A/N- So... are you all very excited for Hugh Jackman? I mean, he's not Alfie Boe or anything, but he's a fantastic actor, he looks the part, and he can sing like nobody's business, so I'm definitely not complaining! I have good feelings about his 2!4!6!0!1! based on everything I've ever heard him sing, so... I feel like this is acceptable. I'm a little bit freaked out that Hayden Panettiere is under consideration for any role (bad memories from my days as a Heroes fan resurfacing...), but the idea of Hugh Jackman as Valjean is actually a really good one. If they had to have a "famous name" for the role, they probably couldn't have done better, in my opinion.
Chapter 9: Favor and Flight
Christmas was done with in boisterous high spirits, New Years passed quietly away, and the city thawed out somewhat. Or at least, the roads cleared. The Thenardier siblings settled back into their usual routine after the bright occasion of Christmas with the Amis de l'ABC. Azelma found that her paper-flower trade was more profitable in the winter months, when living roses were not to be had, and as two weeks of January slipped away they found that they had more money coming in than before. She was, however, obliged to spend less time on the streets as the early darkness and the bitter cold drove her indoors. Still, a franc was a franc.
It was at around this time that Gavroche returned to school. Eponine had finally scraped together enough to afford it (Azelma, for her part, suspected that this had been achieved largely by not eating on her part, but she could not prove this), and to his unending regret, Gavroche was confined to the little school-room on the Rue de Vaugirard each day. He once more protested that he knew plenty enough to be getting along with, but the combined efforts of his sisters' pleading and an impassioned speech of encouragement from Combeferre convinced him, at least enough to get him into the schoolhouse.
With regards to the Amis, Eponine found herself wholly softened toward them. She neither understood nor entirely trusted their cause, but Jehan's altruism and the genuine chivalry shown by the rest of the Amis (with the possible exception of Grantaire) on behalf of her siblings had not failed to win her over. Never let it be said that Eponine Thenardier failed to recognize true friends when she had them! She did not see them much. They came and went through the cafe, but Roxanne kept her hopping and she had little time to speak to them. However, where before their encounters had been mostly formal, now they called to her in the manner of old friends and she replied with equal warmth, smiling to herself at the little glimpses of their lives she was afforded.
Gavroche still came to the cafes in the evenings, sitting in on the official meetings and informal gatherings alike. At the urging of his sisters, he brought his books along and did his schoolwork while overseeing the Amis. Eponine suspected that this probably was not helpful, as the chances of his actually finishing anything he started while immersed in such a stimulating atmosphere were slim, but she was already aware of how futile trying to keep him away would prove, so she let him be.
It was the eighteenth of January when, upon the closing of the Musain, Eponine found herself approached by Philippe de Arceneau.
"Mlle. Thenardier," he said, his face flushing scarlet, "I- that is, Courfeyrac and I, we... I mean..."
"What is it?" she asked, amused by his utterly flustered manner.
"Well, it's just, Courfeyrac suggested that perhaps you and your sister might like to join he and Celeste and myself for the evening meal tomorrow?" he said very quickly, and turning an even deeper shade of red.
Eponine remembered his attentions to her sister at Christmastime, and held back a smile upon guessing that there was more motivation behind the invitation than could be guessed from his words. "I cannot, I'm afraid. Roxanne could not part with me on the busiest evening of the week," she replied, and immediately his expression fell flat. "However, I see no reason Azelma could not join the three of you."
Philippe could not quite conceal his delight. "Are you sure I cannot entreat you to come along?" he said, though there was not as much sincerity in it as there might have been.
If Eponine came along, their party would be social, convivial and it would likely be a perfectly lovely evening. However, Eponine knew only too well that, were it just Philippe and Azelma alone with Courfeyrac and his mistress, the nature of the party would shift in tiny but rather important ways. More than anything, just at present, Eponine wanted to see her little sister happily settled with a good man. Philippe de Arceneau was wealthy, he was handsome, he seemed to be a very decent sort, and he obviously had an interest in her sister. Eponine would not meddle actively, but that would not stop her from trying to further anything that might occur in little ways.
"I must decline," she said, still trying to hide a smile, "But the four of you will surely have a delightful time."
Philippe was as pleased as could be, and trying very hard not to hide it. "We'll miss your company, I'm sure, but we're grateful for the addition of your sister to our party."
"Azelma is most excellent company, is she not?" Eponine said leadingly.
He nodded, smiling. "It is refreshing to meet such a sweet-tempered young lady, with not a whit of conceit about her."
"And how true!" Eponine said, delighted for her sister, but suddenly she felt melancholy. After a few more minutes of idle small-talk, concluding with Eponine being scolded and Philippe being chased off by Roxanne, the young man went his way and Eponine returned to the tasks of closing down the cafe with a strangely heavy heart.
She had seen the sweet smile on Philippe's face as he had spoken of Azelma's best characteristics, and it had unexpectedly provoked musings on her own shortcomings. Frequently she found herself protesting that she had done perfectly fine thus far and did not need a husband to shelter her, but to be perfectly honest, Eponine longed for love. She wanted someone to love her like Sabinus had loved the Eponine of lore. She wanted to be thought of with the same sighings that Philippe seemed prepared to dedicate to her sister. It seemed, however, extraordinarily unlikely.
Eponine was everything her sister was not. While both sisters had a certain steely strength to them, Azelma was pliable and mild-tempered. She was beautiful, easy to provoke to tears, she was sweet and demur and everything desirable in a woman or a wife- and well she should be, for Eponine had made sure that she was raised to be a good sort of girl. Eponine, though... she was not exactly the sort of woman men fantasized about. She was passably pretty, perhaps, but she knew only too well that she was far too tall and far too skinny to really be called attractive. And where her sister was amiable, Eponine was bold as brass and sharp-tongued with it. She had tried to change it, but she couldn't. When she had something to say, she would say it and damn what anyone thought! A quick-witted woman was desirable, of course, but Eponine knew only too well that sometimes she was outright rude and combined with the other abrasive aspects of her personality... well, what man would want her?
It was a sorry state of affairs indeed! She shook the wistful thoughts away and reminded herself that she had no need of men or romance. She had managed for nearly five years on her own, hadn't she? There was no reason she shouldn't manage perfectly well for another thirty.
The next evening, the appointed hour arrived and with it came Philippe with Courfeyrac and Celeste close in tow. It was Azelma's turn to wear the pretty green dress, which Eponine was thankful did not provoke comment. The Amis could be only too aware of the Thenardiers' poverty, but neither the two gentlemen nor Celeste were indelicate enough to mention it.
With the four of them setting out for a little bistro in the vicinity of the Champs-Elysees which Courfeyrac claimed Grantaire had introduced him to, Eponine brought Gavroche, whom she had returned home for a moment to collect, back to the Musain with her.
There was no meeting of the Amis but Bahorel, Joly and Bossut were around, with Combeferre arriving shortly after Eponine returned, for once not confining themselves to the back room. That was a place for secrets and treason and confidences. Out on the floor of the commons was the place for drinking and whist, which was a rather hopeless pursuit with Bossuet present, as he never received a good hand and perpetually found himself on the losing team as a result. Not even Bahorel's usual good fortune could counteract Bossuet's lucklessness, and as a result, the cards were put away rather quickly in favor of wine.
Eponine smiled indulgently as she watched them talk and laugh. After some time, Gavroche set aside his books and joined their party, though they would not let him partake of their drink. She wondered briefly if he had actually finished his schoolwork or simply grown bored with it, but the Musain was busy and she could not spare the time to go and check with Roxanne's watchful eye on her.
The evening passed away and the lowering January twilight faded into full darkness. The casual customers drifted out to return to their homes and wives, with only the really persistent and dedicated remaining behind to plunge together into deep intoxications.
"We're nearly out of water," Roxanne said pointedly late into the evening.
Eponine immediately set off for the well, tossing a friendly nod in Louison's direction as she passed through the kitchen on her way out. Immediately she regretted not putting on her coat, as the harsh January air bit into every single exposed inch of her skin. She hunched in her shoulders and strode on. It was not far to walk- Roxanne and her husband had chosen well when selecting a location for their establishment.
She was just returning, full bucket clutched in her hands, when she heard a loud groan issuing from the mouth of a nearby alleyway. Eponine turned in the direction of the sound and saw, to her utter amazement, Montparnasse clutching his shoulder and leaning up against the wall of a millinery.
Thinking little for the water that slopped over the sides of the bucket, she ran to him. When she reached his side, she saw that there was blood on his hand.
"'Parnasse!" she exclaimed. "What's happened? What's wrong?"
He gave her a shaky smile that did not even approach his usual cocksure grin. "'M'all right," he said, sounding strained. "It's not so bad as it seems."
"What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing. Just a little cut, nothing serious. Hurts like hell, but..." He gestured to his shoulder, where she saw through his ripped coat that he was bleeding profusely.
"Oh for God's sake, come here!" she said. "Can you walk alright?"
"I'm bleeding, not dying," he replied. She took his elbow in the hand not occupied by the bucket, and guided him back to the cafe.
Eponine led him into the kitchen and sat him promptly down on a stool. She thrust the bucket into the hands of a flabbergasted Louison, trusting her to be able to work out what to do with it, and turned back to Montparnasse. Now in the lights of the kitchen she saw that not only was he bleeding from what appeared to be a knife wound, but he had a split lip and the beginnings of a black eye.
"God in heaven, 'Parnasse," she breathed. "How on earth did- here, take off your coat so I can look at that... oh, your jacket's filthy! What on earth have you done?"
"Mademoiselle Thenardier, who is this?" Louison asked plaintively. "What's going on?"
Eponine brushed her away. "He's a friend of mine," she said. "He's harmless... well, most of the time, when he's not being a pinhead! Will you get me something to clean this up?"
Louison scurried away to do as she was ordered, and Eponine gave Montparnasse a look that let him know that she was still waiting on an answer.
He shrugged. "It seems my good luck with that aristo I told you about did not hold, and I've been low on funds. I had to get creative."
Eponine sighed. "What did you do?" she asked resignedly, just as Louison was returning with a pan of warm water.
"The Patron-Minette had a job in the area, they needed an extra hand..."
Louison dropped the pan.
Eponine, for her part, had expected many things, but she had not expected that. The Patron-Minette were a notorious gang, utterly ruthless and much to be feared. She remembered, just before her parents' deaths, that her father had been initiating a partnership with one of the gang's principal members, a sly devil named Babet, and the very name was enough to send a shiver of distaste and maybe even a little fear down her spine.
"You didn't!" she hissed. "Oh you damned fool! They did this to you, then?"
"If everything had gone according to plan, it all would have been fine," he grumbled. His statement was punctuated by a wince as Eponine took a damp cloth from the quivering Louison and began to wash the blood from his wound. "Uh! Damn, 'Ponine, could you not jab me like that? Like I was saying, the job did not exactly play out as we had envisioned, and it may or may not have been due to a miscalculation on my part. In any case, Babet and his lackeys aren't too fond of me right now."
"What, uh, what exactly...?"
"It's a rather long story involving a creative escape through the sewers on my part." The smugness in his grin was tempered by the ruefulness. "Let's leave it that the Patron-Minette aren't the only ones with a bone to pick. Thanks to tonights exertions, I also seem to have some hound dog of an inspector on my tail."
Eponine actually felt herself go pale. "'Parnasse," she said cautiously, "You know I can't hide you. I can't risk my family."
Louison approached nervously and handed Montparnasse a glass of whiskey, which he downed with impressive speed, gasping a little at the burn of the liquor. He set the empty tumbler on the counter beside him, and turned his attention back to his explanations.
"I'm going to get out of Paris for awhile. I'll lie low in some little town or other for a few months until things blow other. Maybe work a bit, save up some to pay off the Patron-Minette." He shrugged, then seemed to regret it as his wounded shoulder gave him pain. "I'm sure Inspector Whats-His-Snuff will have more important things to do than keep looking for me after a little while."
Eponine shook her head. "You are more trouble than you're worth, 'Parnasse."
"Yes, so they tell me," he said. It perhaps ought to have been cheeky, but it was said with a solemn look. "Thank you for patching me up, 'Ponine."
"Least I could do," she responded. "I've a favor to repay, after all." She gestured to the places along her arms where little burn scars could still be seen, visible reminders of the night he had carried her out of the fire so many years ago.
This time, Montparnasse managed a smirk with some real feeling behind it. "Ah yes, you do seem to owe me your life, don't you? Perhaps I ought to think on collecting that someday."
"Heaven help us the day you decide to call in your debts!"
He chuckled. Then he got to his feet and made for the door.
"You're not leaving already!"
He turned back to her. "I've got to. I don't think anyone's traced me this far, but I can't run the risk. I'm not going to jail, 'Ponine. Not again." There was desperation in his eyes, and suddenly Eponine realized just how much living he had really done in all the years since her parents' death, the kind of toll life had taken on the friend of her childhood.
"At least take something for the road? A loaf of bread, we can spare." She gestured in Louison's direction.
Louison hesitated. "Roxanne wouldn't like it," she ventured in her soft voice.
"It can come out of my pay if she likes," Eponine said firmly.
Louison brought a loaf and handed it to Montparnasse. He gave her a brief look and a nod of thanks, then turned his gaze back to Eponine. Quickly, he strode back to her and, to her surprise, pressed a kiss to her forehead. "You're a good friend, 'Ponine," he said softly. "Take care of yourself."
"Always," she replied.
And then he stole out the door back into the night, with a steadier step than when he had arrived. Montparnasse was gone.
A/N- Fun fact: Montparnasse, in my head, is always played by Rupert Friend. Rupert a la Cherie, not Pride & Prejudice, though. He looks precisely what 'Parnasse ought to, IMHO.