If any mortal man shall hear your song and yet pass by, then that shall be the end of you.
That's what Éponine's parents taught her, what their parents taught them. And so she doesn't sing. There is music in her bones, in her blood, rising up in her and begging to be sung, but she keeps her tongue between her teeth and her voice silent. She won't be like her parents, or theirs before them, gleefully luring men to their death. Better to live her whole life and never sing a note, than to take up their legacy.
She does sing sometimes — she only has so much strength — but she's sure to do it when there are none around to hear and be seduced by her song.
Today, she has found a meadow, surrounded by thick forest and unlikely to be disturbed by anyone else. With the warm sun shining down, bringing out the perfume of the flowers, she relaxes the iron grip she keeps upon herself at all times, and lets herself sing.
She hasn't been there an hour when the sound of a twig snapping behind her makes her spin around, the song dying on her lips. A man is there at the edge of her meadow, hands up and eyes wide like he's the one who's been startled and not her, mouthing, "Sorry, sorry," silently.
"Go!" she snarls, furious, and then stops herself and stares at him, hating him and hating herself for even considering this.
But she has done everything right. She has done everything in her power to keep others safe, all her life. Why should she have to die now, just because some fool happened upon her in the woods?
"Wait," she says, gentler, and then sings, "Come."
He comes — but only two steps, both of them hesitant. Éponine has never known any man to be able to resist a siren's song. One note is enough to have them at the siren's feet, declaring their devotion.
"Can't you hear me?" she asks, unsure if she's exasperated or hopeful.
The man's eyes are on her lips. Not her breasts, not her body, not like other men. They fix on her mouth, and when she's finished speaking he shakes his head, taps a finger against his ear, shakes his head again.
"You can't hear," she says, more lament than revelation, and he nods quickly and smiles, unrealizing.
If any mortal man shall hear your song, that's what her parents said, what their parents said. And he hasn't heard it, because he can't hear anything. She can let him leave and it won't have to mean her death.
Maybe. Maybe. Sometimes the Fates are literal, and sometimes they are not. Is she willing to risk her life for this man's freedom? She squeezes her eyes shut, whispers, "Go, just go," trusts him to be able to read it from her lips even if he cannot hear.
When she opens her eyes, he's gone. She sits down in the middle of the meadow and wonders how soon death will come to her, if it intends to come at all.
She doesn't know why she goes back to the meadow. She tells herself that it's because it's still a fine place for solitude, that just because one person happened upon her doesn't mean others will.
She doesn't know why she goes back, and she cannot comprehend why he does. But there he is, standing at the meadow's edge just as before, only this time he's smiling, a question in his eyes rather than surprise.
He didn't kill her the first time, so she sighs, says, "Oh, very well," and he comes toward her, his smile widening.
He speaks with his hands, fingers making shapes and patterns through the air that she finds beguiling. She doesn't understand, but it's lovely to watch, and he is skilled at making himself known through gestures and smiles and the lift of his brows.
He tells her his name, grasping her hand and tracing the letters out on her palm. Combeferre. She does the same for him, because it's only fair. He smiles and makes a sign, points to her and makes it again, and she knows he means it to be her name. It looks lovely. She smiles at him.
He teaches her his words, the twist of a hand that means tree, the way he curls his fingers to say flower. She sits cross-legged with him in the grass and echoes them back to him, feeling clumsy and inept, even as he smiles and nods and makes encouraging gestures.
She leans forward and kisses him. His hands go still between them, then slide up to cup her face. He kisses her back. When she pulls away, he's smiling.
Will you sing for me? he asks her, and for a moment she forgets to breathe.
It didn't kill her last time, but last time was an accident. Still, she does as he asked. She sings for him, quietly at first, afraid. Then louder, when he doesn't seem inclined to prostrate himself before her as men always do before sirens. He sits quietly at her side, the fingers of one hand against her back, the other laid lightly against her throat.
When she's finished, he signs, Beautiful.
She smiles and shakes her head. "You can't know that. You can't even hear it."
I can feel it, he says. And then, again, Beautiful.
She kisses him again, because she can't not. Kisses him desperately, clings to him too hard, until he covers her hands with his and loosens her fingers. She draws away, but he's still smiling, just like before.
Eventually night grows near, and they must part. Meet me here again tomorrow? Combeferre asks.
Éponine swallows the thickness in her throat and nods, hoping the Fates will not make a liar of her. Tomorrow, she signs back at him, inexpertly, but it makes him beam.
He comes the next day and she is waiting for him. She is singing, humming a happy little song beneath her breath. He comes out of the trees and into the meadow and his smile is brighter than the sun overhead.
She smiles back at him, and reaches a hand out, and he comes to her. She's still humming when they kiss, when he laughs breathlessly against her mouth, when they sprawl out together in the grass. He wraps an arm about her shoulders and holds her close, and because he cannot easily see her mouth like that, she uses her free hand to tell him, I am happy.
Good, he tells her. Keep singing.
So she does.