Combeferre turned away from his desk for the second time that evening. "Yes, Enjolras?"
Enjolras came in, shut the door behind him, and wordlessly placed a basket on Combeferre's desk. The white kitten inside sat up, peering over the basket's edge with green-blue eyes.
"Ah," said Combeferre. "Hello again, little one." He looked up at Enjolras. "So you took him?"
"I am glad."
"I am at a bit of a loss. Combeferre, I have never named a kitten."
Combeferre smiled. "My sisters did most of the kitten-naming in our household. I did, however, have a Vesalius of whom I was rather fond."
"He is very small," Enjolras mused. "Very fragile."
"Probably not a Danton or Robespierre, then."
"No, no. He is one of the abased, Combeferre."
"As a name, I meant. I suppose you could simply call him Abaissé, but…I'd have thought Jehan would have named him."
"No, he said it was my responsibility."
Combeferre nodded. "Well, Enjolras, a name isn't necessarily the first thing he needs. A bath and some milk might be first priority."
"I'll go down and ask the concierge. May I leave him with you?"
Enjolras disappeared through the door. Combeferre, shaking his head a bit at the improbability of the situation, picked up the kitten and placed him in his lap. He looked at Combeferre suspiciously, but soon settled down under the gentle stroking of his warm hand.
It wasn't long before Enjolras came up with a saucer of warm milk and a bowl of warm water. Combeferre gestured for him to set them down on the floor, then scooped the kitten into his hands and moved to the floor with it. Enjolras sat down with them, still looking at the tiny, fragile animal with an air of composed confusion.
"How old is he?"
"Four weeks or so, I should think, calculating in slow development from malnutrition."
"Is he able to drink on his own?"
"We'll see." Combeferre set the kitten next to the milk, dipping a finger in it to touch to the tiny pink nose. "If not, we can help him suck from a twisted bit of cloth."
The kitten was not able to drink on his own. Combeferre pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to Enjolras, who carefully twisted the corner and dipped it in the milk, then picked up the kitten as if it would break in his hands. Combeferre helped him to hold it gently but securely in a feeding position, and Enjolras offered it the twisted cloth.
The kitten suckled weakly, but eagerly. Enjolras devoted his full concentration to holding and feeding it, carefully dipping the handkerchief in the milk until Combeferre bade him stop.
"But he is still hungry."
"But if he eats too much too quickly, he will become ill." Combeferre reached for the handkerchief, and Enjolras handed it over. "You'll have to feed him every few hours, though."
Enjolras nodded. "I will wake to do so. Where ought he to sleep? In the basket?"
"Yes, that's fine—just put another blanket in it to make sure he doesn't get chilled." He took the basket off the desk. "You see how Jehan placed this one, as if to form a nest—kittens feel safer in small spaces."
"I see." He was cradling the kitten in both hands. "Should we wash him next?"
"Use your handkerchief—get it damp, but not wet, and rub gently at the dirt. He'll start cleaning himself when he's stronger."
With extreme caution that obliged Combeferre to repress a chuckle, Enjolras set the kitten on his lap so that he had a hand free to pull out his handkerchief. The concentration that came over his face as he dampened it and dabbed at the kitten's grimy, unkempt white fur made him look like a small child.
When the kitten was cleaner, almost truly white again, and beginning to purr, Enjolras finally looked up and pushed his hair out of his face. "I still do not know what to call him."
Combeferre smiled slightly. "You will think of something eventually. For now, why don't we just call him your little citoyen? Jehan did."
He nodded. "Very well. –I suppose the little citoyen ought to go to sleep? His eyes are closed."
Combeferre offered him the basket to place the kitten into. "He will eliminate on the blanket probably several times during the night; you'll have to have it washed. He's too young to do otherwise, but soon you can begin teaching him to use a small box with sand in it instead."
Enjolras set the kitten in the basket and stood up. "Thank you, Combeferre."
"You're quite welcome. Come by if you have any questions, especially if you think he's not doing well."
"I will." He looked rather relieved. Combeferre clapped a hand to his shoulder in farewell, and Enjolras, cradling the basket, went out.
Back in his own flat, which was just down the hall from Combeferre's, he set the basket down on the table while he removed one of the two blankets from his bed, then transferred the kitten onto the bed while he did his best to arrange the second blanket inside the basket with the first. It didn't seem to be done how Jehan had done it, but he eventually shook his head and placed the kitten—his citoyen, he told himself, until it was named—back in the basket. It squealed a bit, but settled down at the tentative touch of his hand and began to knead the blankets with its front paws.
He watched it as he prepared for bed and when he went to lie down he took the basket with him. Why he did not know. But as he closed his eyes, making a mental note to wake in two hours or so to feed his kitten again, he felt strangely affectionate towards the tiny purring creature in the basket by his pillow.