Cover Artist: SomethingIncorporeal
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The first hint Cosette has that something's gone wrong is when the cold steel of a handcuff snaps around her wrist.
Oh, hell, she thinks, looking down at it, and the slim hand next to hers wearing the other half of the cuffs. She's buying Starbucks, for heaven's sake. Starbucks ought to be an amnesty zone.
Then she looks up to see who thought it would be a good idea to handcuff themselves to an FBI agent in the middle of a public place, and she thinks, Oh, fuck.
Éponine's smiling at her, bright as a flame and sharp as a blade. She was so young, the last time Cosette saw her, but those eyes, and that smile -- she's unmistakable.
"You got taller," Cosette says, and Éponine gives a sharp laugh.
"Taller than you."
That makes Éponine's face close off, makes her lips pinch and her expression turn stormy.
Cosette lifts their cuffed hands and shakes hers, making the chain between them rattle. "You used my own cuffs? I have the key."
Éponine's smile returns, slow and sly. "No you don't." She lifts her other hand and reveals a key, dangling from her fingers.
Cosette snaps her mouth shut and is grateful for the training that helps her keep her surprise and dismay from showing on her face. "All right, fine, we'll do this the hard way. Éponine Thenardier, you're under arrest--"
"For what charges?"
Cosette pointedly rattles the cuffs again. "Assaulting an officer--"
Éponine snorts. "Misdemeanor."
"I haven't moved you anywhere." Éponine blows out a heavy breath, like this is some sort of game that she's abruptly grown tired of. "You're not going to arrest me."
"Give me one good reason--"
"Because," Éponine says, as though she's just been waiting for Cosette to ask the question. "You're going to help me stop my parents."
Cosette buys Éponine a coffee, because that's the sort of person she is. She stands with her spine straight and tries to sound dignified as she places the order, and Éponine asks the barista for the fanciest latte she can think of because if she's going to get coffee on the government's dime, then she's going to make it worth it.
The barista eyes the cuffs around their wrists dubiously and Cosette's got a slightly wild-eyed look to her like she might just break and tell him to call the cops, so Éponine gives him a wicked grin, lifts Cosette's hand up to where it's more obvious, and says, "We're very kinky."
The barista turns pink and Cosette turns red, but neither comment. Once they've paid and have their drinks, Éponine leads Cosette over to a pair of armchairs set up against a window. She drops down into one and pulls at the cuffs until Cosette takes the other, their linked hands draped across the gap between.
"You could take my hand," Éponine suggests, mostly for the way she knows it'll make Cosette give her a sour look. "It'll be less obvious."
And there's the look, right on cue. Éponine grins while Cosette snaps, "How about you tell me what exactly makes you think I'm going to do anything to help you after you've--" She shakes the cuffs with an expression of disgust.
"I'm not asking you to help me," Éponine says, sitting up straighter. She takes a sip of her coffee to let Cosette think about that for a moment.
"You said you wanted--"
"Not for me. I got out, more or less. I've gone straight."
"Have you now," Cosetted deadpans, and she doesn't rattle the cuffs again but Éponine knows they're what she means.
"Well." Éponine gives her a sharp smile. "Something's crooked from the start, you can only straighten it out so much, I guess."
Cosette huffs out a breath and drinks her coffee, her eyes on Éponine. Waiting.
"I'm not asking for me," Éponine says again. Her voice drops, goes softer and more earnest, and she hates it but she can't help. She can't keep up a front, not about this. "It's Azelma."
Cosette goes still with the coffee cup halfway to her mouth. Her gaze is fixed on Éponine now, like she couldn't tear it away if she tried. "What about Azelma?" Her voice is choked, just a little bit.
No one would notice it who hadn't grown up with her, but Éponine did, and she has.
"They've still got her," Éponine says, the coup de grace, delivered gently, and watches as the impact of the words ripples across Cosette's expression like a meteor strike.
Cosette closes her eyes. "Fuck," she says, very soft and very precise. She lifts her coffee and drains it in one long gulp, then comes up for air with a ragged breath. "Fuck," she says again, and Éponine smiles just a bit because she knows she's got her, but there's little pleasure in this victory.
Cosette doesn't run the minute Éponine unlocks the cuffs. It's probably a mistake, and she knows it, but she just stands there looking down at the pink mark around her wrist from where the metal rubbed against the skin, then looks up at Éponine. "All right. What's the plan?"
A muscle in Éponine's jaw ticks. "We get her out. We get her as far away from them as possible."
Cosette's face twists. "That's the extent of your plan?" Éponine's expression goes combative, so Cosette raises her hands. "All right, all right. That's a start, but it's not a plan. We need something a little more defined than that if this is going to work."
"I've been considering kidnapping," Éponine says thoughtfully, so easy and nonchalant that Cosette's blood runs cold.
Éponine glares at her.
"Do you really want the Thénardiers on national television, weeping over their missing daughter? They'll be the country's darlings inside of five minutes, and then you'll never get anyone to listen to you when you try to tell them it was for Azelma's own good. How much use are you going to be to her from inside a jail cell?"
Éponine's face goes red and her expression goes mulish, but she drops her gaze to the side and doesn't protest. "Fine," she snaps after a moment. "What do you suggest, then?"
"You're going to need to do this above-board, if you're going to have any hope of it working. You say you've gone straight, well, now's your opportunity to prove it. If you want to get Azelma away from them, you're going to have to work with the legal system for once, not against it."
"I know that," Éponine says, like she's angry that she's had to admit it. "Christ. When did you get so rigid? You were more fun as a kid."
Cosette blinks at her, taken aback. Fun isn't a word that she'd ever have expected Éponine to use to describe her. As children, the best she ever seemed to be able to get from Éponine was tolerance. She'd wished for a playmate, for a friend, but even then she'd known she wished in vain. "The Thénardiers warp everything they touch," she says quietly, after a moment. "We're both of us trying to figure out how to straighten ourselves back out again. We've just gone about it in different ways."
Éponine looks like she doesn't know what to make of that, her expression wavering somewhere between incredulity and sympathy. She gets it straightened out a minute later, pressing her lips thin and giving Cosette a determined look. "That's why we have to get Azelma away from them. Before they make her..."
Éponine doesn't finish, but Cosette thinks she can hear the echo of what she's left unsaid, all the same. Before they make her like me. "Yeah," she says, with a long sigh. "We do." She lifts a hand to pull her fingers through her hair, then stops with it half-raised, her gaze stuck on the pink mark around her wrist. "It's not going to be easy."
Éponine snorts. "I've never shied away from hard work." The look she gives Cosette says, You didn't, either. I still remember.
It's that, more than anything, that makes Cosette reach across the distance between them, offering a hand. "Partners, then?"
Éponine only hesitates a fraction of a second before she clasps Cosette's hand in hers.
"And no more funny business with my handcuffs," Cosette warns as they shake on it.
Éponine grins, then, as sharp as ever, but somehow it seems less threatening than it might have an hour earlier. "I'll try to restrain myself," she says, drawled out like it's a joke.
It's the best she's going to get from her, Cosette knows. It's a lot better than she expected. "Then we've got a deal."