Valjean felt himself break out in a cold sweat for God only knew what time that evening.

"What do you mean by that?"

Without breaking eye contact, Javert took two slow steps backwards and positioned himself by the smoldering fire, almost brushing the bricks of the hearth with the hem of his floor-length greatcoat.

"Why don't you take off you coat?" advised Valjean. "The fire is burning very hot; you'll singe it."

Mechanically, Javert's fingers went to his throat then paused there. "Yes," he said. "Yes, let's start there."

"What are we to start?"

"Your re-education, Valjean," sighed Javert. "Tell me quickly: what am I wearing underneath my coat?"

Valjean blinked.


"You heard me. What am I wearing underneath this here greatcoat?"

"H-how… how could I possibly know?" asked Valjean.

Javert rolled his eyes and set his jaw in a grimace of irritation.

"Give it a shot anyway."

"A… a black waistcoat?" said Valjean uncertainly. Javert nodded, urging him to go on. "And a grey vest under it. Silk."


"N-none… no, wait!… Squares, but barely discernable ones. Outlined in black."

"Excellent. I see you're getting the idea. And the trousers?"

"Tightly-tailored, black, with a single gray stripe down the outward seams. Watch pocket. Silver watch-chain."

With a magician's flourish, Javert flung off his coat, draping it over his arm– Valjean had not even noticed when he'd managed to unbutton it.

Valjean's mouth went instantly dry. "Impossible!.." he croaked.

Javert had on a grey vest of thick silk with a faintly discernable pattern of squares in black thread; over it, a black, well-fitted coat with a high waist and extremely short tails and underneath the coat, straight-legged black trousers with a single grey stripe running down the sides. An elegant watch chain glinted in the firelight.

"Are things becoming clearer now?" inquired Javert, picking a speck of lint from a smooth black sleeve.

Blood was roaring in Valjean's ears. He felt himself on the verge of madness.

"Of course, there is a watch in your pocket," mumbled Valjean as if to himself. "It is also silver. And so is your snuffbox."

"Anything in particular engraved on that?"

Valjean closed his eyes briefly and visualized a small wooden box with a delicately wrought silver pattern of leaves around the edges.

"'For excellent service,'" he said finally, opening his eyes.

In lieu of a response, Javert approached and sat down besides him on the bed, which sagged noticeably under his weight, and dropped his heavy coat on top of Cosette's garments. Impulsively, Valjean reached out to touch it. The thick grey cloth, worn soft by long years of use, was damp from the melted snowflakes.

Smiling slightly, Javert pulled Valjean's exactly imagined snuffbox from his pocket and flipped open its lid, demonstrating the engraving.

"Have a pinch?" he offered amiably.

Valjean jumped up and screamed, pointing accusingly:

"And you have silk stockings under your boots! Open work! With pink lace around the edges!"

Javert's shoulders shook slightly in silent laughter. Extending a long leg, he raised the tip of a shiny black boot, looked at it and wiggled his toes, slightly perturbing the soft leather.

"I'm afraid not," he said with an almost disappointed smile.

"Why not?" asked Valjean. His head was spinning.

"Because you don't really believe that," said Javert. "There is a method to this madness."

Overcome by the horror of what was happening to him, Valjean slowly backed away from the bed, then threw open the bedroom door and ran down the stairs.

"And what's most interesting," went on Javert's voice right above his ear, as though he were not moving at all, "is that although you've been mad for some time now, you have quite forgotten all about it! Most strange."

In his haste to get out of the house, Valjean jerked the front door towards him without opening the lock. The doorknob came off in his hand. For a second, Valjean stood immobile, as the strange sound of Javert's silent laughter echoed off every wall in the house. Then he turned his back to the door, sank down heavily to the floor, and, dropping the amputated doorknob, hid his face in his hands.

"Who are you really, Javert?" he murmured dejectedly into his palms.

"Who am I really?" exclaimed Javert from somewhere to the side. Valjean looked up. Javert was now sitting at the dining room table with his arms crossed on his chest.

"That is a very good question to ask yourself, Valjean. You've been asking yourself that question for many, many years."

"Are you real?"

"I'm as real as you are, Valjean," said Javert seriously.

"Then am I a ghost?"

"No, you are quite alive. As am I."

"Then how can you appear and disappear like you do?" moaned Valjean. "How can my imagination determine what clothes you have on?"

He attempted to rise to his feet and attempt to pry the door open by some other means. Vertigo overcame him, and he sagged back down, down, down, onto the bed and against the wall, leaning his elbows on the quilt and his head against the cold wallpaper. Next to him, Javert was rolling the lead head of his cane between his palms distractedly.

"I am very fond of mathematics, as you well know," said Javert. "It must be the latent Hindu within me. You know that the wellspring for my race is Hindustan, of course. And they've got quite a history with mathematics and chess and the like. It strikes me that a certain property of natural numbers describes our situation perfectly. You are fond of numbers, are you not, Valjean?"

Valjean said nothing. His mouth seemed to be filled with cotton.

"You see," went on Javert, "if one takes the square root of a positive natural number, the result can be either another positive natural number or an identical negative one. However, if one attempts to do the same with those two results, the root of the negative number will necessarily be imaginary. I am only reminding you of this because this is approximately how you yourself first delineated our situation all those years ago, when this game was just starting."

"The positive root of a number... the imaginary root of its mirror image," finally murmured Valjean.

"Finally, you are starting to remember," said Javert with some satisfaction.

"You are not real," muttered Valjean, growing cold all over. "You have never been real."

"To you, I am more real than all the real things in the world."

"But only to me?"

Javert barked out a laugh.

"Well, of course!" he exclaimed. "Who else besides you could possibly see and hear your own conscience?"