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A New Leaf

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Jean Valjean was a man in the prime of his life. Any man who had seen him do what he had done would say so. Javert knew. He knew Valjean intimately, struck by that great strength, and would know him no matter behind how many layers of clothes or stolen uniforms the man hid. For Javert could sense that immense vitality. It called to him, with every beating of Jean Valjean's strong heart. It was a seductive call—more seductive than anything Javert had heard in the long years of his existence.

Back in Toulon, he had been a guard still: entirely human, and unfortunately aware of the criminal side of his heritage. The change had happened later, in Paris, where an old vampire proved stronger than the newly arrived agent of police. That should have been his end.

But the vampire had not killed him. Even bitten, Javert had never lost the fundamental part of his being that knew right from wrong, and so he had driven a stake through the creature's heart even as his own body was rebelling against him, hungering for blood.

They had brought him to the prefecture when they found him. His existence should have ended there. A death in the line of duty: unfortunate, but necessary for the good of the service and the city.

Yet it had not ended there. A man had saved him from that fate—to damn him to hellish existence, or so Javert had thought at first. That man was Chabouillet, who became his patron. He was a ambitious man, who had in turn lived to see many prefects come and go. He did not believe Javert cursed. Or rather, he believed Javert stronger than the evil that had infected him.

In time, Javert had proved him right. The needs of his new existence could be ignored, or at least they could be sated in a way that did not inopportune upstanding citizens. And then, he was still Javert, guarding society from evil. How better to defend justice from evil than by using someone so intimately acquainted with it?

There had never been a vampire in the ranks of the police. As Chabouillet had predicted, soon Javert became an important asset to him. Javert was sent out into the countryside before the case could arouse undue interest, and in the many years since, Javert's secret had remained safe for the most part.

As the years passed, it became easier to ignore the fundamental nature of his being—until the day he had been captured by the revolutionaries and tied in the tavern.

Javert, who had thought his dark nature securely chained down by his strength of will alone, found that the more time passed, the hungrier he became. It was a vampire's hunger—a wild urge, a bestial thing, and no matter how viciously he tried to tamp it down, it might have proved stronger than even his formidable will. The insurgents did not know how truly important the knots with which they had tied him were.

And then Valjean appeared to free him.

Valjean's pulse had always loudly called out for him. It was a seductive melody especially here at the barricade: the rhythmic thudding of the virile heart; the scent of his skin, all gun powder and sweat. Valjean's throat had been bared, his clothing in disarray, and even bound as he was, Javert could not think of the danger he was in.

To sink his teeth into that broad neck, to feel his fangs pierce that warm skin, Valjean's skin against his own—to feel that body, powerful as a bull, shuddering in his embrace as sweet, red blood sprang forth! Like a fountain it would fill his mouth with bursts of sweetness as Valjean succumbed to his embrace, that strong heart thudding against his chest, faster and faster, with the spice of fear running down his throat—would it be fear?

Or might Valjean not succumb to the embrace, shuddering in his arms in ecstasy as with greedy gulp after gulp, Javert drew out hot mouthfuls of his lifeblood, tasting the true essence of this man who had sought to elude him for so very long...?

Javert shook off the thought as Valjean pulled out a knife. That was all very fine. The blade was only iron, Javert could sense it. Let Valjean slit his throat and run off. It would not set Javert back for very long, and he would have the man back behind bars soon enough.

Then the blade sawed through rope. Stunned, Javert watched. The only thing he could hear was the racing of Valjean's heart.

Valjean's neck was bent. A sliver of bare skin was revealed; there, Javert watched the pulse throb, imagining the taste of salty skin as he pressed his tongue to it. Would Valjean sigh as he sank his teeth into him, or would he tremble with fear, and plead? Would he curse the fate that had allowed him to run so often, only to have him breathe his last breath in a vampire's arms?

"I came to save you. You are free," Valjean said, and with a start, Javert looked at the rope.

Valjean spoke the truth; he was free. The need within him grew. The hunger was like a wild beast, he could barely contain it. And now that the rope had been cut, how easy it would be to reach out and clench his hands around those broad shoulders to pull him in until Valjean's chest pressed against his own...

Instead, he drew himself up straight. Everything within him was hungering for Valjean's blood. It would be so easy. The man was a criminal; this was one of the cases where his nature would do no harm, there was no doubt about it.

Still, something held him back. He, who had not looked at the sun for more than half his life, felt as though he had been struck by a sudden ray, dispersing clouds that had darkened his world for decades.

For one brilliant, breathtaking moment, he saw clearly, Valjean illuminated by a celestial light.

By all rights, that light should have burned—but it did not sear his skin. Instead, he stood there for a long moment, looking at Jean Valjean as if he saw him for the first time. In the clarity granted him by that impossible light, he felt his world waver.

Javert took a deep breath. In the distance, there were still the sounds of warfare to be heard, and finally, impatient, Valjean turned and left him alone in this small alley.

Javert sank to his knees. Jean Valjean had freed him. Could it truly be that Jean Valjean walked in the light of honest men—no criminal, no convict, but instead a man who would save the live of one who had come to arrest him?

“People do not change.”

 

***

Later, when he sat by Jean Valjean's side in the carriage, doubt rose once more. Javert knew the man was a criminal. He had known it all his life. And now, there was also the hunger throbbing relentlessly within him.

The carriage did not offer much space. They were sitting so close that their shoulders brushed. The blood in Valjean's veins called out to him. Javert could smell it, even beneath the filth the man was covered in: the blood of a virgin, sweet and rich, cloying his senses with its seductive call. They were so close that all he had to do was turn his head to press his lips to Valjean's throat.

Instead, they talked. At first, Javert was grateful for the distraction.

He felt himself on firm ground here: the lies of criminals were things he was well acquainted with. People could not turn over a new leaf. If that were true, why had his parents never done so? Why had not all those thieves and murderers he had arrested in his many years done so? If he had shown any of them mercy, they would have gone on to kill and rob more innocents. That lesson had been driven home early on, after all. Had not his own parents eventually left prison? And had they not immediately turned to murder, so that Javert had been forced to arrest his own parents?

To this day, he supposed that the memory should cause him grief; Valjean certainly looked at him now as though this was a revelation that should pain him. Instead, Javert tightened his hands to fists.

Perhaps it had been a final test, a chance to truly declare where he stood. But even back then, there had never been even a second of doubt. Had there ever been even the smallest amount of loyalty he had felt towards his parents, the unspeakable crime they had committed killed it as surely as their victim. But the truth was, he had never felt loyalty or kinship. He had always known them for what they were, after all: he, a child growing up in a family of criminals.

No, people could not turn over a new leaf. Every decision counted. Once a man chose the path of crime, that was where he would stay. Javert instead had chosen the path of justice already as a child, despite the hardships and bullying it brought. Did Jean Valjean want his compassion now? Preposterous. Impossible. The man was a thief; even after his release from prison he had stolen again, first from a Bishop, then from a child!

At that point, the wheels of the carriage screeched, breaking Javert's train of thought. When he looked outside, he saw that another barricade blocked their path. He eyed the wounded boy again. There was no doubt in him that the young insurgent would die, if they were to take a detour now.

“We cannot take a detour,” Jean Valjean said earnestly. “I will not escape.” He did not wait for Javert's approval.

Of course, the man had never asked for approval before either. Jean Valjean acted as though there was some invisible voice giving him permission to perform the most outrageous acts—and now, once more Javert could only watch, silent with shock as Valjean's back bent beneath the toppled wagon. Valjean had aged since he had last seen him lift a cart. His hair was white, but his body was still as hale and strong as it had been in Montreuil.

At first it had been difficult to make out the form of the abandoned barricade in the gloom, but as Javert watched, it seemed to him that a light was rising somewhere. Was it the light of the dawn? Javert felt no fear. For many years, he had hidden from the sunlight—but now for the first time, he watched as some distant light seemed to illuminate the man before him tremble beneath his heavy burden.

A moment later, the driver jumped forward to help Valjean. Javert still could not move. His eyes were fixed on Valjean with disbelief. He could make out his straining muscles beneath the dirty fabric of his shirt in all detail. Valjean's white hair looked shaggy. There was sweat gleaming on his brow. He was panting for breath, his mouth parted beneath the white moustache.

Then the cart lifted, Valjean straightening beneath his impossible burden, and Javert trembled. The sun was not far off, he could feel it now. There was perhaps an hour left before it would rise, and his kind would have to flee back into the shadows. So it had been for countless years. And yet, suddenly Javert felt as though something had changed.

For the first time since he had been bitten, he felt something within him open up, a gentle warmth rushing through him as he stared at the inexplicable sight of Jean Valjean shining with the warmth of the sun, a holy light that should by all rights burn in Javert's eyes.

And yet it did not.

To turn over a new leaf, Javert thought, something inside his chest trembling. Impossible. Impossible! People could not change!

He did not talk for the remainder of the journey, even when they delivered the boy to his grandfather. Then, when they were alone in the carriage, Valjean looked at him and begged to be allowed to say goodbye to his daughter.

Javert granted it, still puzzled. It seemed to him that the more he looked at Jean Valjean, the clearer he saw him. After a life spent in darkness, the light that now spilled forth from this man should hurt him. Instead, its touch was gentle, illuminating every line of Valjean's face, every bruise gained at the barricade, the tiredness of his eyes and the immense strength of his broad neck.

What a mystery this man was, Javert thought, and then, slowly, breathlessly, began to contemplate the possibility that this might be no mystery at all.

Was it possible? The prisoner he had known in Toulon—changed, a new man. Every action Javert had seen with his own eyes from the moment he first arrived in Montreuil through the years here in Paris—was it possible that all these years, there had been no lies, no deceit? The man who sat next to him in the carriage now was tired and quiet, every line of his face illuminated by the light of truth.

A changed man. Could he arrest a man like that?

When they arrived at Valjean's home, Javert remained in the carriage. He watched Valjean go inside.

Without Valjean sitting next to him, blinding him with a light Javert had thought he would never see again until the moment of his death, it was even easier to see clearly.

Javert had been a creature of darkness for many years. He had, in fact, been born to darkness twice, and both times he had turned his back on it, deciding instead to protect society from that caste of criminals and monsters to which he belonged.

People could not change. After all, had not everyone else had the same opportunity to make a decision as Javert? Where Javert had at the beginning of both of his lives refused to walk that dark path of crime and evil, everyone else who had ever taken even one step down that road would return to it again and again.

But now there was Jean Valjean. Jean Valjean, a criminal. A man who had stolen bread, who had tried to escape from the galleys again and again, who had robbed a Bishop and a child. And who had, at that point in his life, turned his back to darkness and led a life filled only by light. How was this possible?

Javert's mind was in turmoil. He thought again of the parents he had last seen many years ago—twenty years or more it had been by now when he had arrested them with his own hands and delivered them to the judge. They were murderers. They had been given the chance to change, and yet they had chosen evil, again and again.

If it was truly possible to turn over a new leaf, did that not make their crime even more monstrous?

And in turn Jean Valjean, whom Javert had watched all these years, who seemed to have done no wrong, who shone with the light of goodness—had he not been forced to hide and run his entire life? Had he not suffered again and again because of his choice to begin anew, to do good instead of evil?

Javert's mind was reeling. He sat silently inside the carriage. All of a sudden, he rose up and leaned out of the window.

“To the Quai de Gevres,” he told the driver. Then he sat down once more, waiting as the carriage began to move.

He could feel the sun in the back of his mind. Perhaps twenty minutes until it would rise, perhaps less. He should be safely inside his apartment now. He was a creature of darkness; the sun would hurt him.

He did not move until the carriage finally came to a halt. The gloom was beginning to lift. The twilight was almost tangible; even here in the heart of the city, birdsong could be heard as one by one, the rising sun woke them in their nests.

Javert paid the driver. As he strode out onto the deserted Pont au Change, the swirling water beneath him was dark. The distant sky was beginning to lighten, black turning to dark blue, then the first tinge of purple.

Javert stopped as he reached the highest point of the bridge. He looked out upon the night sky. One by one, the stars had winked out. And now, for the first time since that night so many years ago when the vampire had attacked him, his eyes beheld the glorious colors of the sunrise.

Purple bloomed and turned to pink. A warm orange spilled across the water, turning the dark abyss beneath him into brightly gleaming glass. Birds were singing as the city slowly woke.

And then the sun appeared. Slowly and majestic, the ball of light rose from the horizon, the orange turning to fiery red and yellow for a moment—and then there was light.

Light spilled through Javert. He could feel it in every part of his body. It seemed to gather in his chest until it pulsed through him, the body which had been a vessel for darkness for so many years now all of a sudden turned into a vessel for light. Light flew through his veins, pulsed with every beat of his heart. He could taste it on his tongue, could almost hear it: the sweet harmonies of sunrise, an intangible melody that nevertheless called out to the birds every morning, calling every living being to rise with its warm touch.

Javert looked into the light of the sun for a long time. A tear ran down his face, gleaming in the rays of sunlight.

“People can change,” he said quietly, and for the first time in thirty years, his dead heart began to beat as he stood in the light of the sun, unburned, alive.