9. Maman Dearest

There's a sharp tap on the door of Enjolras' apartment.

Enjolras places a marker in his book. "Oui, entrez," he says, expecting Christian and perhaps Combeferre.

Régine accordingly enters in a rustle of petticoats, exquisite in blue damask and not at all happy. "Where is your sister?" she says without preamble.

Marcelin nearly falls out of his chair. "Maman." He's not all that surprised to see her, since she did get a letter, but he's certainly not pleased. Absently, he brushes his hair back from his forehead, trying without thinking of it to make himself more presentable. He tries to sound innocent and uninformed. "Why would I know where my sister is? Isn't she at home?"

Régine pauses a moment, studying him. He's not exactly a habitual liar, and so it's natural to believe him, but on the other hand... "No. She is not. She disappeared ten days ago, she wrote a letter on the seventeenth, it was sent from Paris and I am to believe that she has not come to you, Marcelin?"

Marcelin's mouth opens a little and he looks terribly worried. Or at least, he thinks he does. "Mon Dieu! Ten days ago?" He pauses. "Who is it? Who ran away?"

Régine levels a piercing maternal stare on him. "Whom do you suppose, dear?"

Marcelin frowns. "I suppose it would have to be Chantal. The poor darling, how could she ever have come all the way to Paris on her own?" He pales convincingly, since he's trying to imagine what she might have done without his help. "And how could she possibly earn money?"

Régine sighs, and seats herself uninvited. "Indeed."

Marcelin looks for his coat. "I haven't seen her, but I do have many friends, and perhaps some of them would have, if I ask." Besides which, he'll get a warning to Combeferre if he can.

Régine's eyebrows lift. "Very well. I will come with you." She stands again.

A worried look crosses his face, but he erases it a quickly as he can. "Some of the places I will go will be very unpleasant for a lady."

An actual flicker of humor quirks her mouth. "I assure you, dear, this place is somewhat unpleasant for a lady. I would be extremely surprised if these windows have been washed in the past year. And who, may I ask, are your friends that they can be found in such places?"

He might blush in another circumstance, but he's worried. Not about what she thinks he's worried about, but it'll have to do. "My friends are not all well-to-do. They find the leisure they can afford and enjoy it." He sounds much more accepting than he usually is.

Again the raised eyebrows. "I see," she says dryly.

Marcelin looks around the room, which is not clean, but is better than the Corinth. "Perhaps you should stay here, then, Maman?"

Régine is not deterred. "I am quite prepared to endure a little squalidness in order to find my daughter, thank you."

Marcelin shrugs slightly. "All right." He gives up, and opens the door for her. "I shall escort you, then."

She moves to the door, then pauses, cocking her head at him. She doesn't say anything, though, and steps out.

Once they are in the corridor, he reluctantly but gracefully offers her his arm.

Régine takes it with consummate elegance of gesture, though she's trembling barely detectably.

Marcelin leads Mme. Enjolras through the streets to the Café Musain, first, since it's closer and cleaner.

Régine follows, keeping her skirts looped up fastidiously out of the street grime. She can't make quite as good time as he can, but she doesn't complain either.

Outside the back entrance of the Café, Marcelin stops. "Are you sure you want to do this, Maman? You might not like what you see."

But maman's mingled ignorance and cynicism do not admit of this. "Nonsense, dear."

Marcelin raises an eyebrow. "If that is what you believe." He opens the back door. "Let me be rude, this once, and precede you, or you may not be allowed to enter."

Régine mirrors his expression. "Very well," she says after a beat.

Marcelin strides in, then, because this is as close to home ground as he can come. Joly, Combeferre and Feuilly are sitting at one table, chatting quietly.

Combeferre looks up when Marcelin walks in, and calls out, "Bonjour, Marcelin," before he sees that the newcomer is not alone.

Régine glides in after her son, skirts still caught up because not for a moment does she trust the floors. She casts a critical eye over the room, and her glance rests on Combeferre.

Joly turns to Feuilly when he hears who the new person is, and says loudly, "You know, Feuilly, I've heard that people from Vezet generally have less of a sense of humor than any other people from this country."

Marcelin nods to Combeferre. "Monsieur Combeferre, this is my mother, Régine Enjolras." He blanches when Joly is rude, but says nothing.

Feuilly blinks a few times at the woman in blank surprise; then he glances back at Joly and sighs, not answering. He does move to stand, unobtrusive courtesy.

Combeferre winces at the insult. "Alexandre," he says, mostly under his breath, "your timing is horrid." He makes himself smile brightly, stand, and sketch a shallow bow. "Enchanté, Madame Enjolras."

Joly turns when they talk about mothers. He is bright red. "Oh. Bonjour, Madame."

Régine sends a razor glance at the ill-mannered boy, but disdains to waste more time than that. She inclines her head politely enough to Combeferre. "A pleasure, monsieur." Feuilly she ignores calmly; he's scruffy and shabby and knows his place, and no time need be wasted on him either. She does not wait for Marcelin to waffle. "I am sorry to intrude upon you. I am in search of my daughter Chantal."

Combeferre looks curiously at both of them, not missing the gaze she shoots at Joly, and says calmly, "I didn't know you had any sisters, Marcelin."

Joly looks down at the table. "Just a cousin," he mutters, not so that anyone except Feuilly could hear him.

Marcelin stops himself from smiling in relief. "Yes. Three, actually, but I assume only one of them is missing." He raises an eyebrow at Mme. Enjolras.

Feuilly glances ceilingward, but doesn't answer that comment.

"Yes," says Régine mildly. She studies Marcelin again for a moment.

Joly continues, to Feuilly and the table, "A very troublesome cousin, at that."

Combeferre wonders vaguely what Joly is mumbling about, but doesn't turn to look at him. "I wish I could help you, Madame, but I really would not know where to look for her. I can ask my friends to keep an eye out, if you wish. What does she look like?"

Feuilly murmurs, very, very softly, but not unkindly, "Shut up, sniffler, this isn't the time."

Joly snorts quietly. "Do you think so?" he asks, just as quietly.

Régine quirks a brow and looks back to Combeferre. "Small. Black hair. Much too thin. Sixteen years old."

Joly raises an eyebrow, but says nothing.

Combeferre nods. "I shall tell my friends. Where might she have gone?"

Feuilly eyes the muttering hypochondriac.

"To her brother," Régine says, deadpan.

"But she didn't," Marcelin says quickly. "Truly, Maman, if she came to Paris, she did not seek me out."

Régine looks him up and down quite coolly. "So you have said, dear. Rather repeatedly."

Combeferre's eyebrows go up for a moment. He might smile slightly at Marcelin, but one would have to know him to see it. Then, he nods. "I shall spread the word."

Marcelin very nearly gets flustered, but makes himself take a deep breath. "Whenever you talk about her coming to live with me, I will reassure you that she did not. Besides, Combeferre might have wondered."

Régine eyes him another moment, then turns back to Combeferre with a nod. "Thank you for your help."

Joly looks at the table. "I wonder where she is, then," he says quietly to Feuilly.

Combeferre smiles slightly. "If I can help you, then I will be most glad to do so."

Feuilly squints bemusedly at him. "What are you on about?" he inquires, under the others' talk.

Marcelin looks toward the door. "Shall we go, Maman? There are other places to visit."

Régine nods slightly. "Very well." She casts another glance at the other two, with a faint inclination of the head, and steps back to go.

Marcelin opens the door for her. "After you, Madame."

Régine sweeps out with that.

Marcelin flashes Combeferre a harried look and a wink, and then follows his mother out the door.

Joly asks, slightly louder, so that perhaps Combeferre can hear, "Who do you know who is young, thin, black-haired, and new to Paris?"

Feuilly blinks, then laughs. "You're mad."

Joly shrugs. "So Enjolras would have you all believe, I am sure." He is louder then, now that the passerby are both gone.

Combeferre shakes his head. "It's possible to have both a cousin and a sister, Joly," he points out.

Feuilly shakes his head, dropping back into his chair. "Who resemble each other, even."

Joly shrugs again, and leans back. "True."

Marcelin leads Madame Enjolras into a rather dirtier part of town. He does not like to linger in these streets, and he is sure that she will feel likewise, so he walks rather more quickly than he had in more comfortable territory. "It's just down this street," he says as they enter the Rue de la Chanvrerie.

Régine wrinkles her nose, stepping over a gutter, and follows.

Marcelin makes no comment, but he certainly does not slow down.

She keeps up with him tolerably well, twenty years and a mass of petticoats notwithstanding, silent, however.

The Corinth is no more shabby than most taverns between Vezet and Paris, but it does show more wear. The grime of the city lies heavy on its walls. It is not a particularly welcoming little spot, particularly not for one who fancies herself aristocratic.

Marcelin walks up to the Corinth. "Here we are, Madame," he says. "The Corinth, a mediocre establishment at its peak, which is past. Still, the company can be pleasant." He opens the door for her.

Régine casts an unreadable glance up at the building's facade, and fastidiously steps inside.

Grantaire is slung in his usual chair, amusedly watching Courfeyrac cope with Marius.

Fricassee walks up the minute she sees someone with Money enter the place. For once, she almost looks happy, and she certainly looks servile. She curtseys. "Madame, what can I bring you today?"

Courfeyrac protests, "But Pontmercy, it doesn't matter how many pebbles can fit in your hat, that still doesn't make it fashionable."

Régine holds up a declining hand to deter her. "No, no." She casts that same critical look around the place, and this time grimaces slightly.

Pontmercy sighs. "If you're sure, Courfeyrac. I suppose you would know."

Marcelin follows Mme. Enjolras into the Corinth, and, like her, casts a look around. He winces twice and smiles once, and talks to the only person worth a greeting. "Bonjour, Courfeyrac," he says, loudly enough to get his attention.

Courfeyrac turns to look. "Ah, bonjour, Enjolras. And..." he is quite stunned to see a woman in the Corinth. Particularly accompanying Enjolras. Particularly one of that age. He begins to wonder where Marcelin finds all of these odd people to introduce to Paris.

Grantaire's gaze lifts at the voice, and he blinks once. "Well, well."

Pontmercy turns to see who is there when Courfeyrac stops paying attention to him. "Bonjour," he says quietly.

Régine inclines her head grandly to the young man and his companion. She hasn't registered Grantaire's presence yet. This is a good thing. "Régine Enjolras, messieurs. A pleasure to make your acquaintance."

Courfeyrac nods back, and processes that this must be Enjolras's mother or aunt or something of that nature. He wonders what in heaven she is doing in the Corinth. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I am René Courfeyrac, and this," with a gesture, "is Marius Pontmercy."

Pontmercy nods, too. "A pleasure," he echoes.

"Well," says that rasping voice again. "I'll be damned, it's true. He comes by it rightly." It's said moderately quietly, though.

Marcelin has been dreading this sort of interruption, so he hears it, and turns to give Grantaire a truly fearsome glare. He shakes his head sharply and mouths, "Silence!" as clearly as he can, then turns back to his mother with a calmer expression. "Courfeyrac, one of my sisters has run away from home. Do you think you may have seen her?"

Courfeyrac thinks. Like Joly, he thinks of Christian Caron, and wonders why Enjolras has a sudden profusion of relations. "I don't think so, no," he says musingly.

Grantaire wisely shuts up, though he doesn't quit watching them with open appreciation.

Marius blinks, floored for a moment by the sheer non-sequitur quality of it all. Granted, there's only one female creature he pays attention to, but give him credit, he ponders for a minute before shaking his head. "I'm sorry..."

Marcelin sighs. "Do you know where we might look, Courfeyrac? I hardly know where a young girl might go in Paris."

Courfeyrac shrugs. "I don't know. Shopping, maybe. The opera, maybe."

Grantaire volunteers, "Parks. Gardens."

Régine studies the two of them a moment, beginning to nod, then glances toward the corner with raised eyebrows.

Marcelin spins on his heel with a reprimand prepared before it dawns on him that, for once, Grantaire might have said something useful. "Thank you, yes, we shall have to look there." He looks back at his mother. "Madame, this is Grantaire." He doesn't actually sound censorious, though even he does not know why.

Courfeyrac is half ready to forestall a repeat of the recent fight, but he relaxes in his chair again. "Yes, parks, what a good idea. Manon likes to walk in the parks, particularly the one north of here."

Grantaire manages a little bow from his seat, and the most engaging grin he's capable of, which is moderately. "Madame," he says politely.

"Charmed," Régine remarks rather frigidly, and turns back to Courfeyrac. "Indeed."

Marcelin looks toward the door. "Perhaps we should look there, then." He doesn't say 'now,' but he doesn't have to say it.

Marius is staying out of the conversation. Well out. He can't help, he has absolutely no desire to annoy Enjolras, and Grantaire baffles him at the best of times, so it seems best to shut up until they leave.

Courfeyrac nods. "It is a pleasant time of day," and offers no explanation as to why he is spending this pleasant hour in a dingy cafe with a dolt and a drunkard. "It's a good time to go walking."

Régine nods slightly. "Yes. A good idea." Her fingers knot in her skirts. God only knows what she might catch in here.

Marcelin nods, too. "Thank you, Courfeyrac, Pontmercy." He turns to open the door for his mother and nods to Grantaire as well.

Grantaire returns the nod with the neat courtesy he can muster on occasion. His day is made.

Courfeyrac raises a hand to wave farewell.

Régine nods to the two again. "Thank you." And moves to depart, rather quickly.

Marius murmurs something by way of polite farewell, still looking vaguely worried.

Marcelin holds the door for his mother, then goes out himself.

"How do you like that," remarks Grantaire to no one in particular when the door has shut behind them.

Courfeyrac laughs, almost through his nose. "Obviously not as much as you do."

"Ah, don't give me that, you can't tell me it isn't something to see him civil."

Courfeyrac nods. "From what I hear, he's been more irritable than normal, recently." He shrugs. "I don't mind his being irritable so much as some people."

Grantaire waves a hand at him. "Of course not. You live with a harpy. You're inured."

Courfeyrac laughs. "Manon isn't a harpy!" After a moment's thought, he amends, "All the time."

Régine comments, lifting her hem to step over that same gutter, "I cannot approve of your haunts, Marcelin."

"I did not ask you to approve." He was enjoying the silence, really, and worrying about Chantal, but if she is going to talk, so will he. "I do not visit them for the ambiance, particularly not the Corinth."

"Oh? Then what do you visit them for, may I ask?"

"The company." As if that's obvious. She did meet Grantaire, after all, and that's not the sort of company he enjoys, either.

Régine raises delicate brows. "Day laborers and reprobates?" She glosses over Combeferre, Courfeyrac and Pontmercy effortlessly.

Marcelin clears his throat. "That describes two of them, Madame. I certainly would not count Grantaire among my friends, but Feuilly," his tone sounds slightly disdainful, but not nearly as harsh as hers, "works hard to better himself."

Régine looks amused. "Indeed."

Marcelin nods, and decides to promote the most acceptable one of the lot. "You would approve of Combeferre if you knew him." He's never worked a day in his life, for starters.

Régine concedes, "He seems civil enough." She evades a careening urchin with a grimace.

Gavroche sticks his tongue out at her. "Pardon me, Your Majesty, but your royal boots are dirty!"

Marcelin raises an eyebrow at the rude gamin. "He is well-educated," he says, bringing the subject back to Combeferre.

Régine disdains to pay any attention, beyond a glance at Marcelin as though to imply the rarity of civility. "One hopes."

The park is quiet in the late afternoon. A few couples stroll, but not close enough to overhear each other. The sunlight plays on the leaves in an inviting way.

Régine sighs faintly, picking her way along the path.

Marcelin scans the paths. "I don't see her," he mutters. "Are you sure she wrote to you from Paris?"

Wordlessly, she pokes in her handbag, and produces the letter, handing it to him expressionlessly.

Marcelin reads it. "Observing the court? That doesn't sound like her at all, and this isn't her handwriting, except for the line at the end." He reads it again. "It does say that she's among friends. What friends could she find here?"

Régine says nothing, just looks at him.

Marcelin folds the letter and gives it back. "I don't know."

Régine puts it back in the bag without a word, and looks away from him then, out over the lawns, her jaw tight.

Marcelin follows her gaze. "Do you see her?"

Régine pulls away from him, and goes and sits down on a nearby bench, still silent and set-faced, but her shoulders are a little slumped.

Marcelin goes down on one knee and looks at her. She isn't usually this bothered by anything at all. "I am sure I can find her." He tries to sound reassuring, but not completely confident. Because he almost always sounds confident, it may not work all that well.

Régine looks at him with that familiar haughty expression, but her eyes are tired. "Now, you are sure? Even though you still tell me you have no idea where she is, now you say you can find her?" It's not accusatory, though, so much as patient. "This is a very large city, Marcelin."

"I am aware of that. I live here." He says it quite dryly. "I do not know if I can find her within a week, or a month, but it is not so large that I will not find her in time." He pauses, not sure how far to take this explanation. "I am not exactly obscure, and I do know people from all walks of life, as you so clearly pointed out. Once I put the word out, she will surface eventually."

Régine shivers, ostensibly in the breeze that kicks up just about then. "She is sixteen years old."

Marcelin frowns. "Yes. That should make it easier to find her. As you say, she will probably come looking for me, in time."

Régine sighs. "Yes." She studies him a minute; her face softens perhaps; it's difficult to tell, since she never softens much. After a moment she puts out a hand to touch his cheek lightly.

Marcelin is surprised by this. She doesn't touch him very often, except in ceremonial occasions. "Don't worry, Maman," he says softly. He did want to send Chantal home, at first, and he doesn't think it's fair that his mother should worry, even if she isn't always everything he wants her to be. "It will be all right."

Régine just barely, barely smiles at that, and lets her hand fall. "Yes. One way or another, I expect it will."

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