She first meets him in an off campus cafe during the last days of finals. Eponine/Combeferre- Les Miserables 2012 film/mild Victor Hugo novel based/Modern Alternate Universe
She first notices him during the last days of finals week. The campus is buzzing with noise; stressed students with heads nodding to a meaningless beat throbbing through their headphones struggling to find a place to dump their books and papers, plug in their laptops, drop heavy heads and exhausted eyes into equally spent palms as they try to focus; try to get over this last milestone before the soft, sweet freedom of summer can at last be sampled.
But here, down in the last café before the gentle rush of the river and the south entrance to the park, the noise is dissipated. It rolls and bounces through the high, bright windows; cartwheeling off the pale blue sofas and wooden barstools; it whistles through with each opening of the café door and blast of noise, but somehow its’ muffled. It’s quiet.
She can think here.
He makes his way into the café at 9:45 that morning. His hair is a birds’ nest of chocolate crumples, his striped shirt un-tucked from his chinos, flashes of brightly coloured, mismatched socks just visible from where the cut falls away onto his ankles. There is a sense of almost bone crushing weariness to his step; a heaviness in his eyes as they flick up to her behind the wire framed spectacles and then cuts the gaze; letting it rove over the café at large; trying to find a place to dump his bulging satchel, throwing her a small, rueful, almost apologetic smile when he finds one.
‘I’m sorry. I just… I um…’ He gestures wordlessly to his satchel with a light shrug; a good -natured grimace tugging at the corners of his lips, the exhaustion pushing against his spectacles loosening for just a moment as they continue to hold each others’ gaze. ‘Finals,’ the look seems to say and she understands; nodding with a what she hopes to be a sympathetic expression and gives him a small smile back.
She can’t look away though after that though. There is something in his eyes; some spark leaping up through the exhaustion that came from too many late nights and early dashes to the library across the silent city in the flickering, hazy pre-dawn light; too many traffic dodges as he crossed into the park that led up to campus and too many episodes with disgruntled ducks from the community pond that she cannot take her eyes off.
She knows that she shouldn’t stare. She knows this and yet still she does it even though she has to mentally kick herself each time she catches herself watching him. She tells herself that it’s different this time. It’s different from the others.
It’s different because she can’t take her eyes off him. It’s different than it was with Marius and Montparnasse; because with both of them, she had either been painfully young and inexperienced as she had been with the shy, tongue tied, freckle faced law student or forced onto the tall, dark, suave orphan with the dark, plum velvet jacket which felt like molten blood to touch and the fathomless eyes which sparkled with silent malice whenever he set eyes on her or anyone else for that matter who wasn’t part of La Patron Minette.
A light tapping on the shoulder makes her start; pulling her up and out of her reverie like a quick, painful twist to the wrist as she glances up and into Muschietta’s knowing smile; her dark, fire flashed eyes alight with tender amusement as they flick towards his table. ‘What?’ She feels suddenly defensive and doesn’t like it as Muschietta shrugs, eyes fixing themselves on the dark haired student with the crumpled crown of mahogany curls now digging out an enormous, leather bound book from the depths of his satchel.
‘Don’t tell me’, Muschietta murmurs gently; leaning her head into her palms and cocking her head at Eponine. Her tone is lightly teasing; her gaze full of understanding and there’s something in her expression which makes Eponine vigorously shake her head in silent disbelief. Muschietta, however, is not fooled.
‘His name’s Combeferre. Henri Combeferre- Joly and Bossuet know him apparently. Third year medicine and philosophy student’, she whispers so that only Eponine can hear, her breath feeling hot and vibrant against the younger girls’ cheek; a small smile that could be a smirk sparking against every word.
Eponine simply glares at her. She knows that Muschietta is winding her up; she’s got to be, she can’t be serious; not now, not now when she knows that Eponine doesn’t have time for romance now and yet… ‘Go on’, Muschietta urges wickedly, giving her a small, painful dig in the ribs; her eyes roving over the younger girls’ face, the smile widening as she takes in Eponine’s silent, darkening glare but the command is redundant as at that moment there is a scraping of one of the café’s squeaky chrome chairs against the bare wooden floor.
The sound of a throat softly clearing itself brings her attention spiralling away from Muschietta who is drying up a coffee cup she’s had in her hands for about five minutes now and so surely must be dry and back onto the café. Lifting her gaze to the customer, she suddenly finds herself falling. Falling, spiralling into the never -ending abyss of his exhausted eyes that are crinkled through with a silent sense of mirth at their antics.
He’s leaning on the countertop and she can see a spiel of wool unravelling in the chest area of his navy woollen jumper, the light splatter of freckles dancing across the bridge of his nose and falling away onto his high, fine cheekbones.
‘Yes?’ He grins back at her; the smile full of warm, utterly genuine affection and she can just make out a strip of wire binding his top teeth, the faded relic of what looks like a chicken pox scar just below his left eyelid.
‘Two hot chocolates with extra sprinkles’, he murmurs, his eyes still on their entwined hands; reaching over to squeeze her palm lightly; thin, calloused, dexterous digits roving lightly over the tight, veined skin, silently asking her to meet his gaze. She does so slowly; feeling her breath catching in her throat and yet hating herself as she feels a light, utterly infuriating blush begin to slowly make its’ way up her cheeks. Furious with herself she tries to draw her hand away but he holds on; pressing something that feels like paper into her palm.
‘Henri’, he says quietly, watching her slowly open her palm onto what is indeed a scrap of blue lined notebook paper meticulously folded into an origami dragon.
‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards- Soren Kierkegaard. 07654223121 if you need me x’
‘Eponine’, she replies when she finally trusts herself to speak; finally trusts herself to meet his gaze fully, tucking the paper back into the palm of her hand.
The smile that she gets in reply is soft, soft and warm and deeply, utterly genuine as he gives her hand a final squeeze and weaves his way back to the cluttered table now bathed in the soft, dappled glow of the mid morning sunlight and for what feels like the first time in a long time, she feels complete.
Originally posted here: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/4583239/Phoenixflames12