Author's note: So this fic was inspired by another of Hammy's always fantastic drawings, which was used as the cover because ff dot net doesn't allow links. I'm not entirely certain I like it (the fic, not the drawing, obviously) but I'm not sure quite what's wrong with it so I can't fix it either. If you think it doesn't ring true I'd appreciate feedback on how to improve it, because I can't quite put my finger on what's wrong.
It was dark enough when Combeferre returned to the barricade that Enjolras could only barely make him out. The young doctor, sash and cockade notwithstanding, had been deemed the most likely of all the leaders at the barricade to pass for respectable, and so had been sent to gather news and support while he still could. He returned now, clambering awkwardly over the barricade, his face thrown into deep shadow. Enjolras was there to meet him, hand outstretched to help his friend down.
"What did you," he began and then stopped because Combeferre was gripping his hand tightly enough to hurt and his free arm was pressed tightly against his side in a way that could mean only one thing. He half fell down the last part of the barricade, staggering and nearly falling into Enjolras the moment his feet touched the ground. Enjolras caught him, letting out a shout that brought the others running.
"What happened?" Enjolras asked, guiding Combeferre towards the makeshift infirmary.
"One of the guardsmen outside was wounded," Combeferre said, forcing his voice out through clenched teeth. "I had to help."
Enjolras had no reply to that, not when his emotions had been kicked into a whirl and the clearest of them all was a bone deep terror that had nothing to do with his own impending death. So he held his friend tightly instead, barely even seeing the men who scrambled to get out of their way.
He made Combeferre sit the moment they got inside. Combeferre was still holding his hand, an all-too familiar expression on his face despite his obvious pain. Enjolras turned his head away before Combeferre could attempt to reassure him, eyes scanning the men hovering anxiously by the door.
"Joly!" he yelled, not seeing the medical student among the assembled protestors.
"I'm here." Joly's voice came from behind Enjolras, containing only the faintest of tremors. His hands too did not shake as he methodically stripped off Combeferre's shirt and waistcoat, both bloody beyond repair. Joly hissed when he saw the wound in Combeferre's side, a jagged gash that still bled. Even Enjolras, not well versed at all in matters of medicine, could tell that it was severe. He wanted to look away, wanted to close his eyes and ignore the ugly red dripping down Combeferre's skin, but he owed it to his men to be strong and to his friends to be present. He kept his eyes open.
"Water," Joly called, even as Bossuet emerged from the shadows carrying a basin and the cleanest possible rags. Joly took these with a nod of thanks and turned back to Combeferre. "This will hurt," he said, voice still calm despite his pallor.
Combeferre nodded tightly and Joly set to work. The moment his careful fingers touched Combeferre's side the man hissed, clenching Enjolras' hand and gritting his teeth together even more tightly. Enjolras squeezed back, desperately wishing he could take his friend's pain into himself. He was prepared to suffer physical pain, was glad to in service of the cause, but to watch Combeferre suffer was harder even than he had thought it would be.
He realized that Joly was talking, his voice low and rapid, and made an effort to pay attention. "...pain," Joly was saying, and Combeferre shook his head.
"I need to keep my mind," he said.
Enjolras and Joly frowned simultaneously. "You're certain?" Enjolras asked, even as Joly said, "You shouldn't suffer so on our account."
Combeferre looked up at Enjolras. His face was pale and sweating, contorted into a grimace that spoke to the amount of pain he felt, but his eyes were determined. In them Enjolras read acceptance and certainty and strength and he swallowed hard.
"Wine," he heard himself say, voice foreign to his own ears. "Give him wine to take the edge off at least."
Joly began to protest but Enjolras fixed him with a look and he stayed silent, though the press of his lips made it clear that he disagreed with the order. But Enjolras was his leader and so Joly nodded tightly and began to wrap a bandage around Combeferre's torso. Bossuet appeared with a bottle and Enjolras took it from him with only the slightest nod of thanks. Bossuet was not smiling, his normally happy face now transformed into a mask of concern. Enjolras did not care to imagine how he himself must look.
"You will stay here," Joly said, his voice leaving no room for argument. Despite everything Enjolras could not help but appreciate how admirably the normally nervous Joly performed in a crisis. "If you must know what's going on outside we can send runners, but you will not leave this room until I personally permit it."
Combeferre said nothing as Joly finished tying the bandage. With a warning look in Enjolras' direction Joly rose and went to join Bossuet, putting his supplies within easy reach. Outside the press of men had not lessened but Enjolras paid them no attention. Feuilly and Courfeyrac could organize them.
"Drink," Enjolras said, offering Combeferre the bottle. Combeferre hesitated but took it, hands trembling slightly. He drank deeply, wincing as he paused to inhale. "What happened?" Enjolras asked.
"There was a guardsman," Combeferre said, just as he had earlier. "Wounded but not badly, barely a block away from here. I paused to see what I could do for him and his fellows thought I was either attacking him or robbing his corpse. They did not take the time to verify which before they attacked."
"Brutes, the lot of them." Enjolras looked up to see Courfeyrac standing behind him, tension evident on his face despite the lightness of his words. "You ought to have left him to rot, though no doubt the thought never even crossed your mind." His eyes shifted to Enjolras. "Enjolras, you're wanted outside. Where shall I tell Valrois to put his complaints?"
For a moment Enjolras was tempted to take Courfeyrac's offer, to stay in this room with Combeferre and leave the men to fend for themselves for a time. Almost immediately he dismissed that thought. To stay here when his men needed him would be the height of selfishness. In this moment more than any other he belonged, not to himself, but to his republic, to the people who fought with and under him, to the ideal he had worked so long to achieve. He rose.
"I'll see to them," he said, even as Combeferre let go of his hand. Belatedly Enjolras realized that his own shirt was stained with Combeferre's blood. He forced himself to look away from Combeferre, knowing he must be strong for them all. Courfeyrac took his place and Enjolras left the infirmary, pulling their cause over himself like a cloak and allowing the republic's familiar embrace to lend strength to his voice and steadiness to his eyes. Almost immediately the men converged upon him, some scared, others determined, many angry. Combeferre was well liked.
"He will live," Enjolras announced, and a ripple of relief passed through the assembled men. "Feuilly," he said, eyes finding the workingman's. "What have you to report?"
After Feuilly's report came others, men of all classes speaking in turn to tell of their concerns and the things they had learned. Enjolras directed them without hesitation, offering orders and inspiration as needed until all the men had been heard and given tasks. At last he ducked back into the infirmary, finding Courfeyrac still seated next to a now sleeping Combeferre. He looked up as Enjolras entered, worry lines still deep in his face.
"He fell asleep a few minutes ago," Courfeyrac said, his voice barely a whisper. "I didn't want to wake him to call Joly."
Enjolras nodded, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. Courfeyrac's muscles were hard with tension. "Let him sleep," he said. "There's nothing that needs his attention and he will want to be awake for the fighting."
"Joly will have our heads and his if we let him fight," Courfeyrac murmured, once more looking down at their sleeping friend. Combeferre's face was still terribly pale, the blood at his side staining the lovingly tied bandages. He looked fragile, something Enjolras would never have thought to associate with his friend. Yet even asleep and injured Enjolras could see the strength emanating from the young doctor, the conviction and humanity that had made him stop to help the guardsman in the first place and allowed him to sit through this ordeal with only whimpers to show for his pain.
"The decision rests in his hands, not ours," Enjolras said, and Courfeyrac understood as well as he that he did not mean Joly. Enjolras let go of Courfeyrac just long enough to pull a chair over and sit down close to his friends. Combeferre breathed shallowly but regularly, while Courfeyrac could not take his eyes off the bandages standing out starkly against Combeferre's skin.
"It never occurred him to walk past a man in need and not offer his help," Courfeyrac said. "He would have done the same for the King himself. And they tried to kill him for it." His voice was bitter. Enjolras reached out to take his free hand.
"When we build the republic no man will be hurt for trying to help another," Enjolras said, and as he spoke he could see the future clear as day behind his eyes, could see his friends standing at his sides as they looked down upon a land freed of tyranny and suffering. He did not know it, but his eyes were shining with the image, and his hair seemed to increase slightly in radiance despite the dirt and blood that covered him. Courfeyrac said nothing, drawing strength from Enjolras' conviction, and beside them Combeferre shifted in his sleep, the tiniest hint of a smile peeking out through his pain-filled expression.