I'm honestly not sure if this encounter would occur in a private space, as is written here, or in a general setting like you see in lots of modern prison movies. Since the prisoner in question has been deemed a dangerous man, I suppose officials would prefer to minimize opportunities for escape. But that all depends on the nature of the French prison system in the late 18th century. This is just guesswork. If anyone has suggestions, feel free to message me.


Toulon, 1798

He didn't quite know how he did it. As the door clanged behind the departing guard and he took a seat at the wooden table in the middle of the chamber, which sported a rotting spot the size of his fist in its middle, he felt that foreboding chill clamp his gut. He even entertained the idea that it was he with fettered ankles being dragged to these dreaded appointments. The invisible chains were forged by his own hand, though. Why, then, could he not also unlock them?

The guard always took some time to return with his charge, which gave Javier time to prepare himself. The youth needed to invent an excuse for his visit today. He attempted the task for a moment, but soon sighed and started scratching his neck. Good, Lord, don't let it be fleas again.

Alez! Stop grooming yourself and concentrate!

He blew his lips and shoved his hands into his pockets. He made a point never to keep any important items in his trousers – keys, money, small weapons. Instead he had developed the odd habit of filling his pockets with what any other man would call 'rubbish': pencil stubs, forsaken screws, bits of charcoal, pebbles with intriguing texture, and leaves or cloth scraps salvaged from the ground. He gathered these as specimens for olfactory analysis. At least if someone felt compelled to pilfer his person, the culprit would find the effort severely unrewarded. He also might think the young man a little insane, but Javier need not spare concern for that.

His fingers started to busy themselves with this eclectic collection while his mind turned to the scene that was about to unfold. He really had no reason to keep coming back. What questions were there left to ask? All right, there were a million. How many of those could he truthfully bring himself to ask? Not nearly as many. That is not to say they did not nag him night and day. Still, it was him – that man. They could not exchange two words before a knot with the weight of a boulder formed in his chest, burning with almost alien anger. He could only attribute the sensation to instinct. He had possessed it, after all, for the majority of his life. Never mind the escape attempts – something in Javier forbade him to trust the man. His eyes, light and luminous, betrayed his wild emotions and dangerous power. His face and voice, in his attempts to be congenial, could not hide the quiet threat that lingered just beneath the surface. There was something uncontrollable, something that refused to be tamed and to submit to a moral law. Javier's blood churned from thinking on it.

Why this torture, then? He owed the man nothing.

A knowing, irritating voice answered: he's the only one who can tell us anything.

Any further argument on the voice's part was cut off as the door across the room clanged again and two figures entered. One was the guard from before. The other was a tall, broad-shouldered brute whose hair hung long and tangled in a black-gray mass, like ink-stained cobwebs. A beard covered his massive jaw. Another visitor acquainted with the regulations of the Bagne of Toulon would have been surprised at the prisoner's appearance, but not Javier. He already learned that even after shaving both scalp and chin, the barber found that prisoner 3165's hair would grow back to its previous length within two days. Eventually, after several more fruitless attempts, the poor man gave up. Now it became a distinguishing mark, an accessory for his vanity, which he enjoyed displaying to the admiration or envy of his inmates.

The man's entrance cued Javier to assume the usual pose: straightened back, arms folded across the chest, chin raised his high, and that dissatisfied glare through half-open eyes. The guard gave him a nod and escorted the prisoner to his seat across from the visitor. The convict, too, adopted a pose of sourness, his large brows coming together in a deep furrow. His manacled wrists and dirty fingers rested on the table as if he were crouching for the fatal pounce. Both men regarded each other with such anonymity that the guard serving as overseer had a mind to step into the farthest corner. This scene, frozen like in a painting, remained still for about a minute. An outside observer – perhaps even the unlucky guard – might have thought from a quick glance that it would soon come to words of burning anger or cold disdain. Even the fear of blows might have sprung to mind. The meeting felt like a keg ready to combust at the smallest spark.

Then the prisoner's expression changed. Javier and the guard watched as the beard-covered grimace turned into a toothsome smile. "Well . . . it's been some time, hey boy!"

His tone was that of a man who has just met a friend at the local pub. The crouched stance decreased in degrees as the convict stroked his beard with one hand and tapped the table with the meaty fingers of the other. "You've been staying out of trouble, yes?"

Javier, too, underwent a remarkable transformation. His back gracefully slumped while he extended his arms to the table and leaned on them. He also shifted his weight so that he sat on his left buttock more. They looked like two vagrants discussing their latest scheme. Yet in these seemingly more relaxed positions, the tension in the room was still undeniably present.

"Better than you, I gather," came the reply, slithering from Javier's tongue like a velvet snake.

The other man chuckled. "Well, what can you do? Birds have to fly . . ."

The youth rubbed his hands. "And this is what criminals do?"

The older man's smile wavered a little. He let a breath out through his cavernous nostrils. "I know at this point I can't convince you of anything. I wish I could explain, but . . . you're always so sure that I'm lying."

Both men regarded each other with their own set of cold, grey-blues eyes. Although he could have argued with the man all day on this topic, this wasn't what Javier wanted to talk about. He tried another subject. "Have you heard anything from Mother?"

He received a nod. "Business doesn't seem to be improving, but she's making do as best she can." The prisoner let a brief pause pass before tentatively continuing. "She sends you her love . . . it's a shame you haven't answered her letters in a while."

"She told you that?"

"Out of concern."

Javier raised his brows. "Really?"

"You may think you can take care of yourself without any help." For a moment, Javier wondered if the man would try to touch his wrist. He half-consciously pulled his arms toward himself. A passing flicker of an emotion he could not quite label shone in the prisoner's eyes. "You must realize you're still a pup. You don't have . . . you shouldn't face this alone."

Their voices had lowered enough so that the guard could not hear them clearly. It did not change matters much; Javier chanced a look over his shoulder to see the guard staring at a distant corner, completely oblivious to the conversation and its contents.

Javier looked back at the prisoner. "You haven't offered much in that department. How can you say you want to help me when you tell me next to nothing?"

"It's . . . very complicated." The man spread his hands. "There's too much to understand. We can start with whatever has troubled you recently. How's that sound?"

As the words issued from the convict, Javier was once more reminded of one of the primary questions he wanted to ask. He already knew what the answer would be; yet, somehow, just thinking it allowed the question to find a means of leaving his mind and launching itself to freedom when the young man opened his mouth.

"Why did this happen to me?"

A true frown formed this time. "I answered that question already: I don't know."

A fire in Javier's chest flared up. "How can you not know?"

"I simply don't know. I have never heard this happen before."

Javier clenched his right fist. "All right, then. What can you tell me?"

"I can tell you that, sooner or later, you have to face what you are. Even with your . . .condition, you're still one of us."

"'Us'? There's an 'us'?"

"Of course. Someday, when I'm out of here, and if you're willing to come with me . . ."

"You'll never leave his place." His severe tone held a touch of desperation that accompanies the statement of a grim but indisputable fact.

The prisoner answered it with another grin, only more feral. "We'll see about that. I have all the time in the world, remember?"

Being reminded made Javier's other hand form a fist as well. "You said you intended to live by man's rules . . . that was your promise . . ."

"That was before I fully realized what weak, soft-headed creatures these humans are."

"What about Mother?"

The prisoner's tone, which had hardened and grown rough during the last bit of their discourse, suddenly softened again. "Your mother? Your mother is different."

"How?"

The man swallowed. "She isn't perfect, but she is . . . different. To me, at least."

"You still haven't explained how."

The older man folded his hands, took another look at the guard, then leaned closer to Javier. "Alez, you are far too young to understand yet. I hope, for your sake, you won't have to know for quite a while. About love, I mean."

Despite himself, Javier smiled.

"We wolves," the prisoner continued, "are monogamous by nature, but only when we meet the one who is meant to be our mate. Yes, you find that amusing – so did I when I was your age, and for a long time afterward. I won't pretend that I did not roam in many a pasture – oh, don't roll your eyes! – but when I met your mother, something in me changed. It was as if . . . as if I had not really known what love was before her."

Now Javier's curiosity was piqued. "Did you know it right away?"

The convicted barked a laugh. "Hardly! I had never met a more moralistic, stubborn, head-strong creature in my life! And I'm certain she thought me a monster from the first, even before she realized what I was. I cannot explain how everything happened – it does not matter, in any case. But you must realize, boy, that once you are infected with that unrelenting disease, you can never be cured. It is wonderful and awful in the same breath. More importantly, though, you must trust your heart to know if the love you feel is true." He paused again, taking a moment to inhale slowly. "I have never loved a woman the way I love your mother. Never have I looked at another and thought: if this world and all that live in it come to an end tomorrow, in a week, or in a hundred millennia, I will still know what God intended. As long as I have her."

Javier looked down at his hands. They did not fully open, but they were released enough to let him see the young calluses that marred his fingers and palm. He thought of the claws and fur hidden beneath this visage. It made him shudder. Even if he developed such feelings for someone, how could that person . . . how could anyone . . . return those feelings when they inevitably learned of the horrible beast that masqueraded as a man. Albeit an honest man, or as honest as a wolf in man's clothing could be.

No. Honesty may be enough to walk among men without shame and a sense of inferiority. Infallibility and reliability may be enough to satisfy a sergeant or a chief inspector on paper, but those qualities could only take one so far in more intimate matters. He, even he, could not bring himself to look on a four-legged beast and regard it with affection or those base desires he already found repulsive in others. To yearn for such relations with an animal, even his own species if any still existed, would be demeaning. To yearn for them with a human would be . . . in vain. Even if someone could feel sympathy for his nature, that emotion alone would block Javier from proceeding any farther. He would not stand for pity or charity. And that was, ultimately, what it would come to for him. He could not be able to face it day after day for the rest of his long, miserable life.

"What're you thinking about?" The prisoner picked at a soggy morsel between his teeth.

Javier, seeing that these thoughts would have to be filed for another day, tucked his hands under his arms. "Perhaps you were lucky. How do you know that happens to all our kind?"

"Ah, you'll find your soul-mate yet, my boy." The young man wished, for once, that he could share the older man's confidence. "As for now, there's plenty to be had for the time in between."

Javier could not restrain a scoff. "After all this tripe about true love and believing in God, you still encourage debauchery?"

"That is why I'm telling you to enjoy the world before your time comes. Like death, you never know when love will come for you. It'll hunt for you, and eventually it will claim you. So keep running while you've got the downwind advantage!" The prisoner gave a raucous laugh which drew the guard's attention. Upon being shaken from whatever daydream he had been engrossed in, the guard withdrew his pocket watch and glanced at it. "Your quarter-hour's up. Time to go, le Gagnon."

This appellation earned a quizzical look from Javier. "Le Gagnon?"

"Suits me, doesn't it?" The prisoner's smile widened even further, if that were possible. "No one dares tangle with my claws." He followed the declaration with a wink.

The young man replied with another roll of the eyes. He did not wait for the two men to part before heading for the door by which he entered, knocking on the aging wood to alert the guard on the other side. His sharp ears, which heard more than anyone in the prison would have liked to imagine, caught the guard's address to the warden on duty at the gate between the private chamber and the barracks: "Returning Marcelo Javier, prisoner 3165, to his barrack, monsieur."

Although he did not like to think of it as a plea, Javier uttered it in his thoughts nonetheless: Please, for Mother's sake, stay there this time.


Marcelo's last line about his wife is loosely based off Jack Nicholson's line from the movie Wolf. You can check it out on IMDB. 'Gagnon' is the Old French word for "guard dog". In case you were curious.