Eponine froze, her head still pointed away from the voice, waiting to see if she had imagined it. The voice that had spoken her name—an airy, melodic voice—was familiar, and not necessarily welcome. Yet Eponine remained stationary, not quite believing that the person connected to the voice could have recognized her.
"Eponine?" The voice came again and Eponine inwardly cursed. It had not been a hallucination after all. She slowly turned and her facial expression ended up somewhere between a smile and a grimace when she met the eyes of the girl she had not spoken to for many years.
"Oh, I was right! It is you!" Cosette tittered. Her face, like her personality, was bright, but Eponine had seen enough darkness and decay in her life to recognize the sadness in Cosette's eyes. Cosette stepped lightly to where Eponine stood and examined her, not knowing whether to embrace her. Eponine's cold gaze and firm stance obviously swayed Cosette to a negative decision.
Eponine opened her mouth to say something, then realized that she had no words. Should she apologize for her actions as a child? Act as bubbly as the girl in front of her? "Hello, Cosette." She finally answered in a dull voice, inwardly cursing herself for such an idiotic sounding reply.
"Oh, I'm sorry, are you busy?" Cosette looked worried. "I did not mean to interrupt."
"No, no! I apologize." Eponine shook her head quickly. "I'm just slightly confused. How do you remember me so well?"
"Well, you were a part of my childhood." The blonde noticed how Eponine quickly cast her eyes down in shame at the mention of that time in her life. "But Marius describes you often."
"Of course! You are one of his dearest friends!"
Eponine's stomach twisted again, thinking how recent it was that she had fought her way from his grasp and left him back at the barricade. "Oh…that is kind of him, I suppose." She looked back the way she had come, feeling a twinge of regret.
Cosette's eyes followed her movement, and she spoke faster now. "It is actually because of Marius that I am here." Eponine's eyes snapped back to Cosette. "Have you seen him?"
The sadness Eponine had detected was more evident on her overall features now, yet Eponine could still not withstand the pang of jealousy at how beautiful Cosette remained. "Have I seen Marius?" Eponine repeated, her eyes blank.
"Yes, have you seen him?"
Eponine chewed over her answer, wondering if Marius had even told Cosette about the barricade and his upcoming battle. Cosette seemed to read her mind.
"I know that he planned to fight with his friends. I know that he is in danger. A little boy just came to my house, however, and gave me this note." Her palm unfurled to reveal a folded piece of paper.
"A little boy?" Eponine's eyes grew wide. "Blond, messy hair?"
"That is correct."
"What does the note say?" Eponine controlled the impulse to simply snatch it from the other girl's hand.
Cosette blushed. "There is a poem, and then…" A tear formed at the corner of her eye. "A farewell."
Eponine's heart twisted as Cosette handed her the letter. She skimmed over the nauseating poem and read the farewell that Marius had written.
"Have you seen him?" Cosette asked again.
"Yes." Eponine whispered, not meeting Cosette's eyes.
"Where might I find him?"
Eponine sighed. The poor, foolish girl. "You can't."
"He sent you this letter for a reason. You will not see him again. Him, and all his friends, are already lying in their graves. You should have said goodbye when you had the chance." She made to leave, but Cosette grabbed her arm, her eyes turning desperate.
"I never had the chance!" She wept. "He never gave me a chance."
Eponine looked coldly from her arm to Cosette's face. People really need to stop grabbing my arms. She thought in annoyance, still feeling Marius's hands on her.
"What do you want me to do about it?" Eponine snapped. Cosette relinquished her hold and looked into Eponine's dark eyes.
"Marius told me that you are the smartest girl he knows. Surely you must know where he is."
"I know where he is." Eponine finally answered her original question in a flat tone.
Cosette gasped and clutched her own face. "I knew it! Oh, Eponine, will you take me to him?"
"Absolutely not!" Eponine responded immediately, giving Cosette a scathing look. "We might not be best of friends, but I do not wish death upon you!"
"Eponine, please? I'll give you whatever you may want!"
"Such as what?"
"I have money." Cosette breathed. "You can have as much as you like."
"Stupid bourgeois." Eponine muttered. They were all the same. When Marius needed her for a favor, he offered her money. And now his little lover was doing the same. "I do not need your money."
"Then what do you wish for?"
"Nothing! You will not give me anything because I will not lead you to your death, Cosette."
Cosette was teary again. "My life without Marius means nothing, Eponine." Eponine just scoffed. "You must believe me! I am already in more danger right now than ever before My papa never lets me venture around the city. He rarely allows me to leave home at all. I snuck away when he was occupied to find word of Marius. And I found you! I do not fear danger anymore, Eponine. I learned that from your parents." Her voice turned cold by the end and she met Eponine's eyes with a steely hardness. Eponine felt an angry sigh building within her.
"Even if I wanted to help you, I could not. I have been banned from the barricade." She hissed.
"En—the leader." She amended. "And I have also vowed not to return."
"Oh but Eponine, please! If you escort me there, Marius will be so grateful he'll be sure to defend you!"
Eponine resisted letting out a cry of mirth. "Marius will be grateful that you have put yourself in harm's way?"
Cosette finally fell silent. "It was Enjolras that banned you from the barricade. Enjolras, your lover?"
Eponine's mouth fell open in protest. "How do you—?"
"If you have vowed not to return, it is because you are angry at him. Am I wrong?"
Eponine did not answer, she simply glared.
"And you say that Marius will be angry if I put yourself in harm's way. So how can you be bitter to Enjolras if he only felt the same thing?"
Eponine's stomach dropped. How did this girl, with no friends and barely a connection to the world around her, acquire such wisdom? "I—I—" She stammered, but could not think of a witty response.
"Enjolras was not grateful that you put yourself in harm's way. But you did anyway, because you love him. And I love Marius, and we are not that different, you and I. So I will put myself in harm's way, even if it is to only say goodbye."
"You are certain?"
Eponine searched Cosette's face for signs of misgivings but found none. With a deliberate sigh, she pointed in the direction she had come from. "This way."
As they hurried down the streets which grew more and more empty as they went, Eponine made a mental list of everything she would have to account for when sneaking back in. Cosette's large gown was one of them. What she would say to Enjolras was another. The last time she had spoken—well, yelled—at him, she had told him she wanted him to die.
They neared the alley that led to the secret door of the shop. Eponine glanced around hurriedly for signs of soldiers, but found none. Maybe Les Amis do have a chance of winning if the Guard is this stupid.
Cosette's nose was scrunched up, disgusted by the smell of the alley. Eponine rolled her eyes. "If you are afraid to get your pretty dress dirty, you should have turned around a long time ago."
Cosette dropped her expression and nodded. "Sorry." She looked around. "Are we here? I do not see a barricade.'
"Shhh!" Eponine hushed her. "It's on the other side of this shop." She whispered and gestured to the small door. "But soldiers could turn the corner at any minute, so hurry!"
Gathering her skirts, Cosette rushed after Eponine up the alleyway and to the door. Eponine took a deep breath. "Prepare for any reaction."
The atmosphere behind the barricade was growing tense. The National Guard had still not retaliated, and everyone was going a little stir-crazy. Occasionally, one of the boys would jump, imagining they had heard a cannon blast or a gun shot. Enjolras was finding it more and more difficult to keep a hold on everyone's sanity. He appreciated Marius's help when tensions started to rise. Marius had been working harder than anyone since he had returned, and Enjolras suspected he was trying to prove himself and not get thrown out.
For the third time afternoon, shouts rose from within the barricade. Enjolras perked up, looking for the source of the latest scuffle. Several of his friends were already rushing toward the source of the noise, which seemed to be one of the shops. Marius hopped down from a low rooftop to join him.
A figure burst from the gathering crowd and rushed toward the two of them. Enjolras blinked as a blur of yellow and florals flew past him and into Marius's arms.
"C-Cosette?" Marius stammered, his face going white. Enjolras's jaw dropped.
"Marius!" Cosette wept. "You're alive! You are still alive!"
"Yes, I am alive…but Cosette, what are you doing here?"
Cosette finally released him from her embrace and looked at him with teary eyes. "You never gave me the chance to wish you goodbye."
"I-I sent you a letter-"
"It was not enough. I needed to see you one more time."
"How did you enter the barricade?" Enjolras demanded harshly, more concerned with this breach in security than Cosette's sentimentality.
"Through the back door over there that Eponine brought me through."
Enjolras and Marius locked eyes, and in that gaze Enjolras wished a thousand terrible deaths on his friend. Enjolras turned to look for the girl Cosette had mentioned, but she already stood right in front of him.
"Eponine." He said with clenched teeth.
"Enjolras." She mimicked his tone, and a wave of anger coursed through him. Grabbing her by the hand, he dragged her into a corner, away from prying eyes.
"What are you doing here?"
"I did not plan to return, I promise you that." She hissed. "Cosette wanted to say goodbye to Marius."
"But I know you, Eponine. You do not do such nice things for no reason!"
Her eyes flashed. "My reason was to help a lovesick girl say goodbye to her lover before his friend got him killed." She jabbed a finger into his chest. "So maybe you do not know me."
"You need to leave." He ground out.
"I intend to!"
"There is also the matter that you brought another girl behind the barricade! What were you thinking? Do you realize the added stress you have caused?"
"Have you no feelings?" Eponine yelled. "I was trying to help her!"
"But answer these questions: how do I get the both of you to leave now? How do I deal with Marius needing to say goodbye? How do we keep the two of you from getting hurt? And what if the attack comes in the next few minutes and you have not yet left?" He said harshly. Eponine only looked away. "That is what I thought. You act without thinking, you always have. If only you could have thought just this once."
There was a long, awkward pause.
"Did you really love me?" Eponine asked quietly.
"Eponine, not now—"
"Did you really love me?" She repeated, her eyes demanding an answer. He sighed, giving in.
"Why do you say it like that?"
"How am I supposed to say it?"
"I mean, why did you phrase it in the preterit?"
"I don't understand." Eponine searched his blue eyes.
"You used the past tense. 'Did' you love me, you said. Not 'do' you love me. Why?"
"Well, because I already know the answer if I said 'do'. You clearly don't. I am not asking about right now, I am asking about the other night."
"Then the answer to that question is yes, I did. But Eponine," He placed a crooked finger under her chin. "That would be my answer in the present tense, too."
She slapped his hand away. "But you sent me away!"
"Because I don't want you to die!"
"I don't want you to die, either!"
She could see the softening in his eyes as she took back the words she had previously spoken to him as Marius carted her out.
"But I do not have a choice. I cannot leave. You can."
"And by having Marius take me away, you took away my choice. You demeaned me, like every man who tried to force himself on me in an alley did! Why don't you let me make my choice? Anything that happens to me will not be blamed on you."
"I thought you said you did not intend to stay."
"Why?" He asked, wanting to shake her. Why was she the wittiest, most infuriating girl he had ever met?
"Because you love me."