(Hey guys! Thank you all so much for your support on the last chapter! I'm sorry this took me so long to get up, but I hope it was worth the wait. It's a dark chapter, so be warned)
Combeferre left the bookstore feeling even more anxious than before he got there. His mind was spinning with worry; his clenching and unclenching hands were sweaty and shaking; his throat felt constricted and he was pretty sure there was a concrete block pressing down on his stomach. He needed to get back to Enjolras. He needed his friend to open up. He needed him to trust him. Because now that Combeferre had spoken to Feuilly he was pretty sure he knew what was bothering Enjolras. He already had a hunch, but this last bit of information allowed him to connect the dots and he just really, really needed Enjolras to talk about it. Because it would eat them alive if they didn't. There wasn't another option; and Combeferre was going to have to force Enjolras to talk. He was going to have to put his foot down, no matter how angry or upset his friend might get.
"I didn't understand everything, but the guy said something about obligations and payments. I…I might have heard it wrong…I hope I did, but I thought I heard him say to Enjolras that he had paid for the whole week and that Enjolras had broken that agreement…"
Combeferre shivered as he recalled Feuilly's words. He knew for sure now that the man who had visited the shop wasn't Enjolras' father, but he definitely must mean bad news if Enjolras' state of mind the previous night was anything to go by. He clenched his hands into fists and picked up his pace. He needed to get home as soon as possible. He already regretted his decision to leave the apartment in the first place, but Enjolras wasn't going to tell him anything and Combeferre needed to know what on earth had happened that left his friend such a panicked mess.
"Enjolras completely freaked out when the guy said something about taking him home and that everyone was searching for him…They're not dangerous, are they Combeferre? Enjolras is safe, right?"
"Of course he's safe," Combeferre had said to the freckled boy. He'd better be. Combeferre prayed to God that he was safe. Because he had no idea what he was supposed to do if they came for his friend. He wasn't going to let them. He was never going to let anyone take Enjolras away from him against his young friend's will. He would rather die than to have Enjolras taken back to Montpellier. Not after everything they had been through together. Not after everything Enjolras had to go through alone. He let out a shaky breath and shook his head. That wasn't going to happen. He was jumping to conclusions without knowing the full story. Perhaps he was being too worried. Perhaps he was thinking in doom scenario's. He bit the inside of his cheek and swallowed hard. He surely hoped he was.
"I've never seen anyone so terrified in my life. I thought he was going to pass out, but then he started yelling and I swear he would've attacked the guy if Beaumont hadn't come in at that moment…I-I tried to explain to Beaumont what happened, but he wouldn't listen. He was so shocked to see Enjolras lash out at a customer like that and he immediately fired him. And then Enjolras fled out the store, completely panicked and the guy just stood there smirking."
When the church bells started ringing and Combeferre realized he had already been away from the apartment for an hour and a half he started running. Damn all the surprised and annoyed faces that scowled at him whenever he pushed them aside or knocked into their shoulders. He didn't care. All he cared about was getting home as soon as possible and make sure that Enjolras was okay. That he was safe. That he was still there. Because he had to be there. Because if he wasn't there, it would be Combeferre's fault and he would never forgive himself.
He arrived at his apartment building in record time and flew up the stairs. The closer he got to his rooms the more uneasy he felt. As if somewhere deep down, he already knew something was wrong. Please be okay. Please be okay. His heart was beating louder and faster with every step he took and Combeferre was sure it was nearly hammering out of his chest by the time he had reached the front door. He pushed the key in the lock and pushed against the door only to find out that in didn't budge. He pushed again, harder this time, and after a lot of creaks and squeaks and a slightly flushed face, he was able to set the door ajar. But no further than that.
Combeferre stretched his neck and only just managed to peek inside. His heart skipped a beat when he saw the chaos that had gathered in front of his door. No, definitely not a good idea to leave him alone, Combeferre thought as he pinched the bridge of his nose and started calling out for his young friend.
Enjolras hadn't moved from his spot on the bed for at least an hour. He knew he was panicking and therefore he knew he wasn't thinking clear anymore, but he couldn't help it. He was shaking and scared; he felt cold despite the fact that he was covered in blankets; he kept hearing footsteps coming closer and closer even though he knew the door was locked and blocked. He was terrified that they were coming for him. That they were going to take him back to his father. That he was going to get all the punishment the man could possibly think of. Why did he have to scare Combeferre away? Why did he have to be so stubborn? Why was it so hard to talk to his best friend? Did he really think Combeferre would leave? Deep down, Enjolras knew he wouldn't. And yet, he was terrified to spill the words.
But if Combeferre came back… If Combeferre deemed Enjolras worthy enough to return to… Enjolras swore to himself that he would tell his friend everything he wanted to hear; as long as he stayed close. As long as he was there to protect him. As long as he would make sure that no one was ever going to take him back to Montpellier; to his old life. Enjolras curled into a tighter ball on Combeferre's bed and squeezed his eyes shut. Ever since his brother died he had had some difficulty believing in a God, but right now he was praying for his friend to come back and forgive him.
And then he heard someone shoving at the front door and he froze completely. They found me. They're going to take me away now. I'm never going to see Combeferre again.
It took him a while to realize that no one had come in yet, but there was someone calling his name. Someone who sounded familiar; warm and safe. Someone who had been calling his name for a few months now and who always made things better whenever they seemed at its worst.
"Enjolras? Can you please move all this stuff away so I can enter my apartment?"
"Enjolras, I know you're there, let me in…It's just me."
Enjolras was still a little hesitant when he slid out of the bed and tiptoed towards the living room. The door stood ajar and the young blond could just see the mousy brown hair and slightly flushed face of his best friend peeking inside. He let out a deep breath he didn't realize he was holding and walked closer towards the blockade he had created.
"Combeferre?" He asked quietly, cursing the way his voice wavered and cracked.
"Yes, Enjolras, it's me, can you please help me open this door?" Combeferre didn't sound angry or upset, just worried, but Enjolras was still doubtful and anxious. What if it was some sort of trick? Stop being this paranoid, Combeferre would never trick you.
"Where did you go? You were gone…You left…" Enjolras whispered in a voice so low that he wondered if Combeferre had even heard him. He didn't want to sound accusatory, but he couldn't help it. He was suddenly very hurt by the fact that his friend had left him alone while he had clearly been in an awful state. On the other hand…why wouldn't Combeferre leave him? After all, hadn't he been the one to push his friend away?
"What do you mean I left? Enjolras, I wrote you a note…Didn't you see it? On the bedside table."
How stupid he felt. Combeferre left him a note? Enjolras blinked rapidly a couple of times and bit his lip. You and your stupid panic attack. He glanced back over his shoulder towards the bedroom and there was indeed a small white piece of paper folded on the drawer. Enjolras had completely missed it. He hadn't even thought about the very plausible possibility that Combeferre had left him some sort of message.
"Oh…" Enjolras muttered ashamed. He moved forwards and started pushing the variety of furniture away from the door. "I…I didn't see it…"
"And so you barricade the door?" Combeferre asked incredulously and then he let out a deep sigh. "It said that I went out to pay Feuilly a visit in the bookstore and that I'd be back within two hours at most."
Enjolras didn't say anything, but resumed moving the table. He went to see Feuilly? Why? Probably to find out more about what happened yesterday… I refused to tell him anything, so he went to the person who witnessed everything…
"Enjolras, can I ask why you built a barricade in front of my door?" Combeferre asked gently as he watched his young friend struggle clearing the last of the heavy, wooden pieces away from the door. He was now able to push the door open far enough for him to slip inside and help Enjolras with the last bit. He couldn't help but notice how haggard his friend was looking. His hair was a complete mess; he was pale and sweaty; he was shivering and continuously fighting to keep his face in check. As if there was a giant dam behind his eyes that threatened to break open if he didn't fight hard enough. Combeferre walked closer and laid a hand on Enjolras' shoulder to stop him from furiously pushing at the furniture.
"Enjolras?" Combeferre asked again.
Enjolras turned around to face him and bit his lip hard. His eyebrows lowered and he frowned angrily although he really wasn't angry at all. Well, not at Combeferre. "B-Because I panicked, okay? Because I was scared that you left and they would come to take me back home… I-I'm sorry I didn't see the note… Stupid of me…"
Combeferre gave him a disappointed look. "Because you were scared that I had left?" He repeated carefully and he shook his head while he closed the door behind him. Then he gently grabbed Enjolras by the shoulder and steered him towards the sofa where they both sat down. "Have I been talking to myself for the past three months?"
Enjolras swallowed and shrugged his shoulders. A faint blush crept up his cheeks. He felt so stupid for freaking out all the time. And so guilty for disappointing Combeferre time and again.
Combeferre closed his eyes for another moment and silently counted to ten. He wasn't angry with Enjolras, but having to convince his friend over and over again that he wasn't going to leave, was starting to take a toll on him and quite frankly, he was fed up with repeating himself.
"I wouldn't leave, Enjolras," He said quietly, "I haven't 'left' a single time; you know that and I've told you that many times before. It's getting a little insulting that you still think I would just run off whenever you and I have an argument."
Enjolras stared intently at his fingers. "Sorry," he whispered, voice thick with suppressed emotion and shame. "I-I don't know why...-"
"Well, I do," Combeferre interrupted tiredly, "You've been abandoned and neglected pretty much your whole life and so it's only natural that you have these fears, but after three months I had hoped that you had a little more trust in my words."
"I do trust your words...I know it's stupid of me and you don't deserve that...," Enjolras muttered, sounding all but eight years old. "I...I just get scared sometimes and I don't know why, but I panic and I expect the worst...I'm sorry..."
Combeferre sighed and shifted on the sofa, pulling Enjolras with him so that his younger friend was comfortably leaning against him. They sat like that in silence for a little while, both lost in their own thoughts. After what must have been fifteen minutes, Combeferre cleared his throat and spoke very softly.
"It can't go on like this, Enjolras," he said, brushing back Enjolras' curls when he felt the boy tense up. "You're scared to death...you moved the majority of my furniture in front of my door...this is not healthy behaviour, you know that as well as I do. It can't go on like this..."
Enjolras sniffled and leaned in closer to Combeferre, resting the side of his head against his older friend's chest. He knew Combeferre was right and he had promised to himself that he would talk if Combeferre came back. But he was still reluctant; he was still so afraid of what might happen afterwards.
"I've spoken to Feuilly today," Combeferre continued in a calm voice, "He told me what happened at the store...he overheard some words between you two. You know, with what Feuilly told me and with my own observations, I think that I already have an idea of what it is that you're keeping from me...I'm not ignorant, Enjolras...I've observed your behaviour in specific circumstances for three months now...But I'd really like to hear from you what it is that keeps bothering you. I want you to tell me what else your father forced you to do; I want you to tell me about that man and why you panicked yesterday...I want you to open up to me. It's time, you know that..."
Enjolras shivered and clenched his hands into fists. His mouth had gone dry and his heart was hammering wildly in his chest. "I can't...I don't know where to begin or how to start...I-I can't..." He feared Combeferre would be irritated again, but even if he was, he did not show it.
"Well, I think we've really run out of other options, Enjolras," Combeferre said kindly and he squeezed his young friend's shoulder. "But like I said...I have a hunch of what it is that's haunting you and if you want I can ask you questions and you tell me your story by answering them. We can go as slow as you like and if you don't know how to answer, I'll ask it differently...Or you can tell me the story on your own, without the questions, but it's either of these two options, there is no fleeing the subject anymore."
Enjolras tensed up even more and he felt a vague pounding in his head. All the stress was really starting to take a toll on him and he knew Combeferre was right. He had to talk, even though he really didn't want to. He wondered how much Combeferre really thought he knew about his past. Surely, he hadn't been much of an open book, not even to his friend. He took a deep breath and leaned further in to Combeferre's chest. "I want to do the question thing," he whispered timidly and he could've sworn Combeferre let out a relieved breath.
"Alright then," Combeferre said kindly, "Do you want me to get you something to drink first? Or eat maybe?" He wanted to make Enjolras as comfortable as possible, but his young friend curled his fist in Combeferre's shirt and shook his head.
"I just want to get this over with," Enjolras sighed, his voice quivering ever so slightly.
Combeferre smiled sadly and pressed a light kiss on top of the blond curls that flowed gracefully from Enjolras' head. "Alright then," he said again, "Alright, well, I wanted to start with something that happened a few months ago when we were visiting my parents."
Enjolras nodded silently. He was pretty sure he knew what Combeferre was talking about, but he did not speak up yet, afraid of being wrong.
"Do you remember that afternoon when we were all sitting together in the living room and father received his newspaper? There was an article in there about the finding of a missing child that had been kidnapped and sold as a servant."
Combeferre felt Enjolras grow tense again and he knew he was getting somewhere important.
"You panicked when my father read that article and left the room. You broke down when I followed you a few moments later...Can you tell me why that is?"
Enjolras swallowed thickly and he suddenly had a hard time getting enough air. This was a mistake. He didn't want to do this. It was too much; too humiliating. He shook his head.
Combeferre reached out and took hold of Enjolras' hand. "It's just me, Enjolras, you can talk to me, you can tell me anything, I promise...T-That article...did something similar happen to you?"
Enjolras squeezed Combeferre's hand hard and tried his best to ignore the tears that clouded his vision. He wouldn't let them fall. Not yet. But his throat felt far too constricted to speak, so he nodded jerkily a few times, lips pressed together in a thin line.
"But you weren't kidnapped," Combeferre continued calmly, giving Enjolras time to build up the courage to speak. This time his young friend shook his head slowly and Combeferre asked the question that would lay part of Enjolras' secret out in the open. "Did your father force you to work for other people, Enjolras?"
Enjolras' throat tightened painfully and the lump that had been there ever since he thought Combeferre had left, turned into a solid rock. He knew he was not going to be able to keep the tears at bay anymore and he brought his free hand to his face as soon as the first sob ripped through his throat. It had been such a long time ago that his father made that decision but it still hurt him more than any wound or illness could. Warm tears spilled over his cheeks and he nodded. "Y-Yes," he mouthed silently. And strangely enough, Enjolras felt part of the weight lift from his shoulders as soon as the word was out.
Combeferre nodded and gritted his teeth. Oh how he hated this man he had never met. He had never known it possible to hate someone so fiercely. He gave Enjolras a moment to collect himself and then asked quietly: "Can you tell me something about when that started? How it happened?"
Enjolras nodded again, wiping the tears away with his free hand. The other was still desperately clutching Combeferre's. He took a deep breath and began talking in a small voice. "T-There was this d-dinner party my father hosted when...when I was nearly nine years old...And father made me serve them all the entire night...It...It had always been like that, s-so I didn't think any different of it...b-but apparently one of his friends, a-a pompous, arrogant man, told my father that he'd wish he had a...a...p-pretty thing l-like me to work in his house instead of the 'filthy' ones h-he had..."
Enjolras breath kept hitching and he had a hard time getting the words out. Combeferre carefully placed his hand at the nape of Enjolras' neck. "Try to relax, my friend, it's still just you and me...I'm still right here, not going anywhere. It's okay to take a breath every now and then, we're doing this at your pace, remember?"
Enjolras nodded and closed his eyes for a moment. "I was present w-when he said that, but I never realized he was making some sort of suggestion u-until father came to me a couple of weeks later...on...on my birthday to tell me that I...that he...that I was being sent off to one of his friends' house to work..."
Enjolras was quiet again, save for his silent gasps and his quivering lip. "I-I didn't want to go. I b-begged him not to do that to me. I begged him not to s-s...t-to sell me... Not to rob me of that l-little bit of dignity I still had...But he didn't listen! He just yelled at me and l-locked me in my room...And m-mother didn't do anything e-either...and I...and I hate them for doing that to me. Because it still hurts! It still hurts 'Ferre...it still hurts..."
He was crying again; clinging to Combeferre's body as he spoke, stuttered and whispered. And every word stabbed Combeferre's heart like a knife. He held Enjolras close and whispered soothing words to him until his friend started to calm down again. Then he got up to get some water for both of them, which wasn't an easy task, because Enjolras was reluctant to let go of him. "How many families did you go to?" Combeferre asked softly when he returned and made sure Enjolras had at least emptied half the glass of water.
"Two at first, but that number gradually grew to nine...By the time I left it was nine, if you count my father too, then ten."
Combeferre nodded but kept silent. He gently squeezed Enjolras' hand again, a wordless encouragement to continue.
"T-They could h-hire me for a day or a weekend, sometimes a week, but never longer than a week and never the same family two times in a row...Father didn't want people to get suspicious so he made sure I had frequent breaks in which I worked in our own house and continued to be homeschooled..."
Now that Enjolras was finally letting it all out, he realized how heavily it had been weighing on his shoulders all this time. The more he spoke, the easier it got. And Combeferre was still there. Enjolras could hardly believe that he still wanted to be there, but he was.
"How did they treat you?"
Enjolras swallowed. This was a topic he least liked to talk about, because it brought back so many painful memories. "Uh...t-they...most of them treated me much the same as my father. I-I was their servant, you see...so they were allowed to punish me when I did something wrong...but some used to punish me for fun too...There were a few families that were really nice to me; I liked it better there than at my father's, b-but they hardly hired me because my father was reluctant to send me somewhere I felt at ease..."
Combeferre nodded again and swallowed. Ever since he first met Enjolras he had had this hunch about what happened to him and even though he prayed with all his heart that he was wrong, the feeling only got stronger. He decided that now was the time to get to the bottom of this, because Enjolras was clearly still holding back; was still keeping something from him.
"They hired you to do chores in and around the house?"
"Yes," Enjolras answered quietly.
"They didn't force you to do anything else? Anything against your will?"
Combeferre felt Enjolras freeze next to him and he closed his eyes. Oh, how he had hoped for a simple 'no'. Of course everything had been against Enjolras' will, but both of them knew what Combeferre was referring to.
"The...t-the man who called me pretty," Enjolras whispered weakly, now holding Combeferre's hand in a death grip. "He...after a few times h-he summoned me upstairs and...a-and he ordered me to...to undress and l-lie down on his divan...h-he wouldn't touch me or anything, b-but he just stared at me, picturing every inch of me and then he'd disappear into his bathroom. I was allowed to dress again when he came out. T-That happened a few times..."
Enjolras wondered if it was possible for tears to dry out, because his seemed to go on forever. He buried his face further into Combeferre's chest, letting his shirt soak up the salty water that kept spilling from his eyes. He knew that his friend wasn't done yet; knew he would find a way to get to his secret. The reason why he was disgraced and disgusting and Combeferre would loathe him if he knew. But Enjolras had promised to be honest and to be open and he never broke a promise to Combeferre.
"A-And the man that...that visited the shop yesterday?
And there it was. Enjolras wished he was dead. But he had to be strong, only for a little while more. As soon as Combeferre knew everything, he would want to leave and Enjolras could break down as much as he wanted. When he spoke his voice was waverthin, vulnerable and shaky.
"H-He was one of the people I liked going to. He had a nice f-family...A son of my age. I really liked the son, he was my first and only friend ever at that time. We could talk about everything; he was everything that I was not. He was always so happy and enthusiastic and he could get excited about almost anything. Being around him made me feel better too. T-They hardly gave me chores, I could eat at the dinner table with them, they let me sleep in a real bed...I really liked going there and I trusted them."
And that must have been one of the biggest mistakes of his life. Enjolras took a deep breath and squeezed his eyes shut before he continued.
"It went like that for almost a year and I even looked forward to going there...So when one day the man came to pick me up again, I was happy, maybe even a little excited, because I would see my friend again...B-But he wasn't home and neither was the mom...It was just...just him and me and I still didn't think anything of it, because I trusted him..."
Combeferre already knew the rest of the story. He was certain of it. He also understood much better why Enjolras had such a hard time trusting people. His grip around his young friend tightened and he rested his chin on top of the blond curls.
"He...H-He ordered me to go upstairs to...to the main bedroom and I went, b-because he t-told me to and I had to do what I was being told."
Enjolras was sobbing again, words spilling out of his mouth alongside hitching breaths and gasps. "I tried to fight him off, 'Ferre, I did, I really did. I didn't want him to do that to me! But he was so strong and he had me pinned down on the bed and he hit me again and again until I could hardly move...and then he...he..." He couldn't say it. He couldn't speak the words.
"It hurt so much and I felt so disgusting and mortified and stupid. I hated every bit of me. A-And when he was done...I-I couldn't move, I was too weak and too shocked. A-And I only found the courage to run hours after...He was asleep...didn't hear me go. And then I just ran and kept running..."
To Paris, Combeferre thought as he carefully rocked the sobbing boy in his arms. He didn't even realize he was crying himself. To Paris where I found you injured and terrified. He had always thought the wounds he treated back then were Enjolras' father's doing; always thought the limp he had was because of an injured ankle. Combeferre had always suspected that Enjolras had been molested; all the signs were there. The reluctance to be touched, the mood swings, the nightmares, the prudeness, his distrust and fear of older men. He had always suspected it, but now that the words were actually out, Combeferre's world was spinning and he felt sick to his stomach.
(So yeah, like I said, this was a dark chapter. But at least everything is out in the open now. Please review and let me know what you think? Thanks!)