This is another fluffy, father/daughter story about Valjean and Cosette. My icon for this one is of Alfie Boe, who played Jean Valjean onstage in 2010. He is Valjean to me, by far the best actor to ever play the role. Of course, you're free to disagree with me, but please don't try to convince me otherwise! :)
How was I to know at last that happiness can come so fast?
Jean Valjean rarely thought back to his childhood – it felt so long ago, like a different lifetime – but even as a young man, he had been unusually strong. In Toulon, where he served out nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread, he was the strongest man in the prison. And since his sentence was hard labor, the guards noticed his strength right away. They always assigned the heaviest loads to Prisoner #24601. When they worked in the canals, Valjean sometimes had to carry ship beams and masts taller than himself, but even then, he never collapsed in exhaustion at the end of the day like some prisoners.
In Paris, he was still exceptionally strong – he would remain so all his life – but there was little need for his strength. No, Javert would never recognize him by his strength in Paris, as he had in Montreuil-sur-Mer. There were no heavy ship masts or overturned carts for him to lift – only a tiny, bird-like child who weighed almost nothing at all in comparison. Yet he never felt stronger than he did when he carried Cosette on his hip or his shoulders. She fit there perfectly, as if she had been born to fill his long-empty arms, and Valjean was always happy to pick her up and carry her when her little legs grew tired of walking.
Sometimes even when she wasn't tired, he would scoop her up and hold her against his chest. When he had first taken her from the Thenardiers' inn, Valjean had been struck by an almost overwhelming fear of failing this broken child. But whenever Cosette snuggled up against him and tucked her head beneath his chin, all his fears vanished, and a confidence that he never knew he had blossomed like a flower inside him. He wasn't going to fail her; he was a good father.
As a result of years of undernourishment, Cosette would always remain small and thin for her age. She was like a feather in his arms, and yet when Valjean picked her up and tossed her up against the sky to make her shriek with laughter, he felt like the strongest man in France.
. . .
In Montreuil-sur-Mer, for the only time in his life, he was a man of distinction – the most respected man in the entire small town. People cleared a path for him when they saw him coming down the sidewalk. Men tipped their hats to him, women nodded and smiled at him, and everybody greeted him, "Bonjour, Monseiur le Maire." And although Valjean served as mayor of the town for years, he never quite got used to such treatment. It went against his humble nature and often embarrassed him.
In Paris, he was a nobody – just one more ordinary man in a big, bustling city full of thousands. Nobody greeted him or stepped out of his way on the sidewalk. People often jostled and bumped into him. Yet he had never felt more important than he did when he walked through Paris with Cosette beside him, her small hand clinging tightly to his, her blue eyes looking up to him for guidance, her high, childish voice calling him papa. He got used to her immediately. Within a few days, it felt like Cosette had always been there beside him. Within a few days, he couldn't imagine his life without her.
Throughout his life, he had answered to several different things – Jean Valjean, 24601, Monseiur le Maire – but when Cosette called him papa for the first time, he felt that he knew at last who he really was.
. . .
Valjean didn't try to advance his station in Paris, as he had in Montreuil-sur-Mer. He realized now how foolish that had been. Mayor of a town, even a small town, was a position that drew far too much attention to him. No wonder Javert had discovered him. But now that he had Cosette to think of, he was wiser. And even though he had made a great deal of money as Monsieur Madeleine, the mayor and factory-owner, he would never try to pursue wealth like that again.
In Paris, he and Cosette lived very modestly in a plain boarding house, and the only non-necessities that Valjean ever bought were a few toys for her. They were simple trinkets – a doll, a skipping rope, an India-rubber ball – but to Cosette, just having enough food to eat and new clothes that fit her properly were luxuries, and any toys were luxuries beyond her imagination. Whenever Valjean presented her with one, her little face lit up, and he felt like the richest man in the world.
When he gave Cosette a small children's picture Bible for their first Christmas together, her jaw dropped, and she brushed the cover with her fingertips, as if scarcely daring to believe that it could really be hers. He had never felt richer than he did when she climbed into his lap, kissed his cheek, and whispered breathlessly, "Oh, thank you, Papa."
She begged him to read it to her, so he sat on the bare floor in front of the stove, with Cosette cuddled up in his lap, and read her the whole book through. When he reached the last page, which showed a colorful illustration of Christ ascending into heaven, above the large-print words Love one another, just as I have loved you, Cosette looked up at him and pleaded, "Read it once more, Papa? Please?" So he read it to her again, on the floor of their bare room, which had no Christmas tree, nor even any decorations. A plate of biscuits and cold sausages had been their Christmas dinner, but Cosette was warm in his lap, and as he read to her, she leaned into him, her eyelashes tickling his neck whenever she blinked. He had never felt so wealthy in all his life.
I hope this doesn't sound like bragging, but I do want to mention that this story is something of a milestone for me: my 50th fanfiction! Although I only came into the Les Mis category recently, I will probably be writing stories for it regularly from now on. :)