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05 January 2014 @ 07:53 am
 

A/N: In which the combined efforts of a certain pair prove to be better than adrenaline.

I'll be taking requests (via reviews or PM) for one shots, backstories, and outtakes you'd like to see from this universe. Feel free to send them along!

Chapter 80: On Subjugation by Content and Character

Although the heat of late summer was enough to plunge much of Paris into a state of languor, it seemed to do quite the opposite for Eponine. 'It's only because it's easier to do things with so much daylight,' she decided one noontime as she was rushing back to the Rue des Macons, having just finished with some errands for the Stendhals as well as for her own household. It was August 8, a Thursday of one of the busiest weeks she had ever known, but at the same time it was as lovely an August morning as she could ever ask for. The sun chased away any threat of rain while the air was stirred just so by a slight breeze that brought with it the smells of bread, fruit, as well as a myriad of other odors so typical of the streets. Everything was lush and green; even the normally unremarkable walkway past the church of Saint-Etienne seemed to have taken on much life thanks to the foliage on either side of the avenue. 'Maybe everything is new, or I'm only noticing it all again now,' she realized, carefully adjusting her grip on the basket she carried. It was a pleasant contrast from how she had been a year ago, when she had been too despondent to enjoy even the warmth of the sun.

The past few days had been nothing short of frenetic, thanks to the chaos of settling into new routines combined with her occupation, the struggles of political work, and the social commitments that her new civil status entailed. All the same Eponine delighted in this unusual sort of bliss, for it was not dreamy and airy but something fierier that not only charged every moment but even her entire being. It was a new potency that made her feel as if she could take on anything, something that was more possible or at least easier to bear now that she was certain she wouldn't be alone in it all.

As she dashed into the Place du Pantheon, she saw a crowd gathered near one of the houses there, the very same residence where the Radicaux meeting had been just a few months ago. She caught sight of two figures, one ginger-haired and the other raven in the middle of this confusion, so she pushed her way forward through this crush. "Are you two duelling again?" she asked, not hiding her consternation.

"We're in counsel at Sparta," Grantaire replied gamely. "Discussing the whereabouts of our Odysseus from Chaillot."

"Citizen Mathieu has not been at home, he hasn't been at work for the past few days, so now the police are looking for him as if he was any other man gone missing," Coutard supplied. "The last anyone has heard from him is his interview with the Moniteur."

"He doesn't want to be found though, so I s'pose if the police are going about that way they won't even see his shadow. He'll always be a step ahead of them," Eponine pointed out.

Grantaire guffawed approvingly over the hoots and catcalls this elicited from the other bystanders. "Nothing gets past a Cyrene even here in Paris!"

Coutard scratched his head. "In this particular case shouldn't she be Nausicaa?"

"Nausicaa was surprised by Odysseus, and that has yet to happen. Besides, Eponine is too keen to be taken by a mere mortal deceiver," Grantaire replied.

Eponine snorted at this roundabout compliment. "So where do they say he is?"

"That spineless coward is nowhere west of the Invalides," another man chimed in. "Absent from his constituency, absent from work..."

"Maybe his seat has finally become too hot so he's had to vacate it," a wag muttered.

"He was elected for a reason—"

"Who knows what they drink in Chaillot!"

Eponine rolled her eyes, already regretting having barged in on this seemingly useless chatter. "I s'pose no one really knows then where he is," she finally said.

"That is the very problem Citizenness Thenardier-I mean, Citizenness Enjolras," one of the more wearied journalists said. "He seems to be avoiding us as well."

Eponine had to bite her lip to keep from laughing out loud, even if she knew exactly what might have brought about this state of affairs. "You'd have an easier time if you were politer about it, or didn't have to go about in such large groups," she finally said.

A few of the journalists chuckled while others cringed a little guiltily. "It seems as if domestic felicity has done nothing to tame that tongue of yours, young lady," one man muttered balefully.

"Only towards those who can't be gentlemen," Eponine replied as she gave them a smile that would have been sweet had it not been for the defiance in her eyes. As she continued walking to the Stendhals' house, she tried to imagine where Mathieu could be if he was hiding both from his colleagues and the journalists. 'He wouldn't leave Paris since he has to keep his eyes on things, so that makes looking for him a little easier,' she decided as she finally came in sight of the familiar house.

She immediately caught sight of little Jacques sitting on the stoop of the house; he'd decided to tag along with her that day while Gavroche visited Courfeyrac and Armand while Neville spent the day with the Pontmercys, having displayed an intense interest in perusing the library at that place. At this moment Jacques' face was smeared with crumbs of icing and pastry. "Claudine, Musichetta, Azelma, and some other ladies are here, having coffee with the old lady Odette," he reported gleefully.

"Odette isn't that old!" Eponine chided. She saw through the window that the front office was full of visitors, and that they'd all taken the liberty of finding whatever seats they could. 'I s'pose I shan't be finished with work before four then,' she thought a little petulantly, having looked forward to completing some thick documents that day in hopes of making Friday afternoon free to sit in on the session at the Hotel de Ville.

"Eponine, you're late for your own meeting!" Emile Stendhal called to her as he stepped out of the back office. "You go on in there; Jacques and I will sort out the basket."

"It's a meeting without my knowing it!" Eponine said. "The things for you and your mother are all on the left, along with the ink. Everything else is mine, especially the vegetables." She saw Jacques make a face at the last words. "I won't stew them for too long this time, don't you worry about it," she said, picking some dirt out of her brother's hair before handing over the basket and going into the front office.

Odette nearly dropped her teacup when she saw Eponine. "My dear, have you read the news today?" she asked worriedly. "It's awful!"

"Only from the Moniteur and the Journal des Debats," Eponine replied. "Is it the Charivari again?"

"Revue des Deux Mondes," Azelma said, looking rather sorry to break the news. "They're normally more literary and they like plays and novels, but look what piece they've got for all of Paris today," she said, handing a rolled up paper to her sister.

Eponine's eyebrows shot up as she caught sight of the title of a story, 'Eustace and the Beauties of the Pont d'Arcole'. What bemusement she felt quickly turned into dread as she read through the increasingly salacious narrative of a young man's misadventures in the neighbourhood of a brothel populated by unmistakable caricatures. "Don't they have anything better to do?" she asked as she put the piece down on her desk.

"Apparently not. They seem to be tickled that we're involved in this venture of trying to get the legislature to finish its long delayed business," Musichetta said.

"It is obviously rubbish when looked at as story or fact, so there is no need to dignify it," Claudine said, sounding irritated that Odette had brought up this topic before anything else. "Eponine, is there a chance of any vote at all proceeding tomorrow?"

"I s'pose there is, even if Citizen Mathieu decides he won't go to work tomorrow or for the rest of the summer," Eponine said.

"At least that's not a waste, though it would have been nice to have a unanimous vote from Paris," one of the women from Les Halles muttered.

"Unanimous? I'd worry about Citizen Rossi; he'll make his choice according to his party's," a washerwoman scoffed.

"He's got a good head on his shoulders, so he might do differently," Musichetta reasoned.

"It's because he's got a good head on his shoulders that he'll bend to what they want," the washerwoman pointed out. "Not everyone can afford to be so bold or to be romantic," she added, casting a knowing look at Eponine.

'Bold is pretty much what Antoine is, but hardly a romantic,' Eponine thought, managing to keep a straight face. "I s'pose we'll have to discuss how we'll have to do tomorrow at the Hotel de Ville, voting or not," she finally said.

"We'll have to talk to the deputies present tomorrow," Claudine said. "Especially those visiting from outside Paris; those are the ones who might be easiest to deal with."

"How can we be sure any of them will be willing to talk to us? Journalists are one thing, but ladies are another to them," Musichetta asked. She looked up as a knock sounded from the front office windowpane. "It's Bossuet and Marthe, what are they doing here?"

"There's a note from the Hotel de Ville!" Marthe shouted through the keyhole.

Despite the fact that everyone was scrambling to get to the door, Eponine managed to get her hands first on the letter that Bossuet was holding up. "What were you doing in the area?" she asked breathlessly as she examined the piece of folded paper.

"Visiting Citizen Blanchard," Bossuet said, taking off his cravat to wipe his face with it. "Someone ran to tell him to go to the Hotel de Ville for news, so we followed. There's news there, and the legislature is in the thick of it."

"Citizen Mathieu turned up?" Musichetta asked hopefully.

"No, though that would have been delightful," Marthe said. "Enjolras said it's in the note."

Eponine realized that her husband hadn't sealed the missive, which meant he was either in a great hurry, or had meant the contents for eventual public perusal. All the same she made sure to step a few paces away from the rest of the group before silently reading these words:

Eponine,

I must apologize for not being able to relay this in person. There is no time for anyone to lose especially in light of the good news you will read shortly:

You will be pleased to know that the voting for all the petitions has now been rescheduled for tomorrow. There will be a series of final committee hearings in the morning prior to the plenary assembly in the afternoon. It will be necessary for all authors to answer questions in both sessions. I trust that this message will reach you in time to make the necessary preparations.

Till we meet later.

Antoine

Jacques tugged on his sister's skirt. "What did he say?" he asked excitedly.

"It's going to be a busy day for everyone tomorrow, petit," Eponine said, ruffling his hair. She grinned as she folded up the letter and pocketed it, almost giddy with joy and exhilaration at what she would have to say. "There's a new answer to your question, Claudine. There will be a vote tomorrow, on everything. We'll have to be there for meetings in the morning and the big assembly in the afternoon, and it's not just to watch!"

Some of the women gasped with surprise, others cheered, while Musichetta and Azelma applauded. "How did that happen? First they are not moving, and suddenly they are hastening," Claudine said. "Someone must have done something to speed the proceedings up."

"I'm not complaining," Eponine said with a shrug. "I don't s'pose we can stay for sessions all day, so we'll have to decide who'll go in the morning, and who'll come after lunch."

"You can be there the whole day, Eponine," Odette chimed in. "You didn't take a holiday on Monday, so I am giving you one tomorrow."

"Odette, what of work? I'm not done with the papers-"

"You'll do well, and besides you can't do more till Emile finishes his end of it. Anyway you're a married woman now and you ought to spend more time with that husband of yours."

"Only for a few minutes between this meeting and that assembly?" Eponine quipped. All the same she already understood what everyone was silently hoping for, or even implying with their reticence. 'Can't anyone else be with me then?' she wondered.

"If Odette is giving you the chance, you should take it, Eponine," Claudine said reassuringly. "You will not be alone. I will be there in the morning at the very least. Allyce usually is around in the afternoon. Leonor's schedule is quite erratic as well but I am sure she will make time for it."

"It will be quite the merry war if it's you and Eponine facing the morning panel," Bossuet said. "Almost a sure victory."

"If the morning meeting goes well, the afternoon vote is almost guaranteed," Marthe observed.

"I never imagined both of you would be so optimistic," Musichetta said.

Marthe grinned triumphantly. "If you were with us and actually saw the chaos at the Hotel de Ville, you'd agree with our appraisal."

"Why, what was there?" Eponine asked curiously.

"A yard of headless chickens actually would have had made more sense," Bossuet replied, eliciting a round of laughter from the group.

Soon enough the women began discussing who among them would be at the Hotel de Ville and at what particular hours, and who else would have to be notified. Within an hour the meeting was over and the ladies returned to their homes or workplaces, leaving Eponine to resume her much postponed paperwork. Not surprisingly the hours seemed to pass swiftly, such that Eponine only realized the time when Jacques began impatiently clamouring to return home.

"Ponine, we have to be home before Gavroche gets there or he'll eat everything left in the cupboards!" he whined.

"Why, did you leave something there?" Eponine asked as she gathered up her things.

"I had some part of a brioche..."

"If he eats that, you shouldn't be the least bit sorry for him. You've been having sweets all day."

"The nice ladies said I could," Jacques said.

"If you eat too much of those you might get a stomach ache. I don't think you want that in the middle of the summer," Eponine reasoned before bidding goodbye to the Stendhals. 'At least Neville and Jacques have a few years before they start getting the way Gavroche is now,' she thought. She could only wonder how she and Enjolras would cope when that time came.

Since it was mid-afternoon the streets were busy again with people hurrying home, to run errands, or perhaps to meet with friends in various cafes. It was impossible for Eponine and Jacques to make their way home without running into a few acquaintances here and there, all of them eager for some sort of chat or to clarify the news of the day. 'At least no one has asked about that horrible story yet,' Eponine thought with some relief as she and her brother extricated themselves from conversing with a garrulous vendor in the vicinity of the Rue Ferou. Try as she may she could not completely banish this from her mind, even if it was not the first time she and her friends had been so vilified, or even if she never considered herself as the overly delicate sort of woman. 'Though I s'pose people like to forget such a thing is just as horrid as being what they write about,' she realized with a sort of rueful indignation as she set about to preparing supper.

Within the hour both Gavroche and Neville had arrived home, and were now chattering with Jacques, eagerly one-upping each other about their eventful day. It was nearly seven in the evening by the time Eponine was finished with her cooking, by which point she also heard the much awaited sound of the front door opening. She went out into the front room in time to find Enjolras taking off his coat in order to hang it neatly by the door. For a brief moment she contented herself with watching him, this man who was not only her spouse and lover, but her best friend and ally; it was so difficult for her to figure out what to say to this one person who had the capacity to overwhelm her with the slightest thing he did. She took a deep breath before she walked up to him and pulled him close by his lapels to give him a deep, passionate kiss, regardless of the groans and disgusted noises her brothers were making nearby.

"That was for what you did today," she said breathlessly against his lips when they came up for air. "I'll never be able to thank you enough for it."

"It wasn't my doing only," Enjolras said, his voice low with surprised desire as well as the need to catch his breath. He then clasped her hands to pull her to an adjacent room, which served as a study and a small library. Once there he deftly closed the door behind them and then tucked a stray strand of her hair behind her ear. "That was quite the greeting, Eponine," he said.

"I couldn't think of how to say everything," she laughed as she began to undo his cravat. "So tell me what happened. How did that decision come about?"

"It was the intended result of that trip to the Marche Saint-Germain," Enjolras explained, letting his hands go about her waist. "All of the legislators assembling here in Paris learned who among us thought the same way, and then agreed to put the vote on tomorrow's agenda."

"How many of them needed more convincing?"

"Not too many, surprisingly. I only had to talk to five. Hopefully they will show up and help make a proper quorum. Are you prepared for tomorrow?"

Eponine nodded gleefully. "I was in a meeting when your note arrived at the Rue des Macons. You, Bossuet, and Marthe saved us a great deal of trouble."

"Will you be attending in the morning or in the afternoon?"

"The whole day. Can you believe it?"

"Well, is it fine with the Stendhals?"

"I s'pose Odette will really be upset if I go to work tomorrow. She says I need a holiday, but I s'pose that is a funny thing to say with everything that will be happening at the Hotel de Ville."

Enjolras chuckled at this observation. "There's one more matter to make sure of," he said at length, a little more to himself than to her. "Bamatabois has ascertained the whereabouts of Citizen Mathieu."

Her jaw dropped with surprise as she realized what he would surely do in these circumstances. "Then you will call on him?"

"It is necessary."

"Where is Citizen Mathieu supposed to be hiding?"

"Near the Pont Louis-Philippe, next to the Quai de Bourbon" Enjolras replied, sounding a little irritated at this fact. "It was the last place anyone cared to look, within sight of the Hotel de Ville."

Eponine quite failed to stifle her laughter at this fact, more so when Enjolras raised one eyebrow. "He's not the sort to go far; he'd have to stay in Paris to see how things were going and if his silence was worth what he promised. You know these businessmen do not usually stay too far away either from their workplaces."

Enjolras' eyes were bright with lively interest as he pondered these insights. "You have some of the talents of a detective."

"I've only spent years avoiding agents," she said gaily. She squeezed his hands, letting her thumbs rub his knuckles in the way she knew he liked. "Antoine, I'd like to also call on Citizen Mathieu. I s'pose it might be a little unseemly to have a lady going about on business of some sort, but he is the only legislator from Paris who has been so difficult to reach."

"Your aim then is for a unanimous vote from the city representatives?"

"I'd like it to be so."

"He will surely question you."

"You know that is not new to me. I think too that my brothers can behave themselves for three hours or so, or we can ask someone to come up here for a little bit to watch them."

Enjolras was silent a little longer, clearly considering her idea. His expression was one of confidence as he clasped her hand firmly. "Very well then, we will go together. We should leave here before eight o'clock so we can meet Bamatabois at the quay near the Pont de la Tournelle."

Eponine smiled as she embraced him tightly. "Thank you," she said in his ear, only to have to muffle a giggle into his shoulder when he gave her an awkward kiss on the top of her head. She reluctantly stepped away to allow him to finish some work while she ran back to the kitchen to get the food out on the table.

Dinner was a merry affair, with the little Thenardiers all too eager to tell again about their respective capers outside of the house. All the same this hour passed too swiftly and soon it was time to depart. After a quick visit to the Rue Ferou, it was decided that Bossuet would watch over the three Thenardiers. "You do not have many sharp corners in this house, so I shall be safely out of harm's way," Bossuet said sagaciously as he made himself comfortable on the settee in the front room.

"There's no problem. Neville's been learning how to bandage people," Gavroche volunteered impishly.

"Hopefully that skill will not be necessary tonight," Enjolras said, the admonition in his voice making it clear that no mischief would be tolerated this evening. "Don't stay up too late."

'At least one of them is going to be faking sleep under the blankets when we get back,' Eponine thought knowing all too well what to expect from the three boys. "You heard him. We'll be back as soon as we can," she told the boys.

"Good luck shaking the dead wood," Gavroche quipped, making a salute before dragging his brothers to some game they had set aside earlier in the evening.

"I sometimes wish that Gavroche wasn't so exact with his jokes," Eponine thought as she and Enjolras left the house and began searching for a fiacre. In a short while they were on their way to the riverbank where Bamatabois was supposed to be waiting.

Eponine swallowed hard as they neared the Quai de la Tournelle; although this place was still busy with ferrymen and porters, there were quite a number of leering, hulking figures that she knew all too well to stay away from. "This is not the best place for a rendezvous, Antoine. One of us should have brought at least a pen knife!" she whispered furtively to her spouse as they alighted from the fiacre.

"We're meeting at a safer place, at that house there," Enjolras said, pointing to a structure a few paces away from the roadside. Much to their consternation, Bamatabois was nowhere in sight. "Perhaps he is delayed," Enjolras muttered through gritted teeth as he looked up and down the quay that was their designated meeting place. He pulled his watch out of his fob. "This is the appointed hour. Something must have detained him since he is not unpunctual in habit.'

"He was early, so I sent him on home to the arms of Citizenness Moreau," a voice said from the darkness. The stooped figure of Gabriel Mathieu emerged from behind this house. "I'm quite sick of his voice, frankly."

"Why are you still here then?" Enjolras asked, looking this man in the face.

Mathieu smiled as he dusted off the much worn frock coat that he wore as a sort of disguise. "I would rather speak with you, Enjolras. I find your resolve more than impressive, especially considering what it has resulted to just on this day alone." He shook his head as he looked at Eponine. "Citizenness, this is hardly the place for an evening stroll," he said more condescendingly.

"Yes, but I s'pose you'd rather that I speak with you here about that petition instead of tomorrow in front of all your colleagues at the Hotel de Ville," Eponine said civilly.

Mathieu's cracked lips turned up in the beginnings of a smile. "You are bold, and perfectly matched," he said. "What is it you two want to know?"

"First, the reason for your absence. There has been too much speculation regarding it," Enjolras said.

"What speculation?"

"Those involving a bribe or some material enticement, if not that of opportunities."

"What do they take me for, an unprincipled puppet?"

"If you are not that, what then?"

"I had thought it would be best to stay out of the middle of conflict. Upon consult with some friends, I decided to distance myself from the proceedings," Mathieu said. He shook out his coat again. "You know my party is in the middle of everything; we are accused of being lukewarm. And do not tell me that Bamatabois can take a stand; that boy is foolish and always acting in a fury."

"A vote of abstinence only confirms that reputation," Enjolras pointed out. "This is not the time for temerity, my friend."

"Which is why I intend to return tomorrow," Mathieu replied. "Upon hearing of your efforts to ensure a quorum in tomorrow's assembly, I knew that my constituents would one day ask about my presence in the matter. I am not about to risk their wrath."

"Is that your only reason?"

"I intend to live up to my mandate."

'Half-hearted but better than absent,' Eponine noted. "Then, since you're attending tomorrow, might you want to know a little more about the petition that was drafted here in Paris. I don't s'pose anyone has properly explained it to you yet," she spoke up.

"You think you can make an excellent case for it?" Mathieu said. "I am sure that you are aware that adding to the wages of women runs quite counterintuitive to business practices."

"Maybe if one's worry is only about money," Eponine replied, not fazed by his lengthy diction. She knew she had to be practical when speaking to Mathieu; now was not the time to marshal any philosophy. "If wages were better, then a woman could stay at her work for more years since she would be in a better way to see to her own health instead of going too quickly from exhaustion, consumption or something horrid of that sort. You wouldn't have to teach new workers simply because better ones have left for other situations, and you wouldn't have to worry either about the harm of children being employed since their mothers' wages do more than enough already. It's too much trouble to employ children, and anyway they should be in school. With all of that in place, there will perhaps be less to take away from one's profit."

"Why should I give higher compensation for unskilled work as women do?"

"Men perform unskilled tasks too, and it's hardly fair to pay them highly if we are to go that way. Then sometimes it's a waste to give such work to women especially when an employer is well aware of what they are capable of."

"That is an overly high estimation of the capacities of your sex."

"I'm not the only one who can think that way; we have some schools for girls and one can't stop parents from educating daughters. For my part, I've done a little bit of reading to add to what I already can do, and I'd think it would be a shame if for much of the day I had to act ignorant."

Mathieu regarded her with a curious expression. "You are definitely an agitator, not born for the world of commerce."

"I'm not patient enough for the second. But you know that commerce cannot go on without people like us working every day," Eponine said with a shrug.

Mathieu nodded slowly. "It is good you are not presumptuous about matters you have no knowledge of; those kinds are the worst fools of all and the sort I send back to their beds." His smile was one of admiration as he looked from Eponine to Enjolras. "I must say you and your husband have given me quite a bit to ponder on."

"I believe now is the time to leave you to your ruminations," Enjolras said cordially. "The session begins at eight. Good evening to you."

Mathieu made a gesture as if tipping his hat to them. "Stay safe on your way home, both of you," he said before giving a last bow and walking towards a house on the boulevard.

Eponine watched Mathieu walk away for a few moments before she shook her head bemusedly. "That was unexpected," she whispered. "It's good that he stayed to listen anyway despite being a little nasty at the beginning."

"It was a surprise," Enjolras concurred. He was smiling when he caught her gaze. "From what I've seen tonight, Eponine, it seems you will have no problem with tomorrow's session."

Eponine found herself blushing at this compliment. "Thank you. I sometimes wish though I could speak in that same way you do in front of a lot of people."

"It only works to a certain extent," Enjolras said as they began walking back to the main road. "Sometimes the best debate is of the silent sort."