A/N I wanted to write Montponine, but it came out as something... sort of romance, sort of not really? I honestly don't know at this point. Whatever. In any case, Montparnasse is a wonderful baby, his existence is ruining my life, and I still can't get over how awfully he was cast in the 2012 movie.
There is rain in the air, plaguing the whole of the city with a lingering sense of indecision. Its pale grasp murmurs above the half-dried streams of blood that darken the cobblestones, resilient to the efforts of the greasy-haired, hunch-shouldered women sitting on their knees, surrounded by towels and buckets, keeping the tears in their throats forcibly silent. They are scattered about like pigeons. Flocking here and there, offering gentle hands and whispered sympathies, some of their eyes darker than others but all equally haunted by the rusted ghost of lively scarlet that drenches their surroundings.
He takes in each of them, their doubled forms, their reddened eyes, their chapped skin; all rats and dogs of the street, a rotten core that is far from dimmed by the weak radiance of flush-cheeked femininity. They cower before him, their dirtied foreheads practically scraping the stone, and he makes no move to pardon or correct them. They are not what he owes any of his interest to, so he barely pauses to check their faces—skims them over, with the knife-sharpness of his swiftest glance, relishing the hushed gasps and lowered eyes that such a piercing stare draws out.
At one point, he thinks that he has it, that it's her—not one of the rags on the street, but an emaciated figure bent against one of the slope-walled houses, her back turned away from the ghastly openness, knuckles curled against the wood and matted dark hair hanging lankly over her bony shoulders. His heart heightens, though it has no excuse to, and his boots click obscenely against the stained stone as he crosses the road, coattails slapping his thin legs.
But then the haggard face turns around towards him, and it's not her, it's some hollow-cheeked slip of a girl with eyes sunken like a skull, teeth broken, skin too pale to be hers. He comes to a hasty halt, a soft growl creeping up his throat, then turns sharply, redirecting his path so that the ugly creature doesn't think he was headed for her in the first place. The rush in his head is despicable, and he feels an emotion akin to anxiety begin to build inside his tight chest, thoroughly disconcerting in its intensity.
He needs to know where she is. Not because she matters, and not because her father cares—God knows he doesn't—but due to his need to possess her, to be aware of her every action. She hasn't been seen since the barricades, and he is not stupid, unlike many of those that he associates with. Thénardier himself has treated her disappearance with utmost uncaring, and even when Montparnasse once suggested, in a mocking tone, that perhaps she went off to fight, the former innkeeper's only response was to scoff and turn his back. Thénardier, however, for all his pride in conning and acting, is transparent to a mind like Montparnasse's, and that's why he's here now, hoping that his logic has slipped up and that she isn't truly that idiotic.
Because she is a smart girl, at least in some ways; smart enough to work around the capriciousness of her father, who is, despite his denseness, intelligent enough. She's been raised on the bare minimum, and that makes her tough, resourceful, not the type to throw herself away into a hopeless battle for the want of a romantic passing. She is not a fool. She is not a fool. He doesn't know why he has to tell that to himself, why it affects him at all, but his breathing's coming faster as he moves closer and closer to the grave of the barricade, and a hand reaches up, moves through his dark silken locks in a motion that's aggravated, stressed in all the ways that he presses so constantly not to be.
He's damning her under his breath as he reaches the edge of the barricade. The largest parts, the masses of cracked and shattered chairs and tables that have shadowed the minds of every Parisian for days now, have been cleared away. What remains is a burned, disfigured skeleton of the grandeur that the vivacious young men had so proudly constructed, broken fragments scattered across the cobblestones in mournful reminisce. It is, in all ways, a portrait of utter defeat, failed uprising, pure and fundamental weakness.
Montparnasse knew all along that they would never go anywhere with their treasured revolution. They were too few and too naive, unprepared for the monster that awaited them, with war held in their minds only as a lingering source of excitement, stirring them into their crimson and gold enthusiasm. They were senseless and blinded, and now they have paid the price for such luxury.
They lay here now, in fact, their own corpses unforgiving displays of their foolishness for the benefit of the rest of the city. Politely positioned, almost respectfully so, but the fact that their arms are crossed and their eyes closed does nothing to disguise the stains of blood soaking their shirts and waistcoats, or the haunting paleness of their too-still faces.
He regards them only with disgust, pacing carefully around the prone figures. They are, to him, nothing more than repulsive shells, signs of completed and irrelevant work that he only wishes could have been his own. There are men who believe hollow bodies to deserve respect, but Montparnasse is not one of them. Death is neither admirable nor intimidating in his cold-carved mind, merely a side effect of often-necessitated actions that he tends to find himself involved in.
Still, despite his uncaring, this is his last place to look for her. If she isn't among their ranks, then Thénardier was right, and she really has slipped away from Paris itself, probably to no better of a fate than the one that would land her on these bloody stones. At this point, he is not sure which he'd prefer for her—death, or freedom; freedom from France, and from her father, and from him.
He needn't worry.
For it only takes two more steps, two more quick swipes of his eyes along the clean row of corpses. The first reveals a small blonde child, scraggly-haired and blank-faced. The second settles on her.
And this time, he knows that there are no mistakes to be made, because he knows that face, knows it far too well. A pretty face, or at least the ghost of one, even in the frozen grip of death. There's no blood near her lips or hairline, and he recognizes, distantly somehow, that the wound ensuring her demise is at her breast, a small dark patch that he refuses to examine any more closely. If he ignores that, she looks peaceful, sleeping, and he attempts to do so for a moment, letting the damning injury fade out of his perception, considering her without the mask of death thrown across her gentle face.
She is almost smiling.
He kneels down beside her, slowly, and still not because he cares. Rather, the motion is due to a strange prickling sting that can most closely be compared to curiosity, to wonder at how this occurred, at why a girl as clever as her would toss away the most valuable thing she possessed.
His fingers drift out almost unwillingly, and he feels, as if from a distance, the brush of her hair. It's soft, even in its tangled, blood-matted state, and a strange chill runs through his fingers. His heavy eyebrows lower. Montparnasse knows bodies very well—both living and dead—and Éponine feels like neither. She holds not the fiery heat of a beating heart, nor the stolid dullness of a still one, and it baffles him, but he doesn't move away, only runs his nails farther along the line of her rippling locks, tracing his way to her jaw.
She is cold, very cold, and that's a sort of reassurance, a reminder that she is in a most definite state, one that she can't possibly be drawn out of. He does not know whether that thought is comforting or sickening, and decides that it must be both.
Montparnasse is not, and never has been, one for sentimentality. He simply cannot afford it, with a life like his, and doubts that he would care enough for tears even if they were acceptable in his line of work. He hasn't felt that salty grip for years, and they don't come near threatening him now. Yet there is a change impossible to disregard, a sordid dryness at the back of his throat that causes his lips to curl and his forehead to crease. Perhaps this is the closest that a creature such as himself can ever come to mourning.
And yet he isn't sad. He is angry.
A waste, he says without words, expressing it instead in the way that his thumb traces the dip of her temple, the curve of her eyelid. The skin bends delicately under his pressure. Had she still the bite of breath in her lungs, she would fight him back, lash out at his unwelcome touch, but there's nothing to stop him now, and so he caresses her as much as he wishes, tracing all those subtle planes that so intrigued him when they had been lit by the rosy glow of life. They are flatter now, somehow, but no less delicately admirable, carved like a statue—of wood, rather than marble; that's what she is now, a mannequin of whitened pine, crown crested by strands of late-autumn leaves. The faded image of a woodland spirit.
And yet, equally, nothing more than a limp, drained body.
He is disappointed in her, he supposes. Quite so. Perhaps he had some hope for her, in a distant corner of his own mind, and perhaps his savage dreams did, at some point, carry her within them—her at his side, sharp-tongued and dark-eyed as ever, filling a role in his soured life that he never knew to be empty, but that will now remain so until he lets his own existence slip away—perhaps to join hers, but the truth as he knows it is that they're headed for very different places, even after their final defeat, and this truly is his last chance to bid her farewell.
Whatever compelled your idiocy, he muses, still not putting voice to his words, I do ever so greatly detest it.
That, likely, is the closest to sorrow that he will reach.
And, with nothing more, he stands. His fingers reek with the lingering chill of her skin, and he wipes them thoughtlessly over the chest of the young boy broken beside her, assuaging the frigidness with fabric's heating friction. Then he's on his feet again, his shoulders and chin high as ever. He adjusts his collar unnecessarily, heightening his already flawlessly impeccable air, and turns sharply on his heel, drawing a light splash from the thin blood that still hugs the ground.
He could tell her father, but Thénardier surely cares even less than Montparnasse, and no other names strike his mind. She will be forgotten, like all the others, even before history gets its chance to erase the greatest names. Her own quiet title—Éponine, for it was the only way she ever introduced herself—will not survive the next decade. For by then, he will surely be dead, and her parents will have forgotten as surely as they have their other children.
A most curious loss, indeed, he reflects as he strolls back up the streets, a lingering smile shaping his fine lips, lowering the gazes of any of the working-girls who still care to spare him their life-tired glances. Her absence is almost tangible in the dusty air, and it feels almost, in the most irrationally romantic of ways, that the skies themselves are issuing some attempt to fill her place as the aching groans of rain finally fight their way into formation. Drops hit the ground like bullets, splattering ungracefully, further diluting the already faint echoes of blood that still worm their way about.
He walks faster. It would be a shame to get his coat wet.