In the days after the gala, Elisabet made it clear to her cousin that she did not want to continue their lessons.
"I suppose I understand, dear… after all, some people have it and, well, some people never can." She smiled a pitying smile at her.
Nobody noticed that she and Javert were gone together except Everett, who had been questioning Elisabet ever since. Were you together for long? Did he ask you to meet him there? What did you talk about? Did he touch you? Did he try and kiss you? Each time she would answer with an exasperated "no", but nevertheless he continued.
Between Everett's constant pestering, her father's eye, and Clarice's visit, she had not seen Javert since that night on the balcony- but sometimes, when she closed her eyes, she still felt her arm against his and saw the stars glittering down at them. The fact that he still cared about her despite being with Clarice made her happier than she thought it would: at least there was one person who did not feel the need to compare them. And he told her that he did not want her to change. He did care about her, and she in return felt a fierce loyalty and affection towards him. Javert had done so much for her, and the stories that others would condemn him for only served to strengthen her resolve to show him that the law was not his only salvation, that he could be a good person without persecuting others, that his background meant nothing.
That he did not have to be lonely.
In contrast, she had been seeing Everett quite a lot over the past week. He constantly paid her visits, yet what bothered her was the fact that every time he came to bring her flowers, he gave a few to Clarice. "To be polite", he said. Clarice had only seen Javert once, and incessantly spoke of how enamored he seemed in her afterwards. Elisabet would remember the stars and what he said to her, but the words still stung ever so slightly. She knew that Clarice was wrong, yet a tiny part of her mind could not help but feel jealousy and doubt over Clarice's words. "He might have just been trying to make you feel better" the voice said, "he was just being nice."
No. She knew him. She knew he was honest. Besides, even if he did suddenly fall in love with her, who cares? At least then he would be happy. And then at least Clarice would stay away from Everett.
With a jolt she suddenly remembered that she was going to see Everett in twenty minutes. She started when she saw the time and ran to her room to make sure she looked alright. She was in one of her plain, more comfortable dresses and had her hair simply down. Elisabet looked herself up and down in the mirror.
She wasn't that bad looking. Her nose was a little big and her cheeks were a little round, but she didn't think she was awful- though nothing compared to Clarice.
She heard the door open downstairs- Clarice returning from her day with Javert. She heard her cousin's voice, merrily chatting away with someone. Had Javert made a change? Did they strike upon something that they both shared, and did it open new doors for them? She carefully walked down stairs to see what was going on.
It was Everett with her.
"Hello." She said blankly, not knowing what to make of the situation.
"Oh, hello cousin, I brought something for you!" she gestured to Everett and he laughed, his eyes shining.
"What of Inspector Javert?"
"Oh, well he was walking me through the market for the third time and I noticed Everett walking, he told me he was on his way to see you! I told the Inspector that I think it was time I went home and Everett offered to escort me."
"Don't you think that was a little rude to the Inspector?"
"Well, he did not seem offended at all. He never really seems anything."
"Maybe he was trying to be polite." Elisabet said sharply, with a twinge of annoyance.
Clarice ignored this and went on, "Well, I have letters to write, I'll leave you two alone."
"Mademoiselle would not like to stay?" Everett asked her.
"I must attend to things at the moment. Thank you for walking me home!" She smiled and went upstairs.
Elisabet looked at him as he watched her leave and decided that she had had enough. Was he enamored by her, or simply being polite as he said? Were they merely friends like she and Javert were? She knew he thought her beautiful, of course. Even Javert thought she was beautiful. But she was nobody's second choice.
"Lily." He greeted, kissing her hand. "Where would you like to go?"
"Can we take a walk? I just want to talk." She answered, distracted.
He gave her a confused glance. "Of- of course. Shall we?" He offered his arm and they went out the door.
They walked in silence for a few minutes before Elisabet took a deep breath and decided to say what was on her mind. "How do you feel about me?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean how do you feel about me? What is all of this? Seeing me all the time, bringing me flowers… what are we?"
Everett stopped, turning to her. He raised his eyebrows in surprise at her sudden rush of doubt. "I like you, you know that. What else could it be?"
"But what do you like about me? What makes me different?"
"Well you're pretty, smart, funny- what's not to like?"
"What makes me different?"
"I don't know… you wear pants?"
"How is that different?"
"I don't know other girls who wear pants."
"That's not an answer!"
"Look," he said, putting his hands on her shoulders, "what does it matter? I like you and you like me. We're happy. What else counts?"
Elisabet brushed a stray lock of hair from her face, feeling immature and stupid. She looked at her feet and smiled a small, sheepish smile. "I guess you're right, I'm sorry."
"It's all right." He smiled at her and they resumed walking. "But can I ask why all of this came about?"
"Oh, it's silly. It's just with Clarice coming and all and you two getting along… I just thought that, well, I thought it seemed like you were interested in her."
Silence. "Oh." Was all he said. Elisabet's stomach fell and she stopped again, this time standing in front of him.
"What does oh mean?" she asked.
"I- I don't necessarily dislike her-"
"-Oh. My. God." She turned away in anger.
"It's not my fault! She likes me too, I think-"
"-so that means that you can fancy her?!"
"I fancied you first! But then she came and she's just so…"
"Perfect." Elisabet finished bitterly. She had suspected it, a truth that she could not bring herself to face. And here it was. Clarice had won.
"No, I just… I couldn't help it! It happens!"
"Especially with her."
The sound of raised voices made the horse's ears prick upwards. Javert was on his way back to the jail from his patrol, yet as he rode down the street the argument sounded louder and louder. He turned the corner to see the trouble. The law never rests, he thought proudly. The clock may strike six but the patrol never ends so long as evil lurks around every street.
He seemed to recognize the voices as he got closer. Silently, Javert stepped off of his horse and began walking forward.
"Well what about you?! You were out with Javert the entire night-"
"While you were dancing with Clarice! She ignored him the whole night!"
Javert halted just before he turned the corner. He definitely knew who it was now. He listened intently.
"You saw him a lot before that, too! You're yelling about me for how I feel, but how about you? What do you feel for him?"
"I've heard you call him handsome-"
"-and he is! But I don't care, not when compared to you! He is my friend, nothing more. But I actually fancy you, a lot!"
Javert peeked around the corner to get visual proof- and, indeed, at that moment, he saw Martin put his arms around her and lock her in a tight embrace, locking his lips with hers. She seemed to be returning it, with her hands on his back. There was no fighting going on here anymore.
He turned slowly and walked back to the stallion, feeling slightly light headed. Javert thought that he must be coming down with a sickness as he fumbled with the reins of his horse. He had to ride carefully, because all he could seem to see ahead was Lilybet, being held and kissed by Martin.
"Not when compared to you"
His lips formed a tight little smile when he thought of the conversation they had on the balcony, of her conviction on the subject of Martin and her cousin. At least she now saw he was wrong about him. At least she was happy.
And yet Javert could not bring himself to feel anything.
"It seems that he likes you better after all, Mademoiselle" he said to himself sardonically. What was this feeling? What did he expect? Of course she would remain with him; he was handsomer, taller, younger, and happier than Javert. Not that he felt anything else for her, of course, but it was just more proof that words were just wind. People could promise to be there for him, to care for him: his mother made those exact same vows. In the end, life would have been better without them in the first place. He was alone, and always would be. He was a faithful servant of the law, the master that had reached his all-powerful hand down and lifted him from the dirt and raised him to where he was now- and the law demanded that he stay alone and alert. Deep inside he knew it was better that way.
Elisabet did not know what was happening until she felt Everett's lips on hers, his arms around her waist. She closed her eyes in surprise and stood still. Her very first kiss and it felt nothing like she thought it would. She expected to be swept off her feet, to feel her head skyrocket to the clouds.
This felt like she was being crushed against him, like he was trying to prove something. It felt a little forced.
She put her hands on his back and managed to pull him off after a time. He looked into her eyes earnestly.
"Now do you believe me?"
"Believe what?" she asked, dazed by the quick embrace.
"That I have feelings for you."
Elisabet never felt more grounded than she did now. She smiled sadly, putting her hand on his cheek. "I don't doubt that. It's how you feel about Clarice."
He hesitated, his face apologetic. "I… I told you, I…"
"You can't have both."
"I know that, she's leaving soon, isn't she?"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Well, when she's gone I'll have just you, so there won't be a choice-"
"-I don't want to be anybody's second choice." She shook her head, looking down.
"You're not my- where are you going?" Everett called to her when she started walking away.
She turned back slowly. "I just need to think about things right now. Go see Clarice or something, I'm sure she'll be happy to see you." She continued walking away. He did not go after her.
Elisabet could not tell how long she had been walking around for, only that her legs carried her without the use of her brain. She had no idea what to feel anymore. Obviously Everett didn't either. She couldn't say she was surprised- it was just that she thought it would be Javert who ended up with Clarice, not Everett. That is, until the night of the gala.
The strangest part was that she did not find herself to be angry. The feeling of his lips still lingered on hers, the determination and force that she felt should not come with a kiss. He kissed her to appease her, not because he felt it was right. He did not want to sweep her off of her feet. When she thought of the night on the balcony, she remembered Javert talking to her, telling her she was unique and that she should not change. All Everett did was compare her to Clarice from the minute he laid eyes on her. He preferred her ladylike, she could tell.
She wished…. What was it she wished? That it had been Javert with Clarice instead? The thought brought a blow to her stomach. The thought of the two of them together, of him sharing his secrets with her, of her touching his scars with compassion and love. She wondered if he would tell her that she knew nothing of the world as well. She wondered if he would let her hold him, and believe her if she said that he could trust her.
Of course, she knew Clarice. She knew that would not happen. The relief confused her. Everett with Clarice made her head spin as well, but the thought of their intimacy was easier to comprehend.
Perhaps it was because they were so similar in the first place. Elisabet was not like them. On the other hand, she was not like Javert either. So why did she care more about him? Everett was supposed to be her Prince Charming, Javert was her friend and confidante. She wanted him to be happy, she wanted him to figure out that his life meant more than he knew, that he was a better person than he thought. She felt awful. She did care about Everett. He made her happy. He was simple, kind, and charming. It wasn't a lie when she said she liked him. Being so close to Javert was, in a sense, as he suspected.
It occurred to her that Everett technically did not even know her name.
Alone, cold, and more confused than ever, Elisabet made for the only place she felt things made sense.
The fireplace generated the only light in the otherwise cold, stone room. Javert sat at his mahogany desk filling out authorization papers. There were to be three men executed in eight days in Montreuil-sur-Mer- a murderer, a plotter, and a thief. One of the jobs of Javert's post was to review the mens' records: arrest reports, prison behaviors, trial studies, and give the final signature to seal their fate. Of course, Javert always signed his name in the end. If the courts of justice decided that a man's sin was so great as to pay with his life, then far be it from him to argue with the shrine of law and order. Nevertheless, he got a sense of righteousness from reading the reports. Clearly, these were bad men. They made their choices in life, and now they would have to pay.
"Monsieur Inspector, someone wishes to speak with you." One of his assistants, a scrawny boy who Javert was charged with training before he reached the full position of officer, appeared on his side of the door.
"What is their business?" Javert asked, disinterested, without looking up. The jails were looking particularly full- it was most likely some relation coming to beg for a condemned man's freedom. Javert always hated dealing with those.
"She says she has a problem."
"Who is it?"
"A Mademoiselle Barbier, sir."
Javert looked up, hesitant. What happened? Did something happen to her between when he saw her and now? Did something happen? He hoped the sudden concern did not show on his face as he instructed the boy to send her in.
She walked through the door, looking meeker than he had ever seen her. Her face looked dazed and slightly troubled, her blue-gray eyes filled with doubt.
"What is the issue, Mademoiselle?" he asked, not getting up from his desk.
She began softly. "Just, I needed to just, I wanted to speak with you, Inspector Javert." He nodded at the boy to exit. When the door was shut, he raised his eyebrows at her to go on. She stared at him, uncomfortable. "What are you doing right now?" she asked.
"What kind of work?"
"Execution signatures." She winced at him, but for once, said nothing to protest.
"If you have need of my assistance, I must ask you to speak promptly. Otherwise, I must ask you to-"
"-Can I stay here? Only for a little while?" Javert merely stared, unsure what to make of this attitude. She never seemed to be the same, it frustrated him. One day she will be a lady, the next a nuisance, then a mouse. She continued, "I promise I won't bother you, I'll sit quietly, maybe I'll read a book."
"Will Officer Martin not wonder where you've gone?" he asked, not thinking about what he was saying. He bit his lip and bent lower over the papers. When he raised his eyes slightly, he seemed to know her reason for being here.
"I really don't think it will matter to him." Her eyes were sad, her shoulders slumped- whether in defeat or confusion, he could not say.
"So naturally when he cannot be there for your assistance, you see it fit to disturb my work." He regretted the twinge of annoyance in his voice when he saw her face. Her mouth was slightly open, her cheeks flushed red in embarrassment and her eyes reflecting a guilt that said she had already thought about that. He began, "I did not mean-"
"-No, no, you're right, I'm sorry." She shook her head at the ground. "It isn't fair to you, I know it seems like… like you're my second choice." She swallowed hard, the guilt permeating all of her features. "I'm no hypocrite. I just didn't know where else to go. I'm sorry, I'll go home now." She turned and began walking out, then stopped and turned around, pulling something out of her little bag. "I got you a lemon tart on my way here." She placed the little cake on his desk and started leaving again.
Javert rolled his eyes at himself. This little girl was a nuisance indeed, even when she did not mean to be one. He was cold, ruthless, and impassive, and yet for a sad Lilybet his conscience took over and spoke up for him. "You promise that you will not make a single noise?"
She turned around, surprised. Looking closer, Javert saw tears brimming around the rims of her eyes. She shook her head at him.
"You will sit quietly, allowing me to do my work?"
"Fine," he sighed, "Take that chair and put it next to the book shelf." He indicated the wooden chair opposite his desk.
"Thank you." She said, gratefully. She set her things down and tried to lift the chair- when it did not work, she started dragging it across the floor. Besides making the awful scraping noise, she began moving the carpet and desk along with it.
"Stop it before you ruin my office" he said impatiently, getting up. He picked up the chair with one arm, fixing the carpet with his foot and moving the desk with the other hand. With ease, he carried it along with her bag over to the corner where the fireplace met the bookshelf. She would be fine there. Once he set everything down, he pointed to the chair and she complied, walking over to it. He stood over her and looked down.
Not when compared to you
"There is something troubling you." He stated, looking at her. What could have possibly happened between then and now? Javert looked at her and saw her locked in her kiss with Martin. He felt a surge of anger. What had the boy done to impose her on him now? She did not need Javert then.
She leaned her forehead against the front of his shoulder; she was not tall enough for her head to reach onto it. He sighed again, putting his hand awkwardly and briefly on her back. Whatever else, she needed him now.
He would not pry. Her problems were her own business, if she wanted to share them with him at some point that was her decision. He turned around and walked back to his desk, taking a seat and resuming his paperwork. For a while, the only sounds had been the cracking of the fire and the soft rustle of paper. Despite himself, Javert kept looking up at her from time to time. She skimmed through his books: record books, history books, anthologies- he had a wide range in his collection, he was proud to say. Nevertheless, he looked at her face, full of doubt and concentration, and could not stop thinking about what she said. He was nothing compared to Martin, to her at least, yet Martin seemed to be the cause and Javert was her solution. Martin was the young, adventurous chance and Javert was her safe fallback.
But she told him how much she valued him; she told him so much about herself, things she had not told Martin. He should have told her he was busy, that he had no time for these sorts of trifles. Then he would look at her sitting in the corner, and could not bring himself to anger.
Still, how long would it be before she made up with her officer fancy, before she was back to kissing him on street corners? How long before she told him everything about herself?
Javert shook himself out of it. This was not his childhood, when he was weak and dependent. His mother depended on him too, but he let her down. He let her die. It was dangerous to allow someone to get too dependent; sooner or later, he would disappoint them. Who cared if she went back to Martin? She would at least be out of his hair.
He pulled his eyes back on his own work, and signed the first signature. The first fate sealed, bringing society one step closer to safety.
An hour must have passed before she spoke up again.
"What time will you go home?"
He looked up at the clock before back down to the files. "In three or so hours."
"Can I go with you?"
"Will you walk me then?"
"Can I ride your horse?"
"You are doing a large amount of speaking for someone who has promised silence."
The remaining time passed with no more words. When the last signature was finalized, Javert straightened his office for the morning. It was important to start each day off correctly- the preparation for which, he believed, started the night before.
"Are you ready-" Javert stopped talking when he noticed her curled up in the hard chair, sound asleep. At least she had been silent, he thought. That couldn't possibly be comfortable. "Mademoiselle? Lilybet?" he called softly. When no response happened, he put a hand on her shoulder. Before he could shake her awake, her head rolled and her cheek rested on his hand. Unsure of how to move or what to do from there, Javert stood nervously for a few seconds before deciding that it would be easier and quicker to just carry her. Slipping his hand out, Javert went to fetch his hat and coat. He put both arms under her and scooped her up like a babe. She was not heavy, that was good. Her head leaned against his chest and remembered the last time he carried her like this- she had been frozen and near dying at the time. Feeling her warmth brought a sort of relief from that memory.
Thankfully, it was late and the town was mostly asleep, so nobody was there to see them. Worry gripped him as he walked, clutching her. Martin was her fun, young, fancy, but she needed Javert. It was far too late to abandon that. She needed him; they found company in their shared isolation. There were occasions where he would admit to have needed her, too. For now, at least, this was one more burden on his life. He prayed that there would not come a time when she collided with his duty, when he must choose. He knew what the answer would be, and he did not know what it would do to him to disappoint one more person who had the misfortune to depend on him. Perhaps one day she would find someone who she could fully depend on. Someone young and handsome and full of life who could give her her happily ever after. Someone who could shelter her from the cruelties of life that Javert had experienced. Then he would be free to be alone again.
When they reached her home, he silently reached into her purse for the key. He unlocked the door and slipped inside. Luckily, there was a candle on the table for light. Not wishing to go up the stairs, he left her on the couch as gently as possible. She might be cold, he got as an afterthought. There was no blanket around. Javert sighed and took his coat off, lightly placing it on her so that it covered her whole body from the neck down. She was smaller than he was, so it covered her almost as well as a blanket would have. He stood above her, looking at her peaceful frame. He envied her trouble-less sleep- he could not remember the last time he himself had slept without waking up with a start in the middle of the night.
"You have caused me much trouble, Mademoiselle" he murmured, echoing himself from the past. A stray lock of hair fell across her face and onto her nose, making it twitch slightly. She looked as if it was tickling her, and she would erupt in a sneeze at any moment. Javert smiled lightly and brushed it from her face, then immediately wiping his hand on his handkerchief as if the touch was forbidden.
Javert blew out the candle and started out into the night.