Title: Waiting

Author: Aelan Greenleaf

Category: Romance

Rating: K

Summary: Within the Ninth Gate, he waited for her.

Author's Note: This is a short vignette that I wrote just because I recently reread all three Old Kingdom books and the short story "Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case". I just love this universe, and I wanted to dabble in it, just a bit.

He waited, in the dark, in the light, in the shadows. The eternity of the twilight stretched out before him, though the pinpricks of light were so far out beyond the horizon that his eyes could barely catch their reflection.

He used the term eyes metaphorically, of course. Here, the eyes were but an illusion, a shadow of his former self. In this place, where the river flowed into the nothingness beyond, he saw and had seen countless numbers pass through the final gate, mere fractions of the people and things they had once been. Faces, ears, appendages, eyes- they were all eerily and strangely blurred, as if the current of the phantom water was slowing rubbing away the angles of their bodies.

The thing that was left of himself rested against his hiding place, his escape from the tide. His mind was still as sharp as the moment he had gently stepped into the river, so many years ago. The memory of slowly sinking into the water, of letting himself float indifferently through the precincts and gates was still fresh in his mind. He could still almost taste the liquid in his mouth when he had been abruptly torn from the water's embrace and placed upon the sharp embankment.

He'd been outraged, furious at first that he would not be able to cross into the beyond, but then he had looked up at the false night sky and he knew that it was not his time. It was destiny for him to wait; wait for the day when she would fall from Life and into the cool river of Death.

She had come through here before, since he'd been here, of course. But Death had a habit of stealing one's ability to speak, and he'd been so cruelly mute when she had parted the water of the Ninth Precinct and walked her charge past the Ninth Gate. Only his non-existent sight could watch in agonizing pain as he watched the love of his life look up to the stars and sigh. "Go back." he would mouth, through silent lips. "Back to Life, where everything and everyone awaits you."

Eventually, she would always go.

He hadn't always been this sentimental or self-sacrificing. He was the child of the elite, bred since birth to be self-appreciating and proud. It was only when he had met a certain woman, the one called Abhorsen, that his whole life had changed.

The thing that he was now closed its' mimic eyes and in his memory he could feel the northern wind upon his face; he could smell the wild water of the Ratterlin; he could remember his child's laughter; and he could remember the taste of her kiss.

Without warning, he could hear the current of the Ninth Precinct quiet, and he opened un-seeing eyes. Through the mist a figure emerged, one that walked with the current, and of its' own accord. She was still as beautiful as the first day he had met her, black hair as dark as the night, but with blue eyes as light as the day. With a silent tongue and a heavy heart, he watched as she stood alone in at the threshold of the Ninth Gate.

It was then, with surprise, he noticed that the bandolier was gone.

Cerulean eyes so strange in the black and white world of Death turned and stared right at him. The embankment that he had spent so long upon faded away, and he found himself in the middle of the quiet stream.

"I waited for you." Nick whispered, as his speech returned only for the few moments they had left.

Lirael's eyes were filled with unshed tears. "I know." Her hand reached out for his in the approaching twilight.

His fingers enveloped hers, and his blurred features suddenly became clear, blonde hair shining in the increasing light. "Kibeth?"

She smiled, and the stars were so very close now. "She's fine."

"I love you." he breathed.

"I love you too." she answered, and the water before them disappeared before the current pushed them over into the great beyond.