A/N- I am very proud to say I DID IT. Still and always dedicated to the lovely PhantomInspector, who even comments on my youtube videos for another fandom. In fact, that comment alone was what inspired me to finish this today, no lie. We'll see if I've fully returned to the fandom, but I feel pretty good about having finally managed to finish this story.
Oh, and a warning: this is a bit violent. I, uh… I didn't choose a happy ending.
Fantine had heard the door open and close several times since she had thrown Montparnasse and his knife through the hole in the floor. The first time she had assumed it was Javert returning. She had heard a low voice below, but it was not uncommon for the inspector to mumble to himself as he went about his work. It was only when Fantine heard the door open and close four more times that she began to wonder what was passing in the station and opened her own door.
For a brief moment it seemed that the station below was empty, but then she saw a slight movement from a stooped gargoyle-like shape in the corner. "Who's there?" she called.
The old beggar man who had accosted her several times in the Rue de la Flotte moved into the light, his grizzled white hair standing out in all directions like a lion's mane, his long beard tucked into the front of his trousers. A bit afraid, Fantine forced herself to move down the stairs and into the station, slowly approaching the old man. Her dental key swung from her long fingers as she raised her voice to confront the intruder. "What are you doing in here?" she asked. She had never seen him this close to the station: he always managed to avoid encountering Javert. Fantine had always supposed he had kept away from the inspector because he was a criminal. "A convict or something," she added under her breath. She raised her voice again. "What do you want?"
The old man approached her, his hair falling over his forehead and into his eyes. "Ya know, eh?" he mumbled. "Ya know what happened, eh?" He
jerked forward, extending both hands with the palms up. "Ya know he's evil. Ya hafta know." He bowed his head and began bobbing up and down from the waist. "What he did. What he did." Then, without warning, his head snapped up and he seized the front of Fantine's skirts in his knobby fists. "Hey! Don't I know you, madame?" he asked, his beady eyes glinting as he gazed greedily at her.
Fantine jumped away from him, snatching her skirts out of his grip. "Get out!" she cried. "You get out of here! We have important customers coming and I won't have you—"
"Important customers, yes! The innkeeper, isn't it? The innkeeper! What he did, the innkeeper! And the inspector. What they did. And the boy." He was trailing off, murmuring to himself with a fiendish look in his eye. Fantine's own eyes flicked over his shoulder and out the window; her stomach suddenly turned as she spied another stooped, bearded gentleman approaching the station—Thénardier.
"I have no time!" Fantine cried out, and, moving desperately, she raised her dental key above her head and brought it crashing into the beggar man's temple. He collapsed onto the floor, unconscious; Fantine seized his arms and dragged him out of sight, hiding him behind Javert's desk just as the station door swung open. She whirled around, a grin on her face. "Monsieur Thénardier! Your serving girl is on her way," she said quickly, bowing deeply to him. "Perhaps you would like to wait upstairs?"
"You say the girl's changed her mind, has she?" Thénardier asked, rubbing his palms together. "She's ready for me now?"
"She'll be here any moment, monsieur," Fantine said honestly. She followed him up to her chamber, patting the dental key rhythmically against her thigh, and shot one nervous glance over her shoulder. The beggar was completely hidden beneath Javert's desk.
Inspector Javert flung the door open and slammed it behind as he stomped into the station. He had gotten the name of the Patron-Minette's main
hideout from the waif Éponine, but it had been deserted when he had arrived. He cursed under his breath and stormed over to his orderly desk, yanking the chair out and throwing himself into it. He stretched out one long leg—and encountered something quite solid.
Javert pushed his chair back and looked beneath the desk.
Yes, there was something there—or rather, someone. If there really was a person inside that pile of rags…
Javert seized the bundle by its arms and dragged it outward, mumbling a curse when he saw that it was an old man, probably drunk. "Very well," he sighed aloud. He would lock the drunk away until he regained consciousness.
Rolling the drunkard over onto his back, Javert caught a glimpse of his face and started. The inspector leaned back in his chair with a grin and crossed his arms over his chest. "Well, well, well," he said softly. "A drunkard indeed."
The beggar seemed solidly-built; Javert was surprised at how easily he was able to throw the man over his shoulders. He had entered the back room with his mind still reeling slightly at this discovery and almost plowed down a ragged waif standing with her back to the door. He dropped the beggar onto the bloodstained mattress that still sat beneath the opening in the ceiling and seized the girl by the upper arm. "Now how did you get out?" he muttered, producing an impressive ring of keys in his other hand. He found the key to the first cell quickly, shoving the skinny girl in and slamming the door behind her. Though she made no protest or struggle the process seemed to take hours; his mind was fixed on the man lying at his feet. "If I see you out of there again, Mademoiselle Thénardier," he said, stooping to retrieve the unconscious beggar, "it'll be Les Madelonettes. Now," he moved to the opposite cell, unlocking its barred door, "once Fantine finds her daughter and I have Thénardier and young Monsieur Pontmercy locked away, you'll be free to go, but I do hope I don't
see you again in this neighbourhood." He dropped the old beggar into the cell and slammed the door forcefully, his back to the waif. He presumed she was refusing to answer him because she was angry at him. So be it.
Thinking of his newly-incarcerated beggar, Javert allowed himself to chuckle a little as he turned his back. That was done, then; while fulfilling some of Fantine's dreams he had managed to fulfill one of his own.
His own dreams, however, demanded paperwork. The inspector was on his way back to his desk when he heard the iron trapdoor squeak open above; a moment later a thin body fell through, landing nicely on the mattress at his feet.
"Well, well, Fantine!" he called, his grin even wider, "it seems our goal may be at hand!"
"One moment; don't lock him up just yet!" came her response. "I'll be down in one moment!"
Satisfied, he crossed his arms and leaned against the bars of the Thénardier girl's cell, haughtily surveying the prostrate bodies about him. In the opposite cell, the old beggar was lying on his back, his mouth opened slackly. "I must move him before Fantine sees," muttered the inspector. He stepped carefully over Thénardier and unlocked the cell door.
This time, Fantine did not clean the blood from beneath her nails. She was finished at last! Montparnasse, Thénardier, and soon she would be reunited with Cosette! It was a shame that the Pontmercy boy would have to be dealt with as well, but there was really no way around it. She wished he would hurry.
When she entered the little hallway, Javert seemed to jump. He was bent over something—a prostrate form, she realised. "I asked you not to move him!" she cried, but of course she was not entirely upset. Nothing Javert did could take the grin off her face.
Fantine didn't hear the inspector's mumbled response, though, for she realised that the body whose shoulders he was holding was not Thénardier. "Monsieur, that's the old—"
"Stay back, Fantine. I need you to stay back."
"Why?" she asked, swallowing a laugh. "He's not dangerous, Javert, believe me. I always figured he was an old con of some kind, the way he avoided you. Here, let me get his feet." She hurried forward and seized him by the ankles, hoisting them up as Javert simultaneously dropped the man's upper body in a moment of clumsy surprise. For the first time, the beggar's long hair fell away from his eyes.
Fantine froze, her own eyes locked on the unmoving face.
For a long moment no one moved; in Fantine's mind years of dirt and hunger faded from the old beggar.
She was lying on a bed, the concerned face of her poor mayor leaning over her. He continued to watch her and then leaned down, whispering, "Have faith. Sister Simplice will care for you until you are well. I will bring your daughter to you within a year. Wait for me." She could not suppress a tiny smile at these words. Keeping with the charade, her mayor put his large hands on either side of her face and aligned her head with her shoulders, tied the string of her chemise, and gently pushed several stray locks of hair beneath her cap. Then, with a wink, he passed one calloused hand over her face. Fantine obediently closed her eyes. She felt him take her own hand in his and kiss it. "Now I am at your disposal," she heard him say, and two heavy pairs of boots left the room. Fantine peeked out from beneath her lids long enough to see the broad back of the awful inspector before Sister Simplice closed the door.
Fantine opened her eyes and looked down at the poor beggar. "You told me he was dead," she whispered.
"I certainly did not!" protested Javert. "I said no one had heard of him since he went to Montfermeil—that is the truth. If he had been seen again, don't you think I'd have known of it?"
"What do you want with him?" she asked desperately, dropping to her knees at the beggar's side. She ran one hand over his wrinkled brow. "He's a good man! He risked everything for my little girl!"
Javert shifted uncomfortably. "He's a convict, Fantine, a dangerous man. A thief. He even stole from children, from an urchin boy with nothing else to live on. I know what he's capable of, do you understand? He has lied to you."
"He saved my life," she murmured. "Twice. He did all of it to reunite me with my daughter."
"I have done far more work for you and your daughter."
"And profited from it! Lying to me all the while!" She leapt to her feet and advanced on him.
The inspector backed slowly away. "Fantine," he began, "I want you to forget this man. He's clearly mad; he can do nothing for you. I have resources, a salary. I can keep you safe. It was I who sent Babet on to La Force—Thénardier and Montparnasse will soon follow—all to avenge your daughter!"
"Avenge my daughter, eh?"
"Of course, for your daughter. Fantine, please don't come any closer. I certainly don't want to have to hurt you. It's enough I haven't arrested you for attacking gentlemen and—"
He did not finish; Fantine sprang at him, knocking him backwards against the wall, and tore into his face with her long nails. The inspector did not fight back; the collision with the wall had knocked him unconscious. Once she had calmed herself, Fantine seized him by the arms and slowly dragged him into a cell, taking the key ring from his pocket to lock the door behind him. She hurried to the beggar and dropped to her knees beside him. "Monsieur le maire," she said urgently. "Monsieur le maire, can you hear me?"
The old man did not respond. Fantine lowered an ear to his mouth and felt no breath escaping. "Monsieur le maire?" she asked again. Tears choked her voice.
While these things were passing without an entirely different story was unfolding behind the bars of the first cell on the right. The long form lying in the shadows across the back wall twitched, groaned, and clutched its head.
The young murderer had come to. He pushed himself slowly into a crouch and blinked around at his surroundings. His steely gaze immediately landed on the trembling serving girl, the Lark; his black eyes glittered above a twisted grin.
He chuckled and moved slowly toward her without straightening up, a partial crawl across the dusty floor of the cell. The girl moved away until her back collided with the wall.
"A perfect cellmate," he said, his voice hardly more than a rasp. The girl began fumbling with the front of her rags and he smirked. "You're doing your part this time, eh?" Montparnasse rose to his feet and advanced on her, but just as he seized both her shoulders he felt a wave of icy chill sweep over his body.
The girl was glaring into his face with a mad leer. Her blue eyes were round and twinkling beneath her gathered brow while her chapped lips remained drawn back in an eerie smile. "What—" Montparnasse began, but he looked down and saw both of her hands wrapped around the hilt of a knife—his knife—which was buried in his stomach. His own blood was seeping out, covering her fingers, glittering in the dark. His legs gave way and he fell to his knees. She withdrew and watched as the murderer held his white hands over the wound, watched as the blood trickled between his white fingers, and she smiled.
Even hunched over her mayor, tears in her eyes, Fantine heard Montparnasse's voice muttering from behind her. Rage flashed through her veins and she sprang to her feet. She would not be merciful this time. She was going to rip him apart. For Cosette and for the mayor.
She retrieved the ring of keys and left the mayor's side, striding over to the door and Montparnasse's cell and throwing it open.
But the murderer was already lying on the floor. He was panting for breath, his mouth open wide, blood trickling from the corners, his slender hands, stained red, scrambling frantically at the hard floor of the station. Fantine froze for the briefest moment.
And then she felt a blinding pain as though she had been beaten, one quick blow to the back. She dropped to her hands and knees and gasped, the air tearing at her lungs, and choked as she felt something fill her throat. She lifted one hand to her mouth and found that it was blood. Her own blood. Fantine slowly turned and saw a skinny urchin girl with a wild look brandishing a bleeding knife before she collapsed.
The station was utterly silent and the girl was nowhere to be seen. Marius felt the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck prickling. The door on the right was cracked open.
And then he heard a voice, cracking, low, and childlike, coming from the back room. Marius hurried toward the door.
The door led to a narrow corridor lined by small cells, and fitting a key into one of the barred doors was his dear little serving girl, her back to him, singing softly to herself. He took a step toward her.
"I couldn't find Madame or the Inspector," he said.
The girl did not turn around.
Marius began to move closer but started when he noticed a figure seated on the low bench in the cell at his right. He turned to face it.
It was the dangerous gentleman who had threatened him. He was sitting rigidly in the middle of the bench, his knees together and his hands in his lap, but his head had rolled limply to his shoulder. "Ha," Marius muttered, "so they've caught you." He looked closer, a half-smile playing across his lips, but it dropped away when he glanced down. The floor of the cell was covered in dark pools, glittering black in the dim light. "Is that—?" Marius began, and then he leapt away. "Blood!" he cried. "He's dead! Cosette! He's dead!"
He spun around and looked at the opposite cell. There was Thénardier, seated in the same manner, his beady eyes insensible. In the next cell was the old beggar man, and across from him was the inspector. All of them were sitting primly in the middle of the benches, only their lolling heads giving testimony to their lifelessness. Trails of smeared blood indicated that they had been arranged this way.
"Cosette," Marius said weakly, his head reeling. He did not know how to continue. What happened? Why? Who did this? The words wouldn't come.
The baron turned; Cosette had gone into a cell, leaving the door open behind her. Slowly, miserably, Marius approached and looked inside.
He let out a moan, tears filling his eyes. Cosette was kneeling before Madame la Blonde, smoothing her skirt and crossing her hands in her lap. The girl turned and saw him, a smile lighting her features, and she laid her head on Madame's knee, still singing a song whose words were nonsense.