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A Remission Before God

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They stayed at the de Val farm for three days, enough for Javert to reluctantly conclude he was not cut out for the farming life. He recalled, more than a decade ago, informing Mayor Madeleine that he had arms and would till the soil if dismissed from his post as inspector of Montreuil-sur-Mer; he now realised from the depths of the ache in his biceps and shoulders that, despite that vain boast, he had very little ability for that task.

Not in the same way as Valjean, at any rate. He seemed born to tend the land, in the same way as he seemed preternaturally skilled at any activity that he put his hand to. Javert marvelled at the grace and power of his friend’s broad body as it hewed wood and hoed the earth and filled buckets of milk and water, dressed in rude shirtsleeves and dirty boots, entirely at home under this wide sky and in these open fields as he had not been behind the mayor’s desk or in hiding beneath M. Fauchelevent’s modest clothing and formal cravat.

Watching Valjean in his element made Javert’s blood run hot despite his body’s aches and pains.

On the second afternoon he decided that he had had enough of sharing a pallet with Valjean in a room with four other people. He informed Valjean that they needed to discuss something important, took him around to the thickly forested area beside the stream, selected a secluded spot far from prying eyes, and sought to demonstrate precisely what Valjean would miss if he chose to re-locate to the countryside and leave Javert behind in Paris.

After Javert was done with him, Valjean took a moment to compose himself and then got to his knees on the grass to open Javert’s trousers. Javert did not usually permit him to perform this service and had never been intimate with Valjean out of doors before this, but for some reason this afternoon Valjean was not so easily resisted. The sight of his beloved companion taking charge of him, looking up at him with hooded eyes, the almost-unbearable pleasure of Valjean’s mouth upon him, brought Javert very quickly to shuddering completion, fist pressed against his own mouth so as to stifle his cries lest they be discovered.

Quickly spent, he leaned against the rough bark of the tree trunk to catch his breath. The afternoon sunlight filtered through the canopy of leaves overhead.

Valjean climbed to his feet, looking rather satisfied with his handiwork. It seemed unfair that the man would be as naturally skilled at this as he was with all his other physical pursuits, but having just enjoyed the aforesaid gifts first-hand Javert considered it might be churlish to complain.

Valjean leaned in to press his lips to Javert’s. "Was this important discussion to your liking?" he asked mildly.

"You know it was," Javert growled. "You drive me out of my mind, Jean. I will never have my fill of you."

Valjean made a soothing, amused sound and let Javert put his face into the join of his neck and shoulder. Javert inhaled the earthy smell of Valjean's sweat and skin, and had to close his eyes.

Do not leave me, he wished to tell his friend, but he knew how unfair it would be to ask Valjean to stay with him.

It seemed as if Jeanne was having some difficulties letting her brother go, also, but she finally sent him on his way after they had all attended service at the Église de Sainte-Madeleine, with promises to stop by again before the next month was out to help with the crop harvest.

"You could come with us," Valjean said, kissing his sister tenderly on her front stoop. "Come live with us in Paris, meet my daughter and her husband. We will move back to Rue Plumet so there will be a garden for you and you can see how beautiful the city can be."

Jeanne said, "I've seen the city, and it isn't beautiful, not for those you are trying to help. My place is here. Bring Cosette and her husband here next month instead. The waters out here put a spring under our young men that the city breeds out of them, and I'll warrant you'll soon have a grandchild of your own to keep you occupied."

Valjean turned red and muttered something; hiding his grin, Javert handed his friend into the carriage.

The road to the south-east was gentle and winding. Regardless, Guillaume complained he felt out of sorts but what he really meant was that he missed his playmates at the farm. Magnon seemed to be pleased they were finally underway; she professed to be a woman whose affinity was for the city, and Javert understood something of how she felt.

Valjean stared out of the window. Javert knew his friend was suffering from the loss of Jeanne and the children so keenly it almost broke his heart.

They passed the night at a small tavern in Melun. The room they were assigned was again installed with two single beds, the same configuration as in the room at the small inn at which they had stopped on the way from Montfermeil. This time, though, Javert insisted on moving the beds together, heedless of how incautious it was, and pulled his friend into his embrace.

The wheat farm at Saint-Aubin-sur-Yonne drew a blank, but the Mordante family whose farm was at the angle of the southern Paris-Lyon road towards la Nièvre, a stone's throw from the church, had adopted two boys from the Seine region. As soon as he set eyes on the younger of them, Guillaume burst into loud, unexpected tears, and Javert understood that this must be Anatole.

He watched the brothers cling to each other as Magnon gathered boys in her arms, himself amazed at God’s providence.

The Mordantes seemed gratified as well; Mme. Mordante remarked that the stipend by the Seine regional authorities would be a loss, but the loss of Anatole to his family would be greater.

Valjean suggested that an advance payment of an amount equivalent to the stipend might be paid in this instance, but Mordante refused to accept his money.

“Don’t need payment,” the farmer said gruffly. “If the boy wants to rejoin his kin, who’re we to stand in the way?”

As he had told the Bergers, Javert had planned to leave Anatole with his host family while they returned to Paris to resolve the paperwork with the Commission Administrative of the Hospice des enfants-trouvés du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. But Anatole wound his little arms around Magnon’s neck and refused to be parted from her and his brother. It would have taken a heart of stone to have insisted on leaving him behind, and Javert did not seem to possess one any longer.

They stayed at the Mordantes that evening: another night spent on a cramped pallet in a loft full of other men, which was rapidly becoming Javert’s least favourite part of country life.

In the morning, they attended mass at the nearby church. Despite the ache in his back from the floor of the loft, Javert experienced an intense sense of gratitude: for the blessing of Valjean at his side, for the healing that had finally been wrought in Valjean’s life, for the retrieval of the littlest Thénardier boy and the family reunion — for all that God had provided them with on this journey.

He just had to trust that God would continue to show His mercy and grace to him and to the companion of his later days. That God would lead him to make the decision that was in Valjean's best interest, irrespective of how difficult it might be.

On the way back to Paris, they stopped at the same tavern at Melun. The innkeeper recognised them and addressed Javert by name. They were allocated the same room, and this time the single beds had already been pushed together.

Valjean flushed when he entered the room and beheld the unexpected courtesy, but Javert did not blink an eyelid.

That night they made use of the salve they had brought from Paris. Javert opened his friend up slowly and gently and then overtook him with a desperation that left both of them gasping, making Javert almost forget his own name as he spent himself in a fierce blaze of white, with Valjean following shortly after.

Afterwards, Javert held his companion in his arms and knew he could not shut out the dull ache within him any longer.

"I know what you are planning," Javert said. Valjean flinched, and he cursed himself for his ineptitude. "I apologise, that was badly done. Let me try this again. I spent so many months hiding from myself and from you, not speaking out, and it was both stupid and cowardly. I would be remiss now if I did not tell you how I felt. I do not wish you to move to Meaux, nor do I wish to be without you."

Valjean was silent for a moment. Then he said, hesitantly, "You are right, of course. We do need to discuss these matters. I do not wish to leave Paris, or to be without you, either. However ..."

His voice trailed off, and he put his head against Javert's shoulder in silence.

"I know you feel you cannot do God's work in Paris if you are still in hiding, always looking over your shoulder," Javert said. "But that is not true. You must know of all the poor and needy you have helped there, the alms and donations that you make every week."

Valjean said, "Even so, I still feel there is good to be done in my life, and in Meaux they are making real progress in the field of mechanisation, I feel I can assist with that. I also wish to start an orphanage, which requires municipal approval at multiple levels, and it would be too much of a risk to do so in Paris. And Jeanne is no longer young." He paused, then continued, "I am yours, Javert, make no mistake, and I do not wish to be so far away from Cosette, but I am wondering if leaving Paris may make the most sense in the circumstances."

Javert said, grimly, "Then you had best prepare yourself to be accompanied by the least qualified farm labourer in all of France."

"I could not ask you to give up your life in Paris or your work at the Bureau," Valjean protested. "You joke about your qualifications, but you would clearly be unhappy in Meaux."

"I would be unhappy in Paris without you. My life has nothing without you in it, Jean."

Valjean shifted restlessly in Javert's arms. "Do not say that. God has seen and rewarded all the work you have done. The Bureau would not function as well without you. Whereas I ... I have been too afraid to be of as much value as I could."

Javert did not know what more he could say. He pulled Valjean towards him, kissed his mouth, stroked his shoulders and his hair in an attempt to provide Valjean with comfort that he did not himself feel.

You are valued, he tried to say, with his lips and his hands and his body. You do not need to hide or to still be afraid. You told Jeanne I had kept you safe, and I will continue do so, with all means at my disposal.

It was a long way back to Paris. Travel with two young boys was exhausting, and their party was quite worn out upon their arrival at Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, including Javert himself, even though the bulk of the care had been extended by Magnon and Valjean himself. For all his avowals, the protestations of his body made it clear to him that he was no longer young.

Still, his duty to God and to man did not let him rest. The very next day after his return to Rue de l’Homme-Armé, Javert took himself to the Bureau.

He presented his greetings to M. le Directeur, caught up on his paperwork, and in the afternoon he asked to make an appointment with Minister Barthe at the Ministry of Justice.