Eponine Thénardier knows how to move through Paris in the dark. She knows it far better than the National Guard, who are out in force but are laughably loud with their booted feet, too easily spotted with their blue-and-red uniforms and the glint of moonlight off sharp metal and brass buttons.
It’s an easy matter to move past the guards unseen, to press herself against cold brick and make her footsteps silent as she passes.
It’s even easier to slip up behind one of the uniformed officers, then another: slender, powder-scarred fingers covering a startled mouth, white arms jerking the unlucky man back into the darkness without a sound, and cold metal silencing him for good (the way Montparnasse had taught her, years ago, a flick of steel and a line of red and the sudden weight of a body gone slack).
She’s used to hiding in the shadows, after all.
She takes the jacket off the second victim, tugs it off without ceremony. She pushes up the brocade sleeves with bloodied hands and admires her reflection in a shop window, curtsies to herself like a proper lady.
Then she hears yells from behind her as the dead soldiers are discovered, recalls her task, and melts back into the darkness.
Eponine passes back through the maze of alleys and narrow streets full of shuttered windows, back to the Rue St. Michel and the shadowy, jagged form of the barricade as it looms forth in the night like some misshapen behemoth.
“C’est moi,” she calls in a sing-song before emerging onto the cobblestones, and Joly doesn’t even try to shift aside furniture to allow her passage because he already knows she prefers to scale the front of it. It’s not hard, once she’d ascertained which protruding chair legs and bits of rope and jutting planks of woods will hold her slight weight.
As she nears the top an arm reaches out to haul her the rest of the way over, and then she’s brushing her hands off on the rough fabric of her borrowed trousers and making her way down the other side of the barricade with a murmur of thanks to whichever of the sentries (Jehan, she thinks) has helped her over.
Some of the boys (for really, they are not men, not yet) are sat against stone walls with legs stretched out and young faces made even younger in sleep, others standing watchful by the edges of the barricade with weapons in hand, eyelids drooping but unwilling to abandon their self-assigned posts. The rest are gathered nearer the Musain itself.
“Is there any news?” their leader asks and looks up at her with concern etched across her pale brow, blonde hair slipping free of its pins and gleaming like spun gold in the light from the moon above.
The white of her blouse is dirtied from sweat and gunpowder, the shoulder of one sleeve ripped, the colors of the flag tied around her waist dulled into grey and black by the night, but no force of God or nature seems to have the power to dim Cosette herself.
It is difficult to set eyes upon her and fail to wish to follow her. She is the only steady thing in a world of upheaval, a serene golden-haired anchor for them all (and especially for Eponine, who needs one more than most).
Combeferre has had to obtain Cosette’s promise to stay away from the topmost point of the barricade, lest with her pearl-white skin and flaxen hair she present an easy target to night-blind soldiers.
But lovely as she may be she is no angel, unless it be of the avenging sort. The first rally of soldiers who had attacked the previous afternoon, the ones who laughed to see a woman leading, had learned that for themselves.
No one could grow up half a Thénardier without learning something of cruelty, loath though she may be to use it.
Eponine removes her cap now and runs distracted fingers through her tangled hair as she moves to Cosette’s side. The graveness of the blonde girl’s face has made her more lucid, has banished some of the hysteria and confusion which used to well up only sometimes but which now are a constant gnawing presence at the edges of her mind.
“They’ve men posted at intervals for two streets on each side,” she says in an undertone, and shakes her head. “I was able to take care of one or two, but they’re everywhere. We are surrounded.”
“Captain,” the soldier speaks up tentatively, not wanting to disturb the higher-ranking officer (the youngest captain they’ve ever had, if rumor is true) while he consults with one of his men at the corner of the Rue du Villette.
“What is it?” the blonde man asks sharply, turning tense blue eyes to the young officer twisting his hat around in his hands. He has no patience for those who would waste time they do not have.
“Beauchamp and LeRoy, sir,” the officer says. “They’ve been found dead. Throats cut. Just like Mabeuf this morning.” He hesitates, and then adds, “We found this pinned to LeRoy’s shirt.” He steps forward, holding out what looks at first glance like a multicolored scrap of fabric.
Enjolras’ jaw sets as he takes the object from his lieutenant. It’s a cockade, crudely sewn from ribbons in the revolutionary colors and singed at one edge. He closes his fingers around it.
“They will pay for every man,” he promises evenly. “They have no respite now. We surround them on all sides.”
“They might still surrender,” the other officer speaks up without much hope, and Enjolras shakes his head, pushing aside a blonde curl which spills into his eyes. “They will not,” is his response.
He motions the lieutenant away, and as his footsteps recede on the rain-slick cobblestones the blonde captain looks down at the symbol of the revolution still held tightly in his hand. He understands these students better than most, perhaps better than any.
They will not surrender, because he would not.
“Surrounded? We are lost,” Grantaire speaks up with derision from where he’s sitting with his back against a mattress with the stuffing half-spilled out of it, his feet up on a wooden chair with broken legs and a wine bottle tucked under one arm.
“Hold your peace,” Cosette tells him with a sharp look, and her voice is still soft but one would be foolish not to hear the steel in it. Men have broken their hearts by that mistake. “We still stand. Nothing is lost yet.”
“An idealist to the end, little lark,” Grantaire says, and his words are slurred as he smiles crookedly at the two of them, the chief and her foremost lieutenant. Eponine glares back, because her temper always has run hotter and wilder than Cosette’s and she cannot help but rise to challenges not issued to her.
She doesn’t realize she’s curled her hands into fists until Cosette’s own hand comes down to rest on her shoulder, recalling her attention.
Cosette has become a large part of her sanity. Some days (the worst days) Eponine thinks she’s all that’s left of it.
“You are the only man alive to make idealist rhyme with fool,” Cosette sighs with a shake of her lovely head in Grantaire’s direction. Then as her eyes move to her friend she seems actually to see Eponine for the first time, and her mouth twists unhappily. “How did you come by that jacket?”
Eponine laughs, which is always an unsettling thing. It never sounds quite right. She gives a twirl, then slides her thumbs under the lapels and smiles. “How do I come by anything?”
“I told you specifically not to go near any of them,” Cosette tells her, yet more quietly, and her quietest voice is the most dangerous one. “You might have been caught and killed.”
She says this, but Eponine knows her concern is more for the blood still on Eponine’s own pale hands than any hypothetical danger Eponine might have been in. Cosette views murder as abhorrent, but unavoidable in a situation such as theirs. Eponine’s opinion on the matter is much less moral.
Cosette had escaped from Thénardier’s world when she was sixteen years old, but Eponine had stayed steeped in it, been all but consumed by it. It is one of the blonde girl’s greatest regrets that she could not save her.
“If I knife them now or shoot them later, what difference does it make?” Eponine asks her with a smile like a blade’s edge, and Cosette regards her wordlessly for a long moment, no doubt debating whether or not to press the issue.
Then she sighs, squeezes Eponine’s hand once, and gives her bayonet to the other girl with a nod before moving to confer with Combeferre and Feuilly.
Glass from the destroyed windows crunches under her feet as she goes, glitters like precious jewels in the same starlight which turns Cosette’s flyaway blonde hair into a halo or a crown (a martyr or a tyrant, one of the half-asleep students considers deliriously, or neither, or both?)
“Would it do any good to ask why you’re still hanging about here?” Eponine asks Grantaire, kicking his outstretched foot with one boot as she climbs back up to crouch at the top of the barricade, shielded by the scratched mahogany of what might once have been a grand piano. The keys are cracked and half-missing.
“I? Why, I merely aim to provide the saviors of Paris with another disciple,” Grantaire says with a flourish and an impressively mocking seated bow towards the two blonde heads bent in quiet conversation.
He smiles, but it’s like all of his smiles. As broken as the keys of the splintered piano.
“Do we move against them?” someone asks him, and Enjolras breaks free of tumultuous thoughts to look over at his waiting men.
It is easy to forget that these are children they fight against now, the poorest of Paris’ slums and the rich who play a dangerous game by aiding them. Students armed only with ill-gotten weapons and misplaced pride.
“We ought to wait for morning,” Bahorel counsels, and Enjolras can see the hope in his eyes. Hope that they might not have to do this, after all. For it is not a thing any of them relishes, make no mistake in that. There is no glory in this.
“We will not wait,” Enjolras replies, and there is no questioning the tone in which he says it.
While those around him have only grown more agitated as the night progresses, the blonde man has become stiller and stiller—as a living statue returning to stone.
He sets his jaw and turns his gaze back to his men. He is monumental. He is undeniable. “We will not give them more time to kill us in the dark like cowards.”
Combeferre looks over sharply, hearing Grantaire’s deliberately-loud words of saviors and disciples, and the bitter tone in which they are delivered. Cosette doesn’t turn, but the edges of her pretty mouth twist in a slight frown.
Most of the others have always disdained Grantaire, ever since the day he stumbled into the Musain and asked to take part in whatever playacting they were occupying themselves with (as he had so mockingly put it).
Cosette’s pity is softer, but no more bearable.
Eponine can hear the slosh of wine as the cynic puts the bottle to his lips again. She shakes her head without looking back down at him. “You disgrace them, you know.”
He does know.
“Disgraceful or not, I wager our Artemis will still allow Dionysus to die for her,” Grantaire’s lazy response carries up to her. “Shall we put money on it?”
“I’ve no money to gamble,” is her tart reply. She smiles in the dark, but only because she knows he can’t see. It’s not a happy smile, more of a grimace than anything.
Artemis, the drunkard thinks below, yes, that is the truth of it. Gold and light and just the right combination of righteousness and madness to drag all the world to war on her behalf.
Then “Cosette?” comes from the dark on the other side of the blockade, and Eponine hefts her bayonet and aims it in the direction of the voice with practiced hands, fitting the barrel through a gap between the piano and a broken bench wedged next to it.
“Come out where I can see you,” she orders in a carrying whisper. Joly and Bossuet, who are also on guard, tense up and reach for arms readily at hand.
But it is only Marius who steps out of the shadows, one hand up in appeasement, and Eponine exhales in relief at the same time that her heart thuds painfully in her chest at the sight of him, cheap clothes bedraggled and hair a mess. The ugly thoughts rise to the surface like bile, and she has to close her eyes to try and block them out.
She climbs down and shoves against the rain-damp back of a chaise to make a gap for Marius to slip through. Joly helps her push it back into place.
She doesn’t even try to talk to the young man, though he smiles at her with genuine affection in his eyes. She bares her teeth at him in something that might barely pass for a smile, and stalks away even though she can feel his worried eyes upon her back.
She has discovered that it’s very much easier if she avoids him entirely (she decided it on one of her stabler days, because it’s the unstable ones where she cannot keep her thoughts straight, where she loses track of important things and forgets the wisdom of any resolutions she might have made).
“What are you doing here?” Cosette asks Marius, blue eyes worried as she moves to his side and takes his hand in her smaller one. “The streets are not safe tonight. You know that better than anyone.”
Marius brushes his thumb over her cheek. “There’s nowhere I would rather be.” His eyes cannot help but stray to the slight figure silhouetted against the top of the barricade, and he lowers his voice. “I worry about Eponine.”
They had been friends, many months ago, until she had retreated from him. But she is still Cosette’s dearest friend and so he feels a deep compassion for her; the least-loved child of a horrid family, the girl with vicious eyes who has spent far too much time in the company of brutes and assassins.
Cosette sighs, and covers his hand with her own. “She is slipping from me,” she says softly, and her eyes follow his through the darkness to linger on the other girl’s form. “I fear that one of these days I will not be able to call her back from wherever it is she goes.”
“And what is the choice of Phthonos?” Grantaire asks as Eponine settles back in to her post, and she sighs because she had rather hoped he had succumbed to sleep at last.
“I don’t know your fancy names, monsieur,” she says. “Surely you’ve realized that by now.”
“Phthonos. Envy,” Grantaire supplies, gesturing with his wine bottle. “An imperfect comparison, perhaps, but the question stands.”
She supposes she could hate him. She could, because she has always hated so easily, but his words are somehow not vindictive (or at least not any more so than they are self-loathing), and so she doesn’t.
“You talk too much,” she informs him instead, peering out into the dark with eyes narrowed in concentration.
She hasn’t heard the even footfalls of men marching in some hours now, but the sound has crept up into her head and she cannot be sure if she’s imagining it or not, if it is real boots on real cobblestones or a delirious echo looping over again in her own mind.
The others haven’t looked up, so this time it must be the latter. It’s good to have a way to keep it straight (would that everything had such simple distinctions).
“Of course, Phthonos would never have helped to lead a revolution,” Grantaire muses, and Eponine considers how much more he will have to drink before losing consciousness, and whether anyone would care if she hit him with the butt of her bayonet to hasten the process.
“Would Dionysus?” she retorts. There’s scorn in her voice, but not too much—she has only the vaguest idea of who Dionysus is, and so she does not actually know what he would and would not fight for.
“Touché, m’selle,” the drunk man replies, and she can hear the smile in his voice. Then he inhales slightly, and she hears footsteps (from their side of the barricade, thank God) and when she glances over her shoulder she sees that Cosette has stridden over to jerk Grantaire to his feet, delicate fingers twisted in the fabric of his vest and mouth set in a thin line.
“For God’s sake,” she says, with more concern than coldness but coldness nonetheless, “You won’t even be able to stand if you continue on this way.”
Grantaire’s eyes are dark, his easy smile bleak. There might once have been a fighting spirit found within him, if only he had been given something to fight for.
Enjolras has his men mustered and ready to march within five minute’s time. There is a reason he is in charge, after all, because anyone can give orders but no one can give them like this gilt-haired twenty-year-old captain of the National Guard.
He is a man who might have inspired armies in another life, who could have compelled men to challenge the gods in Olympus themselves. His word is not questioned and his commands obeyed without thought.
He is single-minded when set to a purpose, and his purpose now lies on the crooked streets ahead of them, a heap of broken furniture and a handful of schoolboys no older than himself.
He is, in fact, the unknowing counterpart to a girl he has never met, has had no knowledge of but in rumor. The twin Apollo to a rebelling Artemis.
He is proud, and beautiful, and colder than anything. The brand of righteousness burns deep in his breast, the product of a wealthy upbringing and the proper schooling and an innate fire of the soul which might once have been turned to any purpose but is now set on this path with no thought of wavering (because Enjolras does not waver, he never has and never will).
“With me,” he calls, and they are on the move.
“Eponine,” Cosette calls, releasing Grantaire with a shake of her head, and Eponine slips back down to the street level, rejoining the blonde woman as she frowns down at a crudely-sketched street map of Paris’ vicinity.
The drunk reclaims his former position, and tilts his head back but shuts his eyes to the stars above. He would rather not gaze upon the vault of heaven tonight.
“Word has come from the other barricades,” Cosette says quietly, so that none but Eponine can hear. She tucks a blonde tendril of hair behind one ear and looks up at her companion. Her fingers tremble slightly on the map, the only part of her that is not steady. “Ours is the last standing.”
The words are spoken evenly, but their speaking makes something in Eponine begin to unravel.
We must go, says the frantic part of Eponine who wishes only to see her friends safe and honor be damned.
I must go, says the dark part of her, the part who is still a Thénardier, still a foremost member of Patron-Minette, who knows how to come out of these things on top even if it means trampling upon others to do it.
We must stay, argues the small but vocal part who would not let Cosette down, not for the world.
There are too many warring thoughts, and she cannot keep a hold of them all, these different pieces of herself, and she puts a hand to her mouth to suppress an involuntary giggle.
“Eponine,” Cosette’s soft voice breaks through the rising din of Eponine’s own mind, and the dark-haired girl’s black eyes flick back to meet bright blue. The noise lessens.
Cosette takes both of her hands in one of her own, holds them tightly. An anchor, again.
Eponine knows she is slipping further each day, knows that Marius makes it worse and Cosette makes it better and it is only her poor luck that the two are nearly always together.
But for now the clamor recedes and it is just Cosette standing before her, holding her hands as if she is holding her very essence together.
“What do we do?” Eponine asks with difficulty.
“We fight,” is the calm reply.
And there it is again, the sound of marching, and men are roused and going for weapons and no, it is not in her head this time.
Dirt is on her face and someone else’s blood on her tongue and Cosette is right beside her at the top of the barricade as they stand and watch the army of the state come to meet them.
The National Guard assemble in rows and take preliminary aim.
“It is not too late,” Enjolras calls to the silent barricade, holding up a hand so that the men under his charge do not yet fire. “You may yet surrender. Be done with this, and go from here unharmed.”
Does he wish they will accept the offer? He does.
Can he alter the consequences of their decision, whatever it shall be? No, he cannot.
On the other side of the barricade, a drunkard who does not believe in anything thinks that the voice ringing out to shatter the silence of the night is quite the loveliest he’s ever heard.
Cosette’s answer is clear, her voice like a crystal bell. “Vive la republique,” she calls, and the Fates hear and spin their golden threads.
Enjolras’ first shot finds its mark, a man with curling dark hair who slumps forward onto the barricade without time to cry out. Others appear at once to take his place, firing their bayonets with more ferocity than skill, the fierceness of desperation.
The air fills with smoke and shouting. Everything smells of gunpowder.
Once the cannons are wheeled out, it is done. The students must know it as well, but they do not give in even at the last, even as one by one they fall forward onto the barricade they have built, or backwards and out of sight.
The captain meets his end once he has scaled the barricade, at the end of a bayonet. He falls where he stands, close nearby the fallen dark-haired man still clutching a bottle of wine in one hand.
“I am with you,” Eponine tells her friend, and her voice is steady.
For this moment the shadows have no claim on her. They are banished by Cosette’s unfailing brightness.
Their friends lie around them, upon the barricade and the stones below. Blood runs through the cobblestones like water, like a river from the heathen underworld.
Cosette smiles at her, head held high, and it is the end but her eyes are alight nevertheless. “And I with you.”
They join hands and wait for the end.