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The brand upon his soul

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When Inspector Javert sets himself up at a new post, the neighbours and villagers he meets are wont to ask him about his soulmate. Montreuil-sur-Mer is no different; from the constables at his posting to the butcher who sells him his dinner, people want to know why the Inspector travels alone. To all, he gives the same answer he's practiced for thirty years: Inspector Javert has no soulmate, and never will. They look up on him with pity - an irritation, for Javert needs no man's pity, but far preferable to him than the alternative.

A few more familiar with the Inspector, such as his fellow officers, might ask how he can be so sure that his soul would never be bound to another. Yes, many are lucky enough to find a soulmate in their youth and spend their years together, but this is hardly anyone's story. Hasn't he heard the tales of soldiers resigned to a life alone meeting their mates on the battlefield, of elderly people living long and full lives alone, finding a soulmate just when they had given up? To them, he answers simply that he knows. Some may meet their soulmates late in life, but that is not to be Javert's destiny.

It’s not that he doesn’t believe in soulmates. It’s that he doesn’t believe that soulmates are a force for good. He doesn’t believe in them anywhere near as strongly as he believes in the law.

Javert wondered whether M. Madeleine was ever going to ask him the question. The Mayor had been very cordial to him, even friendly, but had never once asked him a personal question. And yet Javert felt they shared a connection closer than any he had with the other townspeople, with his colleagues, even with his family.

“Your leadership of this city is admirable,” Javert had remarked to him when they first met. “There is such depravity in France, even in many parts of this town, and yet you’ve brought such order.”

“I suppose I have,” M. Madeleine said, as though the thought had never occurred to him.

“Of course you have!” Javert replied, astounded. “I came through this town many years ago in pursuit of a convict, and it was a town beset by scum. You have transformed it, Monsieur le Mayor. You’ve done great justice to the people of this town.”

“That’s kind of you to say.”

Javert looked at him, baffled. “It is the truth.”

“What does justice mean to you, Inspector? Simply the eradication of crime? I think we may have different ideas of what justice really means.”

“Of course not,” Javert said, so quickly that the Mayor’s eyebrows jumped up. Javert almost worried that he had caused offence, but continued. “You are the cities head, and I am its fist – of course we act in different ways. But we can only create a just town together.”

The mayor frowned. “I rule with kindness.”

“Of course. And I with force.”

They were standing just outside the Mayor’s door, where Javert had come to call on him, and at this the Mayor raised his eyes to look out at the street before them. Not a busy street at this time of day, but full enough with people, good people, going about their business.

“I have nobody else to share my life,” the Mayor said, at last. “And so I try to give the best of my love to the people here."

Javert felt the slightest tug in his chest at that, but before he could know what to think of it, the Mayor blinked and looked back at him. “If there is nothing else, I must be on my way.”

It would have been so easy for Javert to repeat what he always said – that he had no soulmate. It was not untrue; two souls could not truly be said to be joined until the bond was acknowledged, and that was something Javert would never, ever do. Yet next to this man who truly had nobody in the world, it felt for the first time as though it were a lie. So he said nothing, and the Mayor excused himself. Javert, too, went back to his duties. But he was left with a strange, lingering discomfort in his chest.

He wondered, perhaps, if this was hope. There was nothing Javert loved above justice and order, and he had forsaken the chance for a soulmate to pursue it. But with this man, one who had no mate at all, perhaps he could have something better. If they were partners in justice, perhaps they could also, one day, be partners in life.

*

As a young man, finding a soulmate had never been Javert’s highest goal in life. He dedicated himself to the task of doing what was right, and he would not be hindered in that goal by a relationship. But he wondered, perhaps, if one day he might meet a fellow officer with whom he could share such a bond. They would shake hands in introduction and that first touch would light a spark – they would smile at each other, no need to disrupt an occasion in front of other officers, but they would feel each other’s joy and recognition, and later, after their nightly patrol, they would find each other and touch again. He imagined them tracking criminals through the alleys and sewers together, feeling each others’ elation and their pain, communicating without sight or sound to bring down the criminal element of France.

That dream was dashed on a day that should have been at triumph – the day they imprisoned the criminal Jean Valjean. He hadn’t been the officer who had caught Valjean, but he had tracked the case and been present at his hearing, and he was delighted to see the end of such an unrepentant life of crime. When the man had to be held down for the bailiff to brand him, Javert jumped at the opportunity.

As soon as he gripped Valjean’s arm to hold him, he knew something was wrong. It was as though a new part of his body had suddenly blazed to life, but filled with hatred and fear that seemed to come from nowhere. He held grimly to the criminal’s arm, trying to maintain his façade through the turmoil, but as soon as the brand touched Valjean’s skin, he knew. He could have passed the emotions off as a moment of weakness, but there was no mistaking the blazing pain, the blistering of his skin. The moment the brand touched Valjean’s skin, Javert’s was branded exactly the same. Soulmates, destined to sense each other’s pleasure and pain for the rest of their mortal lives.

Javert gritted his teeth and bore through the pain as best he could. At least he could dig his fingers into the flesh of the prisoner’s arm to ease the pain. At least he didn’t have to meet his eyes and see whether the criminal also recognised the bond they’d just formed. When the branding was done and the prisoner dragged away in his shackles, Javert excused himself for the rest of the day on a sudden illness. He barely made it outdoors, gasping for fresh air, before he fell to his knees. He felt grief, at the loss of the future he sometimes dreamed of, with a partner he loved as his equal. But far, far greater than that was the shame at knowing his soul’s true match was Jean Valjean.

*

As much as Javert hated it, the bond proved to be useful. Valjean’s attempts to escape were laughable when Javert could sense his vicious joy the moment he thought he’d succeeded. He took a grim pleasure in the look of recognition on Valjean's face every time Javert caught him. They never spoke a word about their bond, but he knew that Valjean knew. It was clear from his despair that he knew they were linked together. He could evade every other officer in France, but he could never escape Javert. Until, one day, he did.

When it first emerged that Valjean was missing, Javert's first thought was that perhaps he was dead. He hadn't felt a hint of the exhilaration that usually came through their bond. Lately it had been anguish, despair, and then quiet. But no, he realised, he would have felt something if Valjean had died. Valjean was out there. He'd broken parole. And he'd gotten far enough away that Javert could no longer feel a single thing he felt.

The only consolation was that if Valjean was so far away, there was no way he could feel the crushing sense of failure that overtook Javert at realising he was gone.

*

Javert had hunted him for years, but without a single thread to follow, his search was fruitless. Eventually he returned to other assigned duties, until finally his journey brought him to Montreuil sur Mer. Yet he never stopped reaching out, searching his mind for some hint of the bond that used to be there, some sign that Valjean was close enough again that Javert could bring him to justice once more.

He was so used to searching his heart for a sign of Valjean's emotions that he was totally unprepared for his own. Javert's life was one of certainty - he knew his duty, he knew right from wrong, and his superiors directed him where to go and what to do. Meeting M. Madeleine had thrown him into uncertainty for the first time in decades, and at first he was nearly overwhelmed.

The fear was preposterous. Javert had no reason to be afraid. There was nothing here that could harm him. There was a gnawing doubt, as well, as though maybe he was doing something wrong? But that couldn't be. He had no mate, neither did M. Madeleine, so surely there could be nothing so terribly improper about considering a relationship? And most strangely of all, he felt hope. He spent most of his time in the kind of work that was second nature to him by now, running down criminals and locking them up. Yet while he didn't neglect his duties in any way, for once he had something else in his life. He came to look forward to his talks with the Mayor more than successfully apprehending thieves, and it gave him the strangest kind of hope. Even if the Mayor didn't return his adoration and affection, it seemed that a kind of life was possible now that he had thought was beyond him forever.

Not that it was perfect. They fought, bitterly, after M. Madeleine insisted on saving Fantine and refused to let Javert arrest her.

"Justice isn't always about force, Inspector," he said, as he shoved Javert out of the hotel room. "You think I brought peace to this town through arresting people?"

"You don't arrest people because you can't. That's my job."

"And I made peace and prosperity before you came. By feeding people. When a man steals because he is hungry, it's better to feed him."

"She didn't steal. She attacked a man. There's no need for violence."

"Isn't there? Do you protect her and her comrades from the men who would do them violence?"

Javert had gone to bed furious, but troubled. He almost wanted to break his contact with M. Madeleine, return their relationship to the purely professional. Yet in his regard for the Mayor, he couldn't help but think about his words. Javert was hardly prepared to throw away his lifetime's belief in the importance of the law, but when he looked at the town, M. Madeleine's influence was clearly working. He had changed M. sur M. into one of the most prosperous places Javert had seen in all of France. And despite his infuriating beliefs, Javert still helplessly admired him. And yet...

He sat up all night, wracked by the indecision. Whether to stay true to the truth he'd always known, or listen to the man he had come to love so they could continue bringing justice together, Javert with his baton and M. Madeleine with bread.

And then, as if it were a sign, the message came that morning that Jean Valjean had been captured.

It was almost disappointing. That he had hunted so long to find this man, only to have someone else apprehend him. Yet it didn't matter to him nearly so much as it once did. Along with the triumph and disappointment, Javert felt a lightness. He'd been carrying the weight of this duty and shame for so long he'd forgotten it was there, but with his shameful soulmate apprehended again and his past tied up, he could really, truly, look towards the future. A future that was more complicated and concerning than he used to think, but tinged once again with hope.

Despite his all night vigil, he felt invigorated by the news. The sun was up and he gathered his belongings, straightened his uniform, and strode out into the street in search of M. Madeleine. For all misgivings, he was going to admit to the man today that there may be some truth in his words, for it was only together that they were making Montreuil sur Mer a town of peace and prosperity. And then, perhaps, today could be the day when he would tell the man that while Javert had no soulmate he could acknowledge, he would be pleased to spend his life in partnership with him.

Javert barely had time to utter a greeting to the Mayor, though, before screams pierced the air. His planned words of reconciliation were forgotten as he rushed down the street, baton in hand, ready to right whatever wrongs were being done. He rounded the corner to see something he could not fix, though - a heavy cart, a man crushed beneath it. A simple and terrible accident, and no one to arrest.

It took him a moment for him to register the Mayor rushing past him; it seemed like he had barely blinked when the man was down in the mud and stone, bracing his shoulder against the cart.

"No!" Javert cried, "You cannot, Monsieur, please, it will crush you too, and I can't..."

I can't lose you, he was about to say. The words were lost, though, when the Mayor began to lift the cart and Javert was struck so hard by the sensation of pain and weight all over his body that he toppled to the ground. He gasped on his knees in the mud, wracked by the kind of shared pain he hadn't felt since the days of Valjean's imprisonment.

He looked up through eyes clouded with pain and found the Mayor looking back at him. He'd raised the cart and others were dragging the trapped man free, but the Mayor was looking straight at Javert. It was the look he had seen every time he'd chased Valjean down after an escape. After all Javert's wondering if he could find love with the Mayor, he was once again looking on the face of his accursed soulmate.

All Javert's hope and confusion were dead, now. Amidst that grief, it was some small consolation that he could once again begin the chase.

*

The chase lasted for years. Valjean would disappear, reappear, then vanish again. Sometimes Javert lost him for years, sometimes he would feel him terribly close by and never catch sight of him. When they bumped into each other in a crowded street brawl, Javert took a moment to recognise him in the noise and the chaos, but gave a good chase before Valjean escaped him once again.

While Javert had begun to consider Valjean's views when he still thought he was an upstanding mayor, he had thrown all his doubts aside when he returned to hunting for Valjean. He redoubled his faith in the law again and again, as the heat rose with the summer and the murmurs of rebellion rose with it. He had to reluctantly abandon the chase for Valjean to pursue the rebels at the barricade, until fate, once again, brought them together there.

He had always imagined that Valjean hated him, just as Javert hated Valjean. For a long time, certainly, he had, when he was a prisoner furious that his escapes were always thwarted. There wasn't a trace of hate, though, when Valjean took him aside at the barricade, ostensibly to shoot him. Before Valjean had said a word to him, Javert could feel his sadness and his pity. He was frustrated, but not surprised, when Valjean said he was going to let Javert go.

"You can't." Javert hissed, through clenched teeth. "You have to kill me."

"I can't," Valjean replied, just as urgently. He cut Javert's bonds and pushed him towards his escape route. "I can't do that."

"Why not? You can be free."

"I've never been free. I care about being kind. And do you think this only goes one way?" It was the first time Valjean had ever mentioned their bond in so many words. "Do you think I can kill you without it killing me inside?"

The decades of chase had worn on both of them. Where Valjean had once wanted freedom and Javert wanted justice, both of them now wanted it to end. Javert just didn't see a way that it could end like this.

"I still don't understand why you'd let me go. Keep me a prisoner, if you won't kill me. Or let one of the others kill me instead. It might hurt you but at least I can die with honour."

Valjean smiled, sadly. "Do you remember what I once told you? That justice isn't just won by force, and when a man is hungry you may as well feed him? For a long time, I couldn't understand you at all. I couldn't understand how you could be so cruel, or why my soul could be bound to one so harsh. I think I understand, now."

Javert glared. He hated Valjean looking at him like that, and he liked it, being seen as he had once felt seen by M. Madeleine. "Understand what?"

"That not all hunger is for food. I said I created justice through kindness. I think there hasn't been much kindness for you. I've felt your pain all these years, and I wondered why, and over time I think I started to realise. So I have to let you go." Valjean put a hand on his shoulder. "I was never what you think. I'm just a man, who was desperate and hungry, until another man was kind to me and I realised I didn't have to hate the world. I helped feet Montreuil sur Mer, and with full bellies people were happier, peaceful. And I want to give you kindness, for once, so that maybe you can find peace, too."

"That's all you want," Javert grabbed a fistful of Valjean's jacket. "Peace? For me? Not your freedom, not mercy, not anything else?"

"I've never been free, but neither have you. I'm letting you go from here because I want you to live, but please, Javert, I want you to have the freedom of knowing that the world is not nearly so evil as you think."

Valjean was not far from wrong. Javert's world was an evil place, though he could not have pursued his career with such zeal had he not thought it was worth fighting for. But he had believed, once, that there was more goodness in the world than he had ever imagined, when he had fallen in love with a man who made it seem possible. When he realised who the Mayor really was, he was betrayed. He thought that man he'd fallen in love with had been a lie, a facade. That kind man and the criminal, his accursed soulmate, couldn't really be one and the same. And yet here he was, gazing into the same face that he had once fell in love with. The good man he met in Montreuil sur Mer was still there, and Javert realised, with weary resignation, that he had never really stopped loving him.

Javert had any number of options here. He could run, he could arrest Valjean and take him along with him, he could take Valjean's weapon and shoot him. None of those really seemed like options any more. This chase had run for so long that he had forgotten what he was chasing, and faced with the opportunity to take victory, he could barely remember why it seemed like such a good idea. With his hand still wrapped in the lapel of Valjean's jacket, and Valjean's warm breath on his face, there seemed only one avenue left here at the end of the race. Javert sighed, pressed his forehead against Valjean's for a moment, then leaned in to kiss him.

It was like the relief he felt sinking into bed at the end of a day of hard work, but better. Valjean's mouth on his was rough but warm, bringing back all the fantasies he thought he'd left behind long ago. It was better than he'd ever imagined, though, because he felt every bit of Valjean's pleasure, too, in the way he groaned and kissed him back, but in the bliss he felt through their bond. And over all of that, the strange feeling he finally recognised as Valjean's love, washing over him, too.

They were interrupted by voices echoing down the alleyway. Valjean pushed Javert away, quickly, and fired a shot into the air.

"It's done!" He shouted, for the rebel's benefit. "I'll rejoin you shortly!"

"You can't go back," said Javert, horrified.

"I'll be careful," Valjean whispered. "Please. If I don't return, they might chase us both down one day."

"You can't die without me," Javert said, indignantly.

"I never would." Valjean kissed him once again, hard, and then pushed him towards the narrow alleyway in the other direction, towards freedom.

Javert took a few steps, then looked back. "I don't know where to go."

"It doesn't matter. Just get yourself somewhere safe, for a while," Valjean said, with a smile. "It doesn't matter where you go. I'll follow. I'll find you."