In the aftermath of July, once Enjolras had been deemed, if not recovered, well on his way to being so, he’d been permitted a leave from his work. This was a practical necessity, a concession to his inability to operate a printing press with his current injuries. Yet there was also a sentiment behind it, an acknowledgement that Enjolras had a father who might like to see him after nearly losing him. Thus Enjolras was permitted to take time off, on the condition that he use it to travel south and see his family. This was almost expected, after the anxious letter M. Enjolras had written in reply to Combeferre’s own letter informing him of his son’s condition.
The surprise came when Enjolras (the younger) had shown up first on Combeferre’s doorstep, asking if he might like to travel south with him.
“I thought by now you would have grown tired of my company,” Combeferre teased, “trapped as you were in my rooms for the past few weeks.” Indeed Enjolras had been restless and, finally, insistent on returning to his own apartment as soon as he could manage it.
“Never,” Enjolras answered earnestly. “Your presence was and will remain a comfort to me.”
There was no way to respond to Enjolras’s painful sincerity, disarming and penetrating as it was, except with acceptance and agreement. Combeferre prepared his things and made arrangements to be away for two weeks.
A second surprise came in seeing how very ordinary the Enjolras family was, despite its small size. The knowledge that Enjolras had not seen his father since he’d begun his apprenticeship had given Combeferre the impression that they were not close. Seeing the way that father embraced son, and the very easy smile on Enjolras’s face that rose in response, proved otherwise. And gratifying though it was to see the way Enjolras’s father fussed over him, and the long-suffering look directed at Combeferre in response, it reminded him of his own family – of his mother fussing over his sisters.
More gratifying still was the way that Enjolras seemed to become a different person in the fresh summer air outside of Paris. His visible exhaustion, pallor, and uncharacteristic listlessness had all disappeared; Enjolras was fresh-faced, alert, and had an almost childlike exuberance in the way he led Combeferre around, and even in the way he made introductions, a sharp contrast to his ordinary polite but cool demeanor.
One evening found the two of them outdoors and alone for what seemed like the first time in the whirlwind of activity that had surrounded Enjolras’s return home. It was then that Combeferre could see the familiar lines of exhaustion in his face – but this seemed a much healthier sort of tiredness, and the flush on his face from exertion was a healthy, rosy color rather than the mark of fever that Combeferre had grown used to.
The two of them had sat down by the side of a small stream, Enjolras first nestling his head against Combeferre’s shoulder and closing his eyes.
“You’re tired,” Combeferre pointed out needlessly, earning only a small hum of acknowledgement in response. “Why don’t we go back home, and you might go to bed?”
“No,” said Enjolras, quiet but firm, opening his blue eyes and smiling faintly. “I am exhausted still from the walk here. I should like to rest a little while first. And besides…” He trailed off for a moment, and Combeferre reached a hand up to tangle in his hair. “Besides, I invited you with me as my companion, and I’ve hardly had a moment of peace with you since we arrived.”
Pleased by the synchrony of their thoughts, Combeferre touched his head to Enjolras’s for a moment, and then shifted, resting his back against a nearby tree and stretching his legs out. “Rest, then, Enjolras. Let’s take a moment for ourselves, and you can tell me what you originally intended in bringing me out here. Unless it was simply for me to steal you away?” Enjolras met his playful smile, but shook his head, obliging in lying against his lap and closing his eyes.
“I used to play here, as a child,” he murmured slowly, a far-off tone in his voice. It was one that Combeferre recognized, the same one he used when discussing what the future would look like. And now, carrying traces of memory. Perhaps for Enjolras they were the same thing. “It was one of the only times I’d see other children. I’d come home with muddy clothes and my father would play fondly exasperated.” Combeferre began stroking his hair again and Enjolras mumbled something under his breath before continuing. “He didn’t really mind it, though, of course. Not until I fell in the stream and grew sick. I was… rather a sickly child. Once…”
Combeferre was not sure of the direction this story was taking, although of course he did not mind listening to Enjolras, and even less learning about his childhood. He waited a minute or so (Enjolras occasionally trailed off in this way in speech, and he’d learned to be patient if he wanted to hear his thoughts in full) before realizing that Enjolras was not continuing after all. Puzzled, he glanced down at Enjolras and paused in touching his hair. “Once? Yes, Enjolras?” he prompted.
“Hm,” Enjolras murmured in response, moving his head slightly against Combeferre’s hand, and settling once Combeferre began to rub his fingers gently against his scalp.
Letting out a quiet breath of amusement, Combeferre lowered his tone and softened his voice. “Ah, I see,” he breathed, closing his eyes and smiling. So his exhaustion had not left him after all, but now Combeferre could feel only affection without the worry that Enjolras would not wake. “Then I will let you rest a little while, as you asked for.”
Several hours later, after the stars blanketed the sky, Combeferre led Enjolras home with muddy clothes.