A/N- There are some things about Eponine that are danced around in the novel. Hugo may or may not have implied that Eponine maybe or maybe didn't do certain "things." Therefore, since it's considered as a possibility but never actually clarified one way or the other, I've got my own idea of the way things stand at this particular juncture, as will be illustrated in this chapter. I can't decide if it makes my vision of her better or worse in the end- and in the end, that's the point of her character, isn't it? She's neither good nor evil, neither noble nor pitiful, neither hopeless nor hopeful... but I digress, before I get into a philosophical and literary rant (again). Though if you're interested in hearing the rest of that thought, feel free to PM me.

6. Sparrows Are Not Meant For Gilded Cages

The following three days passed much as the first one had. Although she had slept soundly and long the first night, Eponine's usual insomnia returned with a vengeance on subsequent evenings, and so she rose as early as she felt comfortable doing. She visited Laurette in the kitchen and listened to her talk, then spent the morning in the company of Mme. Leveque, which was a pastime of dubious merit. Her bluntness was almost as offensive as it was refreshing, but her conversation was otherwise good. This was something Eponine was unused to, and she wasn't entirely certain how to go about talking with the old woman. It took some doing to resist automatically slipping bits of argot into her speech.

In the afternoons, Eponine escaped to her little blue room, where she sat on the bed. She was very used to entertaining herself, and took the opportunity alone to retreat inside her own head, escaping the outward barrage of new experiences. At night, she returned downstairs and dined with her patroness, and that was exquisite. She had never eaten so well, not even when they'd lived at Montfermeil and had money. The first few days, she did not feel well, as the rich food upset her stomach, but she hardly cared because being full felt more than good enough to make up for it.

"A little more of this," she said to herself, "And I'll surely be good as new!"

Eponine was inclined to distrust her good fortune, because that never seemed to last for long. The moment she got her hands on something good, her father took it from her or Fate robbed her or Azelma needed it more than she did. This situation was easily the best thing she'd managed to catch yet, and a very large part of her felt sure that at any moment it would be snatched away.

Then again, she reasoned, these wealthy philanthropist types tended to be dedicated to their perceived flocks. Perhaps this would last awhile. The thought entranced her and terrified her; she was unaccustomed to thinking further ahead than tomorrow.

All in all, it was a thoroughly pleasant existence.

By the evening of the fifth day, however, Eponine felt restless. She had not gone beyond the garden fence since arriving here. For a girl used to wandering every street in Paris, even all the way out to the fauborgs, staying quietly in the house felt strange and wrong. She lay awake that night on a mattress that was too soft, staring at the little square of moonlight on the floor and wishing she could calm her thoughts. Her heart was pounding irrationally in her chest, like a little bird trying to free itself from a cage. The rest of her wanted to follow suit.

According to the clock on the bureau, it was just before midnight. She drummed her fingertips anxiously against her thighs. The entire household was no doubt asleep... all except her. She wanted to throw off the covers and run. And so she did exactly that.

Eponine wasn't stupid enough to go outside in just her nightgown. She had lived on the streets, she knew that would only bring trouble. It took her longer than she wanted to pull on her borrowed dress, but she managed well enough (though probably only because it was too loose on her). Then she wandered downstairs in her bare feet and slipped out into the garden.

The night was warm, though cooler than usual for July, and the smell of lilacs was drifting from somewhere. The grass was cool and damp on her bare feet. She paused and looked up at the stars, glittering in a grand array across the navy sky. How many nights had she sat alone at the window of the Gorbeau tenement, staring up at these same stars and wishing they would come down to earth to carry her away?

It was a simple matter to pull herself over the low stone wall that comprised the back edge of the garden. She caught the hem of her skirt on a corner in the process and made a tear in it.

Safely on the other side, standing in a stranger's garden, she examined the rip. It wasn't very large, but she lamented having damaged the first nice thing she'd worn in years. But no matter. She was out. She was free. An insistent rhythm pounded in her head and she took off running through the row of lilacs that bordered the garden she was in, running until she reached the street.

From there, she simply wandered. She walked wherever her whims took her. She hardly felt the paving stones against the soles of her feet. If she saw a street she liked the look of, she went down it. She found her way, in a roundabout manner, down the Rue du Archives (with more than a few detours to satisfy fleeting curiosities).

It was a strange experience, to be sure. She had never walked at night with a full belly and the resulting clear head; the streets of Paris were much less interesting and somehow even more intimidating with an unclouded mind. Anything that stirred in the shadows was really there, not a figment of her own fevered imaginings. And she knew as well as anyone that, though the nice sort of people were all safely tucked away in bed, the bourgeois all huddled together in the Marais, the shopkeepers and other sorts in their little flats, this was the hour of the not-so-nice. Anyone she encountered out tonight was more than likely either up to no good or drunk enough that it didn't matter.

For the first time she could remember, Eponine felt afraid of the dark. Nevertheless, she walked right on ahead. "I'm not scared of you!" she taunted the shadows, even though it was a lie. It made her feel better, anyway.

After what must have been an hour and a half of rambling, she found herself standing at the Pont Marie. "Once upon a time," she said, "I lived under the Pont Marie." That had been... what? Two winters ago? Probably. She leaned on the stone railing and gazed down at the swirling water.

All at once, a strong hand clasped her wrist. Eponine jumped, trying to pull away on instinct but to no avail.

"What have we here?" a voice rasped out, and the owner of the hand pulled her around to face him. "A little sparrow out all on her own, at this hour?"

Eponine's heart beat a painful drum-beat in her chest and she tried once more to pull back. Suddenly, though, she recognized the very battered black hat. "Brujon?" she questioned, relief flooding her almost immediately. It was false relief, of course- she knew better than to trust anyone even remotely associated with the Patron-Minette- but the fact that she did know Brujon pretty well through her father reassured her.

"Well, if it isn't Eponine Thenardier!" the man said in his usual lively tone. "What can you be doing here, dressed like that?" A lecherous look crossed his face. "You wouldn't happen to be out on... business?"

Eponine shuddered. "No. No! Of course not!" she exclaimed. "I'd think you'd know better, Brujon!"

Her indignation was justified. Once, about a year previously, her father had tried to press her into selling herself to help the family. Eponine had refused. At the point to which they had sunk, she had supposed she had no scruples left, but when it came down to the moment, she had found that she did have one tiny shred of dignity left. It had been the only thing she possessed that still truly belonged to her. Eponine still had dreams that maybe one day, some handsome young boy would see past the rags she wore, and fall in love with her, and take her away from the life she had known. It was foolish, and she knew that, but she couldn't stop herself, and she guarded against that day by preserving her purity.

For her staunch refusal, she had received a beating, and Azelma had received the customer that would otherwise have been hers. Eponine was pretty sure she was supposed to have felt guilty about that, but all she had been able to process at the time was relief that it wasn't her. Maybe if she were braver she'd have shielded Azelma, too, but she wasn't, and she didn't.

At her offended outcry, Brujon finally released her. "Alright, girl, I didn't mean anything by it," he grumbled.

"Of course you didn't," she muttered sarcastically. "What are you doing around here, Brujon? Not at all your usual hunting-grounds, is it."

He rolled his shoulders in a fluid shrug. "Just doing a bit of poking around. Babet and that lot had need of someone for a bit of... observation, shall we say?"

Eponine knew what he meant, and nodded. "Anything interesting?"

"Nothing for you to worry your head about," he replied.

I hate that saying, Eponine thought, clenching her fists at her sides. It made her feel like a child again.

"And you, Little Thenardier? What has sent you out on the street at this hour, dressed up so fine?"

It was Eponine's turn to shrug. "Nothing much," she replied, and she suddenly felt an unconquerable need to boast. "I'm living in the Marais now."

"Oh are you?"

"I'm surprised Papa hasn't mentioned it," she said in a tone she considered to be a bit haughty. "I've had a stroke of good fortune."

Brujon smirked. "Well then, if you're in that district, perhaps you can help me with some of my-"

"No, I don't think so," Eponine said swiftly. She felt a prickling of nerves at the thought; any involvement with one of the Patron-Minette's schemes might jeopardize her new life. Giving her father a bit of information if he asked for it was one thing. Actually getting involved... "I've places to be, Brujon."

"Alright then, Little Thenardier," he said with a gap-toothed smile. She turned to go, feeling relieved to get away from Brujon's questionable company, but he called out to her, "Oh, and if I were you, I would avoid the south end of the Rue de Turenne tonight. It isn't a good place to be at the moment."

Eponine nodded abruptly. "Thanks," she murmured, and so saying, she all but ran away.

Safely back in the garden of the house on the Rue de Cerises, Eponine pressed herself against the trunk of the old pin-oak, trying to sort out her spun head. She didn't understand why the encounter with Brujon should have unsettled her so. Had she really gotten used to this sort of life quickly enough that she was like any other fainting lady upon meeting a threatening man in the dark?

No, she didn't think that was it. She would never be that girl. Eponine liked to think she was made of sterner stuff than that. No, it was something else entirely that had shaken her.

Brujon was from her world. He skulked through the sewers and wasn't above leaving a knife stuck in someone's gut. She'd had a fine time this past week pretending that she was something other than what she had become. But Brujon's casual talk of his work, his assumption that she would easily slip into her usual role as an accessory... it was a slapping reminder that even if she'd got into some nice clothes and slept on a soft mattress, she was still Eponine.

A/N- I'm not particularly happy with this chapter (as should be evident by how long it took me to post), but eventually I just got fed up with it and realized that there was nothing else I could possibly tweak because I just wasn't going to be happy with this one.