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So, I'm kind of managing to get my brain back together and still working on those drabble prompts from a while back.  This one is for MJ, who asked for Combeferre and Prouvaire and "I've never seen <i>that</i> before".  This is probably not anything like what you were going for, but hey, it's something they've never seen before, and I know you like sci-fi...

Prouvaire finds himself with a completely novel and unknown... well, he's not sure if it's a disease or not, but it's definitely weird; Combeferre treats and cares for his friend.

Warning for anyone who's really squicked out by parasitism/symbiosis.  Nothing gory or too freaky, though.


Strange Skies

"Jehan, I've never seen anything remotely like this before."

"Me, either." Jehan twists his head around, trying to look down his own back. "I could see the edges of it here, up by my shoulders, and then when I got a good look in the mirror… what do you think it is, Combeferre?"

Combeferre doesn't answer for several long seconds, his fingers tracing over the strange form that's appeared on Prouvaire's back. It's shaped vaguely like a fan—or, more accurately, like one of those sea-creatures, a sting-ray, lurking just beneath Jean's skin, providing another two centimeters or so of space between his skin and his bones. The creature's—shape's, Combeferre knows he shouldn't call it a creature until he knows if it is one—wings stretch from the tip of Jehan's right shoulder to the tip of his left, and the center of its body stretches down two-thirds of Jehan's back, a smaller tail-like appendage completing the journey down Jehan's spine to disappear into his pants. Frowning, Combeferre runs his fingers over that part of the shape. "This may sound like a strange question, but… you haven't grown a tail, have you?"

"No." Jehan smiles, gentle amusement in his voice. "Does it look like I should have?"

"I don't know. It doesn't look like anything that I've ever encountered before or even heard mention of." Tracing his fingers around the outline of the shape, Combeferre watches Jehan's face. If anything hurts, it doesn't show. "Is there any pain?"

"No. My back feels… strange. Not quite numb, but… almost tingly, like a hand that's been laid on wrong for too long." Again Jehan cranes his neck to try to look at his back. "Do you think it's going to kill me?"

"No." Combeferre puts all the certainty he can into the statement. "Or at least… I hope not. You're certain it wasn't there yesterday?"

"Very certain. Everything was quite normal yesterday. I went to class, wrote for a bit, and then decided to take a walk because it was a rather gorgeous day outside. I ended up drowsing in a garden—there were roses and irises mixed together in the most extraordinary way, and I must say that I love the look and smell of the iris despite the way the monarchy has attempted to corrupt it. Yet another thing we have to save from them."

"And your back?" Combeferre gently steers the conversation back on course.

"Well, I do believe I fell asleep for a while longer than I anticipated. When I awoke, after being rather rudely set upon by a dog, I left and went home. That's when I noticed that my shoulders felt… odd. I returned to my place and divested myself of my shirt, but I didn't see anything at the time. My back continued to feel strange, though, the sensation spreading, and when I awoke this morning and checked again…" An elegant shrug of Jehan's shoulders causes the strange shape lurking beneath his skin to undulate unsettlingly. "Not knowing what else to do, I decided to seek a more extensive knowledge base."

"But it hasn't hurt you." Combeferre's fingers itch to continue poking and prodding at the strange shape.

"No." Jehan shakes his head, shivering slightly though the room is quite warm. He's sitting on Combeferre's bed in only his trousers, though.

"And you don't feel strange other than the… odd sensation from your back."

"No. I feel like me. If anything…" Jehan turns around, catching his upper lip between his teeth for a moment. "I think I feel better than usual. I feel… energetic. Lively. Like I could dance or explore all night and then write about it all day and just continue like that forever, no break, no sleep, just exploring, just seeing, just learning."

Jehan's eyes are bright with desire, and he straightens, swinging his body all the way around, his feet finding the floor before Combeferre can think of a suitable answer.

It would be easier if this were anyone but Jehan. Well, perhaps not anyone. Some of their other friends could also go through fits of manic wildness or deep depression, but Jehan is probably the most skilled at plumbing the depths of any emotion, and Combeferre isn't sure if this burning energy is something to attribute to the creature or not.

Another shiver wracks Jehan's body. "Can I dress again, Combeferre? It's cold."

Combeferre's eyebrows climb. "Jehan, it's the middle of summer. It's anything but cold."

"Well, I'm cold. Perhaps it's the chill of fear and dread as I ponder what this strange mark upon me will mean for my future and my soul." The wry humor fades from Jehan's voice as he continues, more pensive and musing. "Is this the mark of the beast? Is this the start of some new plague, the beginning of a new Black Death? Is this some strange and fast-acting growth that will end my days rapidly? I don't know." The words are said half-flippantly, but there's honest doubt and fear in Jehan's eyes as he shivers again. "But I do know that I'm cold, so if I could get some clothes on…"

"Of course. Would you mind if I made a few quick sketches, so that I have a visual reminder to study?" Not that he's likely to forget, but having some measurements and at least a quick drawing to go off of will make studying changes to this strange phenomenon in the future easier.

When Jehan nods, turning back around and crossing his arms over his chest as another shivering bout takes him, Combeferre hastily grabs a blank parchment and pen and begins sketching.

It's when he's taking measurements that the creature—and there's no doubt in his mind afterward that it is a creature—moves again.

As Combeferre touches the skin of Jehan's left shoulder, trying to get an accurate measurement of the raised flesh, there's a fluttering, wiggling motion, and the displaced skin suddenly dips down as the shape slithers away from his touch, the creature moving to escape from his probing.

Combeferre thinks Jehan screams louder than he does as Jehan lurches forward and Combeferre leaps back, but it would probably be a toss-up to an outside observer.

"What did you do?" Jehan's hands reach frantically around his back, prodding at the creature under his skin as it continues to undulate. "What's it doing?"

"Nothing! I was just trying to see how big it is! Are you hurt? Does it hurt? What does it feel like?"

"Like waves moving under my skin, like wind trapped against my muscles, I don't know, it feels weird, it… uh… oh." Jehan straightens up, rolling his shoulders experimentally. "I think it's calming down. Has it stopped moving?"

"I think so." Combeferre stares hard at the once-again-symmetrical shape visible under Jehan's skin. "Are you all right? Do you need to lie down?"

"I'm all right." Jean stops patting at his back. "I just... well. It's not often that I find myself at a loss for words, but this might take me a bit of processing."

"Do you want me to try to remove it surgically?" Combeferre makes the suggestion tentatively, his right hand tracing the skin above the creature, his mind immediately filling with all the possibilities of things that could go wrong. An incision large enough to peel the form free of Jehan's body would be difficult enough on its own, and prone to festering just because of the size. He'd need to enlist a handful of people in order to hold Jehan down, because even if Jehan tried his best to stay still it would be difficult to keep from moving when it would undoubtedly feel as though someone were flaying him alive—when Combeferre would be flaying him alive, though with the best of intentions. Any sudden movements, especially with Combeferre working close to Jehan's spinal cord at least part of the time, could be disastrous. And given that it seems the creature is alive and capable of moving beneath Jehan's skin easily…

"On a scale of painful to impossible, how difficult would it be?" Jehan's tone is gently teasing.

Feeling his face flush, Combeferre finds his eyes falling away from Jehan's too-knowing look. "It would be very difficult. There could certainly be consequences."

"I could die. Or something equally terrifying." Jehan's voice softens as he speaks.

"Yes." Combeferre pulls his hand away from Jehan's skin.

"I could tell, from the way you got so quiet and your fingers shook." Letting out a long, slow sigh, Jehan closes his eyes. "And if we do nothing… what?"

"I don't know." He hates having to say the words again, hates that there's an edge of excitement at the possibility of doing nothing, of seeing what occurs. This is Jehan. This is one of his dearest friends, and he doesn't want to see something terrible happen to him.

But what if it's not terrible? What if it isn't some parasite that will damage Jehan? What if it's…

What? What other possibilities are there? He doesn't know, and in the lack of knowledge there is infinite, terrifying, wondrous possibility.

"It doesn't hurt. I feel fine." A shudder runs the length of Jehan's frame again. "Other than being freezing."

Draping Jehan's shirt over his shoulders, Combeferre turns to finishing his sketch. "We could show it to others—to some of my professors, to some of the physicians at the hospital."

Sliding into the shirt, rubbing his arms briskly to generate heat, Jehan makes a non-committal noise. "Do you think any of them have seen something like this?"

"In all honesty… no." Adding a few finishing strokes to the sketch, Combeferre sets it aside and meets Jehan's eyes again. "I've been prizing all the information I can from them for the last three and a half years. I'm fairly certain they would have told me about something like this."

Jehan nods, slowly. "So there's nothing more that they could do to help me."

"Not that I can think of." Combeferre reaches out, grasping Jehan's hand firmly in his. "But just because I can't think of it doesn't mean there's no hope. Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps this is something they've seen before, and they'll have a treatment."

"Or perhaps they won't." Chewing on his bottom lip again, Jehan shakes his head. "What do they do with strange cases, Combeferre? The doctors and the students and the professors?"

"They… do the best they can to help."

"But when they can't?" A sad smile pulls the corners of Jehan's lips up. "Or when they think their patients can't hear? I've heard Joly talking, you know, about how much it hurts him, sometimes, to hear the things his fellow students and doctors say. I suppose I wouldn't be the maggot-man, at least, or the rotting-hand or the swollen dick. What nickname do you think they would come up with for me? What things would they whisper I had done to bring this upon myself?"

"I wouldn't let them." Combeferre wishes he could say that it wouldn't happen, even without him, that it wasn't something the would-be healers partook in, but he remembers too many whispered phrases. He remembers too many times, during his first year, when he would smile or pick up the shorthand himself, using crude and painful humor as a buffer between his soul and the horrors that paraded before them during autopsies and rounds. It had taken a crying mother to make him realize how terrible some of the things they said would sound to an outsider, and he had vowed never to use the epithets again himself.

It had taken seeing Joly's expression trapped somewhere between horror and defeat as he called a double-amputation child stump boy to make Combeferre vow that the epithets would never happen in his presence.

"Could you stop them?" Jehan doesn't wait for an answer. "And when I die? Will they enjoy cutting me up and saving the pieces? Because I know they do that, with the most fascinating cases. Would pieces of me and this new creature be saved in a collection somewhere, to be passed from school to school and museum to museum, an example of how wonderful and terrible nature can be?"

The idea doesn't seem as repulsive to Jehan as it would be to most people, but it makes Combeferre's blood run cold. "No. There's no need to think that this is necessarily fatal, but if it were I would see your body properly cared for."

"And they call me a romantic." Jehan grins up at Combeferre.

"No, we call you a Romantic, there's a distinct and important difference and you know it." Squeezing Jehan's fingers, Combeferre finds himself smiling, as well. "You know it's supposed to be my job to make you feel better, not vice versa."

"Oh, believe me, I am going to cry and flail and give you every opportunity to hold and comfort me once we've come to a decision on what to do. Which is not, I think, go to your teachers." Eyes darting to the curtained window, Jehan sits up a bit straighter. "If there's a possibility that this might be one of my last nights—and given how large this creature is already, I'd say it's a reasonable fear to have—I would not like to spend it as a laboratory specimen or curiosity."

Thinking of Jehan traipsing through the streets, undoubtedly doing everything and anything that comes into his mind, Combeferre finds a different unpleasant possibility springing to the forefront of his thoughts. "I'm not sure you should be going too many places. You mentioned the Black Death, and though this does seem to be more a case of parasitism, we've no idea where it came from or how it's spread."

"Ah." Disappointment blooms on Jehan's face as his hands still, some of the energy that had been building as his eyes contemplated unseen potentials dissipating. "Well, I would hate to be a plague-carrier, bringing whatever this is from place to place. Though if you're worried about it being catching…"

"Yes. I intend to keep myself here, as well, at least until we know more of what's going to happen." Setting aside his sketch, Combeferre lifts a hand to cup Jehan's cheek. "I'll make notes of everything that's occurring, and care for you as best I can, providing what distractions I have at hand. I do hope you've a love of fire, books, and insects, because I believe those are the mainstays of my entertainment offerings."

"I'm sure I'll enjoy the company, at the very least." Jehan smiles again, a gentler expression. "Though… how long do you expect this to take?"

"We've no idea what's going to happen, Jehan, let alone what time-table it will follow." Standing, Combeferre moves to one of his bookshelves and begins perusing the titles. "We'll simply wait and see, and handle everything as it comes."

XXX

They pass the remainder of the afternoon and early evening companionably, playing cards and dominos for a bit, following it up with a game of chess. Combeferre wins, finding that playing against Jehan is an odd amalgamation of playing against Courfeyrac and Enjolras. Jehan has Courfeyrac's flare and propensity for bold, unsafe, surprising maneuvers, but a bit more of Enjolras' ability for tactics and planning, making him an interesting opponent. Jehan challenges him to a game from the Orient as soon as Jehan's king has fallen, smiling wickedly as he does, and Combeferre accepts, though it requires them creating a board and pieces from blank paper. They color half of the paper scraps black and leave the other half plain, and use extra insect mounting pins to keep the pieces from skittering off the board. Jehan beats him thoroughly three times in ten minutes, and Combeferre makes him spend the next hour explaining the rules and strategy of the game in more detail.

They eat a cold dinner of bread and fruit, Jehan shivering all the while, and Combeferre finds that the man is now sporting a low fever, though he isn't sweating and shows no signs of delirium. Coercing Jehan into stripping down is harder than it had been before, the poet shuddering and fidgeting the whole time, complaining of cold though the room is sweltering, but Combeferre manages. The creature is slightly larger now, and also more firmly affixed, merely undulating in place when Combeferre annoys it rather than sliding underneath Jehan's skin as it had before.

"That feels so strange." Jehan arches away from Combeferre's fingers. "Not painful, but strange. Ah, I wish that something would happen. I've never been very good at this waiting."

"Be patient." Combeferre hands Jehan his shirt, not surprised to find that he immediately slithers back into it. "I'm sure something interesting will happen before we're ready."

"If we were ready, would it be as interesting? Or does preparation naturally diminish the impact of any event?" Sliding into his waistcoat, jacket, and a borrowed jacket of Combeferre's, huddling down into the too-large loaned clothes, Jehan stares up at him with bright eyes.

"I would say that none of our preparations have made the revolution any less fascinating." Pulling out another blank sheet of paper, Combeferre carefully notes the date and time and begins recording his findings.

"Yes, but that's partly because we can never be totally prepared." Jehan straightens a bit, though he still has his hands pulled into the sleeves of Combeferre's jacket. "We can horde weapons and be sure we know how to use them. We can distribute information and try to bring people to our side. We can monitor the pulse of the people and wait for the right moment to strike. But we aren't actually able to control when the furor of the people will ebb and when it will rise to the occasion. We can make guesses, but we can't be completely sure about who will stand with us and who will betray their oaths. Even when we win a military victory, we can't be certain we'll win the war—I think 1830 taught us that. And that's to say nothing of the madness that's fighting on a barricade, the surges of soldiers, the spirit of the fighters, the patterns of the weather that can make or break a revolution. We can prepare, but we can never truly be prepared. Only a bit less overwhelmed."

"A good way to go through life, if you can—less overwhelmed than the enemy." Smiling, Combeferre focuses his attention on finishing his notes and then pulls another sheet of paper to him.

He addresses the note to Joly, as the one with medical knowledge most likely to find them should the worst come to pass. He keeps it short and succinct, referring to his notes and explaining his quarantine procedure.

While he's working, Jehan slides a sheet of paper over to him and pulls his hands free of his sleeves enough to grab a pen and begins writing, as well.

XXX

They write for two hours, until it's well and truly dark outside. Seeing Jehan lost in concentration, hearing muttered snippets of poetry turned over and over in multiple languages, Combeferre finds himself loathe to interrupt the man's creativity and instead turns to penning more documents of his own.

His note to Courfeyrac is brief, a combination of affection and teasing that he hopes will get across his intended message.

His note to Enjolras swiftly takes on a life of its own, warnings and admonitions about the future mixing with praise and fond recollections of the past. Before he's quite aware of what's happening he's including messages to the others in his note to Enjolras, and by the time he's done several pages have taken shape seemingly of their own volition. He's quite certain he'll need to burn the pages in the event that they survive or risk endless teasing from Bahorel and Bossuet.

When he's done he folds the pages together and places them carefully on the center of his desk, for either easy finding or easy destruction.

Turning to Jehan, he waits patiently for the poet to finish scratching out and rewriting bits of the poem he's working on. Laying a hand on Jehan's shoulder, he draws the man's attention back to him from whatever other world he's been seeing. "It's late. Let me see your back once more, and then we should get some sleep."

"Where?" Jehan reluctantly begins disentangling himself from his layers of clothing. "The sleeping, I mean. Where do you want me?"

Combeferre considers for a moment, gathering his notes, though there's really only one option. "We'll sleep in my bed. I can provide extra heat for you."

"You're certain?" Biting on his thumbnail, Jehan shifts uncomfortably, his teeth beginning to chatter. "I… would very much prefer nothing bad happen to you, my friend."

"Agreed. But there's really no other good option, and I…" Combeferre glances away from Jehan's too-direct gaze. "I would give you that comfort, if you'll accept it."

"Gladly." Jehan smiles. "Though I can't promise that you'll get a good night's sleep."

Making his few quick preliminary notes, Combeferre sets aside the papers in order to help Jehan bundle up again. "I'm quite certain I'll sleep just fine."

XXX

He sleeps terribly.

He doesn't know if it's Jehan's fever or just a natural inclination of the poet's, but Jehan continually pulls the sheet and thin comforter away from Combeferre in order to cocoon himself. That would be fine, the heat of the night making Combeferre doubt he would desire the sheet anyway, except that the Jehan-cocoon seems incapable of staying on one side of the bed. Jehan starts on the left side of the bed, twists, turns, crawls, and sprawls his way into the center of the bed, and eventually has Combeferre pressed up hard against the wall. When Combeferre carefully crawls over the mass of fabric-swathed poet, the episode repeats itself in reverse, Jehan's body seeming drawn to his heat but unwilling to properly share the bed.

Between the heat and the slow chase, Combeferre isn't surprised to find his sleep an interrupted mess of nightmares.

Jehan's isn't terribly restful, either, and Combeferre wakes the poet four times, once when he's babbling in French, once when he's screaming out protestations in half-intelligible English phrases, once when he's speaking a language Combeferre doesn't know but suspects is Oriental, and once when he's making sounds that Combeferre doesn't know whether to classify as a language or not.

(It's the last one that scares him, the is-it-or-isn't-it words, because if they are words why do they sound so foreign, so alien? He's heard Jehan speak in multiple languages before, read poems where he slides from Latin to English to French and back with ease and dexterity, so why these strange languages only now?)

Jehan, for his part, wakes Combeferre from nightmares twice. The first nightmare isn't unexpected, his mind playing what-if, and it takes him a moment between waking and realizing that the reason Jehan is holding him and shaking him is because Jehan is trying to wake him, not because Jehan is bleeding and dying, his blood dripping black-red from his laid-open back, his words terribly mangled.

(Never mind that he knows damage to the spine would affect the legs, not the mind; the worst thing he could do to Jehan would be to rob him of his speech, of his ability to communicate the vast array of ideas that play through his mind, and so that is the scenario that his nightmare gives him.)

The second nightmare is more terrible and more strange, unlike anything else he has had, a vision wherein Jehan is an empty husk animated by a monstrous, misshapen sea-creature, his skin stretching and contracting strangely as the not-sting-ray attempts to play the part of a human.

(He recoils from Jehan's touch after that nightmare, and though Jehan understands, the hurt that it engenders in the poet's eyes is enough to overcome the bitter taste of fear. Wrapping his arms around Jehan, Combeferre buries his head against the poet's shoulder, trying not to notice the undulating motion of the creature currently sharing Jehan's skin as his hands press against Jehan's back.)

They both manage to sleep solidly for the last part of the night, so that Combeferre isn't completely exhausted when finally dawn comes and he crawls out of bed to begin the hunt for edible breakfast foods.

(His third and final nightmare, that he will wake and Jehan will be dead, is easily disproved by the steady rise and fall of Jehan's chest, and in his relief he presses a kiss to Jehan's forehead, grateful when his selfish action doesn't wake the feverish man.)

Checking himself carefully for any signs of the parasite, Combeferre finally concludes that if he's infested it hasn't grown to a point where it's recognizable. Though he would prefer to maintain a strict quarantine, he needs food for both himself and Jehan.

Wrapping himself in multiple layers of clothes, trying to ignore the way sweat begins collecting on and slicking his skin almost immediately, Combeferre leaves a brief note for Jehan and heads out to buy them necessities for a few days.

It was one of the worst nights of sleep he ever had.

Yawning as he closes and locks his door, Combeferre also knows that there isn't a thing he would change about it if he could.

XXX

Jehan is awake when Combeferre returns, dressed and sitting at the desk, writing again. He looks up when Combeferre enters, his face breaking into a wide, fierce grin. "Welcome home!"

"Thanks." Covering another yawn, Combeferre sets down his bags and paces over to Jehan. "How are you feeling?"

"Absolutely wonderful." Still grinning, Jehan carefully sets down his pen. "There's something I need to talk to you about, though."

Pressing his hand to Jehan's forehead, Combeferre frowns. Jehan's fever is even higher than it had been yesterday, though he isn't sweating or shivering. "Of course. Could I see how the creature's changed?"

"Certainly. Though that's part of what I want to talk to you about. It's finished growing, you see." Jehan strips out of his clothes, shivering as he does. "And it's talking to me now."

Combeferre's fingers pull back abruptly from Jehan's skin, his breath catching in his throat. "What?"

"It's talking to me. In my head. Can I put my clothes back on?"

When Combeferre doesn't respond, Jehan clearly takes it as an invitation to dress again. Finally finding his tongue, not sure whether to be fascinated by or terrified of this new development, Combeferre steers Jehan over to the bed. "What do you mean, it's talking to you?"

"It's able to send me thoughts, and it's able to read my thoughts. Something about connecting to my neural system once it became mature enough." Jehan stands again almost immediately, wandering over to the bags. "Mind if I eat? I'm hungry. It says that's because it's been growing."

"Sure." Following Jehan, Combeferre watches as he begins happily tearing pieces off a loaf of bread. "I think you might need to go back to the beginning and restart explaining things, though."

"The thing on my back is an alien." Jehan swallows a mouthful of food. "A very alien alien—it says it's from another star system, in a different constellation. I'll have it point the right one out to you—it say it can control my body, if I give it the opportunity, so it shouldn't be a problem. It came here as an explorer, to learn about humanity, and has been traveling the world. It was in Japan last, that's an island in the Orient, and it's last host called it 'Kouki', that means curious child, and I kind of like the name so I think I'm going to keep it. It knows a lot—I'm sure you'll have fun talking science with it—but it's not supposed to tell us much about anything we haven't learned yet, and it's mainly interested in the different cultures that humans have and our response to creatures like it—it's trying to figure out if it's safe for others of its kind."

Combeferre blinks, trying to take in all that Jehan's saying. "Wait—it can control your body?"

"Yes." Jehan nods. "But only if I let it—it can speak to you directly, if you want, but I thought you'd be less frightened if I gave you the short version of events first and you could talk with it directly later."

"Well… yes." It's a wild tale, if it's true, and half of Combeferre wants to dismiss it as impossible, a fever dream, but Jehan's acting and sounding like himself, even if the things he's saying are mad. "I am much more likely to accept things from you than from some… alien parasite. Has it said what it's going to do to you? What happened to his original host?"

"Nothing. The boy that was his last host wanted to stay in Japan, and Koukiko wanted to explore the world more. So Koukiko and he went their separate ways, neither one injured during the adventure." Another quick grin from Jehan. "Death watch lifted. It's going to use my body as protection against the elements here, like it'd use a symbiotic species they have at home, but it's not going to hurt me. It even says it'll leave any time I ask, though it requests that I only ask if we're near an acceptable host or its ship, because it doesn't want to die."

"You believe him—it?" Hope glimmers in Combeferre's chest, a release of a tight band around his heart that he hadn't even realized was there.

"I do." Jehan takes his hand and gives it a brief squeeze. "I think he and I would find it very hard to lie to each other. So we can stop worrying, and get on with the fun part."

Combeferre raises his eyebrows. "And which part would that be?"

"The part where you and I try to untangle the complicated threads of its home planet and culture." The grin that spreads across Jehan's face makes Combeferre slightly worried. "And the part where I practice and you study the fascinating things it says my body should be able to do now that it's integrated."

XXX

Enjolras is the last of the Amis to arrive at the Musain, having been detained by a meeting with another group. He expects to walk into a madhouse, his companions drinking and otherwise entertaining themselves.

None of his wildest imaginings could have prepared him for what he sees as he steps into their back room, though.

"Jehan." Enjolras closes the door behind him and sets his books and bag down on an empty table. "Why are you standing on a table, and why is Bahorel about to set your coat on fire?"

Combeferre flushes as he turns around to face Enjolras, his mouth opening but no sound emerging.

Jehan smiles charmingly down at Enjolras, hunkering down so they're at a more even level. "It's an experiment. It was my and Bahorel's idea."

"It's going to look fantastic." Bahorel's grin is wide as he carefully sets down the candles that he was holding. "But we can wait until later, I suppose."

Enjolras raises one eyebrow slightly. "I'm afraid that I still don't understand."

Joly answers, his expression tight with nervous energy, one of his hands holding hard to Bossuet's shirt sleeve. "Combeferre and Jehan think that Jehan's being possessed by an alien organism—a creature from a different star system. It apparently gives him an immunity to heat. He's been holding his hand in flames of varying intensities for the last ten minutes or so, and he hasn't come to any harm, so he and Bahorel decided to try setting his clothes on fire, though that's a rather dramatic up-scale and, I think, rather dangerous."

"Koukiko says that I'll be fine, and I believe it." Jehan jumps off the table, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "Can you just imagine how I'd look, dancing while aflame? How the world would look to me, seen between tongues of red cleansing warmth? It would be beautiful. It would be unique. It—"

"Could be dangerous to the building, don't you think?" Bossuet makes the interjection coolly, arms crossed over his chest.

"No." Jehan shakes his head. "I wouldn't risk letting the Musain be injured."

"Wait." Enjolras holds up a hand. "Could we go back to the part where Jehan's possessed by some kind of foreign star-creature?"

"Koukiko." Jehan's voice caresses the word, awe filling his features. "That's what it's having us call it. Enjolras, the worlds he describes, the people, the cultures, it's astounding. You'll learn so much!"

"Indeed." Enjolras frowns slightly. "And has he learned a great deal in return about us?"

"Yes." Jehan's answer is prompt and honest. "But don't worry. He's beholden not to interfere in the political workings of any host-world he ends up in, or endangering his host. He won't tell anyone anything about the work we're doing. And he's on our side. He believes in freedom and equality for all—the idea that one man could declare control and rule over others who have no say in the matter is deeply distressing to him, as is the matter of censorship."

"Is there the possibility of this creature turning us in, then? When the others say possessed…?"

"He can control my body, but only if I allow it. Or, I suppose, if I'm sleeping." Jehan's hand touches lightly at Enjolras', his voice earnest. "Believe me, Enjolras, I would not risk any of you or our cause. Combeferre and I have spent the last week doing experiments, becoming as certain of my situation as we could be, and I've no intention of leaving myself unguarded. Combeferre, Bahorel, and Bossuet have all agreed to help guard me over the next few days."

Enjolras looks to the others, who acknowledge their involvement with a nod, a bright grin, and a shrug in turn. "And the fire?"

"One of the changes Koukiko's symbiotic merging with me has wrought. My natural body temperature has risen, and my skin is less vulnerable to flame. And… if I try very hard…" Jehan closes his eyes, cupping his right hand as though holding water.

For several long seconds nothing happens. Then a tiny blue flame flickers from the palm of his hand.

Laughing, Jehan shakes his hand, and the flame dies away as Jehan beams around at the Amis. "If I wish, I can even do that."

Enjolras nods, considering what he's been told as he pulls a chair out and settles down. "You said Koukiko's symbiotically attached to you? How?"

Jehan immediately spins around, stripping his shirt and jacket off his shoulders with practiced ease. "He stretches along the majority of my back, but I hate having to take my clothes off entirely, so have a look at the top of his form. If top's the proper word. He's able to shift his sensory and neural systems around, to facilitate interface with his host."

"And it hasn't hurt you?" Enjolras looks to Combeferre.

"It hasn't seemed to cause any pain or change in his thought processes, though it has changed his physiology somewhat, and it doesn't seem to be able to spread to other people, as best as I can tell." Combeferre's voice takes on the eager, energetic tone that Enjolras has come to associate with some new and arcane area of scientific inquiry. "Do you understand how amazing this is, Enjolras?"

"I'm sure you'll enlighten me." Enjolras smiles, glad to have Combeferre and Jehan back meeting with them again. "Though I do have to ask, given what we've seen and heard so far… how determined is Koukiko's non-interference policy?"

"Koukiko won't interfere with the local politics." A smile slowly blooms across Jehan's face. "But what I do with the abilities that he's given me? I think that's very much up to my discretion."

Bahorel's grin is wide and feral as he gives Jehan a rough pat on the elbow. "Jehan, Koukiko, I believe this is going to be the start of a beautiful alien-human relationship."

 

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