Summary: Set after the song "Confrontation." Javert wants to know how the wrong man was arrested, and how this man came to have the number 24601 branded upon his chest. Javert also muses about his childhood, and muses about the worst kind of evil: men of the law who betray their duties. Not slash.
Disclaimer: The characters in this fic say some rather ignorant things about people who are developmentally disabled or mentally ill. I want to be clear: I do not believe nor endorse any of these derogatory beliefs nor the politically incorrect descriptions of the developmentally disabled or mentally ill. However, this story takes place in the early 1800s, when the public was far less enlightened about the developmentally disabled and mental illness. I wanted this story to be at least somewhat historically accurate; but, in real life, I would never describe someone who is developmentally disabled as an "imbecile," etc. Nor would I automatically associate mental retardation with self-injury.
* * *
The Brand, a Les Miserables fanfiction by PhantomDaae1981.
I awoke to the sound of a woman calling my name. Sitting up, I saw a nurse at my side. I was on the floor of the whore's hospital room, and my head throbbed.
Ah, yes. M. le Mayor, Jean Valjean, Prisoner 24601, had knocked me unconscious.
I grabbed the nurse by her shoulders.
"Where is Valjean?"
She blinked stupidly.
"Inspector, you've hit your head."
"The mayor!" I spat. "Where is the mayor?"
"He's gone, Inspector. He ran out of here like he'd seen the devil himself."
Ignoring the pain in my head, I leapt to my feet.
"Inspector, please sit down! The doctor needs to examine you, sir."
"I'm fine! I need to find Valjean!"
"Who? Do you mean M. le Mayor? He's long gone, Inspector. Forgive me, but you seem confused, most likely due to your head injury."
"'Long gone?' What do you mean 'long gone?'" I demanded.
"He rode off on your horse at full speed, leaving the carriage and driver behind. It was very strange, not like M. le Mayor at all."
Feeling dizzy, I leaned against the wall.
"No, not like M. le Mayor," I sarcastically agreed. "More like a convict, yes?"
"Inspector, the doctor will be here to examine you soon," the nurse said uneasily.
"I'm fine," I assured her. "I have things to do now, but thank you for your concern."
Determined, I strode out the door. I needed to find out how this had happened.
How had Valjean evaded me for the past ten years? How had he managed to advance in society? And how had the wrong man ended up in custody?
How could two different men bear the brand of 24601?
* * *
The nurse had been correct; Valjean was "long gone." By the time my men and I had started our search, Valjean was clearly beyond the city. I supposed he had gone to find the purported child of the dead whore. God only knew what Valjean intended to do if he found the brat.
* * *
Valjean had become mayor before I came to Montfermeil. When I was called in and appointed Police Inspector, "Monsieur Madeleine, M. le Mayor," was already a respected and esteemed member of society.
I couldn't begin to imagine how a disgusting thief such as Prisoner 24601 had reached such an honored post. The only possible explanation had to be that the people of Montfermeil were total fools; and, perhaps, there was hidden corruption at a high level in society.
I would need to take a closer look at my colleagues, those men who had allowed a convict to become mayor.
* * *
That night, I dreamt of my childhood.
I was the son of a whore and one of her drunken customers, born to the stinking woman in the jail cell she had earned for herself. There was no midwife, no doctor; I wasn't supposed to have lived at all: I was born during my mother's botched attempt at an abortion.
The guards at the prison were going to send for the matron of the town orphanage. But the chief prison guard stopped them. He said there had to be a reason why God had spared me.
And, so, the chief prison guard adopted me. He was unmarried, completely devoted to his work.
My earliest memory was of Papa showing me the convicts in his charge. He made sure I understood that criminals could never be rehabilitated.
Papa was a respectable, God-fearing man. He raised me to understand the world, to realize that people choose their stations in life, to know that a law-abiding life was required in order to go to Heaven.
The law existed to keep us in line with God's will, and the worst thing a human being could do was to step out of place.
* * *
When I arrived at the police bureau the next day, I immediately called one of the men who worked beneath me into my office. Claude had always been very loyal and obedient. He was as driven to enforce the law as I was.
In fact, it was Claude who had arrested the man whom we had mistaken for Prisoner 24601.
Claude was immediately apologetic.
"Inspector, I am so sorry about this 24601 fiasco. I honestly don't understand how any of this happened."
"Well, that is what I need to know. You've lived in Montfermeil your entire life, correct? And you were employed with the police before I came here. So, tell me, Claude: How did a runaway convict become mayor? How did a thief from the gutter become the most prominent citizen of this town?"
"When M. Madeleine, I mean, when 24601, arrived in Montfermeil, he was well dressed and moderately wealthy. He opened a factory, became quite rich, and quickly developed a reputation for being a fair and charitable man. It wasn't too long before he became mayor."
I had no idea how Valjean could have accumulated wealth after breaking parole ten years ago, and Claude obviously would not know, either.
But I had another question.
"When you arrested the man whom we thought was Jean Valjean, you had caught him in the act of removing his shirt and you saw the number '24601' on his chest. Correct?"
"Yes, Sir..." Claude's eyes were suddenly shifty.
"And, yet, the real Jean Valjean also bears the brand upon his chest, as he showed us during his testimony in court. How is it that the man you arrested had the number '24601' on his skin, when he was not the right man?"
"I don't know, Sir... The man is an imbecile; perhaps he injured himself, as morons sometimes are known to do."
I understood Claude's reasoning. The man he'd arrested had consistently behaved like a mentally inadequate idiot. We had assumed his behavior was part of a calculated ruse, meant to convince us that his denial was authentic. Now, of course, we realized that the man truly was an imbecile.
Only two details didn't add up.
"Yes, Claude," I began. "Idiots do sometimes injure themselves. But doesn't it strike you as a bit strange that a man who can't even read would brand himself with numbers? Where would such a man even acquire the necessary tools to make the numbers so legible? Beyond that, doesn't it strike you as a bit too coincidental that the precise number on the imbecile's chest would match that of Valjean?"
Claude stared at the floor.
"Yes, I suppose so, Inspector Javert."
"I need time to figure this out," I sighed. "You're free to go, Claude. Please let me know if you think of anything that could be useful."
* * *
Sitting at home that evening, I thought back to the interrogation of the imbecile.
"I ain't no con! My name's Pierre!" he had repeatedly insisted, until I beat him out of frustration.
"You cops is all the same," he had said after I beat him. "Just like the one what burned me for no reason."
"You were branded for damned good reason," I had responded. "You've carried that brand upon your chest for twenty-nine years now, haven't you, Valjean?"
'I keep telling you, my name ain't Valjean!" he had exclaimed. "And twenty-nine years, my foot. That other cop done burned my chest last Christmas, and now he done put me in jail for no reason."
* * *
Was it really possible? I had disregarded everything he had said, but most idiots were not crafty enough to lie. And I now knew that the man Claude had arrested truly was an idiot. In fact, as soon as we had learned that the man in custody was not Jean Valjean, we'd had him committed to a lunatic asylum.
And, although imbeciles often babbled nonsense, what this imbecile had claimed about the number on his chest actually seemed plausible.
If Claude had branded the man last Christmas, the burns would be scarred over by now. And Claude certainly had access to branding tools.
In theory, Claude could have branded the man, waited for the burns to heal into scars, and then gone back to arrest him, with the false story about having seen the number "24601" on the man's chest.
Claude knew all about Valjean, of course. I had told him the entire story of Prisoner 24601, and he had listened intently. I had confided my frustrations, because Claude seemed to have a thirst for justice that rivaled my own.
My current suspicions left me uneasy and nauseated. But, the truth was, Claude's desire for my approval, and his unspoken-yet-obvious desire for promotion, could have motivated him to deliberately arrest the wrong man, in the hopes that everyone would believe the arrestee was Jean Valjean.
And it had almost worked.
* * *
The next day, I summoned Claude to my office again.
"Claude," I began. "I was awake all of last night, thinking about my interrogation of that imbecile. I can't believe I ever thought that pathetic man was Jean Valjean. He was scruffy, and he had brute strength, but he looked nothing like Valjean, otherwise. I just assumed the difference in his appearance was due to the passage of time. And I assumed his stupidity and lack of understanding was all a trick to confuse me. After all, the number 24601 was right there on his chest!"
"I know, Sir," Claude said. "But you mustn't blame yourself; all the evidence pointed to this man."
"Oh, I don't blame myself for anything, other than naïveté. Because do you know what that moron told me during the interrogation?"
Claude swallowed nervously.
"No, Sir," he stammered. "What did he say?"
"He said that the officer who arrested him -that would be you, Claude- branded him last Christmas. And, then, nearly a year later, you went back and arrested him."
Claude's face turned pale.
"Impossible! He was lying!"
"Yes, that's what I thought, too. But, now, we know that the man is an imbecile. And you know as well as I that imbeciles lack the mental capacity to be deliberately deceptive."
Now, Claude swayed on his feet.
"Then, his words were nothing more than the babbling of a fool, not to be taken seriously."
"Perhaps... But, the strange thing is, his story adds up, Claude. If someone branded him last Christmas, the number would be a scar by now. And I've told you so much about Jean Valjean over the past couple of years; it is at least plausible that you could have found a man who vaguely fit the description I'd given you, then deliberately branded him with the number '24601.'"
When Claude next spoke, his voice was full of insulted anger.
"Are you telling me, then, Javert, that you believe the word of an idiot over that of your most loyal servant?"
"That's right; you are my servant, and I am your superior. And, as such, you will address me as 'Inspector Javert.'"
Claude sank into a nearby chair and began to weep.
"Please, Sir. I admire you so much. I only did it to please you."
"To please me?" I interrupted. "You thought I would be pleased if you brought me the wrong man?"
"Sir, you've been tormented. I thought, if you believed that Valjean was in custody again, you could finally rest. And I wanted your approval; I wanted to prove myself worth to follow in your footsteps."
Ah, now it all made sense. Claude wanted me to "rest;" he wanted to be my successor!
"You know, Claude, I thought your motive in this mess was a desire for promotion. How naive I was! You didn't want me to promote you; you wanted to replace me."
"There is no shame in retirement, Sir," he interjected.
"Shut your mouth!" I spat. "Do you think I do this work merely because I want to capture Valjean? No. I do this work because I love the law. Do you think I have achieved my stature due to ambition? No! I earned this post because I love the law, and I have never placed my own ego above the law. I thought you were like me; how wrong I was!"
"I am like you!" he wept.
"No!" I interrupted. "You are nothing like me. I am a man of the law, and you are the worst kind of criminal. There is nothing more vile than an officer of the law who fails in his duty. I will personally see to it that you rot in prison for your dereliction of duty. Because your behavior has allowed the real Jean Valjean to escape justice yet again."
* * *
That night, I slept soundly. Yes, Prisoner 24601 still evaded me. But I was comforted by the fact that Claude was behind bars tonight.
Claude had committed a sin I could not begin to fathom: He had allowed his pathetic emotions to interfere with his ability to enforce the law.