Javert attends the hanging—Valjean does not. He can picture Javert perfectly, however; a tall dark figure in the center of the crowd, his face hard and joyless; he would stand witness until the bodies stilled, and no longer than that. Valjean supposes he cannot begrudge him such a task, to see the hunt fulfilled to its inevitable end.
When he returns to the doctor’s house, where Valjean is sitting up and eating his first meal other than broth and soggy bread, Javert’s face is set with grim satisfaction. They do not speak of it--not at first. Not until the hours have waxed near their fullest as they read engage in easy arguments and then sit in a long contemplative silence does Javert speak again. Skimming the shallows of sleep, Valjean starts back to himself at the sound of his given name spoken so softly it should barely have woken him.
He opens his eyes and turns to meet Javert’s gaze; the man is staring at him with an expression reminiscent of the one he wore with far more frequency after Valjean had scraped him out of the desert.
When he speaks, it is quieter even than he had intoned Valjean’s name. “Is it wrong, to believe they did not deserve mercy?”
Valjean reaches for him; months ago, in that other lifetime that is now difficult to imagine, Javert would have swatted at him like a feral cat. Now he hesitates only a moment before leaning closer to allow his hand to be pressed. “Every soul deserves mercy,” Valjean says quietly. “But there must also be justice.”
Javert ducks his head, saying nothing, and Valjean rubs the weathered lines of his hand until the shadow passes once more.
It is another two weeks before Valjean is deemed well enough to travel. When the doctor confirms he is well enough to return home and Valjean announces his intentions to do so, Cosette spends a good parcel of time trying to convince him to return back with her--and when that fails, to hire a carriage to bring him back to the homestead in the greatest ease. To no avail, for as Valjean’s strength returns and his wounds begin to knit he feels the necessary coddling of his doctor and family an increasing discomfort. Only Javert returns to something approximating his usual self, aloof and yet somehow always close at hand, and smiling perhaps more often than was his wont.
And so at last Valjean finds himself in the saddle, having clambered up quite gingerly and with the help of a mounting block and Javert both; Cosette and Marius are nearly ready to walk with them all the way to the homestead, but in the end it is the doctor who gently dissuades them. Valjean promises to visit them, time and time again; and yet now it is home which he longs for—and more than that, though he does not say this, to be alone.
More specifically, to be alone with Javert.
They set off early in the morning after saying a long goodbye; Javert glowers in the background of Cosette’s hugs and Marius’s repeated well-wishes, though it is only when Marius clasps Valjean’s hand for the fifth time that he stomps over and announces that he and Valjean must take their leave. If Javert catches a flicker of the relief which moves across Valjean’s face, he kindly does not gloat over it.
Yet for all that Valjean had wished to be free of the doctor's rooms with their reek of medicine and their lingering aura of pain, they are not long on the road back to the homestead before he begins to think that perhaps another week of rest might not have gone amiss.
The doctor had not been dubious of Valjean's repeated expressions of feeling well enough to ride; he had, however, warned that too much exertion would do poorly for his wound. It had been no question, of course, that Valjean would be the one to ride. Javert walks with his hand on the horse's reins, leading the animal down the road with measured steps. The sun is yet low in the sky, ripe fruit rolling to the horizon. The horse's gait is even, and yet each swaying motion of its steps requires Valjean to sway with it; at first this produces only a twinge in his chest, but by the time the town has disappeared behind them each movement brings a sharp pang of fresh pain shooting up from his wound. At times Javert looks back to Valjean, and yet these glances are purely pragmatic; he does not allow his eyes to linger and Valjean does not try to capture them.
He bites the inside of his cheek and tries to move as little as possible. But the more his wound twinges, the tenser he grows; before long sweat has broken out over his brow and his hands grip the saddle horn like death itself. The thought of what it would feel like if he were to fall and strike the ground is a compelling motivator to keep his seat at all costs. Javert's glances over his shoulder become more frequent, the expression on his face darker. On the last, he brings the horse to a stop with a quiet curse, and steps closer to the saddle to peer into Valjean's face.
"You are not well," he says crossly, as if Valjean had decided on a whim that it should be so.
"I am fine," Valjean says—and is immediately surprised by the weakness in his own voice. Raising a hand to his brow, he wipes at the cool sweat there. "Merely the exertion."
"You are sitting on a walking horse. There is no exertion involved," Javert continues, his scowl deepening. His gaze misses nothing. He crosses his arms. "How long have you been in pain?"
"Truly, Javert, it is nothing—"
Javert curses. "Then it has been the entire time, and you have said nothing. Are you so determined to worsen your condition?"
Valjean frowns back at him. "It is merely a bit of discomfort."
"You have the most infuriating habit of understatement when it comes to your own suffering. You are barely keeping your seat in the saddle." Javert turns to stare back down the road, in the direction from which they came. "We ought to go back to the doctor."
"We are closer now to the homestead than we are to town," Valjean says. "There is nothing the doctor can do for me but tell me to rest, and I can do that far better in my own bed."
Javert stares at him as if he is a suspect offering a shoddy alibi. The look holds no terrors for Valjean now; he returns it with an expression of mild impudence. At last, Javert shakes his head, turning towards the road ahead as if he can glare it into shortening itself.
"Your logic is sound, though I would like to refute it on principle," he says at last. And yet, he remains as he is; turned away, staring ahead, his hands pushing his coat back so they can remain planted on his hips. It seems he is debating with himself, and yet surely the matter is sealed. When he turns around again, Javert's face is written with something Valjean has seen only one notable time before: uncertainty.
"I believe I should ride with you," he says, his voice scrubbed of emotion. "To help keep you steady."
Valjean sits very still, aware only of the dull throb in his chest, the faint breeze which toys at the stray strands of Javert's hair. "That seems a practical notion."
"Good." Javert nods, smooths his hair down, stares at the road ahead and then stares at the horse. "Well. Move forward, then. You can lean against me if necessary.”
Valjean does as he is told, leaning forward and gripping the saddle horn tightly as he removes his left foot from the stirrup. Javert's soon replaces it; with a swift and skilled motion he has mounted, barely even jostling Valjean in the saddle. Valjean holds himself carefully away from the heat and solidity at his back while Javert positions himself. He almost jumps at the pair of hands which slide around his waist—and reach past him for the reins where Valjean has wrapped them around the saddle horn.
"Comfortable?" Javert asks, his voice so close in Valjean's ear. Valjean can only nod. It takes him a moment to understand that the burning in his chest is because he has not drawn breath in some time.
With a click of his tongue and a flick of the reins, Javert nudges their horse into an ambling walk once more. At once the pain in Valjean's chest flares up again, and yet with Javert a steadying presence at his back, he does not have to strain his muscles so hard to avoid jostling it. Javert's arms are around his sides. If he were to tighten them, it would be an embrace.
"You are very tense," Javert says. His voice is low, for the simple reason that they are very close; and yet the intimacy of those tones spoken directly in Valjean's ear is almost enough to raise the hair on the back of his neck.
He forces a laugh. "Yes. I suppose I am." This acknowledgement, of course, requires him to attempt to relax. He allows himself to stop leaning slightly forward, and instead settles his back against Javert's chest. Their legs are pressed so tightly together there is no space between them, and no helping it. After they have been walking a while longer, Javert's arms must begin to get tired; when riding alone he would allow his forearms to rest against his own thighs, but today it is Valjean's legs which Javert's wrists settle against, lightly, ready to pull away in an instant should Valjean object.
Valjean doesn't. By God, he hasn't the strength to.
“Valjean.” A shiver moves through Valjean’s body. He can feel his name move through Javert’s chest, low and deep. “There is something I must say.”
They are close, so close. No space between Valjean’s chest and Javert’s back; no room for anything hidden between them. “You may tell me anything.”
Javert laughs. It is not a pleasant sound. “Yes, I know. You have been nothing but accommodating for me.”
For a while there is only the jingle of tack and the crunch of the horse’s hooves. “I have taken much from you, these past weeks. Please, allow me to finish,” Javert says as Valjean begins to protest. “And for god’s sakes do not try to turn around, Valjean, if I must hold my peace until we return to the homestead and have you safely in bed, I will not hesitate to do so.”
Valjean forces his arguments down; he knows that if Javert does not speak now, it is entirely likely that whatever it is he wishes to say will remain locked in the dark vault of the man’s soul until the earth itself close in to seal it. And even then Javert remains silent for so long that Valjean fears he has doomed them both. But Javert finishes whatever careful inspection of his thoughts he is conducting, turning each one over to inspect it for flaws. Perhaps they are all flawed. For when Javert speaks again his voice lacks the iron certainty that it so often defines it. It is so quiet Valjean has to lean his head back to be sure of hearing it.
“I have taken much,” he begins again, “and I suppose it is significant that I took only what you were willing to give. But you are too willing, Valjean. You give so much of yourself so easily--I have seen it, time and again. And I--I do not wish this to be one more alm, Valjean.” His hands tighten on the reins. “I could not bear to let you give me that.”
“Javert,” Valjean says, and reaches for his hand; the man pulls back as if burned. He cannot see his expression, can only feel the rigid tension in his body, hear the sharpness of his shallow breaths.
“You deserve so much more,” Javert says heavily, “than I would ever be able to offer in return.”
Valjean wants nothing more than to look Javert in the face; to see, and allow himself to be seen. For perhaps if Javert could see the tenderness that blossoms in Valjean’s eyes, he would understand. Instead they look out on the desert together, the wild plain of hard earth and dry-bitten scraggly scrub capped by unmarred blue, the roof to an endless cathedral which witnesses their confession now.
“You are wrong,” Valjean says softly. “What you offer, I would want from no other.”
Javert lets out a ragged breath, and Valjean can feel it, ghosting over the back of his neck. He cannot help himself; he shivers. This close Javert cannot fail to perceive it, and indeed Valjean knows he does not, for his hands on the reins grow white-knuckled. "Valjean," he says again; and then, barely more than a hoarse whisper spoken into the crook of Valjean's neck: "Jean."
Valjean slides his hand over Javert's where it rests on his thigh. His touch is gentle at first, sliding over the backs of Javert's knuckles; he strokes up and down the hard lines of the tendons on the back of Javert's hand, until with a shuddering exhalation Javert transfers the reins to one hand. His face is pressed to Valjean's shoulder, his breath a spot of warmth through his shirt and waistcoat. Valjean can feel how uneven it is as he presses Javert's palm to his thigh and threads his fingers between Javert's.
The arm which holds the reins tightens around Valjean's waist. Valjean rubs his thumb over the back of Javert's hand, marveling at the feeling of his skin; that Valjean might touch it, not for any practical purpose, but for the simple joy of doing so. His fingers slide against the inside of Javert's cuff, and then just beneath it where the warmth is kept close as a secret. Javert's breath is nearly a gasp.
Valjean wishes at once that it were him riding at Javert's back, so he might have the freedom to let his hands wander as they willed. As it is, he can only catalog everything there is to feel of Javert's hand and arm; the pressure of it against his thigh, the roughness of the hairs on his wrist, the soft skin on the other side, lying beside tendon and bone.
It is then that Valjean shifts in the saddle, and becomes immediately aware of the effect his attentions are having. "Oh," he says, feeling heat flood first into his face and then into the pit of his stomach.
"I am sorry," Javert says. His face remains pressed into Valjean's shoulder, his voice utterly wretched. "I did not intend—this is not why I—"
"It's alright," Valjean says, his own voice shaky with the realization. Yes. It is alright. His heart beats in his breast as if trying to find its way out through the hole the bullet tore; it hurts, and he does not attempt to quell it. Javert's condition does not flag as they continue their journey in silence; for they are pressed so closely together, and the rhythm of the horse's gait must be a slow agony if the breaths against Valjean's collar are any indication. He finds that in this case he feels absolutely no desire to ease Javert's suffering. His own breaths feel too short and too hot in his lungs.
A short curse escapes him; Valjean feels Javert give a sort of start in the saddle. It takes him a moment to realize it as the irrepressible jerk of Javert's hips against Valjean's body, stilled but not quickly enough.
"Jean." The grip around his waist tightens. Javert's mouth is a spot of damp wetness against his neck, inadvertent, surely, and yet nonetheless a fuel to powder. Good God, Valjean wants to see him. Wants to see what he looks like, like this. It is almost too much to bear. His fingers dig into Valjean's thigh. "I think I might. Soon."
The words shoot through him like the bullet did, only it is sweet, so very sweet in his veins. Valjean has grown thick and wanting as well, from the sounds of Javert's breaths behind him. The thought, unbidden and incredible, of him guiding the hand on his thigh to settle between his legs; he can barely comprehend the idea, and yet it makes his mouth go dry. He licks his lips. "Is that what you wish?"
Javert's forehead drags against Valjean's shoulder as he shakes his head. "Not like this," he whispers.
"Well then," Valjean says, the valiant effort to keep his tone level and reasonable long since lost. "We are nearly home."
A tiny noise of distress escapes Javert's throat; Valjean had never known of this part of himself which could find the other man's torment so sweet. And yet Javert nods; his fingers slide blindly against Valjean's until their hands are a tangled knot resting on Valjean's thigh.
It seems an eternity before the homestead appears beyond the rise; an eternity of Javert's scarcely controlled breaths against his neck, of their hands becoming slick with sweat and yet neither of them letting go, of the ache between Valjean's legs growing more pronounced and yet with no relief. On multiple occasions he has to resist the urge to dig his heels into their mare's side and urge her into a trot; instead he leans back against Javert until their heartbeats pound against each other, chest to back.
At long last the house rises out of the landscape like a rowboat on the rise of a wave. No, not a boat—a raft. For they are adrift here, and all Valjean has is Javert’s grip around his waist, the feeling of Javert’s nails digging into his palm.
Javert draws the horse to a halt just before the gate. For a moment they remain as they are, breathing, their hands still locked together. It seems unthinkable that this moment could end, that there is a future that leads from here; equally unthinkable that they might not move forward.
“Help me down,” Valjean says, softly; but at once Javert is all action. He releases his hand and slides from the saddle, landing agilely; immediately he turns around and extends Valjean his hand. Valjean does not allow himself to truly inspect the man’s expression until he has been carefully lowered to the ground, the pain in his chest flaring and then settling into a dull ache; only then does he stop. Javert’s lips are parted, his breath coming fast; his eyes are desperate. They are both of them now revealed to each other’s eyes, and there is no hiding, perhaps not ever again.
Valjean does not know what he is going to do until he is doing it; and then his hands are buried in Javert’s lapels and he is pulling him into a kiss, their lips pressed together like children with no knowledge of what to do or how to do it; and Valjean feels so young again, fumbling and uncertain and filled with a wild joy that takes hold of him, makes him shift his lips against Javert’s in a way that makes the other man gasp, and he chases that sound until they have managed to find something which serves. Valjean pushes forward, his hands moving separate of his will, clutching at Javert’s back--and then all at once the noise which tears from Valjean’s throat is far from that of rapture.
Javert halts immediately, pulling back with the drunken sway of a man on the cusp of sleep. His eyes, however, bore into Valjean’s with a sharpness that leaves nothing unseen.
“Your wound is paining you.” Javert says it like an accusation.
“It is nothing,” Valjean insists, leaning forward again; and for another moment Javert’s mouth is his, in full capitulation, and Valjean has never known before now what it might be like to be wanted so keenly that even logic must bend to its current. But Javert was never a man to set aside such things for long, and he pulls back a moment later, his brow dark.
“Wait. Wait , Jean.” The expanse of Javert’s palm settles warm and comforting on his cheek, and in that breath of sanity Valjean realizes that the pain in his chest has indeed moved deeper, his breaths short from more than simple want.
Javert’s brow presses to his and he can feel the sweat of it, the whorl of a stray hair. Javert swallows, and Valjean watches the movement disappear into his stiff collar. “I am going to see to the horse,” he says, as if giving the instructions to himself. “And then we are going to go inside.”
It is only for the promise in Javert’s eyes that Valjean finds he can let him go. Valjean steps back, though it is a small agony, to watch as Javert swiftly loosens the girdle and pulls the bridle from behind his mare’s ears, her sigh of contentment as she releases the bit. The gate opens and she steps inside without urging, leaving Javert with the saddle slung over his shoulder, gripping it by the pommel as he latches the gate and looks for an instant as if he is tempted to simply sling the saddle over the fencepost and leave it there. There are times when Valjean finds Javert’s meticulous attitude endearing, and he is not certain this is one of them. Not when he wants nothing more than for Javert to drop the saddle in the dirt, and let not another moment pass between them which they must spend apart.
But Javert clears his throat, and turns his eyes to the house; which to Valjean’s eyes has never looked anything other than comfortable and inviting. Now his door leads somewhere he has never been before, a place whose language he does not speak and whose customs are strange to him.
“Come,” Javert says in a voice so hoarse it is nearly unrecognizable, and he reaches for Valjean’s hand with his free one, warm and damp in the creases as if with nervous sweat. Valjean is led up the stairs, the familiar creak under both their boots, the musical rattle of the tin cans strung up by the eaves. There is a faint thud as Javert deposits the saddle and tack on the porch chair without so much as releasing Valjean’s hand, and it occurs to him that he has never once seen the man hold so much back, bend so much of his will on gentleness when the instinct beneath it wished for nothing but haste.
Javert guides him through the doorway, into the house. The smell is familiar, of dried herbs and bacon fat and smoke. The hearth is cold and dark, the air inside chilled; Javert does not stop in the kitchen nor kneel before the fireplace. Instead he releases his hand to transfer his arm around Valjean’s lower back, perhaps under the pretense of helping him; Valjean leans against him, under the pretense of needing help. Further, deeper into the house. The single, short hallway; the bedroom.
Valjean is as aware of his own breathing as he is aware of Javert’s, can hear the rasp of their separate inhalations, too ragged and too fast. For a dizzying moment Valjean thinks that Javert is going to stop here; and he is not certain what he would do, if he were led to the threshold and yet not over it. But Javert’s free hand rises to the doorknob, and together they step inside.
They have stood in this room together on countless occasions, have shared words and gazes; in this room Valjean nursed Javert back from the brink of death, ran a damp cloth over his bare and fever-slicked body, had wiped the vomit from his clothes and sheets, had helped him relieve himself. This should not feel like the first time they have truly been here; Javert’s hand gripping his own should not feel like the first intimacy they have ever shared. And yet. And yet.
Javert settles him on the edge of the bed, so slowly it is an agony. He helps Valjean shrug off his coat, his movement still stiff and careful of his injury; this Javert neatly folds and places on the chair by the bed, turned meticulous once more with shyness. Next, the waistcoat; Valjean sits very still as Javert undoes the small buttons, one by one, with fingers that do not tremble. Valjean watches his face, the frown deepening on his brow as his attention narrows onto each little button, that tremendous and terrifying focus which not so long ago Valjean could never have imagined he would actively seek.
He wants it now. He wants Javert to raise his eyes to meet his own, and yet Valjean cannot convey this; can only sit and allow himself to be undressed, lest he risk breaking the spell.
Once Valjean’s waistcoat is removed and folded, Javert returns for his boots. He kneels on the floorboards, his hands easing Valjean’s calves free of the leather, patient and diligent and slow. It is too much; it is not nearly enough. Javert’s hand rests on Valjean’s knee and he covers it with his own; reaches with his other to touch Javert’s face, his palm against the roughness of Javert’s whiskers.
“Javert,” he says. A summoning. A shudder moves through the man. He presses harder to Valjean’s hand, his brow contorting as if in agony. “Is this alright?”
Javert barks a short laugh. His other hand reaches up to cover Valjean’s, as if anticipating he might ever move away. “Yes. By God.” For a moment he only breathes, as if preparing for a plunge from a very high place; and then he turns his head, the scrape of his whiskers on Valjean’s hand, and presses his mouth to the skin with the fervance of a dying man with nothing left to hold back.
“Come here, please,” Valjean gasps, his other hand tightening on Javert’s; and for all the terror in Javert’s eyes as he meets Valjean’s gaze, with a nod he obeys without question.
The bed dips under Javert’s weight as he settles at Valjean’s side, awkwardly transfering Valjean’s hands to his other, uncertain, for a moment, of how to settle himself. Valjean is already reaching for him. With one hand he tugs at the lapel of Javert’s coat, and pushes it over his shoulder; he rescues his other hand to complete the task, and he has none of Javert’s care as he helps Javert shrug out of the coat and then tosses it to the floor.
A flicker of annoyance passes over his face at such an injustice done to his weathered garment; and Valjean is leaning forward to kiss that irritated downward quirk of his lips before he is even aware of what he is doing. Javert’s skin is warm beneath his lips, rough at the brush of his whiskers. He can feel that deep crease of long anger and concern disappear as Javert’s mouth opens with a short hitch of breath. He is shaking. Or perhaps they both are.
Javert turns. They are so close their noses brush. He can feel the light, shallow pants of Javert’s breath on his face, see the stained glass segments of his eyes deepened by the angle of the light. The brush of his lips over Valjean’s is nothing, it is a whisper; but then Valjean is pressing forward and clumsily they are fitting their mouths together as if it is the first time, all shared breath and warm, damp flesh, drunk on the insane intimacy of it, the idea they could be so close. Valjean wants Javert’s hands but they are busy with his own waistcoat, which in a moment joins his coat on the floor.
It is difficult to focus on the novel particulars of kissing while also sliding Javert’s braces off his shoulders, his hands skimming the heat of a body separated from his own by only a layer of cloth so thin he is distracted by the sudden roughness of a scar, the protrusion of a bone.
Meanwhile Javert has been busy giving him the same treatment. His hands roam Valjean’s shoulders back and forth like a colt clumsily pacing its pen on new legs. Valjean could not hope to explain why that fumbling touch warms him so. Javert’s hands rake the coals of him to the air. Javert’s lips taste of the body, of flesh.
“Mind your wounds,” Javert says, the breath pushed half out of him.
“I am fine,” Valjean says. It is not the whole truth; he is shaking, his mind is reeling, his body is a lit fuse and his chest throbs with every heartbeat. Yet even in his weakened state he knows his strength is formidable; knows he could keep Javert here, if he wished it, and he knows Javert knows it too, can see the effect that knowledge has as he shifts, strands of hair tossed across his cheeks like rogue tributaries, dark waters.
“We will stop if you are in pain,” Javert says, managing somehow to inject a degree of sternness into his voice. But his eyes are on his own hand, rubbing gentle circles against Valjean’s clavicle. Mere inches from the neckline of his shirt, and shifting closer. His index finger creeps over the edge of the fabric like a mouse crossing below the perch of a hawk, and then he is touching bare skin. The pads of his fingers are worn; Valjean can feel that callous sliding up the groove of his throat, as if dragging aside the cool blue shadows of afternoon.
Valjean shivers; it is warm, he is freezing, the touch is unbearable and he needs more of it. Slowly he begins to tug his shirt tails from his trousers, and Javert freezes with his fingers shaking on his pulse point. There is something between a laugh and a sob building in the back of Valjean’s throat, and he is afraid what will happen if he lets it out; so instead he pulls his shirt over his head and commits himself to Javert’s mercy.
There is a moment when Valjean cannot look at him, cannot watch Javert inspect an old body at the end of much hard use, his scars which say far too much, the bandages which mercifully cover old wounds as well as new. But then Javert’s mouth settles into the dip of his collar, and he is without a past, young again, shrugged free of the numbing pain of years--fumbling and excited and afraid, knowing nothing, only wanting.
“Jean, will you--would you like to lie down?”
Valjean is already going. Javert’s hand on his back eases him as he lowers himself, and it’s true that he cannot ignore the sharp twinge in his chest that comes just before the bed takes the rest of his weight. He settles himself against a familiar mattress, familiar pillars, made utterly alien by the presence of another in his bed. Javert waits for him to get comfortable, staring at his body as if it is some kind of crime scene whose secrets must be puzzled out from the evidence at hand.
“Come here,” Vajean says again, and with a short huff that could be borne from amusement or nerves, Javert edges closer. In a tremendous burst of courage he swings his leg to straddle Valjean’s lap with painful care, barely touching him, hovering above with a look as if Valjean is about to demand what in God’s name he thinks he is doing. He might be, but then Javert settles himself more firmly against Valjean’s thighs and such an interrogation becomes unnecessary.
Their bodies are very close now. It is evident he has not remained unaffected. Strange to see that crude jutting exclamation of physical desire, abrupt and demanding and so close at hand. Valjean wants to touch it, and the desire strikes him in the stomach like a blow. He reaches out, so slow, and Javert does not seize his wrist nor swat his hand away. His fingertips brush the waistband of Javert’s trousers, the shirt half-rucked out of them. And then it moves lower.
He does not know what he is doing, and yet if the sharp gasp of Javert’s breath is any indication, it is sufficient. He rubs through the straining fabric of Javert’s trousers, watching his face, how his head lolls back, mouth hanging open and eyes half-shut, lost, utterly lost. Then Valjean shifts his grip to Javert’s hip and angles their bodies together, and it is red brightness wrenching through the very center of him, the first true spike of lust. They are not still, then. Absent of the mind, his body knows what to do.
“Oh. Oh, God.”
Valjean arcs his body up harder, he cannot help it. His chest is shooting with pangs now, but they are nothing compared to the pangs of hunger wracking his body. Javert’s brow furrows in a way Valjean has never seen before. The man looks near to crying, or something else. “Valjean. You. I am nearly—”
“Please,” Valjean gasps, his hands grasping Javert’s body wherever he can find purchase. “Please--”
And then Javert is leaning into him with a choked cry, all his care forgotten in the moment, and Valjean feels his weight and heat and helpless little motions and his vision shutters, something inside of him is shaking apart and unfolding into infinity and he is flung out, split apart, raising his arms so Javert can slump into them.
In the aftermath Valjean is loose and pliant and filled with softness, his face pressed into the warmth of Javert’s neck. It strikes him then that after months or even years of being very foolish and very obstinate they have now become very foolish and very hasty; that they did not even manage to shift their clothes, let alone remove them; that they will both now have to change; that everything is perfect and Valjean would do nothing different at all. Javert’s hand rises to his shoulder and lights there like a bird.
“Did I hurt you?”
“No,” Valjean says, and then winces slightly as Javert pulls back to stare at him. “I… may have strained myself while lying down.”
Javert makes a noise of disgust that cannot help but be softened by the fondness in his eyes. “Well, at least now you are where you ought to be,” he says, brushing a strand of hair out of Valjean’s face. The motion is so natural Javert could have been practicing it for years. He glances between Valjean’s trousers and his own, and the color on his face deepens.
“Well then,” he says softly. “I suppose we ought to wash up.”
“In a moment,” Valjean says, tugging gently at Javert’s shirt until the man leans down again, the brush of his loose hair on Valjean’s cheek, the spark of happiness in his eyes. “In just a moment.”
On a night not very long after they both wander sleepless out the front door with a blanket in hand, and walk on the open parts of the earth that the moon paints as flat and blue as the sea, careful of sleeping rattlesnakes and hooked scrubgrass. They find a suitable place and lay the blanket down, and lay themselves down on it. They face the heavens and after a while Javert speaks, one hand outflung towards the stars, dredging up names and stories he had thought long forgotten yet which ebb back to him like particles in a beam of light.
Some things are never truly lost. That is what the stars suggest, in their endless rotations. Chasing each other endlessly across the horizon, and yet always they return. Valjean slips his hand into Javert’s and stares into the vault of heaven, which seems for the moment very near at hand indeed.