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Wild Tigers I Have Known

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            With a predicted average of fifteen days of rainfall and fifteen days without, the mistress of Parisian Novembers was as inclined to cry as she was to smile, and today she wept. Her anguish made rivers of the gutters and swamps of the parks. Éponine looked at the sodden overhang of clouds, flinching at the splashes upon her brown skin, and wondered what had happened to her that the sky should be so terribly, terribly sad. “Winter makes me cry as well,” she said hoarsely in sympathy.

            Her pocket had not stopped fucking buzzing since she had fled from Grantaire and Jehan’s apartment. Every time she thought of opening the damn phone and reading the deluge of messages, the knot in her stomach twisted harder, and with each successive yank it had grown thornier and more vicious until she swore her insides were bleeding. Bleeding rainwater and guilt. When it buzzed for the umpteenth fucking time, she ripped it from her sweatpants pocket, angrily pulled her arm back and chucked it, throwing out a vicious fireball of dark energy containing her shitty flip phone and sending it as far away from herself as it could go. In the rain and the darkness it was lost without even a landing clatter. In thirty seconds she knew regret would seize her - she had thirty seconds to run as far as her feet could carry her, far from all her guilt and all her recklessness and all her careless destruction. Streetlamps watched her blinking through their hazy, empty light as she tore through the empty rivers that once were streets, soaked from her toes to her knees and damp down to her bones. She ran until her chest ached, until her stomach was heaving, until her throat stung like sandpaper. She gasped for air that went down to her lungs like guzzling fireball whiskey, pumping legs that ached and trembled. When she slowed to a panting, shaking, nauseated, crying stop beneath a flickering streetlamp in the center of a footbridge crossing the Seine, she felt she was in almost as much pain as she deserved.

            Exhausted, she heaved her dance bag down upon the drenched concrete and threw herself against the carved stone barrier that separated her from 35 feet of empty air and the stormy black surface of the Seine. Somewhere, police sirens wailed. Cars skidded by on distant roads and the lights of buildings still glowed and blinked through the bleak darkness. The weight of the storm was so heavy on Éponine’s shoulders, and it pulled and pressed her down into that harrowing void below.

            In this darkness it was truly just a void, she thought. She could see the ugly yellow of the street lamps flickering against a null faraway emptiness. As deep and dark as staring into the night sky with too much light pollution to even see the stars. If she imagined hard enough, she could dream that she didn’t even know which way was up. That leaning forth, she was drifting towards the abyssal cosmos. Let her feet just leave the ground… That’s it, heels rising, toes just barely lingering… She was floating up, floating towards that night sky, where her filthy tears would flood the earth and wash Paris clean…

            “Miss? Miss!” She tipped back an inch and her feet hit solid concrete again.

            The voice came again, drowned behind the heavy static of the rain. “Miss! You dropped…” The voice cut out, and came in again. “You dropped your… You dropped your…”

            Wearily, Éponine straightened and wiped the damp from her face, shoving her mass of curls away from her eyes to see out onto the street.

            A figure was blurring and focusing in and out through the torrent. It came closer, dragging something along, until it was clear enough to identify: a soaked man with a squat little dog, more wobbling saucisson than canine. She understood now that he was panting and stopping every few steps to lean against his knees. She waited.

            Finally, he was only a few feet away. He was absolutely sopping wet like he’d just been dumped in the Seine himself, despite the black umbrella which was folded in his hand and his cotton candy blue raincoat.

            Unable to catch his breath for long enough to speak, the man simply reached inside his pocket, pulled something out and extended his hand to her. She looked down at his hand, puzzled.

            It was her phone.

            “Oh my god,” she whispered, looking back up at him. She couldn’t tell if he was perhaps a gallant knight in shining armor or a gallant gigantic moron. Nonetheless, she gingerly took the phone.

            The pair of them just looked for a long moment. They breathed heavily together, the man grinning like a fool and Éponine just blankly staring.

            “You dropped it,” he finally choked out.

            “You have an umbrella you’re not even fucking using.”

            “Oh,” he panted, looking down at it as though it was the first time he’d seen it. “Well,” he said, “I chased after you. And it was, you know. Blowing.” He extended the umbrella behind him and hopped backwards on one foot, pantomiming being blown away by the wind. Éponine gave a startled laugh.

            “Well you’re not running now,” she replied.

            “Oh,” he said again. Oh yes, it was definitely the latter scenario. Gigantic moron. “I guess you’re right.” He pushed the thing open, locked it, and held it over his head. For another moment they just stood staring at one another.

            “Well thanks,” Éponine snorted, picking up her dance bag and making to leave.

            “Wait!” the man called. Éponine rolled her eyes and turned back around. The man said nothing. Just continued to stare.

            “Uh,” he said.

            “Uh,” she returned with a mocking edge.

            “You’re wet!” he exclaimed.

            “Wow,” she replied.

            “I have an umbrella!”

            Éponine looked around as though there might be anyone else to witness this hilarity. Damn, she thought, she’s never going to be able to tell this story right. If only she had R’s story-telling magic. The thought of Grantaire made her gut seize again.

            “What I mean is! Uh! Can I walk you home! Because I have an umbrella!”

            Éponine raised a dripping eyebrow. “You mean, can you walk me home because you have a raging boner for girls walking alone in soaking crop tops.”

            “What? No! Gross.” To his credit he did look genuinely appalled at the thought. Wrinkled nose and everything. “Just because... You’re wet! It’s raining!”

            “You certainly are monsieur observateur.”

            “No, I’m Marius!” He extended his hand to her with a bright grin. “And this is Napoleon!” He beamed down at his lopsided corgi.

            Éponine couldn’t fathom how this was a real man. Reluctantly, she took his hand and shook it. “Éponine.”

            “Éponine!”, he repeated, and she nodded. “Éponine, I’m sorry, I’m not very good at… words? I’m sorry if I was rude and didn’t know, I’m… kind of dumb. But it’s just raining really hard and I hate to see someone out here getting so wet!”

            Éponine sighed. She was soaked down to her skin already and her teeth were beginning to chatter. Having an umbrella now wasn’t really going to do jack shit. Besides… “I’m not going home.”

            “Oh? Well, wherever you need to go, I’ll walk there with you! If you want!”

            A roll of thunder moved overhead, cracking and crawling from east to west. Éponine looked up at the sky. She had never been a spiritual person - her gods were her own two feet. If fate or destiny were the wheels that turned the universe, she had always been broken between them, and if there was any kind of divine justice, she was sure as hell on the wrong side of the law. But even Éponine knew how to read a sign when she came across one. She looked from one end of the bridge to the other, then to the lanky, sopping boy before her, and saw the sky split to the edge with colossal lightning.

            Marius jumped terribly, covering his head with one hand for a moment. “Sorry! Sorry,” he sputtered, presumably to Éponine. “Aaah… Loud noises…Not agreeable…”

            “I feel that,” Éponine said contemplatively. Then, “I’m not really going anywhere in particular. But if you want to walk me to some cover, I’ll go with you.”

            Marius seemed to brighten up at that, and recovered from his fright. He handed the umbrella over to her.

            “What, we’re not sharing?”

            “Oh, um, I didn’t think you wanted to be that close! That’s weird, right?”

            “But now you’re getting soaked.”

            Marius shrugged.

            “Well… alright. That’s uh, that’s pretty courteous of you.”

            He shrugged again and his face seemed to grow redder, though whether from the chill of the rain or the exertion of running or maybe just his own evident nerves, it was already pretty flushed. “I know where some cover is, in a park just over there, see?” He gestured back the way Éponine had come, towards a block of shaking trees.

            They walked there together at a comfortable distance, keeping a few feet between themselves which were occupied by the dog. Éponine watched him wobble and stumble along at length until she finally noticed - the little fellow was missing a paw.

            “Napoleon has three legs,” she observed.

            “Yep! One more than his namesake!”

            Éponine laughed aloud. Clever, she thought. “You know, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone half as cheerful in a downpour as you are, monsieur Marius.”

            “A little fall of rain can’t hurt me. When I get home I’ll put some clothes and a blanket in the dryer so they’re nice and warm, make some tea, put on a show… That’s worth getting wet for, I think.”

            “Observateur et optimiste, I see. Say, your accent’s a little funny. Where are you from, monsieur?”

            “Hampshire!”

            “You’re English! I wouldn’t have guessed it. You sound more like a German.”

            Marius chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. “Ah, yeah, I get that a lot. I learned German and French together, I suppose I took to one accent easier than the other…”

            “Well I’ll tell you, you speak pretty well. You must have studied for a long time.”

            “Oh yeah, definitely. About a year so far.”

            “What?! Are you fucking with me?!”

            Marius stopped walking, looking a little frightened. “Did I s-say something wrong? I’m sorry-”

            “No, no! Just - a year?! That’s not long at all and you sound half a fucking native! What are you, like, a genius or something?”

            Marius blushed, looking at his feet and starting to walk again. Éponine trotted after him. “I’m not that smart, I just like languages, you know? They’re easy, you just learn all the words and how to say them... I like it. I’m pretty good I guess.”

            “Ha, and math is just adding numbers. That must be why I failed algebra. So, French, German and English, eh?”

            “Yeah!” His spark returned a bit. “And some BSL and LSF, I’m getting pretty good at those, and my roommate is teaching me Spanish! He's put post it notes on everything in our dorm with the Spanish names, heh... I just bought some textbooks on Punjabi too, that’s what my father spoke… I never met him really but I’m doing what I can to honor him, you know? It’s the hardest one so far. All new phonemes, new writing system, the tones… But I’m doing my best!”

            Éponine looked on in amazement. “That’s crazy. I’m calling bullshit, you’re either a liar or you’re definitely a genius.”

            Marius flushed uncomfortably again and shrugged. He wrapped his arms around himself. “W-well I’m n-not, n-not, not lying, I-I-I.. Uh, over h-here.” He gestured through the trees across the green to some blearily glowing structure in the distance.

            Éponine raised an eyebrow. Stuttering didn’t bode super well for not-liars, but she let it slide and looked over to where he had pointed.

            “That’s… a carousel.”

            “Is that bad?! I can take you somewhere else, this was - this was - this was -”

            “Take a breath, buddy.” At the look of panic on his face she wondered if the stutter wasn’t something more. He paused at her command and took a few breaths in, still shuddering hard from the rain.

            “Closest,” he finally finished.

            Éponine shrugged. “Whatever man. I guess it does have a roof. Come on.”

            She jogged towards it and he followed. A black iron gate surrounded the carousel. It was locked, but only about five feet high - easy to swing right over. When she landed on the concrete, Marius lifted up his wriggling dog and Éponine’s dance bag, passed them over to Éponine one after the other and awkwardly clambered over himself. Éponine wasn’t sure he managed the fence much better than his dog would have. She gave up waiting for him after about thirty seconds, taking her bag and the dog’s leash and retreating up onto the slick wooden platform to watch him struggle from underneath the great roof.

            At last he managed to topple over the fence onto his backside, and Éponine could have cried from laughter. “Come on,” he whined, it’s n-n-n-not that, that,” but Éponine waved a hand through the air, silencing his protests and unable to speak without cracking up.

            Finally, she gained hold of herself and took a good look at him – the first time she had really been able. He looked downright miserable, all red-faced and sopping and hugging his chest. His black hair was slicked down over his forehead, and he was more or less of a height with her, though much skinnier, and much prettier in her opinion – too pretty even, like he’d just wandered away from an Abercrombie display window, with classical features and big dopey eyes. There was something striking about those eyes, which were cast to the ground, and Éponine took a step forward to understand. It hit her with force – one of them was a dark almond brown, but the other was a heavenly sort of blue. “Oh,” she whispered in awe. He stared back at her – or rather, at her feet – looking a little attacked.

            “Hey man, I’m sorry. I wasn’t laughing at you. I mean – I know I was. But I wasn’t making fun of you.” He shrugged, not looking very convinced, and turned away. She was about to carry on apologizing but he had got his foot in a golden stirrup and smoothly swung his leg over the pink saddle of a pale stallion. He rested his hands on the horse’s dark wooden mane. He was smiling a little, seemingly to himself, and she hoped she had been forgiven. “Are you pretty cold?” she asked.

            He still didn’t look at her, but his eyebrows twisted in confusion and he shrugged.

            “It’s just, you were stuttering a lot is all.”

            He shrugged again. “Not very… good with words,” he said quietly, petting the horse’s mane lightly.

            “How can that be true?” she retorted, grinning. “You speak like, half a dozen languages, but you aren’t good with words?” She discarded her coat on the ground – it was keeping her much colder at this point than it was keeping her warm – and climbed up onto a zebra beside him. She hadn’t ridden one of these since she was very young, and remembered them being far bigger, so much higher up from the ground… But that’s growing up, she thought. It makes everything that once was huge so much smaller.

            Marius finally managed to look over at her and shrugged again. “Knowing words is easy,” he said, “knowing what to say is hard.” His stutter had gone away again, but he still spoke softly.

            Éponine nodded. “That’s true enough.”

            “Éponine?”

            “Yes?”

            “Why were you out in the rain if you weren’t going anywhere?”

            “Monsieur nosy as well, I see. She raised an eyebrow.

            “Oh! I’m sorry! That was rude, wasn’t it? I’m sorry.” He turned his head again looking chastised.

            Éponine sighed. She pulled out her phone impulsively, the way she often did to fill awkward spaces, but the little screen greeted her with 8 new text messages and 5 missed calls, and she knew that avoidance was staying right here with this man. She stuffed it back in her pocket and groaned.

            “Is everything alright?” Marius inquired. There was genuine worry in his eyes, and Éponine considered caving. Sitting here on a carousel zebra in the pouring rain beside a genius runaway male model with a nervous stutter felt so surreal, like the moment that you realize that you’re dreaming and anything is possible here, that there are no consequences for your actions. Grantaire told her once that in that moment he always took to the air and flew. Éponine had laughed and said the she looked for the prettiest boy to kiss. Well, Éponine thought, this moment is so divorced from my reality that it may as well be a dream, and the prettiest boy is here. If I’m dreaming, the moment is now.

            “No,” she confided. “I’m running away.” It was a bit hyperbolic and vague, but she wasn’t sure what else to say.

            “From what?” he exclaimed, astonished. His mismatched eyes were quivering and wide.

            Éponine laughed a cold, dry laugh. From a cheater, a liar, a whore. From an abuser. From a selfish brat. From someone who had caused so much pain in others that she couldn’t bear to think of it. From a letdown, from a masochist, from a loser. From a bad, bad person.

            “Do you mind if I smoke?” she asked instead of answering. At his go-ahead she gripped the zebra between her thighs and slid until she was halfway upside down to snag her dance bag and fish out some cigarettes and a lighter before righting herself without hands and lighting up.

            “Woah!” Marius exclaimed. “That was cool!”

            She exhaled a cloud of smoke, trying to blow it away from Marius. “What?”

            “You held onto the horse with your legs and you were? I don’t know this word? Like, the wrong way?”

            “Upside-down?” she suggested. Marius nodded enthusiastically. “Oh, yeah, I guess. I have pretty strong thighs.” She looked down at them and shrugged, smacking one lightly. He blushed and turned away.

            “So,” she carried on, feeling a little silly making such an obvious conversation play, “you said you live in a dorm? Are you a student at the university near here?”

            “Oh, yeah! I came here to study pre-law, but I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about studying languages instead. I could be a translator, travel the world…”

            “Is that why you wanted to study abroad?”

            “Well, sort of… I mean, yes, but… Staying at home didn’t really feel like an option anyway…”

            “Why’s that?”

            Marius gripped the golden pole of his carousel horse between his hands, worrying at it and looking off in no particular direction.

            “Oh, I’m an ass, now I’m miss nosy. My bad.”

            “No, it’s alright. I don’t mind. I just… words. Bad.”

            “Yeah? Well, you know. You don’t have to share if it makes you nervous.”

            Marius shrugged. “My g-grandfather and I… We had a, had a fight. I had to leave. I stayed in an apartment of my own just long enough to finish my A-levels, and then I came to Paris.”

            Éponine nodded, taking another drag from her cigarette. “I get that. I ran away from home too. Didn’t finish my schooling though. Didn’t care enough. I wasn’t gonna get a job that needed an education anyway.”

            “Didn’t you run away… Just now?”

            She gave a bitter laugh. “Seems I do that a lot, huh?” She considered the glowing cigarette in her hand, flicking away the ashes. “I was lucky the first time. I had a place to go. Good people to take me and my sister in. And a good reason to run away, too. I wasn’t just slinking off guiltily like the dog that got into the pot roast.”

            “And what reason was that? If you want to say?”

            Éponine shrugged. “Home was a den of wolves. Vicious things. We were in danger, things were bad, it was all closing in on us… We’d been well off once, aspired to be high society. I used to love my maman and my papa, but I have wondered sometimes where and when my family ended and the wolves began. When I ran away, it was because a business partner of my father’s got my sister all alone and cornered up in our kitchen. In our kitchen, he had the gall… But I have wondered… I have wondered sometimes if she wasn’t… part of the deal.”

            Marius was aghast. “That’s horrifying!” he sputtered out.

            Éponine shrugged, blushing. She didn’t really like when people got their feathers all ruffled about her life. She knew the sympathy was something to be appreciated, but the spectacle, the apologies, the “horror”, the pity, it all just… She would rant to Grantaire that it made her feel like a zoo animal or a charity project, that it was invasive and dehumanizing and patronizing, and those were all true. But deep down inside, it served to remind her of how fucked up her version of “normal” was. “Whatever,” she muttered defensively, wrapping her lips around her cigarette to avoid further response.

            Marius seemed to take the hint. He rubbed the back of his neck, glancing around. “Well, running from wolves is a pretty reasonable thing to do.”

            Éponine exhaled smoke. “All my life,” she rasped. She had a sudden thought. “Say, do you think we could get this thing working?”

            Marius looked affronted. “What, you mean the carousel?” Éponine nodded, grinning.

            “Uh… uh… how?!”

            “Well the controller booth is over there, see?” She pointed to a little stand by the fence, about the size of a port-a-potty. “We can totally get in.”

            “It’s sure to be locked!”

            Éponine gripped her cigarette in her lips, using her hands to locate a bobby pin in her hair and pluck it out. She took the cigarette from her mouth and smirked, displaying the pin to Marius. “I know it seems cheesy, like the sort of thing that only works in movies. But I don’t exactly carry my lockpick set around and I’ve done more with less.”

            “Is… Is this a joke? Sorry, I’m not good with jokes, I don’t understand sometimes-”

            “No way man, this is the real deal. You stay there.” She swung her leg back over the zebra and hopped down, skidding across the wet platform and down onto the concrete. The rain was much lighter now, still more than she wanted to walk through but not the downpour it had been earlier.

            “This is illegal!” Marius called nervously as Éponine chuckled and crouched before the door. The light of the carousel in the darkness of the evening cast shadows both stark and infuriatingly nebulous, making it a much harder affair, but lockpicking was more about feel than sight anyway. Carefully she bent the bobby pin and guided it into the keyhole, striking the pins in careful order. It took more than a few tries, but after several minutes and a few more half-hearted protestations from Marius, it popped open with a click.

            “Fuck yeah!” Éponine slid inside the cramped space, plopped herself down on the stool that took up 60% of the floorspace and closed the door behind her. Outside, Marius looked terrified. She looked at the dashboard in front of her. The controls seemed simple enough – she was lucky that it wasn’t key-operated – there was a motion power switch, a crank to control the speed, an emergency brake and a few buttons to control the music and lights. She hit the motion power and the music, cranked up the speed and hastily exited the box.

            The carousel had begun to slowly rotate and she nearly fell on her ass when she leapt up onto the slippery planks.  “This is fantastic,” she cried, wrangling her zebra again (which was now bobbing up and down rhythmically) and hooking a leg over his saddle. Marius looked positively terrified. He glanced around in every direction.

            “Hey,” she cooed, reaching out to pat his cheek, “Relax. This is fun! Besides, we were already trespassing when we jumped the fence. Live a little!” This didn’t seem to reassure him, but he managed a smile anyway. Napoleon seemed to be enjoying himself. He was running around the carousel, sliding between the golden poles and yipping. He fell down half a dozen times but never seemed fazed.

            The music was surprisingly pleasant for a carousel tune, and after a few minutes Éponine felt herself drifting off. Not to sleep, necessarily, but to a state of heavy calm, the kind that made her mind wander to softer places. “When I was a kid, my family visited Paris for a weekend. We didn’t get to travel much. My father owned a motel and it used to be a busy place, he didn’t like to leave for long… but when we visited, I rode on a carousel in a park just like this one.”

            “That sounds like a nice memory,” Marius replied airily. He seemed to have relaxed some as well. He held the worn reins wound about his hands like a child, and watched  Paris turn around him with a look of tender happiness.

            “Yeah. It wasn’t all shady villainy and the desperation of impending poverty. But I suppose… my father was a con man through and through, and what a con man does best is pretend to be honest. He didn’t hurt us then, but that doesn’t indicate that he wasn’t hurting anyone. Perhaps he only turned his teeth on his children when there was no one else left to eat.” The thought made her sad, and she rested her forehead against the pole in her hands.

            “Where is your family now?” Marius asked softly.

            “Here. Somewhere. They came here when they had nothing left. I had a hell of a panic when I learned that they had followed me, but… they never came for me.”

            Marius was looking at her now, but she couldn’t bring herself to look back. “Is it stupid that that hurt?” Tears slid down her face, sudden as a gasp, unbidden and unstoppable, but she made no sign of crying. “Sorry,” she whispered. “I’ve had a hard day…”

            “It’s okay,” Marius assured her. “I know.”

            Éponine made a distressed, inquisitive noise.

            “When I saw you on the bridge you looked halfway to throwing yourself off! I didn’t mean to be so pushy, but I wanted to get you home safe.”

            Éponine gave a choked sob. It was humiliating, having to be rescued at such a low point. Having to be seen like that. But he hadn’t probed about her mental state, hadn’t insinuated she was a threat to herself, hadn’t tried to “talk her down”… Merely aggressively offered his umbrella and stayed beside her. It was a kindness and consideration she hadn’t ever been offered without… “Are you expecting me to fuck you? Do you think you saved me and you get my ass as your grateful thanks?!” she spat.

            He seemed stung, and wrinkled his nose just the same way as when she’d suggested the same before. “No! I was just worried, and trying to help! I’m sorry if that wasn’t what you wanted…” He trailed off, looking down at his fidgety hands, seeming lost and wounded and just a little petulant.

            “God, I’m sorry,” she cried. “I didn’t mean to yell at you, I just… I’m just fucking like that, I don’t know why…” She rubbed her hand across her face. “Once a wolf, always a wolf,” she muttered pitifully.

            “Nuh-uh,” Marius chirped. He pointed to Napoleon, who was still yapping at trees as they revolved around him. “Napoleon came from wolves too. Now he’s just a fat baby who eats bugs.”

            Éponine laughed aloud through her tears. Marius carried on. “German Shepherds came from wolves, and they’re still pretty wolfy as dogs go, don’t you think? But they’re police dogs, and service dogs, and, well, shepherds. We let them keep our sheep safe, even though their fathers are the ones eating them.”

            Éponine looked at him in wonder, eyebrows furrowed, lips parted. He turned his head and they looked at one another for a long moment. “You seem sad,” he remarked nervously. She shook her head, reached out, and brushed her fingers against his hand. Looking down at where they hovered beside each other, he took her hand in his. They turned their heads forward again, quietly listening to the tinkling of the carousel music for a long while.

           

----

 

            Éponine returned to Jehan and Grantaire’s apartment that night. Grantaire answered the door wearing his boxers and a ripped gray t-shirt. When he saw her standing there looking like she’d been swimming, he sighed and waved her into the foyer without a word. She silently stripped down to her bra and black briefs, leaving her soggy clothes and dance bag on the pine foyer floor. Standing in her underwear she faced Grantaire.

           “They’re upstairs,” he rasped after a long moment. “And almost asleep.”

           “Can I see them?”

           “Only if you intend for the first words out of your mouth to be ‘Jehan is the best, better than the very best, but because there is no word for better than the very best, I just call them sir! Or ma’am. Whichever they prefer on any given day.’”

           “I’ll say it every day for the rest of my life if they won’t hate me.”

           “Well, they already broke a bottle with your face on it.  So we’ll just have to see.” He beckoned her to follow him up the stairs. “And if either of you use the word slut, tramp, harlot or whore to describe yourself, one another, or anyone except maybe Montparnasse, I’ll break bottles on both your faces.”

           Once they were at Jehan’s bedroom door, Grantaire disappeared inside for a moment and then popped his head out again to give Éponine the go. She entered slowly. In the darkness, Jehan’s eyes fell upon her with the sting of a knife.

           “I come to you totally naked as a metaphor for baring my heart,” she said, her voice warbling.

           “You’re not totally naked,” they returned airily. “You could be more naked.”

           Éponine grinned, dark eyes sparkling bright with tears again. She rushed forward and fell to her knees at Jehan’s bedside. “I’m sorry Jehan. I am so, so sorry. I slept with your boyfriend, a lot, and I kept it a secret from you, and I never told you. That is NOT what friends do, and I hurt you, and I hate that I hurt you. I want to be better, but you don’t have to forgive me. I fucked up really, really badly and I don’t know what I can do to make up for it.”

           Jehan studied her. “Will you talk to Combeferre? Will you apologize to him too?”

           She bit her lip fiercely and nodded. The thought made anxiety eat her stomach, but she would.

           Jehan breathed out slowly through their nose. Then, they placed a hand upon Éponine’s wet hair and drew her in for a kiss. “I forgive you,” they said when they were finished. Éponine gave a shaky cry of relief and buried her face in their neck, wrapping an arm tightly around their shoulder. “Go take a hot shower and come back more naked than this,” they said before rolling over and nestling into their pillow. Éponine chuckled wetly and climbed back to her feet, heading for the master bathroom. Grantaire grabbed her hand as she went.

           “Hey,” he said. “I was worried about you. I’m glad that you’re here, and that you’re okay.” She nodded, pulling him in for a hug.

           “I had a surreal evening…”

           “I’d love to hear about it in the morning.”

           “I… kind of want to keep it for myself, actually.”

           “Sure.” He shrugged. He released her, and she went quickly for the blissful relief of a shower. When she returned warm and dry, she only pulled on a discarded pair of Grantaire’s boxers before climbing into bed beside them. Sleepily, Jehan groped in the darkness behind themselves and brushed a hand over Éponine’s arm, pulling her in closer. She pressed herself against their back, face not far from Grantaire’s low snoring, and thanked the gods she didn’t believe in that she had found such a pack to embrace a dog like her.