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18 November 2013 @ 05:09 am
Chapter 72: Generations  

A/N: This chapter went in quite a different direction from what I originally intended. Trigger warning for childbirth and lethal complications.

Chapter 72: Generations

The last thing Eponine expected was to be standing again in the second floor of the Gorbeau tenement. The cold and the reek of the place were unmistakeable, even after more than a year of staying away. In fact the place seemed to have gotten worse; the shadows hung longer, cobwebs fluttered like tattered veils in corners, and it almost seemed as if the mildew would leap out from the walls.

As she carefully ducked to avoid banging her head on a narrow part of the garret, she heard the telltale screech of a rusty door hinge. "Who's there?" she called as she tiptoed over to the nearest room to investigate. The door was half-open and through the aperture she could see a flickering light, like that of a fire burning low in a hearth. She peered in and saw the shape of a big person sitting by a dirty fireplace, apparently stirring some food in an old pan.

"Maman?" Eponine called, stepping into the room. Although this figure was silent, it was unmistakeably that of Mme. Thenardier. Her head was bare and her reddish hair was uncombed, but she was wearing a large tartan shawl over her clothes, the very same outfit she had worn at the ambuscade. Her face was gray and still more of her teeth were missing. Her eyes were haggard and seemed to see nothing else but the three potatoes now beginning to char in the pan.

Eponine stepped closer to her mother. "Maman, it's me, Eponine! Won't you say a thing to me?" she asked, daring to touch Mme. Thenardier's shoulder. The woman did not stir despite Eponine's repeated cajoling; in fact it seemed as if her very flesh was unyielding under Eponine's hand. Now impatient, Eponine shook Mme. Thenardier slightly. "Maman, don't you see me?" she asked.

Mme. Thenardier raised her chin slightly but her eyes were still unseeing. "You're not her."

"Of course I am! I'm Eponine, your eldest. Don't you know me, it's still my face-"the younger woman asked. She heard a fearful creaking overhead, as if the timbers of the old roof were about to give way. "Maman, this house is going to fall, we have to go!" she shouted, seizing Mme. Thenardier's arm.

The formidable woman shook her off. "I'm waiting here for your father. Where is he?"

"He is-"Eponine began before the creaking grew into a roar as wooden beams and shingles began crashing all around her. She heard a strangled cry from nearby and tried to reach for it, but before she could take hold of anything, the floor began to sway, forcing her backwards. Planks were now giving way almost under Eponine's feet, forcing her to flee the room, back out to the narrow corridor and down the stairs towards the street.

She looked back fearfully, expecting to see the ruin of the house, but found the yard absolutely empty of anything save tall grass; not even a fence stood there by the street; it was as if the place had never been built on. "Where did it all go?" Eponine asked aloud as she began to run, searching for any remnant of the house, or whoever had been in it. As she ran, the street began to grow more crowded; more buildings came into sight and she could hear the familiar rattle of carriages and the hubbub of conversation. As she rounded a bend in the road, she found herself standing in what appeared to be the promenade at the Luxembourg, right by the statue of a gladiator. The sun was out and a fresh breeze was in the air, bringing the sweet odors of roses and freshly baked bread.

Suddenly she heard a merry laugh in the air and felt a small body slam into her, nearly knocking her to the ground. "Maman!" a clear voice greeted.

Eponine took a step back to see who was suddenly hugging her; she found herself looking right at a little girl who appeared to be about five or six years old at most. This child was clean and fresh, but clearly very impish; the hem of her maroon dress was caked with mud, and there was a rip in the jaunty black hat that covered her golden hair. Her dark brown eyes had a look of mischief that Eponine knew only too well. "Where did you come from?" Eponine asked.

The little girl grinned brightly at her. "Just there."

"Where again?" Eponine pressed on, but suddenly the little girl ran off, chasing after her hat which was being carried along by the wind. Before she could hurry after the child, she heard a footstep behind her and a voice calling her name-

"Ponine, stop kicking around!"

This indignant shout, followed by a hard jab to her ribs was enough to bring Eponine back to the waking world. She sat up and scowled at Jacques, who was also giving her an indignant look. "You're not much better yourself on some nights," she muttered, rubbing her side.

"But you woke me up!" Jacques whined.

Eponine rolled her eyes as she got out of bed; she guessed that it was already dawn and about time to get started with the morning routine. She glanced towards where Gavroche and Neville were still dozing in the other bed, and sighed on seeing how her brothers were curled up to make the best of the limited space; the fact that their cat had gotten underneath the blankets again did not help matters very much. She looked over her shoulder and saw Jacques already falling asleep again, clutching the pillow close to him. 'These beds are getting too small for all of us,' she thought ruefully as she quickly got dressed.

When she got downstairs, she found Claudine sitting at the kitchen table, looking pale and wan in the dim light of a half-burned away candle. For the past three or so weeks, Claudine had been spending more and more time at the Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau; staying at Picpus was unbearable now in her father's absence. 'But she's not feeling much better here either,' Eponine realized as she sat across from her friend. "Do you want some coffee already?" she asked concernedly.

Claudine looked up tiredly and rubbed her eyes. "It's still early. Maybe in a little while."

Eponine shook her head as she got up to fetch the kettle, as well as some coffee, eggs, cheese, and a little bit of ham from the larder. She bit her lip when she heard Claudine let out a long, defeated sigh. "Did you sleep well?" she asked.

"Not very."

"What about Combeferre?"

Claudine buried her face in her hands. "I don't know. He's there with me, but I don't feel it. I know he feels guilty even if I tell him over and over again that he did all he could for my father. I am sure he's hardly listening."

'And I thought it was impossible for anyone to get more stubborn than me or Antoine,' Eponine mused silently as she began cracking one of the eggs for an omelette, something which she knew that Claudine liked. There was a little time for this luxury since it was a Sunday. She heard Claudine get up from her seat to answer a knock at the front door, only to return later with a letter. "Who's that for?" she asked.

"It's yours. What are you writing to Citizen Tholomyes for?" Claudine asked, handing the note over.

"Some inquiries for friends who might want something in Toulouse," Eponine replied as she quickly pocketed the letter, knowing better than to read it openly, or at least in front of her siblings or her friends. 'I s'pose I'll have to visit Citizen Valjean tomorrow about this,' she decided; she knew that the Pontmercys were entertaining some of Gillenormand's friends that day, and it was hardly a time now to be discussing what to do about three criminals.

She smiled to herself when a few minutes later, she heard the sound of a door opening and shutting upstairs, followed by an all-too familiar tread on the stairs. "You're late," she called teasingly, looking away from her cooking for a moment.

"Excuse me? You are simply awake too early," Enjolras retorted nonchalantly as he walked into the kitchen, all the while rolling up his shirtsleeves to past his elbows. "Good morning," he added, addressing Eponine as well as Claudine.

'How does he always end up looking that way even if he doesn't sleep all that much either?' Eponine wondered, feeling heat pooling within her stomach and also rising up to her face even as she sneaked a glance at Enjolras, who merely smirked at her before he went to get started with making the coffee. She noticed Claudine suppressing a mirthful grin at having witnessed this brief yet rather intimate interlude; fortunately Claudine was a tactful, discreet woman and would not go about telling this to the rest of their friends.

Claudine shook her head as she heard the sound of bells chiming the hour as six in the morning. "At the rate this is going, Francois will have a late breakfast," she grumbled.

"He's still asleep? He came in late last night again?" Enjolras asked, raising an eyebrow.

"He was in before eleven, but what do you mean by again?"

"He nearly collapsed in the doorway last Thursday morning after his night shift," Enjolras replied.

Eponine rolled her eyes at the memory; she'd been the one who nearly tripped over Combeferre on her way out to get breakfast. She put some slivers of cheese and ham on the omelette before speaking again. "He was so tired that we had to drag him up to his room..." she began, but she fell silent on seeing the increasingly upset look on Claudine's face. "I s'pose that was not a good thing to talk about."

"No, you two are in the right to mention it. I'm going up to talk to him right now, sleep or breakfast aside. This has gone on far too long," Claudine muttered as she pushed back her seat and got up from the table. "Don't bother knocking to call us downstairs, this might take a while," she added over her shoulder before she exited the kitchen.

Eponine couldn't help snorting as she momentarily met Enjolras' knowing yet slightly embarrassed look. It was difficult to look at him, more so when she still could not push her odd dream out of her mind. "I s'pose it's better than having them be all quiet, sad and not talking much to anyone, like they've been for all this time," she remarked, only to end up laughing outright at his increasingly discomfited expression. "Never mind that, Antoine. What are you doing today?"

"A meeting with Jeanne and some other deputies," Enjolras replied more easily. "And you?"

"I'll be with Azelma; I promised to go with her to Les Halles today. It's been a long time since I've gotten to do that with her," she said as she took the omelette off the stove and slid it onto a plate. She took a deep breath and smiled at the aroma of coffee now beginning to fill the air. "What are you meeting about? Your petition was already signed into law by Lafayette last Friday."

"My work yes, but there are other petitions to be voted on within the week. The legislature will be in assembly from Wednesday till Friday," Enjolras said.

'Other petitions, but not the one I've been working on,' Eponine thought bitterly as she cut the omelette into half and took a piece out of one end. Every attempt over the past few weeks to revise the women's petition or to speak directly with the committee members hearing the matter only resulted in one impasse after another. In fact a wag had gone so far as to write that all the authoresses of the petition would be long gone before it would even reach a vote. 'Surely things cannot move so slowly!" Eponine told herself as she swallowed her food.

Enjolras regarded her pensively for a moment before setting down two cups of coffee on the table. "It might be worthwhile to bring the matter of your petition up to the presses once more, in order to explain the issue even to deputies outside Paris. Their opinion will matter when your work goes up for a vote," he said as he reached for his half of the omelette.

"I'm meeting with Leonor tomorrow to do just that; there's a piece we are sending down to the Moniteur, and also Coutard promised to get it to paper that run only in the Midi. Grantaire wanted to help too, but something at work is tying up his hands so he can't do as much as he wishes," Eponine replied before she took a sip of coffee, not hiding her bemusement as his having brought up this alternative course of action.

"You could even meet with foreign correspondents; their opinions are also worthy of consideration, at least in the roundabout way," Enjolras suggested.

"Yes, and they will make it sound so terrible in English and German; I see the translations sometimes and they are not as nice sounding as the originals in French," Eponine said, making a face.

"Do you always read those aloud?"

"It's one way to see if they can be explained. You should hear Emile reading in English; he sounds absolutely horrible, like his tongue has gone rock hard. There was a gentleman from Prussia who said that his German was an abomination, but that's only when speaking it, thankfully!"

"I am sorry you have to be subjected to that," Enjolras said dryly.

"Thankfully it's not an everyday matter, only when we're working with someone who is so particular," Eponine shot back mirthfully before getting some more of the omelette. "If you're still in Les Halles in the afternoon, maybe I'll find you there?" she added more hopefully.

He touched her palm lightly. "Three in the afternoon, at the Place du Chatele,"

"That will do," Eponine said with a smile as she clasped his hand back, certain that they would both do their best to keep this rendezvous. This, as well as the good weather, was enough to buoy her spirits significantly even an hour later as she made her way to meet Azelma in the area of the Odeon.

When she got to the square outside the theater, she found Azelma with Prouvaire and some of their neighbours, avidly watching two outrageously dressed friends stage a poetic debate in the open air. Azelma was dressed far less ostentatiously than she'd been wont to do several weeks ago; she'd left a number of her fine things with the Lafontaines.

"What on earth are they talking about? I don't understand half of it," Eponine asked in an undertone when she went to sit by her sister.

"It's all in Latin. One man there is playing at being Cicero, the other is supposedly Tacitus, and I don't see why that should make much sense," Azelma said. She covered her ears as one of the actors launched into a monologue with a voice that was halfway between a harangue and a screech. "Wait a moment, I'll simply tell Jehan we'll be off," she added before going to where the poet was seated. She tapped Prouvaire's shoulder lightly. "Eponine is here. We'll be going to Les Halles."

"Already? Don't you want to finish this?" Prouvaire asked a little disappointedly.

Azelma frowned as she squeezed his arm. "I need another lesson in Latin before I can understand this. I like hearing it from you."

Prouvaire smiled before kissing her cheek. "We'll start this afternoon if you like, when you get back," he said. He waved to Eponine. "Take care and have fun!" he called to her.

"We will," Eponine replied with a smile. Somehow, she couldn't help but feel a little awkward and maybe a little incensed at seeing Azelma and Prouvaire display their affections so openly. 'But then again they don't have to worry about comments the way you do,' she reminded herself as she and Azelma went to find an omnibus.

As soon as they'd found their seats, Azelma squeezed Eponine's arm. "You know what Jehan wants to do?" she asked in an excited whisper.

"What, stage a new play?" Eponine asked.

"No! He wants us to marry!" Azelma replied, nearly flushed and giddy with exhilaration. "Not right away of course; he knows I'm too young and I'll still have to ask Papa's permission when the time comes for it. It's going to be one of those long engagements, that is, if you're fine with him being a brother to you and the boys? I've got to ask you since you're the only one among us five who is old enough to have a say in some things."

Eponine's jaw dropped with bewilderment at what she was hearing. While initially she wanted to protest at the abruptness of this matter, there was also a part of her mind that was convinced that this was a sensible, if not the best, course of action for her sister's personal life. "I s'pose he already is. That's part of why I had to help him and you out," she finally said.

"So it's fine with you?"

"It is. He's awfully good to you; I haven't seen you this happy in a very long time, Zelma."

Azelma smiled widely as she clutched Eponine's arm again. "Thank you for saying I could. I was worried if you would, for a while there."

"Why?"

"I never exactly said sorry for the trouble that I caused with that necklace, with the Lafontaines, and everything all around it. It was so terrible of me, and I'm just lucky that you, Jehan, Enjolras, Cosette, and everyone else are nice, or better than nice about it," Azelma admitted, looking down and clutching at her skirt.

"You already told me about it, the day you were able to see me at the Rue des Macons," Eponine pointed out.

"That was explaining, not a proper apology. I would have done it sooner if I'd been able to get away."

"What took you so long to go about it? Enjolras told me you had trouble going about it."

"I wasn't sure if I had anywhere else to go; I knew the Lafontaines didn't exactly like me, but it was fine staying with them. I did miss everyone though. You too."

Eponine nodded, seeing now that she probably would not have acted much better in such a bind. "What made you decide to get away then?"

"Mostly because I was being pushed here and there, as if I was always meant to be in the corner. You know, Cerise has a younger sister too. Justine. I'm not sure you remember her much. But she ignores her the way we used to ignore Cosette," Azelma explained. "That's not something that you or Jehan would do to me. Not even Leonor would be that nasty to me, even if we don't get on well."

"It's sometimes difficult to get along with Leonor even on the best of days," Eponine remarked.

Azelma burst out giggling. "Did Enjolras also tell you that I said outright that he was going to become my older brother?"

"He did," Eponine replied, blushing a little at the story, and more so at the fact that Enjolras had not seemed overly fazed or even surprised by the matter. 'That, and also the way he seemed to be daydreaming too at Joly and Musichetta's wedding...' she thought, feeling a frisson of delight run up her spine at the memory.

It was just as well that Eponine had agreed to spend part of the day with Azelma; although much of their time was spent visiting some dressmakers and milliners, they were able to find a lady who was willing to sell an extra mattress to Eponine, at a lower price than she'd expected. 'It's at least a start,' Eponine decided even as she agreed to pick up the pallet after working hours the next day.

Azelma could not help but voice out her astonishment at this purchase. "Are the boys really growing up so fast?" she asked as she and Eponine prepared to part ways near the Place du Chatele.

"Yes. Neville lost a tooth for the first time last week; when I got home from an errand, he was trying to pull it out. The trouble was that he'd tied his tooth to one side of the doorknob, and tied the other side of the doorknob to the cat. I s'pose he thought the door would slam harder that way and bring the tooth out," Eponine said.

Azelma nearly doubled over laughing. "That's even worse than Bossuet almost toppling out the windows during your birthday! How did the boys' mischief end?"

"Only when we found a very hard crust of bread for him to bite and that was how it finally came out. It was a lot less troublesome that way," Eponine said.

"Just because they're getting taller, that doesn't mean they're getting much brighter."

"I'm not so sure about that, Zelma. Gavroche always knows his way about better than we do."

Azelma shrugged. "He knows enough to run circles around us. I should get going then; I did promise Jehan we'd work on Latin. I'll try to see you before next Sunday then-you don't get in trouble between today and that day!" she said.

"I should have no problem with that; you watch yourself too," Eponine replied before they parted ways; Azelma took a fiacre back to the Latin Quartier, while Eponine crossed to the Place du Chatele.

At the entrance to the square, her alert gaze trained on a surprising sight: Musichetta was to one side of the square, arguing heatedly with a fiacre driver. The older woman nearly started when she saw Eponine. "I need your help! Paulette's child is coming today," she said breathlessly.

A chill seized Eponine at these words; that was not supposed to happen till the first day of May at the earliest. "Where is she now?" she asked.

"Rue de la Verrerie. I asked Mother Veuvain, the concierge, to watch her while I get Joly, but someone has to find Courfeyrac. He stepped out for an errand," Musichetta replied.

Eponine swallowed hard, already knowing and regretting what she would have to do. "I can run to the Rue de la Verrerie right now. If you go into the Place du Chatele, you'll find Enjolras there; I was supposed to meet him in a minute or two, but I s'pose now he can go and fetch Courfeyrac," she said.

Musichetta nodded with relief. "There, it will only be one trip, not two," she told the fiacre driver she'd been arguing with. She clasped Eponine's wrist gratefully. "I don't know how to thank you, Eponine."

"No, we'd best wait for Paulette to thank both of us. I'll see you soon!" Eponine said before racing off in the direction of Courfeyrac and Paulette's lodgings. When she got to 16 Rue de la Verrerie, she found the front door left open, and lost no time in running up the stairs, only to be greeted by the rather overwhelmed concierge.

"Didn't you bring a doctor with you, or at least Citizen de Courfeyrac?" Mother Veuvain screeched at her.

"I've only come to stay with Paulette; Musichetta has gone to get the doctor, and Courfeyrac should be here in a little while," Eponine replied.

The concierge cringed. "Well they'd better be quick about it; this little one is in a hurry," she said before showing Eponine into her friends' apartment.

Paulette was lying in bed, her suddenly pallid face covered with sweat and her hair dragging about her cheeks. She seemed short of breath even as she tried to sit up to look at Eponine. "Oh thank you for coming! Who told you about this?" she asked.

"I ran into Chetta some minutes ago; she's just going to find Joly. I think Courfeyrac will be here soon, or at least when Enjolras can find him. Where did he go to anyway?" Eponine asked, bringing out a handkerchief to wipe her friend's face.

"Down to Saint-Merry. That shouldn't be far from here—oh God!" Paulette whimpered as she grabbed at the bedpost. Her eyes were almost watering with pain as she bit her lip to keep from crying out. "It shouldn't be this quick. Everyone says it takes hours for a first child, but I think this one is coming too soon. It's already too early to begin with."

"Paulette, this is Courfeyrac's child. Did you ever expect him or her to be patient?" Eponine asked.

Paulette laughed weakly as she shifted in an attempt to get more comfortable. "I'm never letting Maurice near me again; if I'd known this was going to hurt so much, I might have thought twice before letting him touch me!" She sat up again when she heard a distinctly male voice in the hallway. "Did you hear that, Maurice? This is the first and last time-"

"You were saying, Paulette?" Joly asked wryly as he and Musichetta stepped into the room. "I could get Courfeyrac upstairs but only as far as the door to hear you, if you like. I told Enjolras to make sure that he stays downstairs."

Paulette reddened at this joke but she managed to laugh again. "Best that Maurice doesn't step in here anyway; I doubt he'd like to see this-"she said before another contraction seized her body, making her double over as she whimpered.

Joly set down his bag and took off his coat. "Eponine, could you go down and boil some rags as well as these scissors I have here? Fetch some clean towels and sheets as well," he asked, bringing a large pair of scissors out of his bag.

"Boiling scissors? What for?" Eponine asked.

"An observation I need to test," Joly said firmly. "Paulette, please relax. Chetta will help me take a look at how far you've progressed-"

Eponine took the opportunity to slip out of the room to begin preparing the items Joly had requested for. It proved to be a relatively easy task especially with Mother Veuvain's grudging assistance. All the while she could hear Paulette's pained cries despite all of Joly and Musichetta's attempts to reassure her. 'How could Maman ever go through that five times?' she wondered as she began gathering up the supplies to bring them upstairs.

When she arrived back at the apartment, Paulette had already given up all semblance of restraint, and was now openly crying. Musichetta was wiping down her friend's brow, all the while murmuring soothing words. Joly was glancing at his pocket watch with a rather worried expression. "It is indeed progressing quickly," Joly reported when he saw Eponine.

"Not quickly enough! Can't this be over with?" Paulette wailed.

"It's not that simple-ouch, Paulette, you're digging your nails into my hand!" Musichetta hissed.

Paulette gave her a look of anguish before putting a hand to her head. "I feel so dizzy."

"It's probably just the pain. Lie back and rest a bit," Joly advised.

The labouring woman shut her eyes as she rested her head wearily against the pillows, gasping when another pain wracked her. Joly shook his head at this. "Two minutes."

"Between pains? Does that matter?" Eponine asked.

"Definitely. It determines whether-"Joly began.

At that moment Paulette opened her eyes, and cocked her head as if listening for something outside the room. "That's Maurice outside."

The physician handed his pocket watch to Musichetta before he crossed the room in order to open the door a crack. "Courfeyrac, before you ask, you are not allowed in here," he said.

"She needs me. I promise I will not do anything to get in the way," Courfeyrac argued, slipping his fingers through the crack to try to push the door open.

Paulette rolled her eyes on hearing this. "Maurice, if you ever go near me again, I will make sure you get ten times of what I'm getting here, right now!" she screeched at him.

"I don't think causing further agitation is a good idea, Courfeyrac. Paulette is in good hands; Joly knows what he's doing," Enjolras said in a level tone from further away down the hall.

"Enjolras, I am sure you will be anything but calm when the shoe is on the other foot," Courfeyrac snapped. "That is a bet I am sure to win."

Both Musichetta and Joly burst out laughing while Paulette managed a giggle before crying out again in pain. Eponine could only bury her face in her hands as she heard Courfeyrac now arguing with Enjolras even after Joly slammed the door shut. Suddenly she heard a long wail coming from Paulette's bed. "What's happened?" she asked worriedly.

Joly ran over to examine his patient. "The baby is coming now," he said grimly. "Paulette, I need you to bear down, but only when you feel the pain coming. Don't strain yourself in between."

Paulette nodded tearfully as she reached for Musichetta's hand, as well as Eponine's. "I don't think I can do it," she whimpered.

"You have to. There's no other way to go about it, and it will be over soon," Eponine said firmly. Still she could not help but feel pure terror on seeing how pallid Paulette was. 'How long can she last?' she wondered, making sure that it was not her injured hand in Paulette's' grip. Before she could ascertain this, she felt Paulette's hand tighten around hers painfully, enough to make her wince.

Musichetta smiled sympathetically at Paulette when the latter relaxed her grip. "There, that wasn't so bad, wasn't it?"

"You don't know!" Paulette cried out exasperatedly when she caught her breath. "I know what I said earlier, but where's Maurice? Something is wrong-"

"You'll see him in a bit," Eponine said tersely as Paulette squeezed her hand again. "It might only be a few minutes," she added before Paulette let out an ear-splitting shriek.

Joly's expression was tense but hopeful. "The shoulders are almost out. It won't be long now."

Paulette nodded before bearing down again, this time no longer bothering to muffle her screams. She nearly collapsed against the pillows a moment before the high-pitched wail of a newborn pierced the late afternoon air.

Joly sighed with relief as he wrapped the shrieking baby in a clean cloth. "Paulette, you have a son. I've never seen a healthier baby before," he said more happily as Musichetta went to help him cut the cord.

Eponine shook her friend. "Paulette, did you hear that? It's a little boy!"

Paulette opened her eyes slowly. "We'll call him Armand," she murmured hoarsely. "Armand Courfeyrac has a nice ring to it."

"That it does," Musichetta said before going to open the door. "Enjolras, you can stop holding Courfeyrac down; he can come in now."

In a moment Courfeyrac bounded into the room and up to his mistress' bedside. "Paulette my dear, are you alright?" he asked as he gently helped her sit up.

The woman nodded wearily. "I feel a little faint though-"

"It was exhausting...no, wait, that is not supposed to happen!" Joly shouted, quickly handing the baby to Musichetta. Paulette had fallen back onto the bed and her eyes had rolled up into her head as she began to convulse.

"Patrice! What's happening to her?" Musichetta yelled, now thoroughly panicked.

"I don't know!" Joly whispered as he began looking through his bag for any medication, but finding nothing to stop this seizure.

"Paulette! Wake up, please wake up!" Courfeyrac pleaded. "Please, Paulette!"

Eponine shook her head even as she looked away, already seeing how Paulette's face was turning blue. She shut her eyes but was unable to completely banish the sight of her friend going rigid one last time before falling back limply on the bed and ceasing to breathe after a few more moments. She could hear Courfeyrac begging Paulette to open her eyes, even as Musichetta was now shaking with sobs. Joly had taken off his spectacles and was wringing his hands, unable to look at this scene.

Yet even over this commotion, and the hot tears now springing to her eyes, Eponine heard the baby's wailing once again. She gingerly tiptoed over to where Musichetta had set Armand down at his mother's bedside. "Should I?" she asked worriedly.

"He shouldn't be here at the moment; it might be a while till..." Joly said helplessly as he gestured to Courfeyrac, who was now openly weeping.

Eponine nodded as she picked up Armand and wrapped him tighter in his blanket before slipping out of the room. She closed the door behind her and leaned against the nearby wall, unsure if her own legs could hold her up. She tried rocking Armand to quiet him down, but the baby continued to whimper listlessly, his fists waving about indignantly. It was impossible for her to soothe him, not when her own tears were dotting the blanket.

She swallowed hard when she saw Enjolras now standing next to her. "Paulette is gone," she murmured.

Enjolras nodded and sighed deeply as he looked towards the room that Eponine had just left. "What happened?" he asked quietly after a moment.

"I don't know. I wish I hadn't seen it..." Eponine whispered, fighting back her sobs. She knew that this horrible day would probably comprise her nightmares for a long time to come. She sighed as she adjusted her hold on the newborn. Thankfully he was beginning to settle down and was now looking about rather aimlessly. "I s'pose you should meet your godson. His name is Armand," she finally said.

Enjolras peered at the child with a mix of wariness and curiosity, more so when Armand reflexively grabbed one of his fingers. "He's definitely his father's spitting image," he commented a little ruefully.

"How so?" a more broken voice asked from the doorway. Enjolras and Eponine looked to where Courfeyrac was standing a few paces away. His cheeks were wet with tears and his hair and his clothes were in disarray. "May I hold him?"

"Are you sure?" Eponine asked cautiously. "You don't have to right away."

"Paulette never got to," Courfeyrac said resolutely.

Eponine carefully handed over the baby, taking care to check her friend's hold on the child. "I think he has your eyes," she said.

Courfeyrac nodded as he looked at his son. "I guess you'll have to make do with me, Armand," he whispered protectively. He looked up as his concierge stepped into the hallway. "This is a terrible pass. I'm sorry but we're going to have to call the undertaker."

"That's easy enough, but that little one needs a wet nurse," Mother Veuvain advised. "There's one towards the end of the street; maybe she's home now."

"I'll go get her," Eponine volunteered. "Where is the address?"

"Just run down to the end of the street. It's the only house there," Mother Veuvain said.

"I won't be long then," Eponine said with a nod. All she wanted to do was get some fresh air, perhaps it would help stave away the hot feeling in her eyes. "You don't have to go with me. I s'pose you're needed here more," she said to Enjolras.

Enjolras took a deep breath as he surveyed the scene. "I see. Later then?"

"Later. I won't be long," she said, kissing his cheek. She ran out of the house, not even bothering to pick up her coat or her hat, knowing better than to think of these given the urgency of the matter.