Author: Pairing: Enjolras/Combeferre Rating: PG-13
Courfeyrac asked me the other day, half laughing and half in awe, "Has Enjolras always been like this?"
For a moment I simply couldn't reply. Dazed, I could only recognise that I was seeing in him -- and the others -- the emotions aroused in myself so long ago. Sheer wonder that such a creature as he could exist at all and an inexplicable desire to be deemed worthy by him. And worthy of what exactly? I'd be lying if I said I understood it then. But I do now.
And it's everything I could ever hope for.
What was it that flew between us? I know the answer. Love. It was he who spoke the word with such impetus that I begged him to be silent even though it made my very heart cry out with joy. Of course, I'd known he loved me ever since we were children together... and we loved as such children do, in fits and starts and bursts. All of it sexless and mysterious in its very joy. We raced our own shadows across the fields of the Enjolras estate. We lay beneath the evening sky reading shapes in the clouds and stars, we acted out our favourite stories, performing the roles of our best-admired heroes. Inspired by one such story, we cut our hands and held them together, solemnly swearing eternal brotherhood.
It's perfectly obvious what happened to those children. They grew a little older. The games of childhood were left behind. He began to change... but of course I changed too. And I'm older than he, and when one is leaving childhood, two years' difference can seem like twenty. I was excited to be leaving school in Marseilles and going to university in Paris. Of course I wanted to be a doctor, I have ever since I was small and saw my father cure a baby's cough with liquid from a bottle that seemed magical to me -- even more so when he explained how the 'magic' actually worked. I wanted to try my wings and fly a little. Even if that meant leaving him. Leaving Benedicte.
His family dined with mine the night before I left. Afterwards, we went for a final swim in the lake that divided the Enjolras estate from the Combeferre. Then we lay on the bank watching the stars and making our plans. It would only be a year, we told each other. Then he'd be coming to join me and just think! Two young men with all of Paris at their feet. The world could be ours. The night was warm and the air smelt sweet and hummed with all the possibilities that lay ahead of us.
"Do you want me to give your love to the grisettes of Paris?" I asked him with a laugh. "Or does the admiration of every girl in Provence suffice?"
He looked at me with his startling eyes and replied, "I don't want you to give it away to anyone."
I failed to understand... but only for a moment. No matter that it was wrong -- we wanted it and that made it a simple matter. And I wish to say now that he reached for me first. Even as we kissed I was aware that we were losing something that could never be regained. But I didn't care. Right then it felt as though it was only the two of us in the entire world... a world discovered in each other's eyes. We'd had so many adventures and made so many discoveries as boys, and what was this if not another first? A new terrain which we explored together. Our final expedition together as children and our first as adults.
What more can I say of what happened that night? I wish it could have lasted forever.
To feel his skin against mine was to be blessed by God. But it wasn't enough. Even at our closest I couldn't help but regret the boundaries of flesh that separated us. I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to know his very bones... I wanted to rush with the blood through his veins and sing along his nerve strings. I wanted to know how it felt to him when I pressed my lips against his mouth, throat, shoulder, the delicate ridgeline of his hips. The dizzying majesty of his very heartbeat surrounded us both and in that moment I knew that was the only drum I would ever care to march to.
I wish we could have lain in each other's arms for the remainder of the night. But of course we couldn't. Rather than drift off towards dreams together, we dressed and embraced one final time before returning to our separate homes. The magnitude of what we'd done had awed us both, I'm sure of it. So much so that apart from the words that I'm going to hear him say forever, "I love you," and the ones I whispered in reply, "Please don't say that, it makes it so hard to leave," we didn't speak another word. That night I didn't sleep a wink. I lay and burned for him, body and soul. Wondering if he was doing the same and wondering how I could possibly survive the year to come.
The coach was due to arrive and bear me away a little before midday. And Benedicte didn't come. My heart was sinking even as I professed my eagerness to be on my way towards Paris. As I embraced my parents that final time, I was thinking only of his body entwined around mine. The unthinkable had happened. I had betrayed and shamed him. What we'd done had destroyed us.
I was in the coach and halfway down the driveway before I became aware of his voice and his pounding feet a little behind us. I turned and looked out the back window, and then I was leaning further out of the side door than I'd ever dare. His face was flushed, his hair wild in the breeze as he ran, one hand outstretched towards me. I reached back, our fingertips brushing. We called one another's names as though they were battle cries and prayers all at once.
The driver whipped the horses and I was lurched away from him. A year, he cried, already falling behind, halting, the hand I'd managed to touch now raised in farewell. Until then, I shouted back. Then dust billowed between us and he was gone.
A year apart. And what a year it was. I learned more than I ever dreamed possible. Not just about medicine. I learned about Paris and France and the whole world... and I learned about myself. My dreams, my fears, my potential and my limitations. The meanings I was able to draw from everything that surrounded me. My desire for universal knowing and universal peace, as hopelessly idealistic as that might sound. I'd always known that this world could be a better place and here, in this place, anything seemed possible.
He wrote me often and I wrote back. I've kept all of his letters, sometimes I slept with them beneath my pillow. In every line he amazed me anew with his passion and made me wish harder than anything that he could be beside me right then and there... which is strange, because those letters are nothing akin to love epistles. And neither were the letters that I wrote to him. Part of me wondered at this. Was this something to deny? Did it mean something different to him than perhaps it did to me? Sometimes I felt as though there was an agreement between the two of us that we never quite finished making.
For what it's worth: during the time we were apart, I took no other lovers. Neither women nor men.
Benedicte came to Paris with the summer. The year we'd been apart, I had conjured up over a hundred different versions of that day. None of them as ordinary as what actually happened. He got out of the coach and clasped my hand in his. "Alexandre. It's good to see you again." Stunned by the absence of tension in his hand and eyes and voice, I stammered an inquiry after the health of his family and we proceeded to my apartments.
All that night I waited for him to talk about what happened between us, certain that it was something so immense that it would be addressed when the time was right. He never did. He asked a veritable multitude of questions about the university, my opinion on current events, what it was like to live in Paris. A little after midnight he withdrew to his sleeping quarters and I withdrew to mine. I sat up and waited, half-hoping for a knock at my door, but none came. When I slept that night, I dreamt of stillness and empty air thick with things left unsaid.
Within a week he had found accommodation of his own.
Days passed. Weeks. I'd made friends during our year apart, certainly, but now strangers came after us every day, asking for him by name. Faces with which I'd had only a nodding acquaintance became fixtures. Drawn towards his light, moved by what he meant and what he said. At first I felt a strange stab of jealousy but it soon became obvious that I had not been usurped. I had been...
Finally I could bear it no more. One night he found me on his doorstep, already demanding even before he had time to ask me inside, "Do you even remember!?"
In his apartment now, I paced furiously across the floor. He leaned against his desk, watching me. "Of course I remember," he replied.
I looked up at him. "You said you loved me."
He met my gaze with the same inexplicable power he always has. "And I do."
Already I was reaching for him, already he was moving away. "But what we did was a mistake." Frozen, I could not reply. When he saw that, he continued. "Flesh... it means nothing. We were vulnerable that night and we did something foolish. I'm sorry. I never wanted that from you."
I took in his words, numbed. I'd been there with him. How could he say that he didn't really want it? But a voice whispered inside me, You know he's right. And you feel the same way. Still, I had to try. "When you said 'love'... I thought you meant..."
"I don't know what I meant. But as soon as it was over, I wished that it had never happened. And as far as I'm concerned, nothing has ever changed between us. There's nothing to talk about." Again he paused. "I'm meeting some people at a café tomorrow. The Musain. Do you know it?"
As he spoke, I found myself thinking, There's no such thing as absolute history. We've shared so many experiences together but that doesn't mean that we share a story.
I knew the Café Musain. I nodded.
"I'd really like you to come."
He wasn't trying to lie to me; he wasn't covering up his feelings with cool words to spare mine. As always he was telling the truth, his truth. And that was his right.
"I'll be there," I replied.
He smiled and it warmed me. He was right. Nothing has changed. With him, I'll always feel as though anything is possible.
We bade each other goodnight and I walked home with head held high and a smile of my own. Nothing had ended and everything was just beginning. The softness of his hair, his hands laid on me, his taste... these things were mine. They always would be. But I'd finally found the "more" that I was looking for that night, and it had been staring me in the face all this time. Since we were children.
So I'll never again lie beside him. What of it?
It's honour enough to stand.