Cosette set Marie on Fantine's lap, watching as her mother trembled with amazement.
"Mama?" Marie asked, her large brown eyes wide as she turned to look at Cosette.
"It's alright," she said, smiling at her daughter. "She's a friend."
Marie looked doubtful- she was so shy. Jean, on the other hand, was eyeing Fantine suspiciously.
"Who?" he asked, his lip pouting.
"Madame Fantine," she said, looking at her mother. This whole affair was so puzzling that Cosette had utterly given up trying to understand it. Instead, she just appreciated the blessings it brought.
Fantine sat, and talked lightly to Marie and Jean, smoothing the little girl's hair. Tears fell down from her eyes as she saw these beautiful creatures, and she remembered the cutting pain that she'd endured leaving Cosette behind.
She turned to Cosette, watching her hold her children, smiling at them, her eyes full of love and warmth. She could see that her cheeks were red, her arms round and strong, her face beautiful. She was well-fed, healthy, happy. Fantine smiled wistfully, and she knew it once again: her mission on earth had been to give Cosette this happiness. She had gotten what she wished for.
"Do you have any idea how long you will be here?" Cosette asked. "Or what you're here to do?"
Fantine shook her head. "Not an inkling- other than that I'm obviously supposed to see you."
Cosette smiled, but stood up, readjusting Jean on her hip, who was pulling at her hair and trying to chew it. "Then I'll have to get a room ready for you. You may come if you like."
Fantine followed with Marie in her arms, who seemed resigned to the fact that her mother would not be rescuing her from this strange woman. Cosette found Nicolette and told her to ready their two spare rooms- after all, if Fantine was to stay, Monsieur Pontmercy would probably be sticking around as well.
Then, she went downstairs to inform Marius of their newest visitor.
"Excuse me for a minute," she said to Fantine, then knocked on the door to the parlor.
"Enter," Marius voice allowed, and she poked her head in. He smiled at her, as did his father, whose eyes fell down to Jean, pouting in his mother's arms. He had been toddling around lately, and had recently taken his first steps. Spending such a long time in his mothers arms prevented from exploring was irksome to the little boy.
"This is Jean," she said, introducing her son to her father-in-law. "I'm sure he's very pleased to meet you."
Jean pouted, suspicious of this new visitor in his home, but once the older Pontmercy had smiled at him, he smiled back, his teeth tiny and babyish.
"May I...?" he asked, holding his arms out. Cosette passed her child to him, and he held Jean carefully and securely. It felt strange to be passing her children around this way. Fantine and Georges were essentially strangers, and yet at the same time they were familiar, known people. Family. So she trusted them, though it went against the grain to be handing her children off like this.
"Marius," she said, taking a step towards him. "It seems I have some news... we have a visitor."
"We do?" he asked. "I didn't hear the bell ring... I don't want to see anyone- not with my father here."
"No- not a caller. My mother is here," she informed, watching as his face went from blank to inquisitive to wide-eyed.
"Your mother... but she's... she's..."
"In rather the same state as your father," Cosette finished. "I know. I don't understand it at all, but it seems our home has become something of a visitation ground for the dead."
He shook his head. "This is nonsensical! But of course she will stay. Where is she now?"
"With Marie, right outside the door. She had to give me up when I was only Marie's age, and she's quite taken with her."
Marius was still shaking his head, unable to comprehend the complete warp of reality that was taking place in his home.
"Go be with her- I'm sure she wants to see you," he said.
"I fear I haven't been very warm towards your father," she said.
"You can see him when we dine tonight. Go to your mother, but leave Jean with us- I think my father has made a new friend," he said, gesturing to where his father was sitting with their child on his lap. Jean was uncharacteristically trusting and friendly with him.
She smiled graciously, curtsied to Monsieur Pontmercy the elder, then excused herself.
Cosette could truthfully say that dinner that evening had been one of the strangest experiences of her life. She and Marius had kept Aunt Gillenormond in the dark about Courfeyrac's true state-of-being, but this time it was far more difficult, as she had attended the wedding of her sister and Georges Pontmercy. Naturally, something had to be done. Her reserved nature did not deal well with the supernatural.
So, before dinner, Marius and Cosette decended upon her, knocking on her door.
"There's nothing else we do but tell her," Marius reasoned. "She has to know, otherwise she'll just drop to the floor when she comes into the dining- hello, Aunt!"
"Yes?" she asked, straightening her glasses and eyeing the young couple suspiciously.
"We have something to tell you," Cosette said, stating the obvious. She bit her lip and looked to Marius for help.
"We have visitors downstairs who will be joining us for dinner, and they might surprise you."
Aunt Gillenormond simply stared at him, inviting him to continue.
"My father is here," he said bluntly. Cosette looked at him, annoyed- couldn't he be a little more tactful?
"We seem to have encountered quite the surprising situation," Cosette said lightly. "We have two visitors from heaven living in our house for the next few days, and though we don't understand what's brought them here, we are going to be generous hosts."
Mademoiselle Gillenormond eyed them very suspiciously, her gaze cold and confused, and then she gestured for them to lead the way downstairs.
"I don't believe you," she said. "This is utterly impossible- to think, the dead, in our living room-"
She stopped short. There were in fact two strangers in her home- one, a beautiful blond woman who she did not recognize, and then someone that she did recognize.
"Hello, Monsieur la Baron Pontmercy," she said, her voice quivering as she stared into her brother-in-laws face. For a minute, she forgot he was dead; he looked so real! All she could think about was how this brigand was standing in her father's house, the place where he never was welcome. Cold words bubbled to her lips, but her nephews silencing glare quickly pushed them down again. In their place, she felt overwhelmed. She was too old for this kind of emotion to be thrust upon her- this confusion was so powerful! She followed the rest of the family into the dining room, and was quiet for the rest of dinner, frequently closing her eyes and trying to convince herself that none of this was real.
Throughout dinner, Marius and Cosette were in a kind of awe. He hung on every single word his father said, and Fantine hung on everything Cosette said. There was a kind of worship going on between the children who were no longer children and their parents who were no longer alive. The four wanted to know everything about the ones who had been forever clothed in mystery- Georges longed to see how his grandson had grown up, Fantine was overjoyed so see her daughter so happy, Cosette was in respectful astonishment of how much a person could sacrifice, and Marius was simply bent over apologetically, forever believing he was not good enough to be his father's son.
By the end of the evening, Cosette had a headache, but she was nonetheless satisfied with her new found relationships. As she started to fall asleep, she thought again about the woman who had given everything for her. Everything that she had now was due to Fantine's sacrifice, and Cosette could not begin to thank her. But she knew now that sheer power of the love that Fantine must have felt for her, and she knew there were people that she would sacrifice everything for. It was just lucky that she didn't have to.