I think this chapter is rather different from the previous ones, but at the same time, I also tried to make it a reprise of the first chapter, with the shared elements of a new home and washing away what's happened.
Come to me, and rest against my shoulder
How fast the minutes fly away, and you grow ever older
By the time Cosette was a young lady, she and Valjean had settled into their new home on the Rue Plumet. It was a handsome house, but Valjean, as always, lived quite modestly. He did consider hiring a housekeeper, but Cosette persuaded him from it. She saw their new home as one great game of playing house. She liked to cook and sew for her papa, and she was learning to grow flowers in the garden, from a book on a botany that Valjean bought for her. The house had a large front garden, surrounded by a tall, wrought-iron fence separating it from the Rue Plumet. That was one reason why Valjean had chosen the house – its secluded location and heavy front gate that locked. He was still a convict, and he could never afford to let his guard down.
He was always vigilant, but he never allowed that to dampen his spirits. He and Cosette were perfectly happy on the Rue Plumet – happy with their simple, ordinary lives, with having their own home at last, and most of all, with each other. Every evening, after Valjean chopped the firewood, Cosette read aloud to him. And every night, he asked God for nothing – except, one more day.
Their lives together were so pleasant than Valjean was caught completely off-guard when early one morning, before sunrise, he awoke to the sound of Cosette crying in her bedroom down the hall. As he sprang out of his bed, his heart sprang up in his chest, with that old, familiar fear tightening around it like a vise. It's Javert. Suppose the police officer who had dogged his footsteps for so long had found his cover at last. Suppose he had realized that the best way to hurt Valjean was through Cosette. Suppose —
Stop it, Valjean scolded himself as he hurried down the hall. Javert was after him, not Cosette. He wasn't an amoral person like the Thénardiers, but an officer of the law. Despite their differences, Valjean knew that Javert would never take his grudge against him out on an innocent girl like Cosette. Even if Javert did find him again one day, his daughter would be safe. That gave him some sense of comfort, and by the time he reached Cosette's room and pushed open the door, his heartbeat was back to normal.
Cosette's bedroom looked perfectly lovely and peaceful with the first rays of sunlight peeking in through the curtains. Nothing was amiss, but Cosette was awake and sitting up in bed, sobbing hard. Valjean supposed that he must've had a nightmare, but it puzzled him. She hadn't woken up crying from a nightmare for years, not since she was a little girl.
Years. He froze in the doorway to Cosette's room for second, suddenly feeling like a very old man. Had it already been years since his Cosette was a tiny girl who couldn't sleep through the night without him? Was that possible? But it was. Of course it was. It had already been over five years since Valjean had saved Cosette from her hellish life at the Thénardiers's inn. His little girl had turned twelve just three months ago, and he had given her the silver cross necklace that she always wore. Dear Lord, where had the time gone?
"Cosette?" he asked, alarmed. "Darling, what's the matter?" But she said nothing and continued to cry, turning away from him, towards the wall. Valjean felt a cold fear run through him. Cosette had never done such a thing before — turn away when she so obviously needed him. He would not let her start now. He gingerly sat down beside her on the bed and wrapped his arms around her.
"Cosette, look at me," he said firmly. "Cosette, tell Papa what's wrong."
She kept crying and looking at the wall, unable to face him, but she gave him an answer. With one hand, she grabbed the bedclothes and flung them off. Valjean glanced once down the length of the bed, and his heart skipped a beat before he understood. Cosette's nightgown was white, which made it easy to see the dark red bloodstains. The blood was in splotches on her sheets, in messy streaks down the bottom half of her nightgown, making the material stick to her thighs. Valjean quickly looked away. Cosette was still facing the wall, embarrassed, but fear drove her back to her papa. She buried her flushed, tear-streaked face in the front of his dressing gown, her shoulders hitching.
"Papa, why is there so much blood?" she choked out between her sobs. "Am I dying?"
Valjean just held her tightly for a moment, stroking her hair, as he prayed for guidance on what to do, what to tell her. His first thought was that he should have hired a maid, after all. It would be so much simpler if there was a woman in the house to tell Cosette about... becoming a woman. But wishful thinking would get him nowhere. There was no one else, only him, and he had promised Fantine, as she lay dying, that he would always be there for her daughter. Your child will want for nothing. No, he couldn't possibly fail her now, when she was so afraid.
So he kissed the crown of her head and said in his most soothing voice, "It's all right, Cosette. I know you're frightened, but you're not dying. You're... you're..." Valjean paused and fumbled for words to explain what was happening to her body. He found none. "...not dying," he repeated. Perhaps he had been foolish to assume that the nuns at the convent school had taught her about this.
He sighed into Cosette's golden hair, frustrated that he did not have a better answer for her, but he had never known much about this peculiarity of women's bodies, and explaining it to his daughter felt like a very daunting task. It drove home the fact that she was growing up at such an alarming rate. But Cosette seemed comforted by his lacking answer, by his arms around her, by his mere presence. Her shoulders sagged, and her sobs were tapering off. Valjean grabbed a wet cloth from the basin on the wash-stand beside her bed and gently wiped her face. Yes, the best thing to do would be to clean her up now and explain later, after she'd calmed down and he'd had more time to think. For now, he couldn't let Cosette keep sitting there in her own blood.
He kissed her cheek and stood up. "Come, Cosette, it's all right," he said gently. "Now, why don't you fetch a clean change of clothes while I draw a bath for you? It'll make you feel better, and we can talk more about this afterwards." Cosette nodded and crossed the room to her wardrobe, her face still warm from fear and embarrassment, while Valjean went down the hall to bathroom. Their new home had a real bathtub with a water-pump directly over it. Neither one of them had ever lived with such a luxury before. But the pump's long iron handle was too heavy for Cosette to work, so Valjean always drew her baths for her. Now, as he pumped the water, he thought very seriously about hiring a maid soon.
Valjean changed the bloody sheets on Cosette's bed while she took her bath. He tried to rehearse what he should say to her, but instead, his mind kept wandering to days gone by. He racked his brain, trying to remember — when was the last time he'd given Cosette her evening bath? It had to have been at least four years ago. When was the last time he'd carried Cosette on his shoulders as he walked down the street? When did she last climb into his bed after a scary dream?
He couldn't even remember. He hadn't known, then, that it would be the last time. He hadn't known, then, that Cosette would would grow up so quickly. Had he known, he would've walked with her on his shoulders a little slower. He would've held her a little longer.
Yes, this chapter is also the last one. As sad as I am to end this story, this is as far as my muse took me, and I feel like the story is complete. Merci beaucoup to everyone who's left comments! I will definitely be writing Les Misérables fanfiction again, so if you have any fluffy Valjean/Cosette plot-bunnies that you'd like to share, please send them hopping my way! Thanks again!