Title- Castles on Clouds
Characters/Pairings- Eponine/Enjolras (but expect it to take awhile), everybody else will be putting in the usual appearances
Rating- T to be safe
Summary- A fire at the Thenardier's inn alters the fate of their elder three children... and they just might change the course of a revolution. E/E and M/C.
A/N- Once again, this will be mostly musical-based. There will be some snatches of book stuff here and there, but like I've mentioned before, the last time I tried to read the novel, I was only nine and did not get far (it's on my to-do list, I promise, but do you know how much stuff I have to do, even in the summer?). Be advised that I will be blatantly altering established history, by the way, both fictional and real.
For anyone else, it would have been the smell of smoke that was the first clue. Eleven-year-old Eponine Thenardier, however, had grown accustomed to foul odors in recent years and the smell didn't even rouse her. No, what first alerted Eponine to the fact that something was very wrong was her sister's coughing.
Eponine felt Azelma's body spasm against hers due to the simple fact that they were huddled together by necessity for warmth. The inn their family owned had once been a fairly prosperous establishment. Unfortunately, word of a reputation like M. Thenardier's was liable to drive away customers, even the old regulars, and in recent years, the business had suffered. Rising prices from nearly every quarter had also adversely affected the little business's profits, and money had grown tight. M. Thenardier had taken up certain less-than-legal ventures in order to make ends meet, but his frequent absences only served to further the inn's financial suffering. The once-cosseted Eponine had been called upon to take the place of the serving-girl, who had been carried off some years earlier by a mysterious, wealthy gentleman who had, as far as Eponine understood it, paid for little Lark's freedom. The eldest three of the five Thenardier siblings had been turned out of their respective rooms in order to make extra space available.
This, then, was why Eponine, Azelma, and their very young brother Gavroche were lying together in a heap in the pantry, drawing what little warmth they could from the stove.
When Eponine woke to the sound of Azelma's labored breathing, it took her a good thirty seconds to work out what was going on. Once her mind connected the haze of smoke seeping into the room to her sister's coughing, however, all the drowsiness that had clouded her thoughts seemed to evaporate.
She shook Azelma's shoulder, rousing her from her uneasy slumber with relative ease. "'Zelma, I think there's a fire!" she shouted.
The smaller girl coughed again, more forcefully now that she was awake, and stared around with her striking blue eyes. "Fire?" she asked groggily.
"Yes!" Eponine exclaimed, jumping to her feet and pulling her sister up after her.
Beside them, five-year-old Gavroche sat up, rubbing at his eyes with grimy fists. "'Ponine?" he asked in his child's voice. "What's happening?"
Without wasting any more time, Eponine scooped her brother up in her arms. "Hold on tight to me," she said to him, as calmly as she was able. Gavroche wound his little arms around her neck, and she supported his weight on her right arm, reaching out her left to grab Azelma's hand. "Come on!" she said, pulling her sister after her out of the larder and in the direction of the door at the far end of the kitchen which would lead them out into the stable-yard.
Outside their little sleeping-place, the smoke was thicker, and made it difficult to see. She squinted as the smoke began to bother her eyes. For once, Eponine was grateful for her short stature, because were she any taller, it might have been impossible to navigate in the cloud of gray. She heard a crackling sound from above, and realized the fire was on the second floor. The part of her mind that wasn't busy alternating between panicking and working out a way to escape found time to wonder how it had started.
Eponine began to cough as she felt her way as quickly as she safely could around the large work-table in the middle of the room, still leading her sister by the hand.
"'Ponine, I can't see," Gavroche whined.
"Shhh, 'Vroche, we're almost to the door," she soothed him, and then they were out into the clear air behind the inn. Eponine coughed and, dropping Azelma's hand at last, wiped at her stinging eyes, ignoring the gasp of horror that came from her sister. The three children moved quickly to the opposite side of the yard. There, Eponine deposited Gavroche on the ground and at last turned to look at what had shocked Azelma.
The entire second story of the little inn was ablaze. Flames leapt from several windows and smoke poured from under the roof. Eponine looked around wildly. Though a few of the inn's pathetic handful of patrons stood about in the yard, watching the building burn, she could see no sign of her parents or her other siblings, the two infant boys too small to sleep with the elder three. "Maman!" she cried. "Papa!"
"They... they aren't here," Azelma said, voice a little raspy.
"Maman! Neville! Jacques!" Eponine shouted again, looking around, hoping that she'd missed them in the crowd that was beginning to gather in the yard. But they were not there. She turned to Azelma. "Stay with 'Vroche!" she commanded. Then she started running.
Desperately, she made for the building and though a woman reached out to try and prevent her from going inside, she was quicker by far and disappeared again into the smoke. She pulled the collar of her tatty nightgown up to cover her mouth and nose, and dab at the eyes that began streaming the moment she was inside. Even after so short a time, the smoke was already far thicker than it had been when she had left. She reached the stairs, intent on going up, but they were already beginning to burn near the top. But maybe, if she was quick...
She took the stairs two at a time, coughing as she did so. Before she could reach the top, though, a heavy beam engulfed in flames fell just in front of her, smashing the smoldering stairs and throwing up a shower of sparks and coals, some of which landed on Eponine's arms and chest. She screamed and stumbled backwards, slipping on the stairs and tumbling to the bottom, where she lay stunned. Her whole body vibrated with the force of the impact and she closed her eyes against the smoke, and the sparks that continued to rain down on her.
Then, unexpectedly, a pair of strong arms were around her, lifting her up. Eponine struggled to force her eyes open despite the noxious fumes all around them, to see who it was that had her. "M-Montparnasse?" she stuttered, amazed. The young man was an associate of her father's; what he was doing here at this hour was beyond her in her current state.
"I've got you, you little idiot," he said as he strode toward the door, supporting most of her weight for her. As they emerged again into the clear air, he shook her a little. "You're trying to get yourself killed?" he demanded. "You're damned lucky you fell the way you did or you'd have broken your neck! Are you alright?"
Eponine shrugged weakly. "I'm burned, but not bad. I've got to get back in!"
"No. You will stay right here." He deposited her next to Azelma, who was seated on the ground with tears streaming down her face, holding tight to a screaming Gavroche.
"But Maman!" Eponine protested. "Papa! The little ones! I have to- have to save-"
Montparnasse shook his head, silencing her. He glanced up at the flames now leaping from everywhere on the second story. She followed his gaze. Even though she didn't want to believe it, she could tell that the entire top half of the building was entirely ablaze.
"If they aren't already out, Eponine..." He sighed, shrugged, and patted her on the shoulder. "I must go and help. Some men are trying to put it out," he said, gesturing to a small group who had set up a highly ineffective bucket line. "Madame Leraux will be here shortly, I'm sure. She can look at your burns, Eponine." Montparnasse turned and strode away to join the impromptu fire brigade, leaving the three Thenardier children stunned in his wake.
"'Ponine?" Azelma asked in a voice choked with tears. "What did he mean 'If they aren't already out'? What did he mean, 'Ponine?"
Eponine knelt down in the dirt next to her siblings and put an arm around Azelma's shoulder, with little Gavroche sandwiched between them. "He meant it's bad, 'Zelma," she said quietly. Azelma let out a sob, and clung even tighter to Gavroche, who in turn buried his face in Eponine's soot-stained nightgown and wailed. Eponine herself felt tears stabbing at her eyes, though whether it was from the pain of the multitude of little burns on her arms or from the loss that didn't really seem real just yet, she wasn't sure.
"No," she whispered. Only, it wasn't a rejection of the simple facts Montparnasse had stated. She was young, but she had seen plenty of how the world worked and although grief was coming fast on the heels of shock, she understood that whatever came next would require strength. Gavroche was too young to be strong yet, and Azelma, though only one year her junior, was a much softer girl in so many ways than Eponine had ever really been. Eponine realized, as she stared up at the flames leaping high into the black sky despite all attempts to tame them, that she would have to be strong for them. She blinked fiercely, rejecting her instinct to cry.
Unless they were granted a miracle, Eponine was all the younger Thenardiers had anymore. No, she would not cry. Not tonight, not where they could see. No matter how much she wanted to curl up on the ground and weep as Gavroche was, she could not. She would look after them.