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The Subject of a Heart

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The day the devil first came to Javert, he was seven, a boy of bruises and a furious loathing for the company his mother kept, whose affection for his father had long since grown to encompass any galley-slave she met.

“Give me your heart,” the devil said, and Javert, from long acquaintance with the sorts of deals that desperate men make, crossed himself and thought no more about it for a year or two.

Javert knew the worth of a soul, after all: his father had bartered his away for a drink and his mother had sold hers for a sum that had lasted them all of three years.

When he was thirteen, the devil came again. This time, Javert met him eye to eye as a man. Javert had left all that bound him to his family behind a year ago, and although he did not own more than the clothes on his back, on most days he managed to enough money to eat by doing small jobs for the guards.

He had thought long and hard about the subject of a heart. It seemed a rather useless commodity to him, by and large, but there was a certain familiarity to the way it beat strong and rhythmically in his chest. It was a thing he had not much use for—yet at the same time, growing up as he had done, it seemed reckless to play his hand so soon.

This time, his denial was accompanied by a respectful bow, and he bore the devil's piercing stare calmly. The devil did not speak before he vanished, but it seemed more a good-bye than a farewell.

At twenty, the devil came for the third time. Javert was standing at the quay, looking out at the harbor, the long, white walls of the bagne at his back. The sun had set an hour ago; Javert had remained to stare at the water while it sunk and the stars blinked into existence.

When he felt the presence of the devil appear to his left, he turned and bowed in greeting. The devil gave him a thoughtful look.

Did he know that on this day, a man had arrived from Paris and dined with the Commissaire, and that in the quarters of the guards, even now rumor ran wild?

Javert listened to the slow, steady thud of his heart. An inconsequential thing. He would lose nothing should he give it up.

And yet, even now a force clenched around his chest as he tried to imagine its absence.

The devil smiled. He was dressed in the Parisian fashion, although now that Javert took a closer look, he seemed to wear the uniform of his superior instead, the blue almost black in the pale light of the moon.

The devil's eyes were even darker. Within them, Javert found himself beholding a precipice. For the first time in his life, he stumbled, nearly taking a step back at the sudden rush of terror that overwhelms the man who is faced suddenly and unexpectedly with an abyss arising where heretofore one has found steady footing.

Javert was afraid. The heart in his chest was thudding faster. His chest was filled by heat: it was a warm, living thing that shuddered in his breast like a wounded animal.

He looked into the beckoning maelstrom of darkness that looked back at him from coal-dark eyes. Then he straightened and took a step forward.

To hand over your very heart to the devil, to have him tear out your soul from your chest with hands that cut sharp like diamond, to find yourself still living and breathing and going about your life when your body no longer houses a beating heart, but rather seems a vessel that tightly encases a terrible emptiness within, lest such dark vacuum should break free—that is not an easy thing. And yet, there is many a man in the bagne who hands away his heart for the worth of a bottle of wine, for a promise of a night of love, or for a revenge whose sweetness lasts no longer than that moment when a man's heart is torn out.

In time, when Javert began to climb through the ranks, he soon came to realize that the streets of Paris and the courtrooms of the countryside alike were filled with men whose eyes betrayed that same emptiness filling their chest.

What the devil had torn out he had replaced with a block of wood. It was a hard, dry thing that sometimes cracked and creaked when Javert lay awake in his bed at night. Yet over time, the dead wood grew used to the confines of Javert's chest, and Javert's mind in turn grew used to ignoring the hard lump in his breast.

He had made a good bargain. He had not asked for money, or riches, or fame. He had asked for the chance to rise only as far as a man like him should be allowed to rise, for the attention of a man who could make use of him in the way he had been intended to be used. And in all the long years that he had served society and the patron whose attention he had gained, he had not once missed the living thing he had given up.

After all, it was not so strange to no longer feel its beating: a living heart always carries the possibility of rebellion, and Javert, who had an abhorrence of such things, found himself served much better by his wooden heart. It did not protest when he arrested a prostitute for attacking a bourgeois in the streets, nor did it allow him to fail his duty when he made a full confession to a mayor and asked to be dismissed.

Later, in the long years he spent in the streets of Paris, the dead wood in his heart did not distract him from his tasks. Javert desired nothing more than to do his job to the satisfaction of his superiors, and when he slept at night, he did not dream.

It should have ended like this. Javert had made his deal a long time ago. It had been a good deal: the devil had not deceived him, and Javert in turn had used the opportunity he had been given. He had not thought of his family and their wasted choices since he left Toulon behind. The wood in his chest was dry and hard as bone, and it no longer creaked, even when the spring sun made trees bud and leaves unfurl.

Instead, one day in 1832, a man he knew cut through the ropes that bound him to a table and led him out into a deserted alley, away from the barricade. Now this was no surprise to Javert, who had recognized this man since he had first laid eyes on him: it was Jean Valjean, who had once posed as mayor and hidden from Javert's grasp for many years.

What surprised Javert was not that the man pulled out a knife and then freed him instead of cutting his throat.

Javert had known this man for a long time. Many years ago, he had observed him at work in the bagne of Toulon, working with the same dull hatred as any other convict, the telltale hardness of soulless eyes giving away that he had made the same bargain as so many others in that place.

To confront this man in Montreuil had been satisfying. After the years of clever lies that men had spun, the false tales of compassion and mercy and the revolting display of piousness, Javert had cornered him and felt a thrill, for the first time in years, when he stared into eyes that were as empty as his own.

They were the same, Jean Valjean and Javert. They had made the same deal, long ago. Javert did not doubt that it was this similarity that enabled him to do his work so well. He knew where Valjean had come from. He knew the deal he had made. Who else would be so aware of the depths to which a man could fall? And—once fallen—the horrors that such a man could devote himself to, with nothing to look forward to but the fires of Hell?

“You are free,” this same man said now.

Javert barked a rough laugh. “You cannot fool me, Jean Valjean,” he said with fierce satisfaction, even as the ropes fell away. “I know what you are. You cannot hide it. Not from me.”

Valjean gave him a small shake of his head. There was the distant sound of a gun.

Valjean anxiously turned his head. “Leave now.”

“Don’t you understand what I say?” Javert demanded. “Do you think I don’t know the bargains you’ve made? Do you think you can trick me now, that there will be further bargains, that I might be duped into—”

“No bargains,” Valjean said.

His voice was very quiet, but there was a powerful authority in it. It made something inside Javert shudder, like the distant tolling of a church bell, a call to someone who had never made the choices Javert had made.

“Here; you may have my address. I don’t doubt that we will see each other again very soon.”

Javert snarled with disbelief at the address he was given, ready to spring forward and reveal Jean Valjean, soulless convict and lackey of the devil, for what he was—but by some trick of the sun, Valjean’s eyes suddenly seemed filled by a light. Instead of emptiness, Javert thought that he saw a reflection of an open door, light spilling through it, a barely glimpsed figure clothed in light standing inside.

Then Valjean turned from him, and the vision that had held Javert captive was gone.

“Have a care…” he muttered in confusion as he stared at Valjean. His wrists ached. He had been bound inside the tap-room all night, with only a drink of water to fortify him. Perhaps it was only to be expected that his mind should play him tricks.

Valjean had already turned from him, returning from where he had come. Rubbing his wrists, Javert at last grimaced, and then ran into the opposite direction, leaving the barricade and this confusing demon of an ex-convict far behind.

***

Javert had died a day ago. He was very certain of that.

His body had been found in the river, washed up against the boat of a washerwoman. Lifeless, he had been dragged from it.

His soul, meanwhile, had found itself at a crossroad. To his left, there was a path of molten lava, running straight into a distant darkness from which screams erupted that made him shudder. From that darkness, an apparition had emerged, striding towards him with slow confidence until Javert found himself eye to eye with the demon who had once taken his soul.

The devil, for that was who he was, gestured silently onto the path that would lead Javert into the hell that had been waiting for him all of his life.

“That is fair,” Javert said and took a step forward.

To his utter surprise, his legs did not move. No matter how much he tried, his feet would not obey him. Even when the devil grew angry at his tardiness, nothing could make Javert’s figure budge, or bring him onto that path that lead into Gehenna.

To his right, a path of white cobblestones lead towards a distant gate. From there, having watched their struggle for a long time, a man clothed in light now appeared.

“It is not customary to tarry before this crossroad,” the man said sternly. “You have not approached the pearly gates. Even if you had, I could not have opened it for you. You see, you lack your soul. It has been given to the demon yonder. My brother, you chose to walk his path long ago; walk it now you must, even to the bitter end.”

“I cannot,” Javert said, deferential but filled with the frustration of having to face a superior who was clearly in the wrong. “I know that it was the bargain I made long ago—but I cannot. My legs will not move. You must forgive me, monsieur; I knew what I traded away.”

For what seemed to Javert an entire day, they faced each other, the devil first threatening, then cajoling, then sending armies of demons and the terrifying beasts of the wilderness against him—but for some reason, none of these things could touch Javert, who seemed to be protected by the same power that made it impossible for him to take a single step forward.

Likewise, Saint Peter tried to argue, first with calmness, then sternly, appealing to his good sense, then to what piety there was in his heart.

Eventually, when there was no progress to be made and even the guardian of the pearly gates himself could not touch Javert, nor make him budge from where he seemed by all accounts rooted to the earth, a host of angels appeared. Their giant wings stroke terror in Javert’s heart, such light coming forth from them that he had to avert his face in shame and fear.

“I don’t belong here,” Javert cried at last, finally overcome by the same terror that had gripped the heart of the boy who had found himself faced with the devil for the very first time at seven years of age.

“My heart is his; I know it well. It was a bargain I made, and I’m ready to bear the consequences. Let me go!”

Even then, his feet would not obey him. The terrible light of the host of angels burned in the empty hole in his chest where his heart had resided and where now only a block of dead wood remained. Yet it still could not break whatever curse held him frozen at this crossroad, unable to go either left or right.

There appeared to be no solution for this conundrum; he was held by some unfathomable curse that stumped even the heavenly host, until at last, what seemed to him a familiar voice reached his ears.

“How now. Javert, is that you?”

When Javert turned his head, he found himself face to face with none other than Jean Valjean.

Hoarsely, Javert began to laugh. At the same moment, he felt a sharp pain in his chest that made him gasp and reach out for his breast.

“Jean Valjean,” he said when he could speak again, this time without rancor, for Jean Valjean was dead, and their differences no longer mattered.

Valjean was clad in a shirt of white. His hair gleamed like silver, his weary face filled by calmness and delight. By his side, an angel stood; it was a great, terrible thing of such majesty that even though Javert did not dare to gaze at it, his eyes filled with tears.

In its brilliant light, Valjean shone even brighter. Before him, the path of white stretched, the gates opening and Peter stretching out a hand with a smile on his lips as if to welcome an old and dearly expected friend.

Yet Valjean still lingered at the crossroad.

“You are dead then,” Javert said after a moment. “That is well.” Now in truth the old thing between them was buried. “Go. You are not needed here.”

“Why do you delay?” Valjean asked, confusion on his face. He turned to point towards the gates, behind which even now a gentle light shone forth, beckoning. “Won’t you join me?”

Again, Javert released a rusty laugh, and once more a jolt of agony stabbed him so that he bent over, groaning as he grasped at his chest.

“You know very well that place isn’t for me,” he said when he could straighten again. “I sold my soul to the devil, long ago. And now the day has come when I must be his. And yet—I find my feet will not lead me there.”

Puzzled, Valjean looked at him.

“But Javert, you have been dead for almost a year now,” he offered slowly. “I read it in the Moniteur myself. Drowned, it said. I thought… I thought you must have been mad. You must have been, for you left my house when I told you that I was now at your disposal.”

Javert bared his teeth. “Mad? Perhaps! But any madness was your doing, Jean Valjean. I made an end of Javert, and an end of all doubt that night. Long ago, I sold my soul to become who I was. And yet here I am, and I can go neither here nor there. I am trapped by some curse that neither devil nor angels can lift.”

“All this time,” Valjean murmured. “You must forgive me, but I had not even thought of you in quite a while. I knew my life was about to end—with her gone, what would remain that was worth living for? The only thing I had left to give her was the death of an old convict who had loved her very much, and whose death would set her free and destroy all rumors that might one day do her harm.”

“Good God, your words do not even make sense,” Javert said impatiently, once more gesturing towards where the saint was waiting. “Go. For some unfathomable reason, you are expected where I cannot go, though you’ve made the same bargain I once made.”

Valjean turned to look at the beckoning light awaiting him. For a moment, a small, sweet smile spread over his face, and Javert steeled himself to be abandoned here in the limbo between Heaven and Hell.

But then Valjean turned back towards him, hesitating.

“Will you not come with me?” he said gently.

“I cannot,” Javert said. “And I am not wanted where you go.”

How puzzling it was. He had seen the emptiness in Valjean’s eyes, long ago—but there at the barricade, a strange light had filled him, and that same light shone from his eyes even now. Could a heart be won back from the devil?

Javert half turned towards the devil, but then Valjean reached out and took hold of his hand.

“Everyone is wanted where I go. Come. Will you not try? If a wretch like me is welcome there, then so will you be.”

Javert wanted to shake his head, but something in Valjean’s eyes made him keep silent, biting back his protest. He knew it was hopeless. He had made the bargain himself, long ago, and he had meant to be honest until the end, going with the devil without protest, for the deal he had made had served him well in his lifetime.

Yet here, before him, Jean Valjean stood, clad in white, his eyes filled with light and his hand filling Javert with warmth as it held on to his own.

Again Javert felt the sudden, burning pain in his chest, a horrible tremor like an earthquake splitting dead wood.

Without thinking, holding on fast to Valjean’s hand, he took a step forward.

Light surrounded him. He could feel the heat of it even through the soles of his boots. When he looked down, he saw that he had taken a step onto the path of white cobblestones—the path that was awaiting Jean Valjean, and which lead straight towards the open gate.

And yet now, from that gate, Peter himself came striding forward, thunder on his face as he raised one hand.

“He cannot enter,” he declared in a voice full of thunder. “He must go that way.”

The saint pointed towards the other road, where even now the devil was waiting in grim impatience.

“No,” Valjean said simply. “He cannot. I will not let him.”

“That’s not your choice to make.” Javert stared at Valjean through the blinding light.

How strange—had he ever truly looked at the man before? His hair gleamed like a crown of silver, and there were wrinkles lining his face that seemed to recede before his very eyes, until Valjean stood before him with the carefree attitude of a much younger man—a man, or so it seemed, who no longer carried a heavy burden.

“You should go,” Javert said suddenly, his throat dry as he realized that Jean Valjean was dead. “You’ve been a good man—how strange my life has become. There is your reward for the good you’ve done, and here is my reward for the bargain I’ve made. It is fair. That girl of yours must have mourned you. I can see you still, Jean Valjean, covered in sewage, with that boy at your feet. She must have cried to lose you.”

At his words, Valjean shuddered. Slowly, some of the light receded, until he could make out Valjean’s face clearly once more. There was pain in it now—a pain that he, Javert, had put there, and which should not have been here.

“I will not go without you,” Valjean said, ignoring Javert’s words. “Here. If they will not let you walk this path, let me carry you.”

He reached out to wrap his arm around Javert, beginning to lift him. At the same moment, a terrible pain shot through Javert, as though he had been ripped open. With a cry of agony, he grasped his chest—and there, from the dead wood of his heart, a shoot had grown, piercing his chest as it sprouted so that he found himself clutching at living, springy wood.

Meanwhile, the pearly gates before them had begun to close. The light beckoning them had dimmed. Peter’s mien was still forbidding, and he had not stepped aside to make way for them.

“He cannot enter,” Peter said again. “You are welcome, Jean Valjean. But he cannot enter with you.”

“You should go,” Javert said a final time, feeling lightheaded. Blood was dripping down his chest where the wooden tendril had pierced his skin as it forced its way out of his breast. The heart within him was still wooden—but it seemed to him now that a strange, soft roar filled his ears, like the distant rush of sap through waking wood in the spring.

“If you cannot go right, and you cannot go left—then what is that path in front of us?” Valjean finally inquired.

Javert had not paid it much attention before, distracted as he was by the presence of the devil and the terrible light of the angels.

Now, it seemed as if a mist had receded. Out of the nothingness before him, it appeared to him that he heard the call of rushing water. An instinctive shiver ran through him.

“I know where that path leads,” Javert said slowly. “I should not go back there. I made my choice long ago. I was twenty-one when I sold my soul to the devil, and every single day since, I was aware that this day would come. I do not deserve to go back to that choice. I knew what I did. If I stood before the river a second time, I would make the same choice.”

“Then it is true,” Valjean murmured, “and in the grip of madness, you cast yourself into the water? Javert, my time has come to an end at last, and I am grateful I will find rest. But you should go neither right nor left. Go forward. Undo what was done. Something binds you to that life; some force greater than the devil or the angels. Do not throw away what you’ve been given. Go back.”

“No. It is done with,” Javert said grimly. “I know where I belong: it is with the devil. And I know where you belong: it is with Heaven, for some reason that makes my head hurt even now. I wanted an end of that headache. That is why I am here. If there is one of the two of us who deserves to go back, then surely that is you, Jean Valjean. Go back and be loved by your daughter once more.”

A shudder ran through Valjean. “You don’t know what you’re asking of me,” he said weakly. “In any case, it cannot be. My torment is over… Surely no one can ask more of me than what I’ve given—”

His eyes turned towards Heaven once more. Almost, Javert could make out a shape within the light behind the gate. Was someone waiting to welcome him even now?

Then, as if shouldering a heavy burden, Valjean took a deep breath. He turned back towards the unremarkable path in front of them, which lead into a mist so thick they could not make out what was beyond.

“If I lead you yonder—will you follow?” Valjean’s voice was trembling. “I do not want to return, Javert. But if you can go neither to Hell nor to Heaven, I won’t abandon you here. I will lead you—if you will take my hand.”

“It’s not fair,” Javert said after another glance at the devil, whose eyes were filled with fire, but who was just as powerless against the power barring Javert from entry as was Peter himself. “But as I would rather not remain here, unmoving, for all eternity, I will follow.”

The small branch that had grown through his chest was a steady, throbbing pain now. In truth, it was the thought of that pain eternally remaining here with him that made Javert accept Valjean’s offer.

For so long, the bargain he had made with the devil had seemed fair to him. But now, with this thing inside him that despite all odds was green and alive, he felt a sudden, instinctive abhorrence at this place of brimstone and fire to which he was meant to go. Even though the growth within him was an agony, he could not bear to think of it burning to ash.

Once more Valjean took hold of his hand. His touch was gentle and warm. There was a confidence in it which Javert lacked—but when Valjean took a step forward, so did Javert. Where before, his muscles had not obeyed him, he found that he could walk easily now, as long as Jean Valjean walked forward by his side. Together, they strode into the mist before them, leaving behind both the road towards Heaven and to Hell.

They did not walk long in the mist. Their steps echoed eerily in it, and it swallowed all light until it seemed that they had entered complete darkness. Yet still Valjean’s hand held firmly onto Javert’s, and a moment later, there was the light of the moon above them, and they found themselves by the quay of the Seine.

Below them, the water rushed past with a deep roar, an abyss of blackness that promised an end to all the doubt within Javert’s heart.

Instinctively, Javert raised his hand once more to clutch at his chest—but the little twig grown from within his breast was gone. There was no blood on his chest either, although he could still feel an unsettling ache inside him, as if something long unused to life had woken and was forced to stretch and fit itself to this new reality surrounding them.

“I know this place,” Javert said, his voice hollow. “This is where I walked that night, after I had left you. I placed my hat down at the edge of the quay—there, see.”

Together, they walked to that place by the parapet. Beneath them, the dark maw of the water beckoned, promising to swallow him whole and deliver him straight to Hell.

Javert stared into it. “You were not meant to be here,” he then said, turning to Jean Valjean. “I had not meant to go on in this life—but that was because I had been wrong, and I did not mean to live in a world where Javert was wrong. All the same, it means that in this world, you are right. You were not meant to die. You are here once more, as you should be—but you should be with your daughter, not me. Go home. Live your months—or perhaps years, this time—in love and comfort. Know that I will never come after you again. If live I must, I will try and do expiation on my own, and perhaps one day, when death will find me, I will be allowed to choose either road, and it will be done.”

“I had not wanted to come back,” Valjean said with a shudder that seemed almost fearful to Javert. “It was over, the torment ended at last. But to see her again—to hold her again—to hear her say father for at least a few more weeks… Is that not worth all pain in the world?”

“A few more weeks? Did you not say months when we met?” Javert turned away from the river at last to focus on Valjean. Already, the terror of death had receded from him; now, with life filling his limbs once more, the old, unfailing instinct of the hound had returned as well. “How did you die? You never said.”

Valjean averted his eyes. “It is of no importance. You know how I am. And you must remember the boy we returned to his grandfather. They were married; my Cosette was now Madame la Baronne. Surely you must see what had to be done.”

“No, Jean Valjean. No, I do not see at all.” Javert frowned. “You make no sense. You died peacefully, surely, in your sleep, the honorable death of old age. Yes, I could see it when you arrived, your hair shining in the light, your face calm and noble. Tell me it is as I said.”

“I died because my time was over,” Valjean said with difficulty. “And in the end, she came to me, and I was forgiven, and I was no longer alone. She wept for me, Javert… That will have to suffice. I can bear it again. What are a few months of loneliness when one knows that afterwards, peace awaits? And today I will return to her, and she will smile and call me father. There is no greater joy in this world, not on earth and not in Heaven.”

There were tears in his eyes, Javert now saw. They were still so close to the river that he could hear its loud roar, but just as loud was a different sound in his ears: the creak of stretching wood, the rush of sap, the ardor of a bud aching to unfurl into leaves.

Javert reached out without thinking, his fingertips brushing against a tear.

Shocked, Javert drew in a breath. At the contact, the wooden heart within him had ached once more, like wet wood forced to stretch to new, unfamiliar shapes.

Valjean had frozen as well. He was staring at him from wide eyes. In the moonlight, his hair was a pale flame, his eyes luminous with a distant gleam of Heaven.

In that moment, he seemed as terrible as any angel to Javert, and as humble as the smallest forest creature hiding beneath leaves.

“Loneliness—for you? You are mistaken,” Javert heard himself saying as if from afar. “It cannot be right. The gates to Heaven stood wide open for you. Surely you must be loved as you deserve.”

Valjean drew in a deep, sad breath. “It cannot be,” he said softly. “You know why. But it is of no importance. That is the bargain I made: to bear that pain again, for those few, precious days when she will smile and love me and say father. It is more than Heaven to me.”

“She will wed, you say?” Javert said. “Well, that is the way of things. The boy’s grandfather had a fine house; she will live well. I don’t see what makes it such a tragedy. You are an ex-convict; well, even so! You are also a good man. Surely you can keep visiting her; surely no one needs to know—”

Wretchedly, Valjean shook his head.

With sudden shock, Javert realized that his fingers were still pressed to Valjean’s cheek. How strange it was to touch him so. Valjean felt warm and alive. Entranced, Javert found himself staring at Valjean’s mouth, the lips that were full and soft, and imagined running his finger over them.

“If someone were to tell, she would be ruined,” Valjean said bitterly. “Surely you of all people must understand that.”

“You saved the boy’s life,” Javert found himself arguing. “A bargain could be made with that. You need not live with them, but to visit—”

Silently, Valjean shook his head, another tear escaping. “I cannot be father anymore. I must be M. Jean, all too soon. But for now, I will be father once more for a few weeks, and I will not think of the loneliness that is to come.”

“Are you so intent on your loneliness then?” Javert murmured, watching Valjean. “You think there can be nothing but pain and sadness for you here, but still you came. For me, who has hounded you for nearly my entire life. Why?”

“It seemed to me just one further thing God has asked of me,” Valjean said quietly. “I could not walk on and leave you to your torment. How could I? But in truth, it was a selfish choice, Javert. For I will see her again, and she will smile at me, full of love. I would gladly take her smile over Heaven itself.”

“You are a bewildering man,” Javert’s brows drew together as he gazed deeply at Valjean. He realized with sudden shock that he had never let go of him: his thumb still rested against Valjean’s warm cheek, and now that he found himself staring at him again, he watched it move, gently grazing the corner of Valjean’s lips.

Shocked, eyes wide, Valjean exhaled. His breath was hot against Javert’s finger.

“And what if I tell you that you do not have to be lonely?” Javert asked, his voice strangely hoarse as he kept staring at Valjean’s mouth.

“I don’t understand what you mean.” Valjean spoke in what was barely more than a whisper. “I know what must be done. I know what will happen. I have borne it before, Javert; it can be borne again.”

“But no one decreed that it has to happen the same way as before. I am here now.”

Valjean did not move. In his wide eyes, Javert once more thought that he could detect a glimpse of a distant light. Perhaps it had never been the emptiness of a soul that had been sold to the devil, but that of a man whose soul had resided with God all along.

Nevertheless, the skin of Valjean’s face was hot against Javert’s palm, and the breath Valjean released was trembling and nervous. The man who stood here before Javert was all mortal, marked by pain and loneliness, and yet still possessed such immense strength that he had dragged Javert from the threshold of Hell itself and returned them back to life.

Javert leaned forward.

Valjean’s eyes widened even more—and then they closed. Their lips touched. A shock ran through Javert at the touch, heat spreading through him in gentle ripples. Valjean’s lips were very soft, and very warm.

And for the first time in many decades, Javert felt his heart beat in his chest.