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I Don't Speak Those Languages

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Cosette’s lying on her back on the living room floor. She doesn’t know how long she’s been here, but she’s been here long enough for her head to have started aching because the carpet isn’t much of a buffer between her skull and the hard floor. She doesn’t know why Marius liked doing this so much, but she remembers him staring up at the ceiling, looking at it like he was studying something, like he could see something interesting.

There’s nothing there.

It’s just plain off-white.

It hurts to look at for no good reason, but Cosette can’t stop. She’s not looking for whatever Marius saw when he did this—she never asked, there are so many things she never asked. Really, she’s just looking for him.

She’ll never, ever stop looking for him in every corner, every dark space, every ray of light, even though it’s silly, even though she knows he can’t be there.

She stands up and even she doesn’t know how she manages it. The emptiness of the apartment should be normal, it wasn’t like he was always home, but the fact that he will never come back makes this place—their place—seem cavernous. Like there is enough space to wander around until she disappears. Echo disappearing into thin air, delirious with love.

(When Marius tells her he’s sick, he seems confused, frightened, rocking back and forth and running his fingers over his face and arms like he’s not entirely sure what to do with his body that isn’t doing what it’s supposed to.

When he starts crying he takes Cosette’s hands and she squeezes and says, “You’re going to live.”

And she believes it.

God would not do that to them.

The lord gave—)

Cosette blinks and looks around, feeling like she’s not where she was a little while ago, but she’s not sure, and there's no way of knowing how long she’s been spaced out.

She was never the one who spaced out, that was Marius’s job, he was the one with his head in the clouds, and she was always the one who would laugh and run her fingers through Marius’s hair, who would tap at his head and say, “Anybody home?”

Sometimes he wouldn’t respond to her, still too busy in the zone, wherever that was, but more often than not he’d turn to her and smile sheepishly, and he’d shrug.

Near the end, there were moments when, for the first time ever, she really didn’t know if he noticed that she was there at all. Most of the time she thought there was something, though, some kind of recognition. She held his hand and he would run his fingers over her palms, over the lines there, and she had lived for the moments when his eyes would focus on her and he’d smile, or his eyes would soften, or maybe he’d even say something, anything, in any language. He started mixing up languages after a while, so she didn’t always understand what he was saying, but he said it like a benediction and it had made her breathe more easily.

The doorbell rings and Cosette startles slightly before looking over at the clock ticking on the wall, the one Marius insisted that they keep even though he couldn’t read it for the life of him because it was “pretty”, and realizing that it’s noon.

Did she sleep? She doesn’t remember. Maybe she was sleeping for some of the time that she was lying on the floor.

“Cosette,” Courfeyrac sing-songs through the locked door. “I come bearing gifts.”

Cosette smiles to herself and runs her fingers through her hair, hissing as her fingers are caught in the tangles, trying to look presentable before giving up. It’s Courfeyrac anyway, not anyone she needs or even wants to look presentable for.

She unlocks the door and lets Courfeyrac in.

He beams at her, but she’s not stupid and she sees his pain in the strained edges of his smile and the faint redness in his eyes and his wet eyelashes. He’s trying to look like he’s okay for her, and she smiles back, trying to look like she’s okay for him.

Cosette expects Courfeyrac. The others drop in whenever they can and her papa comes over for the weekends and when she calls him, but Courfeyrac is the only one who comes by every day.

He has a messenger bag slung over his shoulder and a plastic container of food in his hands. She takes it from him without even looking at what it is—food tastes like nothing to her, so it doesn’t matter—and sets it on the kitchen counter.

“How have you been?” she asks.

“You saw me yesterday,” Courfeyrac says lightly.

“That’s true,” Cosette says. “How have you been?”

“Oh, you know,” Courfeyrac says.

“Yeah,” Cosette sighs, because usually that would just be some half-baked non-answer, but she really does know.

I’ve been without him.

Cosette goes to sit on the couch and turns on the TV and doesn’t really watch whatever it is that's on the screen. Eventually Courfeyrac is done walking around the apartment for no reason that she understands but never asks about anyway and sits down next to her. It’s all very normal. This is what they do every day.

Suddenly Cosette’s heart feels like it’s been jerked rudely to the side before springing back into place, and she bites her lip to keep from gasping. Still she feels like someone’s dug in to her chest, and she probably looks it.

Five months.

Marius has been gone five months and things haven’t gotten all that much easier. They’ve just started to get normal.

Marius, who never had much of a grasp of the concept of time, probably wouldn’t have been able to say whether five months was a long time ago or not very long ago at all. He probably would have shrugged if asked, shrugged and said, “Five months is like five weeks, except more, so…” like that was an answer and Cosette would have rolled her eyes and laughed.

“You’re no help!” she would’ve said.

But that was Marius—a minute was an hour and an hour was a second and a week was a day depending on any number of random factors.

He always perceived things in a way she couldn’t quite fathom, but she didn’t mind, she just went along with him in the way that he went along with her.

Cosette thinks five months wasn’t very long ago at all. Not when it comes to this, at least.

She wonders when Marius’s death will become something that happened a long time ago, and her breath catches in her throat and the grief constantly running through her veins congeals into something heavy and painful, reminding her that it just won’t bleed out.

Cosette is only twenty-five years old and she’s already a widow.

She should get a gold medal.

Or maybe a gold star.

Cosette feels a distressed, high-pitched sound rise from her throat, and she tries to bite it back but she can’t. It’s not loud, though.

Marius used to do that. When he got really upset, after a while he would lose his words—it didn’t matter how many languages he knew when he couldn’t speak them—and start wringing his hands and trying to communicate his distress through noises.

Cosette got good at understanding those noises, at understanding all of the things that Marius said when he wasn’t speaking.

There’s nobody else in the world who she can read the way she read Marius. Of course, there’s no one in the world who moves and emotes and speaks and laughs quite like Marius did.

How could there be?

“You’re one of a kind,” Cosette had said while they were on their first date as she swung their clasped hands between them, and in any other situation she would have been ashamed of how soppy she sounded, how utterly enamored she probably seemed, but at that moment she didn’t mind because Marius’s smile shone and he laughed and looked away from her and shook his head so that his hair flew out in all directions and he looked like she felt and she knew, at that moment she knew that they were meant to be together forever.

She was nineteen years old then, and Marius had just turned twenty.

A smile flickers on Cosette’s lips at the memory for just a second before she feels like crying because she and Marius aren’t going to be together forever, they weren’t even together for enough of forever to make her feel like they had any time at all.

Until death do you part.

Cosette looks over at Courfeyrac, since usually he would notice her getting trapped in her grief like this and try to talk to her (he even tries not to cry, sweet person that he is, but Cosette knows about Courfeyrac’s animated conversations with the grave she never goes to, because she’s looking for Marius and she can’t stand knowing that there’s somewhere that he actually is, because then there’s no hope for finding him at all, is there?), but—oh.

Cosette almost laughs.

Courfeyrac’s fallen asleep, head lolling against the arm of the couch.

Cosette stands up, grabs a throw from the armchair she and Marius liked squeezing into even though it was too small for both of them (but it was theirs, and that was the important part, and God, she would never give up those moments of the two of them tangled together, their animated voices weaving around each other, not even to spare herself the pain of not having them anymore), and tucks it as best as she can around Courfeyrac’s awkwardly angled body.

She turns away and grabs the plastic container from the kitchen counter so she can put the food in the refrigerator, it wouldn’t do for it to spoil, but her hand brushes against the cover of an old book instead, a book that’s been lying face down on the kitchen counter for months now.

Cosette hasn’t had the courage to pick it up.

Nobody has.

She doesn’t know why, but it’s one of those things that’s just as Marius left it, and there’s something magical about that, something that always makes her think, absurdly, It’ll be nice if they’re in the same place for when he gets back, he likes it when things stay in the same place.

But now that she’s touched it the magic’s been broken, and her heart swells painfully as she picks the book up, as she finally gives it a good look.

Cosette holds the book in her hands, runs her fingers over the hard cover, over the raised gold letters. Marius loved this book. He loved it so much, he was always talking about how old the edition was, how brilliant the poetry itself was. Die Sonnette an Orpheus.

The only reason Cosette knows what that means is because Marius told her. Sonnets to Orpheus.

Orpheus, who went all the way down to the Underworld for his Eurydice, for the person he most loved in the world, and fucked it all up just because he couldn’t stand the idea of not looking at her, even though he would have had all the time in the world to look at her if they’d just gotten to the surface.

Cosette thinks she understands.

She would never, ever forget Marius, but she would give anything to have Marius back, but if she couldn’t have that she would still be happy to just see him one more time, happy, smiling, alive.

He’s not alive, and that seems like the most impossible thing in the world.

Cosette without Marius.

She doesn’t want that. She doesn’t.

She looks down at the book, opens it, flips through the pages, doesn’t understand a word.

Marius learned so many languages. Cosette knows one, and bits and pieces of what seem to be a million others, but it’s not enough to understand poetry. It’s not enough to say much at all.

Marius.

He had a gift for languages, and now Cosette doesn’t have very much at all. She doesn’t have someone who can translate anything and still have it retain its beauty, doesn’t have anyone who can recite love poetry against her skin in seven different languages and understand his own words, who can inject every word with so much meaning that Cosette almost feels like she understands.

Cosette closes the book.

She can’t read that.

Of course she can’t.

It’s in fucking German.

(The only thing of value she knows how to say in that language is I love you.

She can say I love you in so many languages she cannot speak.)

Cosette hugs the book to her chest like it can bring her any kind of comfort. She presses her back against the wall and slides to the floor, kneeling, her legs numb. She doesn’t care about that.

Numb, at least, is a feeling she can deal with.

“I love you,” she says, voice thin in the empty apartment, and then: “Je t’aime.” Cosette swallows and closes her eyes and finally whispers, “Ich liebe dich.”

She covers her face with her hands and weeps.

(The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.)