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Combeferre is a rational man.

He stopped believing in Santa Claus at the age of four after measuring the chimney in his parents’ home, he researches every side of an issue from as objective a standpoint as possible before choosing what side to fight for, and he eschews the habit most of his friends have of referring to his best friend as some sort of superhuman (or in Grantaire’s case, a god). Enjolras is just a man, and Santa Claus is just a myth, and Combeferre has never had trouble applying logic to his life.

When Éponine is like this, though, the only word that comes to mind is “goddess.” Combeferre knows it isn’t a rational thought, but it’s still the only one he can bring to mind. They didn’t fall into this, Combeferre has never fallen into anything in his life (this is the one lie he allows himself), but she’s still a shock to his system every time, even when she just seems to be playing a game of watching him kneel on her floor and waiting to see how long it takes him to break.

“Are you falling asleep?”

Combeferre snaps to attention without daring to raise his eyes, all the guiltier because she isn’t snapping at him. He’s seen Éponine furious, seen her out of control and throwing punches, seen her screaming in someone’s face, but when he’s at her feet she’s never out of control. She sounds curious more than anything else right now, and she’s always calm when she tells him just what she’s going to do to him. “No, ma’am,” he says, because when she asks him a question, he may answer.

There’s a soft brush of leather against his bare back—the belt she had on over her dress earlier at the Musain, plain and black. Combeferre almost dropped his coffee when he saw it, because he’d never seen it when it wasn’t about to stripe his back before. “I would hate to bore you.”

“You never do.”

Éponine is always roughest with him when he’s just said something kind, no matter how true it is, so Combeferre is expecting the sting of the belt across his shoulders. She doesn’t show mercy, never does. She doesn’t bother easing him in it, not that he would want her to. Instead, she gives him two more quick strokes and then stops. “You’re going to count.”

Combeferre is used to good and persuasive speeches, has even given his share, but he’s never met anyone with Éponine’s talent of saying something and making it instantly become true. Or perhaps that’s just him, bending to her will like he has since that very first time, when she grabbed his hair once they'd stumbled through negotiations and told him to give her a safeword. “Three,” he says.

In answer, or perhaps reward, he gets another, and Combeferre counts, listening to the whistle of the belt in the air, Éponine’s soft breaths as she controls her arm.

Éponine never stops on a round number, though it’s usually between fifteen and twenty. Today, she keeps going until Combeferre is moaning the words more than saying them, and when he lets out a sharp noise around “Twenty-six” the belt drops to the floor and she’s crouching behind him, bracing one hand on his shoulder and reaching around with the other, finding him hard. She wraps her hand around his erection, just tight enough so he knows it’s there, and doesn’t move. Combeferre waits, almost surprised at the way his chest heaves for air.

“You have a choice to make,” she says conversationally, like she might be asking him what sort of pizza he wants to order later, but it still feels mind-bendingly wrong. This isn’t about him choosing, not after the initial choice each time. Still, he’s willing to hear her out. This is either Éponine’s way of trying to be kind or cruel, and he’d like to see which it is. “Either I get you off and then you watch me afterwards, or you get me off and I watch you afterwards.”

Combeferre allows himself a few deep breaths. She doesn’t press. “May I ask for specifications?”

“I use my hand on you and my vibrator on myself, or you use your mouth on me and your hand on yourself.” She bites his earlobe. “There’s no wrong answer, so hurry up before I get impatient and decide you don’t get to come at all.” He can’t help the whine he makes at that, and she pauses. “We’ll table that,” she promises after a second, and then tightens her grip.

“You,” he blurts, and hates himself a little for it. That’s not a proper answer.

Somehow, though, she understands, because she’s standing, tugging on his hair until he follows her over to the bed and she kneels on the side, legs spread, skirt pulled up to her waist. She’s naked underneath, and she never stripped anything off that he saw or heard, which meant she was naked underneath during the meeting at the Musain, while he kept papers in order and kept the peace between Enjolras and Grantaire and she talked to Cosette about the anti-sexual harassment initiative they’re heading. He lets out some sort of noise he can’t hear over the rushing in his ears and she laughs. “Well? You know what to do, Combeferre, don’t pretend you don’t. You’ve got a good mouth.”

Éponine is sparing with her compliments during a scene, and Combeferre thanks her for it the best way he knows how, settling between her legs on his knees and kissing a wet path along the inside of her thigh. She sighs a little and settles into the bed, but doesn’t put her hands in his hair again. That’s a reward, and he has to earn it. He wants to earn it.

Combeferre knows how to give something his whole-hearted attention, and he does it now, licking into her messily. She likes things a little rough, a little sloppy, and Combeferre can give her nothing else, not with the way sweat is smarting in the welts her belt left on him, not down between her legs and feeling like she owns him and like that’s how the world ought to be, no matter what he fights for. It’s late and he wasn’t thorough with his shaving this morning, he knows he’ll be leaving rough red marks between her thighs, but she seems to like it, letting out a contented little noise above him.

This is only the third time he’s done this for Éponine, but he’s coming to understand what she likes, and he does everything he can for her, keeping the pace steady instead of pushing or teasing. She’ll tell him if she wants him to do either.

Combeferre can lose himself in this like he does in school work, in his causes, and he does it, his world narrowing to the taste of Éponine in his mouth, the bracket of her legs keeping him contained, and, finally, her hands threading into his hair to force him closer until it’s a struggle to breathe and please her at the same time. He chooses the latter as much as he can, sparing with his breaths, until she freezes, whole body going tight, fingers clutching his skull tight. She’s silent through it, and she lets him keep going for another minute, a little slower, before lifting his head away. She’s smiling, and she rubs her thumb across his lips, shiny from her slick. “Your turn.” He stares uncomprehending for a moment, hazy, and she puts her boot between his legs. “Show me how you get off, Combeferre.”

It isn’t necessarily one of his kinks, but if it pleases her, he isn’t going to say no. Instead, he wraps his hand around his erection the way she did earlier, in a grip that isn’t too firm or too loose, and starts the steady strokes he uses when he’s by himself. She watches, hazy-eyed and pleased, fingers under his chin to keep him from looking down. “Is this good?” If it comes out more plaintive than querying, she won’t mind.

“You even jerk off like a scientist,” she says with something like fondness. And then, “Faster, Combeferre. Don’t you want to get off for me?” He nods. “Then do it. But not on my boots, unless you want to lick it up again.” Combeferre can’t help his moan, and from the widening of her eyes she’s noting that, adding it to the list of things they want to try.

He focuses on giving her what she wants, even if he doesn’t know how to put on a show. He speeds up, thinks about touching her, about her touching him, about not making this boring for her. Perhaps he should have done this first, made up for any deficiencies with his mouth, but this is what she asked for, and he holds onto that.

Éponine helps him in the end, lifts her foot and props her boot on his shoulder, grinding in, watching the whole time. He thanks her by turning his head to kiss her calf and then by coming, almost startling himself with the force of it, and only catching it in his hand by reflex.

It takes a moment to realize Éponine is speaking. Both her feet are on the floor now, and she’s leaning forward, catching his eyes. “Up on the bed.”

“We’re done?”

She takes his hands and helps him stumble the step and a half to her bed and then onto his stomach, running her hands gently across his sore back, testing the welts for broken skin and extra soreness. “We’re both too tired for more. How are you feeling?”

“Good.” Her hands pause. “I am fine, Éponine.”

She kisses the back of his neck. “You don’t have to be, sweetie. Remember? Talk to me. You don’t have to be afraid to tell me anything.”

If he’s honored by her choice to have sex with him, to exact submission from him, sometimes he can’t quite believe her gentleness afterwards. The only time he hears a tone that’s close from her is when Gavroche had a bad day or Grantaire is too quiet, and every time it warms him, maybe more than the sex does. It’s what gives him the courage to say “I’m not sure how I felt about you giving me options in the heat of the moment.”

Éponine moves her hands to his hair, rubbing gently at the nape of his neck where his headaches tend to begin. “In what way?”

“It caught me off guard, and it felt off. I’m not saying never, especially now that I know it’s a possibility, but it made me anxious.”

She hums. “I’m sorry for not negotiating that out beforehand, then, but you were a very good boy for me anyway, I hope you know that. You pleased me very much, my wonderful boy.”

Combeferre is glad he’s facedown on the bed, because his face heats at that. “Thank you.”

“You don’t have to thank me when it’s true.” She strokes his hair again. “Are you going to be okay if I leave you for a minute? I’ll still be in the room, just getting undressed. I’ll stay, it’s not a problem at all, but I’d like to hold you, and I don’t want to kick you until we’ve talked about the boot kink you apparently have.” He squirms. “It’s hot. Did I not make that clear?”

“You didn’t. I’m glad.” He searches for his words. “I don’t know how far it goes, but in the moment it was very hot.”

“We’ll put it down for a maybe, then. And orgasm denial, don’t think I’ve forgotten that.” She bends to kiss his shoulder. “Can I get up, then? Get you your juice?”

He winces. “I’m sorry, I meant to say. Of course you can, I didn’t mean to make you ask again.”

Éponine turns his head and gives him a firm kiss on the mouth, hand sliding to cup his face. “It’s fine, darling.” The endearments sit oddly in her mouth sometimes, but her smile is real. “I’ll be right back, I’ll talk the whole time.” She keeps to that promise and he tracks her movements around the room by her voice while she talks about Cosette’s latest idea for a poster campaign, and Grantaire’s latest painting, and Gavroche’s latest school assignment, something about the French Revolution that he’s recruited Enjolras to assist him with, which means his poor teacher will undoubtedly end up traumatized. Combeferre relaxes into the sound until she climbs back on the bed, nudging until he rolls to his side and handing him a juice box. Sometimes he feels ridiculous drinking them, but it’s the easiest way to drink in bed and he suspects she buys them special for this, since Gavroche would never be caught dead with a juice box.

“Thank you.” The first time he’d protested that he could get his own juice, tend his own injuries, but Éponine told him there was no way in hell and he dropped it. It may feel strange, but it feels good as well.

“My pleasure. Do you need ice or anything for the bruises?” He shakes his head, a not yet more than a not at all, and she settles in next to him, slinging a leg over his hip and her arm over him, brushing against his new set of bruises. She’s smaller than he is, but he still feels covered by her. “You were such a good boy, you took the belt so well, you’re so good with your mouth, and I love watching you get off for me. You’re always so good for me.”

Combeferre ducks his head, getting an arm free enough to put the juice box off to the side. “Anything I should have done differently?”

“That’s my question, Combeferre,” she chides, but kisses the side of his mouth right afterwards. “You were perfect. And we found a few more things to try someday soon. Anything I should have done differently? I get that giving you a choice wasn’t a great idea in the moment, we’ll talk that out.”

He shakes his head. “It was good.” She likes feedback, though, so he searches for some. “I liked that you wore the belt to the meeting. It made it better. Anticipation is good.”

Éponine grins at him. “I’m glad. I thought it might be going too far, but maybe I underestimated your ability to keep on task.”

“It was very difficult,” he assures her. She settles a little more easily against him, and he leans into her in response. “Thank you for this.”

She tucks his face into her shoulder, and he goes where she moves him until they’re pressed fully together. “I know a few things from your side of the arrangement about how shitty it feels not to get enough aftercare, and I never want to do that to you. You’re always so good for me, so I like to be good to you.” She presses a kiss in his hair. “My good boy. Besides, you spend half your time taking care of everyone else. Why shouldn’t I take care of you? You deserve a little spoiling.”

“It’s always appreciated.” Too many thanks will only make her upset, but he can at least say that. “May I stay tonight?”

“You aren’t going anywhere.” Her arms tighten around him. “Gavroche is with Courfeyrac and Enjolras tonight plotting the downfall of society, and Cosette and Marius were threatening to take him out for pancakes in the morning, so we’ve got plenty of time. Do you need anything?”

“Just you.” It’s easier to say when he’s breathing the words into her collarbone, and he’s sorry he’s ever reluctant to say it, because it makes Éponine sigh and unbend and manage to bring them impossibly closer together. “A little bruise treatment later, but we can nap first.”

“That’s good. It’s been a long day. I’m glad you were free for this.” She pulls back just enough to meet his eyes, and even though he’s going hazy and tired he manages to look back until she nods her satisfaction at whatever she sees. “You’re great,” she says firmly, and there’s no reason at all why that should tug at him harder than all the “good boys” in the world, but it does, enough that he searches for one of her hands with his until he can lace them together.

“You are too,” he says, and normally she would shrug it off, but perhaps he’s beginning to get across how sincere he is, how he can’t think of anyone else he would trust this side of himself with and how glad he is that they have this. Tonight, she pulls him close again and starts humming something tuneless that sounds like the latest Bob Dylan song Jehan decided they all had to hear. It’s all the thanks he needs. “Now I’m falling asleep,” he adds, and he doesn’t know if she remembers asking the question earlier, but judging by the soft laughter he gets in return it doesn’t matter either way.