Wow, I'm still alive in this fandom. This is actually one of my very first fics, and I've decided it's finally time to post it (i.e., please give it some grace). It was inspired by An Error in Charity by Lanoire.
Morning dawn and hell descended upon the barricade constructed on the narrow Paris street. Cannons blasted all other noises away, the barricade flew apart, soldiers and students shouted and fired at each other.
The old man with the students on the barricade kept a careful eye on the dark-haired boy near him. Marius, his daughter's lover. He knew they would all die, but he would do all that was in his power to save this boy at least.
The cannons blew a hole in the barricade, and those defending it withdrew to the café at the end of the street. The National Guard swarmed over the remains of the barricade, firing relentlessly at the retreat. Amid the screams and chaos, the old man stumbled around in the debris, searching for Marius, who had disappeared in the last cannon blast. There - slumped in a corner, half crushed under part of a window frame which had been shot down from the café lay a man, dark curls spilling out from under his hat. Blood dribbled down his forehead and covered his face.
The old man removed the window frame. Marius' leg was surely broken from it. He checked his pulse. He was still alive, but for how much longer? The old man grasped Marius' arms and dragged him out of the corner, almost stepping on a pale-faced boy who lay close by. He was dead. A bullet through the throat. A poor friend of Marius', thought the old man. If only I could have saved them all.
Turning, he spied the grating in the street leading to the city sewers. The soldiers hadn't noticed him; they were cleaning out the café, but soon they would return. The old man dragged Marius to the grating. He wrenched it off and look down. A grayish sludge swirled some meters below. The old man took Marius in his arms and slid into the filth. He dropped the boy against the slimy wall, reached up, and closed the grating.
Once again, the old man heaved Marius up, then began his long journey through the Paris sewers. The stench and the dark surrounded them, broken only by a grating letting in light once in awhile. Through sloughs of filth, across streams of waste, they went, while rats watched and moisture dripped from the ceiling and walls.
Once they came to a lake of filth, where the old man swam across, holding Marius' head above the water. Around the middle of the lake, though, the old man wearied and floundered, dunking Marius under.
Kicking furiously, the old man drew Marius to the surface. And almost let him go under again. The the hat had slipped off, revealing that the dark curls the old man had presumed to be Marius' has ended around the ears. The man was bald on top. Bald. Marius was not bald.
The old man forced himself to the other side of the lake, his mind spinning. He had saved the wrong boy. Marius was still at the barricade, dead, most likely. The old man heaved the boy onto the stone ledge at the end of the lake, crawled out himself, and sat down beside him. Well, he wasn't abandoning this boy just because he wasn't Marius, but what would he tell Cosette?
He hardened his jaw. He would deal with that later. This young man was injured and he alone could get him back to safety He checked the boy's pockets, hoping he might find something identifying his charge, but in vain. No matter. He slung the boy onto his back and continued down the dark passageway, tears for Marius running down his muddy face.
At last, the old man came to the great gate at the end of the sewers, the Seine beyond it. He set the boy down and tried the gate; it was locked. He shook it and shook it, barring his teeth more to let out his anger and sorrow than to break the gate open. Not even his vast strength could free him this time.
"What have we here?" came a familiar, slithery voice. The old man turned and saw a small figure emerging from the dark. As he thought - his old enemy, Thénardier. Did he know that both his son and daughter lay dead back at the barricade? Thénardier's small eyes flashed from the old man to the unconscious boy leaning against the wall; if he recognized the old man, he made no sign that he did. "I see you've done your bit of dirty work," he said, motioning to the boy.
The old man said nothing.
"How's this: we split the money you got from him, and I'll let you out." Thénardier drew a large black key from his coat and swung it around on his finger. The old man fished around in his pocket, and gave the five sous he found there to Thénardier. Thénardier glared at the coins, then glared at the old man who had turned to look out the gate again. Thénardier stuffed the coins in his pocket, and approached the young man, looking for something he might lift off of him to prove his enemy's crime, but found none. He decided to pull one of the blackened buttons off the boy's tattered coat, but the old man turned around at that moment, and Thénardier rushed out to the gate with his key, cursing under his breath. He unlocked it and pushed it open. The old man pulled the boy onto his back and walked out without a word. Thénardier watched him go under a hateful stare, then closed the gate and locked it back up.
The morning had gone, evening closed in on the day. The old man didn't get far. A worse old enemy awaited him at the steps of the Seine. At the bottom of the steps, the old man looked up and met the burning black eyes of Inspector Javert. "You will come with me, Jean Valjean. You've escaped from me for the last time. Did you really think that in setting me free, I'd let you go?"
"I have one request." The old man put a foot on the bottom step.
Inspector Javert's eyes flickered. "What?"
"Please let me take this man to my house. He's badly wounded and I want to say good-bye to my daughter."
The Inspector said nothing for a long time. The two men watched each other, waiting. At last he spoke. "I will go with you."
Twenty minutes later, the hired carriage stopped in front of the dark Rue de l'Homme-Armé. The old man stepped out, dragging the boy after him. The Inspector watched him with cold eyes. The old man made his tedious way up the steps of the apartment building to his place. Knowing the housekeeper, Toussaint, would have locked the door at this hour, he knocked, wondering what would happen. In a few minutes, Toussaint opened the door. She gasped, and tears flooded her eyes. Cosette, in her nightdress, ran up behind her.
"Papa!" she sobbed, and clutched his arms. "Thank God you are safe."
"Cozette…" The old man entered the apartment and laid the boy on the couch. Cosette hesitated and her blue eyes widen.
"Papa… Who is that?"
"I don't know." This wasn't going to be easy.
She stared at him, trembling. "What happened?"
"The barricade fell." He ran a hand through his muddy hair. Toussaint gasped.
"Cosette, I don't know. You're going to have to -"
"No!" Tears spilled from her eyes. "Why didn't you take Marius? Where is he?"
"Cosette, I meant to save Marius. But in the chaos, and with his face covered in blood, I mistook -"
"Marius isn't bald! How could - how can -"
The old man grasped Cosette's thin shoulders. "Listen to me, Cosette. I am so sorry about Marius. I tried. But I failed." He swallowed and Cosette hung her head, ashamed. "Cosette, listen!" She looked up. "I have to go now."
"But, Papa, you just returned!"
He shook his head. "I have to go. I don't know if - good-bye, Cosette. I'm sorry. Please - please care for that man, even if he isn't Marius."
But the old man stepped out and shut the door behind him. He hurried down the stairs, unable to bear the sound of Cosette's weeping. He walked out onto the street.
The carriage was nowhere to be seen.
He stood there gazing down the cobblestones, a little bewildered. He waited a little longer, just in case Inspector Javert was hiding in the shadows nearby. Then he turned, and re-entered the apartment building in a daze.
When he opened the door again, Cosette fell at his feet, weeping. He knelt down, and taking her hands, stood her up. "It seems," he said slowly, "that I don't have to go after all."
"Oh, Papa!" And she threw her arms around his neck, heedless of the mud.
The old man gently removed the girl from him and glanced at the couch. The boys still lay there, the blood from his head seeping into the fabric. The old man gathered him in his arms and took him to the tiny guest room. Toussaint followed with the basin and wash cloths she had taken out. Cosette trailed behind, twisting her handkerchief. There was a chance Marius survived… Oh, there had to be.
The old man laid the boy in the bed and whispered instructions to Toussaint before leaving the room. Cosette stood in the doorway. She looked up at him, tears running down her cheeks.
"He needs us, Cosette," he said. "You will help, won't you?"
"I hate him. I don't want to have anything to do with him." And she fled to her room.
The young man in the guest room soon fell into a raging fever, keeping Toussaint up half the night bathing his hot head, until the old man made Cosette take over for her.
She sat down on a little stool by the bed, soaking the cloth and wringing it out violently. She would rather be anywhere else than here with this-this man who had robbed her of Marius.
Cosette jumped at his anguished shout. She stared at him, still clutching the cloth.
"No, Joly!" He cried again, this time flinging his arms about. "Joly, don't!"
Casette had been around feverish, shouting people before and it had never frightened her. But now it did. Because he was probably reliving the barricade, seeing his friends die around him, perhaps seeing Mar-
"No!" Cosette dropped the cloth and leaped to her feet, knocking over the stool, and ran from the room weeping.
The old man heard her and went to her door, but Toussaint came up and stopped him. "I-it's a-a-all right, M-M-Monsieur. I c-c-can t-t-t-take care of-f him."
The next morning, after calling a doctor, the old man, still weary of Javert, took side streets back to the barricade. Soldiers stood everywhere there at the scene of the carnage, but civilians milled around also, mostly women. The old man stepped around the sobbing girls and women, the men carrying off the bodies, the settling debris, the stray dogs. He approached the nicest-looking soldier he could find. "Where are the bodies?"
"In the café," said the soldier, pointing. He looked sorry, so sorry. The old man thanked him and braced himself as he entered the broken building. Most of them have been claimed, but five young men still lay on the floor of the café. No, three. One was a child, the other a teenage girl. Thénardier's children. A young woman knelt over a body. A man, brother most likely, stood beside her. Glancing at them, the old man vaguely recognized the face of the boy the woman wept over. It looked like the pale boy he had almost stepped on as he took Marius - that other man - away from the barricade yesterday.
The old man examined the last two boys. One was definitely not Marius - he had auburn hair and freckles. He also looked older. The other boy had dark hair, but it was much too curly, and his face could hardly compare with that of handsome Marius'.
The old man sat back. Monsieur Gillenormand, Marius' grandfather, must have already picked him up. The old man glanced at the young woman stroking the pale-faced boy's hair. "Excuse me…"
She didn't look up, but the man beside her met his gaze.
"Do you know if Marius Pontmercy was here?" the old man asked.
Now the woman looked up, her blue eyes red-rimmed. My, how she looked like Cosette. "Yes, he was here. His grandfather took him." She wiped her nose on her sleeve.
"Thank you." The old man nodded to them and left.
Back at the house, the doctor set the boy's leg and instructed them not to move him. His head wound was not serious, only grazed by a bullet.
The next day, Cosette attended Marius' private funeral with the old man while Toussaint remained with the invalid. It all passed like a dream, and Cosette let herself be led from the house to the cemetery and back to the house in a dreary haze. She didn't shed one tear when Marius' casket was lowered into the ground, or when they covered it up with earth, or as they returned to the house. But once there, once she was safe behind the door of her room, then she let loose the deluge she had held back earlier. She didn't leave for the rest of the day, or the day after, and Toussaint brought her her meals.
Three days later, the old man knocked on her door.
"Leave me alone," came the reply from within.
"Cosette, you cannot go on like this. Toussaint cannot go on tending to this man all by herself. Please, Cosette. Marius would not want you to live this way."
About five minutes passed, and then Cosette opened the door, hanging her head. She glanced up at the old man, then embraced him through light sobs. "I'm sorry, Papa! I just-I just-"
"Shh, it's all right." He held her away from him and smoothed her hair.
"I'll -" She swallowed, and forced out the hateful words. "I'll go see to him right now."
Cosette approached the guest room with fresh bandages. Toussaint opened the door and smiled wearily. "He's aw-w-wake," she said, "b-but he's s-s-s-still a little f-f-feverish a-and he's d-d-delirious."
Cosette nodded and swallowed again. She entered the room and froze upon seeing the young man's dark eyes fixated upon her. "Musichetta?" he whispered in a hoarse voice.
She shook her head. "I am Cosette."
"Chetta, where am I?" His voice rose and took on a frantic tone. "Where is Joly? Chetta, speak to me!"
Trembling, Cosette put the bandages on the bedside table. "I'm not Chetta. I'm Cosette." She wished with all her heart that this "Chetta" would come and take her man away.
He turned in the bed and stared at the ceiling, a distressed look on his face. Cosette took the cloth off his forehead, dampened it, and then replaced it. "Chetta…"
Cosette took in a deep breath. "Yes?"
"What is this place?"
"The home of Ultime Fauchelevant."
He frowned and shook his head. "I don't understand anything. Why am I here?"
But Cosette could not answer him.
That night, the boy's fever broke, and the next morning, the old man paid him a visit. He sat beside the bed and waited until the invalid woke up. His eyes were clear and his forehead dry.
"Are you… Ultime Fauchelevant?" the boy asked.
"Yes. And you are?"
"Laigle. Fernand Laigle. But my friends call me Bossuet." He craned his neck to look at the old man. "Can you please tell me what I'm doing here? I don't remember what happened very well…"
"I carried you from the barricade, six days ago."
The old man hesitated. "I was going to rescue Marius Pontmercy, but I mistook you for him."
The corner of Laigle's mouth twitched. "I suppose I was wearing my hat then."
"No, it's all right." He frowned. "What happened at the barricade? Where are the others?"
"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid you and I are the only survivors."
Laigle closed his eyes. "And I shouldn't even be here."
The old man paused, then spoke. "Do you have any family who should be notified? Friends?"
Laigle shook his head. "Just an uncle who hates me and my little sister in England. As for friends," and his face contorted a little as though trying to suppress tears. He took a deep breath. "There is a girl. Musichetta Tremblay."
"No. Maybe at one time, but she was always more of… More of Joly's than mine. He was going to propose to her after the revolution." He blushed suddenly, as if he hadn't meant to say so much. "No, we're just friends, but she'll want to know."
The old man smiled, relieved. "If you tell me where she lives, I'll go fetch her."
"Thank you. She lives on Rue de Fleurs, number 23."
"Good." The old man stood up and made for the door, when Laigle called out, "Wait!"
The old man stopped and turned. "Yes?"
"Who is that girl who comes in here once in awhile? She looks a lot like Musichetta."
"Cosette, my daughter."
Consternation shadowed Laigle's face. "Cosette… I remember Marius always going off about her." He closed his eyes again. "I am so sorry."
"Don't be. It is God's will."
"Papa…" Cosette stopped in the doorway and stared at the young man. She held his breakfast tray.
"Hello," he said.
"Hello." Cosette blushed, though she didn't know why. She set the tray on the bedside table. "Can-can you manage?"
"Yes. I think I can." He smiled.
"Come now, Cosette, I have something to say to you," said the old man, rising, and they left. Turning to Cosette, he said, "His name is Fernand Laigle. There's a girl he knows who needs to be notified. I have business at the church; I want you to locate this woman and tell her Monsieur Laigle is alive and is staying with us."
Cosette opened her mouth in horror. "Papa! Please don't make me do this! Please -"
"Cosette, you need something to do. I cannot go. Toussaint cannot go. Her name is Musichetta Tremblay and she lives at number 23 on Rue des Fleurs. That's not too far from here." He extracted some coins from his pocket and handed them to her. "Take a carriage."
It only took eight minutes to get to Rue des Fleurs, but to Cosette it felt more like eight hours. She stepped down from the carriage, told the driver to wait for her and walked up to number 23. She knocked and waited, glaring at the cobblestones.
A woman a few years older than her opened the door. She was dressed all in black, same as Cosette. She looked Cosette up and down before asking, "Yes?"
"Hello. I am Cosette Fauchelevant. Are you Musichetta Tremblay?"
Cosette took a deep breath. "I am just here to inform you that Monsieur Laigle is alive and is recovering from his wounds at my father's house."
Musichetta Tremblay stared at Cosette, unmoving. "You aren't joking?" She said they small, tremulous voice. Cosette shook her head, starting to feel awkward. Suddenly, Musichetta burst into tears, holding her head and shaking. She looked up at the Cosette, joy filling her face. "Oh, I'm sorry. I-I thought he was dead. But he's-oh! May I go see him? May I come with you?"
"Just a minute." Musichetta ran inside, soon reappearing wearing a black bonnet and a matching shawl.
Once inside the carriage, Musichetta Tremblay talked on and on, about how she had gone to retrieve his body (she called him Bossuet) along with the body of her lover, Hi… Hi-something Joly, but she couldn't find dear Bossuet. She thought that perhaps he had escaped, but after almost a week past and he hadn't visited her, she had decided he was dead. Then she went off about her dear Hi-what's-his-name and how she loved him… on and on.
Cosette didn't really listen. She hated Musichetta and she hated Fernand Laigle or Bossuet or whatever his name was. Because of him, Marius was dead
They soon arrived back at the apartment on Rue de l'Homme-Armé. Cosette led the way up the stairs, down the hall, and to Monsieur Laigle's room. She opened the door and checked first to see if he was awake. He wasn't. Cosette turned to Musichetta, hopeful that perhaps she would now go home. "He's asleep. Sorry." She started closing the door.
"May see him at least, please?" cried Musichetta, looking like she would burst if she didn't get into the room.
Cosette swung the door open again, and Musichetta stepped in, her small white hands tugging her bonnet ribbons. "Bossuet…" she whispered.
Cosette had expected her to rush in, cry buckets of tears, fall onto his chest and wake him up and then more tears and more ranting.
But Musichetta Tremblay did none of these things. She sank down beside the bed and twisted with little hair the young man had around her fingers.
Cosette stood in the doorway, watching, feeling all of the hate, bitterness, and despair disappear, and shame replace it. Her thoughts swirled around in her brain like soup and she could not take hold of any one of them. She had been selfish. That's all she knew. That's all that mattered.
At last, Musichetta Tremblay stood and quickly wiped away a tear. She smiled at Cosette, who found that she could smile back. Understanding passed between the girls. Yes, Musichetta had regained her Bossuet. But she still had lost her Hi-something Joly, just as Cosette had lost her Marius.
"May I come see him again?" Musichetta asked, looking at him.
"Of course." And this time Cosette meant it.
After Musichetta Tremblay left, Cosette sat beside Monsieur Laigle as he slept. He was bald and his face was rather long, but he was a handsome young man. Cosette could see how her father might have mistaken him for Marius. He no longer felt like a stranger.