Brian he meets once.
For a soul to make that impression upon a Watcher who has been around as long as Adam – one of the first – in a single meeting… It’s remarkable.
Brian is remarkable.
Adam does not judge humanity – that is part of his role, part of his contract. From the generously altruistic and the self serving, to the warlords and street beggars, his duty is to take them to the same places, in the same way, with the same care and attention, regardless of their death or life.
But sometimes, just sometimes, Adam is surprised.
Because Brian is a slave. Owned by the white man, the illegitimate son of a black woman and a white man, the classic story as it would become known in the 20th century, but during Brian’s lifetime, it’s just a secret, a shameful secret that keeps him forever caught between two worlds, and Adam was called to him so strongly, so completely it’s unnerving.
It doesn’t take long to find him. On the run, and when Adam sees Brian for the first time, he’s still alive, still breathing, still living and fighting and still believing in what he does.
He’s a conductor for the Underground Railroad, taking slaves north and to their freedom, passing them along in the darkness, across his master’s plantation.
Strong, wiry hands draw a map in the dirt of the barn floor, and Adam sees not a tobacco picker, but a musician in those hands, and the part of him that can see into a Soul’s depths tells him he’s right.
A lifetime ago, it must seem to Brian, but his mother used to be a musician, back in his homeland. In this place, this foreign land, both she and her son are less than nothing, a worker, a cog in a machine that can be replaced at any moment with a hundred more.
Adam would move on, but there’s something drawing him back – sometimes, a soul does, something in their eyes, in their work keeping him following them, but he’s never felt it so strong as he does now, never such a pull like an anchor in his heart.
If he had a heart, that would be.
It doesn’t take long to find out why he is being pulled to Brian.
A whisper in the dark too loud, a flash of the lamp light that isn’t stifled quickly enough. The crack of a bullet striking a rock, splinters flying in the darkness, the bellow of a hunting party that hunts only the missing and the enslaved.
Adam watches, and he waits, and he doesn’t react. That’s not his job. The pull of the gun, the explosion of flesh and muscle and bone, the anger competing with fear in Brian’s eyes as he’s pulled onto a horse and taken to back to his master’s yard, none of it disturbs Adam.
At least, not in a way he can explain.
Make an example of him.
Adam stands beside the soul of Brian as his body dances on the end of a rope on an impromptu gallows. There’s time to wait now. There’s time to watch.
He doesn’t begrudge the soul that – dying in a bed, surrounded by loved ones is always harder, for some reason, to watch than the unceremonious cutting down of a hangman’s latest job. He’s seen it often enough.
Something to do with the sentimentality, something to do with regrets, something to do with the strangeness of the human heart, Adam isn’t sure exactly why souls who die in this fashion are so willing to watch their body be treated so irreverently and he doesn’t need to know.
But sometimes, he wishes he did know. Just because it’s another thing, another piece of being human he doesn’t understand. .
When Adam leads Brian across The Waters, they bristle yellow and grey underneath dark, time worn bare feet, and Adam is both curious, and disturbed by the new colour.
Yellow is change, and change is not always good.
Brian doesn’t even need directing – he knows exactly where he is going. Back to the human worlds, back to see something again, to do something, Adam isn’t sure what, but the determination is there. The conviction in those brown eyes tells him that tomorrow, for Brian, will be a new day not in the Beyond.
They’ll meet again, Adam is sure of it, but he’s not sure why or when or how. Something about Brian is strange, and strange is not always good.
He wanders again.