Disclaimer: I don't own Les Miserables. I I did, but I don't. How many times have you heard THAT story? Probably more than you care to recall. Now, please, just read the bloody fic
As suggested by its generic title, there was nothing special about Faverolles. It was just like any other town, neither small nor large, filled with people either going to work or looking for it. There was a never-ending search for ways to provide for one's family. No one inside the town could think of something significant about it, and the people who looked upon it from the outside hardly gave it a thought. Still, it was something, at least to those who lived there. It was, if nothing else, a place to call home.
For many, there was not much else to look forward to. This was especially the case for those who were poor and had to labor for a living. Each man had a specific trade in which he was skilled and with which he would earn his daily bread and, if need be, the bread of his family members. It was not a place that inspired ambition, nor produced it. All the hopes, dreams, and ambitions of the citizens revolved around one simple goal: basic survival.
There was a young man who lived in that town and seemed to perfectly fit the profile of a citizen of Faverolles. He was from the family of Valjean, a family which, like most others, was poor. The father of the family, now deceased, was a pruner, just as his father and his grandfather before him. The young man was the only son of this family, and he still loitered in the luxury of boyhood.
His mother was dead, too, so he was obliged to live with his older sister, her husband, and their children. There were already four now, and more were certain to arrive in the not-too-distant future. His sister granted him the responsibilities of the oldest sibling, which entailed watching over his little nephews and nieces and assisting in household chores whenever needed. Jeanne was, once again, expecting her next child, and over time she was capable of doing less and less to manage her offspring. Henri was always at his carpenter shop turning out whatever items the people demanded. He seemed to find it necessary to rise early and return late.
As for young Jean, the whole business of work and chores and responsibility was such a hassle. He preferred to pass the hours underneath the apple tree that grew surprisingly well in their meager garden, or taking long strolls through the pastures and woods just outside of the town. Sometimes he roamed about the marketplace to see if there was anything of interest to occupy him for a time. He would try almost anything to avoid performing chores or looking for work, or suffering his sister's lectures for not having done either.
As it was on this particular day, the town was unusually vibrant, and the central area was buzzing with venders and shoppers. Jeanne had given her lazy brother another piece of her mind, saying one of these days he was going to be looking for a job and would not find one, and where would he be then, and so forth. Jean finally subdued her rants by saying that he would walk to the marketplace and see if there was anything available. Of course, he figured there was no rush to begin the inquiries, and when he saw how energetic the scene was, he could not resist playing the awe-struck spectator and curiously spying into all the shops and stalls. He chuckled at how the little ones danced and dodged around their mothers' ankles while said mothers were inspecting the wares of the tradesmen. He became so caught up in being entertained by the excitement around him that he did not notice the tap on his shoulder. He did, however, notice the hard slap on the back that made him cry out more in shock than in pain.
He whirled around to meet another lad about his age, with unruly blond hair and mischievous green eyes. "What the hell, Phillipe!" snapped Jean, barely disguising the laughter in his voice.
"Aww, did I hit you too hard?" cooed the gangly adolescent with a smirk. "Or were you just scared?"
"You know you shouldn't sneak up on me like that," retorted Jean as he gave his friend a playful shove. "I might've knocked your block off."
"I'd be more nervous about surprising Gilles. If you go up behind him and spook him, he lets one go right in your face. Accidently, of course."
Jean had to hold his sides from laughter. "He says he's got a sensitive stomach."
"More like a grumpy arse." Phillipe kicked a lonesome pebble and watched it roll in the dry copper-tinted dirt. "You up to anything right now?"
"I'm supposed to be looking for work. Just getting Jeanne off my back, you know."
"Yeah," sighed the scrawny youth. "My old man wants me to get off my arse and make something of myself. He's a wood chopper. I'm going to be a wood chopper, too. What's he so anxious about?"
"Adults just worry too much," was Jean's answer. That was the answer he used for anything that involved dealing with the older members of their families and town. "Any of the other fellows here?"
"Yeah, just up the road," Phillipe replied, pointing past the noisy center of the crowd and to an area of the street where the numbers began to diminish. "I think they spied some stray gamin wandering around and they wanted to have some fun. I just stopped by to say a quick hello to you. Want to join in?"
Jean was not really a member of this "gang" of Phillipe's. He had known the blond since he barely began to walk, but they each had had their own way of interacting with their peers. Jean mostly preferred solitude; it allowed his mind to wander freely and muse about things that may or may not have fallen under the category of intellectual speculation. Phillipe, on the other hand, was defined as a social animal; more than that, he always felt a need to be part of a group, even if he could not be the ring-leader. He knew his day would come when the other fellows would look up and listen to him. Jean did not mind this, and appreciated it when Phillipe took the chance to chat with him for a while. He did not interact with the other boys quite as much, but he knew them well enough to be comfortable around them when it was necessary to converse with them.
Jean quickly acquiesced, although he was unsure of what his friend meant by them "having some fun" with a street urchin. He figured, though, that if he did not care for whatever activity they were partaking in, he could easily slip away without a fuss.
They soon caught up with the group, who still seemed in pursuit of the urchin. Jean could not see him at first, nor tell what he was doing in response to the jeering and goading of the older boys. The leader, Josef, was doing most of the intelligible mockery while the rest seemed to only add to his comments with whistles, snickers, and the repetition of keywords like "darkie," "bohemian", and "street trash." Jean did not understand these terms at first until he and Phillipe approached the front of the group.
Josef was tailing a gypsy boy, about seven or eight years old. His clothes were even worse than Phillipe's or Jean's, more ragged and worn. His dark hair was a dangled mess and filled with tiny dirt clods. He shouldered what appeared to be a modestly decorated sack filled with food. As Josef dished out his rude comments, the boy merely shifted the strap of the sack a bit and kept his eyes fixed on the dust in front of his feet.
"Say, darkie," sneered the malicious vagabond, "how about a little dance for us? Think you've got your tambourine in there? Or maybe you've got some cards so you can tell our fortunes. Tell us our futures, oh wise and magnificent gypsy boy! Here, why don't we carry that bag for you? You must already be tired of carrying around all the money you pick-pocketed from our honest-working neighbors. How wonderful you must have it, not having to work as we do. Just go from town to town and swipe as much cash as you can. Why don't you sing us a song, bohemian? That way you can at least earn some money."
This continuous flow of venom never seemed to need a moment for rest. Jean did not even believe he really cared and his ears were burning. "Come on," he said quietly, "let's just leave him alone."
"Why?" said one of the boys following Josef. "He's trespassing in our town. He should at least be roughed up a bit."
"Yeah," said another, "it's not as if we want his kind to feel comfortable here. Just be here a day or two and move on. Right, scum?"
"You've had your fun," pressed Jean again, trying not to be too forceful. "He does not even care. Let's just go and spy on the girls washing clothes at the river."
"Oh, don't worry," grinned Phillipe, "we'll do that next."
Josef examined the gypsy boy again and observed that he was, in fact, ignoring them quite well. "Is that right, bohemian? Do you not care that we're talking to you like this? It does not bother you?"
The boy still did not answer.
"Well, then," concluded Josef. "Let's give him something to care about." And in an instant, the ringleader knocked the young boy to the ground and started kicking him in the side. The others quickly rushed in and did the same. Even Phillipe wanted to give the dark lad a taste of Faverolles "hospitality". Their efforts were so fervid and fierce that Jean actually began to fear for the boy's life. He hung back for as long as he could, then at last broke into the group and began pushing them apart and away from the gamin. "Stop it! Enough! You've had your fun, now beat it!" When some of the miscreants tried to continue going at the boy, Jean roughly knocked them on their backsides and stood cemented to the spot behind the ruffians and their victim.
"Come on, Jean!" cried Phillipe. "Why do you have to ruin it?"
Jean's jaw tightened. "Just . . . go."
Some of the boys rolled their eyes; a few snickered and shook their heads. Phillipe seemed the most surprised of all of them. As he saw the others retreat towards the outskirts of town, he slowly followed after them, turning back occasionally to see if his friend would follow. Jean remained immobile. So Phillipe continued on, not knowing what had gotten into the normally passive adolescent.
Jean turned around and looked down. The gypsy boy had turned onto his back and was examining his wounds. His arms and legs were bruised, and a trickle of blood was making its way down the corner of his mouth to his chin. Despite the beating he had just undergone, the boy seemed relatively calm, although somewhat annoyed by his injuries. He managed to force himself into a sitting position, giving himself a better view of his body and the damages done to it.
Jean took a step toward the boy. "You all right?"
"I'll live," he muttered, though not in as harsh a way as the older boy expected.
"I'm . . . I'm sorry about that. I know they can be rough, but . . . I didn't think . . ."
"It's nothing new for me," replied the boy, now attempting to make himself stand up. He quickly fell back on his rear, which was enough to make him wince slightly.
Jean leaned down and stretched out his hand. "Here. Let me help."
He could not help but be surprised at the boy's reaction. He stared at the adolescent's hand suspiciously, like a stray animal that warily examines a human hand that may be trying to pet it, or perhaps harm it. Clearly this was something the boy had not experienced before: someone else trying to lend him aid after having been nearly beaten to a pulp. After a moment, the gypsy boy looked up at Jean, his eyes steely and hard. "I can get up myself."
Despite the refusal, Jean still felt compelled to assist the boy at least a little. He extended a gentle hand to the boy's shoulder to steady him while bringing himself up again. Jean looked over the boy's bruises, a tinge of pain burning in his heart. "If . . . if there's . . . anything I can do . . ."
"Please, don't bother," the boy said quickly, turning away from his "rescuer" and standing up as straight and tall as he could. If Jean did not know any better, he might have thought that the boy was embarrassed by his wounds, and was trying to hide them from the young man. Unsure of what to do, Jean looked around the spot where the boy had been knocked down, and his eyes soon saw the sack that the lad had been carrying. Its contents were scattered in the dirt now, mostly consisting of food and a few once-shiny coins that were now coated in dust. The sack itself had been a bit mangled, but not beyond repair. The boy soon noticed the sack too and bent over to pick up his belongings. It was evident, however, that bending over so quickly made the boy dizzy and woozy. Although Jean could understand that the boy was trying to save what dignity he could possibly have left, he knelt down and began picking up the food and money, dusting them off on his old jacket and placing them back in the bag. The younger boy took the moment to sit down on a nearby stoop and collect himself. He felt his face grow warm as he watched the "gadjo" picking up his belongings, his unclean hands touching his things. It made him squirm slightly, and yet . . .
The gypsy boy watched the older one wordlessly. He simply could not understand it. Why did this fellow bother? When all of his friends were taking joy out of beating him and taunting him, this one tried to stop them and ultimately drove them away. What did it matter to him? He was just one of them after all, right?
Jean walked over to the lad and handed him his sack. "Here. I'm afraid they still have a little dust on them. Are you feeling better?"
The boy did not answer right away, as if he were still deciding whether or not this young man could be trusted. After a moment's worth of thought, he slowly answered, "Yes, I am feeling a bit better. Thank you."
Jean nodded slightly, acknowledging the boy's gratitude. Curiosity, however, still fluttered within him, like a nervous butterfly trying to find a way out. Despite all efforts, he could not keep it locked away. "What is your name?"
The boy's gaze turned suspicious again. "Nothing you need to know about."
The youth raised an eyebrow in response, but he maintained a relaxed and calm air. "I'm Jean. I've lived here in Faverolles all my life."
The boy continued to hesitate, then he finally gave in just an inch to his rescuer's willingness to be affable. "I'm Demian. I've lived in so many places that I hardly remember one from the other."
Jean felt a little bolder. "Do you, um . . . live in a caravan . . . if that is what gypsies live in?"
Demian sighed. "No, I do not, although I suppose others of my people do. I live with my mother. We travel by ourselves from place to place. We just arrived here a few days ago."
The older boy could not repress a smile. He actually enjoyed making friends with someone, especially someone who was unlike anyone else he had ever met before. "I live with my sister and brother-in-law. And my nephews and nieces."
Demian turned his gaze downward and began scratching the torn-open toe of his right shoe and the calf of his left leg. "Must be nice to have a big family."
Jean shrugged slightly. "It's all right. I mean, it can be a pain to have to look after all those brats, but they're not that bad once you've got them calm and quiet."
He heard Demian let out a short laugh. "Well, you do what you must, I suppose." The boy seemed ready to stand again, and as he approached to retrieve his bag from Jean, he looked at the older boy and said, "Thank you again."
That seemed to be that. The child shouldered his sack again and began to walk away, not once turning his head back. Jean was never one to promote the sentimental, but somehow this all-too-brief meeting sat ill with him. Was that all there was to it? No more than a "thank you", not even a "good-bye"? Jean remained seated on the ground, uncertain about what to do next. Catch up with Phillipe? Keep "searching" for work? Going home was out of the question. Or perhaps . . .
He pulled himself to his feet and began jogging toward his new acquaintance. The dark-haired boy turned back, his face bearing a mixture of surprise, uncertainty, and quiet annoyance. This last emotion made Jean hesitate for a second, knowing that if this boy had things to do, or was required to return home at a certain time, he did not want be the cause of an unnecessary delay. This apprehension only lasted a second, though, and a longing that Jean could not define or explain had more power in propelling him forward than Demian's looks had in keeping him away. "Look . . . perhaps it would be best if I walked home with you . . . just so you will not run the risk of being bothered by any more people."
This offer left the younger boy even more baffled and wary than before. His eyes remained fixed on Jean's face, making every effort to search for the true motive of this young man's kindness. Surely there must have been a more malicious reason, for what Gadjo in his right mind would ever want to help a Rom? Despite his unrestrained staring and inspection, Demian could not pick up any trace of evil intention. Still, he remained on his guard. "Are you certain that is such a safe endeavor for you? What about your friends? They will think you are a bohemian-lover. They will taunt you ruthlessly, make you the butt of every joke. No creature with any sense of self-respect would submit himself to such pains simply to help some stranger."
"I barely know those idiots," argued Jean, grateful that they were not within earshot; not so much that he was deeply worried about their opinion, but more that he too would end up as a mangled pulp. "I'm not really their friend. I only join their company when I don't wish to be alone."
"Then go home to your family, there are plenty of people there." He turned to leave.
"It's not the same thing."
This had stopped Demian. Jean could not guess what was passing through the boy's mind. He could only hope that whatever the boy was thinking would eventually lead to his understanding of what the adolescent was trying to say and do.
A moment later, Demian turned around. "Do you think they may come back soon?"
Jean was confused by the question. "What? Who?"
"Your fr-- . . . the ones who struck me. Do you think they will be back soon?"
Jean considered the possibility. They may have been awhile, since they were planning to go to the river and . . .
Suddenly, as he looked at the younger boy, the same notion that had struck Demian struck Jean. He had read the look in the boy's eyes that said, "You'd better catch on, or you're a bigger idiot than I thought."
Trying not to smile, Jean replied, "I would not be surprised to see them running up the hill at any moment. They're probably hoping that I've abandoned you by now, and are wholly defenseless."
This statement was enough for the gypsy lad. "Then I suppose you should walk with me, as a precaution."
Jean showed his consent with a nod, now permitting himself to smile ever so slightly. He came up along Demian's right-hand side, and together they walked along the sun-baked streets of the town.
Neither boy spoke for most of the walk. They were each content on that point, for all that had needed saying was already said, and the rest of their communication could be exchanged through wordless glances or gestures. At one point, they both observed a middle-aged fellow who had been hitting the bottle and was now attempting to seduce two pretty girls walking towards him in the street. The girls were thoroughly disgusted by the lecherous display, while their shocked cries and repulsed squeals seemed to give the man a perverse sense of pleasure. Each boy knew the other had observed the scene. Jean was softly chuckling; Demian was shaking his head.
About a quarter of an hour later, as their walked brought them near the edge of town, Jean noticed a sad, decrepit excuse of what might have once been a pleasant little apartment, but was now a deteriorating mess. He made every effort to hold his tongue when Demian motioned for him to follow the younger lad to the front door. Normally, Demian would have simply walked into the house without needing his mother to meet him at the door. This time, however, considering that he had company, he knocked on the door and waited. Jean stood and watched awkwardly, having no idea of what to expect when the woman inside answered and saw him standing there.
It seemed an almost strange amount of time to be standing at the door, and for a moment, Jean thought the mother would not answer. Perhaps she had peeked through one of the nearby glassless windows and decided against greeting the stranger with her son. Then again, if she were immediately inclined to mistrust him, would she not want to rush to the entrance, pull her son inside, and slam the door in his face?
Just when Jean's courage seemed utterly drained and he considered abandoning this project and returning home, the door opening slowly with a deafening creak. A tall, thin, ravished woman stood in the doorway, her tired yet somewhat luminous eyes shifting their stare between Demian and himself. Complete bemusement was all that could be seen in her features. Her clothes hung a bit too loosely from her body, as if she had not been properly nourished for quite a long time. One could not escape, however, the feeling that this underweight body belied a unique form of strength and endurance, which only made one wonder how long she had been forced to live under such conditions.
When she finally spoke, her voice was surprisingly clear. "Demian . . . who is this?"
"This is Jean. He walked me home." The boy replied simply, with no tone of artificial innocence or nerve-grating pleading in his voice. Jean could not believe how nearly their voices resembled one another.
The woman examined Jean for another minute, allowing his mind to come to all sorts of conclusions about what she thought of him. Finally, after several suspenseful moments, a slow, wry smile broke across her weary face as she looked her son once more. "So, you've started bringing Gadjos home, have you?"
This teasing tone did not make Demian smile; his mouth only hardened into a deeper frown.
Ignoring her son's negative reaction to the comment, she looked at Jean again. "I am Daciana. It is a pleasure to meet you, Jean."
"As it is for me, madame," Jean answered nervously.
"Madame?" Daciana raised her eyebrows at this, then turned to Demian. "You had better warn your friend that as many advantages it may offer, flattery will not win him everything in the end."
"Oh, no! I was not trying to flatter!" Jean could feel his face turn red.
"I know," she replied gently. "You must forgive, I am not used to being addressed by that title. Would like to come inside?"
A maelstrom of many feelings swirled inside Jean's chest. The nervousness within him was from acknowledging the possible negative repercussions of accepting this invitation. The eagerness and excitement derived from a desire to become better acquainted with not only these exotic strangers, but their world of which he knew nothing and wished to learned about. Common sense played the role of conscience, stating that possible persecution and curiosity aside, Jean should not be putting so much faith in people he had never met; they were, after all, gypsies, notorious for employing tricks and manipulations as tools for their own gain. Frustration resulted from this inner conflict, rendering him unable to speak or make a decision. Long before he intended to open his mouth, however, Demian opened his. "I do not think that is a good idea, Mother. We only have enough food to feed two, and we have a great deal of packing to do before the morning. I am sure that my friend here is very grateful for the offer, but we are really unable to entertain company at this time."
His mother sighed, her disappointment blatantly evident. "Perhaps you are right. Well, then, I must thank you for walking my boy home and putting up with his tempers. If we should ever meet again, feel free to come into our home. Are you coming, Demian?"
"In a moment, Mother," the boy answered, clearly wanting another minute with Jean before parting. Daciana nodded, understanding her son's wish, and returned inside the house, leaving the door open a few inches.
Jean looked down at Demian, feeling a slight pain at the need to say goodbye. Perhaps it would have been better to have let him go earlier. "I did not think your mother would be so welcoming."
"Believe me, she is not like most of our people. Anyone else would have shooed you away like a stray cat. My mother found their attitudes intolerable, so she left them. Now we are forced to fend for ourselves, with no larger family for protection."
A subtle pain seemed to stab Jean in the gut. He suddenly remembered his own growing family. What would he do without them, if he were forced to live on his own? The thought made him shudder, and a sudden case of homesickness swept over him.
"Well, then," said Demian, trying to remain calm and unaffected by the parting, "good-bye, Jean. And thank you."
Jean answered with a nod, and as he watched Demian walk through the door, wishing with every fiber in his being that his standing there for the rest of his days would prevent the current tenants from leaving this abode, he muttered a quiet, "Good-bye," and slowly pulled himself away and walked down the street. Within a few minutes, he began to wonder if the local gardener was in need of an assistant.
As the years passed, Jean's meeting with the mysterious gypsy boy sank into the back of his memory. He had nearly forgotten it for some time until he was arrested for stealing bread for his family and was sent to Toulon.
While most of his thoughts during that period were dark, miserable, and even violent, there was one faint memory that brought the slightest touch of warmth to his heart. While he had mostly forgotten the mother, the boy's image still managed to remain whole, though somewhat obscured. Many times he wondered what had ever become of that boy, if he and his mother were doomed to remain trapped in that wretched state for the rest of their lives, or if he had been able to escape and reach a higher level of living. If the latter had occurred, Valjean hoped that one day he might join him.
Little did he know that the boy was closer than he could ever believe. He often stood right outside his cell door, monitoring him, making sure he did not escape.
The gypsy boy never forgot the youth who rescued him, who saw him as more than a piece of bohemian trash. Having been finally abandoned by his mother, for his own good, he found his place as a servant of the Law. Distrust still plagued his habits, and it was enough to blind him when he looked over the roster of new prisoners that were brought to Toulon. Across from number 24601 was the name "Jean Valjean". The name grabbed him for a moment, especially the first part of it. The incredible possibility ran through his mind, and was dismissed in an instant. No, not the Jean he knew. Not his Jean. This Jean was a criminal, no more worthy of trust or respect than those bullies who had so often threatened and beaten him in his younger days.
Both boys had changed greatly over those ten years, far beyond recognition. They came to despise each other in Toulon, seeing each other only as society wanted them to see.
The more they met later on in life, the more the memories of their previous meetings piled onto one another. For Javert, his attitude towards Valjean never changed; Valjean, on the other hand, had begun to see something in Javert that made him pause and think. He never stopped fearing the inspector until the day he had resolved to bequeath the duty of Cosette's happiness to a young student he did not particularly care for. It was only then, in the midst of explosions of gunpowder and the whizzing of bullets, that Valjean saw a helpless gypsy boy at the mercy of a ruthless group of young men.
It was only a moment after his release from his bonds that Javert saw a glimpse of the Gadjo who had offered to help him to his feet. Till the end, he refused to believe it. But it felt too true, as he escorted the ex-convict to his house, remembering the silence they shared all those years ago in that small, insignificant little town, and considering how it differed from the silence that hung between them in the carriage. At that point, each was nearly certain that he knew the truth. Neither was certain that the other knew the truth, or knew that he knew the truth. Neither dared to say anything, to admit to anything.
"I will wait for you here," said the gypsy boy.
As Valjean entered his house and made his way upstairs, Javert wished with every fiber of his being that he could stand there till the end of his days, if it meant keeping the current resident rooted to this house, to make it his prison rather than the dank cells of Toulon. If only he could keep eternal guard of this house, in order to spare himself the pain of turning over his rescuer to the Law. But Javert knew these wishes and desires were pointless.
In the back of his mind, there was only one solution that he could consider. He would be able to free Valjean from fear of any kind of imprisonment. But it meant that he could not wait for him.
With a troubled mind and a heavy heart, Javert drew himself away from the door and walked down the street, vanishing into the darkness.
This story ended up being a lot longer than I had originally planned, and a lot more serious. It's just another way of looking at Valjean & Javert's relationship. Some feedback would be nice. If this fic made you care at all, please click the little blue button that says "Go", and you will make me very happy. Thank you.