Enjolras stands on a street so familiar as to be briefly disorienting: the sharp slope, the clustered houses of red-roofed grey stone, the worn cobblestones and gutters, the Chapel of Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe keeping watch on the city from its lofty summit, the mountains looming beyond. The chipped gutter where a cart of iron bars overturned in '18, the pear tree with the crooked branch overlooking the Reynauds' wall, the closed shutters that old M. Solvain opens every morning to call down to the dairyman on his rounds. Le Puy-en-Velay, and the house of his childhood.
He stands and stares. The light is clear and golden: early morning, with the crispness of fall. The far-off fields are a patchwork of green and brown: harvest time. He would have had to think to list these details, if asked, but with them spread before him he knows their meaning in his bones. No one is in sight, not even any neighborhood cats patrolling garden walls, but from other streets comes the rattle of cartwheels, the steady plodding of hooves, the susurration of voices just out of earshot. The city's life, just beyond where he stands. But everything is stillness on this street.
He takes a few steps forward, hearing his own footsteps loud in the morning air, until he can touch the familiar wall. He isn't sure if he'll even be able to; perhaps his arm will pass through the wall like any ghost. Perhaps all of this will melt away like mist. But it's solid, and so is he. The rough scrape of mortar and stone against his fingertips is viscerally familiar. Auvergne has its own stones; they aren't the same as those of Paris. He'd nearly forgotten that difference. Slowly, Enjolras brings his hand away, and rubs his fingers together.
All of this feels real.
The creak of hinges is another sound he wouldn't have been able to remember so clearly unprompted, but when it comes he finds his head jerking toward it before his mind has quite caught up. So he's looking right at the door when it opens to show an old, tired man, limping heavily.
No. His father.
For an instant, all he can do is stare. He doesn't know what his own face looks like, except slack and blank with shock. He doesn't have the time to wonder if his father can see him, because that dear, grave, scarred face (and was it always so lined?) goes abruptly grey and awful. His father staggers on his bad leg, clutching at his cane and the doorway, and it's that that frees Jean-Sébastien from his paralysis; he can't just stand here and watch his father stumble, he can't keep watching his face with that expression on it, and he's rushing forward to catch his father's arm and steady him even as the old man rasps in a terrible voice, "Bastien?"
It strikes his heart -- that, too, he'd nearly forgotten; his father hasn't called him that nickname in years, not since he was a young child, and rarely enough then -- and there's a tangled moment as the two of them try to catch each other by the arms at once, Jean-Sébastien to support and his father to seize. Then his father is pulling him close in an embrace too fierce for awkwardness, even though they haven't hugged in years either, and Jean-Sébastien is supporting him with arms around him, and looking over his father's shoulder into the entryway of the house he grew up in. Thank God he's solid enough for this, too. His father's cane goes clattering off the stoop. "Father," he says, and a roughness catches in his throat.
His father's hands clutch tighter at his shoulder and the back of his coat. "Jean-Sébastien. Am I dreaming?"
Jean-Sébastien closes his eyes at the naked emotion in that voice, usually so calm, and at the answer he knows he has to give. Whatever this is -- however real it is -- Milliways is real too. So was dying.
"I think I am, at least," he says. "Maybe you are too. There was no mistake."
The silence that follows is terrible, even though it's brief. But he can't lie.
His father pulls back. He stands on his own balance again, though his leg must be paining him on a cool morning like this, and clasps his son's shoulders. Jean-Sébastien's arms fall to his sides. He lets himself be looked over, and scrutinizes his father in turn.
His father's hair has been more than half silver for years now. His limp has always been bad, since it was broken by grapeshot at Albeck months before Jean-Sébastien was born. His back is still straight, his hands steady. But now there's no red at all left in his white hair, and the lines in his face are graven deep. The hands on Jean-Sébastien's shoulders are an old man's, paper-skinned. Has it been so long, or did his father age so fast when his only child died? Or had he only not noticed, before? He's afraid he knows the answer, and it's not that he missed anything.
"Father," he says, low. He takes one of his father's hands, pulls it gently away from his shoulder, and kisses it: a gesture of deep respect, as unprecedented as the embrace his father pulled him into a moment before. But what's normal about a dead son standing on his living father's doorstep? "I'm sorry."
His father seizes his shoulders with both hands again, and the glare that fixes on him is full of sudden and real fury. Jean-Sébastien meets it, unflinching. "Never say that," his father snaps. "Not for France. You did -- my son, my boy, you chose death for the greatest of causes. I won't hear anyone cheapen a martyr's name."
Enjolras shakes his head. "Not that. I don't regret my death." In spite of everything, his father's face twists the slightest bit at the word. "But I'm sorry to have left you alone."
One hand moves to the side of his neck in a rough caress. "You're with your mother now."
Jean-Sébastien doesn't know what his face shows, but he knows even a moment of having no idea what to say is too long. And he has no idea how to answer that, none at all.
"--What?" The deflated half-whisper is awful. Jean-Sébastien's eyes, which had dropped for an instant, jerk back to his father's face, and he grasps his father's shoulders in return with an unthinking, impetuous fervor.
"I'm very well, Father. I swear it. The world beyond is stranger than I ever imagined -- I don't know how to describe it to you, it won't make sense if I try -- but I'm with my dearest friends, all of us together. I'll see her someday, surely, but it's good, where I am. You mustn't worry about me. I died for the Republic, with the bravest comrades anyone could ask for, and the Republic will come, France will reestablish liberty and fraternity and equality on her soil. I give you my word that I'm well."
"Ah!" It's a sigh, and his father's pale blue eyes close on a damp glitter.
For a long moment they only stand there, on the stone threshold, in the early morning sunlight of an Auvergne that may or may not be a dream. Then his father's eyes open again, and he gazes upon Jean-Sébastien with a loving sorrow that is, he thinks, a little lighter than it was.
"You're not here for long, are you?"
Jean-Sébastien shakes his head regretfully. The regret isn't only for his father: this isn't Paris, but it's France, and waking up will feel like wrenching himself away from his own heart. Already he knows that. "I don't know how long. But I know that."
"Will you come in? I may be dreaming, but I want to know everything. You must stay a little while, my boy, please."
"Of course." His heart hurts. There's no other answer he could ever, ever give. "Of course I will."
His father's cane lies still on the front walk. Jean-Sébastien draws away only long enough to stoop and pick it up, and then they go together into the Enjolras house, into the tidy quiet and the rooms inhabited by memories. He doesn't know how long this will last, but he'll stay as long as he can.