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my church offers no absolution

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Bossuet notices first. He leans back against the barricade, lays his gun across his lap, and looks around. His face contorts into a frown. “Where is Grantaire?” he asks Joly, who kneels down in front of him, a bandage in his hand. Joly presses the cloth to Bossuet’s brow, the off-white color of the strip of fabric torn from a shirt turning gradually to russet as Joly winds the rest around his head and ties it off.

“Last I saw him was before the gunfire began,” Joly comments, wiping his hands on his pants as he stands. He turns, surveying the group of men standing around doing various tasks. Grantaire was not among them. “Combeferre,” he calls as he steps down from the crate he’d been standing on and strides over to him, “have you seen Grantaire?”

Combeferre looks up from the gun he’d been cleaning. His eyes follow the same path that Joly’s had taken. “Perhaps he’s gone in for a drink,” he comments. “The tavern is still well stocked, and it would not be unlike Grantaire to hole up inside with a bottle or two to keep him company.” 

Joly nods. “I will check,” he says, spinning on his heel. He catches Bossuet’s eye—the man had been staring at him since Joly had left his side, no doubt because of his concern for their friend. Joly pushes open the door to the tavern, but it stands eerily silent. The spy they had taken, Javert, sits on his knees in the corner, his head bowed. Joly pays him no mind as he strides by, eyes scanning the tavern for any sign of Grantaire. Nothing. A search of the second floor proves futile.

Joly emerges from the tavern, approaching Combeferre. “It appears he is gone,” he tells the other man.

“Who is gone?” Joly hears the voice come from just behind his left shoulder, and a shiver runs down his spine.

Enjolras steps into view. “Who is gone?” he asks again, a frown on his face. If Grantaire were here, Joly knows, he’d be comparing Enjolras to some sort of Greek deity, or a priceless sculpture whose face was marred by an angry gash that was his frown.

“Grantaire,” Joly says after only another moment’s hesitation. “He is not on the barricade, and he is not in the tavern.”

Enjolras’ frown deepens. “I should have figured,” he says, his voice quiet. 

Joly had not expected this, such a calm, and almost sad, response from their leader. He’d expected shouting, and anger, and fury. Not the sadness that he could hear clearly threaded through Enjolras’ voice.

Combeferre stands. “He went home, I’m sure,” he interjects. “Somewhere safe, and away from the fighting. He’s never believed in any of it, why would he stay?”

Enjolras shuts his eyes, and murmurs something so, so quietly that Joly has to lean in in order to hear him. “What?” he asks.

Enjolras looks up and meets Joly’s gaze. “He believes in me,” Enjolras says, louder this time. He takes another moment to gather himself, and then strides away, towards the barricade. 

Joly looks after him, his thoughts splitting into a million different places. He can’t allow himself to dwell on it, however. Men are laying, bleeding, and Joly has to take care of their wounds as best as he can. And so he does.

When the second round of gunfire happens, they’re more prepared for it this time. It’s night, and they are able to use it to their advantage—they extinguish their lights, and fire at silhouettes through the darkness. Marius threatens to light the barricade when he grabs a soldier’s torch and holds it just above a barrel of gunpowder, and the army falls back. A girl dies, a bullet hole in her chest. Rain begins to fall, and the ground is covered in moisture. The powder is wet, and useless.

Joly is about to sleep, curled up in a nook made from an old shipping crate and a splintered chair when he hears it: a muffled groan from just beyond the barricade. He doesn’t want to look, but his curiosity gets the better of him. He grips his rifle tightly and peeks his head over, only to see a man wearing red laying on the ground just near the concealed entrance of the barricade, clutching his stomach. 

Joly lifts his gun and aims it, ready to give the soldier the death that he deserves, when the man’s hat falls off. It’s Grantaire.

Barely able to muffle his surprised gasp, Joly scrambles down to the ground. “Bahorel, help me open this!” he hisses as he begins pulling at the furniture covering the entrance. 

“What in the hell are you doing?” Bahorel asks, frowning as he rubs at his eyes, but he stands and begins to help. 

“Grantaire’s on the other side, and he’s hurt,” Joly says, and Bahorel’s eyes widen for a fraction of a second before beginning to move furniture at twice the pace. By now, the racket of wood and metal being thrown aside wakes up half the barricade. Combeferre, Courfeyrac, and Enjolras are at the entrance within what feels like mere seconds. 

“And you’re doing what?” Enjolras asks, a frown in his voice.

“Grantaire,” Joly says, gasping as he heaves an old couch off to one side. Before he is able to process anything, Enjolras is right there with him, helping him pull a wooden wagon away. 

And there he is. Grantaire, wearing the outfit of the enemy, laying on the ground with his hands pressed tightly to his stomach. He groans quietly, his lips and eyes squeezed shut tight. Enjolras bolts through and hooks his arms underneath Grantaire’s armpits, dragging the man back onto their side of the barricade. As Bahorel and Joly begin to cover the entrance once again, Enjolras squats on the ground next to Grantaire.

“Are you alright?” Enjolras asks, but receives no verbal reply—only pained moans. “Grantaire? What is it—oh, oh god—“

Grantaire has moved his hands, just enough for Enjolras to see the blood staining the jacket. The contrast of wetness on the bright red fabric is stunning, and Enjolras’ breath catches in his throat. “Joly, I need you here right now.” His voice is commanding, authoritative, and Joly rushes over only to stop short.

“Oh, god, Grantaire—“ Joly says, dropping down to his knees next to the two of them. “Let me see, let me—“ He moves Grantaire’s hands off to one side. “I need you to talk to me, tell me what happened,” he orders, his hands already digging into his medical bag.

Grantaire squints through pain contorted eyes. “I wanted to do something useful,” he says, his voice weak. Enjolras notes the absence of wine on his breath. “I wanted to spy on them, like they’d done to us. I tried to move when shots began to fire, I tried, but—“ His voice cuts off as he groans, the pain overwhelming him as Joly continues inspecting.

Enjolras rocks back, slipping down to the ground to sit. One of them had done this. One of Grantaire’s friends had shot him. It could have been Enjolras, for all he knew. Enjolras can feel his blood start to run cold.

Grantaire reaches out, and with a blood stained hand, grips Enjolras’ hand tightly in his. “I wanted to do this for you,” he tells Enjolras with a forced smile, dropping his hand. “I wanted you to—ah—see that I’m capable of—“

“Rest,” Enjolras says quietly. “Save speaking for later, when you’re healed.” If you’re healed. 

Grantaire shakes his head. “You think I can’t tell that I’m dying, Enjolras?” he asks, struggling to sit up. Joly protests, but Grantaire brushes him off. “Pain is something I’m quite acquainted with. I’ve come close to death before. I know how it feels.” He coughs.

The rest of the men, woken from the noise, have gathered around and stand quietly watching. Jehan stands next to Courfeyrac, his arms tight around his waist as he presses his face against Courfeyrac’s shirt. Combeferre twists his hands tightly together as he watches, his breath coming in quick, nervous pants. Bahorel and Feuilly stand to one side, their hands gripping each other’s tightly. Marius leans against the windowsill of the tavern, too grief stricken already from the death of one of his friends to process that another would be lost that night. Bossuet has his fist pressed to his mouth.

Joly finishes binding the wound, and leans back on his heels. “That is the best I can do,” he tells both Enjolras and Grantaire. “I can not dig the bullet out, lest the wound become infected. I do not have enough laudanum in order to help you sleep peacefully.” He shuts his eyes tightly. “I’m so sorry.”

Grantaire laughs, a choked sound loud in the quiet street. “I’ll be fine, my friend,” he tells Joly. “Bossuet’s bandages need changing.” Sure enough, blood is seeping through the bindings.

Joly nods, standing up. He presses his hand to Enjolras’ shoulder briefly before walking over to join Bossuet. He changes the bandage, for something to do, but his attention is not on his unlucky friend.

“You’re not dying, Grantaire,” Enjolras says firmly. “I won’t allow it.”

“We’re all going to die,” Grantaire proclaims, “whether it’s from a gunshot to the stomach or one to the head. Let me die here, with you. It would make me happy, Enjolras, please. I could think of no better way, with my last thoughts of you.”

Enjolras stares at Grantaire for a long moment, long enough to watch as his breathing grows steadily more labored. He hesitates, but then reaches out to take Grantaire’s hand. Grantaire’s eyes follow the movement, and the hint of a smile spreads across his face. 

“Thank you,” Grantaire breathes, his fingers squeezing around Enjolras’. The rain begins to fall again, and Grantaire’s eyes slip shut. They don’t reopen.

When Enjolras dies hours later, he thinks of Grantaire.