. "How... is everyone?" He still hasn't spotted Joly and Bossuet, which is just as well.

Combeferre notes Bahorel's entrance. "Gregory!" he calls out happily, and waves him over. The more, the merrier. "Come, pull up a chair. There's room for one more." He kicks his feet under the table a little bit, because he's not so old as to be completely serious.

Christian figures that if Combeferre can do it, he can too, and stands to make room for the new arrival, perching on the other edge of the table. At least it looks more natural than perching on the edge of the chair.

A grunt is offered up in reply to Combeferre's welcome. "Etienne, what in God's name are you doing on the table?" The proverbial Angry Young Man walks up to the crowd, eyes scanning his surroundings. A pair of boys kissing, a bunch of people eating oysters... ye God, it's about to turn into an orgy, isn't it?

Feuilly spares Bahorel a half grin, though it's muted, since he's still disgruntled over whatever happened at work. "Been a while."

Combeferre laughs at the surly question. "I'm making room for everyone, of course." When Christian sits next to him, he reaches out to help. "Come on, don't just land, sit. We'll balance the table."

Mathieu can't help but chuckle. What has he fallen into?

Christian blushes again, for no very good reason, and smiles awkwardly at Combeferre.

Gregory just shakes his head, resolutely flopping into the chair. However bad these people may be, at least they're not lawyers. "I swear, sometimes you people worry me, mes amis."

At length, Joly and Bossuet disentangle themselves from each other. Joly does not seem to have a cold now, but Bossuet might have a fever. He is certainly looking a bit flushed. Joly, slightly weak in the knees, walks over to where Grantaire is sitting and plunks himself unceremoniously in a chair. "Bonjour, Grantaire. Why not join Etienne and his merry crew?"

The look Joly gets for this bit of solicitousness can only be described as dire. "Why don't you?"

Combeferre smiles back at Christian. "Eat your oysters, Christian. They're good for you. I forget how..." he almost says, 'So ask Joly,' then realizes what a bad idea that might be at this point. "And they taste quite good."

Joly looks over at Combeferre and Christian, sitting on the table eating oysters together, and grins. "Oh, now, it looks like he's planning for a much more private party than I would be invited to attend. Who knew Enjolras's little cousin would be so available? Not to mention cute."

Christian looks uncertain. Whoever this Gregory fellow is, he's a bit too intense to be comfortable company, and Combeferre is... well, just being near Combeferre makes him blush. "I... thank you anyhow."

Grantaire's black look turns venomous. "Don't you have an assignation, pardon me, an appointment elsewhere, monsieur?"

Combeferre drops his gaze. "I'm sorry, Christian. Never mind." He holds a hand out rather in the middle of space. "Would you like to get off the table, then?"

Jean Prouvaire eyes his friend covertly. He's not jumping to conclusions, mind, after the fiasco last week, but...

Mathieu finishes the last of his share of the oysters, watching Combeferre quietly. What is the man up to?

Christian does not swoon. He bites his lip, he does a very poor job of trying not to look abashed, he ducks his head and turns even redder and, looking up, gives Combeferre what might be described as a doe-eyed look, but he does not swoon. He even manages an offhand shrug.

Combeferre nods, and moves his hand back into his own personal space. "Whatever you like. We are getting some odd looks for sitting on this table, though."

Joly frowns at Grantaire. "I'm sorry you are so alone and jealous that you cannot see opportunities staring you in the face. I have somewhere to be tonight. Do you?" He turns on his heel and goes back to sit with, or perhaps on, Bossuet.

Grantaire scowls after the retreating hypochondriac, and reaches for his glass again. Damned meddlesome med students, think they can diagnose anything.

Bahorel shakes his head. "Bah. Look at all of you merry young folk... fiddling while Rome burns, is it?"

Feuilly snorts to himself, starts to say something, then wisely stops himself. "Why," he says instead, "what's the matter?"

Christian slides off the table, to stand off behind Prouvaire's chair with his hands tucked in his pockets again.

"Something or other having to do with Romans," Combeferre starts to say with a grin in Joly and Bossuet's direction, until he realizes that they're not cooing over each other, and that Joly looks seriously upset. He gets off of the table with an absent-minded smile to the others there, says, "Pardon me," offhandedly, and goes over to console or counsel Joly, whichever is more appropriate.

Mathieu looks around. My, this is all incredibly confusing. This is the group upon which hopes and dreams for change and justice rest? Paris is doomed.

From the previously lascivious corner emanates much sadder noises than before. Joly's voice is never lower than a very light tenor, and now it's going up in pitch a bit. He's not quite loud and clear enough for anyone but Etienne and Bossuet to hear him, but they say things in soothing tones of voice.

Prouvaire watches Combeferre's departure with a slight smile, and turns back to Bahorel, who seems to have the floor.

Gregory has the floor? Oh, joyous day. The man stands slowly, looking about him. "Look at us. Drunks and revelers all - aye, myself included. Is this not wrong? Have we not goals, aims? What have we become?"

Joly's voice is quieter when he speaks again. This is probably because his face is pressed against Bossuet's shoulder. Combeferre shares a long-suffering glance with Bossuet and sits at their table for the time being.

Christian looks worried, and starts to drift away from the group. Toward Grantaire, as it happens, though being directed in most things by his cousin he probably doesn't mean to go that way.

Feuilly's dark brows shoot up. "Oh, really," he says dryly to Bahorel.

The rhetoric continues. Bahorel may not be a renowned speaker, but he's certainly a passionate man. "Why in God's name do we huddle in this room as though we were old women? Why do we hide our heads in the sand when we could be trying to change things? Are any of you truly happy with Paris, what it has become?"

Combeferre stands up and looks more stern than he probably has a right to look, considering that he was sitting on the table a few minutes ago. "We are not all drunks, and we only celebrate when there is nothing to mourn. We are not happy with Paris today, but the Paris of tomorrow will be better, and the day after that will be better still. Our fair city is advancing at her own stately pace. Perhaps if we try to chivvy her along we will frighten her. She is a lady, after all, and not to be driven according to our wills."

Grantaire glances up resignedly as Jaden approaches. Only no, it isn't Jaden, but the other one. Of whom Joly speaks so highly and of whom Enjolras is so defensive... "Afternoon, little Caron," is what comes out, in a low but rather acerbic tone.

Prouvaire takes in a breath, then shuts up as Combeferre, as usual, says it better than he could have. He nods seriously.

Does this mollify Bahorel? Does it calm him? Not in the least. "And look at all our patience has won us! Look at the way we live! You may celebrate all you wish, but I! I mourn the death of the spirit which once infused this city, the will! The will to fight!"

"...what spirit?" The sour tone comes from, of all people, Feuilly. "You're getting poetic again. Leave that to Jehan."

Combeferre is becoming more relaxed as he speaks. "We do not need to fight. Paris will continue on her path to glory without our direct help."

Christian starts, and turns red again, even as he squares his shoulders. "'lo, Grantaire." Even the form of address makes him blush.

Mathieu can't help but add in, "A strong arm is a powerful instrument for change, but only if it is properly directed by an equally strong mind." His voice is quiet, almost subdued.

Grantaire informs Christian confidentially, "They're at it again. Watch out for flying metaphors. --Sit, boy. Come sit. Out of the line of fire." A crooked grin.

"And doesn't aim at a brick wall," says Prouvaire good-humoredly. "You're so impatient, mon ami."

Bahorel glares at Mathieu, whom he doesn't know and, at this point, doesn't care to. Metaphors vanish rapidly as he bellows, "Oh, so now I'm stupid?"

"Bahorel," protests Jean Prouvaire in dismay.

Combeferre answers, "Of course not. But your mind is a careening carriage that just might pull you off of a cliff."

Christian dithers, but it does look like Grantaire's table is the safest place at the moment. He edges a chair out, still watching the confrontation sidelong.

Bahorel whirls to face Combeferre. "Oh, I see! Now I'm stupid, but you don't want to say I'm a fool, so you use pretty speeches!"

Mathieu, quite wisely, stays quiet.

"And grumpy to boot," Feuilly cuts in in his short way. "Sit down, hothead."

Combeferre laughs, because he's amused and also because it might ease the tension. "You're no more a fool than anyone else here. You just want to follow your ideas to their logical conclusion, which isn't always a good idea."

Gregory ponders that for a moment. Is that Combeferre trying to be nice, or Combeferre trying to say everyone's a fool? Damn hoity-toity arrogant... Bahorel sits, fuming, while he turns the statement over in his mind.

Feuilly, as a general rule, would shut up at this point, but he's had a long day. "Only man I know who can make a fistfight out of an ideal," he mutters, almost -- almost -- inaudibly.

The comment does not carry across the room. Now that this debate seems to be in a lull, if not over, Combeferre looks behind himself at Joly and Bossuet. Joly seems to be in a much better mood now, if the way he's embracing Bossuet is any indication.

Grantaire's grin grows slightly more lopsided, and more rueful. "What a den of iniquity you've fallen into, mon petit," he murmurs to Caron. "Revolutionaries, violence, strong drink..." He glances at the cuddle-corner. "...loose morals..."

Mathieu sits quietly, toying with an empty oyster shell and trying to make sense of whatever is happening. He does well at the former, horribly at the latter.

Prouvaire shoots Feuilly a pleading glance, and looks to Combeferre as though to say, what now?

Combeferre sees Prouvaire's glance and shrugs.

Christian follows Grantaire's and Combeferre's glances, and pales a bit. "I ... don't think it's so bad," he says bravely to the former, studiously averting his eyes.

Bahorel certainly thinks it's so bad. Almost - almost - he swings at Feuilly, but manages to restrain himself.

Combeferre wanders back to the other table, now that Joly is adequately cared for, and starts picking up the oyster shells to save Chowder and Fricassee the work.

Another man might smirk. Feuilly just sort of twitches a shrug, expressionless, and picks up a stray shell between two fingers, handing it to Combeferre.

Combeferre winks at Feuilly. "Thank you, Paul." He smiles at Mathieu. "Well, we managed to dine together, this time."

Mathieu smiles to Combeferre. "Indeed. It has been... an interesting meal."

Grantaire chuckles faintly. "You don't." He studies Christian, or at least seems to. He's pretty fuzzy at this point. "And how is your honorable cousin treating you?" 'Honorable' gets mangled a bit.

Jean Prouvaire draws a deep breath, and resettles himself in his seat. "Er... I wonder where Courfeyrac's gotten to. He's usually about by now."

"It could hardly have been anything but interesting." Combeferre decides that, since the chairs are all still occupied, he might as well sit on the table again. "At least the company distracts from the quality of the food."

Bahorel continues to fume. Somewhere in Etienne's fancy words, he is certain, he was insulted. He's positive of it. He just has to find the insult.

Christian flushes, yet again. "We get along," he says quietly, rather warily to Grantaire.

Prouvaire grins up at Combeferre. "This is true." And, looking down again to Bahorel, "Ah, don't be cross, mon ami." Jehan can be very cajoling when he puts his mind to it. "Have a drink, tell us what you've been up to."

Bahorel looks over to Jehan. "What have I been up to, mon ami? I have been walking... seeing the abominable state of our republic. It is sad, repulsive, a dying man gasping for breath in his own waste and sweat. Bah. I am so distraught over this state of affairs that I almost forgot to button my coat when passing the Law School."

Feuilly chuckles.

Combeferre clucks his tongue. "Imagine. You might have caught a plague of reason."

Mathieu signals for some wine. These people are too bizarre to be taken completely sober.

Grantaire lowers his voice as he talks to Christian, with a look half lazy and half sardonic, leaning back in his chair.

Fricassee comes out of the kitchen with her eyes on the floor. She looks at the corner where Joly and Bossuet are once again in pursuit of happiness, and turns bright red. When she sees Combeferre sitting on the table, her thin lips pinch together, but she says nothing. She brings Mathieu a bottle of wine.

Jean Prouvaire casts the poor girl a reassuring smile, as though to say he won't let his friends get too frightening.

The serving girl blushes even more at the compassion, and lopes back to the kitchen, her shoulders slumped.

Bahorel seems unimpressed. "A plague of reason indeed. Indeed! Is is reason that has brought us to... to this?"

Feuilly says dourly, "Got a point there."

Combeferre shrugs a shoulder. "Hardly," he agrees, "but then, the law did not quite bring us to this, either, but rather the abuse of the law by people."

Bahorel seems even less happy at that point. "And we sit here, and let them abuse it!"

"Or outright disregard," adds Prouvaire, though he doesn't seem to have his mind entirely on the debate.

Christian answers Grantaire in an even softer tone. He keeps cutting nervous glances over toward the others.

Combeferre shakes his head. "We don't let them. We prepare for the day when we will have the means to stop them. Throwing oyster shells will hardly deter the king."

Prouvaire chuckles at that.

To which Bahorel can only respond, "It would be something!"

Feuilly just shakes his head at the annoyed Bahorel, and scratches at a roughened fingernail absent-mindedly.

"If you want to fight like a beggar, you will lose like one," Combeferre says, not as gently as he usually speaks. "The government has ways of dealing with people who only toss debris. Learn to live and think as a man and a citizen, and you will have more influence."

Mathieu nods quietly at Combeferre's words, finding wisdom in them.

Grantaire snorts at something Christian says, and answers rather volubly, out of which the only audible phrase is "Don't waste your time, petit," somewhere in the middle.

Bahorel growls. "Learn to think as a tool, you mean! Learn to become one of those who have brought us to this!"

"But you're missing his point," Prouvaire expostulates.

Feuilly snorts again, slanting a half-approving, half-pained glance at Bahorel.

Combeferre pounds one hand on the table. "Yes, you are, Gregory. I don't think we should become like the pawns of the government who are in power today. We need to appear to be their equals before they heed our call. We are only students. They may not listen to us."

Christian reddens, and glances down. When he speaks again, he appears to have changed the subject.

Prouvaire makes quotation marks with his fingers. "'Rash hotheaded schoolboys'. Which you aren't exactly contradicting, mon ami."

"Am I?" My, Bahorel has himself in a lather now. "How are we changing the world, Jean? How does sitting about drinking wine, arguing, doing..." He waves over at the shadowed corner. "...things like that, how does this help anyone? How does this change our world? Would you rather sit about kissing each other while Paris crumbles?"

Prouvaire colors. "I'd rather not start a fight unless we know we'll win."

Combeferre looks quite upset. "I do not sit in this cafe all day complaining about how everyone should be fighting. I study life. I learn. When I have finished my studies, I will actually know something of the world, enough to make a well-reasoned recommendation to intelligent people. It wastes time to insist on foolish actions."

Bahorel snorts. "You will know all kinds of things, Etienne, but will any of those things help put down the soldiers?"

Grantaire shakes his head slightly, evidently paying no attention to the incipient quarrel. He puts out a hand, quite gently, to smooth back Christian's rumpled black hair, and says something in an undertone.

"Might," inserts Feuilly, mainly to be contrary.

"That's just it! If we do this correctly, there will be no need of soldiery." Combeferre looks ready to take on a regiment at the moment, or at least shake some sense into Bahorel.

Mathieu drinks his wine. These people are mad.

Grantaire * aww. You're scaring the poor little conservative, boys.

"Exactly," puts in Prouvaire triumphantly, "you can't say that wouldn't be better, Gregory."

Bahorel shakes his head. "They will always resist us with force! How can they not? No revolution has been won without blood, and sweat, and the tears of the fallen! Those who came before us have died proving that!"

If it wasn't Combeferre talking, he might be shouting. "Heavens, man, you don't know that. And shouldn't we progress beyond the wars, if we can? We are more educated and advanced than anyone else in any other time. Surely we can find a better method of action than they could."

Bahorel gesticulates wildly. "What better action is there? Do you expect to reason the army into setting down their weapons? You know as well as I that that will never happen!"

Christian just blinks at Grantaire, casting another fleeting, worried glance toward the main table. He ducks his head slightly under the touch, answering quietly.

Combeferre gets off the table. "You have no idea what can be accomplished with the power of words because you deny their strength," he says coldly to Bahorel. He doesn't seem to be practicing what he's preaching, either.

"Now, boys," Feuilly says ironically.

Bahorel glares at Combeferre. "Do I? Fine! Talk me out of my mood, then, Etienne! Reason with me! If you cannot sway me, how can you hope to sway them?" He rises from his chair, poking Combeferre in the chest.

Jean Prouvaire persists, in his soft-spoken way, "But this isn't getting us anywhere..." and then leans his head in one hand.

Mathieu stands as well - to back away from the imminent confrontation.

Combeferre takes a deep breath at the poking and answers in an even tone, "I hope to God they are more inclined to listening and sensibility than you are." He doesn't hit back, but his hands are clenched at his sides. "It would be difficult for them to be any more tempestuous."

Grantaire quirks an odd little smile at Caron, and lets his hand drop to the nape of the boy's neck, with what's probably a cynical little aphorism.

A snort from Gregory. "Oh, you hope! Where is your certainty now, Etienne? Where is your reason? What if I was a soldier, hmm? What would you say to me then?" Another poke.

The door swings open yet again. Enjolras stands in the doorway, looking around. He is about to greet Combeferre when he realizes that Bahorel is about to start a fistfight. The carnality of the other corner makes his cheek paler than normal, and he quickly looks away. Then, he sees Christian, and almost smiles in relief, but Grantaire is touching Christian. Without hesitation, he nearly runs over to Grantaire's table and punches him in the face.

Bahorel laughs, loudly. "Oh, I see! Your response would be to hit your comrades! Oh, yes, that will cause me to lay down my arms - I'll be too busy mocking you to fight!"

"Schoolboys," says Feuilly succinctly, just before that situation explodes. His eyes widen, and he pushes his chair back to stand.

Combeferre is beginning to turn red. "I would wonder why in hell you were poking me with your flimsy finger when you could be using a bayonet and actually accomplishing something." He tries to catch hold of Bahorel's hand and make him stop, then turns when Enjolras storms in. "Mon Dieu."

There's a shout -- no, a scream -- of outright terror from Christian, as Grantaire, entirely unprepared, goes sprawling to the floor.

Bahorel laughs. "Oh ho! Well then, try this!" And with his free hand, he exuberantly aims a punch at Combeferre. Hey, Enjolras started it. Honest!

Joly is startled out of whatever it was he was doing and tears himself away from Bossuet. They both charge over to Grantaire's table and prepare to retaliate. "What in hell do you think you are doing, Enjolras?" Bossuet asks, very loudly.

Combeferre, distracted by this scene, receives the blow in shock and stumbles backward. "Damn it, Gregory, you have the devil's own timing."

Jean Prouvaire gasps, and pushes to his feet as well; then almost chokes as the insanity spreads to his own table. "For God's sake, you two--"

Mathieu blinks some more. Hmm. Perhaps he shouldn't have had that wine.

Enjolras is looking furious beyond the wrath of mortals. "That filthy perversion of nature!" He aims a kick at Grantaire. "How dare you lay a finger on my cousin! How dare you assume that anyone in the world shares your twisted proclivities!"

Christian's eyes are wide with panic. He stumbles to his feet and clings to the back of a chair, staring as the whole room goes mad around him.

Bahorel laughs, inwardly glad that Enjolras didn't see Joly and Bossuet earlier, or he'd be really incensed. "Do I, Etienne? How have your studies taught you to deal with this, eh?"

Bossuet turns quite red and shoves Enjolras backward. "You repressed prig. You have no right to criticize him!"

Grantaire starts to pick himself up with an effort, the wind knocked out of him. He dodges the kick with marginal success and manages to get to his feet, absolutely white.

Combeferre makes a creditable attempt to hook one of Bahorel's legs out from under him.

Bahorel, preoccupied with gloating and laughing, falls right on his rear with an audible 'thud'.

Enjolras falls backward in shock, then takes firm hold of a chair and puts it between him and Bossuet. "Lesgles, if you are as grotesque as that poppet of dung and wine, I will have nothing more to do with you." He shoves the chair toward Bossuet with a noise between a war whoop and a growl.

"Jesus Mary," says Prouvaire faintly, stunned, and then, raising his voice, "Gentlemen, please! A little san-- God's name!" He abandons Combeferre and Bahorel, Combeferre is at least usually sensible, and heads over to try and restrain the raging puritan.

Mathieu might even be able to defuse the confrontation, had he not finished most of this wine. Ah well. "Can I have another bottle, please?"

Joly catches the chair in the stomach, and loses his breath. His knees crumple, and he falls to the floor near where Grantaire was a few moments before.

Fricassee looks out from the kitchen, sees the chaos, and faints in the doorway.

Christian cries desperately, "Marcelin!" and flings himself on his cousin with panicked intensity.

Bossuet sees Joly fall and roars. "Damn you, Enjolras!" He is about to charge at the target of his anger when Christian gets a bit in the way.

Feuilly, without a word, offers Bahorel a hand up.

Combeferre smiles complacently at Bahorel as if he didn't just knock him down. "That's what I would do, Gregory."

Bahorel slowly gets to his feet, beaming. "A fight! A fight! To arms, to arms!" And promptly charges towards the knot of people around Enjolras, not particularly caring who he barrels into. After all, this will be good training for the revolution.

Grantaire blinks, appalled, and reflexively tries to catch Bossuet's arm to restrain him, but between Laigle's righteous fury and his own alcohol intake he misses by a mile.

Joly finds himself stepped upon by Bahorel and protests loudly though nonverbally. When he tries to stand, Bossuet steps on his fingers by mistake, so Joly crawls under Grantaire's table and hides. He begins coughing and wheezing. "Damn," he says to himself, "I ought to remember to avoid violence."

Combeferre turns to see the brawl and goes pale. "Heavens, what are they doing now?" He leaps in, gallantly trying to rescue Christian by pulling him off of Enjolras.

Bahorel, his course altered by the impediment of Joly, is now careening towards Grantaire in what will no doubt be a rather nicely executed shoulder-block.

So down goes the capital R again, with a curse this time.

Prouvaire just isn't good at this sort of thing. Bahorel's rush knocks him headlong into Christian, who in turn gets knocked loose of the beleaguered Enjolras and more or less into Combeferre's arms.

Enjolras punches Bossuet in the stomach. "If you knew anything, you'd stay out of this."

Combeferre catches Christian. "Bonjour," he says ironically. "Shall we get to a safe distance?" he asks, though he's already heading for the kitchen door.

Christian is beyond words and beyond argument. All he can manage is a sort of whimper of assent and a nod.

Bossuet folds up slightly, but manages to shove Enjolras backward until he runs into a chair. Thus revenged, Lesgles attempts to withdraw underneath the table with Joly.

Mathieu looks to the table Joly has just climbed under. That's a good idea, actually... but seeing Bossuet about to join him, he rethinks his assessment. Maybe he should find a different table.

Joly wheezes, his eyes watering. He's not in any sort of state to do anything but try to breathe.

"God, you're all insane," says Feuilly, though probably no one hears him, and he heads over to lend a hand, or whatever presents itself to do.

Bahorel straightens. Pah. These people are all too weak to fight. Except... maybe... Of course! Enjolras! He started this! So, a swing is aimed at the man's head.

Enjolras does not chase Bossuet under the table. Instead, he firmly plants a foot on the collapsed Grantaire's stomach and says in a tone that is a proclamation of doom, "You will never interfere with any member of my family again." He's too distracted to dodge Bahorel's swing.

So now, it appears, there are at least two and possibly three young men in a heap on the floor, and lucky Grantaire is underneath. "Hell," he says, muffled.

Combeferre pulls Christian into the kitchen over the unconscious Fricassee. Chowder is still whimpering in the corner. "Well. They certainly are sensible today."

"I don't--" Christian gasps, in something of a state of shock. "I didn't--"

Bahorel keeps on swinging, determined to be the last man standing. That'll prove him right, dammit!

Combeferre tries to comfort the poor child, and the best thing he can think of is an embrace, so he hugs Christian. "Shhh. I know. Don't forget to breathe."

Enjolras is on the floor, then, a bit dazed and probably on top of someone else. He doesn't seem inclined to get up quite yet. Not until the stars stop twinkling, at least.

Jean Prouvaire, having retreated behind another table, now dives back in in an attempt to aid Enjolras. Grumpy and homophobic he may be, but Prouvaire's not going to leave him lying on the floor.

Christian buries his face in Combeferre's shoulder, quaking.

Feuilly dodges the rampaging Bahorel deftly. It's one thing he's good at. Since Jehan is already rescuing Enjolras, and the others appear to be safely out of harm's way, he darts round to help Grantaire up.

If Enjolras swears as he regains his feet, only Prouvaire can hear it.

People standing! Bahorel can't have that! So he swings at Enjolras again, missing by a good foot - having anticipated the man getting to his feet a good deal quicker.

Bossuet looks out from under the table and decides that it would be best if he and Joly stayed there until Joly can breathe again and all this trouble is done.

Grantaire sucks in a breath as Enjolras is dragged off him, and staggers to his feet, leaning on Feuilly. Breathless but with no lessening of irony, he says acidly to Enjolras, "Bravely done."

Mathieu finds a spare table. Oh, good. And promptly hides under it.

"Bahorel," Prouvaire snaps more sharply than you'd think he was capable of, "enough."

Enjolras looks dazedly at Grantaire. "No. It wasn't." He tries to walk towards the door, and nearly loses his balance.

Bahorel looks around. Wait... no one to fight. Damn. "Now, you see? That is how the battles will be fought!" Leave it to Gregory to try using a senseless brawl to make a point.

Grantaire hadn't expected that. He stares after Enjolras dully, still steadying himself on Feuilly's shoulder.

Prouvaire frowns. Frowns at all of them in general, and ducks after Enjolras to steady him.

Enjolras accepts Prouvaire's help without complaint or thanks, and leaves as quickly as he can in his condition.

"Yes," Feuilly says dryly. "We'll beat each other to a bloody pulp over idiotic things, and save the government the trouble of subduing us. Well done."

Bahorel sighs. "Now you are missing the point!"

A voice from under the table advises, "Just let it go, Bahorel."

Mathieu stays under his table. If this energy could be directed... maybe...

"Probably." Feuilly's tone is ironical. "I am, after all, a plain, uneducated man, and I don't begin to understand the finer points of logic. All I see here is a mess." He directs the stunned Grantaire to a seat.

Prouvaire exits with Enjolras, uncharacteristically grim.

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