Since the night Javert had witnessed the murder, his dreams were often terrible.
They began with Laure. She had been the most beautiful girl at the Siège d'Amour, with clear skin and white teeth that she had never become desperate enough to sell, but that was not what Javert had noticed about her. Although it was against the law for the curtains to be open in such an establishment, he had once found her at the window, holding a book of diagrams, studying the stars. Even though he had been meant to be patrolling the brothel for evidence of criminal activity, he stopped to glance at her book. Like himself, Laure was the child of a fortuneteller who had believed the stars could predict a man's character and future. Also like himself, Laure did not believe in astrology, yet she admired the regular movements of the stars in their seasons, the planets following their steady paths.
In Javert's nightmares, he reached for Laure at the window as her killer's hands closed around her throat, but he could only save her book as she fell. Then Laure's face changed. She became a woman whom Javert had seen only briefly, many years earlier -- the prostitute from Montreuil-sur-Mer. Fantine. She too had been dying, her head falling back much as Laure's had, eyes growing wide and glassy, more empty than the window. The face of Jean Valjean swam into Javert's vision, accusing: You have killed that woman. Then Javert heard a child's scream, and though he knew it to be the voice of Jacqueline, the little girl who lived at the Siège d'Amour, a different name whispered in his mind: Cosette.
When Javert arrived at his room very late at night, he often found Jacqueline sleeping across the foot of his bed.
This night was the second time in as many days. He shook his head in exasperation. "Donzelle," he whispered, touching her shoulder. "Does your Mama know where you are?"
The girl blinked up at him. Though she sometimes had bad dreams and would cry out in her sleep, she woke calmly when Javert spoke to her. "Mama is working," she told him. "Emilie is supposed to be watching me, but she shouted at me to mend her stockings, even though I mended them yesterday. So I told her I would stay with you and you would teach me how to read the sky so I will never get lost."
For reasons he did not understand, Javert found it impossible to be as stern as he should have been when those wide blue eyes looked anxiously at him. He had tried, at first, but though the girl usually obeyed his commands and listened seriously when he spoke to her about the importance of the law, he could not persuade her of how inappropriate it was for her to come to his room at night. "You didn't stay with me, since I wasn't here," he pointed out.
"But now you are." With a yawn she scooted against the wall. "And you will stop Monsieur Vallette from bothering me."
Javert scowled. Monsieur Vallette had offered Jacqueline two sous to let him see her two nénés, but she had shrieked and run away, and Madame Veuve had warned the man that he would not be permitted back in the establishment if he tried such a thing again. It had not stopped Valette from prowling the corridors looking for the child, and Javert feared that she might be only a year or so away from being persuaded, though perhaps by then she would be too old to be of interest to the despicable Monsieur Vallette. "If he was bothering you, you were right to come here."
"I told him that you would send him away if he kept talking to me," she said with another yawn. "He called you a cock-sucker who doesn't know what girls like."
Kicking off his shoes, Javert stretched out on the bed. "You should not repeat words like that." He supposed that Linette's lack of concern about her daughter creeping into his room at night meant that Jacqueline's mother believed the same of him. Indeed, he suspected that was why Madame Veuve had offered him the room behind the kitchen and a pittance in exchange for his help keeping her girls safe, for she was certain that Javert had no interest in any of the women there.
"Yes, Inspector," Jacqueline murmured, already half-asleep again. Javert wondered whether it would be possible to persuade one of the convent schools to take her. He supposed that it would require claiming that she was an orphan, for surely Linette could not visit her in such a place. This concern occupied his thoughts as he fell asleep.
He did not often dream of Laure's murder when he knew Jacqueline was safe.
That particular morning when he woke, the child was nestled against him, the fan of her hair spread out over his arm. "Jacqueline," he said, blinking away sleep, but not moving unduly to spoil her calm. His voice was still rough and the girl did not stir. "Ma petite," he said more sternly and finally she shifted, pulling herself up enough to rest her chin on the sheet covering his chest. He had of course not taken off his clothes while she was present, but he had often slept in his clothes and didn't mind it.
While he had been a police inspector, Javert's day had started early, usually before dawn, and he had worked long hours during which he hadn't always known when he would be able to sleep. He had not minded that either, for he had become bored and restless when the streets had been quiet, the lawbreakers either more lazy or more clever than usual. Now that he worked at the Siège d'Amour, he had a less regular schedule. Though overnight guests meant that the establishment operated at all hours, there was little going on in the morning and afternoon, so Javert was not required to stay close enough to be summoned should anyone cause trouble in the house.
"I'm hungry," Jacqueline declared.
He waved one hand toward the door. "The maids will feed you; run along."
Jacqueline heaved a great sigh and plopped back down beside him. "They will still be sleeping. No one wakes up as early as you do."
It occurred to him to say something about justice being ever vigilant, but even he knew it was no competition for an empty belly. "There will be bread in the kitchen. Go on or I will make you empty my chamberpot," he threatened.
Wrinkling her nose, she slid off the bed, stretching. "You would not make me do that. I would drop it and you would have to beat me."
Javert rolled his eyes heavenward but there was no guidance from any angel. "I have never laid a hand on you, nor would I, donzelle, as well you know." He sat up on the bed. "I thought today that I would look for a school for you, would you like that?"
The expression on her face was not very different from when he had threatened to make her empty out the chamberpot. "Madame Veuve says the nuns would beat the wickedness out of me." Her mouth set in a determined line. "I am not wicked, so they cannot beat me."
Frowning, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "Your mind is full of beatings this morning. The nuns would not beat you, though they would be strict and teach you to read and cipher and sing songs."
She had picked up his hat and set it atop her head, though it slipped down at once, covering nearly her entire face. "I already know how to read and sing songs. I heard one last night about a lady and a swan --"
"You will not learn such songs in a convent," he decreed, his resolve firming. He had heard that song the night before as well. No matter what her mother said, he would set about making inquiries to get Jacqueline into a school. Otherwise, he could see her future at the Siège d'Amour too clearly before him.
"Inspector," Linette greeted him when at last he tracked her down. Her skin was not as fair as Laure's had been, and she was not interested in the stars, but she could do sums and had a strong voice for reciting the naughty stories that some men liked to hear, though Linette preferred tales of ancient gods and heroes. Javert had not been a police inspector since the days before he came to work for Madame Veuve, but he had given up telling the women to stop using his title, for they didn't listen and he wondered whether it made them feel safer to pretend that a true policeman patrolled the premises. "Has Jacqueline been difficult? Emilie tells me that she would not finish her work."
"A child her age is too young for that sort of work, and too old to stay here. You know the law -- no children over the age of four are allowed to live in establishments such as this one." Javert expected Linette to argue, but she only dropped her eyes and nodded. The police who visited were willing not to ask questions about Jacqueline's age as long as Linette pleased them, and there were far more working class brothels than the Bureau Sanitaire could hope to inspect with regularity. "Are you certain you have no relative to whom you can send her? This is no place for a young girl."
"I know that, but I have no one, or I would not be here either." As Linette spoke, Javert tried to place her accent. He knew that she claimed to be from the south of France, but there was a flatness to her vowels that he had not heard in Paris. Perhaps, like Laure, she had run away from a life with a family so terrible that she no longer wished to remember. She peered at him hopefully. "Inspector, if you have family, could you persuade them that she is a distant relation? I have made some little drawings I might be able to sell. I would give you some of my earnings..."
"I have no family who could take her in." He watched Linette rearrange the scarf around her throat that hid a purple bite mark. "I had a different thought. Jacqueline is clever. Her reading is improved. She remembers the names of all the stars that I have taught her and where to find them in the sky. Perhaps I could persuade a convent school to take her in."
"I could never see her at a convent!" When Linette flung out her arm in distress, Javert could see that her arm, too, was bruised. "And they would never take her in. She is hopeless with numbers. She speaks like I do. We have no money, unless you are hiding some great fortune you took from a criminal." She touched the crucifix she wore on a chain around her throat. Javert wondered whether it had belonged to her own mother.
"You could see her sometimes. It would be a better life than she has here, with men like that Vallette visiting." Javert hesitated to make his next suggestion, but he knew it offered Jacqueline the best chance of a better life. "Perhaps you could persuade some man to become her benefactor."
"You mean fuck him for no money?" Linette scoffed as Javert pressed his lips together, unable after all this time to keep himself from reacting to such words. "Madame would never allow it. It would be bad for business. I think she only lets me keep Jacqueline because soon the girl will be old enough to make money on her own."
The thought was intolerable. "I would sooner see her sleeping inside the Elephant of the Bastille," Javert grated. "There must be some way."
"Only if you know an angel who gives alms," muttered Linette, pushing at her hair. "That girl who sometimes comes to find Brujon -- Éponine? She claims that there is such a man, a philanthropist, who gives money to gamins and does not spit at whores. Her father has a plan to take his money. Any man foolish enough to help girls like us ends up with nothing."
She coughed, stirring an uneasy memory in Javert. It took him a moment to place it. Fantine had had such a cough when he had arrested her in Montreuil, the night that had sparked the incident which made Javert angry enough to denounce the mayor as a former convict. Javert had not understood why Jean Valjean had been kind to a whore he scarcely knew, even if she had a child.
Much had changed in how Javert viewed gentlemen and prostitutes alike since then. He knew that if Linette became too ill to work, Jacqueline might be forced to take her place, and she would have to work on the street, for no brothel would dare let a girl so young have visitors. As a woman, she would never have the opportunity that he once had to work to uphold the law. Javert had always supposed that the willingness to sell sex, like the willingness to steal or destroy property, must be innate, but the women who worked at the Siège d'Amour had made him see otherwise. And he had also seen that not all magistrates behaved in a manner befitting their titles.
As for Valjean, Javert's feelings were even more turbulent than at the moment he had first recognized in the handsome mayor the strength of a convict. But he had not seen Valjean in many years. If Valjean remained alive, even if he remained in Paris, it was very unlikely that Javert would see him again. Why this struck Javert as a cruel fate, now that he no longer had the power to arrest the convict, he could not say.
Linette was watching Javert, which made him realize that he was frowning. "You won't tell Madame that Jacqueline is trouble for you?" she asked.
"I will tell Madame that Jacqueline is helpful. But she must be instructed to follow the rules. If she is meant to be darning stockings, she must stay out of sight and finish that task. She should be given more responsibilities in the kitchen." It was drudge work, but better a drudge than a whore. Again Javert shook his head. "The next time that girl Éponine is near, point her out to me."
She stretched up on her toes and brushed her lips over his cheek. "You are a good man, Inspector." Javert opened his mouth to protest that it was no more than his duty, to protect and keep safe all the inhabitants of the house, but he had tried such protestations before and they had taken no root.
He didn't have long to wait before Linette sidled up to him in the hall outside the kitchen and motioned toward a girl whose blouse looked like it needed little urging to fall around her waist. Éponine was younger than he had expected, waifish and thin, though cleaner than most of the street rats who came around the establishment. Javert knew that he had seen her before. It took him a few minutes to realize that it had not been at the brothel, but in the streets, for she worked sometimes with Thénardier's gang. With a start he realized that she might be that terrible man's daughter.
Giving a nod, Javert strode over to her. At his approach, she looked up, her eyes going wide with fear. She would have bolted had he not reached out first and gripped her arm.
"I've done nothing!" she exclaimed, twisting in his grasp.
"I never said you did," grunted Javert, relaxing his grip but not letting her go. "Hold still, you silly girl, I only need a word."
"You are that policeman, Javert, the one Madame --" Her expression changed as her shoulders straightened so that her blouse remained around them, but she didn't finish her sentence.
"Yes, I am Javert. I wish to know the name of a man --" he began, only to see her mouth turn up into a smirk. "The one who gives alms to the poorest people of the city," he finished, managing to keep his teeth from grinding together. As a gesture of good faith, he released her arm.
Éponine tossed her hair and glanced around haughtily. "I don't know his name," she said.
Forcing himself to remember his mission, he thought it was a good sign that she knew who he meant. He had made several inquiries at local convents in the last two days but had met with the same response. They had no room for a child of no means and little education. In both cases, he had been directed toward an orphanage that Javert knew turned children out at the slightest infraction -- once they learned of Jacqueline's tendency to ask questions and her mother's reviled profession, she would have no chance there. "Perhaps your father knows his name," Javert tried, watching Éponine's smirk disappear.
"This man," she said, leaning back against the wall, "they call him the Man of Mercy. He always has a ready coin. I can find him for you."
"You said you didn't know his name," said Javert, keeping his voice flat and expressionless, a trick he had learned while questioning suspects when he'd been on the police force. "How will you find him?"
Their encounter, in the hallway outside the kitchens, had attracted the attentions of the kitchen maids. Linette too hovered in the doorway, though she glanced toward the parlor where Javert knew she was expected. Madame didn't tolerate slacking.
Javert ignored them and focused his attentions on the girl. In not too many more years, this could be Jacqueline. Without a father to plot schemes for her, she would roam the streets, dropping her blouse and lifting her skirts for any amount of money that would keep her belly from rumbling or some man from beating her. "Tell me --" he began.
"The man goes to the park nearly every day," Éponine blurted out, "with a girl."
Frowning, Javert studied her, alert for falsehoods. "A girl? A daughter?"
Éponine shrugged. "How would I know?"
"You know much for someone who knows nothing of this man," Javert said, sounding, he thought, reasonable.
She shrugged again. "I have seen them. My father tried to get money from him but this man is too cle-- " She made a face. "I have answered your questions." As she spoke she was sidling away, angling her shoulder in such a way that, Javert suspected, was supposed to inflame his passion for her youthful body.
"What park?" Javert demanded, but even as he was speaking, she turned and darted out the kitchen door into the alley.
Linette was by his side in a moment, pulling her filmy shawl around her bare shoulders. "She knew more," she said unhappily.
Something stirred along the hair of Javert's neck, the old thrill of detection, of finding pieces that had once fit and making them fit again. "Of course she did," he admitted, "but it may be enough to find this man. That old rat of a father of hers tried to get money from him. I know where he operates and so where the Man of Mercy may be found, somewhere between the Salpêtrière and the Champ de Mars, perhaps at the Jardin du Luxembourg. I will follow where he goes."
"You are the best of men, Inspector."
Javert watched her fingers move to the crucifix she wore around her neck and gave in to his curiosity. "Was that a gift? Or something you inherited from a relative?"
"This?" Linette covered the cross with her fingers, laughing bitterly. "The first thing I ever stole. From around the neck of an old woman who thought I planned to adjust her shawl. By the time I was home, I could not bear the sight of it, nor of myself. I kept it to remind me never to do anything so wicked again." Her fingers brushed the bruise on her throat and she blinked back tears. "It is often difficult to know the right thing to do, Monsieur."
Weeping women made Javert as uncomfortable as confessions of wrongdoing. He reminded himself that he was no longer a policeman. "We must see to it that your child does not find it so," he said awkwardly. "I will find the Man of Mercy, you may be sure."
He stepped back before Linette could kiss his cheek in front of the kitchen maids. He was quite familiar with the area that he had promised to search. Years before, he had spent many months investigating there, hunting for clues to the whereabouts of the escaped criminal Jean Valjean.
Of course, discovering the names of the streets in which to look for the Man of Mercy and tracking his movements were two different problems.
Javert was free to roam about the city only early in the day, before the majority of visitors arrived at the Siège d'Amour. But it seemed the stranger did not venture forth in the mornings. Though Javert found several people willing to speak of their encounters with the mysterious benefactor, none could say where he lived. Javert's instinct that the man might visit the Jardin du Luxembourg seemed correct, for more than a few women claimed to have noticed the pretty girl who traveled with the Man of Mercy there, talking to a young gentleman.
It would have been easier if Javert had understood why this elusive man, whom Javert had been told wore clothing little finer than that of a beggar, chose to give away his money. Had he received the money through illegal means, or perhaps inherited it from a relative he had hated? Did he help ruffians and lawbreakers because he was one of them? Until recently, it had never occurred to Javert that perhaps the law needed to address the desperation of those with families to protect just as surely as those of weak character or moral failings.
During his years as a policeman, he had heard dozens of excuses, each of which had seemed as contemptible as the next. People pleaded hunger, cold, fear; they claimed not to steal for themselves, but for sick parents or starving children; they begged for mercy, they promised to change, they swore that they would obey the authorities. He had learned from the beginning not to trust such protestations. Yet now he could see how unfortunate Jacqueline's life must be if some unexpected mercy did not intervene. Perhaps, as he had feared that he would, he was going soft from being too much in the presence of lawbreakers with no recourse to bring them to justice. Born outside society, he had always believed that his only choices were to uphold its laws or to work against them. But he would still find a way to help Jacqueline. Nothing that had befallen her young life stemmed from any wickedness on her own part.
As Javert crossed the Jardin du Luxembourg, his thoughts turned to another prostitute and her daughter. He remembered the night long before when he had been certain that he had seen Jean Valjean, though the man had been reported dead -- Valjean in Paris with a small girl, perhaps the daughter of that woman from Montreuil whom Valjean had chosen to defend. The memory could still stir Javert to anger, for the false mayor had treated him abominably. Yet Javert also wondered, now, why that woman's fate had mattered so much to Valjean that he would have risked the enmity that had driven Javert to denounce him. Though Javert had investigated Valjean thoroughly and had found nothing to suggest that the man consorted with whores in the ordinary sense, he wondered whether Valjean had become so concerned for a prostitute's child because Valjean was overly familiar with women who made their living that way.
Perhaps the man's concern had never been for the woman but for her young child. Valjean had always claimed that the act for which he had been sent to prison, the robbery of a bakery, had been for bread to feed his sister's children. Yet it would be ridiculous to wonder what Valjean would do if he knew Linette's child, for Valjean remained a criminal and a fugitive, whereas Javert was still a man of integrity even if he had been dismissed from the police. He would not think of Valjean. He had put such thoughts out of his mind long ago.
That morning Javert gave a coin to a man who had no news of the Man of Mercy, but did recognize his description of Thénardier. "They say he approaches gentlemen near the Place de la Bastille for money for his starving family." Javert preferred to have no dealings with Éponine's father now that he could not arrest the man on the spot if he was engaged in criminal activity -- he certainly did not wish to be seen speaking to such a person -- but if it proved to be the only way to discover this Man of Mercy, he thought it best to have some idea where Thénardier and his daughter might be found.
In the evening, several policemen arrived at the Siège d'Amour. At first Javert kept himself carefully hidden behind furniture and screens, for he could not be certain whether they had arrived undercover to look for signs of illegal activity or whether they merely wished to visit the women for their own entertainment. He himself had visited the brothel several times in his capacity as a policeman, which was why he had been there on the terrible night when the maître des requêtes had strangled Laure and set in motion the events that had led to Javert's dismissal.
Shaking off memories of the past, he went down the kitchen. Jacqueline was darning a stocking on a little wooden stool by the fire, though when she saw him, she dropped the work into the basket and slid off the stool. "Mama told me not to go upstairs at all tonight," she declared, obviously aggrieved at having her liberty curtailed.
"You should never go upstairs when there are men present," he cautioned, deliberately moving to block the cook's view of their conversation. "Show me your needlework."
Her contempt for both the needlework and the prohibition was plainly visible on her face, but dutifully she pulled out the length of stocking. "Very fine," he said, though he had no judgement in such things. The compliment pleased her nonetheless. "Have you been reading as I told you to do?"
She gave a dismissive shrug which he took as a no. "I want a book with pictures," she said, hopping back onto the stool and pulling the book out of the sewing basket.
"The book I gave you has pictures," Javert said, peering over the pages as the book fell open in her lap. He tilted his head, studying the maps, each one with a diagram to show which stars were linked together to create the constellations.
"These are boring pictures," Jacqueline said, turning the book from side to side then upside down. "These dots together are supposed to make a bear, but this shape doesn't look anything like a bear." She closed the book with a decisive snap, tilting her face up to peer at Javert. "I want a book with real pictures."
Javert glanced at the sewing basket. "Very well, if you promise to attend to your sewing, I shall procure a book for you. What sorts of pictures would you like?"
"Real elephants," she said at once. "And horses and sheep!"
Javert had no idea whether anyone published such books, but he planned to go out in the morning to continue his hunt for the Man of Mercy. "Very well, donzelle, I will try," he said, ruffling her hair before going back upstairs to attend to his duties. It was a busy night in the Siège d'Amour, but with so many policemen visiting, thugs like Brujon stayed away. Javert had no doubt that even in plain clothes, many of the police were recognizable to the criminal element that frequented the brothel. He wondered whether he had been as obvious to criminals when he had been a policeman.
He wondered, too, whether Laure's patron had not realized that Javert was a policeman when the vicious counsellor committed such atrocities, or whether the man had already been so certain of being protected by his position that he did not care who discovered what he had done. Though the policeman whom Javert observed now were out of uniform, he overheard fragments of conversation that would have betrayed their profession to any listener. It was little wonder that no suspected gang members stayed that night.
"Javert. I had heard that you worked here now." He had let himself be observed by Robitaille, a gendarme whom Javert had known for several years, one of the few who had taken the time to say farewell to him as he left the station house following his dismissal. Javert had thought Robitaille to be a man of high morals, yet Robitaille had visited that evening with at least two women. It was fortunate that Madame Veuve liked having policemen visit, since they took greater care with the furniture than did some of the patrons, so she asked for less money if the girls were not too busy. Otherwise Javert could not understand how a gendarme could afford visits to a brothel except for work.
He nodded a greeting to the man. "Madame offered me a position as a guard. There is often trouble." It was different at establishments frequented by wealthy men, though brutes like the maître des requêtes preferred brothels like the Siège d'Amour for that very reason. "I wondered whether I might ask you a question. There are rumors among the women of a Man of Mercy who helps beggars and desperate girls."
"I have heard such tales," said Robitaille. "We were asked to watch for him, for it seems likely that he did not come by his money lawfully." Javert nodded agreement. "But he is very good at slipping away. Has he caused trouble for Madame? A man who helps desperate girls might be bad for business in a whorehouse."
Javert was about to protest when he realized that of course Robitaille was correct. He had not met one woman at the Siège d'Amour who worked there because she enjoyed it; they were in varying degrees ashamed, desperate, harboring dreams of escape. Each of them imagined that one of the patrons would marry her or at least make her his mistress, but Javert had never known it to happen. Linette at least was realistic; she wished Jacqueline to practice her sums so that perhaps she could work with the money instead of the men. Though Madame Veuve treated the women fairly and violence of the sort that had taken Laure's life was rare, the girls were all unhappy.
"Perhaps you are hoping that if you catch this criminal, you might regain your post," speculated Robitaille. "That counsellor is known to be a monster. The whore who died here will not be his last."
There had been a time when Javert would have objected as well to the slandering of a high official. But that, too, had changed. "Her name was Laure," he muttered.
When he returned to his room that night, Jacqueline was not there. It was better for her to be with her mother, thought Javert, while at the same time knowing that the best future for the girl would likely mean severing all contact between Linette and her daughter. Jacqueline was attached to her mother, and Linette would miss the child terribly.
If he confessed the truth to himself, so would Javert. He liked Linette well enough, though he did not share her interest in ancient stories, yet they were both more concerned about her clever daughter. It was an unsettling thought. Javert had not been attached to any person since he had been very young. There had occasionally been someone with whom he could have imagined forming a friendship, but women had never interested him and men were not to be trusted.
Despite the hardships of their lives, the women of the Siège d'Amour formed close friendships. They cared for one another and defended one another, even when it meant putting themselves at risk. Javert had a brief, uncomfortable memory from Toulon of a prisoner doing the same for another prisoner, risking his life, accepting pain to protect a fellow convict. Surely it had not been 24601. It could not always be Valjean.
Javert had always believed love to be a weakness. His wish to protect Jacqueline had everything to do with justice, not affection. But something more than justice bound the women of this dismal place together.
In the morning, Javert set out toward the Jardin des Plantes, hoping that he might find a bookseller with pictures of animals so close to the menagerie. That task accomplished, he traversed the Rue Clovis toward the Jardin du Luxembourg, hoping for some hint of the existence of the Man of Mercy. It was obvious that the police were not being vigilant about keeping streetwalkers away from the gardens, for even in daylight, he spotted several whose gestures suggested that they would make themselves available to any man who offered them money.
A group of students had gathered in the park, probably to discuss political views that bordered on treason. Javert frowned at them, but they were no longer his concern. Then he spied the girl Éponine. Her attention was fully on the young men -- one young man in particular, if Javert judged correctly.
While she was distracted, he approached her, taking care not to appear to be doing so. When he was close enough to be heard, he muttered, "That boy has eyes only for his cause."
Éponine gave a start, then glared at him. "Not true. He is only here because his friends are here." Her shoulders sagged dejectedly. "That man you were asking about? That boy there is in love with his daughter." Her expression turned hopeful. "Will you arrest the man and his daughter and take them away from here?"
"Since I'm no longer a policeman, that would be an impossible task." Yet Robitaille's words came back to Javert. If he were to make a significant discovery, it was possible that the Préfecture might demand his reinstatement. "Has the man who gives alms done something for which I should arrest him, apart from having a pretty daughter?"
"His money must come from somewhere. My father would not have thought him worth robbing if he didn't have his suspicions."
Nodding, Javert wondered why the girl was so resentful of her own father that she would risk speaking of him to a onetime policeman, but he was not interested in Thénardier just now. "That boy there, the one who is in love. What is his name?" The girl's face grew shifty and Javert knew that she would flee before answering. "I have no wish to make trouble for him. I only want to know whether he can lead me to your mysterious Man of Mercy." He hesitated, then withdrew a coin from his pocket. "If you can tell me where the man and the girl might be found, I might be able to keep them from your friend there."
Javert could see the cunning in Éponine's face, weighing her options before deciding. "I have seen them in the Rue Plumet," she said, her passion for the boy winning her over as she pushed aside the coin. "There is a house with a gate and a tall fence, tucked away off the street."
For someone who hadn't even admitted to knowing of the man he sought several days ago, she was quite specific on the details, Javert thought, but he kept his conclusions to himself. If this man was truly living off ill-gotten gains, it would explain the location, for the Rue Plumet was a quiet street, the residents keeping mostly to themselves. "Keep this from your father and stay out of trouble."
He thrust the coin toward the girl and watched it disappear. "You take great pains to find one man," she said, the ghost of the smirk appearing before she darted away.
Javert watched the students for a while longer, making sure he would recognize the face of the boy who had caught the eye of not one but two young ladies. The young man looked unremarkable to Javert, but young men had seldom interested him even when he had been young himself, and this particular skinny creature hardly looked the part of a romantic revolutionary. If Javert's mission to the Rue Plumet failed, however, he would need to monitor the students and watch for the furtive Man of Mercy here in the park.
But first, since he had time before the brothel opened, he headed toward the street the girl had indicated. Finding the right house was a simple matter of deduction. There was almost an air of vacancy about the place, as though the garden saw few visitors and had been allowed to grow wild.
Pulling out his policeman's notebook, Javert printed out a note. I am seeking the Man of Mercy. I will return tomorrow to tell you of an act of mercy toward a child with which I would ask your assistance. Since he did not wish to summon anyone to the gate, he slid the note between the slats. He thought that perhaps there was a flutter of the lace curtains in the window, but he didn't linger. Tomorrow would be time enough.
Jacqueline was delighted with her book and begged Javert to read with her, but again it was a busy night at the Siège d'Amour. As if they knew that the policemen had spent all their money the night before and would not be returning, many of the worst sorts of men appeared, including Brujon and Babet, two suspected members of the Patron-Minette gang. For a few moments, Javert considered sending a messenger to alert the police, but Madame would be furious unless Javert had reason to believe that the men threatened her girls or plotted crimes against the state while at the brothel, and Javert had seen evidence of neither. In fact, Babet was popular among the women, for he had some training as a doctor and chemist, and therefore had been the man they turned to when one of the girls had nearly died trying to rid herself of the child in her womb.
Nearly all the thugs who frequented the Siège d'Amour had known Javert in his previous life as a policeman. Some were content to gloat that he had fallen among them while others mocked him outright. "These girls are safer with that queer Javert than with a priest," the hulking Brujon muttered as he passed, making the women on either side of him laugh nervously. They would not have dared to defend Javert at such a moment. All of them knew that he lived more like a monk than a prowler of men.
When at last he could sleep, Javert had troubled dreams. He saw Jacqueline surrounded by menagerie animals that turned ferocious and attacked her. She escaped, but by then she had turned into Éponine and the animals had become a street gang. Javert pursued them to the Rue Plumet, hoping to find the Man of Mercy, but when the gate opened, he discovered himself back in Toulon, where the gang had become a group of convicts who advanced on them. "Will no one help this child?" he demanded, but the convicts only laughed until Monsieur Madeleine stepped forward, still wearing his chain of office, to take her hand...
He awoke with a start. Jacqueline was sitting at the foot of his bed, squinting in the dim room, trying to make out the words in the book he had brought her. "Mama says tigers eat other animals," she told him crossly.
"So they do. So do cats, ma petite. That's why there are no mice in your room." Two fierce-looking cats wandered through the brothel at their leisure; they stayed out of Javert's way and Javert stayed out of theirs.
"Elephants are much bigger than tigers but they don't kill animals. I would rather have an elephant than a tiger," decided Jacqueline. "Mama said I would have to marry a very rich man to have an elephant."
"Perhaps you would be willing to marry a man who was not so rich but had a horse instead." It was exasperating trying to plan a future for a girl in such circumstances. And Javert needed to use the chamberpot. He gestured irritably. "If your mother is busy, you should be in the kitchen."
"Policemen sometimes ride horses." Jacqueline gazed at Javert appraisingly. "Do you have a horse?"
Helplessly Javert began to laugh. "I do not. I can ride, but I have never been rich enough for a horse, much less an elephant. Now off with you, and perhaps today I will find a school that will take such a silly girl."
Indignantly, Jacqueline slid off the bed and put her hands on her hips. "I am not silly. There is nothing silly about wanting an elephant. Like the one in the Place de la Bastille, but alive."
"Ah, but that elephant was never finished, not even for the rich men who commissioned it." Javert handed her the book. "Now go read and become very wise, and perhaps you will think of a place you can keep an elephant here in the house."
"Now you're silly," she told him, but she was smiling as she slipped away.
Jacqueline was not the only one to vanish. When Javert arrived at the Rue Plumet, he found the house abandoned.
He muttered an oath aloud. It was his own fault for letting the Man of Mercy know that someone knew where he lived. Of course the man had disappeared. He was about to storm off to the park when he felt someone watching him.
It was Éponine. "They've gone," she told him, sounding smug.
"As if they would tell me! The streets are full of revolutionaries. Perhaps the man wishes to keep his daughter safe." Yet Éponine's eyes did not meet his.
"Where are they?" asked Javert again.
The girl scowled at him. "Why do you want to know? My father already tried to rob the house. If they have anything of value, a man with half a brain will have hidden it by now."
Javert studied the girl in her tattered clothes. It looked as though she had stood out all night in the rain. He could think of no reason not to tell her the truth. "At the brothel where you sometimes arrive on errands, there is a young girl. Perhaps you have seen her. You know what her life must become if she remains in such a place. I need to find a patron for her, someone who will help pay for her schooling."
Éponine's eyes went wide. "Is that girl your daughter?" she demanded skeptically. "Brujon said you were a --" She hesitated.
"Jacqueline is not my daughter." He had been reluctant to say the child's name, but if he wanted Éponine's trust with what she knew, he realized that he had to suggest that such trust went both ways. "She is the daughter of a woman who works at the Siège d'Amour. I have no connection to her save that I would wish to spare her the life she will have growing up in a brothel, trained to serve men like Brujon."
Slowly Éponine nodded her understanding. "The girl who lived in this house? She's not the man's daughter. We were children together in Montfermeil. My father claims the man stole the girl from him."
Whatever Javert had expected her to reveal, it was not that. He wanted to grab both of Éponine's arms so that she couldn't run before she answered all his questions, but he was afraid that if she slipped past him, he would find it extremely difficult ever to find her again. "In Montfermeil?" he asked, trying to keep his voice calm. "I knew the innkeeper there."
Instantly Éponine seemed to understand that she had revealed too much. "I don't remember. I was very young." She had begun to back away from the gate. "Now I must --"
"Wait." Javert reached into his pocket, cursing himself for not having brought more coins. He had few enough to spare. "Listen to me," he said, pulling out what money he had. "I am not interested in making trouble for your family. But the man who took the girl from Montfermeil...I knew him as well, long ago. I had believed him to be dead."
Éponine appeared to be poised for flight, as if she couldn't decide where her interests lay. "Are you the reason they fled the house?" she demanded. "They don't intend to return." Her face contorted, then she dug into her skirts and pulled out a folded piece of paper. "The girl left this for the boy in the park. I -- I found it." From her furtive look, Javert did not need ask whether she intended to give it to the boy whose name flashed up at him. "She says that her father will take her to England. You will not try to bring them back here?" Javert shook his head, and her chin lifted. "They are staying in the Rue de l'Homme Armé." Her hand shot out, offering the note as proof.
When Javert's eyes scanned the paper, he had to concentrate to keep his hand from shaking. If the man who had lived at Rue Plumet was indeed the Man of Mercy, the paper offered everything that Javert needed to discover him, for the girl who had written the note had left her current address, and she had also written out the address of the boy Marius for whom the note was intended.
However, what made Javert tremble was the name signed at the bottom.
Cosette. The girl who had come from Montfermeil, who had been taken from the inn there by a stranger.
Cosette. The daughter of a woman who had died in Montreuil-sur-Mer, the child Monsieur Madeleine had been so determined to rescue.
Cosette. The name which meant that, after all these years, Javert had found Jean Valjean.
It was not a fit night to be out on the streets of Paris. The National Guard had blocked off half the city and the rioters had blocked off the other half. After he had discovered that Valjean was still alive, Javert had dismissed Éponine, who seemed glad to go after revealing so much to him. She had made a grab for the note, and after a few moments, Javert had let her have it. He had already committed the addresses to memory, and he did not want to promise either to deliver or to destroy the note for the girl when he did not know what the next hours would bring.
Javert had been obliged to return to the Siège d'Amour to begin work, but the funeral of the fallen general had choked many of the streets even before the rioting had begun. Madame had seemed relieved to see him come through the door and had immediately slid the bolt into place once he was inside. The brothel had never been closed since Javert had started working there, nor indeed for as long as anyone could remember, but that night, Madame was taking no chances. Rioters had been known to pillage more than goods. She was unhappy to let him go out, but he had insisted that he needed to discover where the fighting was centered in order to keep the women safe.
He reached the Rue de l'Homme Armé, scanning the street for any signs of unusual activity. This corner of Paris was relatively quiet, the citizens having sense enough to close their shutters and bolt their doors, just like Madame. His fingers no longer trembled as they had when he first discovered the address, while the inescapable conclusion that Jean Valjean was in his life once again had burst like the light of the sun.
True, Javert no longer had the power to arrest him, though he did wonder briefly whether revealing Valjean's whereabouts to the police would be considered a sufficient act of heroism for the Préfecture to reinstate Javert as an inspector. He doubted it, but he was more troubled by the fact that he could not bring himself to consider doing so despite 24601's numerous crimes. If Valjean had raised Fantine's daughter as his own, then sending the man to prison would destroy whatever life he had made for Cosette. She would be no better off than the Thénardier girl, with the same dismal prospects ahead of her and none of Éponine's wits about the street. He had done some checking into the boy they both loved, this Marius Pontmercy, who despite his political affiliations was the grandson of a wealthy man. Monsieur Pontmercy surely would not marry the daughter of a convict.
As for Valjean, his actions continued to confound Javert. After his initial shock, it did not seem so surprising that the one-time criminal who had broken into houses in Montreuil to leave money for poor families had become the Man of Mercy who was revered by the poorest people of Paris. Perhaps Valjean considered it to be some sort of perverted justice to give to vagabonds and beggars a fortune earned under false pretenses as a factory owner and mayor rather than a convict on parole. That, too, was no longer Javert's problem. He had been relieved of such responsibility since the night he had tried to save the life of a doomed prostitute from a public official more vile than any convict Javert had known.
Now, if it were possible, he would enlist the convict's aid on behalf of Jacqueline, though he still did not know what he would say when he faced Valjean again. The house that he sought had a more modest gate than the one at the Rue Plumet, but the lamps on the second floor were lit. Someone was at home; one way or another, Javert would face the past tonight. A knock on the door brought a housekeeper who blocked the doorway so that Javert couldn't see inside.
"Monsieur is not here," she said, starting to close the door.
"Wait," he insisted. "Is Mademoiselle at home?"
She studied him through the crack in the door. "Not to the likes of you," she decreed, starting to close the door again.
"Tell her I have a message from Marius Pontmercy," he called out, deliberately raising his voice to be heard inside. Before the door could close fully, it was flung open by a young woman.
Some fragment of Javert's dream came back to him. He had cried out, Will no one help this child? and now he envisioned Valjean carrying away a younger version of the girl before him. Cosette appeared to be everything that Éponine was not. They must have been near in age, but Cosette was fair, well-fed and well-dressed. Far from the simpering misses of the upper classes, this young lady had a look of keen intelligence upon her face. Javert thought of Jacqueline and her insistence on acquiring an elephant. If Cosette had asked for the same thing, Javert rather thought Valjean would have found a way to get it for her.
"You are Cosette?" he asked, stepping inside slowly under the watchful eye of both the young lady and her maid.
"I am Mademoiselle Fauchelevent," she said, her voice cultured, her manner demure, though Javert could see she was brimming with curiosity.
"I am seeking the gentleman they call the Man of Mercy," he said, watching Cosette and the maid exchange a look between themselves. Whether that meant the wily old fox was in hiding or was truly absent from the house, Javert couldn't tell.
"You said you had a message from Marius," Cosette said, her eyes narrowing.
"I do, Mademoiselle," he said. "Your note has been intercepted --" He heard her small gasp. "Not by myself," he added, "but I will attempt to deliver your message in person if you can tell me where your father is tonight."
With a gesture, Cosette dismissed the housekeeper. "Who are you, and how did you come by my note?"
Javert had never had the facility for making up lies as others often did. But he could leave out parts of the tale that implicated others. He told her of having found the note at the house on Rue Plumet, claiming that he had sent it on with its messenger, but that he had made the mistake of reading it.
"Why would you expect a letter from my house to have anything to do with you?" Then Cosette's eyes widened in accusation. "You must be the one who wrote the letter asking about the Man of Mercy! I was the one who found it."
Caught thus, Javert had no choice but to nod. "I suppose you believed it to be a note from Monsieur Pontmercy. I am sorry to have caused such a panic as to make your household flee."
"It was not you, sir, but a disturbance outside," she said, frowning. "My father was already worried when he saw your note, and when someone outside screamed for the police, he told me to begin to pack immediately. Then the unrest began, and he would not permit me to go back for the things I had not brought." She made a gesture to the windows, both carefully covered against the evening.
"Can you tell me where he has gone?" Javert asked. He had omitted mentioning his own name and prayed she had too many other concerns to remember to ask now.
"I fear that he has gone into the heart of the danger to find Marius," said Cosette, wringing her hands, displaying the dramatics that came so easily to the young. "The note you spoke of? I'm afraid my father saw the copy on my blotter. I was so grieved to leave the Rue Plumet, I left it on the sideboard in front of the mirror, wide open at precisely the page on which I had laid my note to dry. But Marius must already think I have abandoned him, if he did not receive my note! Surely he went to the barricade with his friends!" Pacing several times, she decided, "You must go to him."
"To the barricade?" Javert asked in disbelief. Even from this distance he had heard the sounds of gunfire.
"You wish to find my father, and my father must be with Marius in that awful place. There is no other reason he would have gone out after insisting that we needed to hide ourselves here."
"What makes you think your father is not one of the revolutionaries?" he asked sharply.
"My father?" Cosette looked astonished at the suggestion. "That isn't possible. My father keeps entirely to himself. He won't speak at all of the life he has known. He would rather read the Bible than about history or the Revolution." She twisted her hands together. "You asked about the Man of Mercy. I know my father is that man. I have seen him give money to beggars. That is not a crime!"
"And I am not a policeman." It was the first time Javert had spoken those words without regret weighing like a millstone on his heart. "What I said in my note was the truth. I wish to ask for his help concerning the welfare of a young girl, like you were, once."
He did not believe the words gave too much away, but Cosette's eyes suddenly grew round and her hands dropped to her sides. "Sir," she asked. "Do you know my father? Do you know where he comes from?" Then she must have sensed in Javert that same evasiveness that he had sensed in Éponine, for she dropped her eyes. "If you are any friend to my father, I beg you, please find him and bring him safely here. I pray he is with Marius and they have gone from the fighting, but if they have not, if you want his help, you must go to where they are."
It was decided, then. "It seems I must, Mademoiselle," Javert concluded, tipping his cap to her.
Though it was summer, Javert shivered as he walked through the streets of Paris. He did not have his uniform or his sword to protect him. Perhaps this was madness; perhaps the discovery that the Man of Mercy and Jean Valjean were one and the same meant that Javert should return to the brothel and his responsibilities there. Would it not be just as wrong to ask a convict to help Jacqueline as to allow her to continue on her present course?
While Javert's thoughts swam in confusion, faces crossed and merged in his mind. Linette and Jacqueline turned into Fantine and Cosette, though when he tried to imagine Jacqueline as an adult, she looked more like the waifish Éponine. There was another face that he could never banish, no matter how he tried: the face of Laure. Javert had never found her more desirable than any other woman -- he had never been inflamed by passion for a woman -- but he had understood why Laure's smooth skin and flawless teeth were considered pretty. She had also been charming, uncomplaining, eager to please, which had made her popular among men who otherwise preferred women with larger breasts or more raucous laughs.
Yet when he pictured her, it was always as she had looked when she died, covered in bruises, her eyes bulging, her face nearly blue. Fantine must have looked equally ghastly when she had expired on that terrible night long ago, yet her death had not moved him to the horror that gripped him as he realized he had watched Laure take her last breath. He knew at that moment that it was his fault for not stopping it, for despite her screams, he had presumed that a counsellor of state would not mistreat a woman like Laure. By the time he had burst into the room, it was too late.
Whether her death had been her patron's intention or whether the brute had not expected her to die so suddenly from his abuse, there had never been any question in Javert's mind that the maître des requêtes had murdered Laure. But the high-level administrator had scoffed at her weakness and spat at the sobbing girls, warning them that he would have the establishment shut down and all of them arrested if they reported the death as anything but an accident. Madame Veuve had been willing to agree if it would keep any more trouble from her door. Javert's supervisor and all the men at the Préfecture had advised him to hold his tongue. He had found himself unable to do so; after the crime he had observed and the nightmares that followed, he could more easily have flung himself into the Seine. The laws of France offered more protection to the public from prostitutes than they offered to the desperate girls at establishments like the Siège d'Amour.
If Valjean could keep Jacqueline from such a place, if he could help her to grow up as Cosette had done, that was sufficient reason for Javert to seek him out even if it meant he must approach the barricade. Perhaps, if Javert could protect Valjean from the fighting, he could demand that Valjean extend his charity to Linette as well.
When he was near enough to see the soldiers converging on the barricade, Javert had no more thought to spare for the people he wished to protect, for it took all his cunning to slip unnoticed along the streets. His story was well known among the police, his face less so, but he did not dare to hope to be recognized now, for any who would have known Javert on sight would also have known that he could not be working as an inspector in plain clothes. There were guardsmen all around, snipers on the roofs. If they did not shoot him, he feared that the revolutionaries might, believing him to be a spy.
He could see the barricade, but he could not see a way to approach it without being seen by either the rebels or the soldiers. He angled himself through one alley, then another, but he did not know how he could approach those behind the barricade without being shot by one of them.
Then he saw something that made him forget, for the moment, both his own peril and the reason he had placed himself in the midst of it. A young woman wearing a young man's clothes lay on the ground near the barricade, her arms crossed over her chest as if someone had placed them that way. Even in the dim light, Javert could see the blood that covered her clothing. It was apparent that the girl was dead.
It was also apparent that the girl was Éponine.
He stumbled toward the body, heedless of the shouts and demands to know his name that came from the barricade. Strangely, no one stopped him as he dropped to his knees beside her. He had scarcely known her, she was much less his responsibility than Laure had been, yet he was sickened at the sight of her, bile rising in his throat at the knowledge that he had not been able to save this girl, either.
"Don't shoot," he heard a young man's voice call. There were other voices too, including a child's voice -- someone who knew Javert's name. Then there were loud whispers, mutterings about prostitutes and the police and a disgraced officer. Himself. Javert scarcely listened. Would Éponine still be alive if he had insisted on keeping Cosette's note? He would never know.
"It isn't safe here, Monsieur." A hand extended into Javert's line of vision. He glanced up to see a young man with soot on his face and powder on his shirt. "Come back here. Gavroche says that you're all right."
"Gavroche is a child. He didn't see the spy," called another young man, pointing into the tavern.
With the young man's assistance, Javert scrambled over the fringes of the barricade, though that name seemed far too grandiose for the collection of furniture and scraps -- even a carriage, turned over and piled with chairs and tables. "Who is Gavroche?" he asked of his benefactor. The sooty young man pointed to a child, a boy about Jacqueline's age. "I have seen you before, boy."
There was too much of the world in the boy's face, but his smile was genuine. "At the bawdy house. I bring notes when someone needs to see Brujon." If only Javert had known this boy while he was still an inspector, he might have learned what he needed to arrest the entire Patron-Minette gang, but it was likely that the boy would have slipped away from him as Éponine had if the boy had seen Javert in uniform. "I told them the police let you go, so you couldn't be a spy."
"Wouldn't that make me the perfect undercover officer?" Javert couldn't help asking. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw several other young men straighten, hefting their guns, but Gavroche gave him a tired shrug.
"You wouldn't care that she'd been shot as a traitor if you were working for them. You're all right. Not like that one there." His head jerked toward the tavern, and Javert recollected the talk of a spy. Could it be someone from the police force? They had been known to recruit gendarmes to work in disguise.
Someone else touched his sleeve. "Did you know her?" a young man asked. Javert nodded.
"She was my friend," the man went on and Javert looked up at him. It was the boy he had seen in the park, the one beloved of two reckless girls. If this Marius Pontmercy, this boy intent on throwing his life away, suspected that Éponine had wanted to be more than his friend, he gave no indication of it, though his grief seemed genuine enough. Javert wanted to shout at him and tell him that hers would not be the last death, that they were all in danger from the guards, that they were on a fool's mission against a lawful government and their rebellion would be crushed so completely that no one would remember their names.
"I wish she had not come here," said Javert, glancing around at the chaos behind the lines. All the faces he saw were young, barely old enough for beards, some looking determined, some scared. "She told me that she was bringing a note," he added, watching Marius eye him with more scrutiny. "Was it for you?"
Marius nodded, touching the folded sleeve of his coat where he'd tucked the note. "How do you know of this?" he asked. "It is a private matter."
"I have come from Mademoiselle Fauchelevent to find you, but I expected that her father would have been here first," Javert explained, keeping his voice low despite the sounds of the milling revolutionaries and the more ominous sounds of soldiers much too close beyond the barricade. "I am concerned for his life. Your friends say that you have found a spy among you?"
"They tell me that he was dressed as a guardsman, though I haven't seen him. Gavroche and I were --" Marius gestured in the direction of Éponine's body and Javert nodded understanding. "They have put the spy in the tavern. Enjolras tells me that he has been asking for me by name. Somehow my grandfather must have tracked my movements and learned that I intended to come here. But I will not let anyone summon me away from my friends, especially now that Éponine is gone and Cosette will leave forever."
Straightening, Javert placed a hand on Marius's shoulder, telling himself that he intended the gesture as a feint to earn the young man's trust, knowing in his heart that he shared Marius's grief for Éponine. "Whatever has passed between you, I am sure your grandfather would like to see you alive again."
Marius shot him a curious look. "You are no longer a police officer?" he confirmed.
"I was dismissed from my post for speaking up on behalf of a girl like your friend." Javert waited for Marius's nod before making his way over to the tavern, where he glanced through the half-open door. A man wearing the coat of the National Guard had been tied up in a corner with the rope around his neck fastened to the stair rail.
Some noise from above made the man look up. His eyes met Javert's. He was older than the last time Javert had seen him, with blood on his face and marks around his neck where the rope had been fastened, but there was no doubt of the identity of the man upon whom Javert gazed, and it made Javert's hands tremble.
This was the Man of Mercy. The beggar who gave alms to the poor.
Prisoner 24601, whose name was Jean Valjean.
The noise that had attracted the prisoner's attention was repeated. All at once Javert realized what it meant.
"The roof!" he shouted, grabbing a rifle from the nearest young man and pushing him under an awning while he aimed overhead at a sniper, drawing a bead on the sooty-faced man before deliberately shooting only near enough to him to make him fall back. With a precision belying their youth, the rebels followed Javert's example and shot near enough to two other snipers to make them retreat.
"I thank you, Monsieur." The young man who spoke, the same young man whom Javert had protected from the snipers, looked familiar. Javert had seen him in the park where Éponine had watched Marius. From his actions there and here, Javert took him to be the leader of the group.
He glanced around. Marius continued to scan the rooftops, unaware that his beloved Cosette's father was so near and in mortal peril. Another glance toward Valjean confirmed what Javert had spotted earlier, that the tavern had a back door which led to the alley and the street beyond. "Give me no thanks, Monsieur," he said, thinking quickly. "There is something you can do."
He received a nod from the leader, whom Javert guessed must be Enjolras, as Marius had mentioned. "If it is in my power."
"Gavroche has told you that I was once a policeman. I know that man in there. He is a criminal -- a convict who broke his parole." Pausing, Javert took a breath. "Give me the spy. Let me take care of him."
"A convict!" A murmur went through the group of men. Javert could see that many of them were disgusted. He could not permit himself to scoff at the irony of this group of schoolboy traitors judging the moral character of a thief. Instead he nodded his gratitude when Enjolras handed him his knife, gesturing to Gavroche to give Javert a gun.
"The man belongs to you," Enjolras told him. One of the young men shook his head, perhaps hoping to trade the spy for safety for one of their own, but the leader was decided, and Enjolras shut the door behind him as he stepped outside with Gavroche.
"We meet again," observed Valjean quietly as Javert sawed through the rope binding him to the railing. His expression suggested that he was more curious than frightened. "You took a risk, telling them what I was. Some of them may have known men imprisoned in 1830. They might have been sympathetic to a prisoner."
"You talk too much," Javert muttered, marching Valjean to the back door and into the alley. He did not allow himself to look at Valjean's face, which stirred too many memories of the man he had once been. As Valjean stared, Javert cut the ropes around his wrists. "Get out of here. Your daughter is waiting for you at the Rue de l'Homme Armé."
Once or twice before, Javert had seen Valjean afraid, always for someone other than himself, but he had never seen Valjean so uncertain. There was a strange quivering in Javert's chest, a feeling he did not recognize and did not have time to ponder. "I don't understand," whispered Valjean. "How did you find Cosette? When she gave me the note seeking the Man of Mercy, I thought I recognized your writing, but I could not guess why you would approach me in such a manner, if you had found my cover at last."
"I found Cosette because of that boy, Marius." Javert's head jerked toward the barricade. "He tells me that you plan to take her to England, and he would rather die here than live without her."
"That's why I came here." Valjean's face was very somber. "I took this uniform so that the guards would let me through, but the students -- " His expression grew hard. "Why are you here, if not to spy?"
"I came to look for you."
"You've hunted me across the years."
"You heard what those students said. I am no longer a policeman." Javert gestured impatiently, knowing that the others would be listening for a shot. "Are you what I have been told? A man who gives alms to beggars?" Giving Valjean a push toward the end of the alley, Javert whispered, "Clear out of here. I will do what I can for the boy. But I would ask you not to go to England."
"You want a deal?" demanded Valjean, astonished.
"You are the Man of Mercy. I have come seeking mercy, not for myself but for a suffering child, like Cosette once was. If I come out of this alive, I will find you."
Valjean looked as if he would say more, but Javert knew that they could risk no more words. At any moment the students might burst through the door and shoot them both. He aimed the gun at Valjean.
Though Valjean began to back away, he did not run. "I will pray for that boy, and for --" Only when Javert raised the barrel and fired a single shot into the side of a building did Valjean turn to flee.
Javert listened until the fleeing steps retreated before he rejoined the revolutionaries. "No doubt our paths will cross again," he muttered, ashamed at how much he hoped it was true. He hoped as well that Valjean would not encounter any of the National Guard; his uniform wouldn't save the man if he was caught. At least Javert had sense enough to realize the irony of hoping Valjean would elude capture. His hands were still shaking as he slid the gun into his belt.
Many of the young men's eyes slid away from his when he emerged from the alley, though Enjolras nodded in satisfaction, having more things to occupy his concern than the fate of one spy. Javert had no intention of fighting at the side of these schoolboy traitors, though he could see that many of them were misguided youths who had received no proper legal or moral education, like that fool Marius.
He looked around for the Pontmercy boy and found him seated on one of the surviving chairs, rereading the note Éponine had died carrying for him. As Javert approached, Marius tucked it back into his sleeve. "I have seen Mademoiselle Fauchelevent, as I told you," Javert said, crouching beside him. "I believe her father will not be removing their household to London, at least not at once."
"She told you this?" Marius demanded, fingers brushing the spot on his cuff where the note was tucked away.
Javert shook his head, knowing his face would never support such a bold lie. "She is not the one to decide. It will be her father. But I have reason to believe that he moved in haste due to a misunderstanding, and that he is willing to stay in Paris if he is certain that his daughter will not come to harm."
"I would not allow any harm to come to Cosette!" But Marius looked thoughtful, and Javert noticed that more than once his glance strayed toward Enjolras. "My place is here," he added, though there was much more reluctance in his voice than there had been a moment before.
"If you want a future with that girl, then you must listen to me," said Javert. "Your friends are on their own. The people of Paris have had enough of revolution; come dawn, when the National Guard attacks, they will sleep in their beds. Anyone who does not leave this barricade tonight will leave it as a corpse."
"We all knew the risks." Marius set his jaw and rose, beginning to move furniture to bolster the barricade. The others were passing around bottles of wine, singing about friendship and pretty girls. "We vowed that we would not abandon those who still live in fear. Others will rise to take our place."
"That is Enjolras talking. You know that he will die here. No one will remember him when he falls. If you manage to survive, if you escape execution, you will rot in prison for the rest of your life. There is very little time for you to decide."
"Marius," called Enjolras, looking at Javert as if he could not imagine what the two of them might be discussing. "Rest. The attack will come before morning."
Marius went off once again to read his note and Javert leaned back against a cracked table top, looking up at the sky. The stars were mostly hidden by the buildings all around and by the lingering smoke in the air from the earlier shooting. If the attack would come before morning, then he needed to be gone before morning, but how to persuade Marius to come with him? He knew that he had no hope of persuading any of the others, and that if he tried, they would assume he was an infiltrator in their midst, as they had done at once with Valjean.
Valjean. In this quiet moment, Javert allowed himself to consider the man he had spent so many years hunting. How strange yet somehow unsurprising that he should find the criminal now, when he could no longer arrest Valjean. Two years earlier, he would not have hesitated. Any pleas Valjean made for Cosette's welfare would have gone unheeded. Now, instead of being Valjean's captor, Javert needed the man's help to such an extent that he had been willing to risk his own safety to come to the barricade, to associate with these boys who would surely be shot as traitors, perhaps even to put his life in danger to try to keep this idiot Marius Pontmercy safe.
Even though, in the dark of night, Javert now could confess to himself why Jean Valjean had never left his thoughts after so much time -- he could still picture the man in Toulon, he remembered all too well the times he had ordered 24601 to perform some extraordinary feat of strength just so he could watch him do it, and again in Montreuil, the strength not quite hidden by the mayor's fine clothes, how that combination of power and authority had delighted Javert before he realized that 24601 and Monsieur Madeleine were one and the same -- it had been harder to explain to himself why Jacqueline had become such a fixture in his mind. Javert suspected that Laure's death had always reminded him of Fantine's, which he had arrived to witness, his thoughts in a turmoil of fury and humiliation, unable to understand why a worthless convict beyond redemption had gone to Arras to reveal himself so that a man Valjean had never met might be released.
Javert knew that Valjean blamed him for Fantine's demise, though she had been ill before he had ever spoken to her. The judgment and the woman had meant nothing to him until he had witnessed the horror of Laure's end, something that could have happened to Fantine, that could still happen to Linette. Perhaps Jacqueline had always made Javert think of Cosette, the girl Valjean had been so determined to rescue, though Javert had never seen her before that very evening.
He shifted uncomfortably. He did not dare to fall asleep, though he could see that Marius was dozing. He would need his strength to creep away.
There was not yet light in the sky when the students discovered that the rain which had fallen earlier had damaged the gunpowder. None of them could keep Gavroche from crawling into danger; none of them could help him when shots rang out. Javert forced himself to look at the body of the child after a sobbing Courfeyrac raced into danger to retrieve Gavroche. He carried the boy to where the students had placed Éponine, hoping that when it was all over, they would lay the boy in the ground beside her.
Then there was no time. The National Guard had its cannons in place, the students were on the barricade, Marius among them. There were shots, there was smoke, bodies fell backward. Javert did not drag away the dead or reload for the living; he was focused on Marius. The young man had wounds in his arm and a gash on his head, but he would have returned to the barricade with a weapon had Javert not grabbed his arm and dragged him away as Enjolras and several others retreated into the tavern.
"I can't abandon my friends!" shouted Marius over the boom of the cannons, clutching his wounded arm.
"I am not leaving you to die here." Javert pulled the gun from his waistband. "Move."
Marius stared at Javert in amazement. "You will kill me to save my life? You're insane. You're not going to shoot me."
"Why not? If I don't, those soldiers will." Javert prodded him in the chest with the muzzle, urging him toward the back of the alley as the barricade began to collapse. "I thought you wanted to see Cosette again. To share a life with her."
"I do! But --" Again Marius looked around wildly. "My friends --"
"They're already dead. If you go back, you will be too." The barricade was down, there were guards coming around what was left. Javert glanced around but saw only one way out. He tugged at the grate covering the entrance to the sewer. "Help me open this."
"There is no time." Javert tugged, grunting. "I can't open it myself. Nor can I carry you to safety if they shoot you again." Marius had moved automatically, clawing at the grate with the arm that wasn't wounded. Javert had to set down the gun to pull with him, but Marius did not try to flee. Slowly the metal swung to the side, and as soldiers poured into the street, Javert gave Marius a shove. "Now go!"
There was scarcely enough room for one man in the drainpipe, let alone two. The stench rising from below might have made Javert ill if he had eaten anything during the past many hours, but there was nothing in his stomach to throw up. He had given his handkerchief to Marius, but the blood from the head wound had soaked through it and Javert did not know how quickly the arm would begin to fester if the bullet remained inside the wound, especially in this fetid place where their clothes quickly grew damp.
"We must go down," he whispered, watching the soldiers outside looking into the tavern. There was another burst of gunfire, which told Javert that if he had been wrong before about all of Marius's associates being dead already, it was now true. "They will search everywhere, and if they find us they will shoot us."
"Down? Into the sewer? That's as mad as threatening to shoot me to save me!"
"You are still alive." Already the soldiers were beginning to move the bodies, pulling them into the tavern. "And we only have minutes before they discover us."
"They won't look here. Only a madman like you would think to hide in a sewer drain..." Helplessly Marius began to cough, and Javert saw heads swivel, trying to identify the source of the sound.
The pipe was not as slippery as the roof of the Palais de Justice in the rain, but it was slippery enough to prevent Marius from finding a grip when Javert pushed him firmly to the wide drain that led to the sewer below. "Take a deep breath. Brace yourself." He watched Marius's eyes widen as he slid through the pipe and down, out of Javert's vision. Then he followed his own advice and fell down, landing heavily in the filth below.
He did not, at first, see Marius. But there was someone else in the sewer, nearly waist-deep in muck, tugging at the clothing of a floating body. Thénardier.
"You!" they shouted in recognition at very nearly the same moment. For an instant Javert wanted to attack the man. Did he even realize that his daughter was dead at the barricade?
Then he spotted Marius, who looked dazed, nearly unconscious, though whether from his wounds or the hideous miasma of the sewer, Javert could not at once guess. He yanked the boy to his feet. "Wake up! You must walk. I can't carry you." Marius leaned heavily against him as he turned back to the vile man robbing the bodies of the dead. "Which way?"
There was something in Thénardier's expression as ugly as there had been in the face of the man who had killed Laure. "I know you," he snarled. "The former policeman. The queer who works in the whorehouse. We haven't forgotten the trouble you made for us..."
"Shut up." Marius's voice was hoarse but he managed to hold himself steady. "Which way?" he repeated.
Thénardier pointed, and Javert helped him turn in the right direction.
Javert had always been told that Hell was hot, a pit of fire, yet he could imagine no Hell more potent than the one that held him now. Bodies floated past in the cold, putrid water whose fumes nearly stopped him from breathing. Marius stumbled beside him, still losing blood, with wounds that were sure to fester now that they had been exposed to such filth. Thénardier had pointed them in the wrong direction. They had to retrace their steps to find an exit.
He watched Marius's eyes roll back and quickly grabbed with his free hand to keep the boy upright. "Stay awake! You must bear your own weight." The thought crossed his mind that Jean Valjean could have carried the young man easily, but it helped nothing. Javert could not have hoped to keep Valjean alive and escape with him as well as Marius.
"Thénardier stole my ring," muttered Marius.
"Perhaps that will make it easier to prove that he was robbing corpses when he tries to sell it." Javert lurched forward with him. "You did not come by such a ring as an impoverished student."
"My father was a baron. Colonel Georges Pontmercy. But he is dead, and I have renounced my grandfather and his money."
"Who is he?" When Marius hesitated, Javert goaded, "If I cannot bring you from this place, I must know to whom to report your death."
"All my friends are dead already." Doubling over, Marius coughed, clutching at Javert's arm to keep from falling into the muck. "Why are you doing this?" he groaned. "Was what Thénardier said true? What is Cosette's father to you?"
"You need know only that I promised him to save your life, if I could." They had come to another junction in the sewer. Javert could find no current. Closing his eyes, he strained to hear running water, the sound of the river. He made a decision. "There's a young girl who has lived a miserable life -- the sort your friends at the barricade believe no child deserves. You could save her. You could save many others with the money of this grandfather you have renounced."
Marius peered at him suspiciously, or perhaps it only appeared so to Javert because the young man's eyes could only open halfway. "I heard what Thénardier called you. I have known men who would have drawn swords over such an insult."
Though the dirty water that surrounded them was cold, Javert suspected that Marius was becoming feverish. He knew that it was vital to keep Marius awake, to keep him talking. "It's true that I work in a brothel. I protect the women of the Siège d'Amour," he snapped. "The rest is meaningless, since Thénardier surely believes that any virtuous man who is not a priest must not like women."
The words at least had been effective in holding the young man's attention. "Are you indeed a virtuous man? The child you wish to help is not your enfant naturel?"
"I have known men who would have drawn swords over such an insult," snapped Javert, though he knew that Marius scarcely knew what he said or he would not have asked so directly.
"I beg your pardon, sir. I meant no offense." Marius shook with a cough. Even with Javert's help, he could scarcely remain upright. "You are no revolutionary. What is the fate of one poor girl to you?"
"It is penance," grated Javert. "For a woman I could not save." The truth rose unbidden in his thoughts: And for a woman I did not wish to save, whose daughter is the girl you love, whom I would have left to suffer. There was a rushing in his head. No -- it was the rushing of the river. At last they had found the right tunnel. "Listen," he said. "Do you hear that? We are nearly there. You must keep walking." Sighing a bit, he added, "If it will keep you awake, tell me of Cosette."
"She is the loveliest girl I have ever seen." Javert rolled his eyes, but since Marius was draped halfway across his back, he could not see. "My grandfather is Monsieur Gillenormand. He lives in the Marais, Rue des Fille-du-Calvaire, Number 6. The last time I tried to reconcile with him, to tell him that I had met the girl I wished to marry, he told me to make her my mistress instead. If only he could understand that she is an angel..."
When at last they emerged beneath the stars, when Javert looked up half-believing that some angel must have guided their path, he found himself staring once again into the face of Jean Valjean.
"Take my hand," Valjean ordered. Javert shook his head and pushed Marius toward the grate.
"Help the boy first," he said, raising his voice above the sounds of the water rushing out into the Seine. "He is wounded."
Valjean's face changed immediately and he crouched, pulling Marius up with all the strength that Javert remembered from Toulon. What would have been a treacherous, unbalanced struggle for Javert was the work of mere moments for Valjean. The sky overhead was blotted out as Valjean lifted Marius. Javert waited, feeling the thudding of his heart, wondering if Valjean would yet flee after finding a way to trap him here.
Then there was a scrape overhead, louder even than the water, and Javert had the brief hopeless image of himself marooned down here, trapped with the likes of Thénardier, robbing the corpses of Paris.
"We haven't much time," came the urgent whisper overhead. Valjean's face appeared again. "What of you, are you wounded as well?" Javert shook his head and took the hand that thrust down to him. "Let me help you."
Javert had no notion of how much toll the muck and water had taken on his strength. When he breathed clean air again at last, he stumbled against the man who held him, gasping, unable to let go.
"I have a carriage," Valjean said. "We must take the boy to his family." Their eyes met and Valjean's reflected concern and confidence, but not pity.
Again Javert nodded and allowed Valjean to assist him to the carriage. "His grandfather lives in the Marais, the Rue des Fille-du-Calvaire. But they are estranged."
"We shall see if that can be remedied. He will receive better care at such an address than I could provide." Javert could have sworn that the man's face turned wry with humor. "More money and fewer petticoats."
Valjean gave the address to the coachman and as soon as they were inside, they took off. Marius was laid upon the back seat, and Javert seated himself on the front seat beside Valjean, who offered him a handkerchief to wipe his face and hands. There wasn't much reason to wipe off much else, since he was coated from the inside of his boots to the roots of his hair with sewer filth.
" How did you know where to look for me -- for us?"
Taking the soiled cloth from Javert, Valjean handed him another. He did not hesitate to touch the filthy rags, nor did he flinch from being so close to them both, and this time there was definitely humor upon the man's features. "In the sewer? My good Inspector, it is exactly where I would have gone. There could be no escape on the streets." His face turned grave. "There are soldiers everywhere looking for anyone who might have fled the barricade." Javert shook his head in a solemn denial of any survivors. "As I feared, then."
He leaned over to look more closely at Marius. Every jolt over the pavement caused a drop of blood to trickle from Marius' hair. The boy no longer seemed conscious. Though there was much that Javert wished to discuss with Valjean, he could barely keep his eyes open as well. They were silent until the carriage shifted into a rocky drive that meant they were drawing near to the house. Valjean raised the iron knocker, giving a peal before he tried the gate. A porter appeared, then an old woman who roused other servants. Soon lights blazed in the house and Marius was borne away while Javert heard barked instructions for a rider to summon the doctor.
All the while he himself stayed inside the carriage, simply listening to the sounds around him. Over and over, he heard Valjean giving commands, explanations, waving away further assistance as he climbed back into the carriage.
"The Man of Mercy," Javert said, leaning heavily now upon the side cushion of the carriage. "It's true, then, what is said about you."
"That is far too grand a title for a man who can only offer a coin here or a loaf of bread there." Valjean offered him a tired smile. "I will help the child you spoke of if I can. Where is she?"
"She lives where I do. At a brothel." Javert watched Valjean's eyes widen in surprise. "I was there one night on police business. I witnessed a crime. Then I learned how deeply corruption may run in those with power."
"Have you also learned that those who have nothing may be no worse than those born more fortunate?" asked Valjean sharply before pausing to rub between his eyes. "Forgive me. It has been a long day. Where may I direct the driver?"
Javert gave him the address. "But don't you wish to return home to tell your daughter that you and Monsieur Pontmercy have survived?"
"I will send a message. I fear that if I returned in this state, I would only frighten her." Smiling, the onetime convict leaned up to tell the driver their destination. "We did survive, thanks to you," added Valjean.
The Siège D'Amour was still shuttered when their carriage clattered up to the entrance. Javert was certain Madame was keeping an eye on the door and bade Valjean to wait until he could secure them entrance, allowing Valjean to ask the driver to deliver a message to Cosette that no one had yet died from the night's endeavors.
"Go away," Madame Veuve shrieked from the crack in the door. "You have left my girls and myself to suffer the hands of looters and thieves!"
Sewer muck squished between every one of Javert's toes despite his stockings and boots. Something had dripped behind the collar of his jacket and there was probably no way the stains in his trousers would ever come out. "Has anyone been robbed, Madame?" he inquired, aware that Valjean was alighting from the carriage and listening with undisguised curiosity.
"They have not, but you were not here to make sure we were safe!" she said, widening the crack in the door by a fraction.
"Is everyone safe?" asked Javert.
"I have not opened this door to a living soul." The door was open enough so that he could see her arms folded over her chest.
"Has anyone demanded admission?" asked Valjean, coming to stand beside him.
Madame's gaze shifted to Valjean and her face showed a mixture of the contempt she had for loutish men and the interest she took in all men who might have a fat purse. "Only the pair of you, " she sniffed. Then her face took on a horrified expression. "What is that smell?" she demanded, nearly slamming the door in their faces.
Valjean's arm shot out and held it open. They were both weary, both reeking of the sewer -- though admittedly Javert's condition was worse -- and both had words that needed to be spoken. "Please, Madame, I need to get out of these clothes and my... " He glanced at Valjean, "...my companion needs to clean himself as well. "
"Through the kitchens then," she said, and Valjean released his hold and the door slammed in their faces. "You will scare our customers away if you come any closer!"
"Yet you have already told me that there are no customers tonight." Nevertheless they slunk round the back together, Javet leaving a wet trail, Valjean spotted but still looking around with avid curiosity. "Have you never been to a brothel? " Javert asked as the kitchen maid let them in with a cloth over her nose.
Behind him Valjean laughed, a hearty sound in the close, hot kitchen. "I have been in Paris for many years, and have seen the inside of a convent, but never once a brothel."
Despite the smell, there were girls crowding in the hallway, giggling and waving hands in front of their faces. One of the kitchen maids crushed lavender into a kettle and set it over the fire. Since Valjean was the less smelly of the pair of them, hands reached for his coat and waistcoat, passing him warmed towels to wipe up the stains. There was an abundance of soft white bosom on display as well, for the girls positioned themselves as they'd been taught to show themselves off to a potential customer. Even Linette sought to catch his eye, sidling against him, reaching for the buttons of his waistcoat.
Javert watched warily as Valjean waved away each woman's assistance, reaching for Javert's waistcoat instead. "You need to get out of these wet things." He actually got several of the buttons undone before Javert tried to bat his hand away.
"I can do it," he insisted, suddenly aware of the whispers among the women. He heard his name repeated but he was too tired to make sense of the sounds.
"Of course you can," Valjean agreed, finishing with the stubborn wet buttons.
"Inspector!" The shriek was loud and shrill, too high to be any of the women. Though Javert's head felt heavy, he managed to look up just as Jacqueline, heedless of the mess and the smell, flung herself against him. "Madame said that you were never coming back and she would not let you in if you did!"
"Madame was angry with me," Javert pointed out, feeling his cheeks grow warm as the child clung to him, sobbing. "See, I am here now." He glanced up to see Linette wiping her eyes and Valjean staring at them both. In the hope of distracting Jacqueline from continuing to cry and cling to him, he added, "Jacqueline, this is --" Then he hesitated, fearing that if the name of Fauchelevent were recorded in the brothel's records, it would make trouble if someone named Fauchelevent then tried to become the patron of the child of one of the women. "-- Monsieur Madeleine," he finished.
"I am not supposed to speak to customers," said Jacqueline, sniffling and wiping her nose with her hand. Her dress was soiled from its contact with Javert's trousers.
"Monsieur Madeleine is not a customer," Javert told her more sharply than he intended, making her lip tremble again. Linette handed him a towel, reaching out to take his filthy waistcoat and pass it to one of the maids. "As you can see, I fell in the sewer drain, and he helped me out."
"That was silly, to fall in a sewer drain," declared Jacqueline, wrinkling her nose, though she refused to let go of Javert.
Javert started to protest that it had not been his fault when he heard Valjean burst into helpless laughter, the sort that went on too long and was very difficult to stop. In all the time he had known Valjean, Javert had never heard him laugh so. A smile tugged at the corners of his own mouth. "You are right, ma petite. But now you must go change your dress -- you smell like me."
Glancing down at herself, Jacqueline let out a small gasp of surprise. "This is his fault, not mine!" she called to her mother as she began to back out of the kitchen. Then she paused. "You are not leaving again?"
"I am not leaving," agreed Javert. The room seemed to be tilting slowly. He placed a hand upon the wall, but it helped very little.
Someone caught his elbow and he turned his head to see Valjean's face very close. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Javert said crossly. He gestured in the direction of his room. "I am tired. I cannot remove my trousers with all these women present." That brought laughter from everyone, even the maids, as Javert realized how silly it must seem of him to be modest in a brothel. The girls began to slink out of the room after Jacqueline.
"I am very glad you are returned to us, Inspector." Linette blew Javert a kiss, which made Valjean's eyebrows rise and Javert's cheeks redden.
Pushing himself away from the wall, he headed toward his room. "I will leave the rest of my things outside my door." He glanced at Valjean. "My shirts will not fit you."
"I can make do." Valjean followed him away from the snickering women. Javert gestured to the door at the end of the hall, the smallest of all the rooms in the house, but by law he could not sleep where the women did without being examined for disease regularly as they were. It had seemed a haven when Madame Veuve had offered it to him, but no one had ever entered it who did not live in the brothel and he was dimly aware that it was not a fit place for guests. There wasn't even a chair. He wanted to fall into bed and he wanted Valjean to leave. But when he tried to say something of the sort, the words turned into a yawn and he sagged against something unyielding.
That something was a shoulder. "Just a few more moments," Valjean said, guiding him down on the bed and lifting first one leg then the other, sliding his shoes off.
Javert could no longer smell himself. "Madame will give you one of the other rooms," he managed to say, already sinking back into the bed. His eyes had been closed since he had seen Valjean kneeling by the side of his bed. He didn't want to think anymore, didn't want to smell himself any more, didn't want to know why Valjean was still here.
"I am going to finish cleaning you before you become ill," Valjean said. The words were soft, beguiling. Javert's head was too heavy to lift. "You can rest." He thought he felt the soft touch of a cloth on his bare feet, but sleep stole over him and he was lost to dreams.
It was light outside when his eyes opened again. Javert gave a start, then immediately felt something so unfamiliar that his eyes flew open. He no longer sprang awake from the feel of Jacqueline's small body tucked against his, but it did not take much thought to know that the much larger presence beside him must be Valjean.
Without meaning to, he groaned softly, draping one hand over his face. He inhaled, instantly realizing that the smell of the sewers had been cleaned off his hands. Indeed, the room smelled of lavender. He was trying to decide how best to move out of the small bed without waking Valjean when he realized there was no further need to worry about that.
"Your color is better," Valjean said, rolling over so that he was facing Javert. "One of the maids was very eager to boil our clothes and bring up water so I could wash you."
"What are you doing in my bed?" demanded Javert, still on his back. "We are in a house full of women who would willingly share one with you."
Valjean laughed, not the booming laugh from last night in the kitchens but enough to shake the bed a bit. "I have no interest in sharing a woman's bed, Inspector, nor have I ever. I supposed you would be least likely to do something of which I would not approve as I slept." He chuckled again. "And I couldn't go roaming the halls of your home in your nightshirt."
One glance downward persuaded Javert to tug the blanket up. "My nightshirt does not fit you," he proclaimed, seeing quite a lot of Valjean's legs and muscles that bulged against the thin material. "And this house belongs to Madame, not myself."
"But you keep it safe. You keep the girls safe." Valjean's tone was gentle. "You have kept Jacqueline safe."
Javert peered out from beneath his tent of covers. "She is the one I told you about," he admitted. "She cannot stay here. No child older than four years of age is permitted to live in such an establishment. She has already been here longer than the law will allow, and there are eyes upon her that do not mean her well."
Valjean crooked his arm and propped his head up upon his upraised hand. "Longer than the law will allow? You don't believe her mother should be in prison for breaking that law, and all who know of her presence here?"
Javert was not fool enough to think Valjean meant that Madame Veuve should be imprisoned for allowing Linette to keep a young child in the brothel, but he understood that he was being asked to explain himself. "It would benefit no part of society to imprison anyone who knows of Jacqueline's presence here. I judged you harshly those years ago, as I judged the woman --"
"Fantine," supplied Valjean.
Javert met his eyes for the first time since he'd awoken. "I have never forgotten her name. Nor the name of her child."
Valjean's smile was kind. "I can help Jacqueline," he said, dropping his head back onto the pillow. "I know a convent that has made respectable more than one daughter of a 'fallen woman'..."
Javert looked at him, full of emotions he did not know how to express, when the door was flung open and a blur of color streaked in through the door.
"Are you awake yet?" Jacqueline demanded, throwing herself onto the bed somewhere in the vicinity of Valjean's midsection. She must have landed on an uncomfortable part of Valjean's body, for he grunted in a way that Javert, indeed any man, could not help but recognize. "Mama told me I could not stay the night with you and your --" She waggled a bit until she wedged herself between them, pillowed by the blankets. Her face scrunched up. "Your cher ami."
Javert's mouth dropped open in outrage while Valjean, still grunting a bit, let out a sound that was unmistakably amused. "Monsieur Madeleine is not my cher ami."
Once again Valjean came to his aid. "Inspector Javert is my friend as he is your friend, a very good friend to us both." Beneath the blanket Valjean nudged one foot against his, shaking with mirth.
"Madame says it is a shame that such a handsome man is a pédé."
"You should not repeat words like that." Valjean sounded quite stern, and in spite of everything, Javert nearly laughed to hear him say the very thing Javert often said to Jacqueline. "It is not a nice thing for a young lady to say, and it is not true besides."
The door which had not shut completely behind her widened a bit more. "Jacqueline," Linette hissed, "I told you not to interrupt the good Inspector and his cher ami."
"This man is not my lover!" Javert burst out. All three people in the room looked at him.
Looking chastened, Jacqueline slid off the bed. "But he is in your bed," she said, her lip trembling as her mother hissed at her to come away.
"Go with your Mama, ma petite," Javert told her. "I am not angry. But I need to speak with Val-- with Monsieur Madeleine." The momentary slip, the hint that Javert called Valjean by some nickname in private, made both Jacqueline and Linette smirk in triumph.
"Might I ask a favor?" Valjean asked Jacqueline, who nodded. "A woman in the kitchen told me that she would put our clothing near the fire to dry. Since I dare not walk there in such a state as this, I was hoping that you would bring them and leave them outside the door for me."
When the girl and her mother at last were gone, Javert turned back to Valjean, only to find him frowning. "Cosette will want me to return to bring her to see Marius. She cannot visit him unchaperoned."
"The demands of young ladies are astonishing to me." Javert rubbed a hand over his face, too grateful that both were clean to object any further to having found Valjean in his bed. Something had come clear in his mind when Linette came to retrieve the girl. "Valjean, I don't wish to seem ungrateful, but I have concerns about sending Jacqueline to a convent school. She is very young and quite attached to her mother, as her mother is to her."
He expected Valjean to protest that the convent would offer Jacqueline a better life than Linette could give her, as Javert had once intended to convince Linette herself, but Valjean only nodded. "When Cosette was studying with the sisters, I could bear the separation because I knew that I would see her often. But I don't imagine that it could be the same for Jacqueline if she was in a convent school while her mother remained here." He frowned, looking at Javert. "I don't know what has happened to change you from the man I feared ever to see again. Do you care enough for the girl to lie about her origins?"
Javert's face grew livid. "I will not pretend to be her father," he said. "It was different for you. The child's mother was no longer living."
"Not her father." Valjean's smile was enigmatic. "But I cannot present Linette and her daughter to Cosette and Marius, and Marius's grandfather, as relatives of mine. I could claim that they were family of yours -- a man who once saved my life."
"If you believe that it would help Jacqueline to pretend that I am her long-lost uncle, I have no objection. But I do not see..." Javert paused, for Valjean's eyes had gone wide and he was shaking his head. "What is it?"
"I am only marveling at the change in you. The Bishop of Digne told me that love could move the heart of any man, but I had never truly believed that that might be true for you." Suddenly Valjean looked very somber. "I should have tried harder to be a friend to you in Montreuil."
Javert started to object that his actions had nothing to do with love, that his views on justice had been changed as a result of the horrifying behavior of the maître des requêtes and a system of laws that had protected the powerful man instead of other potential victims, but he closed his mouth. During the first days after he had been dismissed, when he had walked along the river thinking that he might just as well jump in as end his days guarding sluts in a whorehouse, Jacqueline had been the one bright spot. Absurdly, she had liked him, though even the cats avoided him and the women gazed at him as much with fear and suspicion as gratitude that he had defended one of their own. Without the girl, he did not know where he would be now.
"I should go. Cosette will be worried about me -- I did not dare give her an address and risk letting her discover that I was visiting a brothel." Valjean's smile was a reprieve from darker thoughts. "Would you like to come with me? I could introduce the two of you properly."
Not without some reluctance, Javert shook his head. "I must stay here. I was gone much too long last night."
"I will come back tomorrow, then." Valjean reached over and patted him on the hand. Because it seemed to be expected, Javert turned his fingers and returned the pressure. There was a moment when the clasp could have meant anything -- gratitude, solidarity, farewell -- then a moment when either one of them could have detached and made it mean nothing at all, an act performed thoughtlessly and forgotten. It wasn't as if Valjean had not touched him the night before, when Javert had been unfit to be seen or smelled by another human.
But neither man moved, and in the next moment, the touch turned to fire. Javert could see from the way Valjean's lips parted that he felt it too, the sudden explosion of heat between them, the burning that spread from where their hands pressed together until they were both flushed, looking everywhere but at each other.
Valjean still did not lift his hand, and Javert made very certain not to move his own lest he should dislodge it. His chest felt tight, as did the region below his belly. He was extremely grateful that the blanket still covered him, for his body was behaving disgracefully, as if he were a boy too young to control his impulses. He wished that it would stop -- no, he wished that it would never stop --
"Well," Valjean said finally, his voice, at least, as near to cracking as Javert felt. "We will have much to discuss tomorrow." Slowly their fingers slid apart, though Valjean seemed as reluctant as Javert to break this strange new connection. He rose, and though Javert knew that politeness demanded that he get up as well, he did not dare let the covers fall away. Opening the door a crack, Valjean reached out and pulled their clothes inside. "Your maids have done a fine job with these. I had not guessed that your trousers could be saved."
"They must have used all the lavender in Paris." Javert rubbed at his flushed face. "I should buy them perfume. Usually only the girls upstairs have such luxuries. But I doubt I can afford it."
"Please. Let me. They cleaned my clothes as well." Valjean reached beneath Javert's pillow and pulled out a small, tightly knotted sack. "I had no other place to put it," he said apologetically, digging inside and pulling out several louis.
Once again, Javert felt his cheeks redden. "Don't be ridiculous. Your clothes were only dirty because of me."
"And yours were dirty because you saved the boy whom Cosette --" Hesitating, Valjean shook his head, turning his back to pull the shirt in which he had slept over his head. The scars upon his back were unmistakable, and Javert averted his eyes. His own arousal had withered. "I can't properly explain how difficult it is to say 'whom Cosette loves' about anyone but her dear papa. All these years, I had imagined that we would share a home and she would care for me when I grew old. But everything has changed." He pulled out a few more coins and pushed them toward Javert. "For Madame, for her trouble."
Javert suspected that the money was really to silence Madame's anger about Javert's absence and his condition upon his return. "That is not necessary. Surely I am allowed to have a guest who helped me when I was indisposed. You would not wish for Madame to record in her books that you spent the night here."
"Perhaps I should give Madame more money to overlook that fact." Chuckling, Valjean sat to pull his trousers on as Javert slid off the bed to retrieve his own clothing. Valjean's face grew serious. "How much is Linette worth to her? If she blames you for the loss of a valuable boarder, will it make trouble for you?"
"She will find a new boarder soon enough." Though he disliked doing so, Javert accepted the coins without any further protest. He would indeed need to spend a great deal of time convincing Madame Veuve of his continuing value to her establishment.
His farewell to Valjean was swift and brusque, but perhaps that was a relief to Valjean, for whenever their eyes met, Javert felt echoes of the dangerous fire that had briefly overwhelmed him. Of course he knew where it came from, but he did not know what it meant. Valjean was still the man that he had hunted, the convict who had broken parole. No matter what Madame Veuve believed, he was not a pédé. He would have to conquer this.
Valjean could not be permitted to know how near Javert had come to clenching his fingers around Valjean's strong arm and pulling him close. Not even to himself could Javert confess that he had wanted to kiss Valjean.
A letter arrived the next morning apologizing for a delay in meeting and inviting Javert to lunch the following day. After presenting Madame with Valjean's bribe, she had grumbled less about her perceived dereliction of his duty. Customers arrived in a rush that evening, full of improbable stories of their heroism during the unrest. Where a few days earlier, the sympathies of the people of Paris had been with the rebels, they now denounced the violence.
Javert found himself studying several of the men who passed through the doors, trying to imagine that surge of heat flaring between himself and any one of them. It was impossible. It must have been his body's response to the night's dangers and exhaustion. He scrawled off an affirmative response to Valjean and focused on his evening's duties.
He heard the kitchen maids giggling and before he could inquire smelled rosewater. The remains of a package sat on the counter. Valjean had made good on his promise to send them perfume. How Javert would keep his head from aching from the mingled odors of the lavender that saturated his clothing and the cloying mist of roses splashed around the kitchen, he had no idea.
Both his shirt and his trousers smelled still of lavender as he dressed the next day for his appointment. Now that he knew the police were not in pursuit, Valjean had returned with Cosette to their larger rooms in the Rue Plumet, which was where Javert had been asked to meet them. At least he had no more disturbing sensations when he thought of seeing Valjean again.
"Come in, Inspector," Valjean said, rising when the housekeeper showed him into the drawing room. "Thank you for coming." The smile was genuine and welcoming. He patted his waistcoat pocket and withdrew a folded note. "Cosette instructed me to give you this and she will never forgive me if I forget. She wished to be here to welcome you herself."
"She is not here?" Javert asked, taking the note with his name printed on it, careful not to brush Valjean's fingers.
"Even the savior of her beloved Marius is no match for the invalid himself, I'm afraid," explained Valjean, looking apologetic. "Marius's grandfather has arranged for a maiden aunt to chaperone, though it seems the young man is still quite ill from the festering wound." He gestured to one of the chairs flanking the simple table. "So you see, I can devote my attention to your delightful young friend and her future prospects." Then his expression changed. "May I discuss something with you before we share this meal?"
Without realizing it, Javert understood that he had been dreading this. Surely Valjean had noticed the shame his body had perpetuated and he wanted to make it clear that such actions -- thoughts, even -- were unwelcome.
"Of course," Javert said. He glanced at the table, wondering if he would be able to eat once the words were spoken.
Valjean sank into one of the chairs and Javert followed. "I have heard that you left your position with the police," Valjean began, with the air of one probing a sore tooth. Javert nodded. "Yet I am certain you still see members of your old profession."
Javert gave a grunt of agreement. "I see them regularly in my new line of work, for they frequent the brothel. What of it?"
Pressing his lips together, Valjean studied him before saying, "I do not wish to make plans for the future if I am to be returned to prison."
"Why would I do such a foolish thing?" demanded Javert. He was bewildered why Valjean was not mentioning the shameful moment between them, for he was sure they had both sensed it. "I would not have sought out your help for Jacqueline if I intended to turn you in." There was still a question on Valjean's face, so he added, "I did not leave the police. I was dismissed. Turning in an escaped convict who has committed no recent crime and has long been presumed dead would not restore my honor sufficiently to regain my position. Nor would it aid the people we have both promised to help."
Valjean still looked curious, but he nodded, then rose to summon the maid. "I'm afraid we aren't accustomed to having guests. It has been only myself and Cosette for so long that you must forgive me any lapses." Returning to his seat, he spoke carefully. "The police must be overworked indeed to have found fault with the honor of a man such as yourself."
Sooner or later, Valjean would hear the story, from Linette and Jacqueline if not from Javert, and he preferred not to have it embellished. With a scowl, he said, "Since I have asked for your help, I will explain myself." He could see that Valjean was about to protest that it was not necessary and held up a hand to silence him. "As a man in hiding, you must be aware that there are agents of the law in Paris who disguise their identity to hunt criminals. I was such an officer. The criminal element quite often visits the brothels and it is not unusual for the comforts there to loosen their tongues. My superior sent me to the Siège d'Amour to seek evidence of activity by certain street gangs whose members were known to visit that establishment."
Valjean nodded ruefully. "I would guess that certain officers might welcome an assignment to investigate such an establishment."
"In fact, the founder of the Sûreté Nationale is alleged to have married a prostitute. But my superiors wanted more than crime reports from me. They hoped to learn from me whether other agents were taking advantage of the assignment. It was a difficult situation, since I was required to look as if I belonged there. At first I remained in the viewing room, but I needed to eavesdrop in the rooms upstairs. I pretended to be uninterested in bedroom matters, yet lonely and need of conversation. In that way I was able to learn about the women's lives and those of the men who visited them."
"Ah." Valjean's face cleared as the housekeeper brought in plates. He rose to help her with them, saying to Javert, "I believe I understand. That must have put you in a difficult position with your fellow officers."
"It was irrelevant," said Javert irritably. "The Préfecture was not interested in how the agents earned the trust of the women, nor in violations that would concern the Bureau Sanitaire such as the presence of a child. They wanted reports on which members of street gangs used the brothels as a pretext to plan crimes and whether any of the policemen were taking bribes. The women came to trust me because they knew I would make no demands except to learn whether they knew of any criminal activity, so they pointed out the more dangerous of their guests. One evening I witnessed a violent crime committed by a man of very high status, and when I tried to report the crime, I was instructed by my superiors to deny the report. I could not allow that, so I protested."
Why was he telling Valjean this? The man already held justice and the law in contempt. Yet Valjean's expression appeared troubled, not satisfied by Javert's disgrace. "Do you regret that you did not do as you were asked?"
"To lie to protect the murderer of a helpless woman?" From the haste with which Valjean set down his teacup, Javert knew that he had spoken too angrily and too much. "I followed the only course of action my conscience would permit. I challenged those to whom I owed allegiance, and so I was dismissed."
"I'm sorry." When Valjean spread his hands, Javert could see that his wrists were thick with scars beneath the shirt. "I have always known you to be a man of justice. It was hard for me to understand what could have put you at odds with any representative of the law." He smiled a bit. "Please, have some lunch and we shall talk about Jacqueline and her mother."
Yet they did not. Instead Javert found himself speaking of Laure. He had described her murder only in the most dispassionate terms to other policemen, who had not wanted to listen, and he had never spoken about the woman herself to anyone, not even to the others at the Siège d'Amour who had known her and in some cases considered her a friend. He said far more than he intended, both about Laure and about himself, for he explained that they both had had mothers who told fortunes and both loved the stars yet were skeptical of Heaven. He described the dreams that had haunted him since Laure's death, how the face of Fantine often appeared in them. Valjean listened mostly in silence, his mouth twisting in sympathy though his eyes were often wide with surprise.
"You are thinking that I must have been in love with her, a girl half my age," Javert accused.
"I am thinking no such thing." The napkin that Valjean used to cover his face was not raised quickly enough to hide a small smile. "Not when every woman at that establishment seemed so certain that I must be your cher ami."
"An outrageous accusation. For all these years, I have been as celibate as a monk," muttered Javert, his cheeks coloring as he recalled the feeling that Valjean's touch had stirred.
"So have I. Though I have been mistaken for more hateful things than the word the child used." Valjean lowered the napkin, exposing his face to Javert's scrutiny. This time they did not need to be touching for heat to flare to life between them. Quickly Javert lowered his fork before Valjean could see it tremble in his fingers, though it clattered on his plate. "Perhaps I --"
At that very moment, there was a noise from the kitchen. Javert had nearly let himself forget that they were not alone. For all he knew, Valjean had the woman spying in the hope that she would remember some detail later that Valjean could use to press an advantage. "We should speak of Jacqueline," he commanded, hoping that Valjean could not hear the tremor in his voice.
"She is bright, that much is obvious, precocious even," Valjean said, nodding his agreement. "Perhaps you are right that the convent is not the right choice for her."
Even if Valjean could whitewash her origins with a generous donation to a convent, Linette would never agree to stay away. Jacqueline too might languish away from her mother's care. "She is very close to her mother," he agreed. "And Linette will not be content without her. It is why she has risked much to keep Jacqueline with her for so long."
Valjean looked thoughtful but accepting as well. "I would never separate a child from a loving mother if it was in my power." The strength in the words caused a stir of feeling in Javert's heart.
"They say you are a Man of Mercy, not a Man of Miracles," said Javert, realizing perhaps he had indeed asked too much.
There was something enigmatic in the smile Valjean bestowed upon him. "True miracles come from God, but a man -- or men -- may make their own more prosaic miracles." Valjean sat back in his chair as the housekeeper brought in coffee for them both. Once she had gone, he spoke again. "Suppose there was a school that would take both Jacqueline and her mother, one that would teach them, give them employment, purpose. You said Linette was good with figures?"
Javert nodded, trying to recall any sort of school that was like Valjean was describing. "She has sorted out Madame's haphazard accounting more than once." He shook his head. "But she would have no references. No school would allow her to teach young girls."
"No school yet in existence."
Javert blinked. "You're mad."
"You are not the first to have believed so," Valjean replied, not insulted.
Regretfully Javert shook his head. "It is madness to begin a school with only one pupil and a single teacher."
"We would need a headmaster, one who understood rules and their methods of enforcement, and one who understood that young ladies do not always follow every rule." Before Javert could react to that, Valjean plunged on, as charged up as a carriage careening down a country lane. "Having a former policeman on the premises would assure that men who prey on girls must keep their distance. We could find a place to start. I thought of this house, for Cosette would rather stay with me at the Rue de l'Homme Armé nearer to Marius." He paused to take a breath.
"You would do this for Jacqueline?" Javert asked, ignoring the suggestion that he had a role to play in this mad scheme.
Much to Javert's surprise, Valjean looked evasive, almost embarrassed. "She is a delightful child and my heart always aches for women forced into such a life as her mother," he said, glancing into his coffee cup as if to divine a future there that did not include confessing his motives.
"You do not know them," Javert replied, beginning to understand.
"Not as you do," Valjean agreed, "And not as I know you."
"We are strangers," Javert insisted.
Valjean shook his head. "Even if that were true, I find that I do not need to ask whether you would do this for Jacqueline, though it is still strange for me to imagine you in any career besides defending the law. Since you could not have arrested me, you could have left me to die at the barricade, yet you did not. You saved me. I have thanked the good God for sending you to rescue me."
"I'm not an angel." Yet Javert began to see the sort of honor this man possessed, which in some ways was not entirely different from his own. "You would have done the same for me." Their gazes held a moment too long then skittered apart.
"You are an angel to Jacqueline," said Valjean, smiling. "And perhaps to Linette. An angel of mercy."
Javert finally took a sip of his coffee. "You will need more than mercy to begin a school," he said, but a vision had taken shape in his mind of orderly classrooms and neatly dressed little girls, learning ways to survive without selling their innocence.
"I will need you," Valjean insisted, reaching out a hand, something anyone might have done to reassure or to comfort. "I am hoping that you will find teaching young people about the law an acceptable substitute to enforcing it." His fingers closed over Javert's, and they both inhaled swiftly at the power of it. "I will need --" Valjean said, looking down at his own hand as though it had been replaced by a wooden one that no longer responded to his commands.
"We will need to think this through," Javert said, and finally Valjean broke the compelling caress.
Javert waved his hand in the air between them. "This scheme of yours. There are a thousand things you haven't thought of."
Looking much more himself, Valjean smiled. "That is why I need you, to help me think of them." Before Javert could ask what he was doing, Valjean got to his feet, striding over to an escritoire and pulling out a sheaf of papers. "I have made inquiries about suitable properties," he said, sliding back into the chair, spreading out the documents between them as if he hadn't just embraced Javert.
"It will take a long time to visit all of these," Javert pointed out, leaning over the lists to avoid looking at him.
Valjean pushed his chair closer, their heads practically together, but he did nothing as foolish as kiss Javert as his finger slid over the columns. "We don't have to go to each one, surely. Some of these are in unacceptable neighborhoods, and some --" He pointed to one that had several prices crossed off, each one lower than the last but still an astronomical sum to Javert. "Some I cannot afford."
He looked up, his grin very close to Javert's face, and Javert found that he could not stop thinking that it would be easy to kiss him, that this must be how people fell into temptation, that proximity and weakness must lead to desire...
"We can go through this list and mark off the obviously unsuitable ones, and make a list of ones that look promising and visit them together," Valjean said as if it had already been decided.
There was a buzzing in Javert's head as if he had drunk too much wine, though he had had none with the meal. He had not been drunk since he was young, when he had first arrived at Toulon and one of the guards had invited him to try the strong local wine produced from grapes grown in the red soil nearby; he had disliked the feeling and had been careful to avoid drinking to excess ever after. This feeling was different, and though equally disorienting, it was not unpleasant. Rather, Javert was more concerned about what he might do or say that he would regret later.
Valjean was gazing at him with the beginnings of concern in his expression. "Of course, you would need to discuss this with Linette. I did not mean to suggest that we should make such significant decisions without consulting her."
Blushing, Javert dropped his eyes, hoping that Valjean would believe it was because he had failed to mention this himself and not because Javert was having trouble keeping his gaze from Valjean's lips. "Of course," he echoed. "You don't believe that others might have the same concerns as the nuns about a woman teaching girls who had previously lived at the Siège d'Amour?"
"If you tell me that she can teach numbers, I will take that as sufficient reference, and assume that she will not discuss her previous profession with anyone else. Though I do wonder whether poor girls might not be more inclined to believe the warnings of a woman who had actually experienced such a life than the word even of a saintly virgin." Valjean smiled sadly. "Most men are not as resolute in their principles as you."
After everything Valjean had done, Javert felt that he owed him the truth. "It is not only principle," he said awkwardly. "I have never been seduced by the charms of women." The moment the words were out of his mouth, he swore a silent oath at himself. He should have said by the charms of prostitutes, or by silly girls.
"Neither have I." There was frank curiosity and a sort of hope in Valjean's expression. It was a look Javert remembered from Montreuil, so long ago.
"I noticed that," Javert admitted, uncertain of what to make of Valjean's look.
"Did you now?" Valjean asked, his eyes merry. "It always seemed you watched me more closely than any other, or was that simply because you suspected me of more mischief than anyone else?"
Javert knew that Valjean was teasing him and it was an odd feeling to know he could tease the other man back. He did not let himself think about the way one side of Valjean's mouth was quirking up, or how very disconcerting it was to have Valjean's full attention. When he had been the mayor of Montreuil, there always had been something evasive about him, but there was also the odd statement that Valjean had made earlier about how he should have been a better friend to Javert in Montreuil. Javert had longed to know what secrets Monsieur Madeleine had kept. Now that he possessed a few of them, he found his hunger for them had not abated. "You don't think a man thinking of starting a school with fallen women and disgraced police officers is up to some sort of mischief?"
"A fair point," Valjean conceded, "though it would never have occurred to me to try, except for one persuasive Inspector."
Javert cleared his throat, then took another sip of the coffee. "Once I learned of the Man of Mercy, I knew that I had chosen the right man."
Valjean's chuckle was warm. "I am convinced that I did the same." He gave Javert's hand another swift squeeze. Again, it was the sort of gesture that could bring comfort or be exchanged between conspirators, yet Javert's fingers trembled. "Shall we be friends in this, then?" he asked. "Even if it has taken us so long to find common ground that I have become an old man."
Javert found himself frowning. "You are not an old man," he said, though he had meant to say something else. That curious look returned, and Javert was sure he had brought it upon himself. The regard didn't make him uncomfortable itself, but it tempted him to dangerous speculation. Suddenly he wished for the unselfconscious way that Jacqueline had of speaking to anyone with ease and confidence.
With a smile, Valjean replied, "At least my thoughts now are young, thanks to you. Speak to Linette. Bring her here with you tomorrow, if you wish. You will return for lunch again?"
The invitation made Javert realize precisely what Valjean was proposing. By asking Javert to play a role in educating Jacqueline and other girls, he was making it appropriate, even necessary, for Javert and Valjean to meet regularly. "At some point I will need to tell Madame why I am so often absent," he said.
Valjean's expression turned serious. "If Linette agrees, we will have to work quickly. When she learns that you plan to leave, she may turn you out at once." He opened a drawer in the escritoire. "I want to give you a key. Don't argue with me. You aren't willing to leave Linette and Jacqueline at risk any more than I am."
Javert, who had indeed opened his mouth to protest, found himself nodding instead. It was true that Madame Veuve might turn himself and Linette both out if she expected them to abandon their loyalty to her, and the Patron-Minette gang would not hesitate to prey on Linette and Jacqueline. His fingers closed around the key, pressing against Valjean's.
The spark like fire ignited once more between them. They were standing much too close together for Javert to disguise how it quickened his breath and he could see that the same was true for Valjean. "I would not leave you at risk either," Valjean whispered.
"Not after I saved your life," Javert guessed, the tremor in his voice only barely audible.
"Even if you had not, I would not wish you to come to harm. I think we understand each other." Again Javert found himself transfixed by Valjean's lips. He scarcely dared to nod; he did not trust himself not to lean too close and rub his mouth over the other man's. "I suppose I should let you go before I distract you from your duty. Promise me that you will come tomorrow, my friend. I will send a carriage for you so that Linette will not have to walk through the streets."
Javert managed to nod. "Yes." He paused, breathless, not quite able to withdraw his hand. "I will see you soon, Valjean."
Madame Veuve did not fuss when Javert returned; indeed, she looked pleased to see him, which always made him more cautious around her. She was full of news about a rival brothel that had been shut down after several of the women had been found to have the pox. Instead of feeling any pity for the creatures, Madame was certain that the customers were sure to come through her doors tonight, and, seeing such a sturdy example of proper behavior as Javert, would make free with their coins.
Javert listened with only part of his attention, wondering instead how soon he could have a private word with Linette. It would not be that evening; they were indeed busier than usual, no doubt due to the restrictions of the unrest several nights ago and the shortage of one brothel. Javert checked on Jacqueline in the kitchen and found her daydreaming over her book.
"No mending tonight, donzelle?" he asked, peering at the vividly colored elephant dancing on the pages.
"I applied myself," she said proudly, tilting her face up to smile at him. Like Valjean's, her smile had the power to make his heart move strangely, though with the child his heart was the only part of him affected. He thought about the men thronging around upstairs and renewed his determination not to let this little one ever join the ranks of the women plying their trade.
"Did you?" he asked, pouring himself a bit of coffee.
She nodded impishly. "Mama said perhaps you would buy me another book if I finished all the mending."
Javert doubted Linette had phrased her coaxing in exactly that way, but he waved one hand toward her book. "Have you finished that one already?"
She gave him an exasperated look and said, "I have read it eight times," though she had to glance down at her fingers as if adding up the prerequisite figures. "I have even read the other book you gave me twice more, though there are too many words in it so I have mostly read the pictures."
Hiding his smile behind his cup, he asked gravely, "And what sort of book would you like next? Another about elephants and horses?"
"Mama wants me to read a book about sewing," Jacqueline replied, her small nose turning up in the distaste only the young can show for such adult pursuits. "To learn things about stitching aprons and stockings." The outrageousness of this had clearly been part of the reason she had applied herself, in the hope that Javert would grant her a less studious book.
"But what would you like?" he asked, setting down his coffee cup on the counter and preparing to go back upstairs. He was picturing a room full of books and decided to remind Valjean -- or Fauchelevent when they spoke in front of others, he reminded himself sternly -- to make sure their premises had space for an adequate library.
She looked thoughtful a moment, then decreed, "One with birds in it. With brightly colored feathers." She gestured toward the dancing elephant. "Lots of pictures."
Javert caught glimpses of Linette, though never while she was alone, and though they were busy, it was as Madame had said. The sight of Javert on duty kept the newcomers ruly and the regulars, sensing competition, tried to behave and look as appealing as possible.
"I may be able to bring in more girls," Madame Veuve said, catching her breath after admitting a party of four men and realizing she had only three girls in the parlor. Javert knew this meant she would be pounding on the doors of the girls whose visitors were taking too long. "I will have to find which girls have their certificates from the Bureau and get them before any of those other wretched shacks lay claim to them." She was practically rubbing her hands in glee before she stopped herself and shot Javert a glance. If her thoughts were already straying toward the time when Jacqueline would be old enough to begin working here, Javert vowed to thwart her.
He finally had a moment of Linette's time after midnight. She looked tired but summoned a smile for him as she always did. He made certain they could not be overheard before he told her of his actions of the last several days. "And if I could arrange for you to go with her?" Javert asked, keeping his voice low.
She shook her head sadly. "No school anywhere in France will give me employment, not even as a scullery maid. You know this --"
"The man who came here with me the other night would hire you as a teacher, if you think you can teach sums to girls Jacqueline's age," he said. "He is called the Man of Mercy in the streets. I have beseeched him on behalf of Jacqueline and he feels as I do, that a place can be made for the two of you."
There was, for an instant, something hard in her face, the certainty of a woman who had heard too many promises that had never been kept. She looked him over slowly. "Why should I trust this Man of Mercy? You said he was not your lover, yet I saw the way he held you as you slept."
That startled Javert enough to make his cheeks warm. Valjean had not been holding him when they'd woken up together. "The bed is small for two grown men, but he is not my lover. I have known Monsieur Madeleine for many years. He has made mistakes, as we all have. But I trust him." Javert realized the truth of this as he spoke it. "Will you come with me in the morning to speak with him on behalf of yourself and your daughter? If you don't like what he has to say, I will bring you back here and respect your judgment."
The steel in her expression slid away, and she was once again the tired young woman Javert had first encountered. "You have always been kind to Jacqueline." He guessed that she was going to kiss his cheek and felt the brush of it a moment later. "I will meet with your Man of Mercy."
It was very late when Javert finally arrived in his room to find Jacqueline once more sleeping across the foot of his bed. He was more relieved than exasperated, for he had seen the vile Monsieur Vallette come into the house and he did not know whether Linette had a visitor who wished to stay the night, which would earn her far more money than an hourly guest. "Did you bring me a book?" the child asked sleepily.
"I have not had a chance to look for books. The sun will not rise for hours. Go back to sleep."
With a yawn she flipped herself against the wall, making room for Javert, who took off his shoes but did not slide under the blanket. He remembered what Linette had said about Valjean holding him and felt his face grow hot. Many thoughts whirled through his tired mind. Was Linette obliged to allow the men who paid to stay the night to hold her, or, once she had satisfied their lusts, did she welcome the opportunity to sleep free of any contact save that which she chose freely? Did she believe that Javert was subject to the same vices as men who paid for sex, that only his inclinations and not his morals were different? Had she believed Valjean to be his lover based on what seemed probable or because she had seen something in the way he and Javert had behaved together?
He slept fitfully, unaware if he dreamed, only to be woken by a knock on the door. "Jacqueline," called Linette. "Are you in there? Come to the kitchen for your breakfast."
The girl slid off the bed, rubbing her eyes, and slipped out while Javert sat up, stretching. No sooner had she gone than there was another knock and Linette poked her head around the door. "May I speak to you?"
Javert nodded, and Linette let the door close behind her. "Everyone else is asleep. I wanted to talk where we could not be overheard." Nodding again, Javert slid over so that she could sit beside him. "I have been thinking about what you said. If your friend knows a school that would accept Jacqueline, then she should go at once. That disgusting man Vallette came last night. He prefers the girls who are younger than I am, but he picks me so that he can ask me about Jacqueline. Where does she sleep, where does she bathe, am I training her to please men, will the two of us share men when she is older. I refused to stay with him and Madame is angry." Her breath caught, and she wiped her eyes. "Jacqueline cannot stay here. But Madame will be even angrier with you. She will know that you helped her to leave."
Though he had scoffed at first at Valjean's suggestion that he could work in a school of little girls, Javert realized that he had already committed himself. There was no way he could do his duty to protect the girls at the brothel while at the same time trying to help them escape this life. "I expect that she will dismiss me when I tell her what I am planning," he said. "I have promised my friend to become the headmaster of his school."
"He will pay you better than Madame?" she asked sharply.
"I did not discuss the matter with him." Javert had not even considered what it would mean that he would, in effect, be working for Valjean until such time as pupils who could pay arrived at their doorstep. There had been a time when such a thought would have filled him with horror and loathing, taking money from a man who had earned it when by rights he should have been in prison for breaking his parole. Yet now that Javert was being paid by Madame Veuve, out of profits brought in by girls forced by circumstance to do what Linette and the others did, it did not seem abhorrent to work for Valjean. It was certainly not the travesty that allowing himself to be paid for his silence after Laure's murder would have been.
Linette was watching him curiously. "You said you have known Monsieur Madeleine for many years? Where did you meet?"
If he answered her question, Javert knew, he would be putting himself and Valjean both in danger. Yet he was not quick to think of an evasion, and Linette looked as if she might retreat, possibly keeping Jacqueline with her, rather than risk trusting one man who was a stranger and another who was nearly so. "We met in Toulon," he said. "I was not always a police inspector, and Monsieur Madeleine was not always a wealthy man. I was a guard in the prison." As he had feared that she might, Linette looked shocked, though she quickly disguised it. "At that time I believed him to be brutish and he thought me cruel. We did not see each other again for many years, until he had become a successful businessman. I was sent to be an inspector in his town."
"I suppose his behavior must have been above reproach, if you became his friend," she said.
Belatedly Javert realized his failure to explain that Valjean had not been a guard like himself in Toulon, but one of the prisoners. He had not intended to mislead her, but he did not elaborate on the subject. "He treated the factory workers well. He was well-liked. But he left the town --" To give himself time to think, Javert bent to retrieve his shoes. "He fled to rescue a child, a girl younger than Jacqueline. She was the daughter of a dead woman who had worked in his factory, who had fallen on hard times, though he was unaware until she was very ill. He felt responsible. He has raised the girl as his own." Abruptly Javert's head snapped up, leaving his shoes where they were. "It is possible that you will meet her. She has no idea of her origins. I assume she believes that she is his daughter. You must promise me never to repeat what I have just told you."
Linette was already nodding. "Of course. I understand. He can't tell his daughter about her mother, and..." Her mouth twisted. "I can't tell my daughter about her father."
Javert sat back, watching her pick at a thread in her shawl until the edge began to unravel. "Was he a customer?" he asked as if it were no great matter.
"I wish he had been. I would not hate a customer. I would rather have been a whore than --" She wiped at her eyes with the corner of the shawl. "I was fourteen years old. There were two boys, my friends, I thought, though they were older than I was. I had known them all my life. Their father and my father were the best of friends. They had a barn where we played as children, and I thought I was still a child." She raised a shaking hand to her neck. "They told me that if I made a sound, they would kill me just like that. I didn't scream. I didn't tell anyone. When I finally understood that I was going to have a baby and tried to explain..." She wiped her face again. "My father beat me and called me a whore. My mother told me to go to --"
At that moment Jacqueline burst through the door. "The bread is stale," she complained. "And you told me you were going to bring me a book!"
Linette had turned away quickly to compose herself, so Javert took it upon himself to distract Jacqueline. "I have a better idea," he said. "I am going to take you and your mother to visit Monsieur Madeleine, and he will have fresh bread. He may even have pastries, and we will ride in a carriage. Would you like that?"
"A carriage with horses?" she asked, delighted and amazed. "Oh yes!" Before Javert knew what was happening, Jacqueline had flung her arms around his neck. "Thank you!" He sputtered and looked around for help, only to find Linette giving him a watery smile.
"If you say that this Man of Mercy will help us," she said, "I will go fetch Jacqueline's things."
Javert nodded and she scurried out of the room, though Jacqueline was content to settle back onto the bed. Kneeling beside her, he captured her attention. "We shall be playing a game as well, donzelle," he said, "One that we don't want Madame Veuve to play with us."
That elicited a peal of laughter. "Madame never plays games, except the one where she counts out piles of coins and tries to make them add up into more."
"That is why we don't want her to play with us. We are going to go out without letting her know we're leaving. Can you do that?"
She rolled her eyes expressively. "I'm not a baby." Her feet knocked against the bed frame. "Can we get a new book while we are out?"
There was no good lie he could conjure -- his face had never carried untruth easily. "Not right away. My friend will be waiting for us, and we wouldn't want the pastries to spoil, do we?"
It was easy to see the progress of thoughts, debating between the delights of a book versus those of pastries. The sweets won out, for she nodded. "I will bring this one and show your friend what sort of book I would like next." She tilted her face at him. "Mama says he is handsome. Do you think he is handsome?"
Javert sighed. "Yes, I suppose he is handsome." He dashed off a brief note and took it downstairs, finding one of the ever present street urchins to take it to Valjean, requesting the carriage, naming an address a few blocks over to meet.
Linette was back with a pitifully small bundle of clothes, which she folded into a brightly-colored pillow cover that he guessed must have adorned her room upstairs. There was something familiar about it, and after a moment he realized what it was. "That was Laure's." He remembered seeing it when he had inspected her room after they had carried her away that awful night.
"Yes." Linette looked less thin, and it took Javert a moment to realize she had donned another dress under her morning dress and had an extra shawl on as well. There would be no coming back for the pair of them.
He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "I will go down first, over to the next block by the garden to await the carriage. Give me a few minutes, then follow me." He took the bundle. "I will take this. If you are stopped by Madame, say I gave you money to buy a new book." He fished out a coin from his pocket and gave it to Jacqueline. "Which is now true." She stared at the coin as if to refuse it, but he closed her fingers around it. "If you are more than a few minutes, I will come back to see if anything has gone wrong."
Linette took Jacqueline's hand. "You are an angel of mercy, Monsieur," she said. He left before she could see the color rising again in his cheeks.
Fortunately all went more smoothly than Javert anticipated. After the busy night before, nearly all the girls and presumably Madame were still abed when Javert slipped out into the morning. He had a few anxious moments waiting for the carriage before Linette and Jacqueline appeared, but they joined him and soon they were all on their way to the Rue Plumet. Jacqueline was shivering with eagerness to climb inside the carriage and unaccountably silent, her eyes widening as she saw familiar streets from this new unaccustomed view. He could not tell which held her interest more, the swift flow of life below the carriage or the horses that pulled them along.
The door flew open as the carriage pulled up to the gates and Valjean hurried out to meet them. "Good, you've arrived," he said. "I'm afraid that lunch may not impress you. My housekeeper has been obliged to remain with Cosette."
"Valérie is a good housekeeper," said Jacqueline, allowing Valjean to help her down from the carriage. Javert exchanged a look with Linette. Valérie was one of the girls who worked at the Siège d'Amour, not as a housekeeper. Javert wondered whether she might be happier in service at a school, though he had heard some of the women scoff at the maids who received even less money. "Will there still be pastries?"
"Jacqueline," warned Linette, but Valjean was smiling.
"There will be pastries." The child had stepped away from him to look at the horses, so Valjean offered a hand to help Linette from the carriage. Javert did not dare touch him with others present; he did not trust his own reactions.
Valjean spent much of the meal talking with Jacqueline, discovering that she understood how to make change in sous from a franc and that she wanted a book about peacocks. When they had finished eating, he told her that although there were no peacocks, there might be smaller birds in the garden. "I want Inspector Javert to come look with me," she said.
"Jacqueline, I am no longer an inspector. You should call me Monsieur Javert," he told her.
Her jaw set stubbornly. "You will need to be an inspector if the birds are hiding."
Both Valjean and Linette broke into wide smiles at that. "Go with her, if you like," Valjean suggested. "I will talk to Madame."
He inclined his head toward Linette, who began, "Oh, but I am not..."
"If you are thinking about teaching girls, I think that you must be Madame."
Linette smiled sadly at him. "I shall be a widow, then," she agreed, and the two began to talk as Jacqueline pulled on Javert's hand until she had pulled him into the garden, where birds were forgotten as soon as she discovered a toad. He hoped that Linette would not tell Valjean anything Javert had revealed about Cosette.
When they came back into the house, their shoes and hands in need of a wash, Linette was smiling despite the dirt smudged on Jacqueline's dress. Valjean's expression, however, was nothing short of astonished. He did not look angry or upset, merely incredulous. "Have the two of you come to agree with me that your scheme is mad?" Javert asked uneasily.
"Not at all. My plan is entirely sound." Valjean glanced at Linette, then back at Javert. "Madame tells me that you explained to her how we met, in Toulon." Though Javert had bent to help Jacqueline wipe off her shoes, he went still. "I fear that you confused her. Did you tell her that we were both prison guards?"
"I did not tell her the precise nature of your work." Javert went back to scrubbing at Jacqueline's shoes so that she would not stain Valjean's floors while he had no housekeeper.
He heard Linette cough delicately. "If you worry that I would think less of a laborer or a servant, Monsieur Madeleine..."
Though he hardly dared to look up, Javert met Valjean's eyes. Valjean was shaking his head. "My name has not been Madeleine for many years. My daughter and I go by Fauchelevent. Javert called me Madeleine so that the name of Fauchelevent would not be entered into the records of a brothel. As for Toulon..."
"There is no need to explain," interrupted Javert. "I told her that when we met again, you had become successful."
"As for Toulon," Valjean continued as if Javert had not spoken, "I held the meanest position at the prison."
"You must know that a woman who does what I do meets all sorts of men. The rich are often no better than the poor, and sometimes much worse." Linette, too, looked over at Javert. "He told me that you became a businessman. I told him that I thought any friend of Javert's must have been a good man. I don't need to know more."
If only he had not said so much earlier. He glanced at Jacqueline, hoping that Linette would remember not to mention Valjean's daughter or her origins. "I had no friends," Javert said brusquely. "I deserved none. I had too much reverence for authority and too little for fairness. This man became the mayor of a prosperous town, where he was admired by everyone except for one police inspector who knew of his past and did not believe that such a man could be honest." He straightened, looking at Valjean. "The inspector was wrong."
"You give hope to us all, Monsieur Fauchelevent," said Linette, smiling tremulously. "If you were poor and became a mayor, and now you --"
"Now you are Inspector Javert's cher ami," piped up Jacqueline before clapping a dirty hand to her face. "Oh -- I forgot, I am not supposed to say Inspector. Or cher ami!"
It was impossible to be cross with that wide-eyed little girl. Instead Javert began to laugh. He was quickly joined by Valjean, who stood, reaching out a hand to invite Javert back to the table. Without thinking, Javert closed his fingers around Valjean's, realizing as he did so that no matter what he said now, Linette and Jacqueline both would believe what the child had said to be true, even if Jacqueline did not fully understand it and Linette likely imagined things that would have made Javert blush. She had risen to go over to Jacqueline with a napkin, fussing as she tried to make the girl presentable.
"Your hands are as dirty as hers," murmured Valjean, rubbing Javert's fingers.
"We found a toad. I was required to catch it."
Glancing at them, Linette said, "I will bring more water. Come, Jacqueline." In a moment they were gone, two girls who might have been mistaken for sisters rather than mother and daughter, leaving the men alone in the room.
Valjean looked directly at him then, his eyes full of wonder, and closed his fingers around Javert's. Javert squeezed them, yet could not guess what Valjean intended until he whispered, "Thank you," and brushed his lips over Javert's.
If Valjean's touch felt like fire, his kiss was an explosion. Javert had never seen a star turn nova, but he had read about the phenomenon and was certain that it must be similar, a sudden intense expansion that dimmed everything else, that left the witness breathless and shaking in wonder. It would have been wise not to move until his vision cleared, but he did not know when such a glorious thing might happen to him again. He clutched at Valjean's shirt with his dirty hand, keeping him from withdrawing, and when he heard the hitch in Valjean's breath, he raised his mouth to kiss him again.
Javert could not have said whether it felt like Heaven or like the end of the world, so great was the upheaval, but not even the knowledge that Linette and Jacqueline would soon return made him want to stop. None of the bawdy lyrics or proclamations of desire he had heard in the brothel could have prepared him for this. Neither could the Song of Solomon. He felt Valjean huff a laugh of surprise, but Javert had no breath to spare for laughter. The chuckle had made Valjean's lips part, and Javert strove to taste them, then to taste the tongue that met his.
Valjean's mouth was sweet, better than any pastry, better than anything Javert had known existed. He still clung to Valjean's shirt, though Valjean seemed less likely to break away than Javert, for he had not blushed at Jacqueline's use of the endearment. Javert had seen all sorts of kisses, even ones that approximated passion, but he had not known that kissing could kindle in him such a longing for every sort of kiss Valjean's lips could bestow.
"We must --" he said, meaning to warn him that they would not be alone long, but he could feel Valjean's mouth against his, so close were they.
"Yes, we must," Valjean agreed, but then he kissed Javert again, his mouth opening again without prompting, an invitation Javert had no will to refuse. Not when his entire body was on fire just to be near the center of the nova, to let it claim him in its heat. He had never imagined kissing Valjean like this because he had never imagined that kisses like this existed. "I have longed --" Valjean began but they both heard the noise, rather louder than perhaps necessary, of Linette tutting over Jacqueline. Valjean did not break away with the guilt of man caught but merely leaned back, gazing at Javert with the wonder of man seeing the stars after profound darkness. He brushed two fingers over his lips. "I have longed for that, and more," he said, voice a whisper.
Javert did not trust himself to speak. From the expression on Linette's face as she entered with the basin, she knew exactly what they had been up to, even though she had made enough noise to give them time to take a step apart. Neither seemed inclined to put more space than that between them.
"I am sorry for Jacqueline's toad," said Linette apologetically, bringing the basin. Javert washed the dirt from his hands, aware that he had left a stain on Valjean's shirt that the others were sure to notice.
Behind him, Jacqueline announced, "I don't want a book about peacocks. I want a book about animals that live in gardens, like toads and mice, and what they eat."
Javert suspected that any books about toads and mice were more likely to contain information about how to keep them out of a garden, but he only smiled. His mouth felt as if it had been smiling all afternoon. "It may be a few days before I can find you a book, ma petite."
"My daughter Cosette has some books," Valjean said. "Perhaps we can find one you would like to read. I need to stay where she is, this evening, and I will ask her if she would mind letting you play with her dolls. Now that she has a young man in her life, I think she will not miss them."
"Since you have no housekeeper at present, let me wash our plates, Monsieur," said Linette, smiling as she collected them from the table.
Javert looked at Valjean. He had no desire to leave this happy gathering, and he was curious what else Valjean and Linette had discussed while he had been in the garden, but he wished to explain matters to Madame Veuve before evening. "I should return to the Siège d'Amour," he said.
"Do we have to go?" asked Jacqueline, a frown creasing her forehead.
"Jacqueline," Valjean began as if he had just realized that they had made no mention of their plans to her. "I would like to invite you and your mother to stay here. I am thinking about starting a school for girls, and Javert said that you were very clever and would make a fine student."
"I will not have to sleep in the kitchen?" asked Jacqueline, wrinkling her nose. "Mama says poor girls must get used to sleeping where they can. Must Mama sleep with you?"
Admirably, Valjean kept the shock on his face from reaching his voice. "Certainly not. You and your mother may share a room until we have set up the school. Then you will live with the other little girls, and you will see your Mama every day."
This seemed to satisfy Jacqueline. "I don't mind sharing," she said. "Javert lets me stay with him when Monsieur Vallette comes to visit."
"You will never have to see Monsieur Vallette again." Javert had not meant to speak so vehemently, but they all turned to look at him. "I will go and explain matters to Madame." He glanced at Linette. "And I will speak to -- which one was it?"
Linette jumped to her feet. "Valérie. You are an angel, Monsieur."
Before Javert realized what she intended, she had kissed his cheek. "No one here is an angel," he said sternly. "Certainly not me." He was already blushing, and heat flooded his face when he found himself winked at by Valjean.
To say that Madame Veuve was furious would have belittled the power of her rage. "You ungrateful bastard!" was the kindest of the things she screamed at Javert. It was fortunate that he was becoming accustomed to the insinuation that he was a cock-sucker, for she shouted that several times, as well as calling his mother a whore, his father a shit-eater, and his friend -- Javert guessed that she must mean Valjean -- an abuser of little boys. She accused him of having abducted Jacqueline and Linette, and when it was pointed out to her that they willingly had taken most of their belongings with them, she suggested that Linette had stolen those things from her and ordered Javert to leave the Siège d'Amour at once.
Everyone in the house had gathered in the hall to listen by the time her tirade had ended, at which point she hurled the only accusation with the power to wound him: "You will leave us defenseless. You are abandoning the girls! What about Laure, do you want another to end up like her?"
As so often happened in his dreams, Laure's face floated into Javert's thoughts, pale and still in death. Javert had to compose himself before he could speak. "I pray that no woman will ever suffer what Laure did. But I have no power to change the law or the behavior of powerful men. If I could not protect her as a policeman, do you truly imagine that I could do so now?" Throughout her tirade, he had barely held back from returning Madame's anger, recalling the future she had intended for Jacqueline, but he reminded himself that she was not much more fortunate than the girls who worked for her, and indeed had started out as one of them. "I will always be grateful to you. So will Linette. You were kind to give us each a place here when we might have found ourselves on the streets."
He pulled out the several louis d'or that Valjean had given him when he walked Javert out to the carriage, so that Linette could not see them discussing her value reduced as it so often had been to money. "Here, so that no one must suffer until you find another to take Linette's place. You said that you would be able to bring in more girls. I know that you'll treat them fairly."
The sight of the money had done more to calm Madame's rage than anything Javert had said. He waited until she went to lock the coins away to ask Valérie if she would help him pack his things, whispering that he wanted to speak to her. She packed as neatly as Javert himself would have done. Even if she considered housekeeping to be drudge work, she did not hesitate to accept his offer when he told her how much Valjean would be willing to pay her.
"I will come tomorrow," Valérie said, casting a nervous eye on the door lest Madame come through it and begin to rage anew. "We are short tonight and it will not make her more disposed toward any of us if I disappoint her now."
"Talk to the other girls if you can. Some of them may be willing to come too." Javert tried not to allow himself to feel pleasure at the idea of Madame with an empty house and a room full of expectant customers. She had been generous to take him in and offer him such money as she had.
"Matilde," Valérie began at once, "she has a daughter younger than Jacqueline. Her sister keeps her, though she lives with a man who has never bothered to say vows with her." She closed the small trunk in which Javert could easily fit all his possessions, then grabbed his hand and pulled it to her lips. "You are surely sent from Heaven," she said, kissing it.
Javert had never expected to have so many parts of himself kissed by anyone, let alone women and ex-convicts. He tried to tug his hand from hers and she let it go after a final kiss. He could picture Matilde, whom he did not know well but who was popular among visitors for her outsized laugh and equally outsized breasts. He had had no idea that she had a child.
He had a vision of women all over Paris -- all over France -- streaming toward the Rue Plumet, or wherever he and Valjean began their school, raising children, learning skills. Perhaps even finding husbands. The words 'he and Valjean' did not seem so strange any longer, not when the man had kissed him. Not when he had kissed the man back. Javert believed Valjean when he said he longed for more because, now that he knew more could exist, he felt the pull of it too.
He made sure that Valérie had the address and a promise to fetch her if she did not come or send word the next day. This time he sent his trunk ahead but did not step into the carriage, preferring to stroll along the river. He spotted his own reflection in the water and could not quite recognize the man gazing back at him. That man looked to be calm, while Javert's thoughts were full of concerns and longing he had no idea how to express. Did Valjean know how, he wondered? When they had kissed, Javert had sensed no artifice, and would have bet the coins he'd given to Madame that Valjean had been as shocked by their passion as Javert had been.
He did not know what to believe of what was happening between them. He could admit to himself that he had felt such stirrings toward Valjean before -- in Montreuil, even in Toulon -- but there had been no question of trying to do anything besides repress the feeling. No matter how much he or Valjean might have been reshaped by will or by circumstance -- or by God, because Javert knew of no human power that could achieve such alteration -- some things did not change. Passion between men was still a sin. It was no longer against the law, but neither was it against the law for women to sell themselves to men, and Javert had seen how much misery grew out of the lusts that brought men to the brothel. He did not trust his desires to remain under his control.
As he turned into the Rue Plumet, he caught sight of the garden. A moment later he saw Valjean, who waved at him from the window, and he decided he would be happy merely to have Valjean smile at him. Yet as soon as he was inside, Valjean closed the door and flung his arms around Javert, pressing him back against it and kissing him again. "I want to hear all about your adventures," he said, though that was all Javert let him get out before parting his lips, which welcomed Javert's tongue inside them. It was just as glorious as Javert had remembered, even better to have the full length of Valjean's body pressing against him while their mouths devoured each other.
He felt Valjean's hand slide up his back, hesitate, then brush through the hair that did not quite reach the collar of his coat. Never would he have guessed so many parts of himself to be so susceptible to the slightest touch. "Where are Linette and Jacqueline?" he asked, glancing past Valjean to be certain that no one had come into the room.
"Jacqueline is sleeping. Apparently chasing toads is tiring work. Linette is trying on one of Cosette's old dresses so that tomorrow we can go out to buy Jacqueline a book and find something appropriately terrifying for a schoolteacher to wear." Valjean grinned at him. "I think she would rather go out unescorted, but she understands the need for proper appearances. Which is a lesson that I may need to relearn. Let me take your coat, and we shall have tea and make plans."
Once more Valjean's mouth pressed over Javert's. He would rather have had more of that than tea, or pastries, or anything else he could name, but he allowed Valjean to release him and help him out of his greatcoat. "I spoke to Valérie, another of the women at the Siège d'Amour. She would be happy for the opportunity to work as a housekeeper. She said there is another woman, Matilde, who has a child being raised by a sister, who might like to join us."
"This house will soon be too crowded." Yet Valjean looked entirely pleased with him, and Javert found that he couldn't help returning the smile even as his cheeks grew warm. "In a little while I must retrieve Cosette from the home of the Gillenormands. Will you ride with me? I will need to stay with her at the Rue de l'Homme Armé, but we can speak in the carriage and you can help me explain what we are planning."
"She won't believe you have gone mad?"
Again Valjean smiled, though this time there was sadness in the look as well. "She is accustomed to my odd behavior, and just now she thinks of little besides Marius Pontmercy. He has been asking for you, though he has been feverish and I can't promise that you will be permitted to see him."
The mention of Marius reminded Javert of something unpleasant that he needed to bring up with Valjean. "There is something that you must know," he said, reaching to help Valjean with the tea. "I was able to find you because of a young woman who was acquainted with Monsieur Pontmercy. She was carrying a letter from your daughter to him at the barricade when she..." For a moment, the teacups clattered alarmingly in their saucers. "She was shot and killed at the barricade. I believe that her father has also discovered your address. A vile man -- I saw him robbing corpses in the sewers after the battle. But he knows who you are, and now he knows where you live. He goes by several aliases, but I believe you will recognize the name of Thénardier."
Fortunately Valjean had already taken the cups from him and set them down on the table. "He has tried to rob me before. It is very well that Cosette is not here. What do you think he means to do?"
"I imagine that he will demand money from you or else threaten to tell the police what he knows of you. Exactly how much does he know? He has claimed that you stole the girl from him in Montfermeil, though he changes that story when people ask too many questions. Is he aware of your origins?"
"I told him nothing. But it is likely that he learned my story when the police questioned him about Cosette." Valjean frowned deeply. "If he learns of her connection with young Pontmercy, he may do far more damage. Robbing corpses, you said? Do you have enough evidence to frighten him to silence?"
"He stole a ring from Pontmercy. I don't believe the young man will believe anything Thénardier tells him concerning yourself or your daughter, and I am certain that the police will accept my word over his. But I thought I should warn you that he is likely to resurface, possibly with accomplices."
"Then it is best if we quit this house quickly. I have apartments in the Rue de l'Ouest." The ghost of a smile crossed Valjean's face. "I had thought to escape there from the formidable Inspector Javert if our paths were to cross, not to bring him there as my guest. But it is closer to the Marais than this house, and it will be large enough for now, though Jacqueline may be sorry to leave the garden here."
Hearing a cough, Javert turned his head. Linette had come in wearing a dress that she seemed afraid to touch. It hung loosely around her shoulders, not, he realized, because it was too big, but because she had had no help fastening it. "Your daughter won't mind if you take me shopping in her dress?" she asked uneasily.
"She will not mind at all," Valjean assured her. "Cosette took most of her clothes when we moved across the river. If she left that one, I suspect that she will let you keep it."
Linette's cheeks glowed. "Will she indeed? I have never had so fine a dress!"
"I will see her soon, and I will ask her." Valjean's expression turned serious once more. "Go and wake Jacqueline. I need to cross the river with Javert, and I thought the girl might like to ride with the horses again."
Javert knew full well that Valjean was uneasy at the thought of leaving the two women alone after what he had said about Thénardier. "You are not concerned about introducing Linette to your daughter?" he asked in a low voice.
"Cosette is accustomed to seeing me greet all sorts of people, even fallen women. I doubt it will surprise her to learn that I plan to start a school for their children." Suddenly Valjean smiled again. "I only hope that Jacqueline does not call you my cher ami. I don't know how I would explain that."
As it happened, Jacqueline was on her finest behavior for Cosette -- or if not her finest, then she was too busy talking about the horses and the dresses and the size of Monsieur Gillenormand's house to have time to mention Cosette's father's relationship with Javert. Cosette herself darted several curious glances at the two of them, likely wishing to renew the questions she had asked Javert when she learned that he might know something of her father's past, but she allowed her father to steer the conversation toward their plans for a school and their hopes that Linette would become a teacher.
Valjean deposited Cosette with her maid at the Rue de l'Homme Armé, then took Javert, Linette, and Jacqueline to the Rue de l'Ouest after stopping to buy food for their dinner. It made Javert uncomfortable that Valjean refused his money, but he had very little saved and knew that Valjean could offer Jacqueline a much finer meal. Once Valjean had returned to Cosette, promising to retrieve him in the morning, Javert spent a companionable evening reading to Jacqueline from the Bible, which was the only book he could find in any of the rooms. He expected the girl to be bored, but she insisted upon hearing about the Flood over and over. Javert found that he could not concentrate fully; his thoughts were too much with Valjean.
They did not have long to wait to discover Thénardier's intentions from the time Valjean arrived in the morning with the carriage to take them back across the river, having already deposited Cosette at the home of Marius's grandfather with an elderly aunt serving as chaperone. Scarcely had they arrived at the Rue Plumet when there was a pounding on the door, which Valjean opened to find two terrified women whom Javert recognized as Matilde and Valérie.
"Monsieur, we were followed," the one began breathlessly, interrupted by the other:
"It is that awful man who directs Brujon's gang now, the one called Jondrette."
Javert knew full well that Jondrette was Thénardier's preferred eponym. "How could he have known where you were going?" he asked sharply.
"Madame shouted at us so that everyone in the street knew. She told us to go find your Man of Mercy -- she said many unkind things." It was not necessary for Javert to ask what sorts of things. "We tried to get away from them, but they are very quick."
Valjean looked at Javert. "We should try to divert him now, before this goes any further."
Nodding, Javert guessed that he meant before Thénardier could return with more men. Overconfidence had always been Thénardier's downfall; he was likely to believe that an old man and a disgraced policeman posed no danger to him.
"Now listen, all of you," continued Valjean. "Behind this house is a courtyard, and at the end of the courtyard is another building. At the back of that building, behind the table, you will find a hidden door. If you ever must flee from this house, that door leads to a paved corridor that will take you nearly to the Rue du Babylone." Javert felt his eyes grow wide. He had not guessed that Valjean's efforts to hide himself had been so extensive; no wonder he had never found him in all those years of looking. "Javert and I will go speak to this Jondrette. But I wanted you to know that if there is ever a threat to this house, you will always have a way to escape."
"If we must, we will bring the police, Monsieur. We can name some of the officers," said Matilde. Javert exchanged a glance with Valjean. They both wished to avoid involving the police, but Javert believed that they would accept his word, particularly over that of a well-known villain like Thénardier. He was already putting on his coat, as was Valjean.
"Thénardier!" he bellowed as they stepped outside the gate. "I have your hundred francs." Since he could not see Thénardier, he gestured for Valjean to crouch low, hiding behind a bush.
Without discussing the matter, they had both understood that such words would draw the onetime innkeeper into the open. The words had their desired effect, for Thénardier appeared from around the corner, gesturing at himself, though he looked around as if he suspected a trap. "Are you speaking to me?" he asked.
"I am. I have not forgotten that you pulled the young baron safely from the filth in the sewer." His words were having the desired effect, for Thénardier was slowly approaching them. Javert made a gesture of encouragement, and only spoke again when Thénardier was close enough that he could have clapped irons on him if he had had irons. "Nor have I forgotten that you stole his ring."
Thénardier grew pale. "I never..."
"Don't make the mistake of believing that because I am no longer an inspector, I have no friends among the police. You will cease to harass anyone who comes to this house, or you may be certain the Préfecture will learn that you were robbing the bodies of the dead -- traitors and guardsmen alike."
Thénardier's expression grew crafty. "There's something I know about the man who lives here," he began.
At that moment, Valjean stood up. Javert supposed that he himself must have become accustomed to the man's physical presence over the past several days, for he no longer noticed with Valjean's every gesture how strong the man remained. But Thénardier's intimidation was obvious, and though Javert did not believe that Valjean would strike the man, he could see that Thénardier had no such expectation. "What is it that you think you know?" he asked.
Thénardier's eyes darted between Valjean's and Javert's. It must have been immediately obvious to him that, whatever he might have claimed about Valjean, Javert would not believe a man whom he had seen robbing corpses. "I have known this man for longer than you have," Javert assured Thénardier. "I have known him since I was a young man. There is nothing you can tell me about him that the police do not already know."
It was true enough, even if there were large gaps in the facts, but Thénardier appeared suitably disappointed. Valjean gave Javert a barely perceptible smile before turning his impressive frame toward the other man. "Because I want peace for my family, I will make you an offer." Swallowing, Thénardier nodded his understanding, and Valjean continued, "I will give you five thousand francs if you will leave Paris forever. Go to America on the ship that departs tomorrow. We shall watch over your departure, and at the moment you board, Inspector Javert will hand you the money."
Javert could see the struggle in Thénardier's expression, the attempt to guess whether he might somehow demand even more money than what seemed to Javert an astonishing sum. "If you will not accept this offer, I will go to the police at once and tell them enough of your past to send you to the galleys for life," he added. "If you breathe a word about this to any of your associates, I will do the same to them. I am no longer connected to the Siège d'Amour and have no reason to protect Madame's business interests by keeping all I know to myself."
At last practicality won out. "I will sail tomorrow," said Thénardier. "But I warn you that if you do not come with the money, I will find Pontmercy and tell him everything I know about you both."
"I will come," said Javert making the words a vow. "If you have not sold it already, bring Pontmercy's ring with you, and you will be paid for that, too." He was unconcerned for himself or for Valjean's safety, since Valjean could defend himself, but Cosette was as innocent as Jacqueline, and Javert had already made several sacrifices to protect Valjean's daughter and the boy she loved.
They stood shoulder to shoulder watching Thénardier make his way down the street to be certain that he didn't double back and try anything underhanded. When he had turned the corner, they both untensed a bit. "If we were not out of doors, I would kiss you," said Valjean in a low voice.
"If we were not out of doors, I would let you," Javert replied, surprising himself by smiling at Valjean. "Do you think he will really go, without a word to his gang?"
Valjean tilted his head. "He would be a fool not to. It would gain him nothing now to tell what he knows, and he is the sort who gives nothing away unless he expects to profit by it."
"He has been a fool before," Javert pointed out. They looked at each other, keeping an eye on the street. Thénardier's gang had several members, and it would not hurt to keep watch long enough to make certain Thénardier had been alone while following the girls to their home. "You made him far too generous an offer," he added, hoping that Valjean would forgive his rudeness in mentioning the fact of another man's wealth.
"It will be worth every franc to have the scoundrel out of our lives," Valjean replied, turning back toward the gate and garden. Very nearly he reached out to give Javert a comradely pat on the shoulder, but he drew his hand back and made a wry face. "I would like to go with you tomorrow to make certain nothing goes wrong."
"I think you would be wiser to stay away, since he knows too much about you, though nothing about me that is not also known to the police," replied Javert. He completed the action himself, and though it must have looked a bit awkward, he found he didn't mind.
Inside, they reassured the women that the threat from Thénardier had been dealt with. Javert was pleased by how easily Valjean set them at ease, welcoming them, bidding them to settle in before discussing their duties. When Matilde hesitantly touched his sleeve, Valjean gave her an inquiring look. "Yes, Madame?"
"I have a child, well enough cared for, but --" she began, plucking nervously at his coat. "My sister has other mouths to feed. I can cook, Monsieur, I can earn my keep and that of my child."
"A place will be made for you, and for your child," Valjean said, clasping her hand in his two large ones.
Once Javert knew he would have felt excluded from this almost familial atmosphere as he had at the brothel. The women often comforted each other -- when a customer was too aggressive, or simply cruel -- and found strength in each other. Without knowing exactly what had changed, Javert felt a part of this. Perhaps it was the warm smile Valjean gave him over Matilde's head, or the twinkle in the eyes that promised more, the longing that Javert had felt since they had first touched, a feeling he was now certain he shared with Valjean.
Because there were too many of them to fit comfortably in the open carriage, Valjean sent the women to buy cloth and thread to make modest dresses, and to find Jacqueline a book about gardens and toads. It surprised Javert how quickly Valjean entrusted them with what to these women must have been a large sum of money, but he had no doubt that they could be relied upon to return.
Meanwhile he and Valjean left on foot to inspect two properties, one a former convent that had been seized by the government, its buildings used as warehouses to store salt. It was in need of repairs but had a dormitory, large kitchens, and rooms that had already been used to teach classes. Because it required renovations, it was available for far less money than Javert would have guessed.
"That may work very well, if we can find men willing to work on the damage. There are those who are superstitious about entering old churches no longer sanctified." Though Javert had discovered that Valjean had become a religious man, the thought of housing prostitutes in a former convent did not appear to trouble him. They had returned to the Rue Plumet ahead of the women and sat down to eat, passing papers between them as Valjean drew sketches of potential improvements to the property. "For now I think it will be safe for the women to remain here, though it will be crowded and one of them must have the maid's room. Will you mind sleeping in the building at the back? It's where I slept when I lived here with Cosette."
The thought of sleeping in Valjean's bed even in Valjean's absence made Javert's belly tighten. "It will undoubtedly give me more room than Madame Veuve provided me," he said awkwardly.
"Come let me show you. There's a spring mechanism that opens the lock to the hidden door." Valjean led him across the narrow courtyard behind the house to the small building which Javert had assumed was used for storage. Once inside, he discovered that Valjean in private led a very spartan existence, with little but a pair of straw chairs, a wooden table, a few books, an earthenware jug and basin, and a mattress on a folding bed. "I have a pair of silver candlesticks, but I have taken them with me to the Rue de l'Homme Armé," Valjean told him. "We will need to bring more candles from the house."
Though he was accustomed to making close observations, Javert did not notice the hidden door until Valjean pointed it out to him. He blamed that on his distraction over the fact that the now-wealthy Valjean appeared to have no stove in the room where he slept, saving the luxuries for the rooms that had housed Cosette. "You live very simply for a man who could have much," he observed.
"I have everything I need here. When I discovered this house, I learned that the secret corridor had been built to allow a chief justice in the Parliament of Paris to visit his mistress unobserved."
Javert traced a finger along the seam that disguised the hidden door. "He must have owned a great deal of property between here and the Rue du Babylone to have built a corridor that spans the distance."
"Property that he bought and sold again, with each tenant believing his high garden wall separated him only from another garden, never knowing of the passage in between." With a grin, Valjean added, "It was the perfect place to hide from you, yes? I could flee from here to the Rue du Babylone and from there to the apartments in the Rue de l'Ouest or the Rue de l'Homme Armé. So you see, I have made my living arrangements for many years with you in mind."
It was an innocent statement, yet Javert felt lightheaded. They were entirely alone here; even if the women from the Siège d'Amour had returned to the house, they would not disturb this small building. He saw the realization dawn on Valjean at precisely the same moment.
For a moment Javert thought Valjean would reach for him, and truly couldn't say whether the energy that coursed through him came from desire or terror. But Valjean dropped his eyes and gestured to one of the chairs. "So much has changed," he murmured, taking the other. "I seem as altered to myself as you seem to me. I have always tried to do what I thought God would have me do, or short of that, the Bishop of Digne, that holy man who changed my life. Yet to remain a free man and to keep Cosette safe, I have been required to remain apart from people and to lie to the person I have loved most in the world."
An echo of indignation made Javert hesitate before sitting stiffly in the chair opposite. "You can't blame me..." he began.
"I don't blame you. I know that it was your duty to search for me. Still, after we left the convent, I believed that you were likely the only man in all of Paris who would still know my face. I never thought to encounter Thénardier here." Valjean's mouth twisted as if he had smelled something unpleasant. "Once he is gone, you will be the only man who could denounce me, and I think you care too much for Jacqueline and her mother to do so, after all the trouble you took to find me." Valjean glanced at the secret door, drawing Javert's eyes to follow. "When I realized that you might have lied for me, I nearly told Linette who I was without any thought for the risk. Last night I found myself telling Cosette about where I come from, in Faverolles." He huffed a laugh. "I think she thought I was desperate to keep her attention now that so much of it is occupied by Marius Pontmercy."
With Valjean's gaze occupied by his consideration of the house's secrets and his thoughts of his own, Javert took several moments to study his face. Valjean looked no older than he did himself -- the women likely thought Valjean younger, for they had called him handsome -- yet Javert knew his true age. It could not be pleasant for him to know that the girl he had raised longed to marry and leave his home. "You have never told her anything about your past?"
"We saw prisoners once. A chain gang. She was horrified. I vowed then that she must never know." As he turned to Javert, Valjean's eyes were haunted. "Yet you know. If Linette has guessed, she might let slip to Jacqueline, who can't even be trusted to remember not to call you Inspector." They exchanged helpless smiles. "I said some of this to Linette -- that I had been indiscreet, that I had told her things that must be kept in confidence. She said she thought that Cosette could not help but love a father who had been so kind to her no matter what he had done. But it isn't only Cosette. Suppose this boy of hers were to learn of my past?"
"You did save his life, pulling him out of the sewer," Javert pointed out wryly. He had not meant the statement to be humorous, yet Valjean burst out laughing. "You did not have to listen to him down there, babbling about Cosette's beautiful eyes and her angelic face. I doubt that there is anything he could learn that would dissuade him from wanting to make her his wife."
"Even if that is true, his grandfather may feel differently. I must hope that her dowry will be sufficient to silence any doubts. I would not put her happiness at risk for any price, even if it meant never seeing her again."
"You must make no rash decisions. You told me that she has seen you give charity to the poor. When she fell in love with that boy, he was living as a penniless student, not a baron. I refuse to believe that any child raised by you would not be as generous as you have been to Jacqueline."
Valjean's face had flushed. "You are the one who has become generous," he said, reaching between them for Javert's hand.
"Perhaps I never realized that generosity could also be a form of justice," Javert said, feeling Valjean's fingers sliding into his.
"I never understood love until Cosette came into my life," said Valjean, "So too it must have been for you with Jacqueline."
It would have been easy enough to let the misapprehension stand, yet Javert knew that it would be unjust not to tell Valjean the truth. "It was not only Jacqueline who sent the stars tumbling from their patterns for me," he admitted, rubbing the back of Valjean's hand with his thumb.
"Perhaps the stars have not changed, but just the way we see them. I see very clearly how I would like the future to appear." Valjean's gaze strayed to Javert's mouth and his fingers made a slight pulling motion in Javert's hand. "I never understood passion, not the sort that drives men to take any risk."
The air between the two chairs thickened as though those same stars had begun to swirl. Valjean leaned over and Javert closed the distance, the kiss as soft and tentative as their earlier ones had been needy and desperate. Their fingers clung as they pulled closer, the scrape of chairs nearly unheard as the space between them dwindled.
"I truly meant to bring you here only to speak with you," Valjean managed, sliding his other hand over the side of Javert's face as they broke apart for a breath. Regret came into his features, though he did not release Javert's hand. "I am an old man. I will disappoint you."
Javert gave off a sound of amusement that was not quite a laugh. "Do you imagine I have anything to compare it to?" he replied. "I have faith in you, in what you have accomplished and what you shall accomplish."
"What we shall accomplish together, my friend," Valjean said, and the way he said friend sounded more like cher ami. He looked up from their clasped hands.
"This thing we share," said Javert, feeling the heat in his cheeks, "I don't know --"
"Neither do I," Valjean said, humbly, "Only that I have never wanted to kiss anyone like this before." He rested his forehead against Javert's. Their knees were touching as well as their hands. "Do you believe it is a sin?"
One of Javert's shoulders lifted in a shrug. The laws of God had always been a much greater mystery to him than the laws of man. "We eat food that the scriptures command us to shun, we serve leaders who commit adultery and fornication. Living in a brothel, I was obliged to put aside wondering when passion was an abomination and when it was merely a weakness."
Valjean's head lifted. "We have both seen the consequences of thoughtless passion, I know. I expect that the women in there have stories to tell that might make anyone believe such desires to be foolish and dangerous, whether or not they may be sinful." Nodding, Javert thought of Laure and the price she had paid for one man's grotesque lusts. "Yet when I kiss you, I never think of sin. It's the opposite -- I want to praise God with all my heart, sometimes with every other part as well. It feels like a gift."
There was no disguising the tremor of longing that made Javert shudder at Valjean's words. God did not often enter his thoughts except when he prayed, yet he understood what Valjean meant, for whatever was between them had awoken a feeling in him for which he had no words. Valjean had called it love, which Javert had long perceived to be the greatest of failings, the excuse given for an endless litany of mistakes and crimes. Even if Valjean was right and he always had been wrong, he knew nothing of how to love without making the same mistakes made by countless others.
Strong fingers slid through his hair, cupping his head, revealing to Javert yet more places on his own skin susceptible to the cravings of the flesh. He let Valjean search his face, and when Valjean appeared to find whatever he had sought, and smiled, he let Valjean bring their mouths together. They had slid their chairs so close that Javert very nearly toppled against him. Then he realized that he was being invited to do just that. Did he dare to accept -- to capitulate to what he knew they both wanted, to fall in every sense?
"Javert!" The shout came from outside, from the direction of the courtyard. "Where are you? Valérie has taught me to knit a snake out of yarn!"
He and Valjean groaned in frustration together, their eyes opening, and Javert knew at once that he would accept...that he would give himself to Valjean in any way Valjean wished. "Perhaps it's just as well," whispered Valjean ruefully. "I would not have you do anything in haste that you might come to regret."
"I suspect I will come to long for more," Javert muttered, making Valjean chuckle. "But we are not likely to have much privacy, not even in here."
"Tomorrow morning, I will leave the Rue de l'Homme Armé very early, before breakfast. I will sneak through the hidden passage and we will be entirely alone." Valjean's voice was low, nearly a growl, and Javert felt himself quiver in response. "But now I suppose we had better learn about what our guests have accomplished."
Though Javert was as much Valjean's guest as the women, it warmed him to hear the suggestion that he might have belonged here even if he had not brought Linette and Jacqueline as the ostensible reason for his arrival. When he stepped outside with Valjean, Jacqueline put her hands on her hips. "What were you doing in there?" she demanded.
"This is where Javert is going to sleep, so that you and your mama and the others will have more room in the house," Valjean replied. "I was showing him the furniture."
"If Javert sleeps all the way out here, I will not be able to visit him when I can't sleep!" she objected.
Clearing his throat, Javert reached to take the unevenly knitted coil of stitches from her hand. "You are getting too old to be crawling into my bed," he said. "And there is no need, now that there will not be men like Monsieur Vallette near you. You will stay with your mother until you have a room of your own. Is this your snake?"
Jacqueline pouted rebelliously but nodded. "Valérie said we would find buttons to use for the eyes. Mama said I could sew them on myself. She said they were going to make dresses from the cloth they bought, but I don't want a blue dress. I want a red dress like Babette used to have."
"I think girls are much prettier in blue dresses, don't you?" Valjean exchanged a small smile with Javert. "I shall tell the others. Shall we go inside?"
The house was a bustle of activity. Linette was sorting thread; Valérie and Matilde were preparing dinner. When he saw them with their heads together in the kitchen, their hands brushing as they smiled at one another, Javert wondered whether there was more than friendship between them. He would not have guessed, since Valérie had been so quick to agree to come away from the Siège d'Amour, but perhaps she had thought to help Matilde escape later on, before she knew that Valjean would find a place for both of them.
It was strange yet not unpleasant to have dinner with the women after Valjean had gone to get Cosette, listening to talk of dresses and shopping and a man they all knew who had walked into a shop while they were there and pretended not to recognize them. It was even stranger to remove himself to the little building behind the house, to undress and to lie upon Valjean's bed. At first Javert tried not to imagine Valjean there, but it was useless, so he tried to keep his thoughts to chaste matters -- Valjean reading the Bible, Valjean praying. Not Valjean asleep with his chest and throat exposed above the covers. Certainly not Valjean waking with an erection. Absolutely not Valjean putting his hand where Javert could not help putting his own in an effort to relieve the insistent urge that threatened to keep him awake all night, otherwise.
That night Javert had a vivid dream. In it, he was strolling along the Seine; he could see his reflection in the water and hear the laughter of a child racing along the banks. He thought it must be Jacqueline, but when he looked up, he saw a little boy racing ahead of him, waving and calling out to him though he could not hear the words. Suddenly, in the way of dreams, Valjean's face appeared next to his in the water, and he realized Valjean was also beside him. "That one looks like you," Valjean said, pointing to the boy. Javert knew the boy was not truly related to him, but also knew that in the dream, to pretend that it was so had become a joke between himself and Valjean.
"You are an old fool," Javert murmured fondly as the dream spun away.
"You're a warm one," said Valjean, only it was no longer in a dream, but from over Javert's shoulder.
Javert gave a start, then groaned. The bed was not properly sized to accommodate them both, yet Valjean had crawled in beside him, pressing along his back. "You are always climbing into bed with me," he said, voice still rough from sleep and the effects of a happy dream dissolving into such a welcome reality, something Javert could hardly remember happening before.
Valjean chuckled. "I told you I would come before breakfast. You were sleeping so deeply I didn't have the heart to wake you."
"Until you did," Javert refuted him, tugging on the quilt that draped over them both. Only then did he realize that Valjean's arm was around his waist and there was no space between them at all.
Shaking his head, Valjean chuckled again. "I have been here a quarter of an hour. You hardly moved when I climbed in." Something rubbed against Javert's ankle -- Valjean's bare foot. He was fairly certain there were two shirts separating them, but his senses were so overwhelmed that he couldn't be sure. The hand around his waist squeezed him briefly but made no more demands on him than that. "If God grants me no other joy besides this, I will end my days content," Valjean murmured, the words slightly muffled against the skin of Javert's neck.
"Only if that is what you wish," Javert said, sliding his own hand over Valjean's, lacing their fingers together.
"I thought I wished to be a good papa and run from the unforgiving Inspector Javert all my life," Valjean replied. He had found a spot on Javert's shoulder that drew his mouth, lips pressing the skin. It should not have focused every nerve Javert possessed onto that one tiny spot. "I find I do not wish to run any more."
Javert slid his fingers free of Valjean and turned around in the bed, careful not to fall off the narrow mattress. Valjean was indeed wearing a shirt, but the effect was not angelic, not with the devilish grin he wore as he waited for Javert to settle beside him. "If you ran now, I would be obliged to find you and bring you back," replied Javert, though the words were less important than the fact that Valjean was going to kiss him.
Even expecting it, the kiss was once again like a star exploding, sending heat into all of Javert's extremities. His prick had begun stirring at the first sound of Valjean's voice; with the kiss, there was no way Valjean could have missed the effect he was having. "I would not resist you," Valjean said, pressing close as if in support of the effects the kisses had on both of them.
"You have become quite accommodating in your old age," Javert said, wondering how the press of a foot against his ankle could leave him breathless with eagerness.
That brought a chuckle to Valjean's throat, though belatedly Javert realized his comment could have been taken awry. "If I had known you would kiss me at the end of the chase, I might have ended it sooner," he said, though before he quite finished speaking they were kissing again. Valjean's fingers stroked his cheek, tracing the edges of his beard. Javert wanted to touch Valjean as well, but was uncertain where to begin, or, once begun if he could stop if Valjean asked him to.
He still had no name for the longings Valjean unleashed in him. All the words he had heard in the brothel and before, in his life as a policeman, seemed foreign and crude. None of them could describe the desire coursing through his blood, demanding access to every part of him. And he felt ashamed, for had he not already profaned the very bed they were occupying when his thoughts the past night had refused to remain chaste?
"Wait," he insisted, "I must...confess."
That drew Valjean back enough to look at him in surprise. "I am not a priest." A smile flitted over his lips. "Indeed, I feel less like a priest every moment that you touch me."
Stubbornly Javert shook his head. "I have abused..." He dropped his eyes, letting his fingers go still. "...your hospitality," he finished, not daring to look up.
"I see." Valjean sounded curious but his good humor had not abated. "How have you committed this abuse? Did you drink all of my wine or miss the chamberpot in the middle of the night?" He cupped Javert's chin just below the whiskers and urged it up.
Wordlessly Javert shook his head, color flooding his cheeks. Despite the heat rushing into his face, he still felt the pulse of blood further down and wondered that it still had the strength and the audacity to shame him now. "I committed a greater sin than that, though I could not help myself."
At last understanding lit Valjean's eyes. "I see," he said simply, letting his fingers slide into the hollow of Javert's throat. "I believe that I committed the same sin last night, though I didn't think of it as such at the time. Or since."
"I should not have done so in your bed," Javert replied, though even the memory of it was enough to send a skitter of pleasure down his spine.
Valjean gave a shrug, the motion bringing his chest closer to Javert's again. "You are my guest, and I give you leave to commit any sort of act under my roof that you deem necessary." He smiled, his fingers still tracing down the front of Javert's shirt. "Or pleasurable."
Javert gave a small moan. "You are too generous. I tried not to think of you --"
Valjean kissed him again, slowly, until he had taken the breath from Javert. "I thought of you too, when I lay in a bed that was too far away from you. I thought of how I would wake early and come to you, kiss you..." This time Valjean moaned, sliding one hand around Javert's neck.
"Perhaps it is less of a sin if we commit it together," Javert suggested, for sin or no, his body was aching to commit some act with Valjean.
Slowly Valjean drew back, his lips wet with kisses. A mischievous star sparkled in his eyes. "Or no sin at all," he agreed, pushing the covers down over their hips. "Shall I show you what I did?" Javert nodded, giving the blanket another push so that his view was unimpeded. Valjean wore a simple shirt, as did Javert, and both shirts were tented, arousal barely confined by linen. There were spots of color in Valjean's cheeks as he let Javert look. "I am a simple man, and my pleasures too are simple, but thinking of you, here in my bed, waiting for me..." He did not complete the thought, his voice grown breathy.
"I too, could find no rest," Javert admitted, following the achingly slow progress as Valjean tugged the white shirt up his thighs. Valjean made a sound as though the fabric itself was caressing him as he drew it over the firm cock beneath. There was no question that Valjean was just as aroused as Javert. What harm would it do to find such pleasure in the same sin -- the same act -- that they had each committed separately the night before again in each other's company? "Did you leave the candle burning?" he asked.
Valjean shook his head. "I had put it out already, for I thought after such a day yesterday I'd fall asleep quickly." He bunched up the shirt and pushed it to the side, leaving himself exposed from the waist down. "Instead I thought of all the kisses we shared yesterday, and of the way your face looked when we pulled away." As though he was not even aware of it, Valjean's hand had drifted onto his thigh, then the heel making a slow descent into the valley of his thighs. "Did you?"
Almost Javert forgot his initial question. "Mine was out as well. I have never left it burning."
Valjean's fingers slid beneath his prick, aligning it toward Javert, making him moan. "I could not stop thinking of the way your mouth makes a smile, as though your lips are committing a treason your mind will not allow." One finger swiped over the tip of Valjean's cock. "To see you smile at me like that --" The fluid glistened on his fingertips as he pushed the foreskin down.
Distracted by the sight of this, it did not seem so momentous a thing to Javert to pull his own shirt up, exposing himself. There was no disguising the effect Valjean had on him. When his firm flesh was revealed, the noise Valjean made would have brought him to hardness if his body had not already reached that state of anticipation.
"That is a fine sight," Valjean admired, "Fine and strong."
"It has been causing me all manner of difficulties of late with its unruly behavior," Javert said, meaning to sound quite stern, though the effect sounded playful even to his own ears.
It took only the slightest movement of his hips for Valjean's cock to be quite close to Javert's, close enough for the tip to brush over his. Javert moaned at the contact, immediately craving more. He slipped his fingers around his cock and pressed back until there was no distinguishing which gleaming drops had sprung from whom.
"I didn't mean to distress you with my kisses," Valjean said hoarsely, not sounding repentant at all, not with his eyes sparkling so. He was looking between them at the tentative movement of Javert's fingers. "Though I don't think I shall be able to stop kissing you."
"Then I predict you will give me no end of difficulties in the future," replied Javert, hardly aware that his fingers had made a circle around his prick as he watched Valjean do the same.
The foot came back, bracing on Javert's shin as Valjean pushed himself through his fingers. Javert felt a shiver of arousal course through him, pacing his own strokes to match each one of Valjean's. He felt no shame, as though his confession had washed him clean and Valjean had given him penance. The previous night, when he had touched himself this way, the pleasure had been intense but furtive, hastily achieved. When he rubbed himself against Valjean's prick, he never wanted the pleasure to end. Their hands moved closer, knuckles brushing as they both groaned. Then Valjean's fingers switched, wrapping around Javert's cock, moving with him. There were no words for the way Valjean made him feel, nothing he had ever learned in the brothel where the urges of men were a constant source of conversation.
"Jean," he breathed, letting his own fingers slide away. His chest shook in short breaths, unable to expand fully while this sultry pleasure coursed through him. Left free, Javert's hand maneuvered to the only place it wished to be, exulting when Valjean cried out. Together they sought to please one another, straining toward each other. The room was growing lighter as the sunrise found ways to creep through the curtains, but the shimmering thread woven between them seemed as bright as the stars. Their movements were unhurried as they learned the feel of one another, letting their hands slide lower, and behind, until they were thrusting together with their legs knotted and their fingers growing brave in what they would touch and clutch and stroke.
Javert was fairly certain that he cried out first, shaking the small bed. But even through the haze of his own delight, he felt his hand grow wet and slick from Valjean's climax, and knowing he had been the cause of it was the most pleasing of all.
For long moments their hands held in place, arms and legs and cocks in a happy tangle between them. Still panting, Valjean chuckled. "That was quite a bit better than what I did last night. Or any other night."
Javert felt color spotting his cheeks, but he felt no shame, only the deepest satisfaction he had ever known. "That was quite a bit better than I imagined anything could be," admitted Javert, nestling comfortably in Valjean's arms. Tenderly, Valjean used the edge of his shirt to wipe off Javert's hand and his own, sliding the shirt back down over his backside. "We'll have to get out of bed and make ourselves presentable. We have much to do today," Javert added in a rather slothful voice.
The narrow bed lurched as the covers were pulled back over them. It was most comfortable -- indeed, it was necessary -- for Javert to wrap his arms around Valjean's waist to remain safely on the scanty mattress. He could think of no reason to rise just yet, not with Valjean sliding fingers into his hair. "We shall get up...presently," agreed Valjean.
Though Valjean insisted on accompanying him to meet Thénardier at the Port de l'Arsenal, Javert demanded that he remain inside the closed carriage he had hired. "Let us ask Valérie to accompany us. If he is foolish enough to have brought his gang to try to rob me, she will be able to attract the attention of the police." Jacqueline was disappointed to be deprived of a ride in a carriage with horses, but her mother promised to help her finish her snake and the subject was dropped.
With Valérie in the coach, Javert did not dare to touch Valjean's hand or to speak of anything that might remind Valjean of what had happened between them that morning. But he could not keep himself from remembering every time he caught a glimpse of Valjean's strong hands or powerful thighs. His lower body tightened as it always had when he looked at Valjean in a way that he now recognized unmistakably as arousal.
They spoke to Valérie, learning that she had been born in Paris and all but sold as a girl to a man who had treated her very badly. She had run away, but no one would hire a housekeeper without references, so there was only one way she knew to make money. She had been very lucky to encounter Linette, who had introduced her to Madame Veuve, and felt fortunate that she had been able to work at the Siège d'Amour instead of in the streets, but if Valjean was willing to let her have a room and a little money to work as a maid, she would feel as if God himself had rescued her.
The ship was being prepared for the tide to turn as Javert left the coach, looking around for Thénardier and his men. He did not have long to wait, and Thénardier appeared to be alone, glancing about nervously as though he too expected a trap. When he saw Javert, he held up the ring he had taken from Marius Pontmercy. "My end of the bargain. Now give me yours."
"Not until you are on the gangway."
"My family is already on board." Javert blinked at him; he had not realized that Thénardier still had any family. Glancing up, he saw a dark-haired girl lurking by the rail who reminded him of Éponine. Hurriedly they approached the ship, the weight of coin in the sacks making Javert's arms ache, for Valjean had thought Thénardier would refuse bank notes that might be worthless to him in America. Valjean had thought to offer even more money to keep Thénardier honest, but Javert was certain that a man like that would only use wealth to set himself up peddling women's flesh or African slaves.
When he peered at the gold in the sacks, Thénardier at last stopped looking around as if he suspected a trick. "Thank your bardache for me," he spat, giving Javert a contemptuous smile as he turned to board the ship. "Cock-sucker."
"I have been called worse things," said Javert calmly. He waited until the gangway had been withdrawn and the ship was underway to return to the coach, though it was a long, tiring hour during which he kept a constant watch for any sign of trouble. He did not believe that Thénardier could swim to shore carrying the gold, but he would be certain with his own eyes that there was no mischief.
They were all very tired when they returned to the Rue Plumet, and Valjean said his farewells early. "I will return tomorrow morning," he promised Javert, not quite winking. Javert hoped that the women did not notice his blush.
Valjean continued to visit in the mornings before they set out to inspect buildings and hire workmen. If the women noticed that the two of them always left the lodge behind the courtyard together, or if they were aware when Valjean had a larger bed installed in it, they were too polite to mention it to their patron. But Linette knew Javert better than the others did. One evening when she called Valjean his cher ami and Javert felt bound to defend Valjean's honor by objecting, she put her hands on her hips and said, "Do you expect me to believe that you are not in love with him?"
Javert had no answer. He had never believed that men could fall in love with men; at most, he had thought, they might share furtive pleasure that was not entirely different from what men visited whores to experience. He still did not know of what to make of the passion for Valjean that only grew each time they shared a bed and discovered more about how to satisfy one another. Shrugging, he replied, "You believed that he was my lover the first time you met him."
"I was wrong to make that assumption. But you must have been in love with him for many years to have trusted him so quickly when you found him in Paris," she pressed. "Since you served him as his chief of police while he was a mayor? Or did it start before that? In Toulon?"
"I treated him terribly in Toulon." It was a thought that Javert tried to avoid. If Valjean had forgiven him, he told himself, then there was no reason to relive those years. But sometimes something reminded him -- some show of strength on Valjean's part, or, worse, some selfless act to protect another -- and he loathed himself as much as he had done on the night he had failed to save Laure.
Linette was studying him, and suddenly her eyes grew wide. "He said he held the meanest position at the prison, not that he worked there," she recalled. "Were you his jailer?" Javert refused to look at her. He would never betray Valjean's history. Sitting beside him, she patted his shoulder. "Well, it is no matter to me. Monsieur Fauchelevent has saved my life and Jacqueline's. Even I am a little in love with him. But my good opinion means much less to him than yours. I know that he loves you."
The words settled in Javert's chest, making it ache. Like so many of his previous beliefs, his understanding of love had been transformed these past months. Was it possible that what Linette had spoken was true? The intensity with which he wished it to be so decided Javert. "Then I suppose I love him, too," he told her, the words tasting foreign on his tongue, as if he had spoken in a language he was only just learning.
"You should say so to him." With a fond smile, she leaned in and kissed his cheek. "It is hard on him, losing his daughter to another man. God must have meant for you to find him just when you did."
"If God played any role in this, it was for my benefit." Javert glanced toward the garden, where Matilde had planted vegetables that were taking root. "And for Jacqueline's. And yours."
Sighing, Linette rested her head against his shoulder. "I have been angry with God for a very long time," she admitted. "But God sent you to me, and to the rest of us. Even to that boy Marius whom Monsieur Fauchelevent says you saved. You are both angels of mercy, Monsieur Javert."
He was still pondering what Linette had said when Valjean arrived the next day. "Now that the matter of Thénardier is settled, I would like to bring you to visit Marius," he told Javert with a smile. "His fever is much better, and he and his grandfather both wish to express their gratitude."
Indeed, the wealthy Monsieur Gillenormand whom Marius had described as such a dreadful old man seemed welcoming and grateful to Javert. Once he and Valjean were left alone with Gillenormand's grandson, the boy did as well.
"Monsieur," said Marius, his voice weak but steady. "Is gratitude enough for all you have done for me?"
Embarrassed, Javert waved a dismissive hand. "I could have done nothing for you without the aid of Monsieur Fauchelevent. Indeed, had it not been for him, I would not have been at the barricade. He is the one to whom you may direct your thanks."
Nodding, Marius turned his attention to Valjean. "My friends are dead and gone. Cosette is all I love in the world. If you will give me your blessing, I will devote myself to her happiness. Even my grandfather cares very much for her, and he is not an easy man to impress."
Valjean pursed his lips, making Javert wonder whether Monsieur Gillenormand had expressed reservations about acquiring a relative as odd and reclusive as Monsieur Fauchelevent. He doubted it; the old man seemed so happy to have his grandson returned that much would be forgiven, though perhaps not everything. "All I would ever ask is that you make Cosette happy," said Valjean. "If you will do that, you will be like a son to me." He glanced at Javert and continued, "But I must tell you the truth about who I am," ignoring the sharp shake of Javert's head as Javert tried to dissuade Valjean from what he knew would come next.
Marius's brow furrowed. "Whether you were a Republican or a Legitimist doesn't matter to me. You are Cosette's father, a gentleman --"
"I am not a gentleman, and I am not Cosette's father. It is necessary that you should believe me here, Monsieur le Baron Pontmercy. I am a peasant from Faverolles who earned his living by pruning trees. We were very poor, and sometimes there was no work to be found. I stole a loaf of bread to save my sister's starving children and was caught and sent to the galleys. Years ago, I broke parole and took on a false name. So you see, I will be unable to sign Cosette's marriage documents. I would commit a forgery in putting my name to them."
Though they had been assured that Marius's fever had broken, sweat had returned to the young man's brow. He stared at Valjean, then at Javert. "Is this true?" he demanded.
"Would you like me to tell you that Monsieur Fauchelevent has gone mad?" asked Javert, wondering whether that indeed would be preferable to the truth.
"I would believe you." The boy's hand shook as he pushed his hair back from his damp forehead. "Not Cosette's father! Does she know?"
"I have told her that I adopted her when she was orphaned. She needed me, and I loved her. I beg you not to destroy her happiness in her memories of a loving father by telling her that I am a convict."
"But why do you tell me now? Has the Inspector denounced you?"
"Certainly not," Javert said heatedly. "I am no longer an inspector, and would not denounce him even to have that title returned to me. This man is --" Valjean's head had swung around to look at him, and Javert found that he had to swallow around the lump in his throat before he could continue. "He is the finest man I have ever known. He is also the strongest, yet there is no cruelty or selfishness in him. I expect that he told you the truth because he believes it to be his duty to be honest."
"You could have kept your secret to yourself." Marius's voice trembled much like his hand. "You could have allowed Cosette and myself both to admire you with no word of this."
"I could have lied to you both. But you must understand that if I were ever caught, she would be disgraced." Valjean's face was a mask, yet Javert could hear the anguish in his voice. "For her sake, it would be better if you married her quickly and she saw less and less of me."
Both Valjean and Marius looked as if they might weep at any moment. Javert had had enough of this foolishness. "Indeed, it seems I must tell you that Monsieur Fauchelevent has gone mad," he told Marius, who presently appeared too young and weak to Javert to be contemplating marriage. "As for you, Jean, I will tell you what I have told you before. No child raised by you could fail to have a heart as generous as your own, whether she is your daughter by blood or not. We have spent weeks seeking to protect the bond between parents and children, and here you stand, threatening to abandon Cosette without so much as an explanation. You will break her heart."
"She will have Marius..." began Valjean, to which Marius nodded his fervent agreement.
"Oh, yes, she will have Marius." Javert turned back to the young man in question. "What do you imagine would have happened to you if, instead of letting Monsieur Fauchelevent bring you to safety, I had turned you over to the police as one of the traitors from the barricade?" He watched Marius wince. "I know nothing of your politics, but your friends called themselves the friends of the downtrodden. Will you betray their memory by dismissing this man who was once so poor that he stole bread to feed children? He came to the barricade to save you at great personal risk. I had to pretend to shoot him as a spy in order to rescue him so that he might then rescue others."
"You were the spy?" Marius's head swiveled between Valjean and Javert.
"I was never a spy," Valjean replied, though he had not taken his eyes off Javert. "I discovered Cosette's letter to you and came to the barricade to find you. Had it not been for Javert, I would have died there, as would you."
At that precise moment, Cosette burst into the room. "You said that you would speak to Marius only briefly, and here you are exhausting him. I will wager that you are talking politics! I have told Marius not to think about such matters. With all the years ahead of us, there will be plenty of time to help the poor." She turned her dazzling smile on the boy, then on her father. "Now promise that you will only speak of how happy we will all be together."
Valjean and Marius looked at each other. "You heard her," Javert muttered to Valjean."Give her your promise." Marius still looked shocked by all that he had heard. Just then Javert remembered the ring he still carried in his pocket. Pulling it out, he handed it to young Pontmercy. "You may thank Monsieur Fauchelevent for this as well. I demanded it of the man who stole it from you, but he was convinced to return it only by this man's persuasion."
Marius understood at once what it might have meant if Thénardier had announced that the owner of that ring had been found fleeing from the barricade. His head bowed as he slipped the ring onto his finger. Then he extended his hand to Valjean. "I promise," he said. "No matter what may have happened in the past, Monsieur Fauchelevent, not a day shall pass but we will prove our love to you, whom we shall call a father to us both."
For one long moment, Javert feared that Valjean was about to do something as foolish as to refuse this reprieve. But Valjean glanced at Javert, then at Cosette's smiling face, and he accepted Marius's hand, covering it with both of his. "I also promise," he agreed, blinking rapidly. "For the sake of Cosette, it must be so."
"There," said Cosette, looking satisfied. "Thank you, Monsieur Javert. But now you must let Marius rest, both of you." Turning, she marched to the door with the clear expectation that they would follow.
"I will see you tomorrow," Marius said to Valjean, who glanced at Javert. He tried to communicate by raising and lowering his eyebrows that Valjean needed to agree, but he might not have been entirely successful, for Valjean spluttered a laugh instead. A moment later Valjean was wiping his eyes.
"Papa?" asked Cosette in alarm. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing. Nothing is the matter." Valjean looked back at Marius, who nodded. "I will see you tomorrow."
Monsieur Gillenormand invited them all to stay for dinner, but Valjean declined, saying that he needed to take Javert back to his relatives at the Rue Plumet. It seemed that Javert would indeed be claiming Linette and Jacqueline as a long-lost niece and grand-niece, at least where Marius's family was concerned. He wondered what Linette would say to learn that by association, she was also a relative of convicts. From what she had told him about her own family and her lack of concern about Valjean's origins, he hoped it would not distress her.
They left Cosette in the company of Marius's aunt and departed in the carriage. As soon as the gate had disappeared, Valjean linked his fingers through Javert's, hidden on the seat between them. He was quiet and appeared moved.
"Please tell me that you have given up this preposterous idea that Cosette would be better off without you in her life," Javert asked him.
"I have, because of you. Indeed, you left me no choice." Valjean turned toward him, fingers tightening around Javert's own, looking as though he might kiss Javert despite the open carriage. "And you have left Marius no choice but to accept me as I am or to go back on his word to Cosette, which I think he would not do."
They fell silent, both understanding that it was not safe in such a carriage to speak of the things they had discussed with Marius. Eventually Valjean told Javert that he thought the headmaster of a girl's school should live in his own house separate from the dormitories that housed the girls and teachers, and that if Javert agreed to the arrangement, it seemed sensible for the school's owner to have rooms there as well. He did not release Javert's hand as he spoke. Javert did agree most fervently to the arrangement, which Valjean then confessed he had already discussed with the builders, who had drawn up plans.
Linette was in the garden when they reached the Rue Plumet, helping Matilde prop up a plant with a stake, but after they had nodded brief greetings, Javert had indicated to her with a gesture of his head that they would be going behind the house to the building where he slept, and she did not attempt to speak to them further. "Before you go, there is one more thing I wish to discuss," Javert told Valjean in a low voice. "I believe you were right to ask Marius not to tell Cosette that you were a convict." While Valjean was still nodding, Javert added, "You must tell her yourself."
Valjean stopped in his tracks. "I could never."
Catching his arm, Javert led him to the building where they had shared the happiest mornings of Javert's life. He brought Valjean inside and lit the candles. "On the night I met Cosette, when you went to the barricade before me, she asked me if I knew about your past. Now Marius knows it, and when he fully recovers, she may ask him what you've told him. I also believe Linette has guessed, and as you once said to me, if Linette were to let slip to Jacqueline, who can't even remember not to call me your cher ami --"
"You are my cher ami." The interruption was sufficient to shock Javert into silence. "The child in her innocence saw it at once. We have never been able to persuade her not to say it because she knows it to be true."
Javert had nearly forgotten what he meant to say. "Jean," he began, then had to pause to compose himself. Valjean too had pulled out a handkerchief and was once again swiping at his eyes. "Perhaps we are both cowards," muttered Javert.
"You are as far from being a coward as any man I have ever known," Valjean declared. "Why would you say such a thing?"
"Yes, you're brave as well when it comes to rescuing brash young men from barricades. But you have been unable to face your daughter who adores you with the truth. And --" Javert recalled saying the words to Linette in the garden. As hard as it had been to let her coax the truth from him, it was harder to say it now, when it mattered so much more. His voice was low and unsteady as he forced himself to speak. "I have been just as unable to say that I regret forcing you to live in hiding all those years when you might have been a Man of Mercy to far more girls like Jacqueline. And to tell you that I love you. You have been the --"
Once again Javert broke off, for Valjean was kissing him. It was even more clumsy than their first kiss, since there were tears on Valjean's face and he had to break away to sniffle, but it was also even more welcome. They stumbled against each other and ended up sitting on the bed, arms around one another at awkward angles, but Javert scarcely noticed, for Valjean was speaking between kisses. "I am the coward. I should have told you I loved you this morning or the last. I feared you might think I meant something sordid by it. I think I have loved you since that night in the brothel when I first saw you plain."
"You saw me covered in shit," Javert objected, not sure whether Valjean was laughing or crying.
"And you saw how little difference that made. Before I left, I was already yours." Valjean caught Javert's face between his hands. "I am yours, my love. I will be yours in any way you wish."
The effect these words had on Javert's heart was only slightly greater than the effect they had on his cock. He shuddered softly, clinging to Valjean. "As will I. But they will be expecting me for dinner --"
It was such a ridiculous thing to say that Valjean broke into a smile. "And I must bring Cosette home, or I will have to explain about my cher ami to far too many people. But I will be back tomorrow. And the next morning. For as many mornings as you will have me."
"I will have you as often as I can." Javert had not meant the words to come out so passionately, but they made Valjean smile more.
"Then come walk me to my carriage, and wait for me in the morning." They exchanged one more heated kiss that did nothing to help Javert look more respectable in his trousers. Valjean hesitated, looking at him. "Do you really think I should tell my daughter that the man she calls Papa is a convict from the galleys? After I have tried to protect her life from any blemish? Now, when she is soon to be a bride?"
"Do you really think that she has not wondered why you live as you do, and that worse possibilities have not crossed her mind? She was not an infant when you took her from Thénardier -- she may remember more than you believe. She has seen the destitute of Paris with you. The demons she imagines may be worse than any truth."
Valjean looked very serious. "Since you found me at the barricade, you have not made a single suggestion that I have come to regret. But Cosette -- she trusts me, she loves me --"
"And she knows you better than anyone. Even better than I do. I don't know her well, and I am certainly no expert on women, but it seems clear to me that if you could make me love you so much that I don't know what I would do if you disappeared, she must feel the same way. Ask her if she wants to know the truth no matter how unhappy, and when she tells you that she does, then tell her."
Fingers touched Javert's cheek. "I don't know what I would do without you, either. Perhaps you're right, and I have been a coward. God has given me so many gifts. He brought you here. I will ask Him to let Cosette see me as I know He must, a man who has made many mistakes and been shown much grace," murmured Valjean.
Of course Javert had been right, Valjean explained the next morning, though he was trembling, his eyes wet with the tears he had managed not to shed in his daughter's presence. Cosette had not entirely forgotten the terrible people from whom Valjean had rescued her, nor had she been blind to his scars, and she had noticed his dread and unhappiness after they had seen the chain gang. That she still adored her father had never been in doubt. Her distress had been only about the pain that Valjean must have suffered, and her unhappiness remained only that Valjean had never found his sister's family, those children who would have been her cousins.
Then Javert was obliged to explain something he had long forgotten. When Valjean had first disappeared, Javert had investigated every possible lead to find the convict, traveling to where Valjean had been born. In Oulchy-le-Château, Javert had found several young people who claimed descent from a woman whose family name had been Valjean before her marriage. They were too young to have known Jean, but they were very likely relatives of his, since their father came from Faverolles.
"This is a miracle!" Valjean exclaimed, kissing Javert over and over, too affected to do anything besides. Javert did not mind. He had not known that he was capable of making Valjean so happy. Though he cautioned that it had been many years past and it might no longer be possible to find the family, Valjean's delight was not diminished. "I had never dared to hope that any of them survived. I put them out of my mind. To know that you discovered them is a gift beyond my prayers. When things are settled with the school, you must help me to seek them out."
Valjean had brought one of Cosette's dolls for Jacqueline, who promptly named it Laure. This evoked a strange combination of feelings in Javert. He was glad that the girl remembered Laure, whom as far as Jacqueline knew had died of a rare illness, and at the same time it caused his throat to tighten every time he heard Laure's name. He could easily imagine Laure sitting at the table with Linette and Matilde, or gazing out the window at the stars, and at the same time he knew that had the circumstances of her death not changed him, this gathering would not exist.
"I want to do something for Laure," he told Valjean, who nodded.
"Do you know where she comes from? If she has family?" Javert did not. He had asked Linette and the other women, but they knew as little as Javert: that her mother had told fortunes, that she had run away from a father who terrified her. "Then we shall plant laurel all around the school, and the air will smell sweet, and we will think of her. You have made all this happen because of her. I think she would be happy for Jacqueline, and for Matilde's little Jeanne." He paused, and added, "Just as I hope Fantine would be content."
It did not feel sufficient, yet Javert accepted that he had done what he could. He took Linette to visit the buildings that were being converted into the school, introducing her to the men working there as his niece, and marveled at how gracefully she transformed herself into a shy schoolteacher, though she had been terrified of meeting someone who would recognize her from the Siège d'Amour.
Valérie remained in touch with Emilie, who worked as a maid for Madame Veuve and who occasionally shared gossip she had heard in the house. One day she raced down the street as Javert returned in the carriage with Valjean. "I have news," she told them breathlessly. "Emilie heard that the maître des requêtes who murdered Laure is dead. He was killed by an assassin. It will be announced tomorrow."
Javert tried to keep himself still, though he felt a shudder run so deeply through him that he thought he would have to lean against the carriage to remain upright. He felt Valjean's hand settle reassuringly against his back. "Have they made arrests?" Valjean asked her.
"That's why the agents were talking about it. They say it was Montparnasse. The police expect him to hang for his crimes."
It was nearly as much of a shock to hear this as to hear that the despicable counsellor was dead. All through dinner, while the women spoke happily to one another, greatly comforted to know that Laure's killer would never hurt anyone else and nearly as relieved to discover that the vicious Montparnasse was no longer on the streets, Javert found that he could scarcely eat a bite. He retired early yet slept badly.
In the morning, when Valjean slipped beside him into the bed that Javert thought of as theirs, since it had been purchased for them both and scarcely a day had passed when they had not shared it, Javert said, "I am troubled. I don't believe that Montparnasse killed the maître des requêtes."
Valjean's arm slid around him. "Surely the police wouldn't have arrested him without evidence?"
"The police have been trying to get rid of Montparnasse for years. He is known to be an assassin, but we never caught him at the scene of a crime. It is likely that the Préfecture demanded that the inspectors redouble their efforts. When a counsellor was murdered, there would have been an equal need to find and apprehend the culprit quickly to impress those in positions of authority. By blaming the murder on Montparnasse, the police will have solved two of the biggest problems in Paris."
Valjean nodded against Javert's shoulder. "Even if that is true, if this Montparnasse is such a villain, isn't is possible that he did kill the man in question?" When Javert did not answer at once, he felt Valjean tense beside him, then raise himself up on an elbow. "Do you know something about the death of the maître des requêtes? Were you involved?"
Though all his muscles protested at the sudden movement, Javert sat up. "How could you ask me such a thing? Do you truly believe me capable of that?"
Valjean's fingers found his own and refused to let go even when Javert tried to pull angrily away. "I could not imagine these hands bringing harm to anyone," said Valjean softly, stroking the back of his wrist. "Nor could I imagine you taking the law into your own hands, no matter how terrible a miscarriage of justice you had witnessed. But sometimes I remember the man I thought you were, and I have trouble understanding how you have come from being that man to being the man I now know you to be."
"Laure's death made me see that not all figures of authority were worthy of respect or obedience. It did not make me insensible to the law," snapped Javert.
"When I changed, it was because I understood the grace of God, and then I learned to love Cosette. But no matter how much love I may give you or Jacqueline may give you, I have never been certain that you trust in God's love as I do." The bed lurched and Javert found himself engulfed in Valjean's arms. "When I saw the look on your face, yesterday, I thought that if you had learned the maître des requêtes was menacing another woman, you would have done whatever was necessary to stop him. I would have understood -- I would not have blamed you, I would have forgiven you. I would forgive you for anything. And God would forgive you, but I don't believe you would forgive yourself."
Though the room was warm and Valjean's arms were warmer, Javert could not keep from shivering. He had been prepared to shout at Valjean, to tell him that all their plans together had been a mistake, that Valjean was not the man whom Javert had believed him to be if he thought Javert could reason away such a crime. Yet as Valjean spoke, Javert knew that it was true. If he had seen the maître des requêtes threaten another woman, he would not have hesitated to bludgeon the man, to stab him, to do whatever was necessary to be certain that that evil creature would never so much as gaze upon a woman again. Valjean was wrong only in thinking that Javert would not immediately have taken responsibility for the deed.
"If that is what you believe of me, then perhaps you should not trust me to enforce the rules at a school," whispered Javert.
Valjean shook his head. "Justice has always meant something different to you than it has to me," he said, his hand moving in small circles on Javert's arm as if Javert were an animal in need of calming. "I don't believe that you would ever hurt a child. I don't believe that you would ever hurt me -- not unless you caught me in an act of violence against another. I know you to be honest, but I also know that you helped to hide Jacqueline in that brothel, and I think there is little you wouldn't do to protect her." He paused to let Javert compose himself. "I'm sorry to have upset you, but you seemed so upset already that I thought you might have something you wished to confess. Why are you so certain that Montparnasse could not have killed the maître des requêtes, and why does it distress you so?"
The words, and the way Valjean held him, as if nothing Javert said could make him wish to leave -- as if he truly would love Javert no matter what Javert might have confessed -- had turned his anger into regret. For so many years, Javert had believed the very worst of Valjean, yet here sat Valjean saying that there was nothing for which he would not forgive Javert. He had been wrong to think that justice was more difficult than love. Swallowing, he tried to explain. "Montparnasse is arrogant, but he would not have attacked such a powerful man. Like Thénardier, the villain is an opportunist. He preys on people he can seduce. It's how he has evaded capture for so long. An attack on a man like the maître des requêtes would have presented a much greater risk than opportunity for reward. Not even the entire Patron-Minette gang would have taken on a government official."
"Then you are worried that the real killer remains on the streets," guessed Valjean, squeezing his shoulder.
"He would have to be a madman to have attacked a counsellor. Such men are dangerous."
"Perhaps he was driven mad. Perhaps he knew something like you know about the maître des requêtes, perhaps he witnessed something he could not live with. Or perhaps the villain was killed by a woman -- someone like Laure who fought back." Again Valjean stroked Javert's arm. "Do you still have any friends among the police? It might set your mind at ease to inquire."
"They would not speak to me about this. It matters to no one what I believe. The maître des requêtes himself made certain that I would not remain a policeman." Yet evidently one of them had been speaking in the presence of Emilie, perhaps Robitaille, who might tell Javert what he knew. "I must visit the Siège d'Amour," he decided. "Don't tell the others. Jacqueline believes that Laure died of a rare ailment and I would prefer that it remain so."
"Would you like me to go with you?" asked Valjean.
Javert wanted that very much -- to have Valjean beside him to steady him in the carriage, to speak to him afterward, to help him to face whatever he might learn. But it was much too great a risk, for so many reasons that Javert found he did not need to explain. "I dare not," he said, and Valjean nodded. "I will tell you what I learn."
Madame Veuve spat at Javert when she saw him, but when he handed her a coin for her time, she could not stop him from speaking to Emilie. The police, Emilie told him, seemed very certain that Montparnasse was guilty...at least, that was what they said. Javert thought about all the times he had not been able to catch Montparnasse at the scene of a murder though he knew the man to be an assassin. If the authorities had finally managed to imprison Montparnasse, his other crimes would come to light during the trial, and people who previously would have been too terrified to make reports might come forward to be certain that he was never freed again.
This was not a case of the innocent Champmathieu being mistaken for the man whom Javert had thought to be the notorious criminal Jean Valjean. Montparnasse was one of the most dangerous criminals in Paris, about to be tried for killing another. Something Valjean had said kept cropping up in Javert's thoughts: that the murderer of the maître des requêtes might not have been a madman, but a terrified woman whom the counsellor had pursued. Javert had little doubt that if Laure's killer had appeared at the Siège d'Amour again, Madame Veuve herself would not have hesitated to get rid of him. A policeman like Robitaille who had liked Laure and hated her killer might have used the opportunity to be certain that Montparnasse too would never again threaten a woman.
Was it sufficient that two vile men were no longer threats to society? There was a time when Javert would have insisted that it was not, that for justice to be satisfied the killer must be discovered and punished. But he was no longer a policeman. He had no evidence beyond an instinct that Montparnasse had not killed the maître des requêtes. And he could not regret that he would never again need concern himself with any vicious act either man might commit.
Still, his thoughts remained troubled. "Perhaps I shall accompany you to church," he told Valjean the next morning after explaining his attempts at reason, to which Valjean listened with soft murmurs of agreement. Though Javert had visited churches several times to hear mass and occasionally to have a quiet place to think with no expectation of meeting with wrongdoers as sometimes happened in the park, he had not entered a confessional in a very long time. "Do you confess to the priest what we do in this bed?"
Valjean's head tilted back. "I have never thought of what we do in this bed as sin," he replied.
"Because we have never committed an abomination?"
Javert felt as much as heard Valjean's sigh. "I have never tried to make love to you that way because you call it an abomination. Despite what the Bible says about men who lie with men, I have always felt that anything we did together was an act of love." Warm lips pressed Javert's bare shoulder. "If you wished it, I would give myself to you completely. But I only want to share joy with you, not guilt -- the things we both want with all our hearts."
That thought was in Javert's mind when he entered the confessional. It took a long time to confess all the sins he had witnessed at the brothel and to explain his confusion about the secret gladness in his heart from knowing that one murderer was dead and another murderer would likely be punished for it. If the priest wished to plead as a man of God on behalf of Montparnasse, then it would be up to God to decide the villain's fate. By the time Javert had finished and received his penance, Hail Marys in abundance, he had forgotten to wonder about whether he also needed to confess the toe-curling release Valjean had given him that morning with his hands and mouth.
Much later when he arrived at the Rue Plumet, where Linette had invited a woman she had met at the park to come to dinner along with her little girl who was Jacqueline's age, Javert had decided that Valjean must be right. If they had sinned against one another, it had been in their enmity and distrust years earlier. Nothing they did in love could be judged so harshly. He had seen and felt enough of sin to know the difference.
Since Marius was growing stronger, he invited Valjean to visit more often, sometimes with Javert as well. When the political situation grew calmer, the danger to those who had supported the rebels disappeared, removing the last possible impediment to a marriage between Marius and Cosette, now that Monsieur Gillenormand was most enthusiastic about the prospect of the match. Valjean was often absent for longer stretches as the school neared completion and Cosette's wedding day approached, but Javert did not mind. He knew that once Cosette was married, he would see much more of Valjean -- in the evenings, even through the night.
Once Cosette was no longer living under his roof, Valjean intended to give up his rooms at the Rue de l'Homme Armé. He had already turned over the rooms in the Rue de l'Ouest to one of the men who had worked on converting the dormitory, who had two little girls he preferred to send to a school than to pay a neighbor to keep out of trouble while he worked. Jacqueline liked his daughters and it seemed to Javert that the man sought out reasons to speak to Linette, though whether her shyness with him was the feigned modesty demanded of a proper widow or a genuine desire not to entangle herself with a man now that she had no obligation to do so, she had not yet told Javert. When Jacqueline was present, Linette called Javert "uncle" to remind the girl to do so as well, and Javert, who had always been ashamed of the poor people of ill repute from whom he came, found that he felt quite possessive and protective of these relatives presented to him by fate.
The day before Cosette's wedding, Valjean appeared with his arm in a sling. "I do not dare cast the shadow of fraud over her marriage," he told Javert sadly. "I have asked Monsieur Gillenormand to take the honor of escorting her."
"You make needless sacrifices," Javert retorted. "I will not see you spend your daughter's wedding day in a state of melancholy."
"It isn't only a matter of escorting her. Once she is married, it will not matter what name I have given her, for she will be Madame la Baronne Pontmercy and her children will be legitimate. But I will not sign my false name to the marriage documents." He paused. "If it is acceptable to Marius, I would like you to sign them in my stead."
"But I am no family of hers."
With his free hand, Valjean squeezed Javert's fingers. "You are family to me," he said. "I have known you longer than I have known Cosette. The thought of you has been constant in my life, like a prodigal son. You have given me a worthy cause for the half of my fortune I have not presented as Cosette's dowry." Without warning, Valjean pulled Javert's hand to his lips, kissing the back before releasing it just as swiftly. "But what's more, you have given me new reasons to live. If two men could take vows together as Cosette and Marius will do, I would ask you to take them with me."
All his vexations melted away as Javert felt color rising in his cheeks, color his whiskers had never managed to conceal. Gruffly he said, "You are foolish to say such things."
Valjean shrugged. "I feel them, why should I not speak them?"
They were in the sunny dining room in the house at the Rue Plumet, lingering over hot strong coffee. Javert studied him in the morning light. He liked the dim light better in their room at the end of the garden, but he knew he would never get tired of looking at Valjean. He loved the thickness of his hair with silver glinting in its depths. He loved the tiny wrinkles that appeared around his eyes and mouth whenever Javert said anything even mildly amusing, lines carved not from a lifetime of worry but newfound joy. He loved the strong shoulders and arms, the pleasures those hands had wrung from him. Javert gestured with his cup. "Would you vow before God to protect me and provide for me, or to follow me and obey me?" he asked, not altogether as casually as he had meant to.
Valjean looked at him sharply, then nodded. "Before God and witnesses, I would take on either part, or both. I would swear my love and pledge my life to yours." He smiled. "Though I could only promise to try to obey; I'm certain there would be times when I could not help but be disobedient." He took a sip of his coffee, lowering his eyes. "But would you join your life to mine for all the days we have remaining?"
It was one of the simplest questions Javert had been posed since the terrible night in the brothel when his understanding of good and evil had been shattered. "I would, Jean, with the greatest of joys," Javert replied solemnly.
They looked at each other. They dared not kiss, for though the women were in the garden and no one was near enough to overhear them, they never risked physical intimacy now that plans for the school were underway save within their private haven.
"Make a bargain with me," Javert added, leaning forward in his chair. "I will sign the marriage documents on your behalf, so there will be no falsehoods in the signatures, if you will escort Cosette to her groom."
The temptation was plain in Valjean's face, but he shook his head sadly. "I dare not. She must be given in marriage by one who --"
Pressing his lips together, Javert interrupted, "You are her father, the only father she has ever known. If anyone were ever to recognize you, I would swear that I had witnessed the death of Jean Valjean myself. It would scarcely be a lie. You are a different man than the one I met in Toulon. I wish I had done it before, so that no shadow of the past could claim you now."
Valjean reached out with his unencumbered hand to squeeze Javert's arm, sighing deeply. "Who is the fool now? You know I would not let you perjure yourself on my account." He looked deeply into Javert's eyes. "You will sign the documents on my behalf?" Javert nodded. "Then we shall attend the wedding together tomorrow, and I will give her at last to Marius's waiting arms," promised Valjean.
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.