A High Tolerance for Falsity

Author:   Pairing: Courfeyrac/Joly  Rating: PG-13

May 23, 1829

"I couldn't possibly see why she was so upset with me," Courfeyrac announced with a comically exaggerated expression of confusion, shamelessly playing to his audience. "It was perfectly ridiculous how she made such a dreadful fuss, and right there in the restaurant, too."

Bossuet, seated just to Joly's right, where he always was, nodded in agreement. "The last time that Musichetta decided to terrorize me, we were in the middle of the street and in broad daylight."

"But you asserted yourself as the man and ended the dispute before it escalated, did you not?" Courfeyrac asked as though there were no other route for a gentleman to take.

"Indeed I did."

Joly looked skeptically at his friend. "Yes, indeed, I can vouch for that. I tended to his bruises myself."

Bossuet colored up to his receding hairline. "Ah, well, it is her spirit that I love most about her..."

Courfeyrac smiled in an indulgent fashion as though his friend's trials with mistresses could not nearly equal his own, both in quantity and to a lesser extent, quality. "The astonishing bit is that I offered the girl everything, she was hardly in any position to cause such a scene as she did. Honestly, I even offered to pack her off to the countryside somewhere and foot the bill, so she didn't have to work until the child came, but when a girl insists on being that stubborn, well, I can only be a gentleman about it for so long."

To punctuate this sentence, Courfeyrac lit a cigar to reward himself for weathering the ordeal. Inhaling shallowly enough to prove that he was more a fashionable smoker than a habitual one, he turned to Joly and seemed to contemplate his friend while slowly obscuring his own face with a drift of smoke that curled like dragon's breath from beneath his neatly trimmed moustache. "You know," he said lightly, "I hear that Le Clair is performing down on the Rue de Douai, what say we round up some of the others and make a night of it?"

Bossuet looked about to affirm Courfeyrac's suggestion of taking in the revue, but whatever words waited on his lips were cut short with a sharp look from Joly. It was so rare of Joly to give a sharp look that the effect was rather more startling than it should have been.

"You left the girl with child and act as though she ought to thank you for taking the trouble?" Joly fixed Courfeyrac with a look of a different sort of incredulity. "I am usually proud to call you my friend, but by God, what sort of a man are you aspiring to be?"

His eyes still smiling as though the words were a jest of Joly's, Courfeyrac laughed. "A great one, my friend, and great men are rarely married off to shrewish grisettes. Don't behave so gravely, Joly, she isn't one of our unfortunates."

Looking as though he'd happily spit at Courfeyrac if he were a less well-mannered young man, Joly rose sharply from his chair and shook his head at the slightly perplexed smile his friend was giving him. "You are a man entirely without compassion for humankind."

"Pardon me?" Courfeyrac laughingly asked, as though Joly could only be joking, and in rather poor taste at that.

Looking genuinely ill for the first time in ages, Joly shook his head despairingly, "What a poor judge of character I must be."

Courfeyrac looked about to respond, but several onlookers in the café had caught sight of the spat and he had no desire to attempt to match wits with Courfeyrac in front of an audience. Jamming his hat on his head and fumbling only once when he reached for his walking stick, Joly gave one last look at his friend through veil of smoke that issued from the forgotten cigar. "Say not another word to me. Good day."

The café tittered with amusement over the midday scene and Courfeyrac earned a few guffaws from fellow law students when he saved face with a rather weak joke about therein laying the differences between law and medicine. Joly hurried down the street, a gaunt young man walking quickly with his head down and his hat low, hiding a grimace of rage and unshed tears.

May 23, 1829

"Are you feeling quite well?" Bossuet asked as he unknotted his crooked cravat and began again in front of the looking glass. "You look a bit peaked."

Slumped like an angular rag doll in an armchair across the room, Joly indeed appeared pale and drawn. It was not an unusual appearance for the young medical student, but Lègle asked this question every night out of common courtesy. It was a routine to the flatmates at this point in their friendship.

"Do I? I suppose that I'm not at my best. I've something of a cold and this dreadful dry cough that becomes aggravated whenever I'm forced into confrontation."

Bossuet tugged at the twisted cravat in attempts to right it before giving up and untying it for a second time. His expression was distressed; Lègle was not the sort to become distressed over a crooked cravat. "You don't think that you may have overreacted in the slightest at the café today? I understand your feelings, I really do, but Courfeyrac operates on a different sort of moral code than you or I..."

"You heard what he said, all but bragging! It doesn't surprise me, Bossuet, but what business has he with our group if that is how he treats the less fortunate?" Joly allowed himself to lapse into a rather dramatically well-timed coughing fit while Bossuet frowned into the mirror and abandoned his neckcloth altogether.

"We are none of us perfect men, Joly, but we might aspire to be good men despite our flaws. I believe Courfeyrac to be a good man, if not always a wise one."

The fit subsided mid-cough and Joly looked up with watering eyes. "I wish I could place trust as easily as you. Where are you off to?"

"Supper and Le Clair. Will you join us?"

"My conscience does not allow."

"Neither does my income, but still I go."

May 23, 1929

The creak of the doorknob surprised, but did not startle, Joly. He sat in precisely the same spot where Lègle had left him some two hours earlier; his posture was that of a man deep in thought.

"You're back sooner than I expected," he said, failing to turn around and face the door.

"It isn't Bossuet."

"I know."

Courfeyrac stood in the doorframe hesitantly, nervously twirling his key to the flat in which he had never lived, but had spent many a night. In another moment, it became dreadfully apparent that Joly had no intention of saying anything else.

"I took a chance with the key," Courfeyrac began with a brittle smile, "I didn't want to risk pounding on the door all night to no avail while you sat on the other side and cursed my name."

The silence was oppressive.

"Of course, you'd have every right to." Being ignored wasn't exactly torture for Courfeyrac, but it was most certainly one of his least favorite things. Joly, it seemed, was well aware of this fact. "Am I forgiven?"

The figure in the chair was silence and still. Courfeyrac could only beg for so long without the promise of getting what he wanted. With an emphatic exhale, he turned in the open doorframe to go. "Fine. I deserve this. Here, I'll put the key here on the desk. Just promise me that you'll entrust it to someone more deserving of the privilege next time. Goodbye."

The threat of more uninterrupted hours of solitude seemed to wake Joly from his mute vigil. He did not move, but he spoke back to back with his former lover.

"You might have given me some warning. At least before the rest. I'd like to think that I deserve a bit more confidence than, say, Bahorel."

Courfeyrac halted where he stood, sneaking a glance out of the corner of his eye to gauge his progress in the little drama that Joly was staging. "I don't care to play favorites."

"How just and good of you. You're going to make a wonderful lawyer."

From his chair, Joly heard the door click shut and the floorboards groan under someone's nervously shifting footing. As long as he actually had captured his guest's elusive attention, it seemed a pity to waste it. "Will you still see her?"

The floorboards once again creaked, Joly could perfectly picture the expression on Courfeyrac's face. "She's gone. Does that make you happy?"

"And at the same time, it makes me want to weep. You're very difficult to hate, you know."

"It is my saving grace."

"One of them."

"Shall I go?"

The three little words were all that it took to turn Joly round in his chair, facing Courfeyrac at last with a pleading look in his eyes that didn't match the joking tone of his voice, cracked and forced though it was.

"Do stay," Joly said with an unintentional rasp, "Bossuet is with his mistress almost every night and I'm lonely as an old maid."

"So you have missed me?" There was triumph in the words as Courfeyrac spoke them.

"I have missed the good of you. I had only hoped that there might be more good in you by the time we had this conversation."

"How can you be so sure that there isn't? You can't imagine the revelations that I might have had." With grace and stealth, Courfeyrac crossed the small room as he spoke and came to kneel next to the armchair that Joly sheltered in. The proximity suddenly promised a paradise and it hardly mattered if it were one belonging to a fool.

"I can't, I suppose. I can't be sure of any of it."

"Is my word good enough for you?"

Courfeyrac's hand rested on Joly's knee, a gesture once light with affection that was now heavy with apologies that were unlikely to ever be spoken. The trust that had once existed between the two, Joly's innocent assumption of his lover's fidelity, was no longer present. He realized that he was without an answer for Courfeyrac's question and without meeting the other man's eyes, he simply kissed him.

There was none of the passion, trust, or even any of the scintillating promises that Joly had always taken for granted in the thousand other kisses the two had shared. He hoped, for a brief moment, that Courfeyrac knew that this kiss, this reconciliation and however many nights that it may last, did not mean "yes." It was simply a kind way of saying "for now."

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