The river is swollen and raging beneath him. He hears a shout behind him and flinches. It seems like the easiest thing in the world to let go; to finally give up.
He braces for the hard impact of hitting water, for the wet and cold to take this doubt and fear from him. Instead he feels hands around his chest, wrenching him up from the surface. The impact sets his nerves aflame and he struggles, agony forcing a scream from him. He finally feels the waters close around him as the world turns dark.
Javert wakes to find himself lying on hard stone. He's soaked to the bone. Across from him is... something white. As he stares, he begins to make out details. Wings, huge white wings, curled around a man. He can see the knees and dirty boots poking out from the bottom of mud-streaked feathers.
"What—" he says, and starts coughing. Every bruise he sustained in the course of that damned "revolution" makes itself known and he hisses. His chest is agony – a broken rib, if he isn't mistaken. He bites his lip to keep from crying out.
The wings shift, and a man's face appears. Javert knows that face, and if he had his full faculties he would recoil in horror. But he only has the strength to stare.
Why would God send an angel to him with the face of Jean Valjean?
Why would an angel of the Lord have an expression of pure despair?
He struggles to stand, but only manages to prop his back up against the wall. "Why..." he begins, but stops as his chest protests again.
Valjean is silent, and for a moment Javert thinks he only dreamed the words. At last, he speaks, in a voice hoarse and ruined. "I saw you fall," he whispers. "I ran, and... I don't know what happened next. Only that instead of falling, I flew."
They're in an alcove, sheltered on three walls from the wind. After a moment, he realises the building is a church. He can see headstones dotting the damp ground beyond.
Javert is starting to feel warm, and in his sodden clothing with the wind biting at his nose he fears it is fever. But surely that is the explanation for this. Fever dreams make more sense than for Jean Valjean to be sitting before him in the guise of an angel.
Valjean's gaze focuses on him. "You are injured. Your... chest?" He blinked, then rubs his eyes. Before Javert can convince his tired limbs to move, Valjean is kneeling before him. He places his hand flat on Javert's chest, and his vision is suddenly filled with light. He feels the tension of years run out of him, the dull pain of his bruises and the sharp pain in his chest melting into nothing. He closes his eyes and is instantly asleep, even curled as he is against hard stone.
He dreams, he thinks. They are more images than anything. A bishop, a silver candlestick. A man trapped beneath a cart. A child. An abbey.
Javert wakes cold and shivering. He thinks it cannot have been long – the dark of night shows no change. He changes position, curling his knees up so he can wrap his arms around them against the freezing wind. Whatever miracle Valjean performed on his injuries, it has not dried his clothes.
The sky is dark, he realises, but this whole time he has been able to see Valjean's face. Soft white light fills the alcove, its source obscure. As he watches, Valjean stirs and meets his gaze.
"Why?" Javert asks again. "You saved my life once. It was not your responsibility to save it again."
"I promised you I would face my crimes, at long last," says Valjean. "I would not leave you to you die so I could break that promise."
Valjean thought his fall an accident. Perhaps he even thought it was the fault of his cry. Javert's anger rises and falls. "You have no reason to be kind to me."
Valjean laughed – a bitter, twisted sound. "What reason has any man to be kind to another? The world is cold and merciless. I saved two men from the barricades. What good is that next to the bodies in the streets?"
Javert shakes his head. He has no answer – none that he would voice to this creature before him. A few hours ago, he would have said to rebel against the King was deserving of death. Now he has nothing but doubts.
"We must find shelter," he says. "The night is young yet."
"The church is locked," said Valjean. "And I do not know how I would be welcomed, in this state." He shifts uncomfortably.
Strange. Javert had almost forgotten the wings.
The wind curls into their little space and he shivers again. Valjean makes a small sound of dissatisfaction. Javert is distantly aware of being manhandled, pulled into a new position by unnatural strength. He cannot find it in himself to care. Finally warm again, he passes into sleep.
When he wakes, it is still dark, but he sees the light of morning in the clouded sky. The rain has set into a steady drizzle. He is cold, but it lacks the biting terror of before.
Something moves behind him, and he realises he has slept curled up against the chest of a person, arms curled around him like a cocoon.
Javert rolls away and Valjean wakes.
The wings are gone. Valjean is bare chested. He blinks slowly, confused, and crosses his arms over his chest.
Javert stands. It takes longer than he anticipated. His muscles are stiff and sore after a night spent under drafty church walls but he doesn't seem to have suffered any other damage. His coat is damp, and he hesitates a moment before he removes it and pushes it into Valjean's arms.
Valjean shakes his head and holds it out to Javert. "I cannot walk through the streets of Paris in a policeman's jacket," he hisses.
Javert acknowledges the point. He unlaces and shrugs out of his shirt, passing it over and taking the coat back. The fabric is scratchy on his arms, but he buttons it up and smooths it down as best he can.
"Go," he says. "Go, and I will not chase you."
He knows not what he will tell his superiors. His immediate future is as undetermined as the decades ahead.
But if he was looking for guidance from the stars, he has his answer.