Author's note: Written for this prompt, from tumblr user Universeinajar: "Does it count as a prompt if I just submit a request to be subjected to as much emotional turmoil as possible" Thanks go to tumblr user Feuillyova for her encouragement.
For weeks after the July uprising, Combeferre saw blood each time he closed his eyes. He worked long hours, leaving home before dawn and returning well after midnight, at once grateful for the influx of work brought in by the fighting and disgusted with himself for being anything less than horrified by the carnage. He worked until he was all but collapsing from exhaustion, worked until he could barely find it in himself to do so much as fall into bed, worked until he could not imagine a way for the nightmares to find their way into his exhausted mind, though he was invariably proven wrong when he woke with tears streaming from his eyes and a sob caught in his throat. (He had removed himself from the bed he and Enjolras shared that first night, not wanting to disturb his friend with his dreams, had locked himself into what had once been their spare bedroom and tried not to notice how cold the bed felt.) He worked through the pain of his own wounds, the pain a constant physical reminder of what his mind would not let him forget, and refused more than the most basic care required to keep them free from infection.
He stayed away from the back room of the Musain for the first week after the fighting, stayed away from anything that would force him to reflect on what had occurred and what he had done. But Combeferre could not run from his own mind for long, and he slipped back into the fold after the initial panicked scramble to save lives had died down, walked down that familiar hallway and thought very seriously about turning to run before he reached the door. When he did find the strength to open the door he had to stop again, his chest tight and his lungs barely working as he saw that the room held fewer than half the men who had been with them only weeks before.
His friends, his closest friends, those friends he had fought beside and who had fought beside him welcomed him back without mention of his brief absence, let him speak only if he wished to, made certain to give him the space he had so often jokingly requested from them. He sat himself at a table in one corner, his chest still tight, his injured side and shoulder in agony, and did his best to see his friends rather than his own nightmares.
Like him they had changed, had been transformed, had passed through a cataclysm of the soul and emerged different than they had been. Prouvaire, always quiet, was now as silent as Combeferre himself, tucked between Bahorel and the back wall, his eyes red from weeping and his usually colorful attire a sober black. His hands trembled when he lifted his glass, and he would meet no one's gaze.
Joly and Bossuet, separated during the first hours of fighting and not reunited until the very end of the third day, seemed to have cleaved together more strongly than ever, moving together and casting a single shadow, a two-headed silhouette that appeared more monstrous than endearing. Over the course of that first evening both smiled liberally, even if their eyes were as weary as Combeferre's own, but neither of them found cause to laugh even once.
Grantaire did laugh, laughed loudly and harshly from his corner where he drank wine by the bottle. He berated them loudly for their foolishness, taunting them with the reminder of their dashed hopes, wounds still so fresh in their souls that even Joly and Bossuet lost their patience with him and Bahorel threatened very seriously to beat him until he could no longer speak. Enjolras had not so much as looked at him since Combeferre arrived. During his unwanted soliloquy, Grantaire assured them all that he had slept through the whole thing, all three days of it, and been glad for it. Combeferre thought to remind him of how quickly he had found them all in the aftermath, of the frantic gleam in his eyes that no amount of cynical talk could quash, but he held his tongue. Arguing with Grantaire at the best of times tried his patience; talking him down from his own ill-conceived cynicism and into self-awareness seemed a task as herculean as it would be ultimately fruitless.
Feuilly had become restless, moved from group to group and fidgeted in his chair, his anger and his frustration and his hurt manifesting as movement that made Combeferre nearly seasick. He spoke, sometimes loudly, sometimes not, always with naked emotion in his voice, always with more determination than betrayal. Feuilly seemed to burn with some internal flame, to have been energized by his own anger, to somehow radiate conviction and determination more fiercely than ever in a way that overwhelmed and exhausted those he spoke with. Only Enjolras seemed able to withstand his intensity, and the two ended the night with their heads together, speaking words Combeferre lacked the strength to want to hear.
Courfeyrac preached hope and perseverance, made the rounds as Feuilly did and put his hands on shoulders and clasped hands, offered his own warmth freely until he seemed worn almost to nothing by the effort. He coaxed smiles from all, even Combeferre, even Enjolras. Ever sensitive to those who surrounded him, he gave to each what he could, gave them hope or comfort or distraction and made no mention of how he had shaken when news of their new government had reached his ears.
Bahorel, of all of them, took the outcome most in stride. He bellowed and he raged, and any glass within his vicinity was apt to be hurled to the floor when he remembered some new indignity, but beneath the dramatics his mind worked already to create new plans, to find a new direction, to rebuild and persevere. Alone of the group Bahorel had experienced defeat before, had spilled blood that went ignored, had tasted the bitter pill and refused to allow it to poison him. He kept up a steady stream of scribbled notes even as he plied Prouvaire with drink and threw dominoes at Grantaire in an attempt to silence his ranting.
Out of all his friends, however, Combeferre found his eye returning most to Enjolras. Enjolras, who had, if anything, grown stiller with this setback, grown colder and whiter and more solemn. He spoke little, but when he did all paused to hear his words, even Grantaire, and his words were of retaliation. Where Bahorel spoke of rebuilding, Enjolras spoke of tearing down once again, swore that he would never rest until the betrayal of the people they had seen this summer had been burned to ash. They were words that had been heard before, words spoken as much in emotion as anything, but they pierced Combeferre as though they were stones. He looked away before Enjolras could meet his eyes.
Wounds of the flesh heal faster than wounds of the soul, and even after the cut in his side had knitted into bumpy scar tissue and the pains in his shoulder had faded to a dull, ever-present ache, still Combeferre flinched at sharp noises and woke gasping for breath from visions of war. He spoke in meetings again, spoke to remind them all of what they had lost and to caution them against rushing into further action too hastily. He urged patience, brought up again and again the need to wait and see how Orleans' rule would play out. Some - Jean Prouvaire, Joly, Bahorel to an extent - took his side in the debates, at least so far as to urge against acting too hastily. Others - Feuilly, Courfeyrac, Bossuet, Enjolras - threw their vote on the side of action and further rebellion. Arguments erupted with increasing frequency, disagreements that flared into debates that turned to confrontations as each combatant worked through his lingering trauma, through his anger, through his fear. Enjolras and Combeferre argued most frequently, their differences of opinion escalating into conflict at the slightest provocation in a way they never would have before. Courfeyrac's skills as a mediator were increasingly put to the test as he fought to remind them of their mutual aims and their friendship, while from his corner Grantaire mocked each person in equal measure.
Combeferre had not moved back into the room he shared with Enjolras. Enjolras had not asked him to.
Matters came to head as September's chill crystallized into October's frosts. The added pressure of coursework on top of his work at the hospital, begun in summer and never given up, made Combeferre's patience shorter than ever, wrung from his soul the ability to temper his sharp tongue. Always capable of cruelty under duress, Combeferre now found himself giving voice to thoughts he would once never have dreamed of uttering, and no amount of subsequent remorse seemed to be able to still his tongue beforehand. Enjolras brought out his worst offenses, invited them and returned them in kind, both men now arguing as much to wound as to convince though it pained them both as much to do so as to hear the words directed at them. They spoke at cross-purposes now, argued rather than debated, were in agreement only that their friends should not involve themselves lest they become collateral damage.
"You would have us stay here and fester," Enjolras accused one evening, his words cutting through the tension that enveloped them all these days. "You and your insistence that we be patient, that we wait, that we see what happens. We are seeing what happens, are living the results of your patience, and what do we see? We see nothing but the malignant remnants of a regime that should have been amputated long ago, a cancer that can only be treated through direct action. You would have us wait here and see if perhaps the tumor chose to shrink on its own, you who are a doctor and should know better. If we wait any longer before taking action we will sink so far into the filth this country has wrought that we will never emerge. We will rot away waiting and soon there will be nothing left of us but a cesspool and an echo on the wind saying the time is not yet right, will you not be patient?"
"So your solution is to fire a canon into the sewers and hope it does not set the entire city ablaze?" Combeferre returned. "You would take us all down with you in your haste for revenge, would turn our country and its people to ashes so long as Orleans fell with them. Is that the liberty you dream of? That is not any liberty to which I will give my allegiance, that I assure you. You would take progress into your own hands and stain it irrevocably, would prod at the fire until it erupted like Vesuvius and suffocated us all, would bring down destruction in the name of growth, would risk everything by setting fires because you were too impatient to wait for the dawn."
"I will not see the people oppressed and trampled," Enjolras spat.
"I will not see the people killed," Combeferre shot back.
For a long moment there was silence in the room. Then, his voice cold and unyielding as ice, Enjolras said, "There are sacrifices that must be made for the sake of the greater good of the people and the nation."
"A liberty born from tyranny is not one I will stand behind," Combeferre said. He rose. "On your own head be it." Without another word he left the room.
He had packed his books and few possessions before Enjolras returned that evening. In the morning he presented himself at the Necker and asked to be lodged there as an intern.
He did not return to the Musain.