Jean Valjean was made of, for the most part, muscle. Fat had not the ability, nor the opportunity to cling to his frame. Years in poverty, the scraps fed to him in prison, and stress-filled days on the run had prevented any accumulation. Despite the circumstances, he carried an air of health, stocky build and famed strength casting off any doubt of his vitality.
It was not until the months after Cosette’s marriage that he once again experienced true starvation, not since the fateful night he took a certain loaf of bread. The emptiness he felt took him back to those days, bringing back a barrage of memories once long forgotten. What was different was the lack of desperation, the feral instinct of survival. He felt simply empty of emotion in those last weeks.
Any anguish was left to Javert upon finding him isolated, bedridden, on the brink of death. Age, until that point, had evaded his countenance apart from his white curls. On that day, he surely looked nearly twenty years older, ribs protruding and skin sallow. Javert’s furious tears were enough to tell him so. When he finally reached a mirror, days after being forced to slowly eat again, Valjean found himself alarmed at the skeletal face staring back; he suddenly understood Javert’s heartbroken expression with a sinking feeling in his chest, and silently thanked God Cosette had not yet seen him.
Valjean looked in the mirror now, trimming lightly at the edge of his cropped beard, and took stock of the man in front of him. His hair fell in untamed, fresh curls around his cheeks; they were fuller, pinker against sun-grazed skin. The strength of his youth had faded slightly, but his broad shoulders still spoke to a former laborer, his wrinkles to an old man. His shirt lay open, unbuttoned, letting the scars encircling his neck and his chest hair breathe in the open air. A waistcoat and jacket sat neatly folded on the nearby chair, a waiting necktie on the armoire.
Moving his eyes downward, he frowned and lifted the untucked hem around his unbuttoned trousers to feel around his naval. It was likely unnoticeable to any other, but the bump still rested plainly underneath his fingers. The soft flesh of his stomach, so recently a cavity, now protruded ever so slightly, curved and following gently around his waist.
Preoccupied with looking down, the hands circling around his middle caught Valjean unawares. His gaze lifted to the mirror again to see Javert tucking his head into the small of his neck from behind. He hesitated to speak so as not to ruin the quiet moment, to admire the way Javert’s height, his angles fit so perfectly into his contours. He ought to have been embarrassed by his momentary indecency, for Javert to find him like this, so vulnerable, like a rabbit splayed on its side, belly exposed. Acquiescing, he leaned into the touch and let out a contented sigh, feeling the weight of Javert’s body against his back. A solid, assuring presence, grounding him in a reality he would otherwise assume a dream.
The first months of recovery were exhausting, tolling both the body and mind. It only served as a foil to the nightmare not so long before, his brief swim in the Seine and the weeks of wrangling a venomous Javert into calm. At that time, it was a task to push food onto Javert, to convince him his body deserved such a thing as sustenance, deserved to exist anywhere other than the bottom of a river. It tested Valjean to his very limits, but he slowly found Javert clawing back to the world of the living, his worryingly thin frame filling out with each meal. It satisfied Valjean now to feel the weight of him, hearty arms, lean muscle cradling him. A sure reminder of what they had built together.
Valjean’s return from the precipice was no simpler. He was particularly stubborn on the point of speaking with his daughter of the delicate matter of his past. The prospect was unthinkable; it was just as well considering his purpose in her life all but washed away. Javert, however, was irate at the notion. Just short of telling Cosette himself, he called upon him daily, insisting upon food and exercise, chastising him with a nearly imperceptible edge of gentleness, so minute that only Valjean could perceive it. Faithful as the most loyal of hounds, Javert persisted until Valjean could no longer stay passive in his own demise. Miraculously, Valjean found himself loved by Cosette, embraced by her family, and, oddly enough, courted by Javert. So much love at once was liable to overwhelm him; surely one man could not receive so much without being suffocated by it all.
What overwhelmed him instead was the barrage of food both Cosette and Javert would force upon him. Each continually pestered him after his health, urging that he should eat like a man starved, and he could hardly deny them. So insistent were they to assure him of their devotion, he felt just as obliged to accept their love with humility.
Cosette would often bring fruit from her garden, and Javert would attempt to spoil him with the errant pastry and pressed him to eat several helpings at meals. Now that the two shared a home and a bed, the pressure to eat was ever difficult to avoid. And so, he too began to smooth out the ridges of his ribcage, an excess that now pooled at his stomach, slight as it was.
In that moment, Javert’s hands found his belly, tracing lightly over the bare skin under his shirt. Javert’s touches, he noticed, were now filled not with regret, but genuine tenderness, coveting him with the reverence a priest might give the holy book. He was tempted to admonish him, to reiterate that a bible was merely pages, made by men and filled with men’s words, but knew Javert would cherish him all the same. The thought was frustrating, yet devastatingly charming. Only Javert was sure to vex him so.
Placing his hands atop Javert’s wandering palms, Valjean exhaled. “You and Cosette have plotted to fatten me up,” he murmured, eyeing the two of them in the mirror.
Javert pressed a kiss to his neck. “Nonsense,” he said. “You have simply never eaten enough. Call it compensation for lost time.” He pressed his hands harder against his stomach, kneading fingers at the padding of his hips. “And I find it enjoyable regardless,” he added, nibbling at Valjean’s ear.
Valjean’s breath hitched as he saw his face heat in the mirror, shamefully pink. He knew it absurd to worry over such things, but his mind, once fixated on the scars adorning so much of his skin, was now focused on yet another failing of his aging body. As he was wont to do, Valjean felt inadequate in every sense.
“You find this enjoyable?” he asked, an edge of incredulity in his tone as he gestured to his stomach.
“To see you in good health? Content?“ Javert said. “I find no greater pleasure.”
At that, Valjean felt himself flush further, and Javert rested a hand on his belly while the other ventured lower, teasing around the beginning of his thigh. As he moved along, his knuckles brushed against Valjean’s arousal, feeling ever-tighter against his loosened trousers.
“Javert, please,” Valjean said, less forceful, more softly than intended. “I must dress.”
“But how is a man to relent when you say his name in such a scandalous manner?” Javert buried his lips again in his neck.
“Javert,” he said, a sentimental smile growing on his lips, cheeks hot. “I have much work in the garden today.”
“And again! How am I to escape after being so thoroughly seized?”
Valjean gave a final glance into the mirror before turning to Javert, corners of his mouth traitorously rising in exasperated fondness. Javert’s face was steady as his hand rose to meet Valjean’s, to caress his jaw before leaning down into a kiss. It was unhurried, sweet, full of the love Javert so insisted he deserved. He returned it, pressing a hand to Javert’s chest and snaking the other around the small of his back. The motion earned a small noise from Javert’s throat; Valjean relished its deep resonance until they pulled apart for air. They stared into one another’s eyes quietly before Valjean leaned into Javert’s chest, nuzzling against the fabric.
“You should know,” Javert said, “that I shall love every part of you. Always.”
“Even the worst of me?” Valjean said, muffled in Javert’s shirt. “I can hardly understand it.”
Javert stroked his hair, pulling him closer still. The gesture was calming, tactile, affectionate. That Javert had become capable of any was still so wondrous, so endearing.
“You old fool,” Javert whispered. “Each day you do the same for me.”
Valjean raised his head again to answer Javert with another kiss; the second was more eager, hungrier as his hand traveled down Javert’s back to his backside, gripping with intent. Javert inhaled sharply, hands roaming wildly over Valjean, reaching for bare skin under his shirt. He broke apart momentarily with haggard breaths.
“What of the garden?” Javert gasped, kissing him again as Valjean began to blindly struggle to unbutton Javert’s trousers.
“The poor thing,” Valjean said, “unlike myself, will have to wait.”
Javert let a wolfish smile spread across his face and began to assist in the removal of clothes, pulling Valjean’s shirt over his head and craning his neck to kiss him as they stumbled towards the bed. When Javert pressed kisses over and over again to his stomach, cradling his fat like an irreplaceable treasure, a prize worth more than the world, Valjean felt a swell of adoration in his chest. They made love that morning in spite of it all, because of it all, and that was enough. It was glorious, and Jean Valjean was enough.