Author: Collaboration by Christy and Ashkara
Pairings: None
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: AU, supernatural stuff, language.
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing and its characters are not ours... well we thought up 'Scythe's personality, does that count?
Feedback: Yes, please.
Note: There are many differences between this story and the official Episode Zero and anime itself. It's called poetic license. This is a companion fic to Mel's and my fic 'Alarums and Excursions'. We've already had Duo having conversations with his Gundam, so it's not really a spoiler... If you are interested and haven't seen 'Alarums and Excursions' yet, you can find it at here

**Mental conversations between Duo & 'Scythe - 'tadah'


Conversations with Death

I have been called by many names throughout the millenia..

I have been Hunhau, Osiris, Yama, and Yambe-Akka; Dagda, Ereshkigal and Mot. They have called me Vichama and Azra'il, Thanatos and Baiame, Hel and Ghede. The Babylonians called me Nergal, the Aztecs named me Miclantecuhtli and to the Chinese I was Yen Wang. Sometimes, they called me a second name, gave me different duties. I was also Hades to the Greeks, and Anubis to the Egyptians. To the Christians I was the Archangel Uriel, 'who is over the world and Tartarus'. I have been, am, and forever will be all of these, yet, there is one name above all others...

I am Deathscythe.

How did this happen, you ask? Well, it's a long story; perhaps some background is in order. My brethren and I are the Minions of Death... what mortals would call demi-gods. There are many of us in service, taking the souls of the dead and guiding them to the Otherworld. I am one of the oldest, and have been here since the beginning. And before you ask, no, I will not tell you what the real beginning was. That little detail is a different story for another time, if you're lucky.

Over the ages, some of us have tired of the task, or became too affected to continue and faded away. Others succumbed to apathy. Few of us have been able to continue unscathed, though some have lasted much longer than others. Our Master, saddened by the loss of many of my brethren and to protect the younger ones, began to allow us a periodic respite from our duties. To be honest, I think he saw emotional problems arising, and twisted Fate's strands in such a way that we would ask to be relieved for a while. How else would there be so many coincidences to lead to my current... employment? State?

Very few individuals are equipped to understand how emotionally unsettling it can be to see death and destruction on such a consistent basis. The blood, the misery, the utter stupidity of most of it... Death is not usually pretty, but we continue as we have since... I can't remember, really, how long it has been. Very long. Very painful at times.

What was that? Of course we have emotions! We're Minions of Death, not rocks. Now, where was I? Ah, yes, coincidences and my current employment.

It started in 184 AC... well, much earlier than that, but I first noticed my little mortal in that year, on war-torn L2. Another war in the brewing... how many does this make? I lost count after the fifteenth century. It's always the same, you know; the blood, the screams, the pain, the odours of death, the illness that follows, the starvation. And it's always the innocents who suffer the most. Most of these souls are grateful for my arrival. I am the end to the pain and the suffering, after all. I am their relief.

I had been summoned to take the soul of a woman mortally wounded in one of the many bombings on that poor colony. Yes, summoned. It's like a call from the victim's soul to my own... and yes, we have souls. Are souls. Sort of. May I continue?

When I arrived, it was a scene like so many before it, a tortured soul in a dying mortal shell on a rubble-strewn street in a war-torn city, with a young child trying to get some response from his 'momma'. Yet, this was different for some reason, the mortal boy was different. Not because of his physical appearance, or the way his large blue-violet eyes looked straight through me... it was more a feeling, like a brush of his soul on mine. There was something special about him, this four year old boy with stunning eyes, and I just couldn't place it. He was an enigma to me, but then, I'd seen enigmas before. It would be figured out eventually... they always are. With a shrug and a sigh, I retrieved the soul of the boy's mother and went on to my next appointment, hoping with every atom of my being that I wouldn't be summoned back to this hellhole to retrieve his soul.

It was two years later when I saw my little human again. Over the years, I had made many collections on L2, each time dreading what I would find, then thankful it wasn't him. This time, when I arrived, it seemed that once again I was taking someone that 'belonged' to him. My 'client', since I don't think of them as my victims, was a young boy, perhaps thirteen years of age, wasting away from a serious illness... they called it a plague. It wasn't, really; at least not one on the scale of the Black Death during the Middle Ages. Now, that was a plague, and so easily preventable. It was a shame, so many lost for so little reason. But I digress...

My little human, now maybe six years old, was clutching his friend, begging him not to leave him. It was almost heartbreaking, and I wished I didn't have to do this to him. It was the boy's time, though, and I am just a Minion... I can't stop Death. Only the Master can do that, and there'd better be a damn good reason, since it throws everything off. Saving my little human from another heartbreak wasn't good enough. As I approached, there was that tingle again, as I touched my little one's soul. I think he felt it this time; he shuddered slightly as I reached for the dying boy's soul. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling, just odd, and as I watched him run away, I decided I'd have to look into it, if I could find the time. It had become too intriguing to ignore.

Yes, I was curious. Just because I'm Death's Minion doesn't mean I don't get curious. And before you say 'Curiosity killed the cat'... do I look like a cat to you? Moving right along...?

The conflict in the mortal world heated up, and I found little time to pursue the enigma of my young human. I did, however, find out his name. He called himself Duo, a tribute to his lost friend. I owe one of my brethren a large favour for finding that information for me, and keeping an eye out for my Duo. Oh, well, there's a price for everything, even in the Otherworld.

'Is there a Heaven and Hell?' Now that is a good question, but it's much more complicated than that. The kindergarten version is that you get what you truly believe, expect and deserve. If you believe in, and deserve, Reincarnation, that's what you get. The same with Heaven and Hell, Oblivion, et cetera. Although... there are some who just hang around, watching the mortals go by. There's one that tends to follow me around, named Sol-- what's with all the questions? I'm probably not going to give you all the answers you want, so it's pretty much a waste of time to ask, you know.

Over the next couple of years, I had little work on L2. My brethren, however, were very busy there, and would occasionally bring me back snippets of information about my little Duo; how he was taken in by an orphanage, his nickname 'Maxwell's Demon'... little things. But he was alive and well. That was the important thing. Perhaps, once things quieted down, I'd get the chance to examine this strange 'affinity' with my little Duo.

As I said earlier, I think the Master made a deal with Fate to pull some strings. How else does one explain all of these events? It is, after all, almost unheard of for a Minion's job description to change so radically. And in all the eons of my existence, I have never encountered the same living human, under these circumstances, so many times. Coincidence? Honestly, what are the odds? I have to remember to ask the Master. Regardless, I still say it's a conspiracy.

Out of the blue, I was summoned to L2 once more. I had wanted to get one of my brethren to take this one for me, I did not want to go back there. What if it was my little Duo? The others were all too busy themselves... the 'war', you know, so, dreading what I might find, I answered the summons. I arrived at the source, steps heavy, and just stood and stared for a moment.

A church and orphanage. Full of children. When will these mortals learn? There is enough pain, suffering and death in the natural way of things. Must they create more through hatred, fighting and wars? In my darker moments, I sometimes wonder if humans weren't a mistake.

Depressed? Of course we get depressed. It is an emotion, after all. Why do you think some of us have just given up and faded away? You try watching humans destroy each other for ages and see how long you last. Just because we're Death's Minions doesn't mean we enjoy the pain and suffering of you mortals, or like seeing your individual existences come to an early end for no ordained reason. Where do you come up with these ideas?

Books, tales, television... do you really believe everything you read? Everything people tell you? Hmph. Gullible humans. I will tell you this once. Death is an end-- an end to a mortal body and the beginning of a new existence. Trust me, I should know.

I felt mixed emotions of relief and anguish when I arrived. My Duo was not the one I was here for, though, for the third time, I was taking the soul of the only person left who cared for him. Again, he was holding the person, begging them not to leave him alone. This was not right. He had done nothing in this or any previous lives to deserve this. For a moment I almost wished it was him I was here for... at least his pain would end. I leaned over them, brushing his soul as I reached for the woman in his arms. You know, his soul is truly beautiful, even after all the pain and suffering he's been through in his short life. I know he felt the touch this time. He jerked as if shocked, and looked wildly around. I wanted to comfort him, but I had work to do.

The woman I was here for, Sister Helen, a Catholic nun, was a truly remarkable human. Staunch in her faith, gentle and kind to all, not a drop of hatred in her... and she truly loved my little human as her own. The mortal plane was losing a treasure with her passing. I knelt down, reaching to take her soul more gently than I ever had before-- and she looked at me. She saw me. To her, I was the Archangel Uriel, here to free her from earthly life and guide her to the presence of her God. There was a great joy in her... and a great sadness.

'Please,' she whispered to my mind, 'just another moment.' She handed her cross to my little human and told him that she loved him, and was proud of him. Then, she turned back to me. 'Please, watch over him. He's special. He's so alone... so young... so much pain... Please...'

'I promise,' I told her. 'I will watch over him. He won't be alone.'

As I tried to gather her soul, the planes of existence shifted. Her soul flew free, and I had no doubt that she was already with her God. My Duo, however, was heartbroken, crying and begging her to come back. And I, I suddenly felt bound to my little human. Bound by chains of compassion and... yes, love. I loved my little Duo, and I was connected to his soul. I would always know where he was and how he was. We would never be truly apart. He was now my only concern. In an effort to comfort, I ran my hand down his messy braid, and he jerked his head up, looking around. He felt me but he still couldn't see me.

I tried speaking directly to his mind, but he didn't seem to hear me. This could be a problem. How was I to care for him? How was I to comfort and guide and watch over him, if he couldn't see or hear me? What was I to do now? I, still a Minion of Death, but no longer a soul guide, was now a non-imaginary imaginary friend and babysitter to a mortal child. I didn't know what to do.

Panic? Me? Death's Minions do not panic! I was apprehensive...

Oh, all right! I panicked. Happy now?

Pondering this dilemma, I heard shouting voices coming closer. My Duo jumped up and ran, looking for a place to hide and mourn. I followed slowly, wondering if I could keep him safe and how I was going to handle this abnormal bond. I could take a physical form, where I could talk to and touch him... but it was extremely difficult and never lasted very long. I could just follow him around in my ethereal state, and hope that caring brushes on his soul would help him feel loved and less alone. But I wanted to talk to him. I finally decided to stay in my natural form (or lack of form) and manifest only to save his life. That seemed the best option until I could figure out what any new limits might be.

As I followed my Duo's path to where he was hiding, I saw many of my brethren collecting souls. To tell the truth, I wouldn't miss that. I guess I was more tired of that role than I had thought. Those that noticed me, the more animated of them anyway, nodded, smiled or bowed to me. They knew things had changed. How much more did they know?

I may have to track one down and find out if they were in on this scheme.

I found my charge curled up in the corner of a half-collapsed shack, sound asleep, with silent tears still rolling down his pale, dirty cheeks. Poor little soul. Now what should I do? Nothing in my extensive experience had prepared me for this. At my wit's end, I wrapped my formless self around him-- and suddenly found myself in his mind... in his dreamscape.

It was not a pleasant place to be.

+

My poor Duo was sitting in the middle of a war-torn city, buildings falling around him, people dying in terrible ways... and a hideous skeletal 'Death' was cutting down his friends and loved ones, one by one, in front of him. I was horrified. How could my little human live with this, night after night? I found myself rushing to him and pulling him into my arms-- arms. I could feel him. I could feel him trembling and the tears that fell from his cheeks. I could feel his skin and the warmth of his too thin body... So, it seemed I was 'real' in his dreamscape. I held him tighter, rocking him gently, and told him not to watch. It wasn't real. It was only a nightmare. I told him he was safe with me. I would protect him. Nothing here could hurt him and I wouldn't leave him alone.

He turned in my arms, raising tear- and pain-filled blue eyes to mine, and brokenly whispered one word. 'Promise?'

I nodded and wiped the tears from his face. 'I promise.' He smiled slightly, sighed and tucked his head under my chin, and the horrifying visions around us faded away, leaving us sitting in the middle of an empty alley.

'Y'r pretty... an' warm,' my little Duo whispered, and I scanned his mind to see how he perceived me. Tall and broad-shouldered, with blonde hair in a braid like his and blue-grey eyes. Ah, an older version of his friend and protector who had died during the plague. It was fitting, I suppose.

'My silly little mortal, men are not pretty. Men are handsome,' I told him, chuckling.

'Don't care. Pretty. Wha's y'r name?' he said stubbornly, wrapping one small, delicate hand around 'my' braid.

Okay, now what? We Minions don't really have names, except those that you mortals give us. And since names have power, I certainly didn't want to just make one up.

'What do you want to call me, little one?' I asked him. He gave me form, I'd let him give me a name, as well.

'Dunno. C'n I think 'bout it?'

My little human's speech was atrocious. We'd have to work on that. No charge of mine would be uneducated. What? Of course I could teach him. You don't exist as long as I have without learning a great deal. Did you know I could probably gain a degree in about twenty fields? Including quantum physics. Of course I could teach him proper English and speech. Hmph.

'Can you think about it. And of course you can, Little Duo, just let me know what you choose. But, please don't pick something like Mortimer or Cornelius, alright?' I told him, gently tapping the end of his nose with my finger.

That made him giggle. 'Promise. I won't.' His giggle turned into a quiet sob, and I tried to comfort him as best I could.

'Shhh, my Duo, it will be all right,' I whispered to him, rocking him again.

'Why do they all have to leave me?' he whimpered, clutching onto me tighter.

Right. Now he was firing the big guns. What is a Minion of Death supposed to tell his eight year old charge about death and dying? I decided on the truth. He did have a right to know, after all, and I wasn't going to start this... relationship off on lies and stories.

'Well, child, it is hard to explain, but I'll try. They didn't want to leave you, but they didn't have a choice. Every mortal life is given a limited time of existence. Once the time is up, the physical human shell dies, and the soul passes on to the Otherworld. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to live their full time. Sometimes other things cause a life span to be shortened-- illness, war, accidents-- so, that mortal life ends before its time. It's no one's fault, it just happens.' I wasn't going to get into the whole Fate aspect... no, bad idea.

'It wasn't my fault? My parents, Solo, Father Maxwell, Sister Helen...they didn't leave 'cause I was bad?' he sniffed.

I stifled a gasp. My mortal child honestly thought it was his fault?! How could he believe that? This would not do. My Duo would not be saddled with a guilt that was not his!

'Little mortal, they loved you. It was war that took them. War and greed and random chance are at fault, never you.' I hugged him tighter. 'Sister Helen told you she loved you, and that she was proud of you. Would she have said that if she blamed you? Would she have given you the cross you now wear?'

He shook his head slightly. '...No.'

'So, if she didn't blame you, can you honestly believe it was your fault?' I asked him, hoping it could really be this easy.

'But I stole the suit--' Okay, my Duo was going to be stubborn again. It was a particular personality trait of his I was to become entirely too familiar with.

'Duo, no 'buts'. Whether you stole the suit or not, they would have attacked the church. If you hadn't gone to steal the suit, you would have died as well. I don't think the good Sister would have wanted that. She seemed very happy that you were alive and well.'

He seemed to think about that for a few minutes, and I hoped I had gotten through to him. Then he asked, quietly, 'Will you leave me, too?'

Well, of course I wouldn't leave him, silly human. I looked him in the eyes and promised once again, 'I won't leave you. Anytime you need me, I'll be here, whether you can see me or not. I promise you that.'

He sniffed and nodded, then hit me with the big one. 'How can ya promise? How do ya know all this?'

Well, damn. I had chosen to tell him the truth, and I certainly couldn't switch to lies now. Every once in a while, I think that honesty is overrated. I took a deep breath, steeled myself for his reaction and tipped his face up to look at me.

'I know, my little mortal, because I am Death.'

I waited for his cries and attempts to escape my hold, but, contrary to my expectations, he just gave me a watery giggle.

'Nah, y'r lyin'. Too nice an' pretty to be Death. Death's bony an' ugly an' mean. He kills people. Y'said ya would stay with me and protect me, so ya can't be Death.'

The logic of this child amazed me. It may have been misinformed logic, but he backed up his conclusion with what he believed were facts. Oh, yes, there was a sharp, keen mind beneath the rough street child exterior. He would be a joy to teach, but first, I had to correct his misconceptions.

'Little one, Death doesn't kill people, he just... accepts the care of a soul and guides it to the Otherworld. Remember what I told you earlier, about mortal bodies, life spans, and the things that shorten them?'

Yes, I realise that was an oversimplification, and that I am not the only Death. My Duo may be extraordinarily bright, but would you really want to try to explain everything, in detail, to a grieving eight year old child? I thought not.

My little human nodded, and I continued. 'When the human body is dying, Death comes to take the living soul to the Otherworld, so it can go on to its next stage of existence. Death is just a messenger and guide.' His eyes widened as his mind processed this concept, but could find no flaws. I never looked away from him, hoping he could see the truth in my gaze, in the eyes that he had given me. 'Can you accept that? Can you believe what I've told you?'

He nodded quickly, then his brow furrowed slightly, and he peeked up at me through his bangs. 'Are y'sure you're Death, though? Y'r pretty, an' if y'r really Death, aren't ya too busy to hang with me? I mean, I'm jus' a nobody. Shouldn't you be hangin' with somebody important-like?'

I chuckled at him and tapped the end of his nose again. 'Yes, my little mortal, I am sure I'm Death. If I wasn't, how would I have known that your Sister Helen gave you her cross, then told you she loved you and was proud of you, hm? Before she passed, she said you were special, and asked me to watch over you. Of course, I said yes, so here I am. As for being busy, yes, I am. I am busy watching over you. You are my only concern right now, my little Duo.'

'But... I didn't see ya, when... it happened...'

'I know, and I'm afraid that here, in your dreams, is the only place you can actually see, touch or hear me. I'm sorry. This is the only place I have a physical anchor to you. Without a physical link or connection, I can't talk to you directly. However, do you remember feeling this earlier today?' I gently brushed his soul teasingly, and he jumped and giggled.

'Ahh... Tickles... stop! I remember!' I did it once more, just to hear him laugh, then stopped.

'That, my little Duo, is how you will know I'm there. When you sleep, we can talk and touch. When you feel that while awake, you'll know you're not alone. Are you feeling better, now? It'll be time for you to wake up soon.'

He snuggled against me. 'M'better. So, if'n y'r takin' care of me, does that mean yer like my dad, now? 'Cause, that might be cool, y'know.'

I laughed again. 'No, not your father. How about your friend... or even a strange sort of uncle--'

'Cool! I like ya! C'n I be Death, too?'

'Well, not a real one, but I suppose you can be an Honorary Death. What do you think, Little Death?'

My Duo just smiled, whispering 'Little Death' for a few minutes.

I sat quietly and listened to him, until he felt the need to hear my voice again and asked, 'Death... what'll we talk 'bout now?'

I sighed, audibly. 'How about I teach you proper English, hm?'

My little Duo just giggled.

+

[cont] [back to Mel and Christy's fic]