A/N: Hi! I have been getting majorly back into Les Mis for the past few months and while I was on holiday I fancied writing another little oneshot, inspired by the prologue to a beautiful little musical I saw a couple weeks ago called Broken Wings. (The protagonist was played by Rob Houchen, who was my first Marius, so it kinda makes a whole lotta sense to write this Marius-centric thing.)
now a silent secret (once a beautiful song)
In the small hours of the morning, before the early August day earned its heat, a small, rattling cab rolled up to the gates of le Cimetière de Belleville. The door creaking open disturbed the still, crisp air of the place, but of course, not even the graceless hobbling of the man, bent heavily over his cane as he struggled alone down the steps, could rouse the slumbering inhabitants of the place.
Unsteady as he appeared, his entrance through the gates brought him near enough that the caretaker, who had minded the place through the night, could see that his face was not that of the aged old man his posture suggested, but a boy, little more than a teenager, carrying far more sorrow and discomfort on his soft features than one so young ought be familiar with. He was not old enough to have lost a child or a wife, that was certain, and yet very few bourgeois sons chose that particular cemetery, on the edge of the city, to bury beloved Mothers or Fathers. Even in his haggard condition, the young man was a vastly uncommon sight to the caretaker responsible for the graves. There was a sort of bruised sincerity about him as he limped stiffly closer.
"Monsieur, do you work here?" There was a tremble in his voice, yet he tried to stand a little taller as he addressed the man, who nodded by way of confirmation. "Then I hope you can help me. My name is Marius. For the past week I have searched all of the cemeteries in the city - people have been too frightened to talk about it, none would tell me where to look for them. Please, are the people who were killed in the rebellion buried here?"
His injuries, and the great loss within him that made his words sound hollow, made a sudden sense. The caretaker gestured to a patch of land a short way away. "Most of them weren't claimed - the poorest of them, many of the ones who died on the first night, at the smaller barricades, had no families to speak of, and no money for a burial. Some of them are here, many had to be taken out of the city to be set to earth." The tone of regret was genuine. It was impossible to bury so many nameless people in one place in so short a time, but there was a distinct sense of wrongness that most of those who had fought and died in Paris would not be permitted their final resting spot within its bounds.
The same disquiet swept up the boy, and desperation turned his voice hoarse. "The largest one was on Rue St Denis, Monsieur, it lasted past the first night," the boy insisted, urgency seeping out of him and dampening his eyes. "Most of them did have -"
"Only some of those wealthy schoolboys with families had relatives come forward to claim their sons. Names, that's the most they could stand to give, and some of them wouldn't even share that much for the sake of their sons; none of those wealthy parents wanted to honour their children with a grand funeral. I can only think of one poor girl with any true sorrow for the dead from the last barricade, her siblings had died there, and she could never have afforded to pay for their graves." He shook his head. There were no words he could freely say to express his disgust at such a show of familial neglect. "The dead from Rue St Denis are all buried there, in the shadow of that cypress tree. Peasant's graves for them all, I'm afraid, Monsieur."
"Marked?" Marius' voice cracked.
"Most of them, Monsieur. I could not name the graves of the boys who went unclaimed, but I had heard the stories: I heard that those who fell at Rue St Denis were the leaders, more like brothers to one another than their own flesh and blood - well, they should have been, for the little love their families showed them. I thought it wasn't right, Monsieur, that they should be apart now, so for those whose names I did not know, I placed them myself in the same tombs as their friends so that they might stay in fair company after death."
I should be in that same fair company, buried with them. The old man had turned to look at the recently turned patch of earth, wooden crosses standing straight and proud in rows atop it. When his weathered face returned to the young man, it was to see tears glistening in his pink eyes like dew on a blossom petal. "Thank you, Monsieur. You are right, I never knew any brothers closer. You have been very kind to bury them together."
"I believe the responsibility of burying them should not have come so soon."
"Will you show me?" Trying not to lean too heavily on his crutch, the boy made towards the area below the small tree. A gust of wind whipped at its branches. "If you could remember, which of these graves hold more than one of my friends?"
The old man followed, though with the two month old injuries still hindering the boy, his youth didn't give him much speed compared to the elderly grave digger. He pointed out eight new crosses, noting the three which held two bodies:
"The second one in there had no relatives at all," he gestured to the cross marked L'Aigle, where Feuilly also rested; "Their hands could not be prised apart. Both of those boys were recognised, but only one family would give a name." a cross engraved with Grantaire, where he was buried as he had died, alongside Enjolras; "The girl I mentioned to you has two siblings in there. The little boy's grave is in his sister's arms." Where Éponine and Gavroche had been laid, only the name Thenardier marked their grave.
"And you are certain that this is where they all lay?" Marius checked, his words watery and thick. "You buried them here yourself?"
The caretaker nodded. "I am sure, and I know I would not soon forget."
"Then you should know, Monsieur, that this is also where you have buried my heart."
A tear rolled down his cheek to fall onto the damp ground. Whether his legs gave out from beneath him or he intended to drop down into fervent prayer, the moment his tear touched the earth the boy went crashing to his knees, hunched over, forehead brushing the mound before him, crutch abandoned at his side. Within a moment, sobs rattled his body like the breeze shook the branches of the tree above, the gaping hole left behind when friendship had been ripped out of him causing his cries to echo mournfully on the wind. An hour passed. Marius was drained of his tears as they bled into the earth, sealing his silent, sorrowful secret down there with them: the brightest hopes of a nation slept in the ground beneath him, below unremarkable wooden headstones at a far-flung district of the city, to be, he already knew, forgotten by the people and history alike. It was his job, now, and only his, to try to recapture those strange times, to fly on the wings of memory to recall and protect those moments of fraternity and camaraderie, ambition and revolution, cradling the warm joy they made him feel despite the bitterness and sadness that tainted them through the lens of retrospect.
The young woman arrived some time later, once his tears were spent, yet still Marius knelt, back to the rising sun and to her, oblivious as her concern turned to sympathy when she laid her eyes on him. In the time he had spent grieving there, the old widow with her basket of flowers to sell had arrived at the cemetery gates. Instead of approaching her betrothed, the girl returned to the flower seller, offered a kind smile and more coins than was needed for her request, and only then made her way, watched from some distance by the old woman and the caretaker, to kneel in her pale green dress in the grass at the side of her love.
Her cheek came to rest on his shoulder. He flinched, but then melted into her side. Eleven of the twelve white carnations she had bought were passed silently to Marius, one for each of the names he had told her of. He set one on some mounds, two on others, a flower for each of the young people who had died in his place on that barricade.
For the last carnation, Cosette took his face between her hands, turning him towards her, and placed it in the pocket of his coat. Grief, to her, was a foggy memory of a blonde-haired figure in a pale pink dress. Yet she had listened each day at his bedside, between naps and doctors' visits, to his stories of his beloved friends, and through his eyes she knew them well enough to weep, sombre and sincere, for all that had been lost. She patted his heart, where the flower rested, a fragile smile lighting her own dampened face.
He kissed her, then. A chaste, sweet peck to her lips, before he took both of her hands in his. Too humbled by awe to meet her eyes, it was to her hands that he confessed, "All of my friends lie buried here, and almost all of my hopes are buried with them. All of the hopes of my heart but you."
Cosette leaned closer to press her forehead against his, squeezing back at his hands. The wind dropped, and a quiet peace held the young couple, suspended there together.
They stayed like that until the sun rose higher than the houses in the nearby street, casting them in the full light of its warm August glow. It would be a truly beautiful day, and a shame for a young betrothed pair to spend it knelt in mourning.
This young man would wear his grief evermore like a crown: the heaviest of burdens to keep his head bowed, and yet with a degree of dignity and purpose which reminds all that look upon him that it is not for nothing that he carries such a weight. Time may not ever heal the hidden wounds that eleven paupers' burials inflicted on the boy, but it could yet define him, guiding him with all his scars that he might one day see justice brought about and the cause for which his friends fell breathed into life. Until that day, he would not allow his sorrow to reach unceasingly downwards like the roots of the cypress tree into the past, but to grow like it's branches, blooming with new, green life as they reached for the sun.
She helped Marius to his feet. His crutch occupied one hand, but Cosette took a firm hold of the other, helping him to stand tall as he leaned on her slightly. Walking slowly, side by side, the young couple left the cemetery, hearts radiating love in spite of their faces still shining with tears, and stepped into the light of a new morning.
A/N: I couldn't find any info on where or how the real rebels were buried historically, so this is the kind of thing I like to hope might have happened. That's a real cemetery, it was the smallest and least central in Paris at the time so I imagine it would have been a good place to put them? If anyone has any historically accurate info on that, it would actually be really interesting to know more about what happened next.
That said, all the boys whose names weren't mentioned were buried in their own named grave, among that set of eight, in this story. I think Enjolras' family would be too ashamed to let him be buried under their name, and Feuilly's lack of parents made me want to put him with his bro Bossuet, and the idea is that Azelma went to identify Eponine and Gavroche so the nice grave man put them together.
Cosette is a gift and a delight, and Marius is a sensitive sweet soul, I just want them to have the most wholesome relationship around. I adore them both, honestly, they would have so much patience for each other.
My last point is gonna be to say that there are lots of references to both the musical and the novel of Kahlil Gibran's Broken Wings in this story because its so inspired by OG Marius Rob Houchen's stunning performance in that show. Honestly I can't recommend it enough, the soundtrack is so beautiful, the cast also included my OG Grantaire Adam Linstead whom I love, it's a gorgeous story set in early 20th century Lebanon, and it was the first West End Musical to tell a middle-eastern story and to be written by middle-eastern people. The soundtrack is on spotify, please check it out.
Thanks so much for reading this oneshot, if you have time please let me know what you think! (And if you listen to Broken Wings please tell me if you like it!)