Author's Note: Valjean and Javert's first meeting in M-sur-M.
I don't own Javert, Valjean, or Les Miserables. That would be Victor Hugo. I also don't own Montreuil-sur-Mer. It is a lovely French village, but it isn't mine.
Walls enclosed the town of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Walls and parapets, ages old, built out of stones and history. The occupants of the town did not think on the walls. They were things that had always been there. Just like the sky had always been overhead. Just like mud would coat the ground after rain.
At least one man of the town did not think like this. To him, the walls towering above his head brought on uneasy thoughts of insurmountable gates. Uneasy thoughts, and an eerie trapped feeling, as though every parapet had a large eye that watched him unbendingly.
Which was why this one man liked nothing better than to escape the eyes and the parapets and walk through the countryside surrounding the town. To be free, even for a few hours, of the suffocating weight of the walls.
Monsieur Madeleine loved the country. He had been born in a country town, and even now his blood thrilled at the old scents and sounds that surrounded him. Glorious nostalgic smells of long wet grass that had never seen a blade, and the earthy dampness of a riverbank. The sounds of trees beyond counting moving in a gentle breeze. The sight of a sky without impediment of walls or roofs expanding in front of his eyes like a endless sea.
He had missed all of this so much, for so long.
Today he had walked farther than he had intended. The day that he had left behind the walls of the town had been particularly long and tiring. A new neighbor with a nose for gossip that could see around corners, and ears that would catch out the good Lord Himself. A positive horde of young chimney-sweeps, all of them clamouring for money, and none of them the one he wanted to find. Sometimes 'Pere' Madeleine had strong doubts on whether he should let the children flock around him so much. Afterwards he almost always had to go to confession. Must not have violent thoughts about small children. Five Hail Mary's and a bloody strange look from the priest.
Then there were the two women who wanted him to come to some kind of social event. They had dogged his footsteps all day. He was rather afraid that they would follow him out into the countryside, but luckily they seemed to have...
Madeleine shot a nervous look over his shoulder.
Yes. Not a frill or flounce in sight. Thank the Good Lord for His bountiful mercies.
He sighed, and let the tension ease out of his shoulders. How long had he been walking? The sky was still light enough, but Montreuil-sur-Mer was far out of sight. Or maybe just blocked by the trees...
Trees? Hm, that was interesting. He didn't remember heading into the forest. Of course, he didn't remember much at all after leaving the town. Just walking and breathing very deeply to try to rid himself of the sensation that everyone in the place wanted a small quivering piece of him.
Trees. Beautiful big trees scratching at the sky. Madeleine breathed in a deep lungful of the fresh pine-filled air. It was getting late. It was getting cold. He should be going. Really.
For a moment, he bounced on the balls of his feet, relishing the feeling of mossy, leafy ground instead of cobblestones beneath his shoes. He was still holding his gun. Mercifully, he hadn't managed to drop it during the walk between Monteuil-sur-Mer and wherever this was. One time, after a particularly disturbing day, a sweet little old woman had brought it back to him, claiming to have found it in her pig sty.
He still wasn't certain how it had got there.
He really should be heading back.
Madeleine leaned against the broad trunk of a tree and sighed. Sooner or later he would have to return to the world of stones and peering faces, poverty and wealth, whispers and lies. Out here the world could still be simple. Just man and God without the barrier of a white-washed ceiling to part them.
Here he could remember he was free. He could feel it, he could taste it. It was the one pleasure he couldn't deny himself.
He sniffed at the air again. Would he ever grow tired of that smell? Pine and wet-leaves and woodsmoke. Woodsmoke?
Madeleine sniffed again. Yes. Definitely smoke. What - or who - would be building a fire out here? The cloud of peace that had finally settled around him began to dissipate, and Madeleine became Monsieur Madeleine once more.
Now he could see the faint glimmer of firelight off to his left, obscured by the branches of the trees.
He took a step backwards. If he walked back the way he supposed he had come, it shouldn't be too hard to avoid whoever was in the forest. But then again... Madeleine stopped. Wasn't this the perfect excuse to avoid duty for a few moments more? He had learned late in life that a conscience was a terrible thing to have. But if he was investigating a possible - what? Vagrant who he could give money to?
Of course, he would have been able to do that if his purse hadn't been back at home.
Well, then. He could always have a look, and if the person seemed in desperate need of help, he would be able to take them home and give them a meal as well as some money. Yes. That was what he would do.
Madeleine smiled a touch guiltily. Surely he couldn't argue with himself over such motvies. They were as pure as the sun. Nothing at all to do with the fact he didn't want to leave the forest. That was a perk. Nothing wrong with perks, neh?
Now that the murmuring of his conscience was dulled to a faint and still annoying whine, Madeleine moved soundlessly towards the flickering light. It wasn't as far away as it looked. A few minutes later he could hear the crackling of burning wood, and the smell intensified. Ah, the glorious smell! Mingled into the chilling evening air, it made Madeleine suddenly think of chestnuts and potatoes.
Now he was hungry.
He pushed quietly around the last few trees and paused, looking.
In the small clearing before him was the fire. It wasn't as large as he had pictured it from long-ago memories, nor as red, but the simple sight of it made Madeleine feel warmth seep into his skin. A little back from the fire sprawled a long sketch of a man, tall and broad and thin all at once. Like a great gangly scarecrow without enough stuffing. His face was half in shadow, nothing but a chin and mass of dark hair. Hands that were both large and finely boned were fiddling with a pile of half shredded leaves, tearing the bits into smaller bits and absently pushing the pieces around into little piles.
Madeleine noticed that the man's skin was decidedly darker than was normal. A gypsy? That would explain the fire. Something of the town's mass-social-conscience suggested that he should be suspicious of a gypsy. Mentally, Madeleine could already see the scandalised eyebrows rising, the noses wagging disappointedly.
Social conscience? Madeleine thought blandly. What social conscience?
After all, why should he disapprove of a man because of his skin? Outcasts? Well, that was certainly something he had a right to be scornful of, wasn't it? Thieves? Poachers? Oh yes, Madeleine could see how much moral ground he had here. Definitely.
"Well?" A deep voice drawled laconically. "Should I raise my hands?"
Madeleine started. He was certain he hadn't made a ghost of a noise, and yet the man had turned and was gazing at him with piercing eyes that would have put an Archangel to shame. "Pardon?"
"The gun." The man folded his hands across his chest and raised an eyebrow. "It is endangering... my left lung I think. Possibly my stomach. It is hard to tell from this angle."
Madeleine quickly lowered his gun. Good God, had he just pointed it instinctively? At a human being? "That was not my intention, I assure you." He fought the powerful urge to throw the weapon away from himself. "Forgive me if I startled you."
"Aeh." The man shrugged and sat up. "I wasn't expecting to see down the wrong end of a shotgun, if that's what you mean."
The tone of his voice was neither welcoming or discouraging. Madeleine found himself taking a step closer to the fire, hie eyes never straying from the stranger. "It is a cold evening." Brilliant. He was reduced to stating the obvious about the weather. Had town life really dulled his brains so much?
The man nodded brusquely.
"May I...?" Madeleine waved a hand at the fire questioningly. What am I doing? Coveting his fire? Or being unpardonably, obnoxiously curious? Which one will get me in more trouble with the priest?
A dark, thick eyebrow raised in his direction. "The turf doesn't belong to me."
"Thanks." Madeleine sat down slowly, taking the oportunity to look more closely at this strange scythe of a man. Now he was leaning forwards slightly, the firelight made a rough hasty sketch of his features, picking out the defining points from the dusk.
He was dark. Madeleine could see that well now. Yet the look of him, the fit of his clothes did not speak of a gypsy. Not neat, exactly, but... servicable. That was the word. These were the clothes of a man who had to make his wardrobe stretch across more than one occasion. His shoulders were set straight now, like a soldier.
And the face, half defined in the gloom... the chin was what you saw first. It jumped out and hit you like a battering ram without introduction or apology. His mouth was wide and pulled into a thin, sardonic smile beneath a wide flat nose. The shatteringly searching eyes were looking back at him, and Madeleine felt an indescribable tug, as though the gaze was reaching into his soul and pulling it out for a look.
Quickly, he looked down and stretched his palms out to the heat of the fire. He wasn't sure that he liked that gaze. No. Not sure at all. An urge to say something to break the silence welled up in him. "Are you staying near here? Montreuil-sur-Mer?"
It was almost a grunt. Not sociable, then, this stranger of his. Madeleine risked a glance, and was ridiculously relieved to see the man's eyes focused elsewhere. It could have been his imagination, but there had been a definite clink of chains in those eyes. "Passing through?"
The Man - Madeleine felt that the capital letter seemed to suit Him - gave him the barest of glances. "No."
"Ah, you are here to live, then?"
"That would be the obvious conclusion, yes," the Man said dryly.
"Of course," Madeleine muttered, feeling his face flush. Surely he could say something that was not as stilted and dry as the conversation at a poetry reading. "May I bid you welcome, m'siuer?" Better. "I am Madeleine."
The Man lowered his head in the slightest of nods. "Javert."
Javert. The name was familiar. Madeleine could have sworn that he had heard it only the other day. A few women in one of the shops, talking away... No. It had gone. Such was the curse of age. To be completely truthful, there was something familiar about this face, as well.
"It is an honour, Monsieur Javert." Well, he hoped it was. For all he knew, the fellow could be the newest scandal. Though... not with those eyes.
Javert's mouth twitched into a faint smile. "Just Javert will do. I am... off duty."
Strange way to put it. Madeleine nodded, and silence descended over them again. This time, the silence did not impose. It was comfortable. Madeleine warmed his hands and looked up at the sky, watching the day slowly fade away into nothingness. He supposed he should be worried about how he was going to get back to Montreuil-sur-mer, but he couldn't find the energy. He knew the country well enough. His feet would find him a way.
Finally, the last of the stars had winked into sight and night was officially settled over the world. Madeleine sighed slightly and dragged his eyes down from the heavens, to see the enigma, Javert, looking at him. It was an odd look, calculating and bemused all at once, like a man who has lost something and is trying to remember where he last saw it.
After a moment, the look was gone. Javert slowly unfolded himself from the ground, brushing bits and pieces of leaves from his clothes with all the care of a town dandy. Madeleine stood as well, more than a little surprised by the sheer height of the man. He was taller than he had looked. Thinner, too.
Javert picked up the cloak that he had been sitting on and shook it out before pulling it around his shoulders. It was old and black and shabby in a very dignified way. Madeleine hadn't realised just how dignified shabby could be before.
With great deliberation, Javert kicked out every single spark of the fire, grinding the last coal into dust with a sudden distasteful grimace, as though he had swallowed something very sour. With a sharp nod in Madeleine's direction, he turned and began to walk away.
"M'sieur!" Madeleine said suddenly. "A moment."
The broad back stopped. "Yes?"
What the hell did he want to say? "Are you going back to the town?"
"Yes." There was a slight pause, and then, sardonically. "My customers will be getting impatient."
Maybe it was his tone of voice. Maybe it was the fact that there were very few professions Madeleine could imagine that would have customers at this time of night. His curiousity was piqued. "What is your job, M'sieur?"
The great head turned ever so slightly, and Javert gazed at him for a moment. "I am the Police Inspector. Good night."
Madeleine's mouth fell open, and he stared in helpless silence as Javert disappeared into the darkness. It was a good ten minutes before his thoughts formed any sort of coherent pattern. It was a good half an hour before he decided to leave the forest and follow the direction Inspector Javert had taken back to Montreuil-sur-Mer.
If you had asked him, he would have been forced to admit that he felt dissapointed, but not able to explain why.