He knew this mayor was Valjean the instant he set eyes on the man. The face is different now, studiously gentle, but not different enough –
"It seems to me we may have met," Javert said then, eyes flickering up to meet the gaze of this specious Monsieur Madeleine. He was impressed, in spite of himself, at the man's control. He did not run. He did not even give a start.
"I would remember," the man said. Their gazes locked. Javert had played this game before with worse hands and won, and he thought Valjean could guess as much.
"At Toulon," Javert said. "Are you going to deny it?"
Valjean's posture did not change. "I do not need to," Valjean said. "Unless you mean to denounce me."
He had never been stared at so intently before by anyone who did not already have nothing to lose. Prisoners had glowered up at him like that. But there was always a tell when he was facing down a criminal. Valjean's gaze was almost, but not quite, that of a man with nothing to hide. Not quite. Still, it seemed likely that they would gaze long before Valjean blinked. There was a damnable confidence to him.
"My word is good here," Valjean said, measurely. "You just told me as much yourself. I do not think that of an officer as recently arrived as yourself would be so good."
Javert took a step nearer. Valjean did not flinch. "Nature will out," Javert said. "I do not believe you will manage to pull the wool over their eyes much longer. And when you fail, I will be here. I am watching you, 24601."
Valjean looked squarely back at him. "Thank you, Inspector," he said. "I hope I will surprise you."
"I do not think you have it in you to surprise me," Javert said. He looked the man over. He remembered that body. The neat waistcoat and pressed trousers attempted to conceal it but they could not succeed entirely. The face had changed but not the body. One might put a panther in a waistcoat but he would not cease to be a panther. "Jean the Jack, Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. It is like something out of a bad novel."
Valjean smiled. The smile was disconcerting. "And how does the novel end?"
"The good end happily, the bad, unhappily," Javert said. He bowed.
"You will report to me tomorrow."
"Yes," Javert said, mouth curling into a smirk. "Monsieur le Maire."
He is not surprised. Not surprised, exactly. But Valjean demands more patience than he was prepared to lend to the task. It is months and there have been no slips. There ought to have been many. In Valjean's place, he himself would have –
That is not a thought worth entertaining. But Valjean is infuriating. He quite obviously has the manners of a country laborer and Javert wonders that no one seems to see it. But the town is entranced with him. The town is doing well. He wishes that the town were doing badly, then regrets the wish. But it seems odd that Valjean's tending should produce such a flower.
"Your people thrive," a visitor tells the Mayor.
"Sweet water from a foul well," Javert mutters, when the visitor leaves.
Valjean smiles at him. The smile is infuriating. That is the part of Valjean he hates the most. Convicts seldom smile. Their smiles are mocking and twisted and wrong, they remind him of broken pianos. Toulon is a place built to stop a man from smiling.
Yet Valjean smiles. It is very natural. It is warm and the lines around the mouth are very nearly gentle. When Valjean smiles, sometimes, without consciously intending to, he thinks of him as Madeleine. Madeleine's smile is the smile of a man who merits trust. He has a soft mouth.
"You are true to your word," Valjean says, shifting papers on his desk. "You watch me very intently."
Javert glances away reflexively, then corrects the impulse in himself and lifts his eyes to Valjean's. "That is what I am here to do."
"Only that?" Valjean asks.
"You do not need to remind me of my duty," Javert snaps. "I've been at work long enough not to need Jean Valjean's tutelage, thank God."
Valjean looks at him. "It is strange to hear that name," he says. "Even as you say it."
"Strange," Javert says.
"Inspector," Valjean says, one afternoon as Javert leaves the jail, "a word."
"You took in this man in front of his children."
"He must be made an example of."
"Temper your justice with some mercy."
"I do not call that mercy," Javert says. "That is not true mercy. It is very easy to be merciful. It is more difficult to be just."
"Well, it can't be undone now," Javert says, irritable. "What do you want? The next time I take him, am I to make them leave the room?"
"I pray there will not be a next time for him."
"There is always a next time with men like him," Javert says. "Next time I shall say that the Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer insists that they depart the room before I clap their father in irons, that they may be spared this lesson."
"Javert," Valjean says, almost beseechingly.
"The convict wishes me to arrest criminals at the convenience of the criminals," Javert says, with a harsh chuckle. "That's rich! That's very rich."
"I am still mayor," Valjean says, quietly. They look at each other. Valjean's dark eyes are uncomfortably familiar. "Do not forget that."
"And I am still Javert," Javert says. "Do not forget that either."
Valjean smiles. "It would be very difficult to forget that," Valjean says.
Javert hates the smile. It is the worst of Madeleine's rebukes. It is undeniably gentle. Javert's own mouth is of a piece with the rest of his face, but Valjean's looks entirely wrong. It is a sensual mouth. Those lips are too soft. Sometimes, watching the man, Javert tries to think of the face where that mouth belongs. It would not be out of place on a woman. But she would not be a decent woman. No woman with a mouth like that could be proper. She could make a living with that mouth. That was what those lips were built for, Javert thinks, to wrap around a man's prick and –
He checks the thought.
The thought of a whore with Valjean's mouth lingers troublingly in his mind. There is a strange electricity around it that he cannot account for. The vision dogs him. It is only natural, he thinks. It is fitter for Valjean to be a whore than be a mayor. It is less out of the order of things. There is nothing wrong in such a thought. It does not excite him.
Javert does not doubt himself. If anything, Valjean's excessive mercy only goes to prove his point. He dispenses justice like a convict, as though trying to set an example of grotesque leniency for his own judge.
"You are only making it worse," Javert says to him, one afternoon. Valjean has just emerged from a house.
"I did not see you there, Inspector," Valjean says. "What am I making worse?"
"They are short of money because the man is a bad manager," Javert says. "He is lazy. He will not work. He ought to stop making children. If you allowed them to go hungry he might learn."
Valjean shakes his head. "I will not allow them to go hungry."
"This is not merciful of you," Javert says. "This is a convict's mistaken idea of justice. Mercy for everyone is neither justice nor mercy."
Valjean walks in silence beside him. "I pray God does not agree with you," he says.
"You are not God," Javert snaps.
They pass a baker. "Inspector?" Valjean says.
Javert shakes his head. "I am not hungry."
Valjean pauses to buy a pastry and he waits because he has no reason not to.
He watches Valjean eat. Valjean eats the small cake methodically, not ravenous like a starving man, but slowly, savoring it. He licks the crumbs off his fingers. As Valjean's tongue traces along his thumb the thought, I was right about that mouth, surfaces suddenly. There is something too vivid about it. He jerks his eyes away.
"He is a good man," Valjean says. "I do not think he is as lazy as you say."
"Then you should give him work and not money," Javert says.
"I have no work to give him," Valjean says. "I cannot make things happen at a wish. You know as well as I."
"He has too many children."
Valjean's mouth twists. "If you think he can be persuaded to forgo making any more, you are more of an optimist than I am."
"I am not an optimist," Javert says. He almost chuckles.
Months pass. He watches. He is stretched too taut. Every gesture, every remark of this creature who is Valjean, always Valjean, but, for all that, is still sometimes Madeleine, vibrates through him like the touch of a finger on a guitar string.
Valjean is infuriating. Valjean creeps into his dreams, Valjean and his whore's mouth and those uncomfortably warm brown eyes and that familiar convict's body.
He watches Valjean lift a cart off a man and it enrages him. That body is still unrepentant. The parts of that body that emerge from Valjean's neat mayor's clothes are like decent excerpts from a book Javert knows to be obscene. He wonders that no one else can see it. Valjean should stand before them, stripped, and they would see that this is not a mayor but a convict, that he is not a saint but a reprobate. Madeleine is a fitting name. The repentant sinner, the whore. He ought to be used thus. Javert would do it. He would make the man learn not to flout the law. He would put that mouth to its proper use. He would fall upon him and devour him whole.