If Anything

Author:   Pairing: Joly/Pontmercy  Rating: G

When Laigle managed for the umpteenth time to rent a room of his own (which would last, Joly estimated, for all of three weeks before he was moving back in), he apparently saw no harm in offering his place in Joly's flat to anyone who wanted it. Without notifying the room's true owner in advance.

Said owner was standing with his arms crossed, trying to look affronted, as his flatmate prepared to leave. Laigle, for his part, was murmuring apologetically about the boy needing a place to stay again. "Don't be too harsh with him," he warned. "I told him you wouldn't mind, and he's expecting to be welcome."

"Once again," Joly began in a long-suffering tone, "thank you for telling me beforehand..."

"I don't want you to be lonely!" Laigle retorted, face shining with an innocence that caused one corner of Joly's mouth to twitch upward. "It won't be all that bad if you make the best of it, he continued airily. "When you think about it, there must be hundreds of people who would love to be in your position. Focus on the better things, such as the fact that he has endearingly messy hair and skin as fair as a girl's and confused eyes a wonderful shade of... whatever color they are... andó-"

"Brown," Joly corrected primly. "A simple anatomical observation," he added. He could practically hear Laigle beginning to smile. "Damn you," he muttered, "shut your mouth and get out of here before you have another wonderful idea."

"It might turn out well for you both," Laigle continued obliviously, his eyes glinting with a private amusement Joly wasn't certain he liked the look of. "He doesn't have a mistress, you know, and I don't believe he ever has." And he bolted down the stairs, stumbling as always on the loose board at the bottom, before Joly had a chance to react.

Marius arrived not long afterward, with tangled hair and anxious eyes (which really weren't a bad shade of brown, as eyes went), blushingly explaining his predicament and that, yes, Bossuet had told him everything. It was, Joly repeated to himself an infinite number of times, definitely not his own fault that he had taken it literally, replied, "Bossuet talks too much sometimes," and, with every intention of making the best of it, brushed a kiss on his lips.

When the boy jumped back as if he had been burned, Joly realized not for the first time that Bossuet talked too much to all the wrong people and too little to the ones that mattered. "He didn't tell you?" he blurted out irrationally. "You mean you never said... he insinuated..." And then, giving up on coherent speech, "God."

Explanations came easily to Joly, in most cases. With the crisp words and diagrams of a textbook on his side, he was brilliant. With no visible line of logic to follow, and his face struggling to decide whether it wanted to redden or blanch, it was a different matter. Everything fell apart and, as it was, all he could do was remind himself that none of this was his doing. It wasn't his fault, simply, and it certainly wasn't his crooked smiles and mislaid good intentions that had orchestrated the whole fiasco. He was going to kill Laigle the next time he saw him.

In a way, he decided, it was also Marius's fault, whether he realized it or not. If the boy hadn't come wandering in after Courfeyrac with his feet on the moon and his mind on Napoleon, maybe Laigle would have stopped joking about being lucky enough to snap him off the sidewalk before someone else did, and maybe then Joly wouldn't have looked up from his plate to see who he was talking about.

From there on it was rather predictable. He checked his hands for sweat, his forehead for feverishness, and the dramatist in him began conjuring up newspaper articles proclaiming one Nicolas Joly, medical student, was being drummed out of the Friends of the ABC for paralyzing the newest recruit.

Desperate for a distraction, Joly turned to the mirror and assiduously began trying to distinguish his freckles from an invisible rash lurking amongst them. "I shouldn't have presupposed. I, of all people..." He sighed and muttered under his breath, "Goes against everything I've been taught... don't diagnose until you're absolutely certain..."

Marius was blinking furiously, as if he couldn't bring himself to focus on anything more than that simple action. "You... you meant to..."

Giving up on the nonexistent rash, Joly turned around and opted to try a more direct approach. "Yes. You've hit it exactly. I had every intention of charming you into bed by reciting the symptoms of liver disease and then ravishing you within an inch of your life. There you have it." He crossed his arms and waited for a reaction.

Marius still looked both scandalized and bemused, and it was several seconds before he spoke again, not meeting Joly's eyes. "You have to be joking. Bossuet or Courfeyrac put you up to it. That's it, isn't it?" He sounded almost hopeful at the prospect. "They must be laughing at me outside even now."

"Actually, no." Joly was rather pleased with himself for speaking so calmly. "This is no joke."

"I don't see how that makes it any better." Marius sounded more aggravated than frightened, which Joly supposed was a relatively good sign. "Well," he said tightly. "What happens now?"

Deciding to avoid the more obvious answers, Joly shrugged. "You could run away screaming, which you haven't, and I esteem you for that, or you could take it as a compliment." He gave an agitated little laugh. "Bossuet should have had more foresight, as should I. Assumptions were made, though; you've never had a mistress anyone's heard of and you aren't terrible to look at."

"Do you assume these things of Enjolras, then?" Marius demanded indignantly.

"Enjolras has France," said Joly, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Marius slumped into a chair.

"It certainly wasn't my fault," Joly burst out, trying not to sound petulant. "I was under the impression Bossuet had told you..." He trailed off when Marius began to turn red. "You really ought to let me know these things before I form my own conclusions," he finished lamely.

Marius tensed defensively. "I didn't think there was anything to explain--I told him how Courfeyrac had been having... company... more often than usual lately, and he said you had room to spare and we might as well..."

"...make the best of it," Joly finished. "Yes, I know. I'm going to kill him, I think. Slowly," he mused. "Possibly with unsharpened scalpels. You can help, if you like," he added graciously.

Marius, he realized, didn't seem to be paying attention to the grisly speculations. "Oh, God. Make the best of it? What is he...?"

In spite of himself, Joly was slightly amused at the _expression of pure shock on the boy's face. Casually, he lifted a shoulder. "Welcome to the Latin Quarter. You'll have to get better at deciphering double entendres if you plan on staying long. Are you staying, by the way, or is this den of depravity too overwhelming?"

"No, I'll go." Marius rose.

"Don't be ridiculous," Joly admonished, attempting to utilize a professional tone of voice. "That was a rhetorical question, and it's late. You can leave in the morning."

"Thank you, but I'm sure I'll find someplace. Not that I'm worried about depravity, that is..." He gave up when his voice choked with embarrassment. "It's best if I don't stay," he mumbled finally.

"Marius, I promise I won't devour you during the night. And you cannot leave me to plot Bossuet's demise alone. You've a right to some input"

That evoked a very small smile and an awkward shrug. "I'd rather not. I feel foolish."

"Don't think I'm not feeling any less so," Joly pointedly reminded him. "I have far more reason to, besides. You never did a thing but show up. And make the mistake of speaking with one feather-brained Eagle, but I've yet to meet anyone who could outmaneuver him when he's feeling loquacious. Although a good punch in the teeth might be helpful every now and then."

"I have reason enough," and he moved a hand to cover his mouth.

Joly winced inwardly. "Oh. That? I promise you," he said helpfully, "I have nothing contagious."

He took a step forward to close the door and raised his eyebrows when Marius flinched. "You do realize that if I saw you on the street I might very well take your arm or put a hand on your shoulder, as would any acquaintance. Or are you now so traumatized that you'll never allow anyone to touch you again?" He paused, and then musingly answered himself before Marius was able to sputter a reply. "That might actually turn out for the better. I'm sure Bossuet would feel horrible if I told him he was responsible for that." Marius kept his hand in place, and he sighed. "Dear Lord, was it really that awful?"

Marius flushed again, but dropped his arm. "There's no way to know; I've nothing to compare it to."

Joly blinked. "That," he said mildly, "doesn't seem to be a malady I can provide the remedy for."

"Do you always talk like a physician in times of crisis?" It was the most exasperated Joly had ever heard him.

"This is hardly the same crisis it was a minute ago."

"How do you mean?"

He shrugged. "You've calmed down, yes, but now you're eyeing me like a vulture."

"I am not." As if to prove his point, he stared stubbornly at nearby chair.

"You are," Joly corrected genially. "You're curious now that you've received a new sort of knowledge, even if it wasn't from the most optimal party. Ergo, you most likely want either to kill me or kiss me. At the time, I would guess the former, judging by how horribly as the latter seems to have affected you." He smiled sharply. "There's your diagnosis, if you will. Would you like a prescription?"

"It wasn't horrible," Marius broke in quickly, not appearing to have heard the last words. "It was more a surprise than an atrocity, but enough of a surprise to be unnerving."

For several long seconds, neither spoke. "It isn't something I've ever given thought to," murmured Marius at last. "I'm not going to murder you either," he added, as if afraid of giving offense.

There was an even lengthier pause then, which Joly, feeling somehow both pensive and pleased, spent running several thoughts through his mind and thoughtfully regarding Marius, whose face seemed to have permanently taken on the color of a radish, and who was apparently struggling with an overpowering urge to run out the door. Joly smiled.

"Go stay one more night at Courfeyrac's," he said quietly. Marius nodded somberly and began to turn around. Joly caught his arm. "If his habits haven't improved since yesterday and you find you would rather be here than there, then come back tomorrow evening. I'll be in." He glanced up long enough to meet Marius's eyes and kissed him once again, not as lightly as before, releasing a breath he had been unaware he was holding when no opposition surfaced.

Marius left as awkwardly as he had arrived, but smiling slightly. Joly, wearing a distant _expression he might have borrowed from him, sank into a chair and remained there for nearly a quarter of an hour before it occurred to him to begin sorting through his scalpels.

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