John met her many times before they were formally introduced. Sometimes, struggling to stabilize a bleeding soldier, he would catch a glimpse of her from the corner of his eye, black and heavy against the stark brown of the desert. He would see her as he comforted a dying man, holding his explosion-burned hand as he screamed, going limp. He had seen her in civilization once, away from the godforsaken desert, sitting on the edge of a slab in the mortuary at St. Bart's. Her legs swung back and forth, and he tried to forget her once he looked away.
When they finally met face to face, he knew who she was. She crouched down, her dark form blocking the sun. He whimpered as she brushed a white hand through his dusty hair.
"You're not going to die," she said conversationally. "Not yet. But I thought I'd take the chance to say hello."
Sand caught in his teeth, his eyes, the blood on his uniform. He coughed.
"It hurts," he rasped against his swollen tongue, "It hurts so much."
"Shhh." She patted his shoulder, her hand coming away red and tacky. She made a face and wiped it on his shirt. "You'll be fine. It's not a fatal wound and anyway, there's a Jeep about a mile away that's coming back for you."
Tears streaked through the dirt on his cheeks, dripping onto his blistered lips and drying salty against his skin. "Please, God let me live," he whispered. She sighed, straightening her shirt as she stood.
"He's got nothing to do with it." The orange dust stained everything around them but her, an unblemished black and white statue in the middle of the desert. She looked him up and down, hands on her hips as she examined him propped up with his back against a rock. It dug in hard between his shoulder blades, the combined pain of it and the gunshot wound in his shoulder making him sob though gritted teeth. She shimmered like a mirage in front of him, smiling bemusedly. "It must be so odd inside your funny little brains, not being able to see your lives all at once. That's always seemed so strange to me." She cocked her head. "It's not your time, John Watson. We'll meet again."
When John woke up in the hospital, there was an IV in his arm. When he looked in the mirror, he was clean-shaven and the blisters on his face were starting to heal. When he moved his arm, pain radiated out from his shoulder. When he tried to walk, his leg collapsed under him. And when he dreamed, he moved under the watch of a pale man with stars for eyes and a cloak made of night.
Sometimes, one of the Endless will take a special interest in a being other than itself. There have been some- Desire's chosen few, with their want so strong they can defy even the oldest laws; those who have fallen into the realm of Despair, slowly drowning in their own sorrows; Delirium's companions in madness, rambling and seeing on a spectrum different from our own; the architects of Destruction, some not knowing their own strength and others purposefully harnessing it; Destiny's prophets, blind and all-seeing; and the Dream-walkers, travelers in Morpheus' realm. Then, at the end, there are those who have been touched by Death- seen and marked for all eternity.
The Endless have favorites, and Death is no exception.
John saw her many times after his return from Afghanistan- more than before. She was in the alleyways and dark corners of London, late at night when John couldn't sleep. On the most important day of his life she was in the room with Jennifer Wilson, sitting cross-legged on the floor as Sherlock Holmes wove the dead woman in pink's life story around a few pieces of jewelry.
John was used to her presence by the time ended up at gunpoint, strapped into a jacket of explosives by a madman in a designer suit. Overheated and soaked in chlorine fumes, more scared than he'd been since the desert, he could see her behind Sherlock, watching, waiting. It made his stomach twist more than the bomb, more than the gun, more than Moriarty.
She didn't leave once the consulting criminal had gone. John knew it wasn't over, then. He hoped desperately that he was mad; a hallucinating, war-addled mess having some sort of PTSD induced fit. But when he heard that harsh, high-pitched voice and saw the bright red circle on Sherlock's neck, his collar, his shirt, he knew.
In the aftermath, in the wreckage of the pool, John dragged at detective out of the water. Laid down in the burning rubble, he pressed his fists against his unconscious friend's breastbone, shouting curses and dripping.
She leaned over them. "John… come on, leave him. Moriarty's getting away, but if you go now you still have time to catch him."
John ignored he, compressing Sherlock's chest over and over. She laid a hand on his sodden shoulder but he shrugged it off violently.
"Stop it! Just stop!" He yelled at her. "I don't want you near him!"
She frowned. "John, please. Don't make this harder than it has to be." Gesturing out into the room, she pointed at a path through the fire and ash. "Go. Get Moriarty. Keep me away for a little bit longer." She squinted. "I'm offering you a chance to prevent deaths, John. A lot of deaths."
"Go away." John glared at her, but she didn't move. "Seriously, just get out. Don't you have better things to do?"
A piece of crumbling plaster dropped from the ceiling above her, crumbling onto the floor. "Oh, probably."
"I'm not leaving him. I'm telling you that now, I'm not going to leave him, so you can just fuck of."
She smiled. "Always the soldier. Always the doctor." She made her way to the blasted-out hole that used to be the door. Looking back at him, bent over the still body in his soaked jumper, she called after him, "You're interesting, John. I wouldn't want you to get boring." She flashed a grin. "You're lucky I like you."
She walked out of the room as the man on the floor inhaled suddenly gasping for air as his pale eyes snapped open. She walked away as John cried out, his hands shaking against Sherlock's face. She walked out smiling past her sisters, past Despair- grey, fat, and picking at her skin, muttering about loosing another collar, past Delirium, moving inside to cradle the disoriented detective's head in her lap temporarily. She moved past her brother-sister, Desire, watching the two men like a hawk that has found it's next meal, and past her brothers, Destruction lurking behind a chipped pillar and Destiny scowling disapprovingly over his book. Past Dream, with a nod and a knowing wink.
Death walked past the gathered Endless, smiling, because she knew that she would see her beautiful brown-eyed boy again soon.