Here it is, Marie Grantaire's and my AU fanfic. Comments and concrit are appreciated!
Christmas Eve, 1823, in Montfermeil, was a cold and snowy night, not fit for anything but being curled up in front of a warm fire, surrounded by dear friends and family. Or, perhaps, at a well-appointed inn, where you were greeted by a smiling proprietor and his smartly dressed children. This, however, is not the opening scene of our story. No, our story begins at the same inn, under entirely different circumstances.
The main room of The Sergeant of Waterloo was rather dingy, with a long, dark wood table at the center. At one side of the room was a stone hearth, with a fire burning inside it. A large pot hung over it, and a young girl with stringy hair stood over it. Next to her, seated on a stool, another girl sat, sewing two pieces of fabric together. A smaller girl was seated on the other side of the hearth, playing with a toddler. These three girls were dressed in what could be called rags, but were once dresses. They were painfully skinny, and their skin was red and cracked.
Several patrons were seated at the table, drinking out of mugs, smoking, and talking loudly.
At the sound of the door opening, a diminutive man stood up from the table, and bowed to the man who stood in the doorway. “Welcome, monsieur. Come, please-sit down.” He pulled out a battered chair and bowed the stranger into it. “Éponine! Some soup for Monsieur,” he shouted. He turned, smiling at his patron, exhibiting a mouth full of crooked teeth. “Our rabbit soup is guaranteed to warm you, monsieur. Thick and hearty, with potatoes and carrots.”
The traveler nodded at the proprietor, not looking at him; instead, looking at the three girls.
“Éponine!” the innkeeper shouted. The girl standing over the pot quickly ladled some of the soup into a wooden bowl and brought it to the table, setting it down in front of the man with a bowed head.
“I am Thenardier, monsieur, owner of The Sergeant of Waterloo. I was at Waterloo, I was. The Emperor, now there was a fine leader if there ever was one. Are you looking to stay the night? Rooms are 10 francs, and I can assure you that they are most comfortably furnished.”
The man, who was dressed rather shabbily, turned his attention away from the girls and said, “Is there a mail coach leaving tonight?”
Thenardier shook his head and replied, “No, monsieur has missed the last one tonight. Tomorrow, at dawn, one leaves for Paris.”
“Yes, then. I would like a room.” The man replied. “You have a girl here called Cosette?” Thenardier looked confused.
“Yes, she’s the urchin sewing. Wretched thing, she pricks her fingers and gets blood on the sheets; make no mistake, sir, she is punished for it. A respectable establishment has standards to meet, and I will offer nothing less than perfection to my guests.”
The man, who we know as Jean Valjean, 24601, and M. Madeleine, looked appalled at this. “And the others?” he asked, referring to the other girls.
“Éponine and Azelma, my daughters. Worthless, though. No use for them except housework. Since my wife died, God bless her soul, they have become nothing but lazy brats, and so they must work, they must earn their keep. I find that I cannot think of them as my children, they are such an embarrassment to me. Now, my son, Gavroche, he is another story. You see him, on Azelma’s lap? Notice how strong he is, how he does not cry out like other children. He is my pride and joy, and he will run this establishment after I am gone.”
“And what of Cosette? Is she not your daughter?” Valjean asked.
“My daughter? Of course not. Her mother left her with us several years ago. Her mother is supposed to send me money every month to take care of her, but she is rather neglectful. Though, the girl might as well be, she’s as work-shy as my own flesh-and-blood daughters. Lazy brats.”
At the sight of these girls, obviously mistreated and malnourished, Valjean felt a tugging in his heart. He had promised Fantine he would take care of her daughter, but was torn. He had to move quickly, and get to Paris as soon as possible. Cosette would slow him down, but he had promised. Now, he felt compelled to save the other girls. They were as bad off as Cosette, if not worse, because their own father despised them. No, three children would slow him down too much; he had to keep moving.
While he was pondering, Gavroche began fussing. Azelma tried to quiet him as best as she could, trying to get him to suck on her fingers, but the toddler would have none of it. His cries grew louder, and Thenardier shouted, “Hussy, your job is to keep him quiet! How hard is that for you? Here now, he is crying. Do what you’re told!” Azelma frantically rocked the child back and forth, but he squirmed out of her grasp. Gavroche stood up and wobbled over to where Cosette was sewing. He tugged on the sheet, and several seems ripped out. Cosette’s needle slipped, and she jabbed her finger with it. Crying out, she stuck the bleeding finger into her mouth, but drops of blood had already fallen on the sheet.
Éponine picked up Gavroche and held him tight, looking fearfully at her father, who was stalking towards the children with a furious look on his face.
“Now look what you’ve done!” he shouted at Cosette, gesturing at the blood-spotted linen. “You’ll have wash that out and start over again; there’s no money for new cloth!” He struck her across the face, and then rounded on Azelma, who was cowering in against the wall.
“And you! This is all your fault, you miserable idiot!” He aimed a kick at her, and it connected with her side. The little girl yelped and tried to curl closer to the dingy wall. Éponine moved to help her sister, but stopped when her father turned to her. She backed up several steps, holding Gavroche tight against her chest. “Keep him quiet,” he growled. She nodded fearfully, and grabbed a toy soldier that was lying on the floor, handing it to her little brother.
Thenardier turned back to Valjean. “Shall I show you to your room, Monsieur?” He gestured up the stairs. “Our best room.”
Valjean nodded and threw a desperate look at the girls, who were still looking at Thenardier, strongly resembling scared animals. He stood up and followed Thenardier out of the room.
As soon as Thenardier was up the stairs, Cosette rushed over to Azelma, who was still cowering against the wall, whimpering.
“Oh, are you all right?” she asked, crouching down next to the younger girl. When the Thenardiess was still alive, the two daughters had been as horrid to Cosette as their parents were. Now that their mother was gone, and the girls were at the mercy of their father, who had changed so much, they were bonded together by fear and pain. The bond soon turned to a tentative friendship, which, in time, turned to sisterhood.
We might take a moment to describe these three sisters; Éponine was older than Cosette by a few months, and Azelma was two years younger than them. Éponine had auburn hair that was made into a dingy brown color by grease and soot from being bent over the fireplace so much. Her high cheekbones looked skeletal in her thin face, and her grey eyes looked sunken and dark. Cosette’s chestnut hair hung in limp strands around her face, and her deep blue eyes looked like black pools in her pale face. Her tiny hands were red and swollen from the cold and constant sewing.
Azelma’s black hair made her look even paler and sicker than her sisters. Her face, which should have still had the roundness of young childhood was painfully thin, and her dress was splattered by Gavroche’s spit up and snot.
All of this had transpired without others in the inn taking much notice. They were drunk, or on their way to inebriation, and were used to this display, for something like this occurred every night.
A silent communication passed between the children, and they made their way down a dark hallway, to a small room filled with extra dishes and blankets. Between these items was a rickety bed, which the three girls shared, and a cradle carved with scrolls and feathers, which was where Gavroche still slept. Éponine set Gavroche, who was gnawing on the soldier, down in his cradle, and the three girls collapsed into the bed, exhausted and sore.
Upstairs, Jean Valjean laid in his bed, had come to a decision. He would take all three girls from the inn in the morning. No child deserves this, he thought. I shall think of something to avoid being caught by Javert. He fell into a fitful sleep, dreaming of bruised and screaming children being chased by policemen.