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Blow out All the Candles

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Blow out all the candles, blow out all the candles
"You're too old to be so shy," he says to me so I stay the night
Just a young heart confusing my mind, but we're both in silence
Wide-eyed, both in silence
Wide-eyed, like we're in a crime scene
(Daughter – Candles)

 

~

It had happened gradually, like the unfurling of leaves in spring and the growth of icy flowers across a window in winter. Great events always come about in such a way; change is so slow that it is impossible to observe, and so sudden that it startles the observer when over night, a small bud has blossomed into silken ruffles like a child grown into womanhood with the turning of one season. Thus was the growth of emotion Javert had observed in himself, so that now, every visit to the house in the Rue de l'Homme-Armé filled him with a quiet warmth that another man might have had the temerity to name joy. Javert did not know much of emotion, and even less of joy, but with the months that had passed, he had ceased to start at the calmness and contentedness that a visit to Valjean's rooms unfailingly brought with it.

Today had promised to be no different, and yet he was greeted by a strange tension. He did not comment on it as Valjean took his coat. Valjean would tell him in time, he thought. They had come that far at last; enough trust had grown between them that he could make himself wait, and believe that Valjean in turn would confide in him.

Cosette had been his first guess, of course. There was little that had the potential to affect Valjean as much as his daughter, and even now that Valjean had returned healthy and hale from the frost of the soul that had nearly been his death, Javert sometimes worried another event might upset the fragile joy in life that Valjean had regained.

Javert straightened when Valjean seemed to gather himself for the usual report on the contents of Cosette's letters. There were always reports of new dresses and Marius' goodness and M. Gillenormand's health, and often a list of guests that had been entertained for dinner. Altogether, it was a report more taxing to Javert than any description of a murder scene had ever been, but one he sat through with pleasure for the quiet joy that shone from Valjean's eyes at the talk of Cosette's happiness. Cosette's joy made him happy, this man who would never dare to take any of the comfort he had given Cosette for himself, and in turn, observing Valjean's happiness made Javert feel a strange sort of calm.

He was content. Yes. It was still hard to put such feelings into words, but sitting here near the fire in the familiar comfort of Valjean's rooms, resting his eyes on that face he had come to know so well, Javert once more acknowledged that this peace spreading through him was contentment – come late, and hard-won, but all the more precious for its fragility. All the more painful, then, to have this torn away, as Valjean must have felt when Cosette left his house to find her own happiness. Javert understood it now, this fear that could only find a home in your heart once you had found something you could not bear losing.

Once he had thought of his police work to be the one thing he could not do without, but even a well-solved case rewarded with a pinch of snuff had never filled him with such simple calm. It was enough; he was content to sit, and to be, and to suffer through recounted letters that contained too many notes about guests and dishes and linens.

“Cosette is well.”

He made an encouraging noise. He knew he was little more than an excuse for Valjean to linger for a moment on his love for his daughter. He did not mind; it was its own reward to see Valjean so unguarded in his presence. But today, the sound failed to have its usual effect. It produced no further anecdotes of dinners retold through letters, no stories about Marius' well-being, no hints about how Valjean should make certain to give the Inspector Cosette's regards and to send back word about Javert's own well-being.

Quiet fell, and Javert, who had become so used to the comfortable calmness that had at last been established between them, noticed once more that something was not as it should be. He frowned, lowering his eyes for a pointed look at Cosette's letter in Valjean's hand – and there it was. Valjean's hand was empty. Even at his look of encouragement, Valjean hesitated instead of pulling the latest sheet of paper from a pocket as was usual.

“They are already planning a birthday party for Monsieur Gillenormand and speaking of Christmas.”

Javert tried to hold back a wince at the thought that it would begin this early. He remembered the letters that kept Valjean informed of every decision to be made: colors, flowers, dishes – where should that guest be seated? Which wine should be served? Valjean always sought to appear as if every decision Cosette tried to share with him was of importance to him as well, but Javert knew him too well now to miss the tiredness that would cause his eyes to lose their warmth far before the evening had arrived. And he, Javert, would of course have to listen to whatever plans were being made. It was to be expected, of course, but for it to start all over again so very soon after the exhaustion of Marius's birthday...

“Already? But it is not yet October,” he said, trying in vain to imagine arrangements that needed to be made so many months in advance.

Javert watched as Valjean spread his hands, almost as if in surrender. “Monsieur Gillenormand is enthusiastic about showing Cosette off to society. I cannot fault him for it.”

That was what this was, Javert thought suddenly. Valjean had surrendered his daughter to another, as if he still believed that he had no right to his own happiness. Did he see all the tedious details that brought Cosette such joy as a punishment he had to bear for daring to claim some of her time for himself?

“No,” he said, wondering at the way Valjean did not quite meet his eyes. “Have they drawn you into the preparations, then?”

Perhaps he needed to write a letter to Madame Pontmercy himself.

“No.” Javert's frown deepened as Valjean cleared his throat. “No, I– that is, I will not be in Paris for the winter.”

Javert pressed his lips together, struggling to keep his expression blank as he waited for an explanation. There was a strange ache at the thought of this house being cold and empty for the winter months. Perhaps he had not always made his appreciation of Valjean's company and friendship as obvious as another man might have done. Even so, a sudden coldness spread within him at the thought of Valjean simply leaving Paris, leaving behind his daughter and a tiring but nevertheless happy Christmas celebration – all of which a man of Valjean's virtue deserved. Mostly, he thought of himself spending the Christmas days in his quiet, empty rooms. Once, a day of rest had not been so bad. Now, even the idea of the absence of their evenings of shared companionship ached, like an old wound at the coming of winter.

Valjean straightened under his gaze. “I miss the country, and with all the preparations and excitement of Cosette's first Christmas as Madame Pontmercy – I do not think that they need me to pick out their wine for them, or help with the seating arrangements. Cosette will be very happy with all her planning, and I will be happy to escape the noise of Paris for a few months of quiet. Of course, Cosette is worried for me. She imagines storms and for all I know, wild beasts breaking down my door. But it has been long since I enjoyed the peace of the countryside.”

Javert shook his head as he studied Valjean, imagining him in a small hut, denying himself all comfort and warmth and now even companionship. No – Valjean was no longer that man who was ready to lay down his life after his daughter was gone from his home. Still, Valjean was prone to denying himself the easy comforts a man of his age – of his life – had every right to enjoy. Cosette would have bothered Valjean with every trifling matter, that was true. But she would also have seen to it that he had good food and wine, warmth and pleasant companionship over the dreary winter months.

“Of course she is worried. You will be in the wilderness, alone.” He fixed Valjean with a gaze of disapproval. While he did not think that Valjean had anything to fear from wild beasts, a storm was not so unlikely. And there was always the danger of injury, and no one to go to for help.

“Well, not necessarily.” Valjean eyed him with what seemed to Javert a studied calmness. A man about to make a confession, he thought. Yes, he had seen that look before. “The cottage is small, but it has room enough for two.”

Javert made a sound of amusement at the idea of Valjean dragging his old housekeeper out of Paris, through snow and ice, to spend the winter in some abandoned, snow-covered place away from the markets and shops of the city. "And who would leave the comforts of Paris to stay in some hut–"

He realized, all of a sudden, that he was imagining himself there, walking through the snow by Valjean's side – moreover, that he wanted this with a strange, intense need that had once only been brought about by the chase.

But the chase was the past now. He would not have that part of his life back. But what he yearned for with disbelieving longing was the warmth of friendship that Valjean had offered him, which had been so hard to accept at first, and which was so impossible to exist without now. He saw again his cold, cramped rooms, a Christmas of solitude apart from the letters Valjean would send. Then he thought of weeks – months – filled with companionship, conversation, walks through the snow.

Could this truly be offered to him? And yet, when had Valjean not reached out his hand to him, offering more than he deserved?

“You do not have to,” Valjean said, and Javert tensed. “You are right, it will not have the comforts of Paris. We would have to chop our own wood and walk at least two miles to see another person, and a good five miles to the nearest town–"

“I will do it.” He felt a faint embarrassment at the quickness of his reply. Valjean must think him starved for company. "Someone must be with you to ensure you do not freeze to death, after all." He could not quite meet Valjean's eyes. It was completely sensible for Valjean to invite a friend to spend the winter with him, especially if the place was remote, and there was a danger of being snowed in. Valjean had offered, after all. He was not imposing on him.

"Well, I know Cosette would be most appreciative." Javert tensed again, wondering for a moment if Cosette had insisted that Valjean take a companion along. What friendship had sprung up between them was unexpected, and sometimes, Javert still found himself pondering the improbability of it – had Valjean, who would deny himself firewood, denied himself true friendship to choose Javert instead, the same way he would have denied himself white bread for black, if his housekeeper had not taken her orders from Cosette?

When he dared to look at Valjean at last, he found himself met by a smile. No, he knew that look. There was no artifice in it, there never had been. Valjean was jesting. Valjean truly desired his company, and the intensity of the warmth that filled him at the thought brought a new embarrassment with it. He laughed, half to cover it up, though his embarrassment abated when Valjean smiled once more with true pleasure.

Yes. This was a miracle indeed. Three months holed up inside a hut with Valjean amidst ice and snow – perhaps he should have felt unease at the thought, for he was not used to lassitude still, but then he thought of the quiet comfort their evenings here in Paris had become. To have that for an entire winter, to have such company every day, instead of visiting once a week... He would bear whatever discomfort might arise from sharing such closed confines with another again, after so many years. And he did not need much privacy. No, there was pleasure in the thought, and for the first time, he felt himself filled with a quiet hope. He had not had an occasion to look forward to something for many years.

#

Valjean's hut was, of course, no hut after all. True to his word, the cottage was comfortable: large enough for the two of them to move around without jostling each other as they prepared food, small enough to keep comfortably heated with some wood. And as Javert had thought, it was good to spend the evening together. Valjean read to him from the books he had brought along, and Javert sipped his wine and listened, wondering at this faint pleasure which no book had ever brought forth before. No – what pleasure there was in being read to did not come from the content of the book. It was enjoyable, he decided, to have Valjean willing to entertain him, and it was not unpleasant at all to hear Valjean talk about what he had read in his own words, later that evening. Javert still made disparaging remarks, but he found that it was more for the pleasure of hearing Valjean defend the book. It was predictable, Javert thought, but pleasantly so.

That quiet, peaceful pleasure changed the first morning when Valjean rose and proceeded to wash and shave himself. Javert, who had shared close quarters with hundreds of men during the first years of his career, had observed men at their ablutions a hundred, a thousand times – but never had he been alone with only one other, sharing one cottage, surrounded by nothing but snow for miles.

Suddenly the cottage felt very small, and he felt very warm.

There was nothing indecent at all about watching another man shave. Valjean sat before the basin of water as if he were not even aware of Javert's presence. His shirt was open, revealing the still copious amount of hair that covered his chest. A few stray drops of water had run down his throat and glistened amidst the coarse, gray curls.

Javert looked away uncomfortably, then walked towards the fire to busy his hands with the wood. There was nothing indecent about another man shaving at all, and yet Javert sat tense before the fire, unable to turn his head towards Valjean. The sudden discomfort in him made him uneasy. His fingers clenched around the wood. He poked at the embers until new flames sprung up. Still he did not dare to turn, although he could feel Valjean's eyes on him. Was his tenseness obvious? Would Valjean think him angry, or... indecently disturbed?

He froze at the thought, then dropped the log of wood so suddenly that sparks flew up and singed his shirt. “I will chop new wood,” he said. His voice sounded strange even to himself, although he did not dare to take another look at Valjean as he all but fled the cottage.

Outside, it was very cold, but his cheeks still burned with unaccustomed heat as he strode back and forth, interrogating himself. There was nothing indecent about Valjean shaving, no. But why then had the image disturbed him so? Something about it had felt as indecently intimate as the occasions when he had been forced to observe a person engaged in activities deemed vulgar even by a prostitute’s standards. He stopped suddenly, ignoring the cold that made his feet ache. Again his thoughts returned to Valjean at the small table with the blade gently scraping at his throat, his skin bare and pale and gleaming with moisture.

His mouth was dry. He wanted – what he had wanted was to keep watching. That was why he had fled. That was why he had turned away, as guilty as a thief with his eye on a full purse. He exhaled slowly, watching his breath escape in small clouds.

Valjean unsettled him. Where before, their evenings together had been companionable, a time of quiet, hard-won friendship, there was something in Javert now that tainted that peace and Valjean's generous offer. He buried his hand in his hair, made a sound of frustration, half-tempted to trudge back inside and have it out with. Only – what would he say? That Valjean made him feel uncomfortable, and that in turn, this made him feel uncomfortable about himself?

He laughed at himself, the sound rusty and soft, and this too turned into white mist, snatched away from his face by a sudden gust of freezing wind.

He cursed and rubbed his hands, eying the door, then the stack of wood. All of a sudden he no longer felt like splitting wood. His limbs ached from the cold, his head ached from the conundrum that was Jean Valjean, and for the first time since that moment by the Seine he felt doubt tear at him like claws. What was he doing here? There was no place here for him with Valjean. Valjean had desired a companion for the long winter months, someone to share books and wine and conversation with. Instead he had received a man who could not even bear to watch him shave. Javert felt old, weighed down by bitterness. But it was too late now to turn back. Here he was, and here he would stay for the winter, and certainly Valjean would not invite him back the following year.

That thought ached worse than the cold that bit at his fingers and toes. He tried to shake it off, then looked at the sky. There was no sign of the storm that had been promised, but it would not hurt to be prepared. He would chop wood until the exertion returned warmth to his limbs, and drove out whatever it was that had taken hold of him at the sight of Valjean.

The rhythm of the falling axe was pleasant and familiar. There was no need to chop his own wood in Paris, but his limbs had not forgotten how to wield the axe with efficiency, so that soon, a pile of split firewood waited next to the chopping block. When he paused to wipe the sweat from his forehead, he saw that the sun had risen high enough to peek over a nearby copse of snow-covered wood. The icicles that grew from their roof gleamed like glass in the young light, while hoarfrost covered bushes and twigs like bristly fur. It was a sight he had not seen in a long while, not in Paris where winter turned the streets wet and gray instead. Maybe it would not be so bad to spend three months here. Valjean seemed happy enough.

Javert pulled a frozen leaf close, studying the ice that encased it. He imagined Valjean describing the sight in a letter to Cosette. He did not want to ask Valjean to come outside – it was very cold, after all, and he imagined that it would be more pleasant to go for a walk later, when the sun stood higher. Still, he was more certain now that Valjean would be happy here. Valjean enjoyed gardens, or so he had been led to believe. No, Valjean had come with the awareness that he needed little more than snow and quiet and frozen trees to be happy. It was Javert who did not know how to be happy when surrounded by frozen plants.

His nose and ears ached when he stepped back inside at last, but by that time, Valjean had finished his shave, and Javert was cold enough that it was easy to forget about the earlier disquiet for a while.

#

As the days passed, Javert began to wonder whether joining Valjean had been a good idea. The sudden feeling of unsettling warmth that had struck him that first morning only became more pronounced as time passed. He knew it now for what it was. It had not changed at all during all the days they had spent together. He tried to keep himself busy otherwise if Valjean shaved or washed, but that was of little help when the rush of warmth would overcome him betimes at the way Valjean's eyes shone when he spoke of Cosette, or his careful gentleness in leaving the crumbs of their bread on the windowsill for the handful of robins and wrens that had come to depend on his kindness the way beggars once had on his alms.

Yet even that memory recalled little of the suspicious confusion now which observing Valjean's mercy had once brought forth. Valjean confused him still. Maybe he always would. But in tracing those inexplicable actions in his thoughts the way he had traced those features time and again with his eyes, familiarity brought its own understanding, and the faint bewilderment that still clung to Valjean's actions sometimes was anticipated and as it should be, in its own way.

“Will you let me read to you?”

Valjean interrupted his thoughts in his usual quiet, patient manner, and Javert, who had been forced to escape after yesterday's letter and the way it made Valjean smile for a long, fast-paced walk through the snow to freeze his traitorous body into submission, was as always helpless in the face of Valjean's invitation.

He swallowed. “If it pleases you,” he said, and if his voice was strangely rough, he prayed that Valjean would simply think it exasperation from one who had little love for the books Valjean had brought along. “I do not know what you see in those books.”

Valjean smiled. He seemed a picture of calm contentedness in this small cottage surrounded by snow, so that Javert stepped closer, inexorably pulled, like a man lost in a storm following the warm glow of a candle. Sometimes it felt like mere instinct, and he wondered if he had fought this pull so long partly for this reason. It seemed too easy to follow this need, when something like this should not be.

It was still easy to settle down into the chair next to Valjean, near the fire, to lean his head against the padded back. If his eyes slid half closed, if his gaze lingered on those hands that held the book with such care, as if even now the tome were a rare treasure not thought for hands that had labored so hard and for so long, he could pretend that it was the fire that made him drowsy, or the writing that failed to hold his interest.

The story did not interest him overly much, although he paid attention enough to be able to appreciate what Valjean might have to say about it later. That was another pleasure that seemed too simple and too easy, but one that no longer made him start with uncertainty. Familiarity had won over surprise at the observation that he was arguing peacefully with Valjean over a tract of writing, a philosophy, or a character in a play.

He did not enjoy any of these books. But he enjoyed the way Valjean's voice filled a room, so quiet and unpresuming, caught up in reading a story that was not their own. He enjoyed the way calmness grew in him as he listened; he was appreciative not of the author's work, but of what it meant, that Valjean chose to share those moments with him. He was not who he used to be, and even after these months he sometimes did not quite know what future there could possibly be. But those moments when Valjean simply offered his presence, asking nothing of him in return but quiet company, it was enough to simply be – not for himself, but to be for Valjean, who gained some inexplicable happiness from these hours they shared.

His eyes still lingered on Valjean's fingers, and he felt that sense of quiet contentedness tug at the corner of his mouth until he gave in, allowing himself that small smile which he knew would delight Valjean in equal measure as his delight still confused Javert.

“It pleases you then? Cosette will be happy that her selection has found your approval.”

Javert looked up with a start. There was amusement in Valjean's eyes, and he bit back a denial that rested heavy and sharp-edged on his tongue, surprised by how the old instinct to lash out had suddenly found its way back. He swallowed his response with some difficulty, forcing his eyes to return to the book in Valjean's hand in the hope to mask his struggle.

“It is as pleasing or displeasing as any book,” he said, and noted with some relief that his voice gave no sign of the return of that old fear. “But there is nothing but snow around us. And a book is more pleasing than many other things.” Valjean balanced the book on his knees. For one moment, it seemed as if he wanted to reach out, and Javert tensed with a new breathlessness that confused him for a moment, for certainly the days when Valjean evoked fear in him were long past. Valjean hesitated for a heartbeat, but then rested his hand on his own thigh, smoothing the wool of his trousers over the still strong muscles beneath.

Javert sat very still. Realization had come at the growing heaviness between his own legs as he thought of Valjean's hand on his thigh, imagined those fingers that held a book with such carefulness slide calmly over the smooth, worn fabric, bunch up the wool in his grasp with sudden passion…

He rose too quickly, and Valjean gave him a concerned gaze. Javert forced himself to turn away from it, lest he gave himself away. His blood was too warm; his face burned – “I need a walk,” he announced, and the words were so clipped that he feared that Valjean must know, if he had not seen it in his face already. “Alone. I will be back soon.”

He exhaled when the door closed behind him; his breath turned to pale mist, but the heat inside him did not abate. He walked until the icy air froze his ears and fingers; when he returned at last to the light of the fire shining out from the windows, the fire within him had cooled to embers. He rested his hand against the door for a long moment. How did one smother such a thing that had risen unbidden? He imagined Valjean inside, waiting, and he closed his eyes, breathed deeply. No. What burned within him needed no kindling, no air. Already it was warming the blood in his veins again, and what would it do when he breathed the same air as Valjean once more?

He did not know. But he knew that he could not stay away from it either.

#

Javert pressed his face against the window. The glass was icy cold against his forehead. Outside, everything was white. The snow continued to fall and had swallowed Valjean moments after he stepped out from the door. Javert rested a hand against the pane, his frown deepening as he watched the heavy flakes cover every trace of life outside.

He should have kept Valjean from going out for the firewood, but there had been no arguing with him. Again he tried to find Valjean in the heavily falling snow, but even the outline of the shed was gone now. He exhaled deeply, watching as his breath fogged the glass. At last, a shadow appeared from the whiteness, and he hurriedly opened the door. Valjean's clothes were dark with wetness, and Javert pressed his lips together in exasperation as he took hold of Valjean to help him inside.

His eyes narrowed when Valjean followed without protest. His coat was cold against his fingers. There was snow glistening in his hair. Javert shook his head. "You are soaked through. Did you fall?"

He did not wait to hear Valjean's answer before he drew him closer to the fire, stripping off the coat that was heavy with wetness. It should be hung up to dry, but Valjean's teeth were chattering. First he needed to get Valjean out of his wet clothes. Maybe he should heat some water to warm his feet, he thought and bit back a sound of displeasure as he knelt and peeled off wet socks until his own fingers stung from the cold.

He brushed Valjean's quiet protests aside. Valjean's fingers were red. He thought again of the water he should heat, but Valjean's fingers were like ice, and he found he could not make himself leave him, if only for a moment. He covered Valjean's hands with his own, looked at the fingers that had served so well for so many years. He breathed against them. "I wish you were not so careless with yourself." He did not look up at Valjean as he spoke, instead he studied the frost-bitten fingers, the rough skin, the red knuckles, a trace of regret mixing with a sudden yearning to see that goodness returned to this man which he had given a hundredfold to others.

He exhaled against the fingers again. He had never been a gentle man, but he held Valjean's hands as if they were something fragile, half torn between the fear of bringing pain and the need inside him to soothe this pain that was not deserved. His thumb rubbed very carefully along a frozen digit. He breathed onto the frozen skin once more. Only the smallest tilt of his head and his lips would be pressed to Valjean's hands in a kiss.

Valjean made a small sound then, and Javert looked up. He could feel his heartbeat inside his chest, loud, fast – almost like the old excitement of the chase, but he was not chasing anyone now, he was on his knees, he held Valjean's hands in his own, wanting – he did not know what. All he knew was that touching Valjean, praying with the smallest, gentlest brush of fingertips against cold skin for Valjean to be spared all pain, all unhappiness, was the most profound thing he had ever done.

There was a truth in this touch, and a truth in meeting Valjean's eyes, remaining here on his knees before him, calm and silent. For a heartbeat, he tried to give Valjean this truth of him as he held his gaze, striving to ignore the fear that he could still feel like a taint at the edge of his awareness.

Then Valjean spoke his name, and warmth spread through him. It was the answer to the question he would not have dared to ask, only his fingers had spoken for him, skin to skin. Valjean's hands were no longer ice. His skin was warm now, and he pressed his lips to Valjean's hand at last. His eyes closed, he knelt before Valjean for a moment. There was warmth inside him – gratitude. Not for Valjean's trust and friendship, although those had come to mean as much to him as the work that had been his life for so long. But Valjean's company was not something to be grateful for. Valjean's friendship was something to strive to be worthy of.

This warm ember that glowed within him as he pressed his lips to those chilled fingers that had worked so hard for so long was simple gratefulness that he was allowed to be here, with Valjean. He was allowed to return to Valjean some of this quiet contentment that his presence gave Javert – at least he could try.

Valjean's fingers touched his face. They traced across his forehead, touching him with care, so that he felt like something precious and bewildering. When he looked up at last, he found his answer in the heat in Valjean's gaze just as much as in the trembling, half-surprised way Valjean breathed his name, as if the sudden tension between them was heavy on his tongue, impossible to swallow.

Javert exhaled against Valjean's fingers as the almost meditative calm of warming that beloved hand back to life was swallowed by a flood of sudden heat. He wanted– he still wanted! To touch, to trace his fingers across warm skin, to feel for Valjean's reality with his mouth until he could not deny happiness ever again, until Valjean, too, would know even when he was at his loneliest that to another, his own happiness was a gift...

"I want–"

He could not say what he wanted. He did not have words for the immensity of this sudden need that had carried all fear away. And what need was there for timidity when so many years had gone by in loneliness and unhappiness?

"Yes," Valjean said, the word little more than a sigh, half surprised, and then it was a moan when Javert worked on his trousers with trembling, careful fingers, drew him free, abandoned all fear and thought and pressed his lips to him to drown in his taste.

There was something shocked in the sound Valjean made. Javert could not hold back a moan of his own at seeing Valjean overwhelmed by a wholly selfish pleasure at last, and his own prick chafed with answering need against his trousers. He breathed heavily against the swollen curve of the shaft, explored the shape with his lips, then pressed his tongue hungrily to the crown, licking at the ridge. Another broken sound escaped at the taste of him, the slickness that coated his tongue while Valjean's fingers trembled against his cheek. He heard his name again as he tried to fit Valjean into his mouth, wondering faintly at the eager pulse between his own legs. His fingers spread over Valjean's thigh; he tried to take more of him, shivered from the heat of him, half-insane from the thought that Valjean wanted this – wanted him. And Valjean was so hot and hard and large that it was difficult to fit more of him into his mouth until he groaned at the way the difficulty and discomfort made it only better, made him ache harder and more fiercely to be touched himself. It burned in him, rushed through him, fragile, shivering, obscene, the way Valjean grew even more in his mouth, making him ache with the reality of it while Valjean's fingertips smoothed over Javert's face as if Valjean, too, needed to prove to himself that this was real.

He had not allowed himself to think of this when he had fled the cottage and Valjean's unbearable closeness to rid himself of the heat in his blood through long, purposeless walks through the snow. But now that he was here on his knees before Valjean, his hand feeling the hard flexing of his thigh, his mouth on his prick, supplicant and careful and breathlessly helpless in the face of this need that had taken hold of him, he found that it did not take much thought. The things he had pondered and quickly pushed aside before – guilt, shame, fear – had gone from him, soothed from his mind by the touch of Valjean's hand against his cheek, the way there was awe in his voice when he said his name. It was not a plea – he would never make him plead, Javert thought, Valjean of all people had no need to plead! – but a simple, overwhelmed voicing of this thing that was between them.

He pressed the heel of his hand hard against the ache of his own prick, drawing back to mouth at the tip once more, learning the curves of him with his tongue as he ground his hand furiously against himself. Valjean made another sound as he drew him back into his mouth, some part inside him yearning and eager to have Valjean truly make use of him. As his fingers stroked up those strong thighs he groaned awkwardly around him, for a moment imagining what it would be like to grind himself against the iron muscle, and then Valjean choked out his name and his prick jerked on his tongue and he swallowed the heat and his own wet moans as he spent himself messily in his own trousers.

His breath came in heavy pants as he rested his head on Valjean's thigh for a long moment. His heartbeat was still echoing fast and loud in his ears when he forced himself to stand at last; his knees felt weak, his tongue was coated with the taste of Valjean's spend, his stained trousers were uncomfortable and wet as they chafed against his softening prick – and yet through that all wound a languid, disbelieving feeling of relief. It had been real. All of it. All of it, and most of all the way Valjean had said his name.

He brushed his fingers against Valjean's cheek, watching with both affection and awe how pleasure had transformed the face he knew so well. "I might have at least gotten your wet clothes off you first,” he said at last, half-smiling with reluctant amusement at his own eagerness. Wetness still gleamed in Valjean's hair, and snow-melt had dripped from him, though the warmth of the fire had driven the chill from his limbs, leaving him flushed and heavy-lidded. Javert's smile widened slightly at the sight. He had had his own part in that, certainly. It was a strange thing to be proud of, maybe, but he had no other word for the pleasure that filled him at the thought. “Let us get you out of those wet clothes and into bed."

#

That first night was slow and tentative. Valjean's bed was not made for two people, and so they had to find a way to curl against each other. Javert did not know what to do with his hands, but the way they came to rest against Valjean's skin – one gently following the curve of his nape, the other flat against the strong chest – felt natural.

“Javert,” Valjean said again, and there was a softness in his eyes that echoed the wonder in his voice. Javert could not look away. Embarrassment still burned inside him, and he leaned forward to smother it with another kiss. He was too old for embarrassment. He had thought himself past kisses, too, but now that Valjean looked at him with such quiet contentment....

He smoothed his hand down Valjean's chest, drew a circle over his heart. The kiss was awkward at first, but then there was warmth, and the sensation of Valjean's breath against his lips made him relax. Valjean's fingers trailed over his forehead, lingering on his sideburns, then slipped into his hair to lightly keep him in place. Javert closed his eyes, smiled against Valjean's mouth.

Waking with Valjean was even better than falling asleep with him. Outside, the snow was still falling. The storm has arrived in truth, as they had been told. Javert thought that he might try to fetch some more wood later, just in case, but apart from the need to keep their fire stoked, there were no duties that waited for them. He turned his head to the side, content to watch Valjean for a while. The fire had mostly burned down over night, but beneath their blanket, they were warm. Valjean's skin was hot where their bodies touched. Javert tilted his head so that his forehead rested against Valjean's shoulder. He released an amused little huff of warm air against Valjean's skin.

“You seem happy this morning.”

Valjean turned to face him, and Javert found himself smiling again.

“When am I ever happy?” he said, and it was as simple as that to reach out and press his palm to warm skin and learn the shape of Valjean's smile with his own mouth once more.