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For a Thousand Summers

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Rewind is one of the best words Cosette has learned in the twenty-first century. It's not in common use, she doesn't think, she only knows what cassettes and video cassettes are in the vaguest sense and that seems to be where it came from, but once she finds the button that makes things go backwards on her video player she uses it more than she should. She watches a whole movie backwards, once, going from devastation to innocence and happiness instead of the other way around.

It's a guilty wish she allows herself. Stop. Rewind. If only life were that simple.

*

“It's the noise that gets me,” Marius says, tapping his fingers against his coffee cup. “That's what I remember most. I never saw a lot of combat, I was just translating, but I remember the noises.”

Cosette heard horrors, saw them, smelled them, but sometimes she rubs her empty palm and remembers the way it ached from how hard she was holding on, and thinks that ache may be the worst.

Marius changes the subject, talks gently about a friend of his killed, taken out of the sky, how Marius watched in mute horror and couldn't distinguish between sounds for days afterwards, his ears ringing and ringing with the aftermath of the explosion.

There's a growing number of people Cosette knows now, from Lamarque in charge of SHIELD to Enjolras, her mission partner just starting to open up to her, to Grantaire, who calls sometimes now and doesn't hold her to blame for his grandfather's mistakes. Marius may be her favorite, though, because even when she isn't speaking, Marius listens.

*

(Éponine is the one who presses the button.

All the men, all of them who are supposed to be France's hope, have been killed trying to protect the bunker, and it's Cosette and her father, both of them weeping while he bleeds bleeds bleeds on the floor and she can't stop it, weeping while Éponine defends the door.

“I've got to get in the machine,” Cosette whispers after he dies. “If it kills me, what kind of loss is that? One sick girl, a hindrance on the run, that's no loss at all. But if it works ...” Éponine turns from the door to look at her. “If it works, Éponine.”

Cosette climbs into the machine, and Éponine is the one who presses the button, and the whole world after that is new.)

*

SHIELD is falling like France fell once before, and Cosette fights for it like she fought for France, like she fought for the world against the Chitauri. Enjolras is at her side, a steady, mistrustful presence, and it's he who tells her about the Winter Soldier.

“A legend,” he dismisses, but it isn't a legend who throws Cosette's shield back to her on a roof. “An assassin,” he says, and it may be true.

Cosette goes to Marius because he's the only safe haven she has right now.

She thinks about the woman on the roof, thinks how familiar she seemed, but nothing in this new world is familiar. Perhaps it's that they're both legends, women out of time.

*

The history exhibit gets it wrong.

It speaks of Cosette and her father, certainly, of Cosette and whoever she became after the serum, of Cosette and the Red Skull and a war won, but Éponine is a footnote. Éponine is the technician who was present when it all happened. Éponine is “a friend,” and in one academic paper, they “seem to have shared a complicated history.”

Cosette never knew how to explain what Éponine was to her. Not a friend, not that, not after their childhood together, but an ally. Cosette was her shadow for a long time, even after her father came for her, and then Éponine was her shadow after, and then Éponine wasn't anywhere at all. Éponine is dearly missed and a confusing mess of feelings sitting in Cosette's chest, and Éponine is gone, Éponine is the one who could have steered that plane out of the ice before it froze Cosette's blood in her veins.

Éponine was, very simply, a steady reflection when Cosette couldn't trust a mirror anymore, and now Cosette has nothing to look at when she wants to see herself.

*

(Éponine was the one who frowned at her and said “You never wear lipstick anymore” like it was an accusation.

Cosette had looked helplessly down at the body she didn't recognize, the clothes borrowed from the men, long limbs and strong shoulders and breasts that made commanders leer and even the jaw different, stronger. “What would the point be?” she asked.

“Remind them you aren't just a soldier. Cosette Fauchelevent isn't dead, is she?” And that's it, the center of the problem, everything Cosette has been wondering about and fearing. Éponine clenches her fists. “I never would have let you do it if I thought you were going to let them mold you like this. Stop being Captain France, Cosette, she doesn't exist. Wear your fucking lipstick.”)

*

Cosette's carefully-constructed life is already wavering, wobbling, falling to pieces, but it truly ends on a bridge, with a familiar face and the words “Who the hell is Éponine?”

Marius and Enjolras get her away, and Cosette makes a spectacle of herself, crying, choking, because oh, Éponine, Éponine whose life was so hard but who was always and completely herself, made to forget that, is the worst way she could ever ask to have her wish fulfilled.

SHIELD is rotting from the inside out, and Marius and Enjolras and the ghost of Lamarque have their ways to fix it, but Cosette can't think of much but Éponine. If HYDRA sends her, if Cosette has to fight her, she's not sure which one of them will come back.

“You have to be prepared,” says Marius, following her when even Enjolras doesn't dare. “You have to be prepared, if she tries to kill you. Please don't let her do it.”

“There's got to be some of her in there. There must be.” Cosette dashes the tears out of her eyes. “Marius, what did they do to her? You saw her arm—she couldn't—what did they do?”

“Please don't let her do it,” Marius repeats, taking her hands in his.

*

Cosette wears lipstick into battle.

It could be that, or it could be the stupid costume, or it could be something else, but all she knows is that Éponine, dazed and trapped, looks at her and says “I know you” right before the helicarrier floor falls out from beneath them.

*

“You want to look for her.”

Cosette spreads her hands. “How can I do anything else? She's out there, and she's ...” She isn't all Cosette has left, even if she wants to say that. She has Marius now, and Enjolras, and Lamarque and sometimes Grantaire and the rest of the Avengers Initiative. “She's important,” she says instead, because Éponine has always been that. “I'm not asking you to do anything you don't want to do, Marius. But I have to find her, to see if I can help her remember.”

“I'll follow you. I just want you to be sure that this is something you want. She's not going to be the same. You saw that.”

To some extent, perhaps that's true, but Cosette saw flashes even when Éponine was moving on instinct, not thinking. She saw that need to survive that saw Éponine picking up guns, threatening soldiers on their own side when they looked at Cosette the wrong way, the assessing look from right before she pressed that button. Éponine is still in there somewhere. “No,” she finally says. “But I'm not the same either. I just want her near me, now that I know she's alive.”

“Okay,” says Marius, and breathes out. “Then we'll find her.”

*

Rewind. Stop. Play.