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The Indescribable Dawn

Chapter Text

“We already have one unruly beast.” Javert looked over his shoulder as he moved to the edge of the bed. “Why should we be inflicted with another?”

“Cosette is eager to see the little ones housed well,” Jean said, propping himself up on the pillow he had slept upon. “Come now. What is one more feline companion to care for? Why, it may even calm Orri a little.”

Javert crossed to the basin on quiet feet. “Or it could make him wild with jealousy,” he countered. “I know I would feel such, if I had to share your affections with another of my kind.”

“I am sure there are no more of your kind anywhere else in the whole world, my dear,” Jean laughed, watching for the blush that would begin at Javert’s collarbone and spread upwards to the tips of his ears.

Even after eight years together, his partner still could not receive a compliment well. Jean did not mind it, of course; he continued to compliment anyway, and he enjoyed seeing Javert blush. It was such a youthful reaction, a reminder that Javert had never been loved as a young man as he was now loved, never had the opportunity to hear such things before. How different Javert’s life would have been, if only someone had seen fit to love him. Then again, Jean was not too proud to admit that he was glad for it, selfish as it was, for now Javert was here, with him, and he could imagine no other life for himself. It was not as though people to love had been forthcoming in his own history either, save for Cosette.

Javert only grunted in reply, swirling his razor in the water of the basin with one hand and applying the soap to his face with the other. Jean admired the quickness of Javert’s blade, held in such a steady hand that he had shaved one cheek smooth up to the edge of his sideburn in mere seconds. Before he could apply the blade to the other side, Jean clambered from the bed and moved behind him. Javert stayed his hand as Jean leaned his own bearded cheek against Javert’s back and held him close. Javert breathed slowly and Jean pressed even closer, to content himself with counting the beats of that beloved heart as Javert carefully brought the razor up once more and finished his task. When he finished, he put it down besides the basin and brought his hands up to cover Jean’s where they were pressed against his chest.

For a moment, there was silence, save for that heartbeat ringing in Jean’s ear, then Javert exhaled sharply and turned in his arms.

“You may adopt another damned kitten, if it means so much to you,” he said. “You do not need to try and win me over like this.”

“I was doing nothing of the sort.” Jean had to crane his neck to look Javert in the eye when they stood this close, and he brushed his lips against Javert’s still damp chin. “I only wished to touch you.”

“Sentimental old fool,” Javert muttered, but then he leaned down and kissed him, lips soft from the soap, and for another glorious moment, there was only the silence and Javert’s fingers tangling in Jean’s hair. It was too early for such things; Javert was usually moody in the morning and he would be late if they lingered here for much longer, but Jean was not going to stop him. Javert was devoted to his job, although it had a different face now, and Jean was loathe to stand in the way of duty. So, with a gentle hand, he pushed Javert away and smiled.

“You will be late,” he said. “And Orri needs his breakfast.”

Javert quirked his lips and said nothing further, turning to don his uniform. But when he appeared in the kitchen ten minutes later, he let his fingers brush against Jean’s as he took the coffee that he was offered, and he kissed Jean again on his way to their front door.

He paused when he got to the gate, and turned to address Jean. “I meant it, Jean,” he said. “Adopt another kitten, if you wish it. Both Orri and I will get used to the idea.”

Then he spun on his heel and walked away. Jean watched him disappear around the corner and then returned inside. Orri, perhaps having heard his name, had wandered from the kitchen and wound about Jean’s feet until he relented and bent down to pick him up. The cat purred and pushed his head against his shoulder.

“You would not mind a companion, would you?” Jean asked him. “A little one to look out for? You remember how terrible it was to be on the street, I’m sure.”

Orri fixed his eyes on him, dark and so intelligent that sometimes Jean was sure he understood what was being said, no matter how ridiculous Javert said the fancy was. A torn ear, freshly damaged from some street fight or another, twitched, as Orri considered Jean’s latest remarks, and seemed to find them wanting, for he growled low in his throat. Jean chuckled.

“Well, regardless of your opinion, there will be another, my boy. You will learn to live with it. You might even win a few of your scraps with a partner in crime.”

Orri yawned, his ire forgotten, and leapt lightly to the floor, stalking into the library to take his usual place by the fire. Jean smiled and followed, going to his desk to write a note to Cosette. She was not due a visit for a day or two, but he wished to tell her the good news, and perhaps, if he was lucky, she would decide to come today.

He dispatched the note with the first gamin he spotted on the street, and went to the bedroom to dress for some time in the garden. If Cosette did decide to come, it would not be until the afternoon.

Chapter Text

It had been an inclement May, wet with constant rain that half threatened to wash Paris into the Seine.

Javert had been never been one to complain about the weather -- that is to say, it was notoriously untrustworthy, characteristic of this unpredictable city, and an aspect to be endured with stoicism -- but his experiences with the river eight years ago had left him with a leg that ached when it was damp, and he had found it easier since to make his displeasure at the tumultuous Paris climate better known.

It had to be said: his leg also ached when the weather was too hot, as June was shaping to be.

This June morning was entirely unobjectionable, however: clear skies, sunshine, a breeze stirring his summer coat. Javert did not completely trust the mild weather; he did not wish to be caught off guard when it changed for the worse.

Still, he had left the house with the warmth of Valjean's lips still lingering upon his own, and under the circumstances he felt it might not be too indulgent to smile to himself as he walked the temperate streets.

It would be too indulgent to take a fiacre, though. He walked; he would always walk in his city, be it in the rain or the blazing heat. The day he was required to be conveyed in a carriage to his place of work would be the day he retired from service boots first.

Eventually he arrived at the station-house at No. 14 Rue de Pontoise. He had first served there under M. Benoist of the 47th quarter; he had first encountered Marius Pontmercy within those walls. Now, more than eight years later, Javert was himself the new commissary at Rue de Pontoise. It did mean he spent more of his days behind the grating in the office on the first floor and less time policing the streets, but it kept him out of the wet and scorching sun.

François, his desk sergeant, was on hand to greet him as he pushed through the doors of the station-house.

"Good morning, Monsieur. The senior officers' meeting is on hand this morning at the usual hour, and your fourteen o'clock appointment with the Ministry for the Maritime has been confirmed. However, you have an unexpected addition to your schedule."

Javert frowned. "At this hour? Who is it?"

"M. Desmarais from the Prefecture. He asked to be shown to your office," François added meaningfully.

Javert did not smile, or rise to the bait, but he found himself taking the stairs somewhat more quickly than usual. He knew he had not had the habit of making friends, and those he had made he seemed to have acquired despite himself. One of those few was humbly sitting in the chair outside his office: the man he had met eight years ago as the diligent young Inspector (2nd class) Desmarais from the Commissary at the Rue de la Barillerie.

The years had seen the man promoted to a position within the first bureau, and witnessed a proliferation of grey threads in his curly hair, though his countenance was still as earnest and youthful as it had been the day he had arrested an unlicensed streetwalker and then been persuaded by Javert to let her go.

Desmarais did not stint to smile; he rose to his feet to clasp Javert's hand. "M. Javert, it is good to see you!"

"I would say the same," Javert said; he found himself smiling too despite himself as he waved Desmarais into his office.

"It has been more than a year since the Buisson case," Desmarais said, referring to the string of robberies across the Rue de la Tournelle that ran along the boundary of the 47th district. "You look as if you have been keeping well."

Javert said, "Keeping busy, at any rate. As you must have been, with the goings-on at the Ministry of Justice. What brings you to our humble district?"

"Hardly humble, Monsieur; it is where the real policing needs in our city remain," Desmarais said, seriously. "As it is with the new issue the Prefecture has with the Ministry of Commerce and Manufacturing."

"And what issue might that be?"

"The Ministry has seen an increase in smuggling activities of late. There is the usual commercial tax evasion, in cotton and manufacturing products and the like, but apparently they are seeing more luxury items -- tobacco and spirits -- from across the borders as well as from England and the Channel Islands. La Douane is kept very busy." Desmarais sighed. "At any rate, it seems the main market for this line of goods is here in Paris. The Ministry believes the Prefecture of Police could take more action against the smugglers and their middlemen here on the ground."

Javert nodded. "I see. There will be an official communiqué?"

"Not as such," said Desmarais. "M. le Préfet does not consider himself to be the official whipping boy for the Ministry of Commerce. Besides, La Douane is far better funded than we are."

Javert suppressed a sigh. There was no use pretending the constant jostling over political and jurisdictional territory did not exist, much as he and others desired that to be the case. "La Douane has no jurisdiction away from our borders. If the Ministry believes the 47th district is harbouring the ringleaders, I would wish to know of it." He eyed Desmarais. "Unofficially or otherwise, of course."

"Nothing official yet. Which is why I'm here, rather than the Secretary of the First Bureau," Desmarais said, and Javert suppressed another sigh. It had been eight years, and still he could not see anyone in that position other than his former patron, M. Chabouillet, who had held the post for twenty years and under ten different Prefects of Police.

Desmarais continued, "I heard a rumour on the Cité that your old friend Claquesous might be involved in this smuggling ring."

Javert frowned. This was deeply troubling news. "We thought he might have been involved in the Buisson robberies, and that we would find him when we apprehended the miscreants, but he did not surface. In fact, the rest of Patron-Minette have been scarce for years."

"Ever since your triumph at Gorbeau House," Desmarais said; for an instant he once more resembled the young officer who had looked at Javert with such hero worship. "I know you have been pursuing Claquesous for years, and his pretty friend, too. So, when my sources gave me this intelligence, I thought I ought to let you know at once."

"I'm obliged," Javert said. He had not stopped trying to search for the remnants of Patron-Minette, not least because he was concerned that they might have learned Valjean's secret from Thénardier. They had managed to outwit that man by demonstrating that both Marius and Javert himself were alive, and then Thénardier had obliged them by getting himself killed in an altercation between prisoners while in remand. Still, Javert had never quite allowed himself to let his guard down on Valjean's behalf.

Eight years had passed. Cosette and Marius now knew the truth, and anyone who had had personal contact with Jean-le-Cric had long forgotten him. Indeed, the entire community in the Invalides were familiar with Valjean as the philanthropist Ultime Fauchelevent. Still, Javert could not hold back the pang of concern. It could not be countenanced if anything were to happen to Valjean. He just needed to make sure nothing untoward came to pass.

Desmarais rose and took his summer coat from the rack. "Your desk sergeant says you have a meeting with your senior officers this morning, as you do every week. You are running a most tight ship, Monsieur," he said admiringly.

Javert wondered if that were true. Certainly he made every attempt to enforce a sense of discipline at the district, and to instil diligence in the conduct of all duties from witness interrogation to paperwork. But there was always more work to be done, and he somehow ended up spending longer hours at the station-house than officers half his age.

He walked Desmarais to the door, as befitted an old colleague and a senior officer besides. As he turned back to the office after having bidden Desmarais goodbye, he noticed François' carefully blank look.

"What is it?"

"Nothing, Monsieur," François said. "The men are waiting for you to address them. And I have taken the liberty of summoning a fiacre for your afternoon meeting at the Ministry."

"Nonsense," Javert said. He felt all of his sixty years. "For how long have we known each other? I will walk, as I always do."

François looked suitably chastened. Javert had not forgotten the night last winter when they had arrested a gang trafficking in refugees from across the border, and the young officer had taken it upon himself to remain at his superior's side. Javert was no feeble old man who required protection on the streets, even though he might not be as fast as he once was, but if his men kept insisting that he required a carriage, or that he be spared from field work, he might fall into his dotage after all.

Still, it was not entirely the young man's fault. Undoubtedly he felt it was part of the respect his superior was owed.

Javert made himself smile in an attempt to soften his tart words; when François recoiled slightly from the sight, he realised it had not worked at all. He sighed again to himself. Valjean occasionally suggested that he might wish to be less severe with the men, and that a modicum of friendliness might be beneficial to morale, but Javert knew that he was not very good at it.

Thoughts of Valjean brought with them the nagging concern about Claquesous, and the potential risk this posed to his beloved companion. Javert straightened his back. He would get to the bottom of this smuggling rumour in his district if it was the last thing he did.

Chapter Text

His darling Cosette was nothing if not dependable; as expected, she sent the boy back within the hour, telling Jean to expect her at three o’clock.

He worked a little longer in the garden, trimming back some vines and the long neglected grass at the edge of the pond. Such easy jobs would once have only been the precursor to a long day spent outdoors on far more difficult tasks, but these days he found that they were quite enough for him. It was a small concession to his advancing years, but one which had become entirely necessary. He had even begun to need an hour or so of rest in the middle of the day, when in his youth he could have survived on no sleep for days on end. He had resolved not to care, not to allow the decline of his body to affect his mind. Besides, it was not so bad as all that; it was not a chore to need extra hours at night with Javert at his side, and during the day, well, Orri could be persuaded to curl up at his feet and it was almost good enough.

He toiled until lunchtime, ate a small meal, then took to his chair for an hour. At half past two, he woke and tidied himself: fixed his cravat, buttoned his cuffs and combed his hair. He set to the tea things, and, at three o’clock precisely, there came a knock. Before he could even open the door, the squeak of small voices, tempered by the smooth tones of Cosette, was enough to bring the widest of smiles to his face. He had not expected her to bring the children at such short notice!

“Grand-père!”

A little body flung itself at him and he caught it in his arms.

“Mama said we could surprise you!”

“And what a surprise it is,” he laughed, swinging Fantine above his head, “How are you, my flower?”

“Very well,” Fantine reached out a hand and stroked his beard, a sensation she had enjoyed ever since she was a babe in arms. “But Émile is getting a cold.”

“I am not!”

Émile, the oldest of the brood at eight years old, stepped inside and put a hand on Jean’s arm.

“I sneezed once this morning, Grand-père, and now Fantine thinks I am ill. She won’t stop going on about it.”

If Jean was honest, there was a pinched look about Émile’s face, and a scratch in his voice, but he did not mention it. Émile was a proud little thing and hated to be thought of as weak, despite the unavoidable fact that he was often ill and had been since he was very small.

Jean rested Fantine on his hip and turned to Cosette, who was holding Georges in a similar fashion. Jean’s youngest grandchild was asleep, his golden head resting on his mother’s shoulder.

“Papa,” Cosette smiled. “I was so pleased to get your note.”

She leaned in to kiss his cheek, a gesture that Jean returned, and when he kissed Georges’ forehead as well, the babe stirred and murmured something incomprehensible.

“Grand-père!” Fantine patted his hair. “Do you have any cakes?”

Later, when tea had been drunk and cakes devoured, the children went to play in the library, Émile leading Georges carefully by the hand, and Cosette settled back into her chair. She was glowing; motherhood suited her, had suited her since the earliest days of her pregnancy with Émile. Even now Jean could hardly believe that, at the same time she was with child, he had been all but willing his own life away. He had never admitted as much to anyone, but Émile, as much as Javert, was responsible for saving Jean’s life, and one day perhaps he would tell the boy that. Cosette certainly knew it, or at least she knew that Émile was Javert’s favourite of her children, the one he liked rather than merely tolerated for Jean’s sake. Javert knew that the boy had been the saving of him, in the end, and had even seemed to overcome his jealousy when Jean had turned much of his attention to the babe for a time after his birth.

“The kittens are too young still to be away from their mama,” Cosette said. “But when they are ready, you shall have the pick of them.”

“I will have to visit you more often,” he replied, “to get to know them and choose my favourite.”

“Ah yes.” Cosette looked into her teacup, a small smile playing on her lips. “I’m afraid that may have to wait until after the summer. I have a small proposal for you, Papa. And for Javert.”

As though it had been planned in advance, just as Jean opened his mouth to ask her what she could possibly mean, there came the scrape of a key in the lock and the sound of the front door swinging open. Javert was home, early for once, and by the time Jean had stood to go and greet him, the children were rushing out of the library and got to the front door first.

“Ah,” Javert eased inside through the crowd and closed the door behind him, “We have company.”

“I did not think to tell you.” Jean pursed his lips to hide a smile as Georges used Javert’s leg to steady himself, leaving a smear of jam on his trousers. “I was not expecting you to be home just yet. I am sorry.”

“No need for apologies.” Javert shrugged out of his coat and yielded it to Jean’s hands. “Hello, children. Is your mother here also?”

“In the parlour, monsieur,” Émile replied, holding Fantine’s hand to stop her throwing herself onto Javert’s trouser leg as well. “We were in the library. We can go back there, if you want.”

Jean grinned. Émile knew Javert so well: such insight for so young a child.

“Would you be so kind?” Javert nodded, screwing up his face for a moment before he added, through gritted teeth, “Perhaps – I will come and see you in a moment.”

Émile glowed and hustled his siblings back into the library, the door swinging shut behind them. Javert let out a breath, and then Jean had set upon him, unable to keep from kissing him for a moment longer. He had never been able to resist the man when he was flustered.

“I would have stayed at work another hour if I had known,” Javert grumbled against his mouth. “So much for my afternoon plans.”

“They will not be here for much longer.” Jean pulled back and reached up to straighten Javert’s cravat, “Now come. There is still some tea, and Cosette was about to ask me something important.”

Chapter Text

The meeting at the Ministry for the Maritime had taken much of his afternoon, and when it finally ended Javert felt it was not worth the trouble of returning to the station-house only to turn around and head back home once more.

As he walked the summer streets toward Rue Plumet, he knew there was an urgency in his step. At the best of times he found himself walking more quickly on his return journey, his thoughts speeding ahead of him to Valjean and Orri and the home they had made for one another in the quiet outskirts of Les Invalides. Perhaps Toussaint would have stopped by, or Valjean would have taken a stroll to the pâtisserie around the corner, and there would be cake for a late tea. And after Desmarais’ news about Patron-Minette and the smuggling ring, Javert was even more eager to see Valjean once more: to clasp his hand, and to know him as safe as any diligent policeman could make him.

As it happened, Javert’s plans to return home early were for once less than opportune.

He arrived upon the threshold of their peaceful household, only to be set upon by a cavalcade of small children.

“Monsieur Javert! You are home! Have you brought us more cakes?”

“Ah,” Javert said, faintly. There was a little girl bouncing up and down under his nose, rendering him temporarily cross-eyed, and a toddler clutched unsteadily at his thigh. “We have company.”

Valjean appeared in the hallway, his venerable white head towering above the tiny swarming bodies. He reached for Javert’s coat, trying unsuccessfully to hide a smile. “I was not expecting you yet. I am sorry.”

“No need for apologies,” Javert said, not daring to look down. He felt certain the littlest one had left a smear of something unaccountably slimy on his trouser leg. He vouchsafed a greeting in the general vicinity of his knees. “Hello, children. Is your mother here also?”

The biggest child – Émile was his name; a sensible lad, as far as children went – took hold of his sister and, to Javert’s gratitude, managed to stop her from her propulsive movement. “She is in the parlour, monsieur. We were in the library. We can go back there, if you want.”

Javert stopped himself from sighing with relief. “Would you be so kind?” he said, and tried to gently dislodge the sticky toddler without actually touching any of the child’s surfaces. Émile took the hint and grasped his little brother’s hand, detaching him from Javert with a distinctly adhesive sound.

Émile looked expectantly up at Javert, and Javert found himself saying, through gritted teeth, “Perhaps – I will come and see you in a moment.”

That concession did not seem half as onerous when Javert saw the proud smile it elicited from the boy.

When the hallway was once again blessedly free of children, Javert scowled downwards at his trousers. Jam, it looked like.

He rubbed crossly at the fabric, and then found himself with an unanticipated armful of Valjean – one who was amused and, for some reason, amorous. It had been eight years, and he would never fully understand the man; still, he would never complain of anything that gave rise to kisses, no matter how unexpected.

“I would have stayed at work another hour if I had known,” Javert said, but it was churlish to continue to be short-tempered when one’s beloved companion was kissing one enthusiastically.

“They will not be here for much longer,” Valjean assured him. He straightened Javert’s cravat, a glint in his eye. “Now come. There is still some tea, and Cosette was about to ask me something important.”

Javert followed Valjean into the parlour, somewhat more eagerly. If jam were to be involved, it was infinitely preferable for it to be within a fruit tart or spread on brioche, rather than smeared upon his person by an unwary child.

 


Cosette was sitting in the parlour, surrounded by the debris of the tea things. She greeted Javert with a warm smile – either she was oblivious to the rumpus her offspring had caused in the hallway, or she had decided to let Javert sort it out by himself, Javert could not determine which.

After the niceties, Javert found himself installed at Valjean’s side with a hot cup of tea and a slice of gâteau des Rois, which Toussaint had never baked in her life and which must have come from the Pontmercy household. Orri crept into the parlour, curled against his right foot, and mewed plaintively until Cosette leaned down and fed him crumbs from her plate.

This domestic scene made Javert feel as if he was being softened up for a request to which he might otherwise be loath to agree; worse, he felt as if the aforesaid set-up might in fact be working.

Best to cut right to the heart of it. “Your father said you had a proposition for us?”

Cosette took a sip of tea. “I see Papa has foreshadowed my news! I believe I have mentioned that Marius and certain of his colleagues have been assisting Maitre Cremieux and our Prime Minister with certain legal initiatives? The railway is one, and then there is the matter of our republic.”

Javert frowned. He was well aware of the republican sympathies held by Baron Pontmercy and his wife; he was even prepared to express a certain level of support for said leanings, which sought to enshrine the fundamental rights of all men under the King and the state, and women also, and that this ought to be so regardless of their birth. But he had lived for too much of his life under the monarchy to be easy about Adolphe Thiers and his talk of a new constitution.

Still, he was gratified that Valjean’s son-in-law was now working within the government to effect change via proper constitutional process rather than rabble-rousing in the streets. Marius had made substantial progress since his days on the barricades; a wife and three children and growing political influence would do that for a young man.

Valjean patted Javert’s hand, managing to convey both comfort and caution at once. To his daughter, he said, “Yes, my dear, you did mention this. You also said you were helping him with that work,” he added, which was something that Javert did not know, but it did not come as a surprise. Valjean’s daughter had spent her childhood fetching and labouring from dawn to dusk; now she divided her time as an adult between raising her children, and working tirelessly to better the lives of other people’s children, so no child would be as mistreated as she had been.

Cosette said, “Yes! And that is why I plan to go away this summer.” She set her teacup down. “Marius has just received word. The party wishes to send him to London in a fortnight. Officially he will be studying the British railroad system. But unofficially he will also be discussing with the Whig party the British concepts of universal suffrage so as to better draft reforms in France. We’ve decided that I should go with him. After all, my English is already better than his.”

Valjean cleared his throat uncomfortably, and Cosette reached for his hand. “Papa, please do not worry. Our relations with the British could be better, but there is absolutely no danger of unrest.”

Javert knew Valjean would be struggling with his natural instincts to safeguard his daughter. They both knew, as well, that those instincts would be in vain: when Cosette set her mind to something, she would not rest until it had been achieved.

At last, Valjean said, “Surely you are not bringing the children with you to England?”

“I wanted to bring them,” Cosette confessed. “But it might not be good for Émile’s health, and Fantine cannot bear to be parted from the kittens while they are yet small, and so I allowed myself to be persuaded that they and the household would remain here in Paris for the summer. Only…”

Cosette smiled beatifically, and Javert’s blood ran cold.

“Only, Aunt Gillenormand is not as young as she once was, and it is difficult for her to keep up with the little ones. Fantine is too speedy even for the nurses! So I was thinking that you both might be willing to keep an eye on them there, or they could even come here to Rue Plumet if Javert’s duties permit.” Cosette put both her hands over Valjean’s. “It would greatly ease my mind, Papa, if you and Javert were to agree to look after them while Marius and I are away for the summer.”

Valjean squeezed back. “I would like nothing better,” he began, fervently, and then he stopped and glanced hesitantly across at Javert.

“…That is to say, it would of course be a great responsibility. It is true, the house now has sufficient room for the nursemaids and your excellent housekeeper, but I do not know how Toussaint will feel, sharing her domain with Volquin. And, and I believe Javert’s duties somehow multiply as the days get longer…”

Cosette loosed Valjean’s hand to reach for Javert’s. “I know how busy you are,” she said. “But truly, it would be a tremendous relief to me knowing that the children would be in your care. You would keep them safe! Besides, Georges is so fond of you…”

Javert suppressed another sigh. This was hardly fighting fair.

Firmly, he put aside all considerations of sticky fingers and vigorous jumping about, and focused on the only matter that was important: the desires of Jean Valjean, who had for so many years never allowed himself to desire anything at all for his own sake.

“Very well, if the children promise to be on their best behaviour,” he began, and was astounded when Cosette pressed a kiss to his cheek.

Valjean looked rather like he desired to kiss Javert as well, and much less chastely. “Thank you,” he said to Javert, softly. Then, to Cosette, eagerly: “Perhaps we could take the children to the seaside for a week or so? The sea air might do Émile some good.”

This time, Javert could not suppress his sigh. It was going to be a very long summer.

Chapter Text

Javert was as good as his word. When Cosette announced her intention to leave Rue Plumet shortly in order to be home for dinner, he rose and stepped through to the library to see the children as he had promised. The activity gave him little pleasure, Jean knew, but he had always appreciated how much Javert was willing to do for him. Besides, if anything had ever given him room to doubt, surely Javert agreeing to have the children with them for two months was all the sign that he needed.

“In all honesty I had not expected him to agree, Papa!” Cosette exclaimed, as soon as Javert had left the room. “I imagined I would be able to negotiate your moving to our house for the summer, with Javert staying here.”

It was a sensible plan, one that showed Cosette had considered all of the parties involved and their individual preferences, save for one, the most important of all: it would inconceivable to Javert that they be apart for so long. Of course, Jean did not relish the idea either, but for the sake of Cosette and the children, he would have been willing to attempt it. Cosette, used to Marius being called away for days and weeks at a time, would not have considered this, and of course it was right that she should not. How to explain to one so young the urgent ceaselessness of old age, the need to stand against the racing years and hope for more time, just a little longer together?

He did not explain. Instead, he simply shrugged and smiled. “Then it is good, is it not, that we do not have to be concerned about it?”

A high pitched shriek. followed by a low rebuke from Javert, made them both start. Cosette was first out of her chair and out of the door, motherly instinct making her quick on her feet. Jean followed her through to the library, to find a scene of mild destruction, centred around, as usual, Fantine.

Georges was once again clutching Javert’s leg, peering at his sister from behind that reassuring barrier. Émile sat in his favourite chair, a book spread open on his lap, but he too was frozen, staring with wide eyes. A flower urn had been overturned, spilling its contents on the hearth rug, and the newspaper which had been resting on the side table, awaiting Javert’s perusal, had fallen, its pages scattered. In the middle of all this unrest stood Fantine, holding a small, mewing kitten.

“Jean. Cosette.” Javert moved first, turning to them. “It seems this afternoon, Fantine has been smuggling a fugitive.”

To her credit, Fantine had the good sense to hang her head, although Jean saw the edges of a smile tugging at her lips. The kitten, too small to be away from its mother, shivered violently in her hands, and Fantine placed the little creature carefully into her voluminous sleeve, clearly the place where the animal had been hidden all the afternoon.

Cosette watched all of this in a half daze, then found her voice. “Fantine! Did you make this mess?”

“It was the kitten,” she mumbled. “I only took him out for a moment.”

“The kitten, ably assisted by his kidnapper,” Javert cut in. “Such a little thing should not be away from his mother’s side.”

His voice was short, forced, and Jean wondered if he was recalling the stormy night on which he had found Orri, tiny and helpless, who would have died if not for Javert’s rescue of him. Javert had always said that he had brought the kitten home for Jean, that it was what he imagined Jean would do in his place, but he had become fond of Orri as he had grown into a fine, strong cat, and would now rail against the mistreatment of any creature that came across his path.

Fantine trembled under Javert’s gaze and cringed away from his voice. “I’m sorry, Monsieur Javert, I will not do it again!”

Several things happened then at the same time. Georges, picking up on the tone of Javert’s voice, began to cry, burying his face in the uniform trousers he was holding. Émile slammed his book shut and began to scold Fantine on his own accord. Cosette moved to take her daughter’s hand and take over rebuking her, and in this cacophony of noise, Javert turned to Jean and raised an eyebrow, attempting to detach Georges from his leg at the same time. Despite the situation, Jean could not help but laugh.

“I am so glad that you’re amused by this,” Javert said, hand flexing before he reached down and patted Georges on the head. “There, there. Enough tears.”

Georges only cried louder, and Jean, taking pity on his partner, bent to retrieve the toddler with one arm. He turned swiftly and swept Émile from the room with his spare hand, leaving Cosette and Javert to deal with Fantine alone. In the hall, he bounced Georges on his hip until the boy calmed down, whilst hustling Émile into his shoes, jacket and hat. They then both put George’s coat and shoes on, and by the time Cosette brought Fantine out to join them, all was peaceful in the hall.

“I am sorry, Grand-père,” she muttered. “I didn’t mean to make a mess and I will not do it again.”

“See that you don’t,” Jean said, his words soft. After all, she had already endured quite enough hard ones, at the hands of her mother and Javert. Jean knew that he was lenient with his grandchildren, but then he had been lenient with Cosette and she had grown into the best of young women, so he did not think too little of his own parenting.

“Goodbye, Papa,” Cosette kissed his cheek, the smile returned to her face. “Come for dinner on Tuesday evening, please. Bring Javert, if he will come. We can discuss the holiday.”

“We will be there.”

As he closed the door, he heard Javert’s step behind him, and turned to find he was being watched.

“Well, that was a little bit of excitement, was it not?”

Javert made a rough noise in his throat, reaching to take Jean’s hand between his own.

“I will have them here, for as long as Cosette desires,” Javert mumbled, “But I will need time – to myself and for the two of us together. Promise me we shall not spend two entire months apart.”

“The children will bring their nurse, and I will ask Toussaint to be here more often,” Jean began, twisting his fingers around Javert’s. “We will have hours to ourselves as usual, I am sure, for reading, and you will be at work anyway—”

A glance upwards and he stopped, for he realised what Javert had been talking about. The man was blushing, a sight almost as wonderful as when he was flustered, and a sure sign he was speaking of their other recreation. Even all these years later, Javert could barely mention, let alone discuss, that time they spent together.

“And as for that…” He stepped closer and wrapped Javert in an embrace, lips brushing his ear: “There will be plenty of time. You need not fear. Now come along.”

“Where—“ Javert’s hands clutched at his shirt as Jean kissed that same ear — “are we going? It is five o’clock in the afternoon, Jean!”

“Then surely we must begin practicing taking our chances when they come, my dear.”

Chapter Text

It was five o'clock in the afternoon. Five o'clock! Even the most dissolute of men did not seek out the embraces of their lovers at this hour. They waited until after the stores and the offices had ceased their business, and dinner had been consumed, before dallying with their mistresses in clandestine apartments or indulging in companionship in establishments of certain repute.

And yet Jean Valjean, former mayor and secret philanthropist and the best man Javert had ever known, was proposing they do just that. Before dinner, while the sun was still high in the sky.

It was scandalous. It was not for respectable men.

And yet, instead of protesting, Javert allowed himself to be led up the stairs into their bedroom. He allowed Valjean to draw off the navy uniform jacket and waistcoat, and to slide his hands beneath the crisp white shirt to caress Javert's chest.

Javert allowed these outrageous actions. He was in fact doing more than allowing them; against his better judgment he appeared to have taken hold of Valjean's shirt and captured Valjean's mouth with his own.

"I hope you realise how unseemly this is," he remarked, between kisses. "It is not even a thing young men do, nor those wastrels who frequent the alleys at the Pigalle."

Valjean made a hushing sound, which was not easy to perform against Javert's lips. "Nonsense," he mumbled. "What’s unseemly is that such men seek only to satisfy themselves, no matter the time of day. Whereas it is not my own satisfaction I seek, but another's."

He broke off the kiss; his hands moved unerringly to the buttons at the front of Javert's uniform trousers. "And as you know, I am selfishly greedy for his satisfaction."

Javert inhaled sharply as Valjean began to release the buttons that held the fabric closed. He knew that he was already so hard that when the flap was opened, his prick pushed itself free like a much younger man's, desperate for release in the grasp of a clandestine lover.

"Are you planning to satisfy me, then?" he asked, unevenly, steadying himself by clasping Valjean's shoulders.

"I will try," murmured Valjean, and wrapped his big hand around Javert's erection.

Javert heard himself make a strangled sound. Valjean started to stroke, massaging his length with the square, sure fingers that had dragged him from the Seine and had brought him to this new life, and that had since that time mapped every inch of his skin.

They had done this so often in their eight years together. Valjean knew exactly how to touch him, knew the gentle caresses and then the long-handed pulls that would bring him closer and closer to the edge. Very soon Javert could not catch his breath. Did it usually only take such a short passage of time to drive him into this state? He swayed on his feet, dizzy, fighting for control.

"It is time for bed," Valjean said, pulling off and catching Javert around the waist. For a man his age, he was still impossibly strong; he supported Javert's weight in his arms and walked him backwards across the room to their modest bed.

Javert lay down gingerly. The afternoon sun streamed in from their window, outlining the floor and the bed in a square of light.

Valjean got onto the bed as well, settled between Javert's thighs, and took him into his mouth.

This took Javert entirely by surprise, as it was not an act which Valjean often performed. The sharpness of such uncommon pleasure was almost painful: he could not bite back his groan in time. Valjean's lips enveloped him, greedily, making his thighs tremble and his hands fist in the sheets. Desire seized him, pulsing hotly in the pit of his belly, the irresistible tension mounting with suction and pressure and every slow, wet slide of tongue.

"Jean! Wait, Jean. If you keep that up, I will spend myself."

Valjean, bless him, did not pay any heed to this nonsense. His powerful hands clasped Javert's hips, and as Javert bucked helplessly against him, he swallowed Javert down to the root.

It was too much for any man. There could be no control in the face of such ecstasy. Javert felt his eyes sliding shut, his head rolling back, his body arching off the bed.

"No, Jean. Jean, I cannot stop --"

He heard himself cry out as whiteness overtook him, bright as the sun that fell across their bed.

He returned to himself by increments, his blood loud in his ears, damnably weak in every limb, to find Valjean still in place between his thighs and working with his tongue to lap up every drop of Javert's spend. Javert's softening prick twitched, over-sensitive now under these careful ministrations.

"No more," he whispered. "Come here. You are too much for an old man."

He pulled Valjean up to kiss him, his own strong salt taste upon Valjean's lips. Valjean returned the kiss, chastely this time, a small, self-satisfied smile on his mouth, and then settled against Javert's shoulder.

"I need not remind you that I am older than you!"

"Never," Javert said. He considered this as he finally managed to catch his breath. "When you are not trying to kill me, you make me feel as though we are both still young."

Valjean snorted softly. Then he said, "Thank you, Javert."

"After what you just did, it should be the other way around."

"I am serious," Valjean said. "I know the children will not make it an easy summer, and I am grateful that you agreed to have them nonetheless, for my sake." He pressed his lips to Javert's shoulder. "I will never cease to be grateful for you. I thank God for letting me share your life, and you for agreeing to share it. I have simple needs, and they start and end with you."

Javert felt seized with helpless gratitude of his own. He held on to Valjean silently for a long moment before he could be sure of his voice.

"It is I who should be grateful. I am grateful for anything that makes you happy, even if it also smears my clothes with jam and destroys all the urns in the house."

Valjean placed his hand over Javert's chest, over his still-racing heart. Javert ran a hand down Valjean's side and realised his companion was still fully dressed in his shirtsleeves and trousers.

"You are not... you have not..."

"Later," Valjean said serenely. "Perhaps after dinner? I am told it is still too unseemly an hour for an old man to seek out love."

Chapter Text

Jean woke with his face buried in Javert’s hair, the thick strands tickling his nose and chin, and listened to the sounds of Toussaint rattling around in the kitchen below. If she had already arrived then it was late, at least by his usual standards for rising, but he did not mind. Not today.

Javert slept on as Jean shifted beside him, murmuring when Jean coaxed him onto his back, then settling once more into his slumber. Jean propped himself on one elbow and brushed Javert’s hair from his face. Javert would only complain when he woke to find how late it was, but Jean was inclined to let him sleep on for now; what had his years of service earned him if not the chance to arrive a little late at his desk? Besides, this peaceful morning would be one of their last, until the turn of the season. Fantine and Georges would be unlikely to allow either of them rest beyond the sunrise.

Jean still could not believe entirely that Javert had agreed to the children staying for so long; his partner tried his best with them, as well as Jean could have ever hoped he would, but it was a struggle. Javert dedicated himself to Jean’s happiness as fiercely as he had once dedicated himself to the Law, often at the detriment of his own. The children were a fine example of that, tolerated solely because they were an extension of Jean himself, and for no other reason. The lengths Javert had gone to in order to remake himself into someone he believed was worthy of the love Jean offered him, was humbling.

As though he could feel he was being considered, Javert shifted and turned his face into the pillow, a slight frown creasing his forehead between his eyes. Jean’s heart swelled as he watched, and he could not stop the press of his lips to that little crease, then Javert’s cheek, then his chin, then his ear. He nuzzled at him until Javert stirred, opening first one eye then the other.

“Valjean,” his voice cracked with sleep, “What are you doing?”

“Nothing?” Jean said, kissing him, until Javert had to push him away to breathe.

“It doesn’t appear to be nothing,” Javert muttered, “What time is it?”

“Oh, it’s very late,” Jean smiled. “But you were so peaceful I couldn’t bring myself to wake you.”

Javert groaned and rolled over, a small smile playing on his lips. “Leave me alone to get ready. Grant me that peace at least.”

Chuckling, Jean disentangled himself from the sheets and stepped into his trousers and shirt. He would go and see Toussaint and make sure there was coffee for when Javert came downstairs. As he glanced back at the bed, he swore to himself that he would try to minimise any compromise to Javert’s convenience that the children’s presence would cause. It would be the very least that he could do.

Toussaint was busy in the kitchen when he arrived downstairs, kneading dough for the bread and boiling the kettle for tea. She was long used to him and his companion and surely aware that Javert’s bedroom had not been used for years, yet she had stayed in his service and never made to ask awkward questions. She was an excellent woman, loyal and hardworking, and if Javert was less inclined to outbursts of temper and melancholy, Jean would still have her living with them, as she had when Cosette had still been at Rue Plumet.

As it was, thinking it better for all involved if they had their own space, Jean had suggested Toussaint go back to live with her sister after Cosette’s wedding, and come in three or four times a week to clean and make bread and cakes. He still paid her the same wage as he always had; it was not her fault, after all, that Cosette had moved away, and Toussaint’s discretion was worth the money. It was an arrangement that had worked well for eight years now, and did not seem likely to change, as long as all involved were happy.

“Good morning.” Jean went to the kettle and began to prepare Javert’s coffee. “Would you like some tea?”

“Please, monsieur.” Toussaint slapped the dough down on the table, sending flour clouds flying. “You slept late today.”

“Yes, I did,” he agreed. “And Javert will be late for work.”

She chuckled and shook her head. “It won’t hurt that station to have to run without him for an hour or so, would it? He works too hard, that friend of yours.”

“I know.” Jean poured the water for the coffee and tipped the rest into the teapot. “I try and tell him, but he does not listen to me. Perhaps you should tell him as much.”

“If I thought it would make a difference, I would,” Toussaint sucked her teeth. “But I doubt he’d pay me more heed than he pays you, monsieur.”

Jean took a seat at the kitchen table and waved for Toussaint to join him. She put the dough into a bowl and covered it, then wiped her hands and sat down. He valued the woman’s company, in the same way that he knew he must have once valued his sister’s, although he could not remember it as such. He thought that Toussaint must also like him, for she was always happy to talk and share a drink with him, lingering sometimes beyond her hours at the house.

She also liked Javert, no mean feat since she had helped Jean nurse him back to health after his leap into the Seine and had such suffered the same barrage of abuse that Jean had been subjected to in those early days. The cross words had not seemed to have bothered her, rolling off her back like water off an umbrella, and when she had to physically pin Javert to the bed during a raging fever lest he injure himself with his thrashing, she had only brushed herself off afterwards and gone to fetch the doctor. As he got better, Javert had been wary of her, overly polite in that lock-jawed way he had when he was unsure of how his company would be received, but over the years he had come to accept Toussaint as an ally. For her part, she was always concerned for Javert’s health; she strove to make him eat more whenever she had the chance, and had more than once insisted that he take rest when he had worked a long shift at the station. Javert accepted all of this with a kind of bemused grace, and it was the best that Jean could have hoped for.

Javert clattered into the kitchen, cravat a little askew in his rush to get ready. With none of his usual politeness, he sank into his chair and reached for his coffee.

“Good morning, Toussaint. Have you been informed of M. Fauchelevent’s ridiculous plans for the summer?”

“No, inspector. What plans are these, monsieur?”

“Ah.” Jean looked down into his tea, then up into the two pairs of eyes fixed on him. “I had thought to wait, Javert, until you were gone to work.”

“Don’t hold back on my account.” Javert sipped from his cup, amusement crinkling his eyes. “I wish to see our Toussaint’s reaction.”

“Well.” Jean felt a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “Cosette and Marius have asked if we will have the children here, for the summer, and we have agreed. They will come a fortnight hence and stay until the beginning of September. It will, of course, mean more work for you, if you wish for it.”

Toussaint glanced at Javert, perhaps reading the incredulous look on his face, and then she nodded, laughing as she spoke.

“Of course, monsieur! As though I would refuse. They are bonny children, each and every one.”

“Georges’ nurse will come with them,” Jean said, as Javert drained his cup and got to his feet. “You will not have to do everything for them.”

“I am already looking forward to it.” Toussaint watched as Javert briefly rested a hand on Jean’s shoulder, then went to make his escape. “And what does Monsieur l’Inspecteur make of the arrangement?”

“Monsieur l’Inspecteur is late for work,” Javert called from the hall. “But it will not take any great stretch of your imagination to work it out for yourself, I’m sure.”

As the door slammed behind him, Toussaint began to laugh in earnest, and Jean soon joined her. They would manage, the three of them. He was sure of it. They had weathered worse storms together than even Fantine Pontmercy.

Chapter Text

It rained heavily the next day. Javert felt almost pleased, as if his continual dire feelings concerning the weather had actually been justified for once.

As a consequence, the office was far more crowded than usual. The men always found more reasons to stay indoors when the weather was inclement, and as long as they had paperwork to catch up upon Javert did not fault them for it.

François brought him a cup of coffee, which he drank while looking through the morning’s despatches and papers. There had been a break-in at No. 4, Rue des Fossés, the night before, and some miscreants had created a disturbance in the Place Walhubert in the early hours of that morning. Officers were still investigating; the scratching sounds of pen upon parchment emanating from downstairs suggested that fuller reports were in train.

There was nothing of note in the despatches that might allude to the concerns Desmarais had spoken of the day before, namely, the smuggling in luxury goods which so concerned the Ministry of Commerce and Manufacturing as well as their border control guards, La Douane. There was certainly no mention of the criminal, Claquesous, or his friend, Montparnasse, as indeed there had not been for years.

Javert frowned. He could not shake the nagging feeling of unease.

When François brought the mid-day despatches which Javert always read with his mid-day meal, he asked his desk sergeant, “Anything to report concerning the La Douane issue?”

François said, “After your briefing yesterday, Lavalle and his team have started making enquiries of perfumeries and jewellers. I don’t think they’ve turned up any leads yet, though I will make a note to have him check in when he’s back at the station-house.”

Javert glanced at the window, which the rain had turned opaque. “I trust he will have the sense to pursue enquiries indoors today.”

The rain let up slightly in the afternoon, and Javert decided to deal with his unsettled mood by shouldering his summer coat and hat and heading out into the downpour. Staying out for too long in the wet would make his bad leg ache, but the cool air helped lift his restlessness, and he welcomed the damp tread of his boot-heels in the puddles and upon the cobblestones and slick streets of the Quartier Jardin-du-Roi.

He walked briskly down the Quai de la Tournelle, toward the Place Walhubert, and then traversed Rue de Buffon and the Rue du Jardin de Roi, now dripping with rain. Pulling his hat low on his head, he continued walking, and eventually found himself in the old quarter of the Marché-aux-Chevaux, with its dilapidated houses and rutted streets and low-walled enclosures, the populated buildings seemingly deserted in the dismal weather.

His feet drew him along the Boulevard de l'Hôpital to the little-traversed corner of the Rue des Vignes-Saint-Michel, where the familiar facade of the Gorbeau tenement came into view. The mean building at first glance seemed a small hovel, presenting its side and gable to the road, but was in reality as large as a twisted cathedral, riddled with hidden rooms which housed the criminal element and those looking to keep from scrutiny for one reason or another.

This was the building in which he and his colleagues had entrapped the Patron-Minette gang, with rather dubious help from a young Marius Pontmercy. Within its walls, Valjean had been held prisoner, by ruthless men led by the even more ruthless Thénardier, and from whom Valjean had later escaped from under Javert's own nose.

Javert paused on the threshold, and then knocked on the door. This was not his preferred method of entry, but concessions had to be made for status and advanced age.

A very old woman cracked opened the door, took in the cut of his coat and the uniform underneath, and then the lines of his face.

"M. le Commissaire!" It was the same Burgon, who was obviously still the principal tenant of this infamous tenement.

"Good afternoon," Javert said, firmly. "I would like to view the premises."

"Certainly, Monsieur," Burgon said, and stood aside to let him pass.

The corridor was dank and dilapidated, in much the same condition as it had already been eight years ago. The air smelled rank. Javert mounted the rickety staircase; he recalled the narrow interior as if it were yesterday.

He remembered the gang members, too: could see their faces, as clear as day. Guelemer the giant; Babet the crafty vaudevillian and jack-of-all trades; the many-aliased Bigrenaille; long-haired Brujon, who was known for wielding a cudgel; the road-mender Boulatruelle. These men had been the hardened denizens of the Salpêtrière, irascible in their criminality. That winter night eight years ago, Javert had put an end to them -- they had been arrested, and sentenced. As far as Javert knew, only Babet was still alive and serving the remainder of his punishment in La Force, the others having fallen victim in the intervening time to the particular cruelty of their fellow prisoners or to disease.

Then there had been Claquesous, whom he had always suspected of being a double agent, and his friend, the young and ruthless Montparnasse. They had both managed to escape from custody, and had never been found again.

Javert took his time to inspect the premises, tramping through the rooms and speaking to each tenant to see if anyone had any intelligence to share regarding these two infamous men. This diligent work took the better part of two hours.

Finally Javert entered the room in which Patron-Minette had laid a trap for Jean Valjean that winter night eight years ago, a room which, according to Burgon, had remained empty and unlet for years.

"An ill-omened room," Burgon said, darkly. Javert knew hardened criminals were a superstitious bunch; to be sure, they knew no better.

He glanced around the dingy space: the fireplace, the bed on which Valjean had been held, the window through which the gang had tried to flee and through which Valjean had himself managed to escape. It was somehow not entirely easy to catch his breath. The thought of his friend at the hands of the criminal gang, of how he had then, himself, been blind to Valjean's need, to mercy, to anything except the need to arrest and capture... The room was warm, almost rank, and yet Javert had to suppress a shiver.

He had been the arresting officer, and he had not managed to keep all of Patron-Minette in custody. Claquesous was still in hiding somewhere in Paris; possibly even here, in the 47th district. It was amongst the many reasons why Javert had taken up the commissary's position in this quartier; why he kept a modest room at No. 10 Rue du Bon-Puits even though he was hardly there, a residence which he maintained solely in order to qualify for his post in the district of Jardin-du-Roi. He wished to keep his ear to the ground of the quartier -- so that if Claquesous and Montparnasse were to surface in their old haunts, Javert would be on hand to apprehend them.

Were they truly involved in this new smuggling business with La Douane? Or was this just an idle rumour, much the same as the other idle rumours of the last remaining members of Patron-Minette? Javert could not tell.

"Are you well, Monsieur?" Burgon asked. There was curiosity in her voice, as well there might be. Javert knew he was never less than bedrock-certain in public, and any hesitancy would be remarked upon.

Javert pulled himself together. "Entirely," he said. "Thank you. That will be all."

Tomorrow. He would debrief Lavalle and his team tomorrow morning, and if necessary call on the pawnshops and jewellery stores and perfumeries himself. The Ministry of Commerce would require that no stone be left unturned; for Valjean's sake Javert was prepared to rip the cobbles themselves from the Parisian streets.

But for now, after his afternoon spent with the ghosts of their fraught past, Javert felt seized with the desire to return to his peaceful present, his home in Rue Plumet. He wished to see Valjean's face, to feel the sure strength of Valjean's embrace about him, to hear the rumble of that familiar voice -- more dear to him than anything in this life, and for whom he would gladly lay down that life to safeguard.

Chapter Text

It rained for two days then. After Javert had left with Toussaint’s laughter ringing in his ears, Jean had followed an hour later into the showers, delivering alms and going to the church to discuss the fixing of the roof with the priest. He imagined that perhaps the next time he visited, or the time after, he might be able to bring Emile with him, to show the boy the nature of charity at a street level, entirely different from what he was used to at the Pontmercy household, where charity principally took the form of legal battles and sums of money so large they were virtually unimaginable. Emile was eight now, and a caring soul, quite old enough to learn to look to the needy around him and understand that he must do all he could to help.

On the second day, the rain kept him indoors, but Jean did not mind the imprisonment. After Javert left for work, thankfully before the heaviest of the downpours began in earnest, Jean had lingered at the table with Toussaint, who was preparing a pie for the larder. She of course did not mind one bit the idea of the children being present for so long; she was a woman who had helped raised a small army of nieces and nephews, and three more little ones for a month would be nothing to her.

“You must begin immediately to make preparations, monsieur,” she said, “Two weeks hence is not so long a time, and you must see you have little here suitable for children to be comfortable in the long term.”

Truth be told, he had not thought of it, too caught up in his joy to think, but he could see that the woman was right. The house was serviceable, but small, and for appearances sake, they must leave the room Javert supposedly slept in free, as though he were going to use it. That only left the smallest bedroom for the children to sleep in. Two of them could fit comfortably into the bed but not three. The nurse could sleep in the attic and he supposed, at a push, that Georges could always share with her, if she did not mind the imposition on her privacy.

Then there was a question of linen, of where the children would eat, what they would eat, where they would sit, where he could send them to play so that Javert could have some time to himself in the silence he preferred at the end of a long day, among so many other questions that he began to write them down for later reference. Toussaint was helpful, making suggestions, but also threw up more and more questions, so that by the time she had finished her chores and put on her coat for the walk home, Jean rather felt that perhaps he had been remiss in considering the actual challenge of readying the house for the children.

Instead of allowing himself to worry that he had been too hasty, he ate the lunch that Toussaint had prepared and went to his desk. The rain had brought with it a chill that was uncharacteristic for June, almost July, and he allowed himself the luxury of a small fire, just enough to heat the air through. He did not mind the cool air so much, but Javert was always cold and he would only be moody when he came home if he could not warm himself a while by the fire. It was a very small sacrifice to make, truth be told; Javert asked for so little that the least Jean could offer him was a room in which he felt comfortable at the end of a long day.

He wrote some letters, listening to the crackle of the fire and the tapping of the rain on the windows. Cosette was the first recipient; he asked only that she confirm the dates that the children would be coming, and that she let him know how much she was prepared to send with them in terms of home comforts. The second was to a furniture maker he knew, a good man who had built the bookcases for the very library in which he sat, to ask him to come the next day and see what could be done about the smallest bedroom. He had no doubt the man would have better ideas than any he could think of to make the use of the space.

When his correspondence had been completed, he ventured out far enough into the rain to find some gamins sheltering beneath an overhanging tree at the end of the street. He gave each of them a letter, five sous, and a lump of Toussaint’s latest cake, wrapped in waxed paper. They were known to him; after a while, with careful application of attention and coins in hands, the street children who frequented these streets had begun to trust him, and he told Toussaint to feed any who was brave enough to come to the kitchen door. He did not know for sure how many had taken up the offer, only seeing one or two at a time, and always early in the morning, but the near constant replenishing of the pantry was sign enough that Toussaint was doing good work. If Javert knew about their open kitchen, and surely he must have done, for he was often awake early for morning shifts, he did not speak of it. The fact that he did not was all the begrudging approval that Jean needed.

After that, he took to his chair and must have slept despite the book on his lap, for he woke to the sound of the front door and Javert’s heavy tread in the hall. The fire had burnt low but the room was, he noted happily, still warm, and he remained with his eyes closed as he listened to Javert muttering, the clunk of first one boot and then the next falling to the floor, the rattle of the closet, and then the soft click of the library door. He could imagine Javert peering in and seeing him asleep, reluctant to disturb him but drawn in by the only warmth in the house. Sure enough, he was soon standing by the fire. Jean could feel him there.

He opened one eye enough to see Javert, standing with his back to the chair, hands held in front of him towards the flames. He looked a sorry enough sight; his hair was dripping, the queue straggled so that Jean longed to comb it out with his fingers, and his shoulders hunched. He was thinking, and doing so at great length; Jean knew the only reason Javert was not speaking to himself too was because he thought that Jean was still sleeping. Something had troubled him, that much was clear. It would not do now to let him know that he was being watched as well.

Jean allowed his book, still resting on his lap, to fall, and closed his eyes once more as Javert started and turned to him. He heard a soft exclamation and then felt Javert move closer. He schooled his breathing and waited; he would allow Javert to ‘wake’ him, and then there would be no need to admit he had been spying.

A single finger came to touch his brow, brushing a stray curl back from his forehead, and then it was gone and a hand landed heavily on his shoulder, squeezing slightly too tightly to be comforting. Jean shifted and the grip loosened, but the hand did not leave him.

“Whoever it is,” Javert hissed, so fiercely that Jean barely recognised his voice; “Whatever they are doing, they shall not find you. If they show their faces I shall kill them myself.”

Chapter Text

By the time Javert left the office, the evening skies had opened in earnest, deluging Paris with their vehemence. Javert hastened down a Rue Plumet that had fair turned into a tributary of the Seine. The sturdy boots that he had worn every day for almost a decade were wet though, and Javert felt soaked to the skin, in a way that he had not experienced since the night he had been pulled from the river by Jean Valjean.

He pushed through the front gate of No. 55, navigated the swamp in the garden, and clambered, splashing, up the steps to their front door.

The hallway was dark, the house silent and frigid, save for the drumming of the rain on the windows, and the far-off crackling sounds that came from behind the door of the library.

Javert flung his sodden hat and coat on the rack, and stooped with effort to pull off his boots and wet socks. His bad leg did indeed hurt from the hours in the damp, as he knew it would. He peeled his drenched jacket off as well, and bit back a curse as the chill rose through his damp shirt-sleeves and trousers. There was one place in the house that would be warm.

He hastened to the library, where he knew Valjean liked to spend the late afternoons before a roaring fire, over a book, or occasionally napping. Javert opened the library door cautiously, in case the latter was occurring.

Sure enough, there was the man himself, sound asleep in his favorite chair, venerable white head propped on one fist. He had clearly stoked the fire in preparation for Javert's return, for it was still crackling in the grate. Framed in the glow of the firelight, he looked hale and strong, despite his seven decades. It was an image Javert treasured immensely.

Quietly, so as not to wake Valjean, Javert moved over to the fireplace and presented his hands and wet self to the heat.

He stood there for long moments, feeling the fire's warmth seep into his bones and start to dry his clothes and sodden hair. It was most welcome after his disturbing afternoon in the scenes of crimes past, in the rain.

After a few minutes, Javert took up the poker and began to stoke the fire, coaxing the coals to more life. As he stared into the grate, he could almost see foreboding images amongst the flames, faces from the past whom he would not forget, shadowy figures which he did not recognize. The smuggling ring, this news of Patron-Minette, they were all even more unsettling when he considered them in the safety of the home he had made with Valjean.

Who are you, he asked of the fire. Show yourselves, if you dare.

A soft thump startled him out of his reverie. Javert turned; Valjean's book had fallen to the floor. Smiling despite himself, Javert got to his knees to retrieve it. Valjean frowned in his sleep, shifting restlessly as if he was about to come awake; a lock of his white hair had come loose, and Javert reached out to push it back.

Valjean's eyelids flickered under Javert's touch, and Javert found his fingers lingering. How many times had he traced the man's familiar face with his eyes and hands? He had certainly done so with his thoughts for almost twenty years, ever since Montreuil, when he had been trying to puzzle out the mayor's identity; now, even after eight years together, he still marvelled that he was allowed to do so in person.

That this good man had been hunted by Javert for years and could forgive him for it was still a matter of astonishment. Even more astonishing was the reality that Valjean had saved him from the river and welcomed Javert into his house and bed, at tremendous risk to himself.

Javert knew he owed Valjean his life, owed him everything that was good in this life. It was unthinkable that anyone could seek to threaten Valjean — he would sooner kill than allow it —

“That was quite a declaration, my dear. If I were a criminal, it would have filled me with terror."

With a start, Javert saw that Valjean had opened his eyes and was looking at him in bemusement. Belatedly, he also realised he had spoken aloud.

“Forgive me. I did not mean to wake you.”

“There is nothing to forgive," Valjean said, smiling faintly. "Only old men ought to be napping at this hour; as you are fond of telling me, I am not yet so old.”

Javert took a step back, stifling a groan as his bad leg protested. “Indeed, you are not.”

As he limped over to the chair beside Valjean's, his friend asked him, slowly, “Javert, of whom were you speaking just now? You sounded very troubled. I have never heard you so fierce.”

Javert took his cravat off and started to loosen his still-damp shirt-sleeves so he could think about what to say. He did not wish to worry the man with news of smugglers and Patron-Minette; Valjean would be overly concerned about his, Javert's, safety, and heedless over his own.

He decided to tell Valjean part of the truth. Surely he could not be faulted if what he conveyed was not strictly a lie? “It is about work. I do not wish to trouble you with it.”

“It is no trouble," said Valjean, steadily. "As you know, I would gladly bear your burdens, in the same way as you burden yourself with mine.”

“I do not see the children as a burden,” Javert began, and remembered that he was an excruciatingly bad liar.

It was too late to recover; Valjean was frowning again, and his face had gone ruddy in the firelight.

Javert was not entirely certain as to the moral hazard of keeping information from his companion — but he had no wish to worry the man, not with the children coming to stay.

It suddenly struck Javert: oh God, the children were coming to stay here, in Rue Plumet with Valjean and Javert, at a time where dangerous criminals were on the loose in his city.

Valjean had started to speak, his mouth tight with unhappiness, “You are not... not still unsettled about the children, are you? I know it will be an imposition, and you are very good to agree to take them in with us this summer.”

“It is not a matter of goodness,” Javert muttered. His brain was racing. Would the children be in more danger if they were to reside in Rue Plumet as planned, where he and Valjean could keep a vigilant eye on them? Or better for them to be at the Gillenormand house in Filles-du-Calvaire, so that they would be out of harm’s way, far from any ill-wishers who might be on the lookout for Commissary Javert?

"Then I don't understand," Valjean said, slowly. "Tell me what has unnerved you so."

"It is nothing," Javert muttered. Another mistake: he could see it in Valjean's face.

Valjean said, neutrally, "Well, if it is truly nothing, then it should not detain us further. You should get out of these wet things, and I will see what Toussaint has left us for dinner."

He rose from his chair. He did not offer to assist Javert in removing the aforesaid clothing — as he might otherwise have done on another day when Javert had not twice blatantly lied to him — and stalked from the room.

Chapter Text

“I am sorry to have upset you,” Javert offered, late that night, his head hanging low. “But truly, it is not the children that are concerning me.”

“I believe you.” Jean turned on his side and laid out his hand in invitation for Javert to join him in the bed. Arguments were unfamiliar to them these days, at least ones that lasted more than an hour or two, and he did not wish to go to sleep on one. Javert, thankfully, seemed to agree, for he climbed willingly into his side of the bed and pressed his lips to Jean’s hand.

“Goodnight, my dear,” Jean murmured, brushing his knuckles against Javert’s cheek.

“Goodnight, Jean.”

If he had believed, however, that the matter was settled, Jean soon found that it was not. For four days, Javert lapsed into one of his dark episodes and barely spent any time at home. When he did, he was distant and quieter than usual, and although Jean reminded himself that he was used to these black moods by now, Javert’s unwillingness to spend the time with him still hurt. It always had done, and he supposed it always would. The only way he could console himself was to remember that so far, Javert had always come back to him.

On Tuesday, the day of Cosette’s dinner, Jean brought Javert a cup of coffee before he woke, and sat on the edge of the bed, turning the last few days over in his mind. In such usual circumstances, Jean would not have pushed for Javert to attend any social occasion. This event was important, though, and he hoped to gauge by Javert’s reaction as to whether the children were in fact the source of his troubles. Reaching out a hesitant hand, he shook Javert awake. It was the first time he had touched him in days.

Javert woke reluctantly, as he always did, and in the moment of blankness that followed his waking, he almost smiled at Jean. Then the guardedness returned to his eyes and he blinked rapidly.

“Coffee for you.” Jean tilted his head. “It is early yet. I am sorry to wake you.”

“It is quite all right,” Javert said carefully, pushing himself to sit up. He picked up the coffee and held it tightly between his hands, gazing down into its depths.

“It is Cosette’s dinner tonight,” Jean said, after a moment of awkward silence. “We’re to discuss the plan for the children and the holiday.”

“Ah,” Javert’s brow twitched and he did not meet Jean’s eye, “Well –”

“You need not come,” Jean said. “I will make your excuses.”

Javert made a sound that was almost a groan and squeezed his eyes shut. He was so difficult to read when he was like this.

“I will be there,” Javert said, and reached out hesitantly to grasp Jean’s hand. He was warm from the heat of the coffee and Jean did not wish for him to let go.

“I’ve behaved terribly these last few days. I apologise for it,” Javert muttered, and then he went quiet again. Jean nodded and removed himself from the room. It was almost over.

Javert was as good as his word, even taking the time to send a note from the station to say that he would be late, and would make his own way to the Pontmercy mansion. Jean met him at the door, and was pleasantly surprised to be a given a kiss for his trouble. Javert’s lips lingered against his, and when Javert finally drew away, there was a hint of a smile playing on his face.

“What was that for?” Jean asked, helping Javert out of his coat.

“If you need to ask, perhaps I did not do it correctly,” Javert said gruffly. “I did not know I was so out of practice.”

Before Jean could reply, Emile appeared from Marius’ study and bowed politely. He alone of the children had been allowed to stay awake to greet Javert, much to Fantine’s disgust.

“Good evening, monsieur,” Emile said. “Did you have a good day at work?”

“I did, thank you. Was your own day – satisfactory?”

“Oh yes,” Emile grinned, “Monsieur Dubois says I am ready to start learning English!”

“Congratulations,” Javert said; “A worthy endeavour.”

Emile beamed, and Jean took that opportunity to shepherd him up the stairs to the nursey. The boy went willingly, glowing with actual praise from Javert, no doubt.

“The boy will be well educated, better than his father even,” Javert mused, as they made their way through to the dining room.

“I believe that is Marius’ wish. Cosette wants the same for Fantine, although I do not know how Fantine feels about the prospect of being tied to a desk.”

“Monsieur Javert!” Marius leapt to his feet and came to take Javert’s hand. “Thank you so much for agreeing to take the children.”

Jean felt Javert stiffen at the overly jovial tone, and put a reassuring hand on his arm as Marius, always endearingly oblivious, continued to chatter on.

“Enough, darling.” Cosette spotted the same boiling pot and swept over to move Marius away. “Monsieur Javert has had a long day, and you are being very loud!”

Marius only laughed and blushed good-naturedly before he took his place at the table and invited them all to do the same.

Cosette and Marius had a great many ideas and things to tell them, and Jean fielded all the conversation, to allow Javert the chance to only listen. His partner ate steadily, better than he had for days, and indeed said nothing, but whenever Jean turned to look at him, he knew Javert was listening and would interject if he saw fit. Cosette and Marius, used to Javert by now, did not push to include him, and Jean felt his heart swell. How lucky he was to have this. To be discussing his grandchildren, taking them away on holiday, with his partner by his side. Something was still bothering Javert, he knew, but the man’s presence here reassured him it was not the children. At least, not entirely, and that was more than he could have hoped for.

“We are very grateful,” Marius told them one more time, as they prepared to leave later, and his voice was serious for once. “To know we have you, the both of you – we are very fortunate.”

Cosette kissed them both goodbye and cradled Jean’s cheek in her hand, just for a moment. She had always been able to tell when Javert was having one of his episodes, and Jean had never hidden anything from her in that respect.

When they got home, Javert divested himself of his coat and turned to help Jean with his, running his hands lightly up Jean’s arms and squeezing his shoulders.

“I’ve been an ass,” Javert mumbled.

“It is all right.”

“It is not,” Javert growled. “But let me begin to make it up to you.”

He drew Jean up the stairs behind him, clinging tightly to his hand, and Jean followed him willingly. Javert always came back to him in the end.

“I’m sorry,” Javert said again, when they reached the door of the bedroom.

“Enough apologies now,” Jean breathed, as Javert lifted his hand to his lips and kissed it. He lingered there, long enough for Jean to feel the warmth gather in his stomach, and he was left in no doubt of Javert’s intentions when finally he dropped Jean’s hand and reached to untie his cravat. His throat bared to Javert’s mouth, Jean rolled his head as those lips came to press against his pounding pulse, and when Javert began to suck at his neck, Jean had to push him away.

“Perhaps we should retire,” he smiled, as Javert seemed to realise that they had not actually yet reached the bedroom.

“If you insist,” Javert muttered, flinging the door open and pulling Jean behind him. There was just time for Jean to push the door closed with his foot before Javert was kissing his neck again, his hands running down Jean’s back to tug his shirt free from his trousers, and sliding underneath to touch the warm flesh of Jean’s back. Javert’s hands were large, but they touched the scars on Jean’s back with a reverence that had used to make Jean weep. It did not happen so much now, but Javert never forgot himself; no matter how heated their touches might be, he was always gentle there.

And it was heated, there and then, Javert pressed so close that Jean could feel his erection against his thigh. Only a week or so since they were together, but Javert was always desperate to be touched and to touch, even after all of their years together. He had been starved for too long of affection, and Jean had never begrudged him his need to know that he was still wanted. How could he begrudge Javert, when he himself knew something of the fear that, soon, all would be taken away from him? And besides all of that, he could never deny Javert anything.

He allowed Javert to undress him by the fire that Toussaint had thoughtfully stoked before she went home, and did not protest when Javert stripped himself, quick and efficient, even though Jean would have liked to help. There was not time for that tonight, he understood. This was Javert’s last apology.

He shivered as Javert drew him to the bed and laid him down, then climbed in beside him and took hold of his cock.

Jean groaned as Javert gripped him, sure and strong, working him so quickly that he feared he would not have long to enjoy it. With difficulty, he stayed Javert’s hand, and spoke quickly, to assure any doubts Javert might otherwise have had as to how he felt.

“Slow down, my dear,” he murmured. “We have time.”

Javert kissed him by way of apology and played his fingers over the tip of Jean’s cock, collecting the moisture there and spreading it, until all was slick and burning. He returned to his wringing stroke, so slow now it was almost a torture; Jean felt his toes curl and he reached out blindly. Javert came willingly, pressing against Jean, his head in the crook of Jean’s neck, mouthing the skin there he had already made sensitive. Jean’s cock jerked and he tangled a hand in Javert’s hair, anything to anchor himself.

It was all heat and friction after that, as Javert stroked him and rubbed against his thigh, and when they were both panting and breathless, Javert squeezed Jean’s balls, and he came, messily, over his stomach. Javert bent to lick up the mess, lingering until Jean had to push him away. It was too much. Instead he reached out and laid his hand on Javert, and his touch was enough to send Javert over the edge too.

Javert collapsed at his side and kissed his ear, his hair, his cheek, anywhere he could reach with his lips. He fell asleep with his lips against Jean’s cheek, then woke again moments later when Jean tried to reach the blankets.

“Let me,” Javert murmured, only half awake, moving his long legs to pull the blankets up around them.

Nestled together, closer than they had been for a week, Javert spoke once more before he fell into a deep slumber.

“Whatever I do, Jean Valjean, it is for you.”

Jean would not tell him how long he lay and pondered those words, until long after the fire had burned down.

Chapter Text

The time had come. The passage had been booked, the suitcases were packed, the carriage had been made ready. There was no reason to put off the matter any further.

Of course Valjean had gone to the Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire to collect the children. Javert wished he had insisted on accompanying his friend. If he had done so, he would not be standing stiffly by the open door of No. 55, with Toussaint by his side, like the most awkward welcoming committee in France.

He wondered if he should not have worn his uniform after all. He had dressed for work out of force of habit; it was only after he had done up all the brass buttons, and Valjean reminded him what the date was, that he realised he had given himself the day off.

Too late now. Perhaps it was fitting that he would receive the Pontmercy children into the house garbed as if he was about to face a firing squad.

Beside him, Toussaint fidgeted with the strings of her apron. Her usually placid countenance was filled with barely-disguised excitement. “Do you think they will be much longer, Inspector?” she asked, for the third time.

“Surely not,” Javert responded, again for the third time. “Monsieur Fauchelevent left an hour ago to fetch them from the Marais. Certainly they will be here very soon.”

Toussaint looked sideways at him. “That is true. My apologies, Monsieur. I just cannot wait to see them!”

Javert suppressed a sigh. Well, that made one of them.

His thoughts were interrupted by the long-anticipated sound of carriage wheels in the path outside. Toussaint let out a pleased sound, and Javert sighed and followed her down the front steps.

As they approached the gate, a cacophony of shrill little voices lifted into the air.

“Let me out, the little ones want to see —“

“Fantine, I was to be the first —!”

“—no, no, no!”

“Down, down!”

“Children, children, if you please!” Marius’ voice sounded ragged around the edges, as if the short journey from the Marais had been eventful indeed. The front gate was pushed open, and then an eruption of children issued forth.

Émile staggered up the path, carrying a trunk that looked much too heavy for him, as well as a book-bag that was full to the bursting. He wore a thick hat and coat that was unsuitable for the summer; most likely his parents’ attempt to ensure their delicate eldest child was protected against the non-existent cold weather. He also wore an expression of fraternal dismay.

The cause of said expression was undoubtedly his little sister. Fantine had shouldered her way in front of him, unencumbered as she was by either luggage or unseasonal clothing. The one thing she was carrying was a large, enclosed wicker basket, which she was using to impede Émile’s progress up the path.

“Fantine, you agreed, I’m the oldest!”

“The little ones should be the first! They all want to meet Orri! You’ve already seen him, Émile, let them have their turn!”

“Children, please, stop shoving one another. There is no prize for being first into the house. What has gotten into the both of you?” Marius hurried up the path to intercept them. He was weighed down with a trunk and several valises and a hat-box in varying shades of pink that appeared to all belong to Fantine. He was hatless, and his hair stood on end. Javert wondered how this man, who was otherwise a competent lawyer and respected political activist, could be placed in such a state by his own children, but such offspring-engendered chaos nevertheless seemed to occur to Marius with alarming frequency.

“Down! Want down!” announced Georges, gesturing cheerfully from the vantage point of his nurse’s arms. The middle-aged woman surveyed the garden around her suspiciously as if it was filled with snakes and other wild beasts out to attack her little charge.

“Not you, rascal,” said Cosette, sweeping into the garden upon Valjean’s arm and taking the baby from his nurse. “Come along, everyone, the hour grows late and Papa and I must be away very soon.”

Fantine paused, clearly torn between wanting to race Émile into the house with her basket full of kittens, and the opportunity to throw a dramatic weeping fit over her mother’s impeding departure. Émile took the opportunity to squeeze ahead of her at the front steps, and Javert went to intercept him.

“Good morning, Émile. What’s all this about, then?”

Émile shook Javert’s proffered hand, looking slightly sheepish. “I’m sorry, Monsieur. I — Fantine — that is to say… it is not important. Please forgive us.”

Javert felt his grimace vanishing as Toussaint knelt beside Fantine. “Hello, Mademoiselle. Have you brought all your kittens to Rue Plumet?”

“Yes!” Fantine said. “One for the three of us and one for Grand-père makes four, of course. I also wanted to bring Mama Lise, but Aunt Gillenormand will be lonely without her.”

“Indeed, that’s for the best,” Toussaint said; the family would be not ready for another litter of kittens quite so soon after the first, and certainly Javert had no desire for Orri to become a father under such circumstances. “What are all their names?”

“The little orange one is Fifi, and Émile has called his Robinson Crusoe after this English book he has been reading. I think Grand-père wanted Monsieur Javert to select the name for their kitten, but Papa has been calling him Tonnerre because of his deep growl. And mine …” Fantine grinned, and whispered in Toussaint’s ear, and then Toussaint was laughing too.

“How amusing,” Toussaint said, and straightened up. “Would you like me to help you with the basket, Mademoiselle?”

“Please,” Fantine said, prettily. Javert took Émile’s suitcase from him, and the four of them crossed the threshold together in an egalitarian fashion.

Marius and the footman carried the bags up to the rooms that had been newly readied: the small room which Émile and Fantine were to share, and the attic which would house George and his nurse. The kittens would be given a place in the kitchens, but doubtless they would make their way up to the children’s bedroom, much as it had become Orri’s habit to spend the night at the foot of Valjean’s and Javert’s bed.

Orri sniffed at the four nimble little things that had suddenly invaded the house. Then he turned up his nose and stalked off in search of more interesting pursuits. The four kittens followed after, excitedly, and Javert could have sworn that Orri sighed, too.

Cosette pronounced herself entirely satisfied with the arrangements. “Papa, you have done wonders readying the house for the children! I believe they will be so happy and content here this summer. Thank you so much.”

“The thanks belong to Toussaint and Javert,” Valjean said, self-effacingly. “Toussaint saw to all the new linens and room arrangements, and Javert had our carpenter construct the new safety devices you see around the fireplace and upon the stairs.”

“I know Georges is walking very well these days, but it is still better to be safe than sorry,” Javert began, and was bemused when Cosette pressed a kiss to his cheek.

“Thank you, Javert,” she whispered. “I know Papa will look after the children with his own life, but I trust you to keep everyone safe.”

Javert cleared his throat. “I will certainly try,” he said. “I wish you both a good voyage, and a successful visit.”

“And a speedy return!” Cosette said, and winked at him. Javert was so taken aback by her teasing that he entirely failed to notice Valjean’s approach until he felt warm fingers clasp his hand.

While Cosette and Marius were bidding a lengthy farewell to their offspring and the respective kittens, Valjean murmured, “You look very well in your uniform, but perhaps you would like to change into something more comfortable for our mid-day meal? It smells as if Toussaint has prepared a feast.”

Javert snorted, refusing to rise to the bait. “I would not scandalise your son-in-law or your daughter by changing my usual attire until they are back in their carriage and headed for Calais. And in any case, changing one’s dress just for lunch is the sort of thing the idle bourgeoisie does. A diligent policeman would gladly suffer the dignity of the uniform at all times, even in his own house.”

Valjean smiled his small, rare smile. “Then perhaps afterwards you would allow me to assist in the removal of the uniform?” he suggested, innocently. “I believe Georges is due for his nap after luncheon, and I have told the children that grandfathers, as well as little brothers, similarly need their forty winks before dinner.”

Chapter Text

The next day, a Saturday, was also the start of the nurse’s weekend off, and Jean woke early to allow her to leave in good time. He wasn’t early enough, however; by the time he got downstairs, he found Georges balanced on a cushion at the kitchen table. Toussaint had given him a bowl of porridge and, bravely, his own spoon to feed himself with. Georges was unused to this freedom, but was doing an admirable job, if one ignored the porridge on the floor and in his hair and on the table. Toussaint, who was already putting dough by the fire to rise, seemed unfazed by this mess.

“Mademoiselle Dupin had a long day of travelling ahead of her,” Toussaint shrugged. “I told her last night that I would come in time for her to make a good start.”

“Thank you.” Jean attempted to find a spot on his grandson’s head to kiss that was not covered, failed and settled instead for patting his tiny shoulder. “I did not even think to ask her what time she would like to leave.”

“You have much to think of, monsieur.” Toussaint poured cup of coffee and pushed it into his hands before he asked for it. “Go. We are quite happy here together, are we not, petit?”

Georges chuckled and shovelled another spoonful into his mouth. He was getting the hang of it already.

Jean took the coffee upstairs, pausing to peek in at Émile and Fantine. At some point in the night, Fantine had migrated to Émile’s bed, and they shared the same pillow with a harmony they did not usually enjoy. They would sleep a while yet; he had heard them whispering long into the night.

He closed that door and opened another, stepping back into his bedroom. Javert was a barely visible lump under the blankets, snoring soundly. It had been strange last night to see Javert go into his own bedroom, for the sake of appearances for Mademoiselle Dupin. Even the minutes before he had slipped through the adjoining door had been too long, and Jean had been happy to drag him back to his rightful place at his side.

He had thought Javert might be stirring by now, but as he was not, Jean only kissed his hair and made a hasty retreat, sipping at the coffee himself. Who knew how many of their mornings would be this peaceful?

Back downstairs, he swept a cleaned-up Georges from his seat and, leaving the house in the custody of Toussaint, dressed the boy for the outside.

“Walking, Grand-père?” Georges asked, as they made their way to the street. “Where we going?”
“Grand-père has some errands,” Jean said, reaching down to take the small hand that was offered to him. Lately, Georges had been insisting on walking, but he would soon tire and they would be able to move faster.

“Errands, errands with Grand-père,” Georges repeated.

Jean was sure they made a funny sight, the boy barely past his knee walking so determinedly at his side, but he did not mind it. Indeed, as Georges squealed and pointed out the birds, the cats, the leaves on the trees and on the ground, Jean was aware of the smiles their fellow early birds gave them. Georges was angelic-looking, that was true, and impossible to look badly upon, and Jean felt the familiar sweet tang of pride as he walked at his grandson’s side.

By three streets over, Georges was beginning to slow down and then came the inevitable, “Up, please, Grand-père.”

Cosette was trying to discourage this lately, as the little one got older, but Cosette was far away and Jean would hardly be inconvenienced by Georges’ feather weight. He picked the boy up and set him on his shoulders.

“Hold tight.”

Georges obediently fixed his hands in the anchor of his hair, and Jean reached up one hand of his own to hold a small leg securely. From his perch, there were a whole myriad of new things for Georges to see, and he chattered constantly as Jean walked.

They went first to purchase the newspaper, and several magazines that had been on hold for them, then they went to the bookshop. Here he bought two small books, one with a red and one with a green cover. The red was ‘Thumbelina’ for Fantine, and the green a notebook for Émile. The boy had been so taken with Javert’s notebook last night that Jean thought it would be good for Émile to have his own.

“And what would you like, mon petit?” Jean touched Georges’ hand, “A present, for being so good.”

“Chocolate.”

Chocolate duly purchased, Jean turned for home and hoped his grandson would attempt to keep the chocolate mostly in his mouth. The sun was already strong as they walked, bright in his eyes and as he lifted a hand to shade them, Jean’s mind drifted to another child who had ridden on his shoulders, so many years ago it could have been a dream.

His oldest nephew he had toted like this, at the end of a long day when the boy had brought him his lunch and lingered until the end of the day. The child had been little older than Émile then. Jean tightened his grip on Georges; it was still difficult to convince himself that he deserved any of this, and the boy’s weight on his shoulders was both a comfort and an unexpected burden.

He stopped, put his purchases on a wall and swung Georges down. His little face was not entirely covered in chocolate, and Jean kissed him, holding him as tightly as he could without hurting him. Georges, oblivious to anything except the warm arms, giggled and tugged on Jean’s beard and as the moment passed, history faded a little once more.

“Come on,” Jean said, “Let’s go and wake the sleepers.”

“Wake ‘em up!”

They did not, as it turned out, have to wake anyone. As Jean opened the front door, Fantine appeared and attached herself to his leg, none the worse it seemed, for her late night.

“Grand-père, come on! It’s time for breakfast but Monsieur Javert said we had to wait for you. I’m starving!”

She was gone as quickly as she had come, and Jean followed her to the kitchen to find a state of happy pandemonium. Toussaint was performing her usual duties, tending to the breakfast and putting cakes in the oven as she wove between Émile who was laid flat on the floor, teasing the kittens, Fantine who was following her every step like a shadow, and Javert who sat in his shirtsleeves, watching it all in quiet bemusement.

“Good morning, everyone.” Jean put Georges down, and winced as he went straight to his brother and stepped on him. Émile complained and pulled Georges to the floor where he could do no damage, except to help wind the kittens into a state of frenzy.

“Good morning.” Javert was the only one to answer him, and Jean dropped a kiss on the top of his head. Javert was looking at him very strangely, and spoke under the noise.

“Are you well? You look – odd.”

“Later.” Jean did not wish to ruin this moment of bliss with talk of the past. Javert made a sound in his throat but did not press matters further. Jean knew this would not be forgotten though, and was proved correct when, later in the afternoon, Javert pushed him into a corner that was, momentarily, child-free.

“What was wrong? This morning?”

“You’ll think me foolish.”

“I often do,” Javert said, but there was no bite to it, and Jean wound his fingers through the offered hand and allowed himself to be pulled into the library and propelled to his chair. Javert knelt at his side.

“Your knee –”

“It is nothing,” Javert said. “Why are you not overcome with joy at this mad arrangement? I thought it would make you happy.”

“I am happy,” Jean murmured, “I just – need time. To adjust. To have so many small ones around all at once- it reminds me of – times gone by. Times I did not think I even remembered.”

There was a beat of silence, and he dared look up to find that Javert was watching him intently, and he realised too late that his eyes were damp.

“It is not foolish,” Javert said after a moment, offering his own handkerchief from his pocket. “You are likely to remember them, when something happens to remind you.”

“I know.” Jean wiped at his eyes and squeezed Javert’s hand. “And I am happy, do not fear about that. It will not take long until I am better adjusted, I promise you.”

Javert raised their entwined hands and kissed Jean’s knuckles, and then the peace was gone as the door flew open and Fantine appeared, chased by four kittens and Orri, who was at least trying to pretend that he was not chasing, but only watching.

“Grand-père, help!” she squealed, launching herself onto his lap to escape her pursuers. “They won’t leave me alone!”

The kittens gathered at Jean’s feet, gazing up, mesmerised, and he could make neither head nor tail of it until Javert reached across to Fantine and untangled something that was hanging from her dress. He came away with the offending item; the crude mouse on a string that Émile had been teasing the animals with that morning.

“Oh,” Fantine said, then began to laugh as Javert tossed the toy to the kittens and they turned away to fight over it. She buried her face in Jean’s neck, chuckling, and he began to laugh too, feeling all of the tension in his shoulders give way.

“I shall have a word with your brother.” Javert hauled himself to his feet, only wincing slightly as he did. “I cannot imagine he will be chastised by any other person in this house.”

His small smile, as he said it, only made Jean want to laugh more.

Chapter Text

Finally.

Policemen were all too well acquainted with investigations that did not progress despite investments of manpower and effort, with lines of enquiry that were followed at length without success, with cases that remained open indefinitely, with no end in sight.

Javert had been rather concerned this would turn out to be one of those investigations.

For weeks on end, his men had pursued inquiries across the length and breadth of the 47th quartier. They had visited the various perfumeries and jewellers and purveyors of antiques, and interviewed proprietors at length as to the provenance of their goods. They had perused hundreds of pages of inventories and receipts and documents of title, all of which had to be accurately tallied with the proprietary stock-in-trade.

In the course of these inquiries, Inspector Lavalle had happened upon a long-running fraud: the young man entrusted with operations at Antiques Levesque on the Rue Cuvier had been falsifying the accounting records for years under the nose of his elderly employer.

“Well done,” Javert had said to his young officer. “At least some good has come of this wild-goose chase.”

Lavalle had nodded seriously. His hat made him look older than he was; when he had first been posted to the Rue Pontoise station-house, the more seasoned men had taken him for a beardless youngster who had the connections to secure himself an inspector’s rank. But he had proven to be a competent and courageous officer, working his way up in the ranks steadily and without favours from anyone, and had shown an eye for detail which had stood him in good stead in this particular fraud case.

“Crime is crime, Monsieur,” he had said firmly. “Perhaps this did not further our smuggling case, but I’m pleased we made an arrest anyway.”

“Yes. At least this is one case which we are able to close.” Javert had wondered if he would be able to say the same about the mysterious smuggling ring that so concerned the Ministry of Commerce and Manufacturing. Perhaps these concerns were something which La Douane had imagined out of a surfeit of suspicion – after all, these border control officers were known for their general distrust for all those dwelling beyond France’s borders. Certainly, there was absolutely no sign that Claquesous, Montparnasse, or the remnants of the Patron-Minette, were involved in any way.

It often happened in this way with investigations. Matters would not progress for weeks, even months, and then suddenly there would be an event -- a sudden lead, a tip-off, a witness -- that would break the case wide open.

When François burst into his office that morning, Javert assumed his desk sergeant was bringing his mid-day despatches. One look at the young man’s countenance made him instantly reassess that conclusion.

“Inspector, there may be a break in the La Douane case!”

Finally. Javert got to his feet, the thrill of the chase rising fiercely within him. “Where are we going?” he asked, reaching for his coat and hat.

 

* * *

 

Guegan Antiquités was a small antiques shop on the ground floor of a tenanted building in the less reputable end of Rue Poliveau. Its weathered window-frames and darkened interiors had clearly seen better days. It stood between a second-hand clothing store and a door with no shop-plate, which had been secured using a chain.

When Javert and François arrived, Lavalle and his team had obviously been there for some time. They had formed an informal ring around the hapless proprietor, who was sitting on a stool in front of his desk, wringing his hands. Someone had drawn the shutters in the shop, screening their presence from curious passers-by in the street.

“…think of your wife and children, Monsieur,” Lavalle was saying. “With you in remand at La Force, how will they feed themselves? And then there is the matter of your trial for theft, and knowingly dealing in stolen property…”

“I did not steal the items, M. l’Inspecteur,” the man said, unhappily. “I paid good money, I swear it! Please have mercy, I will not last a day at La Force.”

Lavalle and the other officers rose to their feet as Javert approached. “M. le Commissaire,” the young inspector said, briskly, “may I present to you Monsieur Guegan of this establishment. It seems he has come into some items of jewellery of English origin which he should not have.”

“I can see that,” Javert said. He looked Guegan up and down: the small, neatly dressed man was sweating in a way that denoted something was not quite right. Lavalle clearly had the right instinct, and it seemed he had amassed some evidence. And yet…

He turned to Lavalle. “Inspector, I would not ordinarily interfere with your investigative techniques, but it is not in order to refer to a man’s wife and children in this way. That is not how we do things in our district. A family’s well-being is not something to be trifled with.”

“Yes, M. le Commissaire,” Lavalle said, looking both taken aback and crestfallen; Guegan looked almost pathetically grateful.

Javert turned back to the proprietor, favouring him with a meaningful smile. It was gratifying to see that expression had not lost its touch, particularly when he was not meaning for it to be friendly.

“So, Monsieur Guegan, please assist us in assisting you. You say you purchased these items. From whom did you do so, and did he give you a receipt?”

Guegan wrung his hands again. “He said his name was Rennes. He did not give me a receipt, which was why when I was asked for my books the first time, I felt compelled to tell the Inspector that the items were part of my usual shipment from Smiths & Sons in London.”

“Did you think we would not discover the truth?” Javert remarked. “It is an offence to lie to the police, Monsieur. I think I do not need to revisit mentions of remand, but you may imagine yourself in a rather difficult position at present.”

“M. le Commissaire, I beg of you!” Guegan looked as if he would fall to his knees; Javert took a step back in self-preservation. “I will do anything I can. I would never have accepted jewellery without proof of provenance, or a receipt, but these were early Georgian, and very rare, and Monsieur Rennes said if I did not accept his terms he would offer them to Maison Frédéric Daniel instead.”

Javert sighed. “Do you know how to contact this Monsieur Rennes?”

“I have seen him in this district from time to time,” Guegan said, miserably. “A well-turned out gentleman, dark haired, bright-eyed, nicely spoken.”

Javert frowned as those words conjured an image: a fashionably dressed youth of under twenty with a pretty face and glossy dark hair; a cold-blooded killer. “How old do you believe this man to be?”

“He looks barely twenty-one, M. le Commissaire. But he speaks knowledgeably, and I believe he is actually much older.” Noticing Javert’s interest, Guegan added, “I do not know where he lives, Monsieur, but I could help find out.”

Javert wondered if Guegan was clever enough, or desperate enough, to agree to participate in a police entrapment operation. He said, briskly, “See that you do indeed help us, Monsieur. Lavalle, convey him to the station-house and see if he can make an identification from the Patron-Minette files. Quietly, so that the man’s neighbours are none the wiser.”

 

* * *

 

It was quite late when Javert returned to Rue Plumet. There had been a sizeable amount of paperwork arising from the Guegan arrest -- he had decided not to formally alert the Ministry of Commerce just yet, but he had sent word to Desmarais that he would call on the Prefecture later in the week to update him informally.

There was much to do; he was keeping the hours he kept because of the work, not because there were any other reasons at all to stay away from home.

This last thought gave Javert pause at the threshold of No. 55. He had, after all, promised to be truthful to Valjean, and to himself. In that spirit, he had to cautiously admit that those other reasons were not, after all, entirely irrelevant.

However, the children had in fact been reasonably well behaved for the past three days, even Fantine -- that is, ever since the incident with the newspapers and the little kitten called Fifi. Javert had no reason not to expect the household would be in decent order upon his return.

Much to his surprise, all was indeed peaceful. Nurse had taken Georges up to bed, and Fantine was busy shadowing Toussaint, who was spending one of her late evenings at Rue Plumet putting the house to rights.

Valjean had met him at the door and pressed his hand tightly; Javert made a note to himself to spend some time later that evening discussing the recent developments in the La Douane case, and the possible identification of the criminal formerly known as Montparnasse.

But in the meantime, there was a covered pie for dinner. Émile sat at table with Valjean and Javert and spoke to them about his newest book.

“It is about a family who are shipwrecked together on an island,” he said. “God rescues them from a storm, and they come up with many inventive ways to survive. They plant food, and rescue animals, and they even build a tree house!”

Valjean smiled his faint, benevolent smile, which Javert knew was so different from his own. “God is very merciful,” he told Émile. “And the human spirit is indeed inventive!” He glanced across the table at Javert. “In much the same way, families all over the world find their way to survive sudden changes to their world, and thrive, even.”

Émile looked gratified at his grandfather’s comments. Javert held Valjean’s amused regard, and felt the corners of his own mouth lift of their own accord.

It was true. Against all expectations and by God’s grace, he, Commissiary Javert, seemed to have survived this particular shipwreck, and to now look upon this strange new island of children and a multitude of kittens as the adventure that it truly was.

Chapter Text

“I must speak to you.” Javert caught Jean’s arm as he descended the stairs, a serious look on his face.

The house was quiet, with the children abed and Toussaint on her way home, and when Javert drew him onto the library, Jean saw that he had already made some tea and placed it by the fireplace. It was a warm evening and there was nothing in the grate to sit by, but Jean thought he understood Javert’s reasoning. It was here that they had always talked, ever since the early days, about anything that was important.

Jean took his seat and allowed Javert to pour him a cup. Javert was in his shirtsleeves, a sight that was rare, but the children had steered him towards a more casual attire, at least at home. It was easier, Javert had conceded, to change a stained shirt than it was to have Toussaint battle a dirty uniform jacket. Jean liked it; it made the man softer, somehow. He might have told Javert that at any other time, but now was not the time, with Javert wanting to discuss something serious. The children had done nothing wrong, these past few days, but perhaps –

“Please do not be concerned,” Javert said, picking up his own cup and settling into his chair, “I merely wish to tell you a little of the case I am engaged with.”

Jean let out a breath and nodded. “Very well,” he said. “You can be very ominous when you do not share what is on your mind.”

Javert gave a rueful smile of his own and sipped his tea.

“I apologise,” he said, then began to speak. He told Jean about the case, the smuggling, the leads that had gone nowhere. Jean listened and nodded each time that Javert paused. It did explain, to a certain extent, why Javert had been so distracted of late.

“Well, my dear, I am not surprised you have been busy,” Jean said, glancing at the clock on the mantle. It was late, and Fantine had risen early these past few days, in need of supervision, of course.

“There is more, the thing that I wish for you to know.”

If Javert had noticed Jean’s wandering eyes, he did not comment and Jean felt a twinge of guilt. Had he not promised to give Javert all the time that he needed this summer?

“Please.”

“I am – that is to say, I have long suspected that the men truly responsible for this enterprise are known to me. To us.”

“Who?”

“Clasquesous, for one. And Montparnesse.”

Jean carefully placed his cup on his saucer and put it on the table. Those names! Shadows from a past he had tried so hard to forget.

“I am sorry to be so blunt.” Javert leaned forward and took Jean’s hands between his own. His thumb rubbed idle circles, and when he spoke, his voice was low.

“I had little proof of this, besides my own feeling, but today I was given a description of a young man who sounds very much like Montparnesse. You know what they are like, and I am afraid that the closer we get to them, if it is them, the more they will turn and fight their corner.”

“They always make it personal,” Jean murmured, and he understood why Javert had spoken now, “And you are concerned that we – I – will be discovered.”

Javert nodded unhappily, his face half hidden in the candlelight and he was silent for a moment. Then he raised their hands to his mouth and kissed Jean’s knuckles. His breath was warm.

“It is still only speculation at this time, but if I am correct I think it is a good thing that we are bound for the coast. It will not hurt to be out of Paris for the time being.”

Despite Javert’s concerns, Jean took comfort from how very calm he sounded, as though he had already thought hard on all things that had to be considered.

“Do you need to be here?” Jean asked, the idea coming to him that this was Javert’s purpose, to tell him that he would be put somewhere safe whilst Javert risked himself. He was quite ready to argue when Javert shook his head.

“My men are capable,” he said shortly, “And the case is slow moving. I do not see how my staying here will make it move faster. I am too well known to spy now, and too old. Besides, if there is a danger, I would prefer us to be together.”

From upstairs came the sound of two small feet hitting the floorboards and a cry to match them.

“Grand-père!”

Jean was on his feet immediately. Émile had nightmares sometimes, or walked as he slept, and he would only wake Fantine if he was distressed. Jean rushed up the stairs, leaving Javert to clear the tea things and check the doors, as was their habit. Émile was at the door of the bedroom, tears upon his face. He was awake at least, and Jean knelt to embrace him. The boy trembled in his arms.

“I’m sorry, Grand-père. It was an accident.”

Jean noticed then that Émile’s nightshirt was damp with more than sweat. The boy was red faced, embarrassed, and Jean kissed his forehead.

“It is quite alright, mon petit. Come, let us get you cleaned.”

He led Émile to the kitchen, passing Javert on the staircase. Javert did not say a word, only rested his large hand on Émile’s head and continued on his way upstairs, but when Émile had washed and changed his shirt, they went back to find that Javert had changed the sheets on the bed and was perched on the edge of Fantine’s bed. She was awake, of course, for it had been noisy, and Javert was holding her hand.

“See, here Émile’s is, very well. Will you sleep now?”

“Yes, monsieur,” she whispered, “Good night.”

“Good night, mademoiselle.”

He stayed there while Jean settled Émile back into his bed, and they left the room together, stepping into their own bedroom. Javert was silent for a moment and then he rested a hand on Jean’s shoulder.

“For their sakes, perhaps, we should depart sooner rather than later.”

“My own thoughts exactly.”

*

And so it was that three days later, the household was awake early and preparing to catch the carriage to Étaples.

Jean had hastily accepted an offer to stay in a house owned by a friend of Marius in the small seaside town, four days in the carriage north of Paris. He had been considering the resort anyway for their trip, and the necessity of a quick getaway had forced his choice. It seemed a pleasant enough place to hear about it, and it had beaches, and enough diversions to keep them amused for a few weeks. He had no doubt that Javert would find the place a little stifling, but he would find any such place objectionable after a while, and it would be as good as any other.

The Pontmercy carriage was due at seven, complete with footman and driver to accompany them, and the bags were packed and ready by the front door. Toussaint had done an excellent job of corralling the children into helping with their own things, and they were as ready as they could be. Javert had spent one last night in the station, preparing things for his departure, but he would be back any moment now. Indeed, the biggest challenge would be dragging Fantine away from the kittens.

“But why can’t they come?” she asked again. “They would love the seaside!”

“No they won’t!” Émile snapped, “Cats don’t like water.”

“Grand-père!”

“The kittens are to remain here,” Jean said, as firmly as he could bear. “Orri and Toussaint will care for them. Why, they are on their own special holiday here, are they not?”

Fantine stuck out her bottom lip but she did not cry, which meant that she was considering his words. At that moment, unfortunately, Javert chose to return and Fantine saw a new target. She attached herself to his leg as soon as he stepped through the door.

“Monsieur, can the kittens come, please, they promise they’ll be good!”

Javert blinked, doubtless exhausted from his night shift, and Jean braced himself for the snap and the impatient shake of his leg that was bound to send Fantine into a flood of tears. Instead, he found himself watching, his mouth dry, as Javert crouched to her level and gently shook his head.

“They are so very small,” he said solemnly. “It is already confusing for them to be here and not in their home with their mother. You would not want to upset them more, would you?”

Fantine gulped and shook her head, lifting a hand to wipe at a tear she had been carefully preparing.

“No. They can stay here. Toussaint, you will play with them every day, won’t you?”

“I promise.”

Crisis averted, the rumble of the carriage was enough to distract Fantine further. There followed ten minutes of bedlam, as the footman and the driver loaded the bags, Émile and Fantine dodging between them and around them. Jean spoke to Toussaint, handed her the keys he had cut for her and the purse of housekeeping money, along with her wages.

“Thank you, monsieur,” she smiled, “Oh, have such a wonderful time. I will take good care of the house, and the animals.”

“I know,” he pressed her hand, then bent to stroke Orri, who had begun to curl around his feet.

“Be good,” he said. “Set a good example.”

Orri yawned and butted Jean’s hand with his head. It was the best promise the cat would give him.

By the time he got outside, he found that Javert and Nurse had managed to load the children and settle them into the carriage. Georges dozed in the woman’s arms and, thankfully, Fantine and Émile had been placed as far apart as they could be. Fantine clambered onto his lap. Jean glanced at Javert, who had put himself by the window with Émile at his side. The boy leaned into him to look out of the window as they pulled away, but Javert did not seem to mind it. He put his arm around Émile’s shoulders and slumped in his seat, his hat pulled over his eyes.

The smile Émile gave Jean said everything that could be said.

Chapter Text

Four days on the northern road to Étaples. Four days of hills and countryside and small villages, of rattling discomfort and the chatter of small children, and then there would be the interminable summer by the seaside.

Javert knew he ought to be grateful. These days on the road meant relative anonymity, which could only increase with the distance placed between his family and a Paris that had become suddenly dangerous for them all. The weeks spent lying low in an undistinguished coastal town would hopefully mean a safe place to go to ground, and, God willing, they would only need to return when the remnants of Patron-Minette had been rooted out and recaptured once more.

However, much as Javert told himself he ought to welcome this opportunity to get away, his unruly spirit chafed with each increasing mile that separated the Pontmercy carriage from the 47th quartier. Much as he knew he was too old and well-known to be of use in the investigation, everything within him rebelled at not being at the forefront of the chase.

And, God help him, but the little ones were getting on his last nerve.

Everyone had been well behaved on the first day; the coach had driven along the well-maintained roads from Paris and had made good time to Beauvais. Things were, however, different in as the journey wore on. There were only so many cows and sheep and houses for Georges to count before he burst into crotchety tears; only so many stories Valjean could tell Fantine before she got bored and tried to annoy her brothers instead. Poor Émile was trying hard to ignore his siblings, burying his nose in a book, but he could not help correcting Fantine when she was recounting some fantasy or other, and then Fantine would hit back, and Valjean would have to step in.

They stopped for lunch along the road to Amiens, with Georges sulking and tired, and then carried on through the rolling plains of Picardy, with Fantine and Émile hotly debating the pros and cons of living in the city, and the best way to get jam out of the bottom of a jar, and Valjean trying to keep the peace. By the time they arrived in the city of Amiens itself, the brother and sister weren’t speaking to each other, or so Fantine would announce, at the top of her lungs, and at five minute intervals.

“I thought part of you not speaking to me would involve you not speaking at all,” Émile said, finally, as they got out of the carriage, and Fantine burst into tears that were too piercing to be real.

“Grand-père, Émile asked me to shut up!”

“I did no such thing,” Émile protested hotly. “Look, she’s only pretending to cry!”

“Grand-père, Émile says I’m a liar and a crybaby!”

“He did not say that, Fantine,” said Valjean, patiently, for an innumerable time. “Besides, you’re too old to be crying over such trifles. Look, your handkerchief is too pretty to make wet.”

“You think it’s pretty?” Fantine asked, pulling the little scrap of lace from her bodice; both she and Valjean stared seriously at it.

Émile sighed noisily, and Javert roused himself belatedly to be of use. Awkwardly, he told the boy, “You know, your sister only does it to annoy you half the time. It would be much less effective if you didn’t rise to the bait.”

“Yes, but it’s not fair! Papa always lets her get away with everything!”

Javert rather agreed with this sentiment, though he could not very well tell Émile so out loud. Instead, he said, “I realise it must not be easy for you. But you are the eldest, and it is natural that your parents and grandfather would rely on you to be sensible at all times, even when those times are very trying.”

Émile frowned, then nodded. “Very well, Monsieur, I will do my best,” he said, bravely.

The coachman went to stable the horse, and the footman started to unload the trunks from the carriage. Javert and Émile hastened to assist. As they approached the inn where they would spend the night, Fantine spotted two little dogs sunning themselves on the stoop of the tavern and burst into a shriek of delight that made Javert’s eardrums ring. Both he and Émile sighed at the same time.

 



Valjean had taken the precaution of renting four rooms at the tavern: one for the coachman and footman, one for himself and Émile, one for Fantine, Georges and Nurse, and the last for Javert himself. Javert knew that this configuration of sleeping arrangements was required for the needful propriety, but he could not say it pleased him at all.

As the hour was already late, they dined cursorily in their respective rooms. Javert was soon done with his meal, and with his ablutions. He wondered if Valjean and Émile needed help saying their prayers, but he knew that he had no good reason to visit their room for that spurious purpose, nor to bid them good night.

Instead, he found himself lying in his narrow single bed and staring at the ceiling, feeling the absence of Valjean’s broad body beside him as an almost physical sensation.

Javert could only recall with some effort the crowded nights of his childhood and the dormitory he had shared in Toulon with his fellow guards, and after that time, the years spent sleeping alone. Since Valjean had welcomed him into his life and his bed, he had only spent the odd night on his own -- before his promotion to Commissary, when he was still scheduled for the occasional night shift, and after his promotion, during the occasional visits to his rooms at the Rue du Bon-Puits in the 47th quartier. The rest of the time, over the last eight years, his nights had been spent in caresses and quiet slumber at Valjean's side.

On those solitary nights away from Valjean, Javert invariably slept badly, occupied as he was with the concerns of the office and not entirely comfortable in such less familiar surroundings. On this night in Amiens, down the hallway from where Valjean and his grandson slumbered, Javert found he could not get to sleep at all. The bed was cold and cramped and too small for his tall frame, and yet it felt too empty.

He stayed wakeful until dawn, rendered sleepless by the small sounds of the inn, and the ongoing smuggling investigations, and the duties he had left behind in the station-house at Rue du Pontoise. The restful comfort of Valjean's arms was just out of reach.





“I think the inn may have mice,” Nurse muttered over breakfast the next day. The woman looked as ragged around the edges as Javert felt. “I could have sworn I heard noises of little feet running around the room. It kept me awake all night.”

“I didn’t hear any mice, Nurse,” Fantine said, too-innocently. She looked as if she had taken especial care with her toilette this morning; Javert wondered what she had been up to.

“Mice!” Georges said, and waved his spoon in the air. Javert leaned over and intercepted it before the lad could put his own eye out, or Nurse’s, and Valjean favoured him with a look of approval.

“I slept very well,” Émile announced. “And so did Grand-père!”

Valjean did look most rested; in the dawn light, he seemed almost youthful enough to be the boy’s father, not his grandfather. He said, favouring the boy with a benevolent smile, “Émile is a very considerate sleeper. I did indeed sleep very well.”

Javert was glad that someone was getting a good night’s sleep, even if it wasn’t him.

The noise levels in the coach were even more excruciating without having had a night’s rest. Javert could not believe three small children could generate this amount of ruckus. He tried to be of as much assistance to Valjean and Nurse as he could bear, endeavouring to distract Fantine and engage Émile in conversation; during the stop for luncheon he even took a turn with the baby, and allowed Georges to perch stickily in his lap.

In the afternoon he could not help himself. Pleading the onset of a headache, he leaned against the bench and pulled his hat over his eyes and tried to shut out the world.

He thought he might have drifted off for a moment or two. Either that, or the carriage also had a mouse problem -- he could have sworn he heard the pattering and scratch-scritch of little mouse feet above the sound of the coach wheels.





When they stopped at Abbeville that evening, Javert steeled himself for yet another night spent apart from Valjean. He was a grown man who had spent years sleeping on his own; besides, he would have many more years to spend sleeping with his companion. One more night apart would surely do no damage to anything or anyone.

To Javert’s surprise, though, the tavern could only assign to them three rooms, and not four.

“I’m afraid we have had more travellers than expected, Monsieur,” the portly proprietor said, looking at his register with some dismay. “We can let the children have the largest bedroom; it is a family room with three beds and a cot for all the little ones and Mamselle. Which means that the men will have to share two to a room, even M. Fauchelevent.”

“In that case, we will make do,” Valjean remarked gravely. Javert did not dare look at him, for fear that he, Javert, would not be able to keep his composure.

The evening could not pass quickly enough. They dined together early as a family. Fantine made her views known regarding mice and how to encourage their visits, and Émile actually responded in a constructive way. Georges consumed his gruel and fell asleep in Nurse’s arms; he woke when everyone else had finished dinner but miraculously did not burst into tears, and even smiled at his siblings when they tried to comfort him.

Valjean officiated over these activities with a smiling benevolence that made Javert even more impatient. Finally, dinner was over, and he shepherded the children up the stairs and presided over ablutions and prayers. Then he kissed the three small heads, and the children bade him good night.

Valjean was silent as they returned to the room they were to share, but his wry, sidelong glance spoke volumes. As if by accident, his fingers brushed close to Javert’s as they walked. Javert gave thanks to the stars and moon and everything in between that the children were used to turning in early at night.

Somehow, they gained the threshold of their room without incident. Valjean shut the door, and turned to Javert meaningfully, and Javert could not hold back himself back any longer. He caught Valjean in his arms and pushed him against the door of their room and covered his mouth with kisses.

“Such eagerness,” Valjean tried to say, but Javert was past caring. He tore his encircling cravat loose and reached for Valjean’s buttons, desperate to feel the touch of Valjean’s bare skin against his own once more.

“Do not tease me, I beg you, not after the three days and nights that we have had,” he muttered; Valjean laughed and indeed showed mercy, returning Javert’s kiss and helping him draw off his clothes, until they both fell into one of the beds in a hungry embrace.

From there things proceeded as they had eight years ago, when they were younger men and their new-found love had been feverish and shocking and as irresistible as gravity. They clung to each other with no further thought of propriety or grandchildren or anyone’s advanced age, kissing and pressing against each other more and more urgently, until Valjean finally took hold of both of them in one large hand, and stroked them together, and in no time at all they had both released across the bed and each other in a blaze.

After they had subsided, panting, against sheets that would need to be discreetly cleaned with handkerchiefs soon enough, Valjean began to laugh again under his breath.

“I did not realise how much our separation has driven you to distraction! Clearly I must do something about the sleeping arrangements for the remainder of our trip.”

“Promise me,” Javert said. He heard the plaintive note in his own voice, and it did not embarrass him at all.

Chapter Text

The house at Étaples was bigger than Jean had been expecting, although he did not think that a bad thing once they were settled and unpacked, and there was room for the children to play and for Javert to have his own space.

The journey had been arduous, despite the children mostly being on their best behaviour, but Jean chose not to dwell on the moments of sharp words or bitter silences, for they had been relatively few and far between, and he could not blame anyone for them when even his own temper has been tested at times.

He woke early on the first day to the faintest scent of salt in the air, and the cries of gulls cutting through the still morning. For the briefest of moments, he did not know where he was, and his foot jerked reflexively, testing for the weight of a chain on his ankle. When it did not come, he sighed and turned on his side, held down by nothing but the soft weight of warm blankets. This was not Toulon, despite the smell, despite the noise. And here was Javert, sleeping at his side, if he needed any more proof of that. Jean reached out a hand and traced Javert’s sideburn with his fingertips, just to make sure he was real.

At the feather touch, Javert wrinkled his nose and shook his head, and Jean pulled away, grinning. It was real. They were in Étaples, a pretty and quiet seaside town, with the grandchildren sleeping just a few doors away and the promise of weeks to do nothing but be together. Javert had breathed a sigh of relief last night when he realised that their rooms had adjoining doors, and he could come and go as he pleased as long as he made sure his bed looked as though it had been slept in. He had been so pleased, in fact, that Jean realised it had probably been high on Javert’s list of things to be apprehensive about, and part of the reason that he had been so changeable in his mood on the journey.

Careful not to wake him, Jean rose and washed his face in the cold water leftover in the basin. He dressed, more properly than he would in his own home, but he did not want to scandalise the housekeeper who he could hear shuffling around in the kitchen down below. She had been an unexpected luxury and Jean was determined to make her an ally. He needed all the help he could get when it came to his granddaughter, and he hoped that the woman would have a similar influence as Toussaint when it came to tempering Fantine’s flights of fancy.

The house was relatively newly built, and the stairs did not creak as Jean descended. As it was, he surprised the housekeeper, who was kneading dough at the table.

“Oh monsieur, I didn’t hear you!” she exclaimed, pressing a hand to her breast, “I expected you all to sleep a while longer yet.”

“I’m sure that the others will,” he said, “I apologise for startling you, Madame Thomas. May I sit with you a while?”

“Of course, monsieur. Would you like some coffee?”

“Please.”

Madame Thomas left her dough and began to make the coffee. She was a middle aged woman, younger than Jean, perhaps Javert’s age or a little younger. Her dark hair, coiled neatly onto her head, was only just showing signs of grey and her face, though thin, had a kindly look about it, especially when she smiled.

“Tell me, madame, do you work only for this house or for several in the town?”

“I am retained as the housekeeper here, for the most part, monsieur,” she said, her hands working quickly, “But I am allowed to take in washing and sewing, to earn a little extra during the time the family is not here. The kitchen is bigger, you see, than my own and I can wash more here and dry it easier too.”

“A good arrangement,” Jean nodded, impressed at the woman’s enterprise. The house belonged to a friend of Marius’, for the use of his family when they wished for a holiday, but the young man had been quick to agree to Marius’ family borrowing it for the summer. Evidently, they did not spend very much time here, which was a shame, for it was a comfortable house. Émile and Fantine had their own rooms, and Nurse had a small chamber of her own adjoining a nursery for Georges. The driver and the footman were installed above the stables in rooms of their own. The stables, for their part, seemed to have been built at great expense for the sole purpose of housing any horses that the house rented for the time that they were in residence, for there were none that lived here permanently. The decadence of such a thing still sat a little strangely with Jean, but he was grateful for the generosity of Marius’ friend in allowing them to borrow the house for an extended time in the height of summer.

Madame Thomas made the coffee and went back to her dough, and they spoke a little more about the town. She asked about the children, their likes and dislikes, what times Jean would like food to be served and how he would like the household to run. She didn’t write down a single thing as he talked, or ask for any clarification, but he got the impression that if he were to quiz her on it afterwards, she could be able to answer every question. Javert would greatly approve of this woman, Jean could already tell.

Eventually, when everyone had woken and eaten an excellent breakfast that Jean watched Madame Thomas prepare from scratch, it was time to go out and take a turn around the town that they were to call home for the time being.

They were too many to travel in the chaise that the driver had found under cover in the stables and faced the possibility of having to take the carriage into town, when a shout of surprise went up from the stables and Émile rushed in to the kitchen.

“Grand-père, Bernard found a barouche for us!”

Javert, who had appeared at Jean’s side once more after going to fetch his coat, laughed under his breath.

“Of course they have a barouche as well. Is there anything this house is not equipped with that is used but once a year?”

“Hush.” Jean smiled though, for a barouche was an unnecessary expense for many families back in Paris, even ones that could have afforded such a thing. As Bernard pulled it round to the front of the house, Jean could have laughed at the distaste on Javert’s face, for this one was decorated as ornately as one would expect from such a thing owned by such a family. It did, however, have the unobjectionable feature of being large enough to fit them all in, if Georges’ sat on a lap and Fantine could be persuaded to not wriggle too much.

“Grand-père, let’s go, let’s go!” Fantine squealed as she was lifted into the barouche, “I’ve never seen the sea before!”

“I know, my dear,” he chuckled, climbing in and closing the half door behind him, “But unless you make room for me, we will be forced to stay here all day!”

Fantine giggled and moved from the seat she had chosen, to squeeze in between Javert and Nurse on the opposite side. She rested a small hand on Javert’s leg, a hand that was accommodated and not gently removed. Barnard pulled away and they began the short journey along the Route d’Hilbert into town, the road that ran alongside the river. The children chattered and Jean watched the scenery pass with tears welling in his eyes, overflowing from the unbearable happiness of the scene. He felt a gentle nudge of a boot against his foot and looked around to see that Javert was watching him. Javert inclined his head a fraction and Jean nodded. All was well.

He wiped at his eyes, pulled himself together, and they arrived in the town to find a very small but perfectly formed place, with an open square and clean, tidy buildings that lined it and the tiny streets. It was a Saturday, and the town was busy enough for its diminutive size, although no one paid them much attention. They were used to visitors here.

Fantine glanced around and frowned, as the barouche came to a stop in the square.

“Where’s the sea? This looks like Paris.”

“It is a little further to the beach,” Jean said, “But we will go there today. I thought that first we could see the town.”

Fantine did not look convinced, but she climbed down with the rest of them and stood quietly whilst Jean debated with Javert as to which way they should go to begin their exploring. Jean didn’t notice until they started walking that Fantine had slipped her hand into Javert’s, or that Javert had once again allowed it to remain there.

“It is prudent to keep hold of her in a new place,” Javert said, when he noticed Jean looking, “She is likely to wander and then what would happen, aside from disaster?”

Jean did not answer, only rested a hand on Émile’s shoulder and steered him around a crowd that was gathered outside a café.

When they did make it to the beach later that morning, Fantine was so delirious with happiness at being able to chase the waves that even Javert had to smile at her antics.

Chapter Text

It was a strange thing to be on holiday. In his previous life, Javert had prided himself over never having to take a day of vacation; he had never once begged off his duties due to illness, soldiering on despite the occasional cough or cold, and he had never had to run any personal errands that could not be pursued off shift. He would accept assignments on Christmas and New Year’s that no other officer would volunteer for, on the grounds that crime itself did not take a holiday. A lengthy vacation, involving travel to another part of the country? It was unheard of.

Of course, many things had changed after he had taken up with Jean Valjean. There had been his long illness in the summer of 1832, after his encounter with the Seine, a sickness from which it had taken him some months to recover. It had been Valjean’s turn to fall ill the following year, and Javert had surprised them both by taking time off work to supervise the man’s convalescence. Then again, before Valjean, there had never been a reason to spend time at home, or to enjoy pursuits other than those imposed by duty.

Certainly before Valjean, there had never been a reason to travel, let alone a reason to travel with small children. Javert would ordinarily have had a horror of such a proposition, regarding it as a hellish endeavour to be endured rather than a pleasurable pastime looked forward to by most other people. Then again, there was nothing he would not endure for Valjean’s sake. Valjean, too, was a stranger to holidays, and to travelling with cherished family members as a pleasant pastime; he had suffered so much deprivation in his life that Javert knew it would be remiss to deny this small pleasure to this good man.

True to expectation, the journey itself had been as hellish as Javert had anticipated. The children had been fractious, unused to cramped quarters for such a long period of time, and Javert himself had enjoyed neither being outside his own area of familiarity nor sleeping alone.

However, when they arrived in Étaples, it was a surprisingly different story. The house and grounds were large and well-appointed, the children had ample room to themselves for play. The efficient housekeeper proved herself an excellent cook, and Javert found himself developing a taste for Northern country fare in her kitchen. There was little to do by way of upkeep that could not be done by the gardener, though the driver and footman insisted on pitching in around the house as well. The nearby town was near enough for Valjean and him to walk to, although with the children and Nurse it would be easier to ride, either in the carriage or a large ornate barouche maintained by the absent master of the house, and on first impression it seemed relatively orderly, the station house maintained by a small but competent contingent of officers and soldiers.

On holiday, Valjean would rise even earlier than his wont, enjoying the bracing seaside air; he would take his stroll around the estate with the dawn and return to the house with pink in his cheeks and a brightness in his eye that Javert did not recall ever having seen before.

On his part, Javert discovered the desire to turn in early. He had been assigned to a room adjoining the master bedroom, and it was an easy enough task to discreetly join Valjean in the large country-style master bed. And, there being no duties at Rue du Pontoise awaiting his arrival, he found he had a propensity to sleep in late.

“It is a strange thing to see you still abed at this hour,” Valjean remarked, when Javert had failed to rouse himself when the children did for the second day in a row. “Not that it is unpleasant… far from it. It is just proof that we ought to take a holiday more often.”

Javert struggled into a sitting position. The sunlight streamed into the now-familiar room, and lit Valjean’s faint, wry smile. Smells of coffee and toast drifted through the half-open door.

“No more holidays,” he muttered,”if only for the sake of my reputation. Never let it be said that Comissary Javert was still in his bed at nine o’clock.”

“Such a scandal,” Valjean agreed, “and one you will never live down. If you survive it, come downstairs for breakfast; I believe there is still coffee, and the children have not eaten all Madame Thomas’ fresh bread.”

Javert got out of bed and began his ablutions. Soon he would return to his own room discreetly to dress. It had become more familiar to be out of his uniform; he suspected he could become easily accustomed to this less formal method of dressing.

“What does the holiday have in store for us today? Another afternoon at the beach?”

“Emile wished to see the ship-builders’ yards, where I thought we could take luncheon. The sky is clear, and it looks to be another fine day, well-suited for such an outing.” Valjean paused. “It seems Fantine isn’t very interested in boats, though this could just be her way of wishing for time away from her brothers this morning.”

Javert paused, mid-way through the act of shaving. His previous life had been marked by unswerving certitude regarding the proper course of action; he had never experienced the desire to do anything other than what duty dictated. This was something that had also changed after he had taken up with Jean Valjean.

Firmly, he put all selfish desire aside. “Why don’t you take the boys to the docks, then? I will finish my breakfast and then when Fantine is ready to leave the house we will take the chaise and come to town to find you.”

“That would be ideal,” Valjean said, slowly. “In fact, we can take the chaise to town and send it back for you and Fantine.”

“Fine,” Javert said; he did not relish the prospect, but he knew it was the right thing to do.

 

*

 

After Valjean, the boys and Nurse were bundled out of the house, Javert lingered at the breakfast table. The housekeeper, Madame Thomas, seemed more that ready to chat about the town and its inhabitants. As with many small towns, it seemed there were no secrets from each other: Javert learned more than was probably strictly necessary about the idiosyncrasies of the town’s shopkeepers and that of Madame Thomas’ many relatives, who ran diverse small businesses in Etaples and even an inn called The General, and of the various small public festivals taking place around the town in the summer.

Well aware that her guest was a police commissioner, she made her views known about the safety of the small town, as well as the competence of their young Inspector Daubigny. “Although we are getting many visitors for the summer, from Paris as well as from other countries, and I suppose it is more difficult to keep the streets safe from strangers than from the people you know,” she remarked.

Javert drank the last of his coffee, considering this. “Do you feel less safe, then, with all these summer visitors that you do not know?” he enquired.

Madame Thomas shook her head. “Only that it would take a while to get used to so many new faces. The mayor says it’s because we have become more popular as a destination for tourists from the continent, and our harbour has also become more busy.”

Javert frowned. Perhaps he ought to pay a visit to this Inspector Daubigny; he had hoped to keep a low profile on this trip, but it did sound as if it would be worth while at least making contact with the local law enforcement, if they were going to spend all summer here.

“In any case, now that a police commissioner from Paris is visiting the town, I am sure we will all be even safer,” Madame Thomas commented, and Javert glanced up to see that she had blushed quite becomingly.

 

*

After all the coffee was drunk and the toast consumed, Javert could not put it off any longer. He left the kitchen in search of Fantine, who had finished breakfasting before he had risen.

Javert did a cursory and fruitless turn of the garden, then the house itself, walking through the corridors and rooms across floors lit with squares of sunlight from the tall windows. Marius’ well-to-do friend had furnished his summer home with paintings and ornate furniture that was undoubtedly to someone’s taste, but not Javert’s.

Fantine was not to be found in her bedroom, nor in either of her brothers’. The house had wall panels and nooks and large cupboards which could hide little girls not wishing to be found, and Javert, sighing, dutifully looked behind and into every one.

As he paced through the upper floor of the house, Javert became aware of the sound of pattering little feet. It sounded similar to the noises he had heard in the inns en route to Étaples, which was unlikely, as surely no establishment run by Madame Thomas would be home to mice, or other vermin?

Then he heard smothered laughter, and he knew he had his suspect.

The attic was not a place he had ventured during his first pass of the children’s rooms. Javert climbed the small stair, raised the trapdoor, and sure enough, there was Fantine, in her long skirts and ringlets, haloed in light from the slanting windows set into the roof.

And she was not alone. In the middle of the attic, playing with a ball of string, was the small grey kitten whose name Javert had never learned.

Fantine and the kitten looked up at Javert as he climbed into the attic. Both pairs of blue eyes displayed the same amount of apprehension and defiance.

Javert was, surprisingly, not furious. He considered his options as to how to address this situation. “Well, Mademoiselle, it seems I have discovered you red-handed,” he said, at last. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

Fantine scooped the kitten into her lap. She, too, looked as if she was considering her options. Evidently, she decided that coming clean was the best course to take.

“Monsieur, I know we were not supposed to bring the kittens! And what you said was right: they are still small and would not be used to strange places. Except for this little one, who is so good and who likes new things?”

She gulped, and went on, bravely, “He sneaked into my hat-basket, and I only found out on the first night in the inn. Nurse is so short-sighted she didn’t realise he wasn’t a mouse… Since then, he has slept in my room, curled up beside me, and he hasn’t bothered anyone. After all, you did not discover him until now, no?”

Javert sighed. It did sound like the little girl was telling the truth. “Do you realise it was wrong not to tell the truth when you discovered it to your grandfather and to me?” he asked, less sternly that he would otherwise have done.

Fantine’s lower lip wobbled, but no tears welled in her eyes, and she said, “I do, and I am very sorry, Monsieur. Please punish me as you think fit. Only, do not make me leave him behind, for he will miss me very much.”

Javert rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I will need to discuss your punishment with your grandfather, Mademoiselle. But for now, suffice that I will brook no more untruths or disobedience from you, on this trip and henceforth. Above all, you must always tell an adult when you have discovered something untoward, even though you wish to keep the secret to yourself. Do you promise?”

“Yes,” the small culprit said, solemnly. The kitten in her arms mewed softly, and Javert sighed again. As if they did not already have too many under this roof this summer, it seemed their household would be harbouring an unexpected additional member.

Chapter Text

Jean was grateful that the morning promised good weather, after the threat of rain had kept the children indoors the day before. He was even more grateful – although the fact made him feel somewhat guilty – that Fantine had elected to stay at home for the visit to the shipyard. She was testing Émile’s patience, and it would do no harm for them to have some time apart. She wouldn’t enjoy the boats anyway, but Jean resolved he would take her to do whatever she wished, without her brothers, in the next few days.

Émile was beside himself with joy at the thought of examining the boats that they had so far only glimpsed from afar, and even the dour nurse had to smile at his enthusiasm.

“Grand-père, do you think we will see any of them sailing? Or the fishermen coming in?”

“We would need to be awake much earlier than this to see the fishermen,” Jean said. “But it will be a fine day. I am sure some of the pleasure boats will be out.”

“Is there big boats?” Georges piped up. “Big boats, Émile?”

“There are some big ones being built in the yard,” Émile nodded importantly; “But most on the water will be small. Like this.”

From his pocket he took his green notebook, which he had begun to carry all places, as Javert carried his. He took a stub of pencil from his other pocket and began to draw some wobbly shapes. Georges leaned over to look, and Jean smiled. He hoped, as he often did, that Georges would grow to be the faithful comrade that Émile so desperately wanted. Émile had far too few friends for Jean’s liking. He was too quiet for boys his own age, too happy in his own company. Jean saw too much of himself in the boy, and he did not like it.

The carriage dropped them at the river, and Émile tucked his notebook back into his pocket. Nurse let Georges down and he scampered down the small stretch of riverbank towards the water. Émile followed him dutifully and Jean turned to the nurse.

“If you wish, mademoiselle, please take the morning for yourself. The boys and I shall be quite alright here.”

“Thank you, monsieur!”

The woman perked up and cracked another smile, her second of the day. Jean chuckled as she disappeared towards the town; she had not been keen on a morning of boats either, that much was obvious.

He walked down to the water’s edge where Émile was gripping the back of Georges’ shirt tight in one hand and showing him a beautiful stone he had picked up with the other. Georges could hardly be expected to understand everything his brother said but, as with the drawings of the boats, he seemed to hang on every word. Jean sat down on the warm sand, far enough away to give them some privacy, and close enough that he could easily grab whichever of them made the first accidental sojourn into the water.

He was hardly concerned though; the river was so calm that there were barely any ripples across the shimmering surface. Gulls cried overhead and he breathed the salty air deep into his lungs. He had been concerned at the outset of the trip that being so near the water might make him as uncomfortable as it had done on that first morning. It was a relief to find that it only served to make him sad. He could manage sadness well. He always had done.

Several boats were already out, cruising along on the current, and he watched them a while as Émile talked and helped Georges to throw stones into the water. The boats were too far away to be of interest to the boys and he did not point them out. The boys could stay for as long as they wanted and, indeed, it was almost an hour before they tired of their game.

“Grand-père, can we see the boats now?”

“Yes, my dears.”

They walked the distance to the shipbuilder’s yard, which was tucked into a cove away from the town, on the edge of the sea. The yard was full of small boats being mended and larger ones half-built, and Jean was sure that they would be the thing to capture Émile’s attention. He had not counted, however, on the wooden jetties had been constructed far out into the water, so the fishing boats had a safe place to moor near the men who could help them if they needed it. Several boats had indeed already returned, but many of their crews were still cleaning their equipment and shouting cheerfully to one another. Jean swept Georges onto his shoulders, and followed Émile as he walked along the jetty to the first boat. A young man, no older than Marius, was sat on the deck mending a net.

“Bonjour, monsieur,” Émile said politely. “What are you doing?”

“Tore my net this morning.” The man held it up to show them the hole. “Didn’t catch many fish with it like this!”

“Can I watch you?”

“If you wish,” the man grinned, his teeth bright in his tanned face. “Hop on.”

“Can I, Grand-père?”

“If you want to.”

Émile climbed carefully into the boat and sat down. The man picked up his knife once more and carried on cutting away the loose ends from around the edge of the hole. Émile asked his questions and the man talked gladly, about the fish and the tides and the net. Jean listened awhile, until Georges began to shift on his shoulders.

“Monsieur, I am going to walk a little way,” he addressed the fisherman. “I will not go far.”

The man nodded and went back to his explanation. He had taken out a shuttle – a needle, Jean thought – and was showing Émile how to thread it. Jean walked along to the end of the jetty and back, and when neither of them noticed, ventured a little further to the next jetty along.

From here he could see the old stone harbour that had been extended over the centuries. It was empty of boats, unfavourable perhaps for mooring, apart from a shabby little boat at the far end. It was rocking as though there was weight shifting from side to side in the hold, and then a man stepped onto the deck. It was no surprise that the boat had rocked so. The man was large and well built, his arms bulging out of shirtsleeves that were too tight for him.

A prickly heat began to creep up Jean’s neck at the sight of the man’s powerful shoulders, flexing as he lifted crates out of the hold and stacked them on the deck. It was hard to tell, but Jean could almost be sure he had seen those shoulders before. Those arms – had he not fought against them once, been almost choked by their strength? Was it not, God help him, Brujon? But it could not be. Javert had mentioned to him a few years ago that the man had died in the bagne. It could not be him. He was long gone.

“Grand-père, it hurts!” Georges said suddenly, and Jean realised he was holding the boy’s legs too tightly.

“I am sorry, petit,” he said, loosening his grip, keeping half an eye on the back of the stranger. He walked back to the fishing boat, the wooden planks creaking under his heavy, hurrying step.

“Émile, a moment longer and then we must find Javert.”

The young fisherman looked up sharply at the sound of his voice, but Jean had reappeared very suddenly and he could not blame the man for being startled. Émile got to his feet, thankfully disinclined to complain at their time being cut short. Jean’s heart beat fast in his chest and he almost lifted Émile by his collar as he helped him from the boat.

“Thank you, monsieur!” Émile called to the fisherman, as they swept away.

Jean hurried him out of sight of the man with the crates. He wanted to run, to take the boys and go, but he had to know. It could not, he knew, be Brujon, but his hands shook and he would not rest until he was certain.

“We have to wait here a moment,” he told Émile, “Entertain your brother for me.”

He leaned around the corner and peered at the man. He still had his back to him, but he had finished with the crates and stood with his hands on his hips. Jean held his breath, willing the man to turn around, even for a moment. When he finally did, Jean felt a blow as though he had been hit. The face was older, the beard was new, and the hair was shorter, but he knew that man. He knew the nose that had been broken and mended crookedly. He knew the high forehead and the twisted lip.

It was him.

Brujon.

Chapter Text

Javert knew he still appeared physically imposing, and indeed as an inspector and a police commissioner he was used to commanding the respect of his peers without a single word. However, he could not help but think this professional bearing was lowered somewhat by the presence of one small girl and her kitten.

Still, there was nothing else for it. He had promised Valjean he would take the child to meet the others at the docks, and it did not make sense to make a detour for the sake of a little dignity.

Fortunately, Inspector Daubigny was still deferential, despite Javert’s unusual choice of companions this morning. He greeted all three of them warmly, even the kitten, and his desk sergeant fetched Fantine a lollipop. Indeed, the policemen did not bat an eye at the sight of the little girl perched upon a chair that was too large for her, swinging her legs, the kitten curled upon her lap. Perhaps in this small town, it was usual for complainants to bring their children and house pets along with them to the police station to make a report of a dishonest greengrocer, or the dangerous state of their neighbour’s fence.

Daubigny leaned back in his chair and said, “The de Marseille home, Monsieur? I believe Madame Thomas does for the family there, doesn’t she?”

“Yes,” Javert said, somewhat surprised. He had forgotten how familiar one could become with the citizenry in small town policing; not that he had himself ever allowed such familiarity in Montreuil. He pressed on, with his real errand in mind. “In fact, she mentioned that the town is seeing an influx of summer tourists, from other countries as well as from France. Does this have an impact on the level of crime in this town, Inspector?”

Daubigny nodded. “Unfortunately. The visitors are good for business, of course, the shopkeepers and the innkeepers are able to raise their prices, and the mayor himself says we must do what we can to make everyone feel welcome. But with an increased and transient population, there has been a corresponding increase in crime.”

“What sorts of crime?” Javert glanced at Fantine, but the little girl seemed to be paying no attention to the adult conversation, and Daubigny did not feel constrained in his answer.

“Not like the sorts of crime you have in Paris, of course. It is mostly petty crime --- pickpocketing and theft, and overenthusiastic street touting. Also, the younger men seem unused to our northern beer, and unfortunately fall to acts of public drunkenness and vandalism and occasional fistfights with the locals.”

The usual hazards of small town life, then. Javert ventured: “You seem to have a fairly busy harbour, and are not so far from the major port of Calais. Are there many smuggling concerns?”

“Commissioner, you are a most observant man,” Daubigny said. “Certainly, smuggling is a real concern here. There has been an increase in the number of vessels which call at our harbour, and La Douane’s enforcement contingents have been visiting frequently. One such contingent came through only last week to conduct surprise examinations.”

He shrugged. “There is only so much anyone can do, though. My team here is small, and the permanent garrison not much larger. We patrol the harbour once a night, and that is already a strain on resources. La Douane is concerned about the beach across the bridge, where there is a long coastline as well as a proliferation of caves, and the vast hunting lands and forest close by, but it would be impossible to keep watch across such an expanse.”

“It sounds as if the municipality should assign more officers,” Javert remarked. “Thank you for your time, Inspector. You have quite enough work to do without having to entertain a visitor from Paris.”

“A colleague!” Daubigny said, and stretched out his hand to Javert. “It was a pleasure to meet you, sir, and your little grand-daughter as well.”

“She is in fact the grand-daughter of my friend,” Javert tried to say, as Daubigny showed them the way out, but Fantine was holding the inspector’s hand and telling him about the kitten, and nobody took notice of Javert’s attempt at correction.

 

*

 

It was a fairly long walk from the station to the shipyard, but Javert had sent the coachman on ahead to wait for Valjean and the boys, and so he and Fantine would have to walk.

The path that ran through the town to the water was not busy at this time of day, and Fantine was old enough not to rush out into oncoming traffic, but Javert nevertheless offered her his hand as they walked.

They strolled along peaceably, the little girl keeping a steady and determined pace. The kitten had gotten bored of Fantine’s satchel and had climbed its way into Javert’s coat, in much the same way as Orri had when he was the same age. Javert would ordinarily have protested, but the day was fine and the silence was too serene to be disturbed.

As expected, that silence did not last for long. Eventually, Fantine piped up, “Monsieur Javert, may I ask you something?”

“Yes?” Javert said, cautiously.

“What is smuggling? Is it a very serious crime, like stealing?”

Javert sighed inwardly; so much for hoping the child had not been listening. “Smuggling is indeed like stealing,” he said. “It happens when criminals steal expensive things from England, things like jewellery and perfume and gold coins, and then they secretly bring those things into France to sell them without the state knowing.”

Fantine frowned. “Why would they do that? Is English jewellery very different from French jewellery?”

“You would not have thought so,” Javert said. “But it seems criminals do it anyway, an increasing amount of it.”

Fantine nodded sagely. “Aren’t Papa and Mama now in England? Do they know about the English smuggling?”

Javert thought about this. “Your father doesn’t usually practice criminal law,” he said. “And I believe in this case that there are smugglers on the French side as well.”

They were finally within sight of the shipyards. Brightly-coloured fishing boats were moored side by side with foreign merchant vessels that were small enough to traverse the River Canche, and which had not had need to call on the larger port of Calais. Javert eyed them all with suspicion, wondering how to explain customs duties, and the fencing of stolen property, in the way a child would understand.

Valjean and the boys were not at the square that was their pre-agreed meeting point. Javert frowned: it was not at all like Valjean to be late, even if one of the little ones had wished to stop for an ice, or had been detained watching the fishermen at work.

He looked around the square, and spotted a familiar shape approaching him from an alley nearby.

Valjean was alone, the boys nowhere in sight. His face, under its tan, was as white as a sheet. He picked up Fantine, took hold of Javert’s arm and hurried them both into the alley, where Émile and Georges were waiting.

Fantine said, in a small voice, “Grand-père, are you all right?”

“What has happened,” Javert asked more urgently, for he could see something was terribly wrong.

After he had heard about the sighting of Brujon, he felt as unsettled as Valjean looked. That man, not dead after all, and here, of all places!

“Show me,” he said to Valjean, and then amended this to, “No, you’d best stay here with the children. Tell me, and I will go.”

With his usual clarity, Valjean had described an old stone extension to the harbour, and a shabby little boat moored at the far end. But when Javert reached the harbour, the boat had vanished, as if it had been a ghost of Valjean’s past returning to haunt them both.

Chapter Text

Javert would not let him accompany him to the harbour, to see if Brujon was still there. Jean argued that Bernard could take the children home in the carriage and then the two of them, he and Javert, could investigate together. Javert shook his head, keeping his voice low to avoid startling the children.

“Please go home with them,” he said. “I can hide myself, make myself disappear. And it hardly matters if Brujon recognises me. But if he recognises you –”

Javert cut himself off, but Jean understood what he was saying. They could not risk Brujon telling the local police who Jean really was.

“Very well,” Jean conceded. “But do not do anything dangerous. Please.”

Javert nodded and squeezed his hand before he swept out of the alley. Jean took a breath and turned to look at the children. They were quiet, all too aware that something was wrong. Émile had picked up Georges and held him as he slept. Over his brother’s head, Émile watched Jean with narrowed eyes. It was Fantine though, of course, who spoke first.

“Grand-père, why are we hiding?”

“We’re not hiding,” he said, forcing a smile onto his face. “Shall we find Bernard and go home for lunch?”

“Madame Thomas is making a pie.” Fantine reached for his hand. “I helped her roll the pastry before we left.”

“It sounds delicious.” Jean took Georges into his arms. Émile still hadn’t spoken, but he was obviously deep in thought. He followed behind a step or two as they emerged from the alley into the sunshine. Jean knew he would have to speak to him eventually, but he hoped Émile would hold his questions until they were alone. He didn’t want to discuss the events of the morning in front of Fantine, or Bernard, who sat waiting in the square.

“Back already, Monsieur Fauchelevent?”

Yes, we’ve decided to go home for lunch. It’s too hot.”

“And the Commissioner? We waiting for him?”

“He’s staying out,” Jean said, handing Georges to Bernard to hold before he helped Fantine and Émile into the carriage. As a last minute thought, he remembered Nurse was somewhere in the little town. He muttered under his breath and wondered where to start looking for her, when he had the first good bit of luck of the day.

“Monsieur! Are we returning to the house?”

Nurse appeared at his side and he handed her into the carriage. She asked no questions, thankfully, only settled down and took charge of the sleeping Georges.

Jean had a final look around him before he climbed up himself. He had collected together all of his charges, but it wasn’t enough. He wished that Javert could have been safe with him too. He knew the man was, of course, capable of looking after himself, but it did not make him feel any better. He could not help thinking that he was abandoning Javert to the danger that Brujon posed. Javert was older now than he had been before, eight years older. Brujon was still a young man and would surely not have lost much of his incredible strength in the years since they had come up against him. He could only hope that Javert would be as careful as he had promised to be.

“Grand-père,” Fantine spoke again. “Where is Monsieur Javert?”

“He’s gone to see the inspector,” Jean said, “He’ll be along home soon.”

She was happy enough with the answer, but he could still feel Émile’s eyes on him. To his shame, Jean did not meet them.

It was after lunch, when Nurse had taken the younger children upstairs to rest, that Émile cornered him. The boy pulled himself up to his full height and put his hands on his hips. He looked so much like his mother had done when she was young that Jean almost smiled despite himself.

“Grand-père, what’s happening? Why are you being so strange?”

“Nothing is happening. Do not worry, petit.”

“You’re lying,” Émile said, screwing up his face. “That man on the boat? Who was he? Why did we run away when you saw him?”

Jean did not know what to tell the boy, so he put out a hand. Émile took it hesitantly, and allowed himself to be drawn into the kitchen. Jean gestured to the table and Émile sat down. Jean could still feel the boy’s eyes on him as he made some tea, but he had to stall for time. He needed to tell Émile something, but he did not know what it would be. He had to think, really think about it. He had kept so many secrets from Cosette when she was young, lied so often, that he felt each lie weigh upon him like a link in a chain, and it was still there, around his neck. He did not want to lie now.

“The man on the boat,” he said slowly, taking the tea to the table. “You saw him?”

“Yes,” Émile nodded. “You were staring at him.”

“He is a dangerous man. I knew him once, a long time ago.”

“Dangerous? Like – a criminal?”

Émile’s eyes were large as he took the piece of cake that Jean offered to him, and Jean could hardly bear it, but he nodded.

“A criminal. Monsieur Javert knows him too. We thought that the man – well, Monsieur Javert thought that he had died in a prison. So you see, I was surprised when I saw him.”

“Why did we run away?” Émile crammed the cake into his mouth, “Did you think he would see you? Does he know who you are?”

The questions were innocent, but it made Jean shudder.

“I did,” he said. “I think – he would know my face, if he saw me again. And I did not want him to. And – I did not want him to see you or Georges with me.”

Émile sat quietly for a moment or two, thinking about this, and Jean wondered if he had told him enough. The time was passing and there was no word from Javert, and he was already thinking again on how Brujon’s arms had been bulging as he lifted the crates, and how Javert was not as strong as he used to be. He itched to go, to leave the children in the safety of the remote house, and find Javert.

“Has Monsieur Javert gone to catch him? The bad man?”

It was as though Émile could read his mind. The cake had done nothing to distract him.

“He has gone to have a look at the boat.” Jean swallowed around the lump in his throat. “And then I expect he will go to the police to tell them.”

Émile must have caught the note in his voice, the rasp of his fear, for he got to his feet then and came to Jean’s side. He reached out and stroked his shoulder, resting his head against Jean’s.

“He’ll be home soon, Grand-père. Don’t worry.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Jean murmured into his hair and then, as though summoned with Émile’s words, the back door opened and Javert stepped, whole and muttering darkly under his breath, into the kitchen.

Chapter Text

Daubigny was not at the station house when Javert arrived; instead, he was received by the young sergeant, Marcel.

“The harbour master will only receive the day’s log at the end of the day, Monsieur le Commissaire. And his officer will almost certainly all be out and about conducting inspections at the harbour itself. Perhaps you should come back at six o’clock.”

Javert frowned. He knew time was of the essence, and yet with these sorts of investigations it would not do to rush things. If Brujon was here, the chances were that he had managed to ingratiate himself into the life of the town in some way, or at the very least had a bolt-hole of a kind. If Brujon were to get wind of the impending action and go to ground, they might lose their one chance at catching him.

The safest course of action would be indeed to wait until the end of the day to pay the harbour master a visit. Perhaps Daubigny would have returned by then and would assist. That would certainly be what Valjean would have preferred. But without any leads at all, and no guarantees as to the competence of the harbour official or Daubigny’s men, the delay might have damned the investigation before it could even get off the ground.

So instead Javert took up another course, one which he used to take all the time as a junior officer in Paris.

He returned to the docks, where a casual stroll down a side street adjacent to the harbour brought him past storehouses to which dock workers were carrying boxes of smaller cargo and dried goods and the fishermen brought in the days’ catch. The street was bustling, and there was a line of oilskin coats and workers’ hats hanging on the fence outside the storehouses.

Javert took off his own nondescript summer coat and hat, and hung it on the fence. Then he shouldered his way into one of the larger oilskin coats, and jammed a working man’s cap on his head. In that way he bade a temporary farewell to Police Commissioner Javert, and the height and whiskers and Parisian law enforcement deportment vanished under a humble workman’s disguise.

Thus garbed, Javert retook to the docks. At this time of day the small harbour was busy, workmen with the tools of their trade busying themselves at the shipyard, labourers ferrying cargo to and fro, tradesmen milling about and inspecting their wares. Javert fell in with the workers, listening to their chatter as they offloaded boxes and carried them into the storehouses and then went back out for more.
Eventually he approached a likely pair of older men, who were taking a break from their exertions and sharing a cigarette in the shade.

“Afternoon, messieurs. Where might an old timer go to look for a day’s work here?”

The men shrugged. One of them said, “We work for old Laurent. Between him and the new man, Daniel, they run things on the docks. But I don’t know if they need any more help.”

His colleague elbowed him. “There’s always a need for more help around here, even from the likes of us older folks. Boats coming in at all times, even after hours. The cargo won’t just move themselves, that’s for sure.”

“And where can I find M. Laurent?”

“It’s lunchtime; the old man will be at his local. You go try The Nag’s Head, on the northern end of the docks. Though you might want to try Monsieur Daniel instead? The youngster’s from Paris, just like you.”

Javert hid his smile; clearly his years in the capital city had compromised his ability to disguise his accent, and he knew he’d not fully managed to assume the Hyères accent of his youth. “If you’re right, how do I get in touch with him?”

The first man said, “Damned if I know. Bertrand works for him, says he isn’t in town most days, and when he is he doesn’t get in to work until mid-day. You’re better off with old Laurent, if he’ll take you. Just don’t talk to him about Daniel — the two gents don’t get on.”

 

*

 

The Nag’s Head was quite a nice pub at the north end of the harbour, a step up from the more modest establishments frequented by the manual labourers of the town. As befitted the more well-heeled environment, Javert reclaimed his coat and hat, which had surprisingly not been stolen — clearly Daubigny had been rightfully proud of the town’s favourable crime statistics — and so it was the visiting police commissioner who sat down to an impromptu lunch meeting with the main employer of Étaples’ shipyard workers.

“Not sure what you’d like to know about the goings-on at the harbour, Monsieur,” Laurent said. “I told the same to La Douane only last week. Boats come and go, my boys who move the goods say they haven’t noticed anything unusual.”

Javert said, casually, “How about Daniel’s boys, Monsieur? Seems people like working for him.”

Laurent snorted. “Don’t know about that. He might pay more, but he doesn’t always have work for our boys. Me, I like to hire local: my fellows may be a bit longer in the tooth, and talk back to you when they’re not happy, but they’re reliable and know their way around, not like the young grifters from Paris or wherever which that man likes to hire.” He glared suspiciously at Javert. “Why’re you interested, Monsieur? Like I said, thought this would be La Douane’s concern, or young Daubigny’s.”

“Strictly unofficial,” Javert said. “I’m here on holiday, staying at the de Marseille house. But, you’re right, when my colleagues heard I was coming out here they asked me to keep a look-out, in case La Douane missed something. And so I thought I’d ask someone who would be in the know.”

Laurent looked gratified. “Well, you’ve come to the right place, at any rate. Out on the docks, us workers don’t miss much. If you’re staying at Vue Mer, then it’s Madame Thomas what looks after you? Lovely woman. Very nice pies.”

“Madame Thomas’ pies are indeed very good,” Javert said, sparing a single thought for the pie which Valjean and the children were undoubtedly tucking into at this very moment.

The men both ate another forkful of their comparatively less delicious luncheon, before Laurent said, thoughtfully, “Haven’t seen anyone shifting goods that they oughtn’t, but there have been a few folks from out of town who’ve been coming back this year, even in bad weather, when no reasonable crew should be out and about. A couple of them claim they’re seafaring folk, but I know the ship-going type and this isn’t it. They’ve not made trouble in the town, or else Daubigny’d have hauled them in. But it could be that they’re smarter than that.”

“What do these men look like?”

Laurent shrugged again. “Like ordinary folk? Paris accents. One of them’s a big guy, runs a small boat that takes in water at high tide. Turns away work, even when his boat’s idle, unless it’s for Daniel.”

Javert managed, out of his long years of experience, to school his features to calm. “Thank you for telling me, Monsieur. I know I can count on your discretion. Do you know where I might find Monsieur Daniel?”

“La Douane’s looking for him, too. He hasn’t been around in weeks. Probably gone back up to Paris? But when he’s here, he stays at the General’s Inn at the far end of town, near the beach.”

 

*

 

Javert would have brought back-up to the General, save that he recalled, in the very first discussion of the morning — had it only been this morning? — that Madame Thomas had mentioned that her cousin ran the place.

Monsieur Martin had the same jutting chin and bright blue eyes and garrulous manner as his cousin. “Commissioner! Monique mentioned you. Such a nice family, she said. Such nice older gentlemen, she said.”

“Indeed,” Javert said, somewhat taken aback at the warmth of the man’s handshake from behind the reception table of the inn. “It is good to meet you, as well, Monsieur. I was hoping you could assist with an unofficial query. Monsieur Daniel, he stays here when he is in Étaples, is that right? He has no other home in the town?”

“Not since he arrived in Étaples last spring,” Martin said. “I know some in the town thought it was odd, a young fellow like him to be hiring so many to bring in cargo, but he’s always been well spoken, and he’s kept his accounts here in order. Not that I could say the same for the men he works with, though.”

Javert kept his voice level. “Is that right? They’d stay here, the men who worked for him?”

“Yes. Surprised they could pay, really. This isn’t some low-life establishment!” Martin sniffed. “But the times they left without settling up, M. Daniel stepped in. A right gentleman.”

“Are they staying here now?”

Martin looked at the well-worn register before him. “I’m not really supposed to say, Monsieur, but since you asked…” He ran a finger down the last page, and named a Monsieur Rennes and a Monsieur Boucher.

It would not be the first time Brujon had passed himself under a false name, if this was indeed he. “Thank you,” Javert said to the affable proprietor. “I may return tonight with the Inspector, when the gentlemen are in residence. It may be nothing, but we would appreciate it you not mentioning this to your guests.”

“I will not,” Martin assured him. “Monique has said how trustworthy you are.” He paused, and then said, diffidently, “Do you know that my cousin has been widowed for two years? And she is still a handsome woman.”

When Javert understood what Martin was trying to convey, he almost wished himself alone and weaponless in the company of the whole of Patron-Minette, rather than here facing this very different sort of interrogation. He found himself saying, “Yes, yes she is,” somewhat helplessly, and leaving the hotel as quickly as he could.

 

*

 

The rest of the afternoon passed very quickly indeed. Javert paid a quick visit to the house at Vue Mer, to keep Valjean apprised of the progress of his investigation, and to assure him that all was well. Not a moment too soon: the man looked agitated enough to tear Patron-Minette apart with his bare hands. When Javert conveyed to him the news that he was going back out into the field without him, Valjean looked positively aggrieved.

“I will be careful,” Javert promised. “And I will have the inspector and his men with me. You need to be here, with the children, keeping them safe.” He did not say, and keeping yourself safe as well, though he knew Valjean understood that, too.

Valjean sighed. “It surely cannot be a coincidence that trouble keeps finding us in this way, can it?”

Even though it was broad daylight, and they were in the hallway through which any member of their household could wander, Javert risked a kiss to Valjean’s mouth. “You invite it, I’m afraid. But it does make life with you an exciting prospect.”

“We could do without this sort of excitement. Come back safely,” Valjean said, and pressed a last kiss to Javert’s hand, and let him go.

 

*

 

Javert spent the rest of the afternoon at the station house, taking his dinner with the men. Daubigny was all agog at the story of the cudgel-wielding giant who had been the muscle of the mighty Patron-Minette gang, and who had now apparently escaped from prison.

“Do you think Brujon is involved in the smuggling?”

Javert frowned. “I am not certain how he is connected to the La Douane concerns. But if it is he, he would certainly be up to no good.”

When it was evening, Daubigny and his sergeant and Javert returned to the General. It was a fine night, and the moon cast enough light by which to see; as they approached the inn, they noticed the torches and lamps that lit up the interiors in brightness and warmth.

It was this combined light that fell across the man standing in the doorway, lighting the broad frame and unmistakable countenance of the man whom Javert had known in the slums of the Salpêtrière, who had then called himself Brujon.

Chapter Text

By nightfall, when Javert had not returned and had sent no further news, Jean was ready to go back into town himself, risk be damned.

After the children had eaten their dinner, he helped Nurse to put them to bed, managing to deflect Émile’s questioning looks by distracting him with a new journal that had been delivered that day. Then he paced awhile in the kitchen, his mind full of visions of Javert doing something foolish, like facing Brujon alone in a dark alley, or tracking him to a tavern and trying to arrest him on the spot. It was not that he didn’t trust Javert’s expertise or his skill, but he did doubt Javert’s ability to be objective these days, now that he had something to lose. Years before he had heard Javert referred to as a dog, even by men who admired him, and Jean was afraid it was true, for what beast had less concern for its own safety than a dog who was protecting someone that he loved?

As the clock struck nine, Jean couldn’t bring himself to wait any longer, lest he go mad. He collected his boots and his hat, and slipped out of the door. Javert would return along the road, when he came, and Jean would meet him. And if he made it to town before that, so be it. It was dark enough that no one would know him with his hat pulled over his face, and he could wait out of sight near the police station.

A light burned in the window of the stables as he crept past. He did not want to rouse Bernard or Andre, for they would only ask to accompany him and he could travel better alone. It was not, after all, the first time he had walked alone in the darkness. Besides, they would be better left at the house in case – well, just in case.

At the gate he hesitated and looked about him, but the road was deserted, and he set out under the cover of the trees that lined the road. The moon gave him enough light to go by, and the activity eased his mind a little. He walked faster, pushing himself until he was almost breathless and all he could think about was one foot in front of the other, and images of Javert in danger were forced from his head. If he could get to town, get to Javert, all would be well.

Then he heard it, the snap of a stick somewhere to his left, on the other side of the road, and he froze.

The first thought that came to his mind was Brujon.

Jean looked about him, but there was no movement save for the sway of the branches in the breeze. Perhaps he had imagined it, the sound, or it could have been an animal. There was nothing to fear from Brujon; the man did not know they were in town, and had no reason to be here, coming to the house.

Jean held his breath but there was no more sound, and he went to begin his walk once more when an arm caught him about the shoulders.

He grunted and twisted in the grip, when another hand took hold of him and he was forced to turn.

“What are you doing out here?” Javert hissed, his face close to Jean’s. “Did I not tell you to stay at the house and protect the children?”

“The children are safe,” Jean said, bringing up his hands to push Javert’s away. “Why did you not speak? I thought you were Brujon.”

“I could have been!” Javert growled, “And then what? I would have come along the road to find you murdered at the side of the road! How could you be so selfish?”

Jean’s blood ran hot beneath his skin and before he could think, he snapped, “Is it selfish to want you safe and unharmed? You are the one who left today and sent no news! You could have been dead by his hand and how would I have known? You didn’t even think, I am sure!”

In the shadow of the moon, Javert’s face was hard to read, but Jean could see the set of his jaw and how he dropped his head to look away. Javert was breathing hard, as though he had been running, and his hair was coming loose from its queue.

“You are right,” Javert said, after a moment of silence. “I should have sent word.”

He said nothing more, only turned and began to walk in the direction of the house. He was limping, favouring his bad knee. Jean stood rooted to the spot, feeling the anger, unfamiliar after all these years of peace, drain from him. It was the shock of seeing Brujon, the memories he had tried so hard to forget. But that was not Javert’s fault and he knew it.

“Wait. Javert!”

Javert stopped, although he did not turn his head. He waited obligingly for Jean to catch him, and when Jean looked into his face, he realised how tired the man looked. It had been a long day, after all, and it seemed as though Javert had been running home, all the way from town, if his breathlessness was anything to judge.

“I’m sorry,” Jean said, and pulled Javert to him. He kissed his mouth, hard. Javert relaxed against him, his head bent at an awkward angle, but he did not pull away. Jean could taste salt on his lips and he reached up to tangle his fingers in Javert’s sweat-soaked sideburns. Javert pressed himself closer and it felt to Jean as if he was the only thing holding Javert upright.

“We got him,” Javert muttered, when Jean broke away. “He put up a fight, but we got him.”

“Thank God,” Jean said, taking Javert’s hand and pulling him further into the trees, away from the road. “Come and rest for a moment. You’re exhausted.”

Javert followed him willingly, and they sat together behind a tree large enough to hide them from anyone who should be coming past. There Jean kissed him again, on his cheek, his forehead, and slipped his hands inside Javert’s coat to hold him close. Javert allowed him this, tilting his head back and resting it against the tree.

“I’m sorry,” Jean said again. “I just couldn’t be at home, waiting. I should not have left the children, I know.”

“I understand.”

Javert’s jaw was tight and Jean knew that he was hurt. It was an easy thing to hurt Javert, easier than anyone would expect. They sat together in silence for a while, until the lingering warmth of the day began to finally recede and it was too cold to stay there. Then they walked in silence that was almost as cold as the night air.

In the kitchen, he made Javert some tea and put a cold slice of pie in front of him. He sat with him, nursing his own cup of tea, as Javert began to speak. He spoke of finding Brujon and how the man tried to run at the sight of him, all but confirming that he had something to hide. They had pursued him through the streets and down to the water, where Javert had finally tackled him to the ground and pinned him down, fighting the man’s great strength, whilst the others got the cuffs on his wrists. Then it had been a battle to get him to the stationhouse, and then the paperwork, and before Javert had known it, it was gone eight o’clock. He told the story with no embellishment of his own role, and could hardly raise the fork to his mouth to eat. Perhaps he had been injured, and Jean said as much.

“It is nothing,” Javert said. “Only some bruises. And I should not have run. It was a mistake on my part.”

He finished his pie, drank his tea, and Jean took him to bed.

First, he insisted on bathing Javert’s bruises; angry red welts that spread over his ribs, fingerprints on his wrists where a large hand had gripped him, a boot print on his shin. Javert accepted all of this with his usual reticence, but there was a hint of softness around his eyes as Jean pressed a hot cloth to his ribs, and Jean wondered if his initial anger had been forgiven.

When Javert was settled in the bed, Jean hesitated.

“I can – if you wish it, I can sleep next door.”

“You are a fool,” Javert growled. “I do not wish it.”

Light with relief, Jean prepared himself for bed, locked the door, and lay down. He reached for Javert again, mindful of his injuries but intent in his purpose.

He kissed him until they were both breathless, and then pressed his mouth, over Javert’s bruises. For what was each bruise but a token of the danger Javert had put himself in for Jean, and for the children? Javert tolerated it, eyes closed and his skin a mass of gooseflesh under Jean’s lips. When he could bear it no longer, he rolled onto his side.

“No more teasing. Please, Jean,” he gasped.

Jean had not meant to tease, not exactly, but he moved willingly, brought his hand down to Javert’s cock that had been twitching under his ministrations. Javert groaned, deep in his throat, and did not try to move, other than the slightest thrust of his hips. Jean pressed himself close, held them both in his hand and began to rub to stroke both of them together. It was a delicious heat, slow to build and lazy, but as he felt it in his own belly, he opened his eyes and watched Javert’s face. God, he would never tire of it. They could live a thousand years and he would never get over the sight of Javert lost in his pleasure.

Jean came first, biting down on his lip to stifle the sound of it, and Javert opened his eyes, locked them onto Jean’s as he followed him.

Jean reached for a cloth to wipe them both clean before they succumbed to sleep, and then settled himself behind Javert, his arms around him.

“Do not apologise,” Javert mumbled, as Jean took a breath to do exactly that, “There is nothing to be sorry for.”

Chapter Text

The lock-up in the station-house at Étaples was more commonly inhabited by townsmen who had become the worse for wear from drink, or small-time criminals caught in the act of vandalism or fighting or petty theft. Its ancient iron bars and crumbling brick walls seemed far too prosaic to hold the likes of Brujon.

When Javert arrived at the station house, he found the young officers and soldiers from the garrison milling around in front of the cell, openly gaping at the hulking man who had years before been a fixture of the Parisian underworld.

Even Daubigny himself seemed rather at a loss. “He’s refused to talk,” he told Javert, by way of greeting. “I’ve put in an urgent request for the paperwork of the prisoner, but it will take days before word gets back to us, especially if the relevant documents are in Toulon rather than Paris.”

Javert said, impatiently, “As I informed you, I recognise the man myself. He is undoubtedly Brujon, and a dangerous fugitive from justice.” Daubigny blanched a little, and Javert belatedly schooled his features to calm. “Although, Inspector, it cannot hurt to have that identification corroborated by the paperwork.” He paused. “Have you sent word to La Douane, also?”

“That I have, and we should hear back from them rather more quickly.” Daubigny smiled a little hesitantly. “I have to say, Commissioner, it is quite a marvel that you managed to uncover this break in the smuggling case so quickly. Why, La Douane discovered nothing when they were here not two weeks before!”

“That is unlikely to be a coincidence,” Javert said grimly. “There may be a spy in town, or inside La Douane. If the gang were told when La Douane would be in town, they could make themselves scarce until the coast was clear.”

Daubigny deflated a little. “Do you really think we have a spy in our midst, Monsieur?”

Javert shrugged. “Patron Minette were known for their spying prowess. It would be wise to keep an eye out for any suspicious behaviour, Inspector. Now, shall we pay our new guest a visit?”

 

*

 

The blunt, brutal face had acquired new lines and gullies since the last time Javert had set eyes upon it, the long hair now streaked with grey, but the man in the cell was unmistakably Brujon: the criminal who had been part of Jondrette’s gang, feared amongst the denizens of the Salpêtrière, who had held Valjean prisoner in the stinking garret at the Gorbeau House. It had been eight years, and Javert remembered it as if it were yesterday.

Anger and triumph rose in Javert’s throat: the same emotions he had experienced on that night eight years ago, and on the last night as well, when he and Daubigny had managed to arrest the man. With some difficulty, Javert set those feelings aside as he stepped up to the cell bars.

“Good morning, Brujon. Do you know who I am?”

There had been a flicker of recognition last night when Javert had made the arrest. The same recognition was in Brujon’s eyes this morning. Still, he stubbornly muttered, “No. You got the wrong man. My name’s Boucher.”

“You’re out of luck. I’m the one man in Étaples who knows your ugly mug. What are you doing so far from Paris? Bringing in goods from England, giving La Douane the run-around, is that right? ”

Brujon lowered his gaze. “Don’t know what you mean. My work’s legit.”

“Legit, you say?” At times like this, Javert wished he had his old cudgel. He settled for rapping the head of his cane sharply against the rusting bars. “Where’s your boat, then? Where’s your partner Rennes?”

Brujon muttered, “Not saying anything till I see a lawyer.”

Javert ground his teeth together. The harbourmaster’s officer was patrolling the dockyards, but thus far he had thus far not thrown up any leads, and the vessel registered to Boucher hadn’t been recorded in yesterday’s log. A search of the hotel room had only uncovered papers in Boucher’s name, nothing more incriminating. And worst of all, they hadn’t managed to find Rennes.

Daubigny had left one of his men at the General to keep a look-out, but it was more likely that Rennes had been tipped off and had fled town in the midst of last night’s fracas.

Javert decided to change tack. “I understand you work for Monsieur Daniel. Who is he? One of the old gang, perhaps?”

Brujon looked up sharply; Javert saw this shot register before the man looked down again. “Not saying anything,” he muttered.

“I think it must be someone from Patron Minette. Thénardier’s dead, so it can’t be him. Montparnasse, perhaps? Or that slippery fellow, Claquesous?”

Brujon didn’t make the mistake of looking up again, but Javert saw a tremor go through the large body. Was that another tell? Javert had no way to be sure.

Again, a wave of strong emotion rose through him: anger, and this time something other than triumph, that was even more savage.

“You’ll talk eventually. Maybe when your papers come from Toulon, that’ll tell us how you managed to fool everyone into thinking you were dead. And then it’s back to the bagne for you. This time they’ll throw away the key.”

Javert swung away from the bars and stamped out of the lock-up. He took a deep breath, and realised his fingers had clenched so tightly around his cane that the knuckles had gone white.

Daubigny hurried after him. He was on the verge of saying something, but when he saw the look in Javert’s eyes, he shut his mouth with a snap.

When he could be sure of his voice, Javert said, “Please keep me posted on the news from the patrol,” and took his very abrupt leave of the station.

 

*

 

“It is a good thing that I no longer carry a firearm, or I might have shot him then and there,” Javert said, later, to Valjean, at the conclusion of his account of the morning’s activities.

The cloud of rage had lifted upon his return to Vue Mer, but the other thing seemed to have remained, and he knew it now for what it was — an unreasoning fear for Valjean, a fear that had seized him earlier that summer when he had chosen to revisit the Gorbeau House in the rain.

“You would not have shot an unarmed man in custody,” Valjean said. He rubbed Javert’s shoulder in an attempt at comfort. “Much as you might have wanted to.”

Javert sighed and poured himself another glass of wine. The children were abed, and the house was quiet. Madame Thomas had outdone herself at dinner that night; she had also started to gush about how brave Javert had been in capturing the dangerous criminal before Valjean, with an eye to the children, could get her to stop.

Javert had tried to impress upon the staff of the General how important it was to keep the news of Brujon’s arrest strictly confidential, but he supposed it was too much to expect Monsieur Martin to not share with his cousin this exciting piece of gossip, concerning as it did that cousin’s new visitors from Paris.

Madame Thomas had deferred to Valjean’s request, blushing prettily, but not before getting in one last compliment of, “So brave!”

Javert did not feel in the least brave. Now that the rush of anger was spent, and with it the thrill of the chase, the chilling sensation of his fear lodged in his gut. He knew there were no lengths he would not go to protect Valjean, and the children; his fear was that those lengths might not be sufficient.

Valjean watched him take a deep swallow, then he said, diffidently, “Would it make you feel better to be armed? I am sure the young inspector would be more than happy to lend you a pistol or three.”

Javert frowned, somewhat taken aback by this uncharacteristic suggestion from his most pacifist of companions. “We are safe enough,” he said. “The most dangerous one is behind bars, after all, and Daubigny is having the inn watched for accomplices. Besides, I would not have a weapon in the house with the children about.”

“That seems wise,” Valjean said. He set his own glass aside. “Now, if you are quite finished, let us repair to bed so I can see how well your ribs are healing.”

There was a distinct glint in Valjean’s eye; despite himself, Javert felt his blood begin to heat. He covered the rising flush with a huff. “My ribs and I are quite well. You need no excuse to take me to bed.”

“Indeed,” Valjean said, meaningfully, and helped Javert rise from the table.

Once abed and apart from the rest of the world, they made use of the salve they had brought from Paris. In their bedroom in Rue Plumet, more often than not, it would be Javert who would be seized with the urge to possess, and Valjean more than happy to indulge him, but on this night, Javert found a tremendous need to be the one enfolded, cherished, and taken slowly apart.

He pressed the salve into Valjean’s hands. Valjean opened him, unhurriedly and gently, and then overtook him with a fierceness that left both of them gasping. There was no room within Javert for cold or rage or fear as he spent himself in a blaze of white, with Valjean following shortly after.

Afterwards, they lay loose-limbed in each other’s arms, in no haste to complete their ablutions or make themselves respectable for anyone’s eyes. Valjean ran careful fingers over Javert’s bruised ribs, smiling his faint, wry smile as he said, “It seems you were right after all about being quite well.”

“I’m gratified you did not find my abilities hampered by injury,” murmured Javert. In the rush of pleasure and its aftermath, he had quite forgotten he had been hurt at all.

Valjean made a snorting sound in his turn, and then he tightened his still-powerful arms about Javert. “Make no mistake, Javert. I will also do what I must, to protect you and the children.”

Although their thoughts had returned to the smugglers and Patron Minette, Javert discovered he did not mind at all. The cold in his gut had gone, and in its place was an encompassing warmth, as if the steadfast strength of Jean Valjean was itself proof against all and every fear.

Chapter Text

Two days passed once more in peaceful near-contentment; whilst he could not entirely relax, Jean tried to convince himself nonetheless that the danger had passed. Brujon was imprisoned, by an inspector that Javert begrudgingly agreed was competent enough. The brute waited only for the transport that would come from Paris to return him to the city, and then he would surely be put back into the prison from which he had escaped. Jean felt a momentary pang of guilt in his chest at the idea he should rejoice any man being forced into the bagne, but it very swiftly passed. Brujon, after all, was no simple bread thief. He was a murderer and a danger to any person who crossed him.

And so the holiday returned to some of the rhythm that it had before. Javert was a little distracted, but he would continue to be, Jean reasoned, until Brujon was well on his way to Paris. The children were happy, even Émile now that his curiosity had been sated. The revelation of the stowaway kitten was enough to keep Fantine and Georges entertained. Jean didn’t see fit to scold Fantine for disobeying him. It sounded as though Javert had taken well care of that, if the pretty apology that Fantine gave to Jean was any evidence. He was not sure he had ever known another time when his granddaughter sounded as though she was genuinely sorry about something.

On the third day, Jean woke early for his walk, as was his habit. He had taken to meeting Madam Thomas at the gate just as she was arriving, and walking her to the house. The woman was very affable, more so than Toussaint, who for all she was an excellent woman, had a streak of iron in her. The still hour or two of the morning, when only he and the housekeeper were up, reminded him of when Cosette was at home still, and he had thought himself as happy as he could ever be.

It was a surprise, therefore, to find Émile awake and waiting at his chamber door. Jean pulled the door closed quickly, to prevent] him from getting a glimpse of Javert still in his bed. To his relief, it did not seem as though Émile had noticed.

“Grand-père, can Nurse take us to see the boats coming in this morning?”

It was not an unexpected request; Émile had been asking for the past two days. It seemed that his young fisherman friend had put quite the idea into his head of what the boats returning from the fishing looked like, and although Jean did not think Émile would find it as spectacular as he was imagining, he did not tell him so. Nurse had agreed she would take the boys, if Monsieur Fauchelevent wished it. She was often awake with Georges anyway.

Until now, he had refused the request, Brujon’s shadow at the back of his mind, but he could not say no for much longer. He did not want to deny the boys their dearest wish, and if Nurse would take them as she suggested, he could enjoy some time with Fantine when she woke, and let Javert sleep in for as long as he liked.

“I will go and see if Nurse is awake,” he said, “But if she isn’t, I will not be disturbing her and you shall wait until tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Grand-père!” Émile beamed, “I will get dressed. Just in case!”

Happily, Nurse and Georges were awake, and the plan was quickly made. Jean went to rouse Bernard, and by half past seven, the barouche was rattling out of the gate on the way to town and the water. They were to return for a late breakfast, when the day could begin. Javert was woken by the unusual early morning noise, and left on foot soon after the barouche to see Daubigny at the station. He promised he would return in time for breakfast, and so Jean was left alone with the sleeping Fantine and a peaceful house.

In the meantime, Madame Thomas had arrived, and made Jean a cup of coffee. He sat at the table with it cradled in his hands.

“Monsieur Javert had the pleasure of meeting your cousin a day or two ago,” Jean said, watching her kneading dough for bread. To his surprise, she blushed.

“Yes, I heard,” she said, but nothing else. Jean grinned into his cup. Javert had told him what the cousin had also said, and he could not help but be amused by it. Not that he was laughing at Madame Thomas, of course, but at Javert’s complete disbelief that he should be the focus of such a thing.

He did not say anything further, not wanting to tease the woman. After a moment or two, Fantine rushed into the kitchen in her nightgown and threw herself into his arms.

“Grand-père, he’s gone!”

“Who’s gone, petite?” Jean let her cling to his neck, patting her back gently as she sobbed into his shoulder. “Tell me.”

“Commissioner Whiskers! He’s gone!”

“Commissioner – Whiskers? Who on earth is that?”

Fantine could not answer him, so overcome with emotion, but Madame Thomas answered him.

“Commissioner Whiskers is the kitten, monsieur,” she said.

Jean began to laugh, despite Fantine’s tears, and she pulled away to look at him incredulously.

“It’s not funny!”

“I am not laughing at you, darling,” he said. “Do not worry. Your little friend has gone on a trip with your brothers this morning, that is all. I am sorry, I thought that Émile had asked you.”

“Oh,” Fantine pouted, but her tears stopped immediately. She had never been a child for excessive weeping, even when having a temper tantrum. Jean began to laugh again, and she shook her head.

“Grand-père, what is funny?”

“Your kitten. Why is he called Commissioner Whiskers?”

“Oh,” Fantine said again, and grinned wickedly, “well, I wanted to call him Javert, because he is grey and so is Monsieur Javert’s hair, but Toussaint said it was a rude thing to do. So I asked Émile and he said we should call him Commissioner Whiskers which is almost the same thing! Do you like it?”

Madame Thomas had begun to laugh too, and soon Fantine joined in. Jean couldn’t stop, once he imagined the look on Javert’s face when he found out about his little namesake. They laughed so loudly that Andre appeared in the kitchen door, summoned by the noise, and in search of his own coffee. Fantine glanced at Jean and, when he nodded, she shared the joke with the young footman, who smirked and winked at her.

Madame Thomas turned back to her bread, shoulders shaking with silent laughter, as Andre wandered back outside and Jean got to his feet. Fantine continued to hang about his neck, and he put an arm around her to keep her in place.

“I am going to help Fantine dress,” he told Madame Thomas, just as the kitchen door burst open once more and Javert hurtled into the room.

“Where are the boys?” he asked. “Have they returned?”

“No, Javert, they haven’t.” Fantine clung to him, staring at Javert with wide eyes. Jean could hardly blame her. Javert was shaking and breathless with the effort of having run some distance, his face pale and his own eyes wild.

“What – Javert!”

Javert turned and ran back out into the yard, and Jean’s heart began to race. Something was wrong.

Very wrong.

He put Fantine down and followed in Javert’s wake. As he rounded the house, he could see Javert in the distance, already back out of the front gate and sprinting along the road. By the time he had caught up, Jean heard the barouche rattling along the road and saw Javert stopped dead, bent at the waist and panting hard, watching the barouche’s approach.

As it rounded the corner, Jean saw only Bernard driving, and he had Georges seated on his lap.

“Oh God,” Jean mumbled, running to meet them. Javert had pulled up alongside the barouche, which had ground to a halt, and he did not even seem to think as he reached up and took Georges into his arms. His face was grim as he held the boy close and turned to look at Jean, the panic on his face all the more terrifying for being so rare a sight.

“Monsieur! Commissioner!” Bernard’s voice was shaking. “It’s the young master.”

“Émile?” Jean felt as though his legs were about to collapse beneath him. “What? What’s happened?”

“Don’t know for sure,” Bernard said, barely able to speak the words. “But he gave us the slip and we couldn’t find him. He’s gone, monsieurs!”