A/N: Officially putting all the Surgeon verse prompts in one place.
This story prompt just wouldn't leave me. A far more serious story in the Surgeon verse. Warnings for child abuse and neglect, ongoing and in the distant past.
Feuilly is the first one in their little group to meet Elodie, one blistering hot day just two weeks before the monsoon while he's teaching a village by a riverside how to make rafts out of old soda bottles. "She's a little rocket scientist, and I'm actually being literal here," he tells his friends later during their weekly ramen night. "She got one of those old pop bottles, filled it with water, and figured out a way to send it across the room. Made a mess of course and nearly ruined a bicycle pump, but you have to admire the quick-thinking there for an eight year old."
"Are you sure she's eight, or does she just look eight?" Musichetta asks. In a city wherein people have had to go without for so long, many children still look too stunted for their ages. It's true even for some of the older generation; there is a grim reason that Gavroche, who is past twenty-five now, makes guessing his age something of a game.
"She really is eight years old; I asked her mother and her playmates. She eats well, if that's what you're worried about," Feuilly replies. He fishes in his pocket for his phone to pass around the group. "It's a bit blurred since everyone was running about."
Eponine is the last to take a look at the photo. She cannot help but smile on seeing the image of a little girl with dark brown braids, and her tanned face and arms all streaked with dirt. Her grin is impishness in itself, reaching her eyes and chasing away any shadows from her cheekbones. She is a distinct spot in the whirl of motion that Feuilly has captured, as if she is meant to stand out. This is a child who can want for nothing.
She tries to keep this picture in mind in the weeks to come, when smiles become rare and hope suddenly becomes so hard for a young life to hold.
It turns out that Elodie's father is a lawyer, to be more to the point a professor of international law. "It's an up and coming field, what with this world getting so small," this bombastic man says one day to the younger attorneys of the city hall. "You boys are in the wrong field."
Enjolras only raises an eyebrow to this comment; he couldn't be happier with what he's doing after all. As the other lawyers hem and haw over their colleague's jibe, he notices a small shape crouched at the door of the conference room they are in. It takes a moment for him to match this face to a picture he once saw; he only realizes much later that it is because of how different her eyes look when she is not laughing. "Elodie?"
The little girl nods. "Is Papa done with his meeting yet?" she asks in a voice that is little more than a whisper, a sound all too easily lost on the wind. It is a hot day but she is wearing a thick sweater and hugging herself.
'If you can call it a meeting,' Enjolras thinks, casting a baleful glance at the raucous group. He clears his throat, catching the attention of the man in the middle of it all. "Sir, I believe that Elodie is looking for you," he says calmly.
The older lawyer turns towards the door, and looks at Elodie for a moment. The girl doesn't rush towards her parent but stiffens for a moment before bowing her head and scampering down the hall. It is not the first time that Enjolras has ever seen a colleague shooing away a child but something about this silent exchange perturbs him deeply.
He mentions this to Eponine that same evening when he gives her a lift home from work. "He's a strict man but what I saw when he looked at her was another thing altogether," he says by way of finishing his story as they are waiting at a red light.
She bites her lip for a long moment. "How was she?"
"The same as in Feuilly's picture of her, but quieter. She wasn't ill or bruised all over," he replies.
Eponine is silent for a little longer. "If you see her again, maybe you could ask a little about how she is, what she is up to at school, what games she likes-"
"Eponine, I don't know how to talk to children."
"You'll never know till you try."
He sighs, knowing that she has a point. Nevertheless he knows that unlike her he still has a long way to go when it comes to learning how to elicit knowledge of people's troubles. One reason that Eponine is so good at this is because she herself is a survivor. He clasps her hand for a moment before catching her dark gaze. "I'm sorry if this...comes off in the wrong way, but when you were a kid, were you ever afraid in that way?"
"For a little while. What child wouldn't be?" she says. She rubs a long mark on her forearm; it is almost faded now but the same cannot be said for the memory behind it. "I could not understand for a long time why being with my family, why being home meant being hurt all the time."
Enjolras nods as he takes this all in, but before he can ask about what changed for Eponine, the stoplight suddenly turns green.
The first time Eponine really gets to talk to Elodie is at a neighbourhood fair, part of the yearly traditions of the older districts of the metropolis. Eponine has been convinced to help her friends man a photo booth despite all her misgivings about all the glittery and feathered costumes. It is difficult after all to argue with Grantaire's sense of whimsy when combined with Cosette's reasoning that this fairground venture is for a good cause.
Amid the throng of children crowding around for their turns to wear the outfits for pirates, princesses, and even swamp creatures, Eponine spots Elodie trying to wipe her face. "Come here for a little bit," she cajoles. She pauses on seeing how raw and red Elodie's cheeks are. "You shouldn't wipe so hard," she chides more gently.
"Mama will get mad that I'm dirty," Elodie says, holding out her hands that still have chocolate under her fingernails.
"I s'pose we can do something about that," Eponine offers, searching her pockets for a softer towel handkerchief, a present from her sister. She sees the child flinch a little as she dabs the chocolate and mud off her skin. "Your name is Elodie, right?"
The girl nods. "You're Mister Feuilly's friend, and Mister Enjolras' girlfriend. They talk about you a lot," she announces.
Eponine blushes deeply, making Elodie and some other children laugh. She can't imagine referring to herself and Enjolras as a girlfriend-boyfriend pair, owing mostly to the very odd circumstances of their first meeting. She's not sure if she can ever find the right words to explain their own way of being together, so she gives up on explaining this to Elodie. "Where are your parents?"
Elodie suddenly seems to take an interest in the ground. "I don't know."
"Hmm, maybe you should wait here instead of wandering about," Eponine suggests. It won't be long till some of the boys can help her track this child's parents. "Why don't you try one of those costumes there? I'll take your picture."
"Even the pretty ones?"
"Especially the pretty ones."
It takes a while till Elodie settles on a pink lace dress. It is something that Eponine never liked (and privately resolves never to inflict on children of her own if fate should grant such a thing to her), but it is admittedly straight out of the princess stories in old books. As Eponine is helping Elodie pull the dress over her grubby street clothes, she notices a single round mark at the back of the girl's neck. It is far too perfect to be a birthmark, and a little too red to be a scar. "Did you hurt yourself here?" she asks cautiously, touching Elodie's neck lightly.
Elodie freezes. "No."
"Oh? You have a mark here," Eponine says. "A little one, bigger than my fingernail."
Elodie nods solemnly. "I was a bad girl. That's why I got it."
Eponine's jaw drops. "How?"
"It got put there," Elodie says, squirming a little as she speaks. "Can you take my picture now?"
Everything in Eponine's mind is screaming at her to inquire more, to dig into the story behind this scar, but it's far too noisy and chaotic for her to get another question in edgewise. She bites her lip as she gets out her Polaroid camera and snaps a picture of Elodie putting a wreath of yellow flowers in her hair. The image could very well be from her memories of lying under the summer sun and getting covered in dandelion fluff.
She shakes her head and forces herself to look at Elodie properly when she has changed back into her street clothes. The child is a little thin, but perhaps not overly so for her age. She is clean and well-clothed, and there is nothing about her gait or her expressions to suggest any impairment. Yet the young doctor cannot stop searching Elodie's eyes for that skittishness she knows all too well. 'Like Azelma all over again,' she catches herself thinking. Yet it's hardly anything to go by and there is no use in pursuing her suspicions in the absence of outright proof.
Elodie suddenly tugs on Eponine's hand. "There's my Mama. I have to go."
"Alright. It was nice to see you, Elodie," Eponine says as she hands the picture to her. She silently watches the little girl run up to a well-dressed woman, excitedly waving her Polaroid in the air. Elodie's mother hardly smiles and her arms are stiff when she picks up the child. In a way she reminds Eponine of a spun sugar sculpture: beautiful to look at but with hardly the strength to stand. Eponine bites her lip so hard that she tastes blood, feeling defenceless for the first time in years against something that is at least for her, far more than memory.
The next time Eponine meets Elodie, the child is in no condition to talk but she is far from quiet as she is carried from an ambulance and into the emergency room of the Saint-Michel Hospital. Her screams pierce through Eponine's dreams for nights to come, which is saying a lot for someone who has done her own share of crying out into an unforgiving night.
At the door of the emergency room, Eponine and Combeferre exchange looks. "Your case or mine?" she asks him.
"Yours. You're better with kids like her," Combeferre replies quickly.
Eponine bites her lip, knowing exactly what Combeferre means. Nevertheless it takes all her courage to go up to the curtained off trauma cubicle where Elodie is flailing and kicking at the nurse trying to take her vital signs. "Elodie! It's me, it's Eponine!" Eponine calls as she hurries over to the child. "I'm here to help you," she adds more soothingly.
Elodie gasps for breath. "Hurts a lot."
Eponine nods grimly, knowing that there is no reason that Elodie can feel otherwise, not with her limbs bent at all the wrong angles. Watching her try to breathe is already painful enough and Eponine has to fight back tears as she quietly surveys the girl's injuries. "Where was she found?" she asks the paramedic who brought her in.
"Under a car," the paramedic replies. "A parked car, in the family garage."
Eponine takes a deep breath before stroking Elodie's hair in an effort to calm her just to make the task of intubating her a little easier."Hang in there, baby. It's going to hurt but you're strong enough. You'll make it," she whispers almost pleadingly. It takes a while before the little girl is stabilized enough and can be sent upstairs for emergency surgery. As always, Eponine rushes ahead of the gurney just to be able to scrub in as quickly as possible.
This time she pauses in the operating theater's changing room to get her phone, where she hits '3' on the speed dial. Thankfully the call is picked up after only one ring. "Auguste, have you got a moment?" she manages to choke out.
"Yeah. Is everything okay, Eponine? What happened?" Enjolras asks anxiously.
Eponine shuts her eyes and takes a deep breath. "You might have been right about Elodie."
That same night Enjolras and Courfeyrac visit the Saint-Michel Hospital. They have with them a tall thermos of coffee and a large carton of stir-fried noodles, which they bring straight to the surgery department's call room. "We come bearing gifts!" Courfeyrac announces as soon as Combeferre lets them in.
"Acceptable," Combeferre says with a grin even as he begins to send text messages to Joly, Musichetta, and Marius to come over and partake of this unexpected feast. "Eponine is working at the pedia ICU. One floor up," he informs Enjolras.
Enjolras grits his teeth on hearing this, though he figures he shouldn't have expected anything different given Elodie's injuries and Eponine's stubbornness about bedside monitoring. He brings some of the coffee and the noodles upstairs to the ICU complex. The nurse's station, where the doctors hang out to write their orders down, is at the far end of a long hallway lined with tiny rooms interspersed with cabinets for special equipment. Enjolras walks quickly so as to be less obtrusive but he still catches sight of where Elodie is spending the night. The little girl is alone in a small cubicle, hooked up to huge monitors that dwarf her tiny body. Most of her is swathed in thick bandages, and what little that Enjolras can see of her face is so puffy and discoloured such that she is almost unrecognizable.
At the nurse's station, Eponine is furtively writing in a chart, gripping her pen so hard that her knuckles have gone white. Her face is drawn and tired, but her eyes are clear and calm. She looks up from her work and manages a wan smile. "Are you here for the medico-legal report?"
"Among other things," Enjolras replies as he sets down the food and reaches over to squeeze her shoulder. He can still smell the harsh antiseptic on her hands; it clearly hasn't been long since she left the operating room. Then he carefully reads through the form that Eponine hands to him, and the words linear frontal skull fracture, spiral fractures on upper limbs, multiple broken ribs, third degree burns of varying ages from cigarettes leap out among the more familiar legal terminology. "Will she live?"
Eponine bites her lip. "It's guarded-meaning that it could go either way."
"You did your best."
"Not really. If I did, she...she wouldn't be in the ICU now. I met her too and I knew something was not exactly right."
He sighs as he recalls her telling him about how Elodie was at the fair. "You didn't have any solid proof," he reminds her. "It's not wrong to err on the side of prudence-"
She shakes her head. "In many of these cases there isn't solid proof till it's almost too late, and sometimes it really is too late." She pauses to take a few deep breaths as she fights to hold back tears. "I'm tired of just patching kids up when they shouldn't be in the emergency room or the operating room to begin with, when they should be safe at home with a family that actually cares for them. I'm tired of mopping up the mess when there is something more that can be done for them."
Enjolras nods quietly, understanding every bit of the frustration coursing through Eponine's entire being. He feels the same way too, just about other equally important issues. However his reasons do not have that same painful dimension as Eponine's do. No, he doesn't understand everything and he knows better than to throw around empty words of empathy.
Instead, he waits till she lets go of her pen and reaches for the coffee he has brought up in a cup. "Where are her parents?" he finally asks.
Eponine drains half the coffee cup before setting it down with a fierce glint in her eyes. "At home. They just came here to drop off some things she'd need and they said they'd go home for dinner before coming back here. I don't know if the staff will let them," she says. She taps a pile of papers. "These are going to the Child Protection Unit, within the hour."
"I see," Enjolras says, figuring this is a cue for him to leave her alone to her work for a little longer. Before he can get up and beat a retreat, he feels her hand close around his wrist. "Eponine?"
She looks him in the face and nods. "After I get those papers to the unit, I need you."
The newspapers call it a mad, bad, case. Why would a well-educated and upstanding lawyer try to do away with his own child? What kind of outstanding mother doesn't want her own daughter? How dare do these young lawyers and this upstart surgeon accuse this pair of abuse?
And why is there so much furor about a girl who just may never wake up after forty days?
On the forty-first morning, Feuillly groans with disgust as he tosses a newspaper aside over breakfast with some of his friends. "Some people just don't get it, do they?" he fumes. "They'll do anything for a few column inches."
"Blog space. You have a dying medium right here," Bahorel says as he scrunches the newspaper into a ball. He laughs at the furious gazes that Jehan, Bossuet, and Marius give him. "Come on guys, I can't believe you don't go paperless."
"Sometimes nothing beats tangible print," Jehan pronounces.
Feuilly rolls his eyes as the table erupts into a discussion about the fate of the written word. After a while he notices Eponine getting up from the table to take a call. Her harried look drops into one of disbelief before she claps a hand over her mouth and quickly hangs up. "News?" he asks as soon as Eponine rushes back to the table.
"That was from one of Marius' interns," Eponine replies. "Elodie just might be waking up."
"As in opening her eyes waking up?" Bossuet asks.
"No, as in said a word and can move her legs waking up. It's not all about the eyes," Eponine explains quickly. She buries her face in her hands. "Finally. I cannot believe it."
Courfeyrac raises his coffee mug. "It seems as if we have more of a case to fight if she can make a comeback," he tells Enjolras.
"It may be a long while till she can string together a sentence, much more participate in a trial by giving a deposition," Enjolras reminds him. "You're right though in the sense that it changes the nature of the case altogether."
Most of the other people at the table wince, having heard enough discussions regarding the gravity of frustrated murder in comparison to a fully commissioned homicide. 'Elodie's parents will get what is coming to them,' Feuilly thinks. He is not overly soft-hearted but he has always made it clear that he has the least sympathy for those who would hurt a child.
After breakfast he makes a detour to the small novelties shop a few blocks away from the hospital. There are all kinds of stuffed toys, plush items and cozy niceties for children here, but Feuilly doesn't want to buy anything that could crowd up Elodie's hospital bed. His eye is immediately drawn to a tiny bouquet of roses, fashioned out of blue, white, and red ribbons. "Perfect for Bastille Day," the store's proprietor quips as Feuilly scrounges up some change to pay for the trinket.
"Perfect for what it stands for," the artist says as he sets down the last coin. From here he walks more briskly to the hospital, where he almost immediately gains admittance to the paediatrics ICU.
He has lived enough of life to learn not to trust in miracles. Elodie is not sitting up, not feeding herself, or really doing much more than seemingly staring at the wall in front of her bed. Many of the bandages are still there, though by now her shaven head can be covered by a simple knit bonnet. Despite her state her eyes light up with recognition as Feuilly enters the room. Her lips move slowly as she mouths the word "hello", and then her friend's name.
Feuilly laughs as he shows her the roses and pins them to her bonnet. "Yes, it's me. Welcome back Elodie. We've all missed you."