An exercise in arbitrary and impossible pairings simply because it intrigued me. If it's any comfort, I am not and probably never will be a "shipper" of any stripe, and the musical's pop princess Eppie-Sue makes me want to curl up and die. I normally stay far, far away from all things Eponine (although there certainly are exceptions), so heaven only knows why I decided to write this. The label "romance" is rather misleading. I consider it more of a character study of Combeferre than any sort of irritating love story.
That being said, go forth and read A Thenardier's Redemption by frustratedstudent. It's very good (one of the aforementioned "exceptions") and is one of the things that inspired this.
EDIT: Upon actually bothering to consult my Brick I'm messing with the timeline again, so bear with me. Stick this first chapter in May 1831.
Enjolras had been restless that evening. Joly had come in with reports of how the government for which they had all had such high hopes at its conception not even a year ago was refusing to acknowledge that the long-ignored Parisian squalor was largely to blame for the city's ever-present lower class epidemics. The young leader of the Friends of the ABC immediate sank into a dark, brooding mood. He paced about the café and had on several occasions cleared his throat, apparently in preparation to make a speech, but each time had instead sunk scowling into a chair.
His angry temperament had quickly spread to the rest of the group. Grantaire's drunken rambling was rapidly becoming downright morbid and Joly had feverishly detected evidence of at least four new diseases about his person. Even Bossuet found himself unable to laugh about his latest misfortunes and had taken up a sullen, apathetic game of dominoes with Bahorel in a corner.
Combeferre wanted to go over and comfort his friend and leader but strongly suspected that promises of progress and pleas to be patient would not go over well tonight, not when Enjolras looked as though he would like nothing better than to sink a volley of bullets into the nearest government official. He took a book out of his well-used leather case but, unable to concentrate, decided to quietly excuse himself and go home.
Once outside, he breathed a small sigh of relief. He normally enjoyed the company of his friends but tonight's meeting had been nothing short of claustrophobic. He turned to start on the familiar path to his apartment when someone jumped out at him from the shadows, brandishing a knife threateningly.
"You there," cried a rough, high voice, "you're one of them students, right? Who go to meetings and hand out papers on the street and say the king is bad?"
Combeferre stepped back in alarm, but his fears subsided slightly after he had a chance to examine his attacker. She was dirty-faced street girl, small and painfully skinny. He felt a surge of pity for this example of all those doomed to live in poverty, although the sentiment was dampened slightly by the fact that she was pointing a knife at his chest. He greatly doubted that she would strike but proceeded carefully nonetheless.
"Why, yes, ah…Mademoiselle. Is there a problem? A question, perhaps, or –"
"Where's Monsieur Marius?"
Combeferre blinked in surprise. "I – what did you say?"
"Monsieur Marius! He goes to your meetings, don't he? Where is he?"
"Wait, you mean, ah…Pontmercy?" The girl nodded in frantic affirmation, and he laughed in surprise. "Heavens, he hasn't regularly attended our meetings in years! Courfeyrac still sees him on occasion, I think, but I almost never do. Actually, between you and me, I'm afraid that he may have taken it the wrong way when I disagreed with him during a discussion we were having about…Bonaparte, I think it was. No matter; it was long ago. But he certainly wasn't here tonight."
The girl's shoulders slumped in clear disappointment and she dropped her arm so that the knife pointed at the ground. "Oh! I thought I'd heard… He's never at home anymore and I don't know what's wrong and he don't even…" She trailed off miserably and Combeferre wondered what on earth could be going on.
Suddenly, the knife whipped up again. "I've been looking for him all day and Papa's going to kill me if I come home empty-handed. Please," she finished almost apologetically, giving the blade a half-hearted little wave, "gimme your money."
"I'm sorry, Mademoiselle, but I am but a poor student, and I fear that I just spent my last francs on dinner. I have more funds safe at home, of course, but you are welcome to the few sous I have on my person." He slowly extracted a handful of small coins from his pocket and offered them to the girl. She peered at them critically.
"That's it? That's all you got? You're supposed to be rich!" she accused.
"You must forgive me my light purse," he murmured ironically. "I so hate it when I disappoint young pickpockets."
She glared at him sullenly. "What's in that bag then?"
"Only books. To me, their contents are priceless, but I doubt you could make much of a profit by selling their physical shell."
"All right, then." He knelt and began pulling volumes out of the leather case. "Here we have my anatomy text…and Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, by the Marquis de Condorcet…and a report on the economic conditions of dockworkers…and some pamphlets…oh," he pulled a very slim and well-thumbed volume out of the case, "and this, of course."
The girl's hand shot forward, curious to see what could be so taken for granted as a part of this man's collection. "Lemme see that."
"Of course," Combeferre replied, handing it over to her. "Mademoiselle, do you know how to read?"
"Of course," she echoed indignantly. "It says…The Dec…Declara…tion of the, the…Rights of M-man and the Ci-ti-zen. Citizen."
"… 'and the Constitution of the Year II.' Very good."
"Wait, I've heard of this before!"
"I'm sure you have."
"What's it mean?"
Combeferre had not expected to give a street speech at this hour, especially not to someone who had moments ago been trying to rob him (although he noted with relief that the knife was once again pointing forgotten at the ground), but decided to plow forward nonetheless.
"The first is a document that outlines the most fundamental rights that every human being deserves. It says, in part, that everyone is born equal and therefore should be given the same chances in life."
She frowned thoughtfully. "But people aren't equal. Everyone's different, you know, smarter or stronger or whatever than other people."
Combeferre was impressed. "Good, but they should still be treated the same by the law."
The girl was obviously intrigued. "Tell me more."
"You're clearly quite intelligent, Mademoiselle. If given the chance, you could have a very good life. However, you, like so many other unfortunates, are poor. As you just demonstrated to me, you must steal to stay alive. Your mind and your talents are wasted. The group to which I belong believes that this is unjust, that a person's place in life should be determined by what they do and how hard they work, not by their parentage."
"But what's that got to do with the law treatin' people the same?"
Once again, Combeferre was surprised by this beggar girl's astuteness. "Pretend that a rich man, one you had never seen in your life, accused you of stealing from him. You would be brought to court and would honestly say that you were innocent. However, if the man persisted in saying that you were the thief, who would win the case? Who would the court believe?"
"They'd listen to the rich man."
"Yes! But why?"
"I…I don't know. 'Cause he's rich."
"Exactly! That is just one minute example of how our entire legal system is biased towards the wealthy. You are at a double disadvantage, Mademoiselle, because you are a woman."
"So what're you doing about it?"
Combeferre knew that he should explain more but was quite tired and did not want to stay around long enough that he would be forced to interact with one of his moody comrades as they left the meeting. "Forgive me, but I must get home; it is getting late and I have classes tomorrow, but can you meet me in the Luxembourg near the statue of St. Bathilde at 11 o'clock on Saturday? I can tell you more then."
"I'll be there."
"Excellent," Combeferre smiled. "But wait, I'm afraid my manners have been terrible and I don't know your name."
"Pleased to meet you, Eponine. My name is Combeferre."
"Monsieur Combeferre," Eponine muttered, trying it out on her lips. "Can't I know your first name too?"
"I am no lantern lawyer and, as such, prefer to be known only as Combeferre," he chuckled.
"Camille Desmoulins. He was…oh, no matter. There is so much for you to learn! But Saturday. Take this," he said, extracting a pamphlet printed with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen from his pile and presenting it to her, "and I will see you then."
"Oh, thank you! Good bye!" Eponine spun around and disappeared into the darkness, leaving Combeferre to wonder what he was going to try to put in the mind of this strange young girl.