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I Too Have Been Covered With Thorns

Chapter Text

“I will soothe you and heal you,
I will bring you roses.
I too have been covered with thorns.”

-Rumi

 


 

Javert felt incredible pain in his chest. Summoning as much energy as he could manage, he coughed roughly onto the ground, water coming up from his lungs and burning his throat. After exhausting himself, he laid back on the ground and looked up at the stars. It was still nighttime, but the slight color in the sky told him it would be sunrise soon. He could feel the hard ground underneath him and could hear the dull roar of the Seine. He realized with disgust that he must have survived and instinctually pulled himself out of the river. A confounding stroke of bad luck considering both his inability to swim and will to have the Seine swallow him whole.

Sighing heavily, he made to pull himself to his feet, but found himself losing balance and fell forward onto the bank. Pushing himself up, he gazed into the river. It seemed the current had taken him to a calmer part of the river, one that had little chance of drowning him any better than his first attempt. As he lamented the fact, he started to focus on the dark, shifting reflection in the waters. Something about it seemed… odd.

Confusion muddled his mind as it seemed he was wearing his ever-present hat, but he had certainly left it on the bridge. A hand went to his head not to find a hat, but hair and something else he failed to identify. Suddenly, the waters cleared enough for him to realize. Ears. Panic struck him and he quickly looked to his hands only to find paws tipped with intimidatingly lengthy claws. He stared, disbelieving. Feeling terror replace the inhaled water in his chest, Javert reached frantically into the river to splash water upon his face, hoping to wake from the nightmare he was surely trapped in. Face thoroughly drenched, he looked at his hands again, but the apparition failed to dissipate. He attempted to groan but a growl of all things emanated from his throat, startling him into silence.

With alarm, he looked around for anyone who could see him. Luckily, it was still early enough in the morning that there were no passersby within sight. He needed a place to think away from any prying eyes, and any man with a pistol who might be alarmed by a beast roaming the street. Again, Javert attempted to stand; this time it felt painful, awkward, and precarious. In a frustrated huff, he stood on all fours and made towards an alleyway, disappearing into the labyrinth of Parisian backroads.

Javert had a map of the streets of Paris committed to memory, but also knew of many places not on any map; should the occasion arise, he was able to chase any suspect through the crevices of the city. As a result, he knew of hiding places most fortuitous to his current predicament and had a particular location in mind.

If Javert was silent before, he now seemed nothing but a ghost sliding through the shadows swiftly and undetected. However, he suddenly found his senses overwhelming. He could hear every disturbance in every household he passed and smelled every scent in a catastrophic mess of information that he could never hope to process in his state of disarray. After weaving through alleys for a time, he came upon a spot nestled away from any residences and businesses likely to be crowded with workers during the fast-approaching day.

He carefully tucked himself in the shade of the crevice, trying to find a way to sit comfortably and out of sight. Even as he managed to position himself correctly, he was able to temporarily block the barrage of senses, but the chorus was replaced by a continuation of the racing thoughts that attacked his mind the night before. Javert was vexed on several accounts. Firstly was his apparent inability to end his life. He concluded that, should he attempt it again, God would inevitably intervene again against his wishes. This course of action was apparently out of the question, he thought sourly.

Secondly was the nature of his sudden transformation. It was difficult for him to discern without a mirror, but he assumed he had taken the form of what was perhaps a wolf as he looked down at the dark fur covering his paws. He had certainly heard stories as a boy of men turned to beasts, but had never paid them any heed. It was the stuff of fairytales one might tell children to frighten them into obeying the laws of governance and the Lord. Perhaps, he thought, this was His intention, to punish him for his misdeeds on both fronts. The idea was suitable, he reasoned, for he had always been but a wolf pursuing an unattainable prey, chasing its own tail without end. How could a wolf tear into its meal knowing full well it had the soul of what some might call a saint?

Javert’s thoughts quickly turned to Valjean and felt a rising pound in his head. If the fool would have simply killed him at the barricade, he would be free of this inexplicable circumstance. Simply the memory annoyed him to no end.

It was then that an idea struck him. If he would not be permitted to kill himself, surely someone else would be able to accomplish the feat. It must be Valjean then, he reasoned. Only that man could finish what he had started, and rightfully exercise his vengeance against the beast that had wronged him so. The solution was so simple, Javert felt anger with himself for not thinking it sooner. Satisfied, he resolved to return to Rue de l'Homme Arme after night fell.

At the moment darkness overcame the city and Javert was sure few people were out, he crept quietly back to Valjean’s residence. He stalked in the alleyway next to the building and could see light emanating from the window and could hear the sounds of what must have been a maid cleaning dishes. For a reason Javert could not seem to discern, he was certain that Valjean was there. And that he had eaten a stew for dinner. Javert’s head began to swim as he realized Jean Valjean’s scent was overpowering his senses until it was all he could focus on. The scent carried everything Valjean had done that day and filled his mind with images of the past, threatening to cause his head to burst.

He shook his head roughly and attempted to control his breathing and the ache in his skull. As he struggled to regain his bearings, Javert considered how best to approach Valjean. It was something he failed to plan through; a wolf cannot simply walk through a door. Furthermore, Javert’s appraisal told him his daughter and portress were inside as well. His head continued to throb as he anxiously paced through the alley. If he could not enter Valjean’s home, he would need to wait for him to leave, alone, and in the dead of night. Javert felt a low growl building in this throat as he cursed his lack of foresight. Slinking back into the depths of the alleyway, he resigned to abide until the proper moment arrived. Only time would tell when it might come.

 


 

It had been many years since Javert had struggled with hunger quite like this. Autumn was beginning to break through the summer heat, and Valjean seemed determined to never give Javert the opportunity to confront him. Valjean’s daughter had moved from Rue de l’Homme Arme after she was wed weeks ago, and the apartment had suddenly gone quite silent. Javert found it impossible to block out much of what he could hear from the nearby residences, including Valjean’s, but now he mourned its absence, the nearest act to human contact he would allow himself. He lingered, always near to Valjean, digging for scraps of food among the stray dogs late at night. For weeks, he hesitated to eat for fear of stealing, but was even more ashamed to resort to hunting the rats that scurried at the edges of the streets. He often thought wearily that he indeed not the predator to Valjean’s prey, but the dog to his master, begging and whimpering while waiting to be put out of its misery. Yet he stayed, settling on no other possible agenda, and listened.

This is how Javert learned that Valjean planned to leave Paris. He had packed most of his remaining belongings to be transported to the countryside. A week later, he follows Valjean’s unmistakable scent for several days, stopping and sleeping during the daytime and pressing on at night.

Along the way, he now contemplated how he might persuade Valjean to do the deed. He supposed that there need not be any persuasion. For he was a beast who could do nothing but advance on the man until killed. Surely the threat of a wild animal would be enough to ensure his swift annihilation. Living in the countryside, Valjean no doubt would have all manner of hunting equipment necessary. He thanked the Lord for his appearance now, for Valjean would have no chance to judge him. He feared not reprimand for his state, but pity. Ever worse, mercy. This was a cage of his own design that he fully intended to rot in.

Valjean had settled into his cabin, days outside of the city and and perhaps two to three leagues from the nearest village. Thick forests sat surrounding the house, which sat in a calm clearing set off from the crude road. Javert skirted on the edge of the forest, carefully observing. It was the third night that he chose to close in on the house, circling it with purpose, not bothering to disguise the crunch of drying grass and autumn leaves beneath his paws. His heart seemed to pound in his chest, though he could no longer distinguish the sound of his own from the hammering of Valjean’s as he passed the curtained window.

At that moment, the door opened. It was not sudden, but cautious, bashful even. Jean Valjean, cloaked in a thick nightshirt and blanket, stepped outside, scanning the horizon until he met Javert’s face.

As Valjean’s eyes widened, Javert took the sight of him in. He looked… smaller. Much of the muscle he had grown accustomed to seeing on Valjean’s figure was diminished. His skin was paler, his face more gaunt. Javert tried to ignore this as he stood on his hind legs, like a bear brandishing its full, powerful height, and snarled.

At the same time, Valjean was trying to comprehend the thing before him. It looked at though it were a wolf, but larger than any wolf he had ever seen. The beast stood tall, dark fur streaked with grey catching in the moonlight and the flickering fire from the hearth. Its teeth were brandished, a low, frightening rumble emanating from within its chest which threatened to become a roaring bark. He looked up then to the eyes of the beast, eyes that seemed to betray the rest of its form and, he realized, looked oddly familiar. The beast started to step towards Valjean, looming over him, readying an attack.

“Javert?”

It took several moments to even comprehend what Valjean had said. He was frozen, staring into Valjean’s confused, gaunt face. Javert felt an urge to respond, but found himself alarmed at the idea of speech, realizing with a start that he was not entirely sure that his unfamiliar mouth could even produce it.

“... It is I,” he replied weakly, his voice coming out awkwardly halfway between a timid whisper and a growl.

Valjean’s complexion paled even further, his expression unreadable, as they stared silently at one another as the nighttime wind whipped at Valjean’s unkempt hair.

Chapter Text

Valjean’s cabin was spartan, but functioned to his needs. A small kitchen sat below the window, a fireplace and reading chair on the opposite wall, and a bed in the corner. It was neat, orderly, and appeared nearly unoccupied. The sole sign of Valjean’s presence was a bookshelf which housed a brimming collection of well-worn volumes and a tattered bible that rested on the bedside table.

The beast sat silently on his hind legs in the far corner of the room, eyes fixated on Valjean. Valjean found it difficult to read Javert’s expression on the face of a wolf. After a moment, he concluded that his eyes were full of contempt. The man had retreated to his chair by the fire and sat, looking as though the task of walking to the door had winded him. He was still for several minutes, waiting for the flames to warm him.

“I must confess,” Valjean said, strained. “I find it likely you are a delusion brought on by my state.”

Javert offered him no solace. He silently stared, a kind of unidentifiable malice building in his posture. Valjean noted the ribs that protruded against his skin, his disheveled, matted fur, and his almost drained demeanor as his eyes scanned the man before him. They were undoubtedly the eyes of an inspector, studying him with uncomfortable sharpness.

“Are you here to arrest me?” he asked slowly, tone unsure. “As I said, I would follow you willingly.”

Javert suddenly barked out what Valjean approximated to be a laugh. It was hoarse and unpleasant from disuse, and made Valjean flinch.

“Apprehend you? As I am? You must think me mad.” He swallowed weakly, catching his breath. Speech was burden on his tongue, human sound foreign to its shape. “Although, I suspect you yourself must be mad to think a specter might take you to the station.”

Valjean grimaced. Any doubt Valjean had of the reality of Javert’s condition was eliminated from his mind. He was clearly growing agitated, for his voice was mixed with animal snarls and his paws twitched and scratched at the wooden floor. He wanted to ask him to calm himself and sit still, but thought better of it. Better his floorboards than his flesh, he mused wearily.

Sighing heavily, he ran a hand through his hair. He had already begun to succumb to exhaustion before Javert’s impromptu arrival, but now felt fully overwhelmed by the confounding thing that sat before him. “Why have you come to this place, Javert?”

Javert narrowed his eyes as Valjean warily awaited his reply. He studied closely the pale shade of Valjean’s skin and his sunken eyes. Javert knew the look of early malnutrition at a glance. The ex-convict, he decided bitterly, was in no state to kill him, weakened as he was.

Choosing to ignore the question, Javert demanded his own. “You starve yourself. Explain.”

Valjean balked, taken aback. “Wh-“

Javert interrupted, suddenly taking on the tone of an interrogation. “Not three months ago you managed single-handedly to carry a dead man through the sewers. Yet, you can now hardly walk to the door.” Again, Valjean attempted to interject as Javert pressed on. “Your daughter left your side to be wed, correct? Could it be that her absence has sent you into a fit of foolish melancholy? Have you moved to the countryside to let yourself perish alone?”

Valjean gave Javert a hardened look, a trace of the man from Toulon flashing over his features, quickly taken over by tiredness. “Why are you here, Javert,” he asked again leaning his head back. He sounded as tired as his features, the will to argue slowly waning.

“I wish for you to kill me.”

The man’s head snapped up, an incredulous, confused look staining his face. “Javert,” he said cautiously. “I freed you at the barricade-“

“And yet imprisoned me with another chain. I only ask that you remedy the error. It is only right. I cannot arrest you; I cannot let you go free.” He took a breath, steadying himself when growls began to overtake his speech. “In any case,” he said, now calm. “I certainly do not wish to live as what I am.”

Suddenly, Valjean’s features were livid again. “You mean chastise me for my decisions and ask for the same fate? And make me a murderer no less?”

“Unlike your ridiculous and wholly unnecessary martyrdom, it would be just,” Javert replied icily. “You are right to take vengeance on me for what I have done. A man such as you belongs in no cell.”

“This-“ Valjean stammered. “I only mean to protect Cosette.” He suddenly became very quiet. If it were not for Javert’s hearing, he would not have caught the whisper. “She knows not of my past. I... I cannot bring misfortune upon her family.”

Javert was quiet for several minutes. Valjean now looked old, older than Javert knew him to be. It was as if all the years of fear had piled upon him, threatening to break his shoulders from the weight of it all.

“Do you trust your daughter so little?” he asked plainly.

“Enough,” Valjean said sharply; Javert startled. Pain filled Valjean’s voice as he looked away. “It is far too late an hour for this talk.” He paused, looking to his bed with concern. “You are welcome to retire here for the night, although I have no bed to offer.”

Though displeased he had not yet convinced Valjean of his duty, Javert felt his own fatigue setting in. “I will sleep just as well on the floor,” Javert said. “Given what I am.”

Valjean turned to him again, frowning worriedly. It looked as if he meant to say something but reconsidered his words. “Very well,” he said neutrally and stood slowly, making his way toward the bed.

Javert made no move to lie down as Valjean disappeared underneath his sheets. It was only when he began to hear the man’s steady breathing that he stood, circled the corner, pawed at the floor, and finally curled in on himself. He closed his eyes, listening intently to the slow inhale and exhale across the room as he drifted into slumber.

 


 

It was early in the morning when Javert woke. He opened his eyes to a dark room; the fire had gone out and the sun had not yet risen. Javert lifted his head but kept to the floor, pensive. Valjean still slept soundly across the room. His breaths were slow and even, and, without warning, Javert was again overwhelmed by the scent of Valjean, which now surrounded him entirely. The previous night he had been tired and distraught; now no distractions could turn his attention for how fully it enveloped him. Before the memories could felt paralyze him again, Javert tried to focus himself in the present.

Valjean had refused to kill him. He had expected as much when he had recognized him; Valjean was quite self-assured when he freed Javert at the barricade, and he was not a man to go back on his word. Looking at Valjean now, he considered preying upon him, ravishing him without restraint, allowing himself to be consumed by feral instinct until Valjean responded in kind.

These notions plagued him as he lay languidly on the floor. There was no question; he could not attack Valjean in his miserable state, nor could he persuade him of his own demand. And so, yet another impossible crossroad taunted him. He silently cursed Valjean; all he seemed to bring to his life were absurd decisions. Javert ached for his thoughts to be simple again.

Unable to return to sleep, Javert rose to his feet and padded toward the kitchen. It seemed Valjean was not starving for lack of provisions. There was bread, cheese, and tinned vegetables in the small pantry. Javert had seen a cart deliver a box of goods to the cabin earlier in the week which must have contained the fresh goods. Maneuvering with his mouth, he used a tea towel to pick up a small loaf of bread, taking it to Valjean’s bedside. He reclined to the floor at a distance and waited.

When Valjean woke, he sat up slightly, blinking blearily at Javert. “Ah,” he said hoarsely. “You were not a dream after all.” He turned to the bread sitting atop his bible. “Ah,” he said again.

“Eat,” Javert said. It was not a request.

“I am not hungry,” Valjean said, a stubborn smile on his face.

Javert growled in a low tone, the rumble mixing with his speech. “Do as you wish, Jean Valjean, but do not dare lie to me.” It was not a threat, but an admonition. “I did not allow you to walk free to present falsehoods with the intention of self-destruction.”

Something in Valjean’s expression changed, his smile fading. Javert was unaware, but Valjean thought back to the last time he had seen him, that night at No. 7, and the single lie he had heard Javert utter. He reached for the bread and stopped, looking at Javert carefully. “I will eat, but on one condition.” Valjean took the bread in hand and tore the loaf in half, offering one to Javert. “You must do the same. Surely you are as thin as I.”

Javert recoiled slightly. “The dead have no use for food,” he replied.

“You are both as alive and as dead as the man before you,” Valjean said, resolute. “Eat. I beg of you.”

The beast sighed, standing. “Fine,” he snapped. “If that will sate you. But fear I cannot eat bread, I must hunt for something. Is it lawful within these forests?”

“Yes,” Valjean said. “I do have a hunting rifle-“ he stopped, eyes widening at Javert. “Oh,” he said. “But, you would have no use for it I suppose.” His ears colored with embarrassment, but Javert was already struggling with the door handle, making to leave.

“I shall return after I have taken my meal,” he said. “I expect the bread to be gone by that time.”

“You may eat here, if you like,” Valjean offered. “I could cook it for you.” He was not quite sure how a wolf planned to kindle a fire, but was fearful to ask.

Javert’s face contorted before turning from Valjean. “There is no need,” he said quietly and slipped out the door.

Hours later, Javert arrived again at the cabin. He said nothing as he stalked back to the hearth and reclined, studying Valjean, who sat upright in his bed. Valjean, expression a mask, stared back. He took notice of the traces of blood that lined Javert’s mouth and chose not to comment, trying not to imagine Javert feasting on a raw bird or squirrel.

“I have done as you asked,” Valjean said, answering the question Javert’s manner implied. He lifted his empty hands to show the lack of bread.

“You see reason, I take it,” Javert replied. Despite Valjean’s acquiescence, he still seemed indignant.

“Are you not appeased, Javert?” Valjean asked. His tone was insincere, sardonic even. The beast narrowed his eyes, almost unconsciously licking at his teeth.

“I suspect you may not continue the habit,” Javert said dryly. “You have already made the ill-advised decision to attempt to deceive me.”

Valjean sighed, leaning back into his pillows. “You intend to stay then?”

Javert considered the question. There was no other option but to wait for Valjean to be up to the task of killing him, he thought. Whatever it might take, he would stay to accomplish it.

“If you would be so gracious,” he said. “Now, indulge me. Have you any water to drink? You must replenish your liquids if you hope to recover soon.”

Valjean sent a glare at him, picked up his water jug, and drank exaggeratedly until water dribbled down his chin. “Satisfied?” he said, catching his breath.

“I will be yet,” Javert quipped, licking at the last remnants of blood on his face.

Chapter Text

It was several days into their peculiar arrangement before Valjean seemed to sink into a state of despondency. He ate under Javert’s watchful eye, but took no pleasure in doing so and no longer spent the will to start any spirited protest. Instead, he spent most of the day sleeping, praying, or attempting not to fix his gaze on the immense wolf who occupied the corner. The sight was difficult to avoid; Javert, standing on all fours, neared a height two heads above Valjean, taking up a sizable portion of the room. The menacing effect, Valjean thought wearily, was not unlike what he had been as a human. It was a wonder to Valjean that he was never captured or shot dead in Paris, and attributed the luck to the fact that, despite his size, Javert was as quiet as a phantom.

One day, Javert encouraged—rather, ordered—Valjean to move to his chair by the fire. Javert felt a sense of unidentifiable anxiety seeping into his mind; he desperately wished to eliminate it.

“Valjean,” he said. The man turned from gazing at the fire to Javert, who lay on the rug nearby. There was no trace of comfort in his posture, nor had there been in the week Javert had inserted himself into his life. Valjean looked expectantly at him, waiting for him to continue.

“You eat again, yet your disposition is disquieting,” he said. Valjean opened his mouth, paused, and closed it, staring back to the fire with an empty expression.

“Valjean,” he repeated, growing frustrated.

“It is nothing, worry not,” Valjean said.

“Speak your mind,” Javert said. “If you refuse to allow yourself any kind of mercy, I shall be inclined to force it upon you. From a beast, no less.” He spat the last words out derisively.

Valjean turned back to Javert. His eyes were searching over him, unsure and wary, and his brow furrowed. “Well,” Valjean started. “I fear I have not the strength to focus on the page, but I should like to read a book to pass the time.”

“Yes,” Javert said, tentatively.

“…I do not want to trouble you with such things.”

“Valjean,” he all but growled, and Valjean yielded.

“I suppose,” Valjean ventured. “If it suits you, you might read aloud so that we both may enjoy a novel, perchance.”

“Would it satisfy your melancholy?” he said roughly.

The edge of Valjean’s mouth twitched into a slight smirk. “Perhaps.” Javert nodded in assent and Valjean stood gingerly, walking to the bookshelf.

As a man, Javert had disliked reading. Only for the purpose of his duty was he literate; paperwork and books of law were all that graced his eyes. Novels, philosophy, and political works were of no interest to him; reading for pleasure was a pointless frivolity. To him, it was a tool and means to an end. More specifically, an arrest.

“Have you any preference?” Valjean asked. “I am partial to the classics, but…” he trailed off, looking to Javert for guidance. It occurred to him he knew not an inkling for what Javert might like to read, or any vices at all that he might pursue outside of his work. He suddenly felt he knew very little about Javert, considering they had known one another for the better part of their lifetimes.

“Choose what pleases you,” Javert answered, and Valjean eventually returned to his seat with a worn copy of the Odyssey in hand.

“It has been many years since I last came back to Homer,” Valjean mused. “Should I- ah,” he said, looking worriedly at Javert’s paws.

Javert grimaced. “Open the page and set it where I may read,” he grumbled. Valjean opened to the first page and placed it on the floor. As Javert prepared his voice, he found himself squinting at the paper, uncomprehending as blurred shapes swirled before him. He blinked, but the letters refused to come into focus. Again, he blinked harder, now in horror.

“Is everything alright?” Valjean asked, uneasiness coating his tone.

“I-“ Javert started. “My eyes,” he said. “They seem… unsuited for the written word.” It was as if he could barely choke out speech, his mouth feeling ever burdensome. His eyes were wide in shock, as if now comprehending the extent of his separation from humanity.

Valjean swiftly retrieved the book at set it atop the mantle. Javert moved not a muscle as Valjean sat down carefully; his eyes were fixed where the book laid.

“Perhaps, well,” Valjean said quietly. “We shall wait until I regain the stamina to read. You need not strain yourself on my account.”

There was something in his voice that Javert detected. Pity, he thought, a mortified dread building in his stomach. “…Yes,” he said distantly.

Javert was silent for the rest of the afternoon, slipping out to retrieve his meal while Valjean prepared a soup. As he ate at the modest kitchen table, Javert entered, now proficient in carefully opening the door with his teeth. He walked to the fireplace and sat, taking a moment to lick at his paws and lowered his head to the floor. Staring at the fire, away from Valjean, he spoke.

“Perhaps,” Javert began. “In lieu of a book, I may divert you tomorrow with my own tales.” He turned to the kitchen table. When Valjean wore a slightly startled look, Javert tried to amend his words. “Assuming you do not find discussion of the police objectionable, that is,” he added hurriedly.

“No,” Valjean said. “I would find it agreeable.”

Javert turned again to the fire and eyed the book still sitting upon the mantle. “Very well.”

 


 

The more Javert spoke with Valjean, the less taxing language became. He told him of the more interesting cases in his time as an inspector. Valjean, to Javert’s shock, listened with intent, laughing at times and expressing earnest interest at others. Valjean insisted his admiration for the passion with which Javert spoke of his service, and equally so of the criticisms he seemed to harbor for it. Javert was discreet enough not to mention his note of final requests to the Prefect, attempting to push the vision from his memory.

In any case, the recollections unexpectedly lifted his spirits. Javert feared that thinking of the work he could no longer return to would sour his mind, but he found the act of regaling Valjean with the stories made the memories bearable.

Most importantly, Valjean seemed engaged, while much of the color and fullness had returned to his face. He was dressed most of the day and even taking strolls outside. Javert would often accompany him as Valjean told him of what he might plant in the overgrown gardens outside the cottage. As he prattled on about farming techniques and vegetables, Javert was strangely calmed, and listened with the same, slightly muted, interest that Valjean had expressed during his anecdotes. Relief filled him to hear Valjean talk happily of anything, and Javert appreciated the diversion for his own sanity. Another part of him was also grateful that Valjean was talking of the future.

“Roses would be splendid, I think,” Valjean said. “They should go in after the last frost in spring.”

“You have raised them before?” Javert inquired.

“When we were in Paris,” Valjean said. “We had quite the rose garden. Every color you might think of. They were beautiful, and smelled just as lovely. Cosette-” he stifled a sound at the name. “Cosette loved them.”

Javert looked him sternly. “…You might write to your daughter, Valjean. She surely worries after your health. Has she written since your arrival?”

Valjean gave an apologetic smile. “She knows not that I am here.”

“Valjean!” Javert barked. Valjean was startled, the smile disappearing. “Could I write a word myself I would have sent something to the poor girl,” he said, exasperated.

“I need not burden her wi-“

“No,” Javert interrupted. “I will not ask of you to confess to your daughter until you see fit, but, at the very least, tell her where you are and that you are well. The thought of where you may be must sicken her, you fool.”

Valjean sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. He made his way to the iron bench in the garden and sat, wrapping himself more tightly in his coat. Javert followed, lying on the ground beside him.

“It has been so long since I have trusted another…” he trailed off quietly. “But, you are right.”

“She is Fantine’s child, is she not?” Javert said.

“Yes,” he replied. “She has grown into the most wonderful person.” Love was overflowing from his voice. That and the smile on Valjean’s face made Javert’s chest warm. “I wish her all the happiness in the world.”

Javert was silent for a moment. “I had no father to speak of,” he said. “Do not leave her so early. You will both be happier for it.”

Trying to hide his astonishment that Javert might tell him something of personal importance, Valjean spoke. “Ah, I remember you spoke of your mother once.” When Javert did not immediately respond, he feared he had crossed an immutable line.

“Your daughter is quite lucky to have you, mother or no,” Javert said, deftly shifting the conversation away from himself.

“You make yourself clear, Javert,” Valjean relented. “I shall write her. Perhaps tomorrow; I feel as though I have built up the strength.” Javert hummed an affirmation. “We might also start Odyssey, if that suits your liking,” he said hesitantly, a question in his inflection.

“Indeed,” Javert said. “I should like to rest my voice if you feel up to the task.”

Valjean’s face brightened again as they sat and enjoyed the light breeze and warmth of the sun. Javert longed to explain the feelings that seemed to assault his heart. He concluded that it must be a concept he had avoided for his entire life: friendship. The idea was foreign to him, but he was certain Valjean felt the same. Years of hiding and using false names, the man had surely never confided in a soul, not even his precious daughter. It was new and uncertain, but it comforted Javert. For now, he would be satisfied with the answer.

 


 

Javert woke to the sound of chewing, the noise a cacophony in his sensitive ears. Slightly alarmed, he lifted his head in a fatigued snap.

“Oh,” Valjean whispered from the table. “I meant not to wake you, Javert.”

“The sun has not yet risen,” Javert managed through his tired stupor.

“I am traveling to town today,” Valjean said. “I will deliver Cosette’s letter to the courier and replenish some of the food. Have you need of anything?”

“No,” Javert said, slightly affronted. “I should escort you, it is dangerous to make such a trek alone. And you still recover-”

Valjean waved his hand as he finished a piece of bread. “Though I appreciate the sentiment, it will be best if I go unaccompanied. Besides, it is not too far. I shall hire a cart to return.” Annoyingly, Javert could hear the unspoken I cannot take a wolf the size of three wolves with me to town in his words, but the implication was buried in Valjean’s cheerful tone. The obfuscation of his intent was incredibly maddening, and Javert glowered. And, for a reason he could not ascertain, the idea of Valjean leaving was sending bursts of nervous energy through his bones.

“I will be back before nightfall,” he said. Valjean paused and cocked his head. “Javert?”

“What?” Javert snapped, hardly able to control the shaking sensation in his legs.

“Please do not worry so,” he said, a mix of concern and puzzlement spread across his face. “I will be home soon.”

While Valjean fretted with one foot out the door, Javert attempted to keep still to assure him of his composure. When he resigned and walked out of earshot, Javert shot to his feet and paced about the room, involuntarily whimpering. He could feel his self-control break down without the need to maintain a facade in Valjean’s presence. In a fit of bewilderment, Javert jumped atop Valjean’s bed, about to curl up against the pillows and inhale the strong scent.

Freezing in the act, he felt a sense of horror and thought of his inability to read, the growling sounds that pervaded his throat, and the raw game he was forced to consume. An unavoidable animalistic urge had overrun his last vestiges of humanity; all that was left was a pitiful dog, howling in sorrow at his master’s absence. Sickness coming over him, he stumbled off the bed and lay by the fireplace. Wrapping himself around Valjean’s chair, he worked to rid his mind of thought and slept to quiet the noise.

The sun would not fall for an hour still when he heard Valjean’s approach from the distance; to his word, he seemed to have hired a farmer to cart him back with his parcels. He tried now to curb the anticipation that could make him shake as before and welcomed a drained, but contented Valjean with demure affability.

That night, he slept fitfully, and dreamt of Valjean’s roses.

Chapter Text

Books were a welcome, but inscrutable distraction for Javert. Valjean had recovered much of his vigor in the months Javert had played nursemaid, and Valjean was putting it to use both reading to Javert and writing to Cosette. The result was truly a double-edged sword. He still held no interest in fiction, but found himself calm and contented to simply hear Valjean’s voice filling his ears and block out the pervasive sound of the forest that reached only him. The pitfall which he longed to quash was the constant reminder of what he had lost. To assure himself that this was no setback, that he cared not for reading even as a man, was an admission of defeat. What tore at his soul was that he lacked the very choice.

Choice was a concept unfamiliar to Javert. His life had been occupied solely by duty and logic; thoughts of weighing options rarely, if ever, came to him. His first choice was, of course, his devotion to the law. Jumping into the Seine was his last. He supposed that alternate routes surely were available to him, now that he found his life so restricted by circumstance. Javert felt a chain linking him to this body, his life, and the man reading aloud the epic poems of Homer.

Valjean, he realized, had stopped reading and stared at Javert, his face inscrutable. At times, Javert found Valjean’s face impossible to interpret, his intention hidden behind layers of practiced deception.

“You stop reading,” Javert said. “Does your voice tire you?”

Marking and closing the book, he hesitated before responding. “You sleep restlessly, friend. I worry for your health.”

“Your concern is needless.”

Valjean’s eyes narrowed, inspecting him carefully as he continued reading. Javert could still feel his stare boring into him, expression as masked as ever.

When Javert returned from his meal that night, he found Valjean sitting on a stool with a basin of well water, soap, a rag, and a brush. The beast stood at the door, stock still.

“Ah,” Javert said. “Shall I leave while you to take your bath?”

Valjean shook his head. “No, Javert. This is for you.” Replying to the sheer shock on Javert’s face, he continued. “Your fur has been in a state for months now. Surely it discomforts you.”

It did, in fact, discomfort Javert. He could feel where his fur stuck out at odd angles and felt still the grime of the Seine plastered to his body. After hunting, he always attempted to wash himself in the nearby stream, but the memory clung to his mind like a leech, draining him slowly each day.

“No.”

“Javert, allow me at least this. You have done as much for me.”

“I have done nothing,” he spat, recoiling and almost baring his teeth.

“Please, Javert,” Valjean said now more forcefully. “Sit down.” If Javert could not normally read Valjean’s face, he understood it now. The expression was of a determined power that Javert realized he would not escape. Trying not to look at Valjean’s rolled sleeves and his scar-strewn arms, he sat by the basin and faced away from Valjean, waiting for the moment to end.

Though he could hear the movement of water and knew what would come, Javert hardly could contain the gasp that escaped his mouth when Valjean’s hands started to work into his fur. As he tried to quiet the pound of his heart while Valjean lathered the soap, he was grateful he did not face the man. Javert realized at that moment: he had not felt the touch a human being during his months as a wolf, perhaps longer when he was still a man. A wall of isolation that had accumulated in that time was suddenly and mercilessly torn down by none other than Valjean’s overly gentle touch. His hands held the roughness and strength that he might expect, but were lighter than the touch of an angel. Undoubtedly, angels could only hope to exhibit such kindness in physical form, Javert thought miserably.

Valjean was slowly making his way across Javert’s body, his legs, his tail and his ears as he washed the fur, rinsed it, and brushed it gingerly. He worked carefully at the tangles, demonstrably trying not to tug with too much force. Silently, Javert wished for him to hurt him, to give him any reason that he might snap at Valjean in anger. The chance never arrived.

Javert felt his face burning; he was, for once, comforted by the hair covering his body that betrayed his certainly red complexion. The rush of emotion was astonishingly overbearing, yet he craved those soft, sure touches and the sensitive barbs of the brush that made him shiver. Jauntily shifting from disgust with himself to quite nearly melting under Valjean’s hand had a dizzying effect, another unfathomable duality.

Finally, when Javert thought he could take no more, Valjean reached his face with the rag. He wavered for a moment, focusing on Javert’s eyes, but looked away quickly and returned to his slow, repetitive strokes. Almost thinking it a trick of the eye, Javert noticed a faint blush across Valjean’s cheeks. He thought of the flecks of blood that he had likely missed around his muzzle, and thought worriedly that Valjean was likely horrified.

“Javert,” he said. The wolf jumped slightly at the sound after the prolonged silence. “The weather will only be growing colder.” He grazed the rag over his mouth lightly, caressing it for what seemed a moment too long. “You ought to take your meals inside.”

“I-“ he stammered. “I think it would not be prudent. You would not find it…” he trailed off. He was abruptly filled with fear. For Valjean to see him at his most savage, covered with blood, was unthinkable.

“I shall cook what you bring,” Valjean offered. “We may share a meal together. If you find it disagreeable, I will not ask it of you again.” He finished washing Javert’s face and gave the longer fur a quick brush, staring expectantly at Javert.

“…Very well,” he replied weakly and turned his head, unable to look at Valjean. “I will bring enough for two tomorrow.” He felt as if he could deny him no request, faltering in his willpower. Again, his eyes drifted to the mangle of scar tissue on Valjean’s arms and wondered distantly of the state of his back. Following his gaze, Valjean’s face colored a second time as he swiftly dried his arms, covered them again, and buttoned the sleeves. There were things Valjean would rather hide from him as well, though Javert was assured he was content to let it lie.

 


 

As Valjean said, the weather was turning colder. Something in Javert’s nature told him snow was on its way as clouds crept slowly to block out the sun for the upcoming season. Thankfully, his fur coat was warm, blocking the wind that would give a normal man a chill without fail. In the forests, the trees, aside from the evergreens, had gone bare, and Javert was forced to take more care in his steps; one wrong step on the dry foliage and his prey would be lost.

On this particular night, he was searching for rabbit, which Valjean had requested if he might find one. Javert now understood the intricacies of tracking with his senses alone. It was not unlike his work as an inspector; a battle of wits now supplanted with a battle for survival while his nose led the way. To say that he disliked hunting this way was not wholly inaccurate. He often felt the same thrill of the chase as he had with criminals; his pinch of snuff was simply replaced with a feast. Though, he supposed the animals were accused of no wrongdoing. Their only sin was circumstance. This thought had come to him before and tugged at his mind.

Mentally preoccupied, he found he had already pounced and captured the rabbit. It laid unmoving beneath him, a slight trail of blood running from its neck. He had luckily kept the damage to the meat minimal, even in his haze. A perfect kill, so to speak, but his mind was elsewhere. What he focused on, rather than the dead animal in front of him, were the many people he had arrested, and what their sins had truly been.

Making his way back to the cottage, he carried the rabbit carefully in his mouth. Valjean spotted his approach from the window and opened the door. He placed the rabbit on the kitchen counter and looked to Valjean. The man’s face was not afraid, but stared in wonder at the animal.

“You caught this yourself?” he asked.

“As I have every night,” Javert replied.

“I must say, I’m quite impressed,” Valjean said, rolling his sleeves as he prepared to clean the meat. “I have never been much of a hunter. He will make a wonderful stew. Shall I cook the other half for you to eat?” He turned back to Javert who hummed an affirmative.

Valjean smiled at him. It was a quiet, appreciative smile, but the sight still made Javert’s chest involuntarily ache. “Thank you, Javert.”

“Think nothing of it,” he said, settling by the fire.

When the food was prepared, Valjean decided against the kitchen table and sat by the fire in his chair, giving Javert a plate of rabbit meat. The house was filled with a savory aroma as the fire crackled with both ferocity and comfort.

“How do you find the meat?” Valjean asked.

“You cook it well,” Javert said honestly. He tried to eat carefully so as not to alarm Valjean with his powerful jaws. “What news have you from Paris?”

Valjean immediately brightened. He had received his first letter from Cosette before Javert had gone out. The courier had been kind enough to take it to the cottage, which led to an awkward incident in which Javert tried to hide himself underneath the bed. Thankfully, Valjean met the man outside and returned, doubling over in laughter at the wolf spilling clumsily out of any shelter the bed may have provided.

The same mirth was in Valjean’s face as he recounted the letters in great detail to Javert. “Cosette seems in good spirits, though she gave me quite the scolding. I cannot fault her for it,” he said.

“You certainly have had enough scolding from me,” Javert said with a snort.

“Unfortunately, and you may find this impossible, but Cosette is more stubborn than even you.”

“Then I suppose you have raised her rightly,” Javert replied, and Valjean chuckled, finishing his stew.

“She insists that I visit,” Valjean said. “I will return to her for a month when the winter thaws.”

“Will that appease her?” Javert asked.

“It is but the least I may do for her,” he said, sinking back into his chair. Valjean gave Javert a strange look he could not quite interpret. He then reached toward the mantle to retrieve Odyssey.

“Shall we?” he asked.

Javert agreed, but confusion washed over him as Valjean rose from his seat. Did he mean to read from his bed? Had cleaning the rabbit tired him so much? As he was about to object, Valjean sat a blanket down and lowered himself onto the floor.

“Valjean,” he said. “You will strain yourself, sitting like this.”

“Not if I am provided support,” Valjean said. “May I?”

Before Javert could conjure a response, Valjean was leaning back into his fur, settling into Javert’s curved form. Heat that rivaled the fire was pouring from Javert’s skin, warming Valjean as he opened the book. It was the first time Javert felt acutely aware of how enormous he was with Valjean so close. Javert, afraid to move, to even breathe, sat still in silence as Valjean began to read. His words were as light and soft as his touch, and Javert found himself lowering his head, curling further around Valjean, and closing his eyes. Only Valjean’s voice, the warmth of his body, and the fluttering of his heartbeat remained.

Chapter Text

Javert woke late in the morning in his usual place by the hearth. He opened his eyes reluctantly, taking in the sunlight spilling through the crack in the curtained window. Involuntarily, he yawned and thought to rise and stretch, but stopped when he felt a weight on his side. His eyes widened as he turned to a sleeping Valjean, lying with the open Odyssey in his lap. In surprise, Javert felt his face burn, but summoned all his willpower to keep from moving so as not to disturb him.

However, his efforts were spoiled as Valjean began to stir and slowly opened his eyes. Javert realized with horror that his tail had started to move happily of its own accord, brushing against Valjean. As he cursed the appendage, Valjean took a tired look at Javert and closed his eyes again for but a minute. Suddenly, as if realizing where he was, his eyes snapped open and sat up just as quickly. His face was redder than Javert had ever seen, the color covering his features and extending to his ears.

“Javert, I-“ he spluttered, trying to wet his mouth. “How foolish of me, to fall asleep like this. Forgive me.” He scrambled to retrieve the book that had fallen in his flustered movements.

“Do not let it trouble you,” Javert said quietly, bewildered at the thump of his heart.

Neither of them would discuss the incident that day. Javert decided to take a walk on the outskirts of the forest while Valjean chopped firewood by the cottage. The woods were peacefully reticent, contrasting with Javert’s addled mind. Valjean had purposefully touched him, stayed with him, slept next to him, and the thought perplexed Javert. Friendship from him was difficult enough to fathom, but Valjean insisted of their reconciliation, which he dubiously accepted. He permitted their conversations, the reading, and their now shared meals. This, however, was another entity entirely.

He remembered how content Valjean looked, eyes closed as his white curls mixed with Javert’s thick fur. It could not be that Valjean wanted Javert in any capacity further than their precarious companionship. Though, he was unsure what that something else might look like. His mind conjured a scene: he, a gigantic wolf, sleeping and embracing Valjean in bed, assuaged by his slow breathing and his reassuring scent. Immediately, he banished the vision. He would not be so weak to accept such things again; he had not earned the right to even think of it.

However, it was clear Valjean wanted… something. Javert again felt trapped by his fondness, his inscrutable need to press such frivolities onto the predator who had chased him for so long. If Valjean wanted this thing of him, how could he deny him? It was not as if Javert did not crave his affection, but he had never assumed the sentiment had been mutual. Perhaps, he thought as he turned back towards the cottage, he might learn to accept this tenderness and rise to become worthy of it. He hesitantly assured himself of the possibility, all while a deeper anxiety tugged at his mind.

That night, Valjean did not venture to sit with Javert again, and began reading from his chair after they had eaten. Javert eyed him, somewhat disappointed. The space beside him felt empty, and the cabin felt colder with him so far away; he thought perhaps Valjean looked chilled as well.

When Valjean paused between chapters, Javert spoke up. “Valjean,” he said, startling the man. “Please sit… however you might be more comfortable.” He looked away. “I do not mind.”

“Oh… oh!” Valjean said, grasping his meaning. A slight color spread on his cheeks anew. “Is that truly all right? You would not object?”

“Simply be sure to return to your bed should exhaustion overtake you. It cannot be beneficial to your back to sprawl on the floor all hours of the night.”

Valjean gave a repentant smile and joined Javert, taking note that, on this night, his body was not quite as tense as the last.

They spent each night, and often day, like this now, Javert curled around Valjean by the fire. On most occasions, Valjean read, but would rest his voice for the day, asking Javert to recall a story or two. In truth, he missed the sound of Javert’s rough tone that he rarely could listen to without interruption, and now wanted to savor the rumble of the words as he lay against his broad chest.

It was one of these nights that Javert spoke of one of his first cases as an inspector.

“I was but young and foolish at the time,” he said. “I charged in, intent to arrest five gang members unaccompanied with not even a firearm on my person, eager as I was. Needless to say, my superiors were unhappy when I awoke with a sizable stab wound in the hospital.”

“Did the other officers catch the men?” Valjean asked.

“They evidently used my blunder as a distraction,” he said dryly, and Valjean chuckled. “They managed to take in all but one of the men alive.”

“Does the wound remain?” Valjean asked.

Javert silently gestured his head in the direction of his shoulder. “Though,” he said. “I know not if my scars have… persisted as I am.”

Valjean, looking in Javert’s eyes for any sign of reproach, moved his hand over the place, feeling through the fur for any mark. Sure enough, he could discern a thin line across the skin. “They never leave,” Valjean said softly, his fingers tracing over the spot gently. “No matter how you change.”

Javert hesitated before he dared to respond, but pressed on nevertheless. “I presume you know more than most.”

Valjean tensed away from the wolf, and Javert thought of the mangle of scars that must lean against him on Valjean’s back. “I apologize,” he said. “I have- I apologize for-”

“No,” Valjean said. “You have done no wrong, Javert, I assure you.”

Javert said nothing, unable to articulate the immense shame he felt for wounds he himself never inflicted. Did it matter that it was not he who wreaked each and every lash? He now looked at his pursuit as if he were a vulture, feeding on the remains of a creature, ravaged by animals, already half-dead.

Valjean faced him again, a calm expression masking the sadness that undercut his speech. “I wish for you to tell me of your other scars, since you know so much of mine.”

“…It is only fair.”

From that point, they began to discuss other matters, things that neither had told another soul. Javert found himself speaking of his childhood for, quite possibly, the first time in his life, while Valjean became more open to talking of his past, even joking about their time in Montreuil-sur-Mer. He neither spoke of Toulon nor of any time before it. It was a life, Javert supposed, of a different man altogether. It was a history he now wished to forget as well; he was, for so many years, complicit in the arrest and punishment of men who were potentially like Valjean. With uncomfortable awareness, he felt as if he understood part of the man who he had once pursued, guilt of the past gnawing at his psyche and bringing him back to the Seine. Certainly, the former convict was no saint, but was further from the devil than any criminal he had encountered. Without a shadow of doubt, Valjean was human, and assuredly more than Javert would consider himself.

 


 

As the nights fell earlier and colder, winter emerged in earnest, the rain turning to snows that lightly dusted the landscape. The sun fought its efforts during the day, melting its progress, but the weather refused to relent, slowly building to fully cover the ground. It clung to Javert’s fur as he stalked through the forest, searching for his increasingly scarce meals. When he sat that night by the fire, Valjean smiled, brushing the clumps of wet snow out of his fur. They continued with Odyssey, Valjean gingerly turning each page as Javert listened, resting his head on the floor.

Nurse Euryclea saw him long before any one else did. She was putting the fleeces on to the seats, and she burst out crying as she ran up to him; all the other maids came up too, and covered his head and shoulders with their kisses. Penelope came out of her room looking like Diana or Venus, and wept as she flung her arms about her son.”

He felt Valjean’s hand venture toward him as he spoke, but did not open his eyes as it came to stroke behind his ear. The hand was unsure at first, but gained confidence in its movements when Javert made no protest. It kept on until the caresses were almost absentminded, and Javert’s tail wagged in contentment. Letting the sound wash over him, he drifted in and out of comprehending the words.

“‘Eumaeus, what a noble hound that is over yonder on the manure heap: his build is splendid; is he as fine a fellow as he looks, or is he only one of those dogs that come begging about a table, and are kept merely for show?’

This hound,’ answered Eumaeus, ‘belonged to him who has died in a far country. If he were what he was when Ulysses left for Troy, he would soon show you what he could do. There was not a wild beast in the forest that could get away from him when he was once on its tracks. But now he has fallen on evil times, for his master is dead and gone, and the women take no care of him. Servants never do their work when their master’s hand is no longer over them, for Jove takes half the goodness out of a man when he makes a slave of him.’

As he spoke he went inside the buildings to the cloister where the suitors were, but Argos died as soon as he had recognised his master.

Javert’s tail abruptly stopped. Valjean, oblivious, continued reading and stroking his head, each touch now sending a wave of sickness through Javert.

Immediately afterwards Ulysses came inside, looking like a poor miserable old beggar, leaning on his staff-“

“You stroke me as one might stroke an animal,” Javert interrupted. His eyes were open, but he sat unmoving. No malice entered his voice; it was a cold observation directed towards nothing.

Valjean stopped suddenly, a small noise coming from his lips as he raised his hand, mortified. “I—I apologize, Javert, that was not my intent-“

“No,” Javert said, unable to look to Valjean. “It is only right, I am but a dog. I must confess I have always recognized myself as such, but it seems you have finally come to your senses on the subject.” He then let out a hollow, biting laugh as pain colored his face. “Though I hoped it should not come to that.”

Now, he felt sheer panic settling into his chest. Javert had always seen himself as a hound since the day of this curse, but he had never considered what it might mean for Valjean to look upon him as nothing but a dog in desperate need of affection, at the beck and call of its master: Monsieur Madeleine.

“Javert,” he said as he sat up, concern in his tone. He seemed more shocked than worried, startled by such an emotional outburst from someone so perpetually stoic. “Calm yourself. This was my mistake, you must know I have… I have never seen you that way.”

“You were not mistaken. I am no man, you see. This transformation suits me quite well.” His voice was beginning to mix with growls as he stood and started to pace fervently across the room. “My entire life, I simply let my primal, animal instincts of survival guide my trajectory. I never saw morals, only law and chaos. Law was my survival. But you-“ he gave a sharp intake of breath. “You have inexplicably lived outside those confines. So beastial was I that I could not even comprehend the complexity of human virtue.”

Valjean stared, slack-jawed. His surprise had slowly turned to genuine disturbance. “That is not true,” he managed.

“Even now,” Javert cried, ignoring Valjean’s dissent. “I know not if I was correct to let you walk free. How could I? After knowing your accursed mercy. Damn it all, this is why… why I-“

“Javert,” Valjean said harshly, making Javert halt. “Must I repeat myself? I do not blame you for the past. Nothing you did was unlawful. It was your duty.”

“Ah yes,” Javert sneered, not at Valjean but to himself. He resumed pacing. “That is what domesticated beasts are meant for. To obey their master. Obey the law of governance. Obey the laws of God. Now I need only obey the confounding convict who has imprisoned me in this life, for I cannot obey all at once. But,” he paused, stopping again in front of the hearth, his voice now a whisper. “It is better this way. If I were that man again, I would not be prepared to bear the burden of a human’s morality. That man never could.”

In that moment, Valjean wanted to touch Javert terribly, to hold his face in his hands and convince him of something, anything that may alleviate the look of utter pain in his expression. He knew though, laying his hands on Javert would only exacerbate his torment.

“If you so believe your shortcomings Javert, it is not too late yet. I swear to you, people are able to change.”

“I am no person,” Javert barked weakly, his anger overcome with grief.

“Could you be?” Valjean pleaded now, eyes locked with Javert’s. As if the mere act of looking were agonizing, Javert could not meet his gaze; his eyes were downcast as the life seemed to drain from his posture.

“…I would rather you kill me,” he nearly whimpered.

Valjean thought back to the barricade and Javert’s annoyed request before sending him off. He thought of the night Javert arrived at his doorstep, asking so resolutely for Valjean to execute him. He had been so certain, so definite in his logic, treading with confidence, his head above water. Now, it was if he had collapsed in on himself, sinking further, helplessly drowning in his own misery and begging for the last gasps of air to leave his lungs.

Shaking his head, Valjean stood from the ground. “You know I cannot.” For the first time, the immense wolf in front of him was unrecognizable as the Javert he knew. It looked pitiful.

He looked towards the bed tiredly. “We are at an impasse,” he sighed. “Please, rest tonight, and we may speak of this tomorrow.”

Javert said nothing as he watched Valjean retire. When he became still and his breathing steady, Javert followed, wrapping himself around the end of the bed on the floor. Valjean, in a half-awake state, noted his presence before falling into a fitful sleep.

When Valjean awoke the next morning, the cottage was empty; Javert was gone.

Chapter Text

In truth, it was not so unusual for Valjean to wake to an empty house, even at all hours of the night. Javert was partial to taking leisurely, unaccompanied walks, especially when he could not find sleep. At least, Valjean assumed the walks were leisurely, but now suspected them to be an attempt to control the bouts of dreadful thoughts Javert wished not to share. These fits of restlessness had recently lessened in frequency, but it would not surprise Valjean to find him unnerved after the previous night.

Sluggishly, he rose and pulled off his sheets. Changing from his bedclothes, he picked at a light breakfast and peeked outside the curtains, distracted. Snow lined the edges of the windowsill, and large flakes were beginning to fall lazily to the ground. He imagined Javert would return, covered in snow, trying to shake off the clumps hanging onto his pelt. Valjean would laugh at the sight, they would read together, warmed from the fire and from one another; all would be well, the looming melancholy forgotten.

In the pit of his stomach, he dreaded what he might say to Javert. Genuinely, he had never considered that his actions may be perceived as Javert had seen, but he now looked back on it with mortification. He had been petting Javert, for God’s sake. Not even to himself could he justify his lack of mindfulness of Javert’s situation; the notion was unmistakably horrifying, though he had been afraid to inquire of how Javert had found himself this way. It was as if he had already accepted Javert’s state as unremarkable, for he was ultimately still the same man at heart, if not more concerned for Valjean’s eating habits. Surely though, his predicament was incredibly distressing, to be trapped in such a position. He thought to Javert’s attempt to read and felt his heart drop; the look had been of a man so thoroughly lost. It was the same expression he wore as he gracelessly unraveled the previous night.

Never before had he seen Javert in such hysterics. It was not as if he could never comprehend his emotions. In fact, he was quite easy to read, more so now that his ears and tail so often put his feelings on display. But, he found Javert typically did not give so much thought to matters of the heart, any rumination and decisions running solely on observation and logic. Undoubtedly, the emotions had tangled themselves slowly, unbidden, until Javert could no longer be constrained by the overflow of intrusive thoughts, as if a dam had burst open in his mind. He assumed Valjean thought of him as nothing more than a soulless hound that should be put out from its misery.

He needed to apologize properly to Javert, to more clearly assure him of his intent. Though, he was unsure of what he meant for Javert. In his view, they were surely friends, uncertain feelings aside. Out of some goodness or obligation, Javert had taken it upon himself to wrench Valjean out of his stupor, to hold onto life for a time longer. Perhaps it was only his way of repaying what he felt was a debt after the barricade. At the time, Valjean’s decision to free Javert was not to convince him of anything; it was simply saving a man because he knew he might spare a life. It would have been the same had it been any other soul about to be executed. Though, had Javert already felt his debt repaid? He left Valjean that night at his home, promised he would wait for him, but let him free, disappearing into the night. It would be months before Javert returned to his threshold, begging to be killed.

Inexplicably, his attitude towards Javert was now worryingly complicated. Even if Javert only meant to fulfill an obligation, he had surely done so already. Valjean was nearly back to health, as much as possible for a man his age. Yet, he stayed. Was it because he had no place to go as a wolf, or because he truly was waiting for Valjean to end his life? He thought of their long walks, the meals they shared, the earnest way Javert would weave a tale, and the gentle way he would curl around Valjean as he read. Valjean felt his face grow hot at the thought. Beyond doubt, Javert wanted to be there. If only indulging Valjean’s nonsensical desires, he chose to indulge him nonetheless.

Valjean gave an apprehensive look towards the window; he had moved to his chair, leafing through one of his timeworn books with uncharacteristic disinterest. Snow was beginning to fall harder, further obscuring the view of the far-off trees. The day was growing late, and Javert was nowhere to be seen. Daylight was harder to come by as winter rolled in, and the sun was near to setting. Narrowing his eyes, he rose from his perch and went to pull on his greatcoat and boots.

By the time Valjean reached the edge of the forest, the snowfall was thick enough to shroud his vision beyond a short distance. Its bare trees sat silently, growing together in a tangle that deepened, buried under white. The fresh powder had covered much of the ground, presumably hiding any tracks Javert may have left. He squinted against the blizzard, looking for anything that might point to his whereabouts. Suddenly, a great distance away, he heard a reverberating howl, then another, until they became a harrowing chorus as the sky darkened. Shivering at the cold, he reluctantly made his way back to the cottage, feet crunching through the snow.

 


 

Weeks passed in terrible slowness, and Valjean had seen nothing of Javert. Each day, even in the heavy snows, he returned to the outskirts of the forest, occasionally calling for him, and often simply walking, hoping Javert might catch his scent. He dared not venture too deep into the thicket, knowing the ferocity of a winter-starved pack of wolves. While he would normally take such reckless action without reservation, he thought better of it upon considering the scolding Javert would give him. He would receive enough of his ire for simply walking into the snow; the blizzards had only worsened over the month, piling halfway up to his knees.

Gradually, he found the cottage, a prison of his own design, an unbearable punishment. The irony did not escape him, for it was Valjean’s original intent. To live out his last days in solitude, quietly disappearing as he had no other use for life. Now, it boasted the hallmark of a true cell, an inescapable toil of loneliness. Even his books, ever the loyal friends, were no comfort. They would only remind him that if he were to read aloud, there was no one to receive it. Indeed, he was tempted to again stop eating, to make his escape. However, each time the thought came to him, he could hear so clearly Javert’s chiding tone disallowing the idea.

His only reprieve was writing to Cosette letters that she may never read, but even this was retribution. Over and over, he drafted the letter, trying to tell best his idiosyncratic life and how she came into his care. How does one express such love while speaking of one’s most grotesque actions? It was as though he were attempting to translate the words from another language for which there was no equivalent, the complexities lost in a sea of forgotten context and history. With terror, he thought of the chain gang that Cosette so fearfully looked upon; for her to look at him with that disposition should kill him rightly. He desperately wished for Javert’s presence, to calm his nerves and provide any sort of solace. Of anyone, Javert would understand the heartache of dredging up these memories but would call him an old fool, curtly assuring him of his daughter’s compassion. If Javert could find benevolence for Valjean, he could surely persuade him of Cosette’s.

The courier would not resume his route until the spring, so he took care in writing the letter without hurry. He would send it ahead of him before he would visit the Pontmercy estate at winter’s end. He only hoped he would not be turned away at the door, but would accept his fate in either case. Until that time, he would need to bear the winter and wait for Javert. The thought was untenable. It was presumptuous that he would believe he would return and absurd to desire it; he deserved none of the happiness he would provide.

 


 

The wind was fierce and howling. Valjean could feel it in his bones before cold could even hit his skin. Both his leg and his old scars ached with dull pain just before storms would roll in; it was an alarm of sorts. When he could feel the weather shifting, he would attempt again to coax Javert from the forest before the snow would drive him back inside.

It was on one of these nights and the precipice of the fifth week that the blizzard was particularly harsh; the snow piled outside, partway up the door. Valjean sat in only his shirtsleeves and pants, warming a basin water on the fire to make a half-hearted endeavor at calming the pain striking his back and joints. Typically, he would do nothing, gritting his teeth through any hardship brought on by severe weather. There was a part of him, after all, that needed to feel the reminder of what lie underneath the veneer of a gentleman. This storm, unfortunately, was exceeding his limit for what he would allow himself. Before the storm, he had barely been able to move as he limped roughly to the edge of the trees, calling uselessly for Javert.

As he waited for the pot to boil, he heard a sudden scratch, a pause, and then the sound of tearing wood. Looking up quickly, Valjean faltered for no more than a second before flying towards the door and wrenching it open with unintended force, his heart threatening to leap from his chest. He was faced with an enormous wolf, standing so tall that their eyes met without need to crane his neck in either direction. Its dark, grey streaked fur was coated in a layer of snowflakes, wet and matted. Its ears drooped slightly, and its stance seemed unsteady. Only then did Valjean notice the way it carried its front right leg and the blood streaming down it, mixing with the snow underfoot. Breathing hard, steam billowing from its mouth, the wolf looked as if it meant to speak before collapsing into a heap onto the ground.

Javert was unconscious on his doorstep.

For a moment, Valjean stared blankly, eyes wide, as snow began to drift into the house and the reality of the situation dawned on him. Without wasting another second, Valjean summoned all his strength to awkwardly grab hold of a hopelessly limp Javert and pulled him towards the fireplace. He could barely fit his arms around him, but Valjean could feel his protruding ribs and something slick on his arms. Trying not to dwell on it, he made his way across the room, struggling with the immense weight. Leaving Javert to lie by the fire, he went to close the door. As he held the knob, he furrowed his brow worryingly as his eyes moved from his blood-covered hands to the red trail that ran across the floor to Javert’s lying form.

There would be no time to think. Rushing to the fire to retrieve the boiling water, he lowered to his knees to look at Javert, hands floating nervously above him. But for his shallow breathing, he was entirely still. Small wounds covered his body, many caked with dried blood and some more recent. A deep gash went through his leg from which blood was pooling slowly, but steadily onto the rug. Bleeding, he thought, panicking. He needed to stop the bleeding. Fumbling, he began to take off his shirt. Valjean ripped the cloth in half, first soaking it in water in an attempt to clean the wound before tying it off with the remains of the shirt. While he was no doctor, it was the best he could manage with what little he knew. He stood to retrieve a washcloth and a fresh shirt, intending to clean the rest of the injuries he could find. It would be, he thought wearily, a night long and unforgiving.

Chapter Text

Javert had not yet woken. In that time, he had lost a great deal of blood from the leg wound, but Valjean had luckily given it the immediate attention it required, staunching most of its flow and cleaning it each day. Now that Valjean could inspect the gash more thoroughly, he noted with disturbance that it looked as though an animal had taken his leg violently into its jaws. He thought perhaps to call for a doctor—perhaps a veterinarian—who might tend to him. However, even without the snow marooning them, he feared what may happen should any man be faced with such a sight. He shuddered to consider that anyone would have come upon Javert before himself.

On the third day of uninterrupted sleep, Valjean was reading quietly in his chair so as to not disturb his rest. His eyes were slightly sunken. Nervous that something may happen should he sleep for too long, he had been napping in short bursts and waking to confirm that Javert was still in the house, despite the fact that Valjean thought it unlikely that he could even walk. Glancing at Javert, he felt a pang of anxiety and an urge to throw his arms around him, to have him know how relieved he was to see him alive. Pushing the impulse down, he shifted his attention back to his reading. As he turned a page, he suddenly heard Javert begin to rouse. At the slight movement, Valjean startled in his chair, closing his book.

“Javert?” he said tentatively, leaning down. He suddenly thought that he may wake to terrible pain; he had nothing on hand to numb the injuries aside from a solitary bottle of liquor. Though, he did not know if a wolf should drink such things.

Javert’s head raised slightly, eyes blinking slowly and taking in their surroundings. Turning from his side, he sat upright on his stomach, wincing at the movement of his bandaged leg. Almost drunkenly, Javert made to stand but fell the instant he shifted his weight onto the leg. Valjean held out his hand to stop him, leaving it to hover over him, uncertain of his condition. On the floor, his eyes locked with Valjean’s hand and a low growl came from his throat, his teeth bared. Valjean’s hand retreated promptly.

“Are you well? Are you in pain?” he asked. Javert graced him with no response. The growl subsided, but his face still threatened retaliation. Valjean grimaced and rose to walk to the kitchen; he never escaped Javert’s gaze, his narrowed eyes following his every movement. Crouching low, he returned with a bowl of broth that he rested carefully on the floor, now wary of coming too close.

“Eat,” he said. “You have been asleep for three days now.”

Javert’s icy stare went from Valjean to the broth. The look on his features was that of untenable rage which felt closer to animal than human. Valjean waited as Javert made no move; he sighed and stood, walking back to the kitchen to prepare his own meal. When he made to sit at the table, he eventually heard the lapping of Javert’s tongue. For a moment, he simply observed him eating. Javert leaned on his left side, removing the pressure from his injury. Valjean could sense that he noticed his stare, but would not look towards him, drinking in silence. At the very least, it seemed he had no intent to starve himself.

From that point, Javert refused to look at Valjean. His gaze was kept on the fire, the window, his food, anything else that would distract him from Valjean’s face that grew more and more concerned. While he accepted any food offered to him, Valjean feared he would accept no contact, which presented a challenge in the case of his wounds. The first time his hands moved to touch him, fresh bandages in hand, Javert barked, pulling himself away and whimpering at the pain of motion. The noise reverberated in the confined room, almost ringing in Valjean’s ears.

“I need to clean the wound,” Valjean said sternly. He was not afraid, but frustrated. “It will take no time.” Javert only growled in response, holding his leg close.

Valjean breathed out heavily, sagging onto the floor beside him. “What happened to you, Javert?”  he said uneasily. With only silence as an answer, he pressed again with his original request. “…Please let me see your leg. It will fester if I cannot change the bandages.”

Still unable to face him, Javert was mute. A minute passed before he meekly held out the leg towards him. No sounds escaped his mouth as Valjean silently tended to the wrappings. There was none of the ease under his touch that he felt when he brushed Javert’s fur, when they sat together to read. It appeared as though he lay entirely still, but his muscles, tense, betrayed him, as if he meant to bolt out the door at a moment’s notice. It was an empty threat given his condition, but the the shift worried Valjean even more than the bloody wound before him.

After two days of this routine, Valjean stopped inquiring, and Javert wordlessly obeyed his insistence on eating and caring for his leg. The air in the house was apprehensive, both waiting for the other to take an inevitable first shot on a battlefield staged to launch a war. It had come to a point where Valjean was concerned that Javert would forgo speech ever more, or, worse, that he had forgotten the ability altogether. Had his weeks without human contact brought him closer to wild animal than man?

These thoughts came to him on the third night while he prepared for sleep. Next to the wardrobe, Javert had insisted early on that he fashion a makeshift dressing screen from a sheet that would allow him to change in private. It was just as well; Valjean did not particularly wish for Javert to see the tangle of scars that lined his back. Pulling on the nightshirt, he moved to the bed, peering from the corner of his eye at Javert. He stopped in his tracks and stared at Javert who was, for the first time in days, staring back. 

“Javert?” The wolf was silent still, but Valjean waited expectantly for anything to come of the gaze.

“That night,” he said. His voice was hoarse and quiet with disuse, mixing with a hint of something animal. “I broke my word. I apologize.” Roughly, he cleared his throat, tongue moving oddly, as if adjusting to the effort of language again. His expression was resolute and a touch shameful, but he did not tear from his eyes.

“…What night?” Valjean said, confused, scanning Javert for any trace of meaning.

“Rue de l'Homme Arme. I said I would wait for you.”

“Ah,” Valjean said. “Yes. Why do you…?” His question trailed off, unsure of Javert’s intent. It looked as if Javert was struggling greatly with what he wished to say. His brow was furrowed, ears twitching in distress.

“It is unfair for me to expect only truth from you when I have lied,” he said.

“Why do you speak of this, Javert?” A hint of panic was building in his throat. When he asked what had happened to him, he meant his time in the wood, but it seemed Javert believed he asked of something else entirely.

“That night... I left to walk to the Seine. I fell in. Jumped, rather,” he said plainly.

Valjean went pale, holding onto the edge of the bedpost. His face grew anguished as he walked across the room, grabbing onto the chair with knuckles white. “Javert. You…”

“I was unsuccessful, as you can see,” he said. “I woke up as you see me now. This is why… this is why I thought you might correct my failure. But when you- when you regarded me with such warmth, even when I am like this, I had no idea what to believe.”

“I... Let me apologize first for my foolishness, please,” Valjean said. “I meant not to treat you as a dog, truly. But- but Javert-“

“There is no apology necessary. You cannot change what I am.” Javert let the moment go quiet, laying his eyes on the fire.

“I lost myself in the waters of the Seine because I was unable to live as a man. Then, I thought, perhaps, I was meant live as a beast, but,” he scowled at his leg, bandaged and limp. “That notion turned even more disastrous. I could not live on my own, but I could not become part of a pack. They rejected me, and I allowed their attack. I thought to simply lie down in the wood and succumb to my wounds. But I...”

“…You heard my call?”

“Each day,” Javert said, giving a wry smile and a short, ugly laugh. “I make quite the disobedient hound, I suppose.”

“You are no dog, Javert,” Valjean said, something rising in his tone.

Javert frowned, starting to protest. “But I-“

“No more!” he cried. Valjean was angry, but his fury was coated with grief, suddenly spilling from him, a current flooding over. It was if he realized kindness would never reach his ears, could never convince him. “I refuse to let you speak of yourself this way. A dog is subservient and a wolf a ravenous predator, but you are neither, that much is clear. How can I prove to you that we are equals?” He sighed, shoulders slumping as he knelt to the ground in front of the wolf. Javert shrank, stunned into silence by the outburst, and stared at him wide-eyed.

“I have always felt but an animal,” Valjean said quietly, turning aside to the window. The pain was still in his expression, but took on a different light, one of a man wearied beyond his years. “A slave, livestock of the law. Pursued by it, treated as a rabid beast that should be put down.” He looked now to Javert. “I know you have felt it too, I understand it. You have been a watchdog of the police, living only to serve. This is why I cannot place all blame on your shoulders. If you, Javert, are only an animal, then I- I am just as much so.”

Valjean looked more despondent than Javert had ever seen him. His veneer of concern over the past days was falling away to reveal a bleakness beneath. The mask that he so fastidiously wore was suddenly split, revealing all the unsightly emotions it obscured. He thought to himself how lonesome Valjean must have been, waiting and calling for Javert, how his voice grew more desperate with each day. A sense of guilt at his own selfishness filled his mind. Worry took over Javert’s expression as he wordlessly nudged his head against Valjean’s hand. After a moment of hesitation, Valjean melted into the gesture, holding his lowered head in his lap and gently stroking his fur. They sat together for several minutes in this quiet, absorbing the warmth from one another. Javert’s tail began to wag lazily back and forth as he relaxed under Valjean’s hands. Gradually, his rhythm began to slow, uncertain, and Javert tilted his head, a question in the motion.

“The way I touch you… it does not trouble you?” Valjean asked.

Javert made no move to flinch away from the caresses, though his tail slowly stopped while his face took on a forlorn look. Valjean did not stop, but kept stroking at a haphazard pace, doubt coloring his countenance.

“These weeks in the wood… I found I missed it dearly. That is why I returned. Though I certainly do not deserve it. From you, of all people,” his breath hitched, as if choking down on a sob. “How miserable of me, to crave such a thing.”

Immediately, Valjean’s strong arms were surrounding him, wrapping around his neck, Javert’s body going stiff underneath. “Javert...” he said, the sound muffled into fur. “There is nothing more human.” His arms held him tightly for what felt like hours. Javert found the smell of salt hitting his nose and a tremble in the embrace. His overwhelmed senses could not tell if it was his own or Valjean’s, their bodies close as they were. Finally, he pulled away to look at Javert, face a mixture of astonishment, pain, and a third emotion Valjean could not quite decipher.

“I am… deeply sorry for what you have been through, Javert,” he said.

“I have earned nothing more.”

“Javert,” Valjean said firmly. “You have shown kindness to me. At any rate, deserve at the very least life. Allow me to say that... if this,” he gestured to Javert’s form. “Was the reason you have been saved, I am glad for it.”

Javert’s expression was wretched, searching Valjean’s face with a lost confusion, as if a great truth was dawning on him, but was unsure as to whether to trust it. “…How you can forgive me so easily, how you can accept me this way,” he said weakly. “I will never comprehend it.” He paused, looking directly at Valjean, eyes narrowed. “Though you will not extend the same to your own person, a man who puts everything before himself. It is nothing short of confounding.”

Valjean could hardly respond, shock overtaking his voice. “I am confounding?”

“Yes, you,” he said. “You think I cannot see that you have not been in agony each time the weather turns. And you have not slept properly, and your ea-“

Valjean had begun to snicker and abruptly burst into uproarious laughter, tears coming to the corners of his eyes. “You make yourself clear, Javert.” He calmed his amusement, settling into a bittersweet smile and tucking his hand around Javert’s ear. “We both have much progress ahead.”

Javert huffed as his face turned hot, leaning into the touch and, without warning, strangely felt that he had now finally returned to what must resemble a home.

Chapter Text

Hesitantly testing the weight, Javert stood, limping across the room at a cautious pace. It was the first attempt after weeks of allowing his leg to heal, surviving on broth and Valjean’s reserve of salted meats. Though he would not admit it, Javert had been fearful that he may not fully walk again, so thoroughly had his leg been ravaged. The throbbing at the top of his leg was a salient reminder as he walked. Valjean hovered nervously around him with raised hands, ready to catch him should he fall; the gesture annoyed Javert to no end.

“I was transformed to a wolf, not glass, Valjean,” Javert murmured, focusing intently on his legs.

Aptly, Valjean ignored the quip, gently asking “Does it pain you?” It irritated Javert further still, knowing Valjean meant to aggravate him under a ruse of kindness. While Javert was consistently straightforward in his admonishments, Valjean’s obfuscated method of chiding him, rather than outright criticism, was always sure to silence any complaint, angry fit, or sarcastic remark.

“…Yes. But it is bearable.”

Javert walked slowly around the room before returning by the hearth, easing himself into a seated position. He was shocked at how much the mere act had winded him; silently, he hoped the concern was not evident on his face. Unbeknownst to him, Valjean could read perfectly well the slight droop of his ears.

“You are making headway,” Valjean said encouragingly, sitting in his chair.

“I suppose,” Javert said. “Perhaps I will return to hunting soon when the snow relents.”

Valjean gave a soft smile in response, and they sat quietly together, enjoying the crackle of the fire. Despite the indignity of suddenly becoming an invalid, the time he had spent back in the cottage had been a world of relief. When Valjean resumed reading Odyssey aloud, the sound of his voice was like a song lovely enough to bring a man to tears. He was equally moved when Valjean suggested he clean and brush Javert’s fur again, which had again fallen to a state of chaos, now caked with blood. First he had insisted there was no need, but acquiesced when Valjean pointed out his doubts as to whether all the blood was Javert’s. It was shameful enough for Javert to find himself again at the mercy of Valjean’s maddeningly tender hands. For the second time though, he was able to relax fully under the brush, fully taken by the sensation of touch.

At the same time, the recovery was agonizing. He greatly resented the lack of control and the helplessness that came with immobility and resented further still the way with which Valjean handled him as if he were an infant. It was weeks before he healed enough to convince Valjean that it was safe to lay by his side without hurting him. Though, it seemed as though Valjean was hesitant to give in to such things for another reason entirely. He had assured him that it would no longer trouble him; he would, in fact, welcome it. However, Valjean was intent to deny himself any sense of comfort in most aspects of his life; it was something Javert had quickly learned and actively fought against when he recognized it. The habit was slowly improving, but Javert often found himself chastising Valjean for unassuming lapses that he knew were punishments; chopping wood for too long in the cold, eating too little, fretting far too much over his letters to his daughter.

Days later, Javert found himself musing on this as he closed his eyes, letting the sounds of the fire and the wind outside flood his senses, washing away any other thoughts. The storm outside was howling with power, and he sensed that it would only grow worse as the day went on. It was after several minutes that Javert’s ears perked to a sound likely imperceptible to any man: a hitch in Valjean’s breath. His eyes flew open as he turned to him.

“The weather pains you,” he said unflinchingly. Valjean opened his mouth before Javert stopped him. “Do not lie to me,” he snapped. Valjean grimaced; Javert truly never sidestepped any difficult topic. Ever the inspector, his questioning was always pointed and strategic, prodding at Valjean’s vulnerabilities if he felt it necessary.

“…It is nothing to worry over,” he said, voice cracking.

“Valjean.”

“I am-“ he breath took a sharp intake. “I am fine."

Scowling, Javert all but rolled his eyes, rising in spite of Valjean’s protest. “Boil a pot of water,” he ordered. “I will bring towels.” Valjean, too enveloped by his aching body to argue, wordlessly obeyed, shuffling from the kitchen back to the fire as Javert pushed the chair closer to the hearth. Valjean deposited the water on the floor and sat gingerly. Stalking around the chair, Javert faced Valjean.

“Where,” he said, not so much a question as a command.

Valjean’s eyes went to his left leg, and Javert felt his stomach drop. It was, of course, the leg responsible for his telltale limp, a ghost that had never quite left him after all these years. So clearly Javert could see the chains that once bound those ankles and imagined the scars his stockings must hide. He thought of the years of strain that now weighed so heavily on Valjean’s soul, the torment coming back to haunt him still. He thought of the weight of the bludgeon all prison guards held, the unrelenting anger of the sun’s rays, the screams of men lashed until bloody.

Breaking himself from his reverie, he tried to focus on the task at hand. He was here, he was now. Losing himself in the past would do nothing for Valjean now. Limping to the bed in the far corner of the room, he took Valjean’s pillows in his mouth and stacked them in front of Valjean.

“Roll your pant leg,” he said. “Prop it here.”

Hissing under his breath, Valjean followed the order. Javert began soaking towels into the water with his mouth, laying them on Valjean’s bare skin. Still, he could sense the tension in his leg and his restrained breathing.

“Talk of something, the distraction will help,” Javert said in a level tone, though worry skirted around its edges. “Tell me of anything. Your plans for the garden.”

Through gritted teeth, he exhaled and began to explain the process by which he would till the soil and the many plants he wanted to raise. As he rambled, Javert placed freshly warmed towels across his leg, but knew that alone would not suffice. He was no doctor, but he knew heat and pressure were the best remedies for such phantom pains. Sitting on his haunches, mindful of his injury, he laid his head atop the upper part of Valjean’s leg, applying a dull pressure. He tilted his gaze, hoping to gauge his reaction. Valjean let out a slow breath through his nose, interrupting his talk of strawberries.

“Does this help?” Javert asked.

In response, his hand went to Javert’s head, absently giving it an affirmative pet. Valjean had stopped speaking, only inhaling and exhaling with focus, eyes closed. His jaw unclenched from its tight position; though not smiling, his demeanor was calmer.

Javert stared into that face, wishing to take even a small portion of the weight on Valjean to carry it himself, to lessen his burden in any way conceivable. For the first time touching Valjean, it felt not like a dog showering its master for affection, nor like a wolf pouncing to devour its prey. This was repentance for what had wrought this pain in his body, a prayer to a power higher than law, and an exchange of compassion between equals. It felt oddly human, more human than he had ever truly felt in his 50 odd years of life. Stranger still, it made his heart, untamed and overgrown, ache for something he could not name. Months ago, he might have drowned in that feeling, its overwhelming grip on his soul engulfing him entirely. He often wished to simply smother it until the feeling or he himself were dead. Now, he regarded it with tentative curiosity, an urge to grasp it overtaking the fear of being consumed by it. He thought Valjean might take that heart in his hands, pruning its dead vestiges until it would beat with life and reveal to him the source of that confounding pang in his chest. However, what he wanted more than anything was to return the favor, to hold those rough, work-hardened hands, to kiss away the agony in his old bones.

He steeled himself after the last thought, feeling heat in his face. That course of thought he would not permit himself. As it was, he would need to be content with this. It was more than he ever thought he might deserve, a fact he needed to be grateful for. The moment was suddenly interrupted by Valjean’s hand, cradling his face.

“Thank you, Javert,” he said.

“There is no thanks needed.” He paused. “…Though, you ought to handle yourself with more care,” Javert said, more gently than he intended. Feeling the need to mask any affection, he added, “I cannot act as your ‘round the clock nursemaid.”

“I am afraid you already resigned yourself to such a position months ago,” Valjean joked, giving a muted chuckle. “And you are certainly one to talk.”

Thinking of the bandages wrapping his leg, he found it difficult to argue the point. Rather, he indignantly nuzzled further against the hand, ignoring the distant pain and allowing himself to be swallowed in Valjean’s scent and all the memories it brought.

 


 

Grass, brilliantly green, had started to poke its way through the white blanket that had confined its growth in the months prior. The scents and sounds of an arriving springtime were heavy on Javert’s senses, putting him into a restless state. Even in the chill, he was anxious to roam outdoors, to stretch his legs after months of confinement by the snow and his injuries. Now free of its dressings, his upper leg bore a mangled pink scar peeking through the fur, drawing attention to itself by way of a slight falter in his gait. Trailing behind him was Valjean, gloved hands clasped behind his back, leisurely admiring the landscape. Javert stopped in his tracks, patiently waiting for Valjean to reach him.

“The new season is almost upon us,” Javert said as he fell into step next to Valjean.

“It will be beautiful,” Valjean said, distraction in his voice. 

Rather than ask outright, Javert let the moment descend into quiet as he waited for Valjean to say anything more. Valjean looked distantly back to the path they had taken.

“I will be keeping my word to Cosette,” he said, eventually. “She will have my head if I do not return to her as I promised.”

“Undoubtedly,” Javert replied. “Is the letter prepared?”

“I shall send it ahead tomorrow and take leave within the week.”

Javert was silent, staring into the forest, and Valjean followed his gaze. He looked at nothing in particular, rather taking in the enormity of the complex tangle of life before them, no longer concerned with its detail.

“Likely, I shall be back in a month’s time,” Valjean added. He stared still into the depths of the forest, a resignation of sorts falling over his features. “You know... you are not bound to this place, Javert.”

Javert took his words in carefully, mulling them over in his mind. Even if he were a man again, he could never resume his post. Though there was no body to be found, he would be presumed dead by the law, and was most certainly not fit in body or mind to return. The Javert as he once knew himself was deceased, lost to the Seine, and someone new had emerged. Someone able to live outside of servitude and outside of chaotic lawlessness. No longer did he feel such a leash around his neck, tying him to his duty. He felt a freedom he had never before experienced.

The prospect was frightful, to be sure. He had never allowed feelings of fear to reach his heart; he cowered not before death, desired it, in fact. Now an unwelcome terror had crept into his mind, that he might lose the first thing he had ever wanted for in his life. He now gave reverence to a higher power than law. While he thought at first that might be God himself, he pondered that it may only be love, but scarcely knew any difference. He wanted to laugh in that moment, to lament the sorry state in which he found himself. Miserably, he now understood he was in love.

“I know,” he finally answered faintly. He could not look at Valjean for fear of what inane thoughts might slip unbidden from his mouth, leaving a sick feeling in his throat. Valjean would not return. Upon reconciling with his daughter, he would see fit to stay in Paris. Cosette would insist he move in with her and her husband, and how could Valjean deny her request? It was only right. He bore no ill will against the fact only because he knew it would be best for Valjean. Javert would not be so selfish as to ask anything of him, to prevent him from the happiness the arrangement would surely bring him. He deserved so much more than Javert could offer, than Javert could even fathom.

They stared together into the wood, their feelings on the matter unspoken, and Javert overcome with a sense of grief. Despite his distress, he allowed none of it reach Valjean’s notice. Stock still, he tried to drown these thoughts that could only bring misfortune to Valjean. It was, he was sure, for the best.

Chapter Text

Jean Valjean was unsettled. He sat in the library at the Pontmercy estate, made slightly uncomfortable at the size of the collection and lavish, overly plush chair that he occupied by the fireplace. Undeniably, he felt out of place, shrinking in on himself as Cosette entered with tea. The sight marginally relaxed him as he took a cup from her, smiling with admiration. Cosette kissed him lightly on the cheek before sitting in the other chair flanking the hearth.

“I cannot tell you how happy I am to have had you here, Papa,” Cosette said earnestly. “And to think you should hide away from us.”

“I apologize, my dear,” he said. “I only meant to get away from the city. It has become far too much excitement for an old man like me.”

As Cosette began to argue that a man his age should not live alone in the country, he sipped his tea, looking into the fire, absentminded. Her words fell into the background as he focused on it, a numbing feeling of longing swimming through his head. Suddenly, he heard the clatter of Cosette’s cup and saucer being set on the end table between them.

“...though I suppose were not, with your friend visiting,” Cosette continued. “I was certainly glad to hear you were not entirely alone for the winter at the very least.”

“Ah… yes,” Valjean said, flushing slightly at the mention of Javert. He had not opted to fully explain his situation to Cosette, wishing not to complicate a relationship already fraught with strange entanglements. However, he could not worry her by allowing her to think he had spend the last six months isolated. It was enough to tell his daughter of how she came into his care and, by extension, what he had done. The contents of his letter were edited heavily by Javert, who chastised him consistently for omitting much of the good he had performed. His first drafts were indeed only a summary of his crimes, a fact which made the wolf bristle in frustration.

“Papa,” Cosette said, her tone growing more serious and, across the table, took his hand in her own. “Would you stay with Marius and I? We would be more than happy to have you close.” She smiled at him, hope and uncertainty filling her face.

“Of course I want to see you, little one,” he said, squeezing her hand softly. “But, I…” he trailed off, looking sidelong to the fire.

“Do you worry of the police?” she asked, grasping harder at his palms. “Marius and I have sworn to-“

“No, no, my dear,” Valjean said, putting on a mask of serenity. “It is not for you to concern yourself with. If that is your desire, I shall stay.”

He had expected Cosette to be elated, to pull him into her arms. She only looked upon him with an uneasy regard. The apprehension did not leave her face as she sat back into her chair. Valjean felt a sense of worry filling him, terrified that Cosette might fret too much on his behalf.

“What troubles you, dearest?”

Cosette crossed her arms, sighing. “I only ask for you to do what you desire. Not to wish for something only because I want for it.”

Valjean blanched. Never before had she pointed this out to him so frankly. Never before had she seen so clearly through his measured deception. It abruptly struck him how old Cosette seemed; his daughter was no longer a child.

“You have done so much for me, to raise me as your own. What I want now is only for you to be happy. If that is with me, of course we will welcome you with open arms. If it is another place, I wish it for you just as much. Do not make a rash decision on my account.”

Still stunned to silence, he stared at Cosette as she closed the gap between them, leaning on her knees to take hold of his hands again in a resolute grip.

“What do you want, Papa?” she said emphatically.

Wearing now a genuine smile, Valjean held her hands and stroked her cheek. “…You have grown more wonderful than I could ever imagine,” he said.

Cosette returned his smile, beaming at him. “Only because of you,” she said. “I love you so, Papa.”

“And I love you, my Cosette.”

 


 

When Valjean found himself again on that country road, the snow was nowhere to be found; dead foliage was beginning to sprout anew in his month-long absence. He thanked the carriage driver, politely declining the proffered help to bring his cases to the house. Taking the two trunks in his arms, he made the small trek from the roadside to the cottage nestled near the trees. Breathing in deeply, he took a moment to appreciate the crisp air, a rare commodity on the streets of Paris. He hoped it would smother the flips in his stomach as he thought of Javert.

Truly, he wanted nothing more than to reunite with Javert after their time apart. It brought back the memories of Javert’s exit to the wood, but rather than an endless toil, he could now see a light shining at the end of a tunnel. Very few times in his life did he see and look forward to a definite destination. So often, each trial felt never ending nightmare that he could never seem to wake from. He missed dearly the stories Javert would tell, the way he concealed his affection through frivolous excuses, and the gentle way he curled around Valjean, as if he were a thing to protect, to cherish. Javert, he found, treated him with more humanity than he had ever known. His reluctance to return was a hesitance to accept this, to be so often reminded of the fact that he was, after all, human. To accept the thump in his chest as he thought of Javert.

Reaching the edges of the garden, he stopped to set down the attache and to stare at the sight. Once overgrown with unruly skeletons of its previous residents, the beds now appeared tilled, the dead matter cleared away for the new season. It sat in a pile near the shed, ready to be used as fertilizer. Picking up the pace of his step, he entered the cottage. The room, neat as ever, was empty.

Turning towards the door, he stepped outside to look at the horizon. The sun was making its way downward, basking the landscape in a warm pink light. In the distance, he could faintly make out a figure approaching. Walking in its direction, Valjean began to break into a jog and finally a run. Javert, dropping the firewood he carried in his mouth, started at a trot and raced to him. Colliding with the wolf, Valjean wrapped his arms tightly around his neck, enveloped in fur. Javert fondly nestled his chin against Valjean in a way he had never quite felt before.

“You came back,” he breathed at a volume Valjean could barely hear.

At that time, Valjean realized Javert must have thought he would inevitably stay with Cosette. Of course he had assumed such a thing, he thought stupidly. He was as ready to do so, out of love for Cosette and fear of what it meant to return.

“I am sorry for ever allowing you to think I would leave,” he said.

Javert retreated, looking at him squarely. “Never apologize for anything again, Valjean. I cannot stand the thought.”

This was undoubtedly the Javert he knew. Valjean smiled lopsidedly in return as they walked side by side, coming home once again.

Slowly, they found their routine restored. During the day, they began to start work on the garden, after which Javert would retrieve dinner. They would eat together, Valjean eventually moving to the floor, curling up with Javert to read. Several times, he found himself again falling asleep in the warmth of a sleeping Javert, the temptation too alluring when Javert was not conscious to object. On each other night, Javert would curl defensively around the foot of the bed leaning as close as could be.

It was a chilly night in early spring when Javert had left to walk while Valjean wrote another letter to Cosette, planning to send it off in town the next day. He folded the papers carefully after the ink had dried. Looking up, he noted that Javert had not returned and stood. Retrieving his shoes and bundling himself in a blanket, he ventured outside.

He found him sitting near one of the trees in the garden, balanced attentively on his haunches and facing up towards the sky. Ears twitching at Valjean’s approach, he nodded as if to invite him along. Valjean, wrapping the blanket more tightly around his shoulders, made to sit on the grass next to him.

“Ah- would the bench be better?” Javert said.

“I would rather be able to sit next to you,” Valjean said, settling close to the wolf and burying himself in his fur. Javert huffed, but did not argue any further, turning his head upwards again. Following his gaze, Valjean took in the expanse of the heavens before them.

“It is a clear night,” Javert commented. “They shine much more brightly outside the city. You can even see the Lynx.”

“Which one is that?”

Javert gestured to a jagged line. “It is named so for its difficulty to see with the human eye.”

Turning his attention from the sky, Valjean stared at Javert. “…You know much of the stars,” he said warily, trying to hold back any shock in his voice. Never had he seen Javert interested in anything outside of his work, much less something as odd as constellations.

“Yes I- ah,” he said, looking down. “It is one of the few things I remember of my mother. She taught me of them, long ago.”

Valjean listened intently, unsure how to proceed. Javert rarely spoke of his childhood; he felt somewhat guilty for inadvertently digging up the memory. However, Javert seemed unbothered, if a bit nostalgic to speak of it.

“She was a fortune teller and knew of such things when we were still together. I was most interested in the stars, so she would tell me their stories to put me to sleep.”

Giving a smile, Valjean leaned further against him, sighing contentedly. “It sounds as if you enjoyed the time you had together.”

“I have not known such happiness since then,” Javert said softly. “Until now, I suppose.”

Valjean felt his face take on a blush and was grateful for the darkness. “Is that so?”

“Yes,” Javert said. Valjean could feel the rumble in his chest, nearly sending a shiver down his spine. “I am… content here. Like this.” His still faced the stars, a wistfulness in his tone.

Valjean wished desperately for the heat to leave his ears, but knew it would never relent. Feeling desire rise in his throat, he only wanted to give into the demands of his heart, which threatened now to burst from his chest. There would be no way to quiet it; surely Javert could, with his sensitive ears, hear such an untamable racket. Ignoring the protests of his mind, he gave into the insistent thing that lay buried in his breast.

“I find myself strangely happy with you, as you are,” he said, struggling to keep his voice steady. “What I- what I mean to say is… I do believe I love you, Javert.”

Resigning to letting his face go hot, Valjean still stared into the night sky, but soon acknowledged he would need to confront whatever consequence his words may have wrought. Shyly, he turned to someone who was very much not a wolf, but a wide-eyed, blushing, and incredibly naked Javert.

“…You what?” Javert asked quietly.

If Javert’s eyes were wide, Valjean’s grew twice as much so, trying to take in the man, the man, before him. It mattered not how or why, but Javert was human again.

“Javert!” Valjean yelled, unable to reign in his volume as his arms flew around him. Javert went stiff, raising his own arms.

“What is t-“ Javert’s yelp stopped in his throat when he saw his hands hovering around Valjean’s shoulders. He was silent, taking deep breaths that only increased in rate until Valjean pulled back, clasping his shoulders tightly, as if to assure himself it was no apparition. His tear-filled eyes studied Javert’s unsmiling face apprehensively. Long hair fell in pieces around his face as his chest heaved, unable to tear his eyes away from his hands. He looked as though if he blinked, he thought they would disappear.

“...Javert?” Valjean said again, this time uncertain. At the sound of his name, Javert’s gaze snapped up. His eyes searched Valjean’s face, shifting between emotions so quickly Valjean could hardly follow. Tentatively, those hands cupped Valjean’s face.

“Are you quite alri-“

Without warning, Valjean’s concern was swallowed by Javert’s lips pressing against his own. He kissed him fervently, deeply, as if Valjean might supply the air he had been gasping so desperately for. Valjean, in his surprise, could hardly react before Javert retreated, redness creeping up his face and chest.

“I apologize,” he spluttered, a horrified look spreading across his face. “I- I wanted… I never even thought I would be able...”

Valjean said nothing, face bewildered and a curl at the edge of his mouth as he tucked some of Javert’s stray hairs behind his ear. It grew then into a full smile until his entire expression was filled with a mirth Javert had not yet seen grace his countenance.

Gentle to the point of anguish, he leaned forward to return the kiss, removing all sense of urgency and leaving only the raw sensation of euphoria. Valjean wrapped his arms again around Javert, feeling the strange, yet familiar form. In turn, Javert turned liquid under Valjean’s hands, helplessly trying to grasp for purchase around his broad shoulders as all tension melted from his bones.

Pulling himself away only incrementally, Javert opened his eyes and caught his breath. Valjean looked at him in wonder, as if seeing him for the first time, an irresistible smile on his face.

“Valjean,” Javert said, still unbearably close. Valjean could feel gooseflesh rising on Javert’s skin.

“Yes?” he breathed, heart racing.

“…May I bother you for your blanket?”

Looking down, Valjean caught a flash of the rest of Javert, and comprehension of how thoroughly naked Javert was began to dawn on him.

“Good lord,” he said, face overcome with scarlet as he removed the blanket from his shoulders, wrapping an equally blushing Javert with frantic haste. “You’ll certainly catch a chill out here.”

Javert leaned heavily on Valjean for support, walking on two legs a sudden monumental task as they entered the cottage. He was wrestled into a set of Valjean’s bedclothes, which were at the same time too large and too short, a fact which Valjean took great amusement in. Following suit, Valjean extinguished the candle lighting the corner of the room. Soon, Javert found himself being ushered into the bed, Valjean crawling beside him under the covers. It was all so overwhelming, to so quickly experience the world as a man, to feel Valjean’s bare skin touch his own. He thought at that moment to weep in the darkness at the mere sensation as Valjean cradled his cheek with his hand. Peering through the black, he could make out a strange expression on his face. It was no longer joyous.

“What is wrong?” he said.

Valjean’s hand curled back, and Javert took it in his hand, placing it where it had been.

“I will have to get used to it,” Valjean admitted, smiling apologetically. “How silly of me.”

Still holding the hand, Javert moved it, pressing it to his mouth in a kiss. “It is not silly,” he murmured against his palm, an understanding in his voice.

Regrettably removing his hand from Javert’s, Valjean went to gingerly stroke his fingers through Javert’s hair. Javert closed his eyes as a sigh escaped him, and he pulled Valjean by the waist toward him, inhaling the scent. Valjean gave a small, but honest, smile. It was not the Javert he once fled from, but was certainly the Javert he had come to know. The Javert before him was transformed in earnest, not by magic, but by love. Each of them, bushes of barbed thorns, had managed to grow entangled, blooming slowly, but surely, and reaching toward the sun.