~If the barricade falls, retreat and regroup at Combeferre's.~
This knowledge had been ingrained upon Feuilly's brain from the moment the dissatisfied rumblings of Les Amis had fomented into the fires of open rebellion. They had learned from revolutions past, that having one's escape plan in place before one began was vital. It was not that they expected to fail, nor that they wished to. It was simple practicality. They might fail. And if they were to fail, then they would be prepared to begin again with as little delay as possible. 1830 had taught them that.
But what was the purpose of a plan of escape when none had survived to enact it?
Jehan had fallen, taken by the enemy and slain on the other side of the barricade where none of his comrades could even stand witness. Bahorel, driven into a divine rage by that grief, had taken up arms against those who had killed him. His strength and fury had turned legendary… but he, too, had been slain. One after another, Feuilly watched as every one of his friends fell -- Bossuet, Courfeyrac, Joly; all had been taken by bullets, aimed unerringly from the guns of men who should have been their brothers. Combeferre… it had taken three to pierce that mighty heart, which even in dying had sought to help others.
Marius had been alive when Feuilly had last lain eyes upon him, and covered in more blood than Feuilly had thought a human body could possess; his fury and rage an equal for none but the already-slain Bahorel and the berserkers of old. Feuilly hoped that he would survive, would gentle that rage again to marry his sweetheart made of vapor, as Grantaire had phrased it, one long ago day. His heart had always been too gentle for this.
And what of their fearless leader? Enjolras, alone, had been untouched by the battle -- at least he had been the last that Feuilly had seen of him. He had come through the carnage cleanly, as though god-touched. But Feuilly could see nothing of him, now. Perhaps he had pulled back from the barricade, made of the Corinthe a new kind of barricade. Perhaps he would find Grantaire within. Feuilly would trust in that -- for if any were stubborn enough to convince Enjolras to flee, it would be Grantaire. And perhaps they could make a new start of it, after all. Perhaps next time, they would succeed.
But for now… Feuilly had one last duty to discharge. If any among them had survived, they would be awaiting instructions. And if Feuilly was the only one of Enjolras' lieutenants left alive… they would be awaiting instructions from him.
And though some part of him would prefer to lie down and die with his fellows, Feuilly had a duty, both to his friends and to the future they would have seen born. If there was even one breath left in his body, Feuilly would see those wishes carried out. And if Enjolras were not there to lead him, Feuilly would pick up the mantle himself, if he must. He would not see this dream die; not when that dream was all that remained of the only family he had ever known.
Four blocks from the barricade, Feuilly finally stopped his headlong flight, arrested by a shortness of breath left behind by a bullet that had had his own name written upon it… and by a query so softly voiced that he almost believed he had imagined it until he heard it again.
"You are bleeding." A short pause. "I believe you are wounded, my friend." Another pause. A wet laugh. "You and I are a matched set, I fear. Come. Sit with me, awhile. Rest. You are always racing about. A force not to be--" A harsh cough. "--stopped. It is why Enjolras admires you so. But I--"
This time the words stopped and failed to resume. Feuilly dropped to the ground beside the one who had spoken, eyes wide and breath coming in shorter now in surprise than it had a moment ago in pain. "Courfeyrac…? You… but I saw you shot!"
"So you did. Only this time, I appear to have lost more than my hat." Courfeyrac pushed himself a little further upright against the wall on which he had fallen and coughed, once more. When he lowered his hand, there was a spatter of bright red blood upon it. And though Feuilly was not Joly, nor was he Combeferre, even he knew how very bad a sign that was. Courfeyrac stared down at the droplets of blood for a moment before letting out a short laugh. "I always believed that red was a color best suited to Enjolras. But it does not look ill upon me, either, does it, Feuilly? Perhaps I should have a red coat of my own made up. Then Enjolras and I might be tw--"
Another harsh cough interrupted those words, followed by a sharp gasp. When the fit was over, more blood dotted the overly pale skin of Courfeyrac's hands, as well as his shirt and coat. Feuilly reached out and pulled Courfeyrac to him, used what remained of his own strength to bolster his. "Hush. You waste your strength. We will get you to a doctor. You will live."
"I think I will not." Courfeyrac looked up from where he lay in Feuilly's arms, a small smile belying the seriousness of the situation. He reached his hand up to touch Feuilly's cheek, and Feuilly felt a spot of wetness left behind when he lowered it, again. Whether that spot was due to his own tears finally finding release or if it was the blood of his friend, he did not know until Courfeyrac's smile widened, and he said, "There. Now you and I… are twins, as well."
At those words, Feuilly's tears spilled over in full, hot and furious. He pressed a desperate kiss to Courfeyrac's forehead. "You will not die. Not now. Not like this. Enjolras lives! I live. You live. We will begin again, we three. In 1834, 1836, as many times as it takes. We will see our new world born! But you must stay with me, now. You must hold on."
Courfeyrac began shaking in Feuilly's embrace, and it took precious seconds before Feuilly identified the sound he was making as laughter. Finally, a soft whisper emerged. "You picture for us a glorious future, Feuilly. I would live to see it, if I could. I fear, however… that this is one appointment for which I will be late in perpetuity. You will have to begin without me."
Courfeyrac began to cough, again. More spots of blood appeared on his lips and on his clothes. Feuilly held him through it all, gently rocking him back and forth, uncaring when their blood mingled. When he was finished, Courfeyrac said, simply, "Enjolras lives?"
Feuilly nodded, raising his hand to wipe the blood from Courfeyrac's face. "I saw him; he had not a scratch upon him. He retreated into the Corinthe. I think perhaps he will find Grantaire inside, and Grantaire will persuade him to flee."
The light in Courfeyrac's eyes, though at first brightening at the news of Enjolras' survival, dimmed as Feuilly finished speaking. Though his breath seemed to be harder and harder to gather with each word, Courfeyrac said, "As stubborn as Grantaire may be, I fear it far more likely that Enjolras should persuade him to die than that he should persuade Enjolras to live. We are alone, now, you and I. And I fear that you are to be even more alone, just a few, short minutes from now."
Feuilly gripped Courfeyrac more tightly to him, grabbed his hand and brought it to his face, pressed firm kisses into the palm. "No. This cannot be true. I refuse to accept it. Enjolras lives. Grantaire will have gotten him out. And you! You have more vivacity in your little finger than I have in my entire body. You will not die. I forbid it." More quietly, he added, "I cannot do this alone. Courfeyrac… please. Please, you must live."
There was no answer to Feuilly's last plea. The only sounds that filled the alley around him were the sounds of Courfeyrac's labored breathing. He could see it now -- where the bullet had entered that was causing Courfeyrac such pain. Courfeyrac was right… it would shortly take his life, as well.
Feuilly bent over Courfeyrac's body, pressed his face into Courfeyrac's chest, and let his tears soak into that once-fine coat. He would not leave a friend alone to die. He would not. Especially not such a friend as Courfeyrac had been to him.
If Courfeyrac was indeed right, and Grantaire would not be enough to persuade Enjolras to leave, then was he not bound, both as a friend and a lieutenant, to step in and attempt a rescue?
~If the barricade falls, retreat and regroup at Combeferre's.~
No. Orders be damned. If Enjolras was alive, then Feuilly had to ensure that he stayed that way. He must. Courfeyrac would understand. Of all people, he would understand. In his own way, he had loved Enjolras more than any of them.
As though approaching mortality had granted him the power to read men's thoughts, Courfeyrac gathered enough breath to say, "You do not have to stay." When Feuilly abruptly sat up to look at him, Courfeyrac gifted him with one last beatific smile. "Go to him. Save him if you can. I insist."
"You… you are sure?" Feuilly's breath caught in his throat. The thought of leaving Courfeyrac -- possibly his last living friend -- to die alone, was somehow even more reprehensible when it was Courfeyrac, himself, suggesting it. Feuilly's heart clenched, his breath coming faster, more strained. "I cannot. Courfeyrac, I cannot leave you."
Courfeyrac's last words were a mere whisper of sound which Feuilly had to bend low over him to hear: "Then come back to me."
Feuilly finally allowed the urgency of the whole business to push him to his feet, his heart racing and his chest heaving. He arranged Courfeyrac as comfortably as he could, making a pillow of his own cravat and a blanket of his waistcoat and jacket. Doubtless if he were himself, Courfeyrac would tease him mercilessly for destroying his own remaining serviceable outfit for such purposes. As Feuilly placed one last kiss upon Courfeyrac's brow and clasped his hand one last time, he could only hope that someday Courfeyrac would have the chance to do so again. He stood then, and raced back towards the Corinthe, determined to reach Enjolras and Grantaire before either could make a decision they would all regret.
Feuilly arrived to find the barricade overrun, not a single student left alive behind it. He crept slowly among the broken furniture, the bloodstained streets, and the walls, crumbled from canon-shot. Ignoring the difficulty of his own breathing, Feuilly climbed atop a forgotten barrel to peer inside. Soldiers milled about, bringing in the bodies from outside to line them up in the main dining room, where once those lifeless bodies had been students, full of life and joy, toasting their friendship and planning this fight. If only they had known then what Feuilly knew now… Paris had not been ready. They should have waited.
There was Bahorel, his bold waistcoat ripped to shreds. There was Jehan, beside him again in death, where he belonged. And there was Joly and Bossuet, hands fallen atop each other as though to never be parted, even in death. And there was Combeferre, his face forever peaceful, as in repose, though the crimson ruin of his chest told a far different story. And there was Marius' girl and little Gavroche -- innocents whose lives had been cut far too short. Marius was nowhere to be seen, nor was their volunteer. Perhaps they had gotten away. Perhaps they had yet to be brought in. Yet, in the greatest contradiction of the day, with each body his eyes fell upon, Feuilly's heart grew lighter. Enjolras was not among them. Grantaire was not among them. He had been right! They yet lived!
Feuilly made ready to climb down from his perch, heart beating harder in his breast than it had in what seemed like days… when it all came crashing down. A soldier came down the stairs. In his arms was a body draped in a red flag. It was delicately built -- a delicacy that Feuilly knew concealed hidden strengths. The hand attached to the hanging arm was limp, and even paler than it had been in life. Feuilly did not need to see the golden tendrils of hair escaping from beneath the flag to know who it was the soldier laid so reverently down beside the others. Nor did he need to see the second body carried downstairs and placed beside it to know that Grantaire was also dead.
Muffling the pained cry that would surely give him away, Feuilly all but fell from the barrel and stumbled away from the sight of this… this massacre, now completely numb in body, mind, and heart. His one remaining coherent thought was that he had to return to Courfeyrac. Just as Grantaire had refused to let Enjolras die alone, so too could Feuilly not bear the thought of Courfeyrac dying, not only alone, but away from all his fellows. Clamping one hand tightly to the now stabbing pain in his side, Feuilly began to run.
It took far longer than Feuilly remembered to reach the spot where he had left Courfeyrac. He had to pause more than once to catch his breath and to steady his wavering vision. It was exhaustion… or something more sinister, perhaps. At this point, Feuilly did not even know for which he hoped. When he reached the alley, Courfeyrac was still… unnaturally so. Feuilly fell to his knees beside him, far more shaken by that stillness than he could admit, and crept closer. When Feuilly reached him, Courfeyrac's eyes were wide open, staring at the sky. No breath rattled in his body, no heartbeat moved his chest.
He was gone.
Enjolras was dead.
Courfeyrac was dead.
The people of Paris slept on, unconcerned and uncaring.
~If the barricade falls, retreat and regroup at Combeferre's.~
Feuilly had a responsibility. And he would carry it out. In just a little while. First… first, he was going to lie down beside his friend and rest for a moment; regather his strength. Courfeyrac wouldn't want him to be alone. Not now. Not like this. Feuilly stretched out beside him, rested his head upon Courfeyrac's chest and laced his fingers together with Courfeyrac's stiffening ones.
A voice which sounded suspiciously like Joly's stirred in the back of Feuilly's mind, advising against the idea, reminding him of how a corpse's limbs could lock in place until they had to be broken to be moved. Right then, though… Feuilly didn't care. Let the soldiers have to break both their fingers to separate them, if they must.
Feuilly wasn't leaving Courfeyrac alone, again.
"I have returned my friend… and I will stay until you wake."
And with that final message imparted, Feuilly closed his eyes… and slept.