Author's note: This is shameless fluff and pure self indulgence. I am mostly not sorry about either of those things.
Bahorel cornered Combeferre and Courfeyrac after a meeting one evening in January. Enjolras had already left, citing a pressing appointment, but the others were still there, lounging in chairs and laughing in the face of the bitter cold that awaited them outside. Smoke filled the room, emerging in curling tendrils from pipes and in heat-filled waves from the roaring fire, before which several students were sprawled in uncanny imitations of cats. None of the lieutenants were among them. Instead the five remaining members of that inner circle sat at a table towards the back of the room, the one to which Bahorel led Combeferre and Courfeyrac. They looked grave despite the bottles prominently displayed on the table; not even Joly wore a smile, though he greeted the newcomers cheerfully enough.
Combeferre and Courfeyrac exchanged glances as they sat. Before either could speak Bahorel asked, "What's wrong with Enjolras?"
Though he had not expected the question, Combeferre could not say it truly surprised him. He sighed. "He spent Christmas with his family. Such visits are always a strain."
"Does he habitually retreat completely from his friends for days at a time?" Feuilly asked, looking genuinely concerned.
"And if he does, why has anyone let him get away with it for so long?" Bahorel added. "Brooding like that can't be healthy."
"It's not," Courfeyrac said with a sigh of his own. "And this time is particularly bad. But Enjolras is quite determined not to infect anyone else with his bad moods."
"So he shuts himself away instead?" Bahorel asked. "Forgive me for saying so, but our fearless leader is quite stupid."
"I think selfless is the term he would prefer," Combeferre said.
Bahorel shook his head. "Doesn't matter what he would prefer. What it is is stupid, and you can tell him I said it."
"I'll be sure to pass the message on next time I see him," Combeferre said, no little dryly.
"When will that be?" Feuilly asked, still looking worried.
Combeferre and Courfeyrac looked at each other. Courfeyrac raised an eyebrow in silent inquiry and Combeferre nodded. "He's at home tonight," Combeferre said. "I can drop by on my way back to my rooms."
"You're sure he'll be there?" Joly asked, leaning forward.
Courfeyrac snorted. "Combeferre knows Enjolras' schedule better than Enjolras does," he said. "He'll be there."
Bahorel nodded. "Excellent. Go knock some sense into him for us."
"I'll see what I can do," Combeferre said. "Though I suspect I will take those instructions rather less literally than they were intended."
"To each man his own technique," Bahorel said with a shrug. "Whatever it takes to remind our modern Robespierre that he too is only human."
"Knowing Enjolras," Courfeyrac said with a sigh, "the problem is that he's recently become all to aware of that." He shook his head, clasping Combeferre's shoulder. "Let me know if you require assistance."
"I will," Combeferre said, a little absently. He was mentally reviewing the past week, noting all the times Enjolras had slipped away before he could be drawn into conversation or invited along to some activity or other. When he did engage with his friends it was about the republic only, practical matters of planning or strategy rather than anything even a little personal. True, with Enjolras it was sometimes impossible to separate the personal from the political, but this was extreme even for him.
Combeferre rose, picking up his hat and putting it on. "I bid you all good evening," he said, and headed for the door.
He had nearly reached the end of the hallway when a sound behind him made him pause. He turned, finding Grantaire standing awkwardly behind him. "Can I help you?" Combeferre asked, frowning.
"I… good luck. With, you know, getting him to listen to someone and everything." Grantaire's face was twisted into an odd grimace. "And… I hope he's all right."
Combeferre looked at him without speaking for a moment, reminded that, in his own way, Grantaire cared about Enjolras as much as Combeferre himself did. He nodded. "So do I," he said. "Thank you."
Grantaire nodded back, then turned and practically fled towards the back room. Combeferre watched him go then shook his head and continued on his way outside. Grantaire and his oddities were, thankfully, not Combeferre's to solve or manage. Enjolras and his tendency towards self sacrifice, however, were and with that in mind Combeferre hurried out into the street.
Enjolras' door opened almost before Combeferre had stopped knocking. He poked his head out, face lighting up when he saw Combeferre. An instant later his expression had been schooled into a mask of perfect neutrality, a carefully practiced expression that made Combeferre supremely uneasy.
"Can I do something for you?" Enjolras asked.
"May I come in?" Combeferre said.
Enjolras opened the door wider and stepped back, letting Combeferre in. He'd been working; papers were strewn across the desk and surrounding floor, lying on top of half opened books and under a probably stone cold mug of coffee. When Combeferre looked back at Enjolras, he found the unreadable expression still firmly in place.
"I wanted to check in on you," Combeferre said, trying to figure out why Enjolras' manner was making him so uneasy. Something about it felt wrong, but he could not quite pinpoint what. It was not the unreadable expression itself – Enjolras was a master of his facial features when he needed to be, and this was not the first time Combeferre had seen him look like this, though the expression was usually not directed towards him. "We have not had the chance to spend much time together lately, and I wanted to make sure that you were well."
A flicker of something passed across Enjolras' face and was gone before Combeferre could interpret it. "Everything is fine," he said. "I'm sorry if I worried you." He did not quite meet Combeferre's eyes as he spoke.
"You're certain?" Combeferre pressed. "I know the holidays can be difficult."
"Quite certain, thank you." Enjolras' voice was sharp. Combeferre frowned, taken aback by the tone. The uneasiness grew inside him, pressing insistently at the back of his mind. A vision floated across his mind of the last time Enjolras had been like this and he inhaled jerkily. Enjolras had been in full confrontation with a classmate, a man he respected and had hoped to recruit. In the middle of the argument the other man had said something about the lazy, greedy poor. Enjolras had reacted with an instant of visible betrayal then utter ice, a mental closing of the gates serving as much to protect himself as to shut down his opponent. Combeferre's heart sank.
Carefully, before he could lose his nerve, he asked, "Have I done something to upset you?
Enjolras' mask of neutrality was broken by genuine surprise and something that looked uncomfortably like guilt. "Not at all!" he said, all sharpness gone from his voice. "I did not mean to imply anything of the sort at all.
The assurance should have calmed Combeferre's worries. It did not. He examined his friend, noting the shadows under Enjolras' eyes – not unusual, but definitely pronounced – and the return of that careful blankness of expression, the one that signaled retreat into himself for protection. He ached to sit his friend down and demand to know what the trouble was then and there, but he knew better than to try it now. Instead he offered a smile. "I am glad to hear it."
Enjolras nodded, saying nothing.
Combeferre swallowed a sigh. "I'll leave you to your work," he said. "Unless you are in the mood for company?"
He was not at all surprised when Enjolras shook his head, though that did not stop him from being a little disappointed. "Thank you, but I need to finish these." He gestured vaguely towards the desk.
"Then I wish you luck and leave you to it," Combeferre said. "I'm sorry for dropping by unannounced."
"It's all right," Enjolras said.
Combeferre turned to go. With one hand on the door he paused, unable to just walk out without at least trying one last time. "You know you can always come to me if there is something wrong," he said.
Enjolras said nothing, and a moment later Combeferre stepped out onto the landing. Outside it had begun to rain.
The knock came after midnight, just as Combeferre was about to give up on his reading and try to get some sleep. He had realistic ideas about his ability to accomplish that goal, but he owed it to his medical training to try. The knock effectively pushed back the attempt and, despite the fact that at this hour company would almost certainly mean bad news, Combeferre picked up his candle and headed towards the door with no little relief. He unlocked the chain and pushed the door open, forehead furrowed into a slight frown as he squinted into the darkness.
Enjolras stood outside, one hand still raised as though to knock again. He was soaking wet from the rain, hair plastered to his head and dripping onto the floorboards. His hat was nowhere to be seen, either lost in a gutter somewhere or still sitting on its hook in his rooms. He did not seem to have noticed its absence. In the light of Combeferre's candle he looked even more tired than he had earlier, dark shadows vivid against pale skin and eyes downcast. Unhappiness seemed to come off him in waves and Combeferre's heart clenched more. Without quite consciously deciding to, Combeferre set his candle down on a chair positioned near the door for precisely that purpose and closed the half step between himself and Enjolras to pull his friend into a hug. Enjolras stiffened momentarily, but before Combeferre could even think of pulling away Enjolras had thrown his arms around Combeferre's neck. He clung tightly, fingers gripping the fabric of Combeferre's shirt as though to keep Combeferre from pulling away. Combeferre, not about to do any such thing, adjusted his balance slightly and held on, his grip firm and sure in an effort to give Enjolras whatever it was that he so badly needed.
They stood like that for nearly a minute, clinging to each other without speaking. Only when he realized that Enjolras was shivering in his embrace did Combeferre move, maneuvering them both into his rooms without letting go and allowing the door to swing closed behind them. Enjolras let him do it, shuffling his feet to keep pace and not loosening his hold on Combeferre's shirt. Without even trying to pick up the still flickering candle, Combeferre kept moving backwards, directing them towards his couch, which had the dual benefits of being large enough for both of them and close to the fire. By the time they reached it Enjolras had pulled away, allowing them to sit side by side.
"Will you tell me what's wrong?" Combeferre asked quietly.
Enjolras looked down at his knees, not saying anything. He was still shivering, shoulders tight with tension. Combeferre let several seconds elapse then wrapped an arm around Enjolras' shoulders again. "It's all right," he said. "You needn't say if you would rather not."
Enjolras leaned into his touch, still silent. His hair continued to drip, water sliding down his neck and making him shiver harder. He didn't seem to notice, but Combeferre did and, after a brief internal debate, he shifted a little, dislodging Enjolras and standing. He did not miss the way Enjolras seemed to shrink into himself ever so slightly at that, and he vowed to find out what had done this to his friend. But for now practical concerns were more pressing, and he held out a hand.
"Let's get you into dry clothes," he said.
Enjolras hesitated, knowing as well as Combeferre that the only clothes of his in these rooms, apart from the ones he currently wore, were night things. "I don't want to impose," he said, not quite meeting Combeferre's eyes.
"You aren't," Combeferre assured him. "And anyway, the rain isn't letting up."
"You're certain you don't mind?" Enjolras asked. In answer Combeferre reached down and took his hand, pulling him gently to his feet. He did not let go as he led Enjolras into the bedroom, hoping that his touch might convey what his words apparently could not.
Enjolras changed in silence, draping his sodden clothes over the back of Combeferre's desk chair. His nightshirt was made of thin fabric, more suited for autumn evenings in the south than for Paris' winter storms, and he took the blanket Combeferre pressed into his hands without complaint, draping it around his shoulders like an overlong cape.
Combeferre took his hand again. "Come to bed," he said. "It's late."
Enjolras let himself be maneuvered into the bed, Combeferre's spare blanket still wrapped around his shoulders. When the two of them were arranged side by side, Combeferre took Enjolras in his arms again, pulling him close enough to feel the faint chill still emanating from his skin. Again Enjolras hesitated before returning the embrace, an uncharacteristic instant of uncertainty that spoke far louder than any words ever could to convey that something was very wrong indeed. He pressed his face into Combeferre's shoulder in silence.
True to his earlier fear, Combeferre found that he could not fall asleep. Enjolras seemed to have drifted off almost right away, apparently as tired as he looked, but Combeferre's mind whirled too quickly for him to manage slumber. Every time he came close to calming it he felt Enjolras' too tight grip on his shirt and his thoughts started up again. His emotions too refused to die down, worry fighting anger for dominance in his heart. Whatever Enjolras' parents had done or said, it had shaken his confidence to a degree that Combeferre hadn't thought possible, and Combeferre found himself longing to somehow show them exactly how deep an effect their actions had had on their son.
"It's not their fault."
Combeferre started a little, not having realized that Enjolras was awake. It was too dark to see his friend's face, but he could feel that Enjolras had lifted his head slightly.
"Whose fault?" he asked.
Once again, Combeferre was reminded of the fact that Enjolras' uncanny ability to read his thoughts was possibly the strongest evidence he had ever found that some humans possessed psychic powers.
"They mean well," Enjolras continued.
"So did Oliver Cromwell," Combeferre said darkly. Then he grimaced into the darkness, trying to at least temporarily banish the anger filling him. "Will you tell me what happened?"
Enjolras sighed, not speaking for a long moment. Just as Combeferre was about to give up on this attempt, he said quietly, "My father made it quite clear that I was permitted in his home only on sufferance and that my presence was not welcome. My mother assured me that unless I changed my ways I would be even less welcome anywhere else."
Combeferre stiffened, all the rage he had been working to contain bursting through flimsy barriers and coursing through his veins. His breath left his body in a rush and he didn't inhale again, too busy being stunned and outraged by the idea that someone, anyone might think that Enjolras was not wanted somewhere to remember to breathe.
"I defended you," Enjolras said, his voice suddenly urgent. "I told her that she was wrong, that she did not know you as I did, that she had no right to speak of you like that."
"You didn't need to do that," Combeferre said, still fighting to keep from leaping out of bed right then and catching the earliest carriage south.
"She was slandering you," Enjolras said fiercely. "I could not let her disparage your character so. Even if… if she was right, I couldn't let her say those things about you."
Even through his anger Combeferre heard the slight change in tone, the falter in Enjolras' words, and he forced his attention back to the present, mind working rapidly to put pieces together. Enjolras had not wanted to believe his parents, that much was clear, but something in their words had lodged in his mind despite his efforts.
"What your mother said," Combeferre said slowly, knowing he was on the cusp of figuring it out and almost dreading what he might find. "Was it the first time?"
Enjolras hesitated. Then, quietly, "No." He said nothing more. He did not need to. Combeferre could see it as clearly as though Enjolras had taken him into his personal memories, could see a young boy bursting with intensity and affection told that he would be forever ostracized unless he behaved better, unless he stayed quiet, unless he loved less fully. And he remembered too his own behavior before Christmas, the endless series of examinations and extra shifts and tutoring sessions, the stream of missed meetings and canceled plans that, to someone else, might be read as an unwillingness to spend time with his friend.
He tightened his hold on Enjolras almost convulsively, wishing that they had light enough to see. In its absence words would have to do. "Listen to me," he said. "What you were told was wrong. Your mother is wrong, and so is anyone else who ever said anything like that. You are always, always welcome in my home, no matter the circumstances. You are welcome and you are wanted, exactly as you are."
Enjolras said nothing, head once more resting against Combeferre's shoulder. He was trembling again. Combeferre reached out a hand and felt fresh wetness on his cheek. Gently, he wiped away the tear track with his thumb. "You are loved," he said quietly. "More than you can ever know."
Enjolras reached up and took his hand. "If it's anything like the amount of love I have for you, I think I might be able to guess," he said, voice slightly thick.
"Then we appear to be on the same page," Combeferre said, and smiled into the darkness. Though he could not see it, he knew without the shadow of a doubt that Enjolras smiled back.