if you go straight long enough / Les Miserables / Valjean (Madeliene era) and Javert / G
Summery: It is a right given by authority and status to discipline subordinates when and as one sees fit.
A/N: written for the penance/punishment square on my kink_bingo card. Takes place after Fantine's arrest, both in the brick and the 2012 musical, but this makes more sense characterization-wise if you have the benifit of reading Javert's inner monologue during that scene, I think. General warning for smooshing brick!Javert and Crowe!Javert's personalities.
There are two ways that this could have come about, imo: A) AU where Valjean isn't quite so saintlike and selfishly allows Champmathieu to die (and since he's Valjean, is haunted by this decision every day), or B) AU where Valjean goes with his gut instinct in the brick (i.e., that Champmathieu's death is part of God's plan, so that Valjean can better perform God's work) and goes about his business, buries Fantine, and does his best to turn Montreuil-sur-mer into some kind of Eden.
Javert has begun to dread each day.
He has known since he was a boy that pride is a sin he may well be plagued with until the day he dies, but never before had it consumed him so. The memory of his actions...they make his teeth itch. Anger makes his hands shake. Embarrassment makes his face flush. Self-loathing turns his stomach to lead.
Perhaps - perhaps - M. Madeleine had been hasty, addressing Javert in front of men whose respect Javert must command, but it is a right given by authority and status to discipline subordinates when and as one sees fit. Javert does not need to agree with M. Madeleine's tactics, only obey his dictations.
Instead, Javert had rebelled, had given himself over completely to his wounded pride and allowed it to decide his actions, allowed it to make up fanciful stories and repeat them to his superiors as if they were truth. For the first time in his life, Javert committed a crime, and he has regretted it every moment since.
As well he should, he is careful to remind himself. If M. le maire refused to demand (or even accept) compensation, then Javert's crime was to go forever unpunished. Was to remain, until the end, hanging over his head, implacable, inescapable.
Javert tries to stand beneath it unflinchingly, but the new weight on his conscious is unfamiliar and unbalances him. He finds himself, at odd moments, trying to justify his behavior or even forget it ever happened. He stops himself with less resolve every time. He has never let any criminal that he's ever known forget their crimes, and he refuse to be the exception to his own rules. At the same time, remembering exhausts him.
Is slander so bad, his treacherous brain sometimes whispers, once forgiven by the wronged party?
Yes, it is, especially if it has been forgiven in name only. No recompense has been achieved.
M. Madeleine's reputation wasn't damaged, is the other argument. No one in town knows it ever happened except for the two of you.
Immaterial, he snaps. A thief is still a thief, even if no one sees him take the goods.
So Javert is left to suffer.
While making his daily rounds, Javert sometimes sees M. Madeleine, often trailing the prostitute's daughter behind him. He's heard on numerous occasions that M. le maire has legally adopted the child. Even if Javert hadn't been explicitly told, though, he might have guessed. It's easy enough to make out the girl's delighted cries of "Papa!" even across the town square. Then, there is the headstone that was put in the graveyard that Javert has seen the mayor and the girl going to visit every Sunday after church; it has every appearence of a somewhat morbid family outing.
No one in the town kicked up a fuss about a prostitute being buried among decent people because nobody knew. Fantine was, whenever spoken of, referred to as "that poor woman" that the mayor had been kind enough to help. A few people have it firmly fixed in their minds that Fantine was M. Madeleine's lover and that the girl is their child, but these people are generally quickly and unceremoniously hushed. The majority of the townspeople cannot conceive of M. le maire not only fathering a child out of wedlock, but allowing the mother to die in obscurity. To be quite honest, neither can Javert. Additionally, the child looks nothing like M. Madeleine. She's a sprite; he, a bear. They make a most incongruous pair.
This afternoon will mark Javert's first formal meeting with the mayor since Javert confessed his transgression. Though Javert's internal clock has always been impeccable, he's found that he closer this day has drawn, the more it's crept to the forefront of his mind, impervious to any and all attempts to push it back until it's called for. Comically large numbers count out minutes when Javert closes his eyes.
Hopefully, the meeting will be short. M. Madeleine will announce that he's come to his senses and that Javert's replacement will arrive within the week. Javert will be summarily dismissed and it will all be over.
Despite being the exact opposite of the kind of person who might to prone to flights of fancy, Javert spent breakfast wondering how he might fair working in a vineyard or as a farm hand. As well as any other man, he decided; he's strong and takes orders well, and it is suitable that he should do manual labor as punishment for his crime, just as any other man would. The thought soothes Javert, in fact. All would be right with the world, if he were to do a year or so of hard labor before perhaps moving on. He can read and write. He could be a courtroom scribe.
The extent to which Javert has convinced himself of M. Madeleine's respectability (and therefore good sense) is such that by the time Javert begins making his way to the mayor's office, he's almost eager.
His hope and good faith prove to be utterly unfounded. Javert wishes that he could summon a sense of astonishment.
M. Madeleine greets him cordially, even warmly, and offers him a cup of tea. He insists, as per usual, on making several minutes of small talk before bidding Javert to give his report on the state of the town's well-being. In short, he acts as if nothing ever happened between them. Javert finds it to be agonizing.
It is not until Javert has finished speaking and M. le maire has lapsed into a monologue about "Cosette" (presumably the girl), that Javert sees it. The - glint in M. Madeleine's eye.
Javert has the sudden notion that he is being toyed with, that M. Madeleine refuses to punish Javert because to punish him would be to give him release. To punish him would be true forgiveness. Instead, Javert almost suspects that M. Madeleine is enjoying Javert's agony. Doubtless, if this is the case, he would make a fuss if Javert attempted to go through with his resignation and Javert would be forced to stay. Possibly, M. Madeleine would keep Javert all but in his pocket, the better to watch him squirm.
But that would not be justice: it would be cruelty, absolutely devoid of the mercy the mayor so loves to preach about. It would a punishment that would never end, would never allow Javert a moment's peace, even more so because even now, Javert is beginning to doubt himself.
He got into this by allowing his pride too much authority. Has he not learned his lesson? M. le maire is too kind for his own or the town's good. Such torture as this M. Madeleine would no doubt be unable to fathom, much less enact.
When Javert takes his leave, M. Madeleine smiles peaceably and shakes his hand. Javert firmly suppresses his growing urge to scream in frustration.
From then on, whenever Javert sees the mayor, he is in equal parts mystified and infuriated, humbled and indignant.
What right has M. Madeleine to mock him so?
Why does Javert assume that he is being mocked?
At night, Javert, who is already prone to fits of insomnia, finds himself lying awake at odd hours, wondering with desperation born of both physical and mental exhaustion how he can make the torment end. This is no hard labor. This is a slow flaying of Javert's sanity.
To make matters worse, the mayor has begun to seek Javert out for increasingly dubious reasons.
"Ah, Inspector. How are you today?"
He is going mad, is how.
"M. le maire. I am well. How can I be of service?"
"I'm afraid I need to ask you a favor. Cosette was, sadly, living in such circumstances as denied her the opportunity to learn what is lawful and what is not; right from wrong. Would you be so good as to give her a lesson or two and answer her questions? I would be greatly in your debt."
How inexact. Any child brought up in even the worst part of civilization is at the very least aware of the most basic laws. Some are only unaware of the fact that they must obey the rules like everyone else.
Javert does not think this observation would please the mayor.
"Good morning, Javert."
"I'm glad I've run into you. Ever since your lessons with Cosette, she's asked after you nearly every day."
Javert is having difficulty imaging that there exist words to fully express the extent to which he doubts the sincerity of that statement.
"I am...gratified to hear that it is so, monsieur."
"Would you care to join the two of us tomorrow night for dinner?"
No. The girl is shrinking and irritatingly rambunctious by turns and the mayor is making Javert's waking life a misery. Why should he dine with them?
"Thank you very much, monsieur, but I-"
"Are you on duty?"
"No, I am not. However, I am in the habit of taking my meals alone."
"As was I, before Cosette came into my life. We shall look forward to your company."
"Ah, Javert. Please, come in."
"You called for me, M. le maire?"
"Javert, how many times must I ask you to call me Madeleine?"
"It would not be proper, monsieur."
"Well, perhaps it will be proper after I ask you to visit me tonight after you've eaten your evening meal."
Javert finds that he does not at all care for the direction this conversation is going.
"I have some questions regarding your selections for the new policemen. I'd appreciate it if you would discuss it with me tonight."
"I would be glad to answer any questions M. le maire has right now."
"I'm rather busy at the moment, Javert."
He is no such thing. M. Madeleine is leaning against his desk and smiling, not even holding any papers. He is most certainly not over-burdened with tasks.
"Will you come, then?"
"Of course, monsieur."
"M. le maire, I am rather busy at the moment."
"I will only take a second of your time, then. When you were last visiting, I saw you admiring my chess set."
Javert was doing no such thing. M. Madeleine was out of the room and Javert was examining his surroundings.
"Would you join me for a game tonight?"
"Monsieur, I am afraid I do not know how to play."
"I shall teach you, then."
To be perfectly blunt, Javert would rather scrape his own skin off using the rusty kitchen knife he saw in lying in a gutter near the docks this morning than sit through a chess lesson with the mayor.
"Ah, I must go - Cosette is calling for me. I will see you tonight."
This continues for nearly three months before something in Javert snaps.
He is sitting in M. Madeleine's parlor during what has (somehow) become one of their weekly chess games. Cosette has been abed since before Javert arrived. The mayor is sipping his wine and solemnly contemplating the playing board. Javert has not gotten more than three or four hours of sleep a night for the past month. If he were the sort of man inclined to be petulant, he would also note that his new boots have yet to be broken in and they are pinching his toes.
"Madeliene, Javert," the mayor corrects him mildly, not looking up. Javert has to wait a moment before continuing, for fear that his voice would become a snarl.
"Madeleine," Javert tries again, "I would like to extend my apologies once more for my crime against you."
This catches his attention. Madeleine lifts his head, brow furrowed. However, he does not look as if he will insult Javert by pretending that he doesn't know what he's talking about.
"As I've told you before," Madeleine says, "you did what you saw as your duty. I am not angry with you."
"But it is on your mind," Javert insists. Madeleine looks amused.
"Why do you say that?"
"You knew exactly what I was speaking about when I apologized," Javert says. "If you had truly forgiven me, you wouldn't be thinking of it still."
"Your logic is faulty, Javert," Madeleine says, ever mild. He sets his wineglass down without looking away from the man across from him. "I did not need to forgive you because I was not, nor am I, offended. That does not mean that I do not think you can learn from the experience."
Javert does not know how to respond to that.
"I have seen how harshly you deal with the people you see as criminals," the mayor continues. "Fantine is not even the most recent example that comes to mind. You have an unshakable faith in punitive laws that concerns me, Javert."
"I am an officer of the law," Javert says stiffly. "One would think faith in the justice system would be a desirable attribute." Madeleine shakes his head.
"That is not what I'm talking about, Javert. Of course you need to believe in the kind of justice you work for, but in a small town like this, with no superior for you to report to but me, it upsets me how rigidly you discipline even the youngest of transgressors."
"Children with a fondness for pranks and someone else's apple trees grow up to become lay-abouts with a fondness for their neighbor's silverware," Javert snaps, allowing his frustration with the mayor to become audible.
Madeleine gives him a pitying look. "Surely you don't really believe that?"
"Yes, I do." Madeleine sighs. "What is the purpose of this?" Javert demands. "What lesson are you so adamant that I learn?"
Javert's question is met with sad eyes and the deepening of Madeleine's frown lines around his mouth. A moment passes in tense, confrontational silence before Madeleine responds.
"How long is twenty years to someone who has only lived fifteen?" he asks. "How long is a lifetime to someone who has lived less than half of one? How are they to mark time when it seems like they're marking eternity?"
"At least they have the advantage of having a set date of release," Javert says through gritted teeth. "I had nothing of the sort."
"It was three months," Madeleine says, exasperated. "I saw what it was doing to you; I would not have let it go on much longer. It was, however, important that you know what despair is and what you do when you send someone to prison. I will not apologize for facilitating it."
Javert wants to laugh, wants to throw up, wants to wrench Madeleine's sense of superiority out of him and shove it back in, this time down his throat.
"With all due respect," Javert says, finding that he sounds quite calm again, "you forget yourself, monsieur. You do not know me half so well as you think you do. I have learned many times over what it is to despair and be helpless in that despair. Your lessons are not needed with me."
Madeleine opens his mouth to respond and Javert stands.
"I take my leave," Javert says, standing to the side of his chair. He bows shallowly to M. le maire and turns on his heel. Madeleine does not stop him.
And there. That is the end of it. His time has been served, and he is free, both to put his past mistakes behind him and to resume his normal routine, free of Madeleine's meddling.
If nightmares plague him that night, no one need know.
Personally, I adore Valjean and Javert in equal measure. I think that they're both awesome characters and I think they're both deeply flawed. Valjean assumes a lot of things that he has no definate proof of, imo, and Javert - well, every one knows what's wrong with Javert.
title from 3rd Planet From the Sun by Modest Mouse