10. Sunday In The Park With Marcelin

Enjolras sits on a park bench, reading and enjoying his respite from his mother's company. He'd forgotten how truly aggravating she could be, and is increasingly glad that he does not live at home.

Christian wanders down the path, hands clasped behind his back. She's getting better at this, at least from a distance.

Combeferre walks slightly behind Christian because he has just bent to pick a flower. He walks a bit more quickly for a few paces, then presents his companion with a small bouquet of violets. "For you, Josephine," he says with a smile.

Enjolras looks up sharply from his book and asks loudly, "What are you accusing my cousin of, Combeferre? I am sure he is not in favor of Buonaparte."

Christian stares, then giggles. "Oh--" She reaches out to take the flowers, then jumps and nearly drops them, turning red.

Combeferre raises an eyebrow at Marcelin. "No, not at all. Can you think of an appropriate reference for violets? If you can, I will use it instead."

Enjolras relents. "No, I cannot supplant your accusation with a compliment." He sets the book down and spreads his hands. "You've defeated me."

Chantal tucks her hands in her pockets, then has to rescue one hand lest the violets get crushed. "How are you, Marcelin?"

Enjolras stands, trying to smile, but yawning instead. "Harried by our beloved harridan. She is tireless, but apparently she has not passed that trait to me."

She winces. "Oh."

Combeferre frowns slightly now that the romantic mood is thoroughly broken. "When do you think she will leave?"

"Soon, I hope. She's wearing." He smiles slightly at Christian. "I remember now why you left home."

Christian looks wry, and nods a bit.

"Afternoon," comes a familiar voice, amiable enough and casual, as Manon rounds the corner in her usual brisk way.

Combeferre looks away first. "Bonjour, Manon," he says, and really, he does sound welcoming. He's in a pretty good mood. After all, he's the one staying with Christian and not Madame Enjolras.

Christian glances up and blinks, blanching a little. So this is the fabled Manon. He's heard Courfeyrac's horror stories.

Enjolras sits on the bench in defeat. The only way this could get worse is if she's accompanied by Grantaire. He buries his nose in the book again, at a random page, without looking up at Combeferre or Caron, and certainly without greeting her.

Manon's grin is actually warm, when directed at Combeferre. "You're looking well." She comes up to them then, and slants a glance that glitters with mockery at Enjolras. "And hello to you, m'sieur. Glad to see you too."

Combeferre smiles back at her, and tries to forestall a confrontation between the overtired and obviously reluctant Marcelin and Manon, who is dear but can certainly have a temper, by saying, "Manon, this is my friend Christian. I think you would enjoy his company," and nudging Christian gently.

Christian blinks at Enjolras, and then at Combeferre, and manages a faint but polite, "Bonjour, madame."

Enjolras looks up as if he hadn't heard her approaching or Combeferre greet her, and tries hard to think like Pontmercy. "Oh, hello, Manon. How pleasant to see you." It comes off in a light but emotionless tone.

Manon shoots another, downright mischievous glance at Enjolras. Then she looks back to the others, and her expression turns amused. "Ah yes. The much-talked-about Caron. They said you were pretty. And for God's sake don't call me madame, it makes me feel forty."

Combeferre shakes his head slightly and smiles. "Christian is staying with me for the time being," with a slight emphasis on the name. "He's a good roommate." And a good kisser.

Christian goes scarlet at once, ducking his head, and can only nod mutely to Combeferre's explanation.

Enjolras holds his peace for the time being. He tries to convince himself that it's not surprising that les Amis are gossiping about Christian, and that it's not bad that they say he's pretty, because, after all, he is.

Mercifully, Manon doesn't give this information the lifted brow it doubtless got from most of les Amis. "I see. Well, he couldn't be in better hands." She casts the boy a not unfriendly grin. "So you're our lovely Enjolras' relative, are you, little one? Congratulations."

Enjolras clears his throat. "Yes, Manon, he's my cousin, and the pride of the family." He tries not to be rude, or sarcastic, but oh, it's hard.

Christian just ducks his head further, and sidles ever so slightly nearer to Combeferre. Subtle. Right.

Manon starts to answer, then catches herself. "...I'm sure," is all she says instead. And squints slightly at Caron.

Combeferre asks, "What brings you out on such a lovely day?" He pats Christian on the shoulder and gives him a tiny push away.

Give the lad credit, he does take a hint. Sometimes. He sets his jaw, squares his shoulders and looks up again, with tolerable calm.

Manon shrugs, reaching up to tuck a stray curl back into its tight knot. "Do I need a reason to be out on such a lovely day?" Oh, it's a good thing Courfeyrac isn't here; she's bordering on flirtatious.

Enjolras's eyebrows lift. "It looks as if you're looking for a new... friend," he comments. It would have been mild if Combeferre said it, and teasing from Courfeyrac, but from Enjolras, it comes out as censure and with a definite overtone of 'You're a slut.'

In an instant that flashing black glance lights on Enjolras. "Does it?" she says dangerously.

Christian looks decidedly uncertain. He does have the presence of mind not to glower, but Manon is enough to unsettle anybody even without help from Enjolras. He scuffs the pathway with one toe, nervously.

Enjolras suggests firmly, "Christian, sit with me."

Combeferre takes a step back from this. "Marcelin, she's my friend." Just like everyone else in Paris. "It's nothing like that at all." He looks from Manon's irritation to the discomfited Christian. "You've got the wrong impression," he reassures the siblings.

Christian complies so far as to move over to stand by the bench, not looking at Enjolras. He blinks at Combeferre with a tolerable look of innocence. "I don't have any impression."

Enjolras blinks, then looks back at his book. "Perhaps."

Manon rolls her eyes covertly. "Tact and diplomacy," she says. "Combeferre, dear man, I hardly think you need to defend yourself. Especially from your good friend, here."

Combeferre points out calmly, "I was not defending myself." He glances at Christian and is comforted to see that he, at least, seems to be handling the situation well. "Marcelin, you hate it when people jump to conclusions," he adds.

Enjolras turns the page. "I am aware of my feelings, thank you, Combeferre."

"God, you're aggravating," Manon says then, brusquely but with feeling.

Christian's eyes widen. He takes a step away from both of them reflexively.

Enjolras looks up sharply. "I cannot aggravate you more than you exasperate me," he says coldly, but makes no move to close his book or stand.

Combeferre holds up a hand and steps in front of Manon. "Maybe you should just go," he suggests, mostly to her as she's the one standing.

"Who insulted who, m'sieur?" The eyes are flashing again. Watch out for flying reticules. "No, damn it, Etienne, I'll be civil if he will, but I'm not going to take his airs."

Christian meanwhile says nervously, "Marcelin--"

Combeferre stays between Manon and Marcelin. "You called him aggravating, Manon," he says reasonably. "You're just provoking each other."

"He is aggravating," Manon says doggedly, though more quietly.

Enjolras looks at Christian irritably. God, not another woman interfering with his life. "What?" he asks shortly.

Combeferre shrugs. "And you are trying to start a fight. Don't. We've had enough fighting." He sounds tired, too.

Christian takes a couple of deep breaths. "N-nothing. Just..." He darts an anxious glance at Combeferre and Manon.

Enjolras closes his book and raises his voice. "I am going to go home now," he announces, probably loudly enough so that someone on a distant path can hear him. "I have a guest, and she will require my presence shortly." Slightly more quietly, he says, "Excuse me, Combeferre."

Manon stares up at Combeferre a minute. "You're as bad as René," she remarks bitterly. And, "Right. Don't bother. I'm going." With an angry twitch of skirts, she moves to sidestep Combeferre and walk on.

"Marcelin," Christian pleads, his voice scaling upwards. "Don't-- can I just talk to you for a minute?"

Combeferre gets out of the way. "Adieu, Manon." He turns back to Marcelin and Christian, then hears the request and says, "I'll give you a bit of privacy," and walks in the opposite direction from Manon, not far, but enough to be out of earshot.

Enjolras sighs. "Yes, of course. Sit down."

Christian perches on the edge of the bench, skittishly. All he actually says, though, in an undertone, is, "Don't be cross. Please?"

Manon pauses a few paces off, and glances back at Caron quizzically. He's younger than she'd been led to believe. Or something.

Enjolras sets the book aside and looks at Christian. Marcelin isn't looking particularly well. He has dark circles under his eyes, and he's a bit dirtier than normal. "I am trying not to be cross." He pushes his hair back from his forehead, but it would work better if he just refastened it, since there are too many flyaways to stay put. "It is very difficult to lie to Maman."

Christian reaches up to smooth his cousin's hair for him, gently, looking terribly worried. "I'm sorry..."

Manon quirks a brow. Slowly, very casually, she drifts back past the bench, though she keeps prudently to the other side of the path.

Enjolras looks away, over the back of the bench. "If you'd just gone home at the beginning of all of this, we wouldn't have this problem."

Christian lets his hand drop. "I couldn't. I can't."

Enjolras sighs. "I know. It's too late now. But it would have been easier." He looks back at Christian. "When will you go home?"

Christian's face shutters, in an expression Régine usually classifies as sulky. "I don't know why I should. Nobody wants me there..." Her voice breaks then, and she looks away.

Manon approaches the other end of the path, casting another look back at the cousins. "Combeferre..." she begins quietly, and then hesitates.

Enjolras puts a hand on Christian's shoulder. "Yes, they do. She wouldn't have come to Paris to find you if she didn't want you." He almost smiles. "She certainly wasn't happy to see me."

Combeferre was waiting for some sort of call. He turns. "Oui? Oh, Manon. What do you want?"

Christian scrubs a sleeve across her eyes fiercely. "She just doesn't want people to talk about me being gone, is all."

Enjolras rummages in his pockets until he comes up with a mostly clean handkerchief, which he offers. "You've been gone. If they want to talk about that, they've already got enough cause. She wants you there."

Manon glances back again, one hand coming up to rub the back of her neck. "I don't know..."

Combeferre follows her gaze. "At least he isn't being aggravating now," he says softly, though he is worried. Why should Christian need a handkerchief?

"But I don't want to be there!" Christian cries, and looks back to Enjolras in frustration.

Manon squints at the pair. "There's that," she agrees absently.

Enjolras frowns and looks more stern. "You can't stay here forever," he says decisively. "Combeferre should not have to be responsible for you for any longer than is convenient for him. You have no way of making money. And most importantly," he prudently lowers his voice, though it retains all of the intensity, "you are not Christian. You are Chantal. You will have to be female again."

She turns away then, trying to scowl and not really succeeding.

Combeferre shakes his head slightly. They are not very good actors. "Christian is having trouble getting settled in Paris," he says quietly, and it isn't at all a lie. "He is having money trouble, among other things, and he doesn't have anywhere else to turn."

Again Manon quirks a brow. She watches for another moment, then glances up at him once more. "Combeferre."

Combeferre asks innocently, "Yes?"

Enjolras says it again, for good measure. "You will have to go home."

Chantal folds her arms, not so much in defiance as in misery. "If they didn't despise me before, they will now."

Manon's fingers tap against her skirts for a minute. Delicately: "Are you aware... that your roommate..."

Enjolras cannot think of anything to say in response to that. Instead, he skirts the issue. "It would be easier and cheaper if you went home with Maman."

Combeferre listens. When she falters, he asks, "My roommate what?"

"Is a girl," Manon finishes shortly. Bluntness is what she's best at. She looks up at him in bemusement.

Combeferre nods, since Christian's cover is obviously broken in this instance. "It's not widely known, but yes. I know."

"Oh, good." Manon breaks into a wry smile. "I'd hate to think I'd been mistaken in your basic intelligence. The poor dear. Is she really his cousin?"

Chantal says nothing, doesn't look at him, doesn't in fact look at anything, for her eyes are shut now.

Combeferre shakes his head. "Sister."

Enjolras looks away from Christian and sees that Manon is talking to Combeferre. He feels abandoned and picks up his book again.

Manon's eyebrows lift. "He has sisters? Heavens." She glances back toward the bench, makes a slight face.

"Three, I believe. And his mother is visiting Paris. Looking for that particular sister." Combeferre speaks without worrying that Manon will betray the secret. After all, it's Enjolras she dislikes, not his sister. "He is beset by women."

Manon smiles faintly. It might be termed a smirk. "Someday he'll learn we're an inescapable fact of life. I feel bad for the girl, though."

At length Chantal says, mostly to the ground, "I can't do anything right."

Enjolras closes his book again. "Yes, you can. Truly. You have not made a mistake by coming to Paris. You only need to know when to stop."

Combeferre reflects on the last few days. "I don't feel bad for her at all."

Manon quirks a brow. "No? Well, granted, she's lucky to be staying with you. Many's the woman would maim for that chance." She grins up at him.

Combeferre does not meet her eyes, and blushes slightly. Perhaps Christian is rubbing off on him. "She is a very interesting girl."

Chantal scrubs a hand over her face again, sniffing a bit. "Which is when?" she says bitterly. "As soon as Maman comes to fetch me."

Manon studies him another minute, the grin turning amused. "Indeed."

Enjolras tries to be gentle instead of strident. "Perhaps she knows what the right time is." He doesn't coax nearly as well as Combeferre.

Christian lets out a small hoot.

Combeferre looks over at the bench when Christian laughs. "Yes. After all, she's the only sister with enough courage to run away from home, and she came here. I think she enjoys the company of my friends more than Marcelin does."

Manon chuckles. "That wouldn't be hard. He's a cold one. --Now, don't scold me, dear man. I'm not criticizing, I'm just saying."

"She won't wait for you to be ready," Enjolras says, abandoning the soft approach because it obviously isn't working. "You don't know what the best time to go is anymore than I do."

Combeferre shrugs. "I would not scold you for the truth." And that is true of him, if not of many other people.

Christian raises her head, and her gaze falls on Combeferre before she makes herself look at Marcelin. "And you don't know anymore than I do. And I don't know why either of us should listen to Maman." She's not defiant now; matter-of-fact, almost.

Manon smiles crookedly, and moves to rub her cheek against his shoulder for a moment, catlike. "Etienne, dear, I don't think you realize what a rare man you are."

Enjolras returns the gaze without flinching. "I didn't say she was necessarily right. I said it would be convenient to return home now."

"For whom?" returns Chantal as calmly.

Combeferre returns her earlier gesture and smooths one of her curls. "Have you met my friends, cherie? Marcelin? René? Gregory?" He smiles.

Manon laughs. "I am devoted to René, but he's emphatically not you. It's just as well. I'd drive you mad, probably."

"For Maman. And for you, too, because she will make it easier for you to go home if you go with her. She will pay your way, instead of your having to do it yourself." Enjolras pauses, then adds, "Or my having to do it for you, or your borrowing money you cannot repay."

Christian buries her face in her hands. "Why does it always come back to that?"

Combeferre shakes his head. "I think that even you would find that a difficult task."

Manon only laughs the more. "Yes. Exactly. You're so blessedly sane."

Enjolras gets frustrated and raises his voice. "I talk about it because it matters. You don't know that because you've always had more money than you knew how to spend." He throws up a hand. "Perhaps I should leave you alone and let you struggle on your own. Then at least you might learn some financial sense."

Combeferre chuckles. "I don't know if it's that much of a blessing. Perhaps the world would make more sense if I thought like my friends."

"I know that," Chantal cries, "but--" But she can't verbalize the but, and so she falls silent again, scowling and tearful.

Enjolras throws his handkerchief at Christian. "Stop crying, Christian." He says it gruffly, aware that Manon is still watching.

Manon chuckles a bit, and reaches up to pat his shoulder. She glances back at the bench then, and shakes her head slightly.

Christian responds to the tone, at least, and scrubs at her eyes rather defensively.

Combeferre glances over to check on Christian and Marcelin, and strides over without a look at Manon. He sits next to Christian and gives the boy his own, clean, handkerchief while putting an arm around his shoulders. "It'll be all right."

Enjolras is taken aback by this intrusion. "Combeferre," he asks in a frigid tone, but quiet enough so that Manon cannot hear, "what are you doing?"

So much for boyishness, and so much for dignity. Christian clings unabashedly to Combeferre; until that little comment, which freezes him.

Manon, left by herself at the end of the path, regards the little tableau with raised eyebrows for a moment. Then she shakes her head, and moves off, with the pretense, at least, of not paying attention to them.

Combeferre certainly does not let go, not when Christian is this upset. "I am comforting your sister, Marcelin," he says loudly, and looks at Manon, trying to communicate that she's figured it out. "Perhaps you should learn from the demonstration." He strokes Christian's hair gently.

Enjolras looks over where Manon had been. "My cousin, you mean?" he asks. He's beginning to look quite upset.

Christian begins crossly, "You're the one--" and then has to shut up again because of the knot in her throat. She subsides against Combeferre's shoulder, snuffling.

Combeferre shakes his head. "No, I know what I said. Manon is not stupid, no matter how much you might wish her to be." This is said in a slightly irritated tone of voice. Marcelin may be tired of dealing with his mother, but Etienne is tired of cleaning up after he goes charging around without worrying about anyone else in the world. "Chantal," in a much gentler tone, "you don't have to go home until you are ready."

Chantal, once someone is clearly on her side, immediately wilts. "But he's right, I'm only a trouble to both of you, and I can't even carry it off, and maman...."

Enjolras's lips pinch together and his cheek flushes. "She is only a girl," he says angrily, as if she was not sitting right there. "You wanted her to have an adventure. Look at the adventure she's had. She's met the dregs of Parisian society. She went to an opera. She walked in the park. We have plenty of open fields in Vezet. The adventure should end."

"You carry it off perfectly well. Manon is the only person who has noticed anything. And you are no trouble to me." Combeferre says this as sincerely as he can, and keeps his arm around Christian. He looks up at Marcelin. "She is not only a girl. She is a brave, intelligent girl who happens to be your sister. There is more to learn from Paris than that opera is pretty and college students are foolish."

Christian has left off clinging, now, and is sitting quietly in the circle of Combeferre's arm, tears trickling down her face.

Enjolras straightens his shoulders unconsciously and raises his chin. "This city is not safe for a young girl unless she recognizes its dangers, and," he looks at Chantal with a frown, "you do not. It worries me."

Combeferre sighs. "She has us to help her, or, if you abdicate responsibility, me."

Christian points out rather lamely, "I won't learn if I have to leave."

"I did not abdicate responsibility, she left!" Enjolras is still hurt by that, obviously. "That was not my choice." He shakes his head. "You can learn everything you need to know at home," he tells Christian, almost completely as if he means it.

Combeferre looks horrified. "What a terrible thing to say, Marcelin. She can learn so much here that will make her a better person. It doesn't matter if she's learning to be a lady." He pauses, then asks, "Does it?"

Chantal sniffs, scrubbing at her eyes with one or another of the lent handkerchiefs, staring at her lap.

When Combeferre says it like that, Marcelin realizes just how much he must sound like his mother. "No. She does not have to be a lady." His momentum is gone. He can only add, "It would simply be easier if she could."

Chantal could retort to that, but it doesn't occur to her. She murmurs irrelevantly, "I already know how to be a lady."

Combeferre shrugs slightly. "It might, but if life were only easy, it would not be interesting." He smiles at Chantal. "Do you? I thought you did remarkably well as a boy, come to that."

Whereupon Chantal blushes.

Enjolras asks coldly, "Are you going to be a boy forever?"

Tears threaten again. She tries to conquer them with impatience. "Don't be silly."

"Then when will you stop?" he persists. "How many weeks will you stay? How many months? Do you want to attend college before you return home?"

Combeferre glares at Enjolras. "Give her time to think." It is almost an order. "It will all work out for the best, no matter how long she is here."

Chantal scrubs at her eyes again ferociously. "Yes. Let me think. I'm not stupid, Marcelin, I know-- I just--"

Enjolras finishes her sentence. "You just have to make a decision." He glares back at Combeferre. "Everything does not always work out for the best. Spare me your optimism."

Combeferre puts a hand on Chantal's shoulder. "Calm down, Chantal. Don't hurt your eyes." He looks up at Enjolras. "You do not know how this will end. Let me keep my ideals. I will whether you approve or not."

Enjolras finally pays attention to the hand on Chantal's shoulder. In a deathly quiet voice, he commands, "Get your hands off of my sister, Combeferre."

This is too much for Chantal. She throws the handkerchief at Enjolras, pathetic missile that it is. "What do you know about it!" she shouts. "You're the boy, you're the one they wanted, you can do what you like and nobody tells you no, and you only like me when I wear skirts and do what you tell me! Don't you tell him whether he can touch me or not!"

Enjolras pales. "No. Chantal, I love you, no matter what you are wearing." He stammers. "I only want you to be safe." He looks away from both of them, and it is probably a good thing that he is sitting down. In a colder voice, he says, "You are my little sister, whether you call yourself Chantal or Christian. Please forgive me for treating you as such."

Combeferre tries to calm her down. "He has taken responsibility for you, Chantal." He takes his hand off of her shoulder. "Perhaps I was too forward. I am sorry if I gave offense." He directs the apology to both of them.

Chantal darts Combeferre one stricken look, and wipes her eyes on her sleeve; then she jumps up and takes off down the path.

Combeferre curses quietly and jumps off the bench to chase after Chantal. "Christian! Come back!"

Enjolras does not stand. As Combeferre leaves, he puts his head in his hands.

From the far end of the path, Manon watches with a rueful expression, hands tucked under her elbows.

Christian probably wouldn't stop, except that near the gate the corner of a bench somehow wanders out onto the path at about knee-height, and then it's stop or fall on your face.

Combeferre tries to catch hold of the boy's shoulder. "I'm sorry, I only wanted to make it easier, don't run away."

Enjolras looks up after trying to compose himself for a moment and is slightly surprised to see that the other two are still in the park. He walks after them at a more sedate pace.

Christian whirls, and thumps once at Combeferre's shoulders before collapsing against him, trembling. We're a little emotional this afternoon.

Combeferre is surprised, but not enough that he doesn't immediately embrace Christian. "You're not going home unless you want to," he repeats. "It's all right."

Enjolras draws even with them. In the calmest voice he's used all day, he says, "Combeferre? Do you think that you can lodge my cousin for a month for 20 francs?"

"I just--" Christian gasps in despair, and then looks up sharply as Marcelin approaches. Stares at him then, in utter blank incomprehension.

Manon watches Enjolras closely for a minute. Presently she wanders back toward the abandoned bench, leaning down to gather up the dropped handful of violets, thoughtfully.

Combeferre grins in relief. "Of course, Marcelin. That would be my pleasure."

Christian just ducks his head. He is not going to cry again. No. Absolutely not.

Enjolras nods. "Merci." In a quieter tone, he adds, "Just. Well. Be careful of each other." He looks back at the bench, and is resigned to see Manon there. "I would also be grateful if you would avoid causing any more public scenes." He almost laughs. "I do enough of that for the whole family."

Combeferre gently and slowly lets go of Christian. "We will be well-behaved." He looks down at the boy, still smiling, though a little sadly. "Everything has been so confusing recently, hasn't it, Christian?"

A gasping laugh escapes Christian, maybe at Enjolras' quip, maybe at Combeferre's understatement. "--Yes. It has."

Enjolras thumps Combeferre on the shoulder. "You'll be careful, won't you?" he asks, probably not as quietly as he ought to have been.

Combeferre looks at Marcelin, a bit confused. "Yes. Of course. I would not dishonor your sister."

Manon leaves the violets arranged neatly on the seat of the bench, in case Christian comes back for them, and departs quietly.

Christian blinks at them, then goes scarlet. He doesn't actually say "Marcelin!", but it's rather well implied.

Enjolras realizes that Christian is blushing. Again. He says, "And you, cousin," he gently pats his shoulder, as he might if he had an incredibly delicate male friend, "mind yourself. And hold your head up. There's nothing so frightening in the world that you should avert your eyes from it and color your cheeks red as a disguise."

Christian blinks at him, and those violet eyes well up again; but he bites his lip and nods, very seriously.

Combeferre laughs. "That's good advice. Tell it to Jehan, and he'll write a poem of it."

Enjolras smiles at Christian. He doesn't smile all that often, so that one might forget that he looks quite pleasant when he does it. "There you are. See, it's not so bad. It's just me and Etienne."

Christian musters up a smile in return, and nods again.

Enjolras's smile fades slightly. "I must be getting home. Maman will be there again, soon, after the matinee." He's all the way back to his normal serious expression now. "You'd best stay away from the parks for the time being, and anywhere where you might expect to find me. She's going to be combing the markets next, I've no doubt."

Christian winces slightly, with a residual sniff. "Yes," he says submissively.

Combeferre asks, "When do you think we'll see you again?"

Enjolras spreads his hands. "I will find you when Maman is on her way back to Vezet. Until then, adieu." He bends his head to kiss Christian on the forehead.

Christian takes it trustfully, and reaches up impulsively to hug him.

Enjolras accepts the hug as Combeferre says, "Take care. We'll see you soon."

Christian whispers in Enjolras' ear, "Good luck."

Enjolras whispers back, "Be careful."

"I will." Christian pulls back, and offers a smile.

Enjolras smiles at them both, then walks out of the park quickly.

Combeferre grins at Chantal once Marcelin is gone. "You're staying." He picks her up and twirls around. "This is so wonderful!"

The breath is snatched out of her for a moment, and then she laughs, clinging to his shoulders precariously as she's swung. "Yes--"

Combeferre sets her down carefully on her feet, and though he starts walking toward the park entrance, he keeps pausing to beam at her. "It's going to be better now. Marcelin won't be so worried all the time."

Chantal runs a hand through her shorn hair, and reaches to take his hand. "I hope not."

Combeferre nearly takes her hand, then asks, "Do we want to look like Alexandre and Bossuet?" There isn't any censure in his tone. He's just asking.

Christian blinks, then turns red, scrubbing both hands over her face. "I forgot."

"So did I. There are so many things to remember." He winks. "Perhaps you can remember half of them, and I'll remember the other half."

She giggles, ducking her head a moment, and looks up at him again with eyes sparkling. "That would work."

Combeferre muses. "I have all of the facts from my classes to remember, and all of the interesting things I hear every day. I can share those with you, perhaps. But if we shared remembering that we want to look like people Marcelin would be seen with, that could make it easier."

Christian nods gravely. "Yes." He tucks his hands safely into his pockets, but still walks close to Combeferre's side.

A scruffy figure emerges just then from a side street, a figure with a rather familiar walk, who can barely be heard to be humming tunelessly as he goes.

Combeferre hails Grantaire. "Bonjour, François."

Christian leaves off gazing at Combeferre to see who he's talking to, and promptly pinkens a bit.

Grantaire pauses and squints, not that he needs to see him to know who it is. It's not his sister and it uses his name. Q.E.D. "Bonjour, yourself." Either he doesn't notice Christian yet or he's not noticing him on purpose.

Combeferre asks, "How are you this afternoon?"

Grantaire waves a hand. "Been worse," he allows. "You?"

Combeferre is still smiling broadly. "It's a very good day." He glances at his quiet companion and sees the omnipresent blush. His eyebrows raise slightly. "You would be surprised, but we just had a sensible conversation with Marcelin."

Christian scratches his ear, not quite looking at either of them.

Grantaire's eyebrows lift. He sketches a bow. "If anyone could have done it," he says with apparent respect, "it would have to be you. My compliments."

Combeferre chuckles. "I think he'll be more reasonable for a time, now. We worked out a complex problem that's been aggravating him." He doesn't specify, but adds, "Now he can get on with his revolution."

Grantaire snorts. "Indeed."

Combeferre looks over at Christian again. "Well, at least we know what he'll be thinking about, now." He winks at François. "No more fistfights, unless someone insults Jean-Jacques Rousseau."

Christian goes scarlet. "Right," he mutters.

"Well, probably not, at least," Combeferre amends. "We can't really be sure."

Grantaire, on the other hand, goes very still. Almost he looks embarrassed, if Grantaire were embarrassable; at least he looks hesitant. He glances at Combeferre, then remarks, "Which reminds me that I owe you an apology, young Caron." It's nearly casual, except that he's looking very hard at Christian and not-looking equally hard at Combeferre.

Combeferre observes silently.

Christian's blush deepens. "'sallright," he says gruffly. "Forget it."

Grantaire nods slightly, gravely, and only then looks back to Combeferre. "And what are you two up to today?"

Combeferre shrugs slightly. "We were just talking, and then we ran into Marcelin and had to have a discussion."

Grantaire grins crookedly. "He does have that effect, doesn't he?" He braces his hands in his pockets. "Well, don't let me keep you."

"You aren't," Combeferre reassures him, then looks up and down the street to make sure that Marcelin and Madame Enjolras have not suddenly appeared.

Christian volunteers, "We were just, you know, walking..."

Grantaire nods slowly. "I see." The grin doesn't go away.

Combeferre clears his throat. "Yes. Walking. In the park."

Grantaire turns that mocking glance on Combeferre. "I'm sure you were," he says with great earnestness, "it's not that unusual."

Combeferre actually avoids Grantaire's gaze. "I suppose not." To Christian, he says, "Shall we be going, then?"

Christian nods, trying not to look too eager. "All right."

Grantaire lifts a hand. "Afternoon," he says, not unkindly. "Take care of yourselves."

Combeferre nods. "And you, François." He pauses for a moment to add, "You might want to keep out of Marcelin's way for a few more days."

Grantaire's mouth quirks in what's almost, not quite, amusement. "I rather thought so."

Combeferre smiles. "All right. Take care, then."

Christian manages to chime in with a passably pleasant, "Afternoon."

Grantaire inclines his head with that flicker of genuine courtesy, and moves off along the street.

Combeferre smiles at Christian and walks on with him.

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