Gunfire burst out of the room at the top of the tavern. The soldiers still outside paused and looked up as the shattered window on the first floor was, briefly, illuminated; those with good hearing may have heard the thump of a body hitting the floor inside. Their task complete, the men who had fired put away their guns and left to join their comrades as the clean-up began.
There were, in fact, two bodies in the room as the National Guard left it. One man was upright, pinned to the wall. The other man was slumped at the feet of the first. Blood seeped from his chest and stained the floor.
At first, his movement could barely be seen. His eyelids flickered, his fingers twitched, his legs slowly began to straighten. As he put his hand to his chest, his bullet wounds were already closing.
Grantaire sat up and gasped for air. Had he really failed so spectacularly even in the simple pursuit of dying? The blood on his hands and, now that he looked, on his jacket, would seem to suggest that he had, in fact, been shot. But he was in no pain, and he was still, apparently, breathing. If he was dead, and this was Hell (and if it were, he would not be surprised), then the tales had lied. There was no fire, no brimstone, just the same shabby, dark, tattered room in which he had died alongside Enjolras.
Enjolras. The name spurred him to look at the wall behind him. And yes, this must indeed be Hell, because surely Heaven would not torment him so with the image of Enjolras pinned to the wall by bullets. He had died hopeful of not being left behind with neither his friends nor his Apollo. Still, perhaps it was his selfish final wish to die for a cause he had long mocked which had condemned him. He had to concede that the torment of an eternity alone with Enjolras’ dead body would be fitting for a man who had drunk himself to sleep while his friends died.
Yet, if this was Hell, then why was Enjolras also beginning to breathe anew? Surely, he could not also have been condemned to remain here.
Grantaire rushed to catch Enjolras as the other man’s knees gave way. Enjolras grasped at his chest as he fell into Grantaire’s arms, and Grantaire marvelled as he beheld a bullet forcing its way out of one of the wounds, which closed behind it leaving no trace of injury.
Enjolras made an exclamation, cut short by Grantaire’s hand over his mouth. “Hush,” Grantaire whispered, as he heard noises from the room below them. He wondered what instinct led him to fear them, as demons would surely find them no matter how silent they kept.
After all, though, he was not convinced that this was not the same world which they had only recently departed. The Corinth, though its furniture was wrecked and its lights dark, was still recognisable. There were his wine bottles, abandoned in the corner of the room, the words that Jehan had carved below the window, a shattered watch discarded by Combeferre in the hours before the battle. And there was Enjolras, breathing again in his arms, so full of life that Grantaire could only conclude that in some manner, their deaths had been reversed.
There was a strange destiny at work here.
Those conclusions also meant that the noises from the rooms and street below came from the Guard, who would surely be displeased to find two dead men yet living. Strangely, and despite everything he knew of himself, he had no wish to die again. It had been an unenviable experience. So, to avoid repeating it, they must both be silent.
He met Enjolras’ eyes as he took his hand away from his mouth. Enjolras’ gaze was on the very edge of panic, and yet he still found it within himself to reach for the broken stock of his rifle, to fix his gaze on the staircase. The man was a force of nature, and Grantaire found that his veneration of Enjolras had apparently reawakened with him. Enjolras shifted so that he was crouched just in front of Grantaire.
“What happened? Do you remember?” he asked Grantaire from the corner of his mouth.
Grantaire remembered. He remembered staggering past soldiers to Enjolras’ side, the burning pride he felt at being permitted to stand there, and the feeling of Enjolras’ hand clasped around his own. He also remembered the blows of each bullet, the strike of overwhelming pain and the sight of Enjolras above him as the world had turned black.
There had been dreams, too, now that he thought of it- confused ones, of faces he didn’t recognise and places he had never been to, and he would dwell more on those later. But they were not what Enjolras had asked about.
“We were shot,” he said, sitting with his back to the wall, and Enjolras turned to him already wearing the face he remembered from many (too many) drunken nights. Don’t be ridiculous, Grantaire , Enjolras was thinking, this is a cause to be taken seriously . And, in Enjolras’ defence, this was the first time Enjolras had looked at him this way when Grantaire was being entirely serious.
“We were shot,” he insisted. “Don’t you recall? Look at your jacket. Look at the wall behind us.”
His face still lined with disbelief, Enjolras did as he was asked. He paled when he saw the bullet holes in the wall, and Grantaire watched his lips move as he counted each hole. Then he looked down at his chest, running his fingers over the torn fabric there.
“What’s going on?” he demanded, and it pained Grantaire that he could only shrug.
“It isn’t possible to survive eight bullets,” Enjolras insisted.
“I realise that, but I have no answers.”
After searching his face for a second, Enjolras seemed to accept this. Instead, he looked to what had been the window behind them both. The battle had reduced it to a hole glinting with jagged glass. “And what of the others?”
Grantaire refrained from pointing out that Enjolras himself was better placed to answer that question, being the only one of them who had been conscious during the last battle. Still, with Enjolras focussed on guarding the stairs, he saw no harm in answering his question.
He shifted onto one knee, then rose to take a fleeting glance of the street below the window. A glance was all he needed, and he didn’t want a clearer picture to haunt his nightmares. When he faced Enjolras again, he knew his face must be ashen.
“They’re all still there,” he whispered, and to his horror hope flashed in Enjolras’ face.
“Alive? Like us?” Enjolras asked, and without waiting for a response rose to look for himself. Grantaire grabbed his wrist and pulled him back. Enjolras would despair if he saw what was out there- their friends, and others, sprawled in the street, as dead as they themselves had been.
“No,” was all he answered, and the relief in Enjolras’ eyes died.
“Sorry.” How could he have been so careless, again, with his words? “I should have made that clear.”
Enjolras shook his head. “No, forgive me. That was foolish of me. I saw them all die; I was responsible for it- I should have known that they would be left at peace. Not made to suffer this fate.” The truth hung in the air between them- that neither of them knew what manner of fate this was.
The despair in Enjolras’ face was so piercing that Grantaire could not prevent himself from offering what comfort he could. “You are not responsible for this. Their deaths were brave, and they were their own. They were the kinds of souls who would have given everything in defence of others even had you not united them.”
Enjolras looked back at him with an expression which seemed to suggest he was wrestling with a question. Grantaire felt fairly sure that it was not a question he wanted to hear. Being sober meant that he was entirely too inclined towards wondering what Enjolras had made of that speech, whether it had been overly sentimental or lacking in reassurance, and he was not enjoying the experience. This would be an easier situation to navigate if all the wine bottles in the room were not empty.
Thankfully, Enjolras chose not to voice a response, instead turning back to the stairs. “We need to plan our attack.”
“Attack?” He knew the remark sounded mocking, and now Enjolras was looking at him in the way he was more used to- with an expression of exasperated annoyance.
“Yes, our attack, unless you wish to remain trapped in this room. We’ve been given a second chance, Grantaire, and no matter why that may be so, we should surely use it to fight in the memories of our friends.”
“You already did that, Enjolras. You already died for them. And not to be blunt, but I fail to see what good an unplanned, two-man assault could possibly achieve.”
“So, you are refusing to fight. I thought you’d changed when you stood with me, but apparently I was mistaken.”
His gaze had turned cold, which stung, but for once Grantaire wasn’t going to let himself be considered a wretch. “I am refusing to fight an unplanned battle in which we are vastly outnumbered. Should we instead find a way to retreat and form a new plan of attack for another day, I will of course be willing to die alongside you again.”
Enjolras visibly reeled at that, and it took him long moments to answer. “I suppose there is some sense in that idea. How do you propose we leave, then?”
He hadn’t been expecting to get this far, but listening to the noises of the soldiers in the room below them gave him an idea. “They think we’re dead. They’ll come up here eventually, and they won’t be expecting a fight. We should kill them, take their uniforms, and get away.”
“And where would we go?”
“I know an apartment nearby where we can hide.” He prayed that Enjolras didn’t ask any questions about why the apartment was now empty.
Enjolras fell silent to consider this plan, and when he found no grounds with which to dismiss it, nodded grudgingly. Grantaire found himself smiling with the faintest hint of pride.
“Look at it this way. At least you can avenge your own death on these men.”
“There have been more deaths than my own for them to account for on this day,” Enjolras said, his face darkening. “But this will serve as a beginning.”
With that settled, and without the necessity of further conversation, they both crept towards the stairs and situated themselves on either side of the door. Enjolras focused intently on it, and Grantaire found himself feeling just as determined. He may not have been present for his friends’ deaths, but he had seen their bodies, and for the first time in their long acquaintance, he suspected that the forces driving him and Enjolras were one and the same. Their friends should not be dead, so for that, others would die.
They did not wait long. Footsteps, heavy and unnecessarily loud, sounded, and Grantaire tensed. He was glad, now, that he had learned how to box.
To their great fortune, only two men had been sent to retrieve their bodies. They had less than a moment to register that their bodies were not there before Grantaire had knocked out the one near him with a blow to his head and grabbed his jacket to stop him from falling. He retrieved a bayonet from the hands of his victim, and almost sooner than it was in his possession, Enjolras was reaching for it and driving it into the throat of the second man.
It was a brutal death, and Grantaire was a little unnerved to witness Enjolras observing it coldly. He had thought that Enjolras had regarded him with disdain before; he had been wrong. This was truly chilling. There was no emotion in Enjolras’ gaze whatsoever as the soldier choked on his own blood.
They did not have enough time for Grantaire to think deeply on the implications of that. Enjolras handed him back the rifle, bloody bayonet still attached, and he used it to grant the soldier he had been holding a quieter end. They swapped their own clothes for the uniforms quickly, and it amused Grantaire a little to see Enjolras’ face wrinkling in distaste as he fastened the buttons. Perhaps he could goad Enjolras into an argument to distract him from their current reality.
“Such colours suit you well.”
Enjolras’ gaze, burdened with grief and anger, met his own, and he could have wrenched his tongue from his mouth. That was the kind of distraction which had suited a man who was now hours dead. This was a new man, and Grantaire knew that their new reality was one which could not be forgotten, even for a moment. In fact, the remark felt like it had been spoken by the ghost of his own dead self. He hadn’t realised, until that moment, that so much of who he had been was now lost to him.
“I am sorry. That was cruel. I should have thought about it before I spoke.”
The apology seemed to shake something loose in Enjolras, who was now regarding him with an air of a man seeking a secret. It took Grantaire’s breath away to be watched quite so closely; if this was what it took to be the focus of such sole attention, then he would make a thousand such mistakes and a thousand such apologies.
“I understand. It has been a hard day, and my mind is hardly rested either. Let us find our way away from this.”
They each grabbed a weapon from the bodies- Enjolras a sabre, Grantaire the rifle and ammunition. Enjolras pulled his hat down so that it shaded his face, and after a moment’s hesitation reached out to adjust Grantaire’s too.
“I do not wish you to be recognised.”
The gesture had brought them close together, so close that Grantaire could see a spot of blood on Enjolras’ jaw. Before he could reason with himself, he had reached out to wipe it away.
Enjolras froze as still as some wary street cat. Grantaire expected him to move away, but he did not. Hardly daring to believe that he had been bold enough to do this, or that Enjolras was allowing him to do it, he focused intently on cleaning away the blood. He could feel Enjolras examining his face.
He brought his hand away and cleared his throat. Enjolras swallowed and took a step back.
“Shall we, then?”
Of course, this performance may not be necessary; they had awoken from death once, and Grantaire suspected that they could do so again. This was not the moment to test that theory, though. He would not be reckless with Enjolras’ new life; to that end, he must protect his own, too.
There was surprisingly little attention directed at the two of them as they emerged into the lower room. There were soldiers there, in uniforms that were torn and bloodstained and with eyes that were not wholly focussed on their work, but they appeared intent on clearing away the debris of the battle. Bodies were being lain in one room, and rubble swept up into a corner. There was no chatter, just the barks of officers echoing across the room and the square outside. It felt like stepping into a dream, an impression heightened by the thin haze of smoke lingering in the air.
Grantaire should have been grateful for the lack of scrutiny, and he was, but he was still waiting for someone to call out and recognise them and demand they be shot. At his side, Enjolras was gripping his sabre so hard that his knuckles were white. Instead of watching the room, his gaze was fixed on the ruins of the barricade beyond the door.
He wished he could spare Enjolras the sight of the bodies still lying broken outside, but their only way to safety was past them. It made Grantaire sick to see their faces looking so unearthly, with their vacant gazes and the blood splattered across them. He recognised Courfeyrac, and Bahorel, and Feuilly, before he made himself stop looking.
They walked across the square, Enjolras with the soldier’s gait which came naturally to him and Grantaire doing his best to imitate it.
“You there! Have you finished moving those bodies already?”
The shock made him feel as though he had been awoken by a bucket of ice water. Enjolras’ pale face was still scanning the barricade, so Grantaire turned to the man who had spoken, an officer with a stern gaze.
“We have. We are going to fetch a means of transporting them away from here.”
The officer frowned. “Lift your hats.”
They were only a street from safety. Enjolras turned so that he could exchange a glance with Grantaire, and Grantaire breathed deeply as he turned and raised his bayonet.
An alarm cry went up and the soldiers descended upon them, but they had been caught off guard. Grantaire’s skill with his musket was sufficient to keep enough soldiers away from Enjolras that the other man could dispatch the remainder with ease. Watching the first few men die was unsettling, but only a little when he remembered that he was doing it on Enjolras’ behalf.
They had already cleared a path to the streets beyond the barricade when he ran out of ammunition. Both of them turned to run, but there was a soldier thrusting his blade at Enjolras and Grantaire only had time to throw himself between them. The blade thrust deep into his side.
He cried out as pain burst through him, and dropped his rifle, but gestured to Enjolras to keep running when he turned back. Somehow, he mustered the strength to keep up as they sprinted through the streets together, but he could feel the blood soaking into his shirt.
Enjolras turned on him as they entered an alley. Vaguely, he registered that the sounds of their pursuers had ceased, but they would have to reach safety soon. There would be others coming to look for them.
“Let me see,” Enjolras demanded, and Grantaire didn’t have the strength to deny him. As he peeled the shirt from his wound, Enjolras was surprisingly gentle.
He drew a shuddering breath as he looked, and Grantaire braced himself. He would be satisfied if this were to be his end- he had died saving Enjolras, and that was a noble cause indeed.
“It is bad, then?” he asked Enjolras.
“No,” Enjolras replied, his voice soft and mesmerised. “Look for yourself.”
That seemed to him to be a kind lie, yet Grantaire did it anyway. His knees weakened as he watched his flesh bind itself back together. Before their eyes, the wound closed, paled, and disappeared altogether.
His fate, at least, was not finished with him, then.
There were so many questions to be asked, but apparently, they would have time for that. He would deal with it later. On the other hand, Enjolras looked close to collapse, and Grantaire refused to let him down now.
His friends had died for a cause that he had long mocked, and he owed this second life he had been given to them all. However long he had left, he would dedicate it all to continuing their legacy and ensuring that their deaths had meaning. And in the first instance, that meant protecting Enjolras.
His new purpose resolute in his heart, he led the way to the apartment.
The woman was drowning.
Over and over again, Enjolras saw her finally die, only for her to wake screaming and the whole cycle to begin again. This felt like no nightmare he’d ever had. He could almost feel the pain of her slamming her hands against her cage and her body screaming for air.
He woke gasping, clutching at his own throat. Somebody was talking nearby, but he couldn’t focus on their words, and his vision took a moment to adjust to the dim room. The dim candlelight illuminating it was only enough to show shuttered windows, vague outlines of a table and chairs and cabinets, and threadbare rugs. There was light at the edges of the windows, but they had been covered.
Of course. This was the apartment where Grantaire had brought him.
It was Grantaire who spoke to him now. “Enjolras, you’re safe, you were dreaming. No need for panic.”
To his irritation, he could feel himself shaking as he pulled himself upright. The look of pity in Grantaire’s eyes stung him, so he pressed his face into his hands. He needed pity from no one, Grantaire least of all.
Now that he was awake, the memories of recent events were coming back to him in flashes. The barricades had fallen, and his friends with it; Grantaire had stood with him in front of a firing squad, and somehow they had both awoken, escaped, and Grantaire had been stabbed. He had fought well, they both had, and his style had been direct yet skilful until the soldier had tried to stab Enjolras and Grantaire had stepped between them and-
Grantaire had been stabbed. That memory broke through the others, and he stared up at the other man. He did not look like a man gravely injured; he did not even seem to be in pain. Enjolras also remembered seeing the wound heal itself, but that had to have been part of the dream, surely. It was difficult enough to wonder how they had cheated death once, let alone how Grantaire had apparently done it again.
“Your side- are you hurt?”
Grantaire’s puzzled look only lasted a moment before he tugged his shirt up. “I am not. There isn’t even a mark left.”
Enjolras wondered; there was indeed no remnant of any wound, yet he could not make sense of it. Was some strange being tormenting them, forcing life upon them as penance for misdeeds? He wished he could speak to one of his friends on this matter, Joly perhaps, or Combeferre.
It felt like a bullet striking him anew as he remembered witnessing their deaths and glimpsing their bodies. If this was some cruel torment, it was effective. No other could match the agony of having to live with these memories.
To distract himself, he focussed his attentions on Grantaire. “You stayed on guard.”
Grantaire had retreated a little way away, but turned back and raised an eyebrow. “You did not expect me to?”
“There was no reason for you to.”
The other man let out a huff of air, as if he had been hit, and his smirk was the bitter, resigned one. “I suppose it is not difficult for me to find a reason to see you well, Enjolras. I thought we were friends, at least.”
He cursed himself and sat up straighter. Those had been clumsy words. “We are friends.” It was perhaps not something he would have said quite so willingly before, but now the phrase felt natural in his mouth. They fought for the same cause, and Grantaire had already taken risks for him. “We are friends, and I am glad for your company.”
Grantaire merely nodded, but he relaxed a little and turned his attention to checking that the windows were still fully covered whilst glancing back at Enjolras occasionally. There was something different in his manner; he seemed more focused, and less wild-spirited, than Enjolras had ever seen him. Perhaps it was partially due to him being sober (Enjolras noted the absence of any wine or absinthe bottles), but that seemed a cruelly insufficient way in which to dismiss this change. It took him moments of scrutiny to settle on why he was so unsettled by it, until he realised that Grantaire’s calm reminded him of their friends’ behaviours as they had manned the barricades.
It was only a shame that Grantaire had not discovered this focus before.
He seemed to notice that Enjolras was studying him, and gave an empty half-smile. “We’ll be safe here until the soldiers are gone from the streets.”
“They’re looking for us?”
“Perhaps not us, specifically, but any remaining participants of the rebellion. And of those, I imagine we are the most likely to have stuck in their memory.”
There was nothing truly funny in that statement, but it made Enjolras smile all the same, perhaps because it was such an understated summary of the events that had occurred in the Corinth. “Yes,” he agreed. “Certainly we did not die quietly.”
It was Grantaire’s turn to laugh, and Enjolras found himself enjoying the expression. He had never seen Grantaire laugh, not truly; before, any joy in the other man’s face had always seemed to be born of drunkenness or forced merriment. Despite their circumstances, this was neither. It was exhausted, and perhaps frightened laughter, but it was genuine laughter all the same.
“Of course,” he said, once he had stopped, “there is always the possibility that we will starve before we can safely buy more food. This room has been empty for weeks, and there is nothing here with which to make a meal.”
“Whose is it?” Enjolras asked.
A shadow passed over Grantaire’s face. “One of Bossuet’s friends. I do not believe him to be alive.”
“I am sorry.”
Grantaire nodded in acknowledgement, rubbing a hand over his face. Enjolras suspected that had there been a bottle to hand, Grantaire would have been reaching for it at that moment. He could understand, now, why Grantaire had been so eager to drink before. Easier to forget than to face this.
He stood. “I shall go and fetch us supplies, then.”
Grantaire eyed him with an expression full of weary humour, which made Enjolras suddenly feel incredibly foolish. “Am I to spend the rest of this existence protecting you from yourself?”
“No one asked you to,” Enjolras retorted, more snappishly than he had intended.
Not that Grantaire appeared to take any offence. “Indeed you did not, yet I choose to. I should go. I am less memorable than you by any standards.”
The comment struck Enjolras to be ridiculous. Grantaire’s had always been the face that had stuck out to him in the crowds at their meetings, even (perhaps especially) when it was lit with the laughter that meant he had just provoked a rise from Enjolras or just watching him with that sceptical, patronising stare. Thinking about it now, he realised just how many of Grantaire’s expressions he would be able to identify.
“I have never considered that to be true.”
The expression that followed was not one Enjolras was familiar with. For a second, Grantaire looked lost, blown backwards, and then he looked away and Enjolras realised he was trying to regain his composure. Strange how the knowledge that he could make him react like that stirred something in Enjolras. He was reminded, unbidden, of Grantaire’s face (so close to his) in the moments before they fought their way free of the Corinth, and found himself brushing his fingers over the same spot on his jaw which Grantaire had touched.
“That’s as it may be,” Grantaire replied gruffly, “but you are still the leader. They will not recognise me as easily as you, and I at least know that I can heal if I need to. They will find it harder to kill me.”
It was the kind of logic which should have been easy to accept, but Grantaire was the only other remainder of Les Amis. Enjolras would not let him go alone on the streets. “Grantaire, I have no wish to be trapped in these four walls waiting for you to come back. If you insist, then we go together.”
“Very well.” Grantaire turned his focus to finding a kitchen knife to take, but Enjolras saw the smile he was hiding. He tossed a cap, and a pile of clothes to Enjolras. “Wear these.”
With some surprise, Enjolras realised that his current outfit was still torn and bloody. Courfeyrac would have joked that it represented a new era of fashion. He changed, and folded the old clothes carefully; he was not ready to lose them, not yet. It seemed important to have some physical connection with the battle still.
After they left the building, it surprised him to realise that it was day outside. Late day, with evening drawing near, but still light enough. It should not have been a shock, he had seen the sun at the edges of the windows, and yet he still startled a little to see it. He must have slept for a long while. He was admiring of that fact that Grantaire was still conscious; the other man must have been guarding him for at least a day.
There were few people on the streets, and a disproportionate amount of the Guard. To find an open shop, they had to stray further from their apartment than he was comfortable with. Judging from Grantaire’s jittery manner, he felt the same way. Enjolras longed to reach out to him, to rest a hand on his arm and let him know that he was watching his back, but that would have attracted attention they couldn’t afford.
Instead, he spoke. Two men talking on the street would seem more natural than their hurrying like this.
“Where do we go once it’s safe for us to leave the city?”
“You wish for us to travel together?” Grantaire raised an eyebrow. “And you do not intend to launch another insurrection?”
Enjolras looked around sharply at that, but there was no one near enough to have heard. His response to Grantaire was a shrug. Perhaps he had intended to sacrifice himself again yesterday, after they woke up. But for some reason, today that felt like the intention of a fool, or of a dangerously selfish man.
No matter why he had been delivered from death, he felt obligated to use this new life to further pursue his cause, because none of his friends would have wished for him to give up on it. But he could not pursue it effectively from a city in which he was hunted. And he would be hunted here, probably for years to come; Grantaire had been correct. It would be a sacrifice, though, albeit a necessary one, to pursue France’s liberty from another city.
As for travelling with Grantaire, it merely seemed sensible not to travel alone, especially when they had both been returned to life so forcefully. That seemed like an instruction for them not to separate. And being alone with Grantaire for however long this lasted did not sound as tiresome as it would have done even days before.
“I think there is more wisdom in finding a way to work towards freedom from beyond Paris.”
Grantaire nodded slowly. “I agree. We should discuss destinations once we’re back in the apartment.” He slowed and nodded to a shop. “They’re open.”
He produced money from somewhere, and while he went inside Enjolras waited on the streets to watch for any danger.
This Grantaire was a very different man from the one Enjolras had thought he had known. Truth be told, he had assumed that Grantaire attended their meetings merely for company to pass the nights, but his face as he had gazed upon their bodies and spoken of their fates- he had looked shattered. He was alone in this, too.
Could they really be said to be alone when there were still two of them left? It was strange that he was looking upon Grantaire as a comfort, now.
Looking about himself, he realised that they were mere streets from the Corinth. Grantaire must have led him further than he had thought last night. It wouldn’t take long to go and look at the café, see what damage had been wrought there. If he wanted to.
Perhaps their mistake had only been to awaken too fast. Perhaps the others had simply taken longer.
It was a vain thought, but once it was in his head, he found it hard to shake. When Grantaire came out of the shop, he was staring vacantly into the distance.
“Enjolras? Are you well?”
“Hmm?” Enjolras startled and turned, only to find himself far, far closer to Grantaire’s face than he had bargained for. He swallowed. “I am. I only wondered…”
Grantaire’s face moved from worried to wary. “You can tell me.”
“We could go back to the Corinth. Check on the others, check if…”
There was no need to finish the sentence. Grantaire, smart as he was, knew what was to follow. “We can see, but we must take care not to be seen ourselves.”
Enjolras nodded jerkily. “Of course.” There was not the same hope in Grantaire’s face as there must have been in his own- instead, Grantaire looked tired, too tired to argue, but there was still the faintest trace of apprehension in his face.
As they retraced their steps towards where the barricade had stood, Enjolras was aware that he was not as nervous as might have been prudent. He felt desperate, more than anything, and even if they were found, he wasn’t afraid of the consequences. Either he would die and reawaken, or he would simply die as he should have before and be at peace.
It would be something of a relief if fate had merely been biding its time before claiming them.
“What are you thinking about?”
Grantaire was watching him. He answered without thinking. “I am wondering whether we are fated now to die and die again, or if we were given just one more chance.”
“I have had the same thought,” Grantaire said, his mouth a grim line.
They had slowed, and were now half shadowed by an alley. The Corinth was not far away. Suddenly he was not so eager to see the wreckage there; nerves were banding his chest, and his breath was coming too quickly. He closed his eyes to try and calm himself. “This surely cannot count as life, Grantaire, not life as it is supposed to be lived. I wish we had answers.”
“I do too.” Grantaire let out a soft laugh, and Enjolras cracked an eye open to watch. “Yet, there is but one way we could find out, and I would prefer not to die again.”
“It was unpleasant,” Enjolras agreed. The remark turned Grantaire’s amusement into a burst of laughter, and it made Enjolras feel less restless just to watch it happen. The man truly was beautiful- no Adonis, but his eyes were warm and his smile wide, and that was more beautiful than any good looks.
What a strange thought to have about Grantaire, of all people.
“You say that this is not life as it is supposed to be lived,” Grantaire said, solemn again, and he reached out for Enjolras’s hand. Enjolras let him take it, the touch warming him, and Grantaire pressed it against Enjolras’ chest. “Do you feel that? Your heart beats yet, and that is life. The rest is formed of our own decisions, and I have faith that you will choose the right path.”
“Will you be with me on that path?”
He regretted the question in an instant, and upon hearing it, Grantaire froze. They had had conversations of this sort before, but not serious ones. Grantaire had scorned such questions, and Enjolras had not expected otherwise of him. Now, with Grantaire’s hand still warm against his chest and their faces so close and the privacy of shadow and advancing evening around them, the question seemed more personal than any Enjolras had asked in his life.
Grantaire breathed, in and out and in again, and then pressed his lips to Enjolras’.
That was not the answer he had anticipated.
And yet, and yet, it made his whole body feel light and wound with nerves, and his own hand came up and tangled itself in Grantaire’s hair, and some deeper part of him settled into place. This was right.
Grantaire tried to break away and Enjolras didn’t let him, pressing forward and brushing his tongue into Grantaire’s mouth. Grantaire moaned, and the sound pulsed through Enjolras. Yes, this answer was wholly pleasing to him.
When they finally did break apart, Grantaire’s eyes were alight and he was studying Enjolras as if he were watching the best of dreams. Enjolras smiled at him and ran a hand across his cheek.
“You are- I did not…” Enjolras had only the vaguest idea of what Grantaire was trying to ask, but it was immaterial. He shook his head and it did the job, because Grantaire relaxed and smiled again.
It vanished, quickly, but he kept the same intense stare on Enjolras. “Let us complete our business here and find our way back to safety.”
“Yes.” It was the only word Enjolras could manage. He straightened his jacket and the two of them stuck close to each other as they re-emerged into the street.
If this had been any other situation, Enjolras’ focus would have purely been on the way Grantaire moved, and the expressions on his face, but their attention was needed elsewhere. This close to the Corinth, there were a perilous amount of guards around again. Any slip in attention could cost them.
There were still fewer of the Guard than there had been, though. The street outside of the Corinth itself was mostly clear as they approached it.
Only mostly. The furniture was gone; the bodies were not. Instead, they lay in the shadows at the side of the street.
Without discussing it, both of them came to a halt at the mouth of another alley. He could tell, even from this distance, that his hope was misplaced. His friends lay there still, all of them, side by side. He even fancied that he could tell them apart, if he had wished to.
He did not wish to.
They pulled deeper into the shadows as a captain entered the square. He was leading a group of five women carrying cloths and buckets of water, who looked about themselves nervously. Most shrank away a little as their eyes fell on the bodies.
“They are criminals,” the captain announced to the women. “They do not deserve your administrations.”
Only Grantaire’s grip on Enjolras’ wrist prevented him from launching himself at the man.
One of the women, with a lined face and a straight back, spoke up. “They are humans. They have families. Do not deny them this dignity.” It sounded like a threat, of sorts, and perhaps the captain took it as such. He turned away without another word.
They would have to remain until they could leave unseen, even if Enjolras was ready to fold beneath his grief and Grantaire’s eyes were fixed on the bodies. He seemed to be trembling, and Enjolras put a hand on his shoulder to steady him.
The women dealt with the bodies gently, sponging away blood and closing their eyes with delicate hands. Enjolras recognised none of them, and none of them seemed to be mourning, so they had to be strangers. Women who had taken it upon themselves to take care of his friends, when they could have easily turned their backs. This was the Paris Enjolras fought for- a city where strangers cared for one another, regardless of circumstance.
It was nice to be reminded of that.
After the women left, the soldiers returned and placed the bodies onto carts. It was dark by then, and Enjolras heard Grantaire whisper “Farewell, my friends,” as the carts were wheeled away. Someday, they would make it their mission to come back and make sure that their friends were at rest somewhere dignified, Enjolras promised himself.
There was no need for words as they came back onto the street and began the walk back. Enjolras was tired to his very bones, again, and the longing he felt for one more night of his friends’ company was not diminishing.
“Go upstairs,” Grantaire said once they were back at their door. “I would like a minute for my thoughts.”
Enjolras nodded mutely, finding some small pleasure in the fact that when he brushed his lips against Grantaire’s cheek, he got a weary smile in return. They would have time to explore this, whatever it was. He found himself looking forward to it.
It was too quiet in the apartment without company. He listened eagerly for Grantaire’s footsteps on the stairs, and though he busied himself with preparing some of their food, his mind was downstairs with the other man.
He was glad of that attention later. Without it, he might not have heard the distant sound of a scuffle; might not have known to grab the sabre he had stolen and rush back down the stairs in time to hear Grantaire saying in a bright, slurred voice, “I am but one man, gentlemen, and I fear I cannot give you what you seek. It is a big city. I wish you every fortune in your search.” It was a good imitation of drunkenness, and had he not known Grantaire, he might even have been fooled.
“If that is your response, then we have no further need of you.”
The other voice, Enjolras presumed it to be a soldier’s, declared, “Shoot him.”
Enjolras flung himself through the door as the single crack sounded. He felt no remorse as the patrol of three soldiers fell back in shock and then attempted a desperate defence of themselves. If he and Grantaire had been followed, then likely they would have come for him, next, and he was just saving them time. The man with the pistol managed one shot, striking his shoulder, and another sabre sliced at his chest, but they were not grievous wounds. Soon enough, all three men in the patrol were dead.
He turned to Grantaire.
Grantaire was dead, shot through the heart. With the blood spreading beneath him and his eyes wide open, he looked far too similar to the bodies of their friends, and Enjolras prayed for a miracle to restore him as he sank down by his side.
That conversation- he had died for him, for Enjolras, again, trying to buy him precious minutes against the guards. Enjolras would thank him for that as soon as he woke, because he had to wake.
The alternative was for Enjolras to be left truly alone.
His shoulder and chest were already beginning to itch as his wounds bound themselves together again. Grantaire’s wound showed no such signs of healing. Perhaps it had been tempting fate for them to kiss as they had; perhaps that much joy had been too much to demand. He closed his eyes rather than look any further on the stone-still face.
“Grantaire,” he said, aware that the word sounded like a plea. “Grantaire, come back, come back. You cannot leave me like this. I will not permit it.”
“Very well, then,” and Enjolras opened his eyes to see the other man still pale, breathing rapidly, but alive, but smiling. Relief smacked into him, and he reached to brush blood from next to Grantaire’s mouth. Grantaire turned his head and kissed the fingers there.
Perhaps if he had been the one to reawaken again, he would have been dismayed. He was almost sure, now, that this meant that death could not claim them, and the thought of the years ahead struck fear into his very soul. But it also meant that Grantaire was returned to him. It meant that they would have years to fight for their country. That he could live with.
“You didn’t have to test our theories like this, you know,” he said, half smiling, and Grantaire let out a huff of air that could have been a chuckle.
“I apologise. I will not pick fights with the Guard to shield you, in the future.”
“You had best not, for it will only lead to the demise of more men.”
“A regrettable occurrence indeed.”
They should be moving. The scuffle would have drawn attention. But he waited for Grantaire to have colour in his cheeks again, for all signs of their wounds to be gone, and they took the time to retrieve what they could from the apartment before they fled into the night.
If Enjolras also took a moment to pin Grantaire to the wall and kiss him until he was reassured that the other man really was recovered, well then, those moments were a necessary luxury.
Such moments would be a necessary luxury for as long as they lived.
Months later, Grantaire and Enjolras were living in an abandoned mansion safely beyond the city when Enjolras woke from a nightmare to find that Grantaire was not at his side.
He killed the man who had been crouching over him, only for the woman in the doorway to chuckle.
“Booker’s going to be pissed at you when he wakes up. Good work.”
He recognised her from his dreams, of course, but that was unimportant. “Where is Grantaire?”
She raised her eyebrows and looked over her shoulder. “With my friends. They haven’t hurt him, don’t worry. Are you going to kill me if I turn my back?”
“Won’t you just wake again if I do?”
She grinned wildly. “Come and find out.”