"Do what you have to do; the man belongs to you!"
The words seemed to hang in the room even as the man who spoke them returned to the fray, his fellows trailing in his wake, and then Valjean was left alone with a Javert he could not read. There was something in his eyes that disquieted Valjean -- not the resolve of one biding his time, but a deep fatigue, beneath which everything else was compressed.
With one hand he held the pistol given to him by Enjolras; with the other, he grasped the coiled knot that hung down from Javert's throat, and tugged. Javert stumbled forward, some cinder of resentment beginning to smolder in his gaze, and they made their way out of the tavern thus, Valjean slowly dragging Javert, whose legs were hobbled as well.
If he got this wrong... they might both end up dead, and the boy would likely follow.
He conducted Javert to the Mondetour lane and over the small barricade, never loosening his grip on the hangman's knot of the martingale even as Javert stumbled due to the rope binding his legs. Once on the other side, he led the way around the corner, where they passed the pile of bodies removed from the barricade.
"That girl," Javert said, distracted, "I think I know her." Valjean turned to look in the same direction and realized with some sorrow that he, too, recognized the discolored face... but there was naught he could do for her now, whereas Javert still lived, and could be sent from the barricade.
It was easier each time than the last -- knowing that by inaction he could gain a measure of safety or happiness, but a man would die, and only by risking himself could he prevent it. He was already here to save the boy who would take Cosette from him, and there was no guarantee that either of them would live through this. What did it matter now, if Javert were to send him back to the bagne? It would be better if he could have ensured Cosette would get all the money he had buried near Montfermeil, but he could not be sure it hadn't been found in the intervening years, either.
It had been a shock, seeing Javert again. Their paths had crossed since Montreuil-sur-Mer, but Valjean had always had to flee; they had not met since. Javert was older, of course... otherwise he seemed very much the same, still austere and unbending, save for the discomfiting fatigue that Valjean chalked up to the situation. To see him tied up so, let alone to realize these young men meant to kill him...
As much as he abhorred killing, and had done his best to save every life he could on either side, most of those lives were not... he did not know those men. No one of them meant more or less to him than another. He knew Javert. The way he had known him did not seem to change the fact that it seemed... more immediate, somehow, to face his death.
He had not even needed to think about what he would do.
Javert had not spoken except to point out the girl, but when Valjean finally let go of the martingale, he squared his shoulders and faced him calmly. "This is what you've always wanted, isn't it? Take your revenge, then." Valjean laid the pistol down on the cobblestones and drew a small knife from the pocket of his waistcoat. Javert's eyes tracked it. "Yes, that suits you better than a pistol."
"You talk of things you know nothing about," Valjean snapped, stung, and cut the noose. "You are in no danger from me."
It was only as he stepped back that he felt it, the familiar pull, and he stopped in his tracks, transfixed by wonder and dismay. He had all but forgotten it was even possible -- it hadn't happened with Champmathieu, nor the topman on the Orion... why now? He would never escape Javert now...
Javert's mouth fell agape, and he stood dumbfounded for a long moment. Finally his shoulders shifted, and Valjean realized that he was still bound -- that broke his paralysis, and he bent down to cut the ropes hobbling Javert's legs, then stood again. "Here, turn" he said haltingly, "I will free your hands as well. You've got to get out of here quickly; they expect you to be shot dead, after all."
At that, Javert's astonishment turned to rage as he realized not just what Valjean had done, but what it meant. "How dare you," he snarled, "how dare you! Do you expect me to thank you for this? For the privilege of living, wed to a convict?" He struggled against his bonds, but they did not give.
"You owe me no debt--" Valjean began.
Javert's bellow rang through the alleyway, "Do not lie to me!"
"For God's sake, Javert, you'll get us both killed if they hear anything that doesn't sound like me blowing your brains out. Keep your voice down!"
Even as agitated as he was, that got through, and Javert took a few panting breaths before he continued. "I know you, Valjean; you're a thief and a con man. You want to make a deal. My freedom for your freedom, is that it? If I will ignore the debt you have failed to pay to society for your crimes, you will refrain from pursuing the debt I owe you for saving my life? I would rather you kill me! "
"You are wrong," Valjean said. He grasped Javert by the shoulders, turning him around and pushing him against the wall of the alleyway, and then took hold of his elbow to carefully cut the rope that bound his wrists together. "You are free, Javert. No conditions, no deals, no debts. You owe me nothing. The only thing I want from you is that you leave here, and live. If I happen to make it out alive myself, my address is 55 Rue Plumet and I go by the name of Fauchelevent... but I'm only telling you that to show my good faith. You won't need to know; the bond between us will lead you right to me."
Javert whirled on him once freed, but stopped still as the name sunk in. "Fauchelevent? Why do I-- the old man with the cart..." His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Were you wed to him after that? Did he abet your escape?"
"Not wed, but... there is no time for stories. Get out of here." He reached down to pick up the pistol.
Javert looked as though he wanted to argue again, but Valjean stared him down, gun in hand, until at last he turned away and began to make his way down the alleyway. He glanced over his shoulder briefly when Valjean fired the pistol into the air, but kept going, and then Valjean was alone with his confusion.
To be married to Javert... well, no, he did not suppose it would ever come to that. Even if Javert were to decide that a life-debt took precedence over both his obligation to the law and Valjean's own willingness to face the consequences of his actions... no, he could not imagine that would happen.
But why now? Why Javert? He didn't really understand how this worked, didn't believe there should be any debt in it, but he had saved other lives since Fauchelevent and felt no-- oh, but now he realized, and felt a fool. Fauchelevent had been far away in Paris while Valjean was at Champmathieu's trial, and on the Orion, but still they had been bound. He had felt it little if at all, but it had never broken, only become too faint to sense at such a distance.
He and Javert would be bound so long as they both lived.
Valjean did not know what to think of that. He still could not imagine what it could lead to.
He put it aside as he returned to the barricade -- they fought a losing battle, and 'so long as they both lived' might be a very short time indeed.
Then Marius was shot, but still lived, and Valjean spirited him away and into the sewer. This had its own perils, but he made he way safely through, and it would not matter if Thenardier thought back on it and recognized him later, if he were to be returned to prison anyway... and then Javert was there when he emerged, though he did not seem himself. The silence as they rode in the carriage, both before and after they delivered Marius to the Gillenormand house, was strange and charged. More than once Javert spoke his name, only to avert his gaze and ask some inconsequential question once he had Valjean's attention.
Then, he was gone.
Valjean wanted to run after him immediately, and it was the strangeness of that desire that stopped him, wondering at the strength of the pull between them. It had never been so strong with Fauchelevent, neither right after the cart accident, nor when he first came to Paris afterward, nor when he got close to the convent. This was something else. He felt it in his chest, like a literal string tied at least in the vicinity of his heart, and it tugged at him as he looked in on the sleeping Cosette and as he quickly rinsed away some of the stink of the sewer.
When he had dressed in clean clothes, he went back out, and followed the pull.
He found Javert at the bridge, stepping up onto the wall. "NO!" he shouted, and he saw Javert jerk back, almost as if he had been pulled.
His balance upset even once he recovered from that jolt, Javert leaped down from the parapet and into the street, rounding on Valjean with his hands clenched into tight fists. "Go away, Valjean. I will discharge my debt as I see fit."
He wanted to say again that there was no debt, but seeing Javert standing on the wall, looking down into the raging waters, had struck him with horror. "I will not accept this payment," he shouted instead, his heart still racing. "Did I not tell you I have considered myself your prisoner since I sent you from the barricade?"
Javert flinched, as from a slap to the face. "You know well how little I care for either social graces or kindness. Yet even were I so ill-mannered and ruthless as to deliver my rescuer to prison without a qualm, I should then spend the rest of my life, or at least the rest of yours, with a compass in my chest, pointing ever north to your cell."
Valjean, too, felt as though he had been struck. "Javert--" He did not know what to say, in the face of Javert's turmoil. He walked closer, so he did not have to shout to be heard over the rushing waters. "It was never my intent to... to do anything but preserve your life."
"And still I am bound to a man I am equally bound by law to arrest! At least I chose that bond!"
"Do you think you are alone in this? I am bound just as you are."
"You are not the one who is indebted; nothing binds you to me!" Javert was feral in his anger, snarling and baring his teeth, his stance ready to fend off an attack.
"I am here, am I not? How do you think I found you? The compass in my heart is the same as yours."
"Then let me release you from this bond that neither of us chose... for though I chose the law, I begin to suspect there is a higher Law I have long ignored which demands mercy, and I cannot-- if you are-- if you do not deserve what the law demands of you-- you cannot tell me everyone is like you, Valjean! I do not think anyone else is like you-- but perhaps there are others who... but there are still murderers. I cannot be held responsible to choose mercy for this man and justice for that one; what if I am wrong?"
Javert's anger had broken open into anguish, his voice cracking, his eyes red and raw. This... this was what had driven him to the river, Valjean realized.
"I... I do not know, Javert. I do not think I could do it either, not as you mean it; I believe more people break the law out of desperation or lack of real choices than out of malice, and yet there are some who do terrible things as well... I know I could not say I would always know the difference. No doubt I would err on the side of mercy too often. But I would... I would stand at your side," he said softly. If they were bound... he could do this. He knew Javert to be a good man, who wanted to do what was right... he could do this." Whether it is to help you try or to help you find another way. It is true neither of us chose this, but I would choose it before your death."
Javert's stricken expression softened, then shuttered up. "That is hardly a resounding endorsement of... of anything, least of all a marriage. I will not be-- you said you considered yourself my prisoner, but I will not-- I will not be your sentence."
"Javert..." Suddenly he was sure that this was right... that he might even want this. "When I came out of the sewer and you asked who I was, I gave you my name. Jean Valjean. The last time I spoke my own name aloud... it must have been at Arras. Before that, I do not even remember, though it was likely not long before I came to Montreuil-sur-Mer. In all those years, I told no one... I still do not think I could bring myself to. But you... you already know. You were there. And that is... I think that I would like to be known."
Javert stared him down, silent and unmoving. He felt fixed in place as well, as if to move might shatter something fragile.
"You mean that," he said finally. "You would-- you said you were not wed to Fauchelevent."
It was not a question, but there was a question in it. "It was expected, of course. He was amenable to it, and it was not distasteful to me, but I was still... he did not know who I was, I could not tell him, and he felt indebted to me. It would have been dishonorable," Valjean explained. "So I paid for his horse and cart, found him good work, and sent him away, but the bond was still there. It did not pull very strongly once I sent him to the convent. When I was reminded, sometimes I could feel it dully. He never spoke of whether he felt it during that time."
Javert remained silent, letting him tell the story. His gaze grew no less piercing, perhaps even more.
"When I went to Paris... the first time I felt it constantly. Then when I returned with Cosette, I thought about going to the convent, but I did not want to bring trouble for him or the sisters, and though he must have felt it then, he did not seek me out. In time it... did not fade so much as I grew used to it. But when I fled from you, I had no time to think; I did not even realize I was following the bond until suddenly I was face to face with him. We never wed; I suppose one might say that he repaid his debt by welcoming me and convincing the Mother Superior to allow me in. He introduced me as his brother, who in truth had died, and we lived as brothers until his death."
"And now?" Javert said, low and gruff. "What is your intent? Do you mean for this to be a marriage?"
"I--" Valjean did not know when Javert had gotten so close that he had to look up to meet his eyes. His face felt warm, and the hairs at the back of his neck prickled in anticipation. "The reasoning behind my reservations before does not apply now..."
"Then, there is one other thing we ought to know," Javert said, and Valjean's question was smothered against Javert's lips as he leaned down and kissed Valjean.
Valjean's eyes fluttered closed. The kiss was clumsy -- he did not suppose Javert had much more experience than he did, which was none -- but Javert's mouth was soft and wet pressed against his, and he could not explain why his heart was racing, but it was. When Javert drew back, Valjean opened his eyes again and realized he was clutching at the lapels of Javert's greatcoat, and he didn't know when that had happened.
Javert watched him, flushed and looking a bit unsettled, as he uncurled his fingers awkwardly from the fabric; his gaze focused on Valjean's mouth as he moistened his lips. It seemed to Valjean that it took far more effort than usual to breathe, and the air kept catching in his throat.
"Well, I--" said Javert. "It seems we are... not incompatible."
"So it seems," Valjean murmured.
"Perhaps-- perhaps a marriage between would not be completely disastrous," he allowed. The flush was fading from his face, but there was still a bit of color in his cheeks.
"Then come back to my home with me," Valjean said, seeing his opening. "I am exhausted, and I am sure you must be as well. Come with me, get some sleep, and we can talk further in the morning." The idea that Javert and Cosette might then meet was... frankly terrifying, but not as much as remembering Javert standing unsteadily atop the parapet. "There is no decision either of us must make that will not wait until morning."
Javert seemed to deflate a bit, shoulders slumping as he let go of the tension that was holding him so rigidly upright. "All right," he muttered.
Valjean offered his hand, and Javert looked at it as if he did not know what it was for a long moment... then took it, and hand-in-hand they walked away from the Seine.