Author's note: This was inspired by a headcanon on tumblr, which suggested that Valjean had trouble accepting Cosette moving in with both Marius and Courfeyrac and that it wasn't until Courfeyrac died that he really came to appreciate him. I just took that and ran.]
She didn't scream at you. Your Cosette, your sunlight, your everything, the one who saved you when you thought no one could, she didn't scream when you expressed your displeasure. Cosette never screams - she's a quiet child still - but for a moment thought she would when you ordered her to choose. It was the loud one who closed the door on you, the one with the fly-away curls and the mouth that never stopped speaking, and as the door shut in your face you saw your Cosette start to cry.
You go to the church and fall to your knees, eyes raised towards the heavens in supplication. Help me, you plead, as you have always pleaded. You close your eyes and begin confessing your sins, your words reaching God's ears without passing through your lips. You pray for understanding, pray that Cosette will come to her senses soon, pray for guidance. You cannot face this situation alone but you are not alone and when you pray to God for help you see a kindly and wrinkled face in your mind's eye and feel gentle hands on your shoulders as His most faithful servant hears your confession.
Cosette visits you every afternoon, sometimes alone, sometimes with one boy, never with both. She would bring them, you know, would bring them both if you asked, but you don't ask even though you know she wants you to. It is selfish, an act of pettiness that should fill your heart with shame, but you are old and you want the best for your child. Her eyes are sad when she looks at you and you ache to take her in your arms and protect her from the ills of the world as you did when she was barely a slip of a girl, silent and trembling.
You like the quiet one better. He's foolish and naive, but he respects you - fears you even - and he looks at your Cosette like she is the only light in his world. You know that look well. It's the look her mother wore, the look you yourself have felt cross your face time and time again over the years, and you would never even consider giving Cosette to a boy who looked at her with any other expression. The other boy, the loud one with his expensive clothes and roguish grin, he looks at Cosette like he would any other girl and it is only your own love for her that keeps you from chasing him out of your lives. You can only hope that he will soon find the door himself.
On the day he dies it rains for hours.
Cosette cries for days, even in her sleep, and she clings to the quiet one, his eyes as red as hers. She does not speak, does not eat, barely moves, and you fear that you will lose her too. You coax her to eat, caring for her as you did when she was young and trembling, and when the time comes for the funeral you hold her close. The boy, so pale as to be nearly a ghost, stays close to you and to her, his eyes haunted by memories you cannot share.
The service is well attended, pews packed with mourners of all ages. You're surprised by how many friends he seems to have had, this boy you never really thought twice about. Listening to them speak about his life you think you have done him a terrible disservice. Cosette sobs into your shoulder while, on your other side, the boy looks as though he will shatter at the slightest touch. You reach out and clasp his hand, an instinctive gesture born from the need to comfort those who suffer. He looks up at you, eyes uncomprehending, but does not let go.
It does not take long to realize that it is more than grief that has changed your children's behavior. There is a piece missing in them, an intangible quality that they now lack. They are off balance, and only now do you understand qualities their dead third brought. Before, Cosette never stopped laughing. Before, Marius would offer hesitant chuckles and earnestly tell terrible jokes. Neither of them have so much as smiled since that day. You ache for it, ache for Cosette's gay laughter to fill your home once again. You ache too at the memory of your own behavior. How could you have disliked someone who brought your child so much joy?
You visit his grave, still new, flowers barely wilted, headstone as polished as they day it was made. For a long time you stand over it, silent and grave. You don't know what to say to this young man, this man you wronged so. You don't know what he would have to say to you either. So you say nothing, standing with your head bowed, opening your heart as you should have months ago.
It takes Cosette nearly a month to speak his name, and she stops the moment it slips from her lips, expression stricken. Marius too looks white, shocked. You think of the man with his laughing eyes and his irreverent attitude and you think this would break his heart. Tell me about him, you say. They give you startled looks and, for a moment, you think you have made yet another mistake. Then Marius looks down and, his voice choked with unshed tears, says, He was the best friend I ever had. Cosette nods, and slowly they begin to speak, speaking first in generalities and moving to specifics as the night stretches on. You learn that he and Marius lived together before they met Cosette, learn that he extended his fullhearted generosity to anyone no matter how little he knew about them, learn how he and Cosette would go dancing together and how he could always talk Marius away from despair. It is late when Cosette and Marius finally fall asleep on each other, their faces lined with exhaustion and grief and something you haven't seen on either of them for weeks.
You return to the grave the next day, awkwardly telling the young man you now wish you had known about what happened. He would want to know, you think, and so you tell him more, talk to him about Cosette and Marius like you did to Fantine when Cosette was young. It becomes a habit, a daily visit to tell him the news. Cosette smiled today, you tell him, or They left the house this morning. The news is not always good, but speaking it aloud helps you manage the days when Cosette will not get out of bed or when Marius stares at walls without seeing them and asks aloud why it was not him who died. They miss you, you tell the grave every afternoon. It is not long before you begin to add, as do I.
Slowly the news gets easier to tell. Marius' therapist doesn't fear for him anymore, you say one afternoon in early fall. Cosette didn't have any nightmares last night, you report a few days later. Good days slowly outnumber bad ones and towards the middle of winter you tell him, They talked about you without crying. It feels like a victory, one you know he would appreciate.
The first day of spring dawns at last, and you are smiling as you approach the grave. Fresh flowers sit atop it, sign that a friend has already been and gone. Cosette laughed today, you say, and in your mind's eye you can see his bright-eyed face break into a brilliant grin.