A/N: Thanks to everyone who's read and reviewed this little tale. It was quite interesting to write.
Till the next story!
Once the initial agony had ebbed, Gavroche was only aware of dull aches mingled with passing shadows and the cloying odors of laudanum and liniments. Occasionally voices pierced this strange haze, but whether he said anything to them, he could not ascertain. He did not know how much time had passed till the light finally came back into focus and he found himself looking up at sunbeams slashing across a wooden ceiling. 'How did I end up back here?' he wondered silently, realizing now that he was safely tucked in a bed in a room filled with books-the very same room he had till recently shared with his brothers. As he took a deep breath he felt a sharp heaviness suddenly shoot through his left side, nearly making him double over. "That stinger!" he hissed, now recalling the events in the hostel.
Suddenly a gasp came from a corner of the room. "Gavroche! You're awake!" Eponine said as she shoved aside the small writing desk she'd been balancing on her lap. Her smile was one of relief as she chafed his forehead and neck as if checking for a fever. "How are you feeling? Did you know you've been mostly asleep for nearly two days now? Oh what a fright you gave all of us! You really should be more careful when you chase down some people or you'll get a sticking like that again!"
Gavroche rolled his eyes at this half-scolding ramble, but he checked his laughter on seeing the worry in his sister's eyes. "Wasn't I at the Hotel Dieu?"
"At first, but the Prefect sent a messenger to the Palais de Justice-a good thing Antoine had a meeting there! He sent me a note straightaway and I rushed right over. Combeferre and Joly also came to help, and they decided that you were better resting here at home instead of getting poked at by the other doctors at all hours," Eponine explained. "I'm sorry but we've had to give you some doses just for the pain. I know you never really liked that sort of thing."
Gavroche tugged down the blanket to get a better look at his left side, which was swathed in lengths of gauze from just under his ribs all the way down to his hip. "An interesting scratch."
"You won't forget it. No one ever does," Eponine remarked, holding up her own twisted left hand. "I s'pose Bahorel can tell you better about what else happened, but that will have to wait after you've rested a little bit more. It's just before lunch, but there's some soup I can set to boil for you, if you'd like some."
The mention of food had Gavroche grinning. "I've never had breakfast in a cup." He stuck out his tongue when Eponine laughed and swatted his shoulder before leaving the room. As he shifted to get more comfortable he could hear hushed laughter and light footsteps in the corridor. "I've caught you!" he called in a stage whisper.
The door swung open just enough to allow Laure and Julien to dart in the room, stopping only to kick off their shoes and drop their coats by the door. "You're getting well, Uncle Gavroche!" Laure greeted cheerily as she bounced onto the foot of Gavroche's bed. She paused to reach down to help Julien scramble his way up. "The bad man who poked you went to jail, that's what Papa said."
Julien peered cautiously at Gavroche's bandages. "Does it hurt?"
"No worse than a bad scrape or knock to the nut," Gavroche said, tapping the top of his nephew's head.
Julien wrinkled his nose. "But why did you get so sick?"
"Because it was a very deep wound. I saw it when Uncle Combeferre came to change the bandages," Laure said sagely as she flopped down next to Gavroche. "Maman was so worried-I could hear her crying even if Papa was trying to help her. Were you going to die?"
Gavroche paused at this query. "Now what gave you such a word, little mouse?"
"Because I remember that man who wasn't moving in that room above the bookshop, and people were acting all strange too about him," Laure whispered.
Gavroche nearly winced at the memory of the incident near the Invalides. "I'm not going to get that way," he told Laure. "Don't get in a fright about it."
Laure's eyes were wide as she nodded solemnly. "Promise?"
"I promise," Gavroche said. "I'll be around a very long time to watch both of you and Tienne."
"And to catch the bad people too," Julien concurred. "So they won't scare us anymore."
'If I'll still be allowed at the Prefecture,' Gavroche could not help thinking. Even though Delessert had saved his life, there was no telling how this would measure against the irregularity of investigating Beaufort's misdeeds. The fact that his father had been heavily involved in the errant officer's scheme certainly did not help matters.
Before he could ponder this matter for too long he heard the door swing open again. "Run along you two. Your Uncle Gavroche needs to rest," Eponine chided gently as she set down a large cup of beef broth on the bedside table.
Laure pouted. "Can we stay if we're very, very quiet? We won't jump on the bed or poke him."
Eponine smiled as she straightened out an unruly bow in her daughter's hair. "Not for too long. You know that Uncle Combeferre said that he shouldn't even be laughing too hard."
Julien nodded as he plopped in his mother's lap. "Will Uncle Combeferre and Uncle Joly visit again later?" he asked.
"Yes, to take a look," Eponine replied. "Azelma, Jehan, Bahorel, and everyone else have all been asking about you. Navet stopped by and told me he's helped fix things so your landlady won't raise a fuss about you being absent with the rent," she informed Gavroche.
Gavroche nodded and took a few cautious sips of the soup, managing a smile at the full, rich flavour that lingered on his tongue. It had been a while since he'd been able to properly relish a meal, however paltry or simple. "How is it they haven't talked your ears off?" he asked after Eponine had convinced the youngsters to go off to wash their faces and hands before lunch.
"They would," Eponine quipped as she picked up the now empty cup of soup. She bit her lip and looked down for a moment. "Prefect Delessert said that Papa was the one working with Inspector Beaufort. I never imagined he could do such a thing."
"There were coins involved, so he was going to scratch for those," Gavroche pointed out.
The woman sighed and bit her lip again. "I know he mentioned wanting to do me a bad turn, but what about Azelma, the boys, or the children?"
"Not a word. Not even about Enjolras and Prouvaire"
"I s'pose that's the one good thing then."
Gavroche snorted on seeing his sister's relieved expression. "Now what coop will he be in now?"
"Certainly not in La Force, or anywhere in Paris. He'd be done for in a day. At least I wouldn't do it," Eponine replied, grimacing with distaste. "He of course could get an attorney to wheedle a shorter term for him, mostly for not having actually held the knife, among some other silly excuses."
"There will not be enough grease for a tongue," Gavroche said.
Eponine chuckled again before turning at the sound of a baby's wailing in a nearby room. "Now that's Tienne being hungry," she sighed as she got to her feet. "Do try to rest a bit. You're safe now."
The very sound of the word 'safe' had Gavroche smiling even as his sister left the room. 'They'll be snug here, for sure,' he reassured himself. As uncertain as his own future was, for now to rest in a familiar locale was just what he needed.
After passing a cheery day and a restful night, Gavroche woke the next morning feeling a much missed vigour in his veins. "I'm gathering moss up here and on a Sunday at that," he said to Enjolras when the latter checked up on him after breakfast.
"To be more to the point you're feeling social," Enjolras remarked dryly. He turned at the sound of footsteps in the hall. "What is it?" he asked Jacques.
"Citizen Bahorel is here," Jacques said. "Should I ask him to come up?"
"I'll hop on straight down," Gavroche replied as he sat up and pulled himself to a standing position by holding on to the bedpost.
Jacques tossed a clean blue waistcoat to his older brother. "Navet brought this over, straight from the laundress' house."
Enjolras gripped Gavroche's shoulder to steady him while he dressed. "You'll have to stay on the settee the whole day. Will you be amenable to that?"
Gavroche nodded firmly as he finished buttoning up his waistcoat and smoothing out his sleeves. "The news gets faster there," he insisted. It took a great deal of effort and time to safely get down the stairs, but Gavroche willed himself to soldier on. At last he hobbled into the front room, where Bahorel was chatting with Neville, who was keeping an eye on little Etienne's first attempt to crawl around the room. Today the inspector had eschewed his usual uniform in favor of a more rashly cut purple waistcoat paired with a rakishly cut black coat. "I see the rain hasn't sodden your feathers," Gavroche greeted his colleague.
Bahorel laughed as he went over to Gavroche and Enjolras. "Glad to see that the wit hasn't been knocked entirely out of you."
"He's always been strong," Enjolras concurred as he helped Gavroche onto the settee. He clasped Bahorel's arm. "How is the inquiry proceeding?"
"As satisfactory as can be expected," Bahorel replied. "Unfortunately your father-in-law has just turned informant, so he will have to be held at the Conciergerie as a witness."
Enjolras raised an eyebrow as he crouched to scoop up Etienne, who was now reaching out to be picked up. "Right within sight of the Palais de Justice. How convenient."
Neville sniffed at this as he retrieved a sleeping cat from an armchair. "Saves the trouble of anyone planning an escape."
"We keep those witnesses under especial guard. At any rate it's a temporary situation since his case has to be heard too," Bahorel explained.
In the meantime Gavroche noticed the letter in Bahorel's coat pocket. Knowing better than to inquire as to its contents, he merely shrugged as he put up his feet. "What's the air like at the Rue du Pontoise?" he asked once Enjolras, Neville and Etienne had left the room.
"Embarrassed," Bahorel replied. He clucked his tongue as he brought out his pipe. "A senior agent in the business of assassination, two junior agents severely injured-and an arrest made in the most unconventional fashion. Poor Delessert had a headache after bringing you to the Hotel Dieu."
Gavroche smirked, already imagining such a scene. "So what of the investigation?"
"The tale is simple after that bloody incident. Barrecrosse identified Beaufort to his face, and the evidence has fallen into place." Bahorel shook his head as he tossed a scrap of paper in the woodstove. "There were many things we missed, but you were the only agent who followed his instincts, sense, and logic instead of relying on reputation. The timing of events such as Beaufort's travels should have suggested a great deal. You should know he did not do all the murders himself-there were a few that he instigated but his hand was evident as the chief engineer."
"Such as pinching Montparnasse, Babet, and the Changer?"
"Most famously. He had a neighbor do it, but the espionage was all his. Unfortunately his reputation put his inquiries above suspicion."
Gavroche frowned at this revelation. "So will he stand trial after all?"
"Most certainly. For one thing he has already been removed from duty. Criminal charges have been filed-and murder does not allow for bail," Bahorel replied. "He'll see the inside of a prison-definitely not the ones here in Paris or in Rouen, but the newer penitentiary in Amiens."
'No cracks in the walls yet,' Gavroche thought. "Will I have to give a deposition?"
Bahorel drew out the letter in his pocket. "This is the official summons from the Palais de Justice, to testify in the case of Beaufort regarding the murders in the Place du Temple, of those men he had 'arrested' as well as the killing of Victoria Hastings and her child. Since the woman was an English national, the case has a diplomatic import. As of now the Brujons or other parties have yet to file any charges."
'There's no one left to put them up,' Gavroche thought as he opened the note and browed through the memorandum from the court. "A fine herald!"
"You were expecting a notice of dismissal?" Bahorel asked. "It is no commendation but the Prefecture cannot afford to lose any more agents. You're to report back to work as soon as you have been properly examined and cleared by either Combeferre or Joly."
The younger man sighed, knowing that this would be several days in coming. "I haven't heard from Frassin yet."
"He's recovering well, but he has not yet been cleared for duty either. Perhaps you will both return on the same day," Bahorel said amiably. He turned at the sound of Laure scampering into the room. "Something's chasing you, young lady?"
Laure grinned as she hopped up onto the settee. "Uncle Gavroche, that nice lady is here to see you!" she greeted cheerily. "She's wearing a really pretty dress and has flowers with her!"
It took Gavroche a moment to realize who Laure might have been referring to. "How did she find this address?" he asked.
"Your friend Navet told me," Minette chimed in from the doorway. She undid her straw bonnet, which was bedecked with pink and purple carnations, in keeping with the tri m on her lavender dress. "Good day to you, Citizen Bahorel."
Bahorel bowed to her. "I shall importune our hosts for some coffee," he said before getting to his feet. He clapped Gavroche's back conspiratorially. "She's a minx, you watch yourself."
It was all that Gavroche could do to keep a straight face as he watched Bahorel leave with Laure in tow, and then turned his attention to where Minette was seated in an armchair near the settee. For a moment he thought of sitting up straight but the dull ache in his injury made him think the better of this. "You can't have come here only for a call," he said bluntly.
Minette's eyes widened for a moment before she nodded quickly. "You're right. There is something I was tasked to do. Citizen Frassin sent for me, to send to you his regards and this," she said, bringing out a small parcel.
Gavroche found that the bundle was soft in his hands. "What, more bandages?"
"They came from the doctor who's been caring for him after all," Minette said with a coquettish shrug. "They're talking about you at the Prefecture, about how you were brave enough to face that man Beaufort. You're something of a hero now."
"I was only at the right place at the right time."
"It takes a smart man to recognize it."
Gavroche propped himself up on his elbows. "Does Citizen Tolbert know you're here?"
"What is it to him? Does he own me?" Minette laughed. "Why is it that you men think you ought to know where a girl should be at each hour?"
Gavroche gritted his teeth at this jibe. "Well I don't find it practical to be in a quarrel. I know his temper, perhaps half as well as you do."
"You're right about that, which is why I know his wooing will only go so far," she said ruefully. "I shouldn't be surprised to have those cufflinks returned to me soon."
Had Gavroche been a more mean-spirited man he might have made a rejoinder to this, but as it was, he found himself feeling wry and melancholy at Minette's tone. "What if it comes right for you?"
Minette shook her head. "Even if it could, well there's an ending to every good story. There always is." She ran her hands through the flowers in her hat. "I shan't forget you though."
"You mean to leave?"
"No! That would have him thinking he drove me out of Paris. I'd never allow that."
It took a moment till he realized what she was referring to. "A man like him forgets, sooner or later. As you said, he doesn't own you," he said, now looking in her face. "Someday-"
"It will take some time till he quits making a fuss, which is sure to happen." She plucked a single pink bloom from her bonnet. "The purple ones are mine entirely. This one, you could keep."
Gavroche gaped at the flower she placed in his palm before looking her in the eye as she rose to her feet. "What, to tuck in my lapel, Citizenness Debault?"
"I don't mean for you to drop it," Minette said with a coy smile as she donned her hat once more. "Good day to you, Citizen Thenardier."
Gavroche was silent as he listened to her footsteps fade before she shut the door. It was just then that he heard a giggle, prompting him to look to where Laure was now running back into the room. "Uncle Gavroche, why did that nice lady leave?" the child chirped.
"She was only asking how I was," Gavroche replied as he let her climb onto the settee. He saw now both Eponine and Enjolras watching all of this bemusedly from the front room's doorway. "She's only a friend of a friend."
"For now," Eponine laughed, shaking her head. "Oh only for now!"
Enjolras raised an eyebrow knowingly at Gavroche. "Conduct yourself well."
"Most certainly," Gavroche muttered, smiling as he tucked the carnation in the left front pocket of his waistcoat.