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O Magnum Mysterium

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"Have you seen anything so beautiful?" Valjean said, tilting his head back to look at the lit cathedral.

Javert watched him in turn. They were standing by the river, across the Île-de-la-Cité; the night was dark and starry, the air crisp and cold. A thin layer of snow coated the ground under their feet, the parapet in front of them, and the top of the cathedral's roof.

I have, he thought of saying. I have seen your face when you are asleep, when you are moaning my name, when you are looking at something that delights you, as in this very moment. It was nothing but the truth, but he knew that from him it would sound ridiculous.

Instead he took a small step closer, so that they were standing shoulder to shoulder, their breaths mingling in front of them. "Do you want to go inside?" he asked.

Valjean turned to him, eyes dark and glittering like the sky, and just as inscrutable. "Would you mind?"

"Of course not." For a moment, he touched Valjean's gloved hand with his own, imagining the feeling of skin against skin. He would have that later, behind closed doors and away from the eyes of the world. "Let's go over and see."

Notre-Dame de Paris towered dark and imposing above them as they drew close. Again, Javert had to look sideways at Valjean's face; again, the rapt expression he found there made his breath catch.

He thought he might never grasp the full extent of Valjean's faith. Sometimes it bothered him. The mystery itself, once revealed to him, he had come to accept: there was a higher law, and its names were compassion, mercy, love. It was still hard for him to understand, but he did not doubt that it was true. The truth was plain for him to see in Valjean's eyes, Valjean's embrace, Valjean's breath against his neck at night.

But there it was: Valjean had come to know this grace years before, when Javert was still nothing to him but a shadow and a threat. He had learned it without the unexpected understanding that evolved into friendship that evolved into love. He had learned it without the comfort of a gentle touch, a friendly silence.

Of course, there had been the old bishop. Javert, loath as he was to admit it, could not help but feel a twinge of jealousy at Valjean's reverence for this mysterious figure, left behind in the mountains in the South but never forgotten. Valjean rarely mentioned him, but when he did, it was with a light in his eyes, an awed tone in his voice. It resembled the way he would speak of the woman Fantine -- but that happened even more rarely, for mixed in with the reverence there was always a hint of guilt, and Javert, painfully aware of his own guilt in that regard, was glad enough to leave that particular ghost alone.

You admire them, he thought as they pushed the door open and entered. You admire them, but you took me into your heart. He did not think he would ever understand it.

Valjean crossed himself and Javert followed his lead. They walked slowly into the immense space of the old cathedral, lit by myriad candles and moonlight coloured by stained glass. A few souls sat huddled in the benches. Somewhere in a side chapel, voices were praying softly.

They stopped in front of a side chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

"It's almost Christmas," Valjean said softly, studying the altar. His eyes had a faraway look. "It was Christmas when I first found Cosette. Eight years ago. How fast the time has gone, and yet -- those years have so much of my life in them."

Javert did not know what to say. He wasn't even certain whether Valjean was speaking to him. Eight years ago, his life had been neat and tidy, its only joys stemming from the pleasure of knowing his duties fulfilled. Eight months ago, his life had still been like that, and it would have remained so until his death, were it not for the barricades.

"She was so fragile," Valjean whispered. "So mistreated, and so small. And yet she never hesitated to put her life in my hands. I had come to save her, but in the end she saved me. I thought I could not love anyone, but then I found I could love her, and she loved me back. It was a miracle."

"A miracle," Javert said. "Like when the bishop saved you?"

He had not meant to bring up the bishop, but apparently his mind would not let go of the thought. And now Valjean smiled, and Javert thought, pettily and sullenly, I shouldn't have said anything... But then Valjean's hand found his, there in the shadowed archway, and Javert's heart gave a thud of pleased surprise that was almost painful.

"A miracle indeed." Valjean pressed his hand, and again Javert longed for that moment when their gloves would be off. "This, too, is a miracle. My life has been full of them."

"Your life," Javert said, "has been full of misery and pain. I know you haven't forgotten, and I certainly never will. To think that you..." He almost choked on the words. "That you will stand here with me and -- and hold my hand -- it's..."

He could not say anything more. Valjean's eyes were on him now, but Javert could not meet them; he stared at the Virgin's smooth face of stone, lit by a row of candles, and thought, ridiculously, How do they know what she looks like? The shadows were looming too dark around them, every sound magnified by the cathedral's space. For a moment he felt lost again, surrounded by an immense empty space of questions without answers.

"A miracle," Valjean repeated, his breath now a ghost against Javert's cheek. He had not let go of Javert's fingers and Javert found himself clutching at his hand. "I had never thought to look for such a thing. But here we are."

Somewhere in the vast emptiness a lone voice sounded: Gloria in excelsis deo. Javert closed his eyes, breathing deeply. A shudder went through him, but this time it was not the feeling of being lost. Some terror or awe had touched his heart -- his old, inexperienced heart, which sometimes felt like it would burst with a lifetime's worth of love. When he opened his eyes again, Valjean was watching him still, and Javert shuddered again.

A miracle.

"Let's go outside," he said rustily, reluctantly letting go of Valjean's hand. "If you don't mind."

Once outside, he felt on safer ground. The moon was still out, and he looked at Valjean's face in the silver light, committing it to memory all over again: the slight line between his brows, the warm darkness of his eyes, the firmness of his chin, the soft curve of his mouth. Again he felt overwhelmed, but this time he recognised his own hunger.

Throwing caution to the wind, he pulled Valjean around the corner of the church and into the shadow, put his hands around his face, and brought their mouths together. Valjean made a small surprised sound, then yielded with a sigh of pleasure, and Javert could not help the small pang of triumph that went through him: even here, against the wall of God's own house, he could claim Valjean's kisses for himself; even now, with the memories of ancient misery stirred up anew, Valjean wanted him.

They both wore greatcoats and scarves against the cold, and now it seemed to him there were far too many layers of clothing. "I wish we were home," he muttered against Valjean's lips, "right now. I wish I could touch you..."

Valjean bit his lip. "We really shouldn't," he murmured, "not here."

And then he flipped them around so that Javert was the one with his back to the wall, and Valjean's mouth found his own again, and Javert realised they both were smiling.

"Madness," he panted, pulling Valjean closer. "There might be someone passing by any time."

"Yes. Yes." Valjean pressed against him, their hips bucking together, too many layers keeping them apart. Their mouths found each other again, hot breaths mingling. The stone against Javert's back was hard and cold and Valjean was warm against him, and he thought he could be pinned like this forever, and prayed that Valjean would not let him go.

"It's so dark," Valjean muttered, glancing at the street behind them. "They might not see..."

He stopped, as if scandalised by himself, and Javert laughed, hoarsely and quietly, and pulled the glove off his right hand, then slipped it under Valjean's coat, fumbling the buttons open. Valjean let him, standing still with his hands on Javert's shoulders, breath coming in harsh bursts that showed like smoke in the cold air.

"I wish they would see," Javert muttered as he finally slipped his hand into Valjean's trousers, finding him smooth and hard. "I wish everyone knew. How stunning you look when I touch you. How you sound when you say my name..."

Valjean groaned hoarsely, bucking into his hand. Javert thought of the cathedral and the emptiness and the awe, and sought his mouth again, his own blood surging as Valjean moaned against his lips.

"Javert, it's too cold,"he whispered, though his flesh was hot and straining in Javert's grip. "We should get home, get indoors --"

"We should," Javert agreed, but he did not stop his hand. With Valjean looking at him like that, it felt as good as impossible.

Valjean's breath was hot and fast against his mouth. "At least let me touch you as well."

Without waiting for an answer, he removed his gloves in turn, and then his hand stole under Javert's coat, deftly moving through layers of clothing until it closed around Javert's hard cock and Javert's breath left him in a sob.

"Valjean," he groaned, quickening his hand, bending his knees a little to make it easier for Valjean to touch him. It was madness, he thought, they were doing this here, of all places, and Valjean was looking at him, nothing faraway in his gaze now, all his attention on Javert as he worked him with firm strokes, the way he knew Javert liked.

A carriage rattled past them in the street; Javert caught a glimpse of it over Valjean's shoulder and started. They were hidden in the shadowed corner, but If someone were to pass by on foot, they would be bound to hear noises -- and then Valjean was gasping his name, his seed spilling hot and wet over Javert's hand, and Javert forgot everything else.

"God!" he gasped, throwing his head back as his own orgasm found him, and he shook in Valjean's grip, coming in helpless spasms that left him unable to think, unable to feel anything but Valjean's hands on him, Valjean's body pressed to his, Valjean's mouth against his own.

This was what he needed, Javert thought as they slumped against the wall, leaning into each other and panting. Not Valjean's reverence, but his love. It was what he craved: to know that this part of Valjean was his, and would always be his, and had never been anyone else's.

They dug out handkerchiefs and wiped themselves and each other off before straightening themselves as best they could. Even in the dark Javert recognised a hint of sheepishness in Valjean's smile, and felt it mirrored by his own mouth. To think that they had done such a thing in public, and here of all places...

"It's almost Christmas," he said softly, repeating Valjean's words from earlier. "We can take a fiacre home if we find one."

Valjean looked for a moment as if he were about to protest. Then he glanced at Javert's coat and seemed to change his mind. For a moment his mouth twitched into another smile.

"Let's go, then," he said. This time he did not take Javert's hand, but the tug in his voice was stronger than any grip, and Javert had no mind not to follow.

As they headed towards the right bank, Javert threw a glance in the direction of the Pont-au-Change. Only months before, he had been who he always had been, striding grimly and gracelessly through life with no desire to be anything but the perfect servant.

Now, his desires were too large to contain, his life more wondrous than he could ever have imagined, and more incomprehensible than he had ever thought possible. But not everything was meant to be understood.

A miracle, he thought, eyes lingering at Valjean's mouth. Above them stars glittered in the sky. Around them Paris lay quiet, decked with snow, and the cathedral towered behind them.