I was watching him for a while before he noticed, or maybe it was the other way around. He was sitting there nursing a cup or two of wine, and I was sitting there nursing a bottle or two of wine. If he was watching me, he was subtle about it, but he could afford to be subtle. Even subtle, he was conspicuous. Pretty boy, then and now; always was, always will be. I couldn't help but notice him with his golden hair and fair skin, shining so bright and pure in the middle of that ugly public house. He didn't seem to mind me watching him. Not that he was doing anything in particular, but it gave me something to look at that was better than the dingy walls or the wrinkled waitress.
I didn't realize he'd noticed me looking at him until I got up to leave and so did he. He did it discreetly; I wouldn't have noticed unless I'd been watching him closely, which I had been. I wasn't subtle, I was drunk, and I had no reason to be sneaking around. He can't sneak around very well. He's too noticeable. He was a little drunk, too. Under the circumstances, he did his best. Followed me out of the cafe and down the block, got close enough to put his hand on my shoulder before I understood he was going the same way as I was. I stopped. You always do when something's about to change your life, don't you? Stop, however much of a stagger it takes, and turn to look at the person who has interfered with your life. He dazzled me. I don't see beautiful things often enough to be jaded about them, and he's beautiful. Even when he looks as worried as he did right then, biting that red lip of his and looking from the street to me. God knows what he saw when he looked at me, but it must have been good enough.
"I saw you looking at me. Why?"
"You're worth a second look," I said. I should have thought of something better to say.
"Am I?" It couldn't have been the first compliment he ever got, and he hardly bothered to pretend it was. "How sweet of you to notice." I stared at this young man, wondering why he accepted my blunt, mindless praise with such gracious ease. "I wanted to ask you something."
He took a step towards me. He had been close enough to touch my shoulder. Now, he was barely a breath away. I could see his eyes; even shadowed from the street lamps they glowed blue. "Would you keep a secret for me?"
I would have kept a burning coal for him right then. "Yes." I was ready to hear anything from him: that he'd robbed a bank, that he'd fathered an illegitimate child, that he was wanted for murder in three countries.
He didn't say anything. He closed the distance between us and kissed me. He tasted of wine and sunshine and sweetness. I lost what little sense I have ever possessed and kissed him back. His hand was tangled in my shirt, my arm was around his waist. He was probably holding me up; a losing battle, that, as he was holding me up to kiss me, and it was the kiss that was knocking me down.
I couldn't let him go, not even to stand up straight. When he finally let me breathe again, he looked so frightened. I didn't understand. True, it was a mad thing to do with someone he didn't know, but I'd been staring at him for hours. I was kissing him just as much as he was kissing me. Eventually I got enough air and wit to say, "I'll keep your secret. I swear it."
I think that was what he needed to hear. It was something good because he smiled, sparkling so that I almost had to squint to keep looking at him. Then he kissed me again, and this time he meant it. I ended up against the wall of some building with him clinging to me and me holding onto him. If it hadn't been the middle of the night, I'd have been embarrassed, or at the very least worried that someone might walk past us. As it was, no one saw, no one heard him demand of me in a hoarse voice, "Swear you won't tell," as if I hadn't just said it.
No one heard me answer, "I swear it on my life."
No one except him. But no one else mattered.
After that precipitous meeting, he dropped out of my life as rapidly as he fell into it. I looked everywhere for him for days, turning to examine any boy with fair hair, listening more intensely to any half-familiar tenor, straining to catch some sign of him. He had disappeared. Insomniac searches proved fruitless. When I could look no more, I gave up and convinced myself that it had all been an amazing dream brought on by too much bad wine. Three weeks later I was certain that my incubus had never existed and that I would wander heartbroken and lonely from night to night.
He shattered the dark illusion by knocking on my door and bursting in, renewing my belief in my memory and some of my hope. We were both lucky that I was at home. He assumed or knew that he was welcome when he came into my flat, demanding wine and kisses in his imperious way. Who was I to refuse him? Not that first time, not the second time, when I was more certain that he existed, not the fifth time or the tenth. He was real when he was present, more real than anyone I'd ever known. When he was not there, I thought of him constantly. All I had of him was the name he gave me, with no assurance that it was his. I only knew that I went to sleep with that name on my lips and woke up whispering it in his absence.
It stayed like a dream for months, with him dropping by unannounced, unexpectedly. I knew from the start that I was hanging on his whims. It didn't matter. I rarely went out. I hardly drank; I was intoxicated enough by him that it would have been useless. I left my door unlocked in case I should happen to miss him. Whenever I came home, I held my breath until I had opened the door and discovered an empty room.
The first time I ever saw him in daylight was a mistake. He'd been my dream before, sneaking in by night and disappearing by morning. Once I knew without a doubt that he was real, I was lost. He was breathtaking by candlelight, but the moon did not do him justice. When I saw my sun god in the flesh in daylight, I could not think for the shock of it.
He came to see me that night and was less than amused. I tried to explain.
"I woke up because someone was pounding on the table." That pounding had been his debating partner, not that I noticed that man or any other but him once I'd opened my eyes.
"Yes, and you leapt to your feet and shouted, 'Marcelin!' Very subtle of you."
I was not used to sarcasm from him. "I hadn't seen you in weeks. I didn't think."
"No, you certainly did not. You were drunk. I envy that about you." I hadn't been at all drunk, just sleepy and shocked by his sudden appearance. When he ordered, "Give me some of that absinthe," though, I hastened to obey.
He drank some of it, more than I expected him to, even after all those visits. He hadn't drunk anything at all that afternoon. "I only know a few of those students who were with you, and I don't know them all that well. I was sleeping, I woke up, and I couldn't kiss you." Did he know how hard that was for me? I couldn't tell him. He would think I'd gone mad.
"You can kiss me now." I did. I could taste the absinthe on his lips. I remembered listening to his lovely voice talking about politics, but the reverie was interrupted. "You swore you'd never tell anyone."
I hadn't told anyone anything except his name, and I hadn't known whether that was his real name or not. "I didn't."
"They shouldn't know that we ever talk, let alone this."
I acquiesced, not understanding the magnitude of what I promised. Anything to make him kiss me again, anything to keep him in my arms. "I won't tell them. Ever." I looked at him, his earnest expression, everything about him that spoke to me of purity despite all evidence to the contrary. I had to ask him, "Will you be there again?"
"Yes." He did not know what a boon that was to me. He could not have known. I didn't dare show him or explain. He would have been afraid. "Do not speak to me there."
I was not all that interested in speaking at the moment. "If you like." I tried to kiss him, but he pushed me away. Somehow I'd made him angry, dropped a spark into a field of dry grass.
"It's not what I like, it's what must happen. If you say a word to me there, I will ignore you." He was exasperated with me for what looked like no reason. "I'm trying to build something important. You would only be in the way."
I'm not stupid except when he is within sight, but then I lose all pretense of comprehension and all comprehension of pretense. "I could help."
"No." That was the final word. I could not fight with him, particularly not then, because he'd pulled me back and kissed me.
I saw him much more frequently once I knew where to look. He was always talking to people in his serious way about things of the utmost importance to him. His talk of democracy and Republics was abstract to me, no matter how concrete he thought they should be. I could sit back and listen to him talk all afternoon, watch the sun glinting in his hair, and think. There were other men with him. I got to know a few of them after a while. They and their discussions were peripheral but amusing. Some of them were amused by me. They teased me for being quiet until I hit upon the idea that if they thought I was drunk, they wouldn't question me closely.
He didn't seem to like my rambling speeches and would often chastise me for my supposed drinking. It helped. He spoke to me in public; that was novel. I treasured every word, even the harshest. I knew it was hypocrisy, but it was beautifully crafted hypocrisy, and it was his. Sometimes I nearly forgot to look hurt, even though that was dangerous.
We didn't joke about it. We left that cafe at different times, headed in different directions, and as often as not ended up in the same place. I didn't even know where he lived until one of his friends made reference to it. I was his refuge, somehow. I let him talk about his friends, his endeavors, what he really thought, everything that he could not say elsewhere. It was almost all I could give him.
I loved talking with him as much as anything else. Sometimes I was frustrated when he would not talk to me in front of his friends, but once the moment had passed and the sun had set he assuaged the hurt. I could hardly remember, some nights, that he had ever hurt me at all. In his absence, I could feel the pressure of his kisses on my lips, the fire of his hands on my skin. He was always with me as soon as I closed my eyes. He had marked me irrevocably. I didn't want anything but more.
Why? I was his. I could not forget it for a moment, even though I could not understand it. I was constantly surprised that no one else could see the truth. I couldn't lie well enough to cover my feelings. Fortunately, he never seemed to have trouble denigrating me. I couldn't fight back; what if he believed that I meant whatever it was I said? What he said was irrelevant, and whether he meant it less so. I knew he was acting. Moreover, I knew it didn't matter whether he was acting.
I thought of him whether he was near me or not, but I never knew whether he was thinking of me. I was certain that he forgot me when he wasn't touching me, and I didn't know whether he remembered me all the time during that, either. I wanted him to recognize that I was a part of his life.
It took me months to hit upon a suitable strategy. I gave him a present.
It took me watching him drink three glasses of wine before I had enough courage to give it to him. He held the thing in his hands as if I'd handed him a dead animal. Folds of red fabric fell over his fingers. Gold trim glinted in the candlelight. "It's gaudy," he said after examining it from all angles.
"'course it's not, Apollo." I tried to imagine trying to persuade the tailor to take the vest back. He'd been convinced I was a dandy incognito, and I had the feeling that no one else would ever buy it. At that point, though, I wasn't sure I could talk its recipient into accepting it. I tried a more pleading tone. "Red for revolution. Red for la Republique." He looked skeptical. "Just try it on. For me?"
He stared at me. I thought he'd laugh. I thought he'd throw the far too expensive gift on the floor and never return. My heart stopped, I couldn't breathe. I knew I'd asked in the worst possible way.
He put it on. The result was slightly foppish, but lovely nevertheless. His fingers fumbled slightly as he started to button it. I didn't want to watch him make a mistake, so I took his hands in mine and kissed his fingertips. "Leave it like that. It's handsome."
"I still think it's too bright," he said, but he wasn't so irritable, this time, and he didn't pull his hands away from mine.
I tried again. "Save it for special days. You'll stand out among your dowdy comrades like Charlemagne among kings. Even people you don't know will recognize that you're important. Besides, it's flattering."
"Not half as much as you." He kissed me, and I knew why I'd bothered to buy anything and argue him into it. If he ever did wear this vest, I'd think of this kiss. It wouldn't matter what else happened. I would not hear any of the insults he felt bound to throw at me. I would know that he was thinking of me, some time that day.
I remember the first time he didn't leave. It surprised me to have him in my arms for more than an hour. My incredulity woke me. He looked so small, so young, so vulnerable when he was asleep, though I knew that he was not the boy he seemed. I was seduced again, not by his beauty, but by his air of innocence. Instead of kissing him awake, I spoke to him. There were almost enough kisses when he was awake, but he would rarely listen on the rare occasions I could organize words in his presence. In my arms, in my bed, unconscious, he had no choice.
"If I had never met you, I wouldn't know how bland reality is. I wouldn't look at a bustling cafe and think that it's dreary because you hadn't arrived. I wouldn't spend any time at all imagining, 'If he were here...' because I wouldn't have thought that you could be. You have made me so accustomed to the presence of beauty and light that I can't see in the dark anymore.
"If you're not here, the world's all shadows. Sometimes even you aren't enough. I know you want me. I know you're glad of me, glad of the escape I give you. I wish you were glad to be with me. God knows I'm glad to be with you, as long as it lasts, as long as it takes for you to get your fill of me and be able to shield yourself from humanity again. When you go, it breaks my heart." I almost kissed him, then, to wake him and tell him that I loved him, but I stopped myself. There was more to say, and I would never say it to him when he was awake.
"I wish I could enjoy something without you. I had a girl before you, did you know? She was a pretty thing, talked about getting married, those discussions that we can never have. This girl, Helene, she was around before and after you tapped me on the shoulder. One day she was sweet and lovely and I could understand why I wanted to kiss her. The next, I couldn't see her for the afterimage of you in my eyes, couldn't feel her for the memory of you on my lips, on my hands. She knew it, too. She could tell I wouldn't recover long before I imagined the possibility. Within a week, she was gone, but in three weeks, you were there again, and it didn't matter to me that she had left, though it had mattered more than anything in between. I don't think I could remember her name when you're awake. I don't know if I'd recognize her in the street. I don't know if I could make out her features.
"With you, everything is clear beyond all clarity. Without you, I am locked within myself. My senses refuse to work properly. When I pretend to drink, other people can understand why I act so oddly, but I don't need wine to be drunk. When you're not there, I'm clouded because I cannot see. When you are, I'm euphoric because I can.
"If I thought you knew what you did to me, I'd plead for you to stop, but what if you obeyed? I need you within my sight so that I can see anything else but you. Hideous irony that when I see you I cannot turn away." I shook my head again, but I couldn't clear it. Neither could I sleep. I watched him lie in my bed for hours. I could see him despite the dark.
One Sunday morning, I woke early. It was stifling in my little room. Opening the window didn't help. He was peacefully sleeping. I felt mildly guilty about waking him, but I felt oppressed. I had to get out, and I couldn't abandon him. I shook his shoulder gently. "Marcelin, we need fresh air."
He pushed my hand away in his sleep, then woke more thoroughly and blinked at me blearily. Sometimes I forgot what hangovers felt like, but he reminded me. "What?"
I rummaged around looking for an unrumpled shirt. "Fresh air is good for your lungs. You sounded a bit scratchy last night, remember?"
"No, I do not remember, but I can certainly remember plenty of reasons why we should not just go for a stroll. What reason would you give if we met one of my friends?" He gave me a very skeptical look, but sat up. It was a start. I found my boots and put them on.
"I suppose I would just stop walking with you, and you could scowl at me and insult me like you always do. We should get out of this dark hole and get a taste of real Paris."
"I can taste all of Paris I care to right here." He smiled and reached for me, but I was determined to leave the room. My cabin fever was more important even than a smile from him.
"No, we're getting out of here." He shook his head, but stood and found his shoes. I was a bit surprised that he was listening to me. It was a pleasant reversal of the norm. "After you, Monsieur?" I opened the door for him.
He stood on the threshold and gave me a pleading look. "Must I?"
I smiled at him, though I know the effect is much less than any expression of his. "Yes. If you're going to die for the country, you have to see it on a bright Sunday morning. It's beautiful."
He humored me and didn't trouble to make me think he was doing anything else. Once we were in the street, he assumed some of his public manner toward me. "How often are you awake of an early Sunday morning, winecask?"
I shrugged. "Whenever I haven't had some visitor keeping me up all night."
"'Some' visitor?" As if he didn't know the answer to that.
"Better. Don't you often have a drink of your own volition, though?"
Did he believe that fiction, then? "No. Why bother? Hush a moment, listen."
We were alone on the street. He stood there silently for all of three breaths. "I don't hear anything."
I could hardly refrain from rolling my eyes at him. "Wait and pay attention."
He waited perhaps twice the original time. "Nothing."
"Don't you hear it? Everyone is praying." I was perplexed by him and his inability to understand the wonder of a silent Paris.
He was equally perplexed by me. "You should have gotten more sleep. I believe you are hallucinating."
I dared to nudge him familiarly with my elbow. "You have clogged ears. You want this city to be as angry as you are, but she is rarely more lovely than when her thoughts are on Heaven."
He stopped walking. I stopped so as not to get ahead of him. "You are not going to drag me to Mass."
I had not known where I was going until he asked. "Not the kind you're thinking of, no."
We walked in almost companionable silence until he paused again and rummaged in his pocket. He set a forty sou piece next to a pile of rags, or, rather, a person sleeping by the edge of the road. "You think the streets are empty because you are not looking at the invisible people," he said. He was never one to miss an opportunity to give an enlightening speech.
He shook his head. "We are the observers. Because we are the only ones who can see the people who have been pushed to the sides, we have the duty to help them be seen so that they can become more than what they are."
"Sometimes I'm not the most visible person in the world, especially around your devoted friends."
"You don't need my help." He was scoffing at me, and it hurt, but I didn't intend to admit that.
"No, but you most certainly need mine. Here's a garden of Eden for us to make a fresh start." It was a neglected park, just an overgrown open lot with a few trees. I'd been there before, and found it a pleasant enough spot to escape from the bustle of city life. "Follow me and be quiet for once."
I led him in a little way to the largest, sturdiest tree there, then began to climb it. My shoes weren't quite suited, but they were good enough. It had been years since I'd tried this stunt, and probably longer since he had, from the looks he was giving me. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"Climbing." I didn't have much breath to answer. "Come along." Again, he looked at me as if I had gone utterly mad, then shrugged and began to climb. Halfway up the tree, I stopped and waited for him. The morning fog was lifting, and sunlight shone through the leaves onto us. Once he'd reached the branch where I was sitting, I decided to hang upside down from my knees.
He stared at me. "Are you pretending to be a monkey today instead of a drunkard?"
I laughed. Like everything else, that feels odd when you're inverted. "No, I'm just a boy. Oh, come on. Have fun. Be silly!"
I couldn't see his face, but I could hear the incredulous scorn in his voice. "Hanging upside down is fun?"
"Infinite fun." It was difficult to think abstractly while upside down, so I pulled myself up to sit correctly. "Try it. Just hook your knees over this branch and lean backward." He shook his head, but did it. I couldn't help wondering if it was the first time he'd ever climbed a tree. "See, you've got it."
"I can feel all the blood rushing to my head. Everything looks very strange upside down. Especially you."
"You look different, too. More amusing. Youthful, even." I grinned at him, even though I knew he couldn't see me.
"How do I get back up?" I helped him, then put an arm around his waist to steady him. "Now I'm dizzy. Is being dizzy part of your idea of fun?"
"Oh, you'll never learn. Look around, would you?" We could see several streets leading away from the park, all empty and silent, but with the sunlight lighting them until they shone.
"Now, isn't this worth setting free?"
Back to that again. It was odd; he never talked about politics when it was the two of us, unless we were outside, and then he rarely talked of anything else. "If we die in the attempt, and I don't see how we could avoid it, then we'd never see another sunrise."
"No one will die in the attempt. This sight, tree and all, will be beautiful to all the people who live free under the Republic."
I shook my head at him. "It's gorgeous enough this morning just being with you."
"You would say that, wouldn't you?"
"Yes." He was beautiful in the sunlight, dappled by shadows. I had to kiss him. One of his arms went around my waist for a moment, but the branch where we sat wobbled ominously.
"If we're going to do that, we should get out of this tree."
(Author's note: go read Enjolras and his Lieutenants now. Hit the back button to come back to this story.)
The trouble with his public life was that he was always thinking of his political position. It was all he would talk about. Like any somewhat educated man, I knew a bit about the subject, and once I realized what his passion was, I made a point to learn more. Even so, he thought that any acknowledgement of me would be disastrous. I was always on the outskirts of conversation. I didn't want to be in the midst of it, God knows. It would be far too dangerous to be significant in that context, but it would have been nice to be accepted as his friend.
Could I disobey him in this? No more than in anything else. It did, however, present an opportunity to reinforce the fiction of animosity, and I took that opportunity. Needless to say, he was far from amused. That night, he stood in my doorway and glared at me without speaking. "When you burst into Richefeu's, it was all I could do not to rise and kiss you," I told him, but it didn't help.
"Silence. Give me your poison. You make me angry."
"But avenging archangel, beloved, it all worked out well. I knew what I was doing. Do you think the men in that cafe could possibly believe we are on speaking terms tonight? Not the ones who could see the blaze of your eyes. I cannot bear the memory of it. Kiss me."
He was less than mollified. "You should have told me what you intended. When you spoke up among my friends like one of them, I thought you would ruin everything."
"I told you not to worry, didn't I? I wasn't drunk, lover. I knew what I was doing."
"You were turning their idea of you on its head and alarming me no end." I wanted him to stop berating me. I tried to catch his hand in mine and kiss it, but he pulled away from me. "What if they'd realized that you were sober?"
"I wasn't acting sober." His failure to understand hurt me. "I never betrayed you. You burst in, you condemned me and my drunken ways, and you stormed out again flashing all over with lightning. The men who were there only saw hate between us, and won't your friends hear of it?" I shook my head. "You insist on play-acting, and then berate me when I try to participate. Relax. I'm acting in our best interest."
He accepted my chastisement, but wouldn't meet my gaze. It wasn't every day or every night that he admitted that I was correct. "Perhaps Les Amis are right and I am simply their leader, their statue of an ideal."
To quiet him, I took him in my arms. "Don't think that for a moment. They don't really know you. I know you're not always perfect, but you're still a good man."
"Can I lead them if I am not what they think?" I didn't understand how he could be so strong, so dangerous, and still so vulnerable. It was all I could do not to tousle his hair. I settled for kissing him on the forehead.
"If they don't think you're human, there's no trouble. You can be so long as you don't let on to them. If you look like Apollo, they won't know or care that you act like Bacchus every once in a while." Like me, that was, but I didn't say that. He knew well enough that I didn't mind his drinking.
"My life is pathetic." He smiled wryly and kissed me. "I wish I could tell them the truth. But, no, here I am with the only person who knows anything approaching the truth, and I cannot admit to knowing you in public." I didn't understand him.
"Les Amis listen to you and hang on your every word. That's not my purpose. You only keep me to kiss you and give you wine." I could not bring myself to be petulant about this. It was what it was. It was what he wanted from me and what I was willing to give him.
"You only let me come here because you like my kisses."
"That couldn't be farther from the truth." He looked as if he meant it. "I love you, silly man."
"Of course you do." He looked away from me. "Every woman in this city has told me that I am beautiful. Do you think I don't know what you want from me?" He kissed me again, more prolonged, as if it were an assigned task.
"That's exactly what I think." I let him go. "I love who you are, not just your face. For God's sake, man, why are you accusing me of this now?"
"I need you." It was a low whisper. "Everything is going to be so complicated. The city is busy; can you feel that? Revolution is coming. I will not be able to balance who I am with who I must pretend to be, not without you."
"You know how to find me when you need me."
A naive observer would say that he is not a strong man, and that I could easily overpower him. The naivete in this particular question is more like a misunderstanding. I wouldn't lay a finger on him unless he asked me to, and he has the ability bordering on right to do what he wants with me. When he decides that it would please him to knock me off balance and make me fall into bed, I won't object, let alone try to stop him. "I need you to behave properly in public."
"If you are not careful, I shall have to find someone else to help me."
How is it that he can stop my heart so easily? "I will be more than careful. I swear it."
That ended the conversation for the moment, but later that night, I woke and could not return to sleep. My thoughts ran in circles. I didn't know why I accepted everything and anything from him when anyone in their right mind would tell him to go. The self-appointed liberator of the French people kept me firmly under his thumb, the Republican was my dictator. Could he see the irony as well as I could?
Better me than some other person. If that was to be my sacrifice in the rebuilding of the Republic, so be it, and I was always glad to be the offering.
His warning was well-timed. Every night the meetings of his friends ran later and later until the proprietor of whatever cafe it was decided to push them into the street to allow the dozing waitresses to go home. The boys didn't mind too much; they were still talking as they filed out, most nights, talking of war and change. Gone were the melancholy contemplations of love, gone the hangers-on who didn't have their hearts and souls dedicated to the mysteries of Democracy.
He came to me as he warned he would, more than once a week, more than twice, sometimes. As the tension grew higher, I began to think he'd forgotten how to find his way home. It wasn't always discreet. One night, he walked straight home with me. I was terribly worried about him, but refrained from asking him what he was thinking until the others were out of hearing. When I took his hand to pull him into an alleyway, he stared at me as if he'd never seen me in his life, fear in his wide blue eyes, then staggered like a drunkard once recognition hit. "I think you're going mad. You're acting drunk and I've been watching you for five hours and you haven't touched a glass. You're following me home. Don't you know what lengths we've gone to? They could have seen. They must have seen."
"There are more important things on my mind," he said, trying to be stern. He sounded like a fretful child, even to me.
"I know, I know. Lady Paris wants you to be the God of her Revolution, and she's setting you ablaze from the inside to push you to it. This is going to kill you whether it comes as a bullet from a policeman or a sudden realization of reality." I took hold of his shoulders and tried to stop myself from shaking sense into him. "This is dangerous, Marcelin."
He took the touch as an invitation and kissed me as shamelessly as if we'd been safe at home. When he let me go, he was beaming at me like a little boy on Christmas. "The lies don't matter anymore. Little human problems are insignificant. The change is coming and it will sweep away all need for deception. Stand with me when it comes. I know you believe in the Republic as much as any of us. I know you scorn it for me. Will you be there?"
The light in his eyes frightened me. "I will kiss you and drag you off to bed, firebrand." Stand at his side? Who was this man? It would not be safe for him, let alone for me, and infinitely worse for us together. At least his friends would understand why he was there. They would not believe any reason I could give, no matter if he spoke on my behalf or not.
"You must come with me." If he had ever ordered me in his life, this was an order. I let him go and turned away from him.
"I would take any bullet shot at you, but I would not build a barricade for you. This is impossible. Your friends would turn on you."
Was he surprised? I had never denied him anything, not kisses, not a warm bed, not wine, not love. I could not give him this final part of his destruction. It would be wrong for me to be there, even more wrong than anything we'd done.
He paused and put his hand on my shoulder. His fingers burned me. When he spoke again, his voice was much less of a clarion. "Please come with me."
My throat closed. I had to step away from him and breathe deeply before I could say, "No." I was glad that he could not see my face and see how much it wrenched to do this, though I knew I was doing it for him. I was glad that I could not see his face. I would have relented.
I could feel him draw himself up behind me. He ceased to be the boy who kissed me and enjoyed the odd life we shared. He was the marble god who could rally a city around himself in the name of ideals. He was the embodiment of an ideal. He had no emotion or time for the likes of me. "If you will not fight by my side, you must stay away from the emeute. Drink yourself into a coma, leave Paris, do whatever you must do, but do not interfere with me. I forbid you to be near me when it begins. Is that clear?"
I wish I could have argued with him. I could hardly speak. "Did you ever love me?"
Again, I made him pause. "I love my country."
I had known before I asked, but hearing it aloud broke down my self-control. "You will be killed if you go. Stay with me. Grow old with me."
The boy who slept with me might have responded, but he was not there. My supplications were to a statue. "I was not born to grow old. I will be immortal or I will be dead."
He should have sounded frantic. He should have sounded anything but deadly calm. I tried to force him into emotion. "France is a treacherous mistress. She'll kill you as soon as look at you."
"She is my mistress."
"Go to her, then, since you cannot bear to stay with me." He made no move to leave, but I could not fight this losing battle any longer. "I loved you, Marcelin."
I could hear him as well as at any other time, though I was nearly running away. "And I you, Sebastien." It was an exquisite lie. If I had been looking at him when he said it, I would have believed him, even after all the lies he told. I wanted to believe so badly I could taste it, but I knew it was not true. It could not be true.
* * *
He told me once that he loved to watch me sleeping. It hurt me to watch him, especially half-sprawled on that little table with bottles scattered around his arms. He had not been drunk for such a long time. I had granted him that, he told me, saved him from the seduction of the wine bottle and the delusions of absinthe, but then I drove him back to his liquid solace. I might as well have been holding him under the surface of the Seine, for he had drowned as completely as anyone dead.
I would have sat beside him if there had been a chair, but all furniture in the room had been removed and put into the barricade on my orders. I tried to wake him with a kiss. Fairytales lie. There was no change in his breathing.
"It was not supposed to be like this. I did not mean for you to follow me so closely. It was all a mistake." Where was the romantic justice that would wake him when I spoke to him? Absent. "I am sorry, Grantaire. Sebastien." It was his fault that I could not say his name. I knew when he said mine it meant 'I love you,' and I was afraid to say the same to him. "I was weak the first time, lost the second, and damned from then on. Forgive me. I should never have pulled you into the depths of my depravity." I ran my fingers across his hand, praying that he would clasp them and wake.
"I did not mean for you to love me. I swear it. I wanted you to hate me." I shook my head. "Damn you for loving me. Damn you for supporting me when you should have let me fall on my face. Curse your comforting arms. You never understood how wrong all of this was. It will weigh heavily on your soul.
"If I had known that you would love me, I would never have kissed you." I squeezed his hand again. "This is wrong. I swore I would never pull another person into my hellish desires. I wish I could have been strong for you."
It was too late to apologize, but I could still make amends. "It will be better, soon. I promise you that under the Republic, everything will be different. When there is no king, we can destroy all laws that separate people. They will know that, whatever else I am, or we are, we are strong enough to change the world." I kissed him again. I knew that he would not wake. I only want to touch him once more before I had to return to the task outside. "When we have won, I shall beg you to leave the lies behind. There will be no need for secrecy.I shall finally be able to explain it all to you.
"We shall be able to walk together in the light of day."
I was needed outside the dark tavern, and so I left him there, asleep.