Javert was lying on an embankment, his mouth full of mud. To his dismay, he was still alive. He was not certain of the chain of events that had led to this outcome—he remembered, with certainty, jumping from the bridge. He could not be mistaken about the feeling of falling, nor the sensation of hitting the water.
As he lay there, a picture began to form in his mind of a bargeman and a pole, which appeared to explain how he had come to be deposited here. With some effort, he pushed himself up onto his elbows. Everything on his person was soaked beyond saving and he contemplated dragging himself back into the river.
But no, if some force had spared him, he would honor its wishes. He lifted his head. It was dawn; the city was awakening around him. Soon enough the traffic on the bridge would increase to the point where he would be discovered.
He thought again of his dilemma. He could not go back to the police. He could not go into the river.
Boots sliding in the mud, Javert pushed himself to his feet. He was hatless, hungry, and thirsty, but he did not know how to go about rectifying any of these things.
He could not go back to the police. He tried to slide one foot in front of the other. He was not fit to hold the office if he could not arrest Jean Valjean. How could he dispense justice at all when he had this blemish on his record? Even if he did not tell anyone, Javert himself would know.
By this time, he had climbed back up to the level of the street. A cart was approaching through the mist, and he waited for its driver to notice him, to stare at his shame, but the hunched old man paid him no mind. Javert waited while the clip-clop of the horse's hooves grew louder on approach and then receded. He tucked his hands into his coat pockets and began walking slowly in the direction the cart had gone.
He did not know why this direction appealed; perhaps because it was because it was the direction from which he'd come the night before.
As he walked he pulled his damp coat further around himself, though it was no help. He still did not know where to go. Perhaps, in his wanderings, he would encounter some solution to his predicament.
Walking the darkened streets went some way toward soothing him. Here he was, guardian of these streets, one of the only things that stood between good, innocent people and criminal chaos.
And he had let Jean Valjean go.
He hung his head again. Still, despite this, he was moving away from the river. He was reconsidering his decision not to turn back when he saw a figure coming at him through the clearing fog. It also walked with its head down, and Javert paused, compelled for some reason to see who it was.
It was Jean Valjean.
Valjean paused, looking as surprised to see Javert as Javert was to see him.
"I missed you when I went out again," Valjean said, after a long pause.
This was an opening, Javert realized. An invitation to arrest him and be done with it. But he could not do that, would not even consider it. "I left."
"Yes, I see. I wondered where you had gone." He looked Javert over. "What has happened to you? You’re wet."
He answered immediately with the truth. Perhaps if he had had more time to prepare another story, he could have told a lie, but he couldn't come up with another explanation, even to save his own embarrassment. "I was in the river."
Several emotions seemed to pass over Valjean's face at once. "Then you must come inside and warm yourself. You will catch your death."
Javert did not mention that it was in the river that he had failed in the pursuit of just that. Mutely he followed Valjean into the house.
They did not pause long enough for Javert to take in his surroundings. Valjean led him swiftly down the stairs to the kitchen. There was a chair there and Javert sat in it, for lack of a better option.
He watched in silence as Valjean built up the fire and set the kettle on the stove.
"I'll get you something to wear," Valjean said. "You cannot wear those wet things."
Javert could not even utter a refusal for he was gone so quickly. He simply sat and waited for Valjean to return with dry clothes. He turned away while Javert put them on. They were rough clothes and not well-fitting, but at least they were dry. Again, Javert waited patiently while Valjean carried his wet things away. He heard him speaking to someone before he entered the kitchen.
"Cosette," he said, by way of explanation.
"You did not tell her good-bye?"
"No." Valjean smiled slightly. "I did not."
"Good." Javert watched as Valjean set about preparing coffee. His stomach made its emptiness known. When was the last time he had eaten? He did not know. "You are staying here."
"And you?" He set a cup in front of Javert and then went to slice some bread. "Are you staying?"
That this would be the natural progression of things took Javert by surprise. He could not stop the word from coming out. "Why would I?"
"Where else will you go?" Valjean held his gaze long enough that Javert had to look away. "Did you plan to return to the police?"
The coffee was hot enough to burn his tongue, but Javert continued sipping so that he would not have to answer. "I can't," he said at last.
"That is a shame." Valjean set a plate of bread and cheese before him. "You were a good policeman."
The words, or perhaps the coffee, sent warmth spreading through his body, still chilled from the river. "Not good enough to arrest you."
"I was perfectly willing to go."
Javert knew that perfectly well. He did not need the reminder. Not only had he let Jean Valjean go, but here he was back in his kitchen, eating his food and drinking his coffee.
"You did not deserve to go," he said at last. "I could no more arrest you than an innocent man."
"I see your quandary."
Javert glanced up to see whether Valjean was making fun of him, but his face was gravely serious.
"It seems to me," Valjean went on, "that the only thing you can do is to remain here. If you will not arrest me or return to the police, where else will you go?"
Javert truly had no answer. He had always gone where he was sent; now, there was no one to send him anywhere. No one except Valjean. Again, he glanced up at the man, trying to decide whether he would be willing to listen to him.
"I do not want to intrude." He was not sure he could bear to be exposed to the life Valjean led now. All he could think about was what he had seen of M. Madeleine. He could not bear the thought that he had been wrong all those years ago as well.
"Nonsense." Valjean stood. "Would you like to rest now?"
He led Javert out of the house to a lodge in the back where there was a bed. "Thank you," he managed, because he may have been only half a man, but he still knew his manners.
Javert slept the day away and was surprised to rise the next morning. His clothes had been cleaned and left folded on the chair next to the bed. He dressed hastily and went out, blinking into the sun. Jean Valjean was sitting outside, his face tilted toward the sun. He did not look at Javert.
Javert cleared his throat, startling him.
"Ah, you have rejoined us." He was smiling, as though he was pleased. "Did you sleep well?"
"Well enough." The situation he found himself in was still absurd, but that absurdity was somehow numbed now, with distance.
"Come and have some breakfast." Valjean stood, stretching. "And then, if you like, you can come out with me. Or you can stay here, or you can go your own way."
"And what do you do, when you go out?" Javert followed him inside and watched as he prepared a simple breakfast.
"I minister to the poor." He said this matter-of-factly, as though anyone might do this.
"You?" Javert was trying to process this additional contradiction. The convict who ministered to the poor, who had spared the policeman. The policeman who could not arrest the convict.
"It is the least I can do." Valjean paused in watching Javert eat. "A great kindness was once done to me and I have never stopped repaying it."
"If you cared about repayment—"
"Why then did I escape?" Valjean was smiling in that way of his that had become maddening to Javert in the short time he had been exposed to it. "Because when I did that, it was in pursuit of a greater object. I believe a man can, in good faith, live outside the laws of man when his goals are admirable."
Javert took the rest of his meager meal to consider this. When the time came to go out, Javert followed Valjean. Mostly it was to avoid being alone in another man's house with that man's daughter. But there was another part of him that wanted to see the convict in action. Surely, if Javert kept up his observation, he would see some sign that Jean Valjean was the sort of man Javert had always assumed him to be. Perhaps, in the guise of delivering goods to the poor, he robbed them of their meager possessions.
As they passed out bread and clothing, Javert kept one eye on Valjean, but he saw no indication that his actions were anything other than genuine. When they returned to the house it was for a quiet evening, another meager meal, and Javert back in the bed in the outbuilding. On this night Javert lingered in the door of the lodge, trying to discern where Valjean's bedroom was, but there was no light in the house that he could see.
They passed several weeks in this manner, with Valjean going about his business under Javert's watch. At first he considered whether this could all be an act for Javert's benefit, so one day he feigned a head cold and followed Valjean in secret. He could not have been observed, he was certain, for he was one of the best trackers at the disposal of the police. But Valjean acted exactly as he did on the days Javert went with him, with the sole difference being that he carried the entire burden himself, rather than it being shared between them. Javert did this on three separate occasions before he was satisfied.
He found he was glad when his investigation was complete, for he much preferred going with Valjean to remaining by himself in the house on Rue Plumet.
It was the sort of routine he would never have imagined for himself, he who had devoted his entire life up to this point to his work. For the first few weeks, he had feared someone in the police coming after him, but as time wore on, he came to realize his last missive had been received with the finality with which it had been written.
One night, Javert awoke cold. He pressed his toes down into his sheets, searching for some hint of heat from his bed-warmer and finding none.
He opened his eyes. The night was still and quiet. Did he dare steal back into the house for a few more coals from the kitchen fire? Surely he would be allowed it, were Valjean awake to ask him, and he didn't dare trouble the man.
Javert stuck his feet into his boots, put on his robe, and took up the bed-warmer. Thus clad, he crossed the garden under the moonlight, entered the house, and went down to the darkened kitchen. On his way to the still-warm fire he trod on something soft.
Javert stepped back.
In the dim light of the embers he could see a form lying before the hearth. When it sat up, he saw that it was Valjean.
Valjean sat up, yawning. "I am sorry, Inspector. I did not expect you to come in or I would not have lain across the doorway."
Javert was speechless. "What are you doing?"
"I was sleeping." Valjean sat up. "What did you need?"
Javert's problem seemed insignificant. "I was cold." But Valjean must be colder. "Why are you not in your bed?"
"Because, Inspector, you are in my bed."
Another in a long string of contradictions that had become so familiar to Javert in the past several weeks. Now the convict who gave to the poor was a man who did not even live in his own house.
"Why?" Javert demanded. "Why don't you sleep upstairs in the bedrooms there?"
"Because they are occupied. There is room for me out there. Or, at least, there was before you joined our household."
Javert bristled. "I should be sleeping here, then."
"I would not do such to a guest." In all this time, Valjean had failed to rise from the floor. Now he did so, clumsily, causing Javert to reach for his arm. It was the first time he had touched Valjean since he had been here in his home and it came as a shock. He dragged Valjean to his feet.
"Old bones," Valjean said. "They are not what they once were."
"The galleys," Javert said, remembering all he had seen there.
"Perhaps," Valjean allowed. "Or perhaps my age would catch up with me no matter what kind of work I had put my body through."
"You cannot sleep here." Javert was used to being in a position of authority, to telling people what to do—and he was used to people listening. He felt some of that old spark return now, even though he had spent the past fortnight in near silence. "Go back to your bed."
"And where will you sleep? I cannot allow a guest to sleep on my kitchen floor."
Javert processed this conflict far more easily than he had any of the others with which he'd recently been presented. "There is room enough for the both of us."
To his relief (for he truly did long to return to bed), Valjean agreed to this. They went out together and Javert took off his boots. They did not need to discuss the order in which they should occupy the bed. Somehow, without words, it was understood that Javert was to slide in first and Valjean to come in behind him.
Now Javert was keenly aware of Valjean's presence. Perhaps it would have been better to suffer in the cold and never discover Valjean's predicament.
But he could not have let it go on. In fact, he regretted not discovering it earlier.
This would be warmer, too, he realized as his feet brushed Valjean's. They jerked away.
"Hold still," Javert admonished. "Your feet are cold."
Without a word, Valjean relaxed. A moment later, his arm was about Javert's waist, and that was how they spent the rest of the night.
Before Javert realized it, he had been occupying Valjean's house (and his bed) for a month. That meant thirty scant days since he would have arrested Valjean, condemned him to life in prison. He was preoccupied with these thoughts all day, and he spent it in the garden, tidying. It was a wild, overgrown thing, not to Javert's taste at all. It had been bothering him all month, and he finally set about weeding.
"Do you know why I let that garden go?"
Javert looked up. Valjean was watching him. He wondered how long that had been going on, feeling the heat rise on his neck. "You do not seem the sort of man to care for appearances."
"I was hoping to avoid attention. I did not want to be found."
"As an escaped convict should."
Valjean chuckled. "Indeed. But you did always find me in the end. Here, Javert. Have a drink. You have been out in the sun all morning." Only then did Javert notice the tin cup in his hand. The water was cool on his parched throat, and he drained the cup in one gulp.
He felt strangely comfortable here. Perhaps it was simply Valjean's familiarity. How long had he been following him? Certainly longer than his acquaintanceship with anyone else.
Valjean caught his eyes. Javert got the uncomfortable feeling that he was thinking the same thing.
Javert went back to weeding. He spent the day at it, but every time he thought he might be thirsty or hungry, Valjean was there before he had to think twice.
"You worked hard today," Valjean said once they had retired for the evening.
"I did." He was pleased with the progress he had made in the garden, with the ache in his back and shoulders the proof of it.
It was a warm night, and Valjean had left the window open.
"I am glad you stayed," Valjean said, breaking their pleasant silence in the dark.
"So am I." Javert's answer surprised even himself. Valjean's house was an island of calm in the turmoil that had been his mind.
He closed his eyes, settling back in his chair.
"And perhaps you will continue to stay?" Valjean's hand was on his shoulder, again before Javert had to consider asking. (Not that he ever would have asked for this.) "Cosette is growing up. Soon I will be alone." His hand found every knot in Javert's muscles. Javert leaned into Valjean's touch, forgetting to be offended at being touched by a convict.
"You should not be alone." Javert did not mention that he had always been alone, ever since he had realized he would be unwelcome in any society.
"And nor should you." Valjean paused, making Javert wish he would continue. He had not realized how stiff his shoulders were after a day's work bent over. "It seems we are well-matched, Javert. We have known each other longer than many great friends or old lovers."
This thought had crossed Javert's mind, of course. He turned to look up at Valjean's face, illuminated in the candlelight. He did not know what they were, being neither friends nor lovers. He supposed Valjean was thinking the same thing. His hand moved from Javert's shoulder to his cheek with near purposelessness.
This moment seemed to last hours. The thumb drifted from his cheek to his lips, and he was afraid to move for fear he would scare Valjean away. Against his better judgement, he wanted to know what would happen next. For all that he had lost control of his situation, it was comforting to know this one constant of his life was still there. The realization of Jean Valjean's true nature had at first come as a shock which had sent his entire life off-course. Now it was a reassurance, that at least he was welcome here, with this man.
When Valjean's lips touched his, it was yet another thing he did not have to ask for.