In the summertime, new vistas presented themselves. Those new vistas came in the form, of course, of tiny, cramped garrets on top floors, sometimes with funny sloped (usually leaky) roofs so that you could only stand up straight in the center of the room, and almost certainly without a stove. But these were not problems in the Parisian summer—or at least they were smaller problems than they were in winter— and so it was generally in the summertime that Bossuet found he could afford to have a room of his own.
“Well,” Courfeyrac said, hunched over slightly (for he had politely ceded the center of the room, where the ceiling was highest, to Combeferre, as he was the tallest present). “Your height comes in handy at last. Now if only you could find a similar use for your baldness, I’d say your luck has turned.”
Even short and stocky Bossuet had to stoop at the far edges of the room, but he still grinned. “Well, I do live in hope of that. I haven’t quite managed to polish it to a sufficient sheen to serve as a human looking-glass, but I do persevere.”
“Did Joly ask you to move out?” Combeferre asked, which Bossuet interpreted as his gentle way of asking why on earth Bossuet would intentionally leave a perfectly nice flat in the Latin Quarter for— well, this.
“No, no,” he said. “Our Jolllly’s patience with me continues boundless—but just as I pay my tabs at the cafes when I can, I like to strike out on my own when I have the means.”
“It is a rather more interesting neighborhood,” Courfeyrac said thoughtfully, peeking out the small window with its dirty glass. “Politically speaking, that is. It could be useful, being so near to the Hôtel de Ville. Perhaps I shall follow your example.”
“Oh, I do love to set fashions,” Bossuet said. “Dare I hope you shall be the next to usher in the use of worn-through elbows for formal wear? I’ve been trying for years, but it just won’t stick.”
“Not on your life,” Courfeyrac said instantly. “But I have convinced the others that this is really the only place anyone who’s anyone is seen of a Thursday night, so I hope your servants are all prepared for a terribly grand housewarming party.”
“Grand, and perhaps a bit—hunched.” Combeferre glanced uncertainly up at the ceiling, which was mere inches from his nose. “Perhaps we shall bring sitting on the floor into fashion, too.”
They did sit on the floor. They drank on the floor, too, and everyone tipsily banged his head on the ceiling at least once.
“Really, Courfeyrac,” Jean Prouvaire complained once they’d finished the first two bottles of wine. “This is intolerable. You said everyone would be here.”
“We couldn’t fit anyone else if we wanted to!” Courfeyrac protested. “Anyhow, who’s missing?”
“Has to work early.”
“Your friend Pontmery—”
This brought Courfeyrac up short. “Oh. Yes of course. I supposed I’d just sort of—assumed he was here, since you are,” he said, looking to Bossuet.
“Well, no more. I’ve a flat of my own now,” Bossuet said loftily. “I am a solitary eagle once again. You must account for Joly and I separately. I realize this shall greatly task your mathematical skills, but I have faith in you, my dear friend.”
“Where is he, though?” Courfeyrac asked.
“He’s convinced he has diphtheria,” Combeferre said dryly. “I tried to tell him that it’s nothing, but he would hear none of it and scurried off as soon as our lecture was finished. Considering how often he looks at his tongue, you’d think he would surely notice that he was not displaying the customary membranous—”
“Ugh, nothing of membranes, please,” Courfeyrac said, making a face. “Combeferre is plainly drunk, gentlemen. He has brought up membranes. I can’t quite decide if this means we must adjourn at once, before all descends into chaos, or press on.”
“Press on!” Bahorel cried. “By all means!”
So they did.
“It’s to do with Musichetta, isn’t it,” Jean Prouvaire said in what he probably thought was a whisper. But by that point, everyone was quite drunk indeed and didn’t notice Jehan’s failed attempts at secrecy at all.
“What is?” Bossuet asked placidly. He tended to get contemplative rather than boisterous when he’d been drinking, but he’d been quite contentedly observing the antics of the others when Jehan had taken a seat next to him and attempted to whisper.
“Your moving out,” Jehan said.
“Oh! No, not at all,” Bossuet replied. “She rather likes me, I think, and anyway she insists that she won’t give up her flat, no matter how often Joly begs her to move in. No, I don’t know why everyone is so convinced that there is some grand conspiracy at work here. The only conspiracy is between my finances and the weather, uniting at last to permit me to live here without freezing to death.”
“I don’t believe you,” Jehan said stubbornly. “You are best friends, you like living together—”
“Well of course we do. But everyone likes the chance to be alone as well.”
“Not everyone,” Jehan replied. “I would believe that of Enjolras, of Combeferre, of myself— even of Bahorel, though I’m sure he would never admit it. But I simply cannot imagine it of you.”
“And you call yourself a poet,” Bossuet scoffed. “You must expand your imagination, Monsieur Prouvaire.”
“Perhaps it is your imagination that is lacking,” Jehan retorted. “I suspect you have grown weary of being thought of as one half of a whole. You think, perhaps, you must prove that there is more to you than your best friend. But you’ve got it quite backwards. It is not a halving of the self, but a doubling. It is unquestionably a good, a wonderful thing, and you need not distance yourself from it.”
“You’re making no sense at all,” Bossuet said cheerfully.
“I’m making perfect sense, you’re just too drunk to understand.”
“Then I suppose we must leave it be. More wine?”
The sound of the church bells of Saint-Merri did not quite reach Bossuet’s garret, so he could only guess that it was leaning closer to morning than to night by the time everyone had gone. He found he didn’t feel much like sleeping. He prepared for bed slowly, taking in the silence. For all his claims to Courfeyrac and Combeferre that it was perfectly ordinary for him to take a room of his own when he had the means, in fact he hadn’t done so for almost the entire duration of their acquaintance— since he’d met Joly, frankly. It had been a long time since he’d had a room to himself. He wasn’t sure Jehan was entirely wrong in insisting he would dislike it.
This was part of the reason that, when there came a soft rapping on the door, Bossuet thought for a moment that perhaps he was just imagining it. But then it came again, louder and more clearly. Bossuet hesitated—he’d been just about to get into bed after all—but realized that it was more than likely one of his friends, returning upon discovering that he was, in fact, too tipsy to get home. He went to the door.
“I’m guessing right now,” he declared before he opened it. “It’s Courfeyrac, isn’t it.”
He opened the door.
It was Joly.
“No. It’s me. …Hello,” Joly said uncertainly.
“Hello,” Bossuet replied, more than a little surprised. “What on earth are you doing here? Come in, come in.” He stepped aside so that Joly could do so. “Did you walk all the way from across the river?”
“It’s really not that far,” Joly said.
“Yes, but it’s the middle of the night!”
Joly shrugged and rubbed his cane against his nose. He seemed skittish and ill at ease—which, for all his eternal worrying about his health and the magnetic poles and the king, was not at all a state in which Bossuet was accustomed to seeing him.
“Won’t you sit?” he asked. There was no chair yet, so he led Joly over to the bed, and they sat down on the edge side by side. “You seem terribly out of sorts. What’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing, I… felt terribly guilty about missing your party,” Joly said. He did not seem to know what to do with his cane. He leaned it against the bed, then picked it up again, then placed it on the floor.
“So you decided it was better late than never?” Bossuet asked with a grin. “You must know that I don’t mind in the least. Combeferre said you were unwell.”
“Oh, yes, well— I thought, but— I confess now it may simply have been the effects of a rather dusty lecture theatre.” Now lacking his cane, Joly settled for scratching the bridge of his nose with his knuckle. “I, um. Was it a nice party?”
“Joly,” Bossuet said seriously—or at least as serious as he could get without laughing at himself. “What on earth are you doing here? Did you and Musichetta have another row?”
“Oh, no, no,” Joly said. “I haven’t seen her today, in fact. That is, I—I don’t know, I-- don’t know.”
Bossuet scooted closer and wrapped his arm around Joly’s shoulder. “My friend, I’m beginning to fear you really are unwell. Why are you here? What is going on?”
“I—” Joly cleared his throat in the direction of his shoes, then raised his eyes to meet Bossuets and said, very softly, “I missed you, is all.”
Then, after a moment of evident hesitation, Joly leaned clumsily forward and bridged the small space between them with a kiss.
They had kissed before. It wasn’t that, that made Bossuet nearly start away in surprise. It was that they had never kissed, well, alone—never without Musichetta present, and never without having both imbibed a fair quantity of wine—which Bossuet, to be fair, had done but he could tell that Joly was perfectly sober. And that was the other difference, perhaps the greatest: for every time they had kissed, drunkenly, playfully, with Musichetta at their side, Joly had never been the one to begin it.
“What—” Bossuet began, dazed, when they parted, but Joly leaned forward and kissed him once more, quickly, to silence him.
“I don’t know,” Joly said. “Please, don’t let’s talk about it because I don’t—I don’t know. I just—I missed you, I—”
“That’s alright, that’s alright,” Bossuet said gently, cutting him off. “We needn’t—we won’t say anything more. Just… did you come here to… that is, will you… stay?”
Joly nodded, tentatively at first, then firmly. He offered his hand. And Bossuet took it.
When Bossuet lay, afterwards, with his head resting on Joly’s chest, it felt backwards somehow—he wished he could see Joly’s face, wished he could be certain that the undeniable pleasure Joly had been expressing mere moments before hadn’t slipped, in the silence, back into his earlier state of anxious uncertainty—or worse, regret.
He sat up, shifting so that he and Joly were, instead, lying side-by-side. Joly squinted at him, and Bossuet reached over to the windowsill (for he had no end table yet, but the window was perfectly placed) and retrieved Joly’s spectacles.
“You promised,” Joly said warningly as he put them on. “You said we didn’t have to speak of it. I know not speaking is a tremendous challenge for you, but you did promise.”
Bossuet laughed. “And I keep my promises, as I have a tendency to lose everything else. But you understand, surely,” he continued, keeping his voice light. “I have no faith in my luck. If you regret—” He broke off and scrubbed his hand over his head. When he resumed, he spoke very quickly, as if only great speed could force the words to come out directly, “If you regret it, Joly, you must say so. I am inured to calamity— my evil genius is never far from my bed, particularly in the most intimate moments, God knows, but— there is nothing that will prepare me to lose your friendship. I do not need… though you have evidently guessed that I've long wanted… but your friendship matters more. To lose it would be worse luck than even I could stand.”
Joly cocked his head. “Fascinating. We seem to have enacted a transference, of a sort—my anxiety to you. Do you suppose I have in turn acquired your sanguinity? That would be terribly useful, it’s almost time for exams.”
Bossuet, grinning, leaned in and kissed him.
“You see,” he said. “This is why we never get anything done. When you wish to speak of serious matters, I beat you away with sarcasm, and when, for once, I make an effort— I suppose I should take it as a compliment. My lessons were well learned. I must reconsider my entire future now, perhaps I shall become a professor.”
“God forbid,” Joly said, running his hands through his hair, though this only seemed to make it more tousled than it had been before. Bossuet reached over to help smooth it down, and Joly leaned into his touch.
Maybe it was best, Bossuet thought as Joly’s head drooped against his shoulder—best not to speak of it. For he didn’t know, really, what he would say. No. He knew what he felt. He knew what other people would say. But he didn’t know how he could possibly say it.
“I really have corrupted you,” Joly said softly. “You’re fretting about something, I can feel it. You have this strange, concerned look on your face.”
“I’m not, and I don’t. –well, I may,” he conceded. “I can’t see my own face. But really, I’m not. It’s just—as you said. I find my way with words. I’m feeling rather lost without them, I must confess.”
“Do not be. The way is quite direct, in fact,” Joly said. “We shall do between us what the Friends of the ABC have not yet managed. We shall not discuss. We shall not theorize. We shall not identify. We shall simply—do. We shall continue friends, as we have always been.”
“As we have always been,” Bossuet echoed evenly.
“As… as we are right now.”
“Right,” Bossuet said (he had an awful feeling that this sensation in his chest was something suspiciously and dangerously similar to hope--). And true to his word (albeit belatedly) he said nothing more.