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Acts of Mercy

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There were no cries of denunciation on the day of Cosette's wedding, not even raised eyebrows that Javert signed the documents on behalf of the bride's father whose arm was in a sling. There was only happiness and love, and when Cosette and Marius spoke their vows, Valjean met Javert's eyes for a long moment, confirming with a smile the promises they had made in private.

No one looked twice at the young baron's father-in-law or his friend as they made their way from Monsieur Gillenormand's home to the coach. Unseen in the dimness, Valjean slipped his hand into Javert's and leaned his shoulder against him.

"Tired?" Javert asked. Valjean shook his head at once.

"You will say I am foolish again if I tell you what I am feeling," Valjean said. He gave Javert's fingers a squeeze. "Or tell me I am going mad."

Turning on the small seat, Javert peered at him. "You aren't contemplating anything rash, are you?"

Valjean's laugh gave him his answer. "I am contemplating something, now that no one but you will know where I sleep at night, but I don't consider it rash in the least." His smile sent quivers down Javert's spine. "But I am feeling something besides that, something I cannot explain." He was silent a moment, then squeezed Javert's fingers again. "All this day I have felt the presence of Fantine near me, as if an angel sat on my shoulder and gave her blessing."

"You raised her child in love," Javert observed. "Surely she would bless you for that."

"It was easy to love Cosette. She made me understand how people find God's love in one another." Despite the nostalgic smile on Valjean's face, Javert knew that no matter how often he saw his daughter, Valjean would still miss having her near. "But I never found another way to help women like Fantine. Not until you found me. I think she would bless you, too."

Javert tried to remember the face of the woman he had taunted as she lay dying because of his wish to remind Valjean of his duty. "I am in her debt as well as in Laure's," he reminded himself.

When the coach arrived in the Rue Plumet, there was light coming through the curtains of the house, but Javert did not go inside. They had eaten a good deal at the feast and spoken to many people already that day. Instead he led Valjean to the small building that had housed them both, and bolted the door that the fugitive Valjean had once thought to use to lock himself away from Inspector Javert.

Shrugging off the sling, Valjean lit a candle. When he had arrived that morning with the coach to take Javert to the wedding, he had brought with him a small bag and a valise from which he had produced a pair of silver candlesticks. He had still been describing his shame at his final acts of theft and the force that had moved his heart when the Bishop gave the candlesticks to him as they arrived at the Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, where Cosette was now to live with Marius.

"It's too early for bed," observed Valjean, looking around at the spartan walls.

Shaking his head, Javert reached for his hand. "It may be too early to sleep, but it is not too early for bed." Then he hesitated. He did not know how to express what he wished to offer in a way that would not sound vulgar. "I don't believe it would be an abomination," he blurted awkwardly, feeling his face grow warm.

It was a mercy that Valjean understood his meaning at once. "Are you certain?" Valjean asked, covering Javert's hand with both of his own. "I would never want you to compromise yourself only for my pleasure."

Javert thought of all the compromises he had made since he had last seen Valjean in Montreuil. Even then, he would have considered a lewd act far less questionable than offering to lie to the police to protect a fugitive, as he had done without hesitation the day before. "It is no crime," he muttered. "I have never been with a woman, so I am not capable of lying with a man as I would a woman. But even if it is a sin, it would not be the worst I have committed, only the one I have been tempted most wholeheartedly to commit." He took a deep breath. "This is a day for revelry. You heard what Monsieur Gillenormand said in his toast -- it is a day to love like fiends. It is Mardi Gras. We have heard the vows of a wedding. Come celebrate with me."

Valjean's arm slid around his waist, cheek pressing against Javert's, whose other hand was still in Valjean's. They swayed together as if they were dancing. "You know that I will make love to you any way you wish," whispered Valjean. "And I can't deny that I have wished for this with you."

Together they removed the fine clothing they had donned for the wedding, a suit Javert had been loath to allow Valjean to buy for him until Valjean pointed out that as a headmaster he would need to impress parents and others who visited the school. Javert knew that his hands trembled, and was certain that Valjean must have noticed, but Valjean only pressed close, and kissed him, urging him to the bed.

"I know little of how this is accomplished," Valjean confessed. "I heard it spoken of in Toulon, but it seemed such a humiliating thing that I never thought I could wish to learn of it myself."

Again Javert felt his face grow warm. He was not afraid, so certain was he that even if the effort was a disastrous failure, it would change nothing between them. But he was ashamed of both the reminder that Valjean might associate such an act between men with the violence of that terrible place and the understanding that his own knowledge came from discussions overheard in a brothel. "I believe that for comfort's sake, it is customary to make use of oil or the tallow from a candle," he said as if he had read this information in a book.

With a smile, Valjean gestured to the candle he had lit. "You will have to demonstrate, for it seems you know more than I do."

Blushing fully, Javert shook his head. "I have just told you all I know. That, and what you already know, that I like when you --" Embarrassed, he licked one of his fingers, making Valjean smile more, for Valjean indeed knew that Javert liked it very much when Valjean pressed a slick finger inside him while lavishing attention upon Javert's more visible arousal. "I would like you to --" Again Javert stopped himself. He did not wish to use any of the vulgar words for what he wanted, but he feared that a more polite term might lead to confusion.

"Will you let me put more than my finger there?" Valjean whispered in his ear. It made Javert moan to hear it spoken. He nodded fiercely, hearing his whiskers rasp against Valjean's skin as Valjean moaned as well. "I will try to make it pleasurable, but you must promise to stop me if I hurt you." Again Javert nodded, and Valjean gave him a squeeze before releasing him to fetch the candle.

Indeed, the tallow made Valjean's fingers slip more easily and more pleasingly inside the narrow entrance, so that Javert quickly forgot that he had been feeling old and ugly among the people gathered at the wedding. He spread himself out and raised his knees, letting Valjean see his enjoyment. Valjean's cock rose to point at him from its thick nest of hair, dark and twitching, but Valjean seemed content to ignore it as he moved his fingers in Javert until Javert groaned that he could endure no more and would not last if Valjean didn't proceed.

Surely it was not Valjean's intention to drive Javert mad, yet it felt as though it must be when Valjean hesitated, gazing down at him, searching his face. "You must tell me if --"

"I already promised to tell you if you hurt me," growled Javert, making Valjean shiver.

"Not that. You must tell me if you dislike it -- if it seems vile to you once we --"

"It is only vile if you doubt me." Javert raised his legs, squeezing them around Valjean, feeling him tremble as his cock brushed against Javert's thigh. "Unless you no longer want it."

There was no mistaking the longing on Valjean's face. "I want it more than I have dared to want anything," he said softly, pushing against Javert, "I want you," the pressure of the head of Valjean's cock seeking entrance, "I love you," then Valjean was moving inside him, and if Javert had thought that a kiss could set stars on fire, surely this could send them spinning out of orbit and make the heavens new.

He had no name for the spirals of pleasure inside him, centered on the point where Valjean pressed deep within him. How could he ever have deemed this an abomination? This was a celebration, and Javert always wanted to celebrate with Valjean. He wanted to revel in the man's strength, now that he could appreciate it freely; he wanted to open himself to this joining, to feel himself possessed. All his being rejoiced in this.

"Cher ami," Valjean said, gazing down at him. Javert reached up, stroking his cheek, and Valjean turned his face to accept the caress.

Cher ami," Javert echoed, though his voice was husky and breathless. "I love you. I know of no other way to say it besides that."

"I need no other words from you," Valjean panted. He made an attempt to lift one hand from the pillow beside Javert's head and slide it between them, but his balance shifted and he groaned in frustration. Instead Javert wrapped his legs around Valjean's and brought him closer. They both moaned as Valjean plunged in deeper. The angle brought Javert's cock flush to Valjean's body and the pleasure of it intensified with every thrust.

He clenched around Valjean, clung to him with legs and arms, and every part of skin that had never given him pleasure until now that it brushed a part of Valjean's. All the pleasures they had discovered together condensed, or expanded, Javert was uncertain of direction when all points of his body radiated bliss. Javert could tell that Valjean was close to release, he had brought about that state enough times to recognize the quivers, the moan that began deep in Valjean's broad chest. Wiggling a hand between their bodies, he managed to make a sheath with his fingers, unable to move it very far but enough to feel every thrust against his belly.

The circle of pleasure tightened around them until Valjean cried out -- Javert wasn't sure of the words but the delight in them was plain -- convulsing for long, glorious moments until he slumped over Javert's chest, still with presence of mind not to crush him. After several breaths, Valjean shifted back. When Javert made a noise of distress and tightened his legs, Valjean gazed down at him, sliding his hand around Javert's and moving their fingers together. It took only a few tugs, and Javert's hips lifted off the bed.

"Jean, oh Jean!" he cried out, flinging one arm around Valjean's neck and holding on as pleasure raced through him. They clung together, Valjean's hand slowing on his prick, wonder shining from his eyes. "That was not...vile," he confirmed, eliciting a sound he had rarely heard from Valjean, a suppressed giggle.

"Not an abomination?" he asked, slowly releasing his grasp on Javert. Javert's legs slid down, still angled at the knees, planting his feet in the rumpled sheets.

"Not anything like," Javert admitted.

Valjean was still poised above him, still joined in the most intimate way. Abruptly concern moved over his face. "I didn't --" He made a slight movement against Javert. "-- hurt you?"

Javert was already shaking his head. "I would keep you inside me all night if that were possible," he admitted, though he could feel the softening flesh inside him slipping free. "Perhaps forever."

"I would stay there forever," Valjean said, rolling beside Javert in the bed they had made their own. "Save that I believe we should try it the other way around, just to make certain it is not an abomination. If you want to try it that way."

"I will try anything you would like." A yawn overwhelmed Javert before he was able to prevent it, making Valjean chuckle. "Though I think not tonight. We are not young men."

"I feel young in a way I never felt when I had fewer years behind me." Valjean's arms wrapped around Javert, pulling him against the broad chest he had tried for so many years not to picture in his mind. Javert could remember thinking the thoughts that had consumed him for all those years, but he could not conjure the feelings that had compelled his behavior. He doubted that he would ever share the depth of faith that Valjean had discovered from the Bishop of Digne, yet he did not know what force could have brought about this change in him save God.

Sleep was already threatening to take him as he slid his arm across Valjean's hip. "We should clean ourselves," he muttered.

"You rest. I'll get the basin." When Javert started to protest, Valjean shook his head. "Let me do this for you." He turned from Javert, his legs swinging over the side of the bed, then paused. "When I first learned that Cosette loved Marius, I thought my life would end if she left me to marry him. I was relieved that he had gone to the barricade -- I expected that he would be killed, and she would need me all the more. Then I loathed myself for the idea and went to find the boy." Javert could hear the pain in his voice, and sat up as well, pressing a hand to Valjean's back. "When the students captured me, I thought that I would die there, and that, too, was a relief. I worried for Cosette, but I knew that whatever happened to Marius, at least I would not have to see her disappear from my life."

"She would not have disappeared from your life," Javert told him. "On the night I met her, she was as terrified for you as she was for the boy. She sent me to find you both."

"You saved us both." Valjean's head turned. "I don't know how I could have faced this night without my heart breaking, had it not been for you. Last night, while we were packing our things to leave the Rue de l'Homme Armé, I pulled out the clothes Cosette had worn on the day she left Montfermeil with me -- I had saved them, the dress and shawl and even the shoes. We had had no one in the world but each other, then, and it made me weep to lose her. But then I thought of you, and Jacqueline and Linette and the others, and I was no longer so sad. You saved us all."

Javert let his cheek rest against the back of Valjean's shoulder. "You are the one who saved us all," he said. "Cosette, when she was a child. Marius, when I could scarcely remain on my feet when we came through the sewer. The three women and two little girls in that house. And myself, who was too foolish to know that I had been blind for so long. If there must be talk of debt between us, I remain in yours."

"Then let there never be such talk." Twisting, Valjean kissed his mouth. "Even if we can never take vows in public, we can vow to each other that we will protect and provide for one another, and care for the people who matter most to each of us."

"Où tu demeureras, je demeurerai, ton peuple sera mon peuple, et ton Dieu sera mon Dieu," murmured Javert. He had been taught that Ruth's story was one of integrity, morality, obedience, yet it was plain to him now that it was also a story of devotion and love. "I have already promised it." A smile pushed across his face, echoed by Valjean, though Javert could read puzzlement there as well. "And we have already consummated that vow."

Again Javert found himself being kissed, quite thoroughly this time, with Valjean's lips curving up against his own. "If we had not just done so, I would beg you to do it now." Strong hands pressed Javert's shoulders and he found himself tipped back on the mattress by a grinning Valjean. "Now stay here and let me take care of you."

Valjean had promised to visit Cosette on the day after her wedding, but both prudence and exhaustion kept him from departing until nearly noon. None of the women expressed the slightest surprise to see him at breakfast with Javert; they were too eager to hear about the wedding and to eat the sugared almonds that Valjean had brought them from the feast, while Jacqueline was enraptured by the peacock he made for her out of an apple and the ribbons that had decorated one of the tables.

Later, Linette found Javert in the garden, where he was reading du Châtelet's views on women's education. Sitting beside him, she gave him a sly smile. "I think you will not be sorry that your cher ami is no longer required to sleep under the same roof as his daughter."

Javert tried to give her a stern look, but he could not persuade his brows to lower themselves into a scowl. "I believe that we all enjoyed Cosette's wedding night," he said.

Laughing, Linette nodded. "Even Jacqueline, though now I fear she will forever be asking Monsieur Fauchelevent to make her animals."

"He won't mind it. He will be happy to give my grand-niece the attention he once lavished on his daughter." They exchanged a conspiratorial look, since Jacqueline was no more Javert's blood than Cosette was Valjean's, though the other women did not know about Cosette and would never ask questions about Jacqueline. "But what about you? I have seen that carpenter following you. Will we need to plan a wedding?"

"No." Linette's smile vanished as she sighed. "I shall not marry."

Javert had not meant to make her unhappy. This time he did frown. "Because you could not care for that man? Or because you believe that you must hide your past?"

"I doubt that any man would wish to marry me if he learned what I had been, and I would not wish to marry any man I could not tell the truth. That carpenter seems a good man. He treats his girls the way Monsieur Fauchelevent treats his daughter. But I don't know --" She spread her hands. "I have never been with a man because I wanted him. I was forced, and then I was obliged."

"Then you are as much a virgin as I am. Was," he corrected himself, then cursed inwardly, though he had made Linette smile once more. She nudged her elbow against his and he nudged her back. "I want to see you happy, ma petite."

Blushing at the endearment, Linette hid her face against his shoulder. "I am happy. You and your Man of Mercy have made me happier than I had hoped I could be."

"He is the one who made all this happen," Javert pointed out, gesturing at the garden.

"Oh, no, Inspector. He is very good, but you are the one who made all this happen." Lifting her head, she kissed his cheek. "I will be happy as a teacher, and a proper mother to Jacqueline, one who does not hide her daughter in a brothel. Perhaps someday I will want a husband, but not now. I would rather have you as my uncle than any man as my husband."

"You may come to your senses when you see what I am like as a headmaster," Javert said gruffly.

Linette glanced at him thoughtfully. "I have no doubt that you will be as good with all the little girls as you are with Jacqueline." She glanced about the garden again, adding with a thoughtful sigh, "Laure would have liked this place, and the plans we have been making. I think you still blame yourself for the terrible way in which she left us. But you must see all the good you have done, that Jacqueline will not suffer as I did, and you have found Monsieur Fauchelevent."

They shared a moment of silent honor for a woman who had died. Javert thought that perhaps he would teach the girls astronomy, for he thought Laure would like it. Then they heard the distant clatter of the cart, and Javert could not help but smile at the thought that Valjean had returned to him. He would never stop regretting Laure's absence, for it was true that she had been the source of all the changes in his life. But he could not bring himself to wish that he had not changed, now, as Jacqueline burst out of the house, holding something in her skirt, shouting for Monsieur Fauchelevent, racing directly into a puddle.

"I'm afraid that my daughter may never be a lady," sighed Linette, though she was smiling. Valjean came through the gate just as Jacqueline reached it, her dress newly muddy, letting out a shriek as the mouse she had captured jumped onto Valjean. Javert heard a startled exclamation concerning excrement, followed by Jacqueline speaking in a stern voice:

"Monsieur, you should not say words like that!"

He and Linette smiled at each other. "Shall we go rescue them?" Javert asked, putting his book under his arm and lifting himself off the bench.

"The mice, or our family?" inquired Linette, taking his proffered hand.

As they strolled toward the man and the child, Javert decided that he liked the idea of being at the mercy of God or whatever force had brought them together into their very particular sort of family. Valjean was the center of his life now, and Linette and Jacqueline were his family -- even Cosette and Marius, if they ever had eyes for anyone but each other. There would be other friends as well: Matilde and her daughter, Valérie who was as skilled a cook as she was a housekeeper, the women from the park whom Linette had already persuaded to send their daughters to school, the workmen who were curious, and soon, perhaps, more women from the Siège d'Amour and places like it.

"Jacqueline believes that we should keep chickens at the school," Linette said, her tone feigning distress.

"A reasonable suggestion. The girls could learn about raising animals and collect eggs for their own breakfast." Javert tried to keep his expression serious. "I suppose she will want a book about chickens. I will have to discover whether such a book exists."

"But not tonight, I think." There was laughter in Linette's voice now as there was in Valjean's, splashing as he was through puddles to try to retrieve the escaped mouse.

"Not tonight," agreed Javert. He had other plans in mind for that evening. But there would be time later for all the joys that had come into his life. He kept his arm linked through Linette's as he stepped carefully through the garden and came face to face with the greatest of those joys, his own man of mercy, Jean Valjean.