Marius pulled Éponine into his lap and swallowed around the pain until he could use his voice again. She'd taken a bullet meant for him, and he'd never so much as looked twice at her before. The blood flowed from her wounds. "You'd live, Éponine, dear God above, if I could heal your wounds with words of love," he said fiercely.
She moaned, and writhed a bit in his arms. Marius had never felt a girl writhe in his arms before and irrationally felt it was improper, but clutched her tighter all the same: Éponine, at least, need not die alone.
Then she opened her eyes again. "Did you truly mean that, Marius?" she asked him.
"What?" he asked, taken off guard.
"The words of love."
"Of course!" What a life she must have lived, he thought, that even dying she dared not trust a kindness. "All this time we have known each other, and you have helped me so much, and yet, not until this moment do I realize I have never seen clearly enough to know your greatness of spirit. You have deserved so much and gained nothing: I would I could love as well as you have loved--but I have only my small best, and that too late," he cried.
"Hmm. Not too late, it appears," she said, and sat up, pushing his arms out of the way.
He hadn't thought that she still had the strength even for that, and then he saw that her wounds no longer bled--that they looked pink and healthy, like healing scars. He jerked back away from her. "Was this all some cruel joke?" he exclaimed.
"No," she said, pulling herself to her feet, "not in the least. But don't worry, I shan't hold you to things you said when you thought I was dying, I know you belong to another, and much joy may she have of you. It's only, Monsieur Marius, that it appears you can heal wounds with words of love."
"That's impossible," Marius said blankly.
"You held me-- me, Éponine, in your arms, and whispered sweet words of love to me, and it is a simple miracle of healing that you hold impossible? I wonder," she added, "if that has spent the power of your heart, or if you could do it again."
"I haven't done it once," Marius said, still disbelieving. "If there was a miracle, it was all of God's-- a payment for your sacrifice perhaps-- and not my doing."
"God or Pontmercy, what difference is there to me?" Eponine asked. "Ah, and there is your wealthy friend; I believe he was wounded early on; that will be as fair a test as any."
"Courfeyrac is hurt?" Marius asked, not having witnessed this, and on seeing the blood on his arm hardly needed Eponine's prompting to approach him.
"'Tis but a scratch," Courfeyrac assured him. "Truly," he added, rolling up a torn shirtsleeve to show a long gash on his forearm, still slowly oozing blood. "I think I was grazed by a bullet; it's nothing."
"I am relieved to hear that," Marius said. Éponine gestured at him to do something. He sighed, and recited a few lines of the German love poem he was meant to be translating.
Nothing happened other than Courfeyrac giving him a look of familiar fond confusion and Éponine rolling her eyes.
Well, so German love poetry didn't work, but Éponine didn't seem inclined to let him get away with that. "Courfeyrac," he said, "I just want to let you know that you are a wonderful friend and I care about you a lot," he said.
Courfeyrac raised his eyebrows. "Are we doing last confessions now? How sentimental of you. Well, I find you a good friend too, Pontmercy."
Marius barely heard. He was staring at Courfeyrac's wounded arm. Was it bleeding less than it had been? It was hard to tell. He turned to Éponine. She crossed her arms and tapped her foot.
He put a hand to his forehead. "Jesus Christ and all his saints and angels," he said. "I don't like it when you go shirtless in the apartment because your bare chest is really distracting," he said all in one breath.
"Pontmercy," he replied. "Thank you for finally confirming in so many words what I have have known to be true for most of our acquaintance, but I promise you, I'm not dying, there is no need, it's nothing-" he held his arm out to show Marius again, and then stopped. It really was nothing: under a few flakes of dried blood, his arm was unmarked, as if the wound had never been.
“It turns out that our Baron Pontmercy can heal wounds with words of love,” Éponine said.
"Truly?" Courfeyrac asked.
Marius hunched uncomfortably. "I don't know about words of love, but your arm's not bleeding anymore, so. Something."
"Good enough for me. We need to get you to Combeferre." He handed his gun and ammo to the nearest combatant, gripped Marius by the upper arm, and hauled him over toward the cafe. Marius looked back at Eponine helplessly. She gave him a cheerful wave and wandered off toward the other end of the barricade.
Combeferre was tending the severely wounded, laid out on tables in the cafe. Waves of blood dried to various shades of red covered his arms past the elbow and was smeared across his forehead where he must have tried to brush his hair out of his eyes. He looked up, shortly, when they came in. "Courfeyrac," he said, already concentrating again on some sutures as the old National Guardsman held the patient's arm steady for him. "What's happened?"
"We've discovered that our Marius has miraculous healing powers," Courfeyrac said.
Combeferre actually gave them some attention then. "Does it work on gunshot and bayonet wounds?"
"That's all we've tried so far."
"Wait," Marius said. "You're a man of science. You believe him? Just like that?"
"Marius," Combeferre said tiredly, "Today, I believe in any treatment that is unlikely to do harm. Do you want to start with the ones who will almost certainly live, or the ones who will almost certainly die?"
"Where's Bahorel?" Courfeyrac asked.
Combeferre bowed his head and waved to the other end of the room. "With the ones who will die."
"He'll start there, then."
"But I don't have any idea what I'm doing!" Marius protested.
"Then you will be working in a familiar state of mind," Courfeyrac said, and grabbed him even tighter, hard enough to hurt.
"Don't worry yourself," Combeferre said, "You can't possibly leave him worse off. Ready? Hold it very still," he added to the old marksman, as he bent back to his work. The patient gasped in pain as the needle went through.
Bahorel was laid on a table near the far wall, another severely wounded man beside him. He looked. Well, dead. He looked as if all the life that had shone out of him like sunlight, when he was alive, had gone out like a candle. Great bloody bayonet wounds had rent open his chest and were barely held closed by Combeferre's neat stitches and scant blood-soaked bandages.
"Courfeyrac, I hardly even know him," Marius said. "What am I supposed to do?" Even the few times he'd gone out with all of Courfeyrac's friends, he'd hardly spoken to Bahorel; he was large, and loud, and rowdy, and intimidating, and never tried to hide his contempt for Marius's politics. Oh, he'd never been anything but kind to Marius, politics aside, but Marius had generally preferred the quietest corner, which was invariably the one farthest from Bahorel.
Courfeyrac, Marius noted, was very white, and had his arms folded tightly in front of him. "Well, you will come up with something, or you will have missed your chance to ever know him," he said, in a tone that was uncharacteristically clipped for Courfeyrac.
It occurred to Marius, dimly, that Courfeyrac would far rather be out on the barricade, getting shot at and rained on, than in here. Possibly he would rather be anywhere than here, watching Bahorel die. He touched him on the arm, trying to be reassuring the way he'd seen Courfeyrac be for others. "Go back out and help the others," he said. "I'll - try. I'll do what I can."
Courfeyrac gave him a twisted sort of a smile and then dashed out of the door. If he was sick after he left he would not have been the first that day, and Marius did him the courtesy of not listening for it.
Instead he looked down at Bahorel. He thought he ought to be feeling about as sick as Courfeyrac, but instead everything he was feeling was muted. Really, Eponine dying in his arms was the first time since he knew he'd lost Cosette that he'd felt anything else at all, and that had been just another piercing misery cutting through the dull one. Bringing up his affection and gratitude to Courfeyrac hadn't been hard at all, but then, that hadn't been much of a wound to heal, either. Bahorel's wounds were. Well. Large.
He turned away to see that the old National Guardsman was watching him, silently, and he startled a little. He'd found the old man disconcerting ever since he'd come to the barricade. He couldn't articulate why. Except that, for all he'd said very little, there was something about his gaze that seemed to be full of things unspoken.
He spoke now. "I knew a man, once, who could heal with love," he said.
"I, um," Marius said. "Is Combeferre finished then?" he blurted awkwardly.
The old man shook his head. "Combeferre won't be finished until all of you young people are tired of shooting each other," he said. "But he doesn't need a second pair of hands right now. I've been trying to make these men more comfortable, when I can, with what I can do, the little it is."
Marius looked down at Bahorel and gulped. "And you knew someone who could heal with words?"
"He was a saint," said the old man, "and the greatest man I have ever known, and in his love of Christ he loved, naturally and fully, everything on this earth, from a spider in his garden to a condemned murderer at the guillotine; from his sister to a broken stranger wandering off the street. With his words, and the power of his love of all things, he could heal not only wounds of the body, but of the soul." He pressed a fist over his heart, as if trying to clench his own soul in it. "If you have any particle of that man's power in you, then you are a better man than I have known since, and a good enough man to do what needs doing."
Marius shook his head. "I am no saint. And I don't think I am that good at loving. I think that perhaps I am not very good at loving at all." What had he ever loved in his life, after all-- Cosette, but not well enough to keep her with him; a memory of a father he had loved too late to save him-- he clenched his own hands into fists and said, "Perhaps I have never loved anyone, really."
The old marksman shook his head. "Father Bienvenu loved like it was easy. But then, most of us are not saints. Since then I have learned that loving is also something you can work at, love itself can be a labor. I have practiced love since I met him, and without any natural talent I still learn new ways to love at every turning, just as with any work I've put myself to. But if you do not practice love, you will never get stronger at it."
Marius looked down at Bahorel again. He was still breathing, shallowly, barely perceptible. Even in his long dark months of loving Cosette from afar, loving her as an avocation, putting more work into that than into the translations that paid his rent, he had never thought of love of something that might be practiced, that one could come to love as if it was a job that must be done regardless.
Perhaps-- he tried to think about Bahorel, about the wild grief that he knew was lurking everywhere under the muffler of his pain-- he could come at it it like a translation assignment, to put that knowledge into a language that was foreign to its words and wasn't meant for expressing such things.
He reached out and wrapped his hand around one of his friend's. It was cold and limp, but still alive. "Bahorel," he said, "I never spoke to you much, but you were the most alive person I have ever known. Even just being in the same cafe as you, when everything in my world was grey, you made everyone around you more bright, like adding more color to ink that's too thin. The world will be a harder and flatter place to live without you in it. To be human will be a worse thing to be, if we can no longer count you among us." He stopped, overcome with embarrassment. That had been worse than the worst German sentimentality he'd ever had to translate, worse than the worst of his long-burned encomiums to his Ursula.
But-- was Bahorel's hand imperceptibly warmer? Was his breathing stronger? It was impossible to tell. He bent his head and murmured, "Live, Bahorel. Please live. I think Courfeyrac will cry if you don't, and Courfeyrac should never cry, should he?"
Bahorel gasped. Not a strong gasp, barely enough that it would be counted a gasp if his other breaths had been strong, but it was a change from that sepulchral stillness. Marius dropped his hand, started, and pushed away, but he went back to that shallow, barely-there breathing.
Marius looked up for the National Guardsman, to ask how he'd done, but the old man had disappeared. Instead there was Combeferre, staring at him with that terrible kindness in his eyes.
"Joly's just been shot in the leg," Combeferre said. "It was a clean through-and-through, he'll be fine if it doesn't get infected, but that's always the risk. Would you like to try your miracles on him?"
"Yes! Yes," Marius said with relief. "That would be grand." Joly, at least, was remarkably easy to love, Joly always ready with a pun and a cheerful worst-case scenario and a bottle of wine for sharing.
Joly grinned when he saw Marius, blew his nose, and said, "So I hear you'b gaied bagigal bowers now, Baron Bondmercy! Is id the bower of noble blood?"
Marius reached forward and gripped both his shoulders, stabilizing him where he was wobbling slightly. "Joly," he said in relief, seeing him relatively well by Joly's standards and in good spirits still, "Joly my good friend, Joly my brother, I love you."
"Ah, I see thad we hab becobe Les Amours de l'ABC in our egsdrebidy," he said. "Ad sbeagig of egsdrebidies, Gobbeferre, my gaff, my gaff that my darlig Musijedda adoes so well--"
"What of your calf?" Combeferre asked, eyebrows raised quizzically.
"I hab been ijured by a bulled, which by bery good lug did nod bierce the addery, as I showed you," he said, "bud there is a gash, and I ab bery ligely to get--" and then he stopped, and pulled up the shredded leg of his fine, fashionable wool trousers. There was a wide smear of blood, but no sign of any wound.
Joly stared at it, then over at Marius. "Barius. You do hab bagigal bowers? I thodd Goff was jogig."
Marius shrugged. "I don't know how it works, but sometimes, anyway-- I guess you prove it only works on wounds, not illness, Joly. I don't know if I helped Bahorel at all," he added to Combeferre, "but he's still breathing."
Combeferre was staring at him in wonder, too, and Marius realized he hadn't really believed in it either, had only chosen hope over skepticism.
"You will learn," Combeferre told him, "that any case in which your patient is still breathing is enough to count a victory. Come with me," he added, and dragged Marius over to another man, who was clutching a wrist and muttering curses as he lay on the table.
After that it all sort of blurred into an endless night of wounded men and words and struggle. There were, generally, only about a dozen wounded in the Combeferre's makeshift hospital: some seriously wounded, like Bahorel; some in and out quickly for stitches or a bandage or the removal of splinters before going back out into the fight, or well enough at least to sit under a makeshift awning outside and converse with the others.
Marius learned, quickly enough, that the better he knew a wounded man, and the less severe the wound, the fewer words required, and less effort in the sincerity of the love. With the men he hardly knew, he had to reach for limited extent of his eloquence, and to think very hard about what the old National Guardsman had said about love as a labor like any other. Sometimes the old man stood with him; sometimes Combeferre watched, or worked his own healing silently beside Marius. Sometimes it was obvious that Marius had helped. Sometimes he could convince himself that he had, though the change, if any, was minuscule.
It was Combeferre beside him when the man he was helping - he thought he was one of Bahorel's people, but he'd never seen him before, and the only memory he could conjure was from early that afternoon, shoving one of the gamins away with a curse, and he was finding it quite difficult to love him enough - gave a great sigh as Marius held his hand, and died.
Marius never remembered exactly how he reacted in that moment, but he remembered Combeferre gazing across at him, and saying, "Will you be all right? I can go get Courfeyrac."
"I am capable of functioning without Courfeyrac at my side," Marius replied waspishly, though he knew it was fair enough - most of Courfeyrac's friends had only seen him on days when Courfeyrac was exerting all of his considerable strength to pry Marius out of his own head and into the world.
"Oh, no, that's not what I meant," Combeferre. "It's only that Courfeyrac's far less likely to make a hash of this sort of thing than I am. As I'm demonstrating. It's hard, the first time someone dies despite all you can do." He bowed his head. "It's hard every time. But you learn, once it happens enough."
"Do you have to love them all?" Marius asked, rather unfairly, he knew.
"I try," Combeferre said. "Some days it's harder than others."
"Yeah," said Marius, and shook his head. Of all his friends, he though, Combeferre was most likely to have also come to see love as a labor. "Don't bother Courfeyrac. I can keep going." At least it had not been someone he knew, as uncharitable as that thought was. He turned to the other man sharing the table. If it had no other benefit, to work on love as hard as one could kept one's mind too busy to worry about other things.
As the night went on the neat row of men who had been demoted from the tables used by the wounded grew longer, but Bahorel kept breathing, and Combeferre said that was miracle enough on its own.
Near dawn there was a sudden rush of noise and clamor from the direction of the barricade; shouting and gunfire and movement; which resulted plenty of men to replenish the tables that had emptied. A few moments later, in the post-sortie quiet, Enjolras and Courfeyrac came into the cafe and huddled together in the corner. "Come over here," Enjolras waved at Combeferre, and then "You too, Pontmercy, God knows you've been more help than men who've sworn twice the devotion. Prouvaire has been captured."
Combeferre tensed, and then his eyes shot to the door to the basement. "Prisoner exchange?" he asked. Marius had nearly forgotten the policeman, still tied up in the dark.
Enjolras shook his head. "I don't know. I want to offer, but is it too much of a risk? Would it even work? And am I only considering this because it's Jehan, Jehan of all of us?"
"If it wasn't Jehan," Combeferre asked softly, "Would you let him die?"
Enjolras gave him the void-black look of a man who is no longer certain what he would and wouldn't do. Marius, for the first time in hours, considered what could have been happening outside while he was mewed up in the cafe with the wounded. "You can't be considering doing nothing," he protested. "What were you planning to do with the policeman otherwise? Shoot him in cold blood?"
"If we succeed," said Enjolras, "we would see him tried for crimes against the state. If the barricade shall fall, then-- yes. That is the plan."
Marius steeled himself to reply. Yes, he'd come here in the first place hoping to die in glorious battle, but if there was one thing he had learned that night - if there was one thing he ought to have learned in all his life - it was that death was never glorious.
Before he could say anything, however, there was a loud shout from the direction of the enemy's emplacement, and then a gunshot, and an even louder scream. The other three men stared at each other in silent communication, and Courfeyrac said, "That'll be Prouvaire, then. Prouvaire not going quietly."
"It might not be too late," Combeferre said urgently, "he could be living still."
"And what could we do if he was?" snapped Enjolras, frustrated. "Lead a charge to drag him back before he bleeds out?"
"Marius?" Combeferre asked wildly.
"I don't know!" Marius protested. "If I can't even see him, hear him, how can I - I can't shout platitudes over the barricade, it would mean nothing. I don't know." Jean Prouvaire, he thought: Marius had spoken to him only slightly more often than he had Bahorel, but that was because Prouvaire was a quiet sort of person; in the same way that Bahorel made him feel more alive, Prouvaire was restful. He had spent several peaceful evenings studying in the same room as Jehan as the others moved and bustled and argued around him, and when they did speak, he had been almost unbearably kind, all through. "He wrote poetry, didn't he? Love poetry?"
They gave each other a look again. "I suppose you could call some of it love poetry," Courfeyrac said.
"It doesn't have to be romantic love," Marius said. "Just - any kind of love. Is any of it singable? Could one of you lead me?"
"You want to sing love at him?" Combeferre said.
"I don't know," Marius repeated. "It's all I can think of. But if we can sing loudly enough to reach him, and I lead it - if it's his own love echoed back at him; he had such a capacity for love - I don't know."
"Bossuet will know something," Courfeyrac said. "He used to tease Jehan by singing his stuff as drinking songs."
Bossuet, when they found him a moment later, didn't pause to ask why, just thought for a moment and said, "Would a song about love for freedom and all mankind do?"
"For you people?" Marius asked. "Probably better than anything else. As long as it's something victorious. Or hopeful. Something like that. No fiery apocalypses."
"Sure," said Bossuet. "I can do you that. Chorus is simple enough that everybody should be able to sing along."
So it was that less than five minutes after they heard the shot, Marius found himself standing, vulnerable, atop the much-battered barricade, Bossuet beside him and all of Prouvaire's friends ranged around, singing at the top of his lungs about (really, Jehan?) profaning the chaste skirts of his Patria. Halfway through the first chorus he felt a small hand slip into his and saw Éponine standing beside him, still looking as pink and healthy as he'd last seen her, picking up a descant in her cracked but strong soprano.
And a moment later, a voice from the enemy camp, strong and solid and joyful and well off-key, coming in on the chorus: "for Life and Liberty! For Life and Liberty!"
Éponine squeezed his hand. He thought perhaps he smiled.