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And Death Kept Watch

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The Gathering is coming. The word is on every Immortal's lips, the salt-tang of violence humming through their shared lightning. The Gathering is coming. And Adam goes to prepare.

Have you ever studied old predators? Just watched -Watched- them? Not the young pups, the proud primes, fierce and pompous and bristling with power. Not those. The old ones. The scarred ones, quiet and calm in the backgrounds. The old lion resting in the shade. The scarred sharks on the edges of the reefs. The grizzled wolf sitting panting in the shadows. Have you ever watched them?

They're quiet. Calm. Even lazy. They drift, serene. Not resigned, though. They're not waiting for the end. They're laughing at it. Quietly. Behind their eyes. Watching all the young pups, watching the struggles for dominance, the arrogant brawls over inconsequential females. Fights they don't care about. Why should they? Their job, their duty to the world, it's done. Long ago. All duty done, all pride and position uncared for. All that's left for them is to live until they die. To take, where once they gave. To be protected, where once they were the protectors. To scavenge and skulk, and laugh silently at the disgust in youth's gaze. What matter what you think of me, young pup? I've lived a hundred times what you have known.

Adam goes to the zoo, now, since he hasn't much time. Sometimes, when he had more, he'd take little sabbaticals, go back to where the real predators are. To the deserts and the plains, the mountains and the jungles. To where life continues the dark thread it has echoed through aeons, and ignores all mortal pretensions to progress. Sometimes, he would go back. And watch them. And when he did, when he does now, something old and serene and silently laughing unfurls inside of him, sits on his shoulder and lazily salutes his brothers in spirit.

He goes back. Five hundred years, five thousand, five million ... it doesn't matter how far. This thread is older than time. He goes back, and lets Death uncurl inside him. The quiet hunter, patient as the slow slide of years. Death can wait. Everything comes to him in time. Why rush?

Adam does this. Before him, Ben did it. And Matthew before him. And Joseph. And Mettios. And Methos, brother of Kronos. And the nameless others, back before names had meaning to hold on to. He had been a young pup, once. Maybe. But Death, he was never young. Death, the deepest thread, the oldest, though he didn't know it, once upon a time. Because Death was hidden even from him, once. Laughing silently at the young pup inside himself, and Methos none the wiser. It took a long time, for him to find Death inside himself. But Life cleaves to Death, in the end, and she wore him away until the thread shone bright inside him, and the old predator's laughter bubbled clean to his surface.

He had reveled in it, when first he found it. He had laughed the laugh of the young, and leapt for Death's amusement. He had played games of blood and pain, found brothers to hunt at his side, the dark thread leaping bright inside him. Death had indulged him, granted him power, to hunt instead of be hunted, to harm instead of be harmed. Life gave way for him, ceded him that momentary victory. What was a thousand years, to her? To him? They cared nothing for his games, laughing at the eager child that danced between them, spun on the tender wire, the balancing act of eternity. He had played for their amusement, and loved every moment. He had been Death, and Life had laughed for his joy.

Yes. Life had laughed. She could afford to. For where Death was clean as a blade, old and quiet and amused, she was sly. The female power, vicarious and furious, laughing and stealing in the same breath. She could give him a thousand years to love her brother's touch, her lover, her husband eternal. She could give a hundred times that, and never notice. For the millennia before when he had slaved and suffered for her, she granted him that one, pure freedom, to be the plaything of her love, to let Death have reign over him. He was bright and deadly, clean as a blade, and she had thought him beautiful. Methos knows this. He has always known. Life can do nothing but love Death. And Death, nothing but love Life. He knows. He always has.

She gave those years. A gift to her lover. And then ... she tempted. She teased. Where once she had brutalised, the taloned female claw, now she entranced. Lured him back from the bloody embrace of Death with the promise of all her glories. Subtler, than Death's bright joys. Darker, sweeter. The lure of knowledge, the taste of love, the whisper of civilisation. The soft embrace of comfort, the muzzy tang of joy. She gave him beauty, gave him depth. She had shown him Death inside himself, worn him down to the lean predator, and now she fed him back up. Gave him breadth, depth. Personality. She gave him Adam. Ben. Mattios. Opened wide her arms, and let him learn how deep he was. How far he could go. She gave him softness, caring, compassion. She gave him love.

He learned. He always learned. Bright child spun on the tender wire, he danced for her as surely as for him. Life or Death, in equal measure, and he loved them both. He gave himself to Life, poured himself into her, built himself to dizzying heights, let himself fade into the deepest depths. He touched passion, knew pity, offered mercy and plied cruelty. He learned healing where once he had embraced violence, and thought it as beautiful. He found new brothers, Life's children instead of Death's, found them and taught them and played at their side. Child eternal, bright with joy, ever curious.

And all the while, Death kept watch behind his eyes, and laughed silently. He was their love-child, beloved of both, and while he played Life's games Death held him close, and waited inside for his lover to once more reveal her claws. For Life is a capricious goddess, and none knows better than he who has always loved her. The child played, loved and lost and mourned and survived, living all the while, and Death kept watch.

Now, it is time again, for Death to do more than watch. Adam goes hunting, now. Goes to watch his ancient brothers, and smiles. He knows it's coming again. He knows Life has turned cruel once more, knows that soon she will retract her gifts and cease her little indulgences. She is capricious, and crueler than her more patient lover. She strikes, where Death would wait. She tears, where Death would soothe. Life has her own pains, her own darknesses, and he knows them well.

Once, there was a man, a man with a name long since forgotten, who thought Life was only ever kind, only ever beautiful. She wore that man away, striking out not in anger but in love, a merciful cruelty that showed him the beauty that lived in the bright shadows of the soul. She wore that man away, and another man appeared from the shadows inside him. A man named Methos. A man named Death, in honour of her lover, to whom she gifted the child. Methos. The oldest child, the Immortal, who dances on the lightning between them. He was her child first, and she gave him to Death, that he might know the clean kindness that waited there.

Life gives, and takes, and hurts and heals, all and once, one after the other, inside a moment and down the span of aeons. Adam knows. He is her child, and loves her for it. And when she comes to hurt this time, he will not fear. Not as that nameless man once did. Because now he knows. He knows what waits in the shadows of his soul, knows that when he falls, Methos will rise, child of Death to dance the other side of the wire, and Methos will carry them through until she grants her favour once more. Adam will fall, slip back and down, to where Ben rests, and Matthew, and Mattios, and all the others, to where the nameless man waits, and together they will watch Methos hunt, and laugh silently behind his eyes.

Life has been good to him. She has. But now it is time for cruelty once more, for the Game, the Gathering, and beyond, and he can no longer depend on her mercy. Now, he must turn to that darker thread, older than time. Turn back, to the old lion in the shade, the shark on the edge of the reef. The old wolf snickering in the shadows. Turn back to Death, who has kept his faithful watch across the years, and who will love him now again.

Adam sits, on a little bench in a city zoo, meeting the gaze of an aging tiger, and smiles at the laughing behind amber eyes. Methos sits, and laughs at the child of Life within his soul, the young pup in an ancient heart, who will slip back behind him soon, his job done, his duty once more finished. Death beckons, softly, smiling gently, and Methos smiles, slipping his hand into that cold, gentle grip, and lets Adam fall.

The Gathering is here, and Death walks once more in human form, smiling behind the eyes of his favourite child, laughing silently at the young pups who yap at his feet. He looks forwards across the years, and meets his lover's smiling gaze. She winks at him, sly promise, and waves a taloned hand.

Adam sits. Methos stands. Death behind his eyes, and Life calling him forward, their child upon the wire, their love upon the lightning. He stands, and laughs, old predator rolling lazily to his feet.

The Gathering is here. He is ready.