What Child Is This?
Posted By: vixen69 <email@example.com>
Date: Wednesday, 20 December 2000, at 11:37 p.m.
Usually, my muses just tell their story and get out of the way. This time, my Methos muse lingered behind at our usual group meeting and said--"Don't."
"Don't what?" I asked. But he proceeded to say that holiday loneliness was something I should not get into, and before I proceeded to write this, he even intimated to me that my pants might be on fire. He believes I am *down* as of late. Eh--could be. Anyway--here's my offering--no, not pretty.
Winter in and of itself was hard enough without the notion of Christmas—Christmas made it more than he could stand. Winter was cold, biting, bleak—but Christmas represented a ray of warmth in the midst of it all, a tiny beacon of peace on earth and good will towards men—and woman and poor little orphans and runaways. Kenny had seen over eight hundred Christmases—some tolerable, some, horrible, and all, lonely. Not the ordinary loneliness of a motherless boy, a waif without a family, an Immortal living the sorry existence called the Game—rather, a loneliness he knew full well was peculiar to himself. He was a grown man, older than 99.998% of all the men in the world—and yet the kindly social worker gave him a basket with toys, none of which were anything he’d care for. He could have pointed out a nice little shop some six blocks away where there were toys, not to mention some magazines, which genuinely * did * interest him—but the very suggestion coming from his ten-year-old looking face would have caused great disturbance—and the usual inspection—their diagnosis?
Severe child abuse. Molestation. The questions: Where are you from? Who is your family? Can you recall what happened to you? And he would have to lie. And he would cobble together the pieces from past experiences into something they would recognize and understand—he would tell them, in other words, what they wanted to hear. And at the peak of their insufferable mercies—he’d need to move on. Their pity was torture. And worst of all, the more insufferable, unbelievable and outrageous insult—deep in their hearts, what they all wanted to do was just get him living the life of “a normal child.”
He ceased to be a normal child some time ago. As an Immortal child—there was no such thing as normal. He was abnormal, twice over. And for the time being, he was homeless. He could no longer stay where eyes were beginning to pry into his strange behavior. Night was coming fast, and he wandered the streets, hoping to hold off for as long as he could the visit to a shelter. And all around him—the sights and smells and sounds of Christmas. It nearly made him sick.
This was a holiday geared, supposedly, towards children. Perhaps that focus was what bothered him the most—of all people, he had reason enough to hate children. The wonder in the eyes of children could in a flash turn to cold cruelty and naked greed. He knew well enough what children could be, he reminded himself—he sometimes was one. He’d been beaten half-to-death for his clothing by other children. He’d seen them at their worst—and know in his heart that might well be their truest. He was not a part of their world—not even in the least sense. He didn’t “make friends”. He didn’t “play.”
At his age, they very notion was absurd. Remaining an innocent at heart would have been sick—worse, it would have killed him. And however harsh life had been—he didn’t want to die.
He simply wanted to be warm, at the moment, and fed, and, if it were at all possible, he might have liked for all signs of Christmas to be wiped from the face of the earth. Everywhere he looked—there it was. In the store windows—decorations, Christmas trees and wreaths, and so much waste. He’d been poor—thanks to “modern” labor laws, there was no employment he could set himself to—no way to earn or be independent. He loathed the crassness of it. The too-muchness. And if he ever saw “Home Alone” again, he would, in fact, be physically ill. He had feelings concerning Macauley Culkin so strong and vile they could not be rendered into print. But worse still, he hated Dickens, not just for * A Christmas Carol *—sentimental bit of pickled tripe that it was. It was all of it—all the Christmas stories, featuring tables groaning with plenty and grinning children and sudden turns of generosity—ah, he loathed Dickens even when it wasn’t Christmas. He’d lived * Oliver Twist *, in his way. He sympathized with Pip in * Great Expectations * (he knew women like that sister—knew thugs who could have been good men)—but never in all his experience, did any grinning portly merchant brimming with fa-la-la ever show up and promise to make him a gentleman…
(Although, actually, he did in fact hear those very words—a promise to make a gentleman of him, all in exchange for a few quid, and when it was all done for, he felt no more the gentleman, and more than that, was beaten and stiffed for the quid—there was his general experience of the promises of adults.)
And then he felt the sensation of another Immortal, and wondered if this might be his lucky break. In all this aura of peace and good will, perhaps some one of his own accursed race might find it in themselves to take him in—to spare him from a Christmas alone with his own disagreeable thoughts.
This time had been sacred even in the time before the birth of the one celebrated now—it was always a time of the birth of Kings. Attis, Mithras, even Saturn was celebrated on this day (Saturn, in Greece called Kronos, a hated name)—she, herself, considered it the solstice celebration—a reminder that even in the time when the nights were longest—the light would return. Fitting, then, wasn’t it, that Duncan was born at this time? In his own way, he had provided her life some light in the way he’d vanquished those foes that plagued her rest for so long—he had taken care of Kantos, and also of those ancient monsters who had first shown her darkness, unspeakable darkness. But even when she should feel that things were improving in her life—she had those reminders that all was not as bright as could be. Her good friend, as far as she knew, spent his Christmas sipping wine with Death . (Even though he had sent her a nice little pendant—a tasteful triple crescent adorned with moonstone, which was thoughtful, if not exactly her taste in jewels. She would treasure it, if not always wear it.) And she found herself alone.
No, Christmas was difficult for her for reasons beyond either her present differences or difficult past. It was the very nature of the life an Immortal led—perhaps the very of the nature she found that she needed to lead, whether Immortal or not—that she sometimes mourned at this time of year. It was the road not taken, and the warmth most others could draw their strength from. It was the sense of family—something she had once—but never, truly, felt again.
She had come close. There were lovers. There were some sparse few husbands. There were some students, but she had learned to be careful in choosing those. There were some pleasant evenings—but never the celebrated, expected, oh, not the * norm * was there? Not herself as…
Damn…that shouldn’t come up, should it? Not again, not now? Not a proper wife, not a mother, not someone who would know the full range of happiness—only knowing something so close, that it would leave her wanting more. At times she wished she had a family, that there were people who cared for her, depended upon her, loved her—all she could imagine anyone would want. Instead, she found herself alone—as she had certainly been before, but wondering. No—not about the past, or even the lonely present, but wondering if there was some hopeful future, struggling to be born.
Everything reminded her of the family she did not have. Everything reminded her that she was something apart—separate from this time. Even who she was—and how she believed, at times. Everything was a reminder of how alone she was. Everything—her dreams, her nightmares, her hopes, her wishes, told her that there were things she needed to take care of—alone.
But what she longed for, prayed for, was to feel that she was doing some good—that she had affected things, even as she had been told once that she would. Her father said that there was more to life than the surface—did she dare believe? Even in this time of surfaces?
Right now, she didn’t believe. Everything was bleak, and lonely. She looked at the people around her, and saw mortals who could not even begin to understand her experiences. She saw the commercialization that threatened what was once a simple ceremony of the change of seasons. She saw waste of wealth, even in the midst of poverty, and saw the blank, weary faces of people who didn’t feel any spirit at all, not of Christmas, nor even the feeling that, no matter how long these winter nights were—the light would come. They foresaw no light, and she saw no light in their futures. She could read their faces—and there was blankness there. There was little she saw that she could believe in. But there was some hope, however vague, that things should improve—and then she felt it.
It was the Immortal buzz, a sensation she had come to dread—so often meaning a challenge, so often meaning meeting some soul who was even more hopeless than herself. But she paused when she saw who and what that sensation was—a child. A child, perhaps in appearance alone. But at the moment, it was a child she saw.
Her heart thudded in her chest at the very thought of an Immortal child. Surely, such a creature was defenseless, even more so than she had been in her long life. Smaller still than any woman had been, and having less experience. She looked into large blue eyes, and wondered how she should handle this encounter—even knowing things are not always how they seem.
“Don’t hurt me!” Kenny said, then, cowering. The act was part truth—part fake. There were some who were naked opportunists, killing any, young, weak, children, women, even those new to the Game who had no teachers. He had not reason to suppose this woman would not be one of those accursed Quickening-hungry souls. His hand covered his face for a moment, and he shook, both from the cold, and the genuine suspicion that this was someone who could just as easily waste him. Then, he waited.
“I’ve no intention of harming you,” Cassandra responded, her voice gentle and curious. “You are alone?”
Kenny stared. She was gorgeous—the sort of woman he would, perhaps, fancy, were he capable of developing a taste for them. But he saw that she was tall, and graceful of movement. Was it possible to possess such a creature, if only in death? What would it be like to kill such a being? She would not die easily, certainly. He stared at her, then spoke.
“I don’t know what you mean…you don’t want to kill me…but….there have been others. I have nobody,” he said, plaintively. “I don’t have a family—they’re dead. And I’ve had people come after me before—and they felt like you—are you going to kill me—or aren’t you? Please…don’t kill me.”
Cassandra considered the small figure before her. He seemed young, but she sensed an old soul within him. At times, she had been deceived by the sense she got from people. She once perceived Methos to have a heart. She once perceived Kronos to have wisdom. She perceived Kantos to be weak, once, and in need of her teaching. She learned that Methos could be heartless, Kronos, now dead, to have been misguided, and Kantos, poor student of hers, unhappy, bitter, vicious man, never was so weak as he seemed, and her teaching helped him not in the least. She decided to be cagey about this * poor * thing.
“You know what I am. And what you are. I’ve not yet drawn a sword on you—and had no interest in you—tell me…how old are you? Who are you—your name?”
He stared. “Kenneth,” he found himself answering, almost against his first instinct (to lie). “I am…fifteen, fifteen years old.” He generally claimed to be between twelve and fourteen, to say fifteen, now, seemed strange. “My family is dead—murdered.”
He nearly gasped that he spoke the word aloud. Murdered. Why did he not claim an accident, as was his usual wont? He shuddered, and hoped he would merely be perceived as being cold. “I…uh, there was a burglary, a few men who attacked us. They wanted money, and they satisfied themselves with our lives…”
Too late did he realize he wasn’t speaking like a modern child. Calm green eyes surveyed him.
“You are no child.”
“No,” he answered, at last, truthfully. “I am Kenneth, and I am, I am…eight hundred years old…and some.” He flinched at the words. Why did he dare speak them aloud? But he fixed on those eyes, calm, and full of feeling.
Cassandra stood, regarding this strange being—a child so old he was no child—but still a child in size and strength. How could she challenge him? But he would—she knew, because by now she surely knew a predator eye—have just as easily taken her head. She was also calm. And then she realized how it must have been. How terrible—how young he had died. How he would have suffered—a child and alone.
“Kenneth—you have no one?”
“No one,” he answered, slowly. His eyes were large, and the pupils seemed especially large, as he was mesmerized by her. She was using her gift, almost not intending to—but knowing the sorry life he would have led—how could she not spare him this last gift? She smiled, in pretence—as she had smiled in pretense before—but this was the kindest of her faces.
“You have me—and you are warm,” she said, using the Voice, but with a catch in her voice. “you are loved, perhaps you did not know that.”
“I never was—I never knew.”
“No—you are. There have been some people, in your life, who have cared for you and respected you.”
He thought of Amanda, then. When he was a child, he knew her as a child would knew her—a maternal and dear, sweet being. A creature capable of so much love, who instilled in him the confidence he needed to go on. She let him live—no, she made him live—and how did he this wonderful gift repay?
But terrorizing her lover MacLeod? And driving home to her the error—now, he knew the error—of letting him live—to love? To want to love her? He was entranced, and nodded at Cassandra’s words.
“You have known love, you are warm and happy…and there is good in this world…sweetness…”
He had no reason to believe in the sweetness of this world, but looking on this woman, he did. There was, there was sweetness, because she said there was, and because he did feel warm, and there was such a thing as Christmas sprit. There was a world where children were good, and deserved presents, and the love of a family. There was a world where it was safe to dream, and safe to dare. It was safe to breathe. He rocked himself, his hands clutching his elbows. Cassandra regarded this man-child.
“Close your eyes, and picture yourself where you were best loved, where things were as they were when you were…happy.”
Kenny recalled those parents, those people who raised him—loved him. There was a Christmas, a Yuletide once, and they lit candles, and hung a holly garland over the hearth. Mother would make a cake of bread, but with raisins and some apples, and…
Cassandra raised her sword, and with a short sword’s labor, delivered a corpse. After the Quickening, she looked on the small dead boy, and shuddered at the grotesque nature of killing one so nearly helpless ( but the Quickening told her otherwise, didn’t it? He was no weakling, all his unnaturally long, child’s life?) And then, as a flurry began, thick flakes falling about her, she thought to hide the body.
Better no unwitting child, innocent, should happen upon this corpse. And even as she went about this disagreeable deed, something in her told her—it was right.
She gave the child an important gift—peace. And so he drifted into his death.
She would not see sleep with any peace to compare to that.