Disclaimer: I don't own Les Miserables or any of the characters.
The streets were almost empty, a few people wandering quietly about their business in the cooling afternoon. Every now and again, a child or two would dash helter-skelter over the cobbles, laughing and yelling, as children do everywhere. The shadows were cool, the air held in it the warm breath of spring, and life was blossoming. Even in the dusty greyness of the Rue de l'homme Arme.
It was, prehaps, just a little after three o'clock in the afternoon. A boy was poking disinterestedly around in a sack he had found, and two others were playing with a cat.
At least, they thought they were playing. The cat seemed to be of a different opinion. Perhaps he didn't like their smell, for he was making enough noise to rival a perferctly respectable pig. This, of course, made the boys laugh.
Near the dingier side of the street, a door opened. It was a blue-ish sort of door, rather cracked. A number hung crookedly, like a last-minute thought... in some lights, if you turned your head at just the right angle, it would look like a seven.
Slowly, an elderly gentleman, dressed all in black, came out of the house and shut the door softly behind him. His name was Fauchelevant. However, if you had asked him nicely, he might have been more inclined to tell you his real name, Valjean. He had become less self-protective of late. An air had settled over his shoulders, like a rather big and musty overcoat... the air of a man who has suddenly realised that he doesn't much care what happens to him anymore.
He wore it well.
Valjean walked slowly down the steps and onto the street. He tried to walk a little more carefully now. His back was not getting any better, and his right leg had never been quite right ever since that terrible time in the sewers. It ached dreadfully in the cold... but Valjean found that he was beginning to get used to it. Nevertheless, it wouldn't do to fall apart completely.
The cat yowled again, a really high-pitched shriek of a noise, calculated to do as much damage to young eardrums as was possible. Cats are, as anyone can tell you, vindictive creatures.
Valjean paused, and rested his weight on the large, thick stick he carried with him. Dark brown eyes surveyed the situation for a beat of time. "You know, that's not the best way to treat a cat."
In most circumstances, the gamins would barely have deigned to glance up for such a remark. But there was something, perhaps a note of less-than-gentle threat hovering in the background somewhere. They paused in their game and peered at him, looking for all the world like two ragged seagulls hovering over some bright and shiny treasure.
The similarity was strong. Valjean didn't like seagulls. They always reminded him of the sea. He had never liked the sea, not since Toulon. But then - Valjean took a step forwards and cleared his throat - Valjean had never really liked children either. "How about you two run along...?" Just in time, he stopped himself from adding 'and leave the poor thing alone'. Nothing would have been more likely to goad the boys into rebelliousness.
The tallest, a brown-skinned little fellow wearing a bright green - something - and a cap that had almost split into two halves, grinned. "And leave you to have all the fun? Not likely."
The smaller, obviously more over-awed, scrunched up his face and grunted something that could have been agreement.
Very pondorously, Valjean stretched himself to his full height, and expanded his chest for good measure. "I see." He added a deep rumble to his voice, and was rather pleased to see both lads shrink back slightly. Hah! He still had it.
It was at this moment that his conscience decided to make a tardy entrance. How, it asked in silvery-sweet tones, could Valjean explain bullying two such sweet little boys? What was the High Father going to say about this?
Sweet? Valjean asked snidely, keeping a gimlet eye on the lads in case they decided to run off with what he now thought of as his cat. Anyway, they started it.
And... Conscience continued, not in the least fazed. They're young and poor, and probably starving. And I think that older one looks a bit like Petit-Gervais...
Valjean groaned. You're never going to let me forget that, are you? He sighed and stuck one hand into his pocket, already feeling the first pangs of guilt. "You know," he said. "I'm looking for a cat. How about you two give that one to me, and I'll give you a couple of sous."
The two gamin exchanged an eloquent look. The look said that if the crazy old gentleman was going to pay them for doing something he could easily force them to do, then he was a fool. And he could, therefore, be cheated with impunity.
Valjean had not lived in Paris for so long without being able to tell what was going to happen next. He sighed again. One of these days, he was really going to have to find somewhere where there were no children.
"Damn!" Valjean sucked furiously at his hand. He had finally parted with two francs for the cat, an exorbitant and completely ridiculous sum, and the boys had disappeared with all the swiftness of two evil little demons. He could have sworn they had horns, but his conscience hadn't seemed to agree. Then he had tried to take the cat home, intending to keep it for company after all the trouble he had gone to for it, and the ungrateful furball had scratched him!Now, to top it off, he was going to be late.
Valjean quickened his steps, hurrying out towards the Rue de Temple as quickly as he could. He didn't particularly like the Rue de Temple. It was too big, and full of people and shops and normal things which he had always seen, but never quite been able to touch. Still, it was the quickest route and he was not as nervous about crowds as he once had been.
As he turned the corner, Valjean slowed his pace a little, and felt his shoulders hunching automatically. Amazing. It had become instinct itself for him to blend in, to become inconspicuous. Always slightly in the shadows, always looking down. Always shying away from anything too sudden and threatening.
Valjean started, and glanced up quickly. That colour... A policeman! Only half realising what he was doing, Valjean slowed down and peered intently across the road. The snap of thick cloth, the quick step and rigid shoulders. So familiar. Then the man's head turned, a thick blob of nose, fat lips, and a moustache that lay across his mouth like a dead caterpillar.
It was a shock, like a slap of cold water to the face. Valjean realised that he had been expecting someone quite different. What, am I still looking? he wondered, beginning to walk again. Even after all this time? He shook his head at himself. Every time he saw a policeman, it was the same thing. When would he ever learn?
By the time he was half-way up the Avenue de la Republique, Valjean had decided that he was a doddery old fool, and what is worse, a delusional doddery old fool with a conscience that had stronger willpower and a most un-gracious dislike for children. And cats. And all those evil words he'd said this morning when that cat had scratched him would now have to be repeated to a priest.
So he was a delusional sinful doddery old fool who halucinated policemen. Wonderful.
"Ah, Cosette," he murmured. "You were well rid of me, really." It was a joke at the start, but by the end of his last consonant, it wasn't a joke anymore. He huffed slightly, and drew his coat closer about him, wondering why the sky had suddenly grown so dim.
He was nearly there, now. Just down the Boulevard de Menilmontant and around the Rue de Repos...
There. The big imposing grey stone gates. Huge and majestic. Frightening. Valjean hated them, as he hated anything that reminded him of a cage. This place, this dark place with its segregation and its huge monuments to power and wealth... he didn't like it. He'd be damned if he was going to be buried anywhere near the tombs of the rich.
As Valjean walked into the cemetery of Pere Lachaise, he shuddered a little. No matter how often he came here, he would never get used to the feeling of death. But he had to come, as often as he was able for as long as he was able. It was, after all, only fair.
Author's Note: This is a prequel to 'The Graveyard'. I wasn't originally intending it to be anything more than a one-shot, but I started wondering exactly what had happened before Valjean died. And I realised that Victor Hugo cheats us of two extremely important scenes in his book. What did Valjean do when Javert never returned, and what did he think when he read the account of Javert's death in the Monituer?