Simple Joys and Challenging Tasks
"What 'bout this one, 'Ferre? Another butterfly?"
Combeferre hurries over to young Enjolras' side, bending down to see what the three-year-old has found. "Oh, that's a nice one! It's not a butterfly, though. It's a type of moth. The Latin name is Luquetia lobella. I caught one last year, though this one is a very nice specimen too."
Enjolras stares between the gray-and-black moth on the bush and Combeferre, frowning in intense thought. "Not a butterfly?"
"No." Combeferre smiles, twisting the twig that the moth is resting on out so that Enjolras can see their find better. "See how its antenna are fuzzy, like they have fur? A butterfly's antennae are thin and not furry, while a moth's antennae are furry. And see how it holds its wings, and the way that its wings are attached together? It's different in a butterfly. I can show you later, when we're back inside."
"Not a butterfly. A moth."
"A moth. A Luquetia lobella."
"Lo—la—lu—luketa bella." Enjolras frowns. "A moth. It's a moth, and 'Ferre likes moths."
"Yes. I like moths." Combeferre finds himself smiling again at the smaller boy. He had expected to hate having to look after the younger child while their parents visited, but he's found Enjolras an unexpectedly bright and eager boy, smarter than some of the children Combeferre's own age. There are some things that the child has trouble with still, though, mainly having to do with pronouncing longer words. He had listened intently to Combeferre's full name being given before gravely and certainly determining that he would be 'Ferre' for the rest of the day. "Let's go see what else we can find, shall we?"
The estate is a morass of grass and puddles, having been drenched in a steady gray rainfall over the last four days, and Enjolras skitters happily across it, jumping in every puddle that he can find. Combeferre follows him, finding that despite his much more mature age of six years old it really is still quite enjoyable to plant both feet in a puddle, feeling and seeing the water sluice up around him, his shoes sticking slightly in the mud when he goes to pull free.
"Found another one, 'Ferre!" Enjolras settles down on his heels, his chin resting on his knees, and points excitedly down at the ground. "It's a worm. Unless there are things like worms that aren't worms, like there are moths that aren't butterflies."
After a moment of parsing the sentence Combeferre decides that it not only makes sense but is actually a rather astute synopsis of the situation, at least from Enjolras' point of view. "Though there are worm-like creatures that aren't worms, the one that you've found here is most definitely a worm. It's a—"
A long string of names rings out, each belonging to Combeferre, and he hunkers down lower with each sound, knowing that his mother is furious with him—it's the only time she uses all his names—though he's not entirely certain right now what he might have done to incur wrath. Sometimes predicting adults was an impossible and thankless task.
"Young man." His mother appears over his shoulder. "What are the two of you doing?"
Combeferre looks down at the worm and then up at his mother. "Looking at invertebrates, Mother."
Putting a hand to her forehead, his mother draws a handful of deep breaths. "Looking at invertebrates. Of course you are. You do remember that I asked you to watch young Enjolras until it was time for dinner?"
"Yes." Combeferre glances at the boy beside him. "He's still right here."
"Yes. He's also covered head to toe in mud, not an inch of him left unscathed."
"That's an exaggeration." There are several parts of Enjolras' body that aren't covered in mud, though there are splashes of sticky gray and brown caught in his hair, on his face, and, generally, across the length and breadth of his body. Perhaps it isn't that much of an exaggeration after all. "You can still tell the color of all his clothes, so he can't be completely covered."
"Child, I swear, you're both far too intelligent for your age and far too foolish." Shaking her head, his mother studies the two of them again and then presses her lips together, clearly suppressing a smile. "Dinner is in a little over an hour. The two of you need to be presentable. Since you have gotten yourselves into this predicament, I am going to request that you get yourselves out. I will have the servants fill the bath, because otherwise you will never meet the timeline, and I will have your and Enjolras' evening clothes brought to the bath, but you will be responsible for getting both him and yourself presentable. Understood?"
Combeferre stands and inclines his head. "Yes, mother."
"Good." His mother turns away from them, back toward the house. "Perhaps this will teach you to be a bit more careful in your studies, lest you make more work for both yourself and others."
"Perhaps." Combeferre tugs on Enjolras' sleeve, urging the younger boy to follow him back up to the house. He doubts he will change his habits because of this, though.
After all, how difficult can it be to give a child a bath?
"No! I don't wanna take a bath!" The young boy backs away from the gently steaming tub, his face red from screaming. "Told you, I took a bath already this week, don't want another!"
"Yes, but you're dirty." Combeferre edges closer to the other boy again. They're both filthy now, Combeferre mostly from attempting to wrestle Enjolras' clothes off him one at a time in between protests from the smaller boy. It's really unfair how dexterous Enjolras is, his spine seeming to twist any way he needs it to in order to plant a kick or a blow or his teeth, and the boy is remarkably strong for his age and build. Sucking on his lip where one of Enjolras' fists struck a glancing blow, Combeferre realizes that trying to do this against the smaller boy's will is likely not going to work. Or is at least going to result in more pain and bloodshed for the both of them than his mother probably expected. "And we can't be dirty for dinner."
"Why?" Enjolras' bottom lip sticks out just slightly more than his upper one as he plants his feet and glares at Combeferre.
"Well… because it will upset our parents." Combeferre shrugs. "Because we'll get dirt on the seats and on the table, which will make for a more difficult time for the servants, and then we'll also get dirt in our food. You don't want to eat dirt, do you?"
Enjolras considers the question. "Does it taste good?"
"I… don't believe so." Combeferre tries to think back on times he's gotten mud and sand in his mouth. "Mostly it tastes gritty, sometimes a bit salty, but generally, no, it doesn't taste good."
"Why do we have to take a bath to be clean?" Enjolras crosses his arms over his chest, his unbuttoned shirt sleeves hanging askew. "What do people who don't have baths do?"
"Well… mostly I believe they simply don't get clean." Combeferre shrugs again. "They use washcloths and what water they can find to clean themselves off, but it's much harder to get completely clean without a proper bath and soap."
"I don't like the tub." Enjolras lowers his head and stares at the large brass cylinder. "It's scary."
Combeferre studies the object, bending down so that he's more on Enjolras' level. He supposes that the tub could be imposing when it's at least as tall if not taller than you are, the oft-polished and oft-dented sides reflecting the light in odd ways, the beast-heads that the feet are fashioned as seeming to watch him. "What's scary about it?"
"The feet. And the water. And the noises. Touch the sides too hard, and it goes clong." Enjolras spreads his arms out as he makes his best imitation of the noise.
"How do you know?" Combeferre straightens again. "You've never been in our tub. How do you know it makes noises?"
"Our tub at home does, and it looks like this one." Enjolras frowns, rubbing at his eye and suppressing a yawn. "Does it not make sounds, 'Ferre?"
He considers lying to the boy, just to get him into the tub faster, but if he lies and then Enjolras does cause the tub to make noise the boy won't trust him anymore. "It can make sounds, yes, but usually only when you're being very fast and rough. If we're gentle and quiet, it shouldn't make noises."
Enjolras yawns again, then sniffles and peers suspiciously at the tub some more. "And what about the feet? They look like they want to eat me."
"They're just decoration. Just metal. They can't hurt you. See?" Combeferre moves to the side of the tub, bends down, and raps against the open mouth of one of the tiny gargoyles. Grabbing the mouth between his thumb and index finger, he pretends to attempt to jerk his hand away. "Oh, no, it's got me!"
Enjolras' face turns red again, his teeth showing in an angry snarl, and he darts forward, pulling his foot back to kick at the little gargoyle.
"No, no, it's all right!" Laughing, Combeferre holds up both his hands. "I was just teasing. It didn't hurt me. It can't. It's not alive."
Enjolras very gravely takes both of Combeferre's hands, turning them over to look for injuries, and then stares into Combeferre's eyes. "'Ferre tricked me."
"I'm sorry." Guilt washes over him as he looks back into those bright blue eyes. "That was mean. I'm fine, though, and you're right by the tub and you can see that there's nothing here to hurt you."
"Lots of water." Enjolras yawns again, directly into Combeferre's face, before stretching up on tip-toes to frown down at the water in the tub. "Lots of water."
"Yes. Lots of water that my servants had to heat and bring here just for us. Do you know how much work that is for them?"
Enjolras hesitates. "Lots?"
"Yes. Lots and lots of work." As much work as convincing a tired, grumpy three-year-old that he wanted to take a bath, and Combeferre understands, he thinks, what his mother was intending with this task. "Lots of work that they had to do for us. So we have to be grateful for their work and take our baths like good boys, and try in the future not to get quite so dirty when we go outside. All right?"
"Mustn't make people do pointless work, and must compensate them for the work they do." The words have the ring of rote memorization about them, though the boy says them with a gravitas that indicates they are important to him. Enjolras' expression falters, and he turns pleading eyes on Combeferre. "Will you take a bath with me? So I don't go underwater? Went underwater in the pond two weeks ago. Scary."
"Of course I'll bathe with you." Undoing the last of the lacings on Enjolras' shirt, Combeferre pulls it up over the boy's head. "I'll stay with you as long as you want, and do my very best to make sure that nothing bad happens to you."
Enjolras doesn't protest as Combeferre removes the rest of Enjolras' clothing before quickly stripping himself and settling them both into the tub.
The younger boy falls asleep while Combeferre's busy washing all the mud out of his thick blond hair, but Combeferre keeps him from slipping under the water.
When they're both awake and dry and presentable, though Enjolras continues to rub at his eyes and yawn in weariness, Combeferre finds himself grinning, quite proud of himself and certain that his mother will be, too.