Jun. 2nd, 2014

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They waited for the right moment, when Jehan was safely occupied in some mysterious corner of Darrow, when Marius was knee-deep in translations and unlikely to show up unexpectedly in some sheepish panic, and neither would notice - or question - the absence of their friends. Though brought together years ago by circumstances, and still more brothers-in-arms than natural friends, there were things these two men could only share with one another. Once, the confidences they shared had been matters of munitions, and strategy, and Enjolras’ latest tantrum. But now they met for a reason more visceral and strange.

Combeferre brought questions, and Courfeyrac brought the wine.

He had barely popped the cork, the sound filling the unnaturally silent flat, when Combeferre began: “Tell me.”

Courfeyrac’s smile as he filled two glasses was dark around the edges. “No time for pleasantries, my friend?”

Combeferre exhaled. “Forgive me, Courfeyrac. I fear that since Pontmercy found himself on our shores, my mind has teemed with questions, and I do not know what else-”

“And Marius, dear Marius, for all his infinite good qualities, makes for a terrible messenger.” Courfeyrac waved his hand with a chuckle, and Combeferre was reminded how easily that good cheer could soften the tension of any room. “Drink your wine. I have quite the story to tell.” And though he waggled his eyebrows and made Combeferre laugh outright, both their eyes were serious.

Both men emptied their glasses with ease - Courfeyrac quickly and unselfconsciously, and Combeferre with more care. Courfeyrac was again pouring when he asked, “I assume le petit poet et Monsieur le Abbe have at least sketched out the generalities?” Combeferre nodded, and Courfeyrac took a deep breath. “You couldn’t have imagined a worse day for an emute. Oppressive from first light, raining by noon. It never really stopped. Old M’sieur Hucheloup would have been horrified by the state of his courtyard. All the mud and blood.” This time, he swallowed the wine with a grimace.

“Combeferre, they didn’t- no one came. Not no one. Too few.” Never a master of stillness, Courfeyrac abruptly pushed himself away from the little kitchen table and stood, taking a half-step away for the sake of something to do. He paced the hall between the table and the window, through which early summer sunlight streamed - an affront to his tale, frankly. “Half a dozen from the Polytechnique. A handful of stonecutters. Those friends of Bahorel’s, the ones who met on the Rue Chapon.”

“No one else?”

The silence served for an answer. “I saw Loucon at Lamarque’s funeral, but none of his men, and I lost him quickly enough. Didn’t hear a peep from the printer’s guild, or the surgeons, or those artisans up near Montmartre - mother of God, I’ve never seen Feuilly so angry. And those fucking doctrinarists, the ones I spent half of January wooing, who wept idiotic crocodile tears when I read them your description of the conditions at St. Lazare. Not a single word.”

Combeferre watched his friend as he gripped the stem of his glass so tightly, he half feared it would snap. Still without a proper wardrobe, Courfeyrac was wearing one of Combeferre’s shirts, and it fit him poorly - strange on a man usually so perfectly dressed. “That wasn’t your fault.”

“Yes, and Joly blamed the rain. Makes people reluctant to go out.”

“Courfeyrac.” He saw the muscles of Courfeyrac’s back tense and relax, his shoulders straighten, and slowly, the grip on his wineglass loosen. He thought of the man he had met eight years ago, never serious, quick to take slights personally, someone who would shirk responsibility and certainly never blame himself for a failed rebellion.

How far they had come in such a short time!

“We knew by dawn that the situation was doomed. Enjolras had saved a few uniforms from dead guardsmen, those we could we convinced to flee. You gave a pretty little speech.”

Combeferre almost smiled.

“We lasted until mid-afternoon.” Now, he looked at Combeferre, flashing a smile. “We don’t die easy in the Republic of France.”

“Never.” Combeferre’s voice was gentle. “And somehow, we’ve made it to the other side.”

“Somehow.” Courfeyrac’s laugh rang truer this time. “Tell me true, friend, what do you make of this strange afterlife?”

Combeferre chuckled. “Too much. And too little. It’s a welcome respite after a difficult year.”

“Leave it to you to make the future seem boring.” Courfeyrac collapsed into his chair again. “Now, does Prouvaire tell me true? Have you found yourself une chere mademoiselle? An Englishwoman? She’s far too pretty for you, isn’t she?”

Combeferre rolled his eyes but a warmth had returned to the room - to the world - that he had not quite realized was lacking. “You will just have to find out for yourself.”

“Oh, very well.” Courfeyrac pointed a warning finger. “But only because I’m feeling magnanimous. Instead, tell me about the new spiders you’ve discovered or something else miserably dull. I’ll just finish the wine.”

And with thoughts of pain, and hurt, and defeat dispelled - at least for now - two friends who thought they had lost each other talked into the night.


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Henri Combeferre

March 2017


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