When Javert tried to envision his future on the bridge that night, it had seemed bleak, despairing. Irreparable. Certainly he never would have imagined that one day he might dine regularly at the home of a baron with an ex-convict on his arm. But Valjean had saved his life and taken him into his care, and eventually his bed, and nearly two years later Javert still finds himself puzzling over the impossibility of their shared existence.
Tonight's dinner at the rue des Filles du Calvaire had been suitably lavish—Javert is still not quite accustomed to it, in truth—and the conversation had been surprisingly good. And, best of all, he has managed to avoid another altercation with Pontmercy, for which he expects Valjean will reward him later this evening.
Now, the house is nearly empty. Pontmercy is embroiled in another debate with his grandfather over brandy in the dining room, and Cosette has gone upstairs to bed; the customary clatter from the servants’ wing receded over an hour ago. Their coats have been collected and a fiacre has been summoned. They are waiting in the foyer for the driver, full of wine and good humor, and Valjean is smiling, and Javert has never been able to resist, so he tugs Valjean into a dim alcove and kisses him.
For a moment Valjean says nothing, lets Javert press closer and tangle his hands in Valjean’s hair, but then he breaks away, panting, and begins to protest. “Javert, not here—“ But Javert has learned to catch that elusive light behind Valjean’s eyes, which has illuminated his face more and more often as of late, and quiets him with another kiss. This one Valjean responds to in earnest, sliding a hand around Javert’s waist and bracing him unhurriedly against the wall.
“It is fine,” Javert says, feeling perhaps a touch less assured than he would care to let on. “They have all gone to bed. No one is here.”
These moments he cherishes most dearly, when the hard lines of grief and toil etched upon Valjean’s face disappear, when his eyes crinkle with that smile, when—only for a moment—the specter of their past retreats and the world is reduced to Valjean’s mouth on his.
Javert strokes a thumb across Valjean’s cheek, heart twisting at the way Valjean leans into it, eyes fluttering shut, and brings their mouths together again. This time his hand slides down to trace the strong line of Valjean’s jaw, fingers ruffling through the curls of Valjean’s hair at his ear, and lets his other hand rest lightly at the small of Valjean’s back.
So much has changed since that summer day, yet it appears that his path has only ever been circular. Once he wanted to possess Valjean, to seize him with the long arm of the law and make him understand true justice. Now, after the barricades and the river and the singular understanding they have wrought, possession once more springs forth in his mind. Valjean’s daughter is the light of his life, Javert knows, but this—whatever grace may be found in the taste of Valjean’s lips and skin—this is his. Theirs. As long as he is granted the sight of Valjean in his bed every night, entirely for the taking, he will be content. His work, his reputation—his soul, even—are mere trifles by comparison.
When they part, Valjean muffles a laugh in Javert's shoulder. "We should not!" But his hand grips Javert's waistcoat to pull him tighter, and Javert busies himself with resuming the kiss, parting Valjean's lips with his tongue. His chest is at once suffused with warmth. They could do this forever if no one were there to stop them.
Then he hears it. “Papa?” Her voice is high, unsteady.
Javert glances towards the door—he had forgotten to close it properly, stupid—and sees Cosette hovering over the threshold, her brow furrowed and hands trembling faintly. “I was looking for my book—“ she breaks off, repeats, “Papa?” Javert cannot conjure a single word. Then he looks at Valjean’s face, white as bone, and fear closes like a vise around his heart.
Later, in Valjean’s parlor, they sit across from each other; Valjean occupies his armchair, which seems to devour him into its dark recesses, while Javert perches on the edge of the sofa.
Vaguely, Javert recalls that they have not sat apart in this room for almost a year, and all at once he craves the warmth of Valjean’s leg against his, the way they fit in harmony together on the sofa. They sit here when they read in the evenings, mostly—well, when Valjean reads, he thinks. They have discussed all manner of philosophy and literature over the past year, but books still fail to capture his attention the way Valjean does. Sitting next to Valjean when he reads, feigning interest in Valjean’s book as he brushes his lips across Valjean’s ear just to hear the tiny hitch in his breath—no pleasure could be greater. And when Valjean drifts off to sleep against his shoulder without a second thought, exhausted by whatever prosaic morality tale he has chosen this time, Javert does not dare to move lest he disturb the miracle of Valjean resting against him.
Such small things. Strange to think he may never have them again.
After what seems like a century of silence, Javert says, “I am sorry."
Valjean sighs. “It is not your fault, Javert. Only mine.”
“I will leave,” he says next, after Valjean still does not look at him, and finally he is gratified by the sight of Valjean’s brow furrowing in confusion.
“Leave where? When?” Valjean says.
Javert wishes he could roll his eyes, but the gravity of the situation prevails upon him. The idiot. “Here,” he says. “You. I will end it.”
He almost expects Valjean to protest, then—perhaps gasp or implore Javert to stay—because he is selfish, has always been selfish and desired more of Valjean than is right or proper—but Valjean’s gaze never wavers from where it is pinned, inexplicably, on the armoire across the room.
“No, that is not—you don’t have to—” Valjean says, but it sounds like he is speaking from several leagues away, faint and toneless. Distracted.
He does not know if offering to end it with Valjean was merely a gambit on his own part to draw Valjean out in conversation, or—something more earnest, perhaps. Either way, it is not a prospect he presently wishes to contemplate. “She was upset. It was a shock. It will pass,” he says.
“I saw her face when she came in,” Valjean says. “It was—" he shakes his head. “I presumed Cosette would not look kindly on me if she knew, but this—" He shudders, and Javert resists the impulse to rest his hand on Valjean’s shoulder as he has done a hundred, a thousand times. Sometimes he prefers to touch Valjean in lieu of speaking to him; the measured movements of their bodies have always spelled his desire more plainly than any clumsy, insufficient words. Words have never been able to contain this, whatever has grown and blossomed between them since last June—but now, he thinks, perhaps they must. Now that it has all been brought to light, words are the only thing that may salvage the wreckage.
Valjean covers his face with his hands and emits a muffled noise of anguish. “Oh, God,” he says. “To think we have always been so brazen, that anyone might see!” He lets his hand drop into his lap. “I have tried so hard to ward away scandal for her sake. But it follows me everywhere I go, no better than the chain I used to wear.”
“We have hardly been brazen,” Javert replies. He wants to say something clever about how they have only succumbed to temptation in the Luxembourg a single time, but Valjean’s mien extinguishes the thought as soon as it arises. “I think we have been quite discreet, in fact. She has never had reason before to suspect.”
When Valjean does not respond, Javert says, “She knows you are a good man, Valjean. This signifies nothing.”
It is true: when Valjean had confessed his past to her, every word faltering and fraught with despair, she had only smiled through her tears and said, “You are very silly to have kept all this from me, Papa.” And now? This arrangement they have hardly suits the father of a baroness, of course, but certainly she must know that it has been constituted in good faith, that it has been strictly confined to the rue Plumet and occasionally Javert’s old cramped rooms near the station-house, that it does not have to drive them to ruin. Certainly she must know that everything Valjean touches, everything he does, is holy, and that this may be his greatest act of charity yet.
“She has already absolved the worst of your crimes,” Javert continues. Words—his own, at least—still feel superfluous here, though, like a thin strip of gauze tied over a wound the size of a cannonball. “I doubt seeing you in a… ah, delicate state in a private residence rates especially highly in anyone’s book.”
“My list of crimes is long enough,” Valjean says. “I cannot, in good faith, add to it.”
It is not a crime, Javert thinks, looking past Valjean to the window behind him. The December sky is black and starless tonight.
“Cosette has forgiven me, yes, but every day that I yet live she is danger,” Valjean says, shaking his head. Javert sees that his eyes are wet. “I am a fool. I thought my past was the only thing that might hurt her! But my present is equally dangerous.” He turns to Javert. “What if it had been a servant, or a guest at some other dinner? Surely a scandal would ensue, and Cosette would bear the worst of it, when she is the only innocent among us… and all because of me. She would lose everything, Javert,” he says, voice ragged. “Everything.”
Valjean is prone to embellishing the facts where his daughter is concerned, but he is right: far less scandalous affairs have ruined far more influential members of society. Still, that may never happen; no one else may ever discover what he supposes Valjean now believes is their torrid secret; Cosette may remain safe and blissful in her marriage to the dolt, and produce several worthy heirs. It is equally possible as scandal and ruin. Two possibilities; two weights on a scale. They hang tenuously in the balance, and Javert is not sure which will come crashing down in the end.
“You do not know that,” he says. “We are irrelevant in her world, even if the nature of our—friendship were to come out.” He wants to join Valjean in the armchair, kiss his temple, stroke his hair, anything to reassure him. But the sorrowful curve of Valjean’s mouth and the glistening of his eyes keep Javert at bay, and he does not move.
“Please," Javert says. "It will be fine.” He does not know how many more platitudes he can utter before it all becomes meaningless. “Cosette will not love you any less for it, and her good name will not be besmirched because no one will ever know.”
Valjean says nothing, then, only sighs again, and for a moment Javert glimpses all the years of his life suddenly manifest in the hard lines of his face. “I think, perhaps, I should go to bed," Valjean murmurs.
Already? Javert scowls. Valjean has hardly said anything, except to lament the calamity that will inevitably ensue, and they have not yet decided on a course of action.
"I will see Cosette tomorrow and speak to her,” Valjean says as he rises slowly from the chair and moves towards the stairs. Javert pretends he does not notice Valjean favoring his left leg, which has been happening more often as of late.
“That is all?” Javert asks. Valjean may grieve in silence all he wants, but this is not his own private affair to be conducted in shadow. This concerns them both. “I am guilty here, too, Valjean,” he says. “You should not have to do this alone.” He does not know how to convey what he means—that it does not matter what Cosette thinks of him, or how he may be regarded by society, but that Valjean must trust him enough to share the burden. They live together, eat together, read together, walk together, sleep together; their fates have always been intertwined, that much is certain, but now they bear a duty to each other. All I want to do is help you, Javert thinks furiously, and you will not let me. Why? It is more vexing than even the most laborious police paperwork.
Valjean pauses on the stairs. “Yes, but she is not your daughter and she has nothing to blame you for. Please, let me do this myself.”
Javert stares at him. “Were you planning to tell me what, precisely, you plan on saying to her, at least?” He has not been so blunt with Valjean in months, but he is poised to lose everything, and Valjean does not seem to care. Cosette will forever be the light of Valjean's life, and Javert cannot be begrudge him that—nor deny him the love from her he deserves—but the remembrance of it stings a little, still.
“I am not sure,” Valjean says. “I would like to hear her thoughts before I say anything.”
Trust Valjean to leave himself vulnerable for the blow. “I see," Javert says. "Well, do let me know how you fare."
“Yes, of course. Goodnight,” Valjean says, and hollow formality has replaced sorrow in his voice again. It is like any other evening, where Valjean will bid him goodnight and wait for him upstairs in their bed. Tonight has already been forgotten, lost to the winds.
And then, because the poisonous fear coiled within him unfurls more and more with every step Valjean takes on the stairs, Javert says, “This is your chance, you know.” He does not recognize the sound of his own voice. Perhaps it belongs to someone else in the room, someone who would be mad enough to throw everything Valjean has ever given him back in his face.
Valjean turns, frowns.
“To be free of me,” Javert continues. “It is quite providential, in fact—surely your charity must dry up eventually, no?” He knows how desperate—how stupid—he sounds, but some base instinct has taken hold and he is a slave to it in the face of a torment this great. “Why else would you have let this travesty run its course? You told me you had never wanted anyone before me,”—he swallows, tries not to choke—“so we both know you are merely indulging my depravity. I am grateful, of course, but my convalescence has long since finished and there is no reason to keep up the charade for my sake.”
There. Now he has shattered things irrevocably. At least Valjean will not have to lie to his daughter any longer.
When Javert finally dares to meet Valjean’s eyes, there is nothing but bewilderment reflected back at him. “I have become selfish these past few years,” Valjean says haltingly, “so I tell you: I want this. I want—you.” His grip on the bannister tightens minutely. “I am sorry if I have ever intimated such a terrible thing. I know I am not good with telling you what I—feel; it has always been hard for me. It is my own fault, I see that. I have failed you."
Javert can only proceed, blindly, like the fool he is. “I am giving you this,” he insists. “You do not need me.”
But I need you, he thinks anyway. No matter. It is immaterial.
“If being apart is what you desire, I will not stand in your way,” Valjean says, finally. “But if you think I desire it, too, you are mistaken.” Briefly the grief recedes from his face, and he looks down at Javert with the unbearable tenderness he has only bestowed on him in the depths of their bed. “When I see Cosette tomorrow, I will not forsake you. I promise.”
Javert cannot smother the small sound of agony that escapes him, and he is sure Valjean hears it, too. He knows how it will go now: Valjean will return to the parlor and beg his forgiveness and kiss him, and Javert only aches with shame where he supposes he ought to feel elation. After everything, he takes from Valjean when he ought to give; he has shamed Valjean into coddling him like a small child when it ought to be the opposite. And after all Valjean has done for him… He should have leapt from that bridge when he had the chance.
When Valjean reaches the bottom of the stairs and moves to cover Javert’s hand with his own where it lies, motionless, on the arm of the sofa, Javert recoils instantly. “Never mind,” he mutters, and brushes past Valjean to climb the stairs without another word.
Performing his ablutions before bed, he thinks of Valjean downstairs in the dark, alone, cloaked in the light of a single sputtering candle, and prays this fledgling conscience Valjean has cultivated in him may somehow save them both.
Standing on the Pontmercys’ doorstep, poised to knock, Javert finds his palms unaccountably damp with sweat and pauses to wipe them on his coat, grimacing. He had made sure Valjean was out on his daily morning walk when he left to come here, and even now Javert cannot shake the feeling that he is deceiving him. When the old servant—Basque, he remembers—arrives at the door, Javert requests the presence of Madame Pontmercy and allows himself to be ushered into the parlor.
“Please, have a seat,” Basque says, “Madame will be with you shortly. She is just tending to the garden outside.”
Javert nods. “She may take as long as she pleases; I am in no great hurry.”
“Very good, Monsieur. I shall let her know,” Basque replies, and pulls the heavy gilded door closed behind him as he leaves the room.
Javert has always disliked the practice of pacing—it suggests uncertainty, hesitance, weakness—yet he cannot help his agitated strides across the room and back. Perhaps he should have come with Valjean; perhaps he should have rehearsed his words; perhaps he should have—
The door opens and Cosette enters. Javert is not a man given to appraising the looks of women, but Cosette is uncommonly beautiful, radiant with the felicity of her marriage. He supposes she probably resembles what her mother might have been.
He bows stiffly. “Madame.”
“Good morning, Inspector,” she says, inclining her head. “And, please, Cosette.” Javert does not mention that he will always address her as Madame, no matter how many times she corrects him, just as she will always call him Inspector despite his retirement from the force more than a year ago.
She gestures towards the twin armchairs stationed next to the fireplace. “Shall we?”
Javert would prefer to stand—this is a matter too grave for sitting, after all—but he acquiesces.
When they are seated, Cosette draws a sharp breath, and says, “Before you say whatever it is you came here to say—and I believe I may hazard a guess—I should like to apologize for last night.” Her voice is tight. “My behavior was rash, and quite rude, and I am certain I upset Papa. He had convinced himself that I would disown him after I discovered his past, and now I fear something of a similar sort may happen again…"
This is quickly becoming intolerable. Javert had never imagined their intimate engagements would be laid out for dissection like this. “Madame,” he grinds out, “you are entitled to your conduct. We did not mean to give you a fright, but—“
Cosette holds up a hand. “Inspector, please, if you would allow me to finish.” She sighs. “I am learning to be decorous in my conversation—that is the way here—so you will forgive me if I do not speak plainly about what I mean. You must think me quite sheltered, having grown up in a convent. But there was always talk about the curiosities beyond those walls, you see, and certainly plenty of what some might call seditious literature that the girls had smuggled in.”
“The thought of my father taking a wife has always been foreign to me,” she says, and Javert is certain the blooming flush on his face must mirror hers. “And I confess remains so even now. He has never wanted… things for himself, you see, and the only friend in the world he ever permitted himself was my uncle Fauchelevent in the convent. You have been a good friend to my father this past year, Inspector, and I am very grateful to you for it. He cherishes your company, that much is plain. He tells me you have changed—I am sure of it—and what happened with my mother is behind us. But—Papa would scold me for saying it—but you have hurt him before, and I cannot be sure it will not happen again."
Javert blanches. He had not anticipated this.
"I still remember that night when he found me and carried my heavy bucket all the way back to the inn," Cosette says. She stares down at her lap, as if lost in the memory. "Looking up at him as we walked through the snow, I thought he was a hero from the stories my mother used to tell me, perhaps—who else could be so strong? He has been strong all this time for me, but I also know that his heart is so very tender, and I do not think I could ever bear to see it wounded."
When she looks up at Javert, then, her eyes are like ice, and momentarily he is reminded of the tenacity of Monsieur Madeleine while that woman—Fantine, he must always remember—lay dying. “My father has given both of us too much for his affections to be trifled with. He has finally begun to know peace, and I will not see that disturbed for anything.”
Javert almost wants to laugh. If only she knew. To think that this has been the trouble all this time! Perhaps he should mention how he would not wish to live a day on this earth without Valjean, or how the sight of Valjean’s bare back half-covered by the sheets when he wakes in the morning makes him think he has finally found God at last.
“Madame, your”—father, he starts to say, but no, the woman had been brave, too—“parents would be proud of your resolve.” He cannot atone for what he did to her mother, but perhaps this may erase one small red mark in his ledger. In any case, a year of bliss has surely been more than a sinner like him deserves. “I will not deny anything you have said. You are right, of course; your father is worthy of far better company than mine. And—he will never admit it, for you know very well he refuses to condemn the sin around him—I lured him into this." Hopefully he has not lost his knack for stratagems, with nearly two years out of police work. “It was me; he had no choice. I tempted him into sin and debauchery.” Javert closes his eyes briefly, and the specter of Valjean smiling at him as he gardens in the sunlight flickers on the inside of his eyelids. The thought of losing that tears at his chest like a bullet at close range. But he must do it, if only so that he may be able to repay a fraction of his debt to the saint who inexplicably tolerates his company. “In fact, this may be a blessing in disguise for him,” he says. “I will leave Paris to erase the threat of scandal and he will finally be free of me.”
Then, there is silence. Javert can scarcely believe what he has said, but prays she assents to his proposition nevertheless.
Cosette seems to be contemplating something; she folds her hands in her lap, then reaches across the space between them to press his hand with her own. If Javert did not know better, he might consider it a gesture of affection.
“Please," Cosette says gently, after withdrawing her hand. “There is no need to exaggerate your part in this. I know my father cares for you. He has never said it, of course, but that is his way.” She laughs quietly, fondly. “He has never said many things to me, it is true; and even now, after his past has been made plain to me, there is still so much that I doubt he will ever say. So you will forgive me, Inspector, if I do not believe a word you say." She looks… amused. That cannot be right. "A commendable effort, but I know a ploy when I see one. My husband is a lawyer, after all."
Javert frowns. Well. He has never been a particularly good liar.
"And willingly falling on your sword—well, it is something I suspect my husband would do as well,” Cosette says. Javert can hardly resist grimacing in disgust. Had he known he would invite a comparison to that dolt, he would never have made the trip here.
“You flatter me unduly, Madame,” he says. It is hard to say without a trace of contempt.
Cosette smiles. "I am sure I do. I would never begrudge my father happiness. If you are willing to forfeit your own for his sake, well—" She pauses. "You see, I never doubted the depths of your affection for my father, only if you would do right by him. He deserves a—friend who cherishes him above all else, and I believe—" she looks away, flushing—"you do. Otherwise you would not have tried so hard to relinquish what I know means a great deal to you."
So we have been brazen, then, Javert thinks. Surely that will appeal to Valjean's ceaseless martyrdom.
"Forgive me," Cosette says, idly twisting the folds of her dress in her lap. "Truly, I had no intention of meddling in your affairs, or my father's. I only wanted to ensure his safety, his happiness, as he has done for me since I was very young." She looks distressed. "It is the least I can do to repay him."
"Then we have more in common than we thought, Madame," Javert says, "for my debt to your father is inexpressibly large. I do not believe I can ever repay it in full."
"Oh, I would not be so sure about that," Cosette replies. "My father would say there is nothing to forgive, and I am inclined to agree with him."
“Yes,” Javert says, drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair. He feels like he has dreamt this whole exchange. “Well." He fishes his pocketwatch from his waistcoat and makes a show of studying it. "I suppose I ought to be going. Your father intends on paying a visit here this afternoon, which I am sure comes as no surprise."
Cosette sighs. "Not at all. I only hope I have not embarrassed him too terribly." She gathers her skirts and curtsies once more as she moves to leave. "Inspector. It has been a pleasure as always."
"Likewise, Madame," he says.
Her hand is on the handle of the door when she pauses, turns back to regard him. “Oh, and please inform my father that we expect him at dinner next Thursday evening," she says.
Javert nods. “Of course.” So Valjean remains in her good graces. He has performed his duty adequately.
Then Cosette hesitates fleetingly, and Javert steels himself for—something. Surely it cannot end so easily. “We would be honored if you would join us as well,” she says, and slips through the door. Her wisp of a smile, then, is like a benediction as heavy as a mortar stone, and the weight of it sinks down on his chest so swiftly he can hardly breathe.
Javert collapses back into the chair when the door finally thuds shut behind Cosette. Why must he always be forgiven so easily? He does not deserve it: not from Valjean, and not from her, either. He hears faint strains of Valjean in his head, telling him to trust in God’s mercy and accept the absolution he has been granted with grace. Such things are hard to bear, even after Valjean’s patient tutelage over this past year. Javert suspects he is still not fit to black Valjean’s boots, although God knows Valjean has permitted him far greater license than that.
They will never understand each other fully, he and Valjean, Javert decides, rising from the chair; they are too set in their own peculiar ways, and the weight of their past is too heavy to ever be forgotten. Yet even a broken, splintered thing may be worth saving for what lies underneath the tarnish, and so it is with them: damaged and unsure and somehow the only happiness he has ever known. How had he given it up so easily?
Valjean is collecting his hat and pulling on his coat as Javert steps through the door of the rue Plumet.
“Where have you been out so early?” Valjean asks, and though he is not smiling, his voice is light, free from despair. Good, Javert thinks; perhaps this will not come as such a blow after all. He has learned enough of Valjean this past year to know when to let him be, and these fits of despair often dissipate overnight like a stormcloud on a summer afternoon.
He strips off his coat, throws it over the armchair in the parlor, and turns. Valjean is still standing there, expectant.
“Well,” Javert says, bracing himself for the inevitable shock and horror, “I just visited your daughter.” He looks down at his boots.
When he glances up a moment later, Valjean has gone white—surely that cannot be good for his constitution, Javert thinks distantly—and only stares at him.
Javert would expect anyone else to shout, twist their face in fury, even turn on their heel and leave. But Jean Valjean is not anyone; his face is perfectly blank as he says, levelly, after a pause, “Javert, I wish you had let me speak to her first.”
Javert exhales. “Yes, I know, you expressed that well enough last night. But it was my error to expiate, and God knows nothing will ever come of a conversation between the two of you. You would have fallen to your knees before her and begged her forgiveness as a wretch, a sinner, when you are the last man who should ever do such a thing—“ He stops. Perhaps this is not the wisest course of action. They do not quarrel often, but when it happens there is little variation: he vociferates, Valjean remains silent. Sometimes it is like arguing with a wall. For a man to say nothing when he is being wronged so grievously… Javert shakes his head. It is ridiculous.
“I will be frank with you,” he says. It may mortify Valjean further, but he has the right to know. “Your daughter does not object to the rather… well, unusual nature of our situation.” He finds himself blushing to hear it spoken aloud like this, in these clumsy terms. “No, she is concerned that, given what has passed between us, perhaps I am not the most appropriate of… companions for you.” Hearing this from Cosette had been simple; after all, it was the truth. Now it only promises a lonely and bereft future. But speaking it aloud to Valjean so plainly like this, Javert wishes he could sink through the floor, right into the earth, to be swallowed up and never seen again. Instead, he settles for fiddling with a stray thread on the hem of his shirt cuff.
Finally, he mutters, “She is afraid I might hurt you again.”
He had not allowed Valjean to forgive him for many months. They had talked, and sat quietly by the fire together, and talked more, and finally, one day, he had knelt and kissed the flayed skin of Valjean’s wrists while Valjean trembled above him, eyes gleaming. It had not been a clean break, of course—such a thing was impossible; his sin had been too prodigious—but Javert thought it had all been affirmed: he had changed; he would never again do harm to Valjean.
Javert has grown accustomed to being wrong since that terrible night last June, so it stings a little less than it might have before. But now the architecture of his very foundations is crumbling once again, and this time it will spell the loss of his soul.
He looks up at Valjean. “She is right, you know. I could.”
Valjean is silent for a long moment. Then he goes to strike a match for the candle sitting atop the armoire in the corner, and suddenly light floods the room. Javert had not realized how dark it was. Even now, he feels like he moves solely in shadow.
"You may not believe me—I know you would call it charity still—but I would not seek your companionship if I did not want it," Valjean says. "Certainly, I would not seek it if I believed it would do me harm.”
"I would indeed call it charity," Javert mutters. "But I am sorry for what I said last night. It was ungrateful of me, and you deserve better, and"—his laugh is brittle—”even a saint like you could not preserve such a façade for so long."
“I did not mind,” Valjean says. “Consider it forgotten.” He smiles tentatively, but Javert can only shudder; he does not deserve this man's smiles.
“You cannot forgive me, Valjean!” His voice is too loud. “What I did was unforgivable. It was a grievous insult to you." They are doomed to eternal repetition, it seems: his sin, Valjean's forgiveness. Each time, he thinks, no more; there must be an end to Valjean's dispensation of mercy. Such a thought is risible, of course. Valjean will always forgive him.
“I forgive you because I know you were afraid for me,” Valjean says gently, “and perhaps for yourself also. There is no shame or sin in that. And to know that you care for me enough to see Cosette alone—well, I confess I had not expected that, but it was very noble of you."
Javert scowls. Noble? Hardly. "It was my duty."
"No," Valjean says, "It was not. It was a kindness to me, and perhaps to Cosette as well."
Javert cannot bite back his laugh. "I am not sure if she would agree. Certainly it was not the most… amiable of conversations." Valjean has never seemed especially satisfied with the state of things between Javert and his daughter, and Javert has always brushed him off, chalking up his reticence in her company to exasperation with her husband. But how can he face the daughter of the woman he murdered? It is not right, no matter how many times they tell him he is forgiven."Though if I am not mistaken," Javert adds, "she and I may have reached an accord of sorts. The details I will leave for her to tell you this afternoon." He does not miss the tension in Valjean's look. "But—she believes I will do right by you, I think. And—" he hesitates. Perhaps this should come from Cosette herself.
“And?” Valjean repeats nervously. It twists something in Javert’s chest to see this man so terrified that he might be discarded by those he loves.
“And,” Javert says, “she has invited us for dinner next week.” He swallows. “Both of us.”
Valjean looks up, startled. “Then she loves me still,” he murmurs, so timidly, so fearfully, that it might as well be a question. “I can scarcely believe it.”
“Well, you ought to,” Javert says. “You never should have doubted it at all.” He resists the urge to touch Valjean, to ease his burden with the union of their skin. “Her affections for you were never in question; it was always me. I brought this upon us myself. Alone."
Speaking to Cosette earlier, he had felt like a schoolboy asking the father of his sweetheart for her hand. But it was right that he should debase himself in front of her, seeking a blessing he does not deserve. And now, even after that blessing has been granted, he feels no relief: only a cold dread. How much more can he take from Valjean while giving so little in return?
The pressure of Valjean’s hand on his face nearly sends Javert reeling; he had never expected to feel it again. When Valjean’s finger trails a slow line down his cheek, tracing over the angle of his jaw and down his throat, Javert stills, savoring it. The pleasure of Valjean's touch has always been a sacred act, his own communion with God, but it has never before felt so fleeting. If he is to be granted this gift, he must accept it—must revel in every touch like it is their last.
“You know I have never had this with anyone else," Valjean says, stroking the soft skin behind Javert's ear, "but now that it has entered my life, it is—important to me. Every day, I thank God for giving me this happiness that I do not deserve."
“You do not deserve? God!” Javert groans. "You are impossible. Happiness? No. You deserve far better than the misery I have caused you." He wishes Valjean had known this with another: someone who was worthy of him, someone who was kind and generous and would—had—never hurt him. But their fate was fixed long ago, by some higher power who evidently saw fit to allow Valjean such dire suffering, and the only road forward is this one. If God wishes it for him, fine; he has always trod a narrow path. And if the sadness in Valjean's eyes or the drag of his leg ever put Javert in mind of his transgressions, well, that is only just.
"You do not cause me misery, Javert," Valjean says. "You never have. I thought we had put this behind us."
He cannot argue with Valjean any more than he can halt the risings of the tide or the sun. Such a thing has been unconscionable since the bridge. "I can make no promises," Javert says, "but—I will try." He must, for Valjean's sake. It will not do to make him beg.
A smile tugs at Valjean's mouth. "Thank you," he says.
Javert wants to say, You must never thank me. Instead, he catches Valjean's hand where it rests behind his ear, and draws it forward to kiss first Valjean's thumb, then his remaining fingertips, one by one.
Valjean's hands are not elegant; the skin is rough, with scars and calluses so thick Valjean says he sometimes cannot feel the texture of things he holds in them. But they are strong and sure, too, signifying the history of an honest man. A good man. Javert has always liked touching them.
When he reaches the palm of Valjean's hand, he stops, and Valjean lets out a slow breath.
“May I—?” He indicates the sliver of skin at Valjean’s wrist revealed by the length of his shirt cuff.
“You do not need to ask me,” Valjean says softly, even as Javert pushes back the cuff and sets his mouth on the same band of scars he had kissed in contrition months ago. He has not laid a hand on them since.
“I know,” Javert says, in between kisses. It gives him some comfort to hear Valjean believes them past that. “But—I do. I want to.” He inclines his head upwards to look at Valjean, whose pulse flutters faster and faster with every touch of Javert’s lips. I am forever looking up at him now, Javert thinks. He remembers looking down at Valjean in Toulon, in Montreuil, on the steps of the quay; it had been all wrong, then. He had always been wrong. Finally he is where he belongs, gazing up at Valjean as if he were the sun and moon all in one.
Valjean’s face looms above him, serene and beatific, and Javert sinks to his knees, lays his fingers upon the buttons of Valjean’s trousers.
“No,” Valjean murmurs. He covers Javert’s hands with his own, but does not push them away, only lets them rest there lightly. “Please. You must not—not on your knees.”
Javert sits back on his heels and frowns. “You have never objected before.”
Valjean blushes, then, which grants Javert some small satisfaction. How the man manages to look so utterly scandalized after all they have done is inconceivable. “I am sorry,” Valjean says, and reaches out to cup Javert’s face in his hand. “I do not object. It is only… you said before that I did not want you, that I merely indulged your depravity.” He takes a deep breath. ”You must never think such a thing.”
Javert lets his fingers slip from Valjean’s trousers and balls them into fists. He is a damned fool, should have known that the nonsense he had spoken in anger would wound Valjean so deeply.
“I would have us equal today,” Valjean says. He looks guilty, as he does whenever he requests anything of Javert. “Please. Indulge a selfish old man.”
Javert cannot bear to hear him ask again. “Very well,” he mumbles, leaning his forehead against Valjean’s thigh. “But you will have to let me take these off anyway. And let us have no more talk of indulgences.”
“I will consider it,” Valjean says, and wraps a hand around Javert’s arm to haul him up. Then they are standing face to face an instant later, and Valjean looks like he wants to be kissed; his face is flushed and his eyes are locked on Javert's mouth. Yet for the first time in nearly a year, Javert is afraid to kiss him. Perhaps this has changed everything. He hesitates, and it is clear Valjean notices. "I—" Javert starts to say, and then Valjean is kissing him, and the relief is so great Javert thinks he might die from it.
Their kiss is no slower or sharper than before, but Valjean's mouth tastes different, somehow, imbued with all the sweetness of an untold future. There is no panacea quite as potent as the way Valjean touches him. Valjean slides flush against him, grasping for purchase in the fabric of Javert's shirt; he flicks his tongue against Valjean's lips and earns an open mouth under his own.
They proceed in this fashion for a time, Javert deepening the kiss with the pressure of his tongue, before he draws back a little, taking Valjean's lower lip between his teeth between his teeth and sucking at it. He kisses down the length of Valjean's jaw, pausing intermittently to linger on the places he knows Valjean likes, and is gratified when one particular kiss near Valjean's ear elicits a quiet moan. Valjean rarely permits himself to make a sound when they do this—all the more reason why each one he emits cuts through Javert with a fierce heat. And every time, he thinks—knows—I will never tire of this.
Reaching the juncture of Valjean's throat, he licks a stripe down it and feels Valjean's hands tighten concurrently at his waist, almost hard enough to bruise. But those hands have never once bruised, despite their strength, and Javert knows himself blessed whenever they touch him.
"Your daughter said that I—how did she put it—that I cherish you above all else," he murmurs into Valjean's neck. "How dramatic. Do you believe it?"
Valjean pretends to ruminate as he begins to untie Javert's cravat. "No, that seems far too sentimental for a hardened lawman like yourself. She must have been mistaken."
"Almost certainly," Javert says, pushing a thumb gently into the hollow at Valjean's throat where he has just bitten a kiss. "Such a thing would be preposterous." Red blooms there behind his thumb, and he brushes it with the pad of his finger.
Then he tilts Valjean's chin up with a finger so their eyes meet. "But I would not wish a life without you near me," Javert says quietly. The words seem to pour out of him. "I mean it. Last night, today—it was unbearable. I do not think I could go on if we were made to part." He has never said such a thing to Valjean before.
Valjean takes Javert's hand in his own and brings it to his mouth, kisses it. "I know," he says. "I know." There is such tenderness in his gaze that Javert wants to weep.
"Well," Javert mutters. Suddenly he no longer feels quite so steady on his feet. "Good." He rests his head in the crook of Valjean's neck, not moving, only breathing in Valjean's skin and his scent and releasing himself into Valjean's care. He feels Valjean's hand come up to stroke his hair slowly, and they remain like that, immobile, for a long moment. But it is never long enough with Valjean. He would be perfectly content to abide this for eternity.
Then Javert lets his hand drift down the curve of Valjean's waist, settling it between his legs. He does not miss the way Valjean breathes, "Oh," so faintly he might have imagined it, and presses their mouths together again in response.
"Shall we—upstairs?" Valjean asks breathlessly. His lips are red, and Javert wants nothing more than to kiss them again.
But he steps back, disentangles himself from Valjean. "What about Cosette? You must see her."
"Later," Valjean murmurs. He slides a hand around Javert's waist, thumb brushing the exposed swath of skin there, and sets his other hand to untucking the tails of Javert's shirt from his trousers.
Later. Then Valjean is wholly his for now. Javert supposes he should demand Valjean leave straightaway and settle things with her, but he is selfish, after all, and cannot refuse the promise of Valjean under him, panting and damp with sweat. So he kisses Valjean, says, "If you insist," and pulls him up the stairs.