73. Thermopylae

"'Their tomb is an altar,'" Enjolras recites quietly. It is cloudy, for once; the haze seems to have fallen equally on the landscape and on the mood of those observing it. "'For lamentation they have remembrance, for sorrow praise.' Thermopylae, the defense that did not fall."

Grantaire is quiet, standing a pace behind Enjolras and off to the side, with hands clasped behind him in uncharacteristic decorum, and listens gravely.

Enjolras looks across the plain. Perhaps the breeze is affecting his eyes somewhat. "It reminds me of somewhere else."

"Does it, now?" Gently.

"Somewhat." Enjolras blinks deliberately. "Except that this is a much more noble place."

"Nonsense." It's deliberately gruff. "It's older, that's all, and more spectacular."

"It has also seen victory and preservation of ideals."

"Depending on your point of view," Grantaire points out.

This breaks Enjolras's mood somewhat. "Yes. If the Persians had won, we might remember the incident differently indeed." He shakes his head, then spreads his hands. "It is simply a field, now. Is that what you mean to tell me?"

Grantaire reaches out to rest a hand on his shoulder. "I mean to tell you there's such a thing as chance in the world. One informer, one headstrong little girl, one glass of bad brandy, that's what decides things, not intentions right or wrong."

Enjolras reaches up to cover Grantaire's hand with his own. "You are probably correct." His voice is more rough than usual. "I only wish chance had been with us."

"I know." Grantaire clasps his fingers tightly. "I know, my dear."

"No use wishing now," Enjolras says, straightening his shoulders and looking out at the plain again. "It is done."

Grantaire watches him a little sadly. "So it is."

"Twenty-five years. One would think I could forget."

"Of course not!" This is unexpectedly vehement. "Of course you can't. You wouldn't want to."

"I wouldn't?" Enjolras steps back slightly and faces him. "You are mistaken, my love. I would forget if I could: not the boys I knew, but the hideous mess I created for them."

Grantaire regards him gently. "They've all forgiven you, Marcelin."

"You don't know that." Enjolras looks at the ground. "It sounds like something a confessor would say; 'You are forgiven, my son,' but you don't know, and I don't know."

"Well, I don't presume to speak for God. I'm talking about men I know, and did know." Grantaire strokes his hair. "You ask Etienne or René if they fault you for anything."

"I would, in their place, but they do not concern me as much as the ones I cannot ask."

Grantaire sighs, and drops down heavily to sit on the ground, reaching up to tug at Enjolras's hand till he sits too.

Enjolras sits with his knees bent in front of himself and his elbows propped on his knees for a moment, then reaches into his pocket and withdraws a handkerchief. "I am being foolish again, aren't I?"

Grantaire puts an arm around his shoulders. "Listen to me, beloved, dearest one. There wasn't a man there who didn't think the world of you. There wasn't one who wasn't there because he wanted to be. There wasn't one who'd have done differently than you did, and no one who's worth your sorrow holds a grudge for twenty-five years; and if the dead know anything, they know you did the best you could."

Enjolras's shoulders shake slightly; he buries his face in his hands and makes good use of the hanky. "Thank you," comes out at length, nearly incomprehensible.

Grantaire pulls him close, then, roughly, smoothing the fair hair with one awkward hand. "Only the truth," he murmurs, in a voice gone suddenly husky.

For a minute, Enjolras leans on him silently, and then, with a deep breath, he makes another effort to collect himself. "We must be a spectacle."

Grantaire half-smiles, squeezing his shoulder. "What else?"

"I don't know." Enjolras wipes his eyes, then tucks the handkerchief away again. "For God's sake."

"Or someone's. It's all right."

"I hope you're right. If it isn't, I've been more ridiculous than normal."

Grantaire chuckles. "You're seldom ridiculous, my dear."

"I have my moments," Enjolras admits, then prepares to stand. "I shouldn't dishonor this battlefield with my thoughts of defeat."

"As you say," Grantaire says easily, and starts to climb to his feet.

Once he has regained his balance, Enjolras slips his arm around Grantaire's waist. "On the second glance, it is a bleak place. I would not want to be here alone."

Grantaire drops a fleeting kiss to his cheek. "I don't blame you."

"Ah, beloved, I liked some of this trip," Enjolras says, sighing.

"It's been... hell. Remarkable." Grantaire smiles crookedly at him. "One of your better ideas."

"I do have one worth mentioning, every decade or so."

Grantaire chuckles, and kisses him again. "Have you any idea how--" Breaks off, suddenly lost for words.

Enjolras waits a moment, then asks, "How what, chéri?"

Grantaire studies him quietly for a minute, half-smiling. "How damned amazing you are."

Even at his theoretically mature age, Enjolras blushes and looks away from him. "I think your judgement is somewhat clouded."

Grantaire slips an arm around his shoulders. "You astonish me continually." A beat. "Granted that's not overly difficult..."

Enjolras kisses his cheek. "Keep some of your flattery for yourself, love. You are better than you admit."

Grantaire chuckles, glancing down a moment. "Modesty's a virtue, I'm told. I can't afford to throw away the few I've got, can I?"

"I suppose not." Enjolras squeezes him gently. "So, instead, you are trying to destroy the last remaining traces of mine."

"Ah, but! You don't need it." Grantaire grins at him.

"Oh?" Enjolras's eyebrows rise.

"You have virtues in plenty." Teasing, now.

"I have not," Enjolras protests, "no more than you."

Grantaire laughs, and smooths his hair back from his face gently. "Very well."

"If you love me despite my flaws, I suppose I can be content." Enjolras kisses his cheek.

"I love you desperately," Grantaire murmurs in his ear, "despite everything. Never doubt it."

Enjolras smiles. "I wonder if that puts you ahead of me. I love you because of everything."

"Difficult man." Grantaire kisses him lightly, then straightens. The sun is sinking rapidly, and the clouds have thickened and darkened. "We'd best get back."

"We should, yes." Enjolras lets him go, slowly, for the sake of propriety. "And, love, I may be difficult, but you are incorrigible."

Grantaire grins, suddenly, with that madcap gaiety. "Of course."

"And I love you, but not quite as much when it is raining on me." Enjolras glances at the sky. "Let's go."

"Agreed." Grantaire punches him gently in the arm, and sets off briskly back the way they came.

... Previous ... Book Three ... Table of Contents ... Next ...