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A Haunting of Nightjars

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It was a chilly morning. The winter blue of the sky pounded inside his head like a death knell. He still hurt.

One month ago, Jean Valjean had been recaptured. Three weeks ago, he had finished his “correction.” Today, he had been deemed sufficiently recovered to return to work. He still hurt.

Still, here he was, the sun already patiently shredding his resolve, the ground still icy. His head swam. Damn it all, he was not going to collapse. Not here. He had not broken, not ratted his fellows out, and not come this far to let them see him weak. He still hurt.

Suddenly, a flicker of movement caught his eye. The man next to him worked steadily, as every day before. Valjean turned back to his own patch. Again, the flicker. He twisted his head fast-

“Prisoner 24601!”

He turned his head around, the sun briefly filling his eyes, blinding him, igniting the pain gnawing behind his eyes, and briefly saw-

The new guard, Javert. Yet, against the sun, the imposing figure had-

Wings. 

Large, sleek, predatory wings, like a bird of prey.

Valjean blinked, and once again Javert stood before him. “24601.” He growled “Return to your work.”

***

The glimpses didn't go away. They began to gnaw at him. He didn't see them often, or well. But, out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw them- feathered or bat-like or just shadows, and sometimes in dreams- well, the dreams where never coherent, anyway.

Perhaps he had broken, just a little. Still, there was never any time. Not to hurt, not to break, and not to go mad.

***
Two nights after he met the bishop, Valjean dreamed of the wings again. He couldn't quite make out the shapes behind the bright figure in front of him, but he woke with a feeling like flying and the bishop's words echoing in his mind.

From then on, he started paying attention to the visions.