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the simple grace of a kiss

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1. Neck

“Monsieur le maire, your cravat is askew.”

Monsieur Madeleine looks surprised. He cranes his neck, attempting to see the faulty cravat, and fails.

He tugs at it. “Is this better?”

Javert raises an eyebrow; in his blind attempt, Madeleine has only made it worse. “Let me adjust it,” he offers.

There is a moment’s pause before the mayor smiles weakly. “Of course.”

He stands, rounding the desk, and places himself firmly in front of Javert. Javert tilts the man’s head up slightly and begins to fix the cravat.

It is not simply askew, he finds. He curses to himself. Rather, the piece of cloth is tied rather awkwardly. He begins to undo the knot. Beneath his fingers, Madeleine flinches. Javert barks a laugh.

“Don’t worry, monsieur le maire,” he mutters. “I am not undressing you. Your cravat is simply tied awkwardly, and I am fixing it.”

“Of… of course.”

Javert pauses for a moment, puzzling over how stilted Madeleine’s response was. He risks a glance at the mayor’s face.

The man’s eyes are shut tight, a color risen high in his cheeks. His chest is heaving slightly beneath Javert’s hands.

Javert narrows his eyes. “Are you quite all right, monsieur le maire?”

“I am fine.” But Madeleine’s voice is breathless, almost a whisper. He clears his throat. “I am fine,” he repeats, and this time, Javert can almost believe it. He continues tying the cravat. When he is finished, he takes a tiny step back and examines his handiwork. He himself has never been particularly skilled with cravats, but is better than before.

Madeleine’s eyes are still closed, though he has tilted his head down. His cheeks are still flushed. Javert has to admit, it is an attractive sight.

He immediately reproaches himself. Thoughts like such are shameful, when directed at another man. And the mayor, of all men!

Although…

Javert steps forward, not exactly sure himself what he is doing. He steps forward until his chest is nearly presses against Madeleine’s.

The mayor’s eyes fly open. “Javert, what are you…?”

He does not answer. He has no answer. He looks down at the cravat again and brings his hands up to mess with it, but it is pointless.

Javert chances another look at Madeleine. The man is looking at him intently, and he feels his own face burn.

“You are a man of God, monsieur le maire,” he mumbles. “What would you say to a man who desired other men?”

Madeleine’s voice is quiet. “I don’t know. I do not find it dishonorable, if that is the answer you are looking for.”

“What about a man who desired you?”

“What are you saying, Inspector?” the mayor asks. Javert opens his mouth, then closes it. He shrugs his shoulders, and the motion is almost imperceptible.

He bows his head, unable to look Madeleine in the eye. “I do not know.”

Javert’s hands are still fiddling with the cravat. He feels a pair of hands touch tentatively at his waist, and he stifles a gasp.

The thoughts that have been plaguing him in the past months swim into his mind, unbarred. Madeleine’s broad back, his laugh, the way the fabric of his shirts strain against his chest. The dreams that Javert has forgotten which are more graphic than anything he’s imagined while waking.

He finds himself leaning forward, brushing the top of the cravat aside to clear a patch of skin, and he presses his lips to Madeleine’s neck.

Javert draws back, dazed and flushed. “I must—I must go.”

Madeleine tries to pull him closer. “Javert—”

“I have to go.”      

• • •

2. Forehead

The woman Monsieur Madeleine brings in is tiny, with ashen hair and skin. Simplice gasps and pulls her from the mayor’s arms. But it seems the woman has no strength, and she topples into Simplice’s arms as well.

“You poor thing,” Simplice murmurs. The woman is burning with fever. Simplice looks up at Monsieur Madeleine. “What is her name?”

His face is grave. “Fantine. She is very sick.”

Sister Perpetue nods. “That is obvious, monsieur le maire. Simplice, get her to a bed immediately. I can speak with the mayor.”

“Of course, sister,” Simplice says quietly. She shifts Fantine to lean on her shoulder, though she still has an arm around her waist. None of the nuns here are particularly strong, but Simplice is the strongest. Perhaps it is because she is the tallest.

It is a short walk to an empty bed. The two beds in this room are empty—most patients are kept on the floors above. But Simplice is aware she cannot carry anyone up an entire flight of stairs, not even Fantine.  She slides the woman into the bed easily. Fantine is shivering despite her fever, but is so delirious she does not even grasp at the blankets around her. Simplice must pull them over Fantine herself.

She notes how Fantine is dressed, though she does not mean to. Fantine wears only a thin chemise. The neckline is tugged down to reveal almost the entirety of her breast, and there are rips in the skirt. She must be one of the women who sell themselves at the docks. Poor thing.

She places a gentle hand on Fantine’s shoulder. “I will get the blankets from the other bed for you.”

Simplice watches the woman worriedly as she fetches the blankets. It is lucky that Monsieur Madeleine brought her here when he did. She does not think Fantine would have survived the night if he hadn’t.

She also doubts that Fantine is conscious, but as she throws the blankets over the woman, a bony hand clutches at her wrist. She looks down to see Fantine staring at her.

“Thank you,” Fantine whispers. Her voice is rough, and her front two teeth are missing. Simplice feels a surge of pity.

“It is no trouble, mademoiselle,” she replies.

“Mademoiselle?” Fantine frowns, leaning her head back. “No one has called me that in a long time.”

“That is a shame,” Simplice says softly.

There is a chair in the corner, and she pulls it over to Fantine’s bedside. Perpetue will be here to help tend to Fantine soon enough; for now, Simplice will watch over her. Fantine’s eyes are a brilliant blue, she notices, shining in the candlelight. They are beautiful.

Simplice pushes the thought away. She was supposed to have banished such… notions when she entered the order, and Fantine is a very sick woman. It is wrong to think of her in such a way.

Fantine is clutching at her arm again. Her hand is white with sickness and her knuckles red with cold. “My child Cosette—she will be here soon?”

“I do not know,” Simplice answers as kindly as possible. She doesn’t even know who Cosette is. Seeing how Fantine’s face falls, she adds, “I hope she will be.”

Fantine smiles. “Thank you. Monsieur said he would fetch her.”

She must mean Monsieur Madeleine . “He is always truthful,” Simplice murmurs. Fantine nods. By the time she slips into sleep, Perpetue has still not arrived.

Simplice casts a gaze towards the room’s door. Then she leans forward and presses a kiss to Fantine’s forehead.

“Sleep well,” she whispers.

• • •

2. Knee

Cosette is always unsure as to why Madame has her sweep in front of the inn. It is already dusty and dirty, she reasons. There’s no way she can possibly clean it. But she has voiced her concerns to Madame twice before and only gotten slaps in return.

Now Cosette tends to keep her thoughts to herself.

It is early morning, the sun barely over the horizon, and Cosette is still amazed Madame is awake. Usually there is at least a few minutes for her to rest and play with her makeshift sword-doll. She heaves the broom through the doorway. It is meant for an adult, and was probably used by one once, although Cosette can’t imagine Madame or Monsieur ever picking it up.

She finds that she is not alone. Éponine is playing in the shade of the inn. She has stolen Azelma’s doll, apparently, and is now braiding the hair of both.

Cosette watches longingly. It is not that she wants to braid the dolls’ hair—she barely knows how to braid her own—but rather that she would like a doll of her own. A real doll.

Éponine catches her staring and turns away. “Go away, Cothette.”

Cosette represses a snicker, though she dares not laugh outright. Éponine lost one of her front teeth earlier this week. She’s still lisping, and for what feels like the first time Cosette and Azelma have a private joke of their own. Neither Éponine nor Madame seem to find any humor in it, and Monsieur doesn’t pay enough attention to care.

Cosette picks up the broom again and begins to sweep. A tremor runs through her shoulders. She begins to despair. She spent last night hauling a bucket of water back to the inn from the river, and she aches. She wishes Madame would let her rest.

She distracts herself by thinking of the Lady. Cosette has a vague image in her mind, sometimes, vague enough that she isn’t sure if it’s a memory or a dream. It is of a woman with golden hair and gleaming white teeth. Her clothes are worn, but everything Cosette has ever known is worn.

The Lady, as Cosette calls her, is very nice. She remembers the Lady weeping, but she cannot imagine why. She smiles to herself.

Suddenly something hooks around Cosette’s ankle, snapping her out of her reverie. There is not enough time to stop herself from falling. When she hits the ground, a sharp pain runs up from her shin, and she cries out. She can’t bring herself to get up.

“Cothette?”

Éponine has looked up from her dolls. Cosette whimpers, and the other girl hurries over. There is no trace of her usual malice in her demeanor.

“Wha’ happened?” Éponine asks, kneeling.

“I tripped!” Cosette bursts into tears. There’s a considerable cut on her shin. “Madame will yell at me, won’t she? It hurts and—what are you doing?”

Éponine looks up, wrapping her handkerchief around Cosette’s skin. “I’m helping. When ‘Thelma or I get hur’, Mama alwayth geth mad. It hurth my earth when she yellth.”

Cosette sniffles. The handkerchief is clean, but the fabric chafes at her cut. She wishes she could pour water on it, but she doesn’t dare get any from the inn. The river is too far to walk.

Éponine grunts.”Thith’ll hide the bleeding, at leath. Mama won’t thee. Tho don’t limp around.” Cosette only wipes tears from her eyes in response. Éponine sighs.

“I’ll kith it to make it better.” She leans forward, pressing her lips to the handkerchief. Cosette manages a smile.

• • •

4. Mouth

As the days pass, Fantine’s strength returns. It’s a relief. Simplice watches over her carefully. Sister Perpetue seems to be relieved by this for reasons unknown, and she leaves the two women to their own devices.

Fantine talks often of Cosette, her daughter. Monsieur Madeleine assured Simplice a few days after bringing Fantine in that Cosette does in fact exist, and after that, she was eager to hear Fantine’s stories. Simplice will never have any children of her own, but she is fond of them.

“She’s an angel,” Fantine breathes one day. The color in her cheeks is beginning to return. “She was so young when I left her with those people, the innkeepers. I miss her so.”

“Yes,” Simplice murmurs. “I should like to meet her. How old is she now?”

“Seven I think.”

Simplice smiles. “Children that age are always sweet. From what I’ve heard, of course—I’ve no experience in the area.”

“You are very sweet,” Fantine murmurs, turning her head to look at her. Simplice feels herself blush and ducks her head down.

Monsieur Madeleine visits often. He is always concerned about Fantine’s health, despite her recovery. He is most worried about her child.

“I do not know how soon I will be able to retrieve Cosette,” he confides in Simplice when Fantine has fallen asleep. “The innkeepers refuse to bring her home, and I do not have the time to fetch her myself.”

“Why not send someone else in your stead?” Simplice asks.

“Who would I send?”

She racks her brain for an answer. “The inspector, perhaps? Then the innkeepers would be obligated to give Cosette up, as he is a man of the law.”

Monsieur Madeleine colors and mutters something about insubordination; from what Simplice knows of Inspector Javert, however, it cannot possibly be true. She does not press the matter. But she worries about Cosette. If it were in Simplice’s power, she would fetch the child herself. But alas, she is a woman, and a nun at that. All she can do is encourage others and keep Fantine company while they wait.

They are alone one Saturday afternoon, Simplice holding the rosary but not truly praying, and Fantine drifting in and out of sleep, when Simplice feels a familiar hand at her wrist. She smiles.

“You’re getting better,” she says softly. “Your fingers are not nearly as bony as they once were.”

“That is good,” Fantine mumbles. She shifts under the blankets. “Simplice?”

“Yes?”

“I am tired.”

She laughs a little. “That is to be expected, mademoiselle. You have just woken from sleep.”

“No, I…” Fantine pauses. “I am tired in my bones. Like they know that the end is near.”

Simplice frowns, looking down to see worry on the other woman’s face. “It is not near,” she says gently. “You are getting better every day, and Monsieur Madeleine has promised to deliver Cosette. You will live.”

“Will I?” Fantine whispers. Simplice reaches out and tucks a stray lock of hair behind Fantine’s ear.

“You will live. Of that I am certain.”

A smile passes over Fantine’s face then, as gentle as the afternoon sun. “You are so kind, Simplice. You comfort me.”

“That is my duty.”

Fantine tugs on her wrist, and though the grip is weak, the touch is imploring. Simplice sets her rosary aside ad kneels beside the bed. “What is it?”

“You are so kind,” Fantine repeats. “And you are very beautiful.”

Simplice feels herself blush. “I would not presume to—”

And then Fantine is kissing her.

Fantine’s lips are soft, so soft, and Simplice cannot make herself pull away.

• • •

5. Hands

“You have killed this woman .”

Simplice is shaking, tears streaming down her face. She cannot bring herself to move from the corner she still cowers in.

The inspector is gone, having taken the mayor with him. She shakes her head to herself, remembering the inspector’s words:

“He’s not mayor any longer!”

She pushes herself up from the wall, finally, but does not walk towards Fantine’s bed. Her head is swimming; Monsieur Madeleine is not Madeleine, but a convict named Jean Valjean who has broken parole. He shall be returning to prison.

That is just, Simplice supposes, but she breaks down again only a moment after the thought. No matter Monsieur Madeleine’s true name, he was kind. He was kind, so honest too; he had saved Fantine from illness, promised to retrieve her child. He had built Montreuil-sur-Mer up from dust.

“He does not belong in the prison,” Simplice whispers. But she is only a nun, and a woman, and can do nothing to stop it.

Fantine is dead. Monsieur Madeleine is a convict, and fantine’s child Cosette shall never be retrieved. Simplice covers her face with her hands and begins to sob once more.

“Simplice?”

The voice is small, so small, it is barely a whisper. Simplice peers through her fingers, and freezes.

Fantine’s eyes are open.

She looks exhausted, but her eyes are open. She looks terrified, but her eyes are open and she is awake , she is alive , and Simplice’s face breaks into a smile.

“Fantine,” she whispers, rushing to the woman’s bedside. “Oh, Fantine—you’re alive .” She takes Fantine’s hands in her own. “I thought—I thought the inspector had killed you!”

Fantine snorts. “He can do nothing to me.”

Then her face grows pained. “Simplice… is it true, what Javert said? That Monsieur Madeleine is really a convict?”

“I have never known him to lie,” Simplice says quietly.  “Monsieur Madeleine is being taken to prison now.”

At once, Fantine curls in upon herself. She is silent for a long moment, head bowed; when she looks up, her face is wet with tears.

“He was so kind to me,” she whispers. “I would not—I cannot believe—”

Fantine begins to sob, her frail chest heaving, and Simplice wraps her up in her arms. Fantine is shaking. Simplice smoothes her pale hair with a hand, feeling herself tremble.

“It will be all right,” she whispers. “I promise. I—you can stay with us, the sisters. You can help us with the hospital, and-and you can help with our garden, and I promise that it will be all right.”

Fantine’s voice is ragged. “He should not be in prison. He was good, he was so good .”

“I know.”

“What will become of my child?” Fantine whispers. “I cannot retrieve her myself, and there is no one to fetch her. My Cosette… she cannot be left with those innkeepers.”

Simplice draws back, and presses her forehead to Fantine’s. The woman’s brillant eyes are filled with worry, shining with tears, and she feels a pang in her heart.

“We will find a way, dear Fantine. I will make sure Cosette is taken from them,” Simplice whispers.

Fantine shakes her head. “How can you? I wish to believe you, I want to so, so badly. But how?”

Simplice pauses, considering this. She does not know that tonight, Monsieur Madeleine will appear again; she does not know that he shall fetch Cosette as promised.

All she knows is that Fantine is alive. Her Fantine is alive.

Simplice presses her lips to Fantine’s hands.

“I do not know. But I shall.”

• • •

6. Nose

When Éponine closed her eyes, she had not expected to open them again. After all, she had been shot. Her arm felt as though it was on fire—and she expected that the flames would quickly spread to the rest of her body.

But she does indeed open her eyes once more, and it is to an unfamiliar sight.

She is laying in a bed, the softest bed she has ever lain in, in a bedroom she does not know. Her arm still buzzes with pain. When she glances over at it, it is wrapped in bandages.

“You’re awake!”

She turns her head to see a girl in the doorway, clutching a book to her chest. Éponine frowns. The girl is familiar, somehow, her blueish eyes the same as ones Éponine once knew.

No, it can’t be. Cosette was a little girl with chapped knees taken away by a beggar in yellow. There is no way she could live here . And besides, Cosette had blonde hair, not chestnut.

The girl crosses the room and sits by Éponine’s bedside. “Now that you’re awake, can you tell me your name?”

“Éponine Thénardier.” Her throat is dry, she finds, and it is difficult to get the words out. The girl’s eyes widen.

“Did your father, by any chance, run an inn in Montfermeil?” the girl asks.

“Yes. Why?”

She beams. “Then I was right—oh, I cannot wait to tell Papa! He has gone somewhere, where I do not know. I expect he’ll be back soon. You see, I am Cosette. I worked for your parents as a child.”

“Cosette,” Éponine breathes. She would reach out, but her arm aches. “I… I am sorry. I was cruel as a child.”

Cosette shrugs. “You were only following your mother’s example.”

Éponine flinches at the mention of her mother. The woman died some months ago in prison. Time has passed, but she still mourns. She will not mention this to Cosette for the time being.

“May I have some water?” she whispers.

“Oh, of course! Give me a moment to fetch it.”

Éponine closes her eyes and leans her head against the pillow. When Cosette returns, she reaches for the glass of water, but the other girl shakes her head.

“Rest. I will help you.”

Cosette tilts the glass against her lips; Éponine gulps the water down greedily. When she has drunk nearly all, Cosette pulls the water back.

“How did I get here?” Éponine asks.

“My papa, in fact. He had gone to rescue my Marius from the barricades, can you believe it? But he found you lying in the street and saw that you were alive, so he carried you home.” Cosette smiles. “I am so glad you have survived. I’ve been waiting for you to wake since he left.”

Éponine frowns. “There was—there was a little boy at the barricades with a scar on his left eyebrow. His name is Gavroche and he is my brother. Have you seen him?”

“I’m afraid not.” Cosette’s brows furrow. “I’m sure he has made it out,” she says reassuringly. Éponine shrugs. Gavroche has always been a reckless child, and she suspects that his recklessness would not vanish when facing bullets.

Cosette leans forward, and her lips brush against the tip of Éponine’s nose for a moment. “You are alive, at least.”

Éponine cannot answer. She is frozen, the memory of the kiss bright in her mind. Her eyes flick to Cosette. The way the dying sunlight hits the other woman’s hair, it gives her a vague halo.

Éponine closes her eyes against such divinity.

• • •

7. Feet

Javert cannot honestly say that he did not expect Valjean to show his face at the Pont-au-Change.

After all, when have they not found each other? At Toulon, at Montreuil-sur-Mer, at the barricades—honestly, he half expects that the would-be victim of Thénardier in the Gorbeau house was Valjean in disguise.

So when he catches sight of that white head of hair out of the corner of his eye, he sighs resignedly. He does not climb down from the parapet.

“Javert, come down from there!”

Valjean’s voice is full of worry. But now Valjean is no longer Madeleine, no longer has any power over him, and Javert is not obligated to obey. He does not turn to face him, if only to hide the tears that sting his eyes.

“Javert, please.” A hand clamps around his leg with a vise-like grip. “You must not jump—you must come down!”

Javert’s throat is choked with tears, a sensation he has not known in many years, so long he has forgotten what it is to cry. “Why should I?” he manages.

“Why should you—! Because you should not die in this way. No one deserves such a death. Please.”

“You should have killed me at the barricades,” Javert says dully.

“No, I should not have.” Valjean tugs at his leg imploringly. They are both well aware that he is strong enough to pull Javert down without either getting hurt, so why doesn’t he take Javert down from the bridge’s edge himself?

Because he wants it to be my choice .

So Javert does indeed step down. He turns to see relief in Valjean’s expression; it is quickly wiped away when he sees Javert’s own tearstained face.

“I cannot—” Javert struggles to find the right words. “You should leave from here, Valjean. My life is not yours, whether to save or take away.”

“I told you, you may arrest me,” Valjean says softly, and Javert snorts.

“That is exactly it! You are a—a saint, Jean Valjean, the convict turned saint. You saved my life. You saved that whore and her child, you brought Montreuil-sur-Mer to prosperity. And yet you turn yourself over, willingly? It is unlawful for me to let you go, but morally, if I arrest you, I am damned.” Javert clutches at his hair. “You have turned the world upside down.”

“That woman’s name was Fantine,” Valjean replies, voice harsh for the first time. “It would do good if you called her by her name.”

“And you remember the name of a woman from eight years ago,” Javert hisses. “Do you not see my dilemma?”

“I cannot let you die.”

He laughs. “You should. You ought to. I have always disrespected you, have always ruined the fruits of your labor. Let a sinner die so a saint as yourself may live, Valjean, I beg you.”

“When have you…” Valjean’s brow furrows. “When have you ever disrespected me?”

Javert laughs again. “Do you not remember, when you were Madeleine? I touched you inappropriately, I—” he makes a strangled sound. “I kissed your neck . I am not fit to even kiss your feet.”

“Do not speak like that,” Valjean says sharply. “Come home with me, and we shall sort this out.”

“You do not understand,” Javert whispers. I am not fit to kiss your feet .

He feels himself falling to his knees, finds himself pressing his mouth to Valjean’s shoes. Javert is grateful the man has changed his clothes since they last saw each other.

“Forgive me, Valjean,” he murmurs.

When he looks up, it is to see Valjean extending a hand to him, offering salvation.

• • •

8. Shoulder

When Éponine went to the barricades that day, she had expected to die. And for the Pontmercy boy, no less.

How silly she had been!

I was only sixteen, then , she muses.

Now she sits in the Fauchelevents’ garden, head resting on Cosette’s shoulder while the other girl reads. It is the height of summer and Cosette has pulled her chestnut hair back, though a few strands have slipped out. Éponine plays with them idly. Monsieur Fauchelevent is tucked up in the house today, likely abed with his inspector, and Toussaint is at market. There is no one to see them.

“What do you suppose they’re doing?” she asks, closing her eyes. Cosette smells of lavender and the scent is comforting.

“Who do you mean?”

“Your father and Inspector Javert. Surely even you must realize the nature of their relationship.” Éponine raises her eyebrows suggestively, and she hears Cosette giggle.

“That is not for us to speculate on, ‘Ponine!” Cosette laughs. Éponine smiles with more than a little melancholy. The nickname was the last thing Gavroche ever called her before he left to deliver a note.

She has not seen him since.

“Do you miss him?” she asks quietly. She does not have to clarify who she means; Cosette knows. Cosette always knows.

“Every day,” the other woman says softly, and Éponine feels a surge of sorrow.

She had been the one who was supposed to jump in front of a bullet. She did, and has the mark on her hand to show. She was supposed to die. Monsieur Fauchelevent had even rescued Marius. But the boy had been haunted by the barricades—he’d claimed his friends were calling to him. He’d put a bullet in his head two months after.

Éponine clenches her fists in her lap. Marius had been foolish, this she’d always known. Some days, she cannot help but be furious with him for abandoning Cosette.

But mostly, she pities him. What drives a man to suicide is not something she wants to know.

Cosette wraps an arm around Éponine’s waist. “I have you now, at least,” she says softly.

“That cannot possibly make up for his loss, even if he was a ninny.”

“He was,” Cosette acknowledges. “But he was sweet. And you are right; you have not replaced Marius in the least. But you have brought another sort of joy into my life, dear Éponine. You do know that.”

Éponine hums noncommittally. She does know that, yes, but she feels odd admitting it. As if she has accepted a great weight to carry.

“I’m glad I have you,” she whispers. “Even if Gavroche and Mama are gone, and if Father has vanished with Azelma, I have you.”

Cosette shakes her head. “We should not talk of such sorrow.”

Éponine smiles sadly. Dear Cosette, always so kind. Éponine does not know how the little girl with chapped knees turned into this.

No, she does know. Monsieur Fauchelevent is the kindest man alive.

Cosette’s neckline has slipped over her shoulders, and her skin is damp with the heat. Éponine runs a finger along her collarbone. Then she dips her head, daring to press her lips to Cosette’s skin. She tastes like lavender, too .

She hears Cosette sigh, and when Éponine looks up, the other girl is smiling bashfully. Éponine grins and rests her head on her shoulder again.

“I love you, Éponine,” Cosette murmurs.

Normally, the words would shock her to the bone. But today, she registers them with only contentment. She points to the house before them.

“Now really. What do you suppose they’re doing?”

“Éponine!”

• • •

9. Cheek

Javert is sitting at the kitchen table when Valjean returns from the garden, reading the newspaper. Valjean laughs and sets his basket down.

“I thought you hated reading,” he says, pulling the paper back so he may see Javert’s face. The former police inspector raises his eyebrows.

“I do,” he says airily. “But having retired from the police, I must find another way to learn the day’s news.”

“You could always ask me,” Valjean offers.

“You are an unreliable source.”

He chuckles again. Javert peers at him over his spectacles. His expression is disapproving, but Valjean does not stop smiling.

The spectacles are a gift from Valjean, bought three months ago after he noticed the trouble Javert seems to have with reading. They seem to have helped some, but not much. Given the way Javert complains about the letters swimming on the page, Valjean fears there is more to the issue than he can help with.

“Have you eaten yet today?” he asks, turning to the cupboards. Javert’s silence tells him exactly what he needs to know. Valjean shakes his head and retrieves cheese and bread, and takes a knife down as well.

It has been two years since the barricades, two years since one of the most tumultuous summers Valjean has lived through. The barricades was just the beginning: there was Éponine Thénardier’s recovery, Javert, and of course, Marius Pontmercy.

It still haunts Valjean. The boy’s fate chilled everyone, even Javert, and Cosette was inconsolable for months afterward.

Things have changed. Cosette has grown, and grieved, and she is becoming stronger every day. She is still grieving, Valjean knows. Perhaps she will always be grieving.

But her eyes are growing bright again, especially when in Éponine’s presence. Valjean has accidentally happened upon the girls in incriminating positions more than once, and he understands the turn their relationship has taken, although, given how his own with Javert has progressed, he is not one to judge. It is comforting, even, that despite what Cosette has lost, she is loving again.

Valjean picks up an apple and addresses Javert. “Would you like some fruit with your food, as well?”

“It makes no difference to me.”

He sighs and carves the apple into slices. Finally, he divides the food into two portions, setting each on its own plate, and sits beside Javert. When the man makes no move towards his food, Valjean pushes it towards him.

“It is nearly noon, Javert,” he says, exasperated. “You must eat.”

Javert turns a page in the paper. “I am not hungry.”

Valjean glares at him, picks up the plate, and sets it between Javert and his paper. “ Eat .”

This is happening far too often, and has been ongoing since Valjean took him away from the Seine. Javert will not eat unless forced to. Even then, it is the simplest fare; bread, cheese, soup. He eats fruit only if Valjean insists, and vegetables are even rarer.

“You are growing thin,” Valjean says quietly.

“I have always been thin.”

“I worry.”

“I wish you wouldn’t.”

He narrows his eyes. Valjean plucks the paper from Javert’s hands, ignoring his protests, and folds it neatly. He leans forward, cupping the side of his face with a hand.

“If you do not eat now, and again at lunch and dinner—whenever that may be—I shall not sleep with you tonight.”   

Javert looks at him for a long moment, eyes narrowed, and picks up his food.

“I cannot believe I am swayed by such threats,” he mutters.

Valjean presses a kiss to his cheek. “I, personally, am glad that you are.”