61. Silent All These Years

A light sifting of snow descends on the Place St. Michel, on a still evening when the lamps have just been lit. The cafe on the corner has changed its name, and been refurbished almost out of recognition.

The snow whirls around a figure rounding the corner. As it approaches the almost unrecognizable cafe, it slows. Claude pushes her hood off her head, heedless of the snowflakes whitening her hair, as she stops to gaze at it, memories flooding her mind.

Quiet footsteps halt behind her, scuffing a little on the wet pavement. "Looks nicer than it used to."

Claude doesn't turn, not recognizing the voice. "It might look nicer, but I preferred it the way it used to be," she answers quietly. She sighs deeply as she looks at the new sign. The pale outlines of previous letters can barely be discerned; she might as well be imagining them.

Feuilly braces his hands in his pockets against a shiver. "The paint job, or the people?"

Claude smiles wryly in spite of herself. "With the people that used to come here, I couldn't have cared what the paint looked like." With a last sigh, she turns away and sees her companion for the first time, stopping short. Hesitantly: "Feuilly?"

He smiles, very faintly, and dips his head in deference. "Mam'selle."

Claude looks at him a moment longer in silence. "You don't remember me, do you." A bit resigned.

Feuilly's eyebrows lift slightly. "Jehan's cousin. The lady doctor. Yes. You're not that forgettable."

Claude laughs quietly. "It's good to know I'm not that forgettable. Cuts down on the amount of things I have to keep reminding people." She glances at the former Cafe Musain once more. "Have you been here since?"

Again the half-smile, this time a trifle sardonic. "No. Not lately."

"Neither have I." A sideways glance at him. "Want to go in?" Neutrally.

Feuilly blinks twice, and is silent a moment. "If you want company," he says, nearly gruffly.

Claude turns to regard the door again, so different than it was the last time she was there. "Quite frankly, I'm not sure if I can go in there without company," she replies quietly, not looking at him.

"You don't have to go in," he says practically.

Now she turns to look at him. "No. I don't," she answers. "That's why I feel I should."

Feuilly studies her a moment, then shrugs. "I don't mind," and sounds as though he means it.

Claude half-smiles in gratitude. "All right." She takes a deep breath and heads inside with a determined air.

With a barely perceptible grimace, he follows, holding the door open for her.

The maitre d' approaches the two newcomers. "Monsieur, madame. Do you have any seating preferences?"

Claude glances at Feuilly, one eyebrow raised just slightly. "I don't believe so," she says carefully, silently inquiring of Feuilly whether he cares where they sit.

Feuilly shakes his head minutely, expressionless.

The maitre d' leads them to a small table against an inner wall. He holds the chair for Claude, and distributes menus. "Enjoy," he says brusquely, returning to his consuming duties of staring at the front door.

Claude takes hers with a falsely sincere smile until he goes away. The smile fades into a grimace. "Pleasant fellow," she mutters, looking around the upscale decor. As her eyes roam the other diners, her hand abruptly clutches at his sleeve. "Feuilly." Her gaze rests on a small, inconspicuous door in the back of the room.

Feuilly shakes his head, sliding into a seat nearly furtively. Then blinks at the sudden grip, tensing. "What?"

"The back room," she answers quietly, nodding toward it as the door opens and a waiter emerges with a few linen tablecloths. She stares, incredulous. "They've turned it into a storeroom..." Then starts and removes her hand instantly. "I'm sorry."

Feuilly blinks, then chuckles shortly. "There's a comedown." He glances back at her, blinking once. "S'allright."

Claude tears her eyes away from the door and stares out the window. The snowfall has gotten heavier and she can hardly see past the glass. "Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea," her voice trembling as much as her hand as she brushes her hair away from her face in the same gesture she's used for years.

"'s just a place," comes Feuilly's quiet voice, and a steadying hand on her wrist. "It can't hurt you."

Claude glances back up at him. "That's just it. It's just a place. It's not... here. It's not Musain." It's not where Jehan would have spent his time, she adds silently.

Feuilly quirks a faint smile. "Musain's elsewhere, these days."

Claude nods. "Perhaps we ought to be elsewhere as well," she says quietly. She laughs humorlessly. "I'm sorry. I haven't seen you in years and the first thing I do is convince you to accompany me to this..." She glances around and shivers. "...unfeeling place, then I can't even bring myself to stay long enough to eat anything. Fine reunion."

The smile twists. "Better than some." He sits back a bit. "We don't have to stay."

Again, she gives him a look of silent gratitude, her fingers tightening over his momentarily before she shifts her chair back and stands.

Feuilly rises as well, watching her quietly, a little curiously.

Casually, keeping her expression neutral, she walks past the maitre d' and out into the heavy snow. Not until she's past the door and into the cold does she relax. Her shoulders had tensed the moment she'd walked inside. "That didn't go exactly as I'd planned it," she murmurs to the snow.

Feuilly shoves his hands into his pockets again. "What were you expecting?"

Claude starts, as if she'd forgotten he was there. She shrugs. "I don't know. I suppose... I don't know." Unconsciously, she starts walking. "I never... Jehan never knew I was coming to see him. I wanted it to be a surprise." She stares unseeingly at the whirling flakes. "I hadn't seen him since he'd left for Paris." Abruptly she shakes her head. "But it's, what, sixteen years ago. It doesn't matter."

"It shouldn't," ambiguously.

Claude grits her teeth. "I know it shouldn't," she answers, perhaps a bit more sharply than was called for. "But it does. Even after sixteen years, it still matters. Damn," she whispers, folding her arms against the cold.

A hand falls unexpectedly gently on her shoulder, though he says nothing.

It would almost have been more merciful if he'd been unsympathetic. At the gentle touch, she starts shaking uncontrollably, though she manages to keep her sobs inside. But before she can stop herself, or even realize what she's doing, she buries her head in his shoulder, trembling. "Gods..."

Feuilly goes still, startled; then, before he can think, his arms slip around her and he pulls her close, comfortingly. "Shh."

"He was like a brother to me," she whispers, tears slipping silently down her cheeks. "He might as well have been my brother, neither of us had brothers. Or sisters." She shakes her head. "Why can't I let this go? It's been sixteen years, and I still..."

"I know." It comes out roughly. He smooths her hair with a hand gone suddenly awkward.

"I blame him for it, you know." Abruptly. She continues in an almost bored monotone. "I always have. I probably always will. It's wrong, I'm sure. I shouldn't be blaming him for my cousin's death." She shrugs slightly, in his arms. "But I do."

Feuilly hesitates. "Who?"

Claude leans back and regards him, her green eyes colder than the wind now whipping through the street. "Enjolras," she answers quietly, emotionlessly.

A small wry laugh escapes him. "Enjolras." He shakes his head, glancing away.

Claude stays close to him, mainly to escape the cold, though perhaps not entirely. "Combeferre told me what happened," she continues, still in that strange bored tone. "He was moments away from saving Jehan, but he wasn't saved." Her grip on his shoulders tightens slightly in anger. "He died because of Enjolras. I cannot see it any other way, Feuilly." She looks at him then, her eyes full of despair. "I've tried for sixteen years."

Feuilly is not looking at her, now. "No one else saved him, either. None of us. No one saved Bahorel. No one--" He breaks off. "God knows."

"I know. I know that no one else saved him, or any of the others who died. I don't want to keep hating him like this..." An icy blast of wind makes her shiver and she takes his hand. "Come on."

He glances back at her then, fingers lacing with hers instinctively. "Where?"

"Somewhere else." She doesn't glance back at the restaurant as she starts off the way she'd been going before she'd stopped. There's no reason to, after all. She looks sideways at him. "Do you have any suggestions?"

Feuilly shakes his head mutely.

Having walked the street many times over the years, and not really paying attention to where she's headed, Claude eventually ends up in front of her flat. She pauses and glances down at their still-intertwined fingers before looking back up at him, silent.

He meets her eyes, and shrugs slightly.

Claude nods to herself as if making a decision. Without letting go of his hand, she finds her key and unlocks the door. Entering, she steps aside to hold the door. "Come in, if you like. It's warmer than out there." Nonchalantly trying to disguise her nervousness.

Feuilly studies her a moment, then inclines his head once more with that practiced deference, and steps in after her.

Claude shuts the door against the cold hurriedly and pulls off her soaked-through cloak to hang it up on the rack next to the door. "Let me take your coat. If it's half as wet as my cloak is..." She trails off, the attempt at small talk failing miserably.

He takes in the room at a glance: Jehan's books, Jehan's battered furniture. Silently he sheds his coat, which if anything is damper than her cloak, and hands it to her.

She hangs it up next to her own without a pause before turning to him and being confronted with a terrible awkwardness and uncertainty. It's reflected in her eyes as she looks at him for a long moment. Finally she shakes herself. "I'm sorry, won't you sit down?"

"You're very kind," Feuilly murmurs, with perhaps a breath of irony, and takes a seat cautiously. Lacking the coat, he looks thinner, more fragile, and rather younger.

Claude takes a seat in a well-worn chair with a grace still present from her younger days and buries her face in her hands immediately. "Gods, I'm sorry, Feuilly. I don't know what's gotten into me tonight. To be honest, I haven't thought about Jehan -- and Enjolras -- for months. I suppose seeing Musain... then meeting up with you... brought it all back."

He nods a bit, and then, since she's not looking at him, says mildly, "It's all right."

Claude shakes her head and looks up at him again, her eyes tired. "It shouldn't be. I should be asking how you've been these past few years. I should be asking you if you're all right. You spent more time in the back room than I did, after all. But instead I only pay attention to how I'm feeling..." She trails off, shaking her head. "I'm sorry." A hesitation. "Paul."

Feuilly blinks, and takes in a breath. "Needn't be. I..." another crooked half-smile interrupts him. "I'm all right." A pause. "Didn't know you ever knew my name."

Claude shrugs, half-smiling. "To be honest, I'd always remembered it. Yours more than a lot of the others. I would have used it earlier, but I remembered you usually preferred your last name." Silently asking permission to use his given name. "I apologize if I was too forward."

"Oh, Christ, after all these years..." He pushes a hand through his hair, ruefully. "I don't mind."

Claude sighs quietly. "After all these years," she repeats, staring at the ceiling. She looks back to him. "You're all right?" gently.

Dark eyes meet hers, unreadable. "Sure. Why wouldn't I be?" though there's a faint edge to his tone.

She tilts her head to one side slightly, trying to read his expression. "No reason why you shouldn't be," she replies easily. "Only that you were one of Jehan's very good friends..." She trails off again, glancing away, a bit embarrassed and not really knowing why.

"Jehan's-- gone," he says shortly, though not ungently. "God rest him. I don't dwell on it."

Her hands clench. "I know," she whispers. "He is gone, and there's nothing I can do about it, so why have I been struggling to forgive Enjolras for so long?" She shakes her head, trying to clear it.

Feuilly glances down at the tabletop, sitting very still. And then says, evenly: "Because he's forgotten?"

It's like a slap in the face. She stares at him, her eyes burning with anger. She doesn't speak for a long moment. "Has he forgotten?" Just as evenly as he had.

Feuilly glances up, expressionless. "I don't know."

"You must know something, you've probably seen him more recently than I have," she shoots back, eyes cold.

The face doesn't change. "You think so?"

Claude nods silently, challenging. "I haven't spoken to him in ten years. I find it difficult to believe you haven't, either."

Feuilly leans back a little in his seat. "Saw him three weeks ago. Before that, no."

Having won that round, Claude glances away, a bit surprised in spite of herself that he's seen Enjolras so recently. "How was he?"

"Looking well." A bitter edge creeps into his tone, despite his efforts. "Grantaire was. Courfeyrac was."

"Looking well," she echoes to herself, fingers curling tightly around the edge of the cushion. She looks back at him a bit bleakly. "They've all forgotten, haven't they. Forgotten what you were fighting for. And the cost."

Feuilly smiles, very faintly, so that it's difficult to tell whether it's sardonic or sad. "No, actually, they haven't forgotten. They remember so well that they want to keep it from happening again."

Claude sighs quietly. "Once they had a taste of the comforts of settled life..." She shakes her head. "I didn't think it would affect them that much."

"Can't blame them." There's a tension to his shoulders, even as he shrugs. "--Courfeyrac's boy is sixteen, now."

Claude is silent for a moment. "I suppose I hadn't thought of that. I haven't thought of Courfeyrac having children." She smiles in spite of her dark feelings, but it's short-lived as her shoulders slump. Tears prick once again at her eyes; embarrassed, she puts a hand to her face and turns away a bit.

He takes in another swift breath, troubled, and leans over to rest a hand gently on her shoulder.

Her shoulders shake with held-back sobs as she rests her other hand over his and squeezes his fingers lightly. "I can't believe I'm falling apart like this," she mutters, her voice shaking. "I'm sorry. I'm not usually like this..."

"S'allright," he says, very low, very calm, sounding almost disinterested. "S'allright. I understand."

Claude looks up at him again, one or two tears slipping down her cheeks. "Understand what?" she asks quietly, incredulously. "Understand how I've felt these past sixteen years? How empty I've been, hollowed out, alone?" The last word comes out as a sob and she turns away swiftly as another wave of sorrow hits her without warning.

"You think I can't?" Feuilly's hand falls from her shoulder. "Well, maybe so," and he stands abruptly, turning away.

Claude turns sharply as he moves away. Her eyes widen. "Oh, gods, I'm sorry." Standing, she tentatively lays a hand on his shoulder, not sure she should pursue this, but just as unsure of what else to do. "Paul -- Feuilly, I..."

He whirls to face her, the mask of indifference fallen away; his eyes are blazing. "Because I never had any family to lose, you think I don't miss it?"

"That's not what I said!" she snaps back, her own eyes furious. "Having blood family or not doesn't matter, it's how you feel about the people you love!" She calms down slightly after that outburst. "Of course you miss it. I don't presume to know how you've felt either all this time." She glances away. "I never bothered to find out till this evening."

Feuilly steadies himself against the back of the chair. "The people I loved are dead or want nothing to do with me." A shaky breath. "And you didn't ask for this. I'm sorry. I'll go."

"No, please." Her grip on his shoulder tightens. "You hadn't asked for any of this tonight, but you listened. The least I can do..." She trails off, swallowing almost nervously. "Please stay, Paul."

He studies her somberly for a minute. "If you like."

Claude hesitates for a moment. "I would. Please." Not moving her hand from his shoulder as she watches him.

Feuilly inclines his head then, in acquiescence, and reaches up to take her hand in his.

As his fingers close over hers, she swallows again, feeling her cheeks coloring slightly. "Thank you," she whispers, her earlier embarrassment coming back. She is, however, past caring.

"For what?" He reaches out to rest his free hand on her shoulder, quietly.

She takes a shuddering breath, stepping closer to look into his eyes. "For caring," she answers, her voice still barely above a whisper.

Feuilly half-smiles, very faintly, without much of mirth in it; and then his mouth comes down on hers fiercely, and his hand on her shoulder tightens to pull her against him, without tenderness so much as desperation.

Her eyes close as she presses herself against him, her free hand slipping around to the back of his neck, deepening the kiss. Fingers tightening around his as her breathing quickens.

After a second he frees his hand to wrap an arm tightly about her waist, his fingers moving urgently across her shoulder, into her hair.

Claude finally breaks the kiss, her lips traveling over his face, his neck. "Gods, Paul..." she breathes, her hands flowing down his back.

An unsteady breath, his eyes still closed. "Claude." He shifts to bury his face in her hair, tightening his arms around her.

Claude's lips linger on Feuilly's neck for a moment before she pulls back a bit to look into his gaze searchingly. Hoping to find the same depth of desperate need she feels, and terrified of finding it.

Feuilly murmurs something indistinctly, and opens his eyes to find her watching him. He hesitates a moment, then, deliberately, twines his fingers in her coiled hair again.

Late the next morning, Claude awakens slowly. Stirring, she yawns and stretches before suddenly realizing she doesn't have as much room as she usually does. Blinking muzzily at the ceiling, she forces her mind to wake up enough to recall the evening before. And smiles as she lightly runs her fingers over Feuilly's face.

He shifts slightly at the touch, sighing heavily as sleeping people will, and his hand slips from her shoulder. Presently his eyes blink open, regarding her in blurry incomprehension for a moment.

Claude smiles wryly. "Good morning. Sleep well?"

Feuilly blinks again, his face clearing. And then he smiles: rueful, bemused, but with warmth that was lacking the night before. "Pretty well. You?"

Claude nods. "Very well, better than in weeks." She watches him for a moment before leaning down and kissing him softly. "Thank you." In a whisper.

"Likewise," returning the kiss lightly. He sits up a little then, bracing himself on one arm. "What time's it...?"

Claude yawns again and glances out the window. "...at least midmorning, from the look of it," she answers, surprised. "I haven't slept this late in months."

"Damn--" Feuilly sits up further in sudden alarm; only to sink back against the pillow after a moment. "Oh. 's Sunday. Never mind." He chuckles a bit. "I'd forgotten."

Claude laughs quietly as she looks out the window. "Beautiful morning," she says. "No trace of yesterday's storm." She glances at him briefly, then looks away as her fingers hesitantly find his and twine with them.

Feuilly takes her hand firmly, gazing at her with mild eyes and a characteristic lack of expression.

Claude watches him for a moment, then shrugs. "The age-old question: Now what?" She brushes an errant lock of hair away from his face with her free hand, eyes gently inquisitive.

"Depends, doesn't it." He does not move, looking quietly up at her.

Claude nods. "It would seem to. The question is, what exactly does it depend on." She keeps stroking his hair lightly, gazing down at him.

Feuilly half-smiles. Then, still quiet, "What're you thinking?"

Claude blinks, taken aback by the sudden question. "What am I...well, I don't really know. I suppose trying to think of what's going to happen now..." She shrugs, looking out the window again.

"Right now? We ought to be getting up, probably." He squeezes her hand lightly.

Claude looks back down at him and smiles a rather forced smile. "I was thinking a bit further ahead than that, but you're right. I don't usually sleep this late."

Feuilly sits up again, a little less than effortlessly, and rakes a hand through his hair. "Further ahead as in?"

Claude half-shrugs. "Further ahead as in...hell, Paul, I don't know. I don't know what to think." She unconsciously imitates his gesture as she tries vainly to finger-comb some of the tangles out of her hair. "What are you thinking?"

Feuilly smiles faintly, leaning over to retrieve his shirt. "What needs to be thought on?"

Claude narrows her eyes questioningly for a moment. "Is it to end here, then?" she asks quietly, trying to keep the hurt out of her voice and almost succeeding.

He looks back at her tranquilly, gravely, almost kindly. "I should think that's for you to say."

"Me?" Startled. "Why me?" Starting to feel almost a bit intimidated by his placid gaze. "Don't you think you ought to have some say on the matter?"

Feuilly grins crookedly at her. "I don't have a reputation to maintain. Also it's not my apartment. The least I can do is defer to your judgment."

Claude shakes her head slowly. "I don't care about having a reputation, Paul. Gods, I've fought against the current of common thought all my life. I've had a number of reputations in the past, and I don't care anymore what anyone else thinks." She shrugs. "As for the apartment issue, it's a big bed. And it's much less drafty with two."

"So it is." He studies her a moment, levity fading, and says more seriously, "I'd like to see you again. Claude."

Claude feels herself blushing a bit, incredibly. "I'd like that too," she replies softly, holding out a hand to him, palm up. It trembles just a bit.

Feuilly hesitates, then reaches out to rest a hand in hers. "All right."

Claude smiles at him briefly and squeezes his hand before sitting back and looking around for her clothes. "I suppose I shouldn't keep you any longer. You'll have things you need to be doing."

Feuilly shrugs lightly. "Not for a while." But he starts getting dressed, nonetheless.

Claude does likewise. She's silent until she finishes buttoning up the last few buttons on her dress before glancing sideways at him. "In that case, would you care to walk me to my office?" she asks casually. "Though I don't know where you live, it might not be on your way."

Feuilly blinks once. "If you like."

Claude shrugs nonchalantly. "Wouldn't mind." She starts hunting around for her medical bag, looking uncannily like Jehan used to when he couldn't find something, looking in the most unlikely places. Under the couch cushions, in the kitchen, under the bed.

He tugs his boots on and stands. "What're you looking for?"

"My bag." Her voice is muffled as she looks under the bed. "I could have sworn I set it on the table last night..."

Feuilly looks. Flips back the shawl she discarded. "This it?"

A muffled curse comes from beneath the bed as Claude hits her head smartly while rising. Her eyes focus on it and she just looks at it for a few moments before glancing at him. "Yes. That's it." Stands and tries to appear dignified as she rubs her aching head and picks it up.

Mercifully, he doesn't smile; only steps back out of her way, tucking his hands in his pockets.

Claude pulls the shawl around her shoulders as she opens the door and waits for Feuilly, a faintly grateful look on her face.

Feuilly follows, reaching to brace the door open for her.

Ordinarily, she'd have reached back and braced the door open herself, but today she doesn't seem to mind the act as much as she usually would. She steps through, pulling out her key and locking the door behind them.

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