25. Grim Tidings

The newspapers have been filled with accounts of the violence in the streets for the last five days. Only at the end of the week do they begin to publish the names of the dead, inasmuch as these names can be determined and verified with the police and the National Guard. The actual physical evidence of the deaths of comrades darkens the survivors' moods further. Worse yet is the news that another was lost, unexpectedly: Marius Pontmercy, who had not been seen since the Sixth, but who was also prone to disappearing under the best of circumstances. The news demoralizes Enjolras further. He stares at the newspaper with the lists of names for several hours in private before taking it to the Musain to make certain that everyone knows the terrible news.

Grantaire is slouched in his accustomed corner, sunk in reflection, if not in his usual stupor. He glances up, somewhat dully, as the door opens.

The newspaper trembles in Enjolras's hand as he pauses in the doorway. "There's news," he ventures, quietly, well aware that he has not been alone with Grantaire since the fateful day. "I doubt that you want to hear it. I don't want to share it; I want to forget." He enters and shuts the door behind himself.

Grantaire watches him worriedly, sitting up a little. "What's happened?"

"Nothing new," in a tired voice, but then Enjolras slams his fist onto a table. "Damn it, I can't talk about this while I can think." He goes into the hallway, heading for the main room.

Grantaire jumps, pressing back slightly in his chair; then relaxes slightly, but watches him go with anxious eyes.

Enjolras returns shortly with a bottle of red wine and two glasses. "May I sit with you?"

"Of course, of course." Grantaire kicks out a chair across from him, as casually as he can manage. "Be my guest."

Enjolras sets down the wine and glasses before fetching the newspaper and sitting. His hands still shake. "Would you?" with a gesture at the bottle. "I fear I'd drop it."

Grantaire eyes him a moment, then leans forward to oblige. His own hands, for a change, are steady.

"Thank you." Enjolras drinks from his glass before spreading out the paper. "The news is old news, but I hadn't heard it before." His finger traces the columns of names, then pauses, marking one. "Apparently Marius never went home."

Grantaire blinks. "Little Pontmercy? He's--?"

Enjolras pushes the paper toward him, speechless.

Grantaire shifts his glass out of the way, and looks, then looks up again. "Damn. --I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" Enjolras drinks again, unconsciously. "You didn't let him die. That was my fault."

Grantaire blinks at him a moment; then reaches out to rest a hand lightly on his arm, in mute sympathy.

Enjolras bows his head, his eyes squeezed shut. "If I'd only stopped him, sent him home, he would be alive."

Grantaire says gently, "You've gone over this before."

"I didn't know he was dead, then."

"I'm sorry," Grantaire says again, diffidently.

"Stop apologizing," impatiently. "It's my fault."

Grantaire sighs, sitting back and reaching for his glass, silent.

Enjolras buries his head in his hands. "God. I don't even know if he had family who would care."

"If he did, they'll probably have heard." Grantaire studies him. "It's not-- there's nothing you can do, now."

"I hate this." Enjolras rubs his eyes, making them slightly redder, then drains his glass.

"Don't blame you, but God, Enjolras, don't-- do this to yourself. It doesn't do any good, and..." Grantaire trails off.

"It doesn't do anyone any good," Enjolras admits, "but I don't know what to do. Would you tell me to go back to my studies? To resume my sedition? I can't do either. The first, perhaps, in time. The second..."

Grantaire stares uncertainly into his glass. "Wouldn't presume to tell you to do anything."

Enjolras glances at him coldly. "Of course you wouldn't." He pours himself another glass of wine.

Grantaire drains his own, with a practiced motion, and sets it down, still not looking at him.

"You wouldn't tell me what's best," Enjolras says in an accusatory tone. "You never knew what was best for anyone, for yourself, let alone for me."

A wary dark glance. "What I just said, isn't it?"

"Because now you recognize your faults, is that it?" Enjolras stares at the wall, not looking anywhere near Grantaire. "Now you know all the things that you ever did wrong, because all of a sudden they've hurt people, but they're still not hurting you. And you have to stop, because you don't want those things to hurt anyone, but you've survived unscathed, haven't you? That's hardly fair."

Grantaire says nothing. His eyes are troubled.

Enjolras stands and walks away from the table, his shoulders slumped. "I should go home."

Grantaire starts to speak, stops, and studies him a moment, pained. "...Walk with you?" he offers, without much hope.

"If you want." Enjolras gathers his newspaper, crumpling a page in the process, though not the page with the relevant name.

Grantaire hesitates a moment, then pushes awkwardly to his feet.

"You ought to stay out of my way," Enjolras advises him. "Stay here where there's wine and no one who might go mad and hurt you for no reason."

This provokes an odd little bittersweet smile. Grantaire shakes his head, and pushes in his chair.

"You're a fool," Enjolras says, not for the first time. He sounds exhausted.

"I know," rejoins Grantaire mildly.

Enjolras shrugs and opens the door.

Grantaire follows quietly, pausing to hold the door for him.

Enjolras does not seem to notice this courtesy, nor anything on the street, in particular. He walks at a brisk pace looking into the middle distance, deliberately expressionless.

Grantaire trails along a pace or two behind him. Deferential.

Enjolras more than half-forgets that there is anyone with him at all and walks in silence.

Grantaire seems content to leave the conversation where it lies, and scuffs along quietly, watching him in mild concern.

"It would be better if I thought that there was nothing I could have done," Enjolras observes, seemingly to the air, seemingly at random.

"Hm," Grantaire responds, cautiously noncommittal; but he steps up his pace a bit.

"Anything would be better than this." Enjolras throws his newspaper onto the street and walks faster.

"There wasn't. Of course there wasn't, you think you're the only madman in this city?" Grantaire catches up to him and rests a hand on his shoulder. "The boy was in love. Lovers are fools. It likely had nothing to do with you, he likely tripped over his own feet and fell in the river--"

Enjolras stops and turns, shifting the offending hand off of his shoulder. "It had everything to do with me. He was killed at the palace gates, and no matter how mad he was, how in love, he wouldn't have been there, facing down a guard, if it hadn't been for me."

Grantaire quails slightly, but: "You don't know that for certain."

"I can make an educated guess," Enjolras says bitterly, then turns away and continues toward his home.

"Mon ami--" Grantaire begins, and then trails off, and slows to a halt, suddenly abashed.

"I hope I am not." Enjolras shakes his head, not stopping. "You don't want to be my friend."

"You don't think so?" murmurs Grantaire to his retreating back, only half in the hope of being heard.

The only sign that this is heard is a further slouch of already defeated shoulders, which may be coincidental or may be imagination.

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