SUMMARY: Javert finds that presenting a neat appearance is irritatingly difficult when one has broken two fingers. Fortunately for his appearance, and unfortunately for his peace of mind, M. le maire is entirely willing to assist with a shave.
CANON: Mostly book, handwaved timeline
PAIRING: Javert/Jean Valjean UST
NOTES: I pretty much ended up taking my own challenge to write a shaving story with UST dialed up to 11 while keeping the rating G-T. I don't know if I succeeded in reaching 11, but I tried. I still hope someone else will take up the shaving UST challenge...
The timeline is noncanonical: I was mostly thinking Brick characterizations, but this doesn't fit into book canon, and I think the musical timeline is too compressed. So for the purposes of this story, they're in an AU where a) Madeleine is already mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer, but b) Javert's suspicions about him haven't really crystallized into anything concrete yet.
Thanks to stephantom and smokefall for betaing, and F. for instructional videos and checking for shaving accuracy.
On the Perilous Edge
"Will that be all, monsieur?" Javert's hand throbbed, and he longed to return to the police station, where he could at least soak it in cold water while he wrote up his reports. That he would also be out of the infuriating M. Madeleine's presence was merely something else to look forward to.
"A moment, Inspector," the mayor said, and there was no mistaking that he was observing every last hair out of place in Javert's appearance, from his lopsided cravat to the week's-worth of gray stubble he had failed to shave neatly that morning. Javert had found that a couple broken fingers was a great inconvenience, but he had rather hoped no one would comment upon his less-than-neat appearance. Madeleine's assessing glance made his face burn with humiliation and dislike.
"I imagine it must be difficult to shave with only one good hand. If you do not have money for the barber, I could—" Whatever Madeleine saw in Javert's face made him hastily revise his words. "—loan you the money until you are paid."
"Thank you," Javert said stiffly. "I have the money. The barber—refuses to serve me." He shut his teeth before he said more, and prayed that M. le Maire would not ask; it was a sordid story, and he did not trust that Madeleine would not seek to fix the situation. Javert had no need for his help, and no harm would come to him if he appeared a little untidy for a few more weeks. "It is no matter; I will manage well enough."
Madeleine's gaze again took in Javert's uneven stubble, the sticking plaster on one cheek, and his badly tied cravat. Javert gritted his teeth. Of course if it pleased the mayor to find amusement in his inferior's dishevelment, that was his right, but could he not have had the decency to wait until Javert had left?
"...assist you." Madeleine was saying.
Madeleine cleared his throat and said, evenly, "If you would like, I would be gratified to assist you until you are well. I have only ever shaved myself before, but it does not seem too difficult."
Javert's first instinct was a horrified refusal. The mayor, playing barber to a mere police inspector! M. Madeleine already aroused in him a horrible tangle of exasperation, suspicion, and worst of all, grudging admiration. Since his arrival in Montreuil-sur-Mer, Javert had found to his chagrin that Madeleine was indeed nearly impossible to dislike...and yet. There was a great deal about him that did not add up.
Javert tried to observe at a remove, to keep his personal intercourse with the mayor to the minimum his duty demanded. It was safer that way.
"I am not sure that would be appropriate, monsieur," Javert said, groping for a polite way to refuse. Social graces had never been his strength; what need had one outside of society for the polite dance of manners?
Madeleine shrugged easily, his broad shoulders shifting under the plain sober wool of his coat. He had the build of a laborer, Javert noted, not for the first time. It was one of many things about him that seemed strange. "Well, if you decide you are weary of nicking yourself, you would be welcome to come by my house after you are off-duty."
Suddenly Javert felt as eager as a hound upon the scent of a wolf, trembling with it—a chance to see Madeleine's house, to discover, perhaps, whatever sordid secret the man was hiding! But he must not show it, lest the wolf get wind of the hunter. And yet—that did not make it less incorrect to permit the mayor to lower himself. "It will be late," Javert said, his hunting instincts in conflict with his social probity.
"My housekeeper will be gone for the day, but I trust I am capable of heating some water." Madeleine smiled, affable and a bit shy. It was not the smile of a man with something to hide. Indeed, there was nothing in Madeleine's kind, middling-handsome face to suggest a dark secret; anyone would think Javert mad to suspect the saintly Mayor Madeleine of wrongdoing. Half the widows in town had set their caps for him, and Javert supposed he could see why.
It was nothing rational that made made Javert watch Madeleine with unusual intensity, but an instinct, the hungry instinct of the hunting-dog, the policeman, the convict-guard.
Javert wrote his reports that evening mechanically: so many gutters inspected, so many trivial complaints heard, M. Marcelin cooling his heels in a cell again for drunkenly pissing on the statue of Sainte Austreberthe in the square. It took little thought after so many months, and the majority of his mind was taken up in an argument with himself. If he went to M. Madeleine's house, it would be an imposition on the mayor, who in truth Javert had no real reason to suspect of being anything other than he seemed to be, a good mayor and a foolishly kind man. It would be a violation of the social order. It would be an indulgence of Javert's own base suspicions, and if he was wrong, a terrible insult to M. Madeleine.
It would also be perhaps his best chance to set those suspicions to rest. Or to confirm them. And he had not liked the amusement in Madeleine's eyes when he made his report that morning; it was not about his own pride, but the police ought not to be a laughingstock.
After he folded the signed report and sealed it, Javert buttoned up his coat—an irritating task, one-handed-set his hat firmly upon his head, and set out for the mayor's house.
Madeleine opened the door himself, in waistcoat and shirtsleeves, his cravat still neatly tied. "Inspector," he said, standing aside. "Will you allow me to take your coat?"
To his humiliation, Javert required Madeleine's assistance in disentangling himself from the heavy sleeves of his greatcoat, and even with assistance he managed to bang his bandaged hand hard enough to make him hiss through his teeth as pain shot up his arm.
Madeleine, of course, apologized for it, although it was not his fault, his fingers lingering on Javert's arm. Javert followed him through the hallway into the kitchen, taking in the shabby wallpaper and rather ugly mahogany furniture of the drawing room. It was not quite what he had expected of the mayor's residence, but given the way the man dressed, Javert supposed he ought to have.
The kitchen was small and neat, a kettle already whistling on the stove. Madeleine had laid out a basin and some towels on the table, along with soap and brush and razor, and he waved Javert to a chair as he hurried over to the stove. "Would you care for some tea, Inspector?" he asked.
"Certainly, thank you," said Javert, thinking that it would be better to have something to do, rather than simply sit and stare at the man while he heated towels or whatever nonsense he felt was necessary. Javert himself did not bother: he shaved quickly and efficiently in the morning, with cold water and without a mirror, seeing little point in wasting time on all the rest.
Madeline brought out a tin of tea and two cups and busied himself with measuring it out. From behind, there was something curiously familiar about him, Javert thought, his eyes tracing over the mayor's slightly hunched shoulders. One was higher than the other, a little, but perhaps that was because of the limp.
He had not noticed the limp before. Curious.
"There," Madeleine said, handing Javert the tea. "How was your shift?"
They were going to have to converse, apparently. "Tedious," Javert said, and blew on his tea to cool it.
But to Javert's immense relief, it seemed that Madeleine had himself run out of anything to say, for he took up the razor and leather strap and began stropping the blade, not looking at Javert. His lower lip was caught in his teeth in concentration as he worked the blade evenly back and forth over the leather, and he absently hummed a few breathy bars of music.
The sound raised the hairs on the back of Javert's neck. Before he could remember where he had heard it before, Madeleine glanced up at him, gave an odd little grimace, and stopped humming. "Good enough, I think," he said, in a steady enough voice. "Your cravat, Inspector—"
Of course. He could not very well have a shave with his cravat still tied. Javert reached up and fumbled with the linen, cursing his own clumsiness, but the badly-tied knot had drawn too tight and he could not loosen it.
"Allow me," said Madeleine, and then he was leaning over Javert, his hands working carefully at the knotted linen. Javert was suddenly uncomfortably aware, as he was not in the normal course of things when his own height gave him dignity, of how strongly Madeleine was built—like a laborer, like a—
The cravat came loose, sliding over Javert's skin like a whisper as Madeleine pulled it away and set it on the table. He had not touched Javert's neck, but Javert could feel the ghost of heat on his skin all the same.
Madeleine dampened a towel with hot water, testing it against his hand.
"I don't normally bother," Javert muttered.
"Nor do I, but is there any harm in it?" Madeleine asked, stepping in close again. The warm damp towel covered Javert's jaw and cheeks and eyes, patted gently into place by the hands he had just noticed were broad and weathered. Hands that were, like so much else about the mayor, a contradiction. They were not the hands of a bourgeois gentleman.
If his face felt hot, it was only the towel, and certainly not the brush of one of Madeleine's fingers against Javert's chin.
The warm towel did feel pleasant, he had to admit. Soothing. Javert was not prone to indulgence, and certainly not in such a prosaic manner. Shaving was an inconvenient necessity, a task to be performed by rote memory in the dark bleary hours before Javert was fully awake. But the wet heat of the towel seemed to be seeping into his face, smoothing away all the tension and irritation of the day.
The room smelled suddenly of soap, of bergamot and bitter almond. He could hear the faint susurration of soap being foamed with a brush, and the rustle of Madeleine's shirtsleeves.
Madeleine whisked the towel away and Javert shivered a little, his damp face chilled by a draft. Madeleine eyed him critically for a moment, and then took the mug of soap and began smoothing it over Javert's face with the brush.
The brush was worn—did Madeleine never think to replace anything? Certainly he could afford it, even if he handed out alms to every beggar he met—the bristles soft. The sharp scent of the soap rose up into Javert's nose and made him want to sneeze. Instead he firmly closed his mouth to keep the soap out and endured Madeleine's gentle brush-strokes. The man bore a look of intense concentration, surely more than this activity warranted, and after a moment Javert found himself closing his eyes so he did not have to meet Madeleine's gaze.
He opened them again—and nearly forgot to keep his mouth shut—when he felt Madeleine's fingertips on his cheek, working the foam around the edges of his whiskers. "Hold still," Madeleine said, gently.
It had never been like this with a barber, so uncomfortably intimate. With Madeleine's eyes intent on his face, those hands touching his skin, Javert found it increasingly difficult to remember that he had meant to watch Madeleine for signs of dishonesty. In fact, he did not want to look at Madeleine at all.
His uninjured hand was clenched so hard against his thigh he could scarcely feel his fingers.
"That will do," said Madeleine, wiping the foam of his fingers and taking up the razor, flicking it open with practiced ease.
Javert's heart skipped a beat, for—no, it was madness. Madness, and yet for a moment he remembered a fight in Toulon, many years ago, one prisoner standing over another with a knife. He had been about to use it, surely, before the guards took it from him. What had they called him?
Jean-le-Cric, that was it. An uncommonly strong man, just as the mayor was, and they stood much the same way—and there was that limp...
No, it was impossible. Certainly in Madeleine's gentle, weary face there was nothing like a convict's withered soul. A convict becoming a mayor? Impossible. And yet Javert felt a thread of something that might be fear—he who had never felt fear in Toulon, whose fellow guards had mocked and envied him for it equal measure—and flutter in the pit of his stomach. It must be fear, for there was no other name could he give it. The razor gleamed in the lamplight.
"I may not be a barber, but I have done this before," Madeleine said, mildly, reaching down to tip Javert's face to one side. "Only for myself, it is true, but you need not look at me as if you think I will slit your throat."
Madeleine's fingertips were warm and callused against Javert's cheek as he stretched the skin taut and brought the razor up. Javert's heart was beating wildly in his chest, to his angry chagrin. It was ridiculous.
The razor skimmed over his cheek and chin in short, neat strokes as Madeleine worked around Javert's whiskers. The sensation was curiously pleasant, and after a moment Javert managed to close his eyes and relax. It was no different than going to a barber, he told himself, save that this was the mayor, who had no proper respect for his own station, lowering himself so. Everything else was a foolish fancy brought on by too little food and too many tedious reports, Javert's mind inventing excitement where there was none.
"Tip your head back," Madeleine murmured. His voice seemed a little lower and rougher.
Javert found that he could not. Where he would have tilted his head back for a barber without a thought, where he would have obeyed any other order M. le maire chose to give, he felt paralyzed at the prospect of baring his neck to a razor held by this particular man.
Madeleine's fingers were still on his cheek, almost a caress, and Javert had to repress a shiver.
"Javert, I cannot finish unless you put your head back."
Still Javert could not move.
Madeleine sighed, cupping Javert's chin in his hand. He did not force or compel, only pressed gently, and with extreme reluctance and an unpleasant feeling of offering himself to a hungry lion, Javert complied, leaning back a little in the chair and baring his throat.
Again Madeleine's strokes were short and careful. The hand holding the razor did not falter. His other hand on Javert's skin was warm and kind, and yet each stroke of the razor over the fragile skin of Javert's throat, where a moment's inattention could spill out his life here in Madeleine's kitchen, sent a violent chill through Javert's entire body. It was all he could do to hold himself still, to keep from trembling or pulling away.
Or, God forgive him his madness, leaning in.
The fear fluttered in his belly again, but Javert found himself no longer certain it was fear.
At last Madeleine took the razor away, setting it on the table. Javert nearly shuddered with relief. His face felt strange; he was keenly aware of even the air against his skin. The remaining soap itched, and he was about to reach up and scrape it off his chin when Madeleine picked up the soap and brush again. In his relief, Javert had managed to forget that a second pass was required, and his heart sank. To endure all of that again!
It was worse, the second time, as Madeleine worked across the grain. Javert's freshly-shaven cheek felt exquisitely sensitive, Madeleine's fingers as hot as fire, the razor as sharp as if it had been freshly honed. It was almost a relief when one of the nicks from Javert's attempt at shaving that morning re-opened, a small sharp pain that brought momentary clarity with it.
Madeleine's face was immediately guilt-stricken, far too much guilt for such a little thing. He pressed a fingertip to the cut, apologizing effusively. The touch stung.
Javert did not lean into it.
"It is nothing," Javert said, finding his voice again. "Please, get on with it, monsieur."
At last it was done, and Madeleine wiped away the remaining traces of soap with a towel, eying Javert's face critically, until Javert could not decide whether to blush or snarl. "Not a bad job, I think," he said at last, reaching down and brushing a speck of foam from the corner of Javert's mouth. "Perhaps I should have been a barber."
Javert kept his mouth shut tight, unable to trust himself to say anything. Fortunately, Madeleine had begun tidying the table, and so he could not see Javert's face, or the way his hand stole up to touch the corner of his mouth, unwillingly.
"Will you take supper with me?" Madeleine asked, without turning around. "My housekeeper has left a chicken pie."
The thought of looking at Madeleine across a supper table filled Javert with a deep horror. "I cannot stay out so late," he said, and if his voice sounded harsher than usual, he doubted Madeleine would notice. "I must—be on the street early."
"Well, at least take some with you," Madeleine said, turning around and smiling. The razor was in his hand, and as Javert watched, he dried it carefully on a towel and folded it back into the handle. "I am afraid I cannot possibly eat it before it spoils."
"Very well," Javert said. "Thank you, monsieur."
"It is nothing," Madeleine said. He had picked up Javert's cravat, and leaned in to slip it around his collar, knotting it with a moment's hesitation. His fingers brushed against Javert's freshly-shaven chin, and this time Javert did shiver. "Sorry," Madeleine murmured, tucking the tails into Javert's waistcoat. "There, now you look like a proper representative of our police force."
The prospect of making amends with the damned barber seemed almost appealing, Javert thought, if it meant never having to be this close to Madeleine again.
Javert, who had never considered himself a man much disposed to sensuality, found himself acutely aware of the clean linen of his pillow under his cheek that night. He severely quashed the ridiculous urge to had to rub his freshly shaven chin against it like a cat, but if there had been any to observe him, they might have noticed that his hand kept drifting up to touch the corner of his mouth.
He had nearly fallen asleep at last when it came to him. The tune Madeleine had hummed as he stropped the razor, the tune which had so disquieted Javert. He had heard it before: nearly twenty years ago, when he was a young man new-come to Toulon. There had been a chain-gang working in the dockyard, and as they worked they sang in their low, rough voices, a mournful chant punctuated with the clank of their irons.
La chaîne, c'est la grêle...
Javert dismissed the thought almost as soon as it crossed his mind. Whatever Madeleine was hiding, it hardly seemed likely that he was an escaped convict. Likely the tune was some peasant song known to half of France. It was a foolish thing to even imagine, and one he would grant no more consideration.
He slept uneasily, the sheets tangling and binding his limbs. In his dreams, he felt again Madeleine's gentle hands on his face, and saw the blade gleam in the hand of the convict Jean-le-Cric, and the two overlaid until he could not have said where one left off and the other began.
HISTORICAL NOTE: The line of lyrics is from "Complainte des galériens," a convict song written down by Vidocq in his memoirs, which I can't link to because FFN strips URLs, but you can the title if you're curious. There's another, much older, song called "La complainte du galérien" which has a lovely recording on YouTube.