Bahorel had seen everything there was to see on the streets of Paris. He’d seens fights start over everything from the whereabouts of a man’s mistress, to the price of bread, to the offensive nature of his own waistcoat. He’d seen glorious revolution and dismal defeat, the streets bustling with singing crowds, or slick and red with blood.
But he had never need anything like this. This, Bahorel imagined, was something like what he would have seen had he been at the Cafe du Foy in on July the Twelfth 1789, assuming, of course, that Camille Desmoulins had been an avenging angel of the republic, lit from within by some unearthly preternatural glow.
The boy in question was, by appearance, surely no more than seventeen years old, slender, smooth-skinned and pale-haired. But... Bahorel pushed his way closer, and corrected his misjudgement: the eyes that looked out from that child’s face were sad and hopeful and determined - eyes that had seen much. This was a man, Bahorel found himself thinking, who had lived through ‘93, and was willing to live it again if it meant one day France could be free. He spoke eloquently of equality and justice, the names of the streets and alleyways of Paris fell from his lips like they were his dear brothers and sisters; when he referred to history, he seemed to speak from personal experience, and when he mentioned the future, it was as though he would personally share in France’s successes from now until the end of time.
Was this a man at all? Bahorel wondered for a brief and wild moment. Perhaps this was some spirit of the revolution, wreathed in gold and white; that spirit that Bahorel had pursued through the streets and bars and open spaces of Paris all his adult life, whom he had courted with riots and rebellions and recklessness.
The crowd was restless and excited, drinking in his heady, potent mix of patriotism and promised liberty. In his peripheral vision, Bahorel could see the police gathering too. It struck him suddenly that it might be possible to arrest an anthropomorphic personification of a nation, and that it would be a terrible shame if he never got a chance to argue about universal suffrage with this shining paragon of revolution, to throw royalist publications angrily in the hearth with him, to fight by his side in the defence of a makeshift barricade and the future of the nation.
So he did what any sensible, right-thinking man would do, and insulted a passing gendarme. The man swung around with his baton ready, a misguided attempt to disabuse Bahorel of the notion that antagonising armed men was an enjoyable pastime, but Bahorel, in spite of his bulk, had quick reflexes honed by years of practice. He ducked, shouting accusations of unprovoked police violence, and trying his hardest to project the air of an innocent and respectable bystander caught up in a fight of someone else’s making.
It was a completely implausible facade - Bahorel in a fight was like a fish in a pond - but the powder keg crowd would take anything for a spark, and anti-authoritarian action was exactly their kind of thing. Someone threw a punch on his account, someone else threw a rock, another gendarme came to the aid of the first, and in the melee, Bahorel, who could read a crowd the way his lecturers would have liked him to read a book, melted away, satisfied that he’d started something that could keep the authorities occupied at least for the next few minutes.
The only trouble was, the golden-haired boy he’d been aiming to save had disappeared into the chaos as well.
It quickly became apparent to Bahorel, as he fought his way to a decent vantage point from which he might find the boy, that the brief distraction he’d been hoping for had turned into a full-blown riot, the sort of street brawl that Bahorel usually revelled in. But right now he was busy. Right now he had a spirit of progress to catch.
He hopped nimbly up on the back of a cart that the fight had delayed, and peered over the heads of the crowd.
There! A flash of gold in his peripheral vision. Bahorel jumped down and shouldered his way towards it. He grabbed the spirit of the revolution by his slim shoulders and yanked him backwards out of the worst of the violence, then into the mouth of a narrow alleyway. The boy put up a valiant fight, but Bahorel was more prepared, more experienced, and much bigger.
“Sorry to drag you away from the fun,” he said, when they’d found a moment’s peace. “Joachim Bahorel. Pleasure to meet you.”
“Alexandre Enjolras.” The boy didn’t actually stutter, but Bahorel wouldn’t have been surprised if he had. He could just about see the revolutionary light dimming in him; he looked like a real human being now, held together by skin and muscle and sinew, rather than history and belief and passion.
“I thought you were going to arrest me,” Enjolras said.
Bahorel pulled a face. “I can see how it might have looked like that. On the contrary, I couldn’t have you thrown into prison before I had a chance to meet you.” He grinned at Enjolras, buzzing with unused adrenalin from the fight he hadn’t been involved in. “New to Paris?”
Enjolras nodded. “I came up from Marseille yesterday.”
“Congratulations,” said Bahorel. “You’re already stirring up dissent.”
Enjolras peered around the corner at the continuing brawl. “Someone said that the Republic was merely the rule of the mob. He said a nation can’t function without a king to lead it.” He appealed to Bahorel with wide blue eyes. “I simply couldn’t allow him to keep thinking that.”
“Of course not,” said Bahorel. “Welcome to Paris.”
He took his new friend to Musain for a drink, which Enjolras politely declined, and a chance to argue about the possibility of liberty under a constitutional monarchy, which Enjolras enthusiastically took, and the rest, as they say, was - well, almost history.