14. Tempering

The men in the barricade watch the quartet until they are out of sight. Murmuring begins. "Who will take over? Who can lead?"

Bahorel kneels down, surveying the situation. His expression shows his displeasure. His face is filthy, covered in soot and dirt, and he hasn't shaved in forever. He, of course, insists that he has had more important things to worry about. The mercurial rebel watches his compatriots, knowing that if push comes to shove he will step forward and rally them... but also honest enough with himself to know that he is not, truly, up to the task.

Courfeyrac looks around at the confused faces of his compatriots and shakes his head. He looks at Manon briefly, biting his lip. "I could."

Jean Prouvaire watches the party leave with a somewhat dazed expression. Finally he runs a hand through his hair, and pushes through the crowd toward Courfeyrac. "René, I think..."

Manon agrees quietly, "You could." And looks to Jehan, expressionless.

"Someone must," Courfeyrac answers grimly.

Bahorel watches Courfeyrac and Prouvaire, then stands slowly, pushing his way towards them.

Jehan shoves his hands in his pockets, watching him anxiously. "Who else? Gregory, Paul, me?" He shakes his head. "I know you don't like it, but... René, no one else is left."

Upon arriving at the small council, Bahorel murmurs quietly, "One of you. Please." He looks away, not liking the next admission. "I'll just get us all killed, and we all know it."

"I know." Courfeyrac straightens his shoulders and repeats, more loudly, "I will do what the people need me to do."

Bossuet looks levelly at Courfeyrac. "We need a responsible leader." When Bahorel speaks, he earns a glance. "One who will not be foolhardy. One who will not desert us."

Prouvaire reaches out to clasp Bahorel's shoulder in sympathy, and nods.

Feuilly leans on the wall, just watching, with that unreadable look.

"Cher," Manon says very softly, prompting.

"I will do my best for all of you," Courfeyrac answers, then swallows hard, for his throat has gone dry. "I can't promise anything, but I will try."

"René." Bahorel still has not looked back; his gaze is on the barricades. "Where do you want me?"

Some of the men nod at Courfeyrac's little speech. Joly calls out, "I believe in you."

Marius stirs from his half-reverie, straightening. "And I." Others take it up.

Manon squeezes his hand gently, and says nothing at all; just looks at him.

Courfeyrac takes another deep breath, trying to emulate Enjolras's usual attitude of calm. "Gregory, go where you think you are most needed." He looks around at everyone who is watching him. "You understand this as well as I do. Fortify the weaknesses with your presences. Have faith."

The murmur swells into a muted cheer, and the tight, anxious knots of people disperse, flowing again through the street.

Bahorel turns back to Courfeyrac, and his grin could light the night sky. "Good man, René. Keep the faith." He turns and sets off at a slow jog, heading for his previous post, and once he's about halfway there he bellows, "Right, you lot! Let's show these pigs they're in for a fight!"

Feuilly grins, suddenly, and turns back to what he was doing.

"A fight!" Bossuet echoes. "To their death!"

Jean Prouvaire cracks a smile, finally, and moves to embrace his friend. "That's done it."

Courfeyrac hugs Prouvaire gladly, thumping him gently on the back. "Let's hope so, mon ami."

Manon grins, and draws off a little, turning to consult with a couple of other suspiciously slight-looking insurgents.

Bahorel wastes no time. They have a leader again, but they need a symbol as well... and that, he can do. Gregory scrambles over the barricades, near the top, and begins shouting rather odious and unprintable remarks about the kind of woman who would give birth to a soldier.

"Jehan, I need your help," Courfeyrac says as quietly as he can manage. "I am afraid they will be scared. I'm hardly Enjolras or Combeferre." Bahorel's yelling strikes his ears. "Though, if Bahorel survives any time at all, he will be sufficient motivation."

Prouvaire has to laugh a little. "Anything I can do."

Bahorel cackles like a madman, dropping down to the ground and landing in a crouch as a bullet misses him by perhaps an inch. He seems to be having fun, at any rate.

"I don't know. If you could help distract them when they worry, that would be good. He'd give a speech, I know it, and I'm not much for speeches." Courfeyrac looks over at Manon, shaking his head. "But then, he'd throw out the women. If Manon..." He breaks off at the gunshot. "Bahorel! Get down! You're mad!"

Feuilly jumps, dropping a stone. "Damn. Idiot!"

Bahorel looks over to Courfeyrac, a wild light in his eyes... but then he calms. Dammit, he did say he'd let the guy be boss. "Necessary," he grates out, "if only so that they don't think we've lost our spine." 'Course, he almost lost his head...

"Let them," Jehan says mildly. "We know better."

Manon watches, standing still and straight while the men sort out their differences.

Joly laughs. "If you die, you'll lose your everything."

Courfeyrac shakes his head and mutters, "I should have known better. Stupid. I am very stupid." More loudly, "Do what you will, Bahorel."

Bahorel grins wickedly. "True! But given that all the women here seem to be taken, the only better way to go out is out of the question!" He laughs, almost hysterically, and begins to climb again, this time to speak quietly with another of the revolutionaries. Perhaps... perhaps the loss of Enjolras really has affected him.

Bossuet nudges Joly. "He's almost right."

Feuilly shakes his head, and moves a little further out of the direct line of fire.

Manon sighs. "Bloody lunatic," and she goes inside to see to some things.

Bahorel looks out from his perch at his comrades-in-arms, taking a deep breath. "Mes amis! Listen to me!" One last dramatic gesture, says his posture.

Jean Prouvaire looks worried, but moves off to rejoin the crowd; only to look up in sudden trepidation. "Gregory--"

"Be careful!" Courfeyrac calls out.

Feuilly glances up sharply, stepping back from the barricade. "What in the name of...?"

Even Marius' attention is caught; he moves forward, frowning.

Bahorel takes another deep breath, silent, looking at the assembled crowd. A long pause, a dramatic gaze. "All of you... you have fought. And you will continue to fight. And for this, you are my brothers." A lopsided grin, a glance at the place he last saw Manon. "And sisters. And I tell you this... you have seen some of us, those we call our leaders, depart. And it does not matter! So long as even one of us draws breath, they have not won!" He hefts his rifle, grinning like a madman... which, perhaps, he is. "So fight." And then, quieter, "I'll see if I can give you an opportunity." He turns, moving quickly before anyone can stop him, and takes another step up the barricade, visible from the waist up, and fires - not even, it seems, caring if he hits anything. All he wants is to get the soldiers' attention.

"Bahorel! Come back!" Courfeyrac yells, and begins to climb after him as fast as possible. His haste only makes it more difficult as the barricade crumbles underneath him.

Feuilly darts forward, a fraction too slow to react, and settles for steadying Courfeyrac in his frantic scramble upward.

"Idiot!" Bossuet calls out, somewhere between irritable and anguished.

A moment after Bahorel drops out of sight, several nearly simultaneous gunshots are heard. The rebel, hidden from his friends by the barricade, calls out something incoherent. The soldiers answer with a yell of triumph.

"No! Oh, God. I should go and drink myself into a stupor." Courfeyrac shakes his head, lets himself slide down the barricade, and looks around at the horrorstruck men. "I'm worse than no leader at all. I'm sorry."

"Jesus no." Jean Prouvaire breaks free of his momentary paralysis and bolts for the barricade, only to slow as Courfeyrac sinks back. "God."

"Nothing you could do," Feuilly murmurs after a moment, reflexively.

"Bahorel -- " Joly breaks off. Bossuet embraces him comfortingly and offers a handkerchief.

Manon, brought to the door by the gunshots, halts and stares, appalled. Then starts to shove through the crowd toward Courfeyrac, absolutely heedless of anyone's toes.

"I know." Courfeyrac answers, subdued. More angrily, he says, "Damn them. Why did they leave us?"

Marius moves forward as well, though more slowly; far more reserved than Manon and less sure of anything. Pauses near the edge of the crowd, hesitating.

"Enjolras," Feuilly points out quietly, "was in no condition."

Bossuet shakes his head. "There's putting it mildly."

Courfeyrac wipes a hand across his face. "He shouldn't have been."

"No, he shouldn't, but he was." Feuilly seems to have found and tapped one of those sudden veins of speech. "The strain was too much and he broke. It happens. We'll manage."

"We will do more than manage," Courfeyrac says. He has found his resolve again, and smiles at everyone, though he is grieving for Bahorel. "We can do this. That is why we are here. Soon, we will show everyone, even those who did not believe enough."

Joly says, with similar resolve, "We can change everything."

Jean Prouvaire blinks back tears. "And we will."

Feuilly nods, silently.

Manon breaks from the crowd and runs to Courfeyrac, then, and throws her arms around him.

"Ah, chérie," Courfeyrac sighs, kissing her. He hopes that this will obscure him from public scrutiny enough so that no one will notice the tears on his cheeks.

Joly whistles, then tugs Bossuet's sleeve. "We have a barricade to man," he yells to everyone in his light tenor. "Let's get to it."

Somehow this breaks the tension. There are a few faint chuckles amid the ranks, and they shift their attention to Joly willingly enough.

"God, Manon. I'm stupid," René whispers in her ear.

Manon whispers back gently, "I've known that for years."

"I know. I know." René deliberately tangles his fingers in her hair. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I did. Frequently." She presses tightly against him. "Can I help it if you're too much of an idiot to listen to me?" And kisses him again.

"I didn't sign up for this," René says sadly. "I didn't want to hear them die and have it be my fault."

Manon sighs. "I know, chéri. I know."

Courfeyrac chokes. "I wish I could have done something."

"I know..." She reaches up to smooth his hair back, somber-eyed.

"I love you. Even if I do end up getting you killed." He leans forward to kiss her again.

Manon kisses him back gently. "I love you, too. Always."

Courfeyrac lets her go. "I should go -- watch over them -- make sure nothing like that happens again."

Manon doesn't loose her hold quite yet. "Be careful. God, be careful, René."

"I will, as much as I can." Courfeyrac kisses her again. "You must be twice as careful. I love you."

"I know." She clings to him a moment, then lets him go with a little push. "Go. I'll be here if you need me."

"I won't forget. Take care of yourself, chérie. I need you." Courfeyrac smiles at her with as much charm and happiness as he can summon, then turns to organize the defenders of the barricade.

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