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The Truth

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No one believed him, but Valjean knew the truth: there were aliens among them.

Sharp-toothed, reptilian passengers from another world, hell-bent on colonizing this one. Wearing the skins of humans, indistinguishable save for the slick black blankness behind their eyes.

His state-assigned lawyer thought he was crazy. “God knows eighteen years in this hell-hole’d be enough to make anyone see little green men,” Maître Fauchelevent commented sagely. “You’ve never listened to me before, Jean, but I’ll keep saying it anyway: keep your head down and you’ll make parole in another year. No more trying to escape, and definitely no more talk about alien experiments.”

“Grey,” Valjean muttered. “The adults are grey.”

He knew his cellmates thought he was crazy, too.

In the beginning, he wondered why the aliens hadn’t shown themselves to anyone else; why it was that out of all the lifers in Toulon, he’d been selected. In those first terrible years, he’d tried to find out if there were others. He’d reached out to the guys in Block B, and then to the likely people in the other cell blocks. There was nothing. People ignored him; Cochepaille from Block C gave him a black eye and was put in solitary for a week.

It could be that they were lying. Or it could be that his fellow inmates truly couldn’t bring themselves to acknowledge that the things they had experienced -- naked, strapped down to the metal pallet in the lab and invaded by steel -- weren’t dreams after all, but a cold and terrible reality.

Or it could be that he was the only one out of the fourteen hundred souls in the maximum security prison of Toulon singled out by the aliens for their investigations.



*



Valjean had no idea what special qualities he had, why the aliens wanted him. But the torture began two years into his sentence, after he’d saved his work crew by catching a falling pillar and holding it until they’d brought in the hydraulics from the shipyard.

The day after, when he’d been recovering in the med-bay, he’d been manhandled into a straightjacket, strapped to a gurney, and wheeled to a lab deep in the bowels of the prison. Valjean could see that the technicians who’d seized him weren’t human; they wore human skin and human faces but underneath there were scales and claws and too many teeth.

When he’d finally been returned to his cell, he tried, drooling and barely coherent, to tell the others what had been done to him, what he’d seen. Nobody believed him -- not the first time, not the fifteenth.

It would happen every month. As the months went by, Valjean himself began to wonder if everyone was right, if he had truly been driven crazy by life behind bars.

The one person who may not have thought he was crazy was the Guard in Black.

Valjean didn’t know whether the Guard was one of them. He certainly looked alien enough: serious, slightly awkward, his blond hair perfectly smooth on his temples, not a wrinkle in his starched white shirt, his posture rigid and unnatural. Summer and winter alike, he wore his uniform hat and collar and a long reptilian leather coat, and never seemed to feel either the heat or the cold.

But underneath that immaculately-pressed uniform, the tall, burly body of the Guard in Black looked entirely human.

The others said his name was Javert; nobody seemed to know his first name. He knew every section and sub-section of the prison regs, and was always ready to enforce them. His baton carried an electric charge. But he was never unfair. When the other guards meted out unregulated punishment, he was on hand with a page reference and a correction. Once, when a new guard from the other block took a cattle prod to Valjean for no reason, the Guard in Black had been there to read the newbie the riot act, and to give Valjean a hand up.

Valjean didn't know what the aliens wanted with him, but they ended up using the Guard in Black to get it.

At first, after they’d stripped him and strapped him down and shot him up with hallucinogens, they'd used misty images of scantily-clad women of his acquaintance to tempt him. There had been Marion, his classmate in Brie, wearing just her brown braids and nothing else, and Mme. Baloup, the mathematics teacher, in heels and black lingerie.

When that hadn't worked, they'd used generic blonde women who looked as if they'd stepped straight out of Lui, a magazine which Valjean had only ever seen half-concealed on the top shelf of the newsstand outside the Isabeau bakery in Faverolles.

Those glossy, unreal starlets took their turns climbing onto the metal table, which, thanks to the drugs or the machine or a combination of the two, morphed into the satin sheets of a feather bed. They pressed kisses to Valjean’s resisting mouth, circled Valjean’s hole with teasing, generously-lubed fingers, and then took turns straddling Valjean’s thighs, enveloping his cock with wet heat.

It didn’t work -- not Marion, not Mme. Baloup in heels, not the anonymous ladies grinding away on his prick. Valjean got hard, like anyone would get hard with drugs in their blood and a probe up their ass and a hallucination in their lap, but he knew that it wasn’t real, and that he was being watched by black-eyed things with human faces.

It wasn’t real, and he could never finish. And then the sessions ended the same way: the mists and images fading away, becoming blank lab walls and hot lights and restraints, and the jolting, invading pain which finally forced a too-real ending.

With the Guard in Black, though, it was a different matter.



*



It started toward the end of Valjean’s third year in Toulon, more than a year after the experiments had begun. Valjean had no reason to believe this time would be any different from the ones before.

Again the straps, again the hallucinogens, again the walls of the lab falling away dizzyingly into the mist. Valjean had learned that struggling was useless; he lay spread-eagled on the pallet, quiet against his bonds, the drugs making his pulse race and his breathing grow ragged. Dully, he wondered which stock female had been selected for him this month.

Then the mists parted, and the Guard in Black stepped forward. He held himself upright in that distinctive, unnatural posture; he leaned over Valjean awkwardly and rubbed a big hand over Valjean’s bare thighs. His powerful body was naked, muscles moving cleanly under the pale flesh. His flushed cock stood at full-mast.

The Guard -- Javert -- frowned, and took hold of Valjean with more intent, and in no time at all Valjean’s own cock was painfully hard.

Valjean drew in a panting breath and felt the coldness of the probe between his asscheeks. This time, though, the Guard had grasped the probe with his free hand and ran it almost gently around the rim of Valjean’s hole, waiting for the muscle to adjust, before sliding it in.

A spasm ran through Valjean; in vain, he tried to arch himself off the table.

“Relax,” the Guard muttered. “It’ll be easier if you relax.” He couldn’t look directly at Valjean. Still, Valjean could see the Guard’s eyes were green, free of the slick alien blackness: almost human.

He was real. He was real, and Valjean couldn’t help it; he didn’t need the electric prod to make him come.

At once, the technicians approached from behind the machine controls. They collected his discharge in sterile containers like they usually did. What was unusual was their excitement as they stared at their tablets. Something about this time was clearly different; the technicians conferred with each other, and consulted the results, and then conferred again even more animatedly.

The Guard lingered at Valjean’s side. Even though Valjean had finished, trembling, wrung out with release, Javert seemed in no hurry to place him back in the straightjacket and wheel him back to his cell.

Valjean licked his dry lips and finally found his voice. “Why are they doing this?” he croaked.

There was no answer.

“Why are you doing this?”

Again, the Guard did not respond, although he did fetch Valjean a drink of water, and even helped him, impersonally, to drink.

Valjean endured this approach for almost half a year before trying to escape. The Guard in Black found him and brought him back to Toulon, and to the lab, and to their monthly visits.



*



The years wore on; the strange experiments continued. There were minor variations: the Guard occasionally came to Valjean in his uniform, and once he wore just his leather coat and boots and nothing else. Sometimes Javert would take Valjean in his mouth, though he would pull off before Valjean’s climax so his semen could be collected.

Then came the day when Javert removed the probe and took its place between Valjean’s thighs.

It was almost unbearable, the feeling of Javert’s prick hot and heavy and alive inside him, the desperate, mortal rhythm of his thrusts. In all their time together, the Guard had never touched himself -- it could be he wasn’t permitted to do so. But for some reason, this day Javert was allowed, and as he climaxed with a choking groan, Valjean found that he had also reached his own release.

They were silent as the technicians bent to their usual tasks collecting, analyzing, ignoring.

“Why are they doing this? Why are you?” Valjean didn’t recognize his own voice, unmade as it was with dangerous pleasure.

Javert rubbed his face awkwardly. His hair stood on end, he had never looked more human. “For the good of the nation,” he said. “And better me than anyone else.”

Valjean didn’t know if the Guard meant the French nation, or something far more insidious. Regardless, it sounded like Javert was telling the truth.

The next month, the Guard in Black was transferred from Toulon.

Valjean tried to escape again, and when he was recovered, another guard was brought to the lab in Javert’s place: a younger man, very obviously a human. This didn’t work; for the first time in years, they needed to use the electricity again.

 

*

 

After ten more years and two more escape attempts, he was finally paroled.

Valjean knew escape wouldn’t be so easy. There was the tag that had been implanted into his shoulder, underneath his ID tattoo; he knew they’d always be able to find him -- his parole officer, as well as the black-eyed aliens who wore human faces.

Inside, they'd spoken in whispers of a religious man in Digne they called the Bishop who could help parolees disappear somehow. Valjean was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to afford what it was that the Bishop could do. He told himself that he was never going back to the lab; if it came to it, he’d force the man to help him.

It took a while to find the Bishop, but when Valjean finally ran him to ground, in a church in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, there was no need for force or coercion. The old man took Valjean into his reinforced bunker underneath the church, where he dug the tracker out of Valjean's shoulder for free.

Then he looked at the rest of Valjean’s tortured body and into his eyes, and said, “My poor boy, I can see what they did to you,” and held Valjean as he wept.

“Father, do you know the truth about Toulon?”

“It’s not just Toulon. It’s in Bicêtre, as well as the other maximum security prisons. They need the strongest human specimens. Most of you don’t survive -- from Toulon, you’re the only one.”

Valjean was shaken to the core: finally, here was someone who believed him.

“What was it all for?”

The Bishop said, “The Greys want to colonise our world. To create children of both worlds: hybrids, able to take over in the next generation.”

For a long moment Valjean couldn’t speak. Those terrible experiments -- he never imagined they were for this.

At last, he said, “Why doesn’t someone do something?” Valjean’s knowledge of government and politics was sketchy at best. “The President, the secret service? The United Nations?”

“There are those of us who are trying,” the Bishop said. “But the Colonists have infiltrated many of our world’s governments. You’ve seen they wear our faces; they can strike at any time.”

Valjean buried his face in his hands. “What can we do?”

"You’ve suffered enough,” the Bishop said. “I've bought your soul back from them. You could stay here -- the Colonists have trouble on holy ground.”

He paused. “Or you could try to get as far away as you can. Live your life for God, and yourself. Those of you who survive prison don’t last for long out here. Remember, it’s a sin to take your own life."

Valjean knew he should flee the country. The Bishop had taught him how to trick the tracker; he had about a week’s head start before his parole officer would realise he’d broken his parole. The man he'd been would have just looked out for himself.

But now he knew better. From what the Bishop had said, it wouldn’t be much use to leave France if the aliens were also infiltrating other governments all over the world. And besides, he had to find out what the Colonists had done with the results of their experiments on him -- he had to see whether they’d succeeded in creating children.

 

*

 

The Bishop put him in touch with the underground resistance. They told him there'd been some suspicious Colonist activity up north, in a town known as Montreuil.

He took the name of Madeleine, a businessman who ran a glass-making business in local trinkets. He also ran a shelter that doubled up as a safe-house for the operations of the Resistance. Battered women and children would come forward, on the run from abusive homes -- but nothing that could be traced to the Colonists. Valjean waited; nineteen years in Toulon had taught him to be patient.

Five years later, the Guard in Black arrived in Montreuil, still wearing the leather coat. He didn’t recognize Madeleine in his nice white suit, without the tracker in his arm.

Valjean couldn’t believe that stroke of luck: God and the Bishop were watching out for him. He was stuffing his fake papers and valuables into a bag when he got the call -- there was a woman in the shelter who said she’d been abducted by aliens.

 

*

 

By the time Valjean reached Fantine’s bedside, the woman was nearly comatose. She had a tracker in her arm. Valjean had it dug out, but he didn’t need the doctor to tell him she was dying.

On the second day, she opened her eyes. “You must be the one they call the Mayor,” she whispered.

“Tell me what happened to you,” he said.

“There were a few of us. Our exes kicked us out. It sounded better than sleeping on the street, right? I always wanted to have a baby, and they said they’d pay us and look after us. God! We were so stupid.”

“You were tricked. It’s not your fault.” Valjean stroked her forehead. He could see in her dark eyes that she’d been used in the same way as he had, had suffered the same way as he had.

“They say it doesn’t work if you’re not willing. But we wouldn’t have done it if we’d known the truth.” Her mouth twisted in despair. “They weren’t human. Grey skin, sharp teeth, black eyes like oil. Aliens, like you see in TV shows, but for real.”

“Where is your child now?” Valjean asked, gently.

“In Montfermeil. They let me keep her with me until she was old enough -- then they took her away, and turned me out into the street. They must’ve known I wouldn’t survive for long. I came to Montreuil -- my family is from here -- but nobody believed me.” She clutched at his coat. “Monsieur, please, you must get her away from them.”

“Give me the address,” Valjean said, “and I swear I’ll do all I can.”

He didn’t immediately recognize the shadow when it fell across the hospital floor. It was the Guard in Black.

For the first time in their lives, Valjean faced off with him like an equal.

You’re the Mayor? I should have guessed.”

“I now know why they did what they did,” Valjean said. “They want to make children -- for the nation, as you told me years ago. Did you know?”

Javert scowled. “It’s not my place to question our superiors.”

“You don’t seriously believe that -- as an officer of the law, as a human being!”

“I have to believe it,” Javert answered, and lowered his baton and charged at Valjean.

Valjean wasn’t strapped down to a bed this time. He had his full strength, and one blow left Javert laid out on the floor in an all-too-human heap.

 

*

 

Valjean thought the girl would be held in a secure facility in Montfermeil, together with other hybrid children. But it turned out she was living in a small country inn, guarded by Colonists who weren’t doing a good job at guarding or inn-keeping. It wasn’t hard for a man who could escape from a maximum security prison to break one little girl out of a bed-and-breakfast.

Cosette had brown eyes and dark hair -- like Fantine, and, maybe, like him. She curled up in his careful embrace like a kitten.

Valjean studied her sleeping face, trying to see something of himself in those delicate features. He had wondered if this girl was his biological child, successfully bred from his semen and DNA. He had also wondered if her half-alien nature would somehow make her loyal to the Colonists, or bring back memories of those years of alien abuse.

Now he had met her, though, all these fears fell away. She had nobody else; she was as much a victim as he’d been himself.

 

*

 

Valjean knew the Colonists needed Cosette -- they needed an army of hybrids if they were going to forcibly colonise the world in the next generation. But what terrified him was that the Resistance might also want Cosette. What if they decided that her half-alien side was too dangerous; that they couldn’t let her grow to adulthood? Valjean couldn’t take that chance. They had to go completely off the grid.

The Guard in Black pursued him from Montfermeil to Paris, always one step behind.

In Paris, Valjean discovered his former lawyer, Fauchelevent, hiding within the walls of a convent at No. 52 Rue Petit-Picpus, the Convent of the Bernardines of the Perpetual Adoration.

“The Colonists came for me when you broke parole,” he told Valjean. “They didn’t believe I didn’t know where you’d gone.”

Valjean felt sick. “I’m very sorry,” he muttered.

“Don’t be,” Fauchelevent said, grimly. “It’s me who should apologise. I should have believed you. I should have believed you twenty years ago. You can stay here as long as you need to. There’s even a school here for the girl.”

 

*

 

They ended up staying for eight years: long enough for Cosette to grow into a woman with eyes like Fantine’s and a smile that looked like no one else’s but her own.

Valjean hadn’t told Cosette about her mother, about the Colonists, or about her half-alien nature. But he knew they couldn’t hide forever on church property and wait for the apocalypse. He knew that in order for their world to have a chance at survival, those who knew the truth had to fight back, even those of them with secret half-alien children who might be at risk.

They left the safety of Petit-Picpus when Cosette was old enough to go to university.

Most of Cosette’s fellow students were French, but some came from all over the world. They were children of tycoons and deadbeat fathers, kids from different races and cultures and social groups.

And a handful of them were in the Resistance.

The Friends of the Gunmen met at the Café Musain every Tuesday. Valjean lurked at their edges, listening to the message as declaimed by a law student called Enjolras. He wondered whether the Greys in disguise across Paris would pay these young men a visit.

He didn’t foresee one of the Friends falling in love with Cosette, and she with him.

 

*

 

General Lamarque is dead, the email he’d intercepted said.

My angel, I know you don’t believe in aliens, but Lamarque told us what’s really been going on. There are aliens living among us who want to take over our world. People don’t know about this because the news is controlled by the Syndicate, a secret group of men in government loyal to the Colonists.

We’re not going to keep quiet about this any longer. The General’s dead and the time is now. We’re going to join the other Resistance groups to take back the Élysée Palace and make the President listen.

I love you. If I don’t make it back alive, it’s up to you to let the world know the truth.

Valjean couldn’t breathe for a moment. What would happen when Marius realised his angel was really one of them -- a hybrid with alien DNA? Would he expose her to the Friends, or harm her before the Colonists could find her and use her against the humans? Maybe it would be safer for Cosette if Marius would be killed in this hopeless siege without ever discovering the truth.

Besides, hadn’t a father's love kept her safe thus far? Wasn't it enough to keep her happy, the way hers had always been enough for him?

Of course, when he eventually got the better of his selfish nature, Valjean knew what he had to do.

 

*

 

The outer perimeter of the Palace was ringed with military vehicles, but it seemed the Syndicate was trying to keep a low profile -- there were no choppers, no police sirens, not even media vans and reporters.

Here, too, Valjean’s criminal past and sense of tactics stood him in good stead. As evening fell, he managed to steal a black uniform, and followed the team of covert operatives as it headed through the back gate into the building.

He got to the main hall just in time.

The hallowed old hallways of French power were ringing with shouts and gunfire. Bullets riddled the marble pillars and venerable paintings. The strike force had taken the Friends by surprise and had Enjolras’ lieutenants pinned down in their positions; soon, they would be over-run.

Valjean didn’t want to shoot humans, but he couldn’t spare the time to find out whether the figures in the anonymous uniforms and helmets were aliens. He sent up a prayer for forgiveness, and then he shot them all in the back.

There was a stunned silence as the Friends discovered they’d been saved.

Then they scrambled for their weapons, and belatedly Valjean pulled the helmet off his head so they could see that he, at least, was human.

He recognised the young student that had caused him so many sleepless nights. Fortunately, Marius recognised him too.

“Don’t shoot him! It’s Cosette’s father!”

“What’s he doing here?” one of the others demanded as Valjean approached, hands in the air to show them he was no threat.

“I’m here to help,” Valjean said. “I know the truth.”

“We owe you our lives,” Enjolras said. He stood at the head of the stairs, his curly hair matted with concrete dust from the riddled walls. “If you hadn’t come when you did, we’d all be dead. Let me know how we can repay you.”

Valjean wasn’t sure if he ought to make his views known: that this was a hopeless venture, that the Syndicate wouldn’t let them live to see the next day’s news cycle, that everyone ought to leave now before the next attack. He was quite sure Enjolras and the other Resistance cell members wouldn’t listen, in any case.

“There are another five attack teams waiting outside,” he said, eventually.

Enjolras nodded. “Feuilly, get me eyes and ears out there; we don’t want to be taken by surprise again. Combeferre, take a team to barricade the back entrance. Set off the explosives in the rear tunnels; that’ll slow them down.”

“What do we do about the prisoner?” asked one of the boys.

“The police spy? He’s of no use to us; they refused to make the exchange. When we have a moment, we should get rid of him.”

Marius looked uncomfortable. “Enjolras, I’m not sure if he’s really one of them.”

“They wouldn’t have sent him in here if he wasn’t a Grey, or a sympathizer pretending to be one,” Enjolras said, stiffly. “Don’t lose your nerve, Marius; you’re not a child any more, and we’re at war. I’ll do it, if no one else has the stomach for it. Courfeyrac, patch a line through to the Syndicate negotiator. Tell them we’re going to give them ten more minutes, then we go live with the feed. France should know what its President really is.”

Courfeyrac nodded and mounted the stairs, gun at the ready. Enjolras glanced at Valjean. “Would you like to come with us?”

Valjean didn’t particularly want to watch, but he’d sworn to keep Marius safe, which meant following the boy through the building like a guard dog. “All right,” he said.

 

*

 

The prisoner was none other than Javert, the Guard in Black.

Javert’s hair had gone entirely silver, but his lantern-jawed face was barely lined. The body under the disguise looked as hale and powerful as it had been twenty years ago in Toulon.

Now, though, their roles were reversed. The Guard was trussed to a table in a series of ropes and knots that looked as efficient as the straps that had held Valjean to the laboratory pallet. Javert wasn’t nude, but he might as well have been, with the way the rope looped tightly around his body and the hard outline at his crotch, leaving nothing to the imagination.

Valjean couldn’t look away. He wondered if Javert had felt like this all those times he’d seen Valjean helpless and tied to the table: horrified, and at the same time turned on.

“Well, look who’s finally turned up,” Javert said, between his teeth, as if to no one in particular. Under the torchlight, his eyes looked slick and black and inhuman.

Again, Valjean knew what he had to do; again, it filled him with dismay.

Valjean said to Enjolras, while not taking his eyes off the Guard, “You know that marker we just talked about?”

“Name it.”

“You wanted to get rid of this police spy, didn’t you? Let me do it.”

Javert nodded. “I suppose that’s fair,” he said, though no one had spoken to him.

“Don’t do it here, but don’t go too far,” Enjolras said to Valjean as they cut Javert loose from the table. “Greys are slippery, and this one was carrying the weapon of a Bounty Hunter; if he’s a true Hunter then he’ll be uncommonly strong.”

“I’ll be careful,” Valjean promised, and took hold of Javert’s arm.



*



There was a tunnel through the cellars to the underground passages of the Palace. Valjean steered them clear of the barricaded back entrance, Javert stumbling behind on his long legs. At the end of the passages there were stairs, a side door, and then a small gate that was unguarded.

Valjean raised the gate and scaled the entrenchment, dragging Javert with some effort, and then they were in a narrow lane in the palace grounds, alone save for the moon and the ancient trees.

Under the moonlight Javert’s face looked profoundly calm, and entirely inhuman. It didn’t change the decision Valjean had made.

“Do it now,” Javert said.

Valjean took a switchblade from his pocket.

“Bullets are better,” Javert remarked, “but a knife’ll work too.”

Jean Valjean cut the rope which Javert had around his neck. He cut the cords on Javert’s wrists, then, stooping down, he cut the cord around Javert’s feet. Straightening himself up, putting his knife back into his pocket, he said, "You’re free to go."

The Guard stopped, astonished. He stood frozen to the spot in the path, open-mouthed and staring. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Valjean asked, before he could stop himself, “Why didn’t your eyes show the black oil in Toulon, like they do now?”

“You need to be senior enough before you’re allowed to partake of the full Purity,” Javert said. “When did you realise…?”

“…that you were one of them? I think deep down, I always knew the truth,” Valjean said. The Guard had been a too-awkward human.

Strangely, the knowledge that it had been a Grey and not a human who had been obliged to fuck him wasn’t as stomach-turning as he’d thought it would be. After all, he’d come to love a half-alien child despite everything the aliens had done to him.

“Then you should kill me now, like any good human would.”

“You’re wrong. Not all humans are killers. I wouldn’t kill even a Colonist in cold blood.” Valjean winced at the memory of the Colonists he had killed earlier in the firefight.

Javert shook his head in disbelief. “Why not? We both know what I did to you.” His face contorted in a spasm which, in a human, might have been regret.

Valjean remembered -- of course he remembered -- every moment of their time together in Toulon. It looked as if Javert remembered too. The thought struck him. “It looked like you were just following orders.”

“Yeah, some of us are good at that,” Javert said. His big fists opened and closed; Valjean saw the fingers tremble with some emotion that perhaps only aliens could understand.

Then again, Valjean wasn’t doing a better job understanding his own emotions. There was heat and confusion roiling in his gut; he was barely aware of what he was saying: “I saw humanity in you. I still do.”

Valjean reached out gingerly, as if to a wild animal that might take his hand off at any moment. The ridge of Javert’s shoulder felt inhumanly hot under his fingers, through layers of cloth and skin.

Javert recoiled as if he’d been shot. Maybe Greys didn’t touch each other like this, or at all. But the Guard in Black was no ordinary alien, and Valjean could see the touch register in those slick black eyes.

Humans and inhumans -- there would always be those who used their power to amass more; influential men who abused the downtrodden for their own ends, or just because they could; commanders who ordered their soldiers to commit atrocities in the name of duty. Valjean knew he couldn’t condemn the Guard in Black, any more than he could condemn himself or any of the other human institutions who had stood by and done nothing as homeless women were taken and prisoners were raped and hybrid babies were created.

Valjean stepped back, tightening his grip on his weapon. He said, "I’m not sure I’ll make it out of here. But if I do, and if you’re still the same man who’d come after me, I live under the name of Fauchelevent, in the Rue de l'Homme-Armé, No. 7."

Javert snarled like a monster, one corner of his mouth half-open. “As you know, I’m not a man at all. Does it make you sick?”

Valjean wondered why that part of it didn’t, in fact, make him sick. Perhaps there was something that connected them, human and alien, that went beyond their different species and their shared, traumatic experiences in Toulon. His fingers prickled with the sense-memory of Javert’s skin.

“I don’t think all of you want to colonise us,” he said. “Maybe some of you also want to live in peace.”

The Guard laughed despairingly. He sounded almost human. "Peace isn’t for the likes of us, Valjean."

“It’s the only thing I have,” Valjean said. He touched Javert’s shoulder again, and this time, the Guard suffered his touch. “Now, go.”

Javert drew himself up to his full height. He lifted his hand to Valjean in a strange gesture, and then turned away.

Two paths diverged ahead of him in the moonlight. The Guard took one and plunged into the forest -- out of sight, where he would be free to shift, briefly, into his real shape.

Valjean wondered if the Guard would decide to take a different path from the one he’d been travelling all his life. If he’d managed to open Javert’s eyes to the possibility of something other than endless war. He wasn’t sure, but he knew he had to try.

He also wondered if he would himself survive the night. Wondered if he would live to clasp his daughter’s hand again, and to see the Guard’s true face for the first time.

He allowed himself one moment to hope that might be allowed.

Then he shouldered his gun, and went back into the Palace.