Author's note: This stemmed from a tumblr prompt. The first chapter is the actual prompt response, and the second is a longer and more fleshed out companion piece. The title, of course, is taken from Next to Normal.
Enjolras had always said that he could fathom nothing worse than Combeferre dying alone and frightened. He had nightmares about it on occasion and woke up shaking, the image of his best friend's corpse still stark in his mind's eye. When Combeferre got himself run over by a cart because he was too distracted by his thoughts to watch where he was going and cut his head badly on the cobblestones, Enjolras barely slept for the whole week until Combeferre came home, too afraid of what he would see when he closed his eyes. He had thought then that he could imagine nothing so awful as Combeferre dying without him.
He knows now that he was wrong.
"How is he?"
Joly sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face. He looks exhausted, as he always does these days, but his voice is steady as he replies, "the same."
Enjolras tries, but he cannot keep from flinching as the words hit him like stones, the projectiles strike him after a warning rather than thrown at his back but hurting all the same. Joly sees this and sighs again. He looks older in his weariness, looks old and ragged and worn. Enjolras knows that he looks no better, knows that worry lines and dark shadows mar his face and that his hair hangs limp and dull, knows that he has not smiled once since the riot.
"I want to see him," he says.
"Enjolras," Joly begins, because Joly worries. Joly, who understands better than any of their friends how Enjolras feels, who has woken screaming every night of the past two weeks because he dreamed that it was Bossuet and not Combeferre lying in that hospital room (who knows that Enjolras knows and who is ashamed to meet his eyes), Joly knows how Enjolras feels every time he steps into that room and tries in his own way to spare him the pain of it.
"I want to see him," Enjolras repeats, making his voice firm and commanding. It seems to be the only emotion he can find in himself these days, a sharpness and a coldness that make strangers avoid him and his friends give him worried looks. He can feel himself sinking into numbness, can feel the ice creeping through him to coat his thoughts and encircle his heart, but there is no flame anymore to warm him.
Joly cedes, as he always does, steps back to permit his leader to open the door and does not look at Enjolras' face.
The hospital room is stark and bare, the walls oppressive in their whiteness and emptiness. Combeferre's parents, when they heard about what had happened, had paid for their son to be granted a private room, apart from the hospital's regular population of ailing men and women and screaming children. Combeferre would have hated it.
Combeferre himself is sitting in the bed, his head freshly bandaged, looking towards the door. A stack of books sits beside him, but he has not reached for a single one of them; Enjolras has to pause and swallow hard to dispel the tightness threatening to choke him at the sight of Combeferre ignoring books.
"Hello. Are you someone I should know?"
Combeferre's voice is polite, almost curious, ever so slightly apologetic. He understands that he has lost his memory, that he should know the friends who stop by his room and the doctors who monitor his case, but Enjolras has never heard him react with more than polite confusion to any new face. Even when he has lost every part of himself that made him him, Combeferre remains courteous and that more than anything else threatens to break Enjolras' heart.
"I'm Enjolras. We're friends."
Combeferre studies him, tilting his head slightly to one side. Enjolras waits, hoping — praying — that this time it will be different, that this time he will see recognition in those once familiar eyes, that this time Combeferre will smile at him and wake him from this living nightmare.
"I'm afraid I don't remember that name. I don't remember most things," Combeferre says, and the ice in Enjolras' heart creeps further towards his soul.
"I know," he says, distantly proud of how little the crushing disappointment bleeds through.
"I hit my head," Combeferre continues, as he does every time the subject is broached, as though he's eager to prove that he remembers something, anything at all.
"Someone hit you," Enjolras corrects, as he does every time. "There was a riot and you were hit with the butt of a gun. We never did learn who struck you."
Combeferre absorbs this information then shakes his head. "I don't remember," he says.
"I know," Enjolras says again, and falls silent. Joly told him to talk to Combeferre as he would have before, to share memories and anecdotes in the hopes of triggering memories, but Enjolras cannot bring himself to speak. It feels like sacrilege, to share his intimate thoughts with this shell of his friend, and he has never been one for idle chatter. Courfeyrac, he knows, spends hours in this room, charming the nurses into letting him stay longer than permitted, and sharing everything under the sun with a man who once never had to ask. Enjolras has never been Courfeyrac, and his words dry up in his throat when faced with Combeferre's polite confusion.
"They say I may never recover my memories," Combeferre says after a moment, and he isn't looking at Enjolras any longer but rather focusing on the blank walls. "I would like… that is, I know we were friends once."
"Good friends," Enjolras says, and Combeferre nods.
"If it is amenable to you, I would like to be friends again. I think I was the kind of man who would have good taste in friends."
"You are," Enjolras says, through a throat so tight he cannot even breathe to clear it.
"I am glad to meet you again," Combeferre says, still not looking directly at Enjolras.
"As am I," Enjolras says, and feels the ice fill him completely.