This story is currently being filled on the Les Mis kinkmeme for the prompt:
"Javert/Valjean. Instead of committing suicide Javert goes on a three-day bender. When Valjean finds him, Javert assumes he's a hallucination. Cue hurt/comfort and slurred confessions and a happy ending once everyone has sobered up."
Nearly 40,000 words later and still ongoing, this is probably more of a slow build towards a happy ending than the original prompter intended, but I hope everyone enjoys it anyway!
The fic is currently rated R for future content.
The title comes from the Oscar Wilde quotation, "I have made an important discovery... that alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, produces all the effect of intoxication."
Thanks go out to the lesmiseres folks, who have encouraged me with the story and helped me when I've been stuck.
Warning: Contains references to self-harm and thoughts of suicide.
"Then wine held this and wine held that
until I became wine's tool-
what a fool!"
-Song of the Drunkard by Rainer Maria Rilke
Javert raised his glass to his lips. It took a moment to realize that the glass was empty, but when he did, he studied it in puzzled, mute betrayal, as he had the last three times such a perfidy had occurred.
"Another," he said, or tried to. His numb lips refused to shape the word. He made a vague gesture with the glass; surely that would carry across his meaning.
"Not until I see another fifteen sous," said someone above him. "And then you'll be on your way, monsieur. If you want to drink yourself to death, you should do it in the privacy of your own house." Javert made an effort to focus his gaze, which had acquired the unfortunate habit of turning everything not directly before him into smudges of color. With some difficulty he recognized the wine-shop's owner.
Javert did not respond to the latter part of the man's statement, focused instead on the part that would ensure him another drink. He fumbled in the pocket of his greatcoat and after a moment's effort, unearthed the demanded payment with a sound of satisfaction. The sous disappeared, and in their place sat another glass of beer.
He gulped the beer down, not tasting it. No, tasting the alcohol was not the point. Let the alcohol instead destroy the thoughts he had fled from that night upon the parapet, turn his teeming brain blank, that he might find some peace in oblivion.
When the glass was empty, Javert drew himself upright. The movement was careful, for over the course of the past few days, he had learned how treacherous the ground turned once a man had drunk his weight in alcohol. He gripped the back of his chair for a moment, until he felt less like a sailor stepping foot upon land for the first time in months.
Then he moved towards the door, trying to calculate the distance to the next wine-shop and the likelihood of that owner taking one look at him and throwing him back onto the street. He almost shook his head before he thought better of the gesture. "There is always another wine-shop, so long as you have the coin," he muttered under his breath, and barked out a laugh as though he had amused himself with a witticism.
The loud, rough sound drew curious looks; he ignored them, stepping outside and squinting against the too-bright sun. He had long since lost track of time, but it must have been mid-afternoon at least, for the heat of the June sun struck him like a blow. His exposed skin prickled from the warmth, and for the first time he regretted the loss of his hat, left behind at the second or third wine-shop, and his cravat, discarded at the fifth.
His vision swam from heat and drink. Shadows turned fanciful, seeming to leap up from where they had been passively following their owners and walk on their own, dark blurs of movement that made Javert's head ache. When he closed his eyes, the sun turned the back of his eyelids red. He opened his eyes. Somehow he had gone from standing outside the wine-shop to being half-seated, half-slumped against a stone post. He eyed his legs pensively, for his feet were in the street. He should probably move them if he didn't wish to be trampled by a carriage, but somehow he could not quite convince his legs to move. His boots twitched briefly, but that was all.
He was aware of passerby, but their forms wavered like mirages; he was not certain which were real and which the result of one too many glasses of beer. It didn't matter, really. None of the passerby dared to approach him, and he was left in relative peace with his indignity. Javert decided to close his eyes. He would rest until he felt better prepared to move on, or until the wine-shop owner came out and ordered him gone, whichever happened first. Then he would find the next wine-shop.
A minute or perhaps an hour later, a voice that could not be real called his name.
Javert opened his eyes and looked up at a hallucination, which wavered for a moment until it solidified into a familiar visage. His mind remembered Valjean's features well: the deep creases at the corners of his eyes, the startling whiteness of his beard, the way his mouth hung slightly open when he was surprised. The hallucination seemed almost real as he gawked at Javert.
Javert's lips parted in a smile. He laughed his noiseless laugh. "A fair revenge," he remarked, for obviously this was his brain's way of reciprocating all the abuse he had heaped upon it in the past few days.
The hallucination's mouth snapped shut and then pursed; its expression turned from astonishment to concern. "Javert," it repeated, sounding almost hesitant. "Are you ill?"
"Ill?" Javert said, and laughed again. He lifted a hand, flapped it at the apparition. It took him a moment to convince his lips and tongue to work together to form intelligible speech. "No, no, that will not do at all. You will have to do better than that as a delusion. I must smell of beer. He is many things, but he is not un- he is not-" He paused and considered his chances of successfully pronouncing the word 'unobservant.' He thought it unlikely. "He would notice," he finished, and closed his eyes. The hallucination was too vivid; the white of its hair and the fine details of the way its brow had furrowed and its nostrils flared made Javert's head ache.
His brain countered with a surprising sally. A puff of wind that could almost have been mistaken for a man's breath touched his face, and then the hallucination said, very close, as though it crouched next to Javert now, "Javert, look at me. What has happened to you?"
When Javert opened his eyes, the apparition was kneeling beside him, apparently unconcerned with dirtying its workman's clothes in the dirt and grime of the sidewalk. Then again, why would a hallucination care about filth that could not touch it? Javert tried to straighten, but his spine refused to obey, his shoulders remained slumped; it was all he could do to keep his chin from lowering back to his chest.
"It is perfectly obvious," he muttered a little crossly.
Already the fleeting humor at his mind's punishment attempt was shifting to frustration. He had sought to drown all thoughts and memories of Valjean in beer. Instead he seemed to have summoned Valjean's specter. He thought of the money he had spent over the past few days, all a waste if this was the result of his efforts.
Well, he would punish his brain for its transgressions, he thought, and forced himself to sit straighter, despite the heavy weight of his head and how the ground seemed to undulate beneath him like a wave. He pressed the palms of his hands onto the cobblestone, leveraged himself upright using the post for support. He ignored the hand that the apparition offered him.
"Where are you going?" the hallucination asked, which was foolish. Surely his brain knew what Javert planned.
"To the nearest-" Javert paused, looked at the recently vacated wine-ship, and amended what he had been about to say. "To the next wine-shop. Obviously I am not drunk enough if you are here."
The apparition got to its feet with a wince, as though his mind had ridiculously conjured aches and pains with which to torment Valjean's specter. "Javert, your words make no sense," it said, and Javert laughed again.
"I am making perfect sense." He touched his pocket where he kept his money, frowned. "I hope you are only a drink or two from going away. I do not know how much more beer I can afford."
The hallucination's expression shifted to mulishness. "You have drunk enough for the day." It paused, and Javert had the impression that it was resisting the urge to wrinkle its nose. "I think you have drunk enough for the year," was muttered, not quite under the specter's breath. Its tone was impossible to decipher; Javert could not tell if exasperation or concern colored the words.
Regardless the sentiment, Javert ignored it and turned on heel. There would be a wine-shop in any direction he went; there seemed to be nearly as many wine-shops as there were cafes in Paris. He ignored how many times he nearly tripped over his own feet as he walked away from his hallucination. He grimly gathered up the remnants of his dignity and kept walking.
He was not entirely surprised when the apparition fell into step behind him like an unwanted second shadow. At least the hallucination was silent for the moment. Javert half-closed his eyes in concentration, putting one careful foot in front of the other. He'd created a mental map of Paris over the years, memorized the various streets and shortcuts as well as all the important places and landmarks where one could understand best the mood of the city. For Parisians, that mostly meant the salons and the wine-shops.
At the moment, however, his mind's map was useless, blurred as though the alcohol he'd consumed over the past few days had saturated it. The names of the streets smeared like dampened ink, the locations of the wine-shops smudged beyond recognition. He paused, cursing quietly in frustration.
Javert supposed he could simply wander the streets until he found a wine-shop, but already his mouth was dry and he could feel the beginnings of a headache that warned of impending sobriety. He raised his hand, rubbed at his forehead, and swore again, louder. He needed another drink.
"Javert," the apparition said, almost gently. "When was the last time you slept?"
"Slept or drank myself unconscious?" Javert countered. Then he shrugged. "I do not remember. It is of no consequence."
The apparition moved to match pace with him, the better to fix a determined look upon Javert and purse its lips at him. Javert had not realized that his mind would invoke a Valjean that seemed less like a strange blend of the dangerous convict and the saintly mayor and more like a scolding nursemaid.
"It is of consequence," said the hallucination. "You need to sleep and get something other than alcohol in you. Tell me your address. We shall get you a decent meal."
"This is getting foolish," Javert muttered under his breath. Must the specter persist in pretending that it did not know his innermost thoughts, when in fact it was his innermost thoughts?
It was not until he turned left instead of right at the end of the street that he realized he was obeying his mind's demand. Well, somewhat. He might not have answered the hallucination aloud, but he was headed in the direction of his apartment. Well, he mused, doubtless the porter would have some wine, drunkard that he was. That would have to do for the time being.
"Javert," the hallucination said again, and was firmly ignored.
Though it was around mid-afternoon, Javert found the porter unconscious at his post. The snoring man clutched at a wine jug that was hopefully not yet empty. Javert saw no sign of the portress; either she was upstairs or she had stormed off in a rage to her sister's, vowing yet again not to return until her husband quit drinking.
It was the matter of a few seconds to pluck the jug from the man's grasp and weigh it. Much to his relief, it felt half-full. Javert wiped the mouth of the jug with his handkerchief and then brought it to his lips even as the hallucination made a sound of protest.
The wine was warm and cloyingly sweet, and Javert grimaced as he gulped down a few mouthfuls. Still, wine was wine. Already he felt the tension in his head begin to ease, his half-returned sobriety starting its retreat.
He made to raise the jug to his lips again, and frowned at his mind's rebellion, for a firm hand seized hold of his wrist and stilled the gesture. His mind had gone so far as to give Valjean's specter calluses on its hands, its fingers rough against Javert's skin. The fine detail made Javert grit his teeth and vow viciously to drown his brain in even more spirits.
"I did not follow you here to watch you drink more," the hallucination sniped at him. It had remained silent during their walk, showing its concern in worried glances and a furrowed brow. Now something like exasperation turned its voice harsh. "Where is the kitchen? You need food and rest, not more alcohol."
"I need you to let me be," Javert said, and tried in vain to escape its grasp. He was glad that the porter was unconscious. Javert must have made a fine sight, fighting with thin air to drink again from the wine jug. He made a face when his mind did not relent, when instead the specter glowered at him and only tightened its grip upon his wrist. "Give over. I am not hungry." His stomach roiled, his belly pinching at him for the lie, but he continued, "I am thirsty, that is all."
The hallucination's expression darkened. In the next instant its free hand ripped the wine jug from Javert's hand and all but flung it back upon the porter's lap. The porter snorted but didn't wake.
"If you are thirsty, you will have water," the apparition said coolly and then dragged Javert forward, further into the house. Javert dug in his heels, but his mind remembered too well Valjean's strength; it was like being dragged by a bull. "Where is the kitchen?" it demanded, but it was already turning towards the correct door, shoving it open and marching inside before Javert could answer.
The kitchen was empty. Somehow Javert found himself seated at the table, the hallucination's hands pressing down upon his shoulders and holding him there. He blinked, and cursed his mind again for its attention to detail. The specter's face was too close to his. There was no way to escape the obvious concern and frustration in those dark eyes, ignore the tension that tightened the hallucination's jaw so that a muscle jumped there every few seconds. Javert even could have counted every eyelash if he'd had the inclination.
"You are going to eat, and then you will show me your room and you are going to sleep. And then we are going to discuss why you seem so determined to drink yourself to death, to, to drown yourself in wine," said the apparition.
The hallucination released him even as Javert snorted.
His head ached as though a vise had clamped around his skull; he pressed his hand to his forehead, but the tension persisted, a dull throbbing pain branching down his neck. Exhaustion pressed down upon him. How long would his mind persist in this delusion? Until he was sober once more, he supposed. Or perhaps all that alcohol had finally tipped the scales and turned him mad, and Valjean's specter was a permanent delusion. He shuddered a little at the thought.
"Enough," he said. "I grow weary of this." There was no bite to his voice, only a certain tiredness that turned his voice ragged and bleak. "You know as well as I that I have decided not to kill myself. Stop being so dramatic."
"Decided not- then you've thought of-" The grip returned to his shoulders and tightened almost to the point of pain.
"You say I mean to drown myself in wine. A poetic turn of phrase, but I'd meant to drown myself in earnest," Javert said almost dreamily, for at the moment, his head aching and the hallucination of the man who tormented him still clutching at him, he thought of the Seine with a certain wistfulness, like one does a missed opportunity. He rested his head in his hands and added, "It would have been a tidy thing. And I doubt I would have wasted the government's money with a burial. Very few who disappear into the Seine are found again."
"But why-" The hallucination was faltering now. Perhaps, with the onset of sobriety, it was weakening, though its grip was still strong upon Javert's shoulders. Javert did not bother to look up to see if his guess was correct.
"You know why," he said.
"No, I," said the apparition, and its hands trembled. "I do not. You have always been a righteous man. To take your own life-"
"A righteous man," Javert said, and laughed. It was not his noiseless laugh, or the terrible laugh that made wretches tremble. It was a low broken sound that scraped its way out of Javert's throat, a noise that wrenched itself from deep in Javert's stomach. "So I thought myself, once."
"What changed your mind?"
Javert had closed his eyes. Now he opened them. The apparition seemed even closer than before; if Javert concentrated, he could almost convince himself he could feel its breath upon his face. The specter watched him with a queer, stricken expression, its mouth pinched at the corners, its eyes at once both sorrowful and searching.
"What made me realize I was not so righteous? Or why did I not kill myself?"
The unhappy look deepened. "Both."
There was a sour taste in Javert's mouth. He ran his tongue over his lips, trying to dispel the taste, but only another drink would do, and the porter's wine jug might as well have been on the moon for all the good it would do him currently. He cleared his throat. "For the former, that is simple enough. I betrayed my position as an inspector, ignored what I knew to be my duty. I acted out of personal motives to protect a fugitive." Another broken laugh escaped him. "I set myself above the law. How can I call myself righteous?"
"You helped to save a young man's life," the specter objected.
Javert would have made a dismissive gesture, but the hallucination still held him fast. "That insurgent? He is dead. Besides, he was not the one I meant. You know that as well as I."
Something shifted in the apparition's face, turned its expression opaque. "Me? I would have gone with you willingly. I gave you my address and my false name, I-"
"I could not arrest you!"
The admission was almost a roar, and it made the specter flinch.
Javert found he no longer cared that it was Valjean's specter rather than the man himself. If it was his own mind he was raging against, then so be it. It was his mind's fault for keeping him from the beer, which would have left his brain blank like a slate upon which all had been wiped clean, would have kept at bay the thoughts that troubled him.
"I could not arrest you," Javert said again, quieter. "Was that not made clear when I departed from the Rue de l'Homme Arme? To arrest you would have been-" He faltered, and cursed his impending sobriety, for all the unlooked-for truths he had found upon that parapet were returning to overwhelm him, to make him tremble and wish for the dark waters of the Seine. He bowed his head once more. "It would have been an injustice," he said, lowly. "Not in the eyes of men, but of...but of God."
This was said with some difficulty. Javert felt embarrassed, as he had upon the parapet when thinking of that divine superior, of whom he had never truly contemplated until Valjean had rescued him from certain death at the barricades and set his mind asunder. That God was merciful; that a man such as Jean Valjean, once fallen, could redeem himself and be sublime; that he, Javert, could learn after fifty-two years of life that he had been wrong and that there was something more important than duty- the ideas unsettled him once more, as they had haunted him until he had downed that fourth or fifth glass of beer.
"Enough," he said, almost plaintively. "Let me have a drink. I would not think more on this."
"You have not finished," said Valjean's specter, strangely pitiless. Surely the real Valjean would have not pressed for more when it was obvious the words hurt Javert to say. "Explain why you did not- why it is you claim you have decided to live when you are killing yourself through drink."
"Cowardice," said Javert in a simple tone. The hallucination gave a terrific start and released him, blinking. Javert almost smiled at its retreat. "I had committed a most grievous act here on Earth. I had disrupted order and ignored my duty. That merited punishment, but to turn myself over to the police would mean you might be found, so I could not do that. Where could I look for discipline, if not by the police? The hereafter seemed my only option. I remembered that suicide is a sin, and I thought to myself, good, that is well, it is only sensible to turn violence upon myself and be justly punished after death." He paused. His mouth was dry. For the first time he noticed a water jug on the table. Almost sullenly he took it and drank from it until his tongue no longer stuck to the roof of his mouth. He ignored the pressure of the specter's gaze upon him. "But then I thought, Valjean, a dangerous man turned saint, had me in his power. He could have killed me, it would have been just, but instead he saved me and set me at liberty. If a mortal man can offer me mercy despite how I wronged him in the past, what can I expect from God?"
A tremor passed through him, and Javert dropped his face into his hands. He concluded, with another broken laugh half-strangling him, "I could not drown myself, not when there was a chance I might be met with mercy and forgiveness. But I could not bear my own thoughts any longer. Alcohol seemed the simplest means to silence them."
Valjean's specter said nothing.
Javert kept his head in his hands, for it seemed too much effort to lift it. For a moment he indulged in the foolish hope that his words had banished the hallucination back into the recesses of his mind. Perhaps he could even be able to seek out the porter's wine jug once more.
After a moment, something nudged at one of his elbows where it was propped upon the tabletop. When he forced himself to raise his heavy head, he found that his mind had conjured a small meal of bread and jam. He stared at it, uncomprehending. Then he laughed, a sharp, incredulous sound. "What good is this to me?"
"You need to eat," said the apparition, though the words were slow and almost hesitant. "You say you do not want to die, but if you do not eat, you... You must eat."
Javert was too tired to argue. He stared for another second at the bread, wondering if it would dissolve on his tongue if he tried to eat it. He was about to rise to his feet and gather up actual food from the cupboard when the door to the kitchen opened and the portress bustled in, carrying a basket full of groceries.
Madame Bonnet gave a terrific start at the sight of him, nearly dropping her basket. "Inspector Javert!" He knew he must look a sight, his hat and cravat gone, his hair having not seen a comb in days, the very image of disarray, but that didn't explain why she stared at him as one would a ghost. "Inspector Javert, wherever have you been? Monsieur Chabouillet was here just this morning. He said you sent some strange letter to the Prefect and then vanished off the face of the earth! He seemed quite worried that something terrible had happened to you."
Before Javert could even begin to wrack his brain for a proper answer or remark that Chabouillet could have found him if he'd only searched the wine-shops, Madame Bonnet's gaze moved from him. Her expression hardened into a polite, wary look. "Good day, monsieur," she said cautiously.
She was, Javert realized, looking at the hallucination.
His blood froze in his veins. He could not breathe, could not think. The wine fumes that had slowed and muddled his thoughts were banished by sheer, horrified comprehension. One hand reached out, fumbled for the plate, felt the reality of it beneath his trembling fingers. He raised his gaze to Valjean even as Valjean took off his workman's cap and bowed politely to the portress.
"You see him," escaped Javert's lips, so faint that it was a wonder Madame Bonnet heard him.
She turned a quizzical look upon Javert. "Of course I do, monsieur. My eyes work as well as yours," she said. She might have said more, but Javert's laughter stilled her tongue.
The laughter rose up from the pit of his stomach, a harsh and terrible sound. If it hurt his ears, made his heart pound strangely, it seemed even worse for the others in the room. Madame Bonnet flinched and drew back from him. Valjean's face paled, the lines of strain deepening on his face.
"You see him, of course you see him," Javert gasped out at last. "I should have known even my mind would not be so cruel to- get out." It had been horror, first, that had banished the last vestiges of drunkenness. Horror, and then a dozen emotions, all terrible, but soon fury overwhelmed all other sentiment. He thought of all he had admitted to Valjean, of what Valjean must have thought as Javert had spoken on suicide and despair and fear of God's mercy. He saw red. His hands clenched into fists. "Get out."
Valjean made no movement save for the minute tightening of his lips.
Javert tried to leap to his feet and lunge across the table and seize Valjean by the throat. If Valjean would not go, then Javert would drag him to the front door and throw him onto the street. Surely this rage would give him the power he needed to overwhelm even Valjean's strength. Javert was almost upright when the room seemed to spin around him and grow dark, a sudden eclipse, Madame Bonnet's cry of alarm too loud in his ears.
When he opened his eyes, uncertain when he had closed them, he found himself in bed, Madame Bonnet peering anxiously at him.
For a moment he wondered at Madame Bonnet's strange expression, and then the memories returned, not in a slow trickle, but a sudden flood that made his head pound and his stomach twist unpleasantly. He closed his eyes and groaned softly, both in pain and despair.
How was it that of all the streets in Paris, Valjean had happened down that one at that particular moment? It seemed absurdly coincidental. Then again, perhaps this was his punishment. Perhaps God had decided to give him Hell here rather than in the afterlife, and Valjean was here to remind Javert of his failings.
Javert started to sit up, staring around the room in search of Valjean but not seeing him. He paused mid-struggle when Madame Bonnet said, wringing her hands, "Inspector, please stay still! Monsieur Fauchelevent has gone to fetch the doctor."
"A doctor?" Javert said. He settled back against his pillow and frowned. "I don't need one." His mouth was even drier than before. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and caught upon the back of his teeth.
Madame Bonnet's expression was dubious. "Don't need one? Inspector, you collapsed in my kitchen and Monsieur Fauchelevent had to carry you to your bed," she said, exasperation replacing some of her earlier concern. More gently, she added, "Monsieur Fauchelevent explained how you were captured by the- by the troublemakers at one of the barricades and injured."
Her gaze flickered and came to rest somewhere further down the bed. When he followed her gaze, he saw that someone, probably Valjean, had rolled up his sleeves and exposed the rope burns on his wrists. They had not bothered him in days, the lesser pain first superseded by the greater one of his mind and then later dulled by alcohol, but now as he looked at the reddened skin and blisters, some of which had burst from lack of attention, his wrists and throat began to throb.
"Oh, yes," Javert muttered with a twist of his lips. "I suppose those should be tended to." He coughed, his throat tight, and Madame Bonnet wordlessly offered him the water jug. He drank, his injuries throbbing all the more for the gesture, but at least his mouth no longer felt like a desert. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, monsieur. Should I send a note to Monsieur Chabouillet? He seemed very worried-"
"No," Javert said, unable to repress a shudder. He did not want to see the other man who thought so highly of him, did not want to see pity and disappointment on Chabouillet's face when he realized that Javert's "strange letter" had been his resignation before he sought to drink himself unconscious. "No, I do not- if anyone from the police comes, send him away."
Madame Bonnet pursed her lips and said nothing. She made a small movement of her head that Javert chose to interpret as a nod of agreement. "Drink some more water, monsieur," she said after a moment, and Javert obeyed.
The sound of footsteps in the hallway made him tense. His breath caught in his throat, his heart pounded queerly in his ears; he did not want to see Valjean again, did not want him to look at Javert's injuries and frown as though it pained him to see Javert suffer, did not want-
The door opened, and Valjean and a stranger came in.
"Monsieur le docteur, I assume," Javert said, and bared his teeth in a smile. He did not look at Valjean.
"Monsieur inspector," said the doctor briskly, moving to the side of the bed and setting his satchel down upon the bedside table. "Are there any other injuries besides those to your wrists and throat?"
"No," Javert said. At the doctor's implacable look, he said, irritated, "No. They tied me up, that is all. They were too busy with the National Guard to do anything more." He leaned back against the headrest, endured the doctor's hands upon his wrists and his throat, and repressed a hiss of pain when the man probed at one of the burst blisters.
Javert did not let himself think of Valjean, who stood near the doorway, watching, and thankfully Valjean did not speak, not even when the doctor stepped back and said, "You should have seen to these much sooner, monsieur. There is infection in a few of the blisters, and your humors are greatly disturbed."
Javert did not curse, though he would have liked to. "In other words, you need to use a needle as well as bleed me," he said flatly, and the doctor nodded. Javert sighed. "Very well, if you say it must be done."
"Let me prepare the laudanum first," the doctor said, and then turned to Madame Bonnet. "Could you heat some water? I will need to heat the needle to draw out the infection."
Paling, she nodded and backed hastily from the room.
"Laudanum," Javert said, thinking of the last time he had had to take laudanum. A fugitive had landed a lucky swing of his knife upon his arm. The prescribed laudanum had not made him euphoric as it did many; instead his thoughts had slowed and he had slept as much as a cat in the following days. He remembered that laudanum was quite easy to get one's hands on, though he had never sought it out. And yet, he thought, remembering how distant his thoughts had been, perhaps now...
He at last looked towards Valjean. He was not surprised to find Valjean ill at ease, a worried crease between his eyes and an uncertain twist to his mouth. Javert did not quite smile, but a hint of satisfaction colored his voice as he said, "Yes, I think laudanum will suit me very well."
Valjean's expression darkened. "Suit you for the procedure, you mean," he said, and there was a warning note in his voice, as though he had read Javert's thoughts.
"Of course," Javert said easily, and enjoyed the way Valjean's eyes narrowed. It was a small, petty amusement, but it warmed him nonetheless, made some of the tension he had carried in his shoulders since he had awoken in his bed ease.
The doctor looked between them, frowning, and then pressed a small vial into Javert's hand. "It will be bitter," he warned.
This time Javert couldn't quite suppress a smirk. "I have endured worse, I am sure," he muttered before he downed the tincture. He barely grimaced, though his lips wanted to pucker at the taste. He closed his eyes, hoping the laudanum's effects would take hold of him quickly. He was aware of the doctor going to the door, his voice a quiet murmur as he spoke with Valjean, Valjean's response a low rumble of sound.
"Javert," Valjean said. Javert opened his eyes to find Valjean now at the foot of his bed. Unsurprisingly, he was frowning. "Swear to me you will not turn to laudanum as you did to drink."
So Valjean had guessed his thoughts. Somehow Javert was not surprised. He allowed himself a half-mocking smirk. "And if I do not promise?"
"Then I will," Valjean said, and stopped. His shoulders tensed. He passed a hand over his face, muttering something Javert couldn't make out, and then began to pace. He did not have much room for it; Javert's room was small and cluttered, with barely enough room to hold the bed, the writing desk and chair, the bedside table, and the armoire. "Then I will take your money and give it to your portress for safe-keeping," he muttered at last.
Javert laughed. His eyelids were beginning to grow heavy, but he forced them open to fix Valjean with an amused look. "And when I find the money wherever she's hidden it?"
Valjean scowled and took a step towards the bed, looking so angry that Javert wondered if he too wished to seize Javert and shake him until he obeyed, as Javert had sought to do in the kitchen. Valjean's hands clenched at his sides, and when he spoke, it was through gritted teeth. "You said you feared the afterlife and what you might find there. If you abuse laudanum, you will die. Do I need to speak any more plainly?"
Javert's brief bout with amusement died. Already his mind was turning sluggish, his thoughts slowing to the speed of glaciers. The tincture's bitterness lingered on his lips when he licked them. "No," he said distantly, with a vague regret for the oblivion the laudanum would have offered him in the ensuing days. "You've made your point, Monsieur le Maire."
"Valjean," came the correction, but the anger had ebbed from Valjean's voice, replaced by some gentler emotion that Javert could only hope was not pity.
Javert made a quiet sound of agreement in his throat. He should say something, he thought, to explain the slip, but his tongue was thick in his mouth and he was too tired to try and speak. He closed his eyes instead, and let the laudanum pull him into slumber.
Awareness returned slowly, the throbbing in his head dragging him rather grudgingly from the painless state of unconsciousness. When Javert opened his eyes, he found himself alone.
Someone had left a plate of food and the water jug on the bedside table, as well as a single lit candlestick. He frowned at them even as he fumbled for the water jug, his throat dry and the inside of his mouth foul. It was only once he'd set the jug back down that he noticed the bandages around his wrists and felt a light pressure against his throat that must be bandages as well. He left them alone, concentrated instead on breaking off a piece of bread and forcing himself to eat. The bread tasted like ashes, but he chewed methodically. At least the food made his headache lessen somewhat and his stomach stop aching, although that only made him more aware of the throbbing of his rope burns and blisters.
A few minutes later, the door opened and Madame Bonnet peered inside. Her anxious air turned to one of relief. "Monsieur Javert," she said, stepping further into the room. "You slept quite a while!"
"That is how the laudanum takes me," Javert said. "Where is-" He remembered almost too late to swallow back the name that rose to his lips. "Where is Monsieur Fauchelevent?"
"Gone, monsieur," Madame Bonnet said. Something in his face made her add a trifle hastily, "He said he had to get back home, but that he would return tomorrow afternoon."
Javert sighed in exasperation, not at all surprised to learn that Valjean had decided to invite himself back to the apartment. "Of course he did," he said. He remembered how Valjean had glowered at him and fussed at him like some mother-hen. Doubtless Valjean wished to assure himself that Javert would not begin to abuse laudanum or resume his drinking.
He looked around, frowning as something nagged at him. At last he realized what was wrong. "Madame, where are my coats?" He stared at the half-open armoire, wherein he could see empty spaces where both his greatcoat and his summer-coat should have been.
Madame Bonnet looked puzzled. Then her expression cleared. "Monsieur Fauchelevent took them. He said you needed them washed and patched up, and that he would see to it." She stared, eyes widening in confusion, when Javert laughed.
The laudanum-haze had not quite left him, his anger still a distant thing, but he nevertheless muttered, "Damn the man," under his breath, unmuddled just enough to be irritated. "Does he think I won't resort to walking out to the nearest wine-shop in my shirtsleeves if I want a drink that badly?" And even if Javert wasn't that desperate, surely he need only speak to the porter to get some wine.
"That Monsieur Fauchelevent is a strange one, if you don't mind me saying so," Madame Bonnet said with an uncertain look. "Begging your pardon, monsieur, for it's obvious he is a friend of yours." Before he could correct her on that, she continued. "Do you know, he gave us three napoleons if Pierre would pour out all the wine in the house? Even when we told him that wine only cost us about ten francs, he insisted upon the promised sixty francs!"
She drew back a little when something that was more of a snarl than a laugh escaped Javert's lips. "Of course he did. I suppose he ensured that the doctor did not leave any laudanum as well."
He did not curse at the portress's nod, but it was a very near thing.
"Do you need anything, inspector?" Madame Bonnet asked tentatively. Her gaze lingered on the empty plate. "The doctor said you might be hungry or thirsty when you awoke. I have more bread."
I want to be left alone, Javert wanted to snarl, his irritation increasing with the lessening of the laudanum haze. Still, there was no reason to be rude to the woman. He would much rather direct all his anger upon a more deserving, albeit absent, target: Valjean. Besides, his throat was still dry.
"Some more water, perhaps," he said.
Madame Bonnet snatched up the jug; she looked almost relieved to have something to do. "I'll be back in a moment, monsieur."
Javert leaned back against the pillow once she had gone. He closed his eyes and laid there for a moment, attempting to gather his strength, though the headache and the ache in his wrists and throat seemed to leech it away. His hands trembled where they rested upon the blankets, and he could feel sweat beading his forehead. After a long moment, he sat up straighter and surveyed the room once more.
He caught sight of his boots placed neatly at the foot of his bed. Despite himself, a faint smirk played upon his lips. "Well, it seems I will only have to walk the streets in my shirtsleeves, not barefoot, if I wish for wine," was said in a sardonic mutter. He shook his head, still exasperated that Valjean had actually made off with his coats. Damn the man's meddlesome nature.
He was frowning when Madame Bonnet reentered.
"Here, monsieur," she said, setting the jug on the table. Then she hesitated, a look passing over her face that came and went too quickly for him to interpret. "Are you certain you don't wish to see Monsieur Chabouillet? I am quite certain that he will return. He seemed very worried about-" She faltered briefly, then seemed to steel herself. "About your state of mind after being held prisoner, and now that Monsieur Fauchelevent explained how you've been wandering the streets in a daze from your injuries, I…." She trailed off and bit at her lower lip, frowning.
Had she really accepted that premise? Surely he reeked of beer. Still, when he searched her face, he found no rebuke or even pity, just honest concern. "I am certain," he said, striving to keep his tone even. "Send him away if he comes."
"Very well," she said, though she frowned. "And Monsieur Fauchelevent?"
"Oh, send him in," Javert muttered with a dry laugh. "I owe him an argument about my coats."
Madame Bonnet looked politely confused. "Very well. If you need anything else, monsieur, call for me." She watched for Javert's nod of acknowledgment and then departed, closing the door softly behind her.
Javert had not wanted her company, but he found, after a moment, that the room grew unbearably quiet without anyone else's presence. There were no distractions now; even his headache had lessened to the point that it was mostly bearable, his wrists and throat subsided to a dull ache. There were no diversions to keep him from his thoughts.
"Damn," he muttered, closing his eyes once more and desperately trying to convince himself he was tired. It did not work; it skirted too closely to an untruth, and if he had never lied to others, he had certainly never lied to himself. He was not tired. In fact, he felt wide awake, the laudanum's lethargy gone, his mind teeming once more with the same bleak thoughts that had driven him from the parapet and into the nearest wine-shop.
Javert swore again. He wished the doctor had ignored Valjean and left a little laudanum, if just to let him sleep until morning. He pondered his options for a moment. He could not go outside, but perhaps the porter had hidden away some wine. Surely Monsieur Bonnet hadn't given all of it to Valjean, no matter that Valjean had given him those sixty francs.
Despite the potential of wine with which to numb his thoughts again, Javert could not bring himself to get up from the bed. He scowled. If his current level of luck held, Madame Bonnet would overhear his query to her husband, shoo Javert back to bed, and dispose of the wine. Doubtless, he thought bitterly, Valjean had swayed her to his side and she would help to keep wine and all other means of distractions from him.
He tried to expunge the thoughts that raced through his mind, struggled to wipe his mind clean through sheer will, but his efforts were of little use. He did not want to contemplate of all the ways Valjean had undone him, shaken his certainty in the natural order of things, revealed that there was a greater part of life than duty, but he could not do otherwise without the aid of wine or laudanum.
There must be another means of distraction that he had not considered. He thought of reading, but he was certain he would not be able to concentrate enough upon the book to be properly diverted. He studied his wrists for a moment. A theory crept into his mind then, one which surely would have made Valjean lose his temper had he known of it. Javert smiled grimly. Well, Valjean was not here to stop him.
He tested his idea by gripping his left wrist with his other hand and then tightening his hold. The blisters and rope burns protested the pressure with a white-hot pain that temporarily banished all thought. Once he could think again, he caught his breath and frowned. The test had succeeded in wiping his mind clean for a minute or two, but it seemed like an inelegant method that would only distract him for brief intervals. Besides, if his injuries worsened through this abuse, Valjean would certainly notice.
"If he has already stooped to stealing my coats, I do not think I want to know how he would react to this," he muttered, looking ruefully at the small spot of red that had begun to appear upon the white bandages. He thought of Valjean's callused hands, firm and unyielding upon his arms, and considered how Valjean might even go so far as to tie Javert to the bed until his injuries were healed.
Javert warmed at the thought. From anger, he told himself, and aggravation at this discomforting punishment God had decided to administer in the form of Valjean. He swore again, this time silently. Would that Valjean had not chosen to walk down that particular street and found him! Would that Javert had been allowed to drink to oblivion for even just one more day!
"Would that I have never heard the name Jean Valjean," he concluded gloomily into the silence of his room.