Nicolas is used to being in utter darkness. After twenty-two years, he would be. But even after twenty-two years, there are days he wonders what it would be like to go into a room and have to light a lamp in order find his way about. Sometimes he wonders what colour Feuilly's hair really is, and the word "black" stops sufficing. He knows black, because black is what always surrounds him. To see black, though, to really see what sort of black... Nicolas sometimes thinks he would like nothing better. But the things he desires are small compared to the things his children need.
He is used to being in utter darkness, and he often thinks that it makes him equal with his children. He remembers the small hands tugging at his coat, the worn hands, the bleeding hands that left damp spots. All the children on the streets, with no homes, some of them with no parents; inside his head he calls them his children. They are as blind as he is, really. They cannot see the word except through a haze of hunger and pain. He walks among them often, and sometimes he kneels by them, to bring their heights closer together, and he holds out his hands full of cold pieces of money, and he feels the children snatching them away, and their hands are colder than any sous.
Back at the cafe, Combeferre tries so very hard to be helpful, and takes down the words Nicolas murmurs to him, but Combeferre has such warm hands that Nicolas cannot love him as he loves his children. He will free them, he promises himself. He will create an equal world where every man has rights and in that equal world everyone will be provided for, and in that equal world his children will learn to read and write and speak, for they will have all the chances he was given. In the Republique, the people's needs will be important, and brotherhood will unite them together to take care of one another.
When Feuilly first asked to join them, Nicolas welcomed him as he did every one of his Amis, by touching Feuilly's face and learning it, and by studying for a short while the way the man breathed and walked, so he could tell him apart from other men. And when he held Feuilly's hands, learning them, they were cold as his children's hands, and worn as well. Feuilly has a soft voice, with a hint of an accent to it, and Nicolas loves that voice. Everything about Feuilly is perfect to Nicolas, and he imagines that if his children were to live past childhood, they would speak as Feuilly does and feel like him.
Sometimes, Feuilly offers to be the one who will write for him and walk with him. When that is so, Nicolas is always content and quiet, and he composes his speeches slowly, turning each word over carefully. He asks Feuilly's opinion more than Combeferre's, and he seems happier.
Combeferre watches the two of them together with a hint of amusement. Nicolas is tall and his long, golden hair is always tied back with black ribbon. He wears long coats of a rather nice material. Feuilly is short and leaves his black hair unbound about his shoulders. His clothes are shabby. And yet they make a better picture, as they sit at a table speaking, than any Combeferre's seen.
And it's as if Nicolas can tell. He holds his back proudly. But he thinks, listening to Feuilly's voice, that it would be nice to know what the man really looks like. He is used to being in utter darkness, but sometimes he longs to see the world he will set free.
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