Important! - read the author's note first!

Okay. I promised I'd write another Les Mis fanfic at some stage. This is it. Historically, and probably even in terms of the story, the events here are wildly inaccurate,but they could have happened, and that's what's important. For example, I have no idea if the student rebellion caused riots elsewhere in the city, or if they could have happened on the night Valjean and Marius escaped the barricades, but there's one here, okay? Also, this story is centered around Javert and Valjean, as they are my favourite characters, and it is an exploration of the relationship they might have had, given the chance. That does NOT mean a romantic relationship. It may, later: I haven't yet decided, but primarily it is simply an exploration of what they might have thought of each other had they had time together where they weren't chasing one another or capturing on another, or just generally running about the place trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Thus this chapter, and the events therein, are simply a plot device to get them together for a suitable length of time. It's plausibility is a secondary concern.

Thank you for listening to this ramble. Now, on to the story.

Disclaimer: I do not own any element of any version of Les Miserable. That privilige belongs to Victor Hugo and various others. They have my undying respect for what they have brought to life.

The Better Man?

Chapter 1

"Go up. I will wait for you here." Had he really said it? Had he really let something so insubordinate escape his lips? He couldn't do this! He was Javert, an officer of the law. That was the entirity of his being! And yet he said "I will wait here." With those words, he let a convict go free. How could this be?

For a long moment, he stood in the shadows under the eves of Valjean's house, the house of a convict, and he shook with fear of the choice his heart had made for him, without ever consulting his mind. By his honour, he owed Valjean a life for the one the convict had given back to him on the barricade. But by his duty, no convict could be suffered to go free. Honour and duty. When a man is caught between the two, what is he to choose?

But he had made the choice. What was done was done, and to remain here was only to torment them both. He must leave, and ... And what? What was left for him, an officer who had failed the law, to do? Oh, don't think of it. Just move, leave these people, leave Valjean. Leave this place of pain. Move, Javert!

He stepped out into the street, eyes downcast for the first time in his life, his inner self preoccupied. And that was what cost him. That posture, so foreign to him, was what allowed them to get so close. Some instinct, deep and feline, sensed them, but too late. His head snapped up, eyes glaring out at the ring of men, but they had closed around him, and there was nowhere he could retreat to save into the house itself. And no matter the threat, he could not go there.

"What goes here?" he demanded crisply, former attitude and command regained. They shifted around him, eyeing him warily. No uniforms, he noted, not even the ragtag scarves of the rebels. Simple work clothes, homemade weapons, knives and tools and old, rusted carbines. A laughing stock for a seasoned company, but for one man, alone, the ranks of rusting edges was intimidating. But they couldn't see that. Not one of them would see his uncertainty. He was better than that.

"Lawman," one spat. Literally. The spittle hit the flags not two feet from Javert's boot. "Get gone, lawman. We have business with this house."

Javert raised an eyebrow. "Business? What business requires so many men, and so many weapons? No lawful business, I suspect. There is trouble enough this night. Do not think to add to it."

"Or what?" a shewolf sneered, shifting her kitchen blade in her hand. "You going to stop us, lawman? You going to get in our way? Don't seem the smart thing to do, lawman."

"Aye," another agreed. "Our business is with the house, and others like it. We're on your side, lawman. We're punishing the ones who brought this trouble on us. We know the man here went to the barricades. We know him for what he is. He's one of them! A rebel!"

"They brought the slaughter!" A woman cried, from the back of the crowd. "My boy is dead because of them! They have to pay!"

"Out of our way, lawman!"

"Yes, out!"

"Make him move! Kill him! Kill them!"

Javert stiffened, hand resting on his baton. It wouldn't be much use, not against so many, but he couldn't consider backing down. There were people in that house. Granted, one of them was Valjean, but that did not make it just for this mob to run rampant through. If the girl was there ... Please, at least let Valjean have had the sense to see her somewhere safe before all this began. But even that aside, it was his duty to protect others, and to stop such scenes of violence and lawlessness. He had let his duty slip once this night. He would not do so a second time!

"Be still, all of you!" he barked, giving them a moment's pause. He made the most of it. "What you are about is unlawful! It is not your place to judge who must live and who must die! If you consider this justice, then you are no better than the rebels you target! Return to your homes, at once! The law will see justice done to the rebels, and their helpers. It is not your place!"

"The law will see justice done?!" A youth in the front squawked furiously. Javert levelled a cool gaze at him, but this only puffed the foolish peacock up. "Will you see justice done, lawman? When as we arrived you were leaving this man free? You tell us what we do is unlawful, yet you would let one of them live, and freely! Explain this, lawman!"

He should have responded, put the boy down, and quickly. If he had, then events might not have exploded as they did. If he had kept the presence of mind to control the situation properly, what followed would never have happened. But he couldn't. The youth's impassioned taunt had struck far too close to home. His mind was still full of confusion and doubt about that very issue. These people could know nothing of his history with Valjean, or how much it cost him to leave him free. They simply reacted to what they saw as betrayal on his part. And he didn't, couldn't, speak back fast enough. The moment's hesitation was all the proof of his betrayal they needed.

"He's one of them too! Kill him! Kill them all!"

They swarmed over him, and he fought. Alone, with no time or space to draw his pistols, with only his baton to defend himself, to stop them, he fought. Edged weapons glittered in his field of vision, and he responded, parrying as best he could, striking flesh where he got the chance, struggling always to stay upright and retain his hold on his weapon. He had no real chance, and he knew it. A mob could not be fought alone, without backup. But he couldn't surrender, not until the last scrap of energy was beaten out of him.

A blow caught him in the head. A club, or similar, thankfully not a bladed weapon, but it felled him. He pitched forward, suddenly numb fingers losing all grip on the baton. Immediately they were on him. A boot descended on his hand, crushing his fingers, while something heavier struck his back. Fists landed. In close quarters, weapons were abandoned as bloodlust took over, and they pounded into him. All the pent up worry and fear and frustration of this troubled night flooded out of them, and onto him, their helpless target. He tried to fight back, but there was no air, no space, and there were too many fists and boots, too many people from too many directions. It was hopeless. He was dead, and he knew it. He simply had to wait for the final blow, that would steal his consciousness and leave his body helpless in their grasp.

A roar of fury cut through their panting, cheering, bloodthirsty babble. Some monstrous form tossed them aside. Javert watched it incomprehendingly through slitted eyes. Some of his tormentors were too caught up in their fury to realise what came, relentlessly pounding him, and they were flung away from him like ragdolls. A moment later, and those powerful hands seized him, catching him up into a rough embrace as the form continued through, carrying him clear to a doorway. His lolling head allowed him glimpses of faces, furious and screaming, on all sides, until they were clear. Then the monster turned in the doorway, turned out to face them, and an enraged bellow silenced them.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?" the voice roared. Javert, lying against the broad chest, felt it vibrate with the force of the sound. "HOW DARE YOU! THIS MAN, WHO DEFENDED YOU AGAINST THESE REBELS YOU SPEAK OF, AND YOU DO THIS!? HOW DARE YOU!"

They cowered back. To be frank, anything up to a small army could've been convinced to retreat when faced with this figure. In fury, Valjean was truly impressive. It happened so rarely, this fury, that even Javert could forget how powerful the man was. Not now. Not caught up in Valjean's arms, facing the cowering figures of a mob who, moments before, had been well on their way to beating him to death. But inside, despite gratitude for his continuing existence, there was a little voice screaming its frustration. Not again, it cried. He's saved me again! Another debt! Does this man never tire of them!

Valjean glowered out at them, the rage making his face fearsome, his mountainous build lending him gravitas that Javert's slighter form couldn't have hoped to achieve. That also annoyed the policeman. That, and the fact that Valjean added indignity to injury by holding him aloft like a fainting woman. Damn the insufferable man! Why must he do this?

"LEAVE," Valjean bellowed, stepping forward a pace, incredibly threatening. "LEAVE US NOW, VILE EXCUSES FOR MEN! LEAVE!" And they did. Caught cold, much of their agression already vented on Javert, and with many of their weapons discarded in the rush to hurt him, their confidence in the face of this new, more powerful threat evaporated. Which left Javert alone, with Valjean. For a moment, he almost thought he'd have prefered to be beaten to death.

With the threat gone, the tension and power in the other man faded, and his stance relaxed slightly. Javert felt the stiff stance leech away, and began to speak, to make Valjean release him. Then Valjean looked down at him, raw concern painting the broad face, and Javert was speechless. He tried to move his head, his arms, tried to engage with the situation, make sense of it, and failed. His body was too battered to obey him. For a brief moment, a flicker of frustrated pain crossed his face.

"Oh Javert," Valjean whispered, turning into the house, still carrying him. Javert was at a loss, unsure how to respond, unsure if he could respond at all. He lay silent and limp in his once-prey's arms, thoughts boiling in his head, and suddenly afraid. Not because he was helpless. He'd been that before. He'd been bound and helpless before the rebels, been unable to defend himself outside. He knew what it was, could deal with it. What frightened him was that look, that concern. That, he had no experience of whatsoever.

Valjean laid him on a couch, and gently arranged his limbs to make him as comfortable as possible. Javert, bruised and cut, with bones undoubtedly broken, didn't know what to make of it. Bloodied as he was, filthy from the ground and the soles of boots, he was probably ruining the furniture, yet Valjean didn't seem to care. Which Javert would have understood, Valjean being the man he was, except that Javert was also the man he was. To let a lifelong enemy live is one thing, to tend to his comfort is another. Why would Valjean do this, for him?

The convict left for a few minutes, reappearing with a bowl of water and a washcloth. He set them down, looking Javert over. The scrutiny caused a painful flush to heat the inspector's face. He disliked being the object of such appraisal, conscious as he was of his fouled condition. Then Valjean reached out towards him, and tenderly brushed some of his hair away from his face. The gentle touch neat undid Javert, and his tormented emotions rushed to the surface for a moment before he could wrestle them back down. Damn him, he was not going to lose control! Not here! Anywhere but here!

"Javert?" Valjean spoke softly. "Monsieur l'inspector, can you understand me?" Frustrated, Javert managed a painful nod, furious how much effort it took to move. "Javert, I need to see your injuries, do you understand? I need to remove your clothes." Valjean blushed slightly, but it was nothing to the wave of mortification that washed over his patient. Rationally, he was fully aware of the necessity of the action, and it wasn't as if Valjean were a woman, but still Javert couldn't bear the thought. He had been injured before in the course of duty, and had endured treatment, but not by Valjean! He had not been naked and vunerable before Valjean! He couldn't! God, wasn't everything else he'd gone through this night enough? Must he bear this indignity too?

"Javert?" Valjean gently recalled his attention. "Javert, I'm sorry, but it must be done. Cosette left through the back door, and she has instructions to fetch a doctor, but until he arrives we must see what damage has been done. You need to be ... cleaned, to prevent infection." He hesitated over the verb, obviously not wishing to offend Javert, but the damage had been done. Javert knew his condition, and was only more appalled by the thought of this man seeing the extent of it.

"Wait ..." he forced out. "Wait ... for ... doctor. Will ... be fine. Wait." He was almost begging. The self-disgust he felt, the hatred for this situation, was unrivalled by anything he had yet felt in his life, even that horrible episode where he had apologised to Valjean, under a guise, for correctly identifying him. That memory burned in him, but it was nothing compared to this.

Valjean's face creased with concern and embarrassment for him. It was intolerable. "Forgive me, Javert. It must be done." And he began to open Javert's overcoat. Knowing it was useless to protest, dying of shame, Javert closed his eyes in defense. The weakness of the gesture appalled him, but he had to place some shield between himself and this indignity. The bitter loathing he felt, for this situation, and himself, overwhelmed completely the pain from his wounds. But strangely, there was no hate there for Valjean. The man was only doing what needed to be done. It was not his fault that Javert was too weak to bear it.

"Javert?" There was shock in Valjean's voice, caring too. Javert opened his eyes, blinking against a sudden blur. And realised what it was. Tears. God above. God, no. He was crying? He hadn't wept since he was a child, in the prison, standing over his mother's corpse. God, he was so weak! Pathetic, useless! Weak!

"Javert?" Valjean repeated, more than concern in his face, his voice. "What is it? Have I hurt you?" Desperately, Javert tried to shake his head, the movement jerky and painful. Please, don't ask anymore. Don't do anymore. Please, just leave me.

Valjean's big, coarse hand reached up and gently brushed a tear away. Another rushed to fill its place, the tender action only increasing the flow. Javert choked down a sob, fought to stem the flow as desperately as he had fought the mob. And as futilely. He didn't understand it, didn't understand how a lifetime of control and strength could abandon him so easily to this vile weakness. He was better than this! He had to be! And yet here he lay, crying helplessly on his enemy's couch, watched over by the concerned gaze of that same man.

He turned his head away, into the cushion, trying to hide the tears. Valjean would have none of it. Gently, being so careful with Javert's damaged form, he lifted the distraught man into his embrace, holding his head gently into his shoulder, letting him cry. The shock almost stopped the tears, but it seemed nothing really could truly do that. It was as if every tear Javert had failed to shed in his life, every emotion he'd hidden so carefully, burst out of him in this one moment of weakness.

Valjean rocked him gently, one powerful hand on the back of his head, stroking, soothing. To Javert's shame, it helped. He felt like an infant, worse, because he knew he should be a man, should be stronger than this. But, damn it, to be soothed like that, to be comforted as he never had been in his life, helped. And he cursed himself for letting it. Yes. Better by far had he died outside.

In desperate attempt to save some dignity, he swallowed every sob as it threatened to emerge, with the result that his weeping was silent, but shook his battered frame like repeated earthtremors. Valjean held his vibrating form, keeping him grounded. Javert made no move to react, and gradually his tears petered out, leaving him dry, exhausted, and in pain. He felt feverish, pain blooming behind his eyes to spike mercilessly every time he moved his head. It only reinforced his view that weeping was a vile weakness, and could only bring pain and indignity. But even this vehement opinion soon faded, washed away first by a red tide of pain, then by enroaching blackness.

He felt Valjean lay him back down, as if the man were handling some rare and fragile vase. Vaguely, he heard the startled cry of the girl returning and seeing him. He was too tired even to feel shame at that. He felt, rather than heard, the deep bass of Valjean's voice in reply, and was again curiously comforted by it. After all, as his rational mind desperately excused, at least he knew that if Valjean intended to kill him, he'd have done it by now. Chances were, with this man, that he'd have a chance to awaken and reassess his situation. One must thank God for small mercies.

He was gone completely, faded into exhausted slumber, by the time the doctor laid his hands on him. Later, he would be eternally thankful of being spared that further indignity. Just then, he wouldn't have cared had the rebels come in and danced lewdly on his chest. He was spent.

---------------------------------

That's chapter one. I could explain to you why Javert is so unlike himself here, but some of you will already understand why, and those who don't, rest assured that the man himself is as confused and appalled as you are, so I think we'll find out with him, slowly and painfully.

If you could R&R, I'd appreciate it. Thanks again!