Feuilly woke to the smell of blood, the bitter tang of it cloying at the back of his throat. Feuilly woke to darkness so deep that his eyes could not penetrate it. His friends were dead. The dawn they’d hoped for had not come. The blood and darkness were not a surprise...
The surprise was in that he had woken at all.
The last thing Feuilly remembered was having laid himself down beside Courfeyrac, twining their fingers together, and closing his eyes to wait for death. And death had come. His heart had stilled. His breath had stopped. He had felt the cold, welcome touch of oblivion. So why was he now awake once more? Why did he ache as though every limb, every artery, were rallying at once to complain of injury?
Where was Courfeyrac?
With each successive question which formed in his head, the heart Feuilly thought had stopped for good began to beat harder, faster. Though he knew the move was ill-advised, he pushed himself upright. If he was rotting in some prison cell, he would rather know. And if this were Hell... he would rather know that, too.
As Feuilly pushed himself upright, a draft snuck in beneath the covers under which he lay. Blankets. A bed. Surely, the National Guard would not have provided such things in a prison cell. When another draft blew past, Feuilly shivered and pulled the blankets closer. He had given his vest, cravat, and jacket to Courfeyrac -- in retrospect, a futile gesture, but it had eased his mind at the time -- and it appeared that someone had now taken his shirt, as well. Feuilly lowered his hands to his side, remembering the deep, throbbing pain of a bullet which had found its mark and so, he had thought, ended any chance he would ever have of waking. Surely such a wound would have left a mark.
There was nothing.
Feuilly's hands encountered skin as smooth and unbroken as ever it had been. There was no wound. No blood. No pain other than that overwhelming ache to remind him of the night's activities.
...or did it?
Feuilly's heart began to pound for an entirely different reason. Had the tragedy of last night perhaps not happened? Had it been merely a dream? Might his friends still be alive?
Feuilly threw back the covers and swung his feet to the floor. He would go out. He would visit Courfeyrac, Enjolras, Combeferre -- every one of his friends he remembered seeing slain, he would visit, would confirm for himself that they still lived. And once he had done so, he would take this dream as premonition. He would force Enjolras to see reason, persuade him as best he was able that the time was not right for rebellion. That the people would not rise if they fought now. He would convince him to wait until the time was right, that they need not all die on the barricades of 1832 as so many others had died on those of 1830.
Feuilly never made it farther than one step from the bed.
A pair of hands, warm and firm, caught at Feuilly's shoulders and eased him back, and Feuilly nearly cried out in joy at that contact. He knew those hands, had felt them on his shoulders many a time when he was about to rise when their owner thought he should be resting. And if those hands were here, then their owner must be as well.
Feuilly reached out, grasping almost desperately to catch hold of the body he knew those hands must be attached to. When his hands caught on flesh, cupped around stubble roughened cheeks, Feuilly could not hold his cry back any longer. A sound burst forth from him, equal parts relief and joy and remembered grief as he fought for words. A well-remembered and beloved voice hushed him, even as those hands ceased their pushing and began pulling, instead, bringing him to rest against a broad, warm chest.
After a moment of allowing himself the luxury of leaning on that strength, Feuilly finally pushed back and forced out these words: "I dreamed you dead, my friend. I am relieved to see that it was naught but a nightmare."
And that was when it all broke down.
Courfeyrac didn't laugh, nor did he immediately reassure Feuilly that it had been only a dream. Instead, he released Feuilly's shoulders, and Feuilly soon heard the soft scrape of wood on wood as Courfeyrac pushed back the chair he had been sitting in. Feuilly recognized that bid for distance for what it was. Courfeyrac was abysmal at giving bad news and would strive to be as far away as he could be while he delivered it until he knew how the receiver was going to react.
The knowledge that he and Courfeyrac lived when Feuilly had thought them both dead warred with the knowledge that Courfeyrac's body language was attempting to provide him. Combeferre would say that logic dictated that last night had been a dream. After all, Courfeyrac had died, yet here he was, very much alive. He was warm; his heart beat; Feuilly had felt Courfeyrac's breath stir his hair as they held each other. So, if Feuilly remembered seeing Courfeyrac dead and here he was, alive, then did it not also follow that he must have been mistaken and the horrors of last night were but a dream?
...but Enjolras would say that he, too, recognized Courfeyrac's body language. He would say that Feuilly should trust his feelings. He would say that Feuilly should trust himself. And, in spite of the darkness, Feuilly could see clearly as daylight that Courfeyrac was uncomfortable... that he was unhappy.
Feuilly hardly recognized the sound of his own voice, then -- rough, harsh, guttural. There was no hope in that voice. Feuilly had the sudden irrational fear that there never would be, again.
That was when Courfeyrac spoke.
"You were not mistaken when you thought me dead. You were not mistaken when you thought yourself the same, nor all our comrades. Everyone we loved... they are all dead. And for a brief moment, we two joined them."
Feuilly fumbled for the candle he kept on his bedside table, breath catching when the table was no longer there. Where was the table? He had had a small table at his bedside for as long as he had lived in this place, and he had kept a candle there for as long as he had had the table. Where was the candle?
Feuilly was unaware how frantic he had become until Courfeyrac grabbed his shoulders once more, restraining his movements and shushing him every time he began to once again grow frantic. When Feuilly finally calmed, Courfeyrac said, "We are not in any place you know. I have safe houses scattered throughout the city... scattered throughout many cities. Places to go to ground when needed. I have brought you to one such place. I could not assume that any of our rooms were not compromised to the National Guard. Perhaps later we might return and collect anything from your rooms you deem of value, but I would not count on it."
Courfeyrac moved closer then, sat beside Feuilly on the bed, and began to rock him, slowly back and forth, as though he were a distraught child who'd had a nightmare. His voice was soft when he next spoke, and full of such weight and sadness that Feuilly could barely understand it.
"I know this is a lot to take in. I know that nothing makes sense right now. I have been as you are. I have woken, having known myself dead. That is how it is with us. We die... and then we awaken after death and continue to walk among the living. We watch our comrades die and cannot join them. We do not age or suffer injury. But for the stroke of a blade separating our heads from our bodies, we will never truly die." He paused then, as though he had to gather himself for his last words. "We are Immortal."
Feuilly pushed Courfeyrac away, then, finally stood on uncertain feet, keeping one hand on the bed. When he came to the end of the bed, he reached out to find the wall. It was not far. Feuilly turned then, braced his back against it and sank to the floor. This was preposterous. Courfeyrac was mad. Immortals? The very thought was ridiculous. Feuilly might not know his people, his family, but he remembered being a child. He had aged. He had been injured -- had nearly died from such injury once. How could it all be true?
A small lantern flared to life on the other side of the room, and Feuilly was able to see Courfeyrac's face, at last. He almost would have preferred otherwise. Courfeyrac's face was drawn, closed down in a way that Feuilly had never seen it before. Normally every emotion played across his countenance as children with a ball, easy to read for all to see. Now, it was motionless, completely obscure. He might as well have truly been dead. He did not even look like Courfeyrac. It added to the surreal ambience of the situation and made Feuilly wonder briefly if he had somehow made his way to Hell as he had initially thought. He shuddered and, though there was hardly anywhere to retreat to in this small room, shuffled a little further away, then a little further, until he had reached the corner.
Courfeyrac sighed but did not attempt to move any closer. Instead he returned to the chair in which he had been sitting when Feuilly first awoke, crossing his legs at the knees and resting his hands upon them. He said, "I know well what you must be thinking. The same thoughts went through my own mind when the Immortal who found me told me these things upon my first waking. But I can tell you that it's all true. Everything you thought you witnessed and experienced yesterday really did happen. Our friends... our friends are dead."
Courfeyrac lifted his hands to rub them over his face, then, and it was only at that moment that Feuilly realized how terrible he truly looked. His vest and coat were mismatched. His cravat was sloppily tied, and wrinkled, as well. His hair was in complete disarray. Never had Feuilly known Courfeyrac to look so disheveled and to not care that he appeared so. Perhaps there was a grain of truth to this after all.
Feuilly used the wall to assist him back to his feet, though he remained in the corner. He cleared his throat, but the words died unspoken when Courfeyrac lifted his head to look upon him. They stayed like that for far too long, staring at each other, neither quite able to breach the silence. Finally, Feuilly cleared his throat again and managed to get out, "The Immortal who found you?"
Courfeyrac relaxed minutely at that question, and it was only the relief of tension which showed Feuilly it had been there to begin with. He rubbed his hands over his face again, then said, "Immortals have a sense of one another. We always know when another Immortal is nearby. Over time, you will learn how to refine that sense. You will be able to use it to sense even those who are not Immortal yet, but will be -- those of us who have not yet experienced their first death."
Courfeyrac smiled softly and nodded. "Like you, yes. I knew what you were destined for the first time we met. It was a large part of the reason I stayed here, even with the unrest in the city."
Feuilly finally overcame his fear enough to step closer, to sit on the edge of the bed opposite Courfeyrac. Eyes narrowing, he asked, "So you stayed... just to tell me this?"
Courfeyrac shook his head, once more tensing again at that question. "No. There is more. And you will not like it." He sighed. "As I mentioned, there is a way that we can be killed. And if you are killed and another Immortal is present, then that Immortal gains all of your power and all of the knowledge you have accumulated in your life. We are locked in a battle to the death. Every Immortal. And if you are to have a chance to survive to see even the number of years our mortal counterparts would have, you must be taught. You must be trained."
Feuilly frowned. "Trained to do what?"
In a flash of movement far too quick for Feuilly's eyes to see, Courfeyrac was on his feet, his cane in one hand and his other hand wrapped around the hilt of the sword that hid within it -- now drawn and pressed tightly enough to Feuilly's neck that a trickle of blood dripped from the point of contact. He inhaled sharply, stung by both the surprise of the movement and the pain accompanying that small wound. Never had he seen Courfeyrac move so quickly, so confidently. Never had Feuilly seen that narrowed, cold look in his eyes -- a look that some part of him recognized. It was a look that said that Courfeyrac could cut his head from his body, calmly wipe off the blade, and leave without even a backwards glance. In that moment, Feuilly did not know him; he didn't care to know him.
Scrambling backwards, Feuilly nearly fell off the bed but just barely kept his feet. Courfeyrac was after him in a heartbeat, sword whistling through the air like an extension of his very self. Always before that sword-cane had seemed an accessory, carried more for fashion than defense -- even on the barricade. Not so anymore. No matter where Feuilly attempted to run, Courfeyrac was there first, and at every encounter, he left behind the sting of another small cut. After barely a minute of this, Feuilly cried out, dropped heavily to his knees and bowed his head, covering it desperately with his arms.
Feuilly didn't even know for what he begged. In that moment, he would have done anything to get those bright lashes of pain to cease, anything to bring his friend back from the cold, hard depths to which he'd sunk when he started this... whatever this was. Fortunately for him, that plea was enough. There were no more flicks of pain, no more trails of blood. Feuilly felt two hard flicks against his hip and glanced down just in time to see Courfeyrac withdraw his blade and resheathe it within his cane. He had left behind two small streaks of blood on Feuilly's pants. When Feuilly looked up, Courfeyrac offered him a small smile.
"Lesson number one, Feuilly. Always clean your blade before sheathing it. You'll regret it if you don't."
"What?" Feuilly exploded to his feet, chest heaving with half-panicked breaths, eyes wide. "What is wrong with you? Our friends are dead and we've both just come back from the dead and you're playing games with me?"
Courfeyrac's sword was out and pressed into Feuilly's neck again before he could utter another word. This time, Feuilly leaned into it, uncaring that the blade was releasing yet another trickle of blood. All the other wounds had healed. He was beginning to have faith that this one would, too. Feuilly clenched his hands into fists and raised them. "You'd rather play games than mourn our friends? Go on. But you'll have to give me worse than paper cuts if you want to deliver another 'lesson'."
Courfeyrac's eyes narrowed. That was all the warning Feuilly had. Courfeyrac's next move spun him away just long enough to get clear of Feuilly's swinging fists... and back again to bury his sword to the hilt in Feuilly's chest. Courfeyrac leaned in close, then, and as Feuilly's vision darkened and oblivion once more encroached he barely heard Courfeyrac hiss into his ear...
"Lesson number two, Feuilly. This is no game. If I wanted you dead, you would be. But I have mourned enough friends for one day and I have no desire to mourn another."
Those words echoed in Feuilly's ear, chasing him down to the death he now knew was not awaiting him.
The next time Feuilly woke, it was all at once. He lurched into consciousness in a swirl of color, light, sound, and sensation. His chest burned with the remembered feel of Courfeyrac's blade sliding home to find his heart. But worse than that, his head ached with a deep, vibrant hum the likes of which he couldn't even describe. It was like being in the presence of the sweltering heat of a forge and the biting cold of deep snow all at once. It was a sound so loud and so low that Feuilly felt it in his bones, a pressure so deep that he clapped his hands over his ears from the pain. It was as though he were sitting inside a church bell as it was rung-- no, worse. It was like being that church bell. He couldn't drown it out, could hear nothing over it, could do nothing but huddle in the center of the bed and hope that it would stop.
After some time, the feeling abated, reduced itself to nothing more than a thrum beneath Feuilly's skin. It wasn't exactly pleasant, but it was less painful. Before he was even able to gather himself to look up, Feuilly heard that familiar voice again...
"Lesson three, Feuilly. The Quickening. The power that lives within you, that will allow other Immortals to recognize you as kind. The older you become, the stronger the feeling you will give off. You'll become accustomed to it in time."
Feuilly managed gathered his wits enough to look up and respond. "It... it will get stronger than that?"
And finally, finally, the coldness in Courfeyrac broke. He ducked his head, a faint blush warming his cheeks as he answered. "Well... not precisely. What you felt -- that was my Quickening, not your own. And..." He looked up then, a lopsided smile that Feuilly well-recognized gracing his lips. "...I'm not as young as I look?"
In that moment, it would have been so easy to forget that Courfeyrac had just... had just... Courfeyrac had just killed him. The teasing glint in Courfeyrac's eyes was begging him to do precisely that. Feuilly's stomach rolled at that -- both at the horror of what Courfeyrac had just done and the ease with which Feuilly was already accepting all of this. He had died yesterday. And now, less than 24 hours later, he had died again -- this time at the hands of a friend. It would be so easy to allow Courfeyrac to pull them into witty banter, to make light of what he had just done, but no. Feuilly couldn't do that. He couldn't allow it.
Feuilly pushed himself off the bed and as far out of Courfeyrac's reach as he could get in the small room -- not that that had saved him the last time. But for now, Courfeyrac seemed content to remain where he was, in his chair by the bed. His cane was leaning against the wall and he appeared to be ignoring it, but given how quickly he had moved earlier, Feuilly was betting that he was doing nothing of the kind.
Seeing that, Courfeyrac sighed. "I know you will find this hard to believe after what just happened, but I'm no danger to you. I'm here to help you, Feuilly. But I can't do that if you refuse to accept the truth of your current situation. And I would normally be happy to give you whatever time you need to recover your wits and accept things as they are, but we are both hunted men. The National Guard has drawings of our likenesses. It will not be long before they have our names. We must leave Paris and we must do it soon. But I can not travel with you if you refuse to accept what you are. You will get us both killed if I try."
"You fear the National Guard that much?"
Courfeyrac shook his head, his lip lifting in a show of disdain. "No. I do not. I fear Mme. Guillotine. I fear a death in which all that I am will be lost for all time. And I fear encountering other Immortals who may decide that the miniscule power they will get from you is worth the ease of taking your head." He rose then, began to pace on the other side of the bed, hands buried in his hair. "Feuilly, you don't understand. It has been decades -- nearly a century -- since I last took on a student. It has been longer still since a student of mine has survived to see the end of their second century."
Before Feuilly could make any kind of comment about what that said about Courfeyrac's merits as a teacher, Courfeyrac had plowed on. "I have amassed many enemies over the years. And some of those enemies refuse to meet me in combat, choosing instead to strike at those whom I love. To have your name associated with mine is to have a target upon your back. I do not wish that for you. I meant what I said about not wanting to mourn another friend. If you wish another teacher, I will find you one -- one whose tutelage will not come at so high a price." He stopped his pacing then, turned to look Feuilly straight in the eyes. "But first, I must see us both safely out of Paris, perhaps even out of France. And if the price for that safety was betraying your trust in that small way as I did before, then so be it."
"Small way?" Feuilly stared at Courfeyrac, mouth agape. "You can't be serious. It was a small breach of my trust that you killed me? In what way is that small?" Feuilly could feel his breath coming faster, his heart beating harder. What kind of world did Courfeyrac come from that would allow him to call the act of murdering a friend -- even temporarily -- a "small" betrayal?
Courfeyrac ran his hands through his hair once more. "I can see how you would not consider it so. But think on this. You are alive. And you are no longer arguing with me that this is possible. You have achieved acceptance far faster than any number of speeches from me, no matter how eloquent, would have gotten you there." When Feuilly did nothing in response but cross his arms over his chest, Courfeyrac threw his hands in the air.
"If you are looking for an apology, you will not get one. Not for this. You will receive far worse from me in the name of training before I am through with you if you decide you are willing to risk becoming my student. In the end you will thank me for it, because you will survive. And so far as I am concerned, your survival is my only cause, now. Nothing else matters to me in this moment, and I will do whatever I must to further that cause, even if it means I must kill you again and drag you from Paris in a coffin."
When Courfeyrac wound down from that speech, he slumped down into his chair, a more dejected look on his face than any Feuilly had ever seen. Quietly he finished with: "I cannot lose you, too. Please... I can't." And to Feuilly's utter surprise, all the remaining coldness fled and Courfeyrac quietly began to cry.
It was then that Feuilly realized that he was not the only one to have lost all of his friends -- his family -- that day. Courfeyrac, too, had lost everyone he cared about. He had been losing everyone he cared about for longer than Feuilly had been alive. Except Feuilly. Feuilly, he had a chance to keep with him a little longer.
What must it be like? To live decades -- centuries, Courfeyrac had said -- knowing that you will outlive everyone you ever loved? Knowing that the only people who might match your longevity could still be taken away in an instant? What a dreadfully lonely existence.
Feuilly climbed back over the bed to take Courfeyrac's hand in his own. "I didn't think... I don't..." He made a frustrated noise. "I am not certain I can forgive you just yet, but I think I do understand, at least. And I am willing to table the discussion until we are out of Paris. But I have one question for you that I would like answered now."
Courfeyrac raised his head and wiped at his eyes with his free hand. His voice was shaky when he next spoke, but there was a hint of his usual good humor playing around the edges. "Only one?"
Feuilly allowed himself a small smile in response. "For now." Sobering, he said, "Paris is not safe because of the National Guard. Outside of Paris is not safe either because of your enemies. Where can we go that will ever be safe?"
Courfeyrac's answer was quick and brooked no argument. "Brocéliande."
Feuilly pulled his hand back and scowled. "You now think me a child that you can tell any story to and have me believe? Brocéliande is a myth. It isn't real, Courfeyrac. King Arthur's forest, the Lady of the Lake... they are legends, nothing more."
Courfeyrac smiled then and quirked an eyebrow. "Is that so, my friend? You were there to say for certain?" When Feuilly's only response was to stare in disbelief, Courfeyrac let out a soft huff of laughter. "Well, that is a debate for when we arrive and you have seen for yourself. Regardless, that is our destination. There is a monastery there, built upon even older Holy Ground than Christendom can claim. The Abbot is a friend of mine. I saved his life during the Revolution when they close the monastery at Mont Saint-Michel."
Feuilly startled at that; at how casually Courfeyrac mentioned having lived through the revolution of '93. Somehow that seemed more fantastical even than Courfeyrac's claims about King Arthur and Brocéliande. He wondered if someday he would ever find himself speaking to someone who would be just as startled to learn that he had stood on the barricades of 1832. It was a sobering thought.
Courfeyrac was still talking. "Father Jean will give us shelter." At Feuilly's frown, Courfeyrac added, "And we will stay on Holy Ground while I teach you what you must know." He stood and straightened his clothing before moving to the dresser to pull out a shirt and other accoutrements for Feuilly to begin dressing in. "Holy Ground is the only place you can be safe from others of our kind. No Immortal will attack you there, no matter what the religion of the place. That is where we will begin your training. When I think you're ready, there are other places I can take you. But for now..." He turned back to face Feuilly. As he handed over the clothes, he took Feuilly's hands tightly in his. "Live. Grow stronger. Fight another day." He smiled. "An old friend told me that when I was very young -- younger even than you are now -- and newly Immortal, myself. Those words have served me well. I hope they do the same for you."
Late that night, under the cover of darkness and the somber reality of a Paris not yet recovered from the day's loss, Courfeyrac and Feuilly stole away. Courfeyrac had left alone at dusk and gone to his and Feuilly's rooms to collect a few of their personal belongings -- things which Feuilly had insisted didn't matter, but was secretly relieved to have been overruled for. He had lost so much, given up so much... it was good to have these small reminders for now.
The fountain pen which had been a gift from Enjolras -- an innovation which he had used to teach Feuilly to write.
The first book which Combeferre had ever given him, from which he had learned to read.
The poem which Prouvaire had written for him on the eve of the barricades of 1830, to ease his mind and comfort him when worry for what they would face overtook him.
The bold and colorful waistcoat that Bahorel had given him for their first outing to the theatre, which Feuilly had not dared wear since.
The lucky piece which Bossuet had donated to him, declaring that he had used up what luck it had for him and that it was time to find it a new owner.
The small painting upon which he and Grantaire had spent so many hours collaborating upon; likenesses of all of their friends, sharing drinks and friendship at the Corinthe, long before it had become their tomb.
The first -- and last -- tricolor cockade that Marius had ever sown. Not even Feuilly's assistance had been enough to make it look as it ought and Marius had thrown it away in frustration. Feuilly had kept it and was now glad he had done.
Last, but not least, the cane that had been a gift from Joly when he had injured himself so badly on the barricades two years prior. He had had no use for it since... but now knowing to what use Courfeyrac had put his own, he had a suspicion he would soon have more use for that one keepsake than all the others combined.
It was only then that Feuilly realized that he had nothing of Courfeyrac's as a memento -- that Courfeyrac had never given him anything by which to remember him. Then again... Courfeyrac had known from the day they met that Feuilly was like him, that no memento would be necessary, for they two would be living mementos -- living testimonies to the fact that their friends had lived.
Feuilly packed each memento carefully, tucked them in amongst his clothes to best protect them. He wondered, though he did not ask, how many mementos Courfeyrac had from the time before his first death, if he had any at all. Where there friends from that life who had been as dear to him as Les Amis had been to Feuilly? Did he still remember their names? These thoughts ate away at him as he finished his packing and followed Courfeyrac out into the night. They followed him down the road and to the very gates of Paris, where a few coins in the right hands saw them safely outside the city walls.
As they topped the next rise, Feuilly stopped and turned to look his last upon the city which had been his home. Their friends would not live to see the dawning of the new age they had hoped to usher in, but Courfeyrac and Feuilly would. So, Feuilly would live each day as though doing so for all of his friends, as well. If he were to have forever, then he would carry his friends with him as best he could for as long as he could.
Courfeyrac came up behind Feuilly and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Are you ready, my friend?"
Feuilly stood and watched for a moment longer, taking in the sights as Paris settled herself for the night -- the people of the day going quietly to their beds as the denizens of the night slowly crept out to take their place. Silently he promised himself that someday he would return. He would return and bear witness to the new France that his friends had hoped to have a part in building.
He would not forget.
Turning away, Feuilly clasped Courfeyrac's shoulder in return, offering him a shaky smile and a nod, too overcome to speak.
Courfeyrac smiled in return. "Then let us both see what road the future will set us upon."
Feuilly followed Courfeyrac down the road and away from Paris. For now, he did not care what road he walked... so long as they walked it together.