Work Header

The streets of Utopia

Work Text:

When asked about his transport of choice, L'Aigle des Mots would, after first apologizing to his feet, begin talking about buses. It seemed strange, at first, that a man such as him should pin his fortunes on a transport style so regimented and heavily dependent upon the whims of others, but the longer he talked the more sense it made. Or, at least, the more convincing he seemed, a fine distinction of which he was quite aware.

"Consider the car," he would say. "A sleek beast, admittedly, but an ultimately unreliable one. What use have I for sleekness when beneath the paint the parts are loose and unreliable? Were I blessed with those dual vices Vanity and Providence I might see differently, but I have a roof already and see no call to acquire a second home. Now, the tram is noble and diligent but lacks imagination. This is as it should be -- an engineer, whether of metal or of men, should be wary of creativity lest the whole project derail. Yet rigidity, however appropriate it may be, prevents true convenience. Bicycles, now those are awkward contraptions. The seat is ever too high or too low and one never knows quite what to do with the knees. Like porridge or cheap champagne, the bicycle appears promising and yet always disappoints. And let us not even speak of the metro, that dank serpent of the sewers whose windows have never seen the light. But the bus! Now there you have a golden mean. The flexibility of the automobile wedded seamlessly to the tram's reliability, with just a dash of the bicycle's awkward demeanor for charm. The autobus is the future, my friends, and I for one welcome it with open arms."

Despite his admiration for the conveyances, it could not be said that L'Aigle had anything resembling good fortune on buses. Regional lines magically became expresses when he climbed aboard, if they didn't merely change their destinations entirely Traffic jams materialized from thin air to ensnare his chosen vehicle, and never in his life had he experienced a smooth connection. He misplaced his bus pass weekly, so regularly that Combeferre had once asked if he was quite certain his rooms were not infested with goblins. This query led to a highly educational but ultimately fruitless search of the building in question, an endeavor which turned up a treasure trove of long lost items but, alas, neither goblins nor bus passes. He was on first name terms with the endlessly patient and perfectly charming bus helpline operator and regularly sent the office flowers for her trouble. (The florist, a gentle old man with a worn smile and a heart filled with blossoms, knew him by name as well, though he called him Maitre Muguet and insisted that he take a sprig of it every time he came, for luck.) He was, systematically, late for everything no matter how early he left.

Despite these mishaps, the likes of which could, after all, happen to anyone, L'Aigle smiled fondly at buses when they lumbered past and had often been known to exclaim, "On the streets of Utopia, the Lady Victory drives a bus!" (That old trickster Luck, he maintained, wove through city traffic on a unicycle.)

Bahorel had once taken it upon himself to provide L'Aigle with a proper car. If this was perhaps a bit hypocritical of Bahorel, who had long since placed L'Aigle under vehicular quarantine and forbidden him from "riding in, riding on, being pulled from, touching, breathing on, flailing near, being sarcastic around, or invoking lawyers in the vicinity of" his own car, then neither Bahorel nor L'Aigle cared to bring it up. The car Bahorel acquired proved to be a spectacularly battered second-hand Peugeot. It required the use of arcane rituals to start and creative swearing to stop, while any gear higher than third caused it to wheeze alarmingly. L'Aigle had it painted bright pink and called it Patafix. Its inaugural run was interrupted by two weddings, three unscheduled traffic diversions, a taxi drivers' strike, and an extremely stubborn family of ducks. The afternoon ended in a baptism by ice as Paris experienced the most severe hailstorm in recent memory. Patafix emerged from the storm still running but sporting several new and fetching dents.

The car lasted three months, which, frankly, was two and a half longer than even the most optimistic among L'Aigle's friends had predicted. L'Aigle himself took to patting the car fondly when its age and temperament got the better of it, saying that it was not the car's fault that it had been forced from retirement. When at last Patafix sputtered to its final halt -- going the wrong way down a badly signaled one-way street -- Combeferre took charge of it, having long since declared his intentions to use it to test what he called, "a cinematic depiction of vehicular liminality" or, in French, recreating Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. (Joly and L'Aigle called Enjolras Truly for weeks. The joke was rather lost on him, but he accepted the offered sweets with bemused gratitude.)

L'Aigle, unphased by his car's untimely death, left Patafix to Combeferre's tender mercies and caught a bus.

For Christmas the next year, Grantaire presented him with a custom-made tricycle, bright red in color and sporting a sign on the back proclaiming, "I break for Diogenes." L'Aigle rode it proudly around town, even as it began listing to the right and developed a tendency to attract dogs, pigeons, and gamins. When the contraption hit a rut and plunged passenger first into a well placed, sewer, L'Aigle abandoned it to its fate and, smiling, caught a bus.