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Fluctuat Nec Mergitur

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“Bonaparte was captured by the Prussians and now the coward Gambetta has fled Paris in a balloon,” Joly said, nudging Bossuet and grinning in spite of the serious circumstances.  “France is a laughingstock and Paris has become the butt of a joke.”

Grantaire, who was sitting at the table with them, took a swig of his wine.  “More like, Paris has ballooned into inflated comedy.”  He laughed -- he was in that stage of drunkenness where nearly everything was funny.  “And isn’t that fitting, as Paris was named, in the Rabelaisian sense, by laughter?  Paris, created par rire, and now we laugh at it.”

“You won’t be laughing when the wine is gone,” Bossuet pointed out with his usual good-natured pessimism.  “It won’t be long now until the bottles are too dear to afford.”

“You underestimate the wine stores of this dear city,” Grantaire said, taking another drink to spite Bossuet, who had paid for the bottles in the first place.  “I’m sure there are barrels upon barrels in the catacombs.  Haussman can’t have found them all.”

“From what I’ve heard,” Joly broke in, tapping his nose with his cane and giving a knowing look,  “Hausmann hasn’t found any of them.  I heard he was a teetotaller.”

“He must have been,” Bossuet said, snatching the wine bottle back from Grantaire.  “Otherwise how could his boulevards display such unrestrained severity?”

“Speaking of balloons--” Grantaire began.

“We were not speaking of balloons,” Joly interrupted him.  “I’m afraid the conversation has floated away to more salubrious locales, if I may...”

“-- the latest round of inflation is crippling my finances, which never had a chance to grow old and dignified, and I could not afford the horsemeat steak they were selling on the streets.”

Joly raised both eyebrows and covered his mouth, looking worried.  “Horse meat, already?  How nauseating.”

“I tried the rat,” Bossuet said.  “I vomited after,” he added, and took a long pull of the wine.  Joly looked horrified.

“And I am quite hungry,” Grantaire concluded, pulling the wine bottle out of Bossuet’s hands and taking a drink.  “And this bottle is almost gone,” he concluded.

“A tragedy of your own making,” Bossuet declared.  “Though it is not your own tragedy,” he added, grabbing the bottle back and holding it protectively.  “I demand the last gulps,” he said.

Grantaire grinned.  “What a terrible thing, the eagle wallowing in the dregs; what a poor Final Communion.”  He leaned back and looked around the wineshop, and so was the first to notice Courfeyrac, hailing them from near the door.  “And here comes one whose coat is too fine to steal the dregs from an eagle.  My friend!”

Joly and Bossuet moved over to make space for Courfeyrac, but he did not sit.  He was pale and out of breath.  “News from the walls,” he said breathlessly.  The three straightened up.  “The counterattack was successful.  Our troops could not stand so much artillery fire.  Maybe a thousand men are dead.  Bourget has fallen to the Prussians again.”

“Do the people know?” Joly asked, on his feet without realizing it.

“If they do not know they will soon,” Courfeyrac replied grimly.  “You could hear the artillery through half the city, and the troops have fallen back.”

“Something must be done,” Bossuet said.

“Enjolras is holding a meeting,” Courfeyrac said, keeping his unusually grim demeanor.  “He wanted me to find people.”

“Not me,” Grantaire said, and reached for the wine bottle.

This time Bossuet successfully held it out of his way.  “Yes you,” he said, standing and drinking the rest of the bottle as he got to his feet.  “Come on.”

“Come on,” Joly echoed, grabbing one of Grantaire’s arms.  He looked to Courfeyrac.  “In the usual place?  Are you coming with us?”

“Yes and no,” Courfeyrac said, removing his hat briefly to run a hand through his curly hair.  “I’ve got to find Marius and the others.”

“Find Gavroche,” Bossuet suggested.

“Marius and Gavroche.”

“Come on, Grantaire,” Joly said, hoisting one of Grantaire’s arms up and over his shoulder.  “You’re coming with us whether you like it or not.”

“You’re under arrest,” Bossuet added, taking charge of Grantaire’s other arm.

Grantaire, who was not nearly as drunk as he could be, let his head loll on Bossuet’s shoulder.  “Don’t joke about arrest,” he said

Courfeyrac watched them for a moment, laughing and catching his breath, then stepped away.  “You three go ahead, then.  Tell Enjolras I’ll be back soon.”

“He doesn’t want to see me,” Grantaire moaned, leaning heavily on his friends’ shoulders.  “It’s not for me.”

“You’ve hardly had three bottles today,” Bossuet commented as they began to make their way out of the wineshop.  “You’re not drunk enough for this sort of mood.”

Grantaire sighed heavily.  “In hard times, one must be economical about all things... even drunkenness.”

“Especially drunkenness,” Joly said.  There was a new, grimmer set to his mouth now that he had heard Courfeyrac’s news.  Though he was part of the conversation he made an effort to scan the streets, glancing around for signs of unrest.  The news must not have spread far.  “I wonder if there will be riots,” he said, mostly to himself.

“Enjolras has a plan,” Grantaire replied unhelpfully.

“If there is rioting we should be indoors,” Bossuet, ever optimistic, pointed out.  “But we must walk faster, up, Grantaire, I know your legs are as capable of running as your mouth, in extremity.”

Grantaire snickered.  “In extremities, yes; the limbs are extremities because I find them extremely unnecessary.  Except for the hands, which can grasp the bottle, and the arms, which can bring the bottle up to one’s lips... The mouth is not an extremity; it is a necessity.”

“To the populace at large, perhaps, vive le vox populi,” Joly replied in a bastardized mix of French and Latin, “but yours is like a bottle of new wine -- fermented, and better when stoppered.”

“You wound, yet my spirit forgives,” Grantaire said as they walked through the empty streets.  Lately everyone had made a habit of staying inside.  It wouldn’t protect one from artillery but there were not yet cannons in the street.

The cafe where they met was only a few streets away, through winding, overshadowed roads that had not yet been touched by Emperor’s renovations -- and that were not touched now by any sign of life.

“They have killed all the cats,” Joly murmured.

“Not yet,” Bossuet replied.  “Paris is not hungry enough to kill its cats.”

“That is a different kind of hunger,” Grantaire said.

The back room was nearly full of chattering students.  Grantaire, Joly, and Bossuet took their seats in one of the few unoccupied tables, craning their necks to get a view of the action.  They had never seen an assembly so big, so early in the afternoon.

“This is all because of Bourget?” Bossuet murmured, looking around, his instinct for trouble making him nervous.

“Did we lose easily, I wonder?” Grantaire said, half to his friends and half to himself.  “We mustn’t have, if so many died.  And now what will the Germans do?  They have taken our pride...”

“They have not yet taken our city!” Joly pointed out.

His voice was loud in a silence that fell over the crowd.  Grantaire looked for the source of it -- Enjolras was standing now, atop a table, his face stony, lit by lamps on the surface but illuminated also with a tense, inner anger.

“Bourget has fallen,” he said.  “The Germans retook the city in the early afternoon.  And,” he added, raising his voice to be heard above the din this news created, “General Bazaine has surrendered at Metz.”