There were talks about them all over France.
Philosophers disputed about the duality of man and animal. Gross speculations got loud about their origins, perverse couplings of beasts and people, and scientists wrote papers while children nobody would miss died on the tables of the medical academy.
The people crossed themselves and talked of the devil.
In Toulon, Javert clutched his cudgel tighter whenever he passed prisoner 24601. He had been unapologetic about his form from the start, defiant gaze meeting Javert’s after the first time he had been caught. They had beaten that anger from his eyes. The law makes no exceptions.
Javert had seen him in his element only once, silver scales glistening under the current. The prisoner’s moves were agile, fluid. That time he had almost managed to escape.
He may have gotten quieter since that, his look blunter. Yet, the manner with which he bore everything flung at him was more unsettling for it. Work must have been a punishment, wetness curling around his feet, teasing at his instincts.
Javert looked down into the pit where 24601 was tugging the chain. There was nothing around him but the winds, his feet the sole contact with the ground.
In their elements, but not quite.
Javert straightened - a persistent itching in his shoulder blades - and only felt hate.
Everything was small in Montreuil. Those little houses, little streets constricted him; beyond the outskirts, just vastness.
The sky called him often. Javert would not yield. He let them out in his chamber instead, precautionary, once a week. There was no room to spread, of course. But he almost welcomed the ache that never quite went away.
His mother had loved the wings. Petted them, brushed the feathers.
My little angel.
Perhaps the stones hurled at him had hurt his pride. But the child had felt the bruises, blue, swollen and very real. When they had seized her again, she had taken the little angel to be buried beside her. What remained was Javert.
His bruises had a different source, nowadays. He paid them no mind. Javert had never been one for ogling himself in the mirror, as a human. As a beast, he covered it with cloth.
Madeleine had always been too indulgent, with alms, pickpockets, criminals and beasts, even though he was careful with his words. Javert should have known from the start.
All was clear between them. At last, Javert was looking into Valjean’s eyes and the hypocrisy he saw there stroke his fury. The blade caught the light – he would make him pay, monsieur le maire, he had practically been on his knees for him!
Fantine's rigid shape lay on the bed, a forever silent witness. She had made his blood boil from the first time he had seen her, shameless hussy, indecent in more ways than one. Her wings lay broken against the sheets now; they had almost been pretty before. Butterfly wings, frail, beautiful, delicate. Useless.
Valjean was three times stronger than him, but continued yielding. Javert could only sneer at his pose of saintliness. He was not even human. Not him, nor the hussy.
And you? I’m different. I’m overcoming it. I’m better.
Am I not?
Perhaps there was something knowing in Valjean’s gaze, trapped in the corner like the animal he was, steel against his stomach. Though there was no way he could know, was there?
A splash. Javert looked out in time to see a gleaming tail disappear in the water. He followed him with his eyes and the sneer of disgust was replaced by a shaking of the head.
Why want to be treated like a human if you won’t try to be one?
Javert spat out a mouthful of blood. The fibers of the noose rubbed his throat raw as he was there in this curious, impossibly cruel position – neither standing nor kneeling for fear of chocking.
Such was their essence.
Javert did not know how many of them truly were like that. But they were following him, the boy with a palomino’s body and blood-filled eyes. It was enough.
His skin had treacherously decided to ache and itch the worst in those moments. He flexed his back, searching for ease, and remembered the time he had foolishly thought he was alone.
God must have felt like mocking him. There was surprise in Valjean’s face. Javert felt none. They had never touched before. It was just cold fingers on cold skin, not more than that. And yet he trembled, yet he felt a shudder in Valjean’s hands.
Javert stumbled off into the maze of Paris. Triumph bled from the wound in his mind; from the shot Valjean had missed with a sure hand, yet had planted with his look, his words, his touch.
Word had been going around they hated them. Mindlessly, like cattle hates its masters. Perhaps Javert had. Perhaps the first time a stone had left a bruise. The second he had decided to become human himself.
Beasts, animals, monsters... Javert walked through puddles of red.
Human had been the hands that had cocked the guns, human the eyes that had fixed the aim... The little boy with the fox tail had several bullets lodged in his chest. Up in the chamber, the palomino’s light flanks were painted crimson, next to him a dark-haired man, their hands linked firmly.
Here a beast and a human joined in death, there a battalion that had brought the red flood over Paris. And Valjean.
The gun Javert realized he had never intended to use swam on the water.
How quiet Pont-au-Change was. Javert felt the winds pass around him. So he had been wrong. Valjean, the saint? No. But... Valjean, the human?
Javert gave a bitter laugh.
There was no way to deny what was true. He had seen his tail, his scales, had seen him swim under the current, display that part of him that never would, could be human. And yet... could it be that he was better than Javert, who had been trying so hard all of his life?
Javert’s shoes squeaked on the stone. How much he had always loved the edge... The double towers of Notre Dame caught his eye, smudgy against the nightly sky. Perhaps mercy existed after all. Perhaps love existed.
Javert remembered Valjean’s cold skin on his and shuddered.
He had been wrong about everything.
But then, how could he betray him? How could he not – the Code pénal – but what did it matter? When he was one of them anyway, had always been? The wind must have been icy, but he only felt the heat of the argument and the empty void in his chest.
Javert looked sadly into the cloudy night.
He had never believed in fate. Yet, there must be a center in everybody’s life and after something had thrown them together for one time too many, Javert had started to believe he spiraled towards Valjean, that seizing him was not just his duty but his purpose. Again, Javert had been wrong. And the sudden clarity that this moment was where he had always been meant to end, he received strangely calmly.
He made a half step into the depth. Air had never felt like nothing to him; now, it welcomed him back like a lost son. And with a last glance at the night, Javert let himself fall into the embrace.
The dark waters grew nearer slowly, though, and perhaps he had always been right, in a way - because he would perish in Valjean’s element – spiraling towards Valjean...
A twinge of panic ripped through him, but vanished quickly, like a spark gone out. He registered the wings which had broken out – what use? he thought, a cynical smirk on his lips.
He had never learned to fly anyway.
What a sight he must have been making. Javert briefly recalled Sunday school. Lucifer fell for pride, didn't he? he thought with a tired huff, how fitting.
Then darkness closed around him and he fell forever.
When he landed, he hit pillows soft as clouds. They kept him afloat for a while, in that world of soft light and oblivion.
Curiously, he became conscious of the pain in the same moment the figure at his bed caught his eye. The sunlight glittered on the rosary and Javert’s hazy brain had not yet decided for or against speaking up, when a sharp sensation shot down his back and his right leg and a groan escaped his mouth. The figure’s head snapped up. Valjean’s eyes were deep, dark and full of shame.
He avoided his gaze after that, bringing him food, changing the sheets with the seeming discomfort of a man meeting illness. But it was not this. Javert remembered the gleam of silver scales in muddy water and the laugh left a bitter taste in his mouth. How right everything was. How right.
They broke silence a week later. Valjean lifted his hand to his forehead, searching for fever. His skin was not cold this time, but still, Javert trembled under his fingers. Valjean met his gaze. His eyes were deep, dark. And full of shame.
Javert’s eyelids fluttered and he felt helpless, like a leaf in the wind.
This time, he was the one to reach out.
There had been no tender touches in Javert’s world. No caresses, no loving words, not even mentions of his first name which had perished in history after his mother had last said it 40 years ago.
With Valjean, every moment was a discovery. Slow and cautious... Valjean was generous with his affections, having had his precious lark to shower them with, Javert more reserved.
The first time they touched lips was no miracle. Yet, the fruit was tasted and some poison takes its time and so Javert discovered he needed Valjean’s kisses like air.
Valjean, he supposed, needed them like water.
There was some beauty in it. Valjean’s gracious movements, sunlight breaking on the water, sparkling on him like a thousand diamonds... The scales were nice, smooth and cold. Javert liked touching them, captivated by the cool silver against his skin.
Valjean had been bashful about transforming in front of him at first, their past relationship weighing them down. But as Javert had erred so grievously, he was ready to learn and Valjean shook of his qualms. He had never been terribly shy about his nature anyway.
Javert caught him stealing glances at his back sometimes. Of course. That night, Pont-au-Change, cloudy skies and muddy waters. He knew.
They had been naked in front of each other. And it had not been easy and Javert had hid his face the first time Valjean had slid his fingers around his length, and the first time he had been in his lap there had been a blush creeping up his neck, startled by the way he had moaned, high needy noises, the way Valjean had moved in him, the way he had looked at him.
This was different. Worse than being naked, worse than fucking.
Show me. Valjean’s fingers were a tender caress against his side that night, almost apologetic.
But it did not make a difference in the end.
He took off his shirt in the middle of the room. It was cold and he felt goose bumps travelling up his arms as he let them out, unfolding, and felt feathers against his skin. The ache was worse this time. Javert clenched his fists, held his breath and wondered if he had broken anything from the fall.
At last. He sighed.
Valjean’s chamber was larger than his in Montreuil had been and yet it was too small. Javert sat down onto the floor to accommodate to the space and waited. Finally he dared to lift his gaze.
Valjean was looking at him like he was a miracle, eyes wide and sparkling. Slowly he rose from the bed and made a step closer. Javert twitched and the wings twitched with him, bending to cover, to protect him on instinct - the greatest of ironies. It was not his body he was ashamed of.
A construction of bones covered with feathers. The reminder he would never be human.
He had been wrong about everything. He loved Valjean’s skin, whether warm and soft or cool and smooth. Loved him in the water and on land. Loved him. Perhaps he had hated for too long. There were things which would never come back.
The wings lay against his back, quite like the hussy’s in Montreuil-sur-Mer.
Javert jumped up, wings retreating rapidly, and fled the room.
So many years he had been disgusted by himself. Sometimes they had not felt part of his body, at others much the contrary, reminded him of every single failure that kept him from perfection.
Now he looked at Valjean and felt a cripple.
Wet silver under his touch. Valjean was lounging in the bath tub, which, already large, could not quite accommodate his tail. Javert knelt on the floor, his arm leaning on the edge, head on his underarm, and petted Valjean’s hip, right at the strange place where scales met skin.
He looked up and realized belatedly that a sad smile had stolen on his lips. Valjean’s gaze spoke affection of the sympathetic kind. His hand found its way to Javert’s neck and Javert relished the touch, leaning the side of his face against Valjean’s wrist.
Do you want to see?
No. Not if you don’t want to. Not if it hurts.
Feathers against his back. He hid his face in the crook of his arm.
Valjean was silent for a moment. Then Javert felt his fingers pet him again and looked up, shy of what he would find in his eyes. Valjean studied him. His gaze was more reserved this time and Javert felt like he was searching in his face, telling him something at the same time, somehow, and he waited for him to speak. He did not.
Instead, Valjean leaned closer, hand leaving his neck to sneak around his body – and for some reason Javert leaned in, too, stood up on his knees, even though he knew what Valjean would do... though he could always leave, couldn't he...
The first touch was as light as a breeze. Like petting a not quite tame horse which could bolt at any moment. It was probably true. Javert waited for the touch which would go too far.
It wasn't this one. And not the next one, either.
Valjean made his way down the outline of a wing, exploring blindly, his eyes gentle as they searched in his face; still, Javert had to look away. They both held their breaths. At last his fingers came near the base, the place his wings bordered on his back, where the feathers became soft fluff...
Javert could not hold in a startled noise. His eyes darted up; Valjean’s look had deepened. He felt blush blossoming up his neck.
There was just his panting breath between them for a moment. And then Valjean, holding his gaze, touched him again. More deliberately, something between a deep scratch and a firm caress, how one would pet a kitten - or a bird.
This was deeper, so much deeper and Javert shivered helplessly and arched his back under the touch in spite of himself, mouth falling open and letting out a sigh. The shudder went through his body, leaving a curious heat in his stomach and between his legs.
Valjean was looking at him, eyes dark. He licked his lips. And he was breathless, too.
And he did.
Javert felt the smooth scales under him as he moved, stretched and filled with every movement, every thrust. He bit his lip, yet the moans still tumbled out. Valjean pulled him closer to his chest and cupped his bottom, forcing him to go rougher, harder and Javert obliged. Valjean’s gasps were hot against his neck.
Then his hand wandered higher and pushed into the feathers again – and no matter how stimulated he was already, no matter how the sweat was slicking his back and the tension inside his stomach ready to implode, the sensation rocked through his body in a piercing flash and he cried out and almost finished right there.
He took a deep breath. Valjean moved to kiss his throat and Javert felt it breaking, felt something inside of him give way and first one drop, then another and then his cheeks were wet.
Valjean had been moaning his name before but how he said it now – of course, he had noticed – it scared him and Javert shook his head, moving closer, his length pressing against Valjean’s stomach and he would not make the mistake of stopping now, would he?
Valjean understood. Or accepted. And moved to kiss the water off his cheeks, wet and salty like the sea.
The virginal Seine flowed near them. In a few kilometers she would hit Paris and be deflowered with dirt. But not yet.
Javert felt the grass against his cheek.
Valjean had shifted back not long ago. Dozens of water droplets were sparkling on his seemingly human skin. They were not enough to cover his scars, the marks of Toulon and years on the run. Javert would not have wished for it. The past was over, but not gone. And in spite of the painful memories they evoked, they too were a testament of everything that had changed, both in them and between them.
He studied Valjean’s body, his chest, stomach, thighs, the arms and legs stretched out in the grass, recalled how they felt under his touch. Finally, he was his; after so many years, he had found him. Or was it the other way around? Javert found himself beyond caring.
The sun was burning his back. He moved his wings idly, hoping to create the absent breeze. Valjean, who had closed his eyes, bathed in the sunlight almost like he had in the river.
A smile of mischief stole on Javert’s lips and he spread out his left wing slowly. Valjean’s eyes snapped open as the shadow fell over him and on his face and he whelped in protest.
You will get yourself burned, Javert said strictly. Either this or drying off.
Valjean let his head fall back on the grass and when he smiled, his smile spoke fondness. Gently, he brushed his fingers along the wing. Javert shivered.
He had always avoided looking at them. Occasionally he had almost managed to convince himself they did not belong to him at all. Yet, Javert felt the touch inside of him, travelling from the tips of his feathers towards the center somewhere in his body which made him tremble and shiver, made him feel. And looking at the feathers which still held the full brown colour of his youth while his hair had grayed and seeing them move at his will, he could not deny what was his anymore.
He would never fly now. And sometimes he felt overwhelmed with it all and the sky was too close and too far at the same time and in those moments no one could fix him.
Still, Javert felt an answering smile blossom on his lips.
For after so many years they had managed to discern what they shared, against all odds, and this could not be an insurmountable obstacle to him now. At least, he would never be alone again – because air holds water and water holds air and sometimes it is hard to tell where one stops and the other begins.