"Excuse moi, Monsieur Joly, Dr. Dupard wants to speak with you."
Joly found himself startled from his reverie over a file of medical reports as he looked up at Sister Simplice, the soft-spoken nurse at Hôpital Lariboisière.
"Thanks, Sister. Did he say what about?" He asked, slightly embarrassed by his unpreparedness. Was he in trouble? He didn't remember the last time he'd been called in by Dr. Dupard; not since he'd first arrived at the hospital for duty a few months ago.
"Sorry, Monsieur, he didn't." The gentle nun offered a tight smile as she made a gesture with her head to follow her. Joly nodded and began to take after her, hobbling a little on his bad leg and missing his old cane for support. But, doctor's orders...it was time he started walking without it. They wound their way through the maze of dozens of beds crammed into the military hospital hall, which was never quite large enough to comfortably host the countless people who ended up there. The air was hot and heavy with what must have been dozens of bodies packed closely together, and the putrid smell of infection hung thick. As they walked past harried doctors and nurses leaning over bleeding patients, Joly almost had to pinch himself to remind himself that yes, he really was here. Here to help, here to forget.
Sister Simplice snapped him back to the present as she cleared her throat, finding him lagging behind. Joly was still so new to this place; it wouldn't be the first time he had gotten lost in the endless halls or crowded rooms. Sister Simplice stopped in front of a bed crowded by another nurse and the head doctor, Dr. Dupard himself.
Sister Simplice gave Joly an encouraging squeeze on the shoulder as she hurried back to her other patients. Joly cleared his throat, anxious to get whatever he had been called in for over with. He still had his own patients to see and duties to fulfill, and he was beginning to feel the toll of working all day, every day.
"Ah, Joly," Dr. Dupard murmured as he turned round, meeting Joly's eyes. He was a short, wiry man, with a balding head and thick tortoiseshell spectacles. "We have much to discuss. I'm assigning you to the care of a new patient, who will need a great deal of your attention—it's really of the utmost importance." A secretive grin blossomed on the elder doctor's face. "National importance."
Joly's interest was piqued, and he pushed his hopes of a restful night away immediately. He'd just finished his basic medical studies a few months ago, and already he was being given a serious case? He'd spent most of his time here so far assisting the experienced doctors and nurses, or doing the less savory tasks usually left for the younger doctors.
"If you haven't heard, some of our men taken as POWs in Germany have been transferred as of yesterday from Reims. One is a Resistance leader. He's spent the last year in Nazi torture cells."
Joly stared at Dr. Dupard in amazement. "He's still alive? But I haven't heard of Germans leaving survivors when they torture..."
"I know," Dr. Dupard interrupted, his own brow furrowing. "That's what I want to know. What's different about this man? I know there has to be something…"
"What's his name?"
"We don't have a clue. No identification papers, though if he did, they'd probably be fakes. He won't tell us anything, and we have to drug him to keep him from attacking everybody; he's wild when he's awake. But he had this book with him—" Dr. Dupard pulled a leather-bound journal cracked with dried mud and blood from inside of his jacket, handing it to Joly.
It was a sketchbook. The subjects of the drawings were mostly men, talking, sitting, lounging—with little names written underneath. Dr. Dupard indicated a page to Joly, and he found himself staring at a remarkably handsome young man with golden curls, pink lips marred with an odd look of cold passion, and brilliant blue eyes. The image was familiar, too familiar, and Joly had to quickly block that part of his brain before the memories overwhelmed him again.
This young man appeared to be the subject of most of the artist's drawings. Where a name should have been, there was one word: Apollo.
"That's our man there, this 'Apollo'. A bit hard to believe it's him now. You alright, Joly?"
Joly nodded, swallowing hard. His bad leg suddenly throbbed, and he winced as he rubbed the aching war wound.
"Do you recognize them? You fought, right? Any familiar faces?"
Joly shook his head, fighting off the voices in the back of his mind demanding to be heard—
"Anyway. Some of our officers have already recognized most of these men here—all were with the Resistance. We want this man's story in full—apparently he might have important information for us, information he was trying to deliver before he was captured." Dr. Dupard eyed Joly carefully, as though assessing him. "You're young, Joly, but you're smart and likable; be a friend to him, make him trust you. What we want to know is this: is he a hero in this story, or a villain?"
Dr. Dupard's words had a lingering quality of mystery to them, and for a moment he and Joly stood in solemn silence. Then, Dr. Dupard broke the heaviness with a bright and assuring smile.
"Don't take yourself too seriously, Joly. Do the best you can. Remember, I'm putting my faith in you, boy."
Joly laughed nervously at that last sentence, watching him go. The nurse who'd been waiting for him - Sister Perpetue, was her name - cleared her throat, gesturing with her hand the bed over which Dr. Dupard had been standing. Joly tried to calm his breathing, his curiosity rising as he carefully approached the bed, allowing himself to get a full view of the man lying in it.
His right hand was covered in dried blood with several fingernails missing, and that wrist was bound to the metal rail on the side of the bed. As he was naked from the waist up, Joly saw long, deep cuts becoming discolored with pus along his ribcage, which jutted out too prominently against his concerningly pale skin. He was clean enough, Joly decided, so whatever effort the nurses had made to clean him up hadn't been totally in vain. Blood was smeared on his face as though he'd been scratching himself to draw blood. His face was a colorful palette of blues, greens, and purples, and those blue eyes, which had been dazzling in that drawing, were closed. What called attention the most, however, was a long, thin cut, stretching from his hairline, just barely missing his eye, and ending at his chin, marring those formerly idealistic pink lips.
Joly moved so that he was by the man's side, and carefully pressed his fingers to his wrist to feel his pulse. For a man who was sleeping, it was far too irregular and quick.
"What's he got?" Joly asked the nurse.
"Gangrene in that right hand - it's been just swell trying to keep him from scratching at it. The doctors wanted to wait a little while before suturing those cuts on his ribs - they did a lousy job at it in Reims. Thankfully no fever, almost all of his ribs broken, dislocated shoulder—we fixed that up with plenty of trouble from him. The doctors say there's something wrong with his head, though I'll bet torture does that to you. Malnourishment, the usual. He looks like an anxious sleeper too. And mind you," Sister Perpetue said, lowering her voice, "this is after he was treated in Reims. I can only imagine what his condition was like before. A shame - looks like he was pretty keen in his day."
Joly nodded as Sister Perpetue quickly listed his medications, leaving an additional note on his report before she left. Joly stood listening to the ragged breathing of this man, this Apollo, watching the unsteady rise and fall of his chest, his discolored body. Even in sleep he seemed to find no peace. Joly leaned close, observing his face, trying to find some connection between him and the Apollo in the drawing. He stood close now, only a few inches away from his face. Joly began to straighten up to check on his other patients, convinced that this man would sleep a while longer, when suddenly those restless lids opened and the broken Apollo awoke.
"Hang it, what the hell—" Joly gasped as he jumped back, almost falling onto another sleeping patient behind him as he did.
Apollo lay quietly, observing Joly's startled reaction.
"Sorry." Joly cleared his throat, fumbling with the sleeves of his jacket. He quickly introduced himself with a smile, almost missing the forlorn expression in Apollo's eyes as Joly thoroughly checked his vitals. Respiration, blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. Joly went through the steps easily now after those months of emergency training.
Through the process Apollo lay as quiet and still as he had before, and Joly began to wonder at Dr. Dupard's comment earlier. Wild? This man seemed far from it. Tired and sad seemed to fit him better.
"So, Apollo, eh?" Joly asked, holding up the sketchbook. "Interesting name. Is it your real one, or..."
Joly paused, surprised. In all honesty, he hadn't expected an answer. By now he was used to one-sided conversation to comfort unresponsive patients. Apollo was a quiet man, from what he could tell, and from the look of those clear and steady eyes he seemed a rational one as well.
"What is your name, then?"
Apollo stared back at him, silent. Joly sighed inwardly; he shouldn't have expected to get too far in such a short time.
He thought he'd give it one more try.
Joly held up the sketchbook Dr. Dupard had shown him, letting it fall open to a random sketch; one of a bespectacled young man reading at a table. The label read...Combeferre. "Can you tell me something about this man?"
Apollo's eyes hardened and suddenly he bolted upright in his bed, shaking with the effort, and seemed about to lunge at Joly.
Joly quickly stepped to the side, hiding the sketchbook in his coat.Stupid, stupid idiot you are, he told himself. You've only upset him.
Joly gently gripped Apollo's bare shoulder, easing him back in bed. By now the man had given his struggle up, but still looked at Joly with hatred and hurt.
"Be easy," he murmured to the man, looking around to see whether any nurses had noticed the commotion. They hadn't. Joly let out a breath of relief. He didn't know why, but he felt unusually protective of his new patient, and—well, he had a feeling that some of the other nurses wouldn't be as patient with Apollo's antics. "I'm sorry. It's too soon."
Before Joly finally gathered the strength to look at Apollo, he could have sworn he'd heard him say something.
It was three more weeks before Apollo spoke again. By now Joly and Apollo had figured out their routine; Joly checked in on him every couple of hours or so, making small talk that Apollo never responded to. When he found himself alone, he studied the pages in the sketchbook, trying to piece together what kinds of lives those people led. There was so much life and expression in each face, which seemed to be trying to say something to Joly; what it was, he didn't know. Not yet.
"You hurt your leg," Apollo remarked, watching Joly's noticeable limp as he moved around in the narrow space, finishing up with checking Apollo's vitals. In spite of his reaction those few weeks ago, he had returned to his calm and silent state. Until now.
Joly looked down automatically at his leg and smiled uncomfortably. "Yes, I did, in the war, but—that doesn't matter. Nearly healed." He reached down to pull the hem of his pants up, revealing a prosthetic leg. "Dr. Dupard wants me to get used to walking without the stick." He grimaced, and realized too late that it was rather unprofessional.
Apollo snorted. It was the smallest thing really, unnoticeable, even—but Joly noted it at once and beamed in response.
Joly sighed. "How does your breathing feel?" He asked, though he already knew it must hurt something hellish with his ribs still unhealed.
Apollo shrugged (or, as much as he was able lying down), and Joly noticed he winced almost unnoticeably at the movement. Joly lifted the shirt covering Apollo's wounds, gently examining the cuts on his torso which didn't seem to be healing—he hoped they hadn't gotten infected. He'd have to ask Dr. Dupard about it. When Apollo next spoke, Joly nearly jumped out of his skin.
"Did you fight?"
Joly's breath caught in his throat at the suddenness of the question, and he struggled for a moment to form an answer. Joly didn't meet Apollo's eyes. "I was with the FFI résistance—forces françaises de l'intérieur—for a few months, and worked as a medic on the fields. Lost my leg, healed up, and was called up here."
Joly felt his leg ache again, the way it always seemed to do now when he was around this Apollo, getting too close to the edge of memories he'd fought so hard to ignore.
"Do you have family left?"
Apollo's question was careful, quiet, and when Joly met his eyes, he could tell it was genuine. Joly cleared his throat.
"I've answered enough questions, I think, to warrant you answering at least one of mine," he said lightly, beginning to replace Apollo's bandages.
Apollo's eyes flashed—for a moment Joly froze, trapped in the uncertainty of what he'd said. There was fear in those eyes, terrible fear—and fury. Joly realized that a man who had been interrogated and tortured for months by the Nazis might have unpleasant memories associated with such a phrase.
Joly fell silent, unsure of what to do, what to say. His task was growing more and more difficult—could he keep this up? Moreover, the more he got to know his way around Apollo, the worse he felt—it felt wrong to demand answers that weren't his to receive. Joly bit his lip and kept his eyes on the task at hand.
"My parents are in America. They left just when the war started, which I know is good because of the kids—my sisters—but, of course, it gets lonely. Better than having no one, I suppose. As for my friends—" Joly stopped, fighting down the lump in his throat. He'd said enough.
Apollo regarded him carefully as Joly finished applying the new bandages.
"What do you want to know?"
Joly whipped his head up in surprise. Apollo didn't meet his eyes, but seemed to look through Joly entirely.
"How about your name?"
Apollo didn't answer for the longest time, and Joly was about to resign himself to another failure.
"Enjolras. Gabriel Enjolras." The words were stiff and practiced, and Joly knew this was an answer he had given more than once to the Germans.
"Well, Enjolras," said Joly, testing out the name, "I have to say, it's almost as good as Apollo. Almost. It's very noble."
Enjolras shook his head, closing his eyes as Joly completed his usual once over of his injuries. Joly couldn't contain the ridiculous grin on his face—Apollo—Enjolras—appeared to like him, trust him at last, even.
As Joly shrugged on his coat, ready to go home for the night, Sister Simplice caught up to him on his way out.
"How is the Apollo?"
Joly smiled. "Apparently our Apollo is an Enjolras."
Sister Simplice's eyes widened. "He's spoken to you? That's his name?"
Joly nodded. "He's a quiet soul, Sister—I can't understand what Dr. Dupard meant by his being 'wild'. He's been through war, real war, far worse than you and I, but he survived. It's remarkable, isn't it?"
Sister Simplice gave him an odd look. "You don't know, do you?" She asked with an air of sad incredulousness.
Joly furrowed his brow. "Know what?"
Sister Simplice shook her head. "You've only worked day shifts here, I'd forgotten. He's a terror at night—refuses to go to sleep, and puts up a fight with the doctors. He has to be sedated, and even then..." Sister Simplice hesitated before continuing. "His nightmares must be something terrible. He keeps the whole building up with his screaming."
Joly felt his stomach drop, and suddenly felt like a fool; he'd been so confident that he'd figured the man out at last, earned his confidentiality to some degree; but he hadn't even scratched the surface.
The whole way home to his apartment in the eight arrondissement, Joly had Enjolras on his mind. As Joly lay in bed half an hour later, he couldn't sleep. The thought that somewhere not too far Apollo—Enjolras—was hurting left a cold and empty feeling in his heart.
"I want to work the night shift."
Joly braced himself for—whatever was going to happen. Actually, he didn't know. He'd never considered working the latest shift recently—he'd assumed that if he did the action would tear apart the very fabric of the universe. It simply wasn't supposed to happen. Odd, that since Enjolras had arrived Joly had found himself spared of the exhausting late night shifts. He hadn't found any reason to complain.
Instead of a fatal explosion, earthquake, or other untimely disaster, Joly was met with a raised eyebrow from Dr. Dupard.
"Really? For Apollo, I assume? I thought you'd be happy with the earlier workdays."
Joly nodded, trying to calm the sudden restlessness he felt in his hands to do something. Shoving them in his coat pockets, he cleared his throat and met Dr. Dupard's eyes.
"You didn't tell me about his fits at night." Joly allowed his voice to rise in pitch on the last note so the statement was more of a question. Dr. Dupard's expression never changed.
"No, I didn't." His voice was thoughtful, and his sharp eyes never left Joly. Joly fought against the urge to squirm under that forceful gaze, to keep eye contact, to remain professional and cool—and somehow managed to do so, more or less in that order.
"You seemed like you were progressing well enough with him. It's only been a month, Joly."
Joly stared at him. "You told me yourself the importance of knowing everything about a patient—"
"Yes, well, this patient is different." Dr. Dupard's tone was such that made Joly understand his meaning immediately. Whatever it was, Joly was not meant to ask any further.
"Why?" Joly pushed despite the warnings going off in his head, a daring move he never would have thought he'd make. But he couldn't help himself. "Why is he different? Why has he been transferred across so many hospitals, and who is it we think he is? How can I help when I know nothing about him?"
Dr. Dupard suddenly seemed closer, bigger even despite his small stature, as though he were looming over Joly. "This isn't a conspiracy, Joly. This is our work - you know it's not easy. He's moved hospitals because someone wants him here—his care is being paid for generously by an anonymous donor. I need you to be professional, Joly. Do what you've been told to and stay on track." Dr. Dupard's voice was clear and cold, and for what seemed an interminably long moment his eyes never left Joly. "Take the night shift if you want. But remember what I said." He stared hard at Joly, his eyes suddenly sharp behind his glasses. With a curt nod, he dismissed Joly and walked away.
Joly remained in the hallway for a moment, listening to the busy sounds of the wards outside, the steady hum of work and duty. Work and duty, that was his priority. It had to be. He allowed Dr. Dupard's words to quell the last of his worries as he began to prepare for what he knew would be a long night.
Work went on as usual. Joly made his rounds, fueled up on coffee in stolen moments, and joined the nurses for a smoke on his break. In his occasional glimpses of Enjolras, he noticed that the man was no different from how he usually behaved. He lay quiet and still, let Joly work on him, and as usual, said next to nothing besides the bare responses he gave to Joly's questioning and assessments of his injuries.
After dosing a hysterical patient with a sedative, Joly found himself free for a moment. When he'd first started out in this position several months ago, Joly had found it hard to believe that the night shift could be more chaotic than the day; but these were war veterans here, who screamed in their sleep and begged doctors not to put them under when they were being too resistant. He passed by an older man who writhed and twisted in his sleep, muttering "Jamie, Jamie," again and again in a frantic voice. There was a child who cried for her mother every night, her head completely covered in bandages. Joly knew he'd hear them long after he'd left the building.
But he always kept Enjolras in his periphery. When he saw from the corner of his eye a familiar shadow hovering over Enjolras, Joly's attention was caught and he saw Dr. Dupard leaning over a flailing Enjolras. From where he was standing, Joly couldn't make out much more than Dr. Dupard's back, but the rest was unmistakable. Through the noise of the other patients, Joly strained to hear Enjolras' voice. It was distinct and slow, pleading and loud.
Joly was up in an instant, weaving hurriedly between the beds, ignoring the fierce pain shooting up his leg as he strained to hurry. He drew up to Dr. Dupard, pulling him back by the shoulder. Sister Perpetue stood on the other side of the bed, a frustrated scowl written across her face. Enjolras was trembling, sweating, crying—and Dr. Dupard straightened, holding a syringe in his hand.
"What are you doing?" Joly asked loudly, surprised at how his fists clenched themselves so easily, how his feet had positioned themselves in a stance of defense, just how he had been taught to by—
"He has to be sedated, Joly," Dr. Dupard said tightly. His jaw was tensed, and normally Joly would balk in fear at this. Comply humbly and follow orders like a good soldier.
But he felt no fear now.
"Not like this," Joly protested. He looked down at Enjolras again, who had grown quiet, but was still shaking and looking at Dr. Dupard with an indescribable look in his eyes. It unsettled Joly to see him like this; he suddenly understood too well why Dr. Dupard had called him "wild".
"Let me talk to him," Joly said, his voice quieter as he forced himself to calm down. "If things do get bad, I'll give it to him. Just let me talk to him. Please?"
Dr. Dupard looked as though he were about to put Joly on cleaning duty for the rest of his life, the way his face had grown red and his teeth clenched. Then he relaxed, and the anger was replaced by weariness.
"This is the third night in a row he hasn't slept, Joly. You know what will happen."
He did. Enjolras' body was still struggling to fight off infection, and that would be impossible without actual rest. It was already difficult enough to treat his wounds as it was, but if he were to finally catch fever—his chances of surviving would be even lower.
Something in Joly knew it wasn't Enjolras' life so much as his testimony that Dr. Dupard wanted to preserve.
"Please." The word came out as a breath, quiet and wavering and hopeful.
Dr. Dupard rubbed his temples and exchanged a look with Sister Perpetue. She had that same look which somehow was both angry and disinterested at once. She shrugged, already picking up her coarse woolen skirts and beginning to move on to fulfill her next duty. Dr. Dupard looked at Joly again, and this time Joly thought he had finally gone too far. This was it for him, for his opportunity to help, to make a difference. Gone because he couldn't keep his mouth shut, because he couldn't follow the orders of a senior doctor.
Had he heard correctly? Dr. Dupard's glare hadn't softened, his scowl hadn't disappeared, and the noticeable tick in his jaw was still there.
"Really? Thank you -"
"Don't thank me. Get something useful and report to me in the morning, Joly. If we don't start seeing real progress I'll assign someone else to him." With those last words, Dr. Dupard finally capped the syringe, placing it on the little table next to Enjolras' bed, turned on his heel and disappeared from the hall.
Joly approached Enjolras slowly, his hands in the air to show he was, to put it lightly, unarmed. Enjolras watched him with distrust, and Joly suddenly somehow only then noticed the dark shadows resting in rings under Enjolras' eyes.
Joly sat down on the little stool next to the bed. "You know, I didn't think you were the type to be afraid of needles."
For a long time Enjolras said nothing. Joly didn't expect him to, either. The last conversation (or whatever their interactions could be called) seemed to have brought some sort of understanding between the two of them. But Joly didn't even know where to begin with...this.
Surprised, Joly tried to contain his eagerness. It was a rarity to hear Enjolras speak, and it was a welcome sign. It showed that he did still have the mental presence so many of the other nurses believed he'd lost.
Despite these attempts, Enjolras clearly noticed Joly's eagerness anyway. He looked to the other side away from Joly, his cheek resting on his pillow.
"If I'm sedated - I can't wake up."
Enjolras' words cut off there, but Joly understood at once.
He didn't want to be trapped in the nightmares.
Joly swallowed down the rising lump in his throat. He didn't know what to do. Ask him to suture a 33mm caliber bullet wound, that he could do. Treat pneumonia, amputate a limb (...well enough), nurse patients through long bouts of fever, no problem. But Joly was too familiar with dealing with his own nightmares; he wasn't so sure he was ready to take on someone else's as well. Especially someone like Enjolras. He didn't want to imagine what Enjolras saw each night, which memories he was forced to relive, to suffer through over and over again.
For now he would forget about his own problems, Joly decided. They weren't so important, not to anyone, and they shouldn't be to him. What was important was taking care of his patient - so he would.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
As Joly asked the question, he didn't have Dr. Dupard and his duty to record a rebel's life story on his mind. He didn't weigh the benefits of a former POW's tale, the significance the association of success would bring to Joly's name. He asked because he hoped it would help, and because it was the only thing he could think to do.
Enjolras slowly turned his head and met Joly's eyes. "So that you can publish my life in a journal or magazine to impress your superiors?"
Joly stared at him, taking a moment to register the accusation. He knew. Of course he knew what Joly had been told, and of course he would find it hard to trust him when he thought he was exploiting his vulnerability. Joly suddenly hated himself and the building he was in. He hated the doctors and nurses he talked to and worked with each day, hated them for making him do something so terrible as this.
"No - I just thought it might help," Joly said honestly. Because it was true; at the moment he couldn't care less about what Dr. Dupard wanted. He'd first started his arduous medical training because he wanted to help people, not use them.
"Did it help you?" Enjolras asked, his eyes suddenly intense. Joly felt uncomfortably exposed under that stare, which seemed to see through all of his pretenses and to a truth which he didn't think he knew himself.
"I haven't had anyone to talk to," Joly said, trying not to let it get to him. He had to be cool, professional…
Enjolras drew a long, painful sounding breath, one which caused Joly to nearly jump off the edge of his seat. Enjolras shook his head tiredly and said, "I'll tell you my story if you tell me yours."
Joly shook his head, reaching out and pressing Enjolras' hand gently. Enjolras flinched visibly in surprise at this contact and stiffened, until a moment later he relaxed. "You don't have to, you know."
"I do," Enjolras said quietly. "I owe it to them." He stared off into space, lost in thought, until he addressed Joly again with an alarming energy. "Get the sketchbook and let it fall open."
Joly rummaged through the rucksack of Enjolras' few belongings stored under the cot and did as Enjolras bid him. Letting the book fall open to the most visited page, Joly saw a rough sketch, different and more amateur in style than the others, followed by a large wall of writing. The sketch was of a squat building on the corner of an identifiable Parisian street, a cafe of sorts. The faded sign hanging above the window read Cafe Musain. The date was signed June 5, 1942.