Typically, Courfeyrac has no small amount of skill in following conversations wherever they might lead. His dearest friends are often full of puns and metaphors, wordplay and non-sequiturs, and he can match wits with the best of them. However, Courfeyrac now finds himself at a loss. His current conversation with his intimate friend and occasional paramour has taken a turn which has Courfeyrac absolutely confounded. “I’m sorry Marius, but I don’t follow you. What is it that you want, again?”
Marius is staring regretfully at the floor and wringing his hands. He cannot seem to meet Courfeyrac’s eyes. “I apologize for asking such a thing of you, Courfeyrac. And yet—whom can I... can I...” He appears to be searching for a word and failing to find it. “Whom can I ask, if not you?” Marius sounds desperate, and Courfeyrac hears his meaning: Whom can I trust as I trust you? Marius continues. “But I would not impose upon you further. I will find another way to deal with... this.” Marius makes a vague gesture with his hand as if to indicate this thing he cannot speak.
The fact that his companion seems to believe he needs this only provokes more resistance in Courfeyrac. “Marius, surely there are other ways to learn German! I don't know what impression living with your grandfather has made upon you, but there are ways to be taught which do not demand punishment for every trifling mistake—.”
“You misunderstand me,” Marius blurts out, flustered, desperate. “This would be—this is nothing like that. It would be... gratifying to me. I do not ask you to be cruel; the real cruelty would be to withhold this from me, my friend. This thing I need—I could not be grateful enough if you would offer me a safe place to feel this.”
Courfeyrac blinks. “I'm afraid I don't understand how something like that could make you feel safe . Not with what I know of your upbringing.”
“I admit, it's confusing. I hardly understand it myself, most days. I only know that it is something I want. And now I've finally gotten up the courage to ask.” Marius's voice is shaking, and he draws in a sharp breath. “Please.” In truth, Courfeyrac finds it hard not to be moved by such a plaintive request.
There is a long pause while Courfeyrac appears to be thinking hard. He frowns. Finally he responds, “To be frank, Marius, I don't think I can do what you ask of me; I don't believe I would feel comfortable. I'm sorry.” Marius's face falls, and he opens his mouth as if to respond before Courfeyrac continues, “However... if you are sure you want this, I do know someone who would.” Marius, even in his shame, cannot hide the hopeful gleam in his eye. “And not to worry,” Courfeyrac promises, “I assure you, you can trust him.”
“I don't doubt you,” Marius says softly. Then, softer still, “Thank you.”
It is two days after their nerve-wracking conversation, and Marius thinks to himself that he should not have been surprised that Courfeyrac has led them to Grantaire's flat. He's heard the man talk at length about all manner of deviant behavior; perhaps Marius had assumed Grantaire was embellishing the stories of his own exploits in order to impress. But if Courfeyrac trusted Grantaire with this, there must be some truth to his tales.
“So, Pontmercy.” Marius isn't sure if the grin on Grantaire's face should make him feel relieved or concerned. “From what I understand, you've got a sort of schoolboy fantasy you want to play out? You're looking for a man to play strict tutor to your naughty pupil, to punish you for your small mistakes as a form of release. Is that an accurate understanding?”
Bless Courfeyrac for having explained the matter to Grantaire prior to their arrival, so that Marius did not have to explain it himself. Marius's face feels hot, and he does not doubt that he is blushing, but his eyes do not leave Grantaire's. “I can't say... I can't say I'd thought of it in exactly those terms. But yes. That sounds like something I want.”
Grantaire laughs aloud. “Well, it's nothing I haven't done before. Come, there's no need to blush; it's hardly an unusual fantasy. Carius est nobis flagellari pro doctrina quam nescire.  Indeed, I've fond memories of a certain grisette... ah, but never mind. You're far more interested in Marius flagellatus . We're here on account of Pontmercy, let's talk of Pontmercy.”
“How novel,” comments Courfeyrac dryly from behind Marius.
“If you cannot give M. the Baron what he so urgently needs, M. de Courfeyrac, then I feel obliged not to withhold it from him any longer than you already have.” Marius, feeling the heat rising in him even as he hears himself being spoken about like this, hears Courfeyrac scoff. Even so, from the look on Grantaire's face before him, Marius can tell that this is only Grantaire's version of friendly banter, and he trusts that Courfeyrac is not terribly offended.
Grantaire turns his attention again to Marius. “Well then, back to the business at hand. Pontmercy, my aspiring pupil, do you also desire a school uniform?”
Marius's blush deepens.
The room is set up with a desk and chair in the center of the floor. Courfeyrac has seated himself on the sofa at the back of the room, per Marius's wishes that he not leave, and he observes the scene quietly. For his part, Marius has opted not to don a uniform; he finds himself flustered enough as it is. Marius sits down at the desk, his body a hum of nervous anticipation. Marius is surprised he's not shaking. He feels distracted, as if unable to concentrate, and yet intensely focused at the same time. When he hears Grantaire's heavy footfalls entering the room, the feeling only intensifies, blocking out everything else in the world that isn't this .
Grantaire walks around the desk to stand in front of Marius, and addresses him. “Pontmercy.” He is holding a long, thin switch of a branch which he whips briskly through the air with a great whish. The sound sends such a thrill down Marius's spine that he shivers. If Grantaire notices this reaction, his only acknowledgement is a twitch at the corner of his mouth. “I trust you've been practicing your conjugations?”
A pause, then another swish of the switch through the air followed by a loud snap as it strikes the desk. Courfeyrac startles a bit in his seat on the sofa, but watches intently for Marius's reaction. He needn't have worried; if Marius is surprised, the look on his face—eyes wide, lips parted in a soft gasp—is blissful rather than frightened.
At the sound of the branch striking the desk beside him, Marius's body feels as if he's been drenched in a flood of wanting. If the anticipation is this intense, how much better will the fulfillment of his fantasy be? As this initial reverie begins to fade, Marius realises that he is expected to respond. “Yes, sir. Yes, I have been practicing.”
Grantaire nods, moving the switch in a broad gesture through the air, and Marius understands implicitly that this is an indication to stay still and await further instruction. “Very well. Let's see how much has managed to sink in.” Another swish of the switch through the air. Marius is on edge already; if it were possible for him to need this more desperately than he had before, he does now. Grantaire continues, “You will translate each sentence I give you into German. There will be rewards for your successes! But you must also be corrected for your mistakes. Are you ready to begin?” In spite of his disinterested instructor’s voice, Grantaire looks Marius in the eye attentively. As with Courfeyrac, there is no need. Marius's pupils are dark, his cheeks pink, and he nods. Another snap against the desk. “Answer me aloud, boy.”
“Yes! Yes, sir.”
“Very well. Let's begin with something simple. I walked to the bakery.”
Marius nodded, and responded, “Ich spazierte zur Backerei.”
“Wichtig. The boy got up at 7.”
"Der Junge stand um 7 Uhr auf.”
“Last night he fell asleep at 10.”
“Letzte Nacht schlafte er um 10 Uhr ein.”
“Falsch.” The switch snaps down against the wood of the desk, and Marius jumps. “Stand up.”
This is it—this is what Marius has been waiting for, what this whole setup has been building toward, and his body is flooded with anticipation. Marius trembles slightly as he slowly raises himself from his seat at the desk. His head is spinning and his skin feels electric.
Grantaire continues to give instructions. “Step over to the front of your desk—that's it—now bend over and place your hands on the desk.” Marius follows the instructions to the best of his ability, steadying himself against the desk and reminding himself to breathe. He's glad this is finally happening because, with the way he feels right now, he could not have waited any longer.
“I'm going to unfasten your trousers.” And with this comment Grantaire steps in front of Marius to look him in the eyes, to confirm that this is still Marius’ desire. Marius nods, his eyes wide and wanting, and Grantaire seems to have no doubts. He steps back behind Marius and reaches around him to unfasten his trousers, then tugs them down sharply until the waistband rests around Marius's knees; they'd had the foresight to let his braces hang down around his thighs to make this simpler. Grantaire flips up the back of Marius's shirttail with his switch, then runs his free hand up Marius's thigh, over his backside, and rubs gently at his upper back under his shirt. Grantaire watches carefully as Marius's breathing slows and the tension in his posture relaxes. “Hold still,” Grantaire instructs, his voice more stern this time. “And don't move your hands.” Marius swallows, and barely has time to nod before he hears the whish of the switch cutting through the air behind him.
When the stroke lands, it is not as loud as when the branch had struck the desk, but it still makes quite an impact. Marius inhales sharply, and his head jerks up from where it had been hanging between his shoulders, but he makes no noise nor gives any sign of displeasure; he feels none. Indeed, his cheeks begin to pink. So this is what it feels like—this is his fantasy. He can feel the sting dancing along the line where the switch had landed. It feels sharp and fresh and warm. Marius feels a thrill; he's only been struck once and his head already feels like it's swimming. He mumbles quietly, “Thank you, sir.”
Grantaire grins. “Excellent. Stay bent over the desk as we continue. Translate: I wrote her a letter.”
Marius's voice shakes slightly as he pronounces, “Ich schrieb ihr einen Brief.”
“Genau.” Grantaire strokes a hand through Marius's hair, which only serves to deepen the feeling of having gone under. But he continues shortly, “ I had known her since childhood.”
“Ich hatte sie von Kindheit gekannt.”
“I thought about her daily, until I saw her again.”
“Ich denkte— no, no, ich dachte uber sie jeden Tag, bis ich sah sie wieder.”
This time Marius gets no warning. The switch strikes him hard and fast, not once but twice in succession, and Marius gasps aloud. “Two mistakes,” Grantaire says by way of explanation, and Marius realizes he'd also mistaken his word order.
The translations get progressively more difficult, and soon the preterite tense is the least of Marius's problems. His mistakes come from vocabulary, from improper declensions, from inappropriate prepositions. The haziness in his mind seems to cloud his ability to find the right words, and for once, he doesn't mind. For each mistake, Marius receives a strike with the switch. A low burn is beginning to build up in his backside with each strike, and Marius suspects that they are leaving welts. The sting is just what he needs, the heat, and Marius feels himself relaxing into the blows. His face is pleasantly warm, and in spite of the pain he wants to smile. He couldn't articulate why he likes this, has wanted it for so long, if he tried; after all, he had tried with Courfeyrac and could not make even Courfeyrac understand. All he knows is that it is good, and that this thing he sought, he has finally found.
They continue. In spite of his heady state, Marius's performance has suffered only somewhat. Even so, the feelings he so craved are growing to be more intense than he anticipated--not that he had known what to expect at all. His breath is coming faster than he would like, and the heat in his backside is rising to an uncomfortable, painful height. Each stroke is becoming more overwhelming than the last. Marius comes hazily to the realization that this is enough; all he had wanted, he had accomplished it. With little thought, his hand balls into a fist and he begins to tap the desk rapidly, prompting Grantaire to cease his questions and walk around the desk to face him. Marius lifts his head and raises his eyes to meet Grantaire's concerned gaze. “I... I believe...” Grantaire can see from Marius's expression that he is searching for something, perhaps the right words.
He prompts, “Is that enough?”
Marius swallows, then gives a small nod. “Yes. I'm satisfied, thank you. That was... good.” His pupils are wide and hazy and his smile is blissful.
Grantaire places the switch on the desk and moves his hand to rub Marius's back. “My pleasure to indulge you as well, Pontmercy.”
The young man shakes his head, offering Grantaire a lopsided and well-pleased smile. “Call me Marius.”
Courfeyrac comes up to Marius slowly, carefully. “Are you quite all right, Marius?”
Marius turns to face him, and relaxes even further at the reminder that his dear friend was here all along. “Never better,” and Courfeyrac can see this for himself; the look on Marius's face is euphoric. He is smiling giddily and his face lit up with something faraway. It was both similar to and different from the familiar look after Courfeyrac had pleasured him. Perhaps this was a different kind of pleasure, then. Courfeyrac no longer regrets having found a way to indulge him. He steps forward and places a gentle kiss to Marius's brow before wrapping his arms around Marius to hold him. His breath is warm against Marius's ear as he speaks. “I'm glad you enjoyed that so much—I admit I was worried at first.”
Marius turns his head to kiss his friend back. “Thank you. For all of this. I'm sorry I can be so much trouble. But I'm very grateful.”
Courfeyrac begins to protest, “Your thanks all belong to Grantaire. I hardly did anything to help you—indeed, I was almost too reluctant.”
“But you weren't.” Marius's disagreement is spoken with a rare self-assurance. “I asked you for a way to indulge in this in safety. You gave me everything I asked for. And so I do thank you.”
There is a lull in the conversation in which Courfeyrac simply holds Marius as he slowly comes back to himself. Quietly, so as not to disturb the peace of the moment, Grantaire offers, “You're both welcome to my sofa if you'd like to stay.” There is a fondness in his eyes. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
Marius looks up at Grantaire, then back at Courfeyrac. His usual hesitance is back, but he manages to ask: “...Can we do this again sometime?”
Courfeyrac looks to Grantaire for a response, and his friend only grins.