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Daily Bread (and other jokes)

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Javert made his way towards the barricade, slowly. No need to infiltrate their defenses. People knew who he was--he got around, upheld the law, and that brigade of lowlifes would be all too familiar with his power. Better to attack it from afar. What had that boy attempted? Yes, that would do nicely.

It was not much trouble to obtain a thin rope--light enough to cast through the darkness, but long enough that he could stay at a safe distance. From a ways off, it was impossible to tell whether he'd hit his mark exactly, but as long as he'd cut it close enough, it shouldn't really have mattered.

By the light of a thin torch, he turned to take in his surroundings, squinting into a side alley to plan for the path of his retreat. It seemed just about doable.

Even had he been tempted to boast about his insight, there was no one worthwhile in earshot. The national guard were out of view, ready to wait till the morning. And while they would have certainly been able to take the barricade--couldn't they?--it would be messy, perhaps even cost the lives of upright but complacent citizens. Better to take out the troublemakers in one fell swoop, if they were so agreeable as to present themselves, ready for slaughter.

Javert brought his torch back to the side, ready to let it fall--

"Who goes there?"

He stiffened, silently. At the barricade, his unseen adversary kicked at...the rope must have hit close to the target, after all. Confound the man.

"Drop the torch."

"I'll blow up your little junkyard," he called back, instinctively, not bothering to ask himself why he knew that voice.

"Drop it, I'm armed--"

"You won't have time--"

The night obscured the bullet until there was hardly a split-second to react. Javert jerked backwards, and the torch swerved across his body as his arm wrapped around him, only to slacken as the bullet caught him in the shoulder.

Then his assailant was charging forward, gun still aimed in one hand but seeming more decorative than useful. His other hand reached out for the torch, gripping it just as a staggering Javert's hold seemed about to give way.

"What are you--" Javert stammered.

The other man waved the torch to the side, noticing Javert's bleeding shoulder and casting his own face back into shadows. "Come inside."

"What--"

"We can try to help--oh, for goodness' sake, I wasn't aiming for you. But I didn't think even you would be fool enough to try and blow up a barricade full of collegians."

"There's no use," Javert muttered. Surely, he had to have lost too much blood to have any hope of recovery. How else could he explain himself seeing things? There was no explanation for who that could be, securing the torch out of sight, then offering an arm around his good shoulder, not accepting excuses as he trudged towards the barricade. "They will--" he began. What were the schoolboys going to do, kill him? Or sit around and talk about justice, waiting to be exploded?

Inside the barricade it was scarcely any brighter. There should have been some kind of smell, Javert thought, but the pain was growing more distracting. His blood was unremarkable, something to look at and grow accustomed to, but the pain seared, and he must have looked pale and helpless, hardly a risk even being hauled in.

"Monsieur?" some irritating voice called, but the older man commanded "Leave us" and the footsteps quickly retreated.

"I--" Javert began--he was hardly going to be appreciative--and then winced as the pain flared up again. Slowly, mechanically, he tried to rotate his arm, turn it away from the rest of his body.

"Lie down," the other man suggested, and Javert stumbled to the dusty floor. "There you are. Ssh. Pray with me?"

And then he was off on some formula, that God's kingdom might come, and that it presumably might have prouder subjects than Louis-Phillipe's, that they might receive their daily bread, which had to be the Deity's idea of a joke, that God might "forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us--"

He broke off, and Javert groaned. "You weren't aiming for me. So be it. I understand."

He knelt down beside him, briefly. "Thank you."

"For what?" Javert couldn't help but retort. And the smallness of the room began to overwhelm him--it was just one woodpile in one wretched city, and he could not succeed even in levelling it, he let a convict walk free, he was helpless against even a tiny piece of metal. He turned back towards the festering pile of blood--let the other man go away, spare him some dignity.

But instead he gently bent one arm below Javert's neck. Through the dim light and Javert's blurring vision he did look too familiar, but perhaps those arms were strong enough to support him, even then. "Peace. There's nothing left to fear."

"Help me up." Javert forced out syllables through dry lips, conscious of every crack in them, as if he had blood to spare by biting the dead skin free. Could that have made sense?

Somehow, impossibly, it did. There was no chance left of standing, just faltering higher, Javert back leaning against the other man's arm. He had set down the torch to encircle Javert with his other arm, a powerful touch that set free and did not bind.

Javert squinted for the sky, looked for the stars casting down light on all the world. Not just one barricade, but all of France and beyond, crying out for justice that he would give his life to bring. "Thank you," he echoed, and Valjean understood.