Notes: This is my first week in LM fandom at all, so my characterization may be a bit raw. Warning for mentions of vomiting in one segment (not explicit) and some frank language.
Based on this prompt at the lj Les Mis kink meme:
Enjolras/Any / Gen
Enjolras is pretty magnificently terrible at taking care of himself. Sure, he's independent and capable, but he forgets to eat or sleep or get help when he's sick. Sometimes, when he's particularly focused for a long period of time (days, weeks), he doesn't even realize that he's lost a lot of weight, or is getting dangerously sick. He's often alone for long times, shut in his room, so the others don't always get alerted when he's accidentally destroying himself. Whenever they figure it out, they descend on him and mother him for days before reluctantly letting him take care of himself again. One time it gets bad enough that he almost dies, and they all move in with him and take care of him despite his claims that he's perfectly fine. He never has seen anything wrong with it, just a side effect of doing his duty.
Anyways, as fluffy and/or angsty as you want, set in canon or AU (I'm partial to both), just friendship and exasperated Amis with a confused, yet ill, Enjolras.
Enjolras had always found it simple to neglect creature comforts for a cause. He wasn't easily distracted by every set of winking eyelashes like Courfeyrac or preoccupied with his health like Joly. As long as he stayed alive, his time was better spent focusing on the work, and that was that.
The problem was that he wasn't as skilled at making sure he stayed alive.
Enjolras had been working on his manifesto for long enough that he wasn't quite sure when the blurring started. Things had definitely already started to seem strange around the edges of his vision by the July evening when Feuilly knocked unexpectedly at his door.
"Come in," he called over his shoulder, continuing to root through his wardrobe in search of more candle nubs. "Ah!" he chirped when he found them, backing out of the wardrobe to find Feuilly standing in his rooms.
"Are you all right?" Feuilly asked. "Only it isn't like you to miss a meeting and Joly was sure you had a new plague."
Enjolras frowned as he struck a match to combat the dimming evening glow. "There was a meeting today?"
"Yes," Feuilly said slowly. "It's Monday."
Of course! It must have been Monday by then. So stupid to lose track of days (so easy when you sleep as little as Enjolras). "I've been busy," he said sharply, and then: "I must have forgotten. I'm sorry for worrying you."
"It's all right." Feuilly smiled but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "What are you doing with those bits of wax?"
"They're called candles, Feuilly. One needs them if one wishes to keep working after the sun has set."
"Perhaps you ought to go to bed instead." Feuilly's eyebrows creased. "How long have you been working?"
"Not long enough, as there is still work to be done." Enjolras snapped. "I've been writing all day and I can't seem to get this section right." All day, all week, all fortnight—who was to say how long he had been writing? It had all started to blend together a bit.
"All right," Feuilly said, backing down. "Just… get some rest, all right? And don't forget the next meeting. Grantaire would never admit it but he looked a bit concerned."
Enjolras forced a derisive snort as Feuilly shut the door behind him.
Ridiculous, he thought, and sat back at his desk. He did not notice his stomach rumble or stop to think about how many days it had been since he'd had a proper meal.
He arrived at the café for the next meeting early as was his wont, and in unusually good spirits because he was finally satisfied with his manifesto. Les Amis seemed initially glad to see him but their interest waned as he read aloud all forty pages of his masterwork.
"Have you eaten?" Courfeyrac asked him, afterward, with a warm smile and a heavy hand on his shoulder. "You look a bit…" Rather than finish the sentence, he waved a hand around Enjolras, indicating that something about his appearance was wanting.
Enjolras shrugged. "I had coffee," he said. "I should get back to work." He stood, ignoring the way stars crept annoyingly in front of his eyes.
Courfeyrac pressed him back down into a seat; it was easier than it should have been. "Two bowls of the stew, please," he told a passing serving-girl.
"You don't have to—"
"I do," Courfeyrac said. "I really do. Your hands are shaking and you've gotten terribly thin. You're half the man you were in May. The revolution doesn't exist without you." He put a spoon in Enjolras's hand. "Now you're going to eat and then you are going home to sleep or so help me I will tie you down."
Enjolras turned pleading eyes to him. "I have important work to finish."
"It can wait until you're properly alive again," Courfeyrac said firmly, as the steaming bowls were set in front of them.
He ate it all and slept a solid night. Afterward, even Enjolras could tell he felt better.
In late summer he started a headache—not terribly disruptive, just enough pain and haziness to be inconvenient—that hung around for days. He was irritable and snappish, and Les Amis left him alone with his work. Which was just the way he wanted it.
Frustrated, he laid his head on his desk. He hadn't been successful enough with his last speech and he just knew that if he could push the headache away, he could write a great one. He needed to get the attention of a wider audience. Les Amis had important work to do, and to do that work they needed more assistance and less opposition. If only his rooms weren't so hot, he might be able to think better…
He jerked awake, unsure what woke him. A pounding on the door and Combeferre's voice calling "Enjolras? Are you at home?" alerted him to his visitors.
He shuffled sluggishly over to the door, forcing it open with an apologetic "I must have fallen asleep. I didn't miss the meeting, did I?"
Joly laughed, but Combeferre looked alarmed. "No, friend," he said gently, "it's only Saturday. No meeting today. But Bahorel had mentioned you did not seem yourself when last he saw you, so we thought we would pay a visit."
Combeferre carted an armful of bags inside while Joly escorted Enjolras to bed.
"He's feverish," Joly called, pressing the back of his hand to Enjolras's forehead.
"I'm perfectly all right," Enjolras protested weakly, "my head just aches a little, and I'm a bit tired. I know I'll be fine with a bit of rest, as soon as I finish this speech." Even as he spoke, he let himself be draped in a blanket.
"You won't be finishing any speeches tonight, I'm afraid," Combeferre said, setting his bags on the floor.
"How long have you been ill?" Joly asked, a small smile playing at his lips. "Did you even notice you were ill?"
Enjolras sighed. "I'm not ill," he said. "Tired, only."
"Have you eaten since you fell ill?" Joly asked, ignoring Enjolras completely (as usual). "Or did you think your body could heal itself with no nutrients through sheer force of will?"
"I had a bit of bread while I was writing earlier," he said. "You wouldn't be mocking me so if I really were ill."
"Earlier when?" Combeferre wheedled. "This afternoon or this morning?"
"Yesterday, maybe," Enjolras mumbled. His face felt hot. "I wasn't hungry, or I wouldn't have left it."
"Yes, because you always eat when you're hungry normally," Joly nodded solemnly, and Enjolras got the distinct impression he was meant to disagree.
"I mean to," Enjolras said, feeling his eyes prickle with a wet heat. Perhaps he had fever after all.
Combeferre shot Joly a look of warning. "Well, you're eating today. I've a lovely recipe for beef broth that is perfect for recuperation. We'll have you back on your feet leading marches in a day or two."
It took five days before Enjolras, nourished on broth and not half surly with impatience, was steady enough on his feet that Combeferre would let him out of his rooms, and Combeferre and Joly stayed with him the whole time. Joly only went into histrionics at the thought of getting ill himself twice.
"You're limping," Grantaire observed when Enjolras came in for the meeting.
"Am I?" Enjolras asked, puzzled.
"You're favoring your left leg," Grantaire said. "What's wrong with it?"
"It's nothing," Enjolras answered, waving off the worry in Grantaire's face. "I twisted it during a demonstration earlier. I barely feel it now; it's fine to walk on."
Grantaire's mouth twisted into his usual sardonic smirk. "The ankle seems to have a different opinion," he said. "It doesn't seem to think it can take your weight, slight as you are."
Enjolras sighed. "If this is about meals, I swear I've been eating, Courfeyrac reminds me twice a day no matter what I'm working on and it's incredibly distracting—"
"This is about your ankle," Grantaire replied smoothly, scooting a chair behind Enjolras and pushing him to sit on it, then sliding his own seat so the injured foot sat elevated on his lap. "Let's see it, then."
"No—" Before Enjolras could stop him, Grantaire had removed the shoe and stocking from the damaged leg, and was inspecting the injury.
"Christ in heaven, you don't do anything by halves, do you?" Grantaire moaned through gritted teeth. The foot did look rather dramatic; it was visibly swollen and darkened with bruising already. "You'd better hope it's sprained and not broken. Why did you keep walking on it?"
Enjolras shook his head. "I didn't realize it was hurt so badly. I was focused on the demonstration." Now that he was off his feet, Enjolras was conscious of a dull throb pulsing through the area.
Grantaire ran his hand lightly over the bruises, producing a sensitive but not altogether painful feeling in the skin. "For the rest of the evening, if you need anything, you ask one of these idiots to get it for you. No walking on that leg whatsoever."
Enjolras frowned. "I can't ask others to serve me," he said. "It goes against democracy."
"Then you tell me, and I'll ask the idiots to serve you," Grantaire said. "Bahorel Ice! Now!" He shouted at the passing fellow, then turned back to Enjolras. "See, Apollo, it's easy as that. You're a damned fool for not resting that ankle right away, and you probably made it much worse by moving it around all afternoon, but the ice ought to help."
As it turned out, the ankle was only sprained, and it took just a month before Enjolras could walk into a room without Grantaire's eyes immediately going to his left leg. In all that time, Enjolras barely supported his own weight up the stairs to his rooms, and never had to sit at a café without Grantaire's lap to prop his injured ankle on.
New developments in the army's recruiting practices kept Enjolras in a frenzy of activity, constantly holding rallies in the streets and public debates in the cafés. This meant that Les Amis saw him more frequently in October than they were used to, which gave them cheer; they were always cajoling him to leave his claustrophobic rooms and get a bit of air. At first, it seemed to do him good as well—his eyes sparkled more energetically than ever when he spoke to the citizens of his outrage.
They were all too well accustomed to dark circles under Enjolras's eyes and the thinness of his body, so it was a newcomer, Marius Pontmercy, who noticed first that all was not well. Marius had been one of the more solicitous of Enjolras's ankle when he'd been wounded, always surreptitiously offering him a shoulder to lean on during the long walks home.
"Are you quite all right, Enjolras?" Marius asked quietly, drawing near to Enjolras (who still limped a little when he was tired, as long as no one was watching) near the back of a crowd after a meeting one night.
"Yes, of course." Enjolras forced a smile.
Marius did not look reassured. "I wonder, only... did you eat today? Or sleep? You look exhausted."
Enjolras fixed him with a stern look. "I hope this isn't what you think about while I lecture on the plight of the people, Pontmercy."
Marius shook his head, hastening to amend himself. "Of course not. As a revolutionary you are as inspirational as always. It is only as a friend that I inquire after your health."
"There isn't time," Enjolras said. "France must be liberated. Surely you have more important concerns than what I had for breakfast. Such frivolities will have to wait."
Marius's mouth tightened, but he allowed Enjolras to pull ahead of him. To his credit, he said nothing more about it.
The same, alas, could not be said of all his comrades.
"Do you live, Apollo?" Grantaire jibed at the next meeting, after his fourth brandy of the evening. "You look so pale and drawn that I think perhaps you are reduced to bones only. Have you at last grown as thin as your hopes of change?"
Enjolras ignored him and climbed atop the table to lead Les Amis in a chorus, but had to be steadied by Combeferre's gentle hand at his back when his vision dimmed and the earth tilted slightly to the right.
"Sit, sit," Bossuet urged, leaping from his own seat to offer it to his ailing leader.
Enjolras collapsed into the chair. His heart pounded in his ears.
"What is it?" Feuilly fretted. "What hurts?"
Enjolras couldn't answer. He gasped in a breath that felt as heavy and solid as a wall.
Joly, displaying a presence of mind that would have been welcome in other areas of his life, grabbed for Enjolras's wrist and felt the racing of his heart. "It is an attack of panic," he announced to the crowd of anxious faces. Then he knelt to make eye contact with Enjolras. "Breathe, now. Slow, steady. That's it." Joly demonstrated, grabbing Enjolras's hand and pressing it to his own chest to show off his own, slower, rhythm.
Combeferre's long fingers stroked Enjolras's sweaty gold curls. "Shh, mon ami," he murmured.
Jehan brought a cloth dampened with water to wipe Enjolras's face and cool the back of his neck.
Joly continued to breathe in tandem with Enjolras until his heart at last slowed and he fell back against the chair back, utterly drained of energy.
"Feeling better?" Combeferre asked quietly.
Enjolras nodded, not looking up. How humiliating. A moment of weakness in front of the entire café.
"Zounds! Bring us a brandy, would you?" Grantaire asked a nearby maid. "It's fortifying."
Enjolras frowned, and Bahorel squeezed his shoulder.
"He doesn't," Feuilly said sharply. "You know he doesn't."
"A pity, abstemious wretch, because it'd put some color in his cheeks for sure," Grantaire said, "but yes, I know he doesn't. It's for me. I'm feeling a bit tense myself after that and I rather need a drink."
"Overwork only," Joly pronounced, clapping his hand on Enjolras's leg. "Rest and relaxation will soon set you right again. Doctor's orders."
"You aren't a real physician," Enjolras growled, but his weariness was too evident to give the words any real bite.
"You've got to care for yourself, my friend," Combeferre whispered, running his fingers through Enjolras's hair still. "You work entirely too hard. The work suffers when you're not at your best."
How could Enjolras explain that work that wasn't his best, while unacceptable and less than France deserved, was still better than no work at all? France demanded better.
"I worry," Combeferre said, and let the matter drop. "Are you up to the walk back to your rooms? I'd get a cart but I'm not sure there's enough silver in the whole café to pay."
"I can walk," Enjolras said, with more conviction than he felt. He pushed himself to his feet, ignoring his friends' hands out to support him and his own head's furious insistence that the earth wasn't still enough.
A concerned weight fell over Grantaire's eyes at the grim determination in Enjolras's set mouth. "Afterparty at Enjolras's," he proposed.
Courfeyrac and Marius scowled at him from their table. "Do you think that's wise?" Marius asked, while Courfeyrac asserted that Enjolras needed quiet.
"Please," Grantaire said, a quaver in his voice betraying how frightened he had been. "He isn't good at quiet, he isn't going to rest easily. He ought to have his friends around to keep an eye on him. I'm not comfortable letting him alone just now, are you?" Drink had made his voice louder than he intended, no doubt, but they all agreed with his logic. No one wanted Enjolras left to his own devices.
And so it was that they all accompanied him home that night, and spent the next day fetching him water and bread so he wouldn't need to get out of bed, refusing to let him near his books, and keeping laughter always in his ears. The pinched lines around his eyes did not disappear after two days abed, but his smile came a little easier by the time of the next meeting.
"Are you well, Monsieur Enjolras?" the serving girl asked when she brought his coffee.
He was wearying of that question.
After he waved her off, he slumped over the table, nursing his coffee. He was glad none of Les Amis were in the Café Musain this afternoon. It was not a scheduled meeting time, but there were often a few members scattered about the student cafés of Paris regardless. On this occasion, he was not feeling up to talking to them. He only wanted to drink his coffee and get back to his books.
His stomach intervened, and he found himself vomiting bile in an alley, gripping the wall for support. Disgraceful—sick in an alley like a drunkard. Grimacing, he straightened to head back to the privacy of his rooms. At least, he tried to. Instead his balance gave way and he stumbled sideways.
He would have fallen, had Marius not stabilized him with a firm grip on his elbow from behind. "You're not well," Marius commented, not unkindly.
"Thank you for that stunning observation. I had not noticed." Enjolras took the glass of water Marius offered and swished some around to clean his mouth, then spat it on the ground.
"I never thought I'd find you like this," Marius said. "Grantaire, maybe, but not you."
Enjolras groaned. He hadn't the energy for this conversation. His stomach roiled such that he knew he would be ill again, but perhaps he would feel better if he could get lying down before that happened. "Thank you," he said gruffly. "I think I ought to go back to my rooms. If you'll excuse me." He shook off Marius's hands and made it two steps before he wobbled and Marius caught him once more.
"I think perhaps I'd better help you," Marius said apologetically.
Enjolras sighed, resigned. "Perhaps it would be best. Quickly, if you please. I'd rather not run into anyone I know."
Progress was infuriatingly slow, because at some point between leaving his room that morning and being sick in an alley that afternoon, Enjolras had become as weak and shaky as a newborn foal. They had to stop once more in a secluded alcove for Enjolras to retch up the remaining contents of his stomach.
Eventually they made it to Enjolras's rooms, despite a hiccup with the stairs (the staircase was really too narrow for the kind of maneuvering it took for Marius to carry the taller Enjolras up it), and Marius tucked him under the covers and set a basin by the bed. Enjolras supposed he should be grateful for the foresight he'd shown in not going further from home.
"Thank you, you can go now," Enjolras mumbled, as his cheeks burned with embarrassment (or possibly fever).
Marius, still panting with the exertion of half-carrying Enjolras home (he was thin but heavier than he looked, and he had been less help on the walk than Marius had anticipated), looked at him with uncertainty in his eyes. "Are you certain you don't need anything else? I can fetch you a doctor. Or Joly."
Enjolras shook his head. "It isn't necessary."
Marius bit his lip. "I don't think I ought to leave you alone. Courfeyrac would never forgive me if you took a turn."
"The worst is past," Enjolras said. "I'm only going to sleep now."
"All the same," Marius said. "I can stay for a while. In case you need something."
"It'll be rather dull."
Marius brightened. "I'll read your books. I'm sure you have rather fascinating ones."
They were both right; Enjolras slept the rest of the day, and Marius was there when he woke, head buried in one of Enjolras's thicker tomes.
"You're here," Enjolras mumbled.
"Good morning," Marius chirped. "How are you feeling?"
"Much healed, I think," Enjolras said. "Did you sleep here?"
"A bit," Marius admitted, as though his mussed hair hadn't told the whole of the story. "Mostly I read. Voltaire has some incredible ideas. I'd like to discuss them with you when you're strong enough."
Enjolras smiled. "I think I'll be awake a while yet, if you don't mind my sitting in bed while we talk."
"Of course! Only if you're sure you don't need to rest."
"I'll get plenty of rest later. We can talk until then. I am interested in what you have to say."
They passed the morning in animated chatter about revolution, until Marius at length noticed Enjolras's flagging energy and ordered him to sleep.
When Enjolras woke again, he felt strong and wholesome once more. Marius, stretched out at the desk, was fast asleep atop a pile of books.
Recitation was the key to any good speech, so it was Enjolras's practice to read his drafts aloud. He was doing precisely this, walking around his rooms in his shirtsleeves, when Joly and Bossuet arrived. They didn't knock—Les Amis rarely did any longer. If Enjolras felt the need for privacy, he needed to barricade the door.
"King's balls, it's freezing!" Joly exclaimed. "Are we protesting the bourgeoisie tradition of firewood now?"
"Don't say we," Bossuet warned. "He may expect us to join him."
Enjolras tsked noncommittally. "If you're uncomfortable, Joly, perhaps you should take advantage of someone else's hospitality."
"No need to be like that," Bossuet chided. "We've come to share with you portions of our new favorite popular romance from the newspaper. It's called 'Mademoiselle's Paramour,' and it's about a young lady's maid who falls in love with a cook's apprentice who betrays her. You will love it!"
"I haven't the time for that drivel," Enjolras sniffed. "I'm working."
"You're always working," Joly countered. "It isn't good for you. And neither is the winter's cold. I swear on my life it is colder in here than it is out there."
"Did you not have time to start a fire, or did you just spend your allowance on candles instead of firewood again?" Bossuet asked. "Where is your coat? I can't believe you're half-dressed in here, I'm freezing my genitals off and I'm fully clothed."
"I'm getting wood," Joly announced. "I shan't catch my death in your horrible apartments, though you surely will."
Bossuet took the speech from Enjolras's fingers with only a small struggle. "My God, your hands are cold. Let's get under some blankets until Joly gets back, and no arguing. It is entirely too cold for bickering."
Enjolras had hardly noticed how badly he had been shivering until he was ensconced in blankets near a roaring fire and he finally felt warm again. Joly and Bossuet continued their joking as though they were not troubled, but they touched him more often than usual, rubbing his arms to keep him warm. Enjolras was not the sort of man who often felt contentment, but on this occasion he came close.
It was snowing thickly as Enjolras arrived at the Café Musain for the last meeting of December. He unwound his scarf from around his face and surveyed the room with disappointment. There were a few patrons, but Les Amis had not braved the cold to meet. Grantaire had come, but as usual Enjolras suspected he wouldn't have bothered if the café didn't serve brandy.
Grantaire looked sober as he plopped down next to Enjolras, but he wouldn't for long if the smell of cognac was anything to go by. "Of course the mighty Apollo isn't frightened of a little ice," Grantaire said. "I might have known."
Enjolras scowled. "Les Amis d'l'ABC should be here. It's just a bit of frozen water."
"It's a snowstorm, Apollo. The sensible thing is to stay inside where one has a chance to stay dry. You're only here because you wouldn't know what to do with a night off. It might actually kill you." Grantaire slung an arm about Enjolras's shoulders, and Enjolras realized he was trembling from cold. "You're soaked. Haven't you a better coat?"
Enjolras shook his head. "Father is cross with me," he explained. "I'm not welcome to an allowance from the family funds any longer. This is all I have." He brought his scarf up to cover his face and smothered a small cough.
"How long have you had that cough, then?" Grantaire asked, eyes dark and serious.
Enjolras shrugged. "I haven't got a cough."
"Yes, you have. You've been coughing since you came in. Ah, there you go again. Would you like a coffee? Since you look so miserable I won't even try to spike it, though you look like you could use a bit of brandy to warm you up. I know," he said, raising his hands in defeat, "you don't do that. I'm going to obey your wishes. I'm only saying that it isn't the worst idea I've had today."
"Don't," Enjolras said, and found himself coughing again. "Don't do that either," he wheezed.
"Don't what?" Grantaire asked, feigning innocence as he passed Enjolras his coffee.
"You know perfectly well the face you were making. I don't need to explain it to you. You're practically the smartest person I know." Enjolras took a sip, feeling the hot liquid burn his raw throat. "Even if you are smug and self-satisfied and too superior to believe in anything."
"It doesn't make me self-satisfied that I recognize that you're clearly ill and you refuse to admit it," Grantaire answered. "It only makes me correct."
"'M not ill."
"Of course, that's the kind of nasty cough healthy people get. My mistake. You still shouldn't be out in this weather without a proper coat."
Enjolras stifled another cough. "I know your chief pleasure in life is to criticize me, but give it a rest this once, will you?"
Grantaire took a swig of his drink. "Did you really say I'm the smartest person you know?"
Enjolras shook his head. "I won't repeat it, and if you ask again I'll take it back."
"You meant after yourself, of course. Self-satisfied, bah. What gives you the right? You are far more self-satisfied than I'll ever be…"
Enjolras did not attend the holiday party hosted by the members of Les Amis who had rejected (or been rejected by) their families; he was not a man who much enjoyed parties. Instead, he worked on posters to put up around the city decrying the various crimes of the aristocracy against the citizens of France and against France herself.
He was not much of an artist (Grantaire could have been useful, but he was not a man to miss a party), and he ruined a few of the illustrations with ink splotches thrown by ill-timed coughs, but by sunrise he had a fairly workable stock of satisfactory posters. He would spend the morning walking around Paris, covertly attaching them to visible parts of landmarks.
It was fortuitous that Paris was quiet on this snowy day after Christmas; it took Enjolras longer than expected to disperse his posters. A pain had begun beneath his ribs which made it difficult to breathe and slowed his walking. Instead of midday, it was full evening before he trudged home, weary and wet to the bone with melted snow but pleased with a job well done.
Next he needed to draw up pamphlets for the tables of the cafés around Paris.
At the first meeting of the new year, Les Amis appeared jollier than before, and better-rested. The break had given them a chance to recover some of the energies expended throughout the tiring winter.
All except Enjolras, who arrived nearly half an hour late, hair in uncustomary disarray, carrying a large box of pamphlets.
"Our fearless leader!" Courfeyrac cheered, and those who had imbibed laughed along with him.
Enjolras set the box down on his table and then hoisted himself atop it to speak. "Citizens!" he shouted over the rabble, noting impatiently how his voice cracked, "I trust you've taken advantage of this break to—" he broke off as a fit of coughing bubbled up, and he pressed one hand against the burning pain in his chest and clasped the other over his mouth.
The coughing got their attention much more quickly than his speech had. By the time he'd blinked the darkness from his watery eyes enough to see their faces, his friends had crowded around the table with serious expressions.
"Are you all right?" Prevaire asked, looking for all the world like a lover in one of his moronic poems about tubercular women.
Enjolras started to laugh at the image, but he choked and started to cough again. This time the handkerchief came away splotched with phlegm and blood. He folded it delicately and tucked it away.
He cleared his throat. "As I was saying," he began, swallowing another cough before it could form, "I—"
"No," Joly said, "not after that display. The meeting is over. Stop trying to talk and just breathe." Joly pulled Enjolras forward so he sat on the edge of the table, and then Joly pressed his ear to Enjolras's back.
He drew a shaky breath, feeling it pull apart the sticky insides of his lungs. The pain in his ribcage flared and then subsided. He started on another breath but couldn't manage it without erupting into more coughing. Pathetic. How could he accomplish revolution if the simple act of breathing was impossible?
He pitched forward into Grantaire, who held him steady while the wracking coughs tore through his body. "You're burning with fever," Grantaire murmured, suddenly seeming more sober and alert than he had moments before. "Damn it, I told you to get that cough seen to."
"It wasn't so bad," Enjolras whispered. He became aware that he was shaking, and of Combeferre's hand stroking his back and Grantaire's smoothing his hair. "Just grippe."
"You've got a damn sight more than grippe," Grantaire growled.
"Pneumonia," Joly said. "I'm almost certain." It was a mark of the gravity of the situation that he hadn't guessed cholera, that he wasn't backing away in fear of contamination. Enjolras had always found these traits tiresome, but now he wished Joly would act more like himself.
"We've got to get him to a physician," someone—Feuilly?—said over his head.
"No point," Joly said, "no one will see him without money and the medicines are hardly better than peppermint tea."
"We've got to get him to bed, then," Combeferre said firmly.
"Where he should have been this whole week," Grantaire spat. "He's had a cough since the last meeting. Instead he made himself worse running about in a blizzard putting up that ridiculous propaganda—"
"Has anyone seen Enjolras's coat?" Courfeyrac interrupted. "I thought it'd be in this damned box but it's just pamphlets."
Grantaire laughed darkly. "And he didn't even wear a coat."
After that, nothing made much sense anymore.
Enjolras came around with a cough, but before he'd opened his eyes he knew it was better. The cough felt smaller and the ache in his lungs was less pronounced. He pushed himself upright.
"Water," Bahorel said, and Enjolras felt the rim of a glass on his lips. "Sip slowly, now."
When he opened his eyes, he saw that he was in his rooms—and so was half of Paris, it seemed.
"You look confused," Courfeyrac said, sounding more amused than worried. "May I take that to mean that Monsieur Enjolras is finally back with us?"
"What's happened?" he croaked.
"After you collapsed at the meeting—very dramatic, by the way, I'm impressed—we brought you home and stayed to look after you. No surprise you don't remember; you were out of your mind with fever most of the way." Courfeyrac put a cool hand to Enjolras's temple. "You feel cooler now."
Grantaire pushed his way over to Enjolras's bedside. He looked as rough as Enjolras felt. "You're really you, this time? You've been in and out with delirium a week, though Joly said the worst had passed yesterday."
"A week?" Enjolras's startled exclamation led to more coughing, and his friends settled him back against the mattress.
"Easy, now," Combeferre crooned. "It wouldn't do to overexcite him so soon into his recovery." He turned to Enjolras. "Do you think you could eat? You probably ought to try a bit of broth. You'll need it to get your strength back."
Enjolras shut his eyes against the bustle of his friends getting him fed.
"I don't understand how you got so ill without telling anyone," Bahorel said, as he brushed Enjolras's hair several days later. The rest of the apartments were quiet as most of Les Amis slept. "You could have asked for help. Joly lives right down the street, for God's sake, and he's nearly a doctor."
Enjolras had been feeling less shaky since his fever finally broke, but still he felt too out of sorts to know what to say. For someone as eloquent as Enjolras, it was a difficult position. "I didn't know how ill I was," he said. "I could work, so I worked."
Bahorel sighed, and he sounded a thousand years old. "You should have come to us sooner. The landlord said he hadn't slept a night solid in ten days because of your coughing." Bahorel's lips twitched with the memory. "Grantaire nearly got you evicted while you were unconscious. He had it out with your landlord."
"He should have sent for a doctor when he realized you were ill. You never would have," Grantaire mumbled from the floor by the bed. "And the pair of you ought to be quieter; there's men trying to sleep."
"Apologies," Enjolras whispered.
"You've got more to apologize for," Grantaire said, sitting up.
Bahorel looked between them and stood. He patted Enjolras on the head. "Don't tire him too much," he said to Grantaire, and left the room.
Grantaire stood, his face hard.
"You aren't angry with me for being ill," Enjolras said. "That wouldn't be just."
"It wouldn't be reasonable."
"Fuck reason," Grantaire hissed. "Do you—you nearly died. Do you realize how—shit." Grantaire sighed. "I'm upsetting you. Combeferre says you shouldn't be upset. You're still very delicate, you know. It will be a long time before you're back to yourself."
Grantaire settled on the edge of the bed and put his palm on Enjolras's cheek. "Do you understand how you worried us?"
"I do, and I'm sorry for that, but I didn't do anything wrong," Enjolras said quietly. "People get ill. I felt all right. I was sure I'd be just fine, as long as I kept working for the cause. Justice doesn't take breaks for grippe."
"I keep thinking—what if you hadn't made it to the meeting? What if you'd been alone?" Grantaire shuddered.
"Have you had a drink today?" Enjolras murmured.
"Maybe you'd better."
Grantaire straightened. "This isn't a joke, you know. Not to me. Your life is every bit as important as your revolution."
"I'm not joking." Enjolras licked his lips. "I can't put myself before the people, Grantaire. You know me. I can't. It isn't that I don't want to take care of myself. I don't know how."
"Maybe you need to learn. It was almost too late."
"Grantaire." Combeferre's voice from the doorway was sharp. "I think you ought to let Enjolras rest."
Grantaire's expression looked familiar—it was the one he got when he was about to argue—but Combeferre said "Now," and Grantaire left. He shot one last loaded look over his shoulder and straight to Enjolras's heart of guilt.
Combeferre smoothed the bedclothes. "I told him not to upset you," he said soothingly.
"He's so angry," Enjolras said, lying down as the weight of his tiredness settled over him. "I don't know what to do."
"He'll get less angry," Combeferre said.
"I don't know how he expects me to notice a cough when my brothers are slaves."
Combeferre chuckled. "That's precisely why he's worried about you. We all are. You've been neglecting yourself for a while."
"We aren't going to leave you to look after yourself again. It doesn't work. Someone's going to stay here with you all the time."
"I'm not a child. I don't need a nanny."
Combeferre caressed Enjolras's hair. "It won't be so different from how it is now. You already complain that you haven't any privacy. This will have the added benefit of keeping you alive."
"I don't suppose there's any point in arguing?"
"No, but that's never stopped you yet." Courfeyrac said, eyes glittering with mirth. "I'd save it until you're breathing properly, though. I know how you'd hate to have to cut off a long-winded speech."
Enjolras made a rude gesture and then settled back against his bed. He smiled despite himself. Someday Les Amis would respect his autonomy.
Someday France would be free.