This was written on a sudden whim - after reading and writing a lot of dark, angsty fanfic, I wanted a break and tried something lighter and sillier. However, this ended up more serious than I'd originally intended. Oh, well. I might write two or three more chapters if I decide to continue.

Marital Strife

Cosette sang a lullaby as she rocked her weeks-old baby daughter in her arms after having nursed her, trying to get her to fall asleep. Petite Fantine, however, seemed to have other ideas, and wiggled around impatiently, peering up at her mother curiously.

"Shh," Cosette murmured, and she began another stanza as Fantine continued to stare up at her, her wide blue eyes clear and unblinking.

"Ô Nuit, oh! laisse encore à la terre
Le calme enchantement de ton mystère
L'ombre qui t'escorte est si douce… "

Marius entered the bedchamber quietly and approached them.

"Give her to me," he whispered softly. Cosette handed her over, still humming the melody. After a few minutes, Marius held his finger to his mouth and Cosette got up from the bed to see that Fantine had fallen asleep. She looked angelic in sleep, she thought affectionately, with a full-head of curly blond hair. She looked much like Cosette herself, except for the stubborn set of her chin and wide forehead, which came from her father. Cosette wished her own adopted father was still alive to see his first granddaughter. She still missed him very much and always would. She wondered if petite Fantine looked anything like her grandmother, after whom she was named. She watched as Marius set her down gently in the cradle, and then he and Cosette left the bedroom to go eat dinner.

While they ate, Cosette asked her husband about the progress he had made that day with one of his client's cases. Marius in turn asked politely how her day had been and how she was feeling. Although it had been almost a month since the birth, Cosette had been ill with childbed fever for nearly a week afterwards and had lost quite a bit of blood, for it had been a difficult birthing. However, she had been completely restored to normal health for more than a couple weeks now, and sometimes, Cosette found Marius' concern a bit exaggerated and excessive. Although he was always scrupulously polite and attentive, he spent less time with her in the evenings and she felt as if there was some awkwardness and distance between them that had not been there in their first year of marriage (which had been blissfully happy), and she didn't know why it was there now and how to breach it.

Also, Marius seemed to be avoiding her bed, even though she had made several overtures over the past couple weeks intimating that she was ready, and indeed eager, to resume their marital intimacy. He usually ignored her subtle insinuations and left abruptly, making some paltry excuse to get away whenever she made any verbal hints about it.

Truth be told, she was getting pretty irritated about the whole matter and wanted to know what exactly his problem was. Did he not want her anymore? Her body had naturally changed since before the pregnancy and birth, and her hips and bosom were fuller. Did he find her less attractive because of that? She'd never felt insecure in this way before with Marius, and that caused some of the shyness and reticence she felt that prevented her from being more open about what she wanted.

After dinner was over, Marius excused himself and said he would be retiring early, for he had a long day ahead of him. He had been saying that a lot of late and retiring to his separate bedchamber early. This time, however, Cosette felt fed up and gathered the courage to follow him and confront him about the situation. This little cat-and-mouse dance had gone on long enough, and it was time for some honesty.

She returned to her room and changed into a cotton nightgown and wrapper, and then went to Marius' room and knocked on the door. He said to come in, so she entered. He was working on some papers at his bedside table, and rose when he saw her in the room.

"What is it?" he asked abruptly. "Has Fantine woken again?"

"No," Cosette said. She steeled herself, and then plunged forward looking directly in his eyes.

"Why have you been avoiding me, Marius? You must know that I want to sleep with you again."

Marius flushed and looked away for a moment, and Cosette suddenly feared the worst - that he no longer wanted or loved her, and she felt her stomach drop and wanted desperately to flee.

Instead, she found herself asking in a subdued tone, "you don't want me anymore?"

"No, of course not!" Marius exclaimed, taken aback at the suggestion. "I want you very much. Always. I-I just don't think it is safe to have marital relations anymore," he admitted finally, running his hand though hair in agitation.

Cosette stared at him in surprise and bewilderment, trying to puzzle out what he was saying.

"What are you talking about? What do you mean it's 'not safe'? And what do you mean by 'anymore'?"

"Cosette," he said, sounding deeply distressed, "you nearly died giving birth to Fantine. I can't risk that again!" He gazed at her helplessly, looking agonized and guilt-stricken.

Cosette gaped at him for several moments, dumbstruck.

Then she finally found her voice.

"I did not nearly die! What the hell are you talking about? I just gave birth, and we're both perfectly fine, as you can see. What is wrong with you, Marius? Are you seriously saying you'll never make love to me again?" She found her voice rising rather hysterically towards the end, but she didn't care. Her husband had gone mad.

"You certainly almost did die!" Marius ground out angrily. "And it would have been my fault if you had."

"Don't be silly, Marius…" Cosette began, trying to be patient and calm him down. He was deeply upset and had apparently been holding this in and agonizing over it for some time.

"You were screaming again and again for hours and hours," he continued, ignoring her.

"Marius, all women scream in childbirth, for goodness sake," said Cosette, exasperated, "that doesn't mean I was dying! It's perfectly natural…"

"For nearly two days and a night you didn't stop. And there was so much blood! Mon dieu! When I spoke to you, you didn't even recognize me or what I was saying. And when it was over, your fever and delirium went on for days," he vented, continuing to ignore her protests.

"What? You were there? The doctor let you in?" she asked, startled by this information. The last several hours had gone by in a haze of pain and agony, and the only thing she could remember besides the rhythmic spasms of pain and contractions was feeling the all-consuming need to push her child out of her body and into the world.

"Of course. I forced my way in by the end of the first day and stayed with you through the night," Marius said, finally replying to her.

Cosette absorbed this. She understood now the reason husbands usually weren't allowed in the birthing chamber. They could get ridiculously upset about these things, especially for one as bull-headed as her husband. It hadn't been an easy birth, she had to admit. In fact, it had been horrible and messy. But that was the way childbirth was and always had been. Storks didn't drop off babies at one's doorstep, all clean and tidy. Even she had known that, and she had been brought up in a convent. And now it was over and she was well and had a beautiful and healthy baby daughter.

"Marius," she began again more slowly, "the doctor said that once I had some rest and the fever was gone, I would be fine. There is no reason to prevent a second pregnancy."

"On the contrary, there is every reason to prevent it. I will not let you risk your life again," Marius said firmly, as if that was the end of the matter.

Cosette was thoroughly frustrated and irritated with her husband by now, furious at his stubbornness and high-handedness.

"Marius, I want to have more children! And I certainly don't want to spend the rest of my nights in an empty bed. If I'd wanted to be a nun, I would have stayed in that convent and certainly not have married you," she said angrily. "Don't you think I have any say in this?"

"No," Marius said abruptly, his mouth forming a stubborn line. "Not if your life is at stake."

Cosette was torn between fury, exasperation, and an absurd desire to laugh. Then she noticed there was a deep sadness in Marius' eyes when he looked at her. This was no mere whim. It was something deeper and more troubling. But before she could speak again and ask what was wrong, Marius had herded her out the door.

"Marius, you know you're being absurd. Let us talk about this rationally..."

"Good night, Cosette."

And with that, he shut the door in her face.