Summary: "Had you been there tonight you might know how it feels to be struck to the bone in a moment of breathless delight!" Fool, he thought bitterly, glancing in Éponine's direction. I knew the feeling long before you did. In which even the most marble of men is fortuitous enough to unwittingly fall in love. Enjolras/Éponine.
Hello, FanFiction. What a pleasure to finally be publishing on you.
So I've decided to try my hand at writing in one of the most emotionally complex fandoms on this site. Yes, I am a masochist. Well, good or apocalyptically horrible, I hope that you, my dear readers, may find some form of joy in perusing my creation.
Is it possible for one's heart to beat hard enough, fast enough to kill? Could it possibly overwork itself to the point that it would suddenly cease to beat altogether?
For a moment, I wished mine would.
These were the absurd thoughts that crossed my mind as I stumbled through the streets of Paris, half mad from panic. I was aware that I had already bumped into several people, nearly knocking them down, without a single apology, but I was too detached, too crazed to really care. My hair stuck to my face and neck, trapped by the cold sweat that broke out across my skin. My breathing was ragged, and I guessed that my complexion had turned an unnatural scarlet under my new bruises. I knew that I looked horrid, not dissimilar to the escapee of an asylum, yet I ran on.
I finally stopped to sag against the wall of an alley when I became sure my lungs would burst from any further exertion. No sooner had I stopped than I leaned over and emptied the contents of my stomach into a sewer drain. Tears, sweat, and vomit mingled until my heaving ended. In vain I tried to catch my breath and calm my heart. In vain I tried to forget.
Only a quarter of an hour prior, I had been sitting on the stoop of my family's shack, if our dwelling could even be called such, observing the activities of the passerby. It was a regular pastime of mine, a distraction from my own hardship. To the untrained eye, the avenue on which I lived seemed like most other rundown Parisian streets, with men and women innocently going about their business. My view was not so innocent.
I saw the pickpocket, slick as the damp pavement, slip his hand in and out of the purse of an ignorant civilian. I saw the ragged debtor hounded by his creditor in a dark niche, cowering under the threat of his weapon. I saw the procurer, followed by his trio of giggling prostitutes, handing one of them off to a drunkard for the night.
I silently thanked whatever higher power there was that my father's heart was not yet black enough to whore me off for his own gain. Fortunately, with his criminal connections, Père had never had to resort to me or Azelma for profit in the business of prostitution. He had others for that occupation.
My musings were interrupted by a smooth voice, familiar but unpleasant.
"Hello, Éponine. Something troubling that pretty head of yours?"
It had been almost ten years since I first made the acquaintance of Montparnasse, but his presence never failed to send a chill through me. On the outside, he could almost pass for a bourgeois with his fine clothes, his dark hair, his pretty face, but it was his mannerisms, his underlying sense of mischief that gave away his true criminal nature. We had been close before he began killing.
I lifted my eyes to that pretty face of his, willing ice into my gaze. "Montparnasse."
My glare was not as effective as I hoped. He smirked down at me, a glint in his eye. "Saw you eyeing those whores there. Finally thinking about giving in and joining the business?" His smirk widened as he tilted his head lower, closer to mine. "I'd give a few francs for your services..."
I made a sound of disgust in my throat. To think that only a few short years prior, this immoral man had been my closest friend...
I shook my head, pushing roughly against his shoulder and rising. He straightened his posture, no longer looming over me but smirking all the same. "Can I help you with something? If not, your presence here is unwarranted."
The smirk finally dropped as Montparnasse resumed a serious air. "Actually, I do wish to speak with your father. Is he in?"
I nodded and turned on the threshold to lead him in. Unaffected by the hovel's usual stench, I crossed the first of the two rooms that made up our simple dwelling and brought Montparnasse to the back room to which my father had retired several hours earlier, probably to sleep off his intoxication. The floor creaked under our feet, and Montparnasse had to duck his head as we passed through the second doorway.
As expected, we found my father only semiconscious in the corner, mouth agape. He was mumbling senselessly to himself, lingering between sleep and wakefulness. He seemed unaware of his surroundings but not devoid of thought or incapable of action.
Just my luck. I dreaded approaching my father with alcohol in his system, and as of late I had been forced to do so more and more frequently. I had long ago come to find that his anger could only be vented through abuse.
I eyed Montparnasse hopefully and decided to pull out his old nickname, wanting to soften him up. "'Parnasse, is it truly urgent? You know that he is likely too inebriated to communicate anyhow."
He caught right on. "Nice try, 'Ponine, but I have business to attend to. Wake him."
I scowled at him and mentally noted that despite all of his outward fineries, he fit right into the repulsive setting that was my home.
Stepping forward with a sigh, I placed a hand on my father's shoulder. "Père," I called, shaking him lightly. "Père, you must wake."
I jumped when his hand suddenly shot out, catching my arm painfully. I squirmed, but his grip only tightened, bruising my flesh.
"Girl, what have I told you about wa-"
"Père, Montparnasse is here," I cut in desperately, hoping he would forget me at the mention of his business partner.
It worked. His grip slackened and I quickly slipped my arm away, retreating to the window on the far side of the room.
"Montparnasse," he drawled, momentarily forgetting his anger. "What brings you here?"
"Business, Monsieur. I am afraid I have unfortunate news."
My father's face darkened again. "Well? Out with it, boy."
Montparnasse wrinkled his nose, looking down at him and sniffing distastefully. If he felt fear, I could see no trace of it. "It seems we've had three girls run off with their clients in the last fortnight. None of them have yet to return, and I doubt they will."
Père stood menacingly. "Three, you say? Three regular incomes lost?"
I glared at my father's profile, disgusted by the way he made the words 'girl' and 'income' interchangeable.
"Precisely, Monsieur." Montparnasse continued, "The brothel in which we held them is now half empty."
"And what," my father groused, "do you suggest we do about it?"
Montparnasse absentmindedly pulled at his cravat, feigning deep thought before responding, "I suppose that until we find some... replacements, I will be forced to deprive you of your cut of the profit." He dared a smirk. "My sincerest apologies."
With that, he abruptly turned to leave, but, seeing the brewing storm that was my father's expression, I caught his arm.
"'Parnasse..." I did not need to speak any more. He of all people could read it plainly on my face: Don't leave me alone with him. Not in this state.
He looked at me, and for a moment I thought he might actually have mercy on me as a normal, feeling human being would.
That hope shattered when the corner of his mouth lifted sinisterly. The smirk was back. "Yes, Éponine?" He pretended to be oblivious to my situation. He wanted me to beg.
And such was my choice. Sacrifice my dignity and elevate his by begging for my rescue, or keep my pride, letting him leave me there, and suffer the physical consequences.
At that moment I wanted to beat him, bang his head into the doorframe, scream at him for putting me in this position. He knew, he knew that never would I beg him, beg anyone for anything. I was far too proud. He knew this, he knew that the next time we met I would be swollen, bruised, and broken, and yet he would still leave me.
I released his arm. I thought that, for just a brief second, remorse flickered in his eyes. But it was gone before it was there, and he left.
I was shoved to the floor before I had the chance to brace myself.
"What have I done, eh? What have I done to deserve this?"
My silence was answered by the back of his hand to my face. Still I kept quiet. I had learned that it was the quickest and least painful way to take one of Père's beatings.
"Those little sluts... They're all the same, aren't they, 'Ponine? Running! Running at the smallest opportunity!"
He struck again. My head snapped to the side before he gripped my jaw none too gently, bringing my gaze back to his. A dark sneer was suddenly pulling at the corners of his lips.
"But, you, my girl... You wouldn't run, would you?"
I only blinked in response. This earned me another strike.
"Nothing to say? Well, then... Off to the brothel with you."
My heart stopped. He couldn't mean... No. No.
"Père, please," I croaked helplessly. "Please, you're drunk."
His sharp bark of laughter pierced the air. "Drunk or not, my dear, I need that money." A swift kick to the side. "Now, to the brothel, or the alleys, or wherever paying clients might be!"
It was then that the reality of the situation began to dawn on me. I began to hyperventilate, my eyes wide with tears that were too shocked to fall. Never before had my own father been willing to go to such lengths. I had never believed he would.
He kicked me again but lower, catching my stomach and effectively knocking the breath out of me. "Père... Père, please," I rasped. "Please, it..." I closed my eyes as the first tear finally rolled. "It is all I have left."
My father was silent for a moment, but when he realized to what I was referring, he laughed again, louder than before. "Your virtue, all you have left? Really and truly, 'Ponine?" Another harsh chuckle. "Then let me tell you the hard truth, girl..." He knelt to my level, catching my eyes with his. At that moment, I hardly recognized him, that man I called my father. "In the end you will lose everything. Everything. All your money, all your happiness - gone. The only way to get it back is to give a little something yourself." He sneered again, displaying his decayed teeth. "And face it, my dear, being the slut that you and all other women are, you were bound to lose it anyway. Might as well charge for it."
Never had I been so insulted, by my own father or anyone else. Fear turned to white hot anger. Before I knew what I was doing, I took advantage of our close proximity and spat straight in his eye.
I regretted it before he even realized it happened. He reeled back, wiping at his eye and hissing in a frightfully animalistic manner. When our eyes met again, I learned what it truly was to fear for one's life. I would have run had pure terror not paralyzed me.
"You bitch." He hauled me up by the roots of my hair and shoved me against the wall hard enough to make the entire shack quake. I winced at the splinters in my back and squirmed under his murderous scowl as he held me there. "How dare you, how dare you disrespect me! You live under my roof, eat my damn food, and this is what you give me?" He punched me in the gut, and I saw spots. "I was merciful before, girl, but now..."
I used the last of my adrenaline to desperately pull away from him. I backed myself to the room's opposite corner, trying to keep my trembling to a minimum, trying to keep the tremor out of my voice. "Père, Père, please, just listen to me-"
"What is going on in here?"
My mother suddenly appeared in the doorway. Maybe there was a God.
I could see her eyes take in the scene before her, perceiving my predicament in mere seconds. In one swift motion, she pulled me from the room by my wrist. I was dragged to the front door, where she turned me around and held me by my shoulders, looking me in the eye.
"Run. Get out of here."
"But- but, Mère..." I looked to her desperately, frantically. I was still gasping in panic.
She gave me a stern, exasperated look in return. "Girl, what good would it do you to stay here now? Go. I'll take care of your father."
I shut my mouth and nodded dumbly. My mother may not have been the best suited for her position, never doting on me as most mothers would their daughters, but there was no doubt in my heart that she cared for me - at least more than Père did. She, at least, cared if I were alive.
She pushed me toward the door once more. "You won't come back until he's drunk himself to sleep again, if you know what's good for you," she instructed hurriedly. "And you won't return without pay either, you hear? I don't care where you find it or how you get it. Just make sure to bring extra - then maybe then your father'll let you stay here, out of the brothel. Understood?"
Again I nodded, trying to regain what I could of my composure. "Yes... Merci, Mère."
She turned from me to return to my raging father, but faced me again at the last moment. "'Ponine."
"'Ponine..." She thought for a moment. "If you can't find the money, just... You'd be better off out there, girl."
I stood stock still before nodding slowly. I understood.
And then I ran. I ran and ended up in this alley, sweating, vomiting, crying what was left of my tears and trying to decide what I could possibly do next.
I tried to calculate in my head the amount of money that would be required to appease my father and buy my way back into my own home. I decided with a curse that my salvation could only be assured with twice the profit I was capable of gaining in a matter of hours. I could not show my face at home with any less, else I would be sent off to take up a far less honorable occupation.
I also began to think of what to do should worse come to worst. If I could not come up with the money I needed, should I return home, imploring my father for his forgiveness anyway? Or should I remain on the streets, lay low for a while, as my mother suggested? And even then, how could I, a lone girl, survive on the streets without losing what I would have if I had returned home to be sent to the whore house? No girl was safe in the city of Paris after dark, not even a Thénardier. And where would I live? Would I be able to find foo-
No, I thought. I would not think of such things when there was an alternative. I would find money, one way or another, return home, and make some sort of amends with my father. I would find a way to resume normalcy.
Firming my resolve, I wiped from my face what I could of the filth and water droplets (tears or perspiration, I could not tell). I took a deep breath and finally exited the alley, bound for some district of the city populated by wealthier patrons. Upon regaining my bearings, I was surprised to find that my blind flight had led me all the way to the Seine. The Île de la Cité and its great cathedral rose before me.
A moment more of thought and I decided to cross the river and make my way toward the Panthéon. Surely the civilians there would possess more on their person than those on my usual route in Montmartre.
Only ten more minutes of walking and I was there. I took in the sight before me. I was not the only one seeking a profit that day - at least ten beggars already dotted the steps of the Panthéon, and many more could be seen navigating the crowds of bourgeoisie. I felt a stab of pity in my gut as I observed them. Most of the passerby did not dare spare them even a glance, and those that did held disdain, not compassion, in their eyes. The beggars seemed to be having little success that day.
But I was not there to beg. I considered myself too clever for such an occupation. Besides, my methods were far more profitable.
I leaned casually on a lamppost, searching the crowd for a potential target. I soon found him - a young man, well dressed, maybe a little over twenty years of age, hurrying briskly down the street in the direction of the Seine. A student from the quartier latin, I guessed. Wealthy enough, but surely not damageable by a small financial loss. I silently snaked into the multitude to follow.
I had abstained from thievery for at least a few months preceding that day, so I was delighted to find that my skill was not rusted. Within a minute, I exited the horde with my prize, a leather wallet, and began to peruse its contents. I ignored the guilt pulling at my heart and instead inwardly rejoiced as I counted the man's francs - more than enough to return home! Five, ten, fifteen, twenty- then I saw it.
Tucked away in a back compartment, carefully preserved, was a small lock of hair, dark and soft to the touch. It was tied lovingly with a small pink ribbon. I finally began to acknowledge the pull at my heart. Money was replaceable, but this - this was a keepsake. To whom did it belong? A sister? A child? A lover? For a man to care enough for his partner to carry a piece of her with him...
My heart swelled. With a sigh and a shake of my head, the francs were replaced and I was back in the crowd, pushing my way to the man I had robbed of his wallet only a minute earlier. I ran as quickly as the masses would allow, trying to keep him in my sight. When I was within hearing range I called out to him.
"Monsieur! Excusez-moi, Monsieur!"
I reached him before he heard me. I touched his back but quickly retracted my hand when he turned to meet my eyes. He, like most other bourgeoisie, likely would not stand to be touched by someone of my class.
But the man did not seem disgusted in the slightest. Though his eyes flicked to my rags and emaciation before my face, only puzzlement crossed his features. He had kind eyes, if not slightly pitying. "Mademoiselle? Can I help you with something?"
I hesitated for a moment, taken aback by his addressing me as a lady. I blinked and resumed my actions, holding out to him what I had taken. "Excusez-moi, Monsieur, but you dropped this while passing the Panthéon. I only wished to return it."
I almost laughed as the emotions flew across his face - surprise at my discovery, flustered panic that he had lost it in the first place, undying relief that it had been returned. The pain I felt at the surrendering of my prize disappeared. I put it into his hands.
"Oh, Mademoiselle," he said, rifling through the wallet and seeing all its contents in their rightful place. I saw his eyes linger with joy on the compartment in which the lock of hair was placed. "Mademoiselle, merci... Merci beaucoup. In what way can I repay you?"
I offered a small smile. He was so naïve. "Pay it no mind, Monsieur. It was no trouble."
I turned to go, prepared to blend back into the masses and maybe find another victim, perhaps one that was less kind, but he held my elbow gently. "Please, Mademoiselle, allow me to ease my conscience. Let me repay you. Could you make use of a few francs?"
I had to grin at the irony. I opened my mouth to assure him that payment was unnecessary when our exchange was suddenly interrupted.
The man, presumably named Combeferre, finally broke my gaze to look up. Meanwhile, I tried in vain to calm my heart, which had begun to beat with renewed vigor at the sound of the newcomer's voice.
It was him. Marius.
He approached us, grinning but looking just as confused as Combeferre had when I initially approached him. My heart hammered in my chest, and I vaguely wondered if he could hear it. I certainly could. It was making such a ruckus.
I met his eyes more slowly, shyly as he came within arm's reach of us. Oh God.
"Éponine!" The tenor of his voice was so beautiful, he practically sang. "I did not know that you and Combeferre were acquainted."
Luckily Combeferre answered him. I did not trust my mouth at the moment. "Éponine, is it? Well, Éponine here is my savior! Dropped my wallet, I did, back there, before the Panthéon. I would have walked all the way to the Café Musain ignorant of my loss had she not seen my blunder and gone through the labor of returning it to me! I was just repaying her-"
I found my voice at the mention of payment. "Please, Monsieur, it is fine. Do not trouble your-"
"Oh, hush, Éponine, let the man pay you!" Marius was smiling at me and I suddenly had no will of my own. "What an admirable thing to do, returning his wallet like that. I bet that nine in ten people would not have. Today you're an angel, Éponine!"
He called me an angel. He called me an angel.
Now they were both grinning down at me, waiting for me to speak. "Uh... I guess-" I cleared my throat. "I guess I could permit it, though it truly is unneeded."
Nice work, Éponine. That came out relatively normal.
"Good, then!" declared Combeferre, reaching into his wallet. He happily pulled out five francs and pressed them into my hand. "Thank you, Mademoiselle, for acting as my savior and a model citizen."
I grinned at his good nature. "Again, Monsieur, pay it no mind. It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
"Likewise," he said, returning my grin.
The guilt was still present as I deposited the money into a fold of my dress, but it was somewhat subdued by my happiness. A little more and I could go home after all.
Marius again addressed Combeferre, "You were off to the Musain, you said?"
"Yes. I spoke with Enjolras before class today, and he said that we shall have an impromptu meeting."
"Best not defy our fearless leader," Marius said with a chuckle. "I suppose that Éponine and I will have to come along then."
I had been inconspicuously trying to search out my last victim of the day from the waning crowds and slowly retracting myself from the conversation when Marius said my name. I looked back to him with a slightly startled expression. "I'm sorry?"
"Come on, Éponine," Marius said cheerfully. "It is an open meeting. You would enjoy it."
I blushed then, embarrassed at being caught not listening. "Erm... What exactly is it now?"
Combeferre jumped at the chance to explain. "A meeting for the termination of oppression and the formation of a new republic - well, one that will eventually be. I suppose it is more an exchange of views and ideas than anything. We meet weekly, at the least." At my still doubtful look, he continued, "You should attend today's gathering! We are always happy to accept those interested in the cause."
I looked from Combeferre to Marius and back again. Were they jesting me? What were they doing, inviting a girl of my class to a meeting of students like them, presumably the more common type who would not take kindly to my poverty?
But one more look to Marius's green eyes and what little resolve I had crumbled. "Er... All right." I allowed the right corner of my mouth to rise nervously. "I suppose one meeting could do no harm."
Marius smiled and it was all worth it. I would jump from the highest spire of Notre Dame Cathedral for that smile.
Combeferre clapped his hands together enthusiastically. "Excellent, my friends! Then off we go!"
In the course of one hour, I had met both the deepest pits of depression and the highest heavens of elation. The three of us set off down the street once again, two posh students and a street rat, perhaps the oddest sight in Paris, and I could not recall a time in the recent past that I had been happier.
Prologue Word Count: 4,074
I apologize for the lack of Enjolras here. Not to worry, our Apollo is sure to make an appearance in the next chapter. This work will mainly focus on the pairing of Enjolras/Éponine (I adore them unashamedly), so there is that to look forward to.
Also, one last side note, I was clueless enough about 19th century men's attire to be unsure if the concept of a wallet even existed at that time. For the record, it did (source: Wikipedia).
Please review! I am open to all comments and constructive criticism. Make my day.