"Hey. Are you waking up?" A hand shook Éponine's shoulder.
Éponine fought her drowsiness and braced herself enough to nod. She winced as she forced her eyelids open, but fluorescents always hurt her eyes.
Lying on a woman's lap wasn't helping her eyes. Or, actually, what wasn't helping was that the woman had really pale blonde hair that reflected the light around her. If Éponine was more of a romantic...oh, who was she kidding. It was a total halo situation. And it remained that way even as Éponine's eyes adjusted to reveal...
Cosette's eyes were wide with surprise, but her smile didn't fade. "We know each other?"
Before Éponine could answer, her phone buzzed, and just like always, she squeaked a little with surprise. She smiled apologetically at Cosette, who gestured at Éponine's pocket with a little laugh. As Éponine fished out her phone, her clothes squeaked against the crappy vinyl she was lying on. Cheap benches, lingering food smells: Éponine had made it to the student center from the quad. But how?
The question of who texted her was much easier to solve, and a look at the screen confirmed her guess: Marius, of course. There were three different variations on u ok??? because a guy who had spent his life in really expensive prep schools couldn't be bothered to use proper grammar or spelling. But the latest message was a little more substantial: bailing e and g out of jail with an artistically blurry, Instagram-style shot of Enjolras's blond curls. And what looked like Marius's hand stroking the hair. Or it could have been Grantaire's.
At least she knew Marius wasn't in the hospital.
Éponine punched back a quick You always did like blonds, waited for the usual twist of her heart to pass, and tucked her phone back in her pocket with a bit of a sigh.
"Who was that?"
"Just my friend." Who was head over heels for the woman that Éponine was really close to right now. Éponine sat up and put a little space between them. "Um, Marius."
Cosette beamed. It emphasized how put-together she looked: her clothes were clean and probably designer, her hair was styled and lacking frizz, her makeup was perfect...and all in the middle of the night, no less. Éponine didn't want to think about how many stains and holes her clothes had sported before the cops had stormed the protest, much less after.
"Is that how we know each other?" Cosette asked. "Is he okay?"
Éponine reached up to adjust her hat, but it wasn't there. How had it taken her this long to notice?
"Oh, sorry." Cosette pulled the hat from where it was hidden behind her and handed it back, brushing it off like her manicured hand had any business touching something that dirty. "I wasn't sure if you had a bump on your head. Thought it would be better to check."
Éponine accepted the hat. "How did I make it here?"
"My Uncle Jean. He thought you were Marius when he was passing by. You're wearing his clothes, right?"
From anyone else in Cosette's shoes, that question would have been filled with scorn. But Cosette only sounded curious, so Éponine said, "Yeah. He gives them to me when he's done with them."
"I thought you might have been there in disguise," Cosette said with a little nod. "Everyone in a hundred-yard radius got carted downtown. Uncle Jean and I would have taken you to the hospital, but I wasn't sure you wanted to be recognized."
"I...thanks." Éponine waved the cap. It was the only piece she didn't wear to class on a daily basis. Not that Cosette needed to know.
Cosette nodded again and said, "I would have taken you anyway if you'd been hurt. Or more hurt, I guess."
"How would you know how hurt I was?" Éponine's joking tone was a little ruined by the shakiness of her voice. "You a doctor or something?"
"Would you believe me if I said nursing student?"
Éponine smiled a little despite herself, ducking her head. "I wouldn't believe you've been one long enough to know if I needed a hospital."
Cosette laughed. Her cheeks pinked a little while she did it.
Éponine would never mock Marius again.
"I used to live in a bar," Cosette said, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "I learned the difference between drunk and hurt pretty fast there."
Éponine's throat grew tight. She blinked back some tears, which, okay. Just because she hadn't thought of her parents' place in years didn't mean she needed to break down.
It only got worse when Cosette put a hand over one of hers, where it was crushing the rim of her baseball cap. "Are you okay?"
"I did, too," Éponine said after a second.
"Grew up in a bar. Until my parents lost it."
The oh that came out of Cosette's mouth was so quiet that it could have almost been the heater that came to life behind them. She didn't say anything else: just put her other hand over Éponine's and squeezed gently. Éponine should have shaken it off, but...well.
She did pull away when her phone buzzed again, twice in a row. The first message was a picture text from Dad that was nothing but a fuzzy picture of a gold ring; Éponine deleted it immediately. The second was a text from Marius, which seemed to be a poorly-spelled ode to Enjolras's hair. His spelling usually got better when he'd gotten into Grantaire's stash, so he probably wasn't wasted, at least.
"Do you want to go for an early breakfast?"
"Hmm?" Éponine pulled her eyes away from the phone.
Cosette gestured; Éponine's hands were shaking. "When was the last time you ate?"
"It was..." Time to fib. "An early dinner, I think?"
"My expertise as a first-year nursing student is telling me we should get your blood sugar up. You like the diner at the north end of campus?"
"You mean the one two blocks away?" She grinned when Cosette flushed. "My brains aren't that rattled."
Éponine didn't know how much her blood sugar was going to go up if she was only eating pancakes bigger than her head, but there was powdered sugar and fruit off to the side, so that would probably work. If she could stop shoveling food enough to eat those, that is.
Cosette's portions of scrambled eggs and bacon - and, oddly, a side salad - were just as huge, but she cut the eggs in half and took reasonable bites of one side. They weren't dainty, though. And Éponine knew that she would probably ask for a doggie bag. There were some things a person didn't grow out of.
They ate in silence for a little while. It wasn't uncomfortable; Éponine concentrated on her food, and Cosette didn't look the least bit bothered by it. At least, she waited until Éponine had slowed to ask, "What's your major?"
"Between them at the moment." It was a nice way of saying "I'm signed up for Poli Sci right now because that's Marius's major, but taking a nightstick to the gut changed my mind". "Why nursing?"
Cosette could have said something about wanting to care for people or making the world a better place. That's why Éponine was surprised to hear her say, "Because the work's hard, and no one gives nurses enough credit."
"Raise the prestige of the job? That's your goal?"
Cosette tapped the tines of her fork on her plate. "I don't want people to think I didn't earn my job because Uncle Jean's...well. I'm not taking out loans, put it that way."
Éponine wasn't, either; she was one of the few people she knew who had had pell grants and scholarships practically thrown at her. That was probably the reason she hung out with Marius, actually. He didn't make her feel guilty when the others in their college complained about loans weighing them down.
"And I have more than enough experience cleaning up after people." Cosette pushed her plate away. She'd eaten exactly half of her food. "Crabby doctors can't be any worse than motel owners, right?"
Éponine's stomach dropped. She put her own fork down.
"Wait, that wasn't--I really don't watch my mouth sometimes." Cosette leaned over the table. "You had to live with your parents far longer than I had to. Uncle Jean's been so great, and..."
"It's okay." Éponine did her best to smile to show she meant it. Because she did. It was just hard to smile about her parents sometimes. "I didn't know you had an uncle. I thought your mom was alone."
Cosette shrugged. "He's not really my uncle. He just knew my mom and adopted me when she died."
And maybe, if Éponine's parents had been dead instead of robbing tourists, he would have adopted her, and she could have gone to school without dreaming of shoplifting her dinner. She shook her head to clear the thought. That wasn't fair.
"I'm glad you had someone," she said.
Before Cosette could say anything else, a waitress stepped up. Despite the fact that it was an old-style greasy spoon, the woman looked like any jeans-and-hoodie dorm dweller. "Can I get you two anything else?"
"A box?" Cosette said. When the waitress bustled off, she said, "Hmm, I don't think the bacon will reheat well. You want it?"
Éponine ignored the tiny surge of pride that welled up and told her to refuse - she was good at that these days - and nodded.
The bacon was delicious.
It wasn't until they were outside the diner that Cosette said, "Can I get your number?"
"My..." Cosette was making grabby hands, and it was only after a long second that Éponine fished out her phone. "Right. Yeah."
Cosette had a smartphone. Éponine's phone renewed minutes with pre-paid cards. But Éponine smiled when Cosette's thumbs darted across Éponine's phone's keypad with ease. "I've had a few of these in my time," Cosette said. "Uncle Jean didn't want to deal with contracts until I started classes."
"They're a pain," Éponine said, like she had any firsthand knowledge on the subject.
She poked at the little icons until she found Cosette's address book. There were only two contacts inside: Cosette's uncle, and a number that Éponine only knew went to Marius's phone because she'd dialed it from memory so many times. It didn't have a name attached.
"Do you want my name in here?" she asked as Cosette handed Éponine her phone back. "Or..."
"Yeah, of course." Cosette flushed and took the phone back. "I thought Uncle Jean wouldn't be happy if...it doesn't matter."
Éponine stared as Cosette added typed in Éponine's name - as "Ponine", no less, when the only person she knew who called her that was Marius - and then edited Marius's number to include his name. No cutesy nickname for him. But when Cosette's eyes flicked upward in her direction, Éponine shook her head. She was staring.
"Thanks for dinner," Éponine said as Cosette tucked her phone away again. "It was nice catching up, yeah?"
Cosette caught her wrist before she could turn away. She was still blushing, but her shoulders were squared, and she was watching Éponine intently.
"I wasn't just doing this to catch up," she said in a low voice. "I mean. You don't have to see me again if you don't want to, but..."
"I do," Éponine said quickly.
Cosette dragged her thumb on the soft skin of Éponine's wrist, and Éponine shivered. Cosette smiled. "Good."
She leaned in after that. Like...leaned in, the way Éponine had been dreaming Marius would do after they went over their homework in Starbucks, or while the group was cheering in Enjolras's club, or...
Éponine took a step back and tried to catch her breath. "What about Marius?"
Cosette tilted her head. "What about him?"
"Aren't you two..."
Cosette's shoulders shook. "He took me out on a date to make that one friend of his jealous. He knew I wasn't into guys."
Éponine's eyes went so wide she thought they'd pop out of her head, but before she could say anything, Cosette leaned far enough in that Éponine's skin heated with her proximity, and their lips brushed together. A thrill danced across her skin.
"Wow," she said as Cosette drew back.
"Wow," Cosette agreed. She smiled, ducked her head, and brushed hair out of her face. "Text me?"
Éponine could only nod as Cosette squeezed her hand lightly, and then she watched Cosette disappear into the night.
Her lips tingled until she went to bed.