June 5, 1832
Enjolras carefully made his way around the edge of the barricade and into the Rue Mondetour. He picked his way carefully around the splintery wooden board placed across the tops of the barrels and then altered his direction to find better shelter near the walls of the houses. He monitored the sound of his steps carefully, moving from doorway to doorway.
As he ventured farther, he faltered at the magnitude of the task he had set for himself. Gathering intelligence was familiar work for him, but he could feel the streets prickling with heightened tension, and the city’s terrain was bathed in a high moon, turning the streets into a mosaic of moonlight and shadow. His chest felt just as turbulent and broken. Memories surfaced unbidden. But he still felt that current of familiarity that made walking these streets feel right. And one memory surfaced that he clung to even as it made him shake.
Jehan was always telling him that the world was alive with its own quiet kind of life, that people, and animals, and plants, and even objects would tell you things, if you would do them the courtesy of listening.
He had always thought of cities as being made up of people, and the bonds between them, a sort of abstract architecture. Power, comradeship, liberty, mutual protection, a beautiful web made of souls... and yet yesterday it had been the stones of the street that had protected their bodies from bullets and their liberty from being crushed under the boots of the guard. And the stones themselves were shaped by human hands. Perhaps the humans and the stones were symbiotic, like those moths and flowers Combeferre was always holding forth about? The ones with the ridiculously long tongues? What was it that Combeferre said? “Find a moth with a tongue of a certain length, and you knew there was a flower just as long somewhere.” Was the Corinthe their flower?
He was used to thinking of liberty as an airy thing, a breeze that could lift all wings equally if only everyone was allowed to spread theirs. To think of it as solid, a thing of stone, was... novel.
So he thought of Jehan and tried to look at those stones until he really saw them... to listen until he could hear what they were saying.
The rain had washed the streets relatively clean and left the cobbles cool and glistening. He could feel the chill rising off them. But the stones of the south facing wall he leaned against still retained the faint vestiges of warmth from the day’s sun. Even if he didn’t know what way south was, he still would have known it for a south wall by that whisper of warmth. Sometimes he could feel more if he unfocused his eyes and let sensations come from all directions, so he tilted his head back and let himself follow the patterns of clouds against the stars, covering and uncovering. He could feel a similar pattern in the roughness of the stones against his arm, patches of rough and smooth, vibrations – some shallow and scratchy, some coming from deep within the stone, from far away. The same way the shifting of the clouds in the sky spoke of the weather to come, the patterns withing the stone spoke to him of what was happening in the city. A voice, and beyond that, even deeper and more basic, a heartbeat?
He startled and lost contact with the wall, but when he placed his hand on it again the awareness was still there. A sense of presence.
The St. Merry tocsin rang out and he heard it as a voice, singing out the defiance and continued survival of the St. Merry barricade. For the first time, he considered what the bell might feel to be used so. It sounded glad, as glad as he felt to be used by this place, under the weariness that hung on him and made every movement ache. His heart caught in his throat and he turned to Jehan reflexively, to ask “Did you hear that as well?” Before he remembered… A muffled sob made his shoulders jerk. But in that moment, he still felt a flicker of Jehan’s presence at his shoulder. A second joy mirroring his own joy at discovery. A warmth in the cool air beside him.
He resumed his surveillance, following the vibrations. Letting them carry information to him. Sneaking up close at times to confirm which vibrations meant the movement of citizens, the march of soldiers, the rolling of cannons. His heart in his mouth, but he was never noticed. He rested in the shadows of trees when he could. How had he never noticed the pleasing variety of shapes in the leaves before?
As he leaned against a wall, catching his breath, something tugged at him, some small thing trying to get his attention. His reflection gleamed in the nearby window, his hair not the flaming gold it was during the day but still an arresting silver in the moonlight.
Ah, he had left his head uncovered, how foolish of him. If he had bothered conversing with Courfeyrac before he left, Courfeyrac would have made sure his head was covered. He would have put the cap on his head himself and carefully tucked his hair inside it before wrapping him in a warm embrace. Enjolras felt a twinge of regeret. But it was too late now.
“It’s not too late.” a voice seemed to say, “We can do something about that light, if you permit it?” Enjolras hesitated, uncertain of what this meant, uneasy with giving his consent to something unknown. But finally he whispered, feeling foolish for speaking out loud “You have my consent.”
He felt something being pulled from him, a stream of warmth he hadn’t even noticed he possessed. It felt like sunlight? Although the sun was gone from the sky. It made no sense, or maybe it did. After all, moonlight was nothing but reflected sunlight and the light from his hair was reflected moonlight. That must be it. He watched entranced as the gold leaf in the clothier’s sign above him seemed to glow from within, and the reflection in the window besides him strengthened and intensified as the light went into it. Even the little chips of mica within the stones seemed to gleam.
He suddenly missed Courfeyrac’s arms terribly, but thinking of Courfeyrac, he could feel that he was in a similar embrace. He could feel the city wrapping around him, the wall supporting him. He was in the arms of his homeland and all was right.
Awash in that image, he suddenly felt the tug of warmth from his body stop and those arms give him an emphatic nudge. It was almost like someone had whispered the order to run in his ear, and he followed it, stumbling into an inky patch of shadow he hadn’t noticed until a second ago. He pressed himself into a corner and put aside his sense of wonder and strangeness in order to be silent and pay close attention to what was happening.
A group of four national guard entered the street, and he froze, praying to something he sure existed that the stark contrast of moonlight and shadow would be enough to hide him… His heart was beating fast. They walked closer, but suddenly, the shortest one whipped his head away from Enjoras’s hiding place at the sight of movement. Enjolras drew in a sharp breath. He saw, in a store window across the way, the store window where he had been standing before, a smudge of brightness moving. It was like the ghost of his reflection. A vague shock of moonlit silver hair above an indistinct grey form. The reflection seemed to sense the gaze of the guards upon it and began to move, flitting from window to window, bits of mica in the stonework sparkling here and there at it’s passing.
The leader of the guard made a hand sign and the four quickened their pace, following the fleeing phantom.
Enjolras sagged against the wall, his breath coming from him in ragged gasps. The sense of relief warred in him with awe and the sense of continued urgency. It would have been wonderful to let the awe win and dissolve in ecstatic shaking, he never desired something so fiercely in his life – but he let duty take him and continued moving down the street.
He wove through the streets, keeping a tally in some corner of his mind. Of guardsmen, cannon, barricades, pockets of resistance. Here, the vibration of more troops clattering over the stones. One soldier had worn a thin spot in his soles, almost as thin as paper. The warmth of his feet entered the stone he walked on, a hot kiss. Enjolras shivered reflexively at the chill the young man's foot must be feeling. Nearly cried out. There a young woman and man walked down a street, holding hands, but from their posture they were on no love-stroll although the easy way they leaned against eachother spoke that they were lovers. From their footsteps, Enjolras could feel the weight of the contraband they carried. He silently wished them well as they went past.
Stones in disarray sang to him, he paused by a patch of raw dirt in the middle of a street, it resonated. He wondered what lives the stones sheltered, what flowers might grow in that freshly revealed earth.
But he could also sense another side of the city. For every burst of activity there were blocks of houses shuttered in wariness or sleep. He felt the glow of candles behind curtains, or the rough breaths of sleepers. Hope was there, but overshadowed, drowned in despair, in weariness, in so much fear. Waiting desperately for the right time to waken, but unsure that that time was now.
And there were so many guardsmen...
But that stirring was still there. He could feel the uneasiness of the silence. The possibility.
“If only Jehan could see me now!”, he thought, and instantly regretted it. Tears began to cloud his vision and he held his lip between his teeth until they went away. He couldn't afford to have his vision blurred at this moment, especially now, with the barricade within his sight.
...The barricade was within sight. He glanced up. Hanging from someone's balcony was a cascade of leaves. The leaves were ferny and well-watered. And among them a flower bloomed. It was red. Even in the moonlight, which turned the world into greys and silvers it was a distinct red he should be unable to see. An impossible color.
Now tears filled his eyes, and the world blurred until he could make out nothing but splintered shapes of moonlight and shadow.
He swore he could hear the ghost of laughter, and a flute played so light and lilting it might as well have been laughter. An image came to him – a memory of Bahorel and Jehan, bodies locked together, cheek to cheek, dancing in the street to the soft strains of music from a nearby cafe.
He could smell Jehan's scent rising up around him, black potting soil, and ink, myrrh (lord knows how he afforded it, but he did), and a faint musk. Warmth brushed against his lips, soft. He leaned up into it (he had never thought of it much, but Jehan was just a little taller) and his lips parted. The warmth pressed more insistently against him and his heart fluttered. Something in his chest unknotted and Enjolras smiled. The first genuine unshadowed smile for the first time in what seemed like days.
A tendril of damp wind cupped the back of his head. It was probably just a quirk of the way it was funneled through the maze of streets and buildings, but it seemed to press him forward into the kiss. It slid through his hair and he leaned forward following it’s prompting.
The night flooded into him. The faint stars, awash with moonlight, the summer air, the stones, the trembling leaves of trees... all mingled with the memory of Jehan Prouvaire, and with Enjolras himself to make some greater whole. The clouds and cobblestones and people all made some pattern that he belonged to utterly, that he would give his life to a million times over. And wrapped up in that pattern was Jehan as well. There was comfort, but also a deep ache of sorrow stretching down inside him. A sorrow with fierce love at the bottom of it... and hope. Tender and fragile, but there all the same. He could have wept, but the night was in him and everything was strange.
As he first touched the wood of the barricade, he swore he could feel the people on the other side of it. Exactly thirty-nine distinct patches of warmth. Thirty-nine candle flames burning in the darknesss. So warm and fragile, and so terribly alive. Thirty nine flames of life, each with their own temperature. They should never falter and never go out, if there was any justice in the universe.
Enjolras stepped forward past the barricade, into that circle of warmth, and made it forty.