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A vaincre sans péril

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After the unpleasantness in July 1830, Courfeyrac rapidly came to the realization that, for one, if Les Amis were going to finish the revolution properly they'd need to be a lot more confident at the actual fighting with guns part; and for another, all his friends needed something to cheer them up and pull them out of themselves.

So he talked to Grantaire (Grantaire knew more people than Bahorel even, it was amazing) and Grantaire hooked him up with a man who loaned him about a dozen air guns modified to fire beeswax marking rounds, and some quilted canvas protective smocks, and then Courfeyrac cajoled all of his best friends into spending a week at one of his family's estates playing war games. (All of them except Marius. He considered Marius, he tried to visualize Marius in that situation, and he just...couldn't.)

The first day, after they got there and dropped their luggage off at the lodge, he led them into a small, open woodland and said, "Right, for now we're just getting used to the equipment, so we'll do a simple every-man-for-himself. If you get hit anywhere on the canvas go back to the lodge and have Cook give you something cold to drink, last man standing wins."

Enjolras frowned. "Every man for himself is against all the principles of the revolution; for if even two stand together they can defeat any one man alone. Who's with me? Feuilly--"

But Feuilly, despite spending the entire trip down complaining about the wages he was missing and asking how play fights in the country would help them with streetfighting in Paris, had already faded back into the woods, grim-faced. No-one would see him again until it was almost over for them.

So Enjolras turned to Combeferre, but before he could say anything, Combeferre was sadly shaking his head. "Enjolras, in principle, I agree with you. You know that in principle I am with you all the way. In practice, I have been trapped in a carriage with all y'all for two days, without even enough light to read by most of the time, and I just want to shoot every. single. one. of you. Starting with Courfeyrac."

At this Courfeyrac gave a great whoop and took off, with Combeferre in hot pursuit. Bossuet and Joly were already long gone - they had a side bet going as to whether Joly would manage to take out Bossuet before Bossuet accidentally fell into the creek - and Jehan slipped away when nobody was looking. And even Enjolras knew Bahorel was a lost cause from the beginning.

"Well, merde," Enjolras said, standing bereft in the clearing and turning his gun over in his hands.

"No worries, Dear Leader," Grantaire said. He'd been so uncharacteristically quiet Enjolras forgot he was there. "I'll watch your back."

"You?" Enjolras asked before he had a chance to think better of it, but Grantaire only grinned bitterly.

"At the very least," he said, "you'll concede that I don't care if I win or lose, live or die, and so you needn't fear me shooting you in the back."

"Well, then," said Enjolras, who generally operated on the principle that any sincere overture from Grantaire was to be encouraged, as long as there were no real stakes riding on his actually carrying through, "we shall be partners."

But of course, it turned out that, as with pretty much everything when he was sober enough to pay attention, Grantaire was annoyingly good at mock-combat. At first there was a great deal of people running, shouting, stumbling and firing shots that went wide. The air-guns had far less range and accuracy than the weapons they'd been practicing with, and none of them were used to forests anymore.

Shortly, however, Grantaire had managed to drive Bahorel away from an attempted assault - neither of them were hit, but Bahorel was convinced to go for easier prey - and then take out Courfeyrac, who had thought he was making a sneaky approach from behind only to get Grantaire's green wax smeared all over his back, and then his hat shot off just for style.

They had a small stretch of peace after that. Enjolras only had to whisper, "shh, stealth!" once, in reply to Grantaire attempting to start up what he considered a conversation - and then he was startled nearly out of his skin by Grantaire leaping up with a yell.

When a wax bullet shot past his head, going far astray, he realized Grantaire was drawing Bossuet's fire, and it took half a moment to bring up his own gun and take care of that.

"Fair cop," Bossuet said, leaning sensuously against an old oak and rubbing at the red waxmark on his shoulder. "At any rate I outlived Joly, and that's good enough for me."

"Joly's out?" Enjolras asked.

Bossuet nodded. "Bahorel got him. I only just barely escaped while he was reloading."

"So Bahorel's still in," Grantaire said.

He shook his head. "Feuilly got Bahorel. I ran into him on his way out. And Bahorel says he got Combeferre, too, pretty early on."

"I wouldn't have thought Combeferre went out that easily," Enjolras frowned.

"Bahorel said he accidentally ran out of ammo while experimenting with range and trajectory," Bossuet said.

"Now that sounds like Combeferre," Grantaire said.

Enjolras looked at him. "That just leaves four," he said. "The two of us, Jehan, and Feuilly."

"Nobody's seen Jehan, I don't know if he's in or out," Bossuet said. "As for Feuilly - well, good luck. Joly and I will kill a bottle of wine in your memory, Grantaire."

"Only one?"

"At least one," he said, and sauntered back toward the trail.

"Feuilly," Enjolras muttered. "Of course it would have to be Feuilly." He led Grantaire on a careful quartering of the woods but there was no sign of anyone until they turned a corner in a ravine and suddenly Enjolras found himself face-to-face with Feuilly, both of their guns raised and ready to fire. But neither of them shot.

Enjolras didn't know what held Feuilly back. He wasn't quite sure what held him back, either. Respect? Friendship? The simple fact that he was looking him in the eye? He hadn't blinked at taking down Bossuet while Bossuet was shooting at Grantaire, but somehow he simply couldn't bring himself to shoot Feuilly, even in play.

"It's not too late," he said. "You can still join up with myself and Grantaire."

Feuilly shook his head. "I can't do that, as much as I might want to. That would be betraying the sacrifices of the men I've already killed, standing alone."

"Oh for Christ's sake," Grantaire said, coming up behind them, and shot Feuilly square in the chest.

Feuilly staggered, then looked down, poked at the green mark, and started laughing.

"I'll admit I also find myself hilarious," Grantaire said, "And the two of you together are beyond ridiculous, but it's always polite to share a joke."

Feuilly waved a hand until he'd caught his breath, and said, "Just-- you two, the last men standing. I should have expected it - I don't know why I didn't expect it - and yet -"

"We're the last?" Enjolras said, brow wrinkled. "Jehan?"

"Jehan built himself an absolutely wonderful blind out of fallen branches and leaves," Feuilly said. "Probably nobody would have ever found him but he went out to get more leaves for disguise and I shot him." He shrugged. "So now it's down to you and Grantaire, battling it out for the ultimate victory. Jehan," he added, "is never going to shut up about the symbolism."

"I did say, at the beginning of all this, that men standing together can never be defeated by individuals alone," Enjolras said. "It's a core principle of the revolution. I don't know why we can't thus declare that, as a partnership--"

"My God!" Grantaire ejaculated with disgust. They both turned to stare at him. "I was going to say 'for Christ's sake' again," he explained, "but it seemed somehow inappropriate." And then he shot himself directly in the heart with his own gun.

"There you go, Enjolras," he said, once he had his balance back. "The victory is yours. Now let's all go and defeat the de Courfeyrac wine cellars as well."

Enjolras closed his mouth, which had somehow fallen open. "Grantaire. That wasn't the point of this, at all--"

Grantaire smiled gently at him. "You never think wine is the point of anything. I would argue the matter, but as I have just bravely sacrificed myself for your victory, I think as my reward I ought to claim the right to see you properly drunk for once, without having to argue you into it first."

Enjolras was unable to muster any compelling reasoning against this, as it turned out, and with all of the others traitorously siding with Grantaire in the matter, he found himself with no choice other than to end the evening back behind the stables with Jehan and Bossuet and Joly, singing "La Marseillaise" to Courfeyrac's mother's old walking horse.

Frankly, Courfeyrac would have considered the week a success on that basis alone.

(The next day they split into two teams and played capture-the-flag. That's when things started to get really intense.)