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A Remission Before God

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In the morning, Valjean was indeed still there beside Javert's bed as he had promised. He smiled when he saw Javert had awakened. Javert did not understand the miracle he had been given, but there his friend was at his side, incontrovertible as the brightness of the day.

They spent the day reading from the novel Valjean had brought with him, about the Église Notre-Dame.

“It is by a Parisian author who is quite acclaimed!” Valjean said. “It also is said to contain interesting ideas about building a moral society.”

The first chapter seemed, however, to contain somewhat less-than-interesting descriptions of the Great Hall at the Palais de Justice. Javert made an effort to pay attention — it was no doubt important for him to know about the architecture of Paris' historic Gothic buildings — but after some time and subsequent pages regarding brickwork and masonry he found himself dozing off, lulled by the sound of Valjean’s deep voice.

When he awoke he discovered that Valjean had stolen out to Rue de l’Homme-Armé and had returned to Javert's bedside in a fresh shirt and trousers.

“You are planning to stay here tonight?” Javert ventured.

“Yes,” Valjean said, “until you are quite well. Is that bearable?”

“No,” Javert said; he realised after he had said it how ungracious he sounded. "I mean, I am much better. I can return to work to-morrow or the day after. And you are no longer a young man given easily to hardship, you should not spend another night in a chair in my rooms, that is not to be borne at all."

Valjean gave this comment due consideration. Then he said, not looking directly at Javert, “I wonder whether, if I were to return to Rue de l’Homme-Armé as you suggest, you might consent to accompany me? So that I might watch over you to be sure that there would be no relapse of the grippe, perhaps?”

Much to his own surprise, Javert found himself agreeing. “Yes, anything, if it will get you out of this chair.”

“Well, then,” Valjean said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, and continued to read.

Voilquin made various expressions of disappointment when she learned Javert intended to give up his lease, but she brought solid food for dinner for both of them and this time Javert consumed it all under Valjean's watchful eye.

Voilquin also left a basin of water for washing, and when they were done with the meal Javert was able to clean and relieve himself and change into a clean nightshirt that Valjean had fetched from the cupboard. As he tended to himself, Javert was acutely aware of his friend standing by the window, studiously avoiding looking at him; he washed quickly, feeling Valjean's presence all along his own skin.

Over Javert's protests, Valjean cleared away the basin and emptied the chamberpot. Then he paused. "Are you sure you would not prefer that I stay tonight?"

Javert forced himself to scowl, when in truth Valjean would not know the depth of his longing for Valjean to stay. He said, instead, grimly, "Do not have me reconsider my acceptance of your offer."

"I will see myself out when you are asleep," Valjean said, settling himself into the chair. He reached for Javert's hand absently. "And it will not seem to you as if I have been gone, for I will be back before you wake to help you move your things to Rue de l’Homme-Armé.”



It seemed Toussaint had made expressions of surprised pleasure when she learned Javert would be moving in with them. Javert also learned later that Cosette had been almost beside herself with glee; she had insisted on re-purposing her old room with great speed, taking not a day to pack her dolls away in a trunk and replace the white lace with sober linen far more suitable to a former inspector of the police. She also purchased, at some expense, a larger bedframe that might accommodate Javert's great height.

Valjean was as good as his word, enlisting Marius' assistance in transporting Javert's few possessions from Rue des Vertus. In a very short time the deed was done and the not-invalid installed at Rue de l’Homme-Armé.

On Javert's first night in residence at Rue de l’Homme-Armé, he chose to walk there from the Bureau – he was perfectly well, despite Valjean’s attempts to make him promise to take a fiacre. As soon as he stepped across the threshold of the apartment, Valjean was there to take his hand and to smile at him like a sunrise.

That night they stayed up late, finishing the simple meal of bread and stew and then lingering over the last of the wine at the fireplace. Javert completed his account of the cases of that day – a young labourer had been deprived of his wages, one small business owner had been sued by another for breach of covenant – and Valjean told him about the new treatise on municipal taxes that he had just embarked upon that morning.

They read another chapter of Notre-Dame de Paris. While Javert was not particularly taken with the novel's struggling poet protagonist Gringoire, who seemed of a most weak-kneed constitution, after five chapters the main plot regarding the crippled bell-ringer and the archdeacon who was sworn to uphold the tenets of ecclesiastical law was finally getting underway.

Valjean read: “A one-eyed man is more incomplete than a blind one, for he is conscious of what he lacks.” Javert felt this comment was probably more pertinent than it first appeared.

They retired separately when the wine was finished. Toussaint had laid out water for washing and Javert made his ablutions. Everything was all very strange and new, and yet rather than the paroxysms of awkwardness that Javert had half-expected to feel at being once more under Valjean's roof, there was instead a strange and satisfying sense of peace.

When the knock came on the door, Javert had been half-expecting it; he had put his dressing gown over his nightshirt as a precaution to modesty.

"I hope all is well and that you are in comfort," Valjean said humbly. He was also wearing a dressing gown that was even more threadbare than Javert's. "I had also hoped that we might say our prayers together tonight, as we have done before on occasion."

"I would like nothing better, Jean," Javert said. Since that dark night of confessions when all his words had tumbled forth without calculation or thought, including the use of Valjean's first name, he had shied away again from using it, but tonight it slipped from his mouth again, as natural as his own breath.

Valjean smiled a little and clasped his hand in pleased approval; Javert noticed, somewhat belatedly, that Valjean had similarly started calling him tu, using the intimate familiar form of address reserved for family and close friends, to say nothing of lovers.

It was indeed a night for new discoveries, for a new stage of their friendship.

Valjean drew him to his side, and held his hand as they prayed for peace and protection at the day's end.

Javert felt the love of God descend like a shining bubble of light upon them both, felt it fill the length and breadth of Cosette's old room: which by some unfathomable operation of mercy appeared, now, to be his.



This was how Javert passed the time at Rue de l’Homme-Armé from the autumn to winter of 1833.

In the mornings, Toussaint would make breakfast, which he would consume in a leisurely way with Valjean at the kitchen table, after which he would leave for his duties at the Bureau. Thereafter Valjean and Toussaint would take themselves to Filles-du-Calvaire. Javert was given to understand that Valjean had tended the vegetable garden there in the summer months, strawberries and whatever produce grew in the Marais; now that the harvest was over, Valjean spent his days in the Gillenormand library with books and treatises and occasional correspondence, and increased his visits to hand out alms to the poor, Cosette on his arm, to an almost daily occurrence.

Meanwhile, Javert would read his files and attend to the Bureau's paperwork and consume his luncheon at his desk. If field interviews or investigations were required he would put on his greatcoat and hat and take off into the streets of Paris. He worked diligently, but when his shift was over he would gather his effects and hasten back to Rue de l’Homme-Armé, where Valjean would be waiting for him to share his dinner and to hear about his day.

The winter days grew short and cold and dark, but the home which Valjean had opened to him, that they began to make together, was unaccountably warm.

Javert told himself could not want for anything more. He also felt manifestly unequal to the prospect of expressing his feelings of satisfaction as to his new accommodations. Conscience dictated, however, that he make the attempt, and so he would awkwardly comment on how fine a particular meal had been, or how he valued Valjean's perspective on his cases.

Valjean would smile and say, humbly, “Thank you.” Javert did not know if his friend was humouring him, but he thought Valjean would appreciate the sentiment behind his clumsy efforts.

One evening he mentioned, a little embarrassed, that he might have looked forward to seeing Valjean so much that he had cut short a meeting with the bâtonnier and hurried home.

At this confession of less-than-diligent conduct, Valjean smiled and reached across the kitchen table for Javert's hand. "You played the truant for my sake?" he enquired. "I am sure I should be flattered, Chief Investigator."

"Do not be," Javert said, mock-sternly. "The new bâtonnier is even worse than his predecessor. I have been trying without success to obtain an re-assignment of counsel in the case of that unfortunate man, Jacques Nouvel – his current defence lawyer is hopeless, very junior, refuses to even consider the mental capacity issue. But this new head man is even less interested in pro bono work than the old one and would not hear of any re-assignment. The meeting was a colossal waste of my time. I did not leave him to better spend the time with you."

Javert paused to consider his prick of conscience, and added, "Or rather, I did not leave him only to better spend the time with you, as I might have first implied. So perhaps you can feel a little flattered, Jean, but no more than warranted."

Valjean chuckled; Javert was struck by how much he had grown used to hearing his friend laugh, and how much he had come to crave it. "I am grateful for the clarification. It would not do to claim more credit than is warranted," he said. He kissed Javert's knuckles, and a spark of dangerous pleasure shot through Javert.

Javert swallowed, reclaiming his hands with some difficulty. He could not look at Valjean. "I, I believe I will turn in early," he said, and left the kitchen table on legs that were not entirely steady.



For this was the only blight on Javert's new-found contentment, the only shadow cast across their peaceful days of sun. This treacherous desire, this mortal sin that had taken root in Javert's condemned soul, did dishonour to the blameless friend he lived with and made a mockery of the chaste life they were otherwise building together.

At first, Javert's nights had been blessedly quiet. The terrifying dreams had stopped plaguing him ever since the night Valjean had sat with him and kissed his hands. It seemed that Valjean's solid presence, his ostensible return of Javert's devotion, was proof against Javert's deep-seated fears that Valjean would reject his twisted desires, or worse, that Valjean would succumb to Javert's sin and be similarly condemned.

Disbelieving but grateful, Javert allowed himself to bask in his friend's acceptance and welcome. When he closed his eyes the imagined scenarios did not materialise to flood him with guilt and terror. Instead, he saw Valjean as he saw him every day – reading and praying, smiling and unafraid and ready to take Javert's hand. It was this image of his friend that he took with him into slumber and that slumber was now filled with relative peace.

Javert was of course not naive enough to think that his physical urges would somehow dissipate completely now that the dreams were at an end, now that Valjean had been good enough to acknowledge Javert's sin and to not turn from it. With his policeman's instinct for human frailty he expected the urges to even intensify now that he met his friend in the corridor for early prayer in the morning and spent his nights in a room barely ten paces away. He was not wrong.

As the weather cooled once more and frost decorated the windows of Rue de l’Homme-Armé , the desires simmered once more beneath his skin and filled his middle-aged flesh with a young man's shame.

It was as the novel Notre-Dame de Paris had said — now that he knew the sweetness of his friend’s companionship, he was as conscious as a one-eyed man of how incomplete he was, without that one last aspect of love.

It would not do, of course, to indulge himself physically under Valjean's roof in the same way as he had done in Rue des Vertus. It was miracle enough that Valjean had opened his home and hearth and heart to Javert, had seemingly accepted his feelings and consented to live with him in trusting friendship. There was no call under any circumstance for Valjean to accommodate Javert's perverse desires of the flesh.



Again, at first, Javert found that mastering himself was not too onerous a burden. After all, Valjean was entrusting him with discretion, and Javert was determined to prove equal to the task.

Then there was the evening in November when the temperature dropped to almost freezing. The rain turned to sleet, the cobblestones on the street were covered with shallows pools of ice.

Indoors, Valjean would no doubt have demurred from keeping the living room fire going for his own sake, but he continued to be most concerned about Javert's propensity to cold particularly after the river and the grippe. Javert had not the heart to tell his friend that he had been hale all last winter; Valjean would only have agreed to such an indulgent use of coal for Javert's sake and not his own.

Javert sat in his usual place on the couch beside the freshly stoked fire, Valjean having fetched him a blanket as an additional precaution against the cold. Valjean sat in his ancient armchair by the window, near the small table on which the room's oil lamp was placed. They had reached an exciting chapter in the book, where the archdeacon was finally observed in an unguarded moment, indulging in the full flight of his madness and vile lusts for the innocent heroine.

Valjean paused. Javert watched him shiver in his shirtsleeves, and not with excitement.

"Is it cold, over there by the window?"

"No," Valjean said. In the flickering light of the oil lamp, his lips had a bluish tinge.

Javert suppressed a sigh: clearly, this would not do. "Well, I am feeling cold," he said. "I wonder if you would come over here and sit with me, so that you might see that I kept warmer?"

"Of course," said Jean Valjean, that good and trusting man, and he hastened to Javert's side, arranging himself on the couch. Javert, already aware his conscience would allow a white lie for a worthy cause, tucked the blanket around them both.

Valjean said, "Shall we read a few more pages, to the end of the chapter?"

"Certainly," Javert said. He was eager to hear the writer's account of how the archdeacon had succumbed to his demons and was wrestling with sorcery, like Rembrandt’s infamous painting of Doctor Faustus, at the peril of his immortal soul.

Valjean began to read about the archdeacon's travails, how his carnal desires had plagued him and turned him single-mindedly to the acquisition of his beloved.

“The Archdeacon re-seated himself in his chair and clasped his forehead between his two hands, like a sick person whose head is heavy and burning.”

Javert considered this weighty image of a man made ill from love. He did not wish to think about the ways in which this paralleled his own situation with Valjean.

Valjean continued:

“The scholar watched his brother with surprise… He had no conception with what fury that sea of human passions ferments and boils when it is refused all egress; how it gathers strength, swells, and overflows; how it wears away the heart; how it breaks forth in inward sobs and stifled convulsions, until it has rent its banks and overflowed its bed.

The austere and icy exterior of Claude Frollo, that cold surface of rugged and inaccessible virtue, had always deceived Jehan. The light-hearted scholar had never dreamed of the lava, deep, boiling, furious, beneath the snow of Ætna.”

Javert closed his eyes so he could better picture the scene : the cold, virtuous outer man in his workroom, concealing the volcanic cravings of a monster.

It seemed he might have inadvertently dozed off, because when he opened his eyes again, the room was dark, the fire had banked, and Valjean was asleep in his lap.

It took every ounce of self-possession he had not to swear and jerk away — Valjean was sleeping, and any sudden movement would startle him awake.

The disarray of the blanket indicated that Valjean had not entered this intimate position on purpose. He looked as if he had been asleep for some time, his legs sprawled half-on and half-off his side of the couch. One hand trailed to the floor, still marking the page in the book where he had stopped reading. The other rested on his slumbering chest.

Draped across his thighs, cheek pillowed on Javert's knee, his friend was a warm, heavy weight. How was it that Valjean's body was always this warm when the winter night was so cold? The man's goodness must itself be a roaring blaze. Tentatively, Javert stroked Valjean's white hair and felt his throat tighten with emotion.

Somewhere within his own body was the spark of an all-too-familiar heat, and it leaped to flickering life.

If he were to shift his position only slightly, this would bring Valjean into proximity with the root of Javert's sin. If he were to tighten his fingers in Valjean's hair, he could press his friend's slightly-parted lips to the guilty thickness at the fork between his thighs.

Take him, his traitorous heart bade him. Teach him what your love looks like, as he had asked you that night by your bed. He told you he was not afraid.

Javert closed his eyes, praying this did not herald a return to the downward spiral of dreams that had plagued him all summer and autumn. He felt the dangerous currents corkscrew through his body, deep down where the word of God did not quite seem to go.

Lost in prayer and wrestling with his sin, Javert became gradually aware of small movements in the head under his hand: as if sensing his friend's unrest, Valjean was coming awake.

Javert held himself very still. The tell-tale sign of his sin was still rampant under his trousers. If he moved a muscle, Valjean's attention would almost certainly be drawn to the obscene bulge near his, Valjean's, resting cheek.

He felt Valjean raise his head a fraction from Javert's knee, heard Valjean's breath catch. Javert's heart leaped guiltily; he cracked open his eyes to see what had caught Valjean's gaze, and saw Valjean's eyes fixed to his.

Valjean's expression was hard to read. His eyes were clouded, with sleep or something else. He looked tentative, curious; almost afraid, almost eager. His hand left the floor to rub against Javert’s knee. He smiled even more tentatively when he saw Javert had come awake.

"Are you cold?" Valjean asked, his voice thick. Again, with sleep, or something else.

A guilty spasm shook through Javert: coldness was the last thing on his mind. Valjean sat up reflexively, swinging his legs onto the floor. "Javert, you are cold. You fell asleep, and then I thought I would just sit here and read to the end of the chapter, and I must also have slept. Come, let us get to bed."

Javert clutched the blanket to him as if it could cover his shame whole. He said, awkwardly, "Actually, I was also hoping to reach the end of the chapter."

Valjean squeezed his knee. "I think we have had enough of persons struggling with sinful desires for one night," he said, and although he was referring to the novel’s Monseigneur Frollo, Javert could not help but feel the meaningful scrutiny of God upon him as well.

He let Valjean help him up. Valjean wrapped one arm around him and held the blanket around him solicitously as he escorted Javert back to his room.

At the bedroom door Valjean paused as if he might say something further, but Javert could not withhold himself any longer and hastily bid him good night. The touch of Valjean's strong arm loosened some vital flood-gate deep within him, and despite these long weeks of self-mastery he now found himself overcome. No sooner had he gained the privacy of his own bed did he seize hold of himself, the novel’s images of deep, rending, boiling fury convulsing in his mind, and for the first time under Valjean's roof he was helpless before his shame.

When he was done he closed his eyes so he would not need to consider his need for punishment. Indeed, while God extended mercy, it seemed that with the other hand God also took it away.