It was a pity that even in death, people were segregated according to their wealth. There were the poor, there were the rich, there were the damned. So, maybe people were segregated according to their wealth and according to the likelihood that their spirit would ascend into the heavens.
It was still a pity.
But then, the old man thought, this was death. This was the true and complete death that no one could quite escape. The death of a person did not end when they stopped breathing, it carried on until they were nothing. Nothing but a small patch of dirt, no more than six by two feet - space is scarce, M'sieur. Everyone is clamouring to get in, nowadays - nothing but a square of stone with the words worn away. A square that no one visits and even fewer remember whose name was written there to begin with.
No. that kind of death was never cheerful. For a minute, the old man expended some time on a purely selfish thought. He wondered how long people would remember his name... after the end.
He shook his head. Morbid! There was no time to be morbid. Slowly, with as much respectfulness as he could squeeze into the occasional nod of the head, he picked his way around the gravestones towards his usual place.
It was under a tree. An old tree. It was not, the old man had noted in some amusement, an evergreen or a weeping willow. It didn't burst into sweet-smelling wreaths of blossoms every spring. Children didn't run up to play in its branches. It was just a tree with craggy boughs and time-roughened bark. It looked like it had been a tree for so long that it had forgotten ever being anything else.
And at the very base of the tree, in a spot that was somewhere in the limbo zone between the honourably-poor and the damned, was a simple gravestone. There were a few words on the gravestone. Very simple, very plain.
The old man stood for a moment; his lips moving silently, his head bowed. Then he sat on the usual tree stump, groaning a little as stiff joints protested at the exercise.
There were no weeds growing around the gravestone. He saw to that. It was the least he coudl do, after all. Last week he had found the remains of a meal scattered over the ground, a particularly greasy rag hanging over the end of the stone like a limp wig.
It hadn't taken him long to tidy, but he had been surprised at how furious it had made him. It had been a while since he had last been truly angry. A long while indeed.
Why, probably not since that time in the Tenements... what was the name now? His memory wasn't what it had been. There were ruffians, and the head ruffian had wagged a long tongue. Gor -? Gor something. He had been angry then.
But not since, not really.
A flock of dancing dappled sunbeams flittered between the leaves and over the ground, stopping to warm the backs of his hands. It was peaceful here, even if the peace was touched with sorrow.
The old man sat, as he always did, keeping the silent grave company and thinking his thoughts. Time passed with the kind a luxuriousness only ever experienced by those who have no where they have to be and nothing they have to do. He wasn't aware of it passing. It could have been five minutes or an hour, he wouldn't have known.
He was comfortable in the company of the shroud.
More comfortable than he had been before death, that was certain.
A hand landed on his shoulder. It was a firm grip, not the kind that ever let go unless it wanted to. "Did anyone ever tell you that you are excessively morbid, Valjean?"
Jean Valjean turned slightly and glanced up at the man gripping his shoulder. Piercing eyes with an unholy twinkle at their depths stared back at him. The broad mouth relaxed into a smile.
Valjean smiled back. "Not often."
"Consider yourself warned, then." Javert moved to his side and folded his arms across his chest. For a moment he looked at the grave and pursed his lips. "It's tidy."
"Yes." Valjean quirked an eyebrow. "It is. Why?"
"And simple..." Javert squinted at it and shook his head. "Not much bloody use as my last mark on the planet, is it?"
Valjean gave a surprised laugh. "What would you rather have had, Inspector? A grave bearing a false name covered in vines and littered with twists of ink-stained paper?"
Suddenly, the taller man squatted on his haunches and peered at Valjean. "How exactly do you know about the paper? Speak up, Jack. That is a governmental secret."
"I did have the occasion to see your office a few times in Montreuil-sur-Mer," Valjean said, supressing the urge to shift to the other side of the stump. "You weren't always as careful as you could have been in tidying up."
For a moment Javert stared at him, and Valjean felt his palms begin to sweat. No matter how many years passed, he could not feel quite comfortable under Police eyes. Then Javert humphed and stood up again, dusting off his knees.
"The false name," he said, "would have been a start. Why be buried under your own name? We must live under our own names..." he paused and gave Valjean an ironic bow. "Or, at least, most of us must. Where's the sense in being buried with the common appelation that you think, breathe, and write every bloody day? So it can be stamped on your forehead when you get to the heavenly gates?"
"Presumably so that people know who you are and can visit your final resting place to pay their respects." It was ony after the words were out of his mouth, that Valjean realised how completely pretentious he sounded. And stupid. "I mean..." he petered out.
Javert didn't seem to have heard him. He was gazing into the distance, a shuttered expression on his face.
Valjean sighed. There had been quite a few men at the funeral. More than he had expected, that was for sure. Sincerely sorry, they were, too. In a vague sort of way. The went on about his brilliance and devotion to his job and then left.
None of them came back.
In fact, only one person had ever visited Javert's grave, as far as Valjean knew. One man...
The Inspector glanced at him, and smiled faintly. "You look like you've just sat down on a wasp-nest."
"Yes, well... I..." Valjean stuttered to a halt, and felt his ears go red. Damn it! Why was it the inspector could always fluster him?
Javert remained silent for a moment, obviously enjoying Valjean's embarrassment. Then he relented. "Oh, let it be, Valjean. I never expected anything else. It was no surprise to me, except..." he broke off and waved a hand at Valjean and the stump awkwardly.
"I know." Valjean said softly. With a grunt, he shifted his feet and began to rise. It was harder than it used to be. "Oof. I am getting old."
Javert shook himself free of his thoughts and grabbed Valjean's elbow abruptly, hauling him to his feet. "You? Never."
For a moment, they stood side by side, looking down at the gravestone. Then Valjean turned to Javert.
"Well..." Javert drawled, sticking his hands deep into his pockets and rocking back on his heels. "We could run down to the Prefecture and give M. Gisquet the fright of his life. It might do him good, all that blood racing to his head. Then we could stroll around town for a bit. There are a few fellows I'd like to get my hands on. You could help." He caught Valjean's amused gaze, and grinned. "What? So we're ghosts. It would be a challenge."
Valjean smiled. "Or, we could take a walk." He nodded towards the park just across the road. "It's a nice day."
They began to stroll, Javert matching Valjean's stride with ease.
"And we could visit Cosette." Valjean couldn't quite keep the longing out of his voice. His daughter. Her children. How he loved them.
"Ugh." Javert made a wry face. "The baby-talk makes my stomach churn."
Valjean chuckled. Marius and Cosette certainly were very enamoured of their little ones. But he was grateful Javert had not refused. Slowly, for they had all the time in the world, the two men strolled down the street.
Behind them was a gravestone in front of a yew tree with the name 'Javert, Inspector First Class'. And just off to the left, further inside the honourable poor section was a second stone. Faint chalked words were written on it.
"He sleeps. Although so much he was denied..."
Author's Note: Just a little light piece. I thought it was high time someone other than Javert got the chance to faithfully watch over a grave.