Javert had never cared for Christmas one way or the other. He had spent the holiday as he spent all his holidays and all his workdays – alone in his rooms, or patrolling the streets, or at the station writing reports. Drunken revellers and other disturbances of the peace were his sole concern; sentimental and spendthrift traditions held little interest to him, although he would, normally, attend Mass on Christmas Day, which after all was the respectable thing to do.
But these days, his life was changed. Each day he was made to marvel anew at all the truths of human life which he for so long had been blind to; every day brought with it a new insight, a new revelation, or a new question. What was true justice? How could one tell when authority was in the wrong?
And, most daunting of all, how on Earth did one find a suitable gift for the man one loved?
Their relationship, new as it was and yet so old in certain ways, was still a thing of wonder to him. If he had thought it a particular kind of obsession, induced by diabolical desire that would pass once consummated, he had been wrong. His desire, far from having abated, was stronger than ever, not slaked but nourished by Valjean’s indulgence of it. Javert was still not sure of the morality of it all, but he could not resist Valjean’s embrace, nor his kisses, nor the delight of his touch.
In dark nights, he would look down on Valjean’s sleeping face and wonder if he was corrupting this good man, the way he himself had been corrupted.
Corrupted by whom? the old devil inside him whispered. You know very well that there was no one before him.
A snicker. And were it not for me, you would have remained untouched all your life.
“And not been any worse off for it,” Javert muttered, albeit without conviction. He knew deep down that his old life, for all its easy answers, had not been much of a life at all.
Still, Valjean’s invitation to spend Christmas with him and his adopted daughter had been one of the unforeseen complications of this new life. Reluctant to impose, Javert had considered volunteering for a late shift that night, as usual; and yet, he had found it was not possible to decline the invitation – not with Valjean’s warm eyes watching him expectantly, Javert’s inner demon scolding him in exasperated tones: say yes, you fool!
And so he faced a hitherto unknown challenge, namely that of finding gifts for his hosts. The girl was both the most and the least difficult. The most difficult because Javert had absolutely no idea what present would be most likely to please a young lady; the least difficult because he hardly knew her and he did not think she expected anything thoughtful from him. Then again, he did not want to risk causing offence. In the end, he bought one of Lamartine’s collections of poetry, which he hoped was a work of sufficiently improving literature and not an inappropriate gift.
As for Valjean’s gift, Javert fretted more about it than he cared to admit. Everything he could think of seemed trite, even ridiculous, compared to what Valjean had already given him. But the thought of arriving empty-handed was not to bear. In despair, he went to one of the finer tailor shops and stared at the window for a long time before finally entering, finding himself surrounded by linen and silk and shop clerks who drew back before his glare. As he walked around the shop, his despair increased. What on Earth could he possibly give to Valjean?
I can think of a thing or two.
Javert froze. Then he felt it, the well-known quickening of his pulse, the dryness of his mouth: the sensations that had haunted him for years, so much stronger and more vivid now that memory was blending into fantasy. Carefully, he moved to peak around the nearby corner, and so he caught sight of Jean Valjean standing next to a shop clerk, who was showing him something on a nearby shelf.
Valjean had taken off his hat; his hair shone white in the lamplight, his cheeks still red from the cold. For a long moment, Javert found his breath gone. He stood rooted to the spot, struck once again by his desire for this man, who after all these years was finally his.
Ours, the voice reminded him, and Javert rolled his eyes. What do you think he’s looking at?
“How am I supposed to know,” Javert muttered sourly, glancing around. The very last thing he wished for was to be taken for a madman and dragged off to the asylum in front of Valjean. “That’s none of my business, and certainly not any of yours. I just want to buy him a gift and be done with it.”
He’d spotted a nearby silk cravat. It looked somewhat expensive, but he thought he could afford it. Javert reached for the cravat to examine it closer, trying to imagine what it would look like on Valjean.
So you think you could get him to wear it?
“What else are you supposed to do with a cravat?” Javert snapped. Scandalous images immediately flooded his mind, and he flushed. “Oh, for Heaven’s sake!”
Valjean and the shop clerk were heading for the till. Javert’s eyes followed his every step, drinking in the sight of his easy movements, his broad shoulders. Suddenly he felt very eager to be done with all of this and go home. His blood was growing hotter by the second…
He frowned. “Wait a little,” he said suspiciously. “Are you trying to distract me from my errand?”
A sigh of frustration. We could have been done much earlier if you would only listen to my advice.
“I need to get him something that is suitable for being exchanged in front of his adopted daughter,” Javert said through his teeth. “And I doubt you can help me with that.”
In that case, said the voice with another sigh, I suggest you talk to the shop clerk.
“A cravat!” Valjean said, turning it over in his hand. “And exactly similar to the one I bought for you! Javert, however did you know…?”
“A policeman never reveals his secrets,” Javert said, pleased with himself. He flushed a little at the way Valjean smiled at him. “But I received some good advice.”
They were sitting in the parlour, having enjoyed a rather excellent meal of roast pork and a number of side dishes Cosette claimed she and Toussaint the housekeeper had been labouring over for days. Presently, she was leafing through Javert’s gift with eagerness, pausing now and then to stare dreamily into space. “Listen, father!” she would say at times. “This poem, it reminds me so of Marius…”
The fire was hot in the hearth; the air was pleasantly warm. Javert’s belly was full and his heart even fuller. He ducked his head under Valjean’s gaze, scratching his neck. “There are many interesting things one can do with cravats. Especially if you have a matching pair.”
“Is that so?” Valjean asked, very quietly. “I hope you intend to introduce me to some of these interesting things.”
Oh dear, the voice whispered smugly. He has been thoroughly corrupted.
“Most certainly,” Javert said. “I daresay that was the plan all along.”
The voice purred in contentment as Javert put his hand on Valjean’s knee, under the table so Cosette wouldn’t see; as Valjean covered Javert’s hand with his own and pressed it; as they leaned back in their seats, their smiles filled with unspoken promises as the snow fell heavy and deep outside and all the world was quiet, awaiting the dawn of a new year.