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Enjolras took a deep breath before he turned the key and let himself silently into Combeferre's flat. In his misery, he felt certain that his friend would be expecting him. As it was, Combeferre had not even heard him. He looked up from his reading only when Enjolras stopped in the doorway between the tiny bedroom and the even smaller sitting room.

"Oh, Jeannot," the older student sighed, marking his place before putting his book away. "What is it this time?" his voice was more saddened than exasperated. He had expected Enjolras sometime that week, knew he was overdue for one of his visits.

Silently, Enjolras proffered a folded broadside. Combeferre glanced at it. "Yes, La Lumiere. Joly gave me a copy in class yesterday." Copies of the republican journal were regularly smuggled between Les Amis and their compatriots.

"I had an article ready for submission." Enjolras' voice broke, and he lowered his head as he made his confession. "Lacking only a few paragraphs, and I—I missed the deadline."

Combeferre tilted his head. "You know they go to press irregularly, since it is hard to find paper and materials--"

"I know," Enjolras cut him off. "But I've been corresponding with the editor. I knew when this edition would be printed, and yet I failed to have the article ready for submission."

Combeferre sighed. "You were tinkering with it." He knew the pains that his friend took to craft each word and allusion perfectly, as though his life depended on the skill of his rhetoric.

Enjolras said nothing, only sagged in the doorway, hair falling over his closed eyes.

"Very well," Combeferre said crisply, pushing his chair away as he stood. "Let us make no bones about why you're here." He took the newspaper from Enjolras and folded it over and over itself until he had a stiff piece about a foot long. "Open your mouth." Enjolras obeyed, and Combeferre placed the paper in his mouth. "Bite down. Taste the ink. Perhaps it will help you keep silent."

The paper clenched in his teeth, Enjolras began to undress, folding each article of clothing neatly on a chair as he did. He knew from previous sessions that for all Combeferre's own clutter, he did not tolerate untidiness in others. When he had at last removed his smallclothes and stood shivering before his friend, he dared to lift his eyes to meet the other man's. Gone was the light of revolution, Combeferre saw. Instead there was only a familiar, mild fear and a faint hopefulness.

"Turn around," Combeferre order when he could not bear it anymore. "I imagine your tongue is black now. Is it bitter, the flavor of all those words that are not yours?" He had found it easy to be crueler of late. Enjolras did not, could not, reply. Instead, he braced himself against the lintels of the door, awaiting what he'd come for.

Combeferre removed from his bureau his thickest leather belt, unsold in his poverty solely because of the effect it produced on his dearest friend. He doubled it over, snapping it loudly. "How many could have read your words and been inspired to action? How many, lost to our cause because you fretted over commas?" His voice rose and sharpened, and Enjolras flinched.

"Don't move. You know this warrants at least a dozen strokes, if not two, and I shall not be lenient. Those who shirk their duty to the republic do not deserve leniency."

The belt cracked down once, twice, three times in quick succession, branding welts across smooth, fair flesh. Enjolras did not move. Steeling himself, Combeferre dealt half a dozen more strokes, more slowly but far harder. Enjolras groaned.

"Silence." Combeferre continued to strike the reddened, swollen curves of his friend’s buttocks, ignoring the younger man's tortured flinching. "Your pen will not be heard, and neither will your cringing moans."

A dozen strokes laid down, he paused to assess the damage. Enjolras was breathing heavily around the paper gag, but he was not begging, and his skin was not broken. Combeferre knew that if he stopped now, his friend would feel cheated. "Halfway done," he said quietly. "Compose yourself, and I will finish quickly."

He could not bring himself to lose control completely, however, and so he measured out the strokes quickly but with as much precision as his shaking hands could manage, painting welts over tense, white thighs while Enjolras struggled to hold himself still. When the twenty-fourth stroke had fallen, Combeferre found himself out of breath. As for Enjolras, he was shaking silently in the doorway. Combeferre turned him gently around and softly removed the folded newspaper from his mouth. Tongue and lips were indeed black, and he wiped at them tentatively. "You took that very well. Would you like some brandy?"

He poured a tumbler for himself as Enjolras shook his head. "Thank you, no." Stiffly, he bent to retrieve his clothes and began to dress. Combeferre watched him, marveling at the change in his friend and leader.

"Will you be all right?" he ventured, as he always did.

Enjolras nodded, not meeting his eyes. "Of course. You’ve absolved me, as always, and you have my thanks." Long fingers ran up the buttons of his waistcoat.

Combeferre reached for his shoulders, feeling strange that another encounter should end like this. "Jeannot..."

Enjolras shrugged him off. "You’ve cared for me in the only way I need, my friend. I won’t make the same mistake again.”

But Combeferre knew he would make others, knew that though others might see Enjolras as a paragon of republican ideals, the ideal himself felt all too flawed. And he had chosen Combeferre to wield the instrument of his purification. He supposed he should feel lucky.

He sighed. "Be careful how you go. The streets aren’t safe.

Enjolras nodded. He would not stay the night, had never done so, never let Combeferre salve his wounds. He touched the older man lightly on the shoulder, saying 'thank you’ quietly again, and then he went out into the darkness, a little lighter.

For his part, Combeferre went to bed, knowing he’d be unable to concentrate on his schoolbooks, but it was some time before he could sleep.

Chapter Text

Combeferre hadn’t even bothered to lock his door after returning home from Corinth, merely removed his cravat and shoes and sat down to wait. Not half an hour had passed when the door opened and Enjolras slipped inside. Combeferre made a show of putting his newspaper away and looking at his watch. “You were fifteen minutes late to the meeting.”

Lips pressed tightly together, Enjolras nodded. He removed his own cravat and began unbuttoning his shirt and waistcoat at the same time, fingers shaking. Gone was the fiery if slightly flustered speaker Combeferre had listened to earlier, and in his place was the anxious boy he called Jeannot only when they were alone like this.

“Would you care to tell me why?” Combeferre asked, trying to make his voice hard. He was tired and cold: there’d been a long exam that day, and the wind was blowing fiercely outside. But Enjolras needed things carried out a certain way, and he would do his best.

“My lecture ran long.” Enjolras was naked to the waist now. “And I had a small argument with the instructor afterwards.”

Combeferre’s sigh was genuine. “And what good did that do?”

“None at all,” Enjolras admitted quietly.

“None at all.” Combeferre sat up slightly as Enjolras toed off his shoes and stepped out of the rest of his clothes. The younger man shivered, half from the chill in the room and half from shame at his own nakedness. “And you arrived at the meeting disheveled and cross and missing half your notes.” Combeferre doubted that anyone else in the room had noticed the amount of extemporizing going on, but he had, since he’d made some additions to those very notes the night before.

Enjolras’ hands balled into fists at his sides. He did not like to be kept waiting himself, Combeferre knew, especially while receiving a lecture in the nude. Combeferre also knew that this night was about what his leader needed, not what he wanted, so he let him wait a moment longer before he spread his legs and patted his knee. “Come here.”

Enjolras’ mouth twitched twice before he complied, stepping forward to fold himself over Combeferre’s knee with unwilling grace. It was only the second time the older man had chosen to punish him this way. He had not been expecting it, and Enjolras prided himself in knowing the order in which things should go.

Combeferre smiled at his uneasy compliance and rested a hand on the small of his friend’s back. Even he touched Enjolras so seldomly flesh to flesh. And so, still smiling, he brought his right hand down sharply on the offered, smartly upturned ass.

Enjolras started, so Combeferre repeated the smack twice, then twice more, and then he had found a rhythm of blows sharp enough to make his friend grunt but not so hard as to hurt his hand. He did not cease until the buttocks before him were a fine rosy pink and Enjolras was squirming in spite of himself. “You are not cold now,” Combeferre mused rhetorically. “And you will not be late again.”

“I will not,” came the voice stiffly from somewhere near the floor, and Enjolras attempted to lever himself upright, having clearly decided that enough was enough.

Combeferre disagreed, and held him down. “Did your tutor never tell you it is naughty to be late to lessons?” Enjolras did not answer, so Combeferre resumed smacking him, harder this time, each blow leaving a pale handprint that soon swelled and reddened.

“I quite enjoy this,” Combeferre remarked, at though about a game of darts, prefacing each word with a cruel slap. “It is far more agreeable than lashing you until you bruise, and it will certainly do you less lasting harm.”

Enjolras had begun to struggle in earnest some time before, and now he redoubled his efforts, making strangled cries of sound disagreement. “You are quite red,” Combeferre told him, pausing. “As red as your favorite coat. It is…revolutionary.” He was teasing, he knew, and it was really not fair to his poor friend who had offered himself up all unknowing, expecting a simple beating and nothing more.

For his part, Enjolras was making it as clear as he could without actually saying so that he had had quite enough of this spanking business, thank you, and would like it to be over right now, if Combeferre pleased.

Combeferre did not please. As red as the perfect rump before him had become, he felt a strange urge to see it a deeper, angrier shade of crimson, and so he redoubled his efforts, spanking with short, smart strokes that made Enjolras tremble and cry aloud. The cries grew steadily more distressed until they peaked in one final, cresting note and he stiffened and began to shiver once more.

At first Combeferre saw no reason to cease his punishment, but then he noticed the pulsing warmth spreading over his thighs. “Jeannot?”

The younger man would not look up at him. “I must apologize,” he said after a moment, his voice husky with shame. “I seem to have…embarrassed myself.”

“You seem to, yes.” Combeferre tried to keep his voice gentle and refrain from laughing as he rubbed soothing circles on his friend’s back. “It’s just as well these trousers are old.”

“I will have them washed,” Enjolras promised. “And I— this would not have happened if you had dealt with me in the usual way,“ he finished hotly as he struggled to rise.

“This would not have happened if you allowed yourself release once in a while,” Combeferre shot back, holding him in place easily.

“I allow myself what is necessary,” Enjolras argued through gritted teeth.

“Which is to say nothing at all, not even the touch of your own hand.” They had had similar discussions in the past, though more civilly and always in the abstract.

“I need no distractions, nothing to dull my focus. You do not go to the races as the others do, or you would know that the horses are not allowed so much as a sniff of a mare until they’re past their prime. It makes them faster.”

“Horse racing is barbaric,” Combeferre told him, pressing down. “And you do not go to the races either, so how is it you know?”

“My father kept stallions,” Enjolras admitted. “And mistresses. I need no such indulgences.”

“It need not be a mistress,” Combeferre thought about putting in, but refrained. Instead, he sighed and released his friend, who tried to stand but, stiff and sore, simply collapsed to his knees beside the chair. “Jeannot…” Combeferre placed a hand gently on the blond curls.

After a moment Enjolras lifted his head. “This is enough. This is enough, Gabriel.” Combeferre’s heart broke at the sight of the wet, reddened eyes. “Do you not think I come to you too often?”

Now Combeferre found himself at a loss. “I think you are too strict with yourself, that you find fault too often where others see none.”

Enjolras shook his head minutely. “How can I lead others if I do not hold myself to the highest standard?”

“How can you show mercy if you allow yourself none?” Combeferre countered. “Humanity is flawed, Jeannot. It will always fall short of your ideal.”

“Still, I must not,” Enjolras whispered, struggling to his feet. Combeferre rose as well, unbuttoning his soiled breeches and stepping out of them in as perfunctory a manner as he could manage.

Enjolras put his own clothes back on with shaking hands, and it was Combeferre’s turn to not meet his eyes. When they had both finished, it was the younger man who stepped forward to embrace his friend. “Thank you. It has been some time, as you say, and it would be a lie to say I did not find it pleasant. Not the genesis of it,” and here Enjolras managed a laugh, hollow and forced, “but the end of it, yes. Thank you, my oldest and dearest friend.”

Combeferre shook his head mutely. What should he say to this slight, shy vessel that held so much fire save olny for when they two were alone? “Will you be all right, going home?”

As always, Enjolras nodded, bending gracefully to pick up the bundle of the trousers he’d promised to have cleaned. Combeferre opened his mouth to protest and then stopped. Laundry cost money that Enjolras could well afford and he could not. Instead he stepped forward and kissed his cheek in farewell, a simple gesture, well within the bounds of propriety, before he left.