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Rough Hands, Gentle Heart

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There is nothing extraordinary about the day—the weather is mild, Javert’s mood is mild, and he and Valjean have been passing through each other’s business without fuss. They are both in the kitchen, maneuvering around each other as they attempt to put together dinner and some fiddly pastry that Valjean refuses to let Javert so much as look at until it is done, though God knows why. He seems to be under the impression that Javert would sneak bits of it before it was done, which is, of course, ridiculous. He did that once.

As there is not much room between the kitchen table and the countertop, they’ve spent most of the past twenty minutes bumping into each other and muttering excuse me, pardon. Javert is considering taking his cutting board and seceding to the far corner of the kitchen; perhaps he can include a formal agreement about how often and under what circumstances Valjean can enter his corner.

Valjean tries to squeeze past Javert without bumping into him, which is evidently an exercise in futility—and Javert, seized by some strange whim, bumps him. Valjean staggers into the table and barks out a laugh, and then they both pause, realizing what Javert has done. Though they have reached an easy camaraderie, there is very little physicality to it, a brush of hands or a pat on the shoulder or back. They are never rough, never abrupt—it is always so, so careful.

Valjean begins to laugh again, a touch alarmed, and he pushes Javert’s shoulder in a friendly way before squeezing past.

It is a small thing, a change that almost does not matter, but Javert smiles a touch wider when Valjean brushes past him again.

*

The sun is setting, the air cool, and they have taken to Valjean’s garden. Javert does not know why he insists on maintaining just a small patch when he has so much to work with, but he hasn’t asked—it doesn’t seem important. He is not much help out here, having never cared for plants before, but he can at least help carry things to and fro and pull weeds. Often he’ll sit and try to read, though that usually ends with him sneaking glances at Valjean and too frustrated with himself to stay still for long.

Valjean has put Javert to work pulling weeds while he prunes, which Javert has taken to vigorously. The earth is dry and the weeds’ roots are deep; Javert rips them from the ground with rough yanks that throw clods of dirt into the air in satisfying sprays. He is conscious of how he’s sweating; when he glances at Valjean, he can see the sheen of sweat on his forehead and neck. He glances away.

“Tell me again,” he says, sitting back and wiping sweat from his brow, “what the point of this is?”

Valjean, unfazed, clips away a stem. It looks perfectly healthy to Javert, bu he supposes a gardener would see its imperfections. “Be fair,” he says. “If the vegetables take, we can eat them.”

“Yes, but the flowers—”

“If they take, we can admire them.” Valjean sets his shears down and wipes his hands off on his pants—Javert takes care to keep his gaze level with his face. “You are the one who offered to help,” he says, gently.

Javert bends over the patch of dirt and pretends to examine some small weed. “Well, so I did. That doesn’t mean I understand the appeal.” He takes a particularly tall weed by the base, tests it against the earth, and then yanks. He hopes his face is carefully blank and suspects it is not.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself,” Valjean says. When Javert glances up, alarmed, he adds, “Pulling the weeds, I mean. That is—of course.” He takes up the shears again and bends over the plant, careful to keep his face turned.

“Nevermind,” Javert mumbles. The silence afterward is tense; Javert does not know if Valjean knows what he’s saying—or, rather, not saying. Javert does not know if he knows what he’s saying himself. All said or unsaid, he would rather focus on the weeds.

They work their way through the garden without speaking, slowly, and Javert reaches a prickly patch. He works with vigor, panting slightly through his teeth—he takes a particularly gnarly weed and gives a great heave—and when he yanks it from the earth, he hits Valjean square in the face.

Valjean does not even make a sound—he recoils and touches his nose. After a moment, he says, “Ah.”

Javert looks at his hand, then at Valjean, then his hand. The weed’s roots have not even been ripped up. “I’m—I’m sorry,” he says, awkwardly at first. When he finds that he means it, he repeats it, dropping the weed. “Valj—Fauch—are you hurt? Pardon—I—”

Valjean begins to laugh, brushing dirt from his hair and face. “I should know better than to sneak up on you!” He ruffles Javert’s hair, rough enough to make him bow under Valjean’s hand—Javert whacks his hand away, and Valjean pushes at his shoulder, smiling.

“I did not mean to—you ninny, are you hurt or not? If my hand is smarting your face must be worse.”

“It’s fine,” Valjean says. He pats Javert’s back—somehow it seems that he is reluctant to take his hand away. He rests his palm against the curve of Javert’s shoulder blade, almost cupping it. “It is a good lesson in conscientiousness.”

They are hidden from the street, here; no one will find them. A low breeze sweeps through the garden, cooling the sweat on Javert’s face and neck, making him aware of how hot he is though the sun is low, and aware of how close Valjean is, so close that Javert can see the smudges of dirt on his forehead, his cheek, close to his mouth. His hand is still on Javert’s back, very still, very warm. It would be very easy to kiss him.

Instead, he shoves Valjean in the chest, nearly knocking him over. “Get back to your pruning, then,” he grumbles. He resists the urge to tug at his collar. “You need a bell.”

Valjean’s smile is slow. If Javert did not know any better, he would say it is knowing.

*

From there, their touches become haphazard, sometimes rough, always affectionate. Javert tells himself there is no undercurrent to it, that it is straight-forward—the sort of affection young men share in the street. If Valjean did not insist on couching it with gentler touches, he might continue to think so, but Valjean will allow for some shoving and then brush his hand along Javert’s arm or the base of his skull, as if he has to reassure himself that he has done no damage.

When they are rough with each other, Javert can forget what he wants. When Valjean is gentle, he has nowhere to hide.

Javert knows what will become of him if he allows this—what will become of both of them—and he knows he should stop this, that he should build new boundaries and refuse to cross them. He cannot, not now that he knows what it is like to push Valjean with his shoulder and have that strong body pushing back, now that he knows what Valjean’s calloused fingers feel like in the crook of his neck and shoulder, now that he knows Valjean’s surprised laugh.

It is a matter of time until he oversteps himself. He can only hope Valjean will forgive him, then.

*

“Are you still reading?”

Valjean looks up from his book. He’s been reading in the sitting room for almost two hours, now, while Javert busied himself with whatever he could find. He raises his eyebrows. “I am,” he says.

Javert resists the urge to ask why, opting instead to sit next to Valjean and lean close. Valjean tilts the book for him. “It seems very boring,” he says. Valjean tilts it back. “I am thinking of going for a walk. You should come with me—you need the fresh air to clear this nonsense out of your head.”

“Perhaps in another chapter.” Valjean shifts so he is turned away from Javert and makes a show of turning the page.

“It will still be there when you get back,” Javert says. He leans his forearm on Valjean’s back, enjoying the solid strength of him; Valjean does not bow under the weight, even when Javert presses down.

Valjean huffs out a breath that is almost indignant, if it weren’t so amused. “You know, I have not had someone so interested in my time since Cosette was a child.”

Feeling rather like a child caught red-handed, Javert scowls and bears down on Valjean’s back, knowing that it makes him all the more childish. Valjean does not budge, and makes a show of casually turning the page once more. “I am concerned about your well-being,” he grumbles. “A man needs some exercise.”

“Would this count?”

“Don’t be stupid. Of course it doesn’t.” There is a strange twisting in his gut as he relaxes against Valjean’s back, as he lets his hand slip up his arm. It seems a very blatant thing to do—but Valjean is not troubled by it. Javert finds that he is not, either.

He reaches for the book—and there, finally Valjean reacts. He grips Javert by the wrist and twists it, not enough to hurt, too kind to be a warning. “Enough,” he says. Even as he says it, he does not let go. His hand is hot on Javert’s arm, and he turns under Javert, taking care to set the book safely on the table before taking Javert by his collar and arm and pushing him away.

There—the challenge has been set, and Valjean distracted, and Javert twists out of his hold and pushes his shoulder. It almost seems that Valjean won’t brook this; there is a hesitation in his face, a tension through him, but when Javert takes a fistful of his coat and drags him into a headlock, he bursts into that surprised laughter that trills through Javert.

Valjean grabs him around the waist and yanks him off the couch, and soon they’re both on the floor, struggling against each other without purpose. It could be finished very easily, Javert knows, should Valjean want it to end, but he lets Javert squirm out of his grasp again and again, lets Javert grapple him to the floor before rising up again.

Soon Javert is panting as their legs twine and they fumble with each other; at times he can feel Valjean’s breath on his neck, through his coat, puffing against the side of his face. If he never had more than this, he would be content. To have Valjean’s body flush against him, to struggle and have that struggle be meaningless, to trust one another like this is more than enough.

But there is a warmth cording through him like tension, and Valjean’s body is hot against him, and the ache of their wrestling is not skin deep. This will have to end—and even as he thinks this, he loops his arms about Valjean’s waist and tries to throw him down to the floor.

Valjean turns, suddenly, and takes Javert by the wrists, and there is no fighting him, now. He pushes Javert onto his back and sits on his stomach, holding Javert’s thighs down with his feet. The weight of him settles between Javert’s legs; try as Javert might to break his wrists out of Valjean’s grasp, he cannot. Valjean holds him down until Javert stills.

“That’s enough,” he says, panting. He is smiling, his hair disarrayed, his face flushed. His shirts have been yanked from his trousers, and hang loosely on him. “What’s gotten into you, Javert?”

Javert lifts his hips. It is not meant to be an answer, but as he does, he is aware of how hard he is. His cock brushes against Valjean, who tenses. “Get off,” Javert says. It is not supposed to happen this way—not loose-limbed and aching and the both of them panting like they’ve already had each other. There should surely be some gravitas to it, a solemnity appropriate to such an exchange of trust.

But Valjean is smiling, still, though he is hesitant now, almost coy. He bends down as if to kiss Javert—Javert turns his head instinctively, and instead he presses his nose into Javert’s neck. His breath comes in short bursts. Slowly, he edges his hips down Javert’s stomach until his weight is sliding along Javert’s cock—Javert groans, the noise loud and undignified in his ears.

Valjean’s lips brush at Javert’s neck, not quite a kiss, moving as if he is trying to talk and cannot quite manage the words. He rubs their hips together, slow, and Javert does not know if it is inexperience that makes him hesitant or if it is a deliberate tease. “Valjean,” he says. But he finds he has no defense for this, and Valjean has pressed his forehead into Javert’s shoulder and shifted his hips against Javert, and this is what he wanted—what he pretended he did not want.

He bucks up, and Valjean weathers it with a soft noise in the back of his throat. Keeping one hand firmly on Javert’s wrists, Valjean slips one hand between them and presses the heel of his hand against Javert’s cock. The rough fabric of his trousers is too much. He squirms under Valjean, impatient, because how long has he wanted this? In the humid throes of the summer, when he let Valjean’s hand brush at his brow; at the barricades, when Valjean took him by the rope and led him from that doomed place; in the back of his mind as he stalked through Paris; further still, when the small town of Montreuil sur Mer was all that mattered, when a benevolent man with a mayor’s face skittered from Javert’s suspicions.

He has been patient all this time. Surely he is allowed some impatience. “Spoils to the victor,” he says, thinking that truly they have gone to the conquered. Javert would allow himself to be subsumed into Valjean; the thought should frighten him, and does not.

He can feel Valjean swallow. Javert bucks again, grinding his cock against Valjean’s hand; Valjean’s mouth opens at his neck, his breath warm. There is a moment wherein Valjean hesitates, his hand cupped against Javert, his body motionless over Javert—and then he slips open Javert’s trousers with such alarming swiftness that Javert gasps.

“Is this—”

“Yes,” Javert says, “yes, for Heaven’s sake—do not stop now.” Hoping to spur Valjean on, he begins to struggle again, twisting and bucking his hips, but Valjean is not having it. He shifts, bearing down on Javert, fumbling to free his own prick. When he has managed to push his trousers down about his thighs, Valjean yanks Javert up enough that he can maneuver him onto his belly—they tangle in each other’s limbs as he tries, and Javert curses.

It is easy enough for Valjean to press him into the floor, one hand still firm on Javert’s wrists, the other guiding his hips up—for a moment Javert wonders if he is going to fuck him like this, but Valjean presses his hips against him and his cock slides between Javert’s thighs, and he wraps his hand around Javert’s cock.

There is no point to struggling—not when Valjean’s hand slides up Javert’s arms, gentle, a steady caress that is in stark contrast to the quick and awkward jerks of his hand on Javert’s cock. Perhaps if he insisted on pinning Javert down there would be room to pretend this is just an extension of their roughhousing—but the weight of what they have done is enough to pin him, and Valjean’s hips thrust against him, driving his erection between Javert’s thighs.

“Javert,” he says, “if I had known—” He trails off with a soft grunt. He pets Javert’s hair back from his forehead, runs his fingers against his skull.

Javert bites his wrist to stay his moan as Valjean’s hand works over the head of his cock, wringing the sensitive tip with his calloused fingers. He will not last long; he is so hard that it aches, his pulse pounding between his legs, sweat collecting in the small of his back. Valjean’s hips stutter against him—he gasps—and he spends in short bursts that coat Javert’s cock and thighs and drip onto the floor.

Panting, he nudges Javert onto his back once more and takes his cock in both of his hands, jerking him off with quick and vicious strokes. His face is flushed, eyes bright; there is something intense about him that is beyond lust, as if there are parts of him bubbling to the surface which Javert has never seen. Javert clutches at his shirt, struggling for purchase, feeling helpless and strung tight, wholly arrested by Valjean’s rough hands, by the promise of the gentle touch of his palms against Javert’s neck.

Valjean bends down and brushes his lips against Javert’s forehead. There is something loose and loving in it—and it is that which sends Javert over the edge, his cock twitching in Valjean’s hand, his world shrinking to white pleasure. When it crests, and he can once again breathe, Valjean is still working one hand over his cock, lazy now, without rhythm. At length, he stops, sliding his hands along Javert’s thighs. He sits back.

They stare at each other a moment, as the sweat cools between them. Javert tugs a handkerchief from his pocket with hands that tremble, and cleans them both—he takes care with Valjean’s hands, dragging the cloth between his fingers. Valjean’s eyes flutter shut and his head droops forward, as if the weight of what they have done is too much.

Javert sets the handkerchief aside, takes Valjean’s head in his hands, bends him down, and kisses him on the mouth. Valjean groans—but then his mouth curves into a smile against Javert’s, and Javert finds himself smiling back. When Valjean leans back to gaze down at him, Javert cuffs him about his head.

He is met with a startled laugh. Some change, he supposes, does not seem like change at all.