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An Aerie of Eagles

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Grantaire had drawn enough archangels. Years in art school, copying tasteless chapel ceilings- every dusty old codger with a paintbrush seemed to be obsessed with every fop in a bed sheet he could find.

All of which should have made the figure across the square unappealing. Well, that and the blinding, golden light radiating from the halo-like hair and the sunlight gleaming off his huge, wildly gesticulating wings which was not helping his gnawing hangover.

He was peaching some kind of politics. Something about freedom, and republic, and Patria- his optimism shone out even more aggressively then the light.

This insatiable brightness should have warned Grantaire away, but nonetheless, he found his fingers curling around his pencil stub, and his hand reaching out and taking a pamphlet from one of the attending students.

In a daze, he opened it and started sketching. “You’re never going to get it right, anyway.” he thought “Charcoal's all wrong for this.” Still, he began to sketch.

He did his best to tune out the figure’s words, until a voice cut through his thoughts-

“Brothers, do not let France sink back into darkness! For too long has our nation languished under tyranny! Let us rise up and take back our destiny.”

Something in Grantaire snapped- “Destiny can hardly be taken. That’s the point! Fate isn't some grisette you can seduce.” He shouted. He didn't expect much to happen. Hecklers where common enough.

He certainly didn't expect the speaker to turn on him with an intense, dark blue stare and look him straight in the eyes. “But what is life except a struggle to control one’s own destiny? We may be brief and mortal, but what we build together can heal or harm for a thousand years!”

“And a thousand years ago, they built the monarchy, and look where that’s gotten us. That’s the problem, you pretty boys all think you’re the first, but every time any one of you wants to build you just end up breaking.”

The speaker’s golden wings drooped slightly. “I do not relish any kind of breaking, any more then a surgeon relishes a surgery. Yet, France's life is at stake. I will not allow this cancer of corruption to consume her life! I will not let everything we know and love fall to dust.”

Grantaire shook his head, as he turned away from the intense blue stare. “You can hardly help that; everything is already dust.”

***

He hadn't even wanted to draw today. He had no reason to come to the market, but he hadn't slept, and when he couldn't sleep he walked. Sometimes when he wandered, he ended up here. He certainly hadn't come back deliberately.

Certainly not.

So it came as a shock to him when, through the miserable soaking summer rain, he caught a flash of golden feathers. It was the same young man as last week. Giving up, he slid onto the edges of the crowd.

“-Liberty, equality and fraternity. They are our heartbeat, our lifeblood. Why are we letting them be drained by those leeches in the palace? They mock our ideals and make our hopes hollow. They think that they can take our hope and our voices and leave us with nothing. But they cannot take those things from us unless we consent to give them this power, we must rise up and defend them. We must-”

Grantaire had to laugh “Oi! Popinjay. You haven’t been silenced! Stop putting words in other’s mouths and maybe you’ll get somewhere.”

The figure turned to him and grinned. “Ah, my friend from last week- I did not choose my birth and have renounced it. Though we cannot choose the society in which we are born, we can choose the one which we leave behind.”

Grantaire chuckled wryly “But you are making that choice for others who you do not represent- You can’t possibly understand the entirety of society well enough to fix all its present and future ills in one swoop. You are as ambitious as any- it’s just the future you want to colonize!”

The young man on the podium froze as still as a marble statue. Grantaire had never seen wings puff up the way the other man’s were doing, but it was not a sight he relished seeing again. Lightening flashed behind the blue eyes and for the first time Grantaire felt a shiver of something else- something like fear- and realized with a shiver that it was awe.

Then, strangely, the wings relaxed, and the fell blue anger went as quickly as it came. Instead it was replaced by a smile of challenge- and Grantaire realized- the thrill of a fight. The golden hair and wings seemed to call to mind celestial armor and- too late- Grantaire realized that this figure was every bit the avenging godling he seemed to be.

“Never. Never think that I wish to rule. Not the past, not the present, and never the future. I would sooner cease to be then allow myself to oppress a single soul- living or unborn. No. I, and my fellows, seek to create a system of government where those who have been silenced can find their voices. Freed to speak their minds, they will decide the solutions to problems that will arise long after my bones are dust. To cheapen that dream by conflating it with paltry ambition is a gross misdeed. You do not understand- I do not know everything, but, together, we all do. With the avenues to unite out collective knowledge, how could we not thrive?”

Grantaire was suddenly struck by the mental image of the speaker drawing a sword made of light and charging, golden-armored, at the head of a heavenly host. Damned chapel ceilings. Was he actually glowing? No, Grantaire assured himself, the sun had simply come out.

Still- the unwanted feeling of elation that this filled him with was real enough, and the cheers where deafening. They almost blotted out the mocking laughter the seemed to constantly be running in the back of his mind. Grantaire was all but drowned in aggressive joy- he had to actually bit his lip to keep himself from joining the applause.

The golden figure motion for silence. “Our pamphlets explain it further. And, my friend, we must continue our debate!” They laughed, but Grantaire rolled his eyes and turned to leave. At the edge of the crowd, a large man in a scarlet waistcoat Grantaire had not noticed was looming near him grabbed his arm, shoved a pamphlet into his hands, and growled in his ear: “Saturday evening at the Cafe Musain. Come alone.” Grantaire wrenched himself free. He almost threw the paper into the gutter. He nearly shrugged off the shivers falling down his spine. He almost stalked back into the night. He nearly left- left the debate, left the square, and left forever brittle revolutions to their zealous angels. But for one thing, he would have simply melted back into the night and never had a moment more of this strange golden light- but the man in the bright waistcoat had wings.

Grantaire muttered a thank you and retreated quietly.

***

The cafe was an aviary. Grantaire had simply never seen so many or such a variety of wings in one room. The colors would have blinded him, had he not been wearing a skeptical scowl from the moment he rounded the corner. A squint was not such a great distance.

The cacophony of voices was not quite birdsong, but is was loud as any exotic zoo. Grantaire just stopped and stared. There were varieties of wings he had only seen in books- where did they get them? One young man who looked to be reading something out loud had iridescent blue-green wings that never stood still- a two pairs of finch wings and a sparrow hovered appreciatively behind him with the- goshawk was it?- he’d met earlier that week. Then the reader fell back dramatically, his wings twitching in a frankly erie way- the end of a poem, from the Romantic look of the hummingbird. In a corner, two young men- one with brown-and-white wings and the other with red-and-yellow ones, were so deep in conversation that he couldn't see their faces.

Grantaire turned to leave. He had no business in a flock of angels, especially since he so rarely looked at his own wings anymore. This would never work, and there was no point in illustrating that fact, he was about to turn and leave-

When a hand thumped down on his shoulder.

He turned to face the young man from the market. In the candlelight, he looked lit from within. His blue eyes met Grantaire’s dark grey ones and smiled. “Good to see you came, citizen. Call me Enjolras.”

Grantaire had no idea what was happening. The floor seemed to be falling out from under him. He felt condemned and, at the same time, set free. In a daze he nodded his greetings as Enjolras introduced the others, ending with “- we are the Society of the Friends of the Abaissé, and you know our purpose. My friends,” he said “this is the man some of you saw at the market these past two weeks.” “The cynic? Well, he’ll keep us on our toes, at least.”” said the bespectacled man with the brown and white wings in the corner. “Oh, come off it, Combeferre! Good for you, Enjolras, you’re not so bad at recruiting as all that. Welcome, stranger, you’ll find good company here!” Replied the red and yellow wings. In this way they made a space for him.

He didn't want to stay. He had been in darkness so long, and he feared to drown in light. Still, there was something in him, which he had thought dead, but had been woken the minute he saw the eagle wings glinting across the square that hungered for that brightness. Like the sparkle along the icy crust of a half-frozen river, it could not be drowned out by the dark water that rushed beneath it. He felt so cold, and this warmth drew him, even if he feared that to go near it would destroy him. All this debate was too much for him. He picked the darkest corner, ordered himself a drink, and hunkered down to stay.