65. The New Year

December 31, 1848

The bells are ringing at odd times all over the city as people celebrating the New Year work their way into different towers and commandeer the ropes for their nefarious purposes. People who are not inclined to this public revelry stay out of the way, at home, or at the homes of their relatives. Jeanne Tirmont is taking the opportunity to visit her brother at home, somewhat against her better judgement.

Grantaire meets her in the entryway, and embraces her gently without preamble. "There's my girl."

Jeanne sags against him. "I was accosted in the middle of the street, François. You should have let me stay home."

"Well, I didn't drag you, did I? What d'you mean, accosted?"

"Robert's -- whatever she is -- stopped me between here and there and talked my ear off." Jeanne rubs her ear for effect. "I don't know what she sees in him."

Grantaire raises his eyebrows. "I'm sure I don't either," deadpan.

Jeanne blinks, then realizes what she just said. "I meant, I don't know what he sees in her. No brain at all."

"That may be it," Grantaire says wisely. "Here, come on in, sit down, chere."

"I hope not." Jeanne frowns at him. "Must I?" This is token resistance. "Oh, all right."

Grantaire slings an arm around her and steers her toward the parlor. "Well, if you want to stand around out here all day..."

"No, but." Jeanne follows the lead.

Enjolras stands when she enters, too politely. "Good evening, Jeanne."

"Bonsoir, m'sieur," she returns, not quite looking at him, and glancing up at her brother.

"Silly girl," Grantaire says affectionately, and casts Enjolras a look half cautioning, half pleading. "Yes, here she is. Despite all obstacles, eh?"

Jeanne brushes nonexistent dust off of her skirt and takes a seat. "Braving fire and flood, I assure you." She peers up at Enjolras. "Not to mention drunken revelers."

"I am glad they didn't hurt you," Enjolras says earnestly, sitting likewise, and no more comfortably.

Grantaire slouches into a chair between them. "And featherbrains. Poor Jeannette."

Jeanne shakes her head. "I really would rather the drunkards than the fool girls." She shrugs. "At least the former can be interesting."

Grantaire chuckles faintly.

Enjolras coughs and looks at the floor. "You have a point there."

"Ah, well. I suppose they all have their place." Jeanne leans back in her chair, relaxing now that she has made the other two more uneasy.

"To be sure," Grantaire says dryly. "How've you been?"

"Same as ever," Jeanne answers, sighing. "How about you? Monsieur? The law obeying you?"

Enjolras blinks, on the edge of chuckling. "If only it would."

Grantaire grins. "Treacherous thing. I've always said so."

"Now, it's not that bad, cher," Enjolras objects, then catches himself and goes back to formality. "The law is exactly what people have made of it. The trick is to have a hand in its making."

"Oh, of course," Jeanne says, somewhat perplexed.

Grantaire explains cheerfully, "He goes to a great deal of trouble to point up inconsistencies."

"It isn't -- " Enjolras glances at Jeanne and stops himself. "I suppose that explains it clearly enough."

"You know you do," Grantaire returns teasingly.

"Catch them whenever they slip, is that it?" Jeanne asks. "Have to make sure you see every mistake."

Enjolras glances from Grantaire to Jeanne, trying to work out whether they are both making fun of him. "Well, yes."

Grantaire grins easily, leaning back in his seat. "And very well you do it, generally."

Jeanne makes a little sound in the back of her throat that may be a stifled laugh.

"I should hope so," Enjolras says somewhat defensively.

Grantaire's smile softens into something like apology. "Of course."

"If you didn't do it well, we'd all be in trouble, wouldn't we?" Jeanne asks, somewhat acidly.

Enjolras's expression hardens. "No. I don't flatter myself that anything I do has far-reaching consequences. If I fail at a task, I hurt my clients. If I succeed, I help them."

"Jeannette," her brother says softly.

Jeanne glares at her brother. "What? I'm sorry, m'sieur." She looks irritably at Enjolras. "I don't know what you want me to say."

Grantaire rests his head in one hand.

"To begin, you certainly don't have to call me 'm'sieur,'" Enjolras suggests, doing his best not to be defensive.

"Of course I don't," Jeanne says sarcastically. "That's why you treat me like some kind of stranger. Well, among the many unpleasant things in my life, there are only a few I can avoid." She stands. "Francois, I hope you have a pleasant New Year."

"Jeanne," Grantaire protests.

Enjolras avoids looking at either of them and sits silently.

"François," Jeanne mimicks. "I don't need this. I don't want this. And, yes, thank you, m'sieur, I can show myself to the door."

Grantaire pushes to his feet, his face set. "Allow me." It's not a question, nor is it awfully courteous.

Jeanne sniffs. "If you must."

Grantaire nods curtly, and with a glance at Enjolras, escorts her out politely. In the entry, however, he takes hold of her arm and demands, "What was that for!"

"I can tell when I'm not welcome," Jeanne says angrily. "I don't need to be told."

"Damn it, he was trying!" Grantaire's face is tight with pained frustration. "You never damn well give him a chance, Jeannette."

"You're making excuses." She frowns. "I don't need Monsieur Holier-Than-Thou, not now."

"That's not fair, Jeanne. Damn it--" He breaks off, scowling.

"Nothing's fair. Don't you know that yet?"

Grantaire leans heavily on the banister. "You can't even try, for my sake? He's got nothing against you. I'm damned if I know what you've got against him."

"I tried. You want me to stay, give me something to talk about and tell him to wander the streets for a night." Jeanne shrugs. "He doesn't like me."

"That's not so."

"It is, damn it."

"You've never given him the chance. For twenty years you haven't given him the chance, for twenty years you've been dead certain he's -- God knows. God knows what you think." Grantaire straightens, scowling.

Jeanne waves her hand impatiently back toward the parlor. "God knows what I think, indeed. Go on back to him, François," taunting, acerbic. "He's waiting. He's listening to all of this and he knows just how terrible I know he is. Go on."

"Don't do this to me, Jeannette." Low and controlled.

She looks at him sharply for a moment. "I didn't do any of this to you."

Grantaire takes a breath. "You want me to leave? You want me to walk out on him? Is that what'll satisfy you?" Edgily. "What is it, sister, are you jealous? I'm happy, and you're not, and rather than make an effort to be part of this you'd drag me back to where you are, stuck in a rut and bitter and alone."

For a moment, Jeanne blinks at him. "No -- I -- no. I should never have come here." She makes for the door.

"Not if you're determined to hate it," he flings at her.

"I tried." She stops on the threshold and looks back at him, tears in her eyes. "Damn it, I don't know what you expect of me."

Grantaire takes in another, unsteady breath. "You didn't try real damned hard, did you. You want to tell me if it's because he's a man, because he's well off, or just because he's there?"

Without answering, she flees into the night.

Grantaire watches the door shut behind her, grimly; then he leans back against the wall for a moment, staring at the ceiling. When he returns to the parlor, he has, at least, managed to get his trembling under control.

Enjolras looks up with a frown. "I'm sorry."

Grantaire scrubs a hand over his face. "For what? Being yourself?" He crosses the room, or rather paces it, tense.

"For driving your sister away." Enjolras glances toward the door. "I never meant to be rude."

"You weren't, dammit. It's not your fault she took against you from the first. God damn it." Grantaire whirls, looking trapped. "Damn it, what did she expect?"

Enjolras stands and offers him a hand, and, by inference, an embrace. "I don't know. You did nothing wrong."

Grantaire accepts both, burying his face in Enjolras' shoulder a moment. "Sometimes I wonder."

"You couldn't have made a mistake. You hardly did anything."

"Maybe that was it. Damned if I know."

"Do you want to find her and ask?" Softly, accompanied by a kiss on Grantaire's cheek.

Grantaire's arms tighten around him. "It wouldn't do any good," defeated. "She's convinced you hate her. Probably thinks I do, too. God knows."

"I don't hate her. She confuses me."

"I know. At this point, she confuses me too."

Enjolras strokes his hair. "Maybe you should talk to her in a few days."

Grantaire sighs. "Maybe."

"I don't know, truly. I'm sorry."

"My love. It's not your fault." Grantaire pulls back a little to kiss him lightly. "I'm sorry we had to have that scene, that's all."

"Ah, well. Tomorrow is another year." The kiss is returned. "A fresh start, let us hope."

"We can hope." Grantaire sighs again, and kisses him once more, purposefully.

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