The first time Courfeyrac carried Gavroche, neither were pleased with the situation.
“I hate this.”
“That is your right, young monsieur. I am not altogether fond of the situation myself.”
“I have things to do.”
“As do I. I have many things to do, and people to see, and none of those involve transporting a wriggling child to a medical student. And yet, here we find ourselves. Life is contrary that way. Cease your flailing, if you would be so kind, or you will injure yourself further.”
“I can walk. It’s only my ankle. I’ve walked farther on worse. Put me down!”
“Unfortunately for you, too many of my acquaintances are of a medical persuasion for me to allow that to stand, if I may. I shall not put you down. We are but a few minutes’ walk from the closest of my surgical friends. You shall not suffer for long.”
“At least let me rearrange myself. I won’t be carried like a babe. I’ll bite you.”
“A point, young monsieur, a point. Up onto my shoulders, there you get. Oof.”
“Oh, this is much better!”
“Better for some, I am sure. For all you are small, you are dense. Have you refashioned your skeleton to be made of lead, child?”
“Bless you. Ouch! That was unwise, for now I am tempted to drop you, and then where would you be?”
“Where I would prefer to be. Gavroche is my name.”
“Ah! A pleasure, little Gavroche. I am called Courfeyrac.”
“By your medical friends?”
“Medical friends, and others too. My mother called me The Ungrateful One for a time, and the Englishman at the butcher’s shop insists on calling me something like corf-ay-rack, but for the most part, Courfeyrac is the address used.”
“You talk a lot for someone so out of breath.”
“It is one of my greatest talents, I am told. You talk very little. I expect a leaden skeleton would provide sufficient pressure on the lungs to impede speech.”
“I’ve nothing to say, besides ‘put me down’, and you won’t listen to that. One of us ought to save his breath, and since you’re babbling, I ought to do it.”
“Very wise! At last, we have arrived. Pop down or we’ll never get through the door. No, not to the ground, you won’t get away that easily. Arms around my neck, there we go. Jolllllly! I’ve a patient for you, and a very wiggly young rascal he is, too. Come, take him before he succeeds in removing my head from my neck.”
The second time Courfeyrac lifted Gavroche, he did so over the quiet protests of half a dozen terrifying children.
Courfeyrac paused mid-lift and stared at the angry rabble that had suddenly appeared around him. “Good lord, am I about to be murdered by a gang of your fellows? How fascinating. And terrifying.”
“You might be,” Gavroche muttered. “Put me down at once.”
“I need your word that you will not rob that man before I can do so,” Courfeyrac countered, gesturing towards the very rich, very lost old man ahead of them with an elbow, his hands being full of angry gamin as they were.
“‘Course we’re going to rob him!” Gavroche hissed. “He’s out of his territory, his pockets are begging to be picked.”
“And that is precisely why you must remain here, and your gaggle of tiny thieves as well, for you are not the only one to hear his begging, and you will get in our way.”
“Your way? You’re friends with lawyers and medics, what do you know of stealing?” Gavroche shoved an elbow into Courfeyrac’s stomach and made a bid for freedom. Courfeyrac grunted but grabbed for the offending elbow and pulled the boy back.
“‘Tis true, little Gavroche. Many of my friends are upstanding citizens. Some, however, occasionally frequent the other side of the law. Behold.”
Gavroche turned to look at the man again, just in time to see a dreamy young fellow stride up and engage him in conversation. “Is that one of yours, then? Hardly looks like a thief.”
“That, young monsieur, is a delightful creature by the name of Jean Prouvaire. He’s an expert on many things - poetry, nature, the geography of our fair city, and more to the point, how to speak to a man for an hour at a time without his partner becoming disengaged.” Courfeyrac knelt and allowed Gavroche to clamber up onto his shoulders, then pulled himself back up the wall to a standing position. “See, it begins. The man asks for directions and instead is thoroughly enchanted by Prouvaire’s thoughts on Paris’ avian life.”
“And while he’s distracted...” Gavroche whispered.
“And while he is distracted, enter Bahorel.”
A short but ferocious-looking fellow stole up behind the old man and knelt a hair’s-breadth behind him, snaking a hand out to wrap around the handle of the man’s bag. Prouvaire turned and pointed up at a small bird, drawing the old man’s gaze as Bahorel slid the bag towards him and began pulling out an obscene amount of money.
“Gosh,” Gavroche breathed, impressed despite himself. “That’s a pretty job there. Your man’s good.”
“He is, although he does not put his skills to the test frequently,” Courfeyrac said. “The money was stolen from a nearby bank and slipped into the man’s bag, with the intent to mug the man and take it back in a less reputable part of town.”
“Clever. Montparnasse’s plan?”
“I suspect so. It’s certainly Patron-Minette, and he is the only one with such a flair. We shall return the money presently, and bask in the glow of a good deed well done.” Before them, Bahorel finished his work and slid the bag back, making his exit.
“Seems a shame. If a bank can’t keep track of its money, it doesn’t deserve to have it back, I always say.” Gavroche swung his legs down and jumped off Courfeyrac’s shoulders, delivering a solid kick to his ear in the process.
“Well, I expect the bank will offer a reward, and who are we to turn it down?” Courfeyrac rubbed the side of his head and winced. “It may be, too, that the thieves spent some of it already, and thus not the full sum will return to its home.”
“I want a cut.” Gavroche brushed down his jacket and stuck out his hand. “For my troubles.”
Courfeyrac shook the offered hand. “You shall have one, although I may take out a little something for my poor damaged hearing. Present yourself at the Musain this evening, and we shall bring this business to a close.”
“I’ll hold you to that, and don’t think of cutting me short. Roll out, boys, we’re done here.” Gavroche saluted Courfeyrac and, with a silent rustle of fabric, he and his band of urchins melted into the wall. Courfeyrac passed the salute on to Prouvaire, who at that moment was reciting a poem of his own invention about feathers and thus took no notice, before departing himself.
The third time Courfeyrac hoisted Gavroche, the pattern was becoming too evident to ignore.
“I must say, this is getting easier every time I do it,” Courfeyrac remarked, as Gavroche launched himself up and grabbed Courfeyrac’s shoulders.
“You’re getting stronger,” the boy said, grabbing the wall for support and moving his knees up to the man’s shoulders.
“Or you are getting lighter. Do you eat enough, or give all your food to the smaller boys? Your knees are certainly more prominent than the last time.” Courfeyrac wrapped a hand around Gavroche’s ankle, supporting him as the boy got to his feet.
“I eat enough. Stop moving, I’ll fall.”
“You should have removed your shoes first. I could have thrown them up to you and spared myself this agony. Hurry.”
“I thought it was getting easier. I had shoes on every other time.” Gavroche stretched his arm up; the top of the wall was mere inches from his fingertips. “Can’t quite reach it. I’ll have to jump.”
“And what if you don’t reach then? You will land on me and we’ll both go down. If that happens, I can guarantee you I will never present myself as a human ladder for nefarious purposes again.” Courfeyrac pushed up onto his toes. “Try now.”
“Still not there. I’ll make it, I’ve jumped higher distances before. Stop your fussing and get back onto the soles of your feet, I have to push down.” Courfeyrac put his heels back on the ground, and Gavroche jumped. “Told you,” Gavroche said, smirking down from atop the wall a moment later.
Courfeyrac rubbed his shoulders. “I must look into padding in my shirts, if this is to become a pattern. Fare you well, little Gavroche, in whatever it is you are doing.”
Gavroche gave a cheeky wave and disappeared from Courfeyrac’s view, sending a rain of pebbles down onto his hat.
The fourth time Courfeyrac picked up Gavroche, it was among the cheers of what seemed, at the time, like most of Paris.
The barricade was stretching to the heavens before and behind them, and Courfeyrac’s friends were around him, and enemies-turned-friends in the swell of revolution, and passing acquaintances, and people Courfeyrac had never seen before. Songs were spilling out from every corner of the barricaded roads, and when Gavroche ran up to him, Courfeyrac could not even find it in himself to worry for the boy’s safety.
“Vive la France!” the boy screamed at him, and he was up on Courfeyrac’s shoulders in the twinkling of an eye. Courfeyrac barely felt the weight of him as he moved, clapping shoulders and kissing the hands of women as he passed through the crowd. Enjolras was halfway up the barricade, shoring up the final weak points in their defenses. Combeferre was next to him, speaking to a crowd gathered below them.
Gavroche had obtained a flag from somewhere or other, which Courfeyrac only realized when the butt of the pole collided with his neck and shoulders. “Careful with that, young monsieur!” Courfeyrac shouted. Gavroche gave his head a rough, apologetic pat, and stuck his hand out farther.
Minutes passed, or possibly hours, or quite possibly an entire year, before Feuilly grabbed onto Courfeyrac’s arm and leaned in to speak into his ear. “Might we borrow your small chap for a moment? Best not to ask why.”
Courfeyrac tugged on Gavroche’s leg and the boy swung down. Feuilly led him over to where Bossuet and Joly were waiting, and the four of them disappeared from view. Courfeyrac scanned the crowd and saw Enjolras and Combeferre disappear into the Musain. He followed them, pushing through the throng until he broke through into the cafe.
The fifth time Courfeyrac carries Gavroche, the world is quiet, and the boy is not quite dead.
Courfeyrac hears the voices in his ears: “Move! Out of the way!” “Clear off the table!” “Joly! Combeferre! Come quickly!” He can hear the words, and parse them into sentences, and divine their meanings. What he cannot bring himself to do is care.
He lays Gavroche down on the newly-cleared table in the Musain, head resting upon Bahorel’s rolled-up jacket. The boy lets out a noise, wrenched and guttural. The calls for Joly, Combeferre, anyone with medical knowledge continue, almost without pause for breath, but it is already too late. Courfeyrac thinks about saying something to the boy, something to ease his passing, but there is nothing to say. Courfeyrac has seen death before, even the death of the young, but never up close, never with his arms aching from their weight and his waistcoat stained with their blood.
Gavroche lets out another groan and then falls silent and still. Courfeyrac thinks of the nameless urchin he pulled out of the gutter months ago, limping and angry and full of sharp elbows and angry life. He stands upright, turns, pulls the nearest gun towards him until the man holding it loosens his grip, and returns to the barricade.