Here is how it goes:
Éponine kisses him. For one second. Two seconds. There is blood under his hands and the worst possible feeling in his heart.
Here is how it goes:
He proposes to Cosette anyway, because he wants to, because the part of him still standing, the part of him untouched by grime and guns and blood, still loves her. He thinks that maybe, he could love her with all of him, if he had enough time.
(He knows it will never be enough time, that the boy who she fell in love with is long gone. He is sorry. He wants him back just as much as she does.)
(He wants him back more.)
Here is how it goes:
Marius Pontmercy falls in love with a ghost.
The dreams are always the worst. They always say that, but it’s true. Some of them are normal; He is at the barricades again. He watches his friends die, over and over. These he can wake from, chest heaving and nearly in tears, and pull back from. He won’t sleep the rest of the night. But he’ll sleep the next evening, and that will be alright.
Others are worse: He’s still living with Courfeyrac, vividly, and Marius will wake almost laughing at some joke the reconstruction in his head has made. The laugh turns to a hiccuping sob halfway through. The dawns on those days are mocking.
Then, there are the ones with Éponine in them. They are happy, usually. In a field at noon or a street at dusk. She smiles; Her jacket is not torn, no need for patches, her hair is combed, her face is washed. He clasps her hand and smiles.
They dance, sometimes. At least, Éponine dances, and he is dragged along. Or they talk, and it’s so like how it once was that even in the dream, he feels as though he’s close to tears without reason.
He is ashamed of the ones that are dewy, hazy, rosy; unclear lines and a softness. They kiss, but it is hard to recount these, for blushing or sadness or something else. Sometimes, in these dreams, he will look away and then back, and she will be bloodied and her last breath will be on her lips.
These are the dreams he wakes from screaming.
She is there, sometimes, he thinks. She must be.
Books get knocked off the shelves and lights flicker out. The tap in the bathroom turns on by itself; He remembers that she used to come by his apartment to clean herself up. Even if it’s not her, it must be one of them. But he knows that she’d be inclined to stay around.
It is not good to dwell on dead things, he knows that. He has read enough about people who have let their loses consume them to know that.
He knows, and yet at night, he’ll sit in his makeshift office without any lights on and mutter to the dead. It is not a good practice, he feels silly as he does it. But there is too much in that room that reminds him: Poetry loaned from Jehan, letters from jail, from Enjolras, asking for advice on various aspects of his defense; things that Gavroche used to mess with whenever he would visit with his sister, translations that he thought Grantaire might appreciate, gifts from Courfeyrac from over the years. Perhaps he thinks, or maybe just hopes, that his friends have enough to cling to that they may stay around.
He wakes up, one night, shocked awake by something, and when he looks up, Éponine is looming over him. He freezes, scarcely can breathe. Not quite a ghost, not quite enchanting enough for that, but instead an apparition, plain, grey, restless. Her eyes bore into him.
He blinks, hard. When he opens his eyes again, she’s gone. Cosette stirs next to him. Carefully, he rolls back over, and returns to a restless sleep.
The next morning, it doesn’t feel anything more than fantasy. When he stops by his desk to grab a few papers, he finds that her hat has been knocked from the windowsill.
This is about the time that Cosette starts to worry about him. Not to say she wasn’t worried before, but there are some things that are to be expected, and some that are not. Believing for so long that his friends are still with him is not normal. She is at a loss: She wants, badly, to help and comfort him, but she has no idea how.
There are some things you do not come back from.
The letters from Enjolras keep coming, though Marius has trouble responding to them. It was not so bad immediately after, maybe a state of shock kept the pain away, but now each one is a reminder of all that is lost.
(He dutifully writes out legal advice all the same.)
He wonders if in some way this is Enjolras’ attempt to bond over shared experience, clumsy as it is. But they were never close, and now Marius isn’t looking to build any new relationships with people. Look where it got him last time.
Eventually he cannot find it in himself to write back any longer. He tells Enjolras that his knowledge is not great enough to help him, and forwards the letters to a friend with an actual education in law.
He comes home one evening, on a day when the clouds hang low, to a dark apartment. He thinks Cosette must be home, the light over their kitchen table is on, but he calls out for her and doesn’t get a response. He puts his bag down, and is afraid, just a little. Anything too loud is terrible, but the silence can be worse, sometimes.
Maybe he forgot to turn off the light this morning.
He creeps around into the hallway that leads to their bedroom, coat and shoes still on. There she is again, facing the wall. She turns, and her stomach is a sickening sort of red, deep and savage. She looks at him, raw, lost.
He doesn’t keep her that time, either.
Something has got to give.
(The walls whisper around him.)
He signs the papers; breathes for a moment.
It isn’t fair for him not to. This is the right thing to do. Cosette shouldn’t have to stay around with him.
(He is not who he thought he was.)
Is he crying? There is something wet on his cheeks, for a fearful moment he thinks it must be blood before he remembers that he is not there, anymore. The lucidity is gone. And so is the pen, he can’t remember where he put it. It doesn’t really matter.
After Cosette has left, completely, without a trace, he buys a radio and plays it quietly, constantly. It covers up everything else, blurs it so that maybe he can concentrate for a little bit.
It just makes the ghosts whisper louder.
He is digging through his closet one day when he finds one of Éponine’s shirts, left on accident or in case of emergency, he isn’t sure. It still smells like her.
It is the middle of the day, but he bundles the thing up in his arms anyway and lays down in bed.
It rains, and Marius sleeps.