A/N: The internet is proving unhelpful, so I apologize if the dates of the school vacations are incorrect. Also, happy birthday Abelarda! Here is your requested Combeferre/Jehan.
Jehan had been very much looking forward to bringing Combeferre how with him for part of the winter holidays. Usually, Combeferre went to visit Enjolras before returning to Paris to follow his parents on the usual round of dinners and parties, and to go dissect corpses at the Hôtel Dieu, but by some ingenious geographical flubbing and some begging, Jehan pointed out that since Combeferre's internship at Necker cut into his vacation time, it would really be much more practical to spend a few days with Jehan's family, who lived closer to Paris, than with Enjolras.
"Besides, my father sometimes thinks I make up any friend who isn't a Mason," Jehan had said, tucking hand into the crook of Combeferre's arm. It had been cold and Jehan had forgotten his gloves that morning, in the excitement of putting on a quadruple-caped greatcoat from 1792. "And if that won't convince you—"
"I am already convinced!" Combeferre replied with a fond smile. "I believe Enjolras can spare me. I will come."
"—well yes, but it is a good point to make, all the same! You are the friend I most want everyone to meet."
"I am honored that you wish to show me off," replied Combeferre, with a laugh.
"Oh, and I always miss you dreadfully during the breaks," said Jehan, without the slightest hint of self-consciousness. "I know that they are two weeks along, save for the two months during September and October, but I have gotten so used to seeing you every day. I haven't the slightest idea what I shall do with myself since my poor lobster didn't last the snowfall and my violets aren't doing much better."
"Poor Jehan," said Combeferre, covering Jehan's hand with his gloved one. "You must always have something to love, but you have the remarkable capability of falling in love very quickly and very easily. I am sure you shall find something."
Jehan blushed furiously at that and could not look Combeferre in the eyes, but Combeferre was focused on the road they were trying to cross, and no longer paid attention to Jehan's blushes, which came and went as randomly as Jehan's bouts of enthusiasm. If Combeferre noticed Jehan seemed suddenly more subdued than usual, he made no judgment on it. He was accustomed to Jehan's sudden bursts of timidity or exuberance and accepted them as a matter of course.
Jehan was not sure whether or not to be grateful, and decided only to be happy that he would have Combeferre to himself for a few days. Perhaps it was a selfish desire, but Jehan was not in the habit of denying his desires. Desire was a natural thing, no matter what his upbringing had told him. If he was going to fall in love, well, why not enjoy it? Love was natural, after all.
Love was patient, love was kind, it did not envy, it did not boast, it was not proud— Jehan could recite the passage by heart, as his mother had insisted on it when he was younger, and, despite the lack of wars to end the world, Jehan still liked it, as far as he liked anything in the New Testament that wasn't Revelations. Love was not rude; it was not self-seeking….
Jehan soon feared that he did not entirely love Combeferre as purely as he ought, when Combeferre appeared at Jehan's apartment after a shift at Necker and grimly produced an invitation.
"To a masked ball," Combeferre said glumly, as Jehan studied the gilded bit of cardboard with an odd mixture of envy and heartbreak. "If it was the come out of anyone other than my sister, I could get out of it, but my parents have pointed out that the ties of family are stronger than the ties of friendship and I have been promised there since my sister was born."
"I am terribly jealous of your sister, then," Jehan said lightly. "To have you by her side whenever she pleases."
Combeferre sat down in one of Jehan's chairs, after moving aside a turban Jehan had been half-heartedly trying to construct (his brief flirtation with Hindoism had lasted about as long as Grantaire's flirtation with sobriety). "It's the day after our scheduled departure, so I believe I am unhappily forced to remain in Paris, instead of going off with you. The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft awray…."
The poetry did not help. Jehan fiddled with the card. "I suppose you have to stay."
"You must let me dress you up, then," said Jehan, trying desperately to find some way to make the situation better.
"What on earth do you mean?" asked Combeferre, with a startled expression.
"By dressing you up? Well, only to free you a bit. If you must go to a ball where you will get no conversation and end up reading in a corner and embarrassing your parents, you might as well wear your heart on your sleeve. It is the only true self-expression you will get the entire evening of false 'enchantée's and banal disagreement about whether it will rain tomorrow or not."
"I was planning on just wearing a mask and a domino," replied Combeferre, amused, "and not bothering with the rest of the charade."
"But it's so much more fun if you manage to point out to everyone who you are without ever needing to open your mouth! Oh, please do let me, Combeferre?" Jehan seized Combeferre's hands in his.
"If it will please you," consented Combeferre.
Jehan, much cheered, ran into his room and dragged out a trunk. "There are more things in the clothespress, but I have the perfect idea. There's a… will you be overheated in velvet?"
Combeferre was startled into a laugh. "In velvet? No, I doubt it. Poor Adélaïde has the tendency to turn completely red when overheated, and there are few things more mortifying to a sixteen year old girl than the exposure of the vagaries of her complexion. The ballroom will be as cold as an overcrowded ballroom ever can be."
Jehan nodded and set to work at once. "I cannot say that I have ever been in an overcrowded ballroom, but if you wear a summer shirt, or at least an old shirt under it… are, here we are!" Jehan managed to unearth his favorite doublet, a lovely confection of gold lace and russet velvet that he had wheedled a costumer friend of his to make. "You shall be Faust!"
"Yes, Faust! Have you read Nerval's translation? It's wonderful; there almost seem to be no constraints between French and German. The words flow so seamlessly together. You are Faust, though I daresay you would never make his choices. You would meet the devil and refuse all temptation set in your path, or perhaps question him and write a study on metaphysical manifestations and then very calmly go about your life without any devilish bargain. You haven't any need of one. The pursuit of knowledge makes you happy enough, and you can find its applications on its own. Still, you are Faust."
"And who are you, Jehan?" asked Combeferre, taking off his frock coat. His smile was soft, but it somehow managed to pierce Jehan's heart all the same.
Jehan felt his face heat up, but Combeferre, used to Jehan's sudden shifts of exuberance and timidity, said nothing and merely took the proffered doublet. "Me? Oh I don't know. I keep writing poetry to find out—there is a double life, I think, of the real and the imaginary and I have yet to find my identity in either of them."
"Which is why one day you have a doublet and the next, a justaucorps?"
"That and I just like doing it," replied Jehan, with a smile. "It's fun. It's like silkworm moths for you."
"A way of better knowing the world?" Combeferre put his glasses, cravat and waistcoat on the table and shrugged on the doublet.
"Well yes," said Jehan, fiddling with Combeferre's discarded cravat. "I do research these things before I put them on, and it takes a lot of searching to find a doublet in nineteenth century Paris."
Combeferre smiled, with the sort of quiet warmth and non-judgmental understanding that so enchanted Jehan. "I imagine so."
Jehan desperately wanted—oh, he didn't know. He just wanted and wanted so much he had to hug himself to ease the longing. It was wonderful to have desires, and better still to act on them, but to have them and not know what they were and what could appease them… Jehan pulled a face and hugged himself tighter.
"I am sorry not to go with you," said Combeferre, finishing up the buttons. "There. It is a bit small, but it ought to work. At least I may do you credit even if we are separated."
"It's of no consequence, the trip and everything," Jehan said, lightly. "You look dashing! The colors suit you better than they ever suited me. I shall have to make you a present of it. Oh, and there's a hat that goes with it somewhere, and a pair of knee-breeches at the bottom of the trunk." Jehan began digging through his clothes again. "I am blue-deviled about not having you to myself for Christmas, since it gets lonely at home with just me and my parents, but your parents must be even more loathe than I am to sit in front of the Yule log without your explanation of you latest scientific discovery ringing in their ears."
"Is it really so bad?"
Jehan found the knee breeches and tossed them to Combeferre. "Here, wear them with riding boots." He perched on the edge of his table and swung one booted leg while waiting for Combeferre to change. "Christmas is alright. We keep up appearances for the neighbors, there's usually some meeting of the Masons that gets a little too jolly, and the Protestant services aren't as bad as all that. They are long, but I tune them out and no one notices that I pray to God in iambic pentameter."
"Not alexandrine couplets?"
Jehan wrinkled his nose. "Like a classicist? No thank you. L'Eternel loves innovation. I submit the sacrifice of his son as evidence. What a remarkably clever solution to a long-standing problem! No one else would have thought of it. What a marvelous future it is."
Combeferre, having finished with the breeches, sat on the table beside him. "Have you ever noticed, Jehan, that you occasionally confuse God and the future?"
Jehan slumped against Combeferre. The velvet was as soft as one of Combeferre's smiles. "Hmph. Are they so very different?"
Combeferre automatically put his arm around Jehan's waist. "I have never thought so."
Jehan leaned his head against Combeferre's shoulder. "We call God the Eternal, instead of the Lord. It's easy to confuse them. Perhaps one is meant to? I don't know. One must find the future on one's own, I suppose."
"Ah, but one constructs the future. Does one construct God?"
"One constructs all the stupid, bizarre little fences one has to vault over to get to Him," said Jehan. "It's the falseness of home that I particularly despise. There are deep beliefs under all the pretenses, but they let their fear so control them that all I ever learned were the false little structures one erects to hide God from sight. There is nothing that can kill one's faith quite like religion. Sometimes I just sit in services and wish for Jesus to come again just so all this could be burned away in a hail of fire and brimstone, that the apocalypse would come and rip away all the veils we have constructed to hide the truth."
Combeferre was not a particularly tactile person, like Enjolras was, but he could make a gesture eloquent enough when he felt it was necessary to do so. He very gently kissed Jehan on the forehead, almost in benediction. "And yet you have such an unshakable faith in the future, Jehan. You are one of the only truly good people I know and the good must be innocent. If there is any religion that would condemn you to eternal damnation, I would confess myself as very surprised."
Jehan glanced away, half-hunching his shoulders. "There is more darkness in me than I think you realize, Combeferre. I so… I don't think that there is as much as I was always led to believe, but I am not…."
"Produce me evidence to the contrary, Jehan," Combeferre replied, with his odd blend of gentleness and scientific reasoning.
"I… fine. Love envies not. I envy your family terribly. They get to be with you for the holidays."
Combeferre looked at Jehan curiously. "Does my friendship mean that much to you, Jehan?"
"It means the world to me!" Jehan cried, emphatically. "Romanticism- oh it saved me, you have no idea how it saved me, how to opened my eyes to the truth, how art now begins to strip away all that is false and horrible about the world, but Combeferre, you are the one creating new things to put in place of that which we Romantics tear down—you are the one building the future, you are the one building new monuments to truth. We only clear a path for you." Words began to fail him. In some desperation, Jehan flung his arms around Combeferre's neck and kissed him.
Jehan had acted on impulse and so saw no reason to apologize, but he was just as suddenly filled with fear, broke off the kiss and buried his face into the velvet doublet. Perfect love expels all fear, Jehan thought bitterly.
Combeferre had been taken too much by surprise to react and now sat, stunned, with his hand resting lightly on the small of Jehan's back more out of habit than anything else. When Jehan grew upset and hid his face against Combeferre's shoulder, Combeferre would always embrace Jehan, with one arm around Jehan's waist, and the other cradling Jehan's head.
"I… I am not ashamed of doing that," said Jehan, looking up once the urge to cry had vanished and his blushes had subsided. There was nothing wrong with either, Jehan reminded himself, but when he got terribly insecure, his upbringing lurched up to haunt him, to lecture restraint and concealment and he could not face the world until he had sorted out everything in his head again. "Not at all. I am only sorry if you didn't like it. I would fling myself into the Seine rather than displease you sometimes. I shan't do it again it if bothered you, but I very much wanted- words sometimes, we have to use them to pierce through all the legal phrases and sermons that so trap us in our places, in our positions, but they cannot always constrain emotion- not should they, but one cannot always say what one feels—"
"Yes," Combeferre said, threading his fingers through Jehan's long hair. "I am in perfect agreement. I just wish you had given me some warning. I did not think…it is not… I scarcely wanted to raise the subject with you Jehan."
"There's nothing wrong in this," Jehan said fiercely, unsure if he was trying to convince himself or Combeferre.
Combeferre looked at him quite steadily, searching Jehan's expression for something Jehan didn't know, and said, finally. "You mean this in all innocence, don't you, Jehan?"
"It could hardly be otherwise," said Jehan, confused. "You are the best friend I have in the world and I love you far more than my violets, or even my lobsters."
"That is high praise indeed." Combeferre's kiss was oddly tentative, as if he was just testing out a new method of experimentation and was not sure how, exactly, it would lead him to the truth he sought.
Jehan did not quite know how to respond, but tried to express, wordlessly, all the love he had grown tired of concealing. It had been no good trying to hide it from himself, and he ought to have known that Combeferre, observant and understanding as he was, would see and gently show him just how to aplly that truth- no matter how hidden, it was true, it was there and one spurt of Romanticism later, it had been revealed and accepted for what it was.
"I could potentially leave the morning after the ball," said Combeferre, against Jehan's lips. "I have to look up the schedule for the diligence."
Jehan let out a shaky laugh. "So focused on the practical, Combeferre?"
"Or perhaps the manifestation of Romantic passion," he replied, and kissed Jehan, very lightly, on the lips.
"Be careful," Jehan said, so suddenly afraid his face felt on fire with his blushes. "I may be the devil to tempt you."
"You mustn't have such a poor opinion of yourself, Jehan," Combeferre chided him lightly. "You are no Mephistopheles, though you may have his eloquence. You are as much a Faust as I am."
"The constant search for knowledge, I suppose? The continuous study?"
"The desire to understand," Combeferre corrected. "The passion for truth. To return to a previous subject, we could set out late to your parents' house. Gentlemen are always scarce at balls. You would be more than welcome to dance attendance on my sister."
"And go as what?" asked Jehan, though he smiled. He could not stop smiling. "I scarcely know who I am most days and I cannot go to a masked ball just in my street clothes. Who shall I pretend to be?"
"It doesn't matter," replied Combeferre, untangling a hand from Jehan's hair, to better cup Jehan's cheek. "You are someone I love very dearly. I will know you whatever disguise you choose."
"They all melt away in the Romantic apocalypse," Jehan said dramatically.
Combeferre glided the pad of his thumb over Jehan's cheekbone. "Or under scientific scrutiny."
Jehan grinned and leaned into the touch like an overaffectionate kitten. "We are not so different, you and I."
"No," Combeferre replied affectionately, and, at the same time, they moved forward to kiss. The apocalypse, thought Jehan, came from the Greek word for 'uncovering'. An apocalypse was not always the end of the world. It was sometimes the revelation of truth and the sudden, unexpected entry into paradise.