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The Waters

Chapter Text

The final piece of the puzzle is a boy.

 

A man.

A soul that is so bright, so familiar to Adam that it might as well be his own, if he had one, but he can’t have one and he doesn’t know why he knows this boy so much, so well.

It starts with an a ikyak, a small boat made when a boy takes the first step in becoming a man, in the midst of an ocean long before they were charted, and named by progressive people.

The boy’s people call this stretch of Water the Life Giver because it’s their main source of food during the spring and summer. Fish in abundance, mussels and crabs in the rockpools, whales who for no reason at all – the will of the gods, the people call it even though Adam knows differently – beach themselves on the shale and give the whole village cause for celebration.

The boy paddles his ikyak closer to Adam and long, tattooed fingers pass across tattooed lips in a gesture that needs no interpretation – speak, friend, - but Adam gives no reply. The boy guides his flimsy craft further out to where Adam sits on a lone rocky outcrop in the midst of this sea.

They call it the Lonely Man, because it’s so far away from anything else that it must be lonely. A culture based around people and being together fears loneliness and this rock in the middle of nowhere must be the antithesis of everything they believe in.

Adam finds it peaceful.

A smooth planed paddle cuts through grey foaming waters to bring the ikyak closer to the lowest step of the rock and Adam watches with vague interest as the boy doesn’t get out of the boat but gestures him closer – no fear in those eyes, no fear at all.

He obliges.

Taw reaches out and pushes his hand right over Adam’s heart.

Biewaleh? He says. Messenger?

Adam is not so surprised. Some souls have the ability to see him before they die, linked more closely with the otherness that makes Adam’s world than their fellow humans. Most cultures also have names for Angels, the being he is most mistaken for, and he shakes his head, wondering what the response will be.

Yehevu. The boy presses two fingers against Adam’s heart, and that is surprising. Not messenger. Watcher.

How does this boy know what he is?

But the boy says no more, and Adam does not talk – he has never been taught, never learnt, never tried because it’s not his job, his place, his role, his directed position by the Above. He has no need to talk - his touch, his gaze, his face is enough for people. They, the souls, can talk, can scream and shout and bellow and whimper and beg and plead and pray all they like - a cacophony of noise they can create, but Adam has no need to talk.

So why does he want to offer up his name to this stranger?

Soft brown eyes watch him without fear as he backs away, taking his craft further and further away from Adam.

How strange that Adam inspires no fear in these people – Brian, Isaac, Ashley, T-....T-... His name is Taw but Adam doesn't understand exactly why but it's not fitting in his thoughts when he thinks of the boy, and he wonders when or even if he'll find the right name.

Souls have names that just seem to fit - it's why Isaac is Isaac, never Jon or Andrew or Lio, why Brian was Brian to him even though his master had called him Paul James…

He expects the boy to die, expects him to wash up on the beach, drowned in his boat, or fall on the slippery crags of the mussel shelves, but it doesn't happen.

Adam watches, and he waits because this is the only soul calling to him now, the only soul who beckons him closer, but it just doesn't happen.

Adam watches, and watches, and watches, but Taw lives, and lives, and lives.

First days, then months, then years pass - and Taw changes from the tiny little half boy, half man in the ikyak to a real man with more tattoos, more memories, more skills and knowledge and strangeness. He marries. Has four daughters. Becomes the chief’s right hand man.

Adam knows that he cannot leave. Something is drawing him to Taw, and he doesn't know what or why, but he doesn't mind.

Taw calls him by title, and the tribe says Taw is gifted. Adam watches him grow older and not necessarily wiser but more confident, more self aware in his later months.

Thirty eight years pass - Taw is fifty when he dies.

There is no fire, no ice, no flood, or wave, or landslide. Just a fall. A fall in the darkness of early morning inside a hut, falling over a stray harpoon. A tiny bone splinter to the brain - that's all it takes. Quick. Easy.

There Adam finds his duty again. Adam has watched this boy for years, from boy to man, and beyond, and every day, he expected Taw to die. He doesn’t understand why he’s being called to follow someone through their life – that’s not how it works. Adam’s guided so many souls to the next life that to be asked to change, to watch and see them live a life before he he takes them…

It will make it hard.

Taw stands, beside his body in the floor. There’s no fear in his eyes – no fear at all, and Adam wonders whether that lack of fear will hold true when he sees The Waters but there only thing Taw says to him now is Nilou. The end of life.

Not behind, not in front - Taw walks side by side with Adam, keeping pace. His eyes are the same brown that Adam noticed all those years ago in the midst the grey waters on the Lonely Rock.

 

----

 

Adam wanders again, but the same thing happens – nobody calls to him. The Waters do not bloom for his charges because there are no charges.

Not one.

Adam watches the rise and fall of kings and hunters, peasants and taxes, but not one soul needs his guidance, his hands, his gentle fingers to lead them to The Waters and the Beyond.

He tries returning to The Waters, sitting on the white bank to stare into the mirror grey depths, but they don’t speak to him, don’t bloom brilliant colours and muted shades in his wake, at his touch.

Everything is so quiet, so still it scares him.

Adam is frightened.

What does the silence mean? What does the lack of work for him mean? Is it good? Is it bad? Adam knows he not supposed to understand those concepts, really. He is a Watcher, meant only to do the Above’s work, part of a collective that extends far beyond human comprehension, that doesn’t need individualistic thought, but now, he’s more out of step with that than ever before.

And then he finds the boy again.

 

--

 

It’s not the gentle pull Adam usually feels, or even the insistent tug he felt when Brian was about to die – this time, the pressure comes from within, a strong claw reaching into him and dragging him so insistently, so quickly across the human realms that Adam hardly blinks between The Waters and the craggy mountainside when he finds the boy again.

Only he’s not a boy.

He’s a man – his face worn thin and haggard by the elements that weather the rock he leans against, and Adam can see this man has not had an easy life.

His limp is pronounced and his scalp, shaved close, has a thin, red scar running from nape to crown. A smooth worn stick taps the cracked and worn path wending through the rocky maze, and Adam senses that not all is normal.

It’s a forest – the leaves beneath the man’s stumbling feet are yellow and red and burning orange, and the air is cold.

Winter is sharpening her blades, and the old man knows it.

But Adam watches. And he waits.

The man retreats to a cave, nature carving out a deep opening in the mountainside, but the man has blocked it half off with a carefully woven lattice of boughs, daubed with mud, and once it’s secured with two more poles, the wind finds no way in the cave.

Neither does the light until a shaking hand strikes a flint, lights a tallow candle, sets it on the floor between Adam and the old man.

“Du bist doch kein Engel oder?" Adam didn’t expect it again, exactly, but the question You aren’t an Angel, are you? – repeated from a lifetime ago for this man – is easily answered with a nod.

A smile, a shrug, two careful hands digging into a rough hewn box. A book – a diary – is withdrawn. There’s something so calm, so deliberate about the movement, that Adam feels like he’s watching a ritual rather than a single day to day practise.

And so it begins.

Another day to watch and wander, following after an old man in the forest, from rabbit snare and fish trap to a tiny settlement to buy a new coat, and more paper at the base of the mountainside, a huddle of small huts drawn close in the damp air.

A villager greets him with the name Thomas.

A new name, but the eyes, the eyes are the just the same. Wide, sharp, astute in a way that most humans don’t understand. The same hands, long fingers, gentle even as they snap the rabbit’s neck, or gut the fish with calm confidence.

Adam watches, and he waits and the old man doesn’t speak to him very often. Always aware of Adam’s presence, always ready to meet his gaze, but hardly a word exchanged between them. From sunrise to sunset, winter passes into spring, spring into summer, summer transmuting slowly into autumn, and back to winter again. A steady, natural progression, and the forest around the old man stays the same.

The waterfall thunders on, headless of the snow and the ice or the spring melts or the relentless efforts of the sun to dry up the spring.  

For ten years.

Adam watches and waits, the man buying paper and using ink from crushed berries to write entries that are the only true record of time passing. Rain feeds the forest, and the sun nourishes it , the frost kills it, the rains come again. It’s a cycle. Age old and day young.

Death comes slowly in the forest for the old man, and Adam watches through all of it.

Old age is not a kind death, the souls who die from it tell him, not a pleasant death, but the balance of it is a sweeter life, and Adam doesn’t see regret in the old man’s eyes when his glowing hand touches the empty body he used to inhabit.

To shuffle off this mortal coil.

"Sollen wir einen letzten gemeinsamen Spaziergang machen?"

Shall we take one last walk together? The man asks, and Adam nods.

A last walk, not down to the village, almost a generation older than when Adam first saw it, not through the mossy cracks in the mountainside to the waterfall, or through the forest to the river to find the fish and the traps.

A last walk to the shores of The Waters, a place much more still.

The silence when they get there is huge.

And Adam is small.

For the first time, Adam is small crossing the vastness of The Waters, the huge expanse of mirror grey and white blooming with nothing under his charge’s feet. Watchers do not feel small – they are part of the collective, a single entity connected to the whole, and they are not alone, not unique, not separate from anything so they cannot feel small.

They cannot feel.

Adam guides this man, this Thomas, to the white shore on the other side, where the Above beckons and the path to the mortal realms gape, and Adam is still reeling from the lack of sound.

He’s spent ten years beside this man, ten years watching him live in almost total silence or so he thought, but it wasn’t true silence. There was the wind, the trees, the rare visitor to the man’s cave, the trips to the village, the waterfall, the sighs and smiles of the old man beside him.

Adam’s world is so silent.

Thomas says nothing more to him, but the smile on his lips isn’t familiar to Adam, and when he steps onto the path to the mortal realm, Adam is torn between pulling him back to send him to the Above, and pulling him back for Adam.

Watchers are not meant to feel. Watchers are not meant to know what want means. Hunger means they are not content with what the Above provides, that they are more than what they are and they are not.

Adam wants, and it’s a hunger inside that will not be satisfied.

The human realm closes behind the Soul that is called Thomas - a name that does not fit even now - and Adam cannot run fast enough.