"A girl calls and asks, does it hurt very much to die? Well, sweetheart, I tell her, yes, but it hurts a lot more to keep living." –Chuck Palahnuik
The morning after the barricades fell was the closest thing Grantaire had ever come to a living Hell. He awoke to darkness, his face curled up in his arms, the musty smell of wooden tables infused with years' worth of spilt wine filling his nose. He jolted up. His head left the table too quickly, and for a moment, small white dots of light floated in front of his eyes. He rested his head in his hands, trying to decide if the lack of light was a curse or a blessing. His head pounded and any small movement made it throb harder. He reached out blindly for a cup and ended up knocking a hopefully empty bottle off the table instead. The resulting crash broke the silence effectively. Silence. Too silent. He listened for the familiar voices of his friends, but found only eerie quiet in response. His thoughts were admittedly fuzzy, but something felt wrong. When he finally looked up his sight was blurred from being long unexposed to the sun, not that he could see anything anyways, but there was gravity to this silence that weighed upon him like a physical force. He should look around, but the idea seemed so wholly unappealing that he just sat there for another half hour willing the blood to rush slower through his veins so that he wouldn't feel it so acutely passing through his head.
It was difficult but he finally pushed himself into a position that resembled standing, although it would appear that the legs of the chair were doing more work to hold him up then his own. When he felt a return of his balance, he took a few experimental steps across the room. A few stumbles and crash later (he had forgotten about the presence of the billiard table) he determined that he wasn't going to fall flat on his face and decided to look around.
The main room was slightly brighter. A few of the torches were still lit, enough to see that most of the tables were gone (taken as fodder for the barricade no doubt) and that something was resting upon one of the two remaining tables. He started to move forward to take a closer look, when the idea hit that there didn't appear to be anyone here; that he, Grantaire, Grand R, a capital drunk was in fact alone. The idea was strange, devastating if you took the time to examine the implications, but not singularly odd if you quickly pushed it to the back of your mind like Grantaire was trying to do now. Doing his best to ignore the increasingly niggling thought, he made his way to the table. Up close one could see that the table was far too small for its cargo, if the legs dangling off the edge were any indication. Any desire to lift the sheet quickly died, yet he lifted it slightly anyways. What he found was much less shocking and more desirable to himself. 15 bottles of unopened wine he counted, taking each out to examine it more closely. They were old, probably relics of the days of Monsieur Hucheloup, although he was thirsty enough that even the Corinthe's infamously horrid wine, an absolute travesty really, sounded like the most appealing thing on this, God's great Earth. He cracked open one marked with the date 1794 (how or why Monsieur Hucheloup had managed to hold onto it this long was beyond him).
"The year of our glorious revolution," he remarked sarcastically to himself. Unable to see a cup in close distance, and unwilling to go look for one, he took a drink right from the bottle in his shaking hands.
It was sweet, definitely from the Corinthe's glory days. He quaffed half the bottle before pausing to look around the room once more. His headache had abated some with the return of alcohol to his system, and he found that his vision had become more accustomed to the lack of light. There was a small cluster of mattresses in the far corner opposite of the winding staircase, and next to the kitchen.
Perhaps there would be someone in there, he thought, pushing himself off the floor where he had sat to look at the bottles. The kitchen was a short walk away, and when he opened the door, it looked more like a butcher's shop than the place where the famous carpe au gras was once prepared. He couldn't see all the way in as the kitchen was narrow and long, but could see in one corner a pile of red stained cloth, and next to it a small portable bone saw crusted with blood. The makeshift hospital then. He took a further step into the room and leapt back, smothering a sharp gasp with his hand. There were people on the cots, but they all were dead. He started to back out of the room, nearly falling over something. Not daring to look down to see the object of his stumble, he scrambled back into the main bar room.
Once out, he slid down the wall to sit on the floor, still clutching the bottle. He nearly emptied it now, and it calmed his racing heart enough for his breathing to level. He pushed himself off the floor and all but ran to the front entrance, throwing it open. What he saw stopped him in his tracks.
All was carnage. In his astonishment, Grantaire had taken a sharp breath and nearly choked on the smell alone. How many hours had these bodies been laying here, baking in the smothering July heat to smell so bad? The smell of festering wounds, rotting meat, and excrement pervaded all, their scents amplified by the heat. A wave of nausea crashed through him rendering him speechless, an uncommon state for Grantaire. His mouth gaped like a fish. A look down made him nearly vomit. Under foot was a puddle of blood, partially dried, but wet enough in spots to still soak into his boots. Grantaire found himself unable to move or breath or do much of anything but stand there like a pole. How long had he been asleep? What time was it? Had a few hours turned into a few days? The idea unnerved him. Suddenly his world had turned upside down, and he was afraid to take that first step.
But take that first step he did. The barricade had grown taller since he had fallen into the dark. He saw an omnibus they had tipped among the rubble. All around there were stacks of bodies thrown aside like so much garbage. Yes, the barricades were still standing, but had left in its wake dozens of slaughtered men. Good young men, he shuddered. Better men than I. Desmoulins was right. The revolution does devour its own, and Paris was a starving gamine.
He stopped to get his bearing. All around him was so much death, so many dead. Not ten feet away lay a young man, no more than 17 years, speared through the gut by a bayonet, the piece of metal still sticking out grotesquely. This time he did vomit. He heaved and his bile mixed with the blood. Red, black, sticky, disgusting, these were the colors and feelings of war. He straightened back up; wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. Dizzy. The sun was too bright. His body shook as if he was in the throes of a fever.
He hadn't found a familiar face among the rubble. He was almost glad. A manic smile tugged at his lips. He could feel a hysterical laugh bubble up from his very core. They could have escaped. The first few chuckles escaped before he frowned and became silent once again. Whatever fate that would await them if they survived would be ten time of that if they had perished. They were better off dead. It was even possible their bodies had already been taken. The National Guard had been through the battlefield once already. They left their mark, an ammunition bag there, a hat here, and the fresh footprints from their uniform boots everywhere else.
Furiously Grantaire began to sort through the nearest pile of bodies, continuing to both hope for and dread the appearance of his friends. There were both bodies of National Guardsmen and revolutionaries in every pile. They must have stopped trying to distinguish between the two. It was hard, messy work and Grantaire would smell like for days. Everything stuck together, piles seemed endless, and rapid decomposition of the bodies threatened to make him vomit again.
When he found the first of his friends he recoiled dramatically, tripping over a discarded body, landing on his rear end. The impact jarred his spine and for several moments he just lay there groaning. Tears formed at the corners of his eyes. After the pain abated a bit, he pushed himself up, though the small of his back still throbbed. He faced the body again. It was Courfeyrac, but different. His usually cheerful countenance was frozen mid-shout and his rosy coloring was grey and lifeless. There was a single shot in the abdomen where he had no doubt bled to death, it not being a fatal location. The man who, in life, could not stand to see a single suffering face, had died suffering to the very end.
And now Grantaire was not just tired, but bone deep exhausted from the effort in a way that made his limbs feel like lead, and that his head might just explode. He did his best to cover the hole with a shred of cloth so his friend appeared unaffected. It was a meager effort, and there was nothing he could do about the blood stains except try not to think too hard about how outraged Courfeyrac would be about the angry splash of red across his new cravat. Would they put a de on his tombstone? Grantaire wrenched himself away from the thought. If not now he would never leave. The barricade seemed to loom over the scene, somehow mocking them while Paris mourned the loss of her children, defenders, and friends. He tossed the nearly empty wine bottle (he had almost forgotten its existence as a near natural extension of his arm) at that effigy to loss now. The shards disappeared into the rubble instantly.
"Aargh!" He screamed. It echoed off the walls of the houses lining the empty street.
A soldier called out. "Captain I hear someone on the other side of the barricade!" The clattering sound of running feet reached Grantaire's ears. He cursed, taking a spill on a bloody puddle as he tried to run. His knee slammed against what was left of the cobblestones, and he knew that it would bruise tomorrow, but he really must keep running if he didn't want worse injuries. So he ran and ran, pausing only at one street corner to clutch at the stitch in his side and catch his fleeting breath. With great heaves he sucked in as much air as possible and continued his flight. The streets were zooming past at a dizzying rate. All a blur and his head was beginning to swim, although the lack of oxygen could be responsible for that. A few times he could feel the shadows coming in around him, his vision would cloud, and he'd nearly pass out.
But something was watching over the drunk that night, for not once did he fall. The night was old or the morning young, but it was still dark. What streetlamps hadn't been broken were already put out for the night. He couldn't see very well, so when his boarding house came into view, he nearly ran into it. Pounding his fist against the door, he found it already locked for the night. When that didn't work, he slid down the door to sit on the cold, stone stairs leading to the entrance and wept. Something deep inside him welled up, spilling over. It filled his chest and he found it hard to breathe. The pressure released itself in the form of a whimper, like that of a wounded dog, but his mouth seemed too small a hole for so much grief to escape. His body shook with the pain of it. He was overcome with emotion.
Thank God there was no one to witness this grown man cry. He sobbed and whimpered and would have made a general spectacle of himself if anyone had been on the streets to see him until the first rays of sunlight appeared over the tops of the buildings. His cries then slowed into shuddering hiccups, each spasm hurting more than the last. He shivered though it wasn't cold. In another hour the hiccups stopped though the shivers remained, and he just sat there staring stone-faced at the view in front of him, hardly moving or breathing. He was so much like a statue that the early morning passerby's gave him ** looks, as though they were expecting him to break and yet not at the same time. He stayed like this till he felt the light tap of the door on his back; the portress trying to unlock it for the day. Shifting slightly to allow her to open it, he gazed up at her when she stepped outside.
She returned his glance with a mixed expression of worry and annoyance and asked rather sardonically whether he intended upon sitting there all day or if he would rather come inside. She wasn't being rude. This was the tone one had to assume with Grantaire if they wanted the conversation to go anywhere. When he didn't respond, she switched tactics. Sweetly now, with tinged with worry, she asked if he had been out here all night.
"Yes, I came in after the door had been shut up for the night." He had mentioned nothing to her of the barricade, and although she had surely heard of it by now, he had never given her any reason to believe he would be on it. Besides, to be honest, he really hadn't had a part in the revolution at all. No, he slept through the whole thing, he thought bitterly. Again he shivered.
She noticed his shaking frame. "Are you ill?" It could not be the outside air that made him shiver thus, as it was already a balmy morning, shaping up to be an unbearably warm day.
"Perhaps," he began to rub his eyes which were red from lack of sleep and salty tears, "Maybe I will wake up tomorrow and find this to all be a nightmare brought on by nothing more serious than a fever. Perhaps…" He muttered, trailing off his thought like lemmings off a cliff.
"You're not well. Come inside and I'll fix you some soup." Indeed he did look more pale than usual, although he never had much color to begin with.
With shaking legs he stood up, brushing off the dust on his pants, leaving sweaty handprints in its place. He wiped his forehead next and then entered the building. It seemed unbearably hot inside to him. He could feel the sweat bead on his brow and even more acutely the eyes of the portress on the back of his head. "You needn't stare at me so." Like a wounded dog you've picked off the street on your way home from the market.
"Should I call a doctor?" She asked, unaffected by his words and brusque tone. Deftly her hands reached for each ingredient needed to make a simple soup. The combined fragrances laced the air, reminding Grantaire how long it had been since he had last eaten something. Another thought occurred to him, which he voiced urgently. "What day is it?"
"June 7th, Monsieur." She directed another odd look at him.
He stared blankly ahead. Nearly two whole days he had slept to wake up finding his entire world changed.
"Eat this." She shoved a steaming bowl into his hands, a little liquid spilling over the side, burning his hand and breaking his train of thought.
He muttered a dark curse, but raised the bowl to his lips anyway, trying to take a sip. The earlier tremor in his hand had returned, so the bowl shook, spilling a few more drops. However, the soup tasted good, of herbs and chicken. He greedily gulped it down, regretting it almost instantly as it hit his empty stomach hard.
"Would you like some coffee too?" Her hands already busying themselves with the preparations.
He shook his head no. His stomach was already turning, and his previous exhaustion had returned. "I think I'm going to sleep." He stood unsteadily, his sluggish brain working extra hard to get him from one room to another, and up the stairs.
"Good. You are feverish and unwell. Sleep long so that you may be able to function tomorrow."
Tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow he would be able to think properly, but now his limbs felt leaded, his eyelids heavy, and his shiver increasing. He wanted nothing more than to sleep and forget briefly all that had happened to him the last few hours. The small lumpy bed appeared so inviting that he could not refuse it a moment longer to undress. His sleep was fitful. The empty faces of his friends swam in front of his closed eyes, the blackness he had woken to appeared in every corner. He heard ghostly screams and gunshot, although he had not witnessed any of it firsthand. He imagined the devil whispering things in his ears. Words that felt like death.
KITTENS AND UNICORNS AND RAINBOWS OH MY! *Sparkles*