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The Act You've Known For All These Years

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Sunday night.

The records and record-player were Joly's, the now-abandoned water-pipe Jehan's, and the room Bossuet's--if one wanted to be particular about these things.  At any rate, the pipe would go back with Jehan when he left.  The lingering smoke was common property at this point.

Bossuet had stuck to a sober bottle or two of beer.  Sometimes Joly got panicky and Jehan would never think to look out for him...but still, Bossuet smiled looking at the two of them.  They were in proper form, lying on their backs and staring up at the ceiling, where Jehan had insisted on tacking up a cotton Indian cloth, elephant prints and peacocks and paisleys.  If everyone was playing a part, just a little bit, that was forgivable.  Jehan had the knack--the blessing?--of trying poses without being a poseur.  (The music wasn't quite right, imperfect, not exactly up to Jehan's standards for Experiencing Things, but it was Joly's favorite and--Bossuet had put his foot down.) So there they were, Joly and Jehan beaming seraphically at the ceiling, and Bossuet nursing his beer cross-legged on the floor beside them.

What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you but I know it's mine.The record was on its second go-round because no one had felt like finding the White Album among the debris of paper plates and napkins.  Bossuet wasn't really listening anymore.  They had a translation of the lyrics somewhere, he was fond enough of the songs, but not quite at Joly's level of enthusiasm.

"Hey, Joly."

"Mmmmm."

"Are you two...you know..."

"What."

"Are you guys fucking?"

"Well, that would be very unprofessional, wouldn't it," said Bossuet, pinching the bridge of his nose; "Like rabbits," drawled Joly at the same moment and rather more distinctly.  Wonderful.

"And Musichetta?"

"Naturally." 

"Far out."

Bossuet rubbed his face with his hands.  "Jehan, it's 2006.  No one, even in English, has said far out in...in a very long time."

"How do you know it's 2006?  I mean, really 2006?"

"I..."

"Can I watch sometime?" 

Joly rolled over onto his stomach and stared at Jehan's hair.  "Jehan," he said, after an indeterminate period of time, "That would just be weird."

 

-----

 

Monday morning.

"Bahorel, you're late."

"Good morning and so's everyone else."

"Joly isn't." 

Joly, not late, snickered.  Bahorel aimed a loose punch in the direction of his arm.  Jehan arrived, saw Joly, and turned bright red, something Bahorel made a mental note to investigate later.  They settled in to review their files.  A brief task: the files at this point consisted only of a list of names and several blank notebooks.  Bahorel swore at her list after reading it, as she did every week.  The room was otherwise quiet until a minor commotion at the door made everyone look up.  "--Courfeyrac, thank you for joining us, finally."

"I was dressing," said Courfeyrac, "But now I am here.  And I'll make everyone coffee as penance for my...five minutes' tardiness.  Five minutes.  Combeferre, tell the truth, do you set that clock thirty seconds earlier every week?"  Bahorel was setting up her notebooks when coffee appeared at her elbow.  She smiled up at the other woman and took a moment to dutifully appreciate the morning's sartorial efforts.  "Channeling George Sand now?" "I only do it to annoy." "You look like my grandfather." "Thanks.  You look like a Christmas tree, is that vest new?"  Courfeyrac took a seat with a skillful flourish of her coattails; you had to appreciate her devotion to detail. 

And--then the meeting began and ended.  Combeferre thanked everyone for last week's hard work, expressed confidence in their capacity for this week's hard work, gave them a few more minutes to finish their coffee, and let the week proceed.

-

After Jehan saw their first guest out of the office he took a moment to widen his eyes meaningfully at Bahorel, who shook her head.  No.  Not the time for that, Jehan.  Later to decompress.  Someone new would be coming through the door in...about ten seconds, yes.

By which point Jehan was seated at Bahorel's elbow again, smiling professionally.  They got up, nodded to the new arrival, suggested he hang his coat on the rack, shook hands, settled again into seats.  A pause.  Good morning; a cup of coffee offered and declined.  Tea?  Chocolate?  No?  Then let's just quickly confirm your name and birthdate for their records--René Enjolras, 3 October 1985?  Yes.

Another pause.  This was all as usual, and Bahorel started into the usual speech.  "I think you already understand the situation, but I need to inform you officially.  M. Enjolras, you died yesterday.  --I'm very sorry for your loss." 

I'm very sorry for your loss, echoed Jehan beside her, and the young man on the other side of the desk nodded politely, as they usually did at this point.  No.  Actually.  He nodded impatiently.  Moving along, then.  "You'll be staying with us for one week.  Everyone gets a private room, there's a map of the facilities on the nightstand.  Just relax and enjoy yourself.   Everyone on the staff is here to make you welcome.  But while you are here, you have one job. From the entire twenty years of your life, we need you to select one memory.  One memory that was meaningful or precious to you.  You'll have three days to decide.  When you've chosen your memory, our staff will do their best to recreate the scene and capture it on camera.  On Saturday we'll screen the video for you. As soon as you've relived your memory, you will move on, taking only that memory with...you...um.  Do you want to..."

They didn't usually stand up at this point and walk to the door.  Jehan caught up to him first and reached for his elbow: the young man intercepted his hand and shook it firmly and dismissively.  "Thanks.  I think I understand.  If you'll excuse me...?"  Polite of him to make it sound like a question.

-


(And work continued.

Bahorel and the Policeman: "If I select one memory, I forget everything else?  I only...have the thoughts that I had at that moment?  The certainties?"  "Right."  "It seems dishonest. --On the part of the person choosing, I mean.  Not you.  But you're letting me judge and sentence myself."

Combeferre and the Nun:  "One memory?  Hmm, hmm.  Something with my family, of course.  I'm a great-grandmother now, I have a picture somewhere in my purse...well...yes, there.  Pretty, aren't they?  A great-grandmother.  And I wanted to be a nun once.  But the war...yes, I wanted to be a nun. I had a calling.  But I was cleaning a floor, I was scrubbing it and the words were in my head, Et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris...I was very proud of my Latin, it was a confession I often made about that, vanity, and I was learning Greek too.  I was scrubbing the floor and the words were in my head and I thought, very clearly, If a German came into this room right now I would take up that knife and kill him.  It was the kitchen, you understand, there were many knives.  --What year was that?  Oh, it was 1940.  So I spoke to my friend.  She was older than me, she was...I would call her a spiritual advisor, not formally, but she was, she was a very thoughtful woman, very careful in her thoughts.  But not closed off.  We kept in touch until she died.  That was sad, I was very sad about that.  Cancer, she wasn't old, fifty-six or fifty-seven.  And here I am, eighty-seven.  So, a family memory, of course, that's what you would want to take with you, of course.  Of course."

Joly and the Broad-Minded Gentleman:  "So Heaven is diverse too.  Multi-faith.  That's good, that's good.  I don't have a problem with that.  Shouldn't be segregated.  Christians, Muslims...are you a Muslim?  No?  No, you look like you're from a different part of Africa.  I had a girlfriend once from Senegal, are you from there?  It didn't work out.  Her family didn't want to talk to me.  See, I think that's narrow-minded." 

Courfeyrac and the Profound Thinker: "So...one memory.  To take with us.  Where?  You don't know?  Ha.  Ha, of course, no one knows.  Do you believe in reincarnation?  You'd want something really useful to take with you in that case, wouldn't you.  It's like one of those mind problems where you pick survival items for a desert island shipwreck.  --Is there an internet connection here?  No?")

-

So Jehan scuttled along after their runaway guest, pausing only to stuff a packet of tissues into his pocket in case of crying.  It happened less often than you'd think, but this seemed to be an unusual case

Of course, pausing for tissues meant that he lost track of his quarry and had to lose more time popping his head into rooms along the way.  Where would you go if you were a very young man who had just died and wanted to consider it?  Jehan was partial to the rooftop, himself, but that required a key... In the library, Musichetta was skimming through a coffee-table book of 1950s fashion and making sketches.  "Did you see...?" "Blond in a red coat?  He went thataway, sheriff."  The last phrase was in English, and she had to gesture: through the library, out to the courtyard.

At least the blond-in-a-red-coat had stayed put in the courtyard, not passed through.  He was walking in tight circles with his arms crossed, his hair fluttering a bit in the wind, nearly in time with the waystation flag on top of the roof: a scene that Jehan paused momentarily to admire.  Sometimes things like that really did happen, life and art holding hands.  He walked carefully and quietly up to the man and waited to be noticed.

"You didn't need to follow me.  I told you, I understand.  I just need--to think."

"Yes."  Jehan moistened his lips.  "Yes, this is a good place for it.  But listen, if I take, oh, ten minutes, to make a thermos of tea and let Bahorel know I found you, will you stay and wait?"

"...Coffee."

 

-----

 

Monday night.

"Christ, I think I dated that guy."

"Wait, you were in France in the seventies?"

"...Not literally that That Guy.  His Canadian cousin from the eighties, or something.  That Guy, Capital T, Capital G. --Hey, Feuilly."

"Hallo, Musichetta.  Which guy is this?"

"One of Joly's."

"Hm.  Anything interesting today?"

"Maybe.  Courfeyrac has an art teacher in the mix, she seems pretty sure she wants something from her work.  Before the kids arrive in the morning, putting out supplies for the first class."

"Hmmmm.  Children's art..."

"It could be fun."

They didn't have an official meeting Monday nights.  Everyone talked about work anyway.  Bossuet had no objections.  Joly always needed to debrief, and the production team was generally eager for any kind of head start they could get.  Musichetta was already asking what year this scene would be, she's been pulling together several outfits from the seventies; Feuilly was asking how old the children were, upper level art classes would be pretty sophisticated but is this more like kiddie arts and crafts.... Joly was waving his hands: wait, wait, guys, she hasn't settled on this memory yet for sure, it's just something she's thinking about and anyway it's Courfeyrac's case, I didn't talk to the lady myself.... Bossuet slid down in the ratty old armchair and closed his eyes, smiling.  Probably no one would mind if he stole a quick nap. 

The chair lurched.  "Bossuet!  Bossuet, you old tomcat, you look like you ate the canary, the brie, and a plate of sushi all at once.  Musichetta must be keeping you well fed."

"Oh.  Grantaire.  I agree, it is a lovely evening and I'm very well, thank you for asking.  And how are you?"

"Miserable.  Conscious."  Bossuet opened an eye and closed it again immediately: Grantaire was indeed draped over the back of his chair, breathing into his face.  "I come here to escape my ennui, thinking 'oh, the recreation room, surely someone there will be engaged in leisure, escape, their noses well away from the grindstone.'  What do I hear when I arrive? 'Photo references for nineteen-seventies schoolrooms' and 'maybe some collages or pastels.'  Is this recreational or merely the tedious work of re-creation?  I would go back to my bed but I've exhausted every form of solitary recreation there already." 

"Have you tried the library?  I hear they have books there.  The whole world of the human imagination before you."

"Firstly, fuck the human imagination and the symbolo-metaphorico-Jungian-archetypal-Freudian horse it rode in on.  Secondly, I did try the library, Jehan is looking into the mirror there.  Which is to say he's found another beautiful young corpse." 

Bossuet could hear Musichetta and Feuilly moving away.   Well--they didn't have his investment.  He opened his eyes and found a smile for Grantaire.  No point in anything else.  "And what does that make me?"

"Not beautiful or young.  Joly, I haven't offended you lately, have I?"

"Never in your life."

"Then...listen, would you say a word or two to Combeferre for me?  I think my silver tongue might be a little tarnished these days, no doubt from lack of proper use, and it struck me...that is...last week, you know, I..."

"You're very sorry, you didn't mean what you said, you don't quit and you don't want to work anywhere but here for forever and a day?"

"Something like that.  You would put in a word?"

"Naturally."

Chapter Text

Tuesday morning.

Tuesday refined Monday.  Interviewers and interviewees had eased the brittleness that always marked that first meeting; had also, hopefully, broken through or sidestepped whatever pretenses the guests needed to put up.  And by Tuesday, after a night to think, most guests had an idea or two of what they wanted.  Their memory, their one memory: precious to them, or comforting, representative, symbolic, intense, fun, solemn, serene.  Sometimes it was clear that a person simply struggled to find the least painful moment of a life they were eager to shed. 

So, a second take:

Courfeyrac and the Profound Thinker: actually Laurent Peltier, age 24.

"Gooood morning, good morning.  Were you comfortable in your room?  Everything in good condition?  The light was all right?  I know there was a work order in for that room to change the bulb…it was fine?  Good-good.  I really am sorry about the internet.  Trust me, I know it’s an adjustment.” 

"No, it’s fine.  Whatever.  I can live without it.  Or, heh, not."  He pushed back his hair and Courfeyrac quelled the impulse to imagine improvements.  (Different haircut, shave properly, lose the tee-shirt for something with a little fit to it, try a bolder set of glasses frames…it didn’t matter.  He was fine.  He did not require her interventions.)  "It’s just.  Without knowing what I’m going to do with this memory thing.  I don’t know what to focus on.”

Courfeyrac rested her chin on her folded hands and frowned.  “Do you find that it matters so much?  Knowing what comes next?”

"Well, yeah.  Obviously.  It’s kind of bullshit not knowing.  Do I just live in that memory forever?  Or is it a reincarnation kind of thing where suddenly I’ll be in a place and it’s like hey, I know this.  Like—imagine if your one special memory was sitting and reading Wikipedia, would you, like…wake up one morning and know everything in Wikipedia in your next life?  Like, imagine that, starting life knowing all of Wikipedia.  What a crazy head start.”

"I…you know, I have never considered that.  Do you want to be reading Wikipedia?”

"No, it’s just…"

"Some people start with a family memory."

"My family is stupid."

"Ah.  Yes.  I hear you on that. —Anyway.  I don’t think reincarnation is on the table.  I appealed to authority: I double-checked with my boss.  She was quite clear.  You spend eternity with this memory.  So is there anything…?"

"I was thinking maybe…it’s dumb but…"  If she had a euro for every time she’d heard that phrase, Courfeyrac thought, she could—well, make a very expensive scale model of the Eiffel Tower or something.  "I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything here that I thought was dumb.  Tell me."

-

Tuesday noon.

Enjolras looks over his shoulder at the clock.  It chimes.  Ding dong bing bong, bong dong ding bing.  It’s a tinny recording, not real bells.  Trivial. It should be sending him scurrying to an interview with Jean-with-an-H and his supervisor, but he pushes open the door to the courtyard anyway.

Ah, damn.  He’s not alone, someone is sprawled on a bench with a book over his chest.  A thick book.  Curiosity pulls Enjolras three steps closer, and then fear brings him stumbling to the side of the bench: red splatters on the man’s shirt, under the book, spreading out from—

—from a bottle of wine, hidden by a now-sodden volume.  Carlyle’s French Revolution.  So at least nothing valuable has been lost.  The man grunts and shifts without waking, and Enjolras turns away.  But—damn again—that’s not fair of him, is it.  Judgment.  Arrogance.  Disdain.  Based on one bottle of wine and an overrated book.  Based, yes, all right, it’s true, based on the embarrassment of mistaking wine for blood.  Which is, considered even more scrupulously, the embarrassment of having worried for the wrong reason.  And that is shameful in and of itself, to resent an impulse to care, even if mistaken.

By way of self-mortification Enjolras forces himself to study the sleeper.  To sympathize.  The man looks a few years older than himself, say twenty-five.  Sleek black hair, a little greasy, tangled in the dark jacket wedged carelessly under his head for a pillow.  What can one surmise besides “passed out drunk in public?”  Literate?  Anglophone?  Unconcerned with polishing shoes?  Asian?  Half-Asian? Chinese? Vietnamese?  God, it was stupid and intrusive and condescending to speculate.  Everything about the last minute was stupid and intrusive and condescending.  This couldn’t be what people meant when they told him to pay more attention to individuals. 

"Enjolras!"  And now he’d been caught.  Jean-with-an-H came loping over, half-laughing, until he spotted the sleeper and went pink.  "Oh.  Um.  That’s…he works here."

"Yes, I saw the logo on his jacket."

"Yes."  Jehan appeared to be studying his colleague more productively than Enjolras had: he sighed.  "I’m sorry.  You don’t need to worry, he’s…he’ll be fine."

"Evidently." 

"I’ll, I’ll let someone know he’s here."  Enjolras didn’t shy away from the touch at his elbow this time; he let Jehan lead him back to the door.  "We could talk in the library if you’d rather not go to the office?"

-

Tuesday night.

The Tuesday night meeting was for early troubleshooting.  The interview team, the heads of the production department.  Usually at least one case needed serious wrangling.  This week, four.  Combeferre started the powerpoint and frowned at the face on the screen.  “Well—this is merely a supply difficulty.  We need guns.  And a sizable ammunition cache.  Something on a mountainside.”

"…Combeferre, what.  You only have two cases.  One of them is a nun!"

"She was considering being a nun."  Combeferre pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose, still frowning.  "I don’t see this as a problem.  I’ll put in a call to the central supply office.  But if I may complain for a moment: I find it very frustrating that we can’t keep this kind of thing on our premises.  I’m sending in requests for firearms at least three or four times a year and—unfortunately—I don’t see that stopping any time soon.  If firearms are required, we can be trusted with them as much as anyone else.  They wouldn’t even be loaded. —Garand, you and your team can find us a mountainside, yes?  Wonderful.  Thank you.  Joly, you said you had a supply situation as well?"

"Um."  He coughed.  "Ducks."

"It shouldn’t be difficult to film at one of the usual parks.  Aren’t there ducks at that pond—"

"Special ducks."  Joly flicked the powerpoint to the next slide, the face of Musichetta’s That Guy.  "M. Raymond.  When he was done educating me in politics he revealed his hobby as a breeder of…Indian Runner ducks.  See, I wrote it down.  Indian Runners.   Bahorel, stop.”  Joly carried on in the face of oppression.  “He and his son took them to shows.  They had prize-winning Indian Runners.  It was a bonding experience.  Very important to him.  He told me all the shows where they had taken ribbons.  He drew me a picture.  Bahorel, ow!  You’ll fracture my clavicle.  Combeferre, tell Bahorel—”

"Yes, all right.  Friends, can we have a little order?  A little order, please."

When it had been settled that ducks were highly amusing but that everyone was in fact an adult capable of maintaining a professional demeanor, they moved to Bahorel and Jehan.  Bahorel had left off pummeling Joly; now she drummed her hands on the tabletop with a far-away expression.  “Yeah.  Yes.  So.  I have two.  And no amusing ducks.  The first one…hey, Jehan, you’ve talked to him more than I have.  You two were communing with nature.”

"We weren’t talking about nature.  I don’t think Enjolras is interested in nature." 

"Well, then?"

"We were talking about the future.  And history.  He’s really…he’s a brilliant person, he has brilliant ideas.  —Anyway, he was explaining the riots in November.  You haven’t forgotten about those already.  I know we don’t get the news here but really.”

Bahorel got up from her chair, paced over to the window, paced back, didn’t settle.  With a sideways look between Bahorel and Combeferre, Courfeyrac took over questioning: so, what’s the trouble?  Can’t he come up with a good memory?  He’s a good-looking guy, was there a girlfriend?  Boyfriend?  …Friend friend?  Happy afternoon playing in the park with the family dog?”

"He feels that he isn’t finished yet."  A growl from Bahorel.  "No, he understands that he’s dead.  He’s not stupid.  He just….feels that he still has something left to accomplish.”

What could anyone say to that?  Bahorel’s other problem case wasn’t any better: an intelligent and scrupulous and unforgiving man, a suicide who found it dishonest in his case to cherish a moment of contentment.  And what could anyone say to that?  The meeting ended on a subdued note.


-

It became apparent by the way they lingered that both Joly and Bahorel wanted a word with Combeferre; after an awkward shuffle Joly spoke first and Bahorel sauntered out into the hall.  Grantaire was very sorry about last week, didn’t mean anything he’d said about transferring, et cetera.  Combeferre looked at him.  He looked at her.  Joly coughed.

"I didn’t really need to say that, did I.  But he was worried."

"I understand.  I should…I will have a word with him.  Joly, you know him fairly well.  This is, what, the eighth or ninth station he’s worked at?  In some capacity?"

"I think so.  He really is a very good camera man when he’s—and he has an eye for locations and set design—his work is—"

"Joly.  Jolllly.  Don’t worry.  I’m not trying to send him away.  I would like to see him happier in his talents.  Go on, good night.  I’ll put in a few calls about ducks for you.”

And with Joly disposed of, that left Bahorel.  Combeferre found her in the hall, perched on the radiator and kicking her heels.  All in all, she thought wearily,  Courfeyrac was correct.  This outfit, the same as yesterday, did suggest a Christmas tree.  What would you call the color of that shirt. Not forest green. A dark sage? The vest was undeniably red. Probably it should be discouraged.  So, probably, should Courfeyrac’s flights of costume fancy.  And then you got to Jehan, who didn’t even mean to; and of all the trivial things to try to keep in order….  There were reasons this particular waystation forgot the usual unspoken dress code.  Only the reasons never formed anything coherent from day to day.  One might go a little mad, if one were so inclined.

"Citizen?"

"Citizen."

They walked together very quietly to the library.

"I am too old for this shit."

"Do you want to leave?"

"—Can’t."

"You could work in another area.  Or would you like to take a spell to get the archives in order?  That’s long overdue.  Jehan’s almost ready to handle interviews himself…well, soon.  Maybe Bossuet would be interested?  We need Musichetta where she is in the costume department, or I’d ask her—"

For fuck’s sake, Combeferre.  Have you ever tried not making everything work out?”

——

Wednesday morning at five o’clock: the day should be ending for Bossuet, night watchman, and barely beginning for Combeferre, waystation director.  Bossuet was entirely unsurprised, walking his rounds, to see the light on in Combeferre’s office.  He opened the door to offer to make a cup of tea—and then backed out again silently.  The book on her desk had become a pillow and she was snoring. 

Very gently, very gently.

Chapter Text

Bossuet had not been asleep.  He really and truly hadn’t.  The pair of hands laced over his eyes and the Guess Who in his ear didn’t wake him, because he had most assuredly not been asleep at his workstation. 

He took the hands carefully away, and since there was no one else around he kissed first the knuckles—rather broad, very dark, scarred on the left hand—and then the palms—deeply creased, soft, pink.  When did he last tell Joly that he would have made a brilliant doctor?  “Your patients are lucky to have you,” he said instead, and Joly laughed and nudged the top of his head.  “And you, orator of Meaux, you have a captive audience awaiting your pronouncements.”

-

Good morning, everyone. It’s now Wednesday morning. Today is the deadline for choosing your memories. You absolutely must make your choice by sundown. 

The loudspeaker voice, German-accented, was plain and cheerful and managed to make the wooden script and intercom crackles seem welcoming.  At least, so felt Florence Antoine, already awake and putting on her earrings.  She had selected her memory on Monday.  Since then she had simply enjoyed her chats with the Courfeyrac girl.  Who else would listen to an old lady natter on about her years as an art teacher?  But Courfeyrac clearly enjoyed it.  La Courfeyrac, Florence had said: stylish as any actress or grand lady of the opera, shaking her curly hair.  They had laughed together, and then gone back to memories.  —What year did you start teaching there? — Let me think, it was 1965.  I had been at two other schools before that, temporary positions, but that was where I settled.  Titon, l’École Élémentaire de Titon.  I taught there until I retired.  Oh, the place changed quite a bit over the years but, you know, children are children.  They say young people’s manners have changed a lot but it’s just the outer forms. Children aren’t so different.  —But you would prefer a memory alone in the classroom? —Yes.  Yes, you know, there’s something very special about those minutes where you lay everything out for the day.  You’ll laugh but it’s very meditative. —No, I can see that.  —You have your mind to yourself.  But at the same time you know you aren’t alone. —And you had a year picked out for this memory.  —1973, 74.  You see, I had a boyfriend then. He taught the older classes. —Ah!  Didn’t work out, though?  —There was a wife. 


The loudspeaker voice, German-accented, intruded on Marie Madeleine Allègre’s prayers.  She had found a door marked CHAPEL; the room it revealed was like many another CHAPEL she had seen in hospitals and airports.  Particularly in America.  So generic as neither to offend nor attract, and good enough for her thoughts.  She crossed herself and put away her collection of photographs.

The loudspeaker voice, German-accented, prompted an amiable “piss off, Bossuet” from Feuilly, who wound himself tighter in his sheets.  Wednesday morning meant that he still had a little breather before the Thursday-Friday rush job of filming.  What was on his schedule today, anyway?  Garand wanted him to tag along with him and Grantaire to scout locations.  He needed to check inventory, fill out some requisition forms.  He’d promised to help Lacombe with that window on the third floor where rain was getting in.  And, oh dread, there was band practice. 

The loudspeaker voice, German-accented, woke Javert from a dream.  He considered the ceiling: peeling paint and several dubious cracks.  Walls similar.  Someone had left small holes where they had pinned something up—postcards or photographs by the size—next to the cloudy mirror.  How long ago?  The dream he woke from was not worth as much consideration as this question.  Wednesday.  A deadline.  Deadlines are omnipresent and eternal.

-

Bossuet flicked off the intercom and yawned hugely.  “…Well.  That’s it for me, Jolllly, I’m off to bed for a bit.  Best of luck with your interviews, keep your head down, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.  Exempli gratia, I hope you remembered to turn off the hot plate by your sink this morning because I’m fairly sure I left it on after making chocolate last night.”

He sloped off down the halls.  Joly’s room being next to Grantaire’s, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to run into the man, but running into the suddenly-opened door did startle a bit.  “Good morning, Grantaire.  No, don’t worry, my nose isn’t broken.  Just a little pained.  You’re up early.” “Fffffffffffffngh.”  “So true.”

There was a piece of paper taped next to the hot plate.  Hey Baldilocks, this gets turned OFF—signed with an M shaped into a heart.  Yes, good.  He found his book, unaccountably buried under a sheaf of photocopied images of shoulder splints, and settled in to read for an hour before sleeping the sleep of the more-or-less just.

-

"I won a spelling contest.  It was on my tenth birthday.  I was very proud, and I consider that I was right to be."

"All right."  Bahorel pushed up her sleeves and jotted this down.  Her policeman had chosen a memory, which meant she could move him the hell on.  She had no desire to ask what had set him at odds with everything else in his life.  "So…let’s see.  This was at school, obviously.  Were there many other students?"

He listed off the names, gave brief descriptions.  She felt as though she were preparing them for arrest.  The teacher?  M. Nicolau, about forty-five, six feet tall, heavyset, black hair turning silver.  “I had studied very hard for that contest.  I do consider that I may be pleased with the memory.  It is…unimpeachable.”

"I’m sure."  Bahorel scrubbed her fingers through her close-cropped hair.  Maybe it was good that Jehan wasn’t here.  He’d asked for a break and she’d allowed it, since his presence didn’t seem to help their problem guest.  "So.  What time of year was it?  January.  Describe the classroom?"  It would be convenient, she thought, if they could use the same set as for Courfeyrac’s art teacher.  It seemed likely.  Did the children wear a uniform?  Mmhm, good, yes, she had the idea.  He could work with the costume department on the details.

"Were any of the other students your friends?"  The question came out unintended and she regretted it immediately.   But—surely—?

"I would not say so, no.  I admired M. Nicolau greatly."  Christ’s blood.  “Since the conversation is personal: I don’t think you like the police very much.”  Christ’s blood redux.

"Well—all right.  No."

"Were you in jail?"

"I was shot first, if you really want to know."

"When was that?"

"End of May."  She shut her notebook.  "We’ll talk tomorrow?"

"So I understand."

-

Bahorel found Jehan.  Bahorel told Jehan that he would be covering the rest of the day’s interviews.  Bahorel found Combeferre.  Bahorel planted her hands on Combeferre’s desk and told her not to say anything soothing or meaningful or—god fucking forbid—thought-provoking.

"All right."

"You put that request in for the heavy weaponry, right?  They haven’t sent it in yet?  Let me take the truck.  I need to get away."

She tried not to fidget while Combeferre considered.  “…Take someone with you.  Take Feuilly.  He’s familiar with the kind we need.  And Bahorel?”

"You’re about to tell me I have to pick up the ducks, too."

"No, they’re getting delivered tomorrow.  I was going to tell you to skip band practice."

-

The truck puttered along a lane half-choked with grass.  In another month or two it would be spattered with wildflowers, poppies or whatever.  Was it Germinal now?  She thunked the tape deck’s play button, figuring there was bound to be something in there.  —really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong I’m right where I belong I’m right where I belong—

"Joly is a man obsessed."  Feuilly snickered and hid it with a cough.  "Obsessed.  What does he even…he barely knows English.  And now he’s singing that Yellow Submarine thing in the shower.  My room is next to the bathroom and I hear him.”

"He’ll find something else."

"In a few years.  This is Jehan’s fault.

"Hey, Jehan’s all right."

"Shit, I know Jehan’s all right.”  The truck made some alarming scraping noises as it hit a washed-out stretch of lane; Bahorel slowed fractionally.  Feuilly pulled out a pack of cigarettes.  “Mind if I…?  Thanks.  Listen, Bahorel.  Do you know what I thought the first time I met you?”

"You were intimidated by my perfect butchness."

"Do you know what else I thought?”

"You’re about to tell me."

"You had your hair bleached then.  All…" He gestured.  "I thought you must have just joined the waystations recently.  And I was going to ask you to explain punk music to me.  What did young people these days mean?

Bahorel smacked the steering wheel and hooted.  “You should have asked!”

"Yeah, probably.  Then I overheard you and Combeferre and Joly and Bossuet talking about Louis-Napoléon and the Second Republic and Algeria.  Heatedly.  And I realized that whatever was going on in this place, there were some very old and very serious friends here.  …And that I should ask someone else if I wanted to know firsthand about the nineteen-seventies.”

"Feuilly, if you are attempting to remind me through parable that I have a strong and loving group of friends…"

"Well?"

"Jerk.  —No, I know that.  Christ on a motorcycle, I know I have the best friends in the world.  The best gang of devils around.  It’s…"  Hell.  They’d come to a turn-around in the lane, widened so that in the rare event of oncoming traffic one or the other truck can pull over.  Someone—who?—had taken the time to clean off the old bench at the side, put a few flower planters around, even an unobtrusive wastebin.   Bahorel pulled over.  "Be a pal and give me a cigarette?"

Feuilly lit it, cupping his hands delicately around the match, and they got out.  Bahorel disdained the bench in favor of leaning against the truck.  “It’s not that.  I know I have friends.  It’s just, for Christ’s sake, everyone gets younger and younger.  Bossuet and Joly.  You.  Grantaire, fucking Grantaire.  Courfeyrac and Jehan are babies.

"You’re, what, thirty-two?  Ancient.  And I think Courfeyrac’s a year older than Joly if you want to be precise."  (But this was an undertone, barely even an interjection.)

"And now I’m coddling this old policeman while some kid, some student protester, avoids me to talk to Jehan—and Jehan starts lecturing us about riots and how this kid feels like he still has work to accomplish—and all Combeferre can offer is a break to put our archives in order—to hell with that, do you want me putting archives in order?  She saw Louis XVI’s head fall.  Fine, not literally, but—ahhhh, to hell with it.  Am I whining?  Feuilly, was I just fucking whining?

She paused and properly looked at Feuilly.  He was tucking away his cigarette butt in the wastebin, having very carefully extinguished it.  “Incidentally, while I am impeccably fucking butch, I’m not strictly gay.”

"You aren’t?  —Oh.  That’s a diversion so I won’t agree that you were whining.  I know that tactic, I live with Grantaire too.  Bahorel, just talk to the student kid.  Or join me and Musichetta for book club this week and tell us we’re wrong about history.  We just began Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, you can catch up on the first chapters by Saturday.  Or—start a fight with Grantaire, he’s more irritating than usual recently and he won’t mind hitting you back.  I don’t know.  I don’t know, Bahorel.”

Bahorel leaned back against the truck again.  “Yeah.  Book clubs and sparring with Grantaire.  Or I could help Combeferre take notes about invasive plants.  She has some fascinating data.  Or deconstruct last year’s fashion magazines with Courfeyrac, or play dominoes with Joly and Bossuet.  Or talk about God with Jehan.  God?  God’s teeth.  The Revolution is fucking frozen up. What are we doing with our lives?”

"Nothing.  Nothing, Bahorel, we’re dead.  What I’m doing with that is taking some time, finally, to catch up on some reading, talk to the people I could never have met in life.  And make some pretty decent little films along the way. —That’s Saint-Just, right?  The Revolution is frozen?”

"Mm."  All right.  With Feuilly’s good influence so near, she too disposed of her cigarette stub in the bin rather than chucking it off into the weeds.  "Let’s go pick up our props.  Aux armes, Citoyen."

She raised her eyebrows at Feuilly’s wary expression as he returned to the truck.  “What.”

"Nothing.  —You looked like you were about to gesture."

"Thought occurred that I might playfully smack your ass in passing, make a really goddamn subtle point about that whole not-gay thing while somewhat equivocally reinforcing our ebullient camaraderie.”

"…You are bad company, friend."


-

Sometimes Bossuet regretted letting on that he played the concertina.  He could have feigned tone-deafness.  Everyone would have accepted it.  He could have spent his Wednesday evening with a book or a crossword puzzle.  But he’d let it slip in an unguarded moment and here he was.

The waystation band knew two songs in their entirety.  One was La Marseillaise, and the other was an anthem composed by some past waystation worker whose name had since been misplaced.  Every week the band played, a small, heartfelt, thoroughly amateur performance for the soon-to-be-departed dead.  Jehan directed the enterprise these days; he was the only person who practiced during the week and he insisted on Wednesday evening practice to keep everyone sharp.  “Actually, only half of us are sharp,” Bossuet had said once.  Jehan had not appreciated it.

So.  La Marseillaise, adapted for flute, bugle, marimba, drum, triangle, horn, and concertina.  The funny thing was, it made the guests happy. 

Chapter Text

"Good morning, La Courfeyrac!" That would be Florence Antoine, retired (and now deceased) art teacher.  Courfeyrac grinned back at her.  "Good morning, good morning.  Are you ready to meet the creative team?  We'll work out the set for your memory. introduce you to the costumers, the set designers, the camera guys.  Don't worry, it's just half a dozen people, there's no quiz afterwards.  I've been filling them in on the general idea, but they'll want to get details from you.  And on Friday we film!  Did you sleep well?  Everything in order?  Good.  It looks like a pretty morning after last night's bit of rain."

-

Thursday and Friday always seemed like a blur after the fact: a grind of twelve-hour, fourteen-hour, sixteen-hour days devoted to the production of some twenty or more short films.  But they were, in fact, distinct days.

Thursday morning, for instance, brought Musichetta into official contact with the guests.  They rarely realized at first that they knew what they wanted.  She had to lead them through the costuming work: Picture yourself on the train.  Was it a hot day, everyone in short sleeves?  Oh, okay, no.  Raincoats.  And your mom leaned her umbrella against the seat.  Red umbrella.  What color were your rain boots?  They were red too?  Okay, and your mom, she always wore a skirt? 

Her sewing had not been important to her in life.  Sure, a useful skill.  It was good to know how to patch her son's trousers, run up curtains or turn a scrap of something colorful into a scarf.  After the move to France, when her career track turned into a little light part-time tutoring, she learned to tailor a pair of jeans.  She could knock together a simple halter-top, take in a shirt at the waist or let it out in the shoulder.  She picked up knitting one winter.  But it was barely even a hobby.  Then--oh, well, the waystation had had its needs.  Bankers were less crucial than seamstresses.  Her arrival freed up Courfeyrac for more interviews and everyone (Musichetta included) agreed that Courfeyrac shone in that role.  So--costume department.  And the thing was, she found she liked it most of the time.  Most people responded impatiently to her questions at first.  --What was I wearing?  I don't know, clothes.  But with persistence they usually got a certain set to their faces that meant they were thinking, their memories were deepening, they knew their world just a little bit better.  Now that you mention it, I was wearing that tee-shirt I got at a concert.  Dad always used to wear these black suspenders with a yellow stripe, and my mother used to make fun of him.  Sure, not everything was a deep discovery and often the answer was still "I don't know, clothes." But--hell, Musichetta found that she was helping.

Then there were rough days like dressing a whole classroom of kids.  They had fun with their seventies duds, sure.  They laughed.  They shouted. They ran all around the place until Bahorel and Jehan hauled them outside to kick a ball around in the courtyard.  And then the workroom was very quiet.  They would come again tomorrow for the filming, visiting from their own waystation.  Everyone agreed that the children's stations were very nice places.  Very welcoming.  Very homey.  It was when she realized that Feuilly hated those days too that they had first started really talking to one another.


Feuilly: for him, Thursday and Friday were a scramble.  The classroom, for instance.  They needed to create an elementary school room from the 1970s or thereabouts.  The room itself was easy; their whole building already had that shabby-rundown-institutional feel to it.  All they had to do was clear out an office.  Textbooks?  Also easy, the library had plenty and they just needed to give a general impression of Bookness.  Children’s art projects, those he enjoyed putting together, staying up late Wednesday night to paste tissue paper on posterboard.  The blackboard came from storage.  A pot of geraniums came from--who else?--Jehan.  A crowd of school-desks, double-wide.  That was a pain, Feuilly and Garand and Bahorel and Joly and Grantaire and Lacombe hauling them along the hallway and knocking their knees against the metal legs.  And the damned things would have to move more between scenes.  One man remembered desks in rows of three, another in rows of two.  Then for the art class they needed long tables.

At least the classroom set was going to make itself useful for three films this week: Courfeyrac's art teacher, Bahorel's policeman, and a man Joly had interviewed, who had met his second wife when they were both taking their children to a new school.  “Charming," Grantaire had said.  "We should be writing the next romantic comedy.  Widower and divorcée find love, their kids learn to get along despite coming from different backgrounds.  Wise teacher, soon to retire, played by Once-Top-Billing-But-Now-Elderly actress of two generations ago: the critics rave about her last hurrah, consisting of one platitudinous scene, a last trip down the red carpet before she inevitably wastes away in a hospital two years hence.  Camera lingers lovingly on her silver hair and carefully-adjusted wrinkles--"  Feuilly had thrust rolled-up wall maps into his arms.  "You're volunteering for the part, Grantaire?  We have wigs."

 

Grantaire: They'd found the mountainside for Combeferre's nun-who-wasn't-a-nun.  For mountainside, read: scrubby nothing of a hill running down from the big storage wing to a dried-up creek.  Thank God the dead didn't have high standards!  With Lazare priming up the old sound effects--cui cui, coa coa--and some clever camera work, Mère Allègre would be back on the Vercors in no time.  Combeferre was pumping her for information, steeping the old girl's mind in the 1940s.  She walked along a path, see, whistling a certain tune... Musichetta shot him a narrow-eyed glare when he yawned.  What?  Was it going to spoil the illusion?  Their guest would get her moment of perfection whether the man behind the camera cared or not.  Hell, they weren't even filming yet.

-

So that was the day.  And Thursday night, a few hours of rest before another round?

"How exciting."  Courfeyrac, just come in, went to the mirror on the wall.  Jehan flushed: by now Enjolras realized that it was a natural state with him.   "A surprise party, in my room!"

"I'm sorry, it's just there was a book I wanted and…I knew you had it, my copy of E.E. Cummings.  Are you still reading it?  We were talking about conscientious objectors and there's a poem--" 

"I can think of two especially interesting things about this party."  Courfeyrac was pulling little pins out of her hair, which fell down in curls around her neck and shoulders.  Enjolras began to edge for the door, feeling his own face heating up.  "One, didn't I lock my door this morning?  Two, I’ve never been formally introduced to one of my guests.  —Three interesting things.  The third being that Grantaire seems to imagine I keep my liquor cabinet in the top of my bureau.  Grantaire, stop looking at my stockings."

"I wasn't: you left the drawer open.  And your door unlocked for that matter."

"That’s…probably actually true.  Fair enough.  Listen, you know where the liquor cabinet really is, why don’t you fetch something out for everyone?  While Jehan introduces me to his new friend?"

"I’m Enjolras.  I apologize.  This was a mistake.  I didn't realize you were--" Didn't realize Jehan's friend Courfeyrac was a woman, didn't realize she wouldn't be in the room in the first place, didn't realize she was then going to spend the first minutes of their acquaintance with her back to him, shaking down her hair from a collection of obscure braids and twists.  He was nettled--until suddenly he caught her eyes in the mirror and realized what a good view of her room the position gave her. 

Her reflection winked at him suddenly.  "You're not supposed to be here, M. Enjolras.  You're supposed to be telling Jehan and Bahorel your intimate secrets so that we can make you a little memory and send you on your way. --Thanks, Grantaire."   With a glass of wine in hand and her hair apparently satisfactorily disarranged, she finally turned and gestured him over to a chair.  "And the rest of us are supposed to be snatching a few hours' sleep.  But I don't mind a little poetry party.  So what have you got, Jehan?"

For all that he blushed so easily, Jehan appeared to adapt quite quickly to odd situations.  Enjolras realized he was already perched cross-legged on the bed, leafing through the book.  Grantaire--and why had he followed them here from the library, grumbling all the way?--Grantaire was slumped on the floor holding the wine-bottle.  It left a chair for Enjolras and a large floor-cushion for their host.

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"...

Jehan read the poem entirely through in English and Enjolras watched Courfeyrac try not to fidget.  Grantaire finished his bottle in silence, showing no sign of interest or comprehension.  For his part, Enjolras could only catch a phrase here and there: but when Jehan read it a second time, translating as he went and offering commentary, he listened attentively.  He had found Jean-with-an-H almost instantly disarming in his gentleness.  Now it was strange but impressive to see him approach the moral and literal obscenity of the poem. 

...our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died...

Jehan finished and then drained his glass of wine in three quick gulps.  "--I just meant that, that I take your point about conscientious objection as a, a possible way out of confronting the necessity of violence.  But historically it--it isn't.  I mean.  Any escape from violence."

He shook himself back into their earlier argument.  "I understand that--though I thank you for the reminder, you were right to bring that piece into the discussion.  But the avoidance of committing the necessary violence, of denying that results of inaction may be greater violence--"

"Fuuuuuuck.  Courfeyrac, tell us all to leave.  No philosophy.  Go on, shoo, you're supposed to be a docile little angel and pick your memory to fly off to eternity with." 

Enjolras stared.

"Leave us 'yellowsonsofbitches' behind. --Cute poem, by the way, Jehan."

"No.  Tell me what happens if I don't choose a memory."

"Nothing.  Not a single thing."  Courfeyrac sat up; Jehan bit his lip. "--Oh, come on.  How is telling him going to hurt?  It's a pointless rule.  Do you think a look at this bunch of sorry devils is going to woo him into an eternity of slavery?  We're a cautionary tale, not a temptation.  Who are we?  We should introduce him right away and he'll run screaming.  Here's the big reveal, Enjolras, if you can't move on from here you get to join the roster with the rest of us failures: our leader Combeferre, Vestal Virgin, who concerns herself with everything and cares about nothing.  Her hymn?  'I should have a word or two with him,' in a minor key, grave, decrescendo, al niente. Her chief priestess, Bahorel, who probably just needs to--get fucked.  Deacon Joly, whose self-diagnostic skills are unparalleled in their inaccuracy, and his tame bald eagle Bossuet who would rather share with some newcomer than strive on his own.  Feuilly, who pretends not to resent the college kiddies that come through.  Courfeyrac--"

"Courfeyrac, who is telling you to shut up while you still have a few friends left."

"You don't like my divinations?"

"I don't think you believe them."

"...Courfeyrac, gallant to a fault.  What will she do when she runs out of damsels in distress?"

"Stop."

"I'm sorry, Enjolras."  Jehan stood up.  Grantaire was staring at them with an expression Enjolras couldn't read.  "This was a mistake.  Courfeyrac, I'm sorry for the intrusion.  Grantaire, I'm sorry for--whatever it is that you need." 

-

Grantaire rested his forehead on his knees.  Courfeyrac tidied up around him, finished off Enjolras' barely-touched glass, put away books that Jehan had displaced in his search.  She'd still be able to catch a few hours of sleep.  When she had finished brushing her teeth at the little sink she prodded Grantaire's ankle with one toe.  "I'm getting into my pajamas now.  I'd prefer not to have an audience.  But should I walk you back to your room first?"

"Christ, of His mercy infinite, I pray to see; and Olaf, too, preponderatingly because, unless statistics lie, he was more brave than me: more blond than you."  English: it took Courfeyrac a moment to recognize the last lines of Jehan's poem.  Grantaire slipped the book into his jacket pocket without further comment and heaved himself to his feet.  "I can walk.  Goodnight, La Courfeyrac."

Chapter Text

BRAAAT BRAAAT BRAAAT.  Wake up, fall out of bed.  Acknowledge that it's 5:00, the worst time of day.  No time to consider whether you're hungover.

That was every Friday morning.  Grantaire, red-eyed, pushed his fingers through his hair, stared briefly into the mirror while his electric kettle worked itself up for coffee duties.  He could use a shower.  Whatever.  Toothbrushing?  Yeah, probably a good idea but, again, whatever.  It would clash with the coffee.

bleeeet bleeeet bleeeet went the alarm clock next door.  Joly set his alarm clock to a different time every day.   A week after moving in to this place Grantaire had stomped over to his room and pounded on the door at 4:53 am, demanding why the fuck his neighbor couldn't at least set the alarm for 5:00 like any decent human being and grant the rest of the world their precious seven minutes' balm.   The answer had involved natural sleep cycles, the hour of sunrise and sunset at that time of year, the danger of upsetting circadian rhythms, electric lighting, something about thunderstorms--all mixed with heartfelt apologies and promises to move the alarm clock to the far side of the room away from Grantaire's wall.  It had also involved a sudden awareness that Joly had someone else in his room.  

Coffee ready.  Coffee.  Splash of brandy in coffee because that was how you made coffee.  Grantaire drank it standing up, staring mechanically at the newspaper clipping taped next to the mirror:  Among the week’s gallery debuts, Guillaume Thanh Grantaire merits a mention for his photography collection, The Tourist.  Mingled amongst images of American anti-war protestors, taken during a three-month sojourn in the United States, hang photographs of other photographs, old snapshots and posed portraits of his mother’s family in Phnom Penh.  The juxtaposition runs the risk of heavy-handedness but Grantaire maintains both a detachment and a wry humor that— The paper had been torn across mid-sentence.  Reading it--just passively seeing it, by now, since the words were memorized--was a ritual of vanity and self-loathing, as essential a part of the morning as the cup of coffee. 

Next door he could hear voices, low and indistinct.  He drowned them out with the sound of rinsing his coffee mug.

-

Their first film was Combeferre's old lady.  The lighting was crucial for this one.  She had grown almost lyrical over the morning sun, a little past dawn: it had come through the trees and given every leaf a halo.  By the time she and Combeferre showed up, Grantaire had been on the site for half an hour, screwing around with filters.  He watched Feuilly trot over to them, knocking dirt from his hands.  He had a gravedigger look; he had been establishing a Maquisard ammunition cache among the ferns.  And now came Courfeyrac.  She had volunteered to play the part of Young Marie Madeleine Allègre, who considered herself too bent and hobbling to step in herself.  Musichetta had done herself proud again in the costume department: she had slung a leather bag across Courfeyrac's shoulder and tailored a skirt into something practical but lethally sharp.  Grantaire realized belatedly that Feuilly was in costume too.  1940s Résistance Chic just looked very every-day on him.  Yeah, well.  Didn't everyone wish they could carry off that look.

A hand clamped down on Grantaire's shoulder and he swallowed a yelp.  "Cigarette break.  You have a few minutes before filming.  Conversation."  You couldn't deny that Bahorel knew how to be direct when it suited her.

They leaned against the wall of the storage building, Grantaire keeping an uneasy eye on the progress of the morning light.  "You feel like telling me why Combeferre and I had zero goddamn luck talking to that Enjolras kid last night?  Funniest thing, he told us he appreciated our position and intended to apply himself to his work here.  It's kind of not something he's expected to know, on account of he's expected to be focusing his mind on passing on from this semi-mortal plane and all of that.  And why Jehan is looking tragic this morning and asking about your story."

"Maybe someone dropped Jehan's geranium.  Or swatted a fly."

"Maybe someone was getting drunk last night and talking a lot of miserable bullshit."

"In this bastion of virtue?"

They both smoked with angry concentration for a minute. 

"So--"

"What--"

"...So did Enjolras end up getting his act together and choosing a memory?"

"The togetherness of that guy's act isn't the problem."  Grantaire slouched away from Bahorel's suddenly probing gaze until she moved roughly away from the wall and gripped his shoulders, standing him up straighter.  "When's the last time you took a shower?  Christ.  Go in, take ten minutes and get a shower.  Brush your teeth.  Put on a clean shirt."

"Fashion tips from Bahorel.  Marvelous.  --Look, there's Feuilly and Courfeyrac getting into the weaponry, that's my cue.  I have work to do.  See how respectable that sounds.  I am a model of professional pride."

-

Grantaire's return to the scene was a relief to Combeferre.  Pleasant as it was to see Courfeyrac laughing with Feuilly and Mme. Allègre at her own awkwardness with an MP 40--Feuilly at ease, a rifle cradled in his elbow, shooting a rarely sunny smile over at a passing Bahorel--they really did need to get the day started.

Filming itself was a brief business.  Five minutes, ten minutes.  They rarely relied on second takes, and this was no exception.  But by the time they were done they had a small audience: Jehan, pale but smiling, crooked teeth and tangled hair; Joly, bundled against the mild spring morning in a hat and jacket and white silk aviator scarf; Bahorel, lounging with her thumbs hooked in her pockets. 

"Joly," called Courfeyrac, "Don't you have ducks to mind?"

"I left Bossuet in charge."

"Ohhh, cheating!  Cheating!"

"Cheating?  Dare I ask?"  Courfeyrac rested a hand on Combeferre's arm and leaned close.  "Well--there's a bit of money on--well.  Whether the ducks escape.  And whether Bossuet gets bitten.  He's playing the man's son and he's supposed to pick one up.  But Bahorel's the only one foolhardy enough to bet against the biting."

"Not you, Joly?"  Joly rubbed his nose, coughed, looked away.  "Well, well.  It sounds very unprofessional, you know.  I hope you haven't made the guests aware."  Combeferre was already calculating odds.  The duck pen was partially of her own creation.

The Vercors plateau, a duck pen outside of Rouen, an elementary school classroom, an autumn morning proposal in a park (complete with three sacks of silk oak leaves to rake up and pack away afterwards), an apartment kitchen with a birthday cake baking and the radio playing: those were the morning sets.  Afternoon brought more work.  The last memory-movie was one of Courfeyrac's people.  It was a young man.  He'd been bashful and defensive at first, shy about helping them recreate his suburban teenager's bedroom with its posters and its clunky old desktop computer and the music from seven years ago.  But soon he and Jean Prouvaire and Michel from the production department--playing the parts of school friends--had warmed to the scene: Settlers of Catan, bags of snack food, a few beers, loud jokes.  Long after the filming was done and Grantaire had wandered off for editing duty, they kept playing, and Combeferre sat quietly in the studio watching.  The young people were very lively.

-

When they started a second round of Catan, Combeferre stretched and slipped quietly out of the room.  Properly speaking it was past her bedtime.  She would just look in on one or two things first.  Two or three things; three or four things--

There was a light on in the library.  She expected Musichetta or Bossuet and found Enjolras instead, curled up on the battered couch.  "Ah--hm.  I didn't mean to intrude."

"...I think it's your library.  I'm the one making myself free with it."  His smile wasn't particularly repentant, and Combeferre laughed.  "As you should.  But it's late--oh.  Oh, you haven't reconsidered, have you?  Found a memory to take on with you?  I'm sure we could come up with--"

"I have not.  I'm just--reading."  He held up the book and looked rueful: Dante's Purgatory.  "Jehan insisted.  And it seems topical.  Have you read it?"

"Not in a very long time."  Enjolras looked ready to ask a question, but shook his head and tucked a scrap of paper into the book instead, standing up.  "May I take this to my room?"  "Of course."

They walked down the hall without conversation until the unspoken question burst from Enjolras.  "How long?  How long has it been since you read that book?"

"Well--"  Good question.  "Well, it was a long time ago.  Um.  It was with the new illustrations, by Doré."  That would be what, 1870?  No, earlier.  She had finished it at least two summers before the fall of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte--  "What?  Oh.  How long have I been here?  Here, in particular, not so very long.  I've worked in a few of these places."

"Is that usual?"

"Yes.  Joly and Bossuet have been here since they...since they first arrived, but that's not common."

"They're the oldest here?"

"No, they've been here the longest, but..."  Combeferre paused and wiped her glasses on her blouse.  "You know, we should have a, a thing tomorrow evening.  To introduce people.  What Courfeyrac might call a party."

"...What do you call it?"

"A thing, I suppose."  When she put her glasses back on she saw that he was trying not to laugh.  It set off a similar struggle within her.  They both failed.  "I'm sorry, Enjolras.  We're not always the most exciting group, here."  He had stopped laughing and shook his head, still smiling a bit.  She couldn't quite read the expression now. 

-

"So this guy was weird."  Bossuet scooted his chair closer to look over Grantaire's shoulder.  Joly laughed.  "I mean, really weird.  Joly, why didn't you warn me he was going to be weird?"

"I thought you'd enjoy the surprise. --Bossuet, he's the one I told you about."

"The..."

"No, no.  The other one."

"Oh."

"I thought your duck guy was going to be the strangest today.  --By the way, Bossuet, nice job in that scene.  I congratulate you on your uninjured fingers.  You have finally given Bahorel the satisfaction she clearly needs.  Who thought a man could do that?  A further parenthesis, as I warm into my speech, do you get the impression that Feuilly--"

"Be cool, Grantaire."  Joly nodded his agreement with Bossuet as he leaned in to take another beer from the crate hidden under the table.  "No warming into oratory.  But thank you for your congratulations.  So, let's see this weird movie."

"Crusher of the creative spirit.  All right.  Be warned, it's long and he's naked.  For eternity, starting tomorrow.  Joly also failed to warn me the man was going to be naked."

"For that, he failed to warn me.  Sometimes I think it's a good thing I never formally studied medicine.  My heart might have been too weak for it."

The three of them were hunched over, studying Grantaire's computer when the door creaked open.  Grantaire tilted his chair back, saw Combeferre.  Saw Enjolras.  Paused the movie and pulled up another window over it like a censor's bar. 

"We're interrupting something?"

"Ah--"

"--hm."

"Just finishing the last video.  In a professional manner.  --I was, anyway.  Joly is busy hiding a bottle of beer behind Bossuet's feet."

"Grantaire, you are a vile informer.  No, Bossuet, don't get up--"

Bossuet was tugging sheepishly on his ear, a foolish posture that made Grantaire roll his eyes and huddle over his work again.  Break time over.  Back to editing Monsieur-Henderson-Turning-Somersaults-Naked-in-the-Meadow.  If it offended the sensibilities of Combeferre and Enjolras--and why were they together? they looked like brother and sister, too comfortable for two socially awkward people, not to put too fine a point on it, who had met within the last few days and all right, yes, he too was judging on a few days' acquaintance in the case of Enjolras but--if it offended their sensibilities, then so be it.  He turned up the volume.  The sound editing standards here were incredibly low and he truly didn't care, but if there was anything too jarring he'd need to send it by Lazare--

He grunted when they left.

-

Combeferre meditated on an apology as she walked Enjolras the rest of the way to the guest wing.  That last interlude had been odd.  Instead, she found herself telling him about Mme. Allègre.  "After spending all of Monday and then Tuesday morning telling me about her family--all of them, daughter and granddaughter in America, one son in London and one in Nice, grandson with a family in Paris--talking about how she remembered nursing her first baby and thinking that her life like that could go on forever, just her and a little red-faced creature kneading his fingers into her breast and snuffling--traveling to visit her daughter and granddaughter every summer--after all this, she spoke up very clearly.  When she had just recently found her way to the resistance fighters in the Maquis, there was one morning in particular that she wanted to keep forever.  They had given her a submachine gun, something taken from a German, and she was with a young man who showed her how to use it.  They were guarding some ammunition until it could be distributed.  She asked him if he had killed anyone and he said he had.  I think they may have had a--relationship of some kind--she didn't say so outright.  But that's what she wanted."

Combeferre took the photographs out of her pocket and passed them to Enjolras.  "The boys are David and Charles, I think.  Grandchildren.  That's her daughter...well, you can imagine, it's all family."

She watched Enjolras study the pictures.  They had been a weight in her pocket.  "...You don't like the memory she chose."

"I don't judge."

"Why not?"

"We aren't any kind of divinity here.  How could we judge?"

"It's a human faculty too.  Why don't you approve of her keeping this memory?  She's proud of it.  Rightly.  She found that she had power."

"I told you, I don't judge."

"Hm.  Neutrality?  Some people vaunt neutrality as a virtue.  Or moderation--it sounds like it means something sensible and good, but what is it?"  Enjolras handed back the little stack of snapshots.  Combeferre tucked them away again with a sigh.  They were at the door to the guest wing.  

On impulse, she shook his hand.  "Virtue, that's a word that used to be on everyone's lips.  We'll talk more tomorrow?  Good night, Enjolras."


-

After staring tiredly at the door of her room, Combeferre turned around and walked back down to the floor below and scratched on Courfeyrac's door.  Courfeyrac must be asleep.  She didn't want to wake her.  There, yes, you see, no answer. 

Courfeyrac's voice brought her back before she made it to the stairwell.  "Oh, no--I'm sorry, I've gotten you out of bed.  In your pajamas."  She bit down a smile as Courfeyrac complacently stuck out a stripy flannel leg for approval.  Courfeyrac's following claim that she had still been up and was just on the point of making a cup of tea seemed most implausible.  But...all right.

Combeferre slipped off her shoes in her friend's room, flexed her feet, and perched on the bed with her knees under her chin.  She declined a cup of sherry: but the hypothetical tea would be very nice.  "Courfeyrac, do you think I'm..."

"Perfect?  Yes, you've found me out."

"Remote.  Judgmental?  Boring?"

"I don't know how you could be all of those at once."

"I was just talking to Enjolras--"

"What does Enjolras know?  He's like, twenty."

"You're, like, twenty-four.  I'm, like, twenty-six."

"See?  You've got six years on him.  Give or take a couple of centuries."

"But do you think--"

"I think you average fourteen hours of work a day.  At least.  I think you manage an astonishingly difficult collection of personalities.  I think you know more things about--about more things--than anyone I've met.  I think you find time to draw insects and track plant populations and record the movements of the stars.  I also think you could try a new hairstyle.  It looks like you've been doing it up that way for a hundred years."

"I have been doing it up that way for a hundred years.  I think it looks nice.  I'm not a...fashion-creative person."

"It's beautiful.  Don't jut out your chin like that, I mean it.  But sometimes changing the surface reminds you that you also have power over the center.  --Yes, fine, I did read that in a magazine somewhere.  It's still perfectly true.  Let me get the tea ready.  Chamomile?  Yes."

By the time she got back with the tea, Combeferre was inclined to let her mess about with the hair.  "Anyway, if anyone was calling you remote or judgmental or both at once, just let me know.  I have an MP 40 until we send it back and I vaguely know how to use it."

"I know you do.  --It's all right.  I just have a thousand things to think about."

"Then think here.  I generally do."

Chapter Text

The concertina was always a crucial element in Saturday’s musical interludes.  So was the flute, of course.  And the horn and the bugle and the marimba and the drums.  The triangle was the very heart of the thing.  But still, even with all that—some Saturdays it really felt like it came down to the concertina. So it was a great relief when they had accomplished the last notes of the Marseillaise and Combeferre took her pace at the front of the room to give her weekly speech to the guests. 

“Thank you, everyone. This is the last time we’ll all be together. You’ll move to the screening room now, and watch the memories that we recreated for you. The moment you relive your memory, you’ll move on to a place where you can be sure of spending eternity with that memory.  It has been a great privilege for us all to meet you.”  Same thing every week.  The guests were sated with music and small cups of chocolate and smiled benignly on Combeferre.  Bossuet had been dabbing his forehead with a handkerchief; he just had time to stuff the scrap of cloth back into his pocket before they were ready to lead the procession over to the screening room.  This time the band played their other tune, the waystation anthem, and tried not to step on one another’s heels as they walked.

And that was that.  The screening ran less than an hour and a half.  By the time the last memory-movie played the room was empty, but for the regular employees.

No one really knew where the dead went next or whether they truly spent eternity in their one last memory.  They just vanished, and it’s not like any of them came back.  The larger question remained.  Bossuet had asked Combeferre once whether she was sure…if she believed that…well, what she believed.  She had pressed his shoulder and told him she believed in the labor and intentions of the people around her.  He had asked Joly.  Well.  If he and Joly had felt certain of their eternal future, they would have agreed on some memory years ago and moved on.

His night-watchman’s hours gave Bossuet an excuse to hurry off to bed once the guests had departed, without pausing to make the usual small talk.  And he really wanted the sleep today.  A party tonight!  Some nonspecific variety of social event, at any rate, to be produced by the efforts of Combeferre and Courfeyrac.  So at least half a party!

-

The noise of disagreement woke him.  Should he investigate?  Yes, he should.  Was it visible from his window?  Yes, it was.

He put his head out and hollered down to the small crowd circled in the courtyard.  “OI DOWN THERE!  WHAT IS IT?”  It took two or three times before anyone heard him: Courfeyrac, who took off her hat and waved it in his direction, trotting closer to his window.  “Oi up there!  Sorry for waking you!  Just the usual friendly match.  Do you want to put anything on it?”  Again, two or three repetitions were required, but squinting out into the yard gave Bossuet the general idea.  Bahorel and Grantaire were squaring off under the flagpole.   “Whose idea this time?”  Courfeyrac shrugged.  “The general will?  Good, good.  Who’s the referee?”  “The new kid!  He can’t be biased, right?  Do you want to bet?” 

Bossuet waved this away, shaking his head.  Too tired, but— “Enjoy!”  He would find his ear plugs.

-

"Stories?  Everyone else has heard mine before…  But yes, all right.  Grantaire, pass that bottle, you can’t have it all to yourself.  So, 1916.  When I walked into the waiting room it was nearly full already, young men everywhere.  But we mostly weren’t in uniform.  I was wondering who to salute and then I realized—hell, until Saint Peter dropped by, I didn’t need to do a thing!  I just asked someone on the end of the bench to budge over and make room.  We were all knee to knee.  The conversation was—well, you all remember it!  School stories, sweethearts at home, the standard lies about what you got up to one summer."

Enjolras did indeed remember his arrival in the waystation waiting room five days earlier, but he had to strain his imagination to consider it in 1916.  On Monday his death had been a personal thing: a unique case of violence, unjust.  Unique and unjust in his experience, at least.  He had listened to the small talk around him in the waiting room with—be honest now—disdain.  Had a crowd of trench fighters taken it more easily?

"So there a dozen of us were, twenty of us, sitting on the benches, facing one another, chatting up and down the line about all the farms we’d meant to buy and the girls we’d meant to marry.  My turn came up and I thought, why not.  I let on that I planned to study medicine after the war.  I had made such studies as I could from books; I had spoken with the doctors when I was in the hospital.  Now, we’d all been teasing one another back and forth, how intimately we knew one another’s fiancées or mothers.  All good fun!  But when I said my piece no one knew whether to laugh or not.  What a very black doctor I would make.  Did I mean it?  But I saw the fellow next to me still grinning and nodding.  Solid approval! There, I thought, there’s a friend!  Not much hair but plenty of good sense!  Of course, two minutes later I realized he didn’t understand a word I’d said…”

It didn’t escape Enjolras’ notice that Joly’s hands had gone still, left off their quick flying gestures and knotted together between his knees.  Bossuet, on the floor in front of him, knocked his head back to grin upwards.  “I understood ‘medicine!’”

"He understood ‘medicine.’  There you have it.  So his turn comes around and he stands up and delivers the longest, most resonant, most sublimely incomprehensible speech—in German.  Smiling all over his face, one hand on his heart, the other hand on my shoulder.  ‘Well, shit, it’s a BOCHE!’ says someone.  A boche!  A boche!"

"Clerical error."  Bossuet looked almost apologetic.  "You know my luck."

"You know his luck.  Can’t even end up in the right afterlife."

"Shot down behind enemy lines."

"Shot down behind enemy lines."  Joly’s fingers had settled on Bossuet’s back, patting his sweater almost imperceptibly.  Which of them was he soothing?  "We were all wondering what we ought to do.  I don’t think anyone wanted to do anything.   Here’s this homely fellow up on his feet, declaiming, with an arm around me now, clearly announcing what a grand old world we were in—or he might have been cursing our grandmothers with a smile on his face, I still don’t know that damned language of his.  But the civilians on the other side of the room had started to cluck and some of us were starting to look around for an officer.”

"I’ve never had anything but good words for your grandmother, Joly."

"Hm.  So you claim. —Anyway, some clever young gent saved the day.  He stands up and says, ‘Boche?  That’s not a boche, that’s more like our old friend Bossuet.  You, Étienne, you were at school with me.  L’aigle de Meaux.  Didn’t the rest of you lot have to study oratory?  You never went home to bother your sisters and cousins with 'Henriette, digne fille de saint Louis?' But listen, Doctor Sénégal, why don’t you take your Boche-uet for a walk.’”

"It was that simple?"  Enjolras found it hard to believe, and even Joly’s smile faltered briefly. 

"Ah—hm—later someone turned up who could translate, and Adler here kept his head well down.  We thought we’d look out for one another anyway."

Musichetta, curled on the couch next to Joly, smiled tightly.  She must have noticed Enjolras’ gaze, because she sat up a little straighter.  “And now we can leave story time on a good note, right?  Before Grantaire complains about art reviews and—and Bahorel starts kicking people around the room.” 

"Might have to do that anyway.  Courfeyrac!  Hey, Courfeyrac, come back from the kitchen, we need a change of subject!"

"Don’t hurry her, she’s bringing more wine!"

"Why do we always try to leave stories on a good note?"  Jehan had said little so far this evening, lying on the floor and studying the somewhat battered chandelier above him.  Enjolras would have forgotten his presence if he hadn’t been taking up a surprising amount of space: you had to walk around him to get anywhere in the room.  "No, but why do we?  What do we have to fear?  Here’s my story: I drowned last year.  In the Channel.  And when I got here I couldn’t think of any worse Hell than choosing one single thought to think for eternity.  My God!  Grantaire, don’t laugh.”

"I was not.  I was groaning, you keep kicking my shin when you gesture with your feet, and Bahorel did enough of that this afternoon.  Are you trying to dance?"

"I might be."

Poet.

"So?  What is your story?  Why are you here and why don’t you leave?”

Enjolras felt Combeferre tense beside him on the couch, but Grantaire seemed in high spirits, even with the finger-pistol he fired at his temple.  “Bad art reviews.  I couldn’t tolerate it.  And why would I leave, the drinks are free here.”

"Bad art reviews my—foot.  Grantaire, you should have a gallery here.  I’m not joking."  That was Courfeyrac, on the other side of Combeferre, settling down after placing two more bottles around the room and another at Grantaire’s side.  She bounced a bit when she talked.  "You should see his room, Enjolras—" (a muttered God forbid from Grantaire) “—it’s full of his work.  Mostly portraits.  Grantaire, Grantaire, I know what!  Go get your Polaroid.”

"I will not, it means moving."

"I’ll get it, then.  This is a good night for pictures!"  The couch jolted again as she bounced back up;  Enjolras had to move quickly to keep his glass from spilling.  It was his second.  Probably he should put it down, but…

"Combeferre."  She leaned in to catch his voice, low.  "So people do leave here, after all?"

"Yes—oh, oh of course, I’m sorry.  We haven’t had time to explain everything.  But yes, if you find a memory after all, we’ll be happy to make you a movie just like the guests.  This isn’t a prison. Though, statistically, I could point out—"

"What?"

"Oh, generally speaking—statistically—if a person doesn’t leave within the first three years they’re likely to stay.  The rate of departure drops dramatically after the first six months, really.  I’m not speaking about parents, of course."

"Parents?"  Faced with statistics Enjolras had finished his glass of wine.  Now he regretted his speed.   "Yes, parents of young children are permitted to remain while they grow up.  They are allowed a visit once a year.  November second, for us."  (All Soul’s Day, supplied Enjolras’ rather neglected memories of church education.)  “Until the children turn twenty-one.  The interesting thing is that in other countries the day is different.  In Japan, for instance—”

"I’ll go help Courfeyrac look for the damn camera."  Musichetta had risen abruptly; Enjolras and Combeferre both bit their lips.  And another adjustment in the room, Bossuet heaving himself up onto his feet.  "And I will go bring down some more music.  No, Joly, everyone else is sick of the Beatles—"  He strode after Musichetta, catching up with his long legs at the door.  A silence in the room after they left. 

Bahorel stretched explosively and slapped Feuilly on the shoulder.  “Quick, while he’s gone you can trot out all the stories of killing Germans and we’ll have a grand time.  Christ’s holy bicycle, Combeferre, you call this a party?  Come on.  Don’t make me start a round of Charades.”

"Don’t make her!"  That was Grantaire, working out how to get to his feet.  "Enjolras, you have an empty glass.  Joly, so do you.  I rectify the situation, thus.  I go to seek more truth in more wine, in the kitchen direction.  Oh, Combeferre, don’t disapprove.  It’s not like we have a real budget."

-

Somewhere after the fourth(?) glass of wine Enjolras had fallen asleep.  He woke to a firm thump on his knee.  “By God, I would have kissed him!”

"Don’t batter the new employees, Citizen."

"Hey?  Oh—sorry.  Back to sleep if you like, it’s late. —But yes.  I would have kissed him."

"It’s an odd way to express your esteem."

"Maybe for you.  I don’t see how you could be there that day, see that crowd, and remain cold."

"I did not.  And yet I had no desire to fling myself into Marat’s arms.  What can I tell you?"  Enjolras rubbed his face.  In another corner, Bossuet had produced his little…accordion thing.  Joly was in full song.  I could be handy mending a fuse when your lights have gone… Bahorel thumped his knee again and he sat up a little straighter.  “Did you say Marat?”

"Yes!  Yes, see, here’s a good lad, he wakes up when he hears a patriot’s name."  It struck Enjolras that her accent had changed subtly, something rough but quaint about it.  "But Combeferre, you saw him carried in triumph after the Girondins’ trumpery trial.  I tell you I would have—"

"—Kissed him, yes, yes.  He was nothing but a showy demagogue."

"So?  So?  Some days I think you have ice in your veins, Combeferre.  You call me a literary snob—don’t look startled, Enjolras, she does sometimes—and then you turn up your nose at the People’s Friend?  I don’t love everything he said—his ideas of a dictator made some sense at the time but he was right to drop them—but in God’s name if we had had a demagogue like that in 1871—”

"You might not have liked it."

"Again I ask you: so what?  I might not have!  But when was Let’s All Make Ourselves Comfortable the slogan of a revolution?"

"Who said it was about making yourself comfortable?”

A sudden flash-click.  Whir.  Grantaire grinned at them from behind the camera; Courfeyrac must have found it after all.  Enjolras frowned at the little square of paper coloring between his thumb and finger.  Grantaire had thrust it at him. “No no, you don’t need to shake it.  —Ah, keep that one, Endymion.  Your souvenir, 1789 and 1871 having a little squabble.  I’m just glad Bahorel is hitting someone else for a change.”

-

The conversation broke apart after that, to Enjolras’ great disappointment.  When he woke again his face was in someone else’s blonde hair.  He jerked his head up in a panic—oh.  No, it was just Combeferre’s shoulder.  Someone hushed his apology.  “Don’t, don’t, she’s asleep too.  No one wanted to bother you two.”

"Courfeyrac?"

"Mmm.  And Musichetta.  You’re crashing a girls’ party now."  Musichetta smiled sideways up at him.  She was sitting on the floor in front of Courfeyrac, who was carefully untwining the tight spirals of her hair and combing them into a unified mass.  More or less: Musichetta tugged ruefully at one springy section that wouldn’t settle.  "I’ve got to trim this down short tomorrow morning.  Solidarity with poor old Bossuet, I guess."

Enjolras yawned, shook himself very gently away from Combeferre, who murmured in her sleep.  “I’m sorry.  I should go…”

"If you like.  —Good night.  Remember, tomorrow’s our day off.  Sleep in, Enjolras.  Citizen.

-

He found a neat row of photographs pinned to the door of his room.  Mostly laughing faces, hands caught mid-gesture, heads leaned close in talk.  At the bottom of each, dates.

(1769 - present)

(1839 - present)

(1891 - present)

(1893 - present)

(1916 - present)

(1943 - present)

(1960 - present)

(1979 - present)

(1985 - present)

(1985 - present)

Chapter Text

1795

"Mademoiselle Combeferre.  Or do you prefer Citizen?"

"I do, in fact."

"Citizen Combeferre.  I think you already understand the situation, but I need to inform you officially.  Citizen Combeferre, you died yesterday.  —I’m very sorry for your loss."

Combeferre tried to make out the expression on the woman's face.  It seemed that her father's strictures against eyeglasses for young women, except in cases of reading and close needlework, held sway in the afterlife.  At any rate, she had found herself here without them.  Also without any divine improvements to her vision.  It made you wonder, she thought, what precisely was the point.  Now we see in a glass, darkly, but then we will see face to face?  (First Corinthians, her mind supplied unbidden, 13:12.  It seemed she had been right not to take any of that literally.) 

"You’ll be staying with us for one week.  You are a welcome guest.  But while you are here, you have one task. From the entire twenty-six years of your life, we need you to select one memory.  One memory that was meaningful or precious to you.  You will have three days to decide.  When you’ve chosen your memory, our staff will do their best to recreate the scene and as a tableau vivant and one of our artists will make a sketch.  On Saturday we will display the sketches in our gallery. As soon as you’ve relived your memory, you will move on, taking only that memory with you."

"I find this difficult to believe."

"...And yet, it's true." 

"Could you explain it in more depth?"

"Oh God."

---

Combeferre set out to walk that afternoon.  She found, as the evening thickened, that she did not grow hungry.  That was reasonable.  Her feet, though, did hurt.  She didn't travel far, keeping the spire of the afterlife home in view.  Circles and circles and wandering circles. 

A memory.  A memory, somehow to be transposed into eternity.  Of course she had a fair stock of recollections.  Begin with family.  Father: a lawyer, specializing in property disputes.  He had found in the revolution something to sink his teeth into, figuratively, as an enjoyable legal riddle.  He had even brought the family into Paris to join forces with a highly successful old law-crony.  Wasn't it a bit wild when you thought of it, moving your family towards a budding revolution?  Mother: kind, of course.  She should have more to say about her mother, shouldn't she?  Her mother had been all that was required of a mother even by the Republic's lofty standards.  But quiet, a bit remote, her attention seemingly divided between her surroundings and some other idea altogether.  Her flashes of playfulness had shone out only with the youngest child.  Had she perhaps been unhappy?  How did you find these things out about your own parents?  They didn't say to you "yes, despair chills my heart in the night, it breathes winter on my dreams."  (Well, perhaps some did, but not hers.) Siblings: assorted.  A brother four years older, Georges, long away at school.  A brother just a year younger, then a five-years' gap left by two infants who hadn't seen their first birthdays.  A sister, another gap, a brother... Well, perhaps her mother had indeed been unhappy.

This family inventory took Combeferre twice around the grounds.  She widened her walking circle, narrowed her mental scope.  What about herself?  Marie Françoise Combeferre, a most uninteresting person.  Her childhood offered numerous pleasant-enough memories.  She had kept canaries and made observations of their nesting.  She had raised an infant dormouse, nursing it with goat's-milk delivered through a glass syringe borrowed from the family's physician.  She had cultivated a potato plant.  She had learned her Latin.  She had written long letters to Georges at school and he had sometimes written back.  One summer--this was good, perhaps a memory worth keeping--they two had constructed a model of Carcassonne, the whole town, from heavy paper, using maps and their own architectural sketches.  Georges had had to leave for school before it was quite done, but she had completed the work. 

So much for childhood.  Combeferre continued her self-inventory.  Adulthood and the Revolution had essentially coincided.  The family had moved north early in 1789, her father's old friend catching wind of interesting legal developments and wanting a sharp partner.  They reunited with Georges, who had been to school in the city; he had found her to be worthwhile company again now that they were both so grown up.  He had taken her all around town and she had met young men that were more lively than her father had had in mind.  One or two had written her poems!  Her hair, straw-colored, was found to be like spun gold.  Her unremarkably blue eyes were now the grey gaze of Athena.  These friends had rarely, however, taken her into any confidences when it came to political discussion. 

(1789: astonishment following astonishment.  Spring and summer she spent snatching pamphlets and papers from Georges, asking his friends for every word of news they could spare.  She read, read, reread.  Georges brought her to select gatherings, quasi-political.  Places where one brushed elbows with soberly-dressed representatives of the Third Estate.  One might now and then catch a glimpse of Mirabeau!  At one such party, she had spotted a friend of Georges' who had, some months past, been a once-or-twice visitor to their home.  He seemed as glad as she to see a familiar face, and they had fallen into a few moments of conversation--trying to remember one another's names, it was plain to both, and too embarrassed on both sides to acknowledge the failure.  Georges had tucked her elbow under his arm and led her away to meet someone else.  "Do you call that subtle?" she hissed when they were alone.  "He used to be your friend."  "And he still might be at some point, but I don't care to introduce my sister to his politics."  "His--" "Not so publicly, I mean.  You've read some of his pamphlets already.   He's with Orléans' crowd, a Palais Royal man.  But--heh--you are not a Palais Royal girl.  --Listen, dearest, I might talk to some people in the café and I might agree with them but that doesn't mean I want all the world to see me setting my sister at them at a party.  If you really want to I suppose I could bring you by some of the painters' studios some day and see who turns up." 

She had never before realized how self-important her brother could sound.  She found out again in October, when he congratulated himself on his intimate knowledge of the march on Versailles, when the Paris women brought the king out of his palace-paradise and back to his nation's capital.  "But why are you explaining it to me?" she asked, mildly enough.  "I was there.  Of course the crowd was too big to see everything, hear everything, but--Louison and I were there."  Combeferre had been at the market with their servant--she had taken charge now of many household duties--and they two had been pulled into the heart of a crowd.  Willingly pulled.  Georges thumped her arm.  "I know you were.  I can't tell you how proud I am that my sister was there!   When we've been saying for so long that the King needed to come to Paris!"  "And who are 'we,' today?  Those Palais-Royal men you wouldn't let me speak to in public?"  "Ah--ha, well, they might be.  You know, now that things are shifting, you could do worse than one of those fellows--"  It had not seemed worth explaining that she wasn't looking for a husband.  She had settled for rubbing her aching feet and turning over her thoughts privately while Georges told her again how important it was to harness the people's power.

A week later M. Combeferre had dispatched his wife, daughter, and younger children to the pretty country home he had recently purchased.  Rescue had not come for months, until her brother asked for Marie Françoise's presence in his new rooms, to act as hostess for him.  "I know you don't love to manage a salon, sister, but it's better than dying of boredom in that old farmhouse."  So they were friends again.)

Into that recollection intruded the chiming from the afterlife home's belltower.  Combeferre trudged back.  Out of habit, she watched for the moon and the stars: the one could not be seen, and the others were not quite as they should be.

 

------

 

2003

"I don't think I'm a very moral person.  I don't know.  Maybe I am?"  The young woman across the desk from Combeferre rested her chin on her palms and wrinkled her face into a rueful grin.  "I mean, I'm scandalous.  I lived in sin with someone for two months based on only one weekend's previous acquaintance.  With another girl!  That's probably immoral.  It was definitely a bad idea.  All my friends said so at the time and I had to go around after the break-up letting them know I didn't mind them saying they had.  Had told me so, I mean--did I lose a verb in there somewhere?  But you say you're sure it doesn't matter, morals."

"I haven't seen it make any difference yet."  Combeferre tried to hide a smile.  "And I've heard much worse confessions."

"I kicked puppies, stole candlesticks from the church, and poisoned my grandmother!"

"No, you didn't."

"No, I didn't.  --Oh, hell. My Mémé."  The grin became strained.  "Oh, hell.  And my parents and all of them.  This can't be easy for them."

"Were you close?"

"Very."

Combeferre patted the girl's arm briefly, very briefly, and got up to make tea at the hot plate.  It gave her guest--Courfeyrac was the name, wasn't it?--some time to compose herself. 

"At least it was an accident."

"Hmm?"

"I mean, I was hit by a car, on my bike.  I barely remember it.  My family doesn't have to worry about... --I'm sorry, I won't bother you with this."

"Shh.  It's not a bother."  Combeferre regarded her over her shoulder.  A very pretty young woman, with a mobile face and an astonishingly dapper coat and cravat.  It wasn't quite right: that is, if it was meant to mimic the 1790s or early 1800s, it wasn't a perfect replica.  But goodness, what a spirited effort!  People didn't appear in the afterlife wearing what they'd had on at the exact moment of death--no one had showed up nude yet, for instance, or in a hospital gown--but it was generally something they'd worn recently.  Something that felt natural to them.  Mlle. Courfeyrac must have led an exciting life.  Or simply a very dressy one.

Which was entirely irrelevant at the moment.  "It's not a bother," Combeferre repeated.  "I think I take your point.  Your family won't have a--a long illness to cope with. For instance.  And there's no mystery to it."

"Yes. --Thanks."  Courfeyrac took her cup of tea and managed something like a smile.  "So.  Where was I?  I was telling you how immoral I am."

"Mmm.  All the candlesticks you stole."

"And the old ladies I poisoned.  But you know...I don't think I was very virtuous?  In all seriousness.  I don't have much to be proud of."

"Really?  I find that hard to--"

"No, really.  Oh, I'm proud of my portfolio--I'm a fashion major, however did you guess--and I loaned a friend half her month's rent last week.  But there isn't anything I've done to make the world better.  Or the country.  Or even just the city.  I vote, of course.  I've been in one or two student demonstrations.  But I haven't exactly participated.  I mean...civically, I guess I mean.  On any larger scale than my family and friends.  I haven't improved anything."

"You had wanted to?"

"Well, of course.  Doesn't everyone? --Please don't tell me, if the answer is no."  A silence, ending with the clatter of Courfeyrac's cup when she picked it up from the saucer, hands not altogether steady.  "So you see, I can't quite go along with this notion of settling in for eternity with one memory.  I can't say as I've earned it.  I meant to make myself useful, but you know how it is, sometimes you don't get around to--to--"  The pause was painful and impossible to fill without a patronizing tone.  "--Don't get around to returning all your library books, let's say."  Courfeyrac laughed shakily at her own weak finish.  "So, you know, I don't want to carry on into the afterlife with all those library fines on my conscience."

Combeferre polished her glasses--a bad habit, fidgety, that she hadn't yet managed to break--and nearly dropped them when Courfeyrac laughed again with more life.  "I'm sorry.  I shouldn't--but may I ask--those are so perfectly vintage.  Are they from the eighties?  Your glasses.  I love them.  They're huge.  They're perfect, they're beautiful.  The color is just great with your eyes.  I love them."

---

 

2006

"Read this."  Combeferre jerked her head back from the paper thrust suddenly under her nose.

"Thanks, Bahorel, but I'm not that near-sighted."  The paper was a piece of waystation letterhead, the sort found in all the guest rooms.  It was not uncommon for a guest to leave a note.  "Who's it from?"

"The policeman.  The suicide.  I found it just after the screening this morning." 

Mme. Bahorel.

I should apologize for burdening you with this but I feel that some disclosure is in order in exchange for your civility and patience.

In the course of the recent Paris demonstrations a student protestor was injured by riot police.  He died of his injuries.  While those men were not directly under my command, I had worked with two of them before and was largely responsible for the promotion of one last year.  I had considered them men of unimpeachable integrity.  When I discussed this error with superiors they told me that they had always been and would always be confident in my judgment. 

I do not bring this up to alter your opinion of the police, which it will not.  But the young man who died was distinctive: approximately twenty years old, six feet tall or a bit more, striking blond hair.  Of course I recognized him in the waiting room at once, from the photographs in the news.  I understand that he has had difficulty selecting a memory to move on with.  Perhaps my information will be of use to you.

Javert.


Combeferre read it twice, then passed it back to Bahorel, who crammed it into a pocket.  "So what do I do with that?"

"Do you have to do anything? --Do you feel you need to, I mean."

"I don't feel any sorrier for the old bastard."

"No, well.  I don't think I do either.  Are you going to say anything to Enjolras?"

"Fuck no."

"...no.  Listen, Courfeyrac and I were going to have a little gathering this evening.  A social thing.  You know, so that he can meet people?"

"Right.  Of course.  'Sorry about your fatal police brutality experience, here's some wine and cheese and your work-week starts on Monday?'  That sort of thing?"

"I was picturing more music and less sarcasm."

Combeferre was rewarded with a burst of laughter and a sudden embrace.  A rough embrace: Bahorel punched her shoulder and butted their foreheads together.  "I give you a hard time and you deserve every second of it.  But you know we're friends, right? --I think I'm going to burn this letter and forget all about it."

"Well..."

"Oh, what.  Do you need it for your files?  The ever-sacred archives?"

"Sorry, yes."  She smoothed the paper out from Bahorel's fierce crumpling and tucked it into the book she'd been reading.  "You'll be here tonight?"

"With bells on.  Later, then."

 

---

 

1795

"So you see, I don't think I can choose.  For one thing, I find it difficult to accept your explanation of the mechanism of this afterlife.  But more importantly...I don't feel that I have finished with my memories yet."

"You don't feel that you..."

"I'm still thinking."

"For goodness' sake, Mlle. Combeferre."

"Citizen."

Chapter Text

1964

Her first day as director could have gone better, Combeferre felt.  At least one of the long-time staff members clearly--and rightly--resented her presence.  And now she had just walked in on two others half naked and bent over a desk.  Um.

Her hasty retreat was halted by a shout: "No, wait--wait, come back, the truth is we could use a hand--"  One of the men jogged over to her.  (Ousmane Joly, b. 3 March 1893, Saint-Louis, Sénégal; d. 24 October 1916, Douaumont, France.  Arr. Waystation 910 on 24 October 1916.  Interviewer.  Of course she had studied the files before her arrival.)  "Do you think you could bring more iodine?  Bossuet was changing a lightbulb..."

Bossuet.  That would be Isaac Adler, b. 30 January 1891, Mainz, now West Germany.  Died and arrived at Waystation 910 also on 24 October 1916.  Night watchman.  Who had been...changing a lightbulb? And was now liberally splashed with iodine and sitting very stiffly, shirtless, on top of his desk as he picked fragments of glass from his forearm?  (Where, one wondered, were Joly's trousers?)

"Yes, of course.  There are first aid supplies in my office...I think?" 

"There ought to be.  I'm afraid we spilled the bottle that was in the drawer here.  And then stepped on it.  But, say, do you know anything about fractured ribs?"

Twenty minutes later, they were all in the library, consulting a first-aid manual.  Everyone-Calls-Me-Bossuet's arm, free of glass, had been disinfected and bandaged to a remarkable degree, but his friend continued to fret.  "They feel broken to me.  Don't you think so, Mme. Combeferre?"

"Well, I'm not a doctor..."

"Neither am I, but..."  They both gave Bossuet's side a gentle prodding.  He made small noises.  "I do have a stethoscope."

"Do you?  Perhaps you should bring it.  To listen for grating sounds."

"That's my thought, too.  I, ah, you know, I think I'll find some trousers that haven't been used to mop up iodine while I'm at it, eh?  Don't worry, old fellow, we'll have you sorted out in a moment.  Just don't try to get up."

"I--wouldn't--dream of it." 

This left Combeferre and Bossuet.  They smiled somewhat strainedly at one another.  Bossuet's forehead glistened with sweat.  "Was M. Joly a medical student?"

"Not formally."  His smile warmed a shade.  "But I've--never seen anyone--study so hard--on his own."

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't make you talk. --I've often thought there should be a course of basic medical training available for waystation workers, so that every station could have at least one person on staff with some first-aid experience.  Accidents do sometimes happen.  Oh, dear.  Don't laugh, it's--"  She had meant to make soothing small talk, not set the patient off in laughter that left him gasping in pain.  Oh, dear.  "Just try to sit still."

Joly came back with a small black bag, trousers, and two more books.  "So we'll have a listen, shall we?  Mme. Combeferre, while I listen to his breathing, could you cast an eye over the pages I marked?  One of them recommends tightly wrapping the area and one of them argues against it... Never mind, Bossuet, either way you'll end up all right.  It's just an interesting, ah, hm, point of medical theory...breathe?  Again?  Again...and here..."

Twenty minutes after that, Bossuet was looking pale even in contrast to the white strips of bandage on his arm.  Combeferre and Joly had put their heads together: on the one hand, taping the ribcage would make the patient more comfortable.  On the other hand, it would keep him from taking the deep breaths that would reduce the risk of pneumonia.

"I had pneumonia in the winter of 1916.  I don't recommend it."

"You know--I'm really not going to die--either way."

"Hush, no one asked you."

"He does have a point, though, Joly."  They'd dropped the monsieurs and madames without noticing it, and didn't miss them.  "Since, well, mortality isn't a concern...the patient's comfort becomes a higher priority."

"Pneumonia isn't comfortable.  No, hush, Bossuet--it's only going to hurt you to try to talk.  I'm sorry."

"I was--only--going to say--I trust your judgment, Joly."

An hour after that, Bossuet was dozing on the library sofa, under Joly's eagle eye.  He was lying on the injured side--counter-intuitive, but allowing him to take deeper breaths--and Joly was holding his hand.  Neither Joly nor Combeferre had made any comment on that.

Combeferre yawned and apologized.  Nobody needed to sit up tonight: it was Sunday, a night with no guests in the station, one of the watchman's nights off in fact.  But Joly was staying with Bossuet, who didn't want to climb any stairs, and Combeferre was staying with Joly.  They were both leafing absently through the various medical and first-aid texts.

"Joly...you said you didn't have the chance to study medicine.  Was it the war?"

"The war.  A few other things.  It would have been difficult..."

"Because you're from Senegal?"  This was delicate ground, she knew.  The last two hours had encouraged an unexpected intimacy.

"Mmhm.  --I thought, you know, if I made it through the war it would open some doors.  And if I didn't make it then someone else would try.  I have brothers and sisters."  He rubbed his nose with his free hand.  "I thought if I, ah, set my lance at enough windmills, France would let me take up a lancet when I was done."

"It's not such a Quixotic idea.  It would be the least form of repayment--though a doctor's education shouldn't have needed to be bought that way in the first place--"

Joly laughed softly.  "It's good of you to say so.  I came to the same conclusion myself rather quickly.  And I didn't even look good in a uniform."

"You know...I never even thought of studying medicine when I was alive."

"Because you're a woman?"  The question returned hers from a few minutes before.  Combeferre smiled wryly at him and nodded.  "And you'll point out that you weren't even given the chance I had."

"No.  I wasn't thinking of that."  Combeferre tucked her feet up on the edge of her seat, her long skirt wrapped tight around her ankles.  "I was thinking that I could have been braver in my ideas.  In my--ambitions.  You were."

"Oh, it was self-interest."  Joly laughed again.  "Anyway, think of all the exams I don't have to take.  And the patients who'll never cough in my face and give me all the details of their digestive habits!  It's just as well." 

Combeferre could recognize a deliberate change of tone when she heard it.  She shared his quiet laugh.  "And the hours in our current line of work are much better, aren't they?  Oh, dear. --We don't both need to stay up at once.  Would you like me to take a shift first, and you can sleep?"

"Ah, no thank you.  I'll take this shift.  I'd better read up on pneumonia.  Just in case.  --Combeferre?  Thank you.  I'm unbelievably glad you were here."

 

----

1979

"Oh, well, I don't have very much..."

"All the more reason to let us help."  Bossuet patted his stomach.  "Besides, I could use the exercise.  Some people have complained that I'm developing a bit of a paunch.  So, what is it?  These boxes?  Tell me which ones are fragile and I'll let our dear Jolllly manage them.  He'll fly them upstairs in no time." 

The new arrival, one Fernand Feuilly, still looked hesitant.  Bossuet decided that valor was the better part of valor just now and hefted up the first box in reach.  "Oof.  This is books, I can just tell.  Here, put another box on top, I can take two.  Hoppla!  This one wasn't taped on the bottom!  I knew it was books.  I hope they weren't packed in any necessary order."

Despite the occasional crashes, no books were harmed in the moving-in of Feuilly.  Nor any other personal effects, not even the gleamingly-well-maintained typewriter.  "Oh, a Selectric Two.  Now that's serious, we only have the basic Selectrics.  Selectric One.  What does the new one do?"  The new man looked a little wary, and Bossuet softened his smile to something more explicitly encouraging.  "Everyone's been bugging the central offices for years now to send new machines.  Bugging and begging.  Pleading.  On bended knees when it seemed appropriate and agreeable to everyone's morals.  Is the Selectric Two better?"

Feuilly rubbed at the corner of the typewriter, though no dust could be seen.  "Well...this is the model with the correcting tape."  He scratched his chin.  "It works pretty well, I guess.  Um.  Thank you for helping with all this.  I'd offer you some drinks by way of thanks, but..."

"But you've just got here and you don't even know where the kitchens are, let alone the wine cellar.  Say no more!  Joly--Jollllly, stop fussing with his furniture--we need to fetch up something refreshing.  What do you think?  Too warm a day for punch?  Too warm a day: I say champagne.  Champagne, I say, and let it be so; I happen to have set a few bottles chilling this morning on the off chance that we would need them."  He smiled again at Feuilly, who hadn't yet lost the look of a man who wondered if he had walked into a madhouse. 

The champagne, when it came, and when it was poured into beer mugs, did its work.  Feuilly's posture eased and he warmed to his company.  He even let them begin unpacking his boxes of books, and expanded on his cataloging system.  To Bossuet's mind that was a clear sign of confidence.

"I think this box is the first one to open...yes.  All right.  It's organized by geographical region and country, and alphabetically by author within that.  Which sounds rational but--well, you'll see."  He swallowed down some of his champagne, possibly a bit too fast.  "It's just--as soon as you commit to any kind of organization, as soon as you say 'right, this is French history and this is English and this is German' you see all the problems.  What about colonial histories?  And then--the way things are in the world, it seems like all histories are colonial histories.  And then the rest of the wars and invasions.  Poland...how much time has it spent being Poland and how much time being torn into pieces?  But--"  He gulped down some more wine and broke off, looking sheepish.  "But anyway, it's all by geographical region and country.  And alphabetical by author within that."  His cup was empty now.  Joly refilled it silently.

"Now that I think about it, half the books in my own collection are really Joly's.  We just keep them in common, since my room is uncommonly well provided with built-in shelves, if nothing else.  Not even a closet.  Whereas he, the libertine, has found himself a room with two closets and three windows.  But many drafts in winter and only one bookshelf.  So your library provides you with a daily meditation on history's iniquities, and mine on the absurdity of the distribution of resources, natural or other.  --Joly, my glass is empty as well.  You could pretend to care."

"I do care.  Caring, I act.  Thus."

"A blessing on your house. --Hmm, now, this box seems to be art books.  Art, film, design, camera technique..."

"Work reference."  Feuilly squinted around the room. "That pair of shelves over the desk?  Speaking of work, I'm sorry, but the introductions when I arrived got a little jumbled.  M. Joly, did you say you interviewed guests?"

"Correct.  And Bossuet is our night watchman."

"Ahh!  I had that job for a few years once.  Nice work, most of the time.  For the first six months I wondered why we even needed it, since all I did was work my way through the library and nothing ever happened."

"Yes, I find the work well suited to my particular genius.  Nothing ever happens here either."

"Sometimes you change a lightbulb."

"Sometimes I change a lightbulb."

"Or address a midnight crisis of faith.  And we had that fire once.  --I have to ask, and forgive me the impertinence.  Do you write?"  There was the electric typewriter, for one thing, and besides that a box full of what looked like a manuscript.  Feuilly rubbed the back of his neck. 

"Well...it's not exactly writing.  I keep notes on the films I make.  And...oh...there's an idea I'm working on.  But I don't have anything like a thesis.  It's just...when you meet so many different people you start to wonder what brings them to one particular place or another.  It's...I guess it's like the history books problem.  In the last place I worked, the last waystation, there was a Basque man.  He told me that there had been three or four Basque waystations when he died, but they'd been lumped together into one.  Not so many people speaking the language.  Not enough work for more than one Basque station, but enough to keep that one station too busy for my friend.  He'd transferred out--to a French station, as he'd picked up equal amounts of French and Spanish.  We've all seen that language is a part of what pulls us one way or another when we die.  Right?  It's practical.  It lets us communicate."  Joly topped off his cup again.  "But it's not as simple as that.  All right, a little old lady who was born and died in Paris ends up here with twenty other people who died in Paris.  She considers her memories, we send her on in a week, it's easy. It's practical, at least, from our point of view.  But what about a little old lady from Montréal who died visiting her family in Paris?  I've never yet met anyone who knew how these things were sorted out.  And then there are accidents, have you ever seen that?  Someone who shows up without a word of French, or whatever the language is.  I know, I know, this all sounds tedious.  But it comes to a question, don't you think?  Very few people here talk about souls.  All right.  But something draws us together.  Pulls us together after death, just they way we pull together as nations-- I'm sorry. I don't usually go on like this.  I'm boring you."

Feuilly, with his sleeves rolled up, had taken a stance that combined defense and offense; even his wiry hair seemed to prickle with a ready indignation in support of his ideas.  Bossuet was impressed.  And touched.  "Good God, friend.  You aren't boring us at all.  I was just thinking you'd come to the right place, that's all.  --Joly, is there more wine?  I'll get more wine."

"Um.  Coffee, maybe."  The man's electric excitement seemed to be settling down, but into warmth rather than sparks.  "Coffee.  I don't usually have champagne for breakfast.  But--um.  If you ever want to, uh, talk about this stuff--"

"We always want to talk.  About every kind of stuff.  And come pick through our library when you like--you might find it rather poor, but you'll be welcome."

 

--

2004

Bossuet had known many, many instances of bad luck, but even he couldn't believe in a small personal raincloud bursting over his head.  At the sudden splash of water he leapt away from the building and looked up, covering his head with his hands.  Someone leaning out of an upstairs window laughed and started to sing.


Il pleut, il pleut, bergère,

Presse tes blancs moutons!

Allons sous ma chaumière,

Bergère, vite, allons!

"Grantaire, you ass!  Did you just--what did you just pour on my head?"

"Water!  Water!  Some wretch, some villain, some player of pranks and probable maker of puns--some person--stole every bottle in my room and replaced it with Perrier!"

"Well, it wasn't me!"

"I don't believe you!"

"I swear on my grandmother's grave!"

"I don't believe in your grandmother!"

A light flicked on in one of the other rooms; a window shot open.  "If you guys don't shut the fuck up, I'm coming to make you."  It rattled shut again.  Grantaire hooted, but his voice was noticeably quieter.  Bahorel knew perfectly well where his room was. 

"Anyway, it wasn't me!"  It wasn't.  But...he had seen Courfeyrac in the hall with an improbable number of bottles stuffed under her arm, and had not asked any questions.  Bossuet's conscience pricked at him.  When he had finished a token inspection of the grounds he made his way back indoors and upstairs.  Grantaire's door opened to his knock, and Grantaire nodded grudging approval at the two bottles of red cradled in Bossuet's elbow.  "I really had nothing to do with it.  I didn't even know we had Perrier. But as you are in need, I bring you supplies."

Grantaire took them into his room, leaving the door open.  "Well?  Are you coming in to drink with me or not?"

In the four years since Grantaire's arrival at the waystation, Bossuet had been in his room some half-dozen times.  Generally the visits went in the other direction, for practical reasons: everyone agreed that Joly had lucked into the nicest room in the place.  (Or, if you chose, that he had earned it, he and Bossuet having been there the longest.)  So Grantaire's space was not altogether familiar territory to Bossuet.  Invited in, he took the chance to study the place discreetly.

Photographs, many photographs, pinned on the wall.  Most were too small for him to examine without more obvious snooping than he was up for.  On the wall nearest him, though, he could see a few familiar figures, tacked in amongst snapshots of people who must have belonged to other waystations.  There was Combeferre crouched under some trees, taking notes on a clump of leaves.  Courfeyrac, sitting behind her, wore a pensive expression--almost wistful.  There was Joly, studying his tonsils in a mirror, on the verge of laughter.  Feuilly on a set, holding up one end of a painted screen.  Bahorel at a sewing machine?  She was looking over her shoulder at someone unseen, grinning.  When the hell had Grantaire caught her at that?  Yet there was nothing intrusive about the photographs.  They gave Bossuet no feeling of voyeurism.  These were simply--friends.  There was Bahorel again, smiling properly for the camera this time.  Joly, an arm around Grantaire's shoulder--Bossuet remembered taking that one himself.  Even the newest arrival--Musichetta--was featured, perched on a couch and balancing a plate on her knee.

Click and whir.  Bossuet belatedly grimaced at Grantaire.  "Demon.  You're trying to steal my soul with that thing, I can tell. --When did you take these?"

"Oh, different times.  Before your next question, yes I asked if I could keep the pictures.  I may be uncouth and insensitive to boundaries but not in that particular way."

"It hadn't occurred to me."  True: Grantaire had a habit of taking his Polaroid around on Sundays, their day off, a mild annoyance that everyone liked to grumble about.  But he was always happy to pass the camera around and let anyone keep a picture they wanted.  Now he was offering the shot he'd just taken, of Bossuet studying portraits.  Bossuet shrugged mildly and Grantaire pinned it to the wall among the others.  "Anyway.  Do you want a glass or a bottle?  A glass?  Dainty, dainty."

While Grantaire opened up the wine, Bossuet moved on to a larger picture: a pencil sketch of a young man looking at himself in the mirror, wearing only undershorts, smiling, pushing his hair back, a cigarette hanging from his lower lip. 

"It's shit.  I had to draw from memory." The smile had left Grantaire's face, but he handed over Bossuet's glass.

"Was it a photograph first?" 

"Yeah, something I took.  But it got left behind when I died."  Bossuet studied it more closely: the central figure had something written on his bare chest, smudged like paint.  It was backwards in the mirror and not all the words were visible but he could still make out enough of the words.  Il est interdit d'interdire!  "From 1968?  The protests?  I think I've seen a picture of that slogan on a wall."  Grantaire grunted agreement.  The other figure in the picture, sitting cross-legged on a bed, was also shirtless, but harder to make out.  His face was obscured by a camera.

Bossuet caught himself tugging on his ear, a nervous habit, and turned his attention to his wine instead.  "Damn, did I bring over the good stuff by mistake?  I didn't mean to be so charitable."

"Yes you did, you old fraud.  And yes, it's very good, bravo.  --So if it wasn't you who stole my collection, who was it?  Bahorel?"

"I couldn't say."

"You're a lousy liar, Bossuet."

Chapter Text

(2004, August

"No, look, this base isn't wide enough."

"It's fine."

"It is nothing like fine.  For fuck's sake, Feuilly, the base needs to be at least three feet wider.  If the base isn't wide enough we can't build it tall enough--"

"I know how to build a goddamn barricade."

"Well, you're building a really crappy one."

"What the hell is wrong with you, Bahorel?  I know how to build a goddamn barricade and anyway this guy wants a 1944 Paris street barricade and this is how we built the goddamn barricades in 1944.  Jesus.  You didn't invent the goddamn things."

"Uh, guys?"  Grantaire put his sand-bag down and wiped his sweaty face with his equally-sweaty shirt.  Everyone was red-necked and dripping. "It just has to look like a barricade from one side, anyway, you know?  For the movie?  Guys?  It's...a really short movie, this old geezer is smoking a cigarette and looking at the sky, we've got some distant warfare sound effects, there are pigeons, it's all camera work...doesn't have to be a big project...herculean effort..."

"Just make the base wider, for christ's sake.")

 

2006, Sunday

"So if you can just fill out this form..." 

Enjolras raised his eyebrows at Combeferre's apologetic expression.  Yes, of course, he can fill out a form.  Name, age, date.  Previous work history.  Did he have any experience with the following: sewing, carpentry, camera work, video editing, housekeeping, stage management, sound recording and reproduction...

"Do I play any musical instruments?"  Combeferre looked up from the notes she was typing up while he dutifully scratched away with the pencil.  "Is that important?"

"Oh--um.  Well.  All the waystations have a small band.  It's traditional."

"I took piano lessons when I was younger."  He wrote that down, shaking his head.  Mostly he had to leave blanks for the questions after the brief curriculum vitae (which itself didn't fill up nearly the allotted space).  Experience with plumbing and electrical work?  Roof repairs, house painting, and hotel management?   Costume design and customer service?  "Livestock?  Do I have experience with livestock?  And dog training?"

"We used to do a lot with horses. And there are always odd moments with ducks. --I didn't have very much at all to say for myself when I first arrived.  One Marie-Françoise Combeferre: can sew a little, can write in a tolerably fair hand, reads a little Latin." 

Enjolras eyed her thoughtfully, wondering about what seemed to be entirely unnecessary self-deprecation.  The last time he'd asked a friend why do you do that she had told him she was too tired for a serious talk and could they just get back to making posters. 

"At any rate, unless you've been hiding a career in film production, I was thinking you could start out interviewing people with Courfeyrac.  It's the best way to learn what we do here."

--

2006, Monday

"Aaand that's it for the day.  We are off the clock.  Fly free, little Enjolras, fly free!"  Courfeyrac was making flapping gestures with her hands.   Enjolras could feel his eyebrows creep higher and higher.  "No, I mean it, if you don't hurry up and find something frivolous to do, the next thing you know you'll be talking shop with the old folks."

"What are you planning to do?"  They had bid their last interviewee good evening and were squaring away their notes; Courfeyrac shrugged and retrieved her plum-colored velvet coat (hard not to consider it an affectation) from the rack by the door. 

"Things.  See a man about a dog.  Hmm, no, never mind, not that, that's an exceptionally unfortunate expression.  I plan to leap on a jet-plane and resume my career as an international spy.   --I should warn you, by the way, Jehan is on the hunt for someone to join the marching band.  Because I am almost certain Bahorel handed in her resignation as drummer and that means the triangle is sure to defect as well."  She blew him a kiss and slipped out of the room, leaving him to push in the chairs and turn out the lights.

Well.

He went to find Jehan.

---

2006, Tuesday

"Bahorel, I think you've known Combeferre for a long time?"

"Nope!"

"I thought--"

"I mean, nope I'm not having this conversation twice in as many days. The last person who started by telling me I'd 'known Combeferre for a long time' wanted to know if Combeferre liked girls, and if you want to know if Combeferre likes boys I have the same answer for you: ask her yourself."

"Oh.  No."

"No?"

"No.  I don't--I really wasn't asking that."

"Oh, thank God.  What did you want to know?"

"I was wondering when she died.  And how.  But I don't know if it would be offensive to ask."

Bahorel finally put down her book and looked at him.  "Hmm.  I don't think she'd be offended, no.  It takes a bit of work to offend Combeferre.  I try at least once a month on general principles."

Enjolras sat down.  They were in the library, Bahorel taking up an impressive amount of couch for someone who couldn't be above five and a half feet tall.  That left the edge of the coffee table for Enjolras' seat.  "I get that you're probably joking, but..."

"I'm not." Bahorel chucked the book onto the table beside him and sat up.  "I'm not joking at all.  We all need some anger in our lives and some people need a little extra push to get there.  I do the same thing now and then with Feuilly but it's much less work.  It's good to see him get wound up.  Courfeyrac--" and she had begun to check the names off on her fingers, "--Courfeyrac needs a little encouragement too, she's far too tolerant.  I've given up on Joly and Bossuet, and anyway, they've had more than enough to be annoyed about.  But Combeferre is a special project of mine.  And let me guess, you don't approve.  No, don't deny it, you do a disapproving thing with your chin."

"Not necessarily: but what do you want people to be angry about?"

"Anything!  Take your pick!  Isn't there enough in the world?"

"Bahorel, are you seriously educating young white males on the importance of their anger?"

"--Hey there, Musichetta.  I teach all the people about the value of all the anger.  All of it!  Indiscriminate rage, that's me.  Anyway, what can we do for you?"  Musichetta was leaning in the doorway; Enjolras stood up to make more room for her near the couch.

"I was looking for Jean Prouvaire.  He wants to learn his way around a sewing machine.  He said he'd be in the library but I guess I'm a little early... So who's angry about what, today?"

"No one.  It's disgustingly peaceful.  Enjolras doesn't want to offend Combeferre."

"He's probably a decent human being, not like some people I know. --Relax, kiddo.  Bahorel and I like each other.  Anyway, when Jehan gets here, do you want to join us?  Life skills?  Yes?  Good for you."

The conversation turned to work until Prouvaire's arrival: Enjolras was starting to see what Courfeyrac had meant about everyone talking shop.  Later that night the interviewers were all supposed to meet and discuss potential interview problems.  It didn't seem as though the work day ever quite ended.

Enjolras had no problem with that at all.

---

2006, Wednesday morning

Good morning, everyone. It’s now Wednesday morning. Today is the deadline for choosing your memories. You absolutely must make your choice by sundown.


Enjolras was just stepping out of the shower, towel-clad, when the loudspeaker crackled into life.  He closed his eyes.  So he had been dead for a week and a half?  When he opened his eyes, the bathroom door was opening--dormitory living at its finest.  It was Jean Prouvaire, blinking and muzzy in cloud-printed flannel pajama pants.  Self-consciously, Enjolras started combing his hair while Jehan murmured something amiable or possibly poetic on the way to the shower stalls.  At least it was just the two of them sharing this space--"Bossuet's down the hall, but he mostly uses the upstairs men's room," Jehan had said helpfully when Enjolras had first moved over from the guest wing.  The rest of the floor was women.

When he entered the office he found Courfeyrac hastily stubbing out a cigarette.  He hadn't even known she smoked.  Now she looked guilty and he attempted a reassuring-but-not-condescending smile.  It was a general relief when their first guest came in.  Not that this was an easy person...

By the end of the day Enjolras felt wrung out and Courfeyrac was biting her nails.  "Can we do anything about it?"

"About that girl?  No.  Maybe.  I can talk to her."  She knotted her hands tightly together.  "It's very common.  Someone who's been...someone in a situation like that.  The worst thing is she might be finding the happiest memory she knows of."

"I can't believe that.

The girl was eighteen, a youthless eighteen.  For two days she'd given them incoherent stories mixed with bits of popular songs.  She had smoked non-stop.  Faced with the fresh complexions of Courfeyrac and Enjolras, she tried to make her family sound humorous, zanily dysfunctional; she tried to make her boyfriend sound romantic.  Courfeyrac had run into her taking a late-night walk on Tuesday and had coaxed out an explanation, all wrapped up in apology, that the young man had, as it happened, stabbed her to death.  Then today she'd been all sunshine.  She had remembered a night he'd taken her out to dinner.  A really beautiful restaurant, with live music.

Courfeyrac and Enjolras stared at one another.  "You can't worry too much about them, Enjolras.  If you start identifying too much, you burn out..."  The words obviously, painfully, did not come from her own heart. "...I'll find her and talk to her before tonight's meeting.  Oh, hell."

--

(2006, Monday

"They built it a couple years ago, I guess."  Jehan rested his palm on the mass of paving-stones and sandbags.  "For someone's memory.  He'd been in the Resistance fighting in Paris, you know?  In the war?  Feuilly and Bahorel put it together, mostly, I think.  From memory.  Not from photographs."

Enjolras wrapped his arms around himself: the evening was cold, still the time of spring when the earth hasn't taken up enough of the sun yet to keep its heat after dusk.  Jehan was shivering visibly.  He had declined the offer of Enjolras' jacket.

"This is my first spring here and I can't wait to see it.  To see everything.  What I mean is...I wonder if the plants have started to grow over this barricade yet.  The sandbags are starting to rot... I want to borrow Grantaire's camera and take pictures.")

Chapter Text

1964, Sunday

She had signed the resignation letter in red ink--L. BAHOREL--and left it in the middle of the director's desk.  The director is retired, long live the director.  All they knew about the newcomer--besides that she was a newcomer--was that she was a she, named Marie-Françoise Combeferre, coming from Station 43, one of the very old stations.  The outgoing director had no familiarity with her.  He had the impression that her boss, the Station 43 director, was ancient.  And really, he'd said hopefully, it's about time we had a few more women running these stations.

Yeah, what a nice thought.  Bahorel's been a woman working in these stations for close to a hundred years. 

Bahorel shrugged on her black leather jacket, checked her hair in the mirror.  Fucking James Dean didn't do James Dean better than her.  As she sauntered down towards the lounge, she heard the welcome party in progress, as it had been for probably three-quarters of an hour.  She was pretty sure she'd navigated past fashionably late and into unignorably late.  Which was the point.

---

May, 1793

"Many women bring their work with them when they attend the Assembly.  Knitting and such.  I think I might do the same."

"Hmm?  Oh, yes.  The patriotic women.

"I'm a patriotic woman."

"The most patriotic I know.  But my dear, aren't those women with their knitting mostly there to cry up the Montagne and shout down anyone else?"

"The women with their knitting are mostly getting their stockings and shawls finished while they follow the speeches."

"Oh, come, you're evading my point."

"No, actually."  Marie-Françoise and Georges Combeferre stared crossly at one another across the breakfast table.  "So far you've made the point that they knit, that they are patriots, that they are loud, and that they support the Montagne.  To which of these do you draw my attention?  In any case, I am a patriot, I am not inaudible, and in some respects I have supported some of our Montagne representatives.  Public knitting seems a perfect addition."

It was Georges who laughed first, but his sister's irritation had already began to fade.  "Oh, dear.  You know perfectly well what I mean."

"Yes, all right." She smiled a little, rueful.  "Do you really think I'm going to start yelling out Père Duchesne's latest slogans? --The truth is, I just want something to do with my hands while I listen to the speeches."

"I doubt you're asking my permission, Sister Citizen.  --But tell me more about this in-some-respects way that you support some of our Montagnards.  I thought your heart belonged to Condorcet.  Is it Danton who fascinates you?  Some women do like these ugly men."

"For goodness' sake, Georges.  You know I agreed with some of the arguments against declaring war on Ausstria.  What Robespierre said was very true, I think.  No one likes armed missionaries.  It's madness to imagine anyone welcoming invaders, no matter how good their laws are.  That doesn't mean I'm about to start agitating for a purge of the Assembly."

"Oh, Robespierre.  --I'll see if I can get you a pass to one of the private galleries, if you want.  The ones the Gironde deputies and their friends had set aside for visitors.  You and your knitting can have a little more peace."

A week later, Georges presented her with a gallery pass.  She neglected to take it with her.  The next day, prompted, she took it with her and neglected to use it.  She did not feel a great deal of unity with the women around her in the public galleries--women who regarded her with a certain skepticism as a visitor who didn't come, like many of them, from a long day of labor elsewhere and who attended none of their political meetings--but as they muttered over dropped stitches and passed along verbal summaries of the speeches, she felt at least a closeness.  And she had an almost-friend or two.  She had recognized a woman from the march to Versailles, Hélène, the more-or-less wife of a sailor who didn't mind entertaining an audience with stories about childhood in Saint-Domingue.  Combeferre had pressed the acquaintance, simply for the sake of finding a companion.  Sometimes Hélène tried to talk her into attending meetings of the Revolutionary Republican Women; she would press copies of journals on Combeferre now and then.  Once, to Combeferre's surprise, it was a journal to which Georges subscribed: Gorsas' work.  "Do you see what he calls us?  'Shrews of the Montagne,' Marat's bacchantes,' 'Robespierre's devoted female followers.'  Like camp-followers, he means.  Is that what we are?  'Carrying the standard of licentiousness?' And are you and I drunk with blood?  That's what he says we want, to become drunk with blood."

Not long after that, a group of women and men were at the door to the reserved galleries, blocking entrance.  They demanded the passes of anyone who wanted to come in; they tore some up.  Combeferre kept her pass in her bag with her knitting and slipped quietly into the public galleries.  On the way home she let the thing fall into the gutter.  The next day, Anne Théroigne de Méricourt was beaten by a crowd of women from the Revolutionary Republican Women's club, nearly killed.  Marat intervened...  Combeferre stayed away from the Assembly for a few days after that.  When shame overcame cowardice, she returned, quietly.  Hélène gave her a cool glance.  "Do you think I've never been whipped?"  There was nothing to say to that, or if there was, it escaped Combeferre.

--

1964, the Sunday before

"I can't believe they're pushing him out of his post."

"Is that really what's happening?"  Bossuet scrubbed at his face, looking tired, when Bahorel rumbled her affirmative.  "At least he likes gardening.  I hear the central archives has a very nice rosebed.  It's more or less retirement."

"The alternative was death."

"Oh, that's a little dramatic..."

"Well, what would you call it?  Come on, if someone said to you today 'Look, Adler, pick out a memory and move on, why don't you,' would you call that a friendly suggestion?"

Joly took the thermometer from his mouth, studied it with an uneasy furrow in his brow, and went over to his hotplate.  "Dot a fever, adyway.  --Well, obviously you're right, Bahorel, it's shabby.  What do they expect to accoblish?  Excuse me."  He blew his nose.  Poor old Joly--politics, and a head-cold on top of that.  Bahorel herded him back to his bed and started the teakettle herself.  "Booting our director won't change the world.  If young people today have trouble picking an eternity and embracing it, that's not his fault.  And at the same time everyone makes noises about diseases of society...gederal balaise...ugh."  He blew his nose again and waved a hand in defeat.  Bossuet took over:

"I think we're all in agreement that our director is a fine old fellow and that he shouldn't be put to pasture or sent to the glue factory--"

"Jesus Christ, Bossuet, are you going to put it like that in his retirement-party speech?"

"--but meanwhile, what about you?  You're his assistant."

"They haven't fired me yet.  I'm quitting first."

"What?"  Joly heaved himself up among the blankets and echoed Bossuet.

"Oh, relax."  She leaned against the little kitchenette counter.  "Mind if I smoke?"

"I mind, it's no good for Joly's cold."

"Mph. For someone who's been dead fifty years he sure gets sick a lot. --I'm quitting the assistant position.  They don't want to put me in charge and bump Joly up to assistant?  They're sending in some old-school stranger to put us back to the strait gate and narrow way?  He'll still have to negotiate something if he wants help."

"Negotiate what, though?"

"For one thing, fuck this dress code bullshit they've dumped on us since the twenties."

"Hear, hear!"

"I can't tell you how many times I've said to Joly how tired I was of seeing Bahorel in a dress six days a week."

"Ha, ha.  Here's your tea, Joly. --All right, but what about the chapel?  If we have to have one on the grounds, why is it all old Catholic odds and ends?"

"Don't ask me to turn rabbi, I've forgotten all that."

"That's not the point.  The point is that even if you wanted to you'd get stuck with old church leftovers."

"Bahorel's right."  Joly inhaled steam from his tea gratefully.  "I'm the only one I ever see in the chapel and I'm certainly not Catholic."

"When do you use the...never mind.  That's just the minor stuff.  You know what they say every time someone brings up a schedule that doesn't have us all breaking our backs six days a week, ten hours a day or more."

---

August, 1815

Ici on s'honore d

Combeferre did not delight in embroidery.  She particularly did not delight in embroidery without spectacles of the right strength.  She had tried every spare pair that guests had left at the waystation over the years (decades? centuries? some were terribly quaint) and none had suited.  At least the light in the workroom was good. 

Ici on s'honore du

She put a pricked fingertip in her mouth.  If she bled on this thing and stained it--

"Mlle. Combeferre?  ...Citizen?"  Combeferre hastily folded her hand into her lap. 

"Director?"  De Boeldieu: he couldn't possibly have wandered into the workroom on a Sunday morning by chance.  Not unless he had a secret passion for sewing.  Now he pulled a chair close to her. 

"I heard there was a disturbance in your office last week.  I wish you had told me."

"There was no irreparable damage."

"But there was damage." 

Combeferre shrugged and nodded towards the ink-blotted square of cloth on the table beside her.  One could more or less make out the words Ici on s'honore du titre de Citoyen, now mottled brown-black.  One embroidered cornflower in the corner had escaped a drenching.  "I washed off the slogans and drawings on the walls.  And this, I can replace.  As you see."

"Is that wise?  Napoleon--"

"This is nothing to do with that man Buonaparte."

The director pinched his nose. "Marie-Françoise--may I call you that?  Setting aside titles for the moment?  We've worked together, what, some twenty years, and I think you won't be offended if I say I have a fatherly regard for you… I also have the most profound respect for your work.  You have a talent for speaking to our guests; you never spare yourself when it's a matter of a late night or an early morning; you even get your paperwork done on time.  And I think you will go far.  But, you know…one of the qualities I admire in you is your flexibility."

She could feel her face burn, and picked up her work again for the sake of doing something, anything, with her hands.  Her finger had stopped bleeding. 

"Times do change, Marie-Françoise.  I've had words with some of the others who...who might have felt strongly about the restoration of the monarchy.  There won't be any further disturbances.  But even so."

"Thank you. --Really, thank you.  I have always appreciated your guidance.  I...it's interesting that you should mention flexibility.  Last week one of my interviews was with a woman who had been--well, something along the lines of a camp-follower.  She had seen Maréchal Brune take down the tricolor at Toulon.  He spoke to the troops.  He said--from her recollection--'the nation has the right to all our sacrifices, and now she orders that we give up these flags that remind us of so many victories.  Let them receive our sorrowful farewells.  Misfortune and shame to the soldier who can part coldly with these objects of brave men's worship and love!'  Or something along those lines.  He was a writer in his day, Brune.  He went on to speak warmly enough of the Bourbon flag, I gather. Something like 'Let us mingle our regrets for the colors we give up with our affection for those we take up, and from this point on let the white flag be the token of the union between the army and the citizens.'  Flexibility.  He was murdered in Avignon, did you know?  Not long ago."

The director made a noncommittal noise.  He, in his day, had been the cousin of the marquis of something-or-other, from what Combeferre had deciphered.  But he attempted a kind of egalitarianism of the dead.

"I'd like a transfer, Monsieur de Boeldieu.  I will be as flexible as you please, but somewhere else."

"Oh--oh, Combeferre, why?  Has it been so bad lately?"

"No. No, I have no complaints towards my fellows here, and certainly none towards you.  But…"

"But you feel that to stay would be to accept an insult."

"Something like that."

"I can understand it."

"I would also like a promotion."

"--Um?"

"I don't have the experience yet to direct a station, of course.  But I could serve as an assistant director, I think.  As you say, I don't mind paperwork."  She looked directly into his face and saw concentration rather than disapproval.

"I didn't know you were ambitious, Marie-Françoise."

"Oh, no.  But I have ideas that I would like to see take shape."


--

1964, Monday evening


Bahorel found the director's office door already open and took that as a sign not to knock. 

She found the new director standing on a chair and peering intently at the top portion of the window-frame.  Bahorel took a moment to size her up.  Sort of a turn-of-the-century schoolmistress, long skirts and blouse, chignon with bits trailing loose.  Stockings: blue.  Really?  Really?

Director Combeferre peered down at her, first from under her elbow and then over her shoulder, revealing a pair of entirely predictable spectacles. 

"Did you lose something up there?"

"Oh, no.  I was trying to decide whether the number of deathwatch beetles in this room should be considered excessive.  Xestobium... They're harmless, really--no reason for their role as ill omens--but if there are this many they've probably eaten up most of the wood in the window-frame, behind the paint, and it needs to be replaced.  I'll have a look at the outside tomorrow."

Bahorel considered Combeferre's tactics.  Pretty effective.  Not in terms of insect pests--though presumably that too--but in terms of Bahorel management.  Bahorel had found a handwritten note in her mailbox this morning, an informal I hope you can come by my office today.  She'd been allowed to pick the time of engagement--and now found a housekeeper-naturalist instead of a combatant, someone concerned more with carpentry and infrastructure than Bahorel's red-ink resignations.  Not bad, not bad.

But not good enough.  Bahorel plunked herself down in a chair and waited for the woman to stop screwing around with bugs.  She took her cue promptly, hopping down off the chair and dusting off her skirts.  "Well.  I need an assistant.  Are you opposed to the duties in and of themselves?"

"I'm opposed to a lot of things.  Not the work, though."

"Good. --To tell you the truth, I'm at a loss to gauge the situation here.  You've been working in the waystations for more than ninety years, and at this location for fourteen?  Yes? On the other hand, Joly and Adler--Bossuet--have been at this location close to fifty years.  Now, Adler swears up and down that he prefers to keep his job as night watchman.  I'll ask him again when his ribs have healed up a bit--I don't know if you've spoken to him yet today, there was a bit of an accident last night...hmm?"

"Heh.  Nothing.  There's just always a lot of accidents. --Look.  This stuff with promotions and directors and assistants is bullshit that's getting used to hold together a hundred other kinds of bullshit.  I don't care about the title but I care about the work and the people that are stuck shoveling all that bullshit."

Combeferre was studying her intently and Bahorel fidgeted herself out of the chair and moved around the room.  Books, the shelves were filled a lot of books, already looking as if they'd always been there.  A few personal odds and ends.  Photographs, knick-knacks.  A square of embroidery in a frame--

"Where did you get this?"  The stitches were, frankly, clumsy.

"I made it."

"When?"

"Oh, 1815.  In the summer.  August or so."

Bahorel considered.  "Waterloo was in June, the monarchy was restored in...That's a hell of a time to be parading your Republican ideals."  A hell of a time.  Bahorel carried the little framed sampler over to the window, studied it in the light, made her way back to the desk and plunked it down where they both could see it.  Ici on s'honore du titre de Citoyen.

"Why don't you hang it up where everyone can see it?"

"Because...mm.  It's a good question.  Because of some bullshit, I suppose.  --Bahorel, you're right about the--can we say falsity, instead?--involved in hierarchy and management.  But there are a few titles that hold some truth.  For instance, I need assistance in the work here.  I would be honored if the senior staff here--you, Joly, Bossuet--would find it agreeable to join me, taking that title."

"Oh--probably.  Sure.  We still need to work out some of the, uh...falsities, if you like that word better than bullshit."  Bahorel drummed her fingers on the desk, took up the picture frame again.  "--Citizen of where, now.  That's the thing.  Isn't it?"

"Yes."

"Anyway--you should put this somewhere better than hiding behind some old paperweights.  Somewhere that gets a little light.  Plus you need to get that bookshelf fixed up, it's going to pull out of the plaster with all that weight on it.  We've got more shelves in storage, I'll get something over here.   Jesus, some people.  Look, have you got a coffee maker in here yet?"

Chapter Text

1916, October

The young officer’s suggestion, that Joly take his friend "Boche-uet" for a walk, had a certain wisdom to it.  Before any of the civilians could panic—they were more alarmed at a stray Hun than any of the soldiers, who recognized their numerical advantage and the fundamental unbellicosity of this particular Hun—Joly took the German’s elbow and strolled him purposefully out of the waiting room.  He seemed amenable.  “A bit out of place, aren’t you?  Though really, why should they worry about these things in Heaven?  Probably a question of paperwork.  Can’t die without it being stamped in triplicate.  Anyway, aren't we all a bit out of place.”  They were in a long and shabby hallway, reminiscent of—well, of the kinds of places where things were stamped in triplicate.  The walls above the wooden paneling had been painted a “cheerful” butter yellow.  Where it had peeled one could see a sickly white.  A skeletal color.   One was, Joly thought, rather familiar with such shades.

They came to a wide landing and paused.  Left? Right? Upstairs?  Downstairs?  A bench seemed like a sensible sort of perch, and they shared it, staring at their feet.  The German cleared his throat. “Cigarette?”  “Haven’t got any.  I’m very sorry.”  They both sighed.  A universal language.

A sudden memory came to Joly, sitting on another such bench with a friend.  Lamine?  It was Lamine, yes, they were waiting for the schoolmaster to tell them their many wrongs.  He remembered the sense, vague but oppressive, that Lamine was about to be in more trouble than he, undeservedly.  Whatever had they been doing?  Once they had spread ink carefully on the master’s chair, so that when he sat…  A hand on his shoulder.  He glanced up, found his German, his Boche-uet, Bossuet, studying his face, eyebrows knotted in concern, and realized that he'd been checking his pulse.  A nervous habit.  He had a collection by now.  War did no favors to his temperament.

"Hm.  —You need to learn some French, old fellow.  Here’s one for you: Ça ira.  Can you say that?  Ça ira.  ‘It’ll be fine,’ it means.  More or less."

"Ça ira?"

"Ça ira.  What we need is a dictionary.  Let us run a bit of reconnaissance—but first, introductions.  Joly."  He tapped his chest, then laughed at the other man’s bemused expression.  "Not jolie, like a pretty girl—ah, you know that phrase, do you?  Pretty girls, always important.  But no.  Joly, as in Ousmane Joly.  Delighted to make your acquaintance.  Ousmane Joly.  Late…very late of Saint-Louis, Sénégal.  By way of Douaumont."

"Douaumont."

"Yes."  The German looked melancholy.  "You too?  Well…to hell with it."

They sat in silence, knee to knee, until a stoop-backed older man came up.  "Lieutenant Joly?  It's your turn."

"Ah?  Ah, well, someone else can have it.  I'll wait until you find that translator for my friend here.  --Where were we?  Jolies filles, ça ira..."  When the long-faced old man had moved away, murmuring discontentedly, Joly stretched and rose to his feet.  "Let's go find that dictionary."

--

2004, August

"Feuilly, honey, if you're headed towards that door can you point the fan about fifteen degrees more towards me?  I'm melting over here.  Thanks."  Musichetta watched him out of the corner of her eye, amused.  She'd been here just a few weeks, and had called him honey once without meaning to, asking him to pass over her pinking shears.  His ears had gone red.  Since then she'd made a point of it.  Just now and then, when he was in the costume shop.  Because, honest truth, Feuilly was a sweetheart.  Three days after her arrival she'd run into him reading a book, and no sooner had she said oh, I keep meaning to get around to that one, what do you think of it? than he was pressing it into her hands.  He'd already read it once before--she should have a turn!  There was something profound about breaking down these great events--the march on Versailles, the taking of the Bastille, 10 August, Thermidor--to their smallest components, to the price of bread ticking up and down, to the movements of a single person, and then see that swell into the scope of history--one thought about the relation between people and the people--but anyway, she was free to borrow it if she wanted to.  Did she read a lot of history?

So that was a bright spot in her new place.  She saw a lot of Feuilly; he was the main set designer, so they worked together.  She saw a lot of Ousmane Joly as well.  He turned up in amongst her sewing machines and clothes-racks rather more than their jobs required, and she wasn't about to complain.  Musichetta saw no point in loneliness.

"FEUILLYYYYY!"  And suddenly, Bahorel.  Musichetta finished her seam and stilled her sewing machine.  She'd seen a lot of Bahorel too.  Bahorel had taken over a hefty share of the sewing work after the previous costumer's departure and Courfeyrac's flare-up of wrist problems.  Carpal tunnel syndrome: who would have thought it would plague the dead?  But there the poor girl was in wrist braces, and word had gone round the waystations that if anyone could spare an expert costumer... So now there she was, Musichetta, surrounded by Feuillys and Jolys and Bahorels.  It was a loud and enthusiastic company. 

"FEUILLYYYYY!  Le jour de gloire est arrivé, contre nous de la tyrannie, we are required for the building of a Paris street barricade!"

Musichetta bit down on a grin when Feuilly goggled at Bahorel.  "No, I mean it.  A barricade.  Joly's got a guest, an old geezer who was fighting in '44 and wants to remember it.  Hell, maybe you know him.  Tear up the paving stones, hand over the sandbags, we have a calling!"

--

2006

"…forcibly shaved the heads of women who had had relations with Germans during the occupation.  We must, after all, always keep the losers apart from the winners when we consider our dealings with an occupying force.  Example: my mother, prudent, found one of the few prudent French civil servants who was inclined towards an honorable marriage.  Result: a prudent retreat, first to Canada, and the birth of their prudent son—I take a bow—and then after the war to the holy land of France where we have all lived happily ever since.  I am given to understand that she had a sister, however--”

"You were born in Canada?"  All three of the boys at the barricade-remnants startled and stared.  Musichetta hadn’t exactly been employing stealth; she had to laugh at their surprise.  Jean Prouvaire lay in the grass a few feet off and Enjolras was leaning against the wall abutting the old barricade, watching Grantaire take photographs.  Grantaire, mid-rant behind one of his Serious Cameras, at least had some excuse for oblivion. "You were born in Canada?  Where?  Montréal, here."

"The same."  He straightened up and collected a bottle he’d left parked on top of the sandbags.  "Who knows, our families might have met."  She shrugged half-agreement.  Musichetta had not yet absorbed the appeal that Grantaire held for Ousmane and Bossuet.  She only sometimes felt obliged to try.  "But yes, I am secretly Canadian.  Like you, I know the ways of maple sugar confections.  I am intimate with the bald eagle.  I even have a considerable familiarity with beaver."  The last words were in English and…yes, all right, she snickered a little.   "Very funny,” she said, also in English.  “But save it for impressing the locker-room.”

Oh, I don't need words to do that. —Excuse me, Enjolras is looking unselfconsciously revolutionary.

Musichetta settled her bundle of cloth against her hip again and watched him take pictures.  It was true.  Enjolras, bored with their conversation or politely giving them privacy, had moved off and half-climbed up the piled paving-stones.  And Jean Prouvaire, one-time English-lit student, was sitting up with grass in his hair and trying to puzzle out their exchange.  Musichetta gave him a kindly smile.  "Anyway, don't you boys have work to be doing?"

"Oh, this is work."  Jehan smiled back at her, his usual odd crooked smile.  "It was, anyway.  Enjolras and Courfeyrac needed some photo references for the woods there."

"And you tripped and fell onto this barricade."

"Enjolras wanted to see it again."

"Uh-huh.  Well, don't let Grantaire ruin it for you."  She could hear him working himself up again into a monologue.

"What?  He's not."  He shook his head impatiently.  "How could he?"

"Yeah?"  Musichetta glanced at the other two and then back at him.  "You don't mind the running commentary about the endless disappointment of the world?"

"Well...maybe Enjolras does."  It was Jehan's turn to glance over at the other two.  Grantaire had put down his camera in favor of large gestures; Enjolras wasn't looking.  "But he can hold his own.  And I don't mind.  The companionship is...good.  It's good for people, now and then."

--

2004, August

"...So, are you okay?"

Behind her, Courfeyrac had begun pulling people together to dance and Feuilly was trying to put back the lantern he'd knocked over, gesturing in the middle of a speech.  They partied pretty hard here, these guys.  You wouldn't think so to look at them buckling down during the long work-week.  But this morning, as they left the emptied screening-room, free of the (other) dead again, Combeferre had made the mistake of saying in Bahorel's hearing that she supposed they would have to start dismantling the barricade later that day.

Result: a christening party for said barricade.  Combeferre seemed suspiciously complacent about the results of this disagreement.  At least, that's what Musichetta thought.  Combeferre had been the first to point out the need for champagne.  She'd also dug up enough extension cords to set up the record player, running them through an open window into Bossuet's room.  Turntables and LPs...the soundtrack was Musichetta's childhood and college years.  Courfeyrac had plucked at her arm and she'd shaken her head, having spotted Joly.  He was apart from the group, sitting on one of the benches in the courtyard, a shadow, recognizable only because he wasn't to be found anywhere else. 

Spill the wine, take that pearl.  Spill the wine, take that pearl.

Spill the wine, take that girl.  Spill the wine--

"...So, are you okay?"  She stood in front of him, holding out an untouched beer if he wanted it.  After a pause he took--not the bottle, but her hand wrapped around it.  She hmm'd a bit.  "Move over, then, make room on that bench."

Neither of them drank for a while, both just holding the bottles.  The lights from a few yards off, party lights, caught the beaded condensation on the brown glass curves.  Even the bottles were sweating.  Musichetta plucked at the front of her shirt once or twice, fanning herself.

The rooms were so much colder then, my father was a soldier then--

"Wow, someone really has a thing for Eric Burdon."  After a pause, Joly laughed, a subdued sound.

"Probably Grantaire, he spent some time in England and America.  --I'm sorry, Musichetta, you didn't have to leave a party to sit with me.  I promise I will be all right."

"Future tense, hmm?  It implies not currently being all right."

"Ah, you modern educated women."

"Yes, curse us. --What's up, though?"

"Oh--really.  I'm fine.  I just don't do, you know."

"...Barricade parties?" 

"Sure, barricade parties.  There are too many sandbags, too much...horizon over the edge of the trench."  He tried another laugh.  "I don't have Bahorel's over-the-top enthusiasm.  Or maybe her heroism.  She and Feuilly."

"Oh, Christ."  Musichetta had had no idea.  What war would it have been?  You worked with young people here, you thought you were so mature--you, a matron of 31, wise to the world and hunting for a little pleasure in your jaded old age--and then something came up in conversation.  Like complaints about stagecoach accidents.  Or, you know, sandbags and trenches.  "You want to go inside?"

"Mmm.  Yes, but..."

"But?"

"But now you think I'm an invalid and want to put me to bed with a nice cup of tea."

"Nnnno."  Did she?  She thought he looked tired and dispirited, not unwell.  "But if you want to go to bed with a nice cup of tea, I can make you one."

"What if we went to bed without the tea?"

 

--

 

1916, October


They had found the library, and the French-German dictionary, by way of a surprisingly well-stocked wine cellar.  Less well stocked now by four bottles.  Adler had expanded his vocabulary: vin rouge, vin blanc.  They had settled on the vin blanc--a Riesling, in fact, sweet and old, with a label familiar to Adler from home. And very nice it was, too. 

Any minute now, he kept thinking, someone was bound to come and herd them away for whatever they were supposed to do next--he really wasn't sure--but it hadn't happened yet.  They had been left to talk to one another at leisure, first sitting primly on the couch and then beginning to expand--even, as the first and second bottles emptied, to sprawl. 

Adler had shrugged off his leather coat and unwound his scarf--what pointless things to wear in death!--and was in shirtsleeves and suspenders.  Joly had kept his jacket.  "Much too cold," he had said, or something like it: he'd hunted up the words in the dictionary for Adler, hands flicking lightly among the pages.  Remarkably deft hands.   Then he'd talked a bit about his home, a place Adler could only imagine, though he'd asked as many halting questions as he could.  Were there lions and tigers?  Oh, naturally, hundreds, they walk in the street every night, you trip on them when you go to buy milk.  And you were a doctor?  I wanted to be.  Ah.  Yes.  I wanted to be, those were words anyone could understand in his heart.  

Now Joly was saying something about an--

"Austrian?"  Adler hadn't quite been attending.  The dictionaries didn't help as much as one might think and neither did the wine. 

"No, Australian." Joly sang a few words eventually recognizable as English: Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me? They both nodded and drank a little more.  Ah, yes.  Australian.  What was Joly saying about Australians?  Did it matter?  Now he leaned in closer and tapped the dictionary on Adler's lap.  "Kangaroo.  Kangaroo?"  Um?  He made a hopping motion, and--oh, yes, those things.  Those Australian animals.  Like very large rabbits.  Right.  So these Australians Joly was talking about, they had a kangaroo?  In...Egypt?  He had another drink while Joly leafed through the pages: Pyramids.  Certainly.  And why should the Australians not have had a kangaroo in Egypt with the pyramids?

Joly flopped over to study the dictionary on Adler's knee again.  This was not at all disagreeable.  Neither, really, was the impression Adler was developing that Joly had no very strong head for wine.  He negotiated a posture that allowed him to drink without spilling on anyone, while looking over Joly's shoulder.  The man seemed to be in some difficulty, muttering as he found the other half of the dictionary, German to French.  "Adler!  Je suis à deux doigts d'une révélation--I am a hand's-breadth from a great revelation--"  he was tapping his fingers enthusiastically on Adler's leg, now, which was quite interesting, though the man's inspiration was unclear, "--une grande révélation: 'adler,' c'est-à-dire, 'l'aigle,' eagle, c'est-à-dire--"

Quite abruptly the horse-faced old gent who had found them in the hallway was standing in front of them once again.  He had a middle-aged lady in tow.  Adler blinked at them uncertainly.  "Good evening, Lt. Adler.  I'm...sorry to interrupt you?  I'm the German translator.  I'm so sorry about the delay, but I had to come from another station.  If you could come with us...?  And then Lt. Joly can have his interview?"

Only when he was seated in an office, hands folded awkwardly on his lap, did Adler realize that he'd left his scarf draped somewhere in Joly's vicinity.

"I think you already understand the situation, but I need to inform you officially.  Lt. Adler, you died yesterday.  --I'm very sorry for your loss."

He put his head between his knees and shook with helpless and exhausted laughter.