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I Too Have Been Covered With Thorns

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“I will soothe you and heal you,
I will bring you roses.
I too have been covered with thorns.”

-Rumi

 


 

Javert felt incredible pain in his chest. Summoning as much energy as he could manage, he coughed roughly onto the ground, water coming up from his lungs and burning his throat. After exhausting himself, he laid back on the ground and looked up at the stars. It was still nighttime, but the slight color in the sky told him it would be sunrise soon. He could feel the hard ground underneath him and could hear the dull roar of the Seine. He realized with disgust that he must have survived and instinctually pulled himself out of the river. A confounding stroke of bad luck considering both his inability to swim and will to have the Seine swallow him whole.

Sighing heavily, he made to pull himself to his feet, but found himself losing balance and fell forward onto the bank. Pushing himself up, he gazed into the river. It seemed the current had taken him to a calmer part of the river, one that had little chance of drowning him any better than his first attempt. As he lamented the fact, he started to focus on the dark, shifting reflection in the waters. Something about it seemed… odd.

Confusion muddled his mind as it seemed he was wearing his ever-present hat, but he had certainly left it on the bridge. A hand went to his head not to find a hat, but hair and something else he failed to identify. Suddenly, the waters cleared enough for him to realize. Ears. Panic struck him and he quickly looked to his hands only to find paws tipped with intimidatingly lengthy claws. He stared, disbelieving. Feeling terror replace the inhaled water in his chest, Javert reached frantically into the river to splash water upon his face, hoping to wake from the nightmare he was surely trapped in. Face thoroughly drenched, he looked at his hands again, but the apparition failed to dissipate. He attempted to groan but a growl of all things emanated from his throat, startling him into silence.

With alarm, he looked around for anyone who could see him. Luckily, it was still early enough in the morning that there were no passersby within sight. He needed a place to think away from any prying eyes, and any man with a pistol who might be alarmed by a beast roaming the street. Again, Javert attempted to stand; this time it felt painful, awkward, and precarious. In a frustrated huff, he stood on all fours and made towards an alleyway, disappearing into the labyrinth of Parisian backroads.

Javert had a map of the streets of Paris committed to memory, but also knew of many places not on any map; should the occasion arise, he was able to chase any suspect through the crevices of the city. As a result, he knew of hiding places most fortuitous to his current predicament and had a particular location in mind.

If Javert was silent before, he now seemed nothing but a ghost sliding through the shadows swiftly and undetected. However, he suddenly found his senses overwhelming. He could hear every disturbance in every household he passed and smelled every scent in a catastrophic mess of information that he could never hope to process in his state of disarray. After weaving through alleys for a time, he came upon a spot nestled away from any residences and businesses likely to be crowded with workers during the fast-approaching day.

He carefully tucked himself in the shade of the crevice, trying to find a way to sit comfortably and out of sight. Even as he managed to position himself correctly, he was able to temporarily block the barrage of senses, but the chorus was replaced by a continuation of the racing thoughts that attacked his mind the night before. Javert was vexed on several accounts. Firstly was his apparent inability to end his life. He concluded that, should he attempt it again, God would inevitably intervene again against his wishes. This course of action was apparently out of the question, he thought sourly.

Secondly was the nature of his sudden transformation. It was difficult for him to discern without a mirror, but he assumed he had taken the form of what was perhaps a wolf as he looked down at the dark fur covering his paws. He had certainly heard stories as a boy of men turned to beasts, but had never paid them any heed. It was the stuff of fairytales one might tell children to frighten them into obeying the laws of governance and the Lord. Perhaps, he thought, this was His intention, to punish him for his misdeeds on both fronts. The idea was suitable, he reasoned, for he had always been but a wolf pursuing an unattainable prey, chasing its own tail without end. How could a wolf tear into its meal knowing full well it had the soul of what some might call a saint?

Javert’s thoughts quickly turned to Valjean and felt a rising pound in his head. If the fool would have simply killed him at the barricade, he would be free of this inexplicable circumstance. Simply the memory annoyed him to no end.

It was then that an idea struck him. If he would not be permitted to kill himself, surely someone else would be able to accomplish the feat. It must be Valjean then, he reasoned. Only that man could finish what he had started, and rightfully exercise his vengeance against the beast that had wronged him so. The solution was so simple, Javert felt anger with himself for not thinking it sooner. Satisfied, he resolved to return to Rue de l'Homme Arme after night fell.

At the moment darkness overcame the city and Javert was sure few people were out, he crept quietly back to Valjean’s residence. He stalked in the alleyway next to the building and could see light emanating from the window and could hear the sounds of what must have been a maid cleaning dishes. For a reason Javert could not seem to discern, he was certain that Valjean was there. And that he had eaten a stew for dinner. Javert’s head began to swim as he realized Jean Valjean’s scent was overpowering his senses until it was all he could focus on. The scent carried everything Valjean had done that day and filled his mind with images of the past, threatening to cause his head to burst.

He shook his head roughly and attempted to control his breathing and the ache in his skull. As he struggled to regain his bearings, Javert considered how best to approach Valjean. It was something he failed to plan through; a wolf cannot simply walk through a door. Furthermore, Javert’s appraisal told him his daughter and portress were inside as well. His head continued to throb as he anxiously paced through the alley. If he could not enter Valjean’s home, he would need to wait for him to leave, alone, and in the dead of night. Javert felt a low growl building in this throat as he cursed his lack of foresight. Slinking back into the depths of the alleyway, he resigned to abide until the proper moment arrived. Only time would tell when it might come.

 


 

It had been many years since Javert had struggled with hunger quite like this. Autumn was beginning to break through the summer heat, and Valjean seemed determined to never give Javert the opportunity to confront him. Valjean’s daughter had moved from Rue de l’Homme Arme after she was wed weeks ago, and the apartment had suddenly gone quite silent. Javert found it impossible to block out much of what he could hear from the nearby residences, including Valjean’s, but now he mourned its absence, the nearest act to human contact he would allow himself. He lingered, always near to Valjean, digging for scraps of food among the stray dogs late at night. For weeks, he hesitated to eat for fear of stealing, but was even more ashamed to resort to hunting the rats that scurried at the edges of the streets. He often thought wearily that he indeed not the predator to Valjean’s prey, but the dog to his master, begging and whimpering while waiting to be put out of its misery. Yet he stayed, settling on no other possible agenda, and listened.

This is how Javert learned that Valjean planned to leave Paris. He had packed most of his remaining belongings to be transported to the countryside. A week later, he follows Valjean’s unmistakable scent for several days, stopping and sleeping during the daytime and pressing on at night.

Along the way, he now contemplated how he might persuade Valjean to do the deed. He supposed that there need not be any persuasion. For he was a beast who could do nothing but advance on the man until killed. Surely the threat of a wild animal would be enough to ensure his swift annihilation. Living in the countryside, Valjean no doubt would have all manner of hunting equipment necessary. He thanked the Lord for his appearance now, for Valjean would have no chance to judge him. He feared not reprimand for his state, but pity. Ever worse, mercy. This was a cage of his own design that he fully intended to rot in.

Valjean had settled into his cabin, days outside of the city and and perhaps two to three leagues from the nearest village. Thick forests sat surrounding the house, which sat in a calm clearing set off from the crude road. Javert skirted on the edge of the forest, carefully observing. It was the third night that he chose to close in on the house, circling it with purpose, not bothering to disguise the crunch of drying grass and autumn leaves beneath his paws. His heart seemed to pound in his chest, though he could no longer distinguish the sound of his own from the hammering of Valjean’s as he passed the curtained window.

At that moment, the door opened. It was not sudden, but cautious, bashful even. Jean Valjean, cloaked in a thick nightshirt and blanket, stepped outside, scanning the horizon until he met Javert’s face.

As Valjean’s eyes widened, Javert took the sight of him in. He looked… smaller. Much of the muscle he had grown accustomed to seeing on Valjean’s figure was diminished. His skin was paler, his face more gaunt. Javert tried to ignore this as he stood on his hind legs, like a bear brandishing its full, powerful height, and snarled.

At the same time, Valjean was trying to comprehend the thing before him. It looked at though it were a wolf, but larger than any wolf he had ever seen. The beast stood tall, dark fur streaked with grey catching in the moonlight and the flickering fire from the hearth. Its teeth were brandished, a low, frightening rumble emanating from within its chest which threatened to become a roaring bark. He looked up then to the eyes of the beast, eyes that seemed to betray the rest of its form and, he realized, looked oddly familiar. The beast started to step towards Valjean, looming over him, readying an attack.

“Javert?”

It took several moments to even comprehend what Valjean had said. He was frozen, staring into Valjean’s confused, gaunt face. Javert felt an urge to respond, but found himself alarmed at the idea of speech, realizing with a start that he was not entirely sure that his unfamiliar mouth could even produce it.

“... It is I,” he replied weakly, his voice coming out awkwardly halfway between a timid whisper and a growl.

Valjean’s complexion paled even further, his expression unreadable, as they stared silently at one another as the nighttime wind whipped at Valjean’s unkempt hair.