catherine's corner


I. The Better Part

He is not asleep.

He woke to clamor, as he has so often before, but instead of the friendly uproar of a busy cafe, it was curses, crashes, cries of pain. There was a desperate quality to the lulls between blows. He kept his head down instinctively, even before he remembered where he was.

Now it is nearly silent. There is a low sound of commotion from downstairs. In the room with him, only harsh breathing.

"God," he hears Enjolras say, only that, in a voice that breaks his heart. "God."

Almost he raises his head. But in that moment there is a renewed clatter, and he becomes aware that there are other people now in the room. "By God," someone says, "that's him--"

"--the one who killed the--"

"Shoot him!"

"Shoot me, then." Enjolras is coldly defiant. It is possible that none of them hear the despair behind that coldness; but he hears, and aches.

He could get up now. He could not hope to distract them for more than a minute, could not save anything; but he could offer his poor devotion, and share this death, if nothing else.

But that thought floods him with equal parts fear and shame. He has not deserved such dignity. In his mind he sees Enjolras' face, angry and disgusted at his presumption; he imagines the soldiers' derision. Oh God, no!

And yet, to see him once more--

"Take aim."

Grantaire keeps his head down.

II. Sweet Friends

He was asleep for a while. He drifts awake again sometime late in the evening, becoming aware of dying firelight on his face, and low voices somewhere nearby. They are too quiet for him to make out the words, but the sound is melancholy music to him. Combeferre and Enjolras, talking with each other.

Grantaire opens his eyes cautiously. There they are, sitting at the next table with the light gleaming in their hair. Even as he watches, Combeferre reaches for Enjolras' hand and kisses it: reverent and tender. Enjolras smiles across the table, and goes on speaking.

He shuts his eyes again, listening.

There is a soft question; an answer even softer. A silence.

"Come with us?"

Grantaire looks up, startled. Enjolras meets his gaze, with that same small, kindly smile, and repeats the invitation.

He glances at Combeferre, sees -- something; resentment? fear? embarrassment? -- but no protest is forthcoming. "If you like," he says through the tightness in his throat.

Enjolras rises, holding out a hand to him.

This is a mistake, he thinks as he climbs to his feet.

Later, curled exhausted at the foot of the bed, flushed with their warmth, watching them gasp and shudder in each other's arms, he is sure of it. But he is no longer sure that he cares.

III. Requital

"I didn't want this," Enjolras confesses, sitting on the edge of Grantaire's bed, his eyes on the floor. "I meant-- I don't know; to convince you, once and for all. To make you understand, or to tell you to stay away."

"I would," he says quietly, aching, "if you told me to."

"But I can't, do you see? I am already lost." A hand reaches for his, slim and strong and cool. "I can't fight you; you don't fight back. I can't resist you; you offer too much... Oh God."

Grantaire clasps his fingers, puts an arm around him. "I wouldn't do anything to hurt you. I swear I wouldn't--"

"I know." Enjolras steals a look at him, white-faced with the effort of humility. "Please."

His heart melts. He kisses the fair hair, over and over again, hardly daring to believe his good fortune; kisses Enjolras' forehead, caresses his shoulders, and shivers as he feels the touch returned.


"Will you let me?" Grantaire whispers, his hand hovering at Enjolras' collar; and is answered with a tremulous smile.

Then his hand is drenched in blood. Enjolras sags in his arms, and he looks up, sick with horror, into the face of his lover.

"God in heaven, Maxime," Grantaire breathes. "You've gone mad."

The knife pricks his skin. "You want this," comes the familiar rasp, and though, from the bottom of his shattered heart, Grantaire does, he never says a word.

IV. Beloved

"It's splendid!"

"If you like that sort of thing," Grantaire says, amused. "Try not to gawk, brat. You want everyone to think you're countrified?"

The boy blushes, and slouches in his seat with what he presumably thinks is a sophisticated air. He is small for his sixteen years, pallid and bright-eyed, as he has always been. Their mother was loath to let him come to Paris at all, till his brother swore to keep him out of drafts and dens of iniquity.

The back room of Musain, Grantaire convinces himself, does not count. Nothing more dangerous here than a few overheated opinions, and perhaps Bahorel in his cups. And he's here to keep an eye on things, in the latter case.

"You won't have to look after me forever," the boy says, with that uncanny knack for following his thoughts.

"Tell that to Maman."

"Oh, Maman." He shrugs, grinning. "She's like that. You've got better things to do than play governess, haven't you?"

"Probably," Grantaire says dryly. The irony stings him. His little brother, always the focus of love and worry, can laugh off a mother's fears lightheartedly. While he, the elder by five years, can no more abandon his trust than he can begrudge the child the affection he takes for granted.

"So. I'll be able to look after myself soon enough."

"But not yet."

A shadow falls over them, and he looks up apprehensively. Enjolras is standing by the table, expressionless. Oh God, he's annoyed again; he's going to lecture Grantaire in front of the boy, or throw them both out.

But all he says is, "Good evening."

"Evening," Grantaire returns, trying to keep his tone easy. "Enjolras, this is my brother, Hyacinthe."

The boy reddens, and looks up with his shy half-grin, straightening self-consciously. "Good evening, m'sieur."

With a nameless pang, Grantaire watches the marble composure soften in a smile; watches Enjolras clasp his brother's frail shoulder, and welcome him to Musain.

V. Common Day

Suzanne kisses him on his way out the door, and brushes at his sleeve to rid him of some infinitesimal speck. "Be careful," she says.

"I will."

She worries, does Suzanne. To her, the world is a chancy place, full of dangers and disapproving stares. She has two consuming fears: that something will happen to him, and that people will think they are not respectable. The second is understandable, the first simply pitiable, and he humors her as best he can.

Enough has already happened to him that he expects to live peacefully ever after.

He knew her first as a cool hand against his forehead, a soft soothing voice, while he lay fevered in the house of his father's friend. A stray gunshot had brought him down; only chance brought him to safety; and when he began to come to himself, despair threatened to carry him off.

But there was Suzanne, golden-haired and lovely, gentle and kind. While she was beside him, forgiveness seemed possible.

It was a week before he noticed the limp she took such care to disguise. It was longer still before he learned who she was. By then, he had made up his mind.

With rare bitterness, she said he deserved better than the bastard daughter of a middle-aged acquaintance, crippled from childhood and without prospects. With equally rare stubbornness, he said he did not care; no doubt she deserved better than a feckless, reckless fool.

He could not then admit to himself that her fair hair, her quiet dignity, reminded him of what he had lost.

But he is wiser now. Loving Enjolras nearly destroyed him, in more ways than one; it was too much, too hopeless, too desperate and deluded. No one could have been as perfect as he believed Enjolras to be; no one could have been worthy of such a one. Suzanne is human, and needs him as he needs her.

Knowing that, he can let himself mourn for Enjolras at last: for the friend he could have had, for the driven boy who died too soon. Mourning him, he can let him go.

He pauses on the corner where the Cafe Musain used to be, and then walks on.