The weeks leading up to Christmas were always hard for Feuilly. The short days meant that, aside from Sundays, he never saw his room in anything even resembling daylight. He had to leave for work while it was still dark enough to see the stars and didn't return until late, often with more work to complete by dim candlelight.
On the one hand, he felt he shouldn't complain about the extra workload — given how much business slowed during the winter, the burst of orders for fans for Christmas and New Year's presents and parties helped him build up his savings against the next couple of months, when his hours (and pay) would most likely be cut back. On the other hand, it left him with little time to apply to his self-education, Les Amis activities, or much else beyond the cycle of work, eat, sleep.
So it was a bit of a treat one Saturday evening to be able to go to the Corinthe after work. The skies were releasing an indecisive mixture of rain, sleet, and snow, changeable from one minute to the next, leaving icy puddles treacherously hiding in the areas where the streetlights didn't reach. But inside the wineshop, it was dry and, at the table Combeferre waved him over to, warm with the heat radiating off of the chimney.
"Feuilly, my friend, how are you? I feel as though I've hardly seen you the last couple of weeks. I'm afraid I've been largely absent — you would be amazed at the injuries people manage to do to themselves as they try to make ready for the holiday. And my family has decided that a Parisian holiday is in order, so I have been making endless preparations for their visit."
"You're not alone at being busy. The workload at the atelier seems to have doubled overnight."
"So we have both been missing each other then. Ah, but here," Combeferre said, shuffling through the pile of papers at his side. "The latest news from Italy — there's an article on Menutti that I think you'll want to read. Oh, and try the stew. It's surprisingly edible."
"'Edible,'" Feuilly echoed. "High praise indeed." He ordered a bowl of it anyhow, and afterward sat in companionable silence with Combeferre while they shared a bottle of wine and read — Combeferre taking notes from a thick book on geology, and Feuilly perusing the newspaper.
After awhile, though, the combination of the warmth of the room, his full belly, and long hours started to get to Feuilly, and he found himself starting to nod. He was quite certain that he had only closed his eyes for a second when suddenly, he heard someone calling his name.
"Feuilly?" It was Enjolras. The wineshop had largely emptied out, and where Combeferre had been sitting, Jean Prouvaire was perched. Combeferre himself was nowhere to be seen.
Feuilly blinked, suddenly aware of a crick in his neck and the weight of his coat, draped around his shoulders. He sat up, and then, realizing that the newspaper was stuck to his face, peeled it off. Jehan let out a snort of laughter.
"What?" Feuilly asked.
"Your face. It's…" Jehan trailed off and gestured towards his cheek.
Feuilly ran his fingers over his face, feeling nothing. "What's on my face?"
Enjolras peered at him. "Part of a paragraph on the Piedmont. Apparently the printer of your paper used cheap ink."
"Ugh." Feuily scrubbed at his face. "Is it still on there?"
"It's mostly gone. Just a faint smudge, right — there, you got it."
"I'm surprised to see you two still here," Feuilly said. "I would have thought you'd have left for the Midi by now. It will take you a few days to get home, won't it?"
"I'm leaving the day after tomorrow," Enjolras said, "But we tracked you down tonight because Prouvaire is leaving tomorrow morning, and he has something to give you."
"To give me?" Feuilly asked.
Jehan's embarrassed blush was visible even in the shadow cast by the lamplight. "It's not much," he said, handing over a bundle tied with a green ribbon, "but happy early Christmas." At Feuilly's hesitant look, he added, "You can untie it now if you like."
Feuilly picked at the knotted ribbon and freed what turned out to be a long, red-and-white striped scarf. "Oh," he said. "Oh, Prouvaire, this is — but I can' t accept this. I didn't get you anything."
"I didn't make it for you because I wanted something in return," Jehan said. "I made it because you're my friend and because I wanted to give you something nice and useful and because I knit when I get bored and I have a terrible lot of scarves already because I can make them to the meter of Dante and I thought you would like this one because it has the colors of the Polish cockades."
"Thank you," Feuilly said once he had processed this avalanche of words. "It is very fine indeed."
Jehan grinned. "You are quite welcome. I am off to Courfeyrac's next, to see if he is in and to give him his scarf. Would you care to join me?"
Feuilly yawned. "I'm afraid that I should probably go home to sleep in my own bed. But you wouldn't happen to be stopping by Combeferre's as well, would you? This paper is his, and I need to give it back."
"No, we met him here earlier this evening, and I gave him his scarf then," Jehan said.
"I will surely be seeing him before I leave," Enjolras said. "I can give it to him then. Will you be all right getting home by yourself, Feuilly, or would you like some company?"
"I should be fine," Feuilly said. "It's but a short walk, and doubtless out of your way." He put some coins on the table to pay for his meal.
"Well, if you are certain," Enjolras said. "Get home safely, and a merry Christmas to you."
"Merry Christmas to you two, as well, and safe travels," Feuilly said.