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The Wind Between the Stars

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The Wind Between the Stars

"You know them! You're involved with them!"

"I..." Marius shifts uncomfortably, his fine black hair falling into his eyes. He has chosen a dark blue cushion to be his seat; Cosette has chosen a rich purple one. A circular mat of biodegradable rubber serves as a table for their drinks, completing the furnishings in the room. "I... well..."

Reaching across the short space that separates them, Cosette gently rearranges his bangs so that she can meet his flustered, uncertain gaze. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I didn't think it mattered." Marius mumbles the words into her hand, his lips pressing a feather-light kiss against her red-brown skin. "I mean... are you really that interested in politics?"

"You're friends with the Friends of the Universe!" It's only the thought of her father overhearing that keeps Cosette's voice to a register lower than full shrieking. Standing, she turns her excess energy into a quick pace, circling Marius, her bare feet making hardly any noise on the soft woven rushes of the floor. "You're friends with the people who want to take us out into the cosmos as explorers, not executioners; scientists, not soldiers; poets, not proselytizers."

Marius blinks confused brown eyes at her. "I... would not have expected you to say so."

"Because of my religious education?" Cosette grins down at the man she has loved, inexplicably, since the moment she first saw him.

Or perhaps it wasn't quite so inexplicable. He had been with one of his friends, a smooth-tongued, quick-witted young man who stole the eyes and hearts of many of Cosette's classmates. Rather than fighting with them for the attentions of Courfeyrac, Cosette had instead decided to speak with Marius while they hid the young men from the people who were searching for them. She had found him to be kind, conscientious, and deeply loyal—he had only been reduced to hiding in their dormitory because he followed Courfeyrac into unexpected danger, but the idea of betraying Courfeyrac to save himself had clearly not occurred to him.

Her first impressions of Marius have only been reinforced by all their subsequent, less dramatic meetings, until she is absolutely certain that she loves the shy young man. "That's why he was running! That's why they wanted him! Oh, we knew it was political but... oh, Marius, this is amazing! Please tell me you'll take me to meet them."

"But..." Marius lunges to his feet, face contorted as he clearly tries to choose his argument carefully. "You can't become involved with them. It's dangerous."

"But you're involved with them." Cosette closes the distance between them, reaching across to lay one hand on Marius' chest. She can feel his heart beating through the thin fabric of his suit—a suit she has never seen luminesce, she realizes, and she wonders what color the black fabric would emit in the dark.

"I'm involved with Courfeyrac. He is a good friend. And Bossuet has been kind to me." Marius clenches her hand hard in his, though his frowning eyes are fixed on the floor. Not that he can find much on the floor—she has never been much for weaving, and the floor is bare but functional. The walls, now, if he looked to the walls, perhaps he would find answers to the questions and fears he has. "And... I suppose there are many others in that group I would consider friends. But it's still dangerous!"

"Less so now than it was." Cosette raises her hand to his face, stroking the smooth skin of his cheek. "There's no bounty on their heads anymore. They have public support on their side. Everyone says it's inevitable that within a matter of months they'll have their voyage. Please, Marius. Tell me you'll introduce me."

"If you're certain they're going to win anyway and be gone, what does it—" He cuts himself off, and now his eyes do go to the walls, to the murals that fade one into another—ocean to forest to vast plain to mountain peaks that reach up into the starry sky hanging above it all. "You wouldn't..."

"I would." Standing on tip-toe, she presses a chaste kiss to his cheek. "Your friends aren't the only ones who have dreamed of the stars. Let me meet them, please."

Marius looks between her and the walls several times, and then he gathers her into the gentlest embrace. His voice is a raspy whisper when he speaks, full of an incomprehensible grief that sends shivers down her spine. "Why did you choose your name?"

She blinks, taken aback by the question and the tone. Then she returns his embrace, holding him tightly against her, burying her face in his shoulder. "Because it felt right. Because Father may have named me Esperanza, but Cosette... felt more like what I was, for good and for ill. Protected. Loved and cared for, thank the stars, but... why does it matter?"

"No more than that?" Marius pulls back, staring down at her with eyes that seem more haunted than she can imagine there is reason for.

"Do you think I chose poorly?" Biting down on her lip, she tries not to let his reaction bother her. She will have the opportunity to change her name again in less than a year—to choose what she will be known by for at least the first decade of her adult life. She's spent hours letting her contacts flash names from various human cultures at her, occasionally pausing to let her audio implant explain the pronunciation. "Do you dislike the name?"

"No." He smiles, and it lights his whole face, strips the aura of pain from all but the depths of his eyes. "It's a beautiful name, and whatever you choose I will respect and cherish. I just... ah, it's silly. Old dreams. Nightmares that mean nothing, not in the world we live in now."

Cosette frowns. "I don't understand."

"I don't either, not really." Marius sighs. "You want to meet them? Even knowing that if things turn against them you may end up being hunted for re-education too? Even with your father...?"

He lets the sentence trail off, and Cosette once more buries her head against his chest. Her father, the man who has loved her and raised her, though she knows from his pale skin and her own nightmares that he was not the one who first had her. The man who would live like a monk, who is afraid of furniture, afraid of comfort, afraid of everything. The soldier who has seen too much war, she thinks, remembering when he told her that even a small table could become a weapon in the right hands.

He would not approve. He would frown and offer, she thinks, to go in her place, old wounds and all.

But this is not his fight. These are not his dreams, and though she loves him she cannot accept his future of empty rooms and painted walls. "Let them try to re-educate me. I want to meet your friends, Marius. I want to meet the future."

He doesn't argue with her further, saying that he will speak to Courfeyrac and arrange for them both to meet with the Friends.

(He wakes screaming from nightmares three times that night, and the words he speaks are not in languages she knows. Even her audio implant has trouble with them, giving her a garbled translation that still lets her know there is blood and death and war and sorrow in his dreams. She speaks to him, holds him, and doesn't tell him what he dreamed when he asks her in the morning, saying it has no more meaning than her choice of Cosette as a name.)

XXX

"Why are you here?"

Cosette blinks down at the toolbox that she is currently perusing, attempting to find something that looks like a polarity-inducing spanner. "Because you told me to find—"

"No, no." Feuilly smiles at her as he rolls out of the access hatch he had been buried in up to his chest. His expression when the smile fades—too quickly—is neutral, his dark eyes frank as they run up and down her body. He rubs his hands clean on a towel, leaving his skin tone several shades darker than her own, with more brown and less red. "Why are you here helping me when you clearly haven't the faintest idea what any of the tools I need are?"

Cosette can feel her face and neck heat, and she looks down in embarrassment. "I... think there may have been some... miscommunication between me and your second in command. Combeferre?"

Feuilly raises one eyebrow.

Cosette forces her hands to be still, though they want to fiddle with the cuffs of her bio-suit, a sure tell that she's nervous. "He asked what skills I had. One of the ones I listed was electronics repair. By which I meant fixing anything about the house that requires more technical knowledge than what is necessary to create a wheel and axle, and he apparently thought building a spaceship."

"Well, it is what we've been working toward." Feuilly smiles, a quick flash of humor, and comes to kneel beside her. He sorts through the tools swiftly, evidently finding the one he needs. "I suspect you may not have done anything to disabuse him of the notion you could be helpful to me, though?"

"Well..." Cosette hesitates before giving a sheepish shrug. She lifts a hand to her head, to push her hair back behind her ears, and finds it flailing helplessly, her hair securely tied back out of the way. "He wasn't very happy having someone join the project so late, I don't think. If Courfeyrac hadn't pushed for me to be given a chance... and I didn't want to lose this opportunity to get to know you all. To get to help."

It had been a swift, tense conversation that switched languages almost too quickly for Cosette's auditory implant to follow and translate. Even with the translation that she had, she wasn't sure all of it made sense. What she is fairly certain of is that if blond-haired, blue-eyed, androgynous Enjolras—the leader of the Amis, whose preferred pronoun she still hasn't quite managed to pick up—hadn't added their soft vote for her to be a given a chance, Coufeyrac and Combeferre would still be arguing.

"Which I suppose comes to the larger question of why." Feuilly settles back down on his board, spanner held loosely in his left hand. "Why are you so eager to help?"

"Because it's right." She answers swiftly, raising her head, meeting his eyes unflinchingly. "What you're doing is right, and I want to help. We have helped—it was my dormitory that protected Courfeyrac when there was the largest bounty on your heads."

"Ah, that was you and your friends?" Feuilly smiles again, and she finds that she likes the expression, the way it lights his eyes and his face and wipes away the traces of wariness that seem to lurk there otherwise. "You're already an honorary member of the group, then. Courfeyrac was quite pleased with himself after that escapade—said he delivered truth into the house of God itself, with beautiful angels surrounding him."

A snort of not-very-ladylike laughter escapes, and Cosette claps her hands over her mouth. "Sorry!"

"For laughing at Courfeyrac?" Feuilly shakes his head. "Don't be. If he were here, he'd be trying to get you to laugh himself. Being overly dramatic is an art form of his."

"Ah. I see." Cosette bites her lip before continuing on. "It's just... we knew about the Friends, you see. We suspected anyone being hunted for re-education had some connection with them, though I didn't dream how close until Marius told me. It wasn't just that we were spiting authority—though the nuns could be quite strict, and some girls would. But they praised your group."

"Truly?" Feuilly tilts his head. "I'm... not used to religious organizations praising us."

"Not openly, I suppose. Not when the world government wanted you all captured for re-education. But... well... the nuns always taught us that the greatest order was to love your neighbor. And that's what you and the Amis want to do. Love all humanity's neighbors, be they on Earth or out there in the stars."

Feuilly is staring at her, his expression frozen somewhere between shock and dismay.

Cosette allows her eyes to fall, though she doesn't know what she's said to upset the man. "I'm sorry. Is that not—"

"No. It's all right, Cosette. You're right, in everything you said." This time Feuilly's smile is sad, but he does smile as he lies down, rolling himself back into the access hatch. "I'm glad that you and Marius are here, and that I got a chance to speak with you. Though I suspect we may want to have you help some of the others, too—unless you want a list of tools to memorize by tomorrow."

Cosette settles down on the floor by Feuilly's lower half, crossing her arms in front of her chest. "Any way I can be of help, I will be."

She doesn't see him smile again, but she suspects he does, and loves that she can make him do so.

(She dreams that night of a man with fine black hair and pale white skin, and though he looks nothing like Feuilly there is something in the wary lines around his mouth that reminds her of him. When he smiles, she smiles; and when a man who is not Marius tells her that their friend is dead, she cries in his arms and wakes with tears still streaming down her face.)

XXX

"And be very certain that all the safeties are on and that it's grounded before you even come anywhere close to touching the power switch, because if you don't—"

"It could go off, frying everything in a two and a half meter radius for one point six kilometers along the beam; or, if not properly grounded, just explode, killing us all." Cosette manages to keep from smiling too broadly as the bald man blinks at her. "Don't worry. I've got this."

"Clearly she does." Eponine, the other woman helping at this site, smiles at Cosette as she passes by.

"You... know far more about weapons than I would have expected from someone raised by nuns." Bossuet rubs at his head, his slanted eyes crinkling in mirth as he studies her.

"I taught myself everything I could about them once I figured out my father was a soldier before he took me in." Cosette settles down to work, connecting wires, ensuring bolts are tightened. They are outside, today, working on a section of hull. The sun is pleasantly warm against her neck and shoulders.

"Figured out?" Bossuet works on the other side of the plasma cannon from her, clearly watching to ensure she doesn't do anything wrong. "He didn't tell you?"

"He... doesn't talk about the past." That may be the largest understatement she could make. The only thing her father will say about the past is that she was loved—and she believes him, though most of her earliest memories are of fear and uncertainty. Though child abuse is very rare now, condemned by the world government, policed by the schools and the communities, she suspects she should be counted somewhere in the falling statistics. "But I'm clever, and he doesn't lie to me, either. I know he was a soldier, and even if he won't tell me what he faced up there, I could infer some from the weapons that were used."

"The information was declassified seven years ago." Bossuet leans around the cannon so he can study her. "You would have been twelve."

"Yes." Cosette focuses on her work. "Almost thirteen. Old enough to learn, if I wanted to, and I've kept learning all I can."

"Because you want to go up there, too?"

The question is asked softly, but it still freezes her in place.

"It's easy enough to guess. If you didn't have itchy feet for the stars, you wouldn't be allying with us." He gives a lopsided smile.

"I want to see it. I want to see what's out there." She tilts her head back, scanning the white-specked blue sky, knowing that behind that false dome of blue lie universes and galaxies and worlds. "He's taken me everywhere I wanted to go down here, and it's beautiful. We've kept it beautiful, despite the wounds of the past."

Bossuet makes a sound, a slight inward drawing of breath, but when she glances at him he just gestures for her to continue.

"But what are we doing out there?" She gestures toward the sky. "Now that it looks like there's going to be an overhaul of the re-education programs thanks to you guys, that's where the future is. And that's where his past is. And that's where I want to go."

"Even if it means leaving all this behind?" He gestures outward, to the grassland surrounding the small pod where this section of the Friends' ship-in-waiting lies. How many pieces are there? She doesn't know, not yet, the answers divided among the nine people who make up the core of the Friends, but she knows that this one and the one she helped Feuilly with are almost ready for launch.

"This is still going to be here. Our home. Humanity's home. For a few thousand years more, at least." Her eyes glance toward the sun, yellow-orange, hanging low in the sky. "But even planets have a lifespan, and before we get close to the end of that we need to go out. And we need to go out like in Enjolras' speeches—with open hearts and open minds, not open gunports."

"Though we do reserve the right to have gunports, if for nothing else than for shooting chunks off meteors. Hopefully just for shooting chunks off meteors." Bossuet's smile fades. "There's still so much they're keeping classified, Cosette. If they let us go, which may be another few years' worth of political fighting, they've made it clear we'll be flying out blind."

"But once you do the rest of the world won't be." Cosette rubs her face on the red sleeve of her suit, the material immediately whisking away the sweat. "You'll send back information like you promised, right?"

"Oh yes. Us and everyone who comes with us, we'll send back every footstep we take, every mistake we make." Bossuet finally tilts his head back, squinting at the sun. "The stars belong to all of us. That's why so many cultures use words like bright or star to refer to people who are doing well."

Cosette turns back to her work with a smile. "I hadn't thought of that bit of reference."

"Well, if you're looking for some word play..."

He spends the next two hours spinning stories and making puns, half of which are wonderful and half of which are groan-inducing. Cosette giggle more than she has in a very long time, until she has to demand Bossuet stop unless he wants her to accidentally blow them up.

(She dreams that night of a laughing man with a clever tongue, who teases a man who is-not-Marius, slapping him on the back before winking at her. Then the dream shifts and she watches him die, a hand that is both hers and ebon-black pressed against a sheet of glass. The players in the square below are small, distance making them look like toy soldiers, and if any sound reaches to her safe aerie the glass absorbs it. What the glass cannot absorb is the red that flows, flowers blooming everywhere in hideous, grievous protest.)

XXX

"You've a way with words."

Cosette blushes, not quite able to look at the person sitting beside her. "Thank you."

"And at least a modicum of the lack of humility needed in a true writer. I think I like you." Prouvaire grins, settling back in his chair and giving it a spin.

Cosette glances across at the writer, once again struck by his strange manner of dress—a hodge-podge of styles from all across the world, all glowing faintly, in reds and blues and greens. Most people reserved the bioluminescent functions on their clothes for dark times, preferring not to have to leave them out to recharge in the sun, but Prouvaire is clearly using it for artistic expression.

Reaching out to the table, he stops his spin. "Have you decided what to make of me yet?"

"I... think you are one of the more colorful among Marius' friends. And a brilliant writer." Cosette finds her hands once more running over the variety of posters displayed on the table-top, in three languages she can read and six that she can't without her contact lenses' help. "You've managed to synopsize so much in such little space... it's wonderful."

"When you're doing e-graf work, it's important. You never know how long something will stay up before the powers that be will notice the ad, and most people who see it likely won't stay to read a long piece. Short, sweet, and powerful. That's what we need." His eyes when he glances at the table-top darken from a pale blue to an almost slate gray, fierce and determined. "As well as more native languages, or at least very familiar ones. Which is where you can help me, if you're willing."

"Certainly." Cosette hesitates. "Though... I'm not a writer like you..."

"Anyone can be a writer. All you need is to want to communicate." He tilts his head, a sheepish smile. "And to know the language. And though I've tried, I seem to be unable to learn all of them fluently on my own."

"That's what the contacts are for. So you don't have to know every language—it'll be translated for you."

"It'll give you an approximation, and that will do in a pinch, but there's still no program that knows language like a native speaker. The ins and outs, the way emphasis can be tweaked for power, the allusions that can be created given common phrases or stories... maybe one day we'll make a computer that can speak like a man, but even with all our efforts we don't have it so far."

"And... you think I can help?" Cosette bites her lip.

"According to your resume you're familiar with two languages that no one else in the Friends is—most likely due to your friends in the dormitory?" Prouvaire's smile takes on a teasing edge. "Unless that, too, was a bit of... exaggeration to get past our fearless leaders?"

"No, I can speak it. Them." Cosette's ears burn once more, this time with a more active shame. "I can try to help."

She spends five hours debating words choices with Prouvaire, three of them on the pieces he has her help create, two on the ones he's already done, as he flips the completed phrases across the table.

She almost doesn't see it. He almost sends it flying before she notices that it's there, her vision starting to get blurry even through her contacts.

It is something she has never seen before, though, and so she stops his hand, grabbing his wrist in a firm hold so he can't flick the digital image away as he has the others. "I can't read that!"

"No." He studies the image with a strange, almost sad expression. "I suppose you can't."

"No, even my contacts can't read it!" She blinks her eyes, and letters flow in the air above the unfamiliar characters, but they fail to resolve into words, instead fading away. "What is that?"

"A dead language." Prouvaire reaches to caress the words with his free hand, and she has never seen anyone touch a digital projection so gently, as though the weight of his eyes alone might be enough to break it. "The last native speaker died over four hundred years ago, before enough could be recorded by linguists to give either an oral or visual guide."

"But..." Cosette stares at the strange, looping letters. "Languages can't die."

"They can. They have and they will." The left side of Prouvaire's mouth turns up into a grimace-grin. "The death of ideas, that's what the death of a language is. The death of expressions, of understandings, of connections that existed solely for that people. The curse of the common language—for every child tutored so strongly in Human, for every child taught to rely solely on their technological eyes and ears for everything else, we lose something irreplaceable."

"But we have to have it." Cosette finds that she is holding Prouvaire's hand tightly now, for comfort, as though he were a lifeline in an unfamiliar sea. "Without it we couldn't do this—have conversations, you and I, where we both know what we're saying. And we have preserved the old languages. No one is forced to abandon their tongues. That's what the translations are for."

"Yes." A smile breaks slowly across his face, the rise of the sun after a night of storms. "We won that battle, even if the cost is uncalculable. The languages are preserved, and it's only human laziness that will see them all die. Surely human curiosity will be strong enough to countermand that, no?"

"It's the force that brought us here, no?" She smiles, giving his hand a squeeze.

He squeezes her hand in return, his fingers running once more down the unfamiliar symbols. "Curiosity and compassion, the wind across the cold emptiness between the stars that are the universe's children."

He goes to flick the image off the table and she catches it, looking for meaning in the old letters. "If this is a dead language... how did you write something in it?"

"I saw it in a dream." He raises one eyebrow at her. "Or would a girl who claims to be theist tell me that dreams are not a proper way to find the dead and forgotten?"

Before she can come up with a proper response he has summoned other images to his fingertips, is asking her other questions, intentionally driving her thoughts away from the image she still holds captured in front of her.

She has spent enough time arguing with her father to know when she will get no clearer answers, but she still keeps the image trapped there for nearly an hour, a cage for Prouvaire's eyes whenever he lets the conversation lapse too long.

She lets it free when the hour has passed, finding she likes the blue of his eyes when he smiles more than the slate-grey sorrow that stares down at those foreign—foreign, a word she never thought she would have reason to use!—words.

(She dreams in languages she does not know that night, and though she writes down the few phrases she remembers as soon as she wakes, by the time she returns from breakfast with her father they are incomprehensible, shadow-whispers that make her head hurt if she stares too hard at them.)

XXX

"You're sure you're up for this?" Joly rubs the side of his nose, though the skin there is already a rosy pink from his frequent use of the nervous gesture.

"I'm a biologist, training for a medical internship. This is something I am completely prepared for." Cosette tries to look earnest rather than nervous. Never mind that she's still two credits and at least three months from even applying for internships, her twentieth birthday coming far too slowly. She knows that she can be of help here.

"Yes, but..." Joly sighs. "Autopsy reports can be... disturbing. And since we've been given these, I believe, with the express purpose of getting us to finally give up on our goals—which will not happen, no matter what knowledge we glean—I don't want—"

"Joly, enough." Musichetta comes up beside Joly, draping an arm across his shoulder. She gives Cosette a brief wink. "Our newest member wants to help us, and she's been trained for this. No biologist gets this far in their career without developing a stomach for it. Right?"

"Right." Cosette nods emphatically. "So how do you want to divide this between the three of us?"

After a moment's hesitation Joly sighs and gestures for them to follow him to the bank of screens and the palm-sized computer with the classified data they are being allowed to peruse.

They spend hours going through report after detailed report of soldier's deaths. Most have been censored, particularly with regards to conclusions about cause of death.

None of the images or descriptions of injuries have been censored, though, and Cosette does find herself having to take a break after every third or fourth file read.

Musichetta and Joly start joining her after her first break, which makes her feel not quite so pathetic.

"Some of these are just accidents." Musichetta lays a hand on Cosette's shoulder. "Space is dangerous. We all know that."

"Some, but not all." Joly's face is set, his jaw tense, his eyes hard and cold. "You recognize these injuries the same as I do. Fists. Clubs. Blades. Projectile weapons—guns, true guns, after all these years."

Cosette whispers what they've all been thinking. "They're fighting people up there."

"Or something that fights a great deal like a person." Joly sighs. "I suppose we should have expected it. Humanity has always loved the stars, and there are such big gaps in the history we have..."

"That's not all, though." Musichetta wraps her arms around Joly again, hugging him tight. "Some of these injuries—there's nothing we know of that can cause it. The way that one body just kind of gooped in some areas—"

"Yes, love." Joly pats Musichetta's arm. "That's very comforting."

"I'm not trying to be comforting." Musichetta holds him tighter, in stark contrast to her words. "You knew it was going to be bad. That's why you were trying to warn Cosette."

"They're trying to frighten us." Cosette hugs her arms around her chest. "To make us doubt what we're doing. But we won't. Because if there's this much bad out there, surely there's something good, too, right? Something worth doing all this dying for?"

Musichetta holds out her arm, drawing Cosette into the group embrace. "Well, my jolly man? What do you think of that?"

Joly pulls a face at Musichetta before smiling at Cosette. "I think you're just what the doctor ordered. You're right, of course, that they're trying to frighten us, and that we have no idea what precipitated these deaths. It gives us information to be prepared, nothing more, nothing less. It changes nothing about what we're doing or why we're doing it."

They work until the military police kick them out, reclaiming the small computer stored with a world's worth of horror. Bossuet and Grantaire are waiting for them when they finally emerge, blinking in the starlight, and the evening that follows holds joy enough to keep the nightmares (mostly) at bay.

(She dreams of mourning, though when she wakes she doesn't know who for. For her father, the man who holds secrets in his own broken nightmares and battered heart? For the Friends, the group that has changed the world, the people who are striving against the last traces of injustice? For people she has never known, because a man with no face but Marius' voice is crying for them? Perhaps for all or for none, but either way, the tears evaporate swiftly from her pillow in the morning sun, and she once more throws herself into her work.)

XXX

"You cannot."

"I will. I am." Cosette studies her father, surprised at the calm with which she speaks.

"No!" Her father is anything but calm, pacing up and down her room, his large hands balled into fists at his side. Though he has never been anything but kind and gentle to her, Cosette understands, watching him pace like a wounded beast, why some of her dorm friends feared him. "I forbid it, don't you understand? You're still a child!"

"I haven't been a child for ten years, father."

"Semantics!" With the wave of a hand he brushes aside her carefully-hoarded steps toward maturity—her change from child to juvenile at ten, when she chose her name; her change from juvenile to youth at fifteen, when she once more chose Cosette as her epithet; her upcoming change from youth to young adult. "You're not mature yet. I can stop you."

"You can try. If you really insist on it, you can try to cage me here. Maybe..." She imagines the trouble that would arise if her father insisted that Enjolras and the Friends were attempting to kidnap her, to carry her into space. "Maybe you could even ground me here now. But I will follow them."

He studies her through red-rimmed eyes, his hands clenching and unclenching at his side. "It's dangerous."

"Father... Daddy..." She hasn't used a diminutive for him in years, but now it rolls off her tongue. "It's what I want to do. I know it's dangerous. But it's also where we—where humanity—belongs. Out among the stars as diplomats. And if you know what's dangerous about it.. tell us. Help us. Come with us. Please."

For long, tense seconds he watches her with haunted eyes. "I swore to your mother I would find you, wherever you had gotten to on Earth, and keep you safe. Don't you see how good it is here, Cosette? There's no hunger. Schooling. Medicine. Love—that fool boy you've had over so often—"

"Is going with the Friends, in twenty hours." Cosette hopes that her father doesn't see through the not-quite-lie—Marius will go, because his friends are going and she is going, but Marius has no burning need to reach for the stars. "But I'm not going for him. I'm going for me. Come with me, Father. Please."

He closes his eyes, and she watches as the fight slowly drains away from him. When he opens them again, she knows what he will say. "How long do we have to pack, and how much are we allowed to bring?"

The whoop of joy she gives as she flings her arms around her father's neck brings a smile to his face, and she knows, then, that everything will be all right.

(She could not leave him behind. She spent too many nights dreaming of broken dying old men, and she knew, as soon as Enjolras sent the word that they could leave, that she could not leave him behind. To be free, to find a new story, she must first give a kinder ending to the old one.)

XXX

"It's beautiful." Cosette whispers the word, her hand pressed to the clear window that opens up onto a vista of stars. The stars rotate slowly in and out of view, the section of ship they are standing in spinning just fast enough to produce a feeling of Earth-like gravity.

"It is." Her father stands behind her, studying the universe as well. "I... had forgotten how beautiful."

"Not so beautiful as your daughter." Courfeyrac's cheerful voice startles both of them, and they turn to see the trio that leads the Friends approaching, others straggling in behind them. "Welcome aboard, madam and... sir?"

The polite question, a request for confirmation of gender, earns a brief nod from her father.

"I'm glad you could come, Cosette." Combeferre smiles at her, though his eyes flick often to the window she is standing in front of and the stars behind her. "I... still owe you an apology for our first meeting, I fear."

Feuilly steps up behind Combeferre, clapping him on the back. "We've been betrayed too often, you see. It always surprises me, but Combeferre is wise enough to suspect it now."

"There's no wisdom in suspecting people, in doubting the positive change in a situation." Combeferre sighs. "I didn't imagine we would end up here. I think... it's only now that I really believe it. Really believe we've won."

"Won one battle. Won one war." Enjolras' voice is soft but arresting, blue eyes gleaming as they study the stars. "Now to see what else is out there."

"Now travel forth with kindness and compassion, those traits that are the wind between the stars of life in a universe of dark unknowns."

Cosette stares up at her father, surprised to hear his gruff voice reciting something that is almost certainly poetry.

Her father smiles down at her, looking sheepish and out of place as he shrugs. "It's a piece of an old poem. Someone I respected dearly recited it to me once, and those lines caught in my head."

"They're good lines." Prouvaire gives her a cat's smile, enigmatic and endearing at the same time. "And fitting for this occasion, I think."

A chorus of stammered requests denotes Marius wending his way through the growing crowd to Cosette's side. Once he reaches her he doesn't say anything, instead wrapping her in a tight embrace.

The comm clicks to life, and Bahorel's voice spills out, bright and cheery. "All right, crazy people, are we ready to head out?"

Enjolras studies each of them in turn, receiving nods of acquiescence, before moving to press the comm button on the wall. "We're ready whenever you are."

Marius' arms tighten around Cosette even more as the stars begin moving sideways along with the rotation, swiftly picking up speed. His voice is a quiet whisper in her ear, barely a breath of air movement. "They move now with hope at their side, the strongest wind that ever connected star to star. Thank you."

"I'm here because it's where I want to be, Marius." Cosette kisses him gently on the cheek. "Nothing more, nothing less."

(They dream, later, in the darkness that they classify as night, though such things have little meaning among the stars. They aren't all good dreams, but they are new dreams, and when they wake the stars stretch out bright before them, waiting with bated breath for the faintest wind of connection.)