Author's note: So, um, this is not what I thought I would be writing tonight. What I thought I would be writing was fairly standard hurt/comfort superhusbands fic. What I got was, well, definitely superhusbands. And I suppose it's sort of h/c if you squint. But mostly it's politics. Which, yeah, not really my usual fare. Here's to hoping it's semi-decent anyway?
Enjolras came home to find Combeferre sitting in his favorite chair, head bent over a book. He looked up as Enjolras entered, putting a finger in the book to mark his place and smiling faintly. "I had thought to speak to you," he said. "But you were out."
"The negotiation ran later than expected," Enjolras explained, shedding hat and coat and loosening his cravat. "I'm sorry I kept you waiting."
Combeferre waved this aside with his free hand. "Don't apologize; you didn't know I was coming. And I am quite capable of keeping myself occupied. Did you get the guns?"
"Yes, though for a much higher price than I would have wished," Enjolras said with a sigh. "Had Bahorel not reminded Arnaud of a personal debt we wouldn't have gotten them at all."
Combeferre made an inquisitive sound, to which Enjolras replied with a shrug. "Neither cared to elaborate. I rather suspect it was a matter of questionable legality."
Combeferre gave a small laugh, more a rapid exhalation than a chuckle. "As questionable as the transaction you wished to make?"
Enjolras conceded the point with a laugh of his own and went to set water to heat. "What was it you wanted to discuss?" he asked, twisting to look at his friend.
Combeferre hesitated then shook his head. "It's of little importance," he said. "Tell me more about your meeting with Arnaud. How many guns did you convince him to sell us?"
Enjolras narrowed his eyes slightly, wondering if he should press for an answer to his previous question instead of allowing the subject to change. Combeferre did nothing without a reason and for him to drop a line of conversation before the discussion even began seemed out of character. On the other hand he could have resolved whatever internal dilemma he had meant to discuss while Enjolras was away, thus rendering the original conversation moot. Airing on the side of respecting Combeferre's judgment, Enjolras answered the question he'd asked, not bothering to hide his frustration with Arnaud's attitude.
"I cannot abide by men who claim to be with us but resist giving anything but words," he finished, pouring the now heated water into his coffeepot and getting out cups for the both of them.
"Not all men are as quick or as willing to sacrifice their livelihoods as you or I," Combeferre said. "It is far easier to speak of treason than to commit the act itself."
"People who speak without acting are twice traitors," Enjolras said. "And to value one's safety over the freedom of an entire nation is a coward's act."
"Is it truly cowardly for a man to shrink from the possibility of arrest when he has children to feed?" Combeferre wanted to know. He accepted the cup offered him by Enjolras and leaned forward in his chair. "You should redirect your ire towards the laws that imprison men for their beliefs rather than towards those who seek only to survive."
"And those who do not have as much to lose?" Enjolras insisted. "Arnaud is not a poor man and his wife's family is Parisian; he needn't fear for the fate of his children should he be arrested and yet still he hesitates to take action. Is that not the act of a coward who values his own skin over the liberty of his fellow citizen?"
"You would condemn a man for wanting to raise his children himself and see them grow?" Combeferre asked, raising his eyebrows.
"What good is it to watch one's children grow when they live under a tyrannical and immoral government? And it is better to die martyred for one's cause than to grow old and fat as a traitor to it," Enjolras said.
Something flickered in Combeferre's expression but it vanished too quickly for Enjolras to interpret. "Not everyone is created for martyrdom," he said quietly. "We strive for liberty for all people, including the right of every man to choose his fate." He held up a hand to forestall Enjolras' response. "Mind you, I wish people were more strongly committed to our cause, wish it as much as you. But I also wish you would not be so quick to condemn those who for whatever reason are not."
"I cannot respect those who refuse to back words with deeds," Enjolras said, shaking his head. "I will fight for them, certainly, will give my life in their name if I must, but I cannot respect them. Do not ask that of me, please."
Again something passed across Combeferre's features, a change of expression that barely lasted for the blink of an eye. He inclined his head. "As you wish." For a moment uneasy silence stretched between them. Enjolras resisted the urge to fidget and instead took a long swallow of near-boiling coffee, crossing his legs and then almost immediately uncrossing them again.
"But tell me about the rest of your day," Combeferre said at last, leaning back in his chair again. It was an old chair, purchased second hand when Enjolras first acquired his rooms. Courfeyrac could barely stand to lay eyes on the thing, but Combeferre liked it and so Enjolras would never let his more gregarious friend throw it out. "Surely it was not spent entirely in talks with recalcitrant tailors," Combeferre continued. "Particularly as I am reliably informed that you attended none of your classes this morning."
Enjolras smiled ruefully. "I had a good reason for my truancy, I assure you," he said. "Courfeyrac made contact with a man from Nice—"
"His friend Engler, no?" Combeferre interjected, and Enjolras nodded.
"The very one. He was quite keen to hear what we had to say and spread our message to his fellow countrymen in the south. Unfortunately he had only today to spend informing himself, as he absolutely had to leave Paris by sundown, which made sharing our information with him far more vital than listening to old men mangle the philosophy behind the law for the sake of royalist propaganda."
Combeferre shook his head in amusement at Enjolras' dismissal of the educational system, far too familiar with his friend's views to take any kind of offense. "I take it he left us up to date on everything including the struggle of the Poles and how wooing politicians' daughters helps our cause?" he asked.
Enjolras laughed. "The latter certainly, though Courfeyrac did make a point to remind us that he is discerning in his tastes and spends as much of his time passing out informational pamphlets at parties as he does sneaking through windows. I left Poland for another time, as I am nowhere near as informed as our more valiant comrade on the subject and I would not do him the insult of misrepresenting his passion."
"And how is the situation in Nice?" Combeferre wanted to know. "Did Engler have any news?"
Enjolras nodded and set to recounting his conversations with Engler, repeating the man's words as accurately as possible. Combeferre asked for clarification a few times but otherwise let Enjolras speak uninterrupted.
At last Enjolras ran out of things to say and Combeferre rose. "I won't intrude on you any longer," he said. "I'm sorry for dropping by so unexpectedly."
"You know that my home is yours," Enjolras assured him, also rising. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Of course," Combeferre assured him, clasping his hand in farewell. "I hope you have an excellent evening."
"And you," Enjolras said, walking his friend to the door. He watched Combeferre walk down the hall and turn the corner, frowning slightly. Something felt off, though he couldn't have said what. Slowly, he closed the door and went back to his seat, picking up the now stone cold mug of coffee. Mentally he replayed the conversation, trying to figure out what exactly made him so uneasy. This was not the first time he and Combeferre had disagreed on matters of personal philosophy; indeed their entire friendship was partially founded on one such a disagreement. So why then did this one feel particularly wrong?
His eye fell on the book Combeferre had been reading as he waited. Crossing the room Enjolras picked it up to find that it was his rather battered copy of Candide, a book Combeferre knew practically by heart. His apprehension grew further. Combeferre had come to talk to him, Enjolras remembered, and had then left without saying his piece. Neither had he talked about his day, though normally he willingly shared details of his work. Had something happened? Enjolras' mind flashed back to the flickers of emotion that had crossed his friend's face and his heart sank further. He should have insisted that Combeferre talk, should have postponed his recounting of the day to tease out Combeferre's true feelings.
Almost without realizing it Enjolras moved to fetch his coat and hat. Combeferre lived close by; he should have reached his rooms by now. Without giving himself time to change his mind Enjolras stepped outside, mentally rehearsing what he would say to Combeferre as he made his way towards his friend's home. The walk took only a few minutes and soon Enjolras found himself outside Combeferre's door. He knocked.
Combeferre looked surprised as he opened his door. He'd stripped down to just his shirtsleeves and removed his shoes and he looked tired, though he smiled at Enjolras. "Is everything all right?" he asked.
"What did you want to speak to me about earlier?" Enjolras asked, the words coming out in a rush.
Combeferre blinked and his smile faded. "Nothing," he said. "It's not important."
Enjolras wanted to remind his usually linguistically precise friend that unimportant things were not nothing but he refrained. That line of conversation would lead to a debate about semantics and colloquialisms which, while it promised to be both educational and engaging, was not the conversation he had come to have. So instead he said, "You were reading Voltaire. You only reread books when something is troubling you."
Combeferre's lips twitched though his eyes remained serious. "You know me far too well," he said, stepping back to let Enjolras in. "I cannot convince you that it was nothing and that you've far more important things to concern yourself with?"
"There is almost nothing I consider more important than your well being," Enjolras said.
Combeferre gave him an odd look. "Would I rank before or after your mistress?" he asked, and immediately looked chagrined. "That was uncalled for, I'm sorry."
Enjolras frowned, an unpleasant suspicion growing in his stomach. "Combeferre," he asked carefully. "Have I done something to upset you?
Combeferre sighed, waving Enjolras to a seat. "Can I get you something?" he asked.
Enjolras shook his head, apprehension filling him further.
"You have done nothing save be yourself," Combeferre assured him, sitting down himself and taking his cup in hand. "I should not expect anything else of you."
This did nothing to relieve Enjolras' concern. Combeferre, who could read him better than any man alive, sighed a little. "It's not you," he said. "I merely had a… philosophical disagreement with a classmate this morning and allowed my anger at him to bleed into my interactions with you. Again, I apologize."
"It's perfectly all right," Enjolras said. "What did you argue about?"
"You," Combeferre admitted, and Enjolras blinked, not having expected that answer. Combeferre took a drink from his cup then set it down, twisting his fingers together and fixing his gaze somewhere above Enjolras' left shoulder. "I allowed my temper to get the better of me, I'm afraid."
"What did he say?" Enjolras asked, frowning. Combeferre almost never lost his temper, and to hear that he had done so over Enjolras made him feel decidedly strange.
"Nothing I care to repeat," Combeferre said. "It's nothing you should be concerned with, truly. I will make my apologies to him in the morning and no doubt the matter will be closed."
Someone who knew Combeferre less well might have left the matter at that. Certainly the dark haired man seemed quite intent on closing the subject. Enjolras, however, was both more persistent than most and quite experienced at reading the lines of Combeferre's words. "Humor my vanity," he said. "I'm curious to hear what sort of reputation I have managed to develop at the medical school."
Combeferre made a noise that was not quite a snort. "You do a poor impression of Courfeyrac," he said.
"I'm sure he will forgive me," Enjolras said, raising his eyebrows in a silent assurance that he was not about to drop the subject this time.
"Enjolras," Combeferre said, then sighed. "If you must know, my classmate was under the impression that you lacked several vital human emotions, particularly the capacity for compassion. I corrected his misconceptions."
"You needn't have," Enjolras said. "My reputation is of little importance—"
"Enjolras," Combeferre interrupted, voice tight. "It is not a matter of reputation, it is a matter of character defamation. You will find that I am not the only one ready to defend it, merely the only one foolish enough to admit to it in your presence." His lips twisted into a slight grimace. "If you must, consider it in terms of the cause – the people will not rise for a man who does not care about them."
"I do care!" Enjolras said hotly.
"Of course you do," Combeferre agreed. "And no one who knows you would dream of saying otherwise, probably not even stubborn Arnaud. But those who know you only by reputation are far more numerous than those of us fortunate enough to call you a friend and it is they who must be convinced."
Enjolras was about to point out that anyone sufficiently dedicated to the cause would surely rise regardless of who sounded the call when something occurred to him. "Our conversation earlier," he began.
"Did remind me of the disagreement, yes," Combeferre admitted. "Though that was not an excuse to be short with you, and again I ask your forgiveness."
"It should be me asking that of you," Enjolras said, shame roiling in his belly. "I never meant to upset you, my friend."
"I know you better than anyone," Combeferre reminded him. "I know your opinions on these matters, even if I don't agree with all of them. Hearing you speak them aloud didn't upset me, nor did it make me regret defending you in the slightest."
Enjolras grimaced, reminded again how easily Combeferre could read his unspoken thoughts. "Is it really that important?" he asked. "I know how important it is that you stay in good standing among your peers. Is my reputation, or my character, really so crucial?"
Combeferre laughed, shaking his head. "You, my friend, would make a terrible politician," he said dryly. "It is extremely crucial. The people will rise for a leader they love far more readily than for a cause they only barely understand. Some will be satisfied with a vision of the future, certainly, but not the majority. If they have only that and stories of a man who cares more for his ideals than his fellow men they will stay safe in their beds when we sound the call."
"So you think I should become more like Courfeyrac?" Enjolras asked, frowning.
"Certainly not. I would never dream of asking you to change," Combeferre assured him. "And certainly you've the ability to inspire any who hear you speak, that you've proved several times over. Though you could stand to remember occasionally that others might not appreciate being held to your admirably high standards."
"I cannot talk you out of arguing with your classmates about me?" Enjolras wanted to know. "I hate being the cause of your grief."
"Would you rather I stand around and listen to people insult my dearest friend?" Combeferre returned. "Anyway, I know you would do the same for any of us in a heartbeat."
Enjolras ducked his head, acknowledging the point. Again silence stretched between them, this time companionable and without tension. Finally Enjolras shook his head. "I do not deserve my friends," he announced.
"Certainly you do," Combeferre said, amusement dancing in his eyes. "Who among us could step up to inspire even the most cynical among us if not you? Your steady vision of the future serves to lead us to a brighter tomorrow. Besides, without you we would have to let Courfeyrac make all the speeches and that would be a disaster."
Despite himself Enjolras laughed. "When you put it that way," he said. He met Combeferre's eyes, sobering completely. "My vision would mean nothing without your input," he said seriously. "I could never have hoped to find a better friend than you. I will endeavor to give you less reason to fight your classmates in the future."
Combeferre smiled and reached out across the short distance that separated both their chairs. Enjolras met him halfway, intertwining his fingers with Combeferre's. They did not speak, the contact conveying everything that needed to be said between them.