Introduction: "Another story must begin!" Jean Valjean cries in the Les Misérables musical, and one does when he dedicates himself to raising young Cosette. The 2012 film expands on this moment when the two of them begin a new life together, with Valjean realizing, "Something still unclear, something not yet here, has begun." This story is my own take on how Valjean and Cosette learned to be a family, the challenges they faced, and the joys they shared. It is unapologetically fluffy and sappy. I take a few liberties with Victor Hugo's novel, but nothing major.
(For my own reference: 48th fanfiction, 1st story for Les Miserables.)
This rain will wash away what's past...
Cosette was fast asleep in Valjean's arms when he finally arrived at the Gorbeau House, the boarding house in Paris where he had rented a room for them. It was on a quieter street for the city, but even there, the noise of people walking, doors and window shutters closing, the clip-clop of horses and carriages, roused Cosette. She raised her head and looked around the dark street, confused.
Valjean smiled at her and said softly, "It's all right, Cosette. I know you're tired, but we're almost home." He stroked her hair and gently guided her back down to rest on his shoulder. Her hair was stringy and dirty. He would give her a bath as soon as they got to their room.
"Almost home," Cosette repeated, her voice small and far-away, muffled against Monsieur's shoulder. It had been such a long, strange, confusing day. What sort of new home was Monsieur bringing her to? Would it be a nice place? She stroked her new doll's hair, as Monsieur had just done with hers, and wondered sleepily.
He carried her up the narrow stairs and unlocked the door at the top. Cosette brightened when she saw their room. It was no more than a large attic room, with a low, slanted ceiling and small, smudged windows, but when Valjean sat her down on the folding bed in one corner, Cosette gazed around her in wonder.
"What a fine room this is," she said softly, almost awestruck. "Is it all for us, Monsieur?"
Valjean grinned, and the expression felt strange on his face. When had he last smiled so hard? Had he ever? "It's all for us, Cosette — yours and Papa's." He had told her to call him Papa, but he supposed it would take her some time to remember.
He had already bought a bar of soap from the landlady for a few extra sous. Now he dragged the tin washtub out from under his bed and began filling it with kettle after kettle of warm water, heated over the tiny, pot-bellied stove against the wall. Cosette was sitting on her bed, so absorbed in admiring her new doll that she didn't even notice what Valjean was doing until he ordered gently, "Come, Cosette, and take your dress off. Papa's going to give to you a bath." He left the door open on the stove and positioned the tub in front of it; he didn't want Cosette to get cold.
A bath. Cosette had taken a bath once, long ago; she couldn't remember exactly when. She only remembered having to wash in Eponine's old bathwater, which was dirty and cold. She had no soap to clean herself, and only a small, damp towel to dry off as best she could. She shivered for a long time afterwards and hadn't taken a bath since. But this bath would be different. The water looked so clean and warm, and Monsieur was there, fetching a washcloth and rolling up his shirt sleeves. Cosette decided that it would be all right.
She set her doll down and slowly walked over to him, and Valjean considered, briefly, how strange, even frightening, this must seem to Cosette — a man she had only just met undressing and bathing her. But he couldn't bear to see her in that filthy, ragged dress for one more minute. And she didn't resist when he helped her unbutton it.
She put her hand on his arm as she stepped out of her dress, and Valjean looked her up and down, noticing how thin and dirty she was, with chillblains on her hands and feet, knobby knuckles and protruding collarbones, her arms and legs covered in grime. He had been expecting all of that, as much as he hated it, but he gasped when he saw the bruises. Cosette ducked her head, ashamed, and tucked her arms tight to her sides. But Valjean swallowed down the anger rising in chest, forced his voice to be even, and said softly, "It's all right, Cosette. Let Papa see."
She relaxed a tiny bit, and he delicately took her elbow and pulled her arm closer to the flickering lantern light. There were long, dark bruises wrapped around her upper arm in the pattern of a large hand. Madame Thénardier had grabbed her and flung her towards the inn door, shouting, "I told you to go fetch the water!" one rainy evening when Cosette didn't mind her the first time she told her to go outside and fill the heavy pail.
There was another bruise across her lower back, from where Madame had struck her with the broom handle for missing some dust when she swept beneath the table. Then there was the scrape on her knee, a mess of dirt and dried blood, from where she'd slipped and fallen, hurrying up the stone steps with her arms full of firewood. The stout little logs had rolled away, and Cosette ran to and fro, gathering them back up, while her knee bled and Madame shouted that she was stupid and clumsy.
Cosette held very still, naked and afraid, as Monsieur looked at each one. Would he ask her what had happened?
Finally, she raised her head and dared to look at him. Monsieur's eyes were burning, as if he were very angry, but he said in the same calm, light tone, "Come, Cosette, into the tub with you. Papa needs to clean that scrape on your knee. It may hurt a little, but it will heal faster if it's clean."
It did hurt; she winced, but didn't squirm or cry, when he cleaned the cut on her knee with his washcloth and ran a comb through her tangled hair until it was smooth and sleek. He gently scrubbed away the caked-on layers of dirt on her feet and neck, and he poured pitchers of warm water over her shoulders and back. That felt good. Cosette had spent so much time hauling water to the Thénardiers' inn, but no one had ever given her a bath before.
She looked almost like a different little girl by the time Valjean lifted her from the tub, pink and clean. He wrapped her up in a towel, and she swayed slightly on her feet, grinning a silly, sleepy smile. The warm water — and perhaps, Valjean hoped, the joy of being with him, the relief of knowing that she had nothing to fear anymore — had an intoxicating effect on her. Valjean smiled, his kind eyes crinkling, as he dried her off. It was a blessing that she trusted him so much, so soon, after the other adults in her life had obviously not been trustworthy.
"Are you warm enough?" he asked when she shivered a bit, dripping water on the floor in front of the fire.
Cosette didn't answer right away. She closed her eyes as Valjean wiped her face dry, but now she opened them and looked up at him shyly. Valjean had the strange sensation that he was suddenly falling from a great height — that he and Cosette both were, hand in hand, unafraid.
"Yes, Papa," she answered softly, curling her bare toes against the wooden floor. It was the first time she called him Papa, and the word tasted strange and delicious on her lips, like the first bite of some wonderful food that she'd been so long denied.
This will be a multi-chapter story. I've never written fanfiction for Les Misérables before, so I'm kinda nervous. Please review and tell me how you liked it!