Whether it is as a result of the particularly smooth wine flowing freely at the Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire throughout the meal, the heady atmosphere fuelled by constant skating-close-to-improper looks smouldering back and forth between Marius and Cosette (only four months married, and it shows), or the boot Valjean has endeavoured to keep hooked around Javert’s right ankle for most of the evening (only three months into their...redefined association, which they naively believe does not show), Monsieurs Valjean and Javert are in very fine fettle this summer evening. Consequentially, the journey back to Rue Plumet has been a small agony for each, spent as it was tucked primly in opposite corners of a fiacre, lest they forget themselves so far as to bring a charge of (semi-)public outrage against modesty down upon their heads. (“Article 330,” Javert had reminded them both in a faint mutter, over and over like a mantra for chastity, drumming a fretful tattoo upon his knee, before thrusting his head out of the window and barking: “For pity’s sake, is that horse of yours on the point of needing the Last Rites? Can you not drive any faster?”)
Whatever might have prompted it, they are barely out of the cab (the driver hastily and richly compensated for my companion’s appalling rudeness), through the front door and the candles lit before one hundred and ninety centimetres of police inspector are seized, stripped of their coat and manhandled against the wall, much to their delight.
“It is my opinion,” Valjean addresses Javert’s waistcoat the moment his mouth is free to speak, one capable hand (still with the faintest suggestion of soil lurking in the corners of his fingernails, legacy of this afternoon’s work in the one patch of 55 Rue Plumet’s wilderness he permits to be tamed) splayed across the expanse of Prussian blue silk before him, “that you looked particularly fine tonight.”
Of course it is. It is a particularly fine piece of tailoring, after all; pressed upon him by the man currently pressed against him. (“Come now, Javert; it is not in the least ‘far too bold’. There do exist colours other than grey, and – ” Javert had groaned aloud then, realising with exquisite clarity exactly what was forthcoming and how powerless he was to resist it, Valjean’s expression the nearest to sly the man is capable of being. “ – it would please me to see you in them, on occasion.”) To the disinterested observer, the expert cut and finish of the garment – framed as it is by the ferociously bristling whiskers above and the long dangling arms without – would no doubt only serve by contrast to emphasise its occupant’s resemblance to something that by rights belongs in the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes, possibly behind double bars and a notice reading Ne Pas Nourrir. (From the snort which had escaped its wearer as he bent to eye his reflection earlier that evening, tugging his collar-ends into alignment, one might well have extrapolated that he himself would voice no disagreement with this assessment.)
Granted, Jean Valjean has been very far from a disinterested observer of the Inspector for a good while now, but the expression he is presently sporting seems excessively admiring even so. Haze of the wine, no doubt, Javert concludes, not unaffectionately, allowing his hands to descend and brace against Valjean’s posterior as he kisses him again, tongue tracing very gently over the other man’s, which is presently sporting a rather more literal haze of wine of its own.
“Although...” Valjean flushes a little as they break apart, his fingertip meandering in loops between the buttons, then recites in a slight rush: “...this-would-look-finer-still-off-you.”
This is astonishingly blunt, but all the more endearing for having evidently been rehearsed a dozen times prior. Javert’s mouth twitches into that odd half-smile he reserves purely for his friend (rehearsed far more than a dozen times, truth be told): the smile of a man who spent decades regarding it as possessing no other function than to bare his fangs, and who only now has found a reason to hide them. Whilst it might not be overly convincing of good humour to any other, its sole recipient never fails to accept it in the spirit in which it is intended.
Javert turns his attention to Valjean’s cravat – forest green, inexpensive cotton, a little frayed about the edges – lets his fingertip trail along the edge of the seam, where only the most delicate of touches could detect the slight change in texture halfway along. His ostentatious waistcoat (it is ridiculously ostentatious, no matter what Valjean might think; that Javert is wearing it at all is entirely an expression of his regard for the man, and is in no way him peacocking about in agreement with Valjean’s assertion that the colour complements the slate-grey of his eyes) may be professional handiwork, but the cravat, one portion of it, is his. For this is the first thing he ever freely offered to Jean Valjean (if one does not count finally baulking at destroying his liberty, and tearing one’s mind to shreds in the process – which Javert does not; for that action was only in accordance with the higher order of things he now knows to be right, for all he still flails at it rather than fully grasping).
It was barely three weeks after the river, the Inspector ensconced firmly (and unwillingly) in the Rue Plumet – past the worst of the miserable hacking and snarling diatribes and thwarted lunges for the straight-razor, admittedly, but bleak for both nonetheless. Javert, noting from his bed one morning the splayed and fraying edge of the cravat as Valjean had bent to pour his coffee, had offered diffidently to mend it – merely to stave off the daily Bible recitation, nothing more (or so he told himself at the time). Valjean, however, whose increasingly despairing attempts at offering Javert distracting pursuits had all so far failed to rouse his charge from his apparent torpor, had greeted the suggestion with the most alarming enthusiasm. Minutes later, Cosette’s embroidery basket had been ransacked, thread of four varying shades and needles of five varying lengths set before him on the blanket, and Valjean was stood over him smiling expectantly (only quitting the room at the demand that he leave me be, I am not so maddened as to stab myself slowly to death with a damned needle; though I may well be driven to if you remain staring at me as if I were a performing dog).
No doubt Valjean had resigned himself to a ruined neck-cloth, given the quantity of books (and occasionally dishes) that had been flung against the wall during the most trying period of convalescence. Despite this, his expression as he sat slowly upon Javert’s bed three hours later and examined the workmanship was, to Javert’s mind, rather excessively taken aback.
“This is exceptionally skilled,” he exclaimed softly, letting his hand graze the fabric and glancing at Javert’s own hands in turn, as though amazed that such broad sprawling articles, seemingly built only to seize collars and cudgels, could ever wield a needle with such precision. “I knew you capable of mending, of course,” (no great leap of deduction there; Javert’s stockings are more darn than knit by this point) “but this is quite something else; so fine, so even. How did you come to learn this?”
“I have always known how.” That should have been perfectly adequate, but something about Valjean’s expression – perhaps the pleasure, both surprised and surprising, in his eyes – spurred him to clarify: “Almost always. My mother taught me.”
He must have been very young, for he recalls being still of a size to fit comfortably beneath her arm when they curled up to sleep, in one of that endless succession of dingy rooms where they would live crammed in alongside the peers he was already learning to regard with revulsion and treat with contempt. She would sew, and he would lean against her to watch the needle darting back and forth, almost too swiftly to follow, its dull pitted steel nevertheless somehow catching the spark from the single candle so it seemed to flash in and out of the woollen sea like a quicksilver fish. Then, when her task was complete, she would produce a bundle of stained scraps, drop her arm around him, close both his finger and thumb about the needle and her broad, roughened hand over his, and patiently guide his pushes and tugs this way and that so he might learn to create clumsy stitches of his own. Even then, both mother and son were already all too aware that Javert was of the kind for whom there would never be any sort of servant to see to such things (nor, it would become decidedly clear later on, a wife).
“Every thought you have whilst sewing,” she had told him, gently correcting his angle for the hundredth time, “is folded into every stitch. And it remains there, even if you unpick the whole lot; it’s pressed into the cloth by then, and nothing to be done about it. I don’t know how it works, or why, but it does. So have a care you don’t dwell on unpleasant matters when sewing, Matthieu, for it weaves its way into the work, and then there’s a thread of spoil running through the whole thing.”
No doubt she intended to calm his approach to the whole business, for the uneven angles and inconstant size of the stitches he first produced annoyed him beyond all reasonable measure, which made him tighten his grip in frustration so fiercely as to break the thread. Javert dwells but little upon the tattered fragments which comprise his memories of his mother, and even less upon the scraps of fanciful nonsense she saw fit to bequeath her son under the guise of maternal wisdom, but this one has proved ineradicable.
And he had heeded it, on this occasion. He has never told Valjean that into every stitch on that article – into every tiny line of thread he had squinted furiously over and completed with hands still of a mind to tremble at intervals, even now bearing the ghosts of bruises and grazes and splintered nails from the night of the river – was folded apology and bewilderment and gratitude, and even the first stirrings of affection, by turns. But, then, he does not need to. For, more often than not, this man who might purchase a chest-full of the most fashionable items of neckwear on a whim if he pleased, disdains the half-dozen newer ones presently folded in his drawer in favour of donning this.
It was appropriate enough, he thinks, for a saint who, upon hauling the sorry dripping bundle from the river, ripped into rags on the cog-teeth of the law, promptly set about painstakingly piecing the scraps back together and fashioning them into a man once more. Javert had once viewed Valjean as the thread anchoring him unwillingly to life, but now knows him to be the thread which secures the very seams of his soul.
Bending his head, Javert buries his nose in Valjean’s hair, suffused with the smoke from the fine beeswax candles the Pontmercys favour, highly gratified by the full-body shudder he manages to prompt by the simple expedient of nudging one thigh forward just there.
“Javert, I had thought we might try...tonight – ”
“Hm?” Valjean, his actions always so responsive and delighted – eager, even – rarely gives voice to the specifics of such pursuits. Whatever he wishes, Javert thinks indulgently, trailing kisses just above the line of his beard, nosing into that patch just beneath his ear from which he never quite succeeds in completely removing the soap from his morning ablutions; whichever way pleasures Valjean tonight, he shall have, any manner of configuration they have together discovered and practised and thrilled in: swift and urgent as they sprawl half-off the couch, gasping against each other’s throats, busy fingers working inside trouser-fronts; languorous and thorough, Valjean reclining nude and glorious as heavy hands traverse his skin with remarkable care, push gentle and sure circles through that incongruously soft hair which covers his chest, each pass sweeping lower until the first touch brushes against –
“ – congress.”
Intent upon ghosting his teeth along the curve of Valjean’s right ear as Javert is, it takes a moment for the meaning to percolate through his somewhat preoccupied mind; the instant it does, however, Valjean comes within a whisker of losing the appendage, and Javert correspondingly close to becoming the subject of an article in one of the more sensational specimens of the gutter press, headed Outrageous Cannibalistic Assault Perpetuated By Previously-Upstanding Police Inspector Upon Baroness’s Father.
Startling upright, Javert pushes the other man back a little way, hands upon his shoulders, staring at him as he might a junior constable who had expressed the earnest desire to violate Article 330 on the roof of the Prefecture.
“Well!” he manages, unsteadily. “Had you, indeed! You are speaking extraordinarily boldly tonight; I suppose it is only a mercy you managed to keep your counsel throughout dinner, and not proposition me over that rather poorly-seasoned guinea-fowl...”
Valjean’s countenance is no stranger to assuming many different variations upon a theme of serene patience, including one in particular that can only be characterised as inhumanly saintly – and which, Javert has noted, seems to be kept solely for deployment towards himself. It is this last which is settled on his face now. “Yes, I had.”
“Had you indeed,” Javert echoes – rather more faintly on this occasion, for running through the tangle of trepidation and shock that has just now snarled up somewhere below his ribcage is a bright thread of undeniable enthusiasm for the idea.
“Well,” Valjean continues softly, “we have mentioned – ”
“Yes, yes, we have mentioned.” They have mentioned in some detail, several days previously, during the course of a talk Valjean appears to regard as a bracingly frank and practical discussion, and Javert the third most excruciating conversation they have ever conducted between them (surpassed only by those of a certain morning in the office of a certain mayor, and a certain night After The Bridge).
“If you would prefer – not to,” Valjean murmurs, turning pink again, “not tonight – or not ever, even – then that is quite all right. I would have you any way you please. But if you do want – ”
Valjean’s eyes are the exact shade of the horse chestnuts which litter the cobbles across the more well-to-do areas of Paris, spilling glossy and perfect from their prickly casings. They are very wide now. Not pleading, no – oh, there is desire plain in evidence, but no attempt at persuasion; they are merely as warm and welcoming and frank as ever. Javert still cannot quite bear to meet them during – well, during their activities – for he is nervous that what he might see in them would unpick him completely; but after the more energetic business is concluded, and they are sprawled together catching their breath, he will indulge in watching every flicker, every play of emotion chasing across them, all the while marvelling that the gaze of a man who has suffered to such a degree can remain so inexpressibly soft.
Javert drops his forehead to rest against his friend’s.
“I do,” he admits softly, and he does. “Not here in the hall, though. Come to bed. For considerations,” he adds with mock sternness, “of dignity.”
“Not to mention logistics.” Valjean smiles merrily, and Javert cannot help but kiss him again.
As it transpires, it is logistics that defeat them, ultimately.
Proceedings begin well enough, certainly. They have undressed and been tangling happily upon the blankets for a while when Valjean pulls back and reaches into the drawer of the bedside chest to produce, somewhat shyly, a small bottle, which contents Javert can guess. (Both of them may be woefully lacking in experience of such matters, and have only the sketchiest theoretical knowledge of how to execute the act beyond the basic mechanics, but Javert has handled enough poorly-manufactured pistols in his time – whether seized from arrestees or, more depressingly, issued to the police – to appreciate the value of assistance in easing things along when jamming barely-fitting articles down narrow passages.)
So now Javert is sprawled face-down on the mattress, feeling faintly ridiculous and extremely nervous and highly disappointed in himself for it. If he would take a bullet for this man without hesitation, then why is merely lying splayed and open such a daunting prospect?
The clink of glass being replaced. Valjean has evidently finished applying the oil to himself. Javert reaches back, dispenses what he hopes is a reassuring pat to Valjean’s trembling thigh. Valjean murmurs his name, Valjean positions himself, Valjean pushes –
He is being ripped open at the seams.
It burns. Excruciatingly so. It is worse than the lashes of fire he suffered lancing through his lungs with each breath for a fortnight after the river, for there is no way of bracing himself against this.
“Javert?” Valjean’s face is suddenly beside his, worried, the usual pained look at blasphemy (yes, even in bed) conspicuously absent, and Javert can only imagine that what is visible of his own countenance is exhibiting an equally pained look now, for Valjean begins to raise himself upright. “I will stop – ”
“No.” Twisting his arm, he fumbles blindly (and cautiously) between their bodies, only to be met with the disheartening discovery that – despite feeling as though he has been impaled upon something of similar proportions to his cudgel (which exceeds regulation length, at that, on account of his height) – Valjean’s cock has not made it even halfway within him. He fires a small explosion of frustration into the pillow before steeling himself once more. “Come on.”
“Not if you – ”
“For Chr- – for pity’s sake, just get on with it.”
There must be pleasure to be gained from this. Certainly, the number of gentlemen he has handcuffed and hauled off under Article 330 for the crime of being under an additional gentleman at the time – not to mention their extraordinarily appreciative vocalisations prior to their coitus interruptus by police inspector – would suggest so. He grits his teeth, shifts, and cannot suppress an agonised yelp.
“Javert. No more.”
And with that, and one final rush of blazing pain, he is empty.
Javert flails his way up to a sitting position somehow, wincing, and hauls himself to perch upon the edge of the bed; face hot with shame at his failure, reflecting bitterly that the phrase unnatural acts has proved itself an entirely accurate term. Perhaps he is built wrongly somehow. Perhaps that well-worn sobriquet of Tightarse Javert is more literally true than the numerous hurlers of it throughout his life could ever know. Perhaps –
Valjean wraps himself around him from the back, rests his head against his shoulder, and does not speak for a long while.
“Well,” Javert mutters, because one of them must speak first unless they wish to spend the remainder of their existence in rueful silence, and it might as well be him; but he can think of nothing more to add than another: “Well.”
“There is something else we could try.”
Javert is not particularly inclined to consider trying any more of Valjean’s bright ideas at this very moment. However, he is still miserably hard, and the prospect of Valjean will (almost) always win out over any perfunctory relief afforded by his own hand, so he ventures a cautious “Oh?”
“Back in Faverolles...” The fingers now flexing upon his shoulder describe patterns over the skin, follow the line of the bone down and around, undemanding and soothing. “...there was something the men spoke of, if one – well, wished to avoid the possibility of siring children upon a woman – ”
“Which is hardly a relevant concern, is it?” Javert barks, pride smarting even more fiercely than his nether regions by this point. He draws a shaky breath, rubs briefly at his face, and makes a clumsy stab at levity to soften the sting. “I am far too old for you to fetch a child upon me, after all.”
It is a poor enough jest, and all the more so given the grain of truth lurking within. For Valjean makes him feel both impossibly young – and yet so terribly, terribly old when he allows the spectre of their combined ages to cross his mind, trailing with it those grim calculations of just how few years there can possibly be remaining to them together at best, and how fewer yet might be their lot.
Yet he can feel the scratch of beard against the back of his neck; and, a moment later, Valjean’s lips curve into a smile there. “And I am far too elderly to father one, so...”
Javert does not wish to dwell upon this matter of age any further, and it is this as much as anything that sends him twisting into Valjean’s embrace once more. He sighs. “Go on, then.
“If you are sure – ”
“Lie down – no, on your back.” He obeys, though his eyes widen when he catches Valjean reaching over to the chest again. “Do not be alarmed.”
“Yes, yes; come along...” Valjean is now knelt beside him, and for some unknown reason spreading the oil about the top of Javert’s thighs. (It is uncomfortably reminiscent of basting fat over a chicken, but he does not think it wise to voice the comparison at present.)
And then all is made clear as Valjean’s palms press Javert’s thighs gently together so they form one long line, Valjean’s knees brace themselves on either side; Valjean’s thumbs pull his thighs apart just the barest distance, and Valjean’s prick is pushed shyly between them.
“Oh.” It is realisation and relief – and even, impossible as it seems after the preceding events, a low flicker of arousal – all wound together.
Valjean cocks his head. Something of that earlier mischief in his gaze has returned. “All right?”
Javert dares to meets his eyes, settles his own hands against Valjean’s thighs in turn, and smiles for the first time since they took to the bed tonight. “I think this will serve, yes.”
It does serve, and admirably so. As Valjean lowers himself so he is laid flush upon Javert, it brings a decidedly pleasant pressure to bear upon Javert's own prick. Valjean moves slowly, then swiftly, pushing in and out like a needle, stitching the frayed edges of Javert's torn pride back together, and it is glorious as ever.
Later, in the dark, Javert huddles against the gently snoring form beside him, one hand weaving over and over through the white hair. His thoughts drift over the most trivial of recollections: returning from night patrol on the freezing streets to burrow into the blankets and fold himself about the warm body beneath. The mug of coffee at his bedside every morning without fail, whatever the time of his rising to leave, whatever the pattern of his shifts that week. The short boots he polishes to a mirror shine on a Sunday evening as their owner reads aloud from whatever novel has caught his fancy. All the little actions that make up the stitches of this thing between them.