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To Live, Dying

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The crack of gunshot echoed, ricocheting off walls more used to reflecting the sounds of young men's voices raised in the joyous cacophony of revolutionary zeal than the very real violence of revolution itself. It was the one final insult -- the violation and claiming of a space that had once been theirs and would be theirs no longer. Captain Durand lowered his pistol and snapped out an order for the rest of the men to leave him. Sensing something dark and violent in their commanding officer's demeanor and not wishing it to find its target in their ranks, all began filing out. Several paused, stooped down as though to take the bodies with them as they returned to the street below, but Captain Durand barked out an order that they be left where they were for now. Confused but obedient, they retreated, leaving the Captain alone with the odd mood that had been riding him since last night.

Once the others had gone, the Captain finally moved, stepped over the bodies in the center of the room without even a passing glance. He knew them all. He knew their names, their faces, their habits and vices. He knew their loves and their hopes, their dreams for a brighter tomorrow -- a tomorrow which would never come. Not in their lifetimes.

June 6th. It always came back to June 6th.

Though he moved quickly past the young men on the floor -- Combeferre, Courfeyrac, Joly -- once past them, the Captain stopped, feet rooted to the floor, unable to take another step, unable to move any closer to the final two bodies in the room. Instead, he crouched down, touched knees to the wooden floor of the Corinthe, willfully ignorant of the blood now seeping into his trousers, of the brush of Courfeyrac's limp hand against the trailing tails of his coat, his eyes fixed on the tableau at the window. He knew those boys, as well.

Enjolras.

Grantaire.

He wondered if they'd been close this time, if they'd shared that forbidden passion of the Greek heroes of old, if they'd hardly known one another, at all. It bothered him sometimes, not to know them as he knew the others… not to care to know them.

It was too painful.

Smooth skin beneath his palm, bright eyes full of hope, full of passion, full of love, darkening to worry, to sorrow… to death. If he could take back those last days, reclaim them and live them over again, he would do so differently. He had mourned his love from the day he'd won him, cynicism-fueled words condemning his passion even as he worshipped at its feet, drunken bitterness dousing that fire before he'd had even a small chance to warm himself at it. He had killed his love with his own darkness long before he'd died in truth and, by so doing, had robbed his love of the few moments of happiness they could have stolen before the end.

Had it been the same for these two? Had they ever known each other's touch, known the joy of lying clasped in the arms of one you loved? Had they spoken words of love or merely argued as always, bitter as gall? It didn't matter. Love or no love, it always came back to June 6th and this moment.

His love had died, shot through by eight bullets, pinned to the wall like some macabre marionette which might awaken at any moment and yell once more "Vive la Revolution!" And he had died at his feet, crumpled like the useless drunkard he had always been, clinging to his love as though to keep hold of him even unto death.

Little had he known.

Death was not an end to torment, not for he who was Death… who had dared to love one who was mortal, who had dared to forget himself in the glory of that long ago time, so many universes past, so many lifetimes ago. There was no relief for him, no release from this life without end. And so he continued on this merry-go-round, life and life after life, watching as a universe was born, living beside it, yet within it, a part and yet apart, until it too was ready to die and give way to the next… and always it came back to June 6th. To this moment.

Ignoring the newly risen souls behind him, now milling about in confusion, ignoring as well the soul of the golden-haired embodiment of the Revolution -- so different from his own dark-haired love, now so long gone -- he finally rose from his crouch, Combeferre's congealed blood sticking to his trousers as though to hold him back from what he was about to do… as though he could.

There was only one soul which mattered in all of this, only one soul which could free him, only one soul which could take his place… his own. The Captain knelt again, this time by the crumpled body which had, until today, housed his kindred soul. Dark hair to his light, curly hair to his straight, blue eyes to his hazel, he had lived a hard life… they both had. And when that soul rose, ready to take that step into the Afterlife of its choice, eyes fixed on his golden-haired god… the Captain reached out a hand to stay his leaving. And when their gazes locked, he could see that no explanation would be necessary. Grantaire already knew what he would say… he always did. After all, they were one and the same, mortal and immortal sides of a single coin.

Captain Durand removed his hat, laid it to the side, and bowed his head in supplication, a chained genie, desperate for whatever release his master would grant him. And in this moment, Grantaire was his master. Whatever Grantaire asked of him, he would do. If he wished his friends alive, Durand would see it done. If he wished this rebellion successful, wished the entire course of history sent spinning from its course in some new direction -- one last tribute to the man he had loved so long… Durand would see it done. Anything, anything at all to be released from this immortality which had become more and more of a prison with the death of every universe since the one in which he had allowed himself to be mortal. Anything.

All he could see of Grantaire was his boots, the cuffs of his pants, until his knees came into view, as well, dropped onto the wooden floor, legs passing through his own body to gain the space to do so. He reached out, took the Captain's shoulders in his hands and raised him up from his bow, blue eyes bright with empathy and unshed tears. Behind them, Courfeyrac whimpered, stumbled forward through his own body, a desperate "No" on his lips. He always had been the most astute among them, sharper even than Combeferre when it came to understanding the human heart. Durand was almost glad to see that that hadn't changed. He was even more glad that Courfeyrac had never been the one who could turn him from a course of action he was set upon.

Grantaire, still holding the Captain's shoulders in a light grip, said simply, "Is there no other way?"

Durand shook his head, struck mute by the sheer possibility that Grantaire might consider doing what he never had in the past. He was suffocating, choking on the ocean of tears he'd held back through eternity, unable to even beg.

Grantaire turned his face away, once again sought out Enjolras' gaze, asking the one question to which only Enjolras had the answer.

~Am I wanted?~

Durand knew what his own love would have answered, knew it to the core of his being. He had been wanted, desired, loved. And he had wanted, desired, and loved in return. Had another been willing to pick up the mantle of his immortality, he'd have gone on to a mortal afterlife that day without a single regret. That day… he had had no choice. He turned, as well, not wanting to miss the moment which would give away Enjolras' response.

Courfeyrac was openly crying, now, clutching at Combeferre's restraining arms as tears ran unchecked from his eyes. So, too, had his own Courfeyrac broken when Durand had been ripped from them. So, too, had Combeferre sought to comfort… and failed. But this Enjolras -- severe, hard-lined, unforgiving -- did the unthinkable.

Reaching down, he took Grantaire's hand in his own and said softly, "Too many times did I refuse this hand when it reached out to me. Do you think, now that I've finally taken it for my own, that I would relinquish it again so easily?" He pulled Grantaire from the floor to stand at his side, and turned his gaze on Durand. His eyes were filled with the empty, useless threats of one who can do no harm to the one they threaten… and who knows it. Still, the presence of that threat was enough, the love, once so carefully hidden, now shining like the sun… was enough. And, so, Durand bowed his head… and wept.

He should never have allowed his hopes to rise, should never have dared to permit such foolishness. He should have known better.

As he wept, the others milled around, again, more uncertain than before. They could surely sense that the moment to move on was fast upon them and could sense just as well that without him, they could no more move on than they could resume their lives. But, Durand, for once, for the first time, for forever, was broken beyond repair, so soul-sick and weary that he could not have risen had The One Who Created All, even, demanded it.

And in that moment of despair… something changed. His power, that which made him what he was and could have made Grantaire the same, unfurled within him, slave to a master other than himself. Again, it was Courfeyrac's horrified cry which alerted him to what was happening and he whipped around to face a Grantaire whose eyes were closed in fierce concentration, one chapped lip caught between worrying teeth, one hand caught just as tightly in Enjolras' own. It was he who commanded Durand's power, but for what purpose, he could not begin to imagine.

Moments later, he got his answer. Across the room, a door began to form, a soft light glowing from the cracks -- Death's Door, a door that only Durand should have been able to summon.

Courfeyrac was actively fighting Combeferre, now, forcing Joly to join in holding him back. Grantaire paid him no heed, nor did Enjolras, focused as tightly as he was on holding on to Grantaire, serious about not letting him go as he never had been in life. Finally Grantaire slumped, power draining away from him to return to its source. Still holding tightly to Enjolras' hand, Grantaire dropped once more to his knees before Durand, his smile exhausted, but satisfied. "I would take this burden from you if I could -- for I understand, all too well, the pain which would send you seeking oblivion rather than further eternity… but I cannot. To abandon my friends now would be to condemn myself to as deep a horror as you now suffer and I… I am selfish and, in the end, a coward. And for that, I am sorry."

When Durand again bowed his head, unable to keep it raised for one second more, Grantaire cupped a hand below his chin and gently turned his face to the Door he had summoned. Softly, lips nearly touching Durand's ear as he spoke, he said, "I could feel it, in that moment, how you would have turned the Universe on its head for me, would have turned it inside out to grant my last wish if I would but take this burden from you… and in that moment, I could see, as well, how I could use that same power to grant yours. I cannot take this burden from you… but I can see to it that you no longer have to carry it alone."

With those words, Grantaire picked himself up off the floor and held out a hand to Courfeyrac who gratefully took it and covered it in kisses, so relieved that he had no words. Combeferre reached down and took Courfeyrac's other hand in his right and then Joly's in his left. And Grantaire led them all. They passed through the Door and as the light dimmed, Durand dropped his gaze again, unable to do more than rock himself against the floor, eyes blank and horror-struck at having failed yet again… until a soft, uncertain voice crept into his hearing, breaking on the one syllable it uttered.

"…R?"

At that soft syllable, the tears which had choked off his voice rolled free in great heaving sobs. It was impossible. Even for himself, it was impossible, so how could Grantaire have done it? To reach back that far? To find the one -- the only one, in all the great multiverse, who had ever mattered? Impossible. But among every Enjolras who ever was, among every June 6th he had suffered through… Durand would know that voice anywhere.

"Grantaire… do you permit it?"

As Durand finally raised his head, met coal dark eyes with slowly dawning hazel, a smile broke out across his face -- full of such passionate optimism and joy that those who had once called him cynic would never again wish to apply the term. He held out his hand and as Enjolras' slipped into it, calloused and warm and perfect, he simply said…

"Yes."