Being taken captive is often an excuse for entering into revolutionary activity. When detained by an unjust government, a desire for revenge naturally blooms among the rubble of barricades. When abducted by a dangerous criminal, one yearns for a more competent regime, a more able police force to come to one's aid.
And when is overcome by the charms of a beautiful figure, helpless before her or his enchantment, one is then distracted, discontent with the normal rhythms of life. One is drawn to the theater, seeking refuge in grandiose tales and marvelous stories. One is, the next morning, invited to breakfast, and takes in nourishment, delighting in the sensory potential within every bite. One is swept up in the babble of talk circling around, hearing little, parsing less, but knowing that the situation cannot be allowed to remain as it is. Something must change.
“Remind me who you are?” Marius Pontmercy blushed before the young friend of Courfeyrac's who stood nearby him.
“Jean Prouvaire,” said Courfeyrac, “but worry not—”
“You may call me Jehan,” he added.
“Jean,” Marius nodded. “Jehan, as the case may be. I...I regret that our first meeting was under such...unfortunate circumstances.”
“Our first meeting?” laughed Prouvaire. “Think nothing of it!”
“That is to say,” said Courfeyrac, “it has already slipped his mind.”
Marius blushed even further.
“But why speak of this! Come, now, enjoy your breakfast. I can tell you are still hungry. Eat up! It is not good for you to—”
“No, Courfeyrac,” said Marius. “Mm—” And he wiped his mouth, pausing as he swallowed another bite. “That is, perhaps we can discuss this in more discreet circumstances, but, I would like to reintroduce myself to your more...political friends.”
“Whyever would you want to do that?” Courfeyrac said, as Prouvaire raised his eyebrows. “You are in love, you make wild boasts.”
“I am in love,” Marius conceded, “and if I do not do something about it, I shall go mad from this desire. I must have some object to focus my mind, some goal I can attain—if it requires hard work and focus on my part, all the better. It is this or pining away.”
“There are many dangers associated with our activity.”
“I know. But already, this giddiness threatens to take over. If I feel the urge to embrace my fellow man, here at this breakfast-table, is it not better to labor, to improve the world on his behalf?”
“We have heard that there are some police spies infiltrating the societies,” said Prouvaire. “I would not wish any friend of Courfeyrac's to expose himself to needless risk.”
“I fear nothing. Already, my heart is forfeit.” Marius sputtered on another bite. “Unless you think that I...”
“Impossible,” Courfeyrac laughed. “No one doubts the...ah, steadfastness of your heart.”
“I think he is worth consideration,” said Prouvaire. “Not many more, perhaps, but our cell could stand to grow.”
“Pontmercy? Do you think?”
“We must have faith in something. Are we not all driven by some great loves?”
“By them, perhaps,” said Courfeyrac. “From them, into the arms of who-knows-what traps...”
“Who?” Marius echoed. “Knows what now?”
Courfeyrac and Prouvaire exchanged a long, wordless glance. “If you are willing,” said Courfeyrac finally, “you may join with us.”
When Marius entered the back room of the Cafe Musain, he did not take Joly and Bahorel for revolutionaries right away. They were absorbed in another compelling game of dominoes, which was only interrupted by Feuilly setting his glass down on the table and Joly rushing to gather his tiles, rather than risk them being knocked over.
“These are your...comrades?” Marius asked.
“You seem surprised,” said Courfeyrac.
“It's a bit of a surprise that a single glass can rattle them that much,” Feuilly pointed out. “Grantaire's done worse.”
“Combeferre,” Courfeyrac called, “do try to move your hands with more confidence. Do you not grip a pen or a scalpel with some precision?”
“You know he doesn't,” said Laigle. “You've seen his handwriting.”
Marius turned around to see the aforementioned Combeferre, grasping a billiard-stick that he looked only too happy to lean against the wall and put down. “And am I to suppose,” Marius asked, “that you consider your...other activities to be some other sort of game?”
“Hardly,” said another young man, who had been watching Combeferre's hapless grip. “If you are to come and go among us, you must understand that our proceedings are of the utmost importance—”
“You and your votes!” interrupted yet another patron of the cafe. “The Athenians had votes, and they were conquered. Do you think those were worthwhile votes? For my part, I would pay no debt to a city that taxes me in my breath, my spirit, sometimes the other detritus I leave behind. And for that they would not let me vote? So much the better. You vote between sabotage and disarray, between failure and absurdity. Socrates was a fool and killed by such a vote, and the roosters were—”
“Are you telling us to expect your support, Capital R?” asked Laigle.
“Of course,” said Grantaire. “The sooner we reach unanimity, the sooner some of you can feel empowered to begin whatever you were going to accomplish anyway, and the sooner the rest of us can devote ourselves to more worthwhile pursuits.”
“Is this about the...elections?” Marius ventured. There had been some announcement of some sort about delays for some votes, but it had been of little concern to him. He had his work to eke out; that was sufficient for him. But that had been before the vision of the young woman, before renewing his commitment to some, any distraction.
“Yes,” Combeferre answered, in the same breath as his companion—Enjolras—answered “no.”
The two friends looked at each other, uneasily, but it was Combeferre who clarified. “That is to say, the elections will be an imperfect measure, but an important one. It is our responsibility to make sure all of the eligible voters are aware of their opportunity to impact the future.”
“And their duty towards their fellow citizens,” Enjolras added.
“To that end, it will be the responsibility of some of us to assist the electorate. Inform potential voters of the various candidates, and monitor the polling places to make sure everything is carried out on the level. And, because we are committed to democratic principles ourselves, we ought to receive majority approval of whoever is chosen for the mission.”
“I shall support whatever Courfeyrac decrees!” Marius vowed.
“I appreciate your confidence,” Courfeyrac chuckled, “but we are all equal in this company, from the most tested to the freshest-eyed.”
“All?” Grantaire echoed.
“Ah, so much for your magic,” said Feuilly. “We need to tell Pontmercy the important principles.”
“Don't be so skeptical!” Combeferre interrupted. “There are many unexplained phenomena—”
“What Courfeyrac means,” said Enjolras, before Combeferre could get any further, “is that, if you are to be considered one of our company, you also may have the chance to suggest missions to undertake.”
“But—forgive me—” Marius stammered, “I would not begin to know what we need to do.”
“The chances will present themselves. It suffices that—should there be a need—you decide who among us have earned your trust. Or at least, enough to carry out any given mission.”
“I don't know you all very well. And neither do you know me. I fear my first impressions have been a bit...unseemly.”
“Now, Pontmercy, don't be modest!” said Prouvaire. “A young man, in the throes of love—surely your reputation speaks for itself.”
“Do we want him in any dangerous situation?” Laigle asked. “Even if he had no intention of sabotaging any delicate equipment, perhaps distraction could bring on unfortunate consequences.”
“Not even you could bring about the accidental failure of an important mission,” said Joly.
“Surely I could be framed by a companion! Is that not the most insidious misfortune, wrought by the schemes of men rather than the gifts of gentle nature?”
“Quit your sermonizing,” said Grantaire. “Marius, is everything quite clear?”
“Not particularly,” Marius admitted.
“Sit down,” said Prouvaire, indicating the seat nearest him at a round table. “And I will find a drink for our newest comrade!”
“You don't have to,” Marius immediately said.
“Oh?” Feuilly asked. “So that's not what you are?”
Marius flinched. It was one thing to disclaim a gift, even as fleeting as a glass to drink, from another student. But if he truly needed a direction to focus his life, to take his mind off the hopeless obsession of the girl in the garden—he was choosing to be a part of a society who shared. Perhaps not all their secrets, but at least some measure of trust, to accomplish anything. They had a place for him.
“I don't need a drink,” he finally said. “Or at least, I can—pay my own way, should it come to that. But if you trust me, then...yes, I suppose I'm part of you alphabeticalists.”
“No one trusts you. Or anyone else,” said Grantaire, even as Marius was sliding in between Prouvaire and Bahorel. “Don't take it personally. A mere force of habit. Unless you're going to make a point of abstaining during discussions, in which case I might begin to wonder whether there's something you're afraid of blurting out under the influence.”
“I have nothing to hide! I don't even know what's going on!”
“Let us make sure we are aware of the stakes,” said Enjolras, retrieving a stack of papers and placing them on the table. “One of my contacts in the Amis du Peuple has intercepted these documents—an outside summary of the suspicions around our cell. Unfortunately, he suspects we have been infiltrated by four police spies, who would be capable of sabotaging any mission we carry out.”
“Us? Work for the police?” Bahorel chuckled. “You are right to be cautious, of course, but surely the police prefer to employ people with more...reputable credentials...than I ever hope to obtain.”
“I would like to think it would be that easy,” said Combeferre. “But we cannot assume our enemies will make themselves known—the way progress can retreat, there is no telling whether a new government will day by day slip back into the mistakes of its predecessors. Particularly when we continue to incorporate new recruits—” he raised an eyebrow at Courfeyrac—“whose sympathies are unclear.”
“Ah!” Marius stood up, suddenly wishing he'd taken Prouvaire up on the offer of a drink. “Will my presence be a...concern? I do not wish to undermine your work.”
“Be at ease,” said Bahorel. “I suspect the Amis du Peuple have no more reliable knowledge than we do.”
“It's still a concern,” said Enjolras. “Succeed three times in the coming months, and the population will be well-poised to support more radical change should it come to that. Three early failures, however, and popular support will fizzle out. No doubt the police would aim for just that.”
“But how are we supposed to identify these spies you so fear?” Courfeyrac asked. “It is all well and good to stare into one another's faces, searching for truth, but we are all able to lie.”
“He has lied about affairs of less consequence,” said Prouvaire, “and deceived me. It's a valid point. Remind me to tell you the story of the incident at the newspaper office!”
“Not tonight,” Combeferre sighed. “Enjolras, the other rumors?”
Enjolras clenched his teeth before he could risk breathing a sigh that would have been correspondingly more exasperated. “The papers also suggest that one loyal member of our society—whether because they defected from the police or use some magical powers, for all I know—is aware of the identities of the spies.”
“Excellent!” said Marius. “Denounce them, and we can ignore what they have to say.”
“And complete all your missions, leaving you to go mope in your garden once more?” said Grantaire. “Where's the fun in that?”
“If these rumors are to be believed,” Enjolras continued, “it would be an extreme misfortune for the police to become aware of the so-called magician's identity. They could turn him over to the authorities, or perhaps ensure he comes to grief outside the law. While they would not dare physically overwhelm us when we hold the majority—I still believe there are six loyal operatives, including myself—then the informant must not make his knowledge too clear. Should the spies identify him, our plans would be ruined even if we succeed at a mission or three.”
“I would pity your dilemma were it not for the meaninglessness of democracy in this particular mission. Is there any question of how we will vote, or is this a meaningless sham election, held to placate the masses while the upper crust continue their oligarchic ways?”
“My dilemma? So you admit you're working against us, then?”
“Propose your mission.”
“In time.” Enjolras waved a hand. “Pontmercy, do you understand the procedure?”
“A little better now, I think,” said Marius.
“Very well. In that case, it is clear that the elections will require oversight from trustworthy partisans. We need three people to carry this out, so I propose Courfeyrac and Combeferre.”
“That would be two,” said Feuilly.
“And myself, of course. Why would anyone not propose themselves?”
“There might be good reasons to delegate the workload,” said Combeferre.
“I will take responsibility for this mission. Any need for discussion?”
“Of course we trust you. All three of you,” said Joly. “I'm not sure why anyone would oppose this.”
“I...” Marius trailed off.
“What?” Courfeyrac called from across the table—he was seated between Grantaire and Feuilly. “It's all right to speak your mind. Dissent is healthy for a free society, after all!”
“Are you comfortable with these allies of yours? If there has been any strain in your friendship...”
“None at all! I would be most pleased to oversee the elections in their company!”
“I'm ready to call the vote,” said Enjolras. “All in favor?”
“Aye!” Marius cheered.
“You should raise your hand,” said Laigle, who had just done exactly that. “Don't want people voting at different times, so they could influence each other.”
“I thought discussion was...important for a free society.”
“Before the votes. Not amid the polling. That would be vote-rigging, which is what we're trying to avoid,” Enjolras explained.
Marius squirmed in his chair. “Very well. Forgive me.” He raised his hand, noting that the rest of the circle had all done the same thing.
“And all opposed?”
“Can you count to ten?” Grantaire asked. “Everyone's hand is already raised.”
“Never hurts to ask,” said Combeferre.
“No spies would be so daring as to oppose a trustworthy mission such as ourselves,” said Enjolras. “Very well, it's agreed. I'll contact you tomorrow to determine where and when we meet.”
“And the rest of us?” Marius asked.
“Go home, carry on with your lives. We don't need to take to the streets just yet!” Courfeyrac chuckled. “Try not to get too absorbed with this angel of yours.”
“I wanted to go monitor the elections.”
“Then you should have voted nay,” said Grantaire. “Live and learn.”
Marius nodded. They would live. Even if the elections fell through, the danger was not imminent. How could it be, with Courfeyrac and his trusted friends keeping a watchful eye?
All the same, he woke up the next morning feeling apprehensive, as if the unpurchased drink had still left an echo in his mouth. No traces remained of the previous night, but fear. Perhaps that had been Courfeyrac's beverage of choice all along.
Marius was very nearly the last one into the back room when it came time to reconvene, but he pulled to a stop when he saw that Bahorel had not yet entered either. Instead, the older man was sipping a drink, standing arm-in-arm with a woman Marius didn't recognize.
“I should go,” she smiled. “Your friends are waiting for you.”
“Not for me,” said Bahorel. “They'll be keeping themselves busy, no doubt.”
“All the same.”
He nodded. “Take care,” and squeezed her hand that much tighter. She blushed as she pulled away, then turned and began navigating through the tables, out towards the exit.
“I didn't mean to interrupt,” said Marius.
“Think nothing of it! Come along.”
“There'd be room in the back, I'm sure. Or—I could stand?”
“There's no need.” Bahorel hesitated as they approached the back room. “Our votes are...private.”
“Of course. But Courfeyrac seemed willing to let me watch, even if I was just here as his friend.”
“There are many sorts of friendships! Well, it begs the question...”
“Never mind. E-We have decided that women will not be gaining the franchise, here—shy of many opportunities to receive a well-rounded education, beyond all the claptrap of the churches, they would only be a hindrance to more radical action.”
“Your friend doesn't look like much of a hindrance.”
“Ah, Pontmercy, do you be careful with these snap judges of character! Or at the least,” Bahorel dropped his voice into a whisper as they again took adjacent seats at the table, “save it for the vote.”
Marius nodded, wide-eyed, as the room filled in. Combeferre took his seat in a hurry and fluster, having abandoned another pool cue to slowly droop against the back wall. Grantaire deposited his hat on the table with a spinning flourish. Laigle, who had been carrying two drinks, handed one over to Joly as he sat down.
“Are we all here?” Courfeyrac asked, glancing around the table.
“Pontmercy,” Enjolras nodded. “Thank you for returning.”
“It's my—” Marius began. Not quite pleasure. Pleasure was something not quite of their back room, but not quite of the girl in the garden either. Maybe something that could not belong to him. “That is, of course.”
“So,” said Laigle. “How were the elections?”
“Dismal,” said Enjolras.
“A failure? Already?” Marius interjected. Could one of Enjolras' closest friends, the inner circle, have been so daring as to neglect his duties when there were so few of them venturing out into the polls of Paris?
“A success,” Enjolras snorted, “such as it is. The voters are so limited, it is likely this will prove ineffectual in the long term.”
“All the same, we did our part!” said Combeferre. “And the Legitimists did not succeed.”
“You say the voters are limited?” Marius asked. “But why—”
“Not now, Pontmercy,” said Courfeyrac.
Marius blinked, but said nothing.
“Very well, then,” said Laigle. “What's next?”
“Combeferre, would you like to explain?” Enjolras asked.
“I—er, that is—” Combeferre began, before he was interrupted by a clattering from across the room. He shivered, before turning to look at his pool stick, which had at last slipped to its limit and fallen to the floor.
Courfeyrac regarded the stick for a moment, then looked over at Combeferre. “As you were.”
“Of course. It is my belief that we need to be disguising ourselves more thoroughly, if there are spies among us. Some of our peers believe that we really are involved in educating the young. I think it would be best for us to maintain that cover by making sure the mômes—the prison brats—have access to education. I have some ideas as to how to go about doing this, but it will be a more involved process than merely monitoring the elections.”
Enjolras nodded. “Four operatives may be necessary, this time.”
“And I suppose Combeferre has to be one of them?” said Grantaire. “Just because he's the only one with a plan?”
“By no means!” Combeferre said. “I could advise anyone, from here...”
“But surely you trust yourself more than anyone else?”
“That's a fearful attitude.”
“Combeferre,” said Laigle, “I believe I'm supposed to be the leader?”
“Well, I see no reason not to add myself to the previous team. You all did a fine job, did they not?”
“You don't need me?” Joly asked.
“Not yet. We'll take care of this and whatever cockamamie scheme Combeferre dreams up next, and that will be that.”
“Come, now!” said Feuilly. “Courfeyrac, surely you would like to see Joly instructing the mômes with you? Giving them a first course in anatomy, infectious disease, whatever other...marvels can be studied in prison?”
Courfeyrac coughed on his drink. “I think you've answered your own question, there. Laigle de Meaux' proposal seems perfectly acceptable.”
“Is there any point in voting?” Grantaire asked.
“We need the practice,” said Enjolras. “All in favor?”
Every hand was raised.
“And all opposed?”
Silence as the hands dropped out of the air. The emptiness between them, above the table, remained a space for practice.
“So be it! Bossuet, we'll fill you in.”
“Is that all?” Marius asked.
“We had better hope so,” said Joly. “He has a point. The sooner this is achieved, the sooner we can move on.”
“Are you still jealous you don't get to play schoolmaster for a crowd of mômes?” Courfeyrac laughed. “And here's Monsieur Pontmercy, giving instructions in translating argot to English.”
“The kids do like to go where the money is,” Feuilly laughed.
Bahorel nodded, distantly. “Too much consensus can be a danger. Perhaps we should have sent some people more...familiar with the prison system, and its challenges.”
“So you distrust Laigle?” Joly asked.
“Hardly. Perhaps...well, never mind, we've made our decision. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to meet a friend.”
Joly smiled. “I would hate to detain you.”
And when, later on, Marius tried to summon up the memory of the girl in the garden, she was always just that. She could not be the girl out of the garden, waiting in the backs of bars, loitering outside a prison, she could not even be in the Abbé Mabeuf's church; his only image was of her and the old man, passing by the moldy statues and the swans. Were they fighting to preserve that garden, those islands of peace and life, or to break down its walls, let the girl come and go to places even more removed...?
It wasn't his fight, he told himself. Not until the vagaries of democracy suggested otherwise.
Marius was the second one to step into the back room, the next time around. Joly had entered, alone, to find the room empty, and squinted. “Is everything all right?” he called, into the silence. Then he jumped to see Marius enter. “Oh, hello!”
“There was no one here,” Marius explained. “I thought I'd gotten the wrong day...”
“Keep your voice down,” Joly hissed. “But you stuck around, anyway?”
“I thought a drink might suit.” said Marius. “To settle the nerves. Well, actually, no...” He trailed off, Joly having perked up at the mention and seemingly about to recommend more specific ways of settling nerves. But he was speaking in cliches—put again, speaking in lies. It felt frivolous to drink more. Not only was it a strain on his budget, but the walls of the room seemed to close in with their own pressure. That he ought to be austere as well as secretive. Or was it just the feeling that he was being watched?
Before he could shudder, the room suddenly began to fill. Grantaire and Bahorel were sharing a bowl of stew. Bahorel quickly struck up a conversation with Prouvaire, when he and Feuilly entered, about the scansion of a less-than-laudatory paean to certain bygone professors.
Finally, the four men who'd been in charge of the previous mission entered. Courfeyrac hustled over to the table, not looking up as he slunk into his seat. Enjolras marched one step at a time, Laigle stumbling in his wake, and Combeferre almost seemed to collapse at the last open chair.
No one spoke. The knowledge, if not the shock, of failure was clear on the latecomers' faces, and Marius found himself looking around at the others instead. Grantaire seemed to be looking at Marius' reaction, as well. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it again.
It was Feuilly who eventually broke the silence. “What happened?”
“What do you think?” Grantaire immediately asked. “It is almost as if the combined ranks of the prison wardens were a bit too much for four of us.”
“I think the fear is that we were only too closely aligned with the prison wardens,” said Prouvaire. “Well, one of us, anyway.”
“One of them?” Feuilly asked. “You think you know exactly how much sabotage took place?”
“Why don't they explain themselves? Bossuet, you were the leader.”
“It was a mess,” said Laigle. “The prisoners were up in arms, they had to call in the troops—there was nothing we could do. By the time we could get there, they weren't letting the mômes get close. There's no sign of where they are, now.”
“But there was exactly one point of failure?” Feuilly asked.
“Yes,” said Enjolras. “I didn't believe any of us would be capable of this, but...”
But there they were. Marius glanced around the room, the table already seeming half-familiar. “Are we safe here?” he asked.
“If...if there are infiltrators. They know where we meet, now, who all of us are. Should we be spreading out?” At least he wasn't close to his family—there was no one that an unjust authority could threaten. For the first time, he felt suddenly grateful he did not know the name of the girl from the garden.
“We still hold a majority here. It's as safe as anywhere, for now. But we need to find out who undermined that mission.”
“We succeeded the first time. Before Laigle joined,” said Courfeyrac.
“It could have been an accident...” Joly trailed off.
“This goes beyond mere misfortune,” said Combeferre. “Someone interfered with the mômes on purpose.”
“This mission was your idea. I think I trust you, but it would have been easy for you to give the others the slip.”
“We were together, most of the time.”
“But you didn't see anything out of place?”
“Not on our part,” said Combeferre. “I was talking to some of the prison guard, I lost track...”
“You were talking to the guard?” Laigle asked. “And you expect this to speak in your defense?”
“I don't need to defend myself. No one has leveled any accusations, we don't need to speak in haste.”
“Something did go wrong,” said Enjolras. “And we were able to hold our own, with the elections.”
“With more people, there's more room for error.”
“For errors to be committed on purpose, perhaps!”
“Enough. Are we going to wallow in this defeat, or do you have other plans to make?”
“We have other plans,” Enjolras said. “To wit: there's a cache of weapons recovered from some separatists in Belgium, not otherwise being put to use. Assuming it makes it to the border safely, we aim to transport it once it gets closer to Paris, and distribute what's needed among some of the other societies.”
There was a brief pause. Marius tried to imagine himself transporting weapons. It was honest labor, he supposed, perhaps all the more honest if he wasn't getting paid for it. And surely he had to be more trustworthy than some of them—than one of the others on the previous mission, even? It chilled him to speculate, but perhaps he would get his chance after all.
“And I believe,” Enjolras added, as if trying to keep an even keel, “that it falls to Grantaire to propose a task force.”
“How many of us?” Feuilly asked.
“Four. Again. But—not the same four, I should hope.”
Feuilly nodded. “Wonderful. I've been interested in learning more about the situation in Belgium. I'd happily volunteer for your mission.”
“The situation in Belgium!” Grantaire laughed. “How many wondrous foodstuffs they export, and not even a proper country yet? Or are they? I hadn't heard.”
“I think we'd decided they were,” Courfeyrac quipped.
“You'll forgive me, I was enjoying some Bastille Day commemorations of my own. Belgium, what of it? So we're going to distribute some gunshot, then? Very good. Perhaps it will feed one or two of our friends for a day, feed them with palatable ideas and explosive sensations. For my part, I think we ought to give the country a bit of peace before we start looting all its treasures; or are we to pick apart its ancient relics like the gems of Egypt? Already some kind of history. Belgium, why! If I were to enjoy festivities after a rousing opera, I'd find a better way...”
“May I suggest,” said Courfeyrac, “that in light of recent events, we consider exercising our right to downvote the forthcoming proposal?”
“I would consider that option,” said Feuilly.
“I thought you wanted to be on the mission?”
“I do. But perhaps we need to start voting more cautiously.”
“Perhaps we needed to start voting more cautiously before Laigle's mission.”
“What's past is past. Grantaire, any ideas?”
“You can come,” said Grantaire. “Enjolras will want to make things right, I suppose. Bahorel will know where to send the weapons.”
“That makes three,” said Enjolras.
“Of course I'm coming on my own mission.”
“You are if we vote it up,” Bahorel sighed.
“That goes without saying.”
“Anything else to discuss?” Enjolras asked.
“The first mission succeeded. And there was only one failure the second time, we think,” said Courfeyrac. “But you're not including either Combeferre or me? Even if you trust Bossuet...I'm not sure this makes sense.”
“Does any of this make sense? I want a team to distribute weapons from Belgium. Is there anyone better qualified?”
“You could add me.”
“In place of who?”
“Ah. Perhaps Bahorel? Or...or Feuilly...but perhaps the team is fine as it stands.”
“Excellent. So, I can count on your support, then?”
“You trust Grantaire?” Combeferre asked.
“Not necessarily,” Courfeyrac admitted. “But what else can I do? Would you consider leaving yourself off the team?”
“I just said no,” said Grantaire. “Though life is fleeting. I don't mind you asking. The brief moments were perhaps enough to make me reconsider, to change my mind...on balance, I shall be taking myself. And not you.”
“Then perhaps we would be better off waiting till my proposal.”
“Suit yourself, then. All in favor?”
“Are we voting?” Marius blurted. “Doesn't Enjolras usually call the vote?”
“I can call a vote, if I want. If all of us vote this up, I won't have to bother with a second part. So, vote this up. All in favor?”
Marius raised his hand, then glanced around the room. Grantaire himself supported the mission, unsurprisingly, as did Bahorel. Prouvaire, too, was in favor.
But nobody else had raised their hand.
“All...opposed?” Grantaire asked, and it was impossible to tell whether the tremor in his voice was a quiver of intoxication, or an underlying fear.
The other six men raised their hands.
“I...see. I regret that you cannot yet trust me. Whoever winds up proposing a team, I will be happy to go on it, and distribute the weapons as desired.”
“What was that about?” Laigle asked. “Jean Prouvaire? Pontmercy? You weren't on the team, why did you support it?”
“We'd been supporting all of the teams,” said Marius. “I didn't see any reason to change.”
“Only one of the people from the first team was on this? I'm beginning to think the Amis du Peuple were right; there might only be six of us true to the cause. Given that, it's rather risky to support a team you're not part of.”
“Don't be so hard on him,” said Prouvaire. “He hasn't been around long enough to get worried about capital R yet.”
“But you have? What's your reasoning, then?”
“We can't just downvote everything. I think Enjolras and Bahorel are very responsible, when it comes to handling weapons.”
“I think I trust Enjolras. In this context, anyway,” said Feuilly. “He opposed a team that he was on. If he was treacherous, wouldn't he have jumped at the first opportunity to sabotage it?”
“That's convenient,” said Courfeyrac, “the same applies to you.”
“Not necessarily,” said Combeferre. “If there was more than one spy, they might not want to be forced into a situation where both were on the mission. Both sabotage, and they've given a lot of information away about who was who. Both play along, and they're not getting their work done.”
“You suspect me and Feuilly? That's absurd,” said Enjolras.
“I never said that! But it bears consideration.”
“I trust Feuilly utterly. He has devoted his life to our principles! And if Grantaire is not committed, perhaps that means Bahorel is also as loyal as his long experience testifies; there would be no reason for him to choose another conspirator, if it is as you say.”
“So it's Grantaire that concerns you, from that last team?”
“I'm not sure,” said Enjolras. “How can I know any man's intentions?”
“I hear magic helps,” said Grantaire.
“I believe it is my turn to propose a team?” Courfeyrac looked around the table, taking in Enjolras' nod. “Very well. I...believe that the first mission was reliable. Enjolras, Combeferre and I have known each other for some time—none of us would betray each other. Therefore, I would prefer to exclude Laigle and add someone else to this mission. Perhaps my friend Marius? He may be new, but he is ready to participate, and transport work should not be too much for him.”
Marius, not sure whether to take this as an insult, blinked.
“Both of you together?” Combeferre asked. “It might work. You can help him out, show him the ropes.”
“What do you think, Pontmercy?” Enjolras asked. “Are you ready to bear this responsibility?”
“Yes, of course!” said Marius. Discussing their friendships and the strains among them had been invigorating, in its own way, but he'd grown used to that. To quell the same old patterns, the same hopeless longing that the figure in the garden inspired, perhaps he needed to accomplish something else that seemed worse than hopeless. Or had that not been the question? “That is, I trust you three. I think. But I trusted Laigle, too.”
Feuilly tsked. “You will need to be more...cautious than that, if you expect to be taken seriously.”
“I don't know all of you very well,” Marius protested. “It's better not to rush into hasty judgments, is it not?”
“Haste is to be avoided. But we have more time to deliberate.”
“Would you rather be part of the team, Feuilly?” Courfeyrac asked.
“I'm not sure.” Feuilly shrugged. “Work will be busy. I don't know if I can get away.”
“You just volunteered for Grantaire's team!” Bahorel pointed out.
“Perhaps even I was being overly hasty. Courfeyrac can decide for himself.”
Courfeyrac squinted. “I think Marius is ready. We can vote on that. Him, plus the election monitors.”
Enjolras nodded. “All in favor?”
If Feuilly would have had trouble taking off work, would he too? How long would it take? Where were they meant to go? A flurry of doubts melted into just another drink, and Marius raised his hand. Of course he wanted to go.
Looking around told him that everyone else on the team supported it. The six others, however, did not.
“And all opposed?” Enjolras sounded almost irritated, and his tenor sounded strange. Disappointment—or a mask of it—to be sure, in the wake of the failure at the prison. This was a different concern.
The six expected hands. Well, Marius supposed he had not expected to see who favored which hand. Laigle and Grantaire preferred the left, evidently; the others, the right. No evidence of anything sinister. Was it?
“That is not a majority.”
“Oh, good,” said Grantaire. “I was beginning to get concerned you were struggling with mathematics.”
“Your concern is best directed elsewhere, if you're truly loyal to our cause.”
“Of course. Is it my turn to propose again?”
“It's Feuilly's, obviously.”
“Oh. Well. Perhaps this wine has gone to my head, I've gotten all turned around again. Feuilly! Put me on your team.”
Feuilly gave a quiet laugh. “I think I'd prefer a group of more specialized talents.” He peered around the table, slowly. “Bahorel, of course, your knowledge of weaponry will serve us well.”
“Ah!” Bahorel sported a broad grin. “It would be my pleasure to contribute, in any way I can.”
“Good,” Feuilly nodded. “Courfeyrac, you're well-connected, and if you don't know the best places to hide, I'm sure some of your contacts will. The need for stealth is important.”
“Er,” said Courfeyrac, giving a sidelong glance at Bahorel, “I...I'm sure I'll do my best, yes, of course. Won't see any problems from me!”
“What's the matter? Just because I'm not sure about your judgment, doesn't mean you can't join me.”
“Nothing's the matter. Go on, who's your fourth?”
“Joly. I suspect some of these weapons will be sorts I'm not used to using, and I'd like to learn how they work, from someone who can understand the theory behind it.”
“And you think Joly's the best choice?” Bahorel asked. “I'd be glad to advise you, on your own time.”
“We're stronger together,” said Feuilly. “You know the weaponry. He knows what effects they'll have on the body.”
“Are you quite sure this is the best team, overall?” asked Enjolras.
“Not at all, but this is why we're a democracy, aren't we? Let's see what the voters have to say.”
“I'd prefer to be on it.”
“No doubt you all would. But four of us are on it. Maybe they'll support it.”
“So it's voted down four to six, like mine?” Courfeyrac asked.
“I'm not telling you how to vote. You can make your own decision.”
His own decision. When had his grandfather ever invited him to do that? It was in leaving the Gillenormand house that Marius had made a decision of his own, even if it had felt more like stumbling out into the unfamiliar, pulled by the gravity of fate. That time around...he'd gone along with trusting Courfeyrac, and by extension, Courfeyrac's friends. Yet why did he feel so reluctant to support those four? Perhaps there was some sort of magic in the air, after all. Feuilly's selection had been so arbitrary—how was Joly any more fit for the task than Marius? Was Courfeyrac really one to excel when stealth was called for?
He glanced at their faces, looking for any hint of betrayal, but of course that was ludicrous. If any of them had something to hide from their associates and closest friends, what hope did he have of catching on?
No one asked him to speak, and he was not sure what he might have said if they had. He wasn't going to accuse anyone in the proposal, couldn't target his suspicions at anyone in particular. But somewhere along the line, he'd made up his mind.
“Are we ready to vote, then?” Enjolras asked. It had been only moments. Probably.
“Y...yes,” Marius stammered.
“Are you all right?” Courfeyrac asked.
“Yes. I'm fine. I...I'm ready.”
“Anything you want to say about this team?”
“No, I, er...I'd rather be on it.”
“Remind me of your capacities?” Feuilly said. “You're a translator?”
“I can haul guns! I'll go wherever you tell me!”
“I don't doubt that!” Feuilly backed away, giving a flick of his shoulder. “There will be other proposals. Unless this one gets voted through, I suppose.”
“We can vote now?” Bahorel asked.
“I think so, yes,” said Enjolras, though he paused and took in the calm expressions of everyone else before carrying on. “All in favor?”
Marius tensed in his chair, arm slack at his side. There was nothing wrong with caution. Even Courfeyrac had voted against Grantaire's team. It wasn't counterrevolutionary, to hinder the progress of the mission. It could be his decision.
But if everyone else had come to the same idea, was it much of a decision at all?
Slowly, Marius looked over past Feuilly—whose hand was raised, a small grin forming—to the rest of the table. No one else had volunteered a hand! Not those, like him, asked to stay behind; not even those Feuilly had trusted were willing to see it through.
“And all opposed?” Enjolras inquired, raising his hand as he did. Marius followed suit, and sure enough, the remaining “friends” were united in their opposition.
“Well!” Feuilly raised his eyebrows. “Can't say I didn't try. Maybe I could use a drink after all.”
“Can I get you something?” Joly asked.
“You can make yourself useful, all right.”
“Hold on,” said Enjolras, “aren't you up to propose a mission?”
“Oh. Well, that can wait.”
“Not too long. There's curfew to consider.”
“This again?” Prouvaire rolled his eyes. “You need to start taking risks! Trust your friends, and vote things up?”
“I don't think any of you have much room to talk,” Feuilly muttered.
“What's the curfew?” Marius asked.
“You didn't explain?” said Courfeyrac.
“I didn't want to overload him,” said Enjolras.
“Excuse me?” Marius butted in. “I don't want you to treat me like a child! If I am to vote like one of you, I have the right to know what's going on.”
“It usually doesn't come up. But you're right; we should all be clear on this. You said it yourself, Pontmercy: this cafe is our headquarters. Were it to be compromised, we would have little recourse.”
Marius nodded. “But you think it's safe to stay here, even if there are spies watching us?”
“It's as safe a place as any—so long as the management is willing to put up with a security risk like us. We cannot let them turn us out on the street. Then where would we be?”
“On the street?” asked Grantaire.
“And in solidarity with the abased once and for all, you know,” Laigle chimed in. “I don't see why this is such a concern.”
“Be that as it may,” said Enjolras, “we cannot overstay our welcome. If we don't accept the fifth proposal of any given night, at latest, we'll be disallowed from meeting here. That would be the most shameful of defeats, if our cause was disbanded from within.”
“Then that's what the spies would want, isn't it?” Marius asked.
“You'll just have to support my proposal, if it gets to me,” said Combeferre.
“And if you're a spy?”
“Well,” he shrugged, “then the guns won't get anywhere, will they? But I'm not.”
“So the police agents could be just sowing dissension, hoping we never come to a consensus and we dissolve from within?”
“They might be, yes,” said Enjolras.
“And you never told me any of this? If I'd known how urgent things were...”
“We didn't want to overwhelm you, there was a lot for you to take in.”
“What Enjolras means is that it was obvious the first proposals would pass, we didn't need to stand on ceremony—there was little risk of those first nights dragging out to a fifth vote,” said Grantaire.
Marius scowled. “Is there anything else you're not telling me?”
“We're not telling you if we're working for the police,” Joly laughed.
“The fourth mission is a rather resilient task,” said Combeferre. “Not as vulnerable as the others.”
“We'll get to the fourth mission when we get to it,” Enjolras said. “For now, I think you understand the stakes. Support Joly's team, or assume Combeferre can come up with something before closing time.”
Marius gave a sigh. “Can I be on the team?”
“I don't know. Maybe,” Joly reflected. “Bossuet can come along; I couldn't leave him behind.”
“Ah! Thank you!” Laigle smiled. “Who else do we trust?”
“I don't know. Grantaire, maybe?”
“You think Laigle's still trustworthy, after that second mission failed?” Courfeyrac asked.
“I think I'd be able to notice if he had anything to hide. For all I know, it could be one of you three who thought you'd wait a while to cause any trouble.”
“Even if you're trustworthy, you can't know that for sure. Why am I arguing with you? We need a fourth member for my team.”
“Why not Bahorel?” Laigle asked. “He knows how to deal with weapons.”
“Hmm. Bahorel! Are you a spy?”
“Of course not!” Bahorel chuckled.
“Will you help the mission succeed?”
“Well, that settles that, then. Okay: you and me, Grantaire and Bahorel.”
“Were you expecting any other answer?” Feuilly asked.
“Not particularly,” Joly said. “But it's good to be confident, isn't it?”
“I suppose now you think all three of us are traitors?” Courfeyrac asked. “Seeing as how you didn't pick any of us?”
“I...not necessarily. If one of you is loyal, you see the need for picking a good team, sooner rather than later. Someone will need to trust the rest of us enough to support the team, even without being on it. Maybe it's time you all rested.”
“I don't know if I trust you,” said Courfeyrac.
“Well, you really ought to! That goes for all of you. Trust is good for the spirit, we all need a bit more of that to stay content in times like these.”
“Distrust is good for staying alive,” Combeferre pointed out.
“Pontmercy!” Joly called. “Maybe you'll vote for this?”
“Maybe,” said Marius. He wasn't incredibly proud of his answer, but it seemed the best he could give. Enjolras' ultimatum seemed to have brought a new pressure, but how was this team any better than the last? “Do you really think the first group are spies, all three of them?”
“They're very loyal to each other, to a noticeable degree. I don't think they have ill intent, but it's possible that over time they could have grown distracted from the group's true goals, leading each other further and further from the purpose they had in mind.”
“There's no way you'd know that,” said Laigle.
“There might be,” said Joly. “We have to start somewhere. I still want you on my team, and I think Grantaire and Bahorel will be plenty equipped to deal with any trouble that comes up.”
“Why do you think trouble will come up?” Feuilly asked.
“If trouble comes up,” Joly said. “Obviously I'll be looking to stop it before it starts.”
Feuilly rolled his eyes. “I think I'm against.”
“Are we ready to vote?” Enjolras asked.
“What do you think of this team?” Marius blurted. “Enjolras?” If there were only six people worth trusting, including his own—did that mean any mission that accumulated seven votes, if it didn't have to, had to be a risk? If Enjolras was willing to commit to a team he wasn't on, maybe Marius wouldn't have to. Or wouldn't even want to.
“They have earned the chance to contribute, I suppose, in whatever way they're needed. But whether these four have the focus for the task at hand...” Enjolras shook his head. “I am too quick to judge, sometimes. But this does not seem like the safest alternative.”
“You were willing to support me! On Courfeyrac's team!”
Courfeyrac smiled. “Don't be so hard on yourself, Marius. A friend of mine is a friend of everybody's, here.”
“Do you really think that's true?”
He paused. “I have to have faith.”
“So you'll support this team?”
A slight hesitation, a glance over in Bahorel's direction, and then, “Why not? It is getting late.”
“Is this how you make up your mind on everything?” Grantaire asked. “The lateness of the hour? That could lead to some rather...unfortunate results.”
“It helps me to know,” said Marius. He was not voting against Courfeyrac, he told himself, just against...Joly. No, Joly's team, taken together. Maybe for Combeferre's sound judgment? Turning to face Combeferre, Marius didn't really feel like he could trust the other man, either. Were the early furrows in his young face the rackings of guilt? Did he have something else to hide?
“That's our Pontmercy!” Courfeyrac cheered. “What would Bonaparte say of you now?”
“Come, now,” said Laigle. “If we're holding people to their earliest opinions, I could tell you a thing or two about Joly that would make you reconsider even his team.”
“Gossip?” Feuilly asked. “Do tell.”
“I thought we were concerned about the lateness of the hour?” Joly pointed out, but he was smiling.
“I'll call the vote, then,” said Enjolras.
“Color me surprised,” said Grantaire.
“All in favor?”
That time around Marius kept his cool with his silence, only watching as Courfeyrac stayed good to his word, raising his hand in support alongside those of the other proposed members. Nobody else moved to support.
“And those opposed?” Enjolras went on. Marius raised his hand, as did the other four men. “Five against...” Enjolras murmured. “And five in favor. That's not a strict majority.”
“We're all very proud of your capacity for arithmetic,” said Grantaire.
“The republic will be built on the principles of absolute truth. We could do worse.”
“We could do worse than that team, I think,” said Combeferre. “Is it my turn?”
“Yes,” Feuilly said. “I'd be happy to join you, I've been saying all along.”
“You and Enjolras, I can trust.”
“Very good. And who else?”
Combeferre closed his eyes, refusing to take in the great map of France, the smoke from the fire, the staircase in the back, or the abandoned cue sticks. Was he fearful of choosing wrongly, Marius wondered? He might not be needing to feign emotion—it could just be fear of being found out.
“Jean Prouvaire,” he finally nodded. “It will be good for all of us, to get in touch with the details—and in turn, our flights of fancy might serve our contacts well.”
“Don't be absurd,” Grantaire said. “How is this team any better than the last?”
“Why are you opposing anything at this hour?” Prouvaire asked.
“Well, I'm on it,” Combeferre said, ignoring Prouvaire. “That's a start.”
“You didn't pick anyone from Joly's team, so you distrust us all?”
“That's not what I mean. You're already used to dealing with the exigencies of these missions—we need the experience, on something simple that we can pull off without a hitch.”
“You won't with that team, I'm afraid..”
“We won't accomplish anything if we don't get out of this room,” Enjolras pointed out. “That's your team, Combeferre?”
“That's it,” he said.
“Good enough. All in favor?”
“You can't possibly think we're going to play out this charade for the fifth attempt?” Grantaire asked.
“Now's the best time!” said Bahorel. “See who reveals themselves by opposing it!”
“All in favor?” Enjolras repeated. “Or should we turn ourselves into the police tomorrow?”
Marius raised his hand; the others were just as swift.
“And all opposed?” asked another voice. Laigle? “I had to ask,” he continued, as every hand dropped. “You all were going to race for it, otherwise.”
“I begin to think you have been spying on me, Bossuet,” Grantaire asked. “You know me too well.”
“I can tell when you're lying. You're not, I think.”
“I'd rather be lying down.”
“That's unanimous support,” Enjolras pointed out, as if desperate to underscore his command of mathematics. “I'll be joining you—Prouvaire, Feuilly? Combeferre?”
“All right,” said Prouvaire.
“Good luck,” said Marius. “Er. Enjolras?”
“Yes?” Enjolras said.
“Are you expecting...more guns than you know what to do with? Or will there be a place planned, for all of them?”
“We'll be briefed when we make contact with the others. Why do you ask?”
“I was wondering—if there were extras—whether we should stock up. Ourselves. In...in case we needed something. Or if there was an uprising, the people joined us, we'd want to be ready with our own supplies...”
“You want a gun?” Courfeyrac asked.
“I can't say I'd be a trained shot. But if there's a danger...”
“In here there'd be more of a danger from getting into fights over dominoes,” said Enjolras. “For your own lodgings, outside of here...we'll consider it. And we'll consider who we can trust.”
“I didn't mean to presume—”
“Of course not,” said Prouvaire. “If our mission is a success, we'll be well on our way. You won't need to worry about your own supply.”
“And if it fails?”
Prouvaire gave a quick intake of breath, then exhaled. “Good night, Pontmercy.”
“Good night, Combeferre,” Enjolras called. “Thank you for your prompt decision.”
“You may call the votes, but it's Louison who enforces our exit,” said Combeferre.
Marius decided it would be best to bid everyone a quick “Good night” before taking his leave.
He went to the ball, that September. Courfeyrac and Laigle and Grantaire had invited him along, shortly before their next meeting, and Marius had been swept up in their lively chatter and adept footwork. It was a small thing, to practice one step after the next, to be ready to turn and vault out of the way as soon as fear set in. Nobody discussed politics, or much of anything. Grantaire moved to speak, to deal in some quip, but even as Marius was ignoring him, he felt confident that he would not find “Ursule” there. If that had even been her name.
“I wanted to take my mind off her,” he explained. “But everything we've done...it hasn't been enough.”
“No one expects you to not have a life, outside of the work we do,” Laigle said.
“I'm not sure about that,” Grantaire muttered.
“No one expects him, Pontmercy, to not have a life.”
“Ah. As you were.”
“She wouldn't have been here,” said Marius. “If she's not in the garden...I don't know.”
“The garden?” Courfeyrac asked.
“Never mind. I'm sorry. Thank you for including me, anyway.”
“It's our pleasure! Stay for another song, at least, there'll be more dances.”
“No thank you.” He wanted to walk, to test the stillness of the night air and find it uninterrupted, all the way back from Sceaux. The noises didn't make him flinch any longer, the smell of walnuts almost a curiosity, that the natural world should go on producing useless marvels that could not interfere with his comings and goings. The walk felt like neither. The ball had hardly been his to leave, and the apartment was not quite his to call home. Unless he was going to resign himself to practicing lies.
One day he thought he saw Monsieur Leblanc, as well, but he disappeared around the corner before Marius could take note of which direction he'd fled. Of course he would have gone after him. Even had the man been wearing an unfamiliar cap. Marius wouldn't judge anyone for adopting a disguise. Given enough distrust, a novel costume could prove useful in any number of occasions.
When at last he reunited with the others at the cafe, those who had joined him at the ball were still summarizing the events. “We rode a coach back,” Courfeyrac was explaining to Bahorel, “and Grantaire had the idea to sing...”
“Go on,” Bahorel grinned.
“I'm getting there,” said Laigle.
“You are,” admitted Courfeyrac. “But we weren't, because the coach...”
Courfeyrac had distrusted Laigle, Marius remembered, as soon as the second mission had returned. There seemed to be no suspicion anymore, as they recounted the merriment of the return trip. Was it an act? Or a sign that Combeferre or Enjolras had been to blame? And if so, was the distribution of guns already doomed?
He had his answer quickly enough. Once again, the four men returned together—Combeferre shivering and avoiding eye contact, Enjolras tense as if searching around for a flask to grab onto. Prouvaire and Feuilly were calmer, or acting more collected, taking their seats and greeting the others with silent nods.
“Dare I ask?” Courfeyrac dared.
“We got most of the way through. One of the boxes just happened to be empty, and we had to scatter because the police were getting close,” said Feuilly. “Again, only one act of sabotage, that much is clear. Whether there was only one person who would have done it...well, that we can't be sure.”
“This is what happens when we leave it that late,” said Joly. “We all had to support that, so we can't hold anyone accountable. Except maybe Combeferre, who chose that group.”
“So this is my fault?” Combeferre asked. “How come?”
“You seem very...uncomfortable,” said Courfeyrac. “I know it's been hard on all of us, but are you sure you're okay?”
“Am I okay? I've been trying to figure this out, what have you done?” “Calm down,” said Courfeyrac, uneasily scooting away from the table.
“Both of you know better,” said Enjolras. “All of us do.”
“Now, do we have any other illfounded accusations to level?” Laigle asked. “Or can Enjolras describe the next mission?”
As if to back him up, Joly stared around the table, meeting everyone's eyes in turn. Marius gave him a casual nod, while looking over at Enjolras, who seemed a bit nonplussed by the humor. The silence held, and Enjolras eventually did speak. “Feuilly and his correspondents have been keeping us abreast of the developments in Poland.”
“And you still trust him?” Prouvaire immediately asked. “After what just happened?”
“I happen to think,” Enjolras sighed, “that he would not relay demonstrably false information from overseas.”
“That's as may be. So what? We're not going to Poland,” Laigle said.
“Indeed. But the citizens' displeasure has been made clear—the last few days, many have demonstrated their opinion at the Russian embassy.”
“So we're going to join the riots!” Feuilly said.
“That would only risk needless violence, at this point. Go there on your own time, if you must, but together as a cell? No.”
“What's the point of being a revolutionary cell if we can't join in on perfectly good riots?”
“We've been compromised to an intolerable extent. Travel as one, and the chance to sow dissent from within will be enormous. In the heat of the moment, with weapons on either side...Even were we to survive the betrayal, the ideas we must carry forward and those we struggle alongside would likely not. I can't authorize that as a mission, even if it's just five of us.”
“Then what are we doing here? I could be helping out.”
“Of course. As far as I can tell, the worst of the riots have died out, but the embassy has been severely damaged. We've been recruited to repair some of the neighboring buildings. And no, we're not going to do the Russian government's work for them. But it should give us an opportunity to talk to people in the area, and compare notes.”
“The unfortunate news is that the task ahead is a sizable one. It will likely require half our number to carry it out.” Marius gulped, and felt sure he was not the only one; how were five people ever to agree on trusting each other, never mind getting a strict majority to support it? “However, there is hope—it is so tediously straightforward that not even the most obvious of spies could doom the work alone. It will take two failures to jeopardize the work.”
“You said it only takes one?” Marius said. “The last couple times...”
“This time, it takes two.”
“To be fair,” said Combeferre, “he did say he didn't want to overload you with information.”
“And next time? If...we've already failed twice now, haven't we. We have to get this right, and then whatever comes after that?”
“We'll need to be perfect there, yes,” said Feuilly.
“And even then, make sure the spies don't figure out if there's a triple agent who's ratted them out,” Combeferre said.
“If there's a triple agent, he needs to be a little more helpful,” said Bahorel. “We're already on the brink.”
“Is there anything else you're not telling me?” Marius protested.
“Of course not. I'm not the triple agent. I'd point out the spies, if I was. We're desperate enough, they might think I was lying just like they are.”
“Don't confuse him,” said Joly.
“I'm not confused,” Marius said. Bahorel's brash illogic made a kind of deeper sense; if they were already defeated, perhaps it was better not to keep silent, to go down hurling truths against the void.
“Excellent,” said Bahorel. “Let me put this another way; I'm up to task this repair team, aren't I? Does anyone have any...'suggestions' as to who all they'd like to see join us?”
“I suggest myself,” Courfeyrac said.
“Do you want more?”
“Who wouldn't adore the sound of your voice, Courfeyrac?” Grantaire asked. Laigle tittered, and Marius wondered whether he'd missed something else from the ball.
“Bossuet added himself to the first round, that failed...and Combeferre picked that last mission team, also.”
“So you distrust them both?” Bahorel asked.
“It might be better to avoid both of them. For now.”
“Let me see.” Bahorel turned and looked along the table, or at least off at a tangent, then blinked. “Pontmercy and Prouvaire have little incentive to vote for this—they'll have their own attempts to cobble something together.”
“Not necessarily,” said Prouvaire. “If I happened to...believe in the loyalty of your team, I do not need a reprise of our last tedious meeting. If this is the day you wish to seize, we might as well vote it up now.”
“Nobody seems to much trust your judgment, however.”
“Mine? I was on the last team!”
“Which failed. Has anybody else thought it was a good idea to put you on the team? Or Pontmercy, here...there are too many infiltrators, they might fear overlapping with their other allies. I think it would be better to take Enjolras and Feuilly. Nobody's tried framing them for anything.”
“You have no reason to trust us completely,” said Feuilly. “Unless, of course, you are a spy and know that I cannot be.”
“Do you care who we take as our fifth?”
Feuilly shrugged. “I don't think it much matters. This team can have two spies, after all. Unless anybody here has been hoping to fit in some Russian instruction?”
“I would think Joly could prove valuable,” said Courfeyrac. “If anyone needs seeing to, after the riots, he'd do his part to help out.”
Bahorel nodded. “Grantaire, if by some chance you are the last true member of our cell, we need your support for a majority.”
“Are we still doing arithmetic? I think I'd prefer to wait it out till...Bossuet enforces his will by fiat, if we can't determine a consensus?”
“Then you'd be first on tap for the final mission,” said Laigle. “If we're all still alive.”
“Vote this up,” said Bahorel, “and your fiat can hold sway in the end.”
“What I meant,” said Grantaire, “is that I'll be more suitably full and ready to vote with impunity by then. As it is, it's a bit painfully early in the day. Perhaps we need to give a speech on the merits, first?”
“I shall say nay,” Prouvaire declaimed. “What has Bahorel accomplished so far? He asks you to believe that it was Combeferre or me who misplaced those guns.”
“And look at how Combeferre is shaking!” Bahorel said. “He hasn't spoken even to defend himself. Has his conscience at last caught up to him?”
“I'm not a spy,” said Combeferre. “But I don't know how to figure this out. You know you can always ask me, if you want my opinions.”
“I'm not taking you to the embassy, so your point is moot. Prouvaire? Are you sure about this?”
“We can see how people vote, first. There is no rush, so long as we remain in here.”
“We shouldn't wait until it gets to Laigle,” said Courfeyrac. “It might already be too late by then.”
“Very well. Enjolras, do we have your support?”
“I suppose,” said Enjolras.
“You suppose?” Feuilly echoed. “That's somewhat vague.”
“Bahorel and I don't always prioritize the same practicalities, but I'll defer to his experience in these matters.”
“You don't trust me?” Combeferre asked.
“Of course I do! But you've been on every mission so far—you need a break.”
“And you don't?”
“We're clearing rubble. As I said, it would be spectacularly difficult to get this wrong.”
“Not for three or four spies working together,” Feuilly pointed out.
“It only needs two, to fall through.”
“There will always be an element of risk, yes. I prefer not to give way to fear, so early. May I call the vote?”
“It's early indeed,” Grantaire sighed. “All in favor?”
Bahorel was experienced, Marius knew—more than him, by far. But more knowledgeable? More reliable? He was excluding Marius for no reason other than fear, guesswork based on how “other” traitors might act. And while Marius couldn't begin to guess at the other interlocking schemes, he knew he himself was no spy.
He kept his hands lowered, for once not remotely thirsty but suddenly hungry, for a change. Bahorel was in favor, of course. As was Courfeyrac, and Enjolras...but no one else?
“And all opposed?”
Marius raised his hand, as did the others excluded from the team. Joly and Feuilly were also against.
“Why didn't you like that, Joly?” Courfeyrac asked.
“It didn't seem like it was going to get much support,” Joly said.
“That's not an answer,” said Bahorel.
“Well, Enjolras, why did you support?”
“I thought it an adequate choice for the present. So long as we work together, I doubt anyone would risk exposing themselves under public scrutiny.”
“If we were able to truly work together, we would not have arrived in this situation to begin with,” said Combeferre.
“Pontmercy, are you next?” Joly asked.
“Am I?” Marius asked. “Someone...” else can go, he almost offered. But silence prevailed. What had instilled itself inside him was not confidence, nor trust, nor even familiarity with the friends or enemies who sat around him. Instead, there seemed to be a residue of hope, left behind after the inhibitions of past months had worn away. What had his life amounted to, in the aggregate? Some fraction of his grandfather's estate, a dreamed inheritance of his father's name, and a lineage of accumulated debts in spirit he could not repay. Perhaps the failure of one small cell was close at hand, closer than the lingering expressions of Bahorel and Prouvaire on either side, than the drinks across the table.
Yet he still found himself wanting to choose. Almost as if by taking on leadership, he could be accepted as a friend. If it counted as friendship when four of the other nine probably wanted to turn him in.
“Myself and...Prouvaire,” he began. “And Grantaire. You left us all off that team for spurious grounds, I'm afraid,” he suggested. They could not be in league with Bahorel, could they? “Together with...” He did not want to take both Feuilly and Enjolras—for as much as they seemed to look up to each other in different ways, it was odd that others seemed to deal with them as a matched pair, including or ignoring them at will.
Laigle, perhaps? Courfeyrac had been quick to round on him after that second mission. Perhaps if he was the triple agent, he'd have known that Laigle was not to be trusted. Otherwise, what could explain such a snap judgment, a refusal to consider other possibilities? Oh, Courfeyrac had kept his mind open and broad, and yet, anything could sound unsettling in retrospect. “Laigle should join us. And Feuilly?”
“Should have picked Combeferre,” said Feuilly.
“Instead of you?”
“Of course! Try the exact opposite of Bahorel's team, that one was never going to work.”
“You can't listen to him,” said Prouvaire. “Why would he want someone else to go, instead of himself?”
“That's too ridiculous to be a serious piece of advice, I think,” said Marius.
“Of course it is,” said Feuilly. “What do you think of this team, Prouvaire?”
“Er. Me? I...I suppose...Pontmercy here has a good heart. Someone ought to include me!”
“Combeferre included you on the last team. It didn't work very well for you.”
“No. No, but that was his choice, I could have been framed...”
“But Combeferre isn't on the team this time. Might you support it, then?”
“You seem hesitant, Jehan,” said Grantaire.
“Are you in favor of this team?”
“I suppose I could be persuaded. Your company could make the grudgework bearable.”
“I'm...flattered that you think so.”
“What's the concern?” Marius asked. “If you don't like this team, we can choose a different one.”
“Perhaps someone else instead of Feuilly? Courfeyrac is your friend, you could take him.”
“If you're taking me off, I won't be inclined to upvote it,” Feuilly pointed out.
Marius nodded. “Do we even have a sixth upvote?”
“Enjolras, you really ought to consider supporting us,” Grantaire said. “Pontmercy is still young and optimistic, Prouvaire here is young and...many other fascinating traits beside, and I am incapable of sabotaging anything. Come, now, even you recognize that our police force has some standards; they wouldn't take me if I tried. For such a low-level task as you put it, you should give us a chance to further the ranks, while you and the veterans of the first mission take some well-deserved rest.”
“This isn't making me trust you any more,” said Enjolras.
“So you think he's a spy?” Marius asked. “But—you want this team to go, don't you?”
“Of course,” said Grantaire.
“Then if he's a spy, who does it make sense for him to be colluding with? Someone else on the team? Me? It can't be me. Feuilly, you trust. Do you think he's in league with Prouvaire or Laigle?”
Enjolras hesitated. “No, not particularly.”
“Then this is the team to support,” said Laigle. “We'll get it done.”
“And you didn't disrupt the proceedings at the jail?”
“Of course not! But even if I had, that doesn't mean I could necessarily get away with anything—these four will be watching me.”
Enjolras squinted, then finally said “No. You're still asking me to assume Courfeyrac or Combeferre are spies. We can exclude at most two loyal members from this team, not three.”
“Someone cut him off,” said Grantaire, “he's gotten into the arithmetic.”
“You've given me no reason to trust you!”
“Does anyone else want to vote it up, then? Or shall we vote this down and move closer to curfew with no resolution?”
“I think I trust Marius,” Courfeyrac finally burst out. “And I don't want Laigle getting to make the last call. I'll vote it up, if we have to.”
“Really?” Prouvaire asked.
“You like this team, don't you?” Feuilly pressed.
“Then what's the problem?”
“Excellent. Can we vote?”
Enjolras, who had been regarding his hands with a stern attention, as if he'd been distracted by the travails of mental computation, gave a stiff nod without looking at Feuilly. “Those in favor?”
It might have been the last vote he cast, that any of them cast. He might have guessed wrongly, and the co-conspirators might already be smirking in celebration. The embassy might be a dead end in every sense, they could be seized, detained, fall victim to any number of fates merely for trying to build the city back together, one stone at a time. Their cause might already be over.
But they were taking him seriously. Him, Courfeyrac's tagalong, barely over the unclear wisps of Bonapartist faith he'd clung to. Ready to plunge into the gulf, flinging himself from the darkness of a world without Ursule. Or whatever her name had been. They had discussed the merits of his team, argued, tried to read his face, as if he'd been there for years. The cost and the glory of trust. Marius raised his hand.
The rest of the team were raising theirs, in turn, and so was Courfeyrac. Enjolras looked briefly stricken. Had they already lost? “And those opposed?” he went on. The remaining four indicated their opposition, such as it was.
“That's it,” said Enjolras. “Six to four.”
Feuilly nodded. “Do you know where to meet?”
“Um,” said Marius. “No.” Would the spies just reveal themselves, if they'd already secured a victory? Bar the door and purge the cafe? The immediate danger seemed to have subsided, but a whole host of minor insecurities swam up to replace it. When would he have to leave? Would he have to put off work? Was the area safe, by then? What a fool was he for caring?
“We'll pick you up,” said Prouvaire. “It's a bit of a walk.”
“We can hail a coach?” Grantaire asked. “Unless you think that would be frivolous. It's all the same to me. Start early, walk over before the heat tires you out, I'm sure the early risers in the area will be well-rested and ready to talk, no more loose-lipped than they'd be later in the night...”
“I'll come by,” Laigle nodded.
“Thank you,” said Marius. “And—and the rest of you—well. Courfeyrac, I appreciate the support. I promise, I won't let you down.”
“Of course not,” said Courfeyrac. But his gaze seemed to be looking past Marius rather than at him. Prouvaire bore a grim smile, and the others didn't seem to look back at him at all.
It was a long walk. After the familiar Place d'Italie gave way to the Boulevard de l’Hôpital, another array of streets followed all the way to the embassy. The rues were occasionally enlivened by Grantaire doing his best impersonation of a tour guide recommending the local haunts to avoid and Prouvaire humoring him, demanding access to restrooms or attractive restaurants. Laigle hung back, as if checking to see whether they were being watched, while Feuilly shuffled ahead with his head down.
Broken-down, windows empty, where dirt as well as light could stream through, the embassy in its ramshackle state did seem to be the token of a state gone rogue. The police, whether busy sneaking into revolutionary organizations or merely otherwise occupied, had not been by to clean it up, and so the “friends” joined another group that was merely picking through the rubble. Prouvaire and Laigle were patrolling the streets, hauling a garbage bag between them as they did so. Feuilly was bent in conversation with some of the other workers that had taken the day to drop by and make sure everything was under control—several of them having participated in the riots themselves, and returning for yet another day.
Marius followed Grantaire towards a nearby building. “Supposing we should liberate some of the bric-a-brac?” Grantaire mulled. “I don't suppose it's doing these bourgeoisie types any favors. What say you? You're our leader, you might be able to put it to good use.”
“We're not here for their junk. Unless you think you can find any incriminating evidence?”
“Evidence is always so drearily vague. By the time I bring it back, there will be so many layers of distrust in between, no one will be able to prove I didn't plant it here to begin with. Here, watch your head—”
Marius ducked under a low beam, scooping up another pile of debris and depositing it into a trash bag. “I'll vouch for you.”
“Now, really. I'd say even you had better things to do with your time, but I suppose I oughtn't rush into overtrusting you. Maybe you do have some sort of agenda, after all.”
“I'm just here to...what did Enjolras say? Clean up the mess, it would be difficult to get this wrong even if I was trying.” He wrinkled his nose at the smell of rotten food—he hoped it was food—eking from a nearby corner, which he tossed out after the next load of garbage.
“You should be careful who you speak to.”
“What. You're going to frame me?”
“Of course I am!” Grantaire laughed, thrusting his arm out where a window used to be, to the sun approaching noonday. “We need to frame something, don't we?”
“If you and one of your fellow spies are really both here to get rid of all of us, just have done with it now.”
Grantaire raised his eyebrows, peering back from the window. “You're not the triple-agent, are you?”
“I don't think I should answer that.” As if the police would ever recruit him, much less let him turn his back on them under their nose!
Grantaire laughed, as if he was asking himself the same question. “Of course not. Come on, let's go.”
Outside, the others were gathering. Prouvaire and Laigle had taken a break for lunch, and Feuilly tucked the notes he'd been taking under his arm. One of the volunteers from another circle approached Marius, offering a thick hand to shake. “You must be Pontmercy?”
“Uh. Yes,” he said, taking it while not entirely convinced that the next thing he felt wouldn't be a shackle curling around him.
“Thank you so much for bringing your friends here. The assistance means a lot to us.”
“I. Um. It's the least I can do. I—we're in this together, we're all glad to help. Thank you for organizing this, er, we couldn't have done it alone.”
“Of course,” he smiled.
And then they were back at it. Prouvaire was desperate to make the acquaintance of everyone else who dropped by, and Grantaire had to urge him back to the next building over. Marius stayed outdoors, following Laigle through other trails of clutter and disposing of anything transient in the way. Feuilly was picking through the confines of the embassy itself, emerging late in the afternoon when the others were dispersing.
It didn't look like much. There were no barricades to build or diverse flags to raise, no colorful images in the windows. Just empty space, where mounds of dust and debris had been cleared away. Nothing to herald as evidence of success. Not even proof that everyone there had been loyal.
But they had succeeded. In shoveling away the wreckage of the riots, in proving to the city that its people would not stand by while injustice reigned across the continent, but would stand up and hold each other accountable, the five of them had accomplished their day's work. It was still “their” team, if anything, to Marius—not “his”—but that was enough.
Buoyed by that triumph, they swept into the back room of the cafe for one final summit. This time, the participants entered by themselves. Marius arrived early, to find Courfeyrac already engaged in dominoes with Joly, while Combeferre folded over a letter and used it to mark his place in a physics text. Bahorel was regaling Enjolras by mocking a landlord, and Enjolras was trying not to smirk. Laigle had brought Prouvaire a drink, and Feuilly and Grantaire were making conversation. “That man we met at the embassy—I know his wife from work.”
“He seems tireless,” said Grantaire. “And astute?”
“Welcome back!” Enjolras smiled, eyes lit up in the faint glow of the room. “All went well?”
“Indeed,” Laigle nodded. “Though with our luck, we'll never know if a spy just played along.”
“If we get this right here, we won't need to know,” said Prouvaire. “What's next?”
Enjolras unfolded a letter of his own, spreading it out on the table. “Word from our contacts in Lyon. The silk-makers are growing restless—the wages are falling, and the cost of living is unsustainable. As of the day they wrote last, they are trying to negotiate for fixed prices, but the negotiations might fall through.”
“The police will not necessarily support the laborers' right to strike,” said Feuilly. “It's not just men—women, errand boys...there are tens of thousands of apprentices, all captive to the dropping prices.”
“If the negotiations do not work out, the weavers need to be ready to strike. Secret societies, workers' organizations, weaponry, flags—we need the structure in place, so that they can take action.”
“Why does it always have to be the flags?” said Grantaire. “You had me right up until the flags.”
“What?” Feuilly asked.
“What does it take to make silk? Even the lowliest worm can do the same. Who do these weavers think they are—moving back and forth, but only tying themselves into knots. Borne tighter and tighter together until everything's a mess. Oh, strike out if you will, but why change one cloth for another, why raise a banner instead of throwing another layer about you, or casting it free?”
Enjolras blinked, then continued. “As I was saying. Five of us will be needed. And all of them will need to be true to the cause. Success here, showing that we can support another city in its uprising, and Paris will follow. Fail—and all is lost.”
“The embassy was one thing,” said Courfeyrac, standing up and gesturing at the map, “but you can't expect us to walk all the way to Lyon! Some of us have jobs and responsibilities here!”
“We're not walking to Lyon. Organize the supplies here, and prepare a coach—some of the other agents will take over from there, and meet up with the labor organizations that are already in place. But we need to decide on our team of five, tonight.”
“But that's easy!” said Prouvaire.
“Is it? That's a relief. I thought it might be difficult.”
“We were successful last time around—myself and Pontmercy, Grantaire and Feuilly and Laigle de Meaux. Courfeyrac, you'll support us again?”
“Yes, I think so,” said Courfeyrac. “Since you need a majority.”
“Well, there you have it.”
“You can't know for sure that that would work,” said Combeferre. “There could have been a spy who hid, that last time. If it wouldn't help them to sabotage.”
“There could have,” said Prouvaire. “But I don't think that's possible.”
“So do you think I'm a spy?”
“If you trust Courfeyrac, you don't think he's going to support just because one of his colleagues is with you? Then from your perspective, the spies would have to be Enjolras and me, Joly and Bahorel.”
“You've seemed uncomfortable this whole time. I'm sure you're true to whatever it is that you believe in, but I don't want you on the team.”
“Hold on,” said Laigle. “None of the original three were on this team. But there have to be at least four loyal members there, or it wouldn't have succeeded.”
“That's right,” said Joly.
“So those three can't all be loyal! One of them did help us during the elections, but then messed things up at the jail. To frame me. This proves it, I am trustworthy!”
“That doesn't follow,” said Marius. “You could be a spy too—maybe you just trusted they'd play their part again, and you could have still messed things up.”
“To be sure, I could have. But I didn't. And, I suppose that I trust you too.”
“That's comforting! Only now that I've picked a successful team?”
“Remember Courfeyrac? He tried to stick to those same three, and add you in. But one of them is a spy, I know this now—I don't think they'd have all voted to add in another, and risk multiple failures. I think you're loyal, and Courfeyrac...”
“Courfeyrac and Jehan Prouvaire,” said Grantaire. “Prouvaire keeps asking Courfeyrac for his support. It's so he can sneak onto the last mission—even if he spotted us a chance last time. It wouldn't matter if we vote up this nonsense.”
“You're the one spewing nonsense!” said Prouvaire. “I don't know if I trust you anymore!”
“What are you going to do, take me off the team? Yes, that will further encourage me to vote up whatever you propose. And take note—the spies no longer care about letting us in on anything, they'll be more than pleased to stomach multiple failures, if that's what it takes to get a losing mission voted through.”
“You're paranoid. I don't blame you. It's been hard on all of us, but we're so close. Why don't you just go with me?”
“We're not voting for you,” said Laigle. “It'll be my turn soon. Maybe I'll think about including you, if you make some arguments that make sense. But we don't have to vote for this, right now.”
“You have to vote for something!”
“We have multiple chances.”
“We have five,” said Marius, whirling around to count the familiar seats they'd taken so many times. “And if no one commands a majority the fifth would be...Courfeyrac.”
“You understand the problem?” Grantaire said. “We can't leave it that late.”
“And vote for what, yours?” Enjolras laughed.
“You'll be up next, as soon as we vote against whatever rubbish Prouvaire finalizes on.”
“My team isn't rubbish!” said Prouvaire. “You're insulting the people who made things work at the embassy!”
“I was one of the people who made things work at the embassy.”
“Well, then, stop insulting yourself! That never helps you,” said Joly.
“What's the team?” Feuilly asked.
“Same as last time.” Prouvaire gritted his teeth. “You and me, Grantaire, Pontmercy, Laigle. Can we vote?”
“I suppose,” said Enjolras.
Marius breathed deeply. He'd just been leader, and the burden of power would not come around to him again. He almost found himself missing it—the chance to make his own decision at his own pace. Would anyone propose something better? If they didn't stand a chance at cobbling together the right fivesome, he might as well support something he knew he would succeed at.
Yet, Laigle had a point. At least one of the first team had been disloyal. And with the way Courfeyrac had turned on Laigle, and was pledging to support Prouvaire...something felt wrong.
There'd be another chance, he told himself. Laigle and Grantaire could be talked into the same team, if it came around again. Prouvaire would happily approve it a second time, if the first wasn't necessary. He didn't need to upvote. Not yet.
“All in favor?”
Prouvaire raised his hand—and nobody else did. The team had fallen flat, and Marius almost wanted to laugh. In spite of everything they'd been through, all the work that still hopefully lay head, there was still mirth to be found in the absurdities of the ballot.
“All opposed?” Enjolras asked, perhaps a spark of hidden delight in his face. The other nine raised their hands.
“Nobody trusts me?” Prouvaire said. “What about you, Courfeyrac, I thought you said you'd support that?”
“What about the people on the team who didn't trust you?” Courfeyrac snapped.
“Ah, trying to distance yourself from your fellow spy?” said Grantaire.
“I'm not a spy!” Prouvaire protested.
“The gun smuggling,” said Feuilly. “You think Prouvaire undermined it?”
“If he's working with Courfeyrac?” said Laigle. “It could be.”
Feuilly nodded. “Combeferre picked that team. It was a mistake, but it was his choice.”
“He picked Enjolras and you. Do you think Prouvaire was the only spy? That would mean you three were all loyal.”
Marius nodded. “If that's true, Courfeyrac was responsible for the failure at the prison.”
“But it's not,” said Courfeyrac. “Enjolras, back to you.”
They'd come full circle since that first night, those unquestioning upvotes. Was that the nature of revolution? Or were they moving forward, sometimes in spite of themselves, even if the way wasn't always clear?
“Who do you think failed the prison mission?” Feuilly asked.
Courfeyrac paused. “Not Laigle. And Enjolras is too committed. It must have been Combeferre—you can see, he's getting uncomfortable.”
“Of course I'm uncomfortable, everyone's telling lies about me!” Combeferre replied.
“Do you understand what they're saying?” Marius asked. It felt ridiculous, reminding Enjolras of the mathematics. But in all the time Enjolras had tried to explain the rules of their operations to him, he'd never couched it in terms of “Pontmercy might be a spy;” it had always been a respect for his newness to the cause. Working with Enjolras, he wasn't going to accuse him of disloyalty—but he had to work around the other man's experience and fierce trust in his friends. “You can't go back to the original three.”
“Unless you're a spy,” said Grantaire. “Then you can take both of them, and we'll just vote it down.”
Enjolras nodded, distantly. “Combeferre has been...overwrought. I don't think it would be wise to take him, at this time. But you can still vote up the team from outside! We need a majority.”
“If you take Courfeyrac and Combeferre votes it up, that team will fail,” said Laigle.
“No it won't. Three from the previous team, correct? Prouvaire, Feuilly, and you, Laigle. Plus myself and Courfeyrac.”
“Prouvaire and Courfeyrac is a recipe for disaster,” said Grantaire.
“To be fair,” said Feuilly, “you did point out that it doesn't matter if there are two spies or just one.”
“Who else should I take?” Enjolras asked. “Pontmercy?”
“If you're going to keep trusting Courfeyrac, it won't matter,” said Combeferre. “I don't know what's come over him, but this team can't succeed.”
“Don't listen to him,” said Prouvaire. “He's just trying to scare you. He was the one who disrupted the weapons, I think—you, Feuilly, and I are all trustworthy.”
“He's already ruined two missions,” Courfeyrac nodded. “Don't give him the chance to ruin a third.”
“I don't know if I like this,” said Feuilly.
“You don't have to vote for it,” said Laigle. “My team's coming up, we'll have another chance.”
“You're just trying to distract me,” said Enjolras. “Can I call the vote?”
“Since when have you needed to run it by us?” Grantaire asked.
“I'm trying to gauge the popular will.”
“You won't get a majority.”
“You don't know that.”
“If you do,” said Combeferre, “you'll wish you hadn't.”
“Why do you trust him?” Feuilly asked. “For all we know, he could have failed that second round.”
“I'm calling the vote!” Enjolras cried out. “All in favor!”
He raised his own hand, stiffly, while Marius looked on, wide-eyed. Jehan and Courfeyrac had immediately raised theirs, turned to look at each other, then away in silence.
Seven more hands, by then routine.
“Can we please just ignore Courfeyrac and Prouvaire now?” Laigle asked. “Prouvaire doesn't care, he just wants anything to get through so long as he's on it and can throw spanners in the works. Courfeyrac's clearly working with him.”
“We're so close,” said Enjolras. “But you need to trust me, to carry us through!”
“Does anyone here distrust you?” Marius asked. “I don't. Prouvaire and Courfeyrac don't. I don't think the loyal resistance members do either, we're all trying to get you to see reason.”
“You don't, and the loyal ones don't either?” Combeferre asked. “What does that make you?”
“You know what I meant! Prouvaire and Courfeyrac are...aren't going to help us right now, but everyone believes in you, Enjolras. We just want you to make the right decision.”
“I've done my best,” said Enjolras. “Maybe the spies were too deceptive? What more can you ask of me?”
“We still have time to upvote the right team,” said Combeferre. “There are lots of options. If the right six of us work together, we can do it.”
“Okay,” said Laigle. “I'm not taking Prouvaire. That leaves four of us from the last team—Grantaire, Feuilly, Pontmercy, and me. We need a fifth. Joly?”
“What's he done so far?” Grantaire asked.
“Nothing,” said Joly. “Nobody's given me a chance. But I'm free, I know what the weavers would need to stock up on.”
“And you trust him, Bossuet?”
“Of course. I can read his face—he can't lie to me.”
“It's true,” said Joly.
“So the rest of us are just supposed to take it on faith?” Feuilly asked.
“Like we've been taking everything else so far?” Joly asked. “Yes! How else are we going to get things done?”
Feuilly and Grantaire exchanged a look. “Laigle,” Marius asked. “Who do you think the spies are?”
“Prouvaire and Courfeyrac, obviously.”
“Yes. That would be two.”
“Bahorel hasn't done much. It might be him. And it could...still be Combeferre. I don't know how they'd have gotten away with having more than one on a team...”
“Why are we listening to him?” Courfeyrac interrupted.
“You already said you trusted him,” Combeferre pointed out. “Can't keep your story straight?”
“Vote this up or vote it down, I don't care—”
“You don't care, right, because you're a spy!”
“No that's not what I meant, what I'm saying is, he's not getting anywhere talking like this...”
“What I'm getting at,” said Marius, “is, who do you think is going to be your sixth upvote? If this is the correct team?”
“Oh,” Laigle blinked. “Enjolras, yes, I suppose. I don't know what he's really fighting for, but I—I don't think he could hold up a lie this long. He'd rather tell the truth.”
Marius hesitated. “I don't see why we have to trust Joly, is all.”
“I can read Enjolras pretty well, but I can read Joly better. He's with us.”
“You still trust Grantaire?” Feuilly asked. “Enough to put him on the team?”
“Of course! I think all four of us are fine!”
“Then we should let him make the call, on his proposal,” Feuilly said. “I think he'll include you, right, Grantaire?”
“Oh, that's right,” said Grantaire. “Laigle, Bossuet...if we spell your name five different ways, can the mission just be five different versions of you?”
“I suspect our friends in Lyon would not find that satisfactory,” Enjolras asked.
“More's the pity.”
“I have to trust Joly,” said Laigle. “You should too.”
Marius found himself staring over at Grantaire, who was giving his head a tiny shake to the side. Whatever shots of blood his eyes typically concealed were muted for the night; there was business left to complete.
Bahorel and Combeferre as the last spies? Or Enjolras deluded, in a quixotic dream that had cast him astray from everyone else? Laigle trusted Joly...and yet, Laigle could be mistaken.
“Call the vote, Enjolras,” Laigle went on.
“Those in favor?” Enjolras sighed, and despite Laigle's appeal, made no move to raise his hand. Laigle and Joly did—ten fingers shared between them, from different sides of the table. The others made no move.
“Opposed?” Eight votes this time.
Enjolras breathed out, and it was not clear what of the musty air in the room transmuted it to a sigh rather than a measured, deep exhalation. “That's the third downvote.”
“Two more chances?” Combeferre asked, his voice high-pitched, curious.
“And that brings us to...Grantaire.”
Grantaire nodded. “You need to trust me. We cannot let it reach Courfeyrac's proposal.”
“You can't know that for sure!”
“I can be sure enough. He's a spy. So is Prouvaire.”
“'Enough'?” Combeferre echoed.
“Why are you listening to him?” Courfeyrac asked. “He doesn't know what he's talking about.”
“Who don't you trust from the last mission?” Grantaire said. “The one that actually worked on the embassy, I mean.”
“Frankly, you. Vote this down, and we can get onto a serious proposal—we'll talk it over, get consensus before I give the go-ahead.”
“No you won't. You know it'll be the last proposal before curfew, you'll take whoever you want, maybe all your fellow spies so you can all laugh at us and ruin the packages. We have to get this right, here.”
“If you won't listen to me, then we'll just write off your proposal instead.”
“Grantaire,” said Laigle. “Say we believe you, who are you going to take?”
“Us four from the last team, everyone but Prouvaire. And then...Combeferre, I suppose.”
“The same as my team, only you don't trust Joly?”
“That's right. I think Combeferre was easy to frame, like you. After the failure with the guns.”
“So who do you think the spies are?” Feuilly asked.
“Bahorel...tried to send a team to the embassy, before Marius. Only, he included Courfeyrac. And Joly. Yes, it sounds like him. Enjolras, you'll be our sixth upvote?”
“I'll be no such thing,” said Enjolras, neck stiffening as if he'd given up halfway through tossing his hair.
“You asked as much of Combeferre, for your mission. The difference is that mine makes sense.”
“I don't know about Combeferre,” Marius admitted. “He's brilliant, yes, but is he loyal? He could have backed down, wanted to secure safety first. Why are you putting him on the team?”
“He's my best guess. But I suppose I could change my mind.”
“One of my dear friends is in prison, for his republican movements,” Combeferre blushed. “The failure there affected me greatly, yes, but that's no proof of my disloyalty.”
“No,” said Courfeyrac, “the proof of disloyalty is the guilt in your face, admit it.”
“Well, Combeferre,” said Grantaire, “will you vote up if I put Enjolras on instead of you?”
“I'm not sure how I feel about you being on the team,” Combeferre said. “You were fine last time, yes, but there were so many people there...why do you want to go through with this?”
“Do I need some ideological manifesto to convince you of my loyalty to the cause? I'm not sure what it would take to get you to believe; I'd be a little scared if wits like yours were so easily swayed by a couple of glib words over a table. I can cite the ancient documents, the future-looking screeds, I can testify to the injustices of the weavers' work and the western wars, or I can remind you that—well, five of you anyway are my friends and it'd be a bit of a waste to see you all killed.”
“Who do you think sabotaged the prison, Combeferre?” Marius asked. Did Grantaire's ramblings make sense? He couldn't prove it, but maybe it was the least mad of all the worlds he could imagine.
“It might have been Courfeyrac. But that doesn't mean Grantaire is safe, Bahorel might be the last loyal member.”
“That's right, I am,” said Bahorel. “This is silly. Don't mind Grantaire.”
“If Grantaire and I were in on it together,” Courfeyrac pointed out, “none of these last few votes would matter, we'd already have shut the bar down ourselves.”
“The two of you might want to get your lies in order before you get in each other's way,” said Grantaire.
Enjolras shook his head. “You're asking me to distrust one of my closest friends? A man I've fought with, bled with, struggled alongside for years? All for some scheme you concocted over your latest glass of wine? I don't think you understand why I don't really find that possible.”
“Oh, I understand,” said Grantaire, shuddering and tilting his head back towards the ceiling, pausing. Then he looked back. “I'll leave myself off.”
“I'll leave myself off the team. We only need five. You and Combeferre, Feuilly, Pontmercy, Laigle. That's enough, with my upvote. But you'll have to trust me.”
“That doesn't make sense,” Combeferre asked.
“There's no rule against it. In general, of course, everyone trusts themselves more, and so that's how it always panned out. But I think I've figured out the spies, so if you can't get this upvoted in time, it really won't matter whether I'm with you or not. If it's easier to trust each other, if I'm not there on the mission with you, then I don't need to go.”
“That's a very strange strategy,” said Feuilly. “But at this point, I'm ready to take the risk. It's our only chance, I think.”
“You don't trust Joly?” Laigle repeated.
“Let me put it this way,” said Grantaire. “I do trust you. That you can go on this mission as your own person and pull it off—that is, with four other men, to be sure—but not just having to think of yourself as a tagalong, part of a pair. I think we really need to trust you to do that much. Does that help?”
“I don't know.”
“Do you have any better ideas?” Marius asked. “We tried your team. We didn't really like it. This is mostly the same.” At Combeferre's querying face he added, “Except for it including two new people, neither who have been trying to frame you. On purpose. I think.”
“Keep talking,” said Combeferre, “you're representing us well.”
“Are you in this or not?” Marius asked.
“Grantaire can't be sure of our loyalties, can he? He has a higher chance of guessing correctly, if he really is loyal, by including himself...”
“Oh, don't start,” Grantaire said, “you'll only encourage Enjolras to check your math, and at that point I think I'd rather the police put us out of our misery.”
“There might be other reasons he's confident in this team,” said Laigle.
Combeferre regarded this for a moment, then gave a small nod. “I don't suppose we stand much of a chance, either way. But I'd rather be included, and if it gets to Courfeyrac, I don't think that's likely. So you have my support, if you need it.”
“I think we do,” said Laigle.
We. Who was he joining with, if he was not just there to be Courfeyrac's friend? Laigle, who'd taken him along as they went dancing through the evening? Enjolras and Combeferre, caught up in their flights of fancy? Feuilly, who turned his eyes to the rest of Europe? The Amis du Peuple? The weavers of Lyons? Or some broader movement, stretching across borders? Had his loyalty been a freak of random chance, doled out by all the forces in his way? Or had something struck a chord in his heart, something the others were looking to him to echo?
“Count me in,” Marius said.
Grantaire nodded, not looking at him. “Enjolras. You need to vote this up.”
“He doesn't need to do anything,” said Feuilly. “We've made our best case. It's out of our hands, now.”
“We've taken stupider risks together,” said Combeferre. “What's one more, among friends?”
“Friends?” Grantaire grew quiet, as if a laugh had had no room to escape. “Maybe, just this once, comrades.”
Enjolras looked down, lost in contemplation, expressionless. Then up once more, his voice barely registering above the silence. “So be it.”
Marius gulped, but Enjolras was already moving ahead—there was no questioning. “All in favor.” His own hand flicked up awkwardly, Marius trying to smile over at Laigle as he raised his own. The five members of the mission raised theirs in turn, Grantaire's following, a languorous fist.
“All—” Enjolras broke off.
“Opposed?” Prouvaire laughed. “Very well, if you must.” He flung his arm into the air, lightheartedly, the three others following suit.
“What have we done?”
“Enough,” said Combeferre. “You've done enough.”
“Enough for tonight,” said Marius. “I'll—be seeing you. Soon?”
“Soon,” Feuilly nodded. “You know where to meet?”
“Won't be far,” Laigle said.
“You all should get going,” Joly said. “Curfew, remember?”
“Hard to forget,” said Grantaire, quickly hustling towards the exit. Bahorel, raising an eyebrow, followed behind, and one by one they took their silent leave.
“Courfeyrac?” Marius broke off, seeing his friend make his way towards the street.
Courfeyrac turned, but did not speak, just raised a hand to bid a quiet farewell. Not for the first time, Marius wondered how Enjolras had dealt with the leadership of their group. Perhaps the rotating system was not the worst choice. If nothing else, they would share the blame as they had shared everything else, parceled together in turns.
They met under the cover of darkness. A cool breeze permuted the thin clouds overhead, while the stars spun to mark the passing hours. Everything was tight-packed into boxes; Laigle nested food that would keep, and Feuilly gathered some of the weapons, double-checking to make sure they were loaded but wouldn't trigger too early. Maybe those had been salvaged from the failure of the weeks before? Enjolras folded a flag into place, and Combeferre inspected the coaches that were set to depart. Marius stowed crate after crate of supplies into the back—slipped in between were papers, summaries of precedents and laws from the National Assembly. No one was around to see him through the darkness, to make their guesses of what his face meant, but the memories of law school were enough to make him grin. Perhaps if he'd known he'd be part of a network of revolutionaries tasked with explaining the decrees of 1791 to an army of weavers, he'd have taken better notes.
It was too late, of course. There was no going back.
He felt himself grow exhausted, then lost track of time before he could bother feeling hungry or thirsty. Feuilly seemed the most fatigued, but stubbornly hoisted one box after the next into the back, without comment. Combeferre was shaking, and not just because the breeze had picked up. Laigle seemed ready to blow off any concern. “I stayed up later for tests I failed anyway!”
“Is that supposed to be comforting?” Marius asked.
“If you're going to fail this,” Combeferre said, “might as well get it over with.”
“And miss all these vexillological marvels?” Laigle nodded a flag that looked as black as any in the haze.
“Are you sure they're going to meet us here?” Marius asked. “If anything went wrong...”
Better for it to be them that were hurt for their blind trust, he thought. The other cells might have troubles of their own, but at least whichever spies had tailed the Friends of the ABC would limit their damage to those whose faith they'd quietly earned. Wouldn't they? Or would they intercept the delivery, leaving Marius and the others to survive with their regret?
Marius and the others. He was still one of them.
“They'll come,” said Enjolras. “Look.”
Marius followed his gaze to take in the dawn, glowing past the abandoned warehouse where they'd met. The sounds of the city, groaning to take in all the routines of the day, a day that would prove to be much like those that had come before if greater, were muffled in the distance—muted bells, the clamor of women's voices, birds cooing to insects that it was time to rest from another daily revolution. One colorful stripe after the next, morning came into view—
Marius, blinking, saw something much more immediate approach. The republicans who would ride to Lyon were hustling forward, greeting them with a cheery wave. “Came as quick as we could,” said one, “no sense in hailing a coach at this hour, they'll ask questions.”
“Have a drink,” said Combeferre, nodding at a flask of water, and they sipped gratefully.
“Everything all set?”
“Should be,” said Enjolras. “Supplies. Paperwork. Weaponry.”
“I've been told to insult the taste in flags,” Laigle said. “Don't shoot the messenger.”
“It's a waste of bullets,” Enjolras muttered.
Laigle, impressed at Enjolras' exhausted taste in humor, raised an eyebrow.
“It should be set,” Feuilly repeated. “Thank you again.”
“Thank you,” they echoed.
“It was—” Marius began, then stopped. The others were looking at him. No, it was not his mission anymore—but after the embassy, he'd grown used to success. “Our pleasure,” he finished, and no one questioned that he'd be anything else than part of those sharing credit, too.
“We'll make good time,” the republicans explained.
“Good luck,” said Enjolras.
Marius kept quiet, but for the first time in several months he had the impression that his luck would no longer be called for. Laigle's misfortunes had been easy to jest at, Combeferre's clumsiness no less amusing. But when the hour struck, they'd been able to prove their worth.
“We'll write to you,” they said.
If we're still intact to receive the letter, Marius thought—and perhaps Enjolras and the others, finally able to get their thoughts aligned. But Enjolras just said “of course” and another round of thanks were interchanged, before the others climbed into the wagons and made their way into the distance.
“So,” Combeferre said. “Now what?”
“We wait for word from Lyon,” said Enjolras. “If things go well there, the working classes here might be stirred too.”
“And what about the others?” Marius asked. “Do we just...ignore them?”
“We can't be sure they haven't gotten their way after all. Perhaps some guns will jam, some food will have soured, some flags will...”
“Prove to be nothing more than pretty ornamentation?” Feuilly asked.
“Give them some time. If we change our routine, who knows who else might be on our tail. For now, go back to your normal habits.”
“I'm not sure I have any of those,” Marius asked.
“In the short term,” said Laigle, “you can sleep.”
So he did. It only took him the better part of a day to readjust to the rise and fall of night.
His apartment felt empty in the coming days. When once he had been afraid to live in Courfeyrac's house, taking his charity, he regarded Courfeyrac with the same suspicion as Gillenormand and his allegiance to a vanished order. What was he to them? Some hope-filled dreamer, lost in the world? How had Laigle managed to perch in Joly's chambers, if he had never really learned to understand his host? Even the vacancies of Marius' own mind were more than enough space to relive those wary nights, wondering if there had been something he should have noticed, have seen. Maybe a prison cell would be little different. No question about whether he had a purpose for his work, only the surety that he'd done all he could and there was nowhere better to go.
The next time he entered the Cafe Musain, he bought himself a drink. There were no more votes to take or arguments to get in, no more missions to execute—at least, not the same way. It was a small luxury, but one he thought at last he could afford. There would be consequences, yes, but the struggle was out of his hands.
Across the room, everyone seemed to be distant shades. The gossip whispered in someone's ear, a curious peek over a shoulder, the glances from behind long masks of hair, all hid the faces around him. The others would gather there too, wouldn't they? He had not drunk so much, that all the features of those he met would be a blur...
“Get up,” someone was whispering. “Move.”
“Courfeyrac!” Marius exclaimed, but barely any sound came out, the patrons in the bar not bothering to look at him. Courfeyrac was wearing a smarter coat than Marius had known, his hat pulled down low over his face.
“No false moves. Get into the back.” Was he reaching for something hidden under his coat? Slowly, Marius rose up—then dared to snag the glass up from the table. Courfeyrac made no sign, other than nodding him towards the back room. The others were being prodded as well; Joly ushering Laigle and Grantaire, Prouvaire with Combeferre and Feuilly in tow, Bahorel looking ready to manhandle Enjolras if he did not comply. Glass in hand, Marius paced off towards the back.
No one moved to sit, for a change, the familiar order of the chairs left behind. Combeferre was scanning the mantle above the fireplace, as if looking for something to use as a weapon. For a moment, Joly, Prouvaire, Bahorel, and Courfeyrac were blurs against the light through the open door. Then it swung shut, casting the room into dimness and bringing their features into view.
At last, Courfeyrac finally did produce whatever object he'd been concealing under his coat, and Marius froze, a dozen prayers lost in silent translation inside his head. Courfeyrac held up a piece of paper, unfolding it in front of Enjolras, then quickly stowing it away again.
“A letter,” he explained, “from Lyon. Apparently, everything is going ahead just as planned. Surprising, that.”
After a few spluttering attempts at speech, Enjolras finally came up with. “All of you? What? Why?”
“Too many years of this,” Bahorel said. “I've seen too many good people's best efforts go to waste. Up against all this...there has to be a better way.”
Joly nodded. “We have responsibilities to everyone—on the personal level, and in the broader scheme of things. We can't take care of each other, caught up in this. It was never going to work.”
“I—I'd been at it for a while,” said Prouvaire. “Trying to join in with all of you, you were planning for—the future, yes, but never beyond three successes at a time. I didn't feel like—it would matter, in the grand scheme of things. There had to be more.”
“We're stronger when we work together,” Courfeyrac said. “And seeing how well you turned on each other, at the first hint of suspicion? You haven't given me any confidence that upstarts like you would have been able to trust each other, in the long run. Even without us.”
There was an uneasy silence. “And our friendship?” Enjolras asked. “That counted for nothing?”
“You are not,” Joly slowly began, “all so...adept...at understanding me, as you may have thought.”
“What was I to you, then?” Laigle yelled. “A charity case? A symptom of the proletariat problem?”
“You were a guest! I've always been hospitable.”
“That is to say, not a threat, exactly.”
Would the others have been any different, Marius wondered? They were loyal to the same cause he'd found, in the end, but would he, Marius, be disposable in their plans? If the camaraderie had been just another front, if the lies and mistrust would have been there anyway.
And yet, he'd found the cause, in spite of everyone's lies. That had to count for something.
“You failed,” he said, trying to stare Courfeyrac down. “In spite of everything you tried, we did find each other. We did get the mission to Lyon. You said it yourself—they're up in arms. You've already lost.”
“Have we?” Prouvaire asked.
Enjolras rolled his eyes. “You tell me.”
“And here,” said Marius, “I thought you understood what was going on.”
Courfeyrac grinned. “You got your majority, yes. Including the requisite outside vote. Very impressive. Unnaturally done, we suspect—you couldn't have managed it alone.”
“Alone?” Combeferre asked. “It was hardly a secret that the other cells would actually transport the coach to Lyon. Is it the Amis du Peuple you want to displace, next?”
“Of course not,” said Bahorel. “It's the 'magician' we want to root out. Someone had an in with the police, we think, and then turned traitor. Dispose of him, and Lyon won't matter—the societies of Paris will crumble from within.”
“We had to think it over,” Prouvaire said. “But, we've had time to talk amongst ourselves.”
“Indeed,” said Joly. “Laigle's trust in me was—I appreciated it, really. Back home I was even trying to suggest that I might be the triple-agent, and he never questioned it. It was clear he could not have known the truth, that last round. Nor could Enjolras, the way he still believed in Courfeyrac as well as Combeferre.”
“And Combeferre had his chance to lead the mission, with free rein and unanimous support at that hour,” said Prouvaire. “But he didn't know, either.”
“Grantaire, on the other hand,” Courfeyrac said, “trusted the correct team, so much so that he was even willing to propose it from outside. That takes a certain faith.”
“Oh,” Grantaire said, finally looking up from the drink he'd been absorbing, and somewhat absorbed by. “Does it?”
“Yes,” said Bahorel. “We've agreed. This is our accusation.”
“You won't dare to drag any of us out of the bar,” Enjolras said, still looking at the row of spies. “There would be unpleasant repercussions for all of you, here.”
“We don't need to,” Prouvaire shrugged. “We've already dispatched a squadron of officers—not these plainclothes jokers—to your apartment, to go through your belongings. Any of the contraband you've been hiding, your notes to all your contacts, they'll turn it up.”
“I see,” Grantaire sighed. “Then it's over.”
Courfeyrac nodded. “We'll see to it you're treated humanely. Come along.”
Marius reached for another sip from his drink. Of course. Grantaire, the skeptic, who'd laughed at the unquestioning support in the earlier rounds, would have known something all along. He'd made a show of hiding it—even deferring to Bahorel's expertise in weapons, when it was clear the room was on edge and unready to support anything—but when he'd had to, he'd taken the risk and found the only way to get the true resistance to band together and support the correct team. Such a transformation was too much, it had forced his hand, the spies had seen, and all their work would come to nothing.
Finding the drink was empty, he set it down again, and turned to Grantaire, who was regarding Courfeyrac as he asked “Where, exactly?”
“Custody,” Bahorel snapped. “Don't make this more painful than it needs to be.”
“I have no intention of doing that. But I don't see why you think I'm going anywhere with you.”
“Because we've found you and your informant ways out. We'll take your documents, too. Your cell is disbanded.”
“Don't do this,” said Prouvaire. “We get that you think you're cute.”
“No,” said Joly. “Look at him. It's not him.”
“I told you it would be Pontmercy!” Courfeyrac turned to his fellow spies, railing. “It's always the one who doesn't look like they know what they're doing, who seems fortunate but just happens to know something more. You should have listened to me!”
“I'm not a triple-agent!” Marius laughed. “I wish I was! I mean, I wish I had been and you'd gone after Grantaire instead, if that had been enough for us to succeed. But it's really not me!”
“Then...” Courfeyrac trailed off. “Then what happened?”
Grantaire smiled. “Didn't you ever wonder why it was that nobody was willing to vote for Feuilly's team?”
“Who was that?” Enjolras asked. “He's not as—audacious—as you, he would have taken himself.”
“And Bahorel,” said Grantaire, “with his knowledge of weapons. And Courfeyrac, with his knowledge of...people...”
“And Joly, with his knowledge of anatomy?”
“Or something equally contrived.”
“We all voted it down,” Enjolras breathed. “The resistance because they didn't trust you, the spies because—they didn't want to be forced into a collision. That was all on purpose?”
“Well,” said Feuilly, his own breath returning to a normal pace, “yes.”
“No,” said Courfeyrac. “No, come on...”
“Your loyalty to our movement has always been an inspiration,” said Enjolras. “But...you knew what would happen, with that vote? This entire time?”
“I told you, the women I work at the factory with, some of their families are in the other cells. I've been getting information from all over.”
“Once I saw what had happened with that vote,” said Grantaire, “it was only a question of identifying Prouvaire, and I sort of felt that by the end, by the way he was talking to Courfeyrac. Then, well, if I could focus your suspicions on me, instead of Feuilly—or whoever else it was—I might as well play it up.”
“The melodramatics were a bit much,” said Enjolras.
“That's funny, because I could say the same thing about the voting sometimes, but there you have it.”
“So,” Combeferre blinked, “so we won?”
“Yes,” said Laigle. “We. I suppose. I mean, us six.”
“Grantaire,” said Marius, “Feuilly, I don't know where to begin, to thank you...”
“Just doing my job,” said Feuilly. “Keep my head down, they don't ever suspect me.”
“It was my pleasure,” Grantaire said. “I mean. In general. Now that it's over, anyway.”
“So now what?” Laigle asked.
“Now, four ineffective police spies are going to have to make fools of themselves, explaining what they didn't find back in my apartment,” said Grantaire. “Congratulations to you all. Well done.”
“You're going back to the police?” Enjolras asked.
“Well, they will be expecting us,” said Courfeyrac.
“Do you have any better ideas?” asked Prouvaire.
“Stay with us,” said Enjolras. “Now that we're...more than you estimated us to be, at least.”
“Enjolras,” said Laigle. “No. This is a horrible idea.”
“Don't you think they'll just turn around to betray us again?”
“Are you going to turn around and betray us?”
“No! Of course not! Where would you get that idea?”
“I wouldn't. Of course. Because all things being equal, I'm inclined to believe in your loyalty. So, if these...recruits ask nicely, I feel like I owe anyone a fair chance.”
“You really think we can make some change in the world?” Prouvaire said. “Working for progress?”
“Bringing down the state?” Bahorel asked.
“I think we're already on the way. In spite of you, I might add,” Combeferre pointed out. “You'd be better served on the winning side.”
Joly hesitated. “Can you trust me again?”
“I shouldn't,” Laigle shrugged. “So you know I will.”
Courfeyrac shook his head. “You're all mad, you know that?”
“Why should I trust that?” Marius pointed out. “You could still be lying to me.”
“Enjolras? Combeferre? Are you really okay with this?”
“I'm not sure,” said Combeferre. “Should we put it to a vote?”
“No!” came a chorus of voices, from both sides of the room, followed by fits of laughter.
“I think,” said Enjolras, “it's really our magician's call to make.”
“When are you going to stop calling me that?” Feuilly asked.
“When someone else gives us a better lead on tracking spies,” said Enjolras. “Or, a more fantastical one.”
Feuilly tsked. “We have to take risks, to move forward—look at Grantaire at the end there, he was bold and trusted the right team. It would be recklessly trusting, to let these spies back into our brotherhood. So I say we do it.”
“Here, here,” said Enjolras.
“Thank you,” said Courfeyrac. “More than we can say, thank you. There's just one thing. Marius?”
“Yes?” Marius asked.
“You've proven your mettle on far more dangerous missions than this. So, I'd like to send you on another one, and perhaps we can provide deputy support if needed. Find this girl of yours, and this time, ask her her name.”
One would have heard all sorts of chords struck through Paris as autumn grew on: the clamor of fireworks, and below them, the warbling of a lark. The clinking of chains through the Barriere du Maine, the eager footsteps of a wild-eyed young man, barely stopping himself from stumbling into an older man, then stumbling over his words as he introduced himself to the young woman by his side. And then the fluttering of words, back and forth, into the night.
Then there were nights spent inside the back room of a cafe, behind the clinking of drinks in the cups, and the clatter of toasts, came the words of the toasts themselves—to friendship, solidarity, and all that bonded them together. Then the clicking of cue sticks, the chime of dominoes against the table, and the crackling of a fire ready to burn away the rubble below and light the way forward.
Voices streaming in from elsewhere, bringing word from across the country, around the world, of a people ready to make their stand as one victory built to the next. A surety that the future was full of promise.
“What's the matter?” Courfeyrac asked, as Marius folded another missive.
“It's nothing,” said Marius. “I think.”
“Nothing at all?” Grantaire asked.
“Nothing of concern. Potentially something good—new recruits have heard of our triumphs, they might want to join us.”
“Can our structure fit more than ten people?” Feuilly asked. “We may have to reconfigure things. I'm not sure how well that would work.”
“I'm not sure,” said Marius. “Anybody heard anything about this 'Inspector Javert'?”