It was instinct that made him duck behind a bench, all thoughts of confession forgotten when Javert entered the church of Montreuil-sur-Mer, taller and more imposing than any avenging angel, a Michael drawn in darkest graphite against the whiteness of the church walls.
Instinct, too, made him listen, although his ears burned at first at the blasphemy of listening to another man's quiet plea for redemption. The sacrilege of it was forgotten later when he flushed with a different shame at the revelation of the inspector's darkest secrets. He had seen Javert condemn criminals with hardened glances devoid of mercy; himself, Javert condemned with a cruelty that bordered on rapture.
Valjean's hands gripped each other in the semblance of prayer. In truth, there was nothing sacred in the heat that rose in him when that voice so used to wielding the sharp blade of the law stuttered through wretched admissions, admitting thoughts of a man, dreams of a magistrate's uncommon strength, semen spilled in shame at fever dreams of depravities that would surely lead him to Hell.
Valjean did not listen to the priest's answer. He did not contemplate the sin of listening to another man's confession, apart from the penance he paid on his knees later, roughly working his prick until he faltered in his prayer. That night, he returned to the church to see Javert on his knees on the hard stone, and if Javert faltered in his own prayer for a moment, he pretended not to hear it.
When Javert came to his office again in the light of day, he was flushed and did not meet his eyes. For the first time, Valjean was not afraid to look. He pressed a rosary into his hand; Javert, overcome, knelt before him, the awareness of his sin heavy between them. He rested his hands on Javert's head then, infinitely gentle, and Javert, penitent, prayed with his mouth, all the more earnest for the wordlessness of his plea.