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always one foot on the ground

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There have been many moments in Cosette’s life when she wished she could fly.

Countless times during her miserable childhood, she’d look up from power-washing the front stairs, or whatever the grueling chore of the day happened to be and catch sight of a lark. Just a little dark silhouette against the blue, the sky so big, so bright and clear, that it used to break her heart. A lark, just a plain, delicate thing like she was, as free and as light as the wind. She’d look up at that little lark and she’d fervently wish that one day, she could be free like that, too.

That wish has never truly gone away; even now, twenty years later, when she’s escaped from the Thénardiers and knows for certain that they’ll never be able to hurt another child the way they hurt her, there’s still something in her that stirs on a clear day, that sees all of that blue and aches.

Which is why she does what she’s doing now. On nights when she can’t sleep, when the world keeps her brain whirring away, it helps her to crack open her window and carefully, so carefully, step out onto the steep gable roof of the Victorian row house of which their apartment occupies the top floor. Lying on her back, with nothing but billions of miles and millions of years between her and the stars, she feels content.

Until tonight, she’s always been out here alone, but twenty minutes ago, something unprecedented happened.

Another window opened.

Without a word, Éponine clambered out, and is now laid out next to her. Cosette is a little confused by this development. Éponine has every right to be here; Cosette doesn’t own the stars, after all, and if you want to get really technical, neither of them owns the roof. It’s just a little confusing. Éponine has never come out here before, at least that Cosette knows about, so she’s not sure why she’s decided to now.

Ruminating, Cosette turns her head to look at her best friend in the world. Éponine’s hair is a colour that she would describe as mousy and Cosette would call strawberry-blonde. Her freckled nose is washed out and pinkened by sunburn, and her eyes reflect the stars.

“I can understand why you like this so much.” Éponine’s voice is soft, with no trace of her typical razorblade edge of defensiveness.

Cosette says nothing.

“There’s so…much,” Éponine elaborates. “So many stars. So many planets and comets and who knows what else around them. So much space between them.” She sighs.

“It’s almost…” Cosette trails off.

“Almost what?”

“I mean…it’s the next best thing to flying, isn’t it?” She looks back skyward. “The same stars that’ve been shining onto this planet for millennia, that shine on Beijing and New York and Buenos Aires. So many people, and just the one sky.”

“Yeah, enough to make you feel small, isn’t it?”

“No,” Cosette says, frowning. “Well, I mean, yes, but not quite. Enough to make you feel free, more like.”

Éponine looks at her. “How long have you been looking at the sky and thinking that?”

If it were anyone else in the world, Cosette would demur, point out a favourite constellation or a pretty cloud rather than answer that question. But it isn’t anyone else, it’s Éponine, one of the few people outside of a cell who witnessed everything she went through as a little girl, one of the few people on Earth who knows exactly what it was like for her in that household. The person she loves more than almost anyone else in the world.

“My entire life,” Cosette confesses. “When we were growing up, when your mom and dad used to treat me like–” She breaks off. Takes a breath. Collects herself. “I’d look up at the sky and I’d think to myself, ‘God, I wish I could fly away, move through that sky like the larks.’”

Absently, Cosette realises that her hands are shaking. There’s a suspicious wetness around her eyes.

She’s a little afraid of what Éponine will say next, but she should know by now that there’s no reason to be, because Éponine says nothing at all, just reaches out and takes her hand. Laces their fingers together. She gives it a gentle squeeze, then raises it to her lips, brushing a kiss as light as a breath across her knuckles. Cosette exhales shakily.

In the street below them, traffic hums over the cobblestones, the people of Paris living over two million vibrant stories, filled with urgency, filled with heartbreak, filled with perfect, glittering, untouchable moments. In the sky above them, the stars shine on, the same reassuring, disinterested light they’ve shone with for eons. And on that precarious rooftop, Éponine and Cosette do the next best thing to flying.