"'Evening, my dear Marius!" Courfeyrac greeted him as he returned late one night to their chambers. Marius raised his head in acknowledgment with a tired smile and immediately returned to his English studies before him.
Courfeyrac took off his hat in a sweeping motion, sighing loudly and throwing his coat carelessly onto a nearby chair. He approached Marius from behind, humming under his breath and peering over his shoulder at the papers arranged neatly on the table. Marius felt his hot breath down his neck, and not for the first time began to secretly miss that which he had been used to before living with Courfeyrac: privacy.
Marius bristled. "Could you not?" He snapped.
Courfeyrac drew back, a surprised expression on his face. He quickly replaced it with a smile instead, placing a hand on Marius' shoulder. "The dancing was wonderful, Marius. Exquisite music, girls, food...even Enjolras came along, after we had Bahorel carry him out of his room, of course. The poor boy spent the whole time in hiding behind some bushes, that silly boy, nibbling on those little jam tarts. Nearly froze to death. Come with us, tonight," he said. "The night is still young. Bahorel, Combeferre, and I are going to the theater to see that new Juliet again—She's simply marvelous. She very nearly made Jehan weep when she breathed her last beside Romeo. You haven't lifted your head from those books in hours, I know, and a bit of fun would do you good."
Marius sighed for what must have been the thousandth time that night. He wondered at Courfeyrac's hardy constitution for entertainment. "Courfeyrac," he said patiently, his eyes never leaving his notes spread before him, "I cannot. I need a way to earn my living, and this is my only resource. I have my debts to you, and I will not increase them more still."
Courfeyrac waved him off carelessly. "Don't speak of debt to me now, Marius. It was only a few francs. Having you around is payment enough, you know."
Marius felt embarrassment prick at his senses, and he thrust his head down farther. "I'll pay you back," he murmured, still flustered. After these past few weeks of living with Courfeyrac he was still unused to that easy, warm manner, that bright and cheerful smile. Such things he had never known with his grandfather, with anybody.
A brief silence came and went before Courfeyrac spoke again, this time busying himself with brushing the dust off of his already spotless new hat.
"Didn't Combeferre warn you yet of my need for amusement? We could do something else, you know. Perhaps pay a visit to Enjolras. You can try to convince him of Bonaparte's supposed greatness again," Courfeyrac teased.
At the reminder of that humiliating scene, Marius grew hot.
Citizen, my mother is the republic.
He most certainly did not wish to see Courfeyrac's friends again, with their blazing opinions and dry wits that tripped him up and made him feel foolish.
"Go on without me."
Courfeyrac stalled in front of the cracked mirror on the wall, beginning to tug and flatten the wild nest of glossy curls on his head. Those curls, Marius thought, seemed to be the embodiment of Courfeyrac. They were bouncy and energetic and would not quiet themselves no matter how much one grew tired of their presence.
Suddenly Courfeyrac froze, a mischievous smile spreading across his face. His humming grew louder, and he started swaying across the room. The swaying turned into careless and uncalculated steps in the imitation of a quadrille, then a waltz. Courfeyrac began to spin around the room at a dizzying speed, knocking over furniture and books as he went.
"Dance with me, Marius!" He called, as he gracefully hopped over an overturned stool.
Marius inhaled sharply as Courfeyrac stopped in front of him in an exaggerated bow, his hand outstretched.
"Would you...do me—" Courfeyrac's face was flushed with his most strenuous exercise, and it took him another second to collect himself before he could continue—"the honor, Marius—of giving me this dance?"
Marius slowly raised his head to meet Courfeyrac's eyes and was about to respond when he was yanked off his feet. Courfeyrac clutched him rather tightly and together they whirled around the room in a horrendous interpretation of a Lancers quadrille. In his initial shock Marius was able to do nothing, but as Courfeyrac began to tire again, Marius pushed himself away and fell with a crash back into his seat at the table.
Panting, Marius shot Courfeyrac a glare. "Leave me be, Courfeyrac," he said, his voice rising and cracking on the last note. "Go to your ridiculous play and drink with your friends—just leave me out of it."
Courfeyrac was laughing, clutching his side and leaning heavily against the table at which Marius was seated. "One day, mon ami," he remarked, throwing his hat back on and wiping at his eyes, "you'll be dying to dance with me. I guarantee it."
With that, and another fond grin at his friend, Courfeyrac was gone.
At last, Marius was to marry his beloved Cosette. This thought had been his sole driving force keeping him conscious, alive, even, through the painful long months of illness. He was prepared to die, he thought, should his grandfather refuse to allow the marriage. He would rip off the bandages, starve himself to death should it be disapproved—but it turned out that that had been unnecessary.
He was going to be married.
Marius was nearly fully recovered after nearly half a year in bed; but, with insistence from his grandfather and aunt, he was forced to stay in the reclining chair when Cosette came to visit. Cosette was seated beside him, her hand laid atop his, whispering her sweet concerns about his health in his ear. For the first time in a while, Marius allowed himself to be swept up in the excitement of gaining old and new family. After all, he was to be married to the girl of his dreams! What more could he ask for?
"How pretty she is!" Monsieur Gillenormand exclaimed in admiration of Cosette, who, with her graceful person carefully seated next to Marius, was the image of perfection. Marius couldn't begrudge his grandfather for that compliment. But as the old man continued, Marius felt his hand clench under Cosette's.
"So you are going to have that all to yourself, Marius, you scamp! Ah, my rogue, you are getting along nicely with me, you are happy; if I were not fifteen years too old, we would fight with swords to see which would have her..."
Thusly he chattered excitedly for several minutes, hardly giving pause to breathe. Cosette gave Marius a tiny smile, and Marius squeezed her hand in relief and gratitude for her understanding; how horrid and vulgar his grandfather's words must be to her. If only the old man would quiet...!
Marius kissed Cosette's hand and smiled as Gillenormand continued to speak, his manners only growing worse. He appeared to notice this moment of fondness between the lovers, and stopped with his last exclamation, executing a pirouette on his eighty-year-old heels in excitement.
Planting himself between Marius and Cosette with satisfaction, Gillenormand turned to Marius.
"By the way!"
Marius kept his groan in check. "What is it, father?"
"Have not you an intimate friend?"
Marius stared straight ahead when he spoke. "Yes, Courfeyrac."
"What has become of him?"
The words, spoken cheerfully from his excited grandfather, pierced Marius' heart. He struggled to breathe for a moment, and his eyes stung as he replied.
"He is dead."
Gillenormand did not miss a beat in his careless response. "That is good."
For several minutes Gillenormand would not leave the happy couple alone; he made all sorts of comments upon Cosette's delicate white feet and hands, her father's "very intellectual look about him", and reminiscing about his former mistresses. At last, he did leave, with a suggestive wink to Marius, before joining Monsieur Fauchelevent to discuss Cosette's dowry.
Marius heaved a sigh of relief, laughing a little bitterly.
"What's wrong, Marius?" Cosette asked softly, her wide blue eyes careful. She treated him so delicately still, after these long months of illness, as though she were afraid that one wrong word or movement might destroy him. As though he would be irreparable by even the remembrance of bullets whizzing by his ear, smoke filling the air and choking him, the screams and pained moans of his friends around him—
"I'm alright, mon ange. Just rather tired."
Tired. That was his excuse nowadays. He didn't want to tell Cosette how his grandfather's dismissive words about Courfeyrac made it painful to breathe, or how difficult it was to push that name back down and force the memories to remain dormant.
Cosette nodded, beginning to rise. "Of course! How could I forget? I told you that you mustn't strain yourself, Marius. I'll go home and make you more lints for your shoulder."
Marius felt regret tug at him as he watched her gather her dress about her. "Wait, Cosette, you needn't go," he said.
Cosette turned to him and smiled. "I'll see you soon, Marius. You need your strength so we may dance at our wedding!"
Marius felt all the color leave his cheeks as she left the room, the subject he had crammed into the back of his mind for weeks now suddenly emerging from its depths.
That wretched dance.
He couldn't dance. How could they possibly expect him to dance? Marius asked himself again as he paced back and forth across his room.
It was the night before their wedding, and still he could not dance. Oh, how he had tried. He had timidly asked his grandfather's servant, Basque, for some advice, but the man had said nothing, only shook his head violently and backed away so quickly he nearly fell down the stairs.
Mon Dieu, Marius thought, well on his way towards full panic. Did no one teach me? Why do I have those memories of my grandfather's parties if I never danced?
But he knew why. Of course Gillenormand had sought dozens of teachers in an attempt to give Marius that valuable expression of passion. Teacher after teacher came and went. Some lasted a week or two, but most ran out within the first hour, often limping, sometimes crying and exclaiming woefully how they would never dance again. Marius would watch them leave, completely unaware that his own clumsy feet were the cause of their misery.
And so, when the time came for dancing at any of his grandfather's events, Marius was seated with the old women to be coddled and fawned over. A centerpiece, a statue, a decoration.
But he couldn't refuse a dance to his wife! Not to darling Cosette! And she was so excited, too.
Marius decided to make one last attempt. He breathed deeply, relaxing his shoulders as he'd been instructed to do so many times, and took the first step in the basic minuet. Step, turn, step, switch—no, that wasn't right. The steps are small and delicate, rang the voice of his many former instructors. Like a little bird's.
Marius slowly moved around the room, imagining Cosette, all in white, dancing across from him. A simple minuet, and it was over. A few minutes of dancing—couldn't he get through at least that much? Step, turn, twirl, stop, pause. Marius wasn't certain that he was moving correctly, but as he tried to remember a minuet piece in his mind he vaguely remembered seeing couples dance in this way. Perhaps he could simply feign the steps, or closely watch the other couples' movements. Perhaps he would fall ill, and would never have to dance at all. Perhaps—
Marius went crashing to the floor as one leg crossed over the other too quickly. He landed hard on his hip, and clamped his hand over his mouth to suppress a surprised yell of pain. He lay on his back in defeat on the floor, hoping he had not woken up the rest of the household.
"Graceful as always, aren't we, Marius?"
Marius jerked his head up in the direction of the voice, that familiar voice, feeling his blood run cold.
He sat up slowly, looking around for a weapon with which to fight the stranger in his room. He grabbed his slipper, the nearest thing at hand, and stood up, only to come face to face with Courfeyrac.
Marius yelled in surprise, falling backwards, and hurled the slipper at his dead friend. Courfeyrac winced as the slipper passed through him and hit the wall. He watched Marius trembling and clutching the frame of his bed, beginning to pray.
Marius looked up to see Courfeyrac—or whatever this thing was—crouching next to him.
It was he, of course, the Courfeyrac of the barricades as Marius remembered him. Torn shirt and blood-stained waistcoat riddled with holes...his precious hat lost to the fight and his cravat missing from round his neck. Marius cringed away in fear at the ghastly sight. Yet despite Courfeyrac's gruesome realness there was something unstable about him, as his image flickered like the flame of a candle.
"You look as if you'd seen a ghost!" Courfeyrac said with a grin. Marius froze, growing quiet.
"Is that what you are? A ghost?"
Courfeyrac nodded, his smile fading. "I haven't much time here, I'm afraid, mon ami. It appears that my haunting must come to an end. Now, up you get. If that's the extent of your dancing skills, already I am sorry for your wife."
Marius still made no movement, but kept his eyes locked on the very real, though a bit worn, image of his friend before him.
"What do you want?" Marius pleaded. "It's been months, Courfeyrac. Where have you been all this time?"
Courfeyrac scoffed. "To teach you to dance, of course. Clearly it is a matter of the greatest importance. As for where I was, I was always around, you just didn't pay attention. Good Lord, you haunt a man for more than six months and he doesn't even notice. Now, don't waste time."
Courfeyrac's words, though teasing, were urgent, and a little afraid, Marius thought. Slowly he rose from the floor, caught between suppressing the urge to throw his arms around the spirit of his friend and screaming.
"The others?" Marius found himself asking, surprised by the steadiness of his own voice.
"Together. We all...got stuck along the way, and I'm the last one still here. Not for long, though. Now, mind you, Combeferre was delighted. That child wore the smuggest grin for weeks - he and Joly performed all kinds of ungodly experiments on us. It was a bit worrisome, this whole affair, after a few months."
Marius nodded, as though it were a perfectly simple matter.
"Now, a minuet, yes?" Courfeyrac asked very matter-of-factly. Marius nodded, watching Courfeyrac warily.
Courfeyrac reached for Marius' hand, almost as he had that day several years ago, but he only fell through. Marius shuddered, feeling a chill run through his body. Courfeyrac cursed to himself.
"Alright, then, I'll just show you."
Courfeyrac positioned Marius in the correct form, scrutinizing the direction of his feet and arms very seriously.
"Now, you must feel the rhythm in your head—and your heart. Like so." Courfeyrac raised his arms and spun around gracefully, then began to spasmodically jump up and down, bringing forth a peal of laughter bubbling from Marius' lips.
Courfeyrac smiled. "Yes, that's good," he remarked, "you haven't laughed in far too long, Marius."
Marius looked down, trying not to think too much of the past year. It was habitual now to muffle those memories so they were no more than vague voices in his head.
"Now, raise your arm like so—no, you fool, you look like a chicken—have I taught you nothing? Step—slowly, Marius, good Lord. If I were tangible, you would have crushed my feet. How have you managed to get by on those ungainly things?"
Courfeyrac shook his head and chuckled at Marius' clumsiness. Slowly but surely, Marius was learning. True, Courfeyrac had simplified the steps even further, and yes, Marius more often than not lost count of the beat, but his steps were more confident, and he could now pick up the rhythm immediately upon losing it.
"Alright, now a bit of a waltz, to scandalize those prudes in England. Though, from the demure look of your beautiful bride—" Courfeyrac wiggled his eyebrows—"I expect it may be out of the question. No harm in practicing, anyhow."
This time, Courfeyrac danced with Marius as he barked out sharp orders for Marius to follow, keeping an inch or so of space between their hands so Marius would not feel his ghostly body pass through him—though it only succeed in making Marius more uncomfortable, try as he might to hide it.
"Now dip me, and look into my eyes very deeply," Courfeyrac said with a grin. "There is a great deal of power in a glance, you know. No, not like that. You just look constipated."
Marius returned the grin, shaking his head. How he had missed him.
"Well, now, it appears I had to die to have this dance," Courfeyrac said jokingly, keenly observing Marius in the middle of a switch in step.
Marius froze at his words. He backed away, straightening up.
This wasn't real. Ghost or not, Courfeyrac, the only true friend he'd ever really known, was...
Dead, he had told his grandfather. They were all dead. All but him.
The word broke through the wall in Marius' head like water through a dam, and suddenly it became too much. The tears which had begun to prick and sting his eyes now coursed in hot rivulets down his face. Courfeyrac must have noticed his sudden discomposure, because he appeared next to Marius, his kind brown eyes, warm even in death, meeting those of Marius.
"I should have remembered you're not one for jokes," Courfeyrac murmured.
Marius furiously wiped his face with the back of his hand, attempting to hide his pitiful sniffles. He deeply wished Courfeyrac would give him one of those big, warm hugs—the ones he used to be annoyed by and scorn. He was right there in front of him, for goodness' sake—yet he was not. When Marius turned to Courfeyrac, he could see his friend's eyes were slightly red around the edges, noticeable against his pale form. Come to think of it—
"You're paler," Marius said suddenly, distracted for the moment.
Courfeyrac looked down at his hands, stretching them out before him a little, and smiled, though it looked rather forced. "Your imagination, Marius. Now, did I cross celestial boundaries for us to stand around and cry? Show me your pivot again."
Marius obeyed, feeling so very tired. He no longer cared about the dance, but worried for Courfeyrac. What was going to happen to him? He had always entertained the concept of a Heaven, or at least an afterlife, but where was Courfeyrac going to be if not here?
Would he ever see him again?
"Courfeyrac—" Marius felt the name catch in his throat, and angry questions bounced around his head that he couldn't properly put into words.
"I know, Marius. It's alright."
Marius met Courfeyrac's eyes. There was no doubt about it now. Courfeyrac's ghost—spirit? Projection? Best not to think about it—was rapidly fading. It was becoming difficult for Marius to discern his outline now in the well-lit room.
"You're leaving," Marius whispered, clenching his fists to stop himself from crying again.
This time Courfeyrac nodded, but he looked as though he were about to cry as well.
"I don't want to go, mon ami. But I must. Don't think this is the last you'll see of me." Courfeyrac offered him a bright smile, and Marius forced himself to remembered that it was Courfeyrac who needed comfort, if anybody.
Marius stepped closer, realizing they only had seconds now. All he could do was try to return the favor to which he owed Courfeyrac over tenfold.
"I will see you again, Courfeyrac," Marius told him, reaching out to Courfeyrac's translucent hand. Courfeyrac's cold fingertips lightly met his, and Marius did not cringe when they passed through. "I—I owe you everything, truly—thank you."
"Marius," Courfeyrac said seriously, his voice shaky, "don't you dare cry anymore. Forget about us and be happy with your wife. Only think of me when you buy a new hat—allow yourself something nice every now and then."
Marius forced a smile, and through the hazy blur of his tears, Courfeyrac disappeared.
"Marius? Marius! Wake up, my boy, it's time!"
Marius bolted upright, feeling his joints and muscles ache as he shakily stood from where he had been lying on the floor.
Gillenormand shook his head excitedly. "Ah, yes, I have heard that sleeping on wood is good for one's back, and I have had the chance to try it myself once or twice, if you understand my meaning. But up you get! We must be at the church in an hour."
Gillenormand slapped Marius' back, and Marius winced as his grandfather left the room.
He looked around his room, trying to make out any visible trace of what had happened last night. But everything was as it was. There was no evidence that the friend he had watched die had returned to teach him to dance.
Marius scoffed at himself, recognizing his foolishness. Of course Courfeyrac had never been here. He was dead, and would remain dead.
As Marius began to pull on his wedding clothes, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. He looked decidedly less pale and tired than he usually did, he noted. Those horrid bags under his eyes seemed to have faded, and there was something recognizable in his eyes that he could not quite put his finger on.
It had been a dream, nothing more.
Marius smiled at his reflection and made the final preparations for his wedding.
"Marius is doing rather well for himself, isn't he?" Combeferre remarked with a smile as he and his friends stood gathered around the happy wedding party, not quite a part of the experience. Combeferre had been the one to meet Courfeyrac, ensuring he got along safely.
"I miss him."
Courfeyrac strained to see the happy wedding party around him, knowing he only had so much time to do so now. Marius was right there, dancing, just as he had shown him. His friend was there, about to start a new phase of his life—
"I can't imagine why," Enjolras said, only half-serious. Combeferre silenced him with a look.
"I know." Combeferre seemed about to lay a hand upon Courfeyrac's shoulder, but caught himself with a frustrated expression. His face softened. "But he'll be alright, Courfeyrac. He survived for a reason."
Courfeyrac swallowed hard, trying to fight the hot tears from leaving his eyes as he watched the fading image of Marius and his ridiculously happy, sunny face, leaving the church with his new wife on his arm. He looked around at his friends gathered around him, waiting for him to move on with them.
"Come on, Courfeyrac. You'll see him again." This time it was Feuilly who spoke, and the others nodded.
Courfeyrac turned away from them, trying to make out the last of his disappearing view of Marius and Cosette.
"How can that pathetic noodle even manage without me?" Courfeyrac murmured.
"Cheer up, Courfeyrac," Joly said. "He's managed this far. And, anyway, tonight is their wedding night...you don't want to keep watching them."
Bossuet grinned and punched Joly's arm.
Courfeyrac turned to Combeferre and gave him a meaningful smile.
"Look at him. Happy. A family, a wedding. What could be better than that?"
Combeferre paused, then a flicker of understanding appeared in his eyes and he grinned. "To be free, of course. Does this mean you're coming?"
The Amis linked their hands together, and Combeferre held out his for Courfeyrac.
Courfeyrac nodded. "Let's go home."
A/N: Thanks to all who read this, hope you enjoy (and review?) ! :) Now that the fic is up, go read megSUPERFAN's "Your Lonely Soul" - also a Courfeyrac ghost AU, and an absolute masterpiece!