Éponine hasn't bolted yet. She's counting this as a personal victory. It's a minor one, as her bare minimum goal for tonight was “don't embarrass Cosette by running at the first opportunity,” but still. She's managed some only slightly awkward small talk as well, so there's that. Baby steps, and a slight chance this wasn't going to turn into a complete disaster.
Cosette had laughed and told her she was worrying about nothing when she'd noticed the way Éponine was stressing about meeting her parents. But Cosette didn't understand. Cosette was the sort of girl you brought home and your parents instantly pictured a future wedding and grandkids. Not that Éponine would ever let her parents anywhere near Cosette, even if the legal system hadn't already made that choice for her. But Cosette was gorgeous, and sweet, and the top of their class, and just generally perfect.
Éponine was the sort of girl you brought home and your parents hid the silverware, while casually bringing up how that nice girl down the street is single now, isn't she. The fact that Éponine's parents were scum is the worst kept secret ever, and Éponine herself hasn't exactly had a spotless record either. She knows everyone's waiting to see when that Thénardier girl would finally gave in to her true nature.
Not that Cosette sees her that way. Éponine's still a little shocked whenever Cosette is willing to hang out with her in public, let alone actually tell people she's her girlfriend. People who apparently now include her parents.
And to be fair, Cosette's dads haven't kicked her out yet either, so that's another goal checked off. It's just... M. Fauchelevent is so nice. Éponine is used to Cosette being nice to her. Part of her still doesn't understand why Cosette wants to be so nice to her, since Éponine's not that great at being nice herself, but she's used to it. But her dad smiles and seems interested in everything Éponine has to say, even if it's just about the classes she's struggling through or the movie she and Cosette went to see a few days ago. She's already worried about saying the wrong thing and screwing this up for Cosette's sake, now she's slowly getting worried that she might end up disappointing him too, because clearly he's got the wrong impression of her. She doubts Cosette's told him anything about her that wasn't severely run through a rose-colored filter first, and Éponine knows she can't live up to those expectations.
She needs some fresh air.
She tells Cosette as much, grabs her bottle of soda, and heads out the front door. She just needs a minute or two to unscrew the polite smile she's been wearing all night, and then she'll be ready to face the rest of “meet your perfect girlfriend's perfect dad” night.
If she'd thought it through, she might have remembered Cosette's other dad.
M. Javert looks up as the door opens. Right. He'd said something about getting some air a few minutes ago, too. Gee, Éponine, she tells herself, feeling stupid maybe that's where you got the idea. He's sitting on the front porch steps smoking a cigarette, which he looks at now like he's not sure if he's supposed to put it out now that she's out here. She tamps down the ridiculous impulse to ask him for one, because cop Éponine, jeez, also Cosette's dad. Instead, she smiles politely at him, takes her own seat on the steps, and reminds herself that turning around and going back inside immediately after coming out would only make her look like a total idiot.
There's a few awkward minutes where she takes a few sips of her soda and he takes a drag of his cigarette, and they both just stare up at the stars.
“I arrested your father, you know.”
Éponine had no idea you could break an awkward silence by making it even more awkward, but apparently she's wrong. “Yeah,” she finally answers, as he seems to be waiting for some response. “I remember.” She remembers the lady who showed up later to take her to her lovely new foster home more than the cop that took her dad to prison, but she can vaguely recall her mom yelling obscenities at someone matching his description.
He takes another drag of his cigarette, then says casually, “You know the saying 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree'?”
Oh. Éponine sighs. She knew it was too good to be true. While M. Fauchelevent had seemed way too nice, M. Javert hadn't cracked so much as a polite smile at her, so why hadn't she seen the obvious good cop bad cop act for what it was? You know better than this, Éponine scolds herself. Clearly one was putting on a happy face for their darling daughter, while the other made sure it was the last they saw of her bound-for-juvie girlfriend who didn't deserve her.
Not that I can blame them, Éponine thinks. She doesn't deserve Cosette, after all. No one could, least of all her. Cosette's practically an angel. A spotless record, never even had detention, never seems to anything less than at least a smile for anyone and everyone. Hell, she runs a Bible study, for Christ's sake. The most rebellious thing Cosette's probably ever done is to date Éponine. Which is exactly the problem.
“Look,” she starts, defensively. “I know my past sucks and my family sucks and my track record in general sucks, okay? You don't need to give me some speech about what a terrible influence I am on Cosette, because I know I am. Cosette is basically a saint, and I know she doesn't need someone like me hanging around her. But I love your daughter, sir, and for some strange reason she seems to feel the same about me. So, until she finally figures out she can do way better than me, and finds someone that actually deserves her, I'm not gonna...”
Éponine's voice tapers off as she notices M. Javert is blatantly staring at her at this point, looking like he's got no clue why she's suddenly ranting at him. “You... said the apple doesn't fall far from the tree,” she reminds him. “I figured, you know, you were trying to tell me I was like my parents, so-”
“Hardly!” he interrupts. “Your father was a horrible man who should have been in prison a decade before we finally managed to find any evidence of half the shit he's pulled, and your mother-” he stops then, apparently having realized who's daughter he was talking to. Éponine almost laughs, not minding a bit, really. Her parents are dirtbags who deserved to be in jail. This wasn't exactly news to her. M. Javert coughs, sounding a little embarrassed. “I was merely going to say, before you started that impassioned little speech there, that some people believe that. But if it will make you look less panicked all night, you don't actually have to worry about that here. Certainly not from Jean.” Éponine guesses he means M. Fauchelevent. “And not from myself either, considering I have personal experience with the idea that people can rise above their beginnings.”
“What,” she scoffs, not letting herself buy it, “your dad was an asshole conman too and you became a cop anyways?”
It's Éponine's turn to stare now. She hadn't actually expected an answer to her sarcasm.
“You are hardly the first person in the world, Miss Thénardier, to start from the gutter,” he says bluntly. “And you're certainly not the first person to make some... questionable life choices. Though,” he adds, smirking at her, “if you could prevent my having to arrest my daughter's girlfriend, that would likely be the best for all concerned.”
Éponine can't help laughing a little at that.
“According to my daughter,” he continues, more seriously, “you've given me no reason to be concerned so far, and she's in position to know better than I. Yes, your track record suggests otherwise, but I've learned recently that just because you've started down a path, doesn't mean you can't choose a different one to follow. Apparently, people can change.”
Éponine notices he says the last part like it's an argument he's had with someone many times before now. “Yeah?” she asks. “Who taught you that?” She has a weird feeling she knows the answer already.
He proves her right when he looks over his shoulder, back towards the house, before looking back at her with something approaching a grin. “You're not the only one in love with a saint.”
Éponine smiles. Her earlier panic has gone away, replaced with what she thinks is a more reasonable amount of "meet the parents night" worry that's far more manageable. At least one of Cosette's dads isn't going in blind, so that's one less thing she can screw up. For Cosette, she thinks she might be able to handle the rest.
“For the record,” she says eventually, needing to move past this moment of awkward bonding, “that incident with the cow in the backseat of the sheriff’s car? I had absolutely nothing to do with it.” She pretends that she doesn't hear the snort he tries to pass off as a cough.
Her fears of not deserving Cosette haven't magically vanished but, for tonight at least, a little understanding goes a long way.