59. How Many Tears

How many tears through the years can I cry?
How many prayers to the Lord must I try?
--Martin Guerre

After lunch the next day, there is a brief meeting around the table. Joly volunteers to stay with the youngsters, which is not protested until Jean is defined as a member of that group. This precipitates an argument which is eventually resolved by allowing him to accompany the adults. He takes after his mother.

Manon is not best pleased. "All right. But if things get difficult and you're told to go home, young man, you go. Hear me?"

It is remarkable how much Jean resembles his father when he gets that elaborately patient look. After a pause, "Yes, Maman."

Courfeyrac gives him a warning look. "We know what we're talking about, even if you don't believe us."

"I know that." Just because you're sixteen, almost, doesn't mean you're stupid.

Courfeyrac repeats, "When we say it's time to go, you don't stall."

"I know." Jean is annoyed, now. "I said I would."

Grantaire looks on quietly, amused as usual.

Courfeyrac nods. "Now, if you'll only do what you say, it will be all right."

Enjolras remembers the last time someone was in a revolution who wasn't supposed to be there, and holds his peace.

Jean scowls at that, but holds his tongue.

Joly looks from the resentful boy to his worried parents. "Are you ready to go?"

Manon tucks back her hair. "When you boys are." Les Amis will probably be 'you boys' to Manon until they're seventy.

Enjolras glances at Grantaire. "I am."

Grantaire nods slightly.

Courfeyrac resolves not to leave Jean unwatched for a moment. "I am ready."

Jean nods a bit, looking to Enjolras and then to Joly.

Enjolras stands up. "Let us depart."

Grantaire unfolds to his feet. Manon rises with a faint rustle of petticoats.

Courfeyrac stands, then goes into the other room to check on the children. Alissandre is amusing Celestine with a story of some sort. He leaves before either girl notices him.

Jean gets to his feet, standing very straight. Ready for anything.

This cafe is not Le Musain, though it feels quite similar to it. Angry young men are loudly discussing treasonous ideas. Some rather older men, who might be argued to have more sense than this, are also participating.

Courfeyrac explains tiredly, "It would not have mattered what we did. The government had too much inertia, and we were too few."

There are mutterings from the crowd, but no one protests quite at this juncture.

Courfeyrac continues, "Whatever we did, people were going to die."

Manon observes quietly, standing slightly behind him, one hand on Jean's shoulder.

Enjolras steps forward to support Courfeyrac, who has given this speech twice already today, and is tired of it and the reactions it brings. "Do you know that the government can change, now, or that you can change it?"

"That was then," someone says, in the midst of the confusion, and someone else, "Not if we don't try."

"We tried," Courfeyrac protests. "We knew from the bottom of our hearts that we could change the world, fix it, make it better. But we were wrong, and people died because of that."

More muttering. No one exactly knows how to answer this, except to say that that, indeed, was then, and they know what they're doing now.

Grantaire watches, grimly, from his spot by the wall.

Enjolras asks, "Can any of you tell me how this is different? Do you understand the similarities of the situations?"

"Why don't you tell us?" shoots back some belligerent soul from the midst of the group.

Enjolras does not pause. "You want to change the world. You hate things as they are. But what will come next? If you throw out the government, think what will replace it -- not what you want to replace it, but what will."

The speaker pushes forward, a burly man with the definite look of a rabble-rouser. Images of Bahorel may spring to mind. He looks Enjolras' tidy self up and down insolently. "Easy for you to say."

Enjolras is unfazed. "Think, m'sieur. What comes next may be worse. You cannot be certain."

"...and neither can you, m'sieur." But the uncomfortable mutters are rising.

"Precisely. Wait to initiate change until you know where you're going, and where you will end."

Jean is watching with wide eyes, having given up on trying to shrug off his mother's hand. She, for her part, is quiet, only murmuring "Idiots" occasionally.

Courfeyrac adds, more quietly, "If we had had a fully realized goal, we might have been able to share it with others, and gain their support."

"If everyone did that," a mild voice interposes, "if everyone waited till they knew what would happen, where would we be now?" He makes his way forward: a small, compact man, dark hair streaked liberally with grey, dark eyes keen as they study the group. "It is you, Enjolras. I didn't think it could be."

Enjolras pauses at that. "Bonjour, Feuilly." He rallies. "If we had stopped to think, no one would have been hurt, then. We cannot know everything about the future, but having a goal is essential. I don't mean 'Ah, we are working for the Republic,' because anyone can say that. Names. Dates. Specifics."

"Such as?" Feuilly says calmly.

Grantaire blinks at this new development, but stays where he is, silent for now.

Courfeyrac starts a bit and puts a hand on Enjolras's shoulder to catch his attention and make him pause. "Don't do this, please," he pleads of Feuilly. "You know what was. Do you want to see it again?"

Jean stares, baffled. Manon blinks at them, then leans over to murmur in his ear.

The crowd has fallen nearly silent in the face of this confrontation. Possibly they think this mild-mannered artisan has a chance of proving their point.

Feuilly's impassive expression softens a bit. "I don't see as there's much to choose, Rene. I hear what you're saying. I know. I was there, too. But we go on and nothing changes, and I'd rather take a chance on improving something than go on the way we are without complaint."

Courfeyrac hates this line of reasoning. It shows as strain in his voice. "We did that. We tried, did our damnedest, and all for nothing. My best friend died." Well, roommate, at least.

"I know that, damn it. I'm saying here we can learn from our mistakes." Feuilly is intent. He glances back at the crowd of largely younger men. "I'm saying yes, we didn't know what we were doing. I'm saying let's see that it is different."

"Is it, then, or are you resolving to make it so?" Enjolras asks.

Feuilly glances back again, and his native shyness starts to resurface. "It's not starting the same. It doesn't have to end the same."

Grantaire watches dourly.

"That is not what I asked," Enjolras points out, ever so helpfully. "Who plans? Does everyone know what will happen?"

Dark eyes fix on him, unreadable. "You might." It is said so quietly that probably no one besides les Amis will hear what Feuilly is suggesting.

Grantaire pushes sharply away from the wall, suddenly intent.

Enjolras pales, and backs away. "No."

Courfeyrac observes this with trepidation. "I don't think that's a good idea, Feuilly," he comments mildly, but glances toward the door, meaning 'this is going to be bad, so let's not have it in front of everyone.'

Feuilly considers this reaction impassively. "So," he says softly, after a moment, "so we lost more than Prouvaire and Pontmercy." A glance flicks in Courfeyrac's direction. "All right."

Manon is deathly pale, her jaw clenched. "Damn it," she says, very, very low, "damn it, damn it, damn it." She hugs Jean tightly to her with one arm.

Courfeyrac is embarrassed at that, and looks at the floor, but retains enough nerve to say, "Yes. You have." The pronoun is deliberately emphasized.

Feuilly closes his eyes a moment. It's hardly more than a blink. Then he nods, carefully, politely, with a kind of ironical deference, and turns without a word, making his way toward the door.

"Damn it," Manon says, in a choked and somewhat more audible tone.

Courfeyrac looks up again, a moment too late to see the nod. After a moment's glancing about, he sees Feuilly again, and follows him without so much as a farewell to the people to whom he was speaking.

Now that Courfeyrac is departing, Enjolras is doubly sure he does not want to address these men. He, too, makes for the door.

Jean has been watching, appalled and nervous. When Manon takes hold of his arm and heads after the men, he makes no protest at all.

Grantaire straightens, glancing at the now-clamorous crowd. "In sum, gentlemen," he tells them not particularly loudly, "don't be a pack of idiots." With that, he follows the rest.

In the street, Courfeyrac catches up to Feuilly first, and puts a hand on his arm. "Look, it's not quite what you think."

Feuilly stops dead, not looking at him. "No?" And the tone is as mild, as courteously explain-it-to-me as ever.

Courfeyrac rakes a hand through his hair. "What could I possibly do? I have children. They need me. I need them. I'm not sending my son off to the barricades to die, not in the name of ideals. I'll be damned first."

Grantaire catches up to Enjolras just then, reaching out to rest a hand on his shoulder, lightly but steadyingly.

Enjolras says bitterly, without looking, for he knows who it is, "You were right. I couldn't convince them of anything."

Feuilly takes in a breath. "Did anyone ask you to?" he asks of Courfeyrac, evenly, still not looking at him.

"Not until I talked to you," Courfeyrac points out. "I learned how thoughtless I was when I was a boy, and now I think better of it. Is that a crime?"

Grantaire hugs Enjolras roughly, one-armed. His virtues are scattered, but one of them is that he very seldom says I told you so.

Enjolras hugs him back. So they're in the street. Hell with it, with everything. "I wonder when I shall learn to listen to you."

Grantaire shakes his head, and after a minute or two guides him back up the street toward home.

Feuilly quirks a half-smile that would look rather more suitable on Grantaire. "Of course not. Defying the government is a crime." He does look up then, and his eyes are bleak.

"It is not one I can afford to commit," Courfeyrac says apologetically.

Manon comes up to them then, fierce with upset. "Paulin, what in hell was all that about? Are we your friends, or aren't we?"

Jean hangs back, doing his best not to look as shaken as he feels. He doesn't know this strange, bitter man, and he doesn't think his parents want him distracting them right now. He glances back at Enjolras and Grantaire, blinks, and looks down at his boots.

Feuilly glances at her sharply, and starts to say something, but cuts himself off, and instead says nothing at all.

Courfeyrac regards him sadly. "I wish it had all been different. You know I do. But it isn't, and jumping into danger again won't help."

"So don't," Feuilly flings at him suddenly. "Stay where you are, stay safe and prosper. Who's going to fault you when it fails, if it fails?"

"No one," Courfeyrac answers, because it is the truth. "Not my widow, not my starving children, not my friends, because they will still have me."

Feuilly jerks away from him then with uncharacteristic violence. "Don't talk to me about widows and starving children, m'sieur. Don't dare!" Who knew that Feuilly could shout? "Don't dare, Courfeyrac. Not now."

Jean looks up, wide-eyed.

Manon blinks, reaching instinctively to take Rene's arm.

Courfeyrac hardly notices her. Feuilly has piqued his curiosity. "Not now? What is different about now that I don't know?"

Feuilly stares at them a moment, tense and shaking; then, abruptly, looks away. "I'm sorry." He scrubs a hand over his face, pushing his fingers through his hair. Presently he says, muted, "Alain's dead."

"Oh, Paul." All the exasperation is knocked out of Manon. Her voice is suddenly soft. "Oh."

Courfeyrac stops being defensive. "How awful. I'm sorry."

Feuilly has aged, over the years, somewhat more noticeably than others of les Amis, and it shows at the moment. "He came down with something. It didn't go away. So he couldn't work, so they couldn't afford the doctor, so he died." He leans his forehead on one hand. "I'm sorry. There's no way you could know. Forgive me." Back to the quiet, even voice, unrevealing of emotion.

Courfeyrac shakes his head. "The poor man."

"God," murmurs Manon. What is there to say?

Feuilly runs a hand through his hair again and looks up, apologetic. "I didn't expect to see you all here. I didn't mean to..." he trails off with a faint shrug.

Courfeyrac clears his throat. "It's all right. Well, no, really, it isn't, but it's not your fault. God knows we've all changed."

Feuilly quirks a faint smile. "That's for certain." A glance flicks past them, at the doorstep down the street whence Jean has retreated. "I think I've frightened your son. Give him my apologies?"

Courfeyrac looks back. "There's nothing to be apologized for, but, yes, I shall."

Manon murmurs, uselessly, "He's young."

Feuilly nods, glancing down. "And to Enjolras? I... had no right to ask that of him."

"He'll be all right." Courfeyrac does not know this, but he is reasonably sure. "It's just been a long time."

"Yes." Another not-quite smile. "Well. I should be going. Take care of yourselves."

"Fare well. Make sure you have someone to watch your back." Courfeyrac waves slightly, almost like a salute.

A slight tremor goes through Feuilly, and he doesn't answer, only raises a hand in like farewell, and moves off.

Manon says gently, "Take care," and turns away.

Courfeyrac puts his arm around Manon's waist protectively.

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