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Three Days (or The One Where Javert and Valjean Take a Road Trip Through France and Raise a Child)

Chapter Text

"Three days is all I need," Valjean says.

"You expect me to trust you for three days?" Javert says. "I know men like you. It disgusts me that you would use a child as a pawn. But it does not surprise me. Not in the least, Monsieur Le -- 24601."

Valjean notices the slip. This is his chance. "Javert," Valjean says. "Have I ever been less than trustworthy with you?"

"Always," Javert spits.

"Never," Valjean says. "Never, Javert. If you do not give me three days, I will take them. I must see this justice done. Don't think I won't."

"To think of toying with the life of a child. To use justice as an alibi."

"Three days, and then I'm yours," Valjean says.

"You must think me mad," Javert says, drawing his blade. "Just for this, I will follow you to Montfermeil. And you will do this thing you claim needs doing. And you will see that justice is not a card to be played by a con."

"All right," Valjean says.

"If there even is a child," Javert concludes, his face sour.

"Three days," Valjean says. "We will go to Montfermeil and see her safe. I will write to a family nearby. They will take her in."

"But beginning at this moment you are no longer Monsieur Le Maire," Javert says. "You are 24601." He pulls handcuffs from his coat.

Valjean shakes his head. "I do not think they will give me leave to take the child if I come before them in chains."

"Hm," Javert says. "You mean to steal away from me."

"No, Inspector," Valjean says. He hands Javert his purse. "Here. This is all I have. As pledge of my trust. I would not get far without it."

"If you think to bribe me," Javert spits. He pushes the purse away. They glower at each other.

"Unless you plan to give me a ride to Montfermeil on your horse," Valjean says, "we will need to pay a coach."

Javert frowns. "We will find a coach. I will keep you under guard."

"The child's name is Cosette and she dwells with an innkeeper and his wife." Valjean says. "That is all I know."

--

"I have never been to this part of France," Valjean says, wonderingly, as they rattle down country roads. They are sitting in a stagecoach, Javert facing him, pistol laid across his lap. "Have you, Inspector?"

"I know your game," Javert says. "You are trying to determine my familiarity with the territory, so that you may make good your escape."

Valjean sighs, extends his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "I am trying to make conversation, man. The ride is not short."

Javert frowns past him, out the window.

"I know there are words in you." Valjean says, more hopefully than he feels. "When I was Monsieur Le Maire you at least permitted some conversation." This is, in the strictest sense, true. He and Javert had managed to discuss the weather. ("A bit grey, Javert." "Not too grey to distinguish a thief, Monsieur Le Maire.") the dignity of toil ("Your people thrive." "The dignity of toil.") and their shared faith. ("By the help of God, as always." "God helps those who help themselves, Monsieur Le Maire.") He had, for all of their shared excursions, the sense that Javert resented his missions of mercy. Not resented, exactly. Some other word.

"Well," Javert says. "Seeing as you no longer are."

In silence they watch the road uncoil past the window.

He supposes he might as well try. "You were always very scrupulous in your attendance on me as – Monsieur le Maire," he says, "but I could not help feeling that you thought me – inefficient, in my charity."

Javert nods. He seems to have admitted the argument that the road is too long for this silence. "The poor will always be with us."

"But whosoever welcomes a little child in my name, welcomes me."

"Even the devil can quote scripture to his purpose," Javert says, rising to the challenge.

"But did the Lord not say, Suffer the little children to come unto me? Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, ye do for me?"

Javert frowns. "Let the dead bury their dead."

"This child is not dead," Valjean says. He is accustomed to mouth-honor of scripture, crosses displayed but little contemplated. He is not surprised that Javert has it all by heart, as he has. The man's scruples run deep.

"He that receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward," Javert says.

"The Lord had to do with prostitutes and tax collectors."

"Man is born in sin," Javert says. "The Lord walked untouched among sinners." Something changes in his posture as he says it, and Valjean thinks that this must be what Javert tells himself as he strides through the town's dark corners and prison's dank corridors.

"Like a Chief Inspector."

Javert's mouth tightens. "Not like a skulking convict, at any rate," he says. He folds his arms in front of him.

"There was a thief who died beside the Lord," Valjean says. This was one of the first stories he had learned by heart. "But the thief repented, and the Lord was merciful, and said unto him, my brother, this day, you will be with me in paradise."

Javert smirks. The smirk is ugly. "Do not presume upon the Lord."

Valjean shakes his head. "I would not dare."

"You do," Javert says. "You always have. Monsieur Le Maire. Those people under your protection bear your taint. For if they call the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?" He glows with the recitation. "Fear them not therefore, for there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, and hid, that shall not be known."

Valjean nods, spreading his hands again. "And what ye hear in the ear, that shall ye preach on the housetops," he completes. "I know, Javert. There are no secrets from God."

"You know the words well enough," Javert says. There is a begrudging admiration in his tone. This is the sort of accomplishment Javert would admire, Valjean knows. Still the praise sits oddly with him. He glances at Javert, leaning forward a little in the seat, intent, eyes alight with conviction. Their gazes meet, by accident. He glances quickly away.

"The very hairs of your head are all numbered," Javert supplies, after a pause, continuing the verse.

Valjean glances at the brand on his wrist, almost without meaning to. "That is not my favorite line in Scripture," he admits.

"I find it reassuring."

"Naturally," Valjean says.

"A jailbird should study psalms," Javert says. Valjean is realizing curiously that Javert does not want this conversation to end either, that he is – enjoying himself, Valjean does not dare to presume.

"I lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help?" Valjean begins.

Javert shakes his head. "I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me." 

Valjean nods. "That has brought me comfort, too," he says. "Purge me, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice."

Javert looks at him. "You cons are all alike," he says, hollowly. "You speak with such wonderful conviction."

"Hide thy face from my sins," Valjean continues, "and blot out all mine iniquities." He falters. "Ca—"

"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me," Javert supplies. It is strange hearing the prayer from his lips.

"Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me," Valjean takes up. "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit."

Javert seems unhappy to let him run off with the psalm. Then they are reciting together.

"Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee." Javert's recitation is precise and clear, as though he wants to make certain God can hear the words. It is of a piece with the rest of him. "O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise."

"For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."

"Amen," Valjean says, from habit.

"Amen," Javert says, from habit of his own. They look at each other again.

Silence falls. It is odd to have this in common with Javert. He should have expected no less from the Inspector. Javert is thorough. Javert is pious. Javert seems to have – few outlets for amusement. It is stranger still to find that he enjoys this sparring. Valjean shuts his eyes.

 

"Sleepers, awake," Javert says. They are at Montfermeil. If Valjean were not a little groggy still from traveling he would wonder if Javert meant it as a joke.

"Did you watch all this time, Inspector?" Valjean asks.

Javert does not answer. "Where is this whore's child?" he asks.

--

Valjean is the one who sees the child. She is shivering alone in the woods on the town's outskirts, with a bucket almost as large as she is, and he calls to her in greeting, asking for directions.

"Come along," Javert says. "Monsieur le Maire had time for charity. You do not."

But the girl's large frightened eyes remind him of Fantine and he inquires her name. "Cosette," she says.

Valjean bows. "Mademoiselle."

"This is your girl?" Javert asks.

"Where do you live?" Valjean asks.

Cosette tells him. Valjean introduces himself, is about to introduce Javert, but Javert shakes his head.

Valjean picks up the bucket and follows her there. Javert follows with measured steps and watchful eyes.

The Thenardiers are exactly the sort of people most calculated to set Javert's teeth on edge. Valjean senses it as soon as they cross the threshold.

"This whole place reeks in the nostrils," Javert murmurs. "I wonder where they keep the golden calf."

Valjean laughs. Javert looks displeased to have provoked this response. For a moment they are Monsieur Le Maire and Javert, his deputy. The moment passes. Valjean negotiates and Javert stands at attention just inside the door. He can feel the inspector watching him.

--

"You have relieved them of the girl," Javert says. "And now we shall proceed with haste to the place you intend to leave her, and thence, return you to serve your term."

"I know, Javert," Valjean says.

"Now you see your scheme has failed."

Valjean smiles down at the girl. She smiles back at him. She will not let go of his hand. At least one of them trusts him. Cosette walks slowly, making Javert impatient. Several times she stops altogether and gawks at a shop window in which a doll is prominently displayed.

 

"Inspector, a moment," Valjean says, once the pattern becomes clear to him. "Cover your ears, Cosette." He turns to Javert. "We are not far from the place I would take her, if I am not mistaken."

"Well?"

Valjean inclines his head and Javert looks at the girl, gazing into the window with hungry eyes.

"I have enough money still," Valjean says. "I would like to give her the doll."

"You would like to slip away into the shop and lose us both," Javert says.

"I would like it to be a surprise," Valjean says. "It will not be a surprise if she watches me buy it."

Javert shakes his head. "You think I trust you?" he says.

"Well," Valjean says, caving. "Then it will not be a surprise, but I would still like to buy it."

This response is not the one Javert expected. He can see it in the Inspector's eyes before the Inspector tamps it down, sorts it into a neatly labeled file marked 'Long Game Stratagems of Cons,' or something equally cynical, and nods. "After you," he says, and Valjean uncovers Cosette's ears and leads her in. "All right, Cosette, close your eyes," he says.

Cosette closes them. "How long?"

Valjean bargains, pays, is offered a box, glances at Javert and Javert makes a face to say that men like him have nothing to advise about boxes for dolls, which Valjean finds much more amusing than he has any right to, considering the circumstances.

"Now open," he says, bending to her level.  

Cosette's eyes widen when she sees the doll and she flings her arms around his neck first, then the doll's, and he never regretted not having a child of his own until now.

"Hmph," Javert says, behind his shoulder.

Cosette manages to clutch both him and the doll, and he finds it is simpler to hoist her up to his shoulder and carry them both.

"Children are easily bribed," Javert says.

Valjean rolls his eyes.

"You play the indulgent father well," Javert mutters, as they walk. "A man who knew no better might be convinced of your sincerity, 24601."

Valjean has put up with this before but it rings harsher in his ear when there is a child clinging to his neck.

"Please don't call me that in front of her," he says. "It will only be a day, perhaps less, and then you may call me that all you like."

"I intend to," Javert says, but he does not say it again.

--

The walk is longer than they expect, and it grows dark.

"Suppose they have already eaten," Valjean says. "Suppose they have nothing to feed her."

"Steady," Javert says.

They approach the house and Valjean knocks and tells the porter his business. He had posted the letter when he left Fantine's bedside. Now he glances at Cosette. She is perfect and beautiful but he thinks, for the initial impression, that he ought to wash her face. He fumbles for his handkerchief.

"What are you searching for?" Javert asks, watching him thump fruitlessly in his jacket.

"My handkerchief," Valjean says. "I do not know what has become of it. To wipe her face."

Javert fumbles in his own coat and produces one. It is crisp white and perfectly clean.

"Do not steal it," he says.

Valjean wonders if these remarks are intended as jokes.

"I hate to sully it," he says.

"A ship is safe in harbor, but that is not what ships are built for," Javert says. Valjean tries to scrub at the dirt but it does not come off dry. He moistens the handkerchief with his tongue. He does not mean to look at Javert while he does it. He does not think Javert means to look at him. He gets the handkerchief sufficiently damp and manages to clean most of Cosette's face.

"There," he says. "Now you look more like the princess you are, Cosette."

Cosette smiles and something melts a little in him.

"Get ready to meet your new Maman and Papa," Valjean says.

Cosette's face falls a little. "You are not to be my papa?" she asks.

"Much as I would wish it, Cosette," Valjean says, "no."

He hears shouting behind the door, and then a bearded man's head sticks out. "What is this, Monsieur Madeleine?" the man asks. "A child?"

"I told you her story in my letter. I will pay for her keep," Valjean begins. "See that she wants for nothing."

"We cannot care for a child," the man says.

"You have taken pity on young innocents before." Valjean frames Cosette's shoulders with his hands. "Cosette is a good girl. She will be no trouble. I ask it of you as a favor."

"I beg your pardon?" the man asks.

The man scowls at Cosette and Valjean wants to spit his contempt back in his face. He feels Javert's eyes on him.

"I owe you nothing," the man says. The door shuts.

Valjean scoops Cosette up into his arms. "Come, Cosette," he says. "They were not very nice, were they?"

"No."

"That old scoundrel," Javert says. "It is because of you he did not lose his house."

Valjean nearly stumbles in the snow in his surprise that Javert remembers. "He said when he begged for my support that he had little ones to feed, that he had brought one of them in off the street, that she was sickly, that she required medicine, that his compassion had been his undoing–" In his anger he stumbles a little. Cosette makes a nervous noise and he tries to calm himself. 

"I told you he was a gambler and a liar," Javert says.

"I was a fool," Valjean says, still too angry with himself to be frustrated that for once Javert in his eternal mistrust of their fellow men has been proven correct.

"I told you as much at the time," Javert says. "I was right."

If he were not holding the child Valjean would strike him for this smugness. Instead he turns and halts and both he and Cosette stare at the Inspector. He can tell that Cosette does not like his tone either.

"You and your blind compassion," Javert says, but the tone is different now. Perhaps the girl's eyes have shamed him.

"I am a fool," Valjean says.

"It is quite remarkable that you manage to be so blindsided by lies," Javert says.

"Perhaps I do not lie as often as you think," Valjean says. "Or I would not be so miserably foolish about it." He shifts Cosette to his other shoulder.

"Where shall we try next, Mo- 2--?" Javert asks. "Valjean?"

"I have an idea."

--

"They owe me a favor," Valjean explains, as they walk with the girl. Cosette cannot keep up with the pace that Javert has in mind. The Inspector walks impatiently. "They are kind. The money will not come amiss. I have not written to them, as I had the others, but—" he gestures vaguely.

Javert nods.

"Slow down," Valjean tells him. "She cannot walk as fast as you."

He wonders if Javert does, or if he has imagined it.

At this house the mother emerges to frowns and shrink from him, even when he fumbles in the wallet.

 

When they walk from the house, Cosette is drooping. She walks with heavy steps. Valjean picks her up and tells Javert, "We must find somewhere for the night."

"Have you no other family in mind?"

"There is one other," Valjean says. "But they are a good distance. And I am sure the child is hungry."

"Yes," Cosette says, emphatically, "the child is hungry."

Valjean does not mean to glance at Javert. He does not think the Inspector means to look at him. Their eyes meet almost reflexively over Cosette's head as he smothers a laugh. Javert's mouth twitches.

"The child is hungry," Javert says.

"Well, we must feed the child," Valjean says. "Must we not, Cosette?"

Cosette nods emphatically.

Then they are sitting at a tavern—Cosette is too short to reach the table and crawls onto Valjean's knee.

"Three days," Javert warns. He scowls over the table.

"I am a man of my word," Valjean says. Cosette devours everything on the plate. She is evidently famished. Valjean is reminded of himself years ago. He feels a strange twinge when she smiles up at him after emptying a second plate.

"But what about dessert?" he asks.

Javert glowers at him. Javert has never struck him as someone inclined to sweets.

"Dessert?" Cosette asks. "Dessert? I will find room for dessert, Papa."

"He is not your papa," Javert says. The tavernkeeper emerges with a pie. "He is a convict whom I am escorting back to prison."

"Inspector," Valjean says, beseeching. "Surely that's not important."

Javert shrugs. "It is the truth," he says. He lowers his gaze to Cosette. "He broke the law, and he will pay the price."

"The law?" Cosette asks.

"Naturally those Thenardiers omitted to teach her of the law," Javert says, frustration in his tone. "Naturally. Do you know nothing of the law, child?"

Cosette frowns. "The law?" she says. She manages to find room for the pie.

"And God's Law?" Javert asks. "Did they teach you nothing of the law of the Lord?"

Valjean throws up his hands. "Inspector," he says. "Let the child eat her pie in peace."

"The child must learn the meaning of the law," Javert says. "The law separates us from beasts. The law keeps our baser urges from holding sway over our lives. The law separates right from wrong. The law holds us back from the abyss." He thumps the table. Cosette's eyes widen in his direction but she says nothing.

"Javert," Valjean says.

"Do you know the Ten Commandments?" Javert asks. "I am the Lord your God, you shall have no others before me—"

Cosette puts down her fork and pushes the pie towards him.

"You see?" Valjean says, and he feels the strange tug again, watching her. He did not know that love could spring so suddenly. "She thinks you want her pie. Cosette is right. This is no talk for a dinner table."

Cosette smiles at him. He smiles back. Javert looks sourly at them. "Three days," he says.

"I know," Valjean says. But his heart sinks a little.

--

"We ought to stay here," Valjean says. Cosette has fallen asleep at the table.

"I was a fool," Javert says, suddenly. He stares at the pie. "I was a fool to call your bluff. The department will not understand."

"You have only done your duty."

Javert frowns at the table, at him. "This is not my duty."

"Whatever you do is your duty," Valjean says. He realizes that he still has the handkerchief. "Here," he says. Javert looks startled at it.

"Keep it," Javert says. "I don't want it now."

"A handkerchief is safe in port, but that is not what a handkerchief is built for, Javert," Valjean says, trying not to smile.

Javert does not take it.

"If I keep it you'll accuse me of stealing it," Valjean tries.

"I would not," Javert says. He seems strangely uncomfortable. Valjean wonders if he is thinking of the same moment that has lurked in the back of his own mind. His mouth on Javert's starched linen and Javert's startled eyes on him. Neither of them looks at the other.

"I'll keep it, then," Valjean says.

"Should we find this girl of yours a bed?" Javert asks. "It is not right for children to sleep on tables like drunkards."

"No," Valjean agrees. In anyone but Javert he would have mistaken the words for concern. He scoops up the girl and they go to find her a bed.

"Where will you sleep?" Valjean asks.

"He who watches over Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep."

Valjean chuckles this time, and Javert does not look at him, Valjean wonders if he was right and these are Javert's strange way of making jokes.

There are no beds but there is a sofa and two chairs, which Javert commandeers. Cosette takes the sofa and Valjean covers her with his coat. He settles in one of the chairs and Javert settles in the other.

"Good night, Inspector," he says.

Javert scowls.

Chapter Text

"Oh for the loves of all the saints," Javert says, exasperated.

Cosette will not stop crying. The family shrinks away from her. They shrink even from Valjean's kind words and ready money, which surprises Valjean but does not surprise Javert.

"We can't very well leave her here," Valjean says.

Javert is in an ill temper when Valjean hoists the girl into his arms again and they stride back out to the carriage.

Javert sighs. "Perhaps the whore left other family."

Valjean puts the child down in the carriage and seems to grow a size. "Wait here, Cosette," he says. "Inspector, a word."

He draws Javert by the arm into a conference a few feet away. "Inspector, I will not have you referring to Fantine that way in front of her child."

"It is no more than the truth."

"Would you wish people to call your mother that in front of you?"

"Beware, sir," Javert says. He grows very still. Valjean expects that he will strike him. Valjean expects any number of things.

"I am sorry," Valjean says, quickly. "I overstepped. Forgive me."

"My mother was a gypsy whore," Javert says. At first Valjean thinks he must have misheard. But that would be Javert's nature, he thinks, to volunteer such an uncomfortable truth, on no more pressing grounds than accuracy.

"I am sorry for that too."

"Nice women do not give birth in jails," Javert says, with a shrug. "She got no more than she deserved."

Valjean has whole hosts of questions, whole hosts of apologies, but instead he presses the Inspector's arm and releases him. Javert looks at him, puzzled. Valjean wonders if it has never occurred to anyone to press his arm before.

"Come Cosette," Valjean says.

"Papa," she says. "I did not like it there."

"Please do not get into the habit of calling me that," Valjean says. "Much as it would please me to be father and mother to you, we must find you a real home."

--

The next house they try is that of a man Valjean knows little of, but of whom he has heard flattering rumors. He opens the door and speaks kindly to them, which is better luck than they have yet had. The house is well appointed. He invites them in and pours tea.

Javert refuses the chair he is offered. The more the house's owner talks, smiles, draws Cosette out of her shell over teacake, the less comfortable Javert seems. Valjean wonders why. Perhaps tea is an indulgence Javert does not permit himself.

"Cosette will not be a burden," he says. The man nods. "I will give you adequate to pay for—"

"Say your name again," the inspector says, suddenly.

The man does.

"I have three daughters of my own," he says, nodding along the table at the redhead who has just filled their cups. "Cosette will be no burden."

"You seem familiar," Javert says. He knits his fingers together and frowns over them. "Let us look at the rooms where she would stay."

The man leads them down the hall. He offers Cosette a hand. Javert interposes himself and does not let her take it. He starts throwing open closet doors. Valjean half expects him to shout, "Aha!"

"Is everything all right, Inspector?" he asks, after Javert has opened and closed a sixth set of doors.

Javert seems about to tell him what is the matter, when he opens another set of doors and a tattered hat comes tumbling down from a shelf. His expression goes from curious to smug. He turns.

"Monsieur le Maire," Javert says, and now Valjean knows something is the matter. "A word."

Valjean turns towards him, bewildered.

"I will not permit you to leave the girl with these people," Javert says.

"Why on earth not, Javert?"

Javert lowers his voice. "This man is a criminal."

Valjean's mind reels with objections. But he does not probe.

"And—" Javert opens and shuts his mouth. "I do not believe this is just," Javert concludes. "Come along."

"All right," Valjean says. He picks up Cosette. "The inspector believes there is some mistake, Monsieur. I apologize. I thank you for your time and for your hospitality."

They bow out as quickly as they can.

They walk in silence away from the house. "You know I am a former convict?" Valjean says.

"You are a future convict," Javert says. "Yes, I know."

"Then."

Javert squirms a little. "You are a thief," he says. "Not a pimp."

"Oh," Valjean says.

"No girl as yet unfallen ought to be left in the custody of a man like that," he says, finally. "Men like him can never change."

"Perhaps he has changed." But Valjean clutches Cosette's hand more tightly all the same.

"I would rather not test him on her," Javert says, and Valjean wonders when Javert's stubborn pride began to extend to the girl in their stewardship. Cosette dances along humming to herself. "She walks too slowly," Javert says, trying to sound irritable.

Valjean reaches down. "Come, Cosette."

"Yes, Papa," Cosette says, letting herself be lifted.

"He is not your papa," Javert says.

"Yes, Father," Cosette says. Valjean laughs. He loves this girl, he thinks, he loves her, he would be content never to part with her.

"I'm not your father," Javert says. "Of that at least we can be certain."

Valjean snorts. Cosette bounces with his laughter. "What is so funny, Papa?" Cosette asks.

"Yes, Valjean," Javert asks, and Valjean is startled at the slip. "What is so amusing?"

Valjean grins. "Everything."

--

By the fire that evening as he and Javert sit at the inn, Cosette asleep on a sofa behind them, Valjean says, "She would be proud of you, your mother."

Javert is silent.

"Not many men can do what you have done," Valjean says.

"Poor whoreson Javert," Javert snaps. "You are pretending we are alike again. I have worked for everything I have. You are an impostor."

"We must all pretend to be better than we are in order to become better," Valjean says. "I am sure even you understand that."

"I did not pretend," Javert says. "I bore up under all their insults."

Valjean has a picture of the boy Javert marching into school and scrupulously informing everyone that he is the son of a gypsy whore. The picture makes him laugh.

Javert looks miffed at his laughter.

"That is all you will ever think of me now," Javert says. "She was not only and entirely a whore. She told fortunes."

Valjean stares at the fire. "Was she kind?"

"Stop whatever game you're playing at, 24601," Javert snaps, and Valjean looks at him.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I was only curious."

"And then what?" Javert asks. "Then I will say, yes, she was kind, and you will say, good, at least, praise God for that, and wish me to think you holy, or I will say, no, she was not kind, and you will say that you are sorry, and look at me as though you want me to say something to you."

Valjean says nothing.

"What does it matter if she was kind?" Javert says, quietly, and Valjean can tell that this is more than he expected to say. "It was a very long time ago."

"It matters a great deal," Valjean says. "My mother was kind."

Javert looks at him.

"And now you will say, look what became of you,'" Valjean supplies, quickly, "and I will say, perhaps. God's will be done."

"Amen," Javert says.

"My father was not kind," Valjean says.

"I have heard such tales from men like you before a thousand times," Javert says. "I did not know my father. He was in the galleys. I suspect he was not kind."

"I suspect he was," Valjean says, just to be contrary. "There is kindness in you."

"You do not think so," Javert says, after a pause. "You are only saying that so we will argue."

"Perhaps."

"I came not to bring peace but a sword," Javert says.

"Sometimes I think you have yourself mixed up with God."

"Sometimes I think the same of you."

Cosette stirs. "We will wake your girl," Javert says.

They sit in silence. He wishes he had not discovered that he enjoyed arguing with Javert. He suspects Javert wishes the same. They stare into the fire and do not look at each other. Once he thinks he feels Javert's eyes on him and it is all he can do not to look over and see if he is right.

"'I tell you,'" Valjean says, "'her sins--and they are many--have been forgiven, for she has loved much.'"

"I have had no need for forgiveness," Javert says. Valjean wonders if he is imagining the uncertainty that lurks in that tone, that forces Javert to say these things out loud.

"There was a Pharisee who said the same," he says.

"I don't need a sermon from a con," Javert snaps. "Next you'll be telling me that I have a millstone in my eye and am plucking at a speck in yours."

"I was not intending to," Valjean says, "although that is a good verse too."

"You know all the verses to excuse great sins."

"Fantine loved much, Javert," Valjean says. "Of this I have no doubt."

"Save the sermons for your whores," Javert says. There is less bite in his tone than Valjean expected.

"Did she ever tell your fortune?" Valjean asks. But the time for such questions is past and Javert does not answer.

That night before Valjean sleeps he reflects that he has just told Javert more of his life than anyone, and that Javert has told him his own secrets in return. He feels strangely elated at the thought. The stolen knowledge glows like silver in candlelight as he examines it from all angles. He wonders about Javert's gypsy mother. He finds himself hoping she was kind. He tells himself the wish is merely what he owes to God.

--

On the evening of the third day they are no nearer.

"Then a convent school," Valjean says.

Javert throws up his hands. "Where? That will take more than three days. You must be returned to prison." Valjean notes the passive.

"It is thanks to you that she is not in the last house we tried," he says.

Javert nods, avoiding his eyes. "Perhaps three days was your infernal optimism, Monsieur Le Maire."

"I fear so," Valjean says.

They walk along in silence. "You can return me any time you like," he says, "so long as Cosette is taken care of."

"It would be better for us both if we had left her in the gutter," Javert says.

"I do not think so," Valjean says.

Valjean looks at him. Javert does not meet his gaze.

"She is your charge," Javert says. "I will not be left with her. I would not know where to begin. We must do something first."

"All right," Valjean says. "Then let us take tonight here and set out in the morning."

They find an inn readily enough. Cosette gets a trundle bed and Valjean and Javert are left to share the inn's biggest one with a snoring drunkard. Javert pulls up a chair at the side of the bed.

"Don't be a fool," Valjean says. "Tomorrow will be a long day and you will need rest."

"I know your tricks," Javert says.

Valjean shrugs. He climbs into the bed. The drunkard shifts and mutters in his sleep.

Javert does not stop him. "Drunkards," he says. Valjean is impressed at the contempt he compresses into the syllables.

"The Lord did not spurn them."

"The Lord had a stronger stomach than most men," Javert says.

In the middle of the night Valjean wakens and finds Javert still in the chair.

"You're awake," he says.

Javert frowns and looks at him. Javert has, he realizes, been watching the girl. "This is a den of thieves."

"Javert, I'm not going to run," Valjean says. "I'll watch for a bit if you like. So you can rest."

"You two will disappear before I wake."

"I give you my word."

"The word of a con is as dust blown on the wind."

"Cuff me, then."

Javert is too tired to protest much. He settles Valjean in the chair and cuffs Valjean to the bedstead, and Valjean bears the ignominy until morning. He wonders why he volunteered. Javert would have watched the night through and said nothing. He has to prove nothing to the man. Nothing, he tells himself. If he watches Javert a little while he sleeps it is only to prove to himself that the man is capable of sleep. If he studies the face in repose and does not find it utterly repulsive, finds it almost – charming – that cannot be the word, he thinks, cannot – it is only because Javert has been less than unkind to him today, and -- much, much less than unkind to Cosette. He glances at the sleeping girl. He has no practice at being a father, but when he watches her sleep, her small smile, he thinks that he would like to try.

She stirs. "Papa?" she whispers.

"I'm here," he says. "Sleep."

--

They are arguing in the back of a stagecoach about where to take her next. Javert's brow is a thundercloud.

"Father," Cosette says. "Do not look so cross." She tugs Javert's sleeve.

"I think she means you," Valjean says. He begins to laugh.

Javert lifts his eyes to heaven. "You are in error, child," he says. Cosette settles on his knee and ignores him. "This child is grossly misinformed as to the nature of our stewardship of her," Javert says, gesturing helplessly. He does not succeed in prying her off.

Valjean looks at him. "Our?" he mouths.

Javert gets a helpless look on his face that Valjean has not seen there before. It does something to those stern policeman's features that Valjean was not expecting. Seeing Cosette curled against Javert makes Valjean feel curiously fond of both of them. It makes him want to –

This cannot be, he thinks. Javert. Of all people on earth. That is not what you want to do to him, you want to be clear of him forever, him and his interminable duty and his fanatic adherence to routine and scruple and his eyes full of millstones. You do not want to kiss him.

He tries to think of other people to kiss. You don't, Valjean, he thinks. You don't want to lean over now and press his knee and smile and see if he will smile – you don't want to try to coax those stubborn lips into a smile. You don't wonder how his smile looks. You don't want to kiss him.

Javert sits with his face contorted like the steps of a person beginning an unfamiliar dance.

Javert swallows. "Your," Javert corrects. Valjean realizes that they have both been looking at each other. He wonders what Javert was thinking when he looked. Probably he was despairing of filling in some form.

--

It has been five days. The family they try next shrinks from them too.

"Not here either," Javert says. Valjean studies him. "These people. I do not understand them. This child is a treasure that we are paying them to take. Yet they refuse her."

"They are fools," Valjean agrees. He likes Javert like this, irate in a sensible cause for once.

"They are," Javert says. "At this rate she will be grown by the time a door opens to her, and we will never cure her of calling you Papa."

Valjean does not try to correct the 'we.' This vision of wandering through France with Javert and Cosette has a strange appeal.

"I can think of worse fates," Valjean says.

"Hmm," Javert says. "I will be wanted in the city."

Valjean shifts Cosette's weight against his shoulder.

"I can carry her," Javert says suddenly. Cosette does not even wake up as Javert makes the shift.

"You carry expertly," Valjean says.

"I have watched you."

"I thought you might have children of your own."

"What would a man like me do with children?" Javert says. His old manner returns. "Besides if I hold her I do not think that you will run."

Valjean nods.

I have watched you, echoes curiously through Valjean's brain for the rest of their long walk.

--

"I will be able to explain this," Javert says. He has started saying it often.

--

"You watch me," Javert says, as Cosette lies asleep across Valjean's knees. "What are you looking at?"

"I am not watching you," Valjean says, too quickly.

Javert looks pleased at catching him.

"You watch me," Valjean snaps back.

"You are my charge," Javert says. "I must see you safely returned."

"Naturally," Valjean says. "Duty compels your eyes."

"You have not answered my question," Javert says. He fidgets a little. He starts blinking.

"What's the matter?"

"Something flew in my eye."

Valjean reaches him the handkerchief. Javert fumbles it. "Look up," Valjean says, taking the handkerchief in his fingers, and Javert obeys.

"A speck," he says.

"A millstone," Valjean says.

"I thought you would say so, Valjean," Javert says, with a wry twist of his mouth. Valjean spots the speck.

"No, it is a speck after all," Valjean says, swiping it with the clean corner of the handkerchief.

"Perhaps the millstone is in your eye," Javert says, blinking again, and his voice sounds different somehow, lower, Valjean wonders if the suggestive curl to it is the working of his own imagination, or if this is – if they are – they have not been. No. Perhaps it is their proximity. Valjean feels pricklingly aware of how close they are leaning.

"Hold still," Valjean says. He prays that Javert is the one not holding still, that it is not that he himself is trembling.

Javert does. Valjean's fingers steady his cheek. He gets it this time. He pockets the handkerchief without offering to return it.

"I do not watch you," he says.

--

The girl falls asleep between them, her head on Valjean's knee and her feet kicked up companionably on Javert's. Javert fidgets.

"Let her sleep," Valjean says.

"I wasn't going to move her," Javert says.

Valjean smiles at him.

"I don't know how they'll manage to feed her at this convent," Javert says, glancing down at her. "The girl eats like a horse."

"She has known hunger," Valjean says. He gazes down at her. "And if it is in my power, she'll never know it again."

"You cannot ensure that." Javert says. "There is much corruption."

"I know," Valjean says. "Those Thenardiers devoured Fantine's money. They even told Fantine the girl was sick and needed medicine so she would send more."

"She was not that," Javert says.

"If they had not deceived Fantine so cruelly, Cosette might yet have a mother," Valjean says. "That sits ill with me."

"And me," Javert says.

Valjean looks at him. "I thought you had no compassion to spare for fallen women, whether or not they had loved much."

"Those people," Javert says. He frowns. "They sicken me. Dishonest to the bone. I wonder Fantine did not see it."

"Her poverty and not her will compelled her," Valjean says.

"We must all pay for our poison," Javert replies, and Valjean sees he understood the reference. He glances down at the child lying between them.

"I think she likes you," he says.

"She prefers you."

Valjean does not dispute it. "I will treasure these moments," he says. "When you carry me back there. To have her trust – it is infinitely precious to me."

"I wish she knew more of the law," Javert says. "She might stray without meaning any harm."

Valjean is surprised at the concern on Javert's brow. He wants to reach over and press his arm. He is surprised at the wanting. He feels Javert's eyes on him.

Chapter Text

"I think we should return to Montfermeil," Javert says. The convent has proved another dead end. They are sitting on a bench with Cosette between them. She is singing a song to the doll. "We ought to ask the Thenardiers."

"No. Out of the question."

"—if there are other relatives," Javert finishes. "I was not thinking that." He shudders.

"Oh," Valjean says, relieved. He looks at Javert. "If Fantine had family who could take in her child she would never have given her to the Thenardiers."

Javert "hmphs" in a way that Valjean has started to recognize is an admission of the point. "Perhaps. But who else is there to ask? Would the girl know?"

"Sir?" Cosette says.

Valjean chuckles. He catches Javert's eyes when they flicker towards him. "I already asked her," he says. "Of course I asked her."

"I doubt you asked the right questions." Javert looks down at the girl. "Cosette," he says, "tell Inspector Javert. Do you remember anyone? Besides your mother."

"That was precisely the question I asked," Valjean mutters. Javert ignores him.

"There was—" Cosette appears to be thinking very hard. "M. Felix."

"M. Felix," Javert says, shooting a smug look at Valjean. "And this M. Felix, who was he?"

"He brought me candy," Cosette says. "He used to bring me candy." She squints at an invisible image in the distance. "He wears nice shirts and vests and he talks very fast and mother says he will come and live with us one day and be my papa."

"Oh," Valjean says. Cosette's life has been so unremittingly bleak. He and Javert look at each other.

"Well he sounds quite likely to take responsibility of a child now," Javert says, voicing Valjean's thought.

"But I prefer you anyway, Papa," Cosette whispers to Valjean. He could warm his hands at these little confidences of hers for years. He adjusts her bonnet.

"Was there anyone else?" he asks.

Cosette frowns. "I have a grandmamma," she says. "She lives in a big house. A castle."

"Big!" Javert says. "That might be a start."

"To a child every house is big," Valjean says.

"What do you remember of her?" Javert asks.

Cosette's frown deepens. "I don't remember her. But Mamma said she lived in a castle."

"By herself?" Valjean pursues.

"With God," Cosette says. "And all the good children, when it comes their time. My mother lives there now."

Valjean watches the Inspector bite back the exclamation that had been about to fly off his lips.

Javert looks back at the girl. "Did your mother mention any other family?" he asks. "Any relatives outside this castle?"

"N-no," Cosette says. "Why do you wear that hat?"

"What, child?" Javert asks.

"It is my turn to ask you," Cosette says.

Javert gives her a puzzled look, then surprises Valjean by answering. "It is my uniform."

"Oh," Cosette says.

"It would do no harm to ask the Thenardiers," Valjean concedes.

--

Cosette grows nervous as they grow nearer to Montfermeil. When they enter the town she withdraws into herself entirely and will not even talk to the doll.

When she sees the street where they are heading she throws the closest thing to a tantrum that Valjean has seen. He is reminded of Fantine, biting and scratching like a cornered animal.

"You are taking me back there!" she screams. "Please, please do not take me back! I do not want to go back!

"I promised you, Cosette," Valjean says. "We are only going to ask them a question. You will never live there again."

But Cosette still squalls. "I won't!" she says. "I hate it there, Papa, please, please."

Valjean hugs her and tries to put as much reassurance as he can into the gesture. He can tell that the scene is making Javert uncomfortable. He has started pacing. Cosette notices his discomfort and goes squirming out of Valjean's arms, and then she is running. She is fast and he is startled and the Inspector follows first. He catches her hand. But Cosette twists free, darts down an alley.

"Cosette!" he shouts. "Cosette, come back!"

"Cosette!" Javert shouts.

This is her territory, Valjean thinks, and then the sickening thought, she has run from terrors here before, surges up in his chest, and he wonders how he can have been so thoughtless as to take her back without explaining properly.

He and Javert reach a fork . He turns one way and Javert the other. The Inspector pauses a moment. "Do not run away," he says.

"Are you mad?" Valjean says. "Javert surely you—we don't have time – Cosette! Cosette!"

Javert disappears in the other direction, yelling too. Valjean glances frantic for Cosette, but the trail has gone cold. His heart sinks. He retraces a few steps.

"Valjean!" Javert's voice calls. He turns and runs toward it. It is a strange feeling to run toward that voice.

"I have her," Javert says. He points up to a tiny gap under some eaves where the girl is crouched. Valjean can see that it is too narrow for either of them.

Javert gives him an appraising once-over. "You came when I called."

"What did you think I would do?"

Javert studies him again and does not answer. "Cosette!" he shouts. "Come out of there at once!"

Cosette shakes her head.

"We'll have to coax her," Valjean says.

Javert makes an exasperated noise. "Cosette!" he shouts again.

"More shouting will not help," Valjean says, pushing past him. Valjean climbs as far as he can, onto a ledge, and looks up at Cosette. "Cosette, I am sorry," he says. "I did not think. I should have said. We only want to know where your family lives. We have been trying to find you a home."

Cosette sniffles.

"You would like that," Valjean says, trying to think how he would have wished to be reassured. "A room of your own and people who look after you and love you, Cosette, like your mother did."

"You look after me. I want to stay with you," Cosette says. "Please, Papa."

Valjean glances down at the Inspector. This is all growing much more complicated than he had hoped. He does not like to lie, especially not to children.

"Cosette," he says, truthfully, "I would like nothing better, but there is a duty I must do, and I cannot be your Papa if I am doing it."

"Why must you?" Cosette asks.

Valjean cannot think of a good answer. "It seems very bitter to me now, but I cannot escape it."

Cosette does not understand, he can tell. "Well, I will stay with Father," she says, "until you finish it."

Valjean glances down at Javert, who looks up at him with a mingling of exasperation and something that Valjean thinks might be the Inspector's version of encouragement. "I fear you would be quite an old woman by then, Cosette," Valjean says. For a moment he pictures Javert marching with Cosette behind him, like a bewildered duckling, aping the Inspector's movements, developing his ramrod posture, that strenuous effort that makes him almost seem shorter by trying so hard. He smiles at the picture.

"What?" Javert asks.

"She is asking to stay with Father," Valjean says.

Javert exhales. "God help us."

"I suppose if I told her yes she might come down," Valjean says.

"Tell her I am not going anywhere," Javert says. He makes an exasperated gesture with one hand. "At the rate we are going it will prove true enough. Neither of us will ever go anywhere. We will have long grey beards and she will be a woman before anyone takes her from us."

"You hear what he has to say," Valjean says. "We are not going anywhere."

Cosette smiles. "Do you promise, Papa?" she asks.

"Cosette," Valjean says, "I would wish nothing more in the world than to be your Papa, and I promise you, I promise, that you do not have to go anywhere you do not wish to go."

Cosette points down. "I want him to promise."

"She wants you to promise," Valjean says. Javert makes another helpless gesture. "Come down and he will promise," Valjean says.

Cosette shakes her head.

Then Javert climbs onto the ledge with him. Valjean is impressed by his balance. It is a narrow ledge and he is acutely aware of how close they are.

You did not use to notice this, he thinks. Valjean. You did not. This is Javert.

But the meaning of the word has changed. Instead of the cold face looming over him in the galleys there is a whole wealth of information that he has been storing up in secret – Javert's face in firelight and Javert lifting Cosette on his shoulder and Javert trying to look irritable and Javert intent on something with the curious light of conviction in his eyes and – he wonders when Javert began to take up so much room in him. There are too many dimensions to the man. When Javert was only a scowling hat perched on a coat and boots it was easier not to notice how close you were standing. But now he notices. The awareness prickles along his spine.

"Cosette," Javert says. Cosette creeps forward in her hideaway. "What did you want?"

"Promise," Cosette says. "Promise you will not leave."

"Tell me you did not promise that," Javert asks, and it is strange being in common cause with him. "Valjean?"

"I said she did not have to go anywhere she did not wish to," Valjean says, in an undertone.

"And suppose she wishes to remain at your side?" Javert murmurs back.

"I did not think of that."

"You should have. You cannot take a shadow with you back to –" Javert snaps himself off midway through the sentence. Valjean wonders why. "Cosette," Javert says, aloud, "Cease this at once and come down."

Cosette shakes her head. Javert reaches for her and she withdraws.

"Cosette," Javert says. "Child." He glances at Valjean in exasperation. "The child is impossible. It is like coaxing a cat off a roof."

Valjean wants to ask if Javert has had to coax a cat off a roof before. It does not quite seem Javert's line. The image it conjures is intensely amusing.

"Cosette," Valjean tries. "I will buy you any toy you like."

Cosette's eyes light up but she does not move. "Promise," Cosette says. "Father."

"He promises," Valjean says.

"Valjean—" Javert starts.

"You cannot very well leave her before I do," Valjean says. He pulls a rueful face. "What, man? It is true enough."

Javert looks uncomfortable. He nods curtly in Cosette's direction and climbs down. 

"Come down now," Valjean says. Cosette allows him to hand her down to Javert.

 The Inspector sets her down and frowns sternly at her. "You must not run away again," he says. "See that you don't. Do not let go of my hand."

Soon Cosette reaches for Valjean's hand as well and he takes it reflexively, used to the timid pressure of her small fingers. Cosette is in a cheerful mood after extracting their promise. She skips between them. She manages to swing a little. He glances at Javert. Javert glances back at him. Their eyes meet over Cosette's head. They make a strange picture and the rueful twist to Javert's mouth seems to admit as much. The Inspector still looks relieved at finding her and it softens his features.

Valjean wishes he did not notice things like that.

"Thank God she is not lost," Javert says, finally.

"The Christ Child once gave his parents the slip," Valjean says. "Did He not?"

"This is a far cry from the Holy Family," Javert mutters.

"All the same there is a little girl swinging on your arm," Valjean says. He finds that he is smiling at Javert.

Javert frowns. "What if there is? If I let go you would take her and be gone. Do not think I am not aware, Monsieur le—" He stammers a little. "Valjean."

--

They buy Cosette more toys. Gifts reassure her beyond all proportion and over the course of the past days they have managed to amass a toy horse and a new bonnet and another smaller doll. By unspoken agreement they do not move to visit the Thenardiers that evening.

Valjean wonders at this curious dance that is unfolding between them, where he pays for a toy horse and Javert carries it without a word, where he can read the Inspector's sour expression glancing up at the signpost of an inn and they do not bother stopping, where Javert points at an abandoned school and says, "There is one that would not turn her out," and he chuckles and Javert seems almost to have wished to produce that response.

"I would understand perfectly why you would run, Valjean," Javert says, that night. Cosette has darted off to fetch another of her toys.

Valjean shrugs. "I don't think I'd be able to carry all the toys."

Javert gives him a once-over that is at once reminiscent of and the farthest thing from the looks he remembers at Toulon. "I think you could," Javert says. Then neither of them is looking at the other. Javert seems flustered. He did not, Valjean suspects, intend it to sound as much like a compliment as it did.

Cosette comes back. "Now who is this?" Valjean asks, when she produces her horse.

"Monsieur Mare," Cosette says.

Javert makes a strangled sound like a cat that has been trodden on. Valjean has never heard him laugh before. It is a curious lapse, like seeing him without his uniform. Javert tries to disguise it as a fit of coughing.

--

Valjean is storing up remarks of all kinds to say to him when Cosette has gone to sleep. He suspects that the Inspector is doing the same, because they do not run out of things to say to each other.

"M. Felix was a fool and blackguard," Javert says. Cosette has fallen asleep on his knee and Valjean is intrigued by how afraid he seems to be to move.  "I wish I had his surname. I would hunt him down. He must pay for what he has done."

"All the same," Valjean says, "I am glad he is not in charge of her."

"Hmph," Javert says. "Perhaps his family would take the child."

"You can move, if you are uncomfortable," Valjean says. "I discovered that. She sleeps like a dead man."

Javert does not move. "You came when I called you," he says.

"It is what you expected me to do," Valjean says, before he can decide not to say it. "Or you would have followed me."

"Don't tell me what I expected," Javert snaps.

"You were right," Valjean says. "I would not have run."

"But if you had found her and not I," Javert says. "I can see that the temptation might have been very great."

"And what would you do if I did?" Valjean asks.

Javert says nothing. "It would be a very predictable move on your part."

"Suppose it were you," Valjean says, suddenly.

Javert shifts a little. Cosette does not wake up. "It is a pointless speculation," he says. "I have committed no crime."

"Suppose you had."

"I did not."

"You could have."

"I could not." Javert's face reddens. "I could not, Valjean. And supposing I had, what?"

"Could you return?" Valjean does not look at him. He studies Cosette's face in sleep. It looks as though her dreams are good ones. "Could you return to the lash and the galley now? Is duty so sweet as all that?"

"As I said," Javert says, "I have committed no crime. If I had, I would pay for it."

"You say that easily enough who have never felt the lash."

Javert frowns. "I have suffered worse things than the lash. I would do it, though it galled me."

"I think there is too much kindness in you for that," Valjean says. "You could not abandon her."

"You are asking me something you know I cannot grant."

"I am not asking it," Valjean says. "But what if I were?"

"It is a good thing you are not asking it," Javert says.

Cosette stirs in his lap. Javert's hand hesitates a moment over her as though he wishes to pat her back but fears that she is like a cat to be rubbed the wrong way. Valjean reaches over and smooths her hair and as he does so their fingers brush.

Their eyes snap to one another. He wishes that neither of them had noticed, that they were not so desperately attuned to this, that they had not been trying so hard not to touch one another that this casual brush hands should echo through his whole body, that he had no proof that the Inspector was as aware of him as he was of Javert, of their increasing proximity, of -- whatever this is. The Inspector draws back from him as though something far more intimate has passed between them, and he does not know what to make of any of this, it is all wrong, he should not touch Javert like this, Javert should throw him in irons or they should duel and strike at each other with swords and bars, they should not -- He does not want -- he should not--

Javert swallows. "I would dispose of the girl properly," Javert says. "As you are doing. And then I would do what had to be done."

"Suppose you could not?"

"I am not permitting that supposition yet," Javert says, frankly. Neither of them says anything else. "It is past time we put the girl to bed."

--

Cosette calls out in the night, swimming up out of the depths of a nightmare, and Valjean kneels by her and listens to the jumble of the dream and holds her and tries to soothe. But sleep does not return so swiftly.

"Do you know any lullabies?" Cosette asks. "Mother used to sing to me."

Valjean racks his brain. "Hushabye," he starts. "And goodnight." His voice sounds unpleasantly rough, he can still hear the rattle of the chain gang in it, but Cosette does not seem to mind, and he loves her again for not minding.

When Cosette is asleep he is startled to notice Javert standing in the doorway.

"How long have you been there?" he asks.

"I heard her calling," Javert stammers. Javert glances down. "Monsieur Le Maire," Javert says, and Valjean is almost certain that this is the address Javert slips into whenever he is begrudgingly impressed. "I did not know you sang."

Their eyes meet for a moment and Valjean wonders if Javert knows the question his eyes seem to be asking. For once he does not look away. He has a thousand strange impulses. He wonders if Javert shares any of them. For a moment he thinks of stepping to bridge the gap between them and finding out.

"Yes, you did. We all sang at Toulon," Valjean says, and whatever strange thread was tugging them together snaps and flutters to the ground.

"That was not singing," Javert says, quietly.

Valjean gets up and moves toward the door. "I am sorry I brought it up."

Javert has not moved from the doorway and as Valjean passes him Javert catches his wrist. "I know what you intend, 24601," Javert says.

Valjean is sure he does not. He himself has no idea what this thing is that is budding between them. He cannot say why his breath catches when Javert touches him.

"You want to run," Javert says.

Valjean does not mean to let his eyes flicker down to Javert's mouth. Javert's lips should not part like that, he thinks. He wonders if Javert knows how like an invitation it looks. He does not think Javert means to notice him looking.

Suddenly Javert seems aware of how close they are. He releases the hand. "Don't think I'm fooled," he says, but he sounds uncertain for once. "I am watching you, Valjean."

"I'm aware of that," Valjean says.

Their eyes meet and hold for a moment too long and then Valjean is through the doorway.

Chapter Text

"I have given some thought to this," Javert says at breakfast. "I think you ought to deal with the Thenardiers alone. I have not your guile."

"Guile?"

"Let us not quibble over the choice of word," Javert says. They glance at each other. "Besides she does not wish to see them. I will watch with her outside."

"All right," Valjean says.

The Thenardiers are grumblingly inhospitable and tell him something about an aunt in Paris with a vague address that Valjean is almost certain is false. He pays them for it anyway and stomps out, feeling taken advantage of.

Outside, Javert is wearing an expression of exaggerated exasperation and Cosette is wearing his hat. Valjean wants to kiss both of them. He worries his eyes say as much. When Javert looks to him and says, "Well?" Javert's face does something funny and the Inspector glances quickly away and says, "Cosette, the hat."

"Nothing useful," Valjean says. "I have been told a story of an aunt in Paris."

"Paris? What would she do in Paris?"

Valjean shrugs.

"They never even took Cosette to school," Javert says. "She was telling me. It is disgraceful." Javert begins a lecture as they walk and Valjean only half-listens. He keeps hearing footsteps. He turns and then the footsteps run. It keeps happening.

"I think we're being followed," Valjean says, catching Javert mid-phrase.

Javert nods. "I thought the same," he says. "But it is not the police."

"I knew it was not," Valjean says. "Were you worried it might be? You are on their errand."

"I was not worried," Javert says.

"You lie badly."

Their eyes meet.

"I have not had your practice," Javert says.

"I think it is the Thenardiers," Valjean says.

"You gave them too much money with too little fanfare," Javert says. "I know their kind. They are convinced there is more."

"There is more."

"Their kind are despicable, but they are no fools." Javert draws himself up. "Are they calling us kidnappers, do you think?"

"I am a grown man who has run off with a child," Valjean says, and the whole situation dawns sickeningly clear. "I do not think they will even need to call me that."

Javert nods.

"We ought to get out of here," Valjean says.

"We may not have time," Javert says.

They turn a corner and a crowd is there to meet them. "Thief!" Thenardier's voice shouts. "Kidnapper!"

"Pervert!" shrills another voice that Valjean thinks is the wife's.

"Come, Cosette," Valjean says. He is leading them, and Cosette's steps are too short. They break into a jog. He expects at any time that Javert will turn and face their pursuers and explain. But Javert runs with them. A moment later Javert has scooped up the girl and the two of them run together.

"This way," Javert says. "We will lose them."

Valjean looks at him.

"I have learned some tricks from your kind," Javert says. They duck into an alley and then down another alley.

Valjean takes the lead again as they pass an abandoned house with a brick wall around it. He doubles back to the wall. Valjean climbs up nimbly and Javert passes him the girl and then there is a moment's pause as the Inspector tries to scale the wall himself. He does not succeed.

Valjean looks down at him from the wall. Javert nods. They stare intently at each other for a moment. This is your chance, Valjean reads in Javert's eyes, you know you could grab the girl and be gone.

Then he is kneeling on the wall and reaching his hand down to pull Javert up. Javert looks at him in bewilderment, but there is no time for words. Javert snatches up Cosette. They tumble into a garden gone to seed. Valjean tries the doors until he finds one that is unbolted. It opens on an old schoolroom, dusty and full of desks. They tumble inside and he bolts it. He thinks what a spectacle they make – himself, the Inspector, the girl, cushioned on the Inspector's shoulder. Javert and Cosette always make a strange picture. Strange but -- right, he thinks, a chord that looks wrong on the staff but sounds well in the ear.

The sounds of their pursuers fade.

"Praise God," he murmurs. Javert looks at him.

"Amen," he says.

"Amen," Cosette says, from his shoulder. Valjean wants to embrace them both. He contents himself with adjusting Cosette's bonnet.

--

The schoolroom has one window that looks out through a gate and onto the street below. Valjean stands at its broken shutter and they wait for the mob to come back. But nothing happens. Cosette asks Javert if he knows any stories. Javert describes what he evidently thinks is an eminently exciting and instructive arrest and Cosette curls up on a desk and falls asleep. Valjean grins ruefully at him. Javert gets up and paces. The adrenaline of the chase still courses in their veins. A few stragglers run past as the sun sinks.

"Why did you not turn and explain?" he asks Javert.

"There is no reasoning with a mob," Javert says. "These scum could not be made to understand."

"Suppose the Thenardiers called the police on us."

"I am the police," Javert says. "I would explain."

Explain, Valjean thinks. That for how many days now you and an escaped convict have been wandering with a prostitute's child in your care. He thinks Javert reads the thought. The Inspector withdraws into the shadow.

"Javert," he says, "I did not mean to get you into trouble. I thought this would be easier. Truly."

Javert does not answer. He stops pacing. "Did you?" he asks. "Why should I trust you?"

Valjean cannot see his expression in the dim light. He steps closer. "Javert," he says.

"Why should I, Valjean?"

The sound of his name in Javert's mouth startles him. It is the sound of a name said often. He wonders when it began to wear into Javert's speech like that.

"I did not expect it would be so difficult."

"How could it not be?"

"If you expected so why did you let me come?"

Javert cannot be right about both things at once, Valjean thinks, grimly. He will try to be. That is Javert's way. Both total foresight and complete innocence. "I thought to make you see your error," Javert says. Javert stirs something on one of the desks. "Or perhaps I thought that Monsieur Le Maire had one miracle left in him."

This admission startles Valjean. He wishes he could see the inspector's eyes. The light is growing dim in the empty building. "I am sorry," he says.

He feels more than sees Javert turn. "I must confess that I was not prepared for any of this," Javert says.

"This?" Valjean asks. He reaches for the Inspector, thinking to press his arm in reassurance. But they are closer than he expected. Or perhaps Javert has moved closer too.

Javert makes a helpless gesture. "Everything," Javert says. "The girl. You. You and your blind compassion." A thin finger of lamplight pushes through the broken shutter and Valjean catches the Inspector's eyes on him.

They stand there in the dark not touching each other.

"Why are you not running?" Javert asks, very quietly. "You could have. You could have run with her. You could hide in a village somewhere and let her call you Papa."

Valjean wonders why Javert voices this thought aloud.

"It would be perfectly understandable," Javert pursues.

"Javert," Valjean says, quietly. He wonders when the name started to sound like that in his own mouth. "I am only doing what I promised you. We could not have come so far without you."

He can almost feel Javert's frown. "Do not remind me of that," Javert mutters. He tries to move away at the same time Valjean does. The effort only brings them closer. They are so close. He is not sure which one of them is trembling.

"Besides, Cosette is glad that you are here," Valjean says. "And I am glad." He does not know that it is what he thinks until he says it.

Javert emits a "hmph." "You would be glad of anything that pleased her," he says.

"No," Valjean says. He is all nerves; he can feel Javert bristling; he feels strangely alive from the running; it is dark in the room and they cannot see each other's eyes. "That is not why, Javert."

"Then I do not know why," Javert says, and his voice sounds different, lower. "You will have to tell me."

And perhaps this will be how it happens, this thing that has been unfurling between them -- like this, in the dark. They are almost close enough. He brushes against Javert's arm.

Cosette stirs, and the air between them shifts. "Papa," she says. "Did you hear that?"

Valjean moves away from Javert, to the shutter. There is a hunched figure outside the gate. "I think it is Thenardier," he hisses to Javert. He is glad again of the darkness. He watches the figure creep nearer. He picks up Cosette. She is shuddering and terrified in his arms and he tries to reassure her. The three of them stand together in the dark and wait in silence for the man to leave. He sniffs around discontentedly for a long time, and then they hear footsteps fading in the snow.

"It is time we got out of here," Javert says.

--
Javert leads the way out. The gate opens readily enough from the inside. Javert walks too quickly for Cosette. He rounds a corner ahead of them. Valjean takes a wrong turn without meaning to and then he hears, "Hi! Police!"

Then Valjean is standing face to face with a police officer and a smug-looking Thenardier.

"That's 'im," Thenardier says. "That's the one."

"They say you've kidnapped their kid," the officer says.

Cosette withdraws behind him. Valjean hears Javert's approaching footsteps.

"Officer," Javert says, "My name is Inspector Javert. I can explain."

Javert draws himself up to his full height and Valjean realizes he is stalling for time, that for once he does not feel he has the instant right of a situation. This is a strange change in Javert. Javert will not prevaricate, he knows. Not well. But the truth is bound to sound strange.

"This gentleman is acting on behalf of the child's mother," Javert says. He does not look at Valjean while he says it. "I was present when she died and I can vouch for him."

"Oh," the officer says. "What luck you came along, sir."

"She had left the child in the care of blackguards," Javert embroiders. Valjean wishes he would not. "She sent him to rescue her." Javert whirls on Thenardier. "Clear out of here, you rogue."

Thenardier retreats slowly. Valjean can feel the relief in Cosette's grip. "What brings you to Montfermeil, Inspector?" the officer asks.

Javert's eyes flicker nervously to Valjean's and he gazes at no one in particular as he says, "I am pursuing an escaped convict by the name of Jean Valjean. He eluded us at Montreuil-sur-Mer. He was posing as a man of quality."

The officer shakes his head sympathetically. "I am chief of police here," he says. "I will post a watch. If you give a description of the man, he will not escape us long."

"I do not doubt it," Javert says, politely. Valjean meets Javert's eyes and Javert's glance is suddenly apologetic; there is something raw and sorry in it that he has not seen in the inspector before. Javert looks down. He seems strangely torn. He wets his lips with his tongue, and Valjean notes the nervous gesture. "Sir," Javert says, "you need not stand here and listen to this; I am sure the child is hungry, and –" Javert's eyes rise to meet his, "you no doubt have a long way to go, the two of you."

Valjean picks up Cosette. "Thank you, inspector," Valjean says. The look that passes between them tears something inside him.

Javert doffs his hat.

This gesture makes Valjean suddenly aware of all that has changed between them.

He extends a hand to Javert and Javert takes it. There is an apology in the pressure of his fingers. Their eyes meet and Valjean presses back, and for a moment he thinks Javert craves reassurance – Javert, of all people -- from him, of all people.

"Say thank you to the inspector, Cosette," Valjean says. He lets go of the hand. He never thought he would let go of Javert reluctantly. He can still feel the warm ghost of the touch when he puts the hand in his pocket.

"Thank you," Cosette says.

Javert looks at her. "Be good," he says. Valjean wills Cosette to say nothing. Do not call him anything, he thinks, do not, do not, this is miserable but at least it will give us a start.

Then Valjean begins the walk away. He turns a little as he walks and sees Javert beginning to walk to the precinct with the officer. Javert turns too. He does not look as though he means to. He feels a strange tug in his chest when their eyes meet. Javert looks as though someone has blown away his house.

Chapter Text

He wonders whether Javert will give a good description. Somehow, sickeningly, he knows that he will, that once back in familiar surroundings Javert will slide into his punctilious groove again. Javert has no gift for lies. But he reflects at least that Javert will not mention Cosette. Of this he is fairly certain.

They must get out of Montfermeil, he thinks. Before the streets are overrun with police. He remembers Javert's look, as good as begging them. And they still have the money, at least. He hastens along with Cosette.

"Where are we going?" Cosette says. "We must wait for him."

"He wants us to go," Valjean says.

"He promised," Cosette says.

"Cosette," Valjean says, kneeling and tying on her bonnet. "I do not think we have seen the last of him. But you must come now. He has done a brave thing for us."

Cosette frowns. "He did not say goodbye," she says. "And he will not know where to find us."

Valjean feels a curious twist between the pride that she is so clever and the knowledge that she has the right of him. He meets her eyes.

"Cosette," he says, "you are right, but it will not be safe for us to stay here long."

Cosette looks uncertain.

"Please, Cosette," he says. "Come, now."

But it is hard to drag her after him through the snow. Cosette dawdles. They trickle slowly through the streets. It is too late for carriages.

At last they stumble into a church and he settles Cosette in a pew. Cosette's dolls are very reticent this evening.

They say their prayers together. "I miss him," Cosette says.

"So do I," Valjean admits. He strokes her hair.

Finally she settles in his coat and he watches her sleep. He wonders if Javert was serious when he suggested Valjean find a village and let her call him Papa. It would be so easy. But he is always chary of things that he wants so much. He tries to pray. He has too many things to say to Javert and none of them are proper to say to God.

He thinks of the strange sound of Javert laughing. He thinks of Javert's eyes on him. Javert's handkerchief is still in his pocket and he touches it curiously. He has been alone for so long, he thinks. As a convict alone at the bottom of the heap. As mayor alone at the top of the heap. But what did it signify? Alone was alone.

At least there is Cosette. And God. He always travels with God. But he cannot suppress the thought that he would prefer to have Javert.

Outside the window it begins to snow. Then the snow turns to sleet. It is like watching an ugly woman cry.

--

In the morning Valjean goes out to hire a carriage. He returns and tries to pick up Cosette but she dawdles behind him. She is forever dropping things and looking behind her. "Cosette," Valjean says. "Please."

"Valjean," says a voice behind him. He half turns before he realizes his mistake. He half wishes Javert had stuck to 24601. He is too used to hearing the name now. This is not a slip he meant to make.

Then Thenardier is standing at his elbow.

"I understand now," Thenardier says. The alley thickens and comes to life with menacing figures, like sediment stirred up from the bottom of a dirty mug. "I see what's going on. I see now. Him in town pursuing Jean Valjean. You in town to steal the girl from me. Mere coincidence. Mere coincidence, you on the road together. Mere coincidence, him following you. Vouching for you. But who would he follow here but Jean Valjean?"

Cosette looks frightened. He wishes he had another lifetime and no soul to consider. He would like to kill Thenardier for making her wear that face.

"Get away from me," Valjean says. He does not turn. He kneels and looks at Cosette. "Cosette if this goes badly I want you to go to your hiding place and wait, all right?"

Cosette nods silently. Valjean wonders if this whole time they have shared will have been only another miserable incident in her life's long string of miserable incidents. He prays God not.

"What do you want, Thenardier?" he says, not turning.

"All of it," Thenardier says. The menacing crowd draws in closer. "And the girl."

"I can give you more money," Valjean says. "But Cosette belongs with me."

"One scream," Thenardier says. "One scream and the police'll come, and I'll tell 'em who you are."

"I am not frightened of you, sir," Valjean says, turning slowly, shielding Cosette. " Let us have no unpleasantness."

"You have nothing to bargain with," Thenardier says. "You are a dead man already." Two of the men sidle up and seize hold of Valjean's arms. Valjean flings one off. The other will not go so easily.

"Run, Cosette," Valjean says. Cosette does, unhesitatingly. He watches her small figure dwindle in the snow.

He tries to fight. It goes in his favor, at first. He is strong. He is angry. He has not been so angry since Toulon. But there are so many of them. They cluster on him. He is like a bear set upon by baiting dogs. They tug at him and seek to topple him. They tear at his coat. He sheds it on the snow and flails about him.

It is a noisy fight, at least. Windows open onto the alley.

As one of Thenardier's thugs lays hold of his purse, someone shouts for the police.

Several officers come running up. "What's this?" one says, beardless and too big for his jacket. "A fight in the street?"

"They tried to rob me," Valjean says. One officer manages to wrest his purse back from Thenardier's henchman's grip.

"This is the man!" Thenardier shrills. "This is the convict! You're looking for him? I caught him!"

Another officer approaches inquisitively and studies Valjean, and Valjean can tell that Javert's description was accurate enough. The man seizes his wrist, glances at the marks there, and gives a sharp nod. He shoves Valjean to his knees and Valjean does not bother to resist. He is tired. There is blood on his lip.

"Inspector Javert," the first officer calls, and a strange hope flickers somewhere deep inside Valjean. "We have your man!"

Valjean glances up as Javert approaches. It is a strange relief to have Javert in view again. Their eyes meet. It is so unlike those years when Javert's eyes on him were only hard and reflected him without seeing him. Now he can see his relief mirrored in them. Relief and – there is a flicker of concern, he thinks, that Javert does not mean him to see. He is not sure what Javert will do. He hopes he knows.

"This is your convict," the officer says.

"Thank you," Javert says, with a curt nod. "Yes, this is the man."

"Clap him in irons!" Thenardier crows. "Or won't you?"

Javert does. He uses precisely the amount of force required. He is not gentler than he needs to be. He seems to be trying quite hard not to be. There is an exaggerated precision to all his movements.

"Get up," he says, "You are not badly hurt." Valjean thinks there is a question buried in the assertion. He stands. Javert holds him by the cuffed hands. They are dancing the same dance that duty has always demanded of them, but it feels different. Javert's grasp on his wrist is firm and unyielding and – it is exactly the way that Javert would have grasped him before, to the letter. But Javert must try now to achieve the old effect. Something strange sparks between them even at this rough touch.

"You are in luck, Thenardier," the young officer says to Thenardier. "Be off with you."

"Merely my civic duty," Thenardier says, doffing.

"I suspect your civic spirit will wane quickly," Javert says, voicing Valjean's thought. The officer glances at him in agreement.

"I'll escort this gentleman home and thank him for staying out of trouble," another officer says. "You will go to the precinct?"

"I will take care of him," Javert says, measuredly. Valjean feels a minute tremor in Javert's grasp and realizes what Javert is doing. "Thank your commanding officer for me."

"We will need to process his belongings," the officer says.

"Give them to me," Javert mutters. "I will see to it."

The officers do. They bow and depart.

Javert watches them go. He and Valjean stare at each other. They both relax at his departure and Valjean sees the uncomfortable spasm in Javert when the inspector notices that he was holding his breath. He presses Javert's hand. Javert opens his mouth and then shuts it, and Valjean has the strange feeling that he was about to ask whether he was all right.

"I am all right," Valjean says.

"I did not inquire," Javert says, and Valjean knows he was right. "Where is Cosette?"

"The usual place," Valjean says. "I hope."

They walk together. Javert looks every inch the policeman. He is terrifyingly punctilious. He pushes Valjean along, holding his cuffed wrists at the small of his back. There is about him the kind of minute precision of detail that only an actor uses. Valjean thinks that Javert notices this exaggeration in himself and that it makes him more uncomfortable. It had not been a mask before.

"Thank you," he says.

"You are too foolhardy," Javert murmurs. "You trust me too much." They walk along an alley and he feels Javert's hand on his arm, wary. Valjean wonders if it is a sensible precaution or – He tries not to lean into the touch.

They turn an alley towards Cosette's hiding place and then Javert goes stiff. Valjean looks.

It is the chief of police.

"I hear you have caught your man," the officer calls.

Javert freezes.

"Perhaps he will not recognize me," Valjean says. He looks down. He does not know whom he is trying to reassure.

Javert is silent and he does not like this silence.

"You did what was right, Javert," he says. "I hope you believe it."

In answer Javert reaches behind him and unlocks the handcuffs.

"Inspector!" the officer calls. Javert pretends not to hear him. "So you have him."

"Yes," Javert says. "I thank you. I must make haste."

Then the officer draws nearer and Valjean knows the game is up.

"He is your convict?" the officer asks, and Javert freezes. Of course Javert would freeze. Valjean scans the street. They are alone.

"Inspector," the officer says, and his tone is curious. "This, if I am not mistaken, is the man whom you vouched earlier—"

"You are mistaken," Javert says.

The chief of police frowns. Valjean can feel Javert squirm. He is not used to lying. It is the wrong size for him. The officer can see him squirming. His brow clouds.

"I have a confession," Valjean says. "I compelled him. I held a knife on him. If he gave me up at once I would have killed him and the girl. I compelled him not to give me up."

"Be silent," Javert says, "you fool."

Valjean looks at him and Javert looks as though he is on the verge of resigning his commission on the spot and asking to be punished, and Valjean thinks, no, he must not do that, if Javert does so he cannot escape punishment, and Javert in irons will be no good to Cosette.

"Sir," the officer says, and his tone permits no discussion, "we will go to the precinct with your convict and inquire further into this matter."

Javert's cheeks burn. He says nothing. He looks at Valjean and then up at Cosette and then down an alleyway and Valjean can see that he is contemplating running. But there is no chance for them with so many policemen about. Of course Javert would not think of that. He is too accustomed to being a policeman himself. If the alarm goes up they will be caught and Cosette –

No.

When the officer steps closer to lay hands on him Valjean sees his chance. He rears up and strikes the officer. It is a precise blow. The man falls flat on his back in the snow and lies still.

"Come, Cosette," Valjean calls. Cosette's eyes are frightened.

Javert looks aghast at him.

"You would not have done it," Valjean says.

"No," Javert says. "I pray you have not killed him."

"So do I," Valjean says. He glances down. "I have not. But for your sake it might be better if I had." Instantly he wishes he had not given the thought voice.

"Do not pretend you did this for me," Javert says.

Valjean looks at him and Javert looks away. "Come, Cosette," Valjean calls. "It is all right now."

Cosette looks a bit frightened. When she climbs down she clings to Javert's leg. Valjean realizes his hand is still cuffed. "Father?" she says. "Is everything all right?"

Javert crouches next to her. "No," he says.

"Come, Cosette," Valjean tries again. But Cosette will not come. She clings to Javert and will not go without him.

"For God's sake," Valjean murmurs. "Will you come? We are running out of time."

Javert does not look at him as he gathers her in his arms. He says nothing. But he follows.

--
They ride in silence, always listening for hoofbeats behind them.

"I could have explained," Javert says.

"Don't be a fool," Valjean says.

"I am done for," Javert says. "I am disgraced. Twenty years – pfft. Gone. Vanished like smoke."

"I am a dangerous man," Valjean says. "What I said could have been true."

"Look at me," Javert says. "Do you think for a second that I would have – lied – because a man like you threatened me?"

"I was trying to offer you a way out."

"So you struck him? You struck down an officer of the law?"

"You were not taking it," Valjean says. "I thought you were about to turn yourself in. You have a tendency to do that."

Javert does not appreciate the remark.

"And for Cosette's sake I could not have that," Valjean finishes.

"I committed an infraction," Javert says. "I hindered an investigation. Woe unto him by whom the offense cometh."

Silence falls between them. Valjean realizes that he is unaccustomed to silence with Javert now.

"Why did you do it?"

"I could not let Thenardier take her from you," Javert says. "I wish you had not struck him. Why did you strike him?"

"We could not have made it if they had raised an alarm," Valjean says. "Neither of us, Javert. I did not do it lightly. "

Javert frowns.

"If you had given yourself up she would have had to go back there," Valjean says. "Or worse."

"It is a dereliction of duty."

Valjean extends his hands in supplication. "Javert."

"I assisted your escape knowingly, Valjean," Javert says. Each word is dragged from him. Valjean wonders if this is how Javert behaves in the confessional. "The least you could have done was escape."

"I tried."

Javert curses softly. "I know," he says.

Javert sits brooding for the rest of the ride and Valjean watches him nervously. Cosette nods off, comforted by the presence of both of them, and they sit in silence.

"I am grateful," Valjean says. "You showed her great mercy."

"She has done no wrong," Javert says. He stares out the window. "But do not pretend that that was my only reason." Valjean looks at him. Javert keeps his eyes fixed on the window. "We may be bound for the galley alike," Javert says. "Let us be so honest with one another at least as to admit it."

"Admit what?" Valjean asks.

Javert looks at him. The look unfurls warmly along the bottom of his stomach. They do not look away this time. "Why don't you tell me?" Javert asks.

There is a sound behind them. Javert glances back through the window, nervous. For the first time Valjean can see how easy it would be for Javert to slink back to the gutter. The sly back-glance is a criminal mannerism. He is built right for it. All the same, he thinks, it looks wrong on Javert. He would not be the cause of this failure in him. "Javert," Valjean says, quietly, wishing his voice did not curl around the syllables like that. "I am frightened of the things I want to ask you."

Javert looks down. "I will do what is left of my duty," Javert says finally, gloomily. "We will find her a home, finish this task of yours, and then I will surrender both of us to justice."

"You have done no wrong," Valjean says.

Javert "hmphs." The "hmph" is the most cheerful noise he has made all afternoon. "You always seek excuses."

Valjean extends his hand to Javert and Javert takes it. It is the only comfort they permit themselves in each other.

--

At last the hoofbeats sound behind them, as they expected. It is almost a relief to hear them, to know themselves pursued. Valjean scans the road ahead. There is a bend in it and an obscuring wood that concludes in a fork in the road. He leans forward and tells the coachman to slow once they round the bend and proceed as fast as he can down the right fork that leads away from Paris.

He glances at Javert. Javert nods. "It is not a bad plan," Javert says. "But I suspect the man will not do it for nothing."

As usual Javert is right. It costs them. As they slow at the bend he gathers Cosette in his arms and Javert opens the door and the three of them manage to jump out. The carriage barrels off rapidly into the distance. They sit nervous in the dark watching the horsemen fly after it. Valjean recites the Twenty-Third psalm under his breath. He thinks he sees Javert's lips move in the darkness.

A few hours of stumbling in darkness down the other road bring them to an inn. When they settle there Javert does not bother to guard him at all. Valjean puts Cosette to bed and goes to look for him. He finds Javert praying. Wordlessly he goes and kneels beside him. They pray together in silence. If Javert minds he does not say.

"Thank you," Valjean says.

"Do not thank me," Javert says.

"She is forgiven," Valjean says, "for she loved much."

Javert gives him that strange once-over again. "You are naïve enough to believe so, Valjean. Perhaps your God is more merciful than mine." He glances down. "I'd be in irons now if you had not— done what you did."

"I did not do it to buy your loyalty," Valjean says.

"You did not need to," Javert says. Their eyes meet.

"You owe me nothing," Valjean says.

"I owe you my freedom." Javert glances at his wrist.

"Not like that," Valjean says. "If you stay with us I hope it is because you choose."

Javert nods. He does not look at him. "They will discover our ruse. We must get off the road soon."

Valjean nods. "The three of us will make an easy target," he says. "You in your uniform and I and the girl—we are not ordinary travelers."

Javert scowls. "You would be surprised. I have snuck places in my time."

"All the same it might be better if we were less easy to recognize."

"How?" Javert asks.

"It is easy not to be recognized," Valjean says. He reaches over and strokes Javert's whiskers inquisitively. The touch is meant to be merely appraising. It is not. He withdraws the hand.

Javert shrugs. "If you think it best, I can be rid of them," he says.

"Let me," Valjean says.

Javert looks at him. "You will slit my throat," he says. But he sits obediently when Valjean fetches his razor and the pitcher, towel and shaving soap from the washstand.

"If you do not trust me," Valjean says, "I think this is ill-advised of you."

Javert looks at him. "Do not tell me that," Javert mutters, "or I will change my mind, Jean."

Something strange starts flickering in his chest when Javert says it. He knows what Javert means by it: they are both on the run now, they are gazing eye-to-eye from now on, there will be no more "24601." He knows what Javert means. But it is the way he says it.

Their eyes snap together. Valjean kneels before him. "Hold still," he says. Javert regards him steadily. He remembers the last time he touched the Inspector's face. The memory of it still lingers in his fingertips. He thinks Javert remembers as well. He cannot look away now; they are too close for that.

Valjean lathers his face in silence.

"Why?" Javert asks.

"Hold still," Valjean says. It is unnerving to be so close to Javert. But his hand does not tremble. He tilts Javert's face upwards to expose his throat and Javert lets him. "There were no mirrors here," he says, making the first swipe of the razor up Javert's neck. The inspector stiffens. "Hold still," Valjean says.

"Stop telling me to hold still," Javert says.

He finishes Javert's neck, wiping the razor on the towel, and makes the first swipe along his left cheek. "It seemed simpler." The exposed patch of skin makes the Inspector's face look strangely naked.

"You are a terrible liar," Javert murmurs.

"Hold still," Valjean says, rubbing inquisitively at the smooth patch of exposed skin with his thumb.

"Don't do that," Javert snaps. He can feel Javert's pulse beating below his fingertips as he tilts his head to the side. It is going as rapidly as his own. He is astounded that the Inspector permits this. Javert's pulse is very rapid and his eyes are very wide and dark; the pupils have devoured the irises, and the strangeness of the whole situation prickles along his arm.

Valjean finishes the left side and wipes the razor on the towel and runs his thumb appraisingly along the exposed skin of Javert's cheek and Javert's breath catches.

"Stop that," Javert says. Their eyes meet and Valjean removes the thumb; he can see in Javert's eyes the same thought that swam unbidden into his own mind: this is how I might touch him if I were about to kiss him, this is how he might look at me if he were going to let me, this is the thing we have not spoken of.

"I only wanted to be certain," Valjean says. His throat has gone dry.

"Your fingers are rough," Javert mutters. The inspector is trying not to look at him; this is all too strangely personal, it is impossible to forget that it is Javert in his hands, he suspects it is worse for Javert, miles worse, to sit like this under the hands of a former convict. The effort not to look puts his head at a strange angle.

"Look at me or shut your eyes," Valjean says, capturing Javert's chin in his fingers and beginning on the right side. He swipes along the right cheek, hair and foam coming off in equal measure, and he feels Javert's eyes on him. The steady rasp of the razor is the only noise in the room.

"Valjean," Javert murmurs, as he wipes the razor, "what are we doing?"

Valjean says nothing, finishes the right side, carefully. Valjean's fingers smooth along the line of his jaw and Valjean swipes once or twice more at stubborn patches. Javert gazes curiously at him.

"Well?" he says.

Valjean looks at him. It is strange to see Javert like this – not unrecognizable, but enough to startle at a first glance. The guilty question curls along his stomach – would anyone who had not been looking at him as you do spot the change? – but he tamps the thought away. It is stranger still to think, I did this to him and he let me, this new face he wears is my doing. He wonders how much his expression gives away.

"You are my only mirror," Javert says, running his hand nervously over his chin. "And I cannot read your face."

Valjean studies his handiwork. Their eyes meet. "You will serve," he says. He wishes his voice did not sound like that when he says it. There is a spot of foam beneath Javert's ear and he wipes it with his thumb. Javert's breath hitches. It is too like a caress.

"You look -- younger," Valjean says.

"I feel old as Methuselah," Javert says. "I will frighten the girl."

"If you did not frighten her before you will certainly not do so now," Valjean says, and Javert's eyes flicker up to him as though to say that Javert noticed the compliment.

They are still too close. "Of course you would say that," Javert murmurs, running his hand along his cheek again, "it is your handiwork."

"I like you clean-shaven," Valjean says.

"I know," Javert says. "I can see that, Valjean."

Javert runs his fingers along his chin again as though he is tracing the ghost of a caress. Valjean has the sudden urge to follow the fingers with his lips.

"You are frightened, you said," Javert says, softly. "Of me?"

"Of myself," Valjean mutters. "Of this." His hand finds Javert's and he lets his thumb stroke the inside of Javert's wrist. He did not know the Inspector's eyes could kindle like that. "I am frightened I would ask too much. I would want you to stay."

Then Javert tenses. They both hear the sound at the same time. Hoofbeats. Too many of them. They spring apart

"Get Cosette," Javert says.

"I did not think they would come so soon."

Javert nods, getting up. "Paris is not so far," he says. "There is a chance, if we go on foot--"

"Then let us go," Valjean says.

Chapter Text

Javert bundles Cosette out of bed in his arms. She comes unwillingly, yawning; Javert despairs after a moment and decants her into Valjean's grasp. When they are out of doors Javert points them into a wood beside the road.

They stumble through the night together. Javert leads; Valjean follows, the girl braced in his arms. Cosette has a wonderful instinct for when to be quiet. She is quiet now.

"Your face is different," she whispers to Javert.

Javert runs a hand over it again and Valjean wishes the gesture did not affect him like that. "Well?" Javert says.

"Better," Cosette says.

"Thank you," Javert says. Their rapport is different than the one Valjean has with her; he can sense that Cosette wants Javert to approve of her, but he has not noticed until this moment that the feeling is mutual.

It begins to snow as they walk. The trees are dark. Valjean stumbles over a root and Javert catches him and the girl both.

"Be more careful," Javert hisses. Valjean starts off again but Javert shakes his head. "Wait. I am not sure of our bearings." He turns and retraces a few steps, frowning.

In Valjean's arms Cosette shivers. In their haste they have not brought her coat. "Papa," Cosette whispers. "I am cold." Valjean clutches her nearer. Then he feels Javert tap his shoulder. He turns and there is Javert with his uniform unbuttoned.

"I am the fool who forgot the coat," he says. "And this is no good to me if I am running with you." He slips it over Cosette's shoulders. Cosette bundles her arms through the sleeves. It is too big for her but it has Javert's warmth in it.

"You will be cold," Valjean says. A look passes between them. He hopes Javert can read his eyes.

"I have borne worse," Javert tells him, with a shrug. He reaches over and presses Javert's arm. Javert points. "Straight."

The hoofbeats resume, nearer. Javert is about to draw them into the shadows behind a tree but Valjean shakes his head, tugs them on. "We cannot stop," he whispers. "They could wait us out."

There is a clearing and, on the other side of it, a wall. Valjean points questioningly at it and Javert nods, once, curtly.

They run as silently as they can but their shadows are too large in the snow. They are followed. Valjean reaches the wall and scales it as rapidly as he can. Javert reaches Cosette up to him. The hoofbeats are nearer as Valjean is pulling Javert up. For a moment he is not sure they will make it. He leans precariously forward and something heavy clangs out of his coat. He does not have time to look. Javert glances down and Valjean hisses, "Don't."

"I can't," Javert hisses.

"I have you," Valjean says. He gives a final tug and they are up.

The horses are cantering around to the other side of the wall and they have not much time. They run. They are all panting hard. There is another wall to scale. It is much higher and thicker across. He manages to snag some rope and tug all of them up with it. It is amazing the impossible things he can do when he has their eyes on him.

He and Javert lie in silence on top of the wall, bracketing Cosette. The stone is cold as ice.

There is much shouting below. He hears his own name and Javert's name. It is strange to hear them together like that. The inspector tenses beside him. He reaches a hand over and presses Javert's. He is terrified. He has never been so terrified before. He has not had anyone to lose before. Javert catches his hand and presses back. Cosette is the only one who seems unfazed. This is a game to her, perhaps, Valjean thinks. He looks over at her and her small bright smile.

No, he thinks, it is not that. It is that she never doubted we would make it.

"Javert!" a voice shouts. Javert tenses as if struck. Valjean presses his hand. It is like trying to reassure someone during the pangs of parturition. He can only comfort so far. They shout other things, uglier things. Valjean tugs Javert's hand closer and presses his lips to Javert's fingers. It is the only thing he can think of. Javert uncoils a little at the touch. He wishes he could see Javert's eyes.

"It is no use," a voice shouts, at last. "They have given us the slip."

At length their pursuers scatter. Valjean sits up.

"It is finished," Javert says, very quietly. Their eyes meet. Valjean lets go of his hand and they begin their slow descent into the courtyard beyond the wall.

--

Down a long corridor Valjean can hear the sound of compline being sung. The voices are women's. Nuns, he realizes. It is an abbey. It is not a bad place to be born again.

"Praise God," he whispers. Javert looks at him. Javert is shivering and trying his level best to look as though he is not.

"Do not yet," Javert says. Javert shivering in his shirt in the snow is terrifyingly beautiful. There is a strange tug in Valjean's chest when he looks at him. He knows the word for what this is. He dares not say it to himself.

Valjean squeezes Cosette's hand, dwarfed in the uniform sleeve. He could be on the moon with them, he thinks, and the moon would not seem so strange. Javert is the most familiar thing in the world.

There is a clattering sound in the middle of the courtyard. Valjean picks up Cosette. A man with a shovel and an expression of mingled fear and bewilderment is looking at them.

"Please, monsieur," Valjean says. "We seek sanctuary. Please."

The man hefts the shovel and takes a step nearer. Then he lowers it. "Monsieur Le Maire?"

"Monsieur?"

"Fauchelevant," the man says. "I fell under my cart. You saved my life."

Valjean gives God thanks. "We need a place of sanctuary," he says, "this child and I and – my brother."

Javert looks at him. He can imagine the quizzical look even though he does not turn to meet Javert's gaze.

Fauchelevant nods gravely. "Come."

"I cannot thank you enough," Valjean says. "I have sufficient in my purse to offer you some recompense, until we can begin anew."

"This way," Fauchelevant says, smiling.

--

They sup pleasantly enough. Cosette prattles all through supper and Javert says little but eats heartily enough. That same quizzical look lingers in Javert's eyes whenever they meet his.

There is a hut on the edge of the grounds that once belonged to the gardener, and it is here that Fauchelevant leads them when the meal is done and Cosette begins to droop. He leaves them there. They build a fire in the smaller of its two rooms and settle Cosette on a sofa close to it. She is still colder than Valjean would like.

"Good night, Cosette," he says.

"Tell me a story," Cosette says, propping herself up on an elbow. "I am not sleepy yet."

"What sort of story?" Valjean asks.

"An exciting story," Cosette says. She leans conspiratorially towards him and whispers. "Not like Father's stories."

Valjean shoots a look in Javert's direction.

"What?" Javert asks.

"She wants a more exciting story than you tell," Valjean mouths.

Javert frowns. "I can tell an exciting story," he says.

Cosette looks quizzically at him. It is an expression Valjean thinks she picked up from Javert. It is funny to see it mirrored on her small visage. Valjean smiles at the likeness.

"What?" Javert says. "I can." He glances about him. There is a Bible on the mantelpiece. Javert pulls it down. "Cosette, this is the best of all stories."

Valjean grins at him. "He is right," Valjean says. "It is a very exciting story."

Javert sits at the end of the sofa and begins at the beginning. They are both exhausted and he wonders why Javert bothers. His reading reminds Valjean of his recitations. It is very clear and precise. Bibles should be read in such a voice, he thinks. But there is a warmth in it he did not notice before. Or perhaps the warmth is new. He blazes rapidly through the Creation as Valjean makes himself a bed in the corner and shakes his belongings out of his coat.

"The world begins twice," Cosette says, yawning. "Is it supposed to?"

"Of course it is," Javert says. "That is what it says."

Valjean fumbles through his coat again. He knows now what the clanging was. They have made it intact, together, but he is missing a candlestick. He places the remaining one on the mantelpiece.

Cosette nods off before Cain can lay hands on Abel. Javert smooths the blanket over her. Valjean glances at him.

"You called me brother," Javert says, shutting the book.

Valjean can think of a dozen things not to say in reply. He spreads his hands in a propitiating gesture. "It is the closest thing to the truth that I could say," he says, at length.

Their eyes meet. Valjean feels a curious heat in the look.

"The old Bishop of Digne called me brother," Valjean says. "And all I had done was steal his silver."

Javert glances apologetically at the empty spot on the mantel. Valjean wonders when he began to know what that look meant. The knowledge sits warmly in his chest.

Valjean shrugs. "They were my most prized possession when I possessed nothing." He glances down at Cosette asleep. Javert's eyes follow his. Their gazes meet.

"And now?" Javert asks.

Valjean leaves the warmth of the fire and goes to stand beside him at the window. "Tell me," he says.

Javert stares out into the dark. The fire glints on his reflection in the window. "I would not know how to begin," he says. "What am I, Valjean? I am not your brother." He makes a curious face at his image and runs his hand over his chin again. "I hardly recognize myself."

"I like the man you are without the uniform," Valjean says. "I like him better."

"Of course you do," Javert mutters. "He is your handiwork."

Valjean lays a hand on his arm and Javert suffers the touch. "I will go with you if you ask me," Valjean says. "But I am enough of a fool to pray you will never ask, that you will stay and be what Cosette already thinks you are."

"I do not like always looking behind me," Javert says.

"Nor do I."

"You bear it better," Javert says. "Perhaps I am a coward." Javert's hand grips the hand on his arm. It is a clasp that is in danger of becoming a caress. Javert pulls him closer and he comes. They stand gazing out into the dark and into the eyes of their reflections. There is a flaw in the glass and their reflected faces bend towards each other.

"I am not brave," Valjean says. "I am terrified. I did not use to be so terrified. But now there is Cosette and I cannot lose her and there is – you, and I find I cannot lose you either."

Their eyes meet for a moment in the glass. Valjean lets his fingers stray down Javert's arm. He can feel Javert stiffen and hear the effort Javert is making to keep his breathing regular. He does not succeed. Neither of them succeeds. Javert reaches for his other hand and they fumble a moment and then both of his arms are wrapped around Javert. He buries his face in the side of Javert's neck. Javert lets out a ragged breath and his neck arches a little into the touch. It is captivating. Valjean tries to choke back the helpless sound the movement tugs out of him, but they are too close to conceal what the proximity has done to them. It is strange to have Javert in his arms like this. It would be strange to have anyone in his arms like this, anyone who responded like this to his touch, but Javert –

"I am sorry about the candlestick," Javert says.

"The Bishop gave me those candlesticks," Valjean says. "He gave me the most precious thing he possessed, and my freedom with it. I would not lose one for anything. For this I would toss them both into the sea."

"You do not have them both," Javert says, dryly. "It is a pointless supposition." But his voice is strangely rough. "You hope I am too much a coward to stop running now."

"That would not be cowardice," Valjean says. "You said as much yourself."

They are not succeeding at holding back from each other. He can feel the rapidity of Javert's heartbeat. The filament tugging them away from each other is thin and it is about to snap.

"That night in Montfermeil," Javert says, quietly, "we went from house to house, searching for you. I prayed I would not find you." He swallows. "I could not pray the other thing."

Javert's hand seeks his and presses it. The touch sparks between them.

"I was mistaken in you," Javert says. He pulls a little free of the embrace to meet Valjean's gaze. "Tell me one of your verses to excuse great sins and I will believe it."

They are so close. They are not close enough. Javert's eyes are very wide and dark in the firelight. Valjean glances down at Javert's lips and Javert notices the look, and – He is not sure which of them moves to kiss the other.

All he knows is that he is kissing Javert. Javert is kissing him. He catches a little stifled sound of relief on Javert's lips. All the things their eyes have been trying not to say to each other for these days he can feel in the way Javert's hand reaches into his hair and Javert's other hand presses the scarred skin of his wrist, and he says it back to Javert in the same language, letting Javert's knee part his legs and opening his mouth for Javert's tongue to plunder.

They have both been starving for this. He parts Javert's lips roughly with his tongue and Javert welcomes the intrusion, panting shallowly; Javert catches him and pulls him nearer; every time they kiss it is an admission of wanting; there is a furnace in him that leaps to life; he had never hoped for anything like this and he suspects Javert had not either; Javert kisses him like he is land and Javert has been at sea all his life.

He lets out a gasp half of relief, half of surprise, and Javert smirks at it. He kisses the smirk.

"We will wake Cosette," Javert murmurs.

"Javert," he says.

"Don't say it like that," Javert grits back, and that tone is new, he wants nothing more in the world than time, more time, to explore this new world that is unfurling at his feet.

Cosette stirs in her sleep, and they spring apart.

"I thought you -- did not--" Valjean begins.

"I am only flesh," the inspector says, looking chagrined. "Like you, Jean."

His name has never sounded like that. He had never thought he would hear it said like that. He did not know Javert's voice could wrap around a word like that, could make his own name sound obscene and -- beautiful. It is blasphemy said like a prayer; it conjures up images of further liberties; it goes straight to his groin; it tugs him forward to kiss Javert again. Javert makes another strangled noise against his lips, a sound Valjean had never expected from him, a sound that Javert could not make were he not flesh. At first Javert kisses as though he is not sure it is permitted. Then this shyness melts and he is gasping into Javert's mouth. Javert has always been thorough.

Javert pulls back and stares at him with a strange mingling of smugness and surprise, and Valjean wonders how he must look to provoke that kindling in Javert's eyes. Those eyes hold a bewildered pride. Javert is comprised of all sorts of pride but the pride of the lover is new to him. It looks well on him. "I did not know you could look like that," Javert breathes, and his voice is delightfully rough, and then his mouth is claiming Valjean's again and Valjean lets out a sound he did not mean to, that makes Javert pull him closer. They are touching each other now, Javert's hands are on him, and there is no mistaking this; there was never any mistaking this; he wants to touch Javert everywhere at once. He wants everything. The next kiss is long and exploratory. Javert's lips are softer than they look; that is the Inspector all over, he reflects, softer than he looks –not soft, but – not marble, either. Flesh.

"You are easier to kiss than I expected," Valjean gasps.

"That is not a verse," Javert murmurs, and Javert's mouth finds his throat. Neither of them is gentle by instinct and even when they embrace it is not gentle, it is better than gentleness. There is none of the constrained coyness he has seen with women; Javert is a man and Valjean cannot forget this fact by kissing him, and Valjean finds to his dismay that he would have it no other way, that it has set a fire in his loins.

Valjean wants to say something but he is not tired of kissing him yet.

"God forgive me," Javert gasps, pulling back. "If we go on like this I will--"

"God forgive us both," Valjean says. They pant in the darkness, watching each other. At the same time both of them lean forward and bridge the gap between their mouths, and it is a curious relief to note that Javert could not hold back any longer either.

"God," Valjean gasps.

Javert kisses him again. Valjean is not tired of kissing him. The night starts to peel away into brightness at the edges and he is not tired even then.

Chapter Text

The sound of a bell pealing tugs them away from each other. Whatever quaint enchantment sparked between them is broken. Javert glances furtively through the window.

"I do not think anyone would have passed—" Valjean says, reading his thought. "This corner is remote." But he moves to shut it anyway.

"It was foolish all the same," Javert says.

Valjean goes and stokes the fire near Cosette. When he looks up Javert has passed through the door into the bedroom. Valjean stands outside the door a moment with his hand on it. He has never walked along a precipice like this before. He does not know how to proceed. There are a hundred things he wants beyond that door. He has spent decades being careful not to want anything too much. Certainly not -- these things. And from Javert? But he can think of no one else on earth. They are alone on the moon together.

The bell peals again. No, he thinks, the thread of the moment has snapped. He settles on the bedding in the corner and sleep claims him almost instantly.

--

In the morning they are faced with the problem of arriving at the convent again. They cannot simply spring from the air or out of the earth. That is plain enough. Fauchelevent is a gardener but there are no dragon's teeth in his supplies.

Fauchelevent explains that he has a brother from the countryside, now dead, and Valjean could well assume his identity. There is room for another gardener – or two, Fauchelevent says – and he can look about for more permanent lodgings; it should not be difficult with Valjean's savings. And yes, the convent has a school, if Cosette likes the looks of it –

It is all suddenly very easy. Fauchelevent promises to return in the evening and discuss plans further. If Javert quibbles with it he does not voice his objection aloud. The inspector has been avoiding his eyes.

Valjean looks at Cosette. "What have you to say on the subject?" he says.

"All right," Cosette says. She yawns.

Their eyes meet over her head. "She is -- strangely reticent this morning," Javert says.

"She seemed all right at breakfast."

"She did not finish everything on her plate," Javert says. "I thought she might have tamed her appetite."

Valjean reaches over and presses her forehead. "She's burning," he says. "I'll get one of the sisters."

"They do not know we are here yet," Javert says. "You will have sprung up out of the earth to terrify them."

"Better than anything befall her."

Javert feels Cosette's forehead. "You exaggerate. She is not burning."

"Nevertheless," Valjean snaps. "I'm not jeopardizing her for my safety."

"I was not advocating that," Javert says. "But to see you talk you would think you had never seen someone with a chill before."

"It may not be a chill. Fantine had a feeble constitution. And she has been running through the snow for days."

"I was there," Javert says. "All the same it will do her no good for you to go running out into the streets to summon nurses and get yourself taken and leave her without her Papa." Javert does not look at him as he says it. He looks at Cosette. "How do you feel, Cosette?"

"Cold," Cosette says.

Javert makes a neat mound of blankets on the couch near the fire and lifts her into it.

"Would you like anything, Cosette?" Valjean asks. "Soup?"

"No, thank you, Papa," Cosette says. "I am not hungry."

"She must be sick," Valjean says.

"Cough for me, Cosette," Javert says. Cosette tries. There is no cough. Javert looks pointedly at him.

"Well that at least is all right," Valjean says. He settles the blankets around her. "Would you like a doll?"

By the time Cosette finishes summoning dolls to her bedside there is little room left on the sofa. It is like assembling an ark.

"Would you like a story?" Valjean asks.

Cosette looks over at Javert. "Him," she says.

Javert gets a funny look on his face, pleased and -- something else. It is not an expression his features have ever had to assume before. His mouth curves uncertainly as though he is pronouncing a new word for the first time. "All right," he says. Valjean makes room for him on the end of the sofa. "Where were we?"

--

As soon as Cosette drifts to sleep Valjean looks worriedly at him. "She ought to have hot milk and soup at least."

"I think she can sleep it off," Javert says. "These last days have been hard."

"Precisely," Valjean says.

"She is sturdy," Javert says. "And clearly she is not in delirium as she prefers my stories."

"Perhaps she is quite delirious," Valjean starts to say, but stops himself.

When Fauchelevent comes Valjean presses money and a list of every remedy he can dimly remember into the man's hands. Fauchelevent looks at Cosette.

"It may be nothing," Valjean says. "But in case it is not."

"It would be easier to summon help if you had arrived here properly," Fauchelevent says. "At any rate she does not look so badly off."

Later Cosette stirs and complains and he presses a damp cloth to her forehead and hums and rubs her back. These gestures are all the wrong size for him; his hands are too rough for this task, but Cosette does not seem to mind. Eventually she sleeps.

Javert fetches fresh cloths. They do not speak much.

"I ought to have taken more thought of it," Valjean says. "Her mother's constitution—"

"It is not your fault," Javert says. "Besides it is not bad."

Still they spend all night sitting up next to her.

--

The next day Cosette perks up considerably but has a slight cough that worries him. He spends a long bewildering few hours rescuing her dolls from elaborate imaginary predicaments. He is surprised Javert does not reproach him for this indulgence. He supposes Javert must be more worried than he looks because when Cosette insists he speak on behalf of the horse, Javert does. The horse has a funny bark and a deep familiarity with penal law. Valjean does not mean to laugh, but he cannot help it. They look at each other over her head and he thinks his eyes say too much.

That night Cosette coughs and coughs and Valjean holds her and tries to soothe her. Javert lurks at the edges of the room like a nervous cat.

"Should we summon a doctor?" he asks, during one of the lulls.

"I have no experience of such things," Javert says. For once he sounds unsure. "I am an old horse who does not take ill easily."

"If anything should go ill with her—"

"I do not think it is as bad as you suspect," Javert says, sounding a little less certain. "She likes to be fussed over."

"It does not much resemble what Fantine had, at least," Valjean says.

"You should get some sleep," Javert says.

Valjean looks at him. "I will watch," Javert says. "You have been exerting yourself. There is no sense in making yourself ill."

"I am an old horse," Valjean says. "As you said."

"You cannot sleep on your feet like a horse."

"If anything befalls her," Valjean says again.

"She will be all right," Javert says. There is a pause. Javert reaches and presses his arm, a little nervously. It is not strange to take comfort from him. Valjean clasps his hand, and the clasp becomes an embrace. He is not sure which of them is consoling the other.

As the night wears on even Javert's stubborn insistence that it is nothing flags a little. "I could carry her out," Valjean says, "and summon a doctor."

"There is no sense in moving her," Javert says.

"Perhaps it is about to break," Valjean says.

"Perhaps," Javert says. "You could have Fauchelevent summon a doctor and conceal yourself and I could remain here if the -- doctor came or the nuns inquired. They would not think to look for two of us."

Valjean understands what Javert is offering.

"It has not come to that," Valjean says.

"Papa," Cosette says, suddenly, "I am thirsty."

"Fauchelevent said he would bring more milk," Valjean says.

"Here," Javert says, "I will see to her. You go and see Fauchelevent about the milk or-- what you think best."

Valjean looks at him.

"It will be all right," Javert says. "Go."

--

Cosette is asleep when Valjean comes back with hot milk. Javert stops him in the doorway. "Shh," he says, pointing. "She's finally--"

Valjean creeps in and presses her forehead. She is blessedly cool. "I think it broke," Javert whispers.

Her breathing is even.

They stare down at her asleep.

Valjean is the first to yawn. Javert's yawn follows.

"I was not cut out for this," Javert says. "It is worse than staking out a thief."

Valjean smiles wearily at him. They are both half leaning on each other without realizing it. He leans over and kisses Javert's cheek.

--

The next day Cosette is much recovered. The cough does not linger. Valjean goes to the door and tells Fauchelevent the news. When he comes back Javert is somewhere in the middle of First Samuel and Cosette is sitting rapt clutching her toy horse.

They exchange a look. All this has become curiously like home.

--

They manage to sneak out and arrive officially at the convent. It is the work of more days than either of them expected.

"Perhaps the nuns can take her soon," Javert says, half-heartedly, once. "They do not seem unkind, for nuns."

"For nuns," Valjean says.

"I want to finish the story," Cosette says.

"You will turn me into Scheherazade," Javert mutters.

Too many days pass like this. Valjean starts work as a gardener. Cosette cannot read well enough to begin at school and Javert takes it on himself to improve the gap. It starts as an excuse but it rings unconvincingly in both their ears. Sometimes he wonders if Javert has forgotten his duty. Some nights he catches Javert standing staring out the window at attention. They do not touch each other again but he knows Javert is watching him. He can feel Javert's eyes on him like a caress. At night he goes and stands at Javert's door and sometimes he almost nerves himself to knock.

--
One night he has managed to secure new clothes for Javert and when he goes to give them to him Javert's room is empty. The door to the garden is open. "Javert?" he calls. "Where are you?"

The darkness in the garden seems to shrink into itself a little at one corner.

In the darkness he makes out the dim outline of a familiar figure. Javert stands with his arms folded behind his back. Valjean thinks he sees his shoulders heave a little.

Soon enough Javert comes in, and Valjean can see that it is only by a vicious effort of will that he is as composed as he is.

"Javert," he says.

"I know," Javert says, glancing at the bundle. "I understand. I do not shed my skin so easily as you do."

He inhales sharply.

"Javert," Valjean says, "I am sorry. I did not think it would be like this."

Javert emits a sharp laugh. "You did not, did you?" he says. "You did not expect snow in Hell?"

He wants to kiss him. Javert looks at him as if he knows. He remembers the feel of Javert in his arms. It does not do to dwell too much on this recollection. It does things to him that he has spent years trying to avoid. Now that it is just the two of them so close it is hard to remember why it was so urgent to avoid them.

--
After they have officially settled Fauchelevent decides to celebrate with wine.

As they sit and drink he can feel Javert's eyes on him. Their knees brush under the table. He is sure Javert does not intend anything. But he presses back into the touch and Javert's eyes flash up to his and -- he had not forgotten what it is like to make those eyes kindle like that. Javert's knee presses back against his. He tries to keep his hand steady on the table, listen to what Fauchelevent is saying, but it is hard to think. The touch drowns out the rest of the talk, a bright misplaced thread running through the fabric of the conversation. There is heat in Javert's eyes when he looks there. They both drink looking at each other.

That night after Cosette is asleep Valjean knocks at Javert's door and Javert does not answer. The door is open when he turns it. Javert stands at attention gazing at the wall.

"I did not hear you knock," Javert says. "This door is seven oxhides thick."

Valjean swallows. "May I?"

Their eyes meet. This is not the only night Valjean has stood outside his door but it is the first night he has knocked. He steps inside and shuts the door.

-*-
Javert is staring at the pile of his old uniform. The pistol, neatly polished. The jacket. The belt. "What am I to do with this?" he says.

Valjean lays a hand on his arm and he shakes it off. He bundles the coat together.

"I do not want your pity," he says.

"You do not have that," Valjean says.

"I know why you are here," Javert says. There is a harshness in his manner that Valjean remembers but has not heard in a while. "You have managed to ruin me thoroughly," Javert says. "You and your verses and—your mercy and—the girl."

"I am sorry."

"And I am not your brother," Javert says. "It is obvious enough."

"Fauchelevent has sensed that, I think," Valjean says. He takes a step nearer. "But it is all right. I told him as much of the truth as I could. He is glad for us to stay. We can be his brothers from the country."

"His brothers from the country." Javert makes a dismissive sound.

"I am content enough to stay. The nuns might take Cosette at the school, but her home would be with us—"

"Us," Javert says, as though the word is foreign. "And what would you have me do? You would have me stay and play mother to this daughter of a --?"

"Javert--" Valjean starts, warningly.

"All right." Javert makes a gesture conceding the point. But there is still a hardness in his eyes. "You would have me stay here and play whore to you?"

"I would never," Valjean starts. Javert's look silences him.

"You must think me a fool, Valjean," he says. "Why did you knock?"

Valjean looks down. "Not like that."

"Then like what?" He takes a step closer. "Stop me, then."

Then Javert kisses him. This kiss is lewd and thirsty and suggestive. It sets a brushfire coursing through him. For a moment he worries what Javert is trying for. He thinks it is supposed to be a parody of what Javert thinks he wants. It is inept. It is exaggerated. But he can feel Javert's arousal when he presses against him. It only makes it worse. He tries not to respond. He does not succeed. For a moment he is marble and then he is wax, he is kissing Javert hungrily and making a strangled sound into Javert's mouth. Javert kisses him back with equal fervor. Javert tugs him down onto the bed and presses wantonly against him; they are too close to pretend he does not want Javert this way, too; he does not like the words but he cannot help liking Javert against him like this, willing. Eager. Pliant.

"What are you doing?" he hisses.

Javert does not answer, lets him part his legs with a knee, practically whines into the touch with want. He strokes Javert's cheek. Only then does Javert snap away. He is breathing hard. He is flushed and strangely beautiful and Valjean thinks he must look the same himself given the startled light in Javert's eyes. "You see," Javert says. "I told you." Javert flips them, stares down at him with a strange determination.

"This is a perversion," Javert says, "and yet how hungry you make me for it." He leans down and kisses him again. They writhe together. This is – there is something a little terrifying in this heat between them, in the things Javert's voice does to him, rough like that. Before there was something chaste in their embrace. There is nothing chaste about this; this is a fire that feeds on feeding.

"Nothing God makes so beautiful is a perversion," Valjean says, and if his voice is ragged at the edges and his fingers are working at the fastenings of Javert's shirt, he hopes it does not make the words less true.

Javert shrugs off the shirt and rises on his elbows and looks down at him and – they have been chaste too long, he thinks, this is almost terrifying, this thing that has grown between them.

"If the man I was a month ago could see me now," Javert says, a little thickly, "he'd spit in my face." He slides down the bed and then he is on his knees on the floor, he shoves Valjean's legs apart, and Javert's fingers cup him through the cloth. There is a strange nervy determination to all his movements.

"I ought not," Javert says. "I do not."

"No," Valjean says. Javert's fingers are working at the fastenings of his trousers.

"But you do," Javert says. "I can see you do." Javert finishes with the trousers, shoves them down, glances at the bulge they reveal and – Valjean wonders if he means to wet his lips like that. Javert's eyebrows rise and his mouth quirks into a strange smile and Valjean strokes a thumb over it. Javert kisses the thumb. Then he has undone more buttons, and then Valjean is exposed to him, there is a pool of clothing on the floor at his feet.

The quick coy glance up at him that follows makes him sit up and drives their mouths together. It is not a look he expected to see on Javert. It sits remarkably easily on him. He is reminded of the backglance in the carriage, of the things Javert could be so easily if he allowed himself. So easily. Javert's tongue moistens his lips again and the movement twitches in Valjean's groin.

"You look as though you like it," Valjean says.

"Looks can be deceiving," Javert breathes. He settles back on his knees. "This is a perversion," he says, wetting his lips again. He is not glancing up. Valjean glances down at him, those wet parted lips and Javert's strangely defiant posture. He reaches down and strokes Javert's hair. He is fully erect now; it does not help to have Javert's hungry eyes on him.

"Don't be so gentle with me," Javert says. "I ought not want this. Only the wine has emboldened me and I wanted to see if I could bring myself to--" He stiffens strangely and Valjean is not sure whom the next remark is addressed to. "If I will do this for you then there is no limit to my perversity, and I may as well discover it," he mutters.

"I am not asking," Valjean begins.

"You are not asking with your mouth," Javert says. He presses his mouth to the ridge of Valjean's hip and Valjean has to stifle the noise that he makes in one fist. "You are asking," Javert says. He licks his lips again. "Make me," he says.

"Javert," Valjean says. "If you do not want--"

"Do I look like I do not?" Javert asks. He gestures at himself. Valjean can see where his trousers are bearing the strain. "I am worse off than you just from thinking of it."

"Please," Valjean says.

Javert licks his lips again and it is torture, then Javert's mouth is on him. It is a little clumsy and warm and wet and it takes a moment to accustom the Inspector to his size, but it is – heavenly cannot be the word. Should not be. But is. Javert makes a little contented hum and he can feel it in his whole body; Javert looks at him; it is almost unbearable to have those eyes on him, he knows how he must look, he wants desperately to thrust into that willing heat. Javert moves slowly; it is strange to watch himself disappear into those lips, to see Javert's mouth stretched around him; it is the most obscene thing he has ever seen and the most beautiful.

Javert pulls his mouth off. "I ought not enjoy that," he gasps, and his voice is ruined and thick and breathy. "Valjean, why do—I was hoping I might not—I should – make me notice what it is that I'm -- tell me what I'm doing."

"You're," Valjean gasps, and Javert's mouth is on him again, and this time Javert is trying something with his tongue, "God," Valjean gasps, "do that again, I can't talk when—" Javert pulls off and looks at him, and he tries to summon words. This is the price Javert is extracting and he thinks he understands what the man is getting at. "You're on your knees for me," Valjean mutters, and Javert takes more of him than he thought possible, his cheeks hollowing, "is that what you want me to tell you?" Javert's head moves in something like a nod, and it is almost too good -- too much -- Valjean pants "God – please – that," Javert pulls off, licks a slow line along his length and then takes him in again, and he is finding a rhythm, "you're taking my cock in your mouth – Javert – you want to --" Javert starts to pull back from him and his hips stutter forward in a shallow thrust, seeking more, and Javert makes a noise that does not discourage him. "God that's good – you -– I can't – I never dreamed I would see you like this, taking me like this, so well, Christ, your mouth was made for this –- Javert – is this what you -- God I wish you could see yourself, you could corrupt a saint-- I'm going to --"

Javert makes a stifled sound and swallows him to the hilt, and he can't help himself, he is coming in Javert's mouth, their eyes locked on each other. Valjean tugs him up and kisses him, careless of the taste of himself in Javert's mouth, and Javert pulls back and chokes out, "I should not have liked that so much."

Valjean starts to reach for Javert's trousers' fastenings but Javert shakes his head, blushes. "I – already," he mutters. "When you said."

"Oh," Valjean says.

"What has become of me?" Javert says. He leans in and kisses Valjean again, slow and exploratory and thorough. Valjean pulls the rest of Javert's clothes off and they lie there skin to skin and Javert does not try to pull away.

--

Valjean awakens in candlelight to find Javert propped on an elbow in an intent perusal of him. "Inspector?" he breathes.

Javert frowns at him. "You are not beautiful," Javert says.

"No," Valjean agrees. Javert traces a finger slowly along his arm.

"Jean le cric," he murmurs, and there is a marveling warmth in his tone that nearly makes Valjean blush. He has not been looked at like this. He did not know that his body, such as it is, could provoke such a sentiment. Valjean knows why Javert was compelled to voice the opposite thought aloud.

"I find you pleasing too," Valjean says, burning in the heat of the compliment.

"I did not say I found—" Javert starts, and Valjean leans in and kisses him. Javert kisses him willingly enough.

"You are mistaken in me," Javert says. "Do not think you will corrupt me," and their hands are on each other, everywhere, belying the words.

"I do not want to," Valjean mutters back, his mouth on Javert's neck, he did not think they would ever come to this but now that they have he does not wonder that it is explosive and nearly violent, that Javert kisses him like he is losing a long argument with himself.

"What are you afraid of," Valjean murmurs against his neck.

"Myself," Javert says. "Us. Together. We will be making the beast with two backs in an instant if this keeps up." He leans down and kisses Valjean on the neck. "Do not lie to me," Javert mutters, "I know you want to–" Valjean's mouth finds his ear and he makes a sound that goes straight to Valjean's groin – "but I will not."

"No?"

Javert seizes him by the face and kisses him, hard. "I am not like other men," he gasps. Their mouths are hungry on each other. "I do not want the things they want, I do not want to be had by you like that."

Javert writhes against him and makes a half-animal sound and he is beginning to understand the way this will go between them, he shoves Javert back on the mattress and Javert makes a sound that kindles in his groin. He can feel Javert's hardness against him. "Then I will not have you," he mutters, and Javert bares his neck to him. He bites a kiss into it. Javert's eyes are wide and dark and Javert's mouth is panting and open and Javert is clutching him like a drowning man, Javert hooks his legs around his waist and – this is not anything he imagined at Toulon -- "You do not want me, and I will not have you."

"It would be undeniably perverse," Javert breathes, and the flush that is rising along his neck is infinitely fascinating. "I am not a whore who will grow wanton if you spread her legs and rut her."

"No," Valjean says, tracing a finger down Javert's back, feeling Javert's breath catch at the touch, "you are not."

"You would have to take it from me," Javert says, "with everything else you have taken."

Valjean looks at him. "I was after all a thief," he says, and when Javert's eyes rise to meet his he understands that he is playing this right. Javert wants this; Javert wants him; but the two at once may be more than Javert will yet allow himself to want.

"Yes," Javert pants against his neck, "I know your ways," Javert is kissing him again, thirsty and lewd and slow. He feels Javert's eyes on his. There is a nervous question in them and Valjean is bold enough to think that he knows what the question is. He presses Javert down on his belly on the mattress and he can feel the way Javert's breathing changes.

"I would not," he says, "if you do not—"

Javert flushes and their eyes meet. "This is what you want, Valjean?"

Valjean swallows, and he wonders how he must look to provoke the expression of startled smugness that spreads over Javert's face. He kisses the smirk. Javert naked between his thighs is a novelty but not an unwelcome one. He buries a kiss in Javert's neck.

"I love you," he mutters. He does not mean it to come out like this, it is not what Javert wants as he is permitting these liberties to be taken, but he cannot help it.

"That is not what I am asking you to do," Javert mutters, turning his face towards the sheets again.

Valjean kisses his shoulder and Javert turns to look at him. He has not been looked at like that by anyone – he has not felt himself desirable, not like this, he has been looked at with insulting and commanding and forgiving and obedient eyes but not like this, by eyes with defiance and want in them, he remembers when Javert's eyes were only hard and commanding and said nothing to him, but now -- he did not know he could provoke this hunger, and Javert's face is transformed by it, he leans in and kisses him and Javert gasps a little into his mouth and they are both panting, strange with want. He traces a finger down Javert's back and mutters, his voice suddenly shy, "This is what you want, Javert?"

By way of answer Javert sits up and kisses him. He pulls his mouth free of Javert's and presses his fingers to Javert's mouth and Javert takes the suggestion readily enough, sucks at them, and -- he finds he cannot get enough of Javert like this, this side of him, he wonders if Javert knows how obscene he looks.

He knows what needs to be done and does it, unapologetically, they are too close to the brink to linger over it, his fingers work in Javert and the inspector's breaths come raggedly against his shoulder, he tries to be gentle but they are both too desperate now to be entirely gentle. "Breathe," he says. He can feel Javert tensing again and presses him down on the mattress almost without thinking. He had not expected to find himself in this position but if it will help persuade Javert to this yielding-- he begins to move down the bed; his hands part Javert's thighs, Javert glances back at him and Javert's lips part a little in surprise. Valjean thinks his intent is clear enough. "Wait," Javert gasps, "you wouldn't--" but the lust that floods into Javert's eyes and the blush that crimsons along his neck and the way his legs open a little, the invitation that his whole body suddenly becomes -- they topple his resistance and drive his mouth forward –

"I am," Valjean says, and it is -- nothing he expected, Javert is blaspheming into the pillow, Valjean is unbearably hard at coaxing these exclamations from him. Javert melts a little into the sheets with each flick of his tongue. He could do this for hours, he thinks, to feel Javert uncoil beneath him like this, to hear those minute gasps, but they do not have hours; soon enough his fingers move easily in him.

"Now," Javert gasps, "Jesus Christ, Valjean, do it."

He shoves inside. Javert's eyes are like moons, he is panting frenziedly, his face is contorted, and – it is strangely beautiful to see him abandoned like this. Valjean waits until his breaths slow to pull back out and thrust into him again, and this time a cry escapes the inspector's lips and Valjean kisses his shoulder apologetically, tries to go slower, but the next time he shoves into Javert the inspector makes a sound that is not pain. Valjean wants nothing more than to coax that noise out of him again. He does. He does again. He is glad the door is so thick.

"You would steal even this," Javert gasps, shoving back against him, and they moan in unison. He knows that this is the way it has to go if he wants him – and he wants him, he has no words for how he wants him – he leans down and presses a kiss to Javert's throat and Javert's back arches.

"You have given this before, surely," Valjean chokes, wanting to hear the opposite, "you take me so readily," and Javert blushes and stammers, "Never."

The word tugs Valjean to the brink, he buries himself in Javert's body again, reaches and wraps his hand around Javert's hardness and Javert thrusts back against him and gasps shallowly and he wonders idly how they must look, if Javert is any indication they are ruined and covered in sweat and for all that curiously beautiful –

"Valjean," Javert gasps, and then Javert flushes and buries his face in the sheets and he can tell Javert meant not to say it. The knowledge sits warmly in him. He kisses the back of the Inspector's neck and thrusts into him again, and then he is lost at the sound Javert makes, Javert twists his head and kisses him as he comes and then – he had never imagined to see the Inspector's face like this, in the throes of this harsh ecstasy, but now that he has he is uncannily proud to be the cause of this abandonment, and soon the inspector is coming into his hand with a sharp gasp.

Javert does not push him off. They lie there panting together. Finally he slides out and Javert makes a sound that is half a whimper, and he thanks God for this discovery, kisses him again. He has thanked God in stranger places, but seldom so sincerely.

There is something almost violent in the way Javert's mouth yields to him now. Every time he pulls back Javert leans in and kisses him again; there is a strange abandon to it that Valjean does not understand. "Kiss me again," he says.

Valjean does. Javert shoves him down against the mattress and kisses him desperately, tongue plundering his mouth, and then Javert pulls away and pants, "I don't understand."

"Don't understand?"

Javert's shoulders shake. "I was hoping I would not like kissing you this way," he gasps. "I was hoping I would not like any of it –" Valjean kisses his neck and Javert melts into the touch; they are wax together. "Jean – " Javert chokes, and his name has never sounded like that, it sounds unspeakably vulgar and beautiful at the same time. Valjean kisses him again and Javert curses, lewdly and at great length. "I don't understand," he says again. "You are what you are and I am what I am -- how can it be so good with you, all of it?"

Valjean traces a finger along his cheek and Javert shudders and looks away. "Forgive me," he says.

"For what?"

"For this," Javert says. "For everything. I should not have tried. I wish I still only suspected that I was amenable to such things."

He tugs himself away. When he has pulled away he leans closer again and kisses Valjean again and there is something almost chaste about this kiss. Valjean feels his shoulders shake and says, "Javert, what—"

"Don't," Javert says.

He pulls away. Then he is up and grabbing clothes and throwing them on.

"I need to think," he says. "I must go and think. My thoughts fly in all directions."

"You at least are capable of thought," Valjean murmurs. He does not mean his voice to sound like that. Javert notices anyway. He curses under his breath again.

Javert rummages in the pile of his uniform. Valjean sees little; glint of light on dull metal, and then Javert is outside.

Valjean gets up more slowly. He wanders idly over to the heap of Javert's uniform, attempting to assemble his thoughts. He touches it, wondering what Javert was searching for. All the pockets are empty. The belt is still there. There is nothing bundled in it.

He is dressed, pulling on the last of his socks when he hears Cosette in the doorway.

"Where is Father?" Cosette asks. "I had a nightmare."

"He went out to think," Valjean says. "I could help--"

"I want him," Cosette informs him.

Cosette picks up Valjean's jacket without a by-your-leave and starts down the walk, the door swinging behind her.

"He wants to think," Valjean calls after her.

He glances through the door after them. Cosette will have a way to walk. Javert is at the far edge of the garden, almost to the gate. The sky is dark with clouds. There is a shadow in Javert's hand. His truncheon?

 

The glint of light on dull metal and the snub nose of something peering from under the jacket.

Javert had a pistol, he thinks.

Javert has a gun. He left alone with a gun seeking quiet, and he – would never have – oh God – Valjean thinks. I should have known better than that, to take what he was offering without thinking to inquire-- He is halfway through the door without his boots.

He can see Javert notice Cosette. The shadow disappears from his hand, back into his jacket. There is a silence. Their shadows sit down, just inside the gate. He wonders what they are saying to one another. A long time passes. They are both still there. He approaches slowly, terrified of disturbing whatever strange magic has held them in place.

At last he can take no more of it. The sky has cleared. He draws even with them.

"That one?" Cosette is asking, pointing.

"Orion," Javert says. "That is his belt. Those three stars there."

"What was Orion?"

"Orion was a hunter," Javert says. "He is chased all over the sky by a crab. Every year. Round and round."

"Maybe he is chasing the crab," Cosette says.

"Perhaps he is," Javert says. "Sometimes when one chases long enough it becomes difficult to say." He looks up and notices Valjean. They smile at one another. It is one of Javert's rare smiles. The worst is over.

"May I?" Valjean says.

Javert nods. He sits on the other side of Cosette and Javert passes him the pistol without a word.

"What's that one?" Cosette says.

"Which one?"

"That one."

"That's Canis Major. The big dog"

"Oh." Cosette sounds uncertain.

"It doesn't look much like a dog to me," Valjean says.

"It is what it is," Javert says. "It must have looked like a dog to someone."

Valjean reaches over Cosette to him and Javert catches his hand.

"That?"

"That is Virgo," Javert says. "Or Perseus. No, I think it is Perseus."

"What is a Virgo?" Cosette asks.

Valjean lets his thumb run over Javert's knuckles and Javert stammers, "It is something that – that – the ancients put great store by."

"Ah," Valjean says.

They walk back to the hut together.

Soon Cosette is again slumbering peacefully and he goes to stand in the doorway of Javert's bedroom.

"Javert," he says. "I am sorry to have caused you to despair. We need never --"

Javert's mouth twists wryly. "Let us not speak of it," he says. "I am a fool. I am a fool who would not have had the nerve to leap otherwise."

"Oh," Valjean says.

"All the same," Javert adds, in a strange voice, "I am not sorry to have made this discovery." Valjean cannot see his face. "I think after all I would only have gone for a walk," Javert mutters.

Valjean kisses him. In the kiss is all the relief and apology and affection that he cannot say in words. He can taste Javert's relief as well. Javert's arms slide around his neck. He pulls Valjean down onto the bed. They lie there in the dark touching each other.

"I meant it, Javert," Valjean murmurs into his shoulder, poised on the near edge of sleep. "I was not only saying it so that you would -- give me yourself."

"It seemed unlikely that that was your reason," Javert says. He settles in Valjean's arms. Valjean feels rather than hears his swallow. "I will not leave you now," Javert says quietly, "if you do not require it."

When the bell peals that morning it does not separate them.

Chapter Text

They become the Fauchelevents.

He tells Cosette about the new name. It baffles her a little.

"You cannot both be Monsieur Fauchelevent," Cosette points out.

"Yes, we can," Valjean says, "And you are Mademoiselle Fauchelevent."

Cosette frowns. "It is not a name I would have picked."

"Well," Valjean says. "Javert and I have both taken it, but if you wish to be the odd one out, I suppose—"

"Oh no," Cosette says. "I do not want that, Papa."

--
"I never thought we would share a name," Javert mutters that evening, in bed.

"The weather in Hell is definitely peculiar lately, you would say," Valjean says.

That night he lets Javert press him onto his back on the mattress and set the pace between them, riding him, and Javert is both shy and bold, he can tell Javert has never been looked at like this, that Javert is mortified of the sounds he is letting escape, but that he does not want to stop, either.

--
Javert and Cosette make it all the way through Ecclesiastes and Cosette starts on the next book and Javert gets a little flustered and says, "Why don't we pass over that, it's not very interesting."

"I think I might find it interesting," Valjean tells him that night.

That is not a passage of scripture he ever expected to hear from Javert's lips.

In the candlelight he lies with Javert's head pillowed on his chest , and if sometimes he stops Javert's recitation with his mouth he does not think the author of the Song of Songs would mind. These words too are a prayer. He thinks that God was wise to include them in His holy book.
--

They shift rooms in the convent; he and Javert both have their own rooms and Cosette has a bedroom of her own when she begins her studies.

Valjean had worried immensely about what Cosette might let slip to the girls but everyone assumes that Papa who gives her rides on his shoulders and buys her dolls and makes her say her prayers and Father who insists that she arrive places on time and make her own bed and teaches her what he remembers of his schoolboy Latin are one and the same. People are wonderfully incurious.

--

"What fool is this teaching geometry?" Javert asks, looking over Cosette's papers one night in the room they have converted to a sitting-room. "This is not geometry. This is lunacy. This fulcrum is entirely misplaced."

Valjean looks sympathetically at it. Javert can tell he is bluffing. From the turn the inspector's mouth takes he worries that he is holding it upside down.

"I am a fool to ask you," Javert says. "I had forgotten that here I have the one man in France who never needs a lever." Javert's expression is studiously neutral when he says it, but when he reaches nearer to where Valjean is leaning on the table and takes back the diagram he lets his thumb brush along Valjean's forearm. When Valjean looks up at him Javert gives him that peculiar once-over that Valjean now understands means exactly what he suspected.

He thinks of how they were that morning, taking Javert against the closed window, the shutters rattling against Javert's back, mouth open, eyes wide and delighted --Javert's weight rests entirely on his arms, Javert is his to command, and he should not like this so much, Javert should not like this so much, but it takes them no time at all, the position has driven both of them to the brink, and as slowly as he tries to go his restraint is no match for the pliant weight of Javert on his cock, Javert's hips driving down to meet his thrusts again and again.

He had not expected to have this. It is an unlooked-for gift, like the warm weight of Cosette's hand in his own and Cosette's trusting eyes on him and her more frequent peals of laughter. Javert is a gift of an entirely different order. He is learning a hundred ways to kiss that stubborn mouth into pliancy; he understands that pride is a sin and the worst sort of sin, but it is hard to feel anything else when Javert is – God – he does not think there are words for it, the way Javert's eyes look up at him from the mussed sheets afterward, it would be enough to drive a saint into great lapses.

He is cataloging all of these expressions. Javert sated and a little sheepish is perhaps his favorite, but every day there are others to contend for the title.

Javert is learning him as well. Javert is thorough. He thought Javert might be shy of the places where Toulon has marked him, but – they seem to Javert to complete the picture. Javert presses his mouth to the scar on his wrist and Valjean does not move away. He knows Javert can tell he wants to.

"Why are you letting me?" Javert asks.

"Because I know you," Valjean says. "Let us not talk of that place. It made me hate the world. And now I like the world too much to want to remember that."

Now Javert scowls at the geometry again. "I could teach fairer geometry than this," Javert says.

Valjean looks at him. Javert is not cut out for gardening. He knows it. He does not have the touch for it. The plants are willing enough but he handles them wrong. He cannot tell what requires a prop and what does not.

"I do not think the sisters like the man who comes to instruct us in geometry," Cosette says. "They think him frivolous."

"Well," Valjean says, "there is your chance."

"I am no schoolmaster," Javert says.

"I think you would make an admirable one," Valjean says.

"They require references and – birth and – official certificates --" Javert gestures uncomfortably.

"If I can be a mayor you can certainly become a teacher of geometry," Valjean points out.
--

He regrets very much lying to the nuns, even at second hand. But Fauchelevent understands the necessity of it at once and does not lay the references on too thick.

"Monsieur Fauchelevent," Javert mutters to himself, that night, into the sheets. Valjean's chin is resting on his shoulder. It is very much summer between them. "Fauchelevent. I will not be able to answer to that."

"It is difficult," Valjean admits, "at first."

"You answered to Madeleine."

"I am not sure how, now," Valjean says, smirking at him, "but you will manage, I think, Monsieur Fauchelevent."

"Monsieur Fauchelevent yourself," Javert says. Valjean kisses his shoulder. "Ultime," Javert mutters, and there is something almost teasing in his tone.

"Please don't call me that in bed," Valjean says, mouth brushing Javert's ear, "Monsieur Fauchelevent."

Javert does, that night. They both do. It is a bit easier to answer to the name after hearing it said like that, although when he says it at breakfast Javert very nearly blushes.

--

These months are Eden indeed. The knowledge he buys of Javert like this is precious, it is like sticks of kindling; he does not know when winter will strike. He knows life too well to think that it will not. But between them it is a long summer, the longest of his life.

One afternoon when spring comes they take a boat and try to go fishing. It is Cosette's idea. They bundle her down a bank in playclothes to a rowboat tethered to a little pier. It is an afternoon unlike any afternoon any of them has ever had. They try very hard to do the done things that people do in boats. Neither he nor Javert has any idea what the done things are. They mill about the pond, taking turns rowing. Cosette takes her net ashore and tries to use it for butterflies instead of fish. She runs along the bank and when she is still safely in sight but just distant enough and intent enough on her pursuit not to turn he leans forward on the seat and kisses Javert, quickly, just to see what his face will do. Javert is so startled they capsize. He expects to be chastised and castigated but when he emerges in the knee-deep water, spluttering, Javert is laughing. He leans with his hands on his knees and laughs and laughs. Then there is a gleam of pursuit in Javert's eye and Javert splashes him. Valjean is more startled than anything. He laughs. He splashes back. When Cosette turns from her pursuit at the commotion they are splashing one another like schoolboys, drenched and laughing.

He feels decades younger. He wants to sing and shout and make a fool of himself. This is what the songs were about, he thinks. This is why the songs were so silly. When their eyes meet he can tell Javert shares the thought. The look is as good as kissing Javert again. They towel one another off as chastely as possible. If Javert's hand brushes casually through his wet hair and the trace of his fingers lingers deliciously on his scalp, it cannot be helped; if his fingers knead a little into Javert's shoulders, this is only to assist with the drying. It is strange to be so familiar with a body not his own, one so similar to his and yet so unlike it. He feels a peculiar, almost proprietary interest in the quirks of Javert's form – his large hands, an odd scar on his elbow that Javert insists he does not know where he acquired, his determined chin, the thin furze of dark hair that begins at his belly and conducts Valjean's gaze down to other areas of Javert's anatomy that have become his personal concern. Javert is like him and yet unlike him there, and it fascinates him. Javert responds readily to his hand, more readily yet to his mouth. He adds these discoveries to his catalog.

Cosette somehow catches a butterfly, even though the net is all wrong for it.

"What are you going to do with him?" Valjean asks. He is lying back in the grass with his arms folded behind his head. Javert is sitting up with his arms wrapped around his knees. Javert at times like this reminds him of a cat. Cats at rest are always poised for something; in moments of abandon they will sprawl willingly before a friendly touch, but they seldom rest so. Javert does not rest so. Javert is looking at him in a way he had never expected anyone would look and he does not mind the scrutiny. It is possible that he is displaying himself a little consciously.

"What should I do?" Cosette asks.

"You will have to let it go eventually," Javert says.

"I don't have to," Cosette says. "I could take him home with us and put him in a jar."

"He'd be lonely," Valjean says.

"I could catch a friend for him."

"You will have to let him go to do that," Valjean points out.

The memory of that afternoon is a log that will burn jovially through long winters.
--
That Christmas Cosette has dropped hints about a dress and he manages to obtain one that fits her elaborate descriptions. He is not sure what to give Javert. He winds up selecting clothes and a snuffbox. He does not need to inquire about size. There is a strange satisfaction in that.

Javert hands him a rectangular box and when he opens it his mouth falls open. Javert gets that peculiar look that he does now when he is conscious of having pleased.

Valjean turns the silver candlestick in his hands. The distorted reflection of his face is elated.

"It is not an exact match," Javert says.

Cosette is overjoyed at the dress and runs off to put it on and Valjean takes the opportunity of her departure to lean over and kiss Javert thoroughly.

"All right," Javert mutters, entrancingly breathless. "All right, you can thank me later."

"I intend to," Valjean says, with a quirk of his mouth, and Javert glances away.

When Cosette comes back she is carrying something rolled between her hands. "It's for both of you," she says. "I was going to make each of you one but it took longer than I thought."

Valjean unrolls it. It is a picture. It is evidently the work of a child, but it is clear how much effort Cosette put into the drawing. It is the three of them. They are in an uneven line with Cosette between them. The scale is a little off. Javert's head is much too big. He himself is missing a hand. It is the most perfect thing he has ever seen.

"Cosette," he says, "this belongs in the Academy."

Javert looks at it. "You must give a copy to the Academy," he says. "I would prefer to keep this one."

Cosette beams.
--
One afternoon Cosette comes home from school crying and Valjean takes her outside the convent for cake and asks why. Javert will be conferring with the nuns until later.

"Mirielle said –" Cosette sniffles. Valjean tries to think of ways he could possibly make this Mirielle suffer. His repertoire is sadly lacking. This is one of the things he had tried not to think about when it became clear that he was raising Cosette.

"What did she say?"

"She says she will not be my friend any longer."

"Why on earth not? Something must be the matter with her."

"She did not say," Cosette says. "I don't understand. She called me dreadful names. Yesterday we were bosom companions."

"No," Valjean says. "I don't think Mirielle sounds very kind. Why do you want to be friends with someone who is not kind?"

Cosette frowns. "She is amusing."

"It is possible to be both," Valjean says. "I am sure there are other girls who would be glad to be your friend."

"I do not want to be friends with them," Cosette says. "They are a crop of ninnies."

"Cosette," Valjean says. "If you talk like that, they will not want to be friends with you either."

"I did not need them when I had Mirielle."

--
"Who is this Mirielle?" Valjean asks, when Javert comes in.

"Mirielle? Mirielle is by far the worst student I have ever had," Javert says. "She is an absolute ninny. She is a medical curiosity. I do not believe there is anything between her ears. It is a wonder she can find her way into the classroom."

Cosette giggles. This seems to make her feel better than the cake.

"Why?" Javert asks.

"Mirielle does not want to be my friend," Cosette says.

"In my opinion you have dodged a bullet," Javert says.

"Javert," Valjean says, "perhaps you should not get into the habit of referring to Cosette's classmates as ninnies."

"What?" Javert says, sitting down next to him. Their knees brush. "It is accurate, in the vast majority of cases."

"But Cosette will hear you," Valjean says, "and then Mirielle will be the only one at school who wants to be friends with her."

Javert scowls. "Perhaps she would be better off without their friendship."

"She must learn to get along with people," Valjean says.

"I think Father is right," Cosette says. "I do not need their friendship."

"Before you take his advice," Valjean says, "remember that it is possible that I am the only person on the earth who is willing to be friends with Father."

"Is that true?" Cosette asks.

Javert's knee shoves against his. "I do not think that is strictly accurate."

"A good friend is worth having," Valjean says. "I would drop this Mirielle if I were you and try to befriend someone kinder."

"Papa," Cosette says, "you do not understand these things."

"If I did not have friends," Valjean says, "we would not have this house to live in and these clothes to wear. And you would never have gone to school. That is what I understand."

"Your Papa has a point," Javert says, frowning at the table. "Is anything the matter with Andree? She is very good at geometry."

"Andree looks like an owl."

"Where on earth did she pick this up?" Valjean says.

Javert looks at him. "She does look a little like an owl."

"Javert."

"I am sure she got it from Mirielle."

"How about Marie?"

"Marie?" Cosette asks. She frowns. "Marie is all right."

--
Soon Mirielle takes Cosette back into her favor and Valjean worries about it but they do nothing until Cosette's geometry starts slipping. Then Javert moves Cosette in the classroom and forces her to sit next to Marie.

This is how the years pass.

This is not to say they do not fight. They fight. There are nights when Javert pricks his last nerve and he slams the door on him, or when he gets the Inspector's back up and Javert goes off on a long walk and he lies awake with the hours passing more and more slowly and then eventually the door creaks open and Javert pads in, and sometimes Javert pads down the hallway to his room and asks forgiveness without words, and sometimes Javert's door shuts behind him. But if they are shackled together it is a shackle they wear willingly.

--

One night a few years into their – whatever this is – they are coming back from church with Cosette and Javert starts a little as they pass an officer on the corner.

"What?" he says, when they get home.

"He was under my command," Javert says. " And he is on duty in Paris now."

"Does he recognize you?"

"I do not think so," Javert says. Valjean can see that this was not the question that troubled Javert. "I could be a Chief Inspector here now," he says. "This was the way things were tending."

"I am sorry," Valjean says, reaching for him.

Javert shakes off his hand. He glances around. "I'm going out."

It begins to pour outside. Valjean watches at the window. He knows Javert does not like being reminded of other paths. He is not sure what he ought to have said.

It is nearly morning and Javert has not returned. Worry supplants anger. He dons a coat and hat and heads out.

Javert is standing outside the prefecture of police. It is dark enough that this is not entirely foolish, but it is still foolish. He is soaked through. He stands and watches like a dog told to stay.

"Javert," Valjean says.

Javert's teeth are chattering.

"Javert," Valjean says again. "You're soaked through."

"It does not signify."

"Come home."

"Yes," Javert mutters, "home, where I am playing house with a convict."

"Javert," Valjean says. He catches him by both arms.

"You do not need to drag me, 24601," Javert says, and the numbers make Valjean release him. "I must come eventually, whether I will or no."

"You need come nowhere," Valjean spits. "I can send you money. You need not stay. Cosette will be distressed. But you are not forced to stay."

"Where else would I go but here?" Javert says. "And this is the one place I can never go back to, now."

"I am sorry," Valjean says. "I know."

"You don't." Javert shudders. "You would never go back to what we were. But I had nothing to be ashamed of then."

Valjean is irritable for once. "You are better now."

Javert makes a scoffing sound. "Perhaps."

"I know you believe it," Valjean says.

Javert looks at him.

"Come home," Valjean says. "Or at least don't stand here."

"You are afraid of a cold bed," Javert says. "You are a thief and a convict and a–" he hesitates.

"Afraid to damn yourself with me?" Valjean says. For once he is a little angry. He had thought they were beyond this. These recriminations of Javert's -- will they know no end? "If that is all I am to you then do not force yourself to warm my bed."

"You are angry," Javert says. He looks strangely satisfied by it.

Valjean catches himself. "I am not angry," he says. "I am sorry. I forgot myself."

There is a silence.

"You should be angry," Javert says. "You are the best man I know. How do you stand me?"

"God knows, sometimes."

Javert laughs. The sound is harsh but it dissipates the tension, like lightning breaking out of a cloud.

"You are insufferable," Valjean says.

Javert looks at him.

"Not only that," Javert says. "I must remind you of – things you would as soon forget."

"They are as good as forgotten," Valjean says. He makes a gesture of frustration. "You cannot help that you were there. Let us not start on this. We know where it leads."

"We have not followed it all the way," Javert says. He frowns. "Sometimes I wish you would. I know you have not forgotten." He makes a rueful gesture. "If only because every time I am angry I remind you."

"We know I am no saint," Valjean says.

"I like you better as a man." Javert does not turn to look at him.

"I do not think you would like that," Valjean says. "I have worked for so long to smother that, with God's help. Even with God's help I do not always succeed."

"I have never seen you fail," Javert says. He frowns. But his voice is gentler. "Go home, Valjean."

"You will follow?"

"What do you think I will do?"

Valjean turns and begins the walk.

He lights a fire in his bedroom. He is soaked and cold and it takes too long for his liking.

He awakens later to the sound of Javert padding in. Javert goes and stands in the doorway of Cosette's bedroom and watches a long time. Then Valjean hears his footsteps draw nearer in the corridor and stop outside his door. The door creaks open. He cannot read Javert's expression in the firelight.

"I thought you would be awake," Javert says.

"I am awake," he says.

"Well," Javert says. "I am home." Javert settles next to the fire without looking at him. Javert is cold. The fire is not enough. Javert turns to him and he can read the beginnings of an apology in the look as Javert reaches for him. "What would I be without you?" Javert says.

"I am sorry you could not find out," Valjean says.

Their eyes meet. "I am -- not," Javert says. He laughs, as though the sentiment surprises him.

They make it up to one another in the dark, or begin to.

--
As Cosette grows older -- taller and quieter -- he sees her looking at them sometimes.

"Papa," Cosette says, one evening, "what am I to say to people?'

"When?"

"When they ask about you."

"Tell them the truth," Valjean says. "Your mother is with God, and your father raised you."

"But why is Father –"

He hears Javert at the door. "He's your uncle."

"He is the one who always tells me not to lie," Cosette says.

Valjean sighs. "I am sorry, it is better so."

"What are you?" Cosette asks.

"What are we, Javert?" Valjean asks, as Javert comes in and lowers the latch. "Cosette wants to know."

Javert shoots him a look and he shoots one back and they turn towards Cosette. "I am sorry," he says. "It is not for you to know more."

"I know he is not your brother, at least," Cosette says. "I remember a long time ago, running, and – snow – and a great deal about the law. I remember that he wore a uniform."

"You are a clever girl," Valjean says. "You have always been."

"What do you think we are?" Javert asks. It is moments like this that Valjean is grateful for his steady presence. Javert comes to stand behind his chair.

"I don't know any kind words for it," Cosette says.

"Then I suspect you are right," Javert says.

"Oh," Cosette says. There is a silence. Valjean starts to say something and Javert's hand on his shoulder stops him. "Like spiderwort," Cosette says.

"What?"

"The flower," Cosette says. "It is quite beautiful. I do not know how it got saddled with such an ugly name."

Javert's grip on his shoulder relaxes.

"I knew you were a clever girl, Cosette," he says.

Cosette smiles.

"Has someone been saying something?" Valjean asks.

"Oh, no," Cosette says. "I was only curious. Although I wish you would give me leave to visit Mirieille for the holidays."

"Is that what this was leading to?" Javert asks.

"You great goose," Valjean says.

After Cosette turns in for the night, Javert settles with his arms around Valjean's shoulders and they say nothing for a long time.

"She is growing up," Valjean says.

"Did she try to blackmail us just now?" Javert says.

"I would not use so strong a term," Valjean says. "But perhaps we should give her leave to go.

"Hmph," Javert says. "If we do we will never see the end of it."

"I worry that she is alone too often."

"Better alone," Javert says. "I would give a great deal to root out this Mirielle."

Valjean nods.

--

This is not the only thing they have not told her.

One afternoon they are walking and a chain gang passes in a cart, headed for the Bagne. Cosette gasps. Her eyes are very wide and frightened.

"Are they even men?" she says.

"Sometimes," he tells her. The word is painful to pronounce. It is pain indeed to see Cosette's expression. He can feel Javert looking at him.

He must have hidden this well from Cosette, he thinks, that is the one consolation that he repeats to himself again and again to drown out the horrified sound that Cosette made, as if they are beasts and not men.

He cannot think of anything to say to her. Javert's nervous eyes linger on him all through the afternoon and he feels an anger he has not felt in years. He cannot help remembering the first time he was aware of those eyes on him. He does not want to think of Javert like that. But he cannot help it. And he cannot take comfort in Cosette when she is like this. He feels terribly alone with this secret; he cannot tell her; her eyes are frightened; he must trail this secret to his grave; the last link of the chain still clings to his ankle.

"Valjean," Javert says, that night, as he is getting undressed. Javert does not usually come to his door so early.

"I am remembering," Valjean says.

"Yes," Javert says. "I know. You have been thinking of that place all afternoon. I have watched you."

"Then you know you should not have come," Valjean says.

"No," Javert says. Valjean watches him swallow. "She is still only a child," he says. "She does not understand."

"I thought perhaps she would forgive me that," Valjean says. "But I am a fool. I hope too much. She must never know." He frowns. He is choking on bile. Cosette's eyes have made him hate the place again, hate the marks he bears, hate -- "I have fought so hard to quench this," he says. He is breathing hard.

Javert steps in and closes the door behind him.

"You are stepping into a cage with a tiger," Valjean says. He does not look at him. He has been remembering Javert as he was, those hard eyes on him as though he were an animal and not a man. He is afraid of the things he wants to do.

"Look at me," Javert says. "Jean."

Valjean looks at him. He knows those eyes.

"Javert," he says, very quietly. "I do not think -- I might not know you as you are."

Javert does not look away. "I know," he says.

Valjean swallows. He is frightened of the invitation he sees in Javert's eyes. "I do not want to hurt you," he says.

Wordlessly Javert begins tugging off his shirt. Valjean watches. It is curiously silent between them. "If I am not afraid of you," Javert says. He strips in silence and settles on the bed.

The invitation is too much. Valjean is on him and he is angry. He shoves him to the floor and takes him like that. For a few moments he thinks Javert is merely putting up with him, that it is some confused compassion on Javert's part, but then he notices the sounds he is making, the way Javert's body bends to his. He wonders how long Javert has known himself willing to be used like this. He thinks Javert notices him wondering. He has Javert spread beneath him on the floor and Javert's eyes flicker up to his and read the question in them and -- Javert colors a little, Javert nods, a few minutes later he has Javert on his knees against the wall choking on his length -- Javert should not be so beautiful like this. Javert should not look at him like that when he is doing this vile thing. For a moment he tries to hold back, but Javert will not let him. It is a strange relief not to have to be gentle. He should be terrifying. But Javert is not afraid. Javert's eyes know him. Javert wants this. He traces a finger down Javert's cheek.

"You even want it from the man I was then," he chokes, against Javert's neck, as he takes him with Javert's face to the wall. "The convict."

He feels Javert swallow. "Yes."

"If I'd known that at Toulon," Valjean says, a strange mirth seizing him. "I'd have bent you over the bench and had you where everyone could see." Javert shoves back against him. "Where everyone could see how much you liked it."

He has never been able to replicate the sound Javert makes then. Javert spends without a touch from his hand. In that instant they know each other.

--
Now when he thinks of those awful years in the galley he cannot remember Javert's expression. Sometimes he reaches for the old anger and cannot find it.

From anyone else, he would have had to hide this. But Javert knows him and who he is and what he has done and Javert's fingers and sometimes his mouth have traced the lines of his scars, and Javert wants him, wants this from him. Javert knows the worst already. After that night he is less careful with Javert and Javert is in his bed more often.

"I wish you had been the one to leave that," Valjean says once, as they lie together afterwards with Javert's finger tracing one of the marks on his back. "I would wear your mark willingly."

Javert shakes his head. Valjean can feel his shudder. "I do not wish that."

--
"I have been thinking," Valjean says. "We ought to take a house."

"A house."

"Cosette is nearly finished at school. And we cannot stay here forever."

"I would like to continue at my post," Javert says.

"I was not suggesting you stop."

"Then it cannot be too far from here."

"No."

"What would you like in a house?"

Javert has some reasonable suggestions about stoves and heating. "And you ought to have a larger bed," he says. "For the sake of efficiency."

"Efficiency," Valjean says.

"Naturally," Javert says.

--
This is how the years pass.

He has not been accustomed to leaning on anyone for years, but now he finds himself incapable of buying sugar without wanting Javert's opinion on it. Javert has strong opinions.

They are used to one another's habits. Javert forgets names. He forgets faces. They start filling in the ends of each other's sentences.

"I think the chef has changed," Javert says.

"I cannot taste the difference," Valjean says. They are playing dominoes at a café. It has become something he looks forward to. Javert teaches all day long and he takes walks through the city and gives alms and attends Mass with Cosette.

"The soufflé is –" Javert makes a gesture. "It lacks elan."

"I like it all right."

"You do not like it as much either, but you do not like to complain," Javert says.

"I like this place," Valjean says.

Javert hmphs. "It is respectable," he says.

"I liked that café we went to once and could never find again," Valjean says.

"With the fish?"

"No. The one, with supper, the week when Cosette went to visit her schoolmate and—"

"Oh. That one. With the red awning."

"Did it have a red awning?"

"I remember a red awning." Javert shrugs. "I do not remember the food."

Valjean smiles. "That was a pleasant week," he says.

"You were worried frantic about Cosette," Javert says, "and asking me what they would feed her and how could any family capable of producing Mirielle possibly be trusted with a child like Cosette."

"I was fine," Valjean says. He toys with one of the dominoes. "Besides that is not the part I mean."

Javert takes a sip of coffee without looking at him. "I know," he says, and he can tell that Javert remembers exactly.

"I think we could still manage that," Valjean says.

Javert becomes very interested in the dominoes.

"This soufflé is worse," Valjean says. "You are right."

"You are still quite vigorous for a man of your age," Javert says, glancing up at him.

"A man of my age?" Valjean says.

Javert smirks at him. Their eyes meet. "Oh yes," Javert says. "You are an old man, Jean."

"Scarcely older than you."

"I will be an old man soon enough," Javert says.

--

Cosette grows adept at playing them off against each other and wrangles a measure of freedom. She is responsible. He can find no fault with her. Neither can Javert. If she has perhaps not been at the library so often as she claims, she is still prompt.

--
Cosette looks sheepish. Javert is barking at her about something.

"What?"

"I saw her in the garden talking to a young – gentleman," Javert says, pronouncing the word as though it is some vile thing he does not like to utter in the presence of ladies.

"Papa," Cosette says, blushing, "it is not like he says at all. We are in love."

"Oh," Valjean says. He looks at Javert, who looks deeply perturbed. "Oh," Valjean says again.

"Oh?" Javert parrots. "Oh? This is lunacy."

"Love is the garden of the young," Valjean says.

"You are only saying that because you like to argue with Father," Cosette says, whirling on him. "You think it's as foolish as he does."

"I do not disagree," Valjean says. "Cosette, you can't have known him for more than five—"

"Most of us do not get a decade to decide," Cosette snaps.

"It wasn't a decade," Javert says, quietly. "It was three days."

"It took more than three," Valjean says.

"To admit," Javert says. "Not to happen."

Valjean will return to that remark later, he thinks, and warm himself at it. Now Cosette sees the opening just as Valjean does. "Javert," he says, warningly, as Cosette nods, "Precisely."

"How could you possibly know?" Javert asks.

"I know," Cosette says.

"Oh, well, you know, then, and it's settled," Javert says, casting his eyes skyward. Cosette has his stubbornness.

"Cosette," Valjean says. "Why not invite him here so that we can get to know him?"

"I don't know his name or where he lives," Cosette says.

Javert laughs.

"Father," she says, "you are good at making inquiries."

Valjean worries Javert will cave. "If he can't find his way here on his own," he says, "he's not worth the finding."

Javert nods. "That's true enough."

Cosette storms off to her room.

"Good Lord," Valjean says. "You were going to cave."

"I doubt the description she supplied would have been precise enough to lead to an arrest," Javert says. "I would be sifting through Paris for someone with eyes like the sun and hair like the moon and lips like the mask of Apollo."

Valjean chuckles. "I believe you could find him."

"I missed you for years."

"You could not describe me well enough probably," Valjean says, "never having looked at me."

Javert looks at him. "I could never lose you now," he says, quietly.

--
That night in the depths of Valjean's bed Javert is quiet.

Valjean reaches over and strokes his cheek. "It is bound to happen," he says, "one of these days, that Cosette finds someone."

"I do not think it must be so soon," Javert says. "Surely not. At her age. She is still a child."

"Men look at her now," Valjean says.

"Men are always looking at something."

"Javert."

Javert frowns.

"I knew it was coming," Valjean says. "It has been coming for some time. It will make her happy."

Javert looks at him. The expression says a dozen things in precise shades of meaning that he has studied for years. "The things you will do to make her happy," he says. "But so soon. I do not think—"

"We will wait and see," Valjean says.

"Yes," Javert says. "We will wait." He settles on the familiar divot on his side of the bed. Valjean is glad for the lack of visitors; anyone who wandered here by mistake would know that this is not a bed he sleeps in alone.

--
Revolution is in the streets. They watch the funeral become a riot. Javert frowns at it. "No good is likely to come of this," he says.

"Father, do you really think so?" Cosette asks.

Valjean wonders why she is so concerned.

--

A letter arrives from the barricade. Valjean reads it and passes it to Javert and Javert makes an exasperated sound.

"How on earth does he know that she loves him as well?" Javert mutters.

"More pressingly, this Marius is at the barricade," Valjean says.

"I scarcely think it's more pressing, Jean," Javert says. "What else is she keeping from us?"

"I'm sure it wasn't anything untoward," Valjean says.

"You're sure? The things no one asks about in these rooms," Javert says. "For years we've been – and we assumed she wasn't aware – might not she—" He scowls at the thought."

"He's at the barricade." Valjean reads it again. "I think he sounds like a good chap. He's asking her to pray for him. He's praying for her."

"Oh, well, that's very nice, then."

"Sounds chaste."

"Everything sounds chaste to you."

"I know Cosette."

Javert scowls. "I suppose," he says. "I suppose you're right."

"What if something happens to him?"

"Well." Javert glances up at him and then his face falls. "Jean. You wouldn't. You're getting too old for that sort of thing."

"I might be able to help."

"You might be able to get yourself killed."

"I'm aware of that."

"There are other boys in this world."

Valjean looks at him.

"If your mind is made up why did you bother asking me?" Javert says. He takes the letter again. "It won't be easy for you to make it past the guards. The streets are crawling with soldiers."

They move to the dining table and Javert sits down and sketches out a map of Paris on the back of the letter. "Which barricade?"

"I do not think there is more than one left," Valjean says, leaning over him.

Javert shudders. "This boy evidently has poor judgment," he says. "I am not sure I will approve of him even if he survives."

Valjean frowns at him.

"What is he doing on the barricade?" Javert pursues. "These are boys throwing rocks at soldiers." He scowls down at the penciled barricade. "And," he says, "it is a dead end, I think."

"There must be some way out of there."

"Can you fly?"

Valjean leans over him, far nearer than they usually permit themselves with Cosette present. Valjean is not sure when this began to be a serious plan, but he is grateful for the contact.

"I can swim," Valjean says.

"The river is all the way over here," Javert says, pointing. "Unless you were to convince him to crawl out through the sewer."

Valjean looks at him. "It's an idea," he says. "Perhaps there will be an easier way."

There is a silence. Valjean sits down next to him.

"Jean," Javert says. "Are you sure it is worth it?"

"Those boys are headed for grave danger," Valjean says. "The one Cosette loves is among them. Love is not such an easy thing to find."

Javert looks at him. "Precisely," he says, quietly.

Valjean looks back. There is nothing he can say that is quite a sufficient answer. He hopes Javert can read the answer in his eyes. "We have been very lucky," he says.

"You were always too much a saint for my liking," Javert mutters. He glances nervously around. He presses Valjean's hand to his lips.

"Suppose I stole a uniform," Valjean says. If he looks down now and sees how far the fall is he will never go. Still he does not let go Javert's hand. "I could get past the guards like that."

"How?"

"There are bound to be bodies," Valjean says.

"There are always bodies." Javert nods. "You're sure?" Javert asks. Valjean can tell from his tone that this is as close as Javert will get to begging him not to go.

"Cosette will need her own life," Valjean says. "He can give her that. We cannot. Would you rob her of that?"

"I could help," Javert says. "I could come along and distract them."

"No," Valjean says. He presses Javert's hand. "I think it will be dangerous with one, but it would be impossible with two."

"Jean you're going to get yourself killed."

Valjean shakes his head, trying to look confident. "I do not think so," he says. "Life seems very sweet to me now."

Javert looks curiously at him. Valjean has been accustomed to having those eyes on him for years now. He thinks Javert is having a similar thought. Javert leans over the map and kisses him. It is only a kiss like a thousand other kisses; he has kissed that mouth more times than he can count, but it jolts something in him all the same. He runs a hand down Javert's arm.

"Don't tell Cosette unless you have to," he says.

"I won't tell Cosette," Javert says. He swallows. Valjean traces a finger down the side of his face. They are older. He is older. He knows this. He cannot tell. Javert is one of the few mirrors where he still sees himself as he was ten years ago. Without him Javert will be an old man soon, to everyone.

"Jean, there are a thousand things I want to say to you," Javert says. It sounds as though he has had this speech prepared in a back pocket for some time and has been waiting to deliver it.

"Tell me when I'm back," Valjean says. He kisses him again, just to be sure.

--
The barricade is a disaster. He makes it inside, manages to secure the boys' trust, but it is a disaster. They do not have enough ammunition. The powder is wet.

He recognizes the boy Marius. He has been following them around their walks in the gardens. Marius does not say anything to him. But he watches the boy and observes things he likes. Marius has a good head on his shoulders; he is not wasting his efforts; he has an enthusiasm to him.

The guardsmen overrun the barricade with ease.

As it turns out the sewers are the only way out. Marius is wounded and he lifts the boy and starts down the hatch with him.

--

He meets Thenardier there. It seems a fitting enough place to meet him. They glower at each other in the foul darkness. "How do I get out?" he asks.

Thenardier tells him. He sees recognition dawning in the man's eyes as he turns and moves along the sewer. He prays Thenardier's directions were good.

He grows more aware of his age as he climbs through the sewers with the boy on his back. It is like marching through a long intestine.

--
He is at the exit of the sewer when he sees a familiar shadow. "Jean," Javert says. The amount of relief packed in the syllable is astounding.

"I've got him," Valjean says. "But he's in desperate need of a doctor."

"I'll get a carriage." Javert says.

"Don't kiss me," Valjean says, "I'm covered in sewage."

Javert steps away from him. "I wasn't going to."

They load the boy into the carriage.

"He's not much to look at," Javert says.

"He's covered in sewage," Valjean says. "Who's much to look at covered in sewage?"

"You're covered in sewage," Javert says.

"Well, you're used to me," Valjean says.

--

They leave Marius at the Pontmercy house. Javert explains what has happened. Javert has a manner that does not invite questioning and, not for the first time, Valjean is grateful for it.

Together they cross the Seine.

"This is the beginning of the end," Valjean says, halfway over the bridge. "She will go with him and be happy and – she will be gone."

"I am still not sure I approve of him," Javert says. "Simply because you put so much effort into dragging him does not mean that we must simply hand her over without question."

"Have patience." Valjean frowns. They walk in silence. "I saw Thenardier in the sewers."

"That is an apt place for him."

"I think he recognized me."

Javert frowns. "So it begins again," he says.

"I pray not," Valjean says.

Javert does not pursue the point.

 

--

Watching Cosette getting Marius back on his feet is sufficient to convince Valjean that he will not be the one to stand between them. She is stern with him, sterner than he would be. She does not let him rest and wallow. But he walks faster as a consequence. He can tell Marius adores her. It is impossible not to adore Cosette, he thinks. Watching Marius walk to her across their living room makes him wonder what a mother she will make.

Marius has yet to meet Javert. The longer the courtship goes on the more it seems to them that this is an acceptable state of affairs. Marius is of good family and somehow, bewilderingly, Valjean gives off the illusion of being a gentleman of leisure more effectively than Javert does.

He watches them from a doorway.

"Whom should I ask for permission?" Marius says.

He watches Cosette's face. She looks pensive a moment. "You must ask Papa," she says.

One afternoon Marius catches him as he is leaving the house. "Monsieur," he says, "I crave a word."

"I think I may have an inkling what this is about," Valjean says.

"Yes," Marius says. He swallows. He is still a boy. Valjean listens to what he has to say. He cannot find it in his heart to deny him. Still he wants to ask Javert.

"May I tell you tomorrow?" he says. Marius looks nervous. "Do not fear," he says. "Only – I must –ask someone else."

--
When Javert returns home that evening Cosette meets him at the door.

"Father," she says.

"What?"

"I believe Marius has asked Papa, and I thought I should come and ask your permission myself."

Javert sits down and removes his hat and rests it on the table. "Well?" he says.

Cosette tells him.

"I am not sure I entirely approve," he says. Valjean looks at him. "But I will abide by what he says."

"I wanted to ask you before I said anything," Valjean says. "But I am inclined to say yes."

"Please, Papa," Cosette says.

Valjean glances at Javert, who throws up his hands.

"Yes," Valjean says. "I will tell him so, if you are so adamant."

Cosette kisses both of them. "Will you two be all right?" she says.

"Do not worry about us," Valjean says.

--
When she has gone to bed he makes a pot of tea and they sit up by the fire saying little.

"So it has happened," he says.

"I saw Thenardier on my way in," Javert says, finally.

"Oh," Valjean says.

"I was hoping he would let us alone," Javert pursues. "But it seems unlikely."

"This could be trouble," Valjean says. "If he wants to interfere with Marius. His family –"

Javert reads his thought. "Perhaps," he says, "you ought to say something to him."

"Tell him, you mean?"

Javert frowns at the tablecloth. "Not everything."

"Obviously not everything," Valjean says. "Then we could leave the city and cease to be a – cloud over things. Before the wedding."

Javert frowns. "This running. It is the part I do not like," he says.

"What else can we do?"

Javert frowns. There is a long silence. "Where else is there to live?" Javert asks.

"I would like to get out of Paris," Valjean says. "There has been too much death here. Fauchelevent used to speak of the countryside. He knew a place. If you—"

"I do not much care what the place is," Javert says, making a gesture. "It is time I retired."

"You? Retire?"

"You are an old man. You will need seeing to," Javert says, with a quirk of his lips.

"And you will see to me?"

The quirk flashes into a smile for a moment or two. "I suppose," Javert says.
--

He tells Marius as much as he can. On his way back he spots Thenardier hanging outside the house. He and Javert pack in silence.

"I do not like this," Javert says. "You ought to be giving her away."

"This is better," Valjean says.

"No, it isn't," Javert says. "Better and necessary are not the same."

The ride out of Paris is very silent. Javert's hand on his knee is the only warmth and he presses it.

--
Valjean is not expecting the knock.

No one in the town so much as raised an eyebrow when he and Javert said they were brothers. He suspects that it is their years sharing a vocabulary of looks that have twisted their faces nearer the same shape. The faces were never alike but the lines on them are remarkably similar. They have worn in the same places.

It is strange not having Cosette around brightening the place, but there are certain – undeniable advantages to having Javert to himself. The years they have spent studying how to make one another laugh have not been wasted.

Still it saddens him to be without her. He wonders about things with Marius. He wonders if they will have children. Javert sees him wondering and does his best to cheer him. But they have been a family for so long. He looks at the picture and the small set of her clothes that he has kept. It is hard not to be sad.

He is praying one morning when the knock comes. Javert is not awake yet. He is amused by how late the man can sleep. It is his sole concession to advancing age.

He goes to the door.

"Papa?" Cosette says. She is in traveling clothes and – he makes out the outline of a coach behind her. She looks radiant. She has always looked radiant. But he is glad to see it augmented rather than diminished.

"Cosette!" he says. He embraces her. "How is Marius? How was the wedding?"

"Why did you not come?"

"I could not," Valjean says. "We thought it was best not. Javert? Cosette is here!" He turns to Cosette. "He sleeps in, now."

"Father does?"

"He is catching up on years of early rising, I suppose."

"Father?" Cosette calls into the house. Javert comes stumbling out in his bathrobe. Cosette embraces him.

"You both look well," she says.

"You are well?" Javert says. "You are eating enough? Marius is treating you well?"

"Yes," Cosette says.

"How did you find us?" Valjean asks.

"I wrote," Javert says.

Valjean looks at him.

"Thank God you did," Cosette says. "Marius would not tell me what had become of you. I was worried sick. I knew he knew something."

"Marius is a good man," Valjean says.

"Thenardier showed up at the wedding," Cosette says, "and ever since then Marius has been insisting to me that you saved his life, but we have had no idea where to find you to thank you." Her face clouds. "Thenardier said other things as well."

"Pay him no mind," Valjean says. "Men like that are full of nonsense."

"I think that depends on what he said," Javert says. He and Cosette share a look.

"I have your letter, Father," Cosette says. "Is it nonsense?"

"What I wrote was true," Javert says.

"Oh," Cosette says.

"You told her?" Valjean asks.

"I ceased to see the point in hiding," Javert says. Javert does not take his eyes from him. "If she wishes to cease our association henceforward it will be no worse than what you had already brought upon us. She did not drop us the last time. I think you have too little confidence in her."

Valjean looks at Cosette. Her eyes are misty. "Papa," she says, quietly, "did you really have so little confidence in me?"

"You will still call me Papa after – all that?"

Cosette flings her arms around his neck and covers him with kisses.

He looks at Javert over her head. Javert smiles. He cannot express his gratitude in words. The look that passes between them is worth thousands.

The door of the coach swings open and Marius climbs out.

"Marius!" Cosette says. "We were just speaking of you."

"Oh, dear. I can leave," Marius says.

Valjean smiles. Cosette takes his arm. It is good to have her there again.

"Monsieur," Marius says, "I have obeyed you farther than I should. I am here now to make amends."

Valjean glances at Javert.

"You saved my life," Marius says.

"I could not have done so alone," Valjean says.

"I did nothing whatsoever," Javert says.

"Did what?" Cosette asks.

"He carried me from the barricade," Marius says. "Through the sewer."

"Papa?"

"Well, not alone. He helped," Valjean says.

"Nonsense. You had done all the heavy lifting by the time I got there," Javert says.

"Who is this?" Marius asks.

Cosette looks at both of them. "I thought you did not approve of Marius," she says.

"I didn't," Javert says.

"But you dragged him from the barricade."

"Valjean dragged him."

"You carried him part of the way."

"I assisted with the feet," Javert says, stiffly.

"Please stop haggling over who carried my husband," Cosette says.

"Who is this?" Marius asks.

Cosette looks at Javert. "This is my very dear -- uncle," she says. "They raised me after my mother died."

Marius glances at Valjean. Valjean rues now telling him so much of the story. Javert is clearly not Cosette's uncle and he knows Marius can guess as much. But Marius offers his hand instantly. "Monsieur," Marius says. Javert shakes it. "You raised Cosette?"

"He assisted with the feet," Cosette says, with a wry twist of her mouth. It does his heart good to have her.

"You did a remarkable job of it," Marius says.

"Come in," he says, a moment before he remembers that Javert's bedroom is quite obviously unoccupied. He hopes Marius is not the sort of person who wanders through houses checking through the bedrooms.

They breakfast together.

"Someday," Marius says, wolfing down eggs, "you will have to tell me the whole story."

Valjean looks at Javert across the table. Javert has been locked in conversation with Cosette, but he notices the look. Their eyes meet.

"I am sure Cosette will be able to enlighten you on any relevant particulars," Javert says.

"Relevant particulars," Marius says. "She says that. I wondered where she had picked it up." He frowns down at his eggs.
--

"You wrote," Valjean says, after they depart.

"There seemed no danger," Javert says. "Cosette is careful. It seemed a meaningless sacrifice."

Valjean looks at him.

"Do not pretend you are upset," Javert says.

Valjean spreads his hands, conceding the point.

"I like Marius better than I anticipated," Javert says. He frowns. "I can get accustomed to him, I think. He is a bit silly but Cosette will stamp that out of him. Depriving you of Cosette was nonsense."

"I thought, for her sake, freedom from this cloud--"

"She no doubt appreciated the honeymoon," Javert says. A look passes between them and Javert's mouth twists wryly. "Besides suppose they had children and you did not allow yourself to see them. It would kill you. And I would like to see you as a grandfather."

"Thank you," Valjean says.

"If you apply yourself, I am confident that you can remain healthy as a horse for a score more years at least," Javert says. "Griefs wear on the spirit. Unnecessary griefs, as necessary ones."

"Twenty more years?" Valjean says. "You think so?"

"You will outlive all of us."

"I hope not."

"I would prefer it if you tried," Javert says. He rests a hand on Valjean's shoulder and Valjean presses the hand.

--

Javert has never bothered to say those thousand things, but every morning that he wakes up with Javert curled against him or argues with Javert over the newspaper, or watches, later, as Javert tries unsuccessfully to stop a baby from squalling in his arms, he thinks he does not need to hear them.