A/N: After months of planning, just in time for the New Year, at last I am ready to introduce you to my Les Miserables May 1968 au.
In May 1968, after years of the same Conservative Government, students in Paris decided to rebel. With the post-war population boom, schools and universities were overcrowded. Prosperity in the 50s and 60s had increased social divisions, with poorer people and immigrants pushed into the banlieu, low-quality council apartments at the edge of the city. With the rise of socialism across the world, young people were beginning to question whether the system they'd been raised in was fair. They hated American imperialism in Vietnam, supported the Cultural Revolution in China, and wanted to reject society's traditional views on gender and sex.
Inspired by these real events, this story imagines Les Amis de l'Abaissé as one of the groups struggling against the rigidity and stagnation of the old Conservative government.
Dans les rues de Paris, où nous régnons déjà
Chapter 1 - Paris, je ne t'aime plus
~ Si t'as rien dans les mains, si t'as rien dans le coeur, Paris, je ne t'aime plus ~
If you have nothing in your hands, if you have nothing in your heart, Paris, I don't love you anymore.
Sweat and hair had blinded Enjolras since the first blow set his head ringing. He'd found no chance to clear his eyes between the brawl spilling into the street and an officer wrenching his arms behind his back, so it was only when his handcuffs were removed through the bars of the holding cell that Enjolras could wipe his brow to finally see:
The station was just the same as every other time he'd been there, right down to the suspect puddle at his feet and the round, red faces glaring from the other side of the bars. All were recognizable to him after three arrests in as many months, and all had failed to show a single drop of compassion despite the time he'd spent trying to reason with them. What's more, upon his previous arrests, he'd been the sole focus of their resentment, the only inhabitant of that holding cell - but of course there were more drunkards and delinquents to be rounded up on a Friday evening than he could expect to see of a weekday afternoon, he ought not to have been surprised that his previous arrests had been quieter affairs. At any rate, his priority was not who else was slumped down inside the cell, but how soon he'd be able to escape it.
"Unless I am severely mistaken, you are all subject to the law just as I am. And you have broken the law tonight, Monsieurs; this is an unlawful arrest." He had no hope of reasoning with the elder men, but he directed his appeal to the younger officers who had dragged him there, just in case they could be persuaded of the injustice. "You know as well as I do that no illegal activity was taking place in that café - unless free thought has become forbidden again - and as such you cannot justify this incarceration."
The young men didn't reply. Instead, an inspector sitting behind a desk commented, "You assaulted an innocent bystander." He glanced up from his papers, his granite eyes narrowing as he insisted, "Your violent behaviour poses a threat to the citizens of Paris. It will not be tolerated, no matter who the agitator is. No exemptions, not even for arrogant, self-important students like yourself."
If there was any assault, then I was surely the victim, not the instigator. That was a defensive reaction to an antagonist no-doubt deliberately placed there. Enjolras' matched the state, chips of dark blue piercing the men cooly. "With authoritarians observing us constantly, is it any surprise violence ensues?" He'd seen, from his vantage point on Musichetta's makeshift stage, an unfamiliar man looking just a little bit out of place, who cut his speech short when he started hurling fists quite suddenly into Combeferre and then Bahorel. Deliberate provocation, of that he was certain. No ordinary citizen would spend so long at a meeting he was so blatantly opposed to. He smirked at the officers, self-assurance making him bold, "I don't suppose you caught the man who really did start this? I should think he's owed a bonus for his good work." He laid his head on the bars, as confrontational as he could be when locked up, daring them to deny it. Their lack of any comment only riled him further. He added, "The police force is monitoring and suffocating our right to political expression. You all give liberty a bad name."
"And you know what liberty really means, do you, boy?"
"Liberty is choice, the freedom of every person to choose the path they want to follow. No restrictions on what you can do, not class or sex or colour, not police spies starting fights the moment you try to explain that. And the funny thing is, I might have talked some sense into your man if you hadn't arrested me." All manner of people had decided his ideas were worth something, and he had enough belief in his own authenticity to think there was still more he could do.
The inspector returned to his paperwork, impassive. "You're not on your soapbox any more, that's enough. Your friends were fighting like animals, and you're here because you yourself claimed responsibility for them."
"I told you I am the leader of l'ABC! But we are not criminals, and I made no claim of such an idea."
He earned no further reply.
"If you are no criminal, you ought to be able to afford bail, Monsieur. Perhaps bail for two - think you can stretch to that?" The intrigued remark from the corner of the cell, and a man sat up, before slumping back against the wall. His hunched body spoke of years of self-imposed maltreatment, but his eyes were dark and bright, and his features, though tired, were full of the lively zeal of youth.
Enjolras turned his full attention on him. "What have you been arrested for, citizen?"
"Public intoxication. He was in a state of utter delusion - not dissimilar from yourself, in a sense." Enjolras didn't have to look over his shoulder to tie the harsh, condescending voice to the officer who had so brutally dragged him in.
Part of him hoped it wasn't true, and perhaps the man was some other visionary who'd been vilified just like he had, but the head of frizzy black hair nodded, confirming it. Enjolras leaned back, defeated; The man in the corner tossed his head back, a grimace stretching his mouth. "And within a handful of words, I'm already a disappointment to you. Perhaps that's a new record, even for me! I don't think even my own father tired of me quite so fast - cause for celebration, don't you think, monsieur?"
"That's -" he sighed, too tired to protest and convince the stranger of his own self-worth. "A celebration, indeed," Enjolras nodded, resigned.
His companion pulled a flask from his pocket and flipped the cap open, only to deflate when he looked inside. He didn't bother trying to drink before putting it away again. Seeking some other distraction, he mused, "L'a b c. L'abaissé. The name always confuses me. Don't suppose you could tell me which it's meant to be?" A smirk teased at the inside of his cheeks - he could guess the identity of the blond newcomer. "Monsieur Enjolras, I think. My dear Monsieur Courfeyrac has mentioned you."
"I see. It is both, good monsieur, l'abc for the aid of l'abaissé." Enjolras perked up marginally. "You know Courfeyrac?"
"Everyone knows Courfeyrac. But yes. Years, we've worked together for two years, you see I was the assistant projectionist, but with old Mabeuf older than ever, I have an assistant of my own!" He laughed, and Enjolras seemed to mirror it for a moment. It made a sudden curious kind of sense, the things he'd been told about Enjolras, "He often tells me I should pull myself away from the cinema to listen to your speeches. It will be good for me, he says. Grantaire, you will see life could be more than it is now." He shook his head. "But here I am, in jail - through no fault of my own, just the negative perception of mankind's ultimate vice - and I discover you, the very man who is meant to show me light, is also locked up. That makes me think there is no more light to be found beyond a prison cell." Humour still shaped his upturned mouth, but his gaze was calmly sincere.
It worried Enjolras whenever he saw apathy as cool as that, a man set in his conviction that things would never be better. "You are wrong, monsieur, I believe our mutual friend is correct. I am sorry this meeting is something of a disappointment to you, but it need not be. If you want to find the light, I will show you, at our next meeting." He crossed the cell, offered a hand to the drunkard still sitting on the damp floor. "If that is what you are looking for, please come. You'll see."
Grantaire stared a while at the offered hand. Eventually, he averted his eyes. "I didn't say I wanted to find the light, Enjolras. I'm sure your words are as fine as your clothes, but I have just told you: my suspicions that there is nothing more to find have just been confirmed."
Enjolras opened his mouth to argue, but a voice from outside the cell interrupted him.
"Enjolras. Your friends are here."
"Which friends?" Grantaire sprang to his feet with surprising agility, and pushed his hair back with a dark hand, knuckles bloody. His eyes glowed bright as he enthused, "That's my friend, too! And good Monsieur Combeferre - I don't know that we're quite friends yet. But my dear, dear Courfeyrac, the light in my days and the days among my endless circle of nights." He fixed the boy with a sincere, pleading stare. "Could you spare a thought for your beloved colleague, and pay my bail? I'll repay you, every cent. Only, if I remain caged in here, I'll lose my job, and you'll lose the joy of my company."
"Your company had been in somewhat short supply of late, friend, and I am left to do your job," the young student remarked, but it was with an unreservedly good-natured smile that he reached into his pocket to dig out the last of his coins. Combeferre also produced a couple of notes, between them readily finding the money to stretch to two bail-outs rather than one. "Yet I know old Maubeuf and I would miss you if you never returned. We'd like to sign out this one, too, officers, Monsieur Grantaire."
While the guards took their time checking the bail forms over, Enjolras' attention honed in on Combeferre's injuries. "You're hurt, my friend," he was at the bars, as close as he could be to Combeferre's face; he sported a purpling bruise under one eye, a smattering of scratches across his forehead, and a spot of blood just below his nose. His glasses were nowhere to be seen. "You should have gone to the hospital."
"It's nothing I won't be able to sterilize myself. Worse than it looks, I promise. And anyway, you know most doctors have no interest in treating people like me, I'd likely come away worse than when I went in." He shook his head, a smile ghosting on his mouth.
"And how is Bahorel? Was anyone else hurt?"
"He and Bossuet took the worst of it. Cuts and bruises, bad enough that Joly wouldn't let him out of his sight but not so bad that he insisted on putting him in an ambulance. He would have kept me there too, but I thought our priority ought to be saving you."
"You should have listened." Enjolras pressed his lips together, perpetually uncomfortable with the value his friends set on his well-being. But that was what friendship was, he supposed. "Thank you."
The holding cell was finally opened, and Grantaire stumbled out blinking, like a baby taking its first steps. "You see how good a friend he is? And you too, Monsieur Combeferre, we must be friends now. Liberating the two of us, with their own money!" Grantaire turned to Enjolras, "I bet that's two more people than your efforts have liberated."
Enjolras' head shot towards him, instantly affronted. With a concentrated effort, he managed to shift it into something more resembling a tight, terse smile. "Courfeyrac is at the centre of our group, the heart of our venture and, yes, selfless. Combeferre is a pragmatist, the brain which drives the engine, finding the best way to make the world we dream of a reality, and it is true he will help many people with his intellect. But you should join us, Monsieur, one of these days. I hope I can help you to see that liberty isn't just being free from physical shackles. It's the manacles in our minds which keep us chained to the ground, and it's those more than anything that we're trying to break."
Enjolras was familiar with men and women like Grantaire; he wasn't ignorant, nor was he a hypocrite, and despite the family wealth which kept him housed and educated quite comfortably, his wanderings often took him away from the metropolitan area he called home, trawling the streets and suburbs, the outermost arrondissements, finding the wary, weary, and worn. There, he'd spend hours talking to those who could still muster the courage to meet his gaze with hope gleaming in their own eyes, and making solemn promises to those who had long since given up. They rarely believed him. Some barely even listened, humouring him only for the rare pleasure of hearing a kind voice rather than one spitting scorn and blame, and he knew that. He could accept that of the people he met on the streets, the ones who would never come to the meetings no matter how many favours he did for them. He'd learned it wasn't his place to force belief into people who had every justification to think his words were empty. And from the bruises on his knuckles and the flask he kept tucked forever in reach, he assumed Monsieur Grantaire was another of those types.
An assumption he was tempted to revise when, against all expectations, the man began appearing at the Musain.
He went unnoticed at first, other than by Musichetta, with whom he quickly became well acquainted because of how many times he called for her attention. With several years of running her business behind her, she knew very well the signs of an alcoholic. Since she'd allowed the students to use her cafe for their meetings, she'd decided it was a good place for one who'd lost most of their hope to pass some time, so she didn't try to drive him away or refuse him service. She did, however, continue her usual practice of ensuring that every drink he ordered came with friendly conversation, and he was only topped up not whenever his glass was empty, but when his smile was waning.
Grantaire wasn't the only notable newcomer over the next months. Every meeting saw a couple of new faces joining the scene, intrigued or perplexed or, in the case of the gangly-limbed boy who loped in one evening, utterly oblivious to what was going on until they found themselves amidst a fire-eyed crowd.
That boy was one Marius Pontmercy, a student at the university, vaguely familiar with most of the group because of how often he passed them in the hallways, but lacking the observational skills to commit any of their names or faces to memory. It was chance and goodwill that brought him to the cafe for the first time one afternoon in March, a little after Grantaire made his cynical presence a new feature of the bar, in pursuit of a classmate he couldn't clearly recall. But although he couldn't instantly put a face to the name, Bossuet, scrawled messily on the front of the student's mislaid folder, he did recognize one of the two other names that peppered the pages intermittently, doodled along with hearts and flowers in the margins; one of them, Joly, was as faint a memory as the name of the folder's owner, but the second, Musichetta, was well-known to anyone who saw the posters advertising her café, the infamous Musain, wrapped around every other lamppost in the vicinity of the place.
Marius made his way to the woman at the bar, assuming she must be the one who'd inspired the affectionate doodles throughout the folder. "Pardon, Madame, are you the Musichetta who knows a Monsieur Bossuet? Or maybe a Monsieur Joly? I think I have found his papers, because I think he is in my class, but I haven't met him yet. Can you help me?"
"Oh, dear." She tutted, only half-joking, at Marius' uncertainty, before beckoning to the table just behind him. "Mon chère, we've solved your little predicament, thanks to your friend. Monsieur?"
"Yes, me. Uh, Marius. Sorry, Pontmercy. Monsieur Bossuet, I have your folder, I thought I should return it so that your assignment can be completed." He turned around, blinking between the two students who'd come at Musichetta's call. Both were vaguely recognizable, but he still wasn't sure which he should hand the folder to, until the taller of them took it from him, nearly let it slip through his hands, and quickly clutched it firmly to his chest. "Wonderful! Thank you. Thank you, Marius, I'm in your debt. I forgot it, I was in such a rush not to keep these two waiting, it must have slipped my mind."
"Everything slips your mind, love. You'd lose that, too, if it weren't safely locked away inside your head," Musichetta teased, leaning across to pat his smooth head fondly.
"You just watch, he loses everything, Marius," the other man informed him. "Even his hair, at the ripe old age of 23."
"I took the conscious decision to have it shaved clean off, as well you know," Bossuet defend, shuffling his folder self-consciously, using it, Marius decided, as a shield from their taunting.
"Of course you did, dear," the man with a walking cane, Joly, the realization snapped into place as he leaned his head into Bossuet's shoulder, crooned. Meanwhile, Musichetta mouthed the word, "balding" to the red-cheeked redhead who'd unexpectedly found himself amidst their lovers' tiff.
"You'll join us for a drink?" Bossuet urged just as Marius shuffled his feet, "You're my classmate and my saviour, so now we have two excellent reasons to become friends."
Without giving him a chance to excuse himself, Musichetta had placed a glass on the bar with just a few drops of whiskey; the boy didn't seem the type to drink heavily, but it would be enough to hold him in place - he looked like he could stand to take a break.
"Thank you, Madame," wide-eyed, he accepted and swallowed, only to choke on the sharp tang as he wheezed, "Monsieurs."
"Don't give a boy like that whiskey, 'Chetta," the warning came from the half-slumped figure a little way along the bar, "look at the poor lad, I'd bet he's never tried anything stronger than champagne, at weddings or engagement parties or the like." Marius' cheeks flushed a deeper red, as the additional attention made him even more flustered.
"I'm right, aren't I?" Grantaire asked, a playful, smug look emerging as he slid his half-empty wine bottle along to the student. "Here. More to your taste, I'm sure."
"T-thank you. Monsieur?"
"R! Must you terrorize every newcomer you happen to encounter? I thought you'd reserved your best lines for teasing me at work, I'm almost jealous!" The grin Courfeyrac wore as he settled between his colleague and Marius said quite the opposite, however, and it was with nothing but genuine friendliness that he addressed the stranger, "You don't need to drink that, and he'd probably resent you if you actually did. Ignore him, he's a fool. A good one, mind you, we are quite fond of him, but he's not who you'd turn to for advice. Me, on the other hand..." He extended one of his. "Courfeyrac."
"His name's Marius. He dropped off Bossuet's folder," Joly answered for him.
"Are you staying for the meeting, Marius?" Courfeyrac's eyes were bright and inquisitive. "It's about to start, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it. You seem like the right type."
"Madames et Monsieurs, if you could lend us your ears," Combeferre announced above the hubbub of the cafe, pushing his new glasses up the bridge of his nose as he spoke. The bright blue made a striking change from his old frames, but it was a pleasant contrast against his tan skin. "Most of you know we are trying to maintain a calm and controlled atmosphere, following the incident a few weeks ago. We fully expect the authorities will continue to monitor out actions, though hopefully no longer from within, and we don't want to give them any excuse to intrude. We have important matters to discuss tonight. Enjolras?"
"Important matters indeed." The young leader stood, commanding the room. "It is very encouraging to see so many of you returning time and again to our discussions. Your loyalty fills me with hope that our message will truly resonate if we can first make people hear it. Thank you, truly, for joining us. And to you who have not previously attended, welcome; I hope you will listen this evening, and see that our goal is not to wreak havoc on society like the media would have you believe, ravaging the rich so that every man might be equal in their suffering and squalor. We dream of a real, tangible future, where the systematic structures which deliberately covet wealth for the pockets of those born rich are amended, replaced by fairness and investment across society."
"See, nothing to be afraid of, Marius," Joly said, throwing a reassuring smile to the newcomer, who still looked as though he couldn't quite understand why he was still there, or why he was perfectly content not to leave.
Enjolras continued, confident and strong as he addressed the café, "With the rigidity of the economy softened, so, too, must fall the walls which confine the masses to the social ideals of the ruling conservative gerontocracy. Gender equality, sexual liberty, freedom of expression, protection from racial discrimination, adequate provision of a modern education: These are the things we are denied, and the very things a society cannot truly hope to progress without. These are times of great unrest, citizens, but I promise, with these liberties, the liberties we will bring about, stability and contentment will come. Not just for us in the cities, but the immigrants in the suburbs, and the farmers and factory workers in the countryside, groups who are consistently disregarded and underrepresented." Enjolras paused, allowing a few assertions of agreement. "We can't go without mentioning our esteemed President -"
"De Gaulle," Marius noted, quietly, just to Grantaire, who had slid along the bar and was presently resting his head on Marius' shoulder. "My grandfather's rather fond of him - always talking about how loyal we are to him and how much stability he brings, like nothing could be better than Charles de Gaulle."
"Nothing, indeed, but to be free."
Marius hadn't noticed Combeferre drifting closer to him until he became uncomfortably aware of the disapproving expression on the face of a man who evidently heard every word he'd murmured. A muffled round of laughter arose, but Combeferre didn't seem to be joking. He wasn't exactly stern, but compellingly sincere: "You might do well to tell your grandfather that; or to listen, friend, and learn that there are times when what is perceived to be stability is truly no better than stagnation. In the case of a man who has been our leader for all of ten years, I'd say the latter applies." He touched Marius' arm, sympathetic not just for the blush rapidly reclaiming his entire face, but for the sheltered existence which had rendered him blind.
Combeferre looked again to Enjolras, and at his nod of encouragement stepped onto a chair with a commanding air which quelled again all mumbling. "It is dangerous to make assumptions based on the out-dated ideas of parents and grandparents. The belief that the government which has for too long been dominated by one man means well for you can cause complacency and blind obedience. We might not be tearing down buildings because of it, but it remains as true here as it is in China. The people must have a real voice too."
"Quite right, Combeferre!" Courfeyrac raised his glass, and a few others joined in.
"We all know what the police think of us - rabble-rousers and Communists seeking to copy the example set by the East. But we know the dangers those regimes have brought, some of us by experience, and we seek only peaceful change which reflects the public opinion, brought about by popular vote. We must be careful, citizens. We will deliver a bright future, of that you can be sure. But senseless violence, factions turning on one another in a directionless violent rampage as my relatives tell me is happening right now in China, will play no part in our battle. Blood may be spilled, it is true - perhaps it is inevitable when we hope to inspire so many. But I can promise we will not repeat these mistakes. Our goal is to bring about fairness and peace. Any sacrifice will be for a purpose, and for that reason we can remain brave."
Enjolras stepped onto his own chair to join in. "The police try to discredit us, painting us as vandals intent on inciting chaos. But I remind you, and I hope that this message carries through, we are not fools; naive, perhaps - too bold, too optimistic - but we are not blind to the tragedies such movements have caused. Some of our own brothers and sisters who stand with us tonight hail from China, Vietnam, Poland, Argentina," Enjolras paused to look pointedly from Combeferre, to Éponine, to Feuilly, to Musichetta, before reaffirming, "These are not goals of ours. We have learned, citizens, of the terror and violence, we despise it, we do not seek to replicate it. Our intention is not to imprison the population, but to liberate it: social freedoms, educational reform, support of the poor via taxation of the wealthy. Sustainable, achievable, urgent goals, considered radical only because of the backward conservatism of the de Gaulle government. Change can come, friends. Change will come."
All eyes in the room turned again to the bar, and this time Marius shrank away from it, into a sympathetic pat from Bossuet. That left Grantaire on his own, a sceptical grin teasing the corners of his mouth. "Come to mention it, how? Only," he wiped his mouth on his sleeve, "You're doing a lot of talking. Which I respect, of course, it's just that all I can see is you, trying to inspire the masses but without any clear plan once you get them on side. A dead end, some might say."
Enjolras paused for a moment, unsure whether it was genuine curiosity or plain antagonism that prompted the question. In the end, he cautiously answered, "We have a plan. More than that, we have goals. We've all already seen students in Nanterre rallying for better standards in education, temporarily disabling their university. We know now that protests can work. Like those students, the masses, too, will hear our call to action, and when they do, when we unite as a people and take to the streets like the students of Nanterre, when Paris is paralyzed, when the message spreads outwards and the factories, too, grind to a halt, the government will be forced to change, else we will force a change of government."
"And rightly so!" Jehan Prouvaire raised his bottle.
"Democracy, fresh blood, that is the first intention," Enjolras was speaking to the entire cafe now, drawing the gathered crowds in with his fiery words. "Ongoing participation, holding them to account and forcing them to take notice of our troubles, that will follow. Perhaps it sounds far-fetched now, Monsieur Grantaire, I can understand that. Indeed, today we have spoken more about what and why than how. But don't believe we have any intention of sitting idle. Every day brings us closer to change, all we need is the right moment to act."
A moment of silence fell as Enjolras finished speaking. Heads turned to the cynic at the bar, like they might turn to the umpire of a tennis match, awaiting a verdict. "Right," Grantaire sound thoroughly unconvinced. "But I have to say, that sounds pretty hypoth-"
"Police!" The door clattered open, cutting off whatever quip Grantaire was about to make. "Listen everybody, two officers heading this way!" The small, ragged boy could barely be spotted among the crowd of adults, yet size was no reflection on the value of his words. Within a matter of seconds, Enjolras and Combeferre had sat back down, the maps and posters on their table discreetly folded away and shoved in pockets or down sweaters. In the next instant, the doors were thrown open again, and two uniformed officers entered the cafe.
Musichetta allowed them all of half a second to cast an eye over her clientele before she challenged, "Is there a problem, officers?"
The elder stepped forwards, peered along the length of the bar before responding to her, "Inspector. Inspector Javert. Where might the owner be, Mademoiselle?"
"Right before you, officer," her chin jutted up, defiant. "I have made no report of any criminal behaviour that might warrant your presence here, nor have I noticed any tonight. I would be disinclined to contact you even if there had been, after the uproar caused the last time one of your officers decided to drink here."
Coolly ignoring her accusation, Javert insisted, "Mademoiselle, we have information that suggests there has been considerable activity by anti-governmental groups taking place in the area. Our job is to keep the peace."
"Officer, have there been any riots here recently? Any attacks on politicians passing by, or on your fellow officers?" He did not reply. "Then it is clear to me that any information you have - if it even has any anchor in truth - cannot relate to harmful physical behaviour, but instead to free speech, which I understand is not a crime in your country. The only threat to peace here is the authorities who would seek to limit that freedom."
A smattering of applause rippled around the cafe, a crackle of subdued energy. The officers exchange a long look, before backing away. Javert offered a curt nod to Musichetta, and they were gone.
It was a moment before any movement resumed. When it did, perhaps unsurprisingly, it was with the very thing the officers had disturbed, "- Hypothetical. Enjolras, I was just saying that it seems uncertain, dependent on a lot of conditions you have no control over."
"But, Monsieur -"
"Monsieur Grantaire! Have you not been moved, while attending these sessions?" Feuilly rose from his seat with a cheerful grin to the drunkard at the bar. "Even if it's to criticize, at least you're engaged!"
"And that's something," Combeferre chimed in, "Apathy is the enemy of progress. These may be small steps, Monsieur, but believe they are all in the right direction."
"My friend, I believe you are a fool in love."
Courfeyrac remained leaning out of the cinema ticket window, refusing to peel his gaze away to look at his colleague lounging on the floor: Grantaire had started their shift laying on the sofa, but at some point he'd slid down and ended up slumped quite contentedly among popcorn kernels and sweet wrappers. Offhanded, he replied, "It's called good customer service, R. Perhaps you ought to give it a try."
"Oh, you'd give him a good service, I know." He didn't have to turn to hear the wink in his words, "I'm not sure it would fall within Maubef's guidelines, though."
He bumped his head on the shutter as he returned to his seat. Grantaire laughed, Courfeyrac blushed, which as good as confirmed everything, but returned stubbornly to denial. "Can a man not try to make friends in life any more? You needn't look at me like I don't have every reason to: he goes to the same university as us, he's been coming to meetings for much longer than you have, and he's here to see films most days. In any case, befriending members of our cause is what I do." He sighed, frustrated. Grantaire didn't look as though he believed a word of it. It was true, however, that Courfeyrac spent an uncommon amount of time expanding his social circle, venturing to the underprivileged suburbs and beyond even more frequently than Enjolras in the hopes of building bridges. That wasn't exactly his intention with Jehan, though, no matter how fervently he denied any stronger attachment. Pensive, he murmured, "I hope he thinks of me as a friend - I hope he thinks of all of us as friends, because there's no good reason why we shouldn't be."
"So you're friends," Grantaire nodded, "hence the special treatment, of course. Free liquorice, extra popcorn, discounted tickets with deals you make up on the spot..." his eyes gleamed.
"Yes exactly: friends."
"But when your other friends, Monsieurs Combeferre or Enjolras or Joly or Bahorel come along, it's full prices for everything. Don't tell me, that sweet Jehan Prouvaire with his camera and his poems and his smocks is a particularly close friend of yours?"
Courfeyrac threw a paper cup at his head, and missed, hitting the wall. "Do shut up. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if you didn't drink at all. But it's times like these, when it suits you to be clever, that make me think it's better I never know."
"Oh dear, dear Courfeyrac." Grantaire beamed, broad and smug. "I am very much drunk at this exact moment. Do not delude yourself into thinking that simply because I have retained the ability to think critically -"
The office door was flung open at that moment, altogether too enthusiastically, setting the hinges rattling. It was all in good nature, however, because there stood Bossuet, somewhat breathless, dragging a pink-cheeked Marius along behind him. "Good. You're both here. Marius, stand there, present yourself." He ushered the baffled boy in before him, to stand at the centre of the small box office. He looked out of place, a jacket and a hat and a briefcase with him, dressed altogether too formally for the setting, and utterly uncharacteristically for the clumsy and bashful child he'd shown himself to be. Bossuet didn't seem to notice the contrast between his new friend and the company he'd thrust him into, instead inviting his older companions to survey him, "See, he's a good lad, for sure. Very tidy. Kind, too, you can take my word on that."
"Well it's nice to finally meet Marius' jacket and hat - and Marius is here too!" Courfeyrac was the first to comment, jumping out of his chair with a good-natured grin and a hand to clap the boy on the shoulder. In the few weeks since he'd first found himself accidentally attending a meeting of Les amis de l'Abaissé, Courfeyrac had gotten to know a little about him - that is, he lived with his Grandfather, was thoroughly sheltered, and undeniably good. "Now, Bossuet, what is this about?"
"Our good Pontmercy is giving himself to the cause! He told me all about it, because he happened to fall onto me when he tripped down his front steps." He took a long pause for effect, before announcing, "Marius is homeless!"
"I argued with my Grandfather," he added, "About everything you've all told me about inequality and how things need to change. And he told me that all I've learned is wrong, and forbade me from speaking about such things, so I told him he was even more a fool than I, and I left."
"But he has nowhere to go. I would keep him myself -" he stopped to spin Marius around, cupping his face so as to hold wide and sincere eye contact, "I will, happily; if you need it, my floor is yours to use. But with Joly and 'Chetta and I all sharing an apartment, the floor is all I have to offer, and I wondered if you two would have something more comfortable for him - I know there's some renovation work going on in one of the movie theatres, perhaps there's some space available there before it reopens?" He looked first to Courfeyrac, then Grantaire, hopeful.
"Nonsense, I won't leave you in a half-renovated theatre. There's a sofa. That sofa," Courfeyrac nodded to the one R had slithered off of. "I have only a bed and a chair in my apartment, but perhaps we could haul it upstairs, and in that way we might be roommates. Yes, Marius, Monsieur Pontmercy, we shall be roommates!"
"Roommates!" Grantaire seemed shocked. "Then how will you manage to bring your special friends upstairs without scarring this innocent young man?"
Courfeyrac shared a look with Marius, dismissing any concerns. "If - if - that were my intention, there'd be no obstacle to stop me: the movie theatre's plenty dark enough." He threw a wink towards his colleague.
"So there's no problem." Bossuet nodded, content. "Marius, you have a new home, Monsieur Courfeyrac will take the very best care of you. Monsieur Grantaire is a liability and he will try his very best to corrupt you, but no matter. I'm sure you'll have fun either way."
"And they were roommates."
"Roommates?" Éponine quirked an eyebrow, taking a sip from her cider. "Just like that?" Feuilly, her perpetual partner in all matters of business and socialising, nodded. She seemed to ponder it, a glimmer of mischief dancing on her young features. "Maybe I should swing by the cinema sometime - say hi, take in the sights, you know?" Éponine glanced over her shoulder to the table where Marius had taken to sitting, with Courfeyrac on one side of him and Joly on the other. In less than two months, he'd made himself quite at home with les Amis. Their new friend was handsome enough, with that shocking red hair and the perpetual, vaguely bewildered expression that lent his bright, freckled face boundless naivety. There was a wholesome goodness about him that made him pleasant to look at and delightful to talk to, as she'd learned from their few brief conversations: even she could recognize that much.
Feuilly shook his head, each of his curls mirroring the movement as though she was getting a hundred little shakes of disapproval. "Oh, please don't waste our money. We've worked too hard for you to fritter it chasing another boy you'll undoubtedly find inadequate." He dismissed her withering look, "You're the one who's always saying men are all the same."
She sighed, looking genuinely bummed, and Feuilly's chest clenched with guilt at once.
He edged closer, lowering his voice. "Hey. You don't really fancy him, do you?"
For just a second she wondered what it might be like for her to turn to him with stories of somebody she truly did wish to agonize over, stories of a heartbreak so terrible it would truly warrant that look of concern. But then her laughter erupted in his face, and she confessed, "No, obviously not. You know how picky I am with boys. But he's pretty enough to make me wonder if maybe I could like someone, some day.."
"Maybe, maybe." Her best friend's dubious expression returned, replacing his brief sincerity. "It's always maybe with you and your boys, it's not once been a yes. It makes me think you'll never find the right man." He shrugged, sighed. She rolled her eyes, dug a sharp elbow into his side.
"Well, maybe I'm not ready to settle for any boy who shows up. All the girls my age spend their days mooning over every guy who crosses their path, but my attention is not so easily turned. And if it was, you'd be on your arse without a partner!" He looked sceptical. She smirked, easing up on her defensiveness. "I guess it might be nice if I could find someone. But I'll need something other than your typical young gentleman to make me inclined to take a man." She would talk, sometimes, about boys who were kind and handsome. Occasionally she might even try spending time with them. But she passed infinitely more hours talking to Feuilly about the distantly abstract possibility of pursuing men than she spent actually doing so - the idea of romance was so much more alluring when she didn't have to interact with a guy. That was why Marius had captured her imagination - he wasn't as bold and brash as the boys who would typically bore her. "If I did feel like it, though? I think a boy like that would be the one."
Feuilly regarded Marius thoughtfully. "He's kind, I've heard. I think you need someone kind." He returned her friendly nudge, giving her the fond warning, "Not just yet, though. You can keep up your maybes for now, I'm not ready to lose my teammate to a life of domesticated bliss. I'd get bored stocking shelves or sewing undergarments without you."
"Sentimental, are we? I'm blushing. Here, you can sort me out my cut if you're feeling generous," she deflected, holding out a palm expectantly. "Let's get this bread."
He reached into his pocket, digging out the coins he'd been given for their services. They'd been working together for near enough two years, since they first started bumping into each other at the various factories and shops they were able to get casual work at; a regular pay check wasn't so easy for either of them to come by, both being descended from immigrants and neither with a family capable of providing them with the kind of connections their friends had. But it didn't take many encounters for them to strike up a friendship, and after that it was barely any time at all before they became a team, keeping an eye out for odd jobs for one another, taking shifts at factories together, and recommending each other for any roles they heard of. They would always split their earnings evenly between them. They were very good at sharing: after a particularly bad incident at home, Éponine had even begun sharing Feuilly's apartment.
He deposited half of their week's earnings into her hand, and she pocketed it with a satisfied nod. She opened her mouth, but before she could continue their conversation a short, familiar figure had barrelled through the door and into her stomach, grabbing her in an unexpected, tight cuddle that knocked the air out of her. Immediately, she reclaimed the oversized cap her little brother was wearing for her own head, and ruffled his newly exposed hair. "What, have you missed me?" She held him at arm's length, scrutinizing him. "It was a long day at school, I suppose." She shook her head, feigning disappointment with Gavroche. She already knew his habit was to sneak out of class half an hour early one day a week, just to be sure he made it safely to the Musain in time. If anything, her brother was even more infatuated with the students who would talk about rights and justice than she was, and he never missed a meeting.
"You're my sister. I can hug my sister," he grumbled defensively, releasing her and turning around to lean against her instead, fixing his eyes on the leader. "I thought I might miss it, I bumped into the gendarmerie outside, they tried to stop me, and then I had to run."
"You're just in time," she murmured, quieting down as Courfeyrac stood up.
"Friends, welcome," he began, "We have a matter of organization to discuss today. We are all aware of other similar groups to across in different zones of Paris, and their similar views, who have been having this same kind of conversation. We've made contact with these groups recently, and there's a consensus among the youth of the city that the oppressive levels of observation we've all been made victims of is reaching breaking point; we can no longer feel safe, as a direct result of the very service intended to keep the peace. How, then, can the state's invasive policing be considered democratic? Our civil liberties are in peril, and along with our fellow rebel allies, we've come to the decision that we must imminently take a stand, together. Enjolras?"
"Quite right. This is hypocrisy: we are facing suppressive paternalism through the authorities making efforts to monitor our every move, and yet the all-encompassing eye of the state evidently will not stretch to ensure adequate provision for housing and education. Such a thing is intolerable, so it will be necessary for us to decide when -"
The doors crashed open, and the place was immediately flooded with masks shouting the same warning, "Gendarmerie, arretez-vous! Arretez!"
Chaos came as it so often does, dressed in black police uniforms. They penetrated the gathered crowd, batons drawn and swinging, whacking all and any of the students within reach as they surged at once for the exits. Some hurdled the bar to make for the back door, some ran straight into the swelling mass of dark uniforms pressing suddenly and violently into the Musain, taking the bruises as they swam through the tide to freedom. Panic descended on the place as rapidly as the cops, as students and rebels fought to flee from the shouted accusations, "Undermining the government, malicious intent," yet the commands to stop didn't slow down a single client of the once-peaceful cafe.
And among them, trying valiantly to break through the barrage of officers determined to keep them penned in, Enjolras was screaming so loudly it pierced through the crashing and sobbing, "To the streets, friends, this is the hour of action! Our freedom is being destroyed, now we must take it back!"
A/N: The Rebellion is underway!
This isn't the best-known event, but when I learned about it in French it seemed to fit so well with the characters from les mis and it really shocked me that nothing like this existed (that I could find). This chapter was pretty fun and mostly lighthearted, just to introduce the characters, their relationships and friendships, and some of the political themes. It's going to get more serious in the next chapters, and we'll meet some more characters.
This is such an interesting event and there's loads of information out there about it, which I'd encourage anyone to look up. The most prominent student group was very communist, but I changed les amis to not be so radical, because I wanted them to have socialist aspirations without endorsing the violence of Mao and Stalin's regimes. With so much censorship I doubt they'd actually be aware of how many people had been killed, but my idea was that by making some of the group first or second generation immigrants from these dictatorships, the group would be more sceptical of those regimes than other student organizations at the time.
I've had so many thoughts about how all the characters would manifest in this au, I'm so excited for you to get to know them! I might even make a detailed character introduction on tumblr to make things extra clear. I hope to update soon, until then thanks very much for reading, please let me know what you think!
Happy New Year!