Author: girl_starfish
Rating: PG-13 at the moment, liable to change.
Genre: AU, action-adventure, romance, fantasy.
Pairings: none yet. Asuka friendly throughout (Heero may be a little slow getting his act together)
Warnings: yaoi, het.

Death Bringer + Prologue

The storm may have lessened, but the waves had yet to drop.

The child clung determinedly to the piece of mast. He knew that to relax, even for a second, was certain doom. The rest of his mind was filled with the knowledge of the harsh slap of the waves as they beat against the fragile obstacle in their way, followed by the persistent tug of the undertow down-he'd long since ceased to register the chill of the water, or the icy wind sleeting down upon them. He only winced as fresh salt water was driven into his eyes, unable even to spare a hand to wipe them.

A sudden kick beside him made him open his eyes, in time to see Duo battle for a firmer hold on their only support. He scrabbled weakly, managing to draw his chin over the mast, only to slip back a moment later.

This was bad.

He didn't know how long the two of them had been out there, amongst the waves, but he knew that Duo had reached the limit of his strength a while past. He was utterly exhausted, and he didn't know what kept the younger child holding on, unless it was sheer pluck. Duo had always had an excess of that-

Duo slipped once again from the mast. He didn't even try to lift himself back, opting instead to cling as tightly as he could. He wouldn't last much longer that way. Hell, he wasn't going to last much longer at all. His eyes were weary, his whole body pale and drooping.

Solo made a decision. He let go of the mast with one hand, slipping the other around Duo as quickly as he could, then kicking with what strength he had left, to push them both up, onto the mast. He ended, panting, with Duo draped half over the mast. Duo swung an arm round tiredly, to grab hold, but Solo left his arm over him.

Duo's head lolled against his shoulder. It wouldn't be long now, Solo realised. The younger boy had given up fighting.

Wouldn't be long till he followed all the others.

"No!"

"You can't have him!"

The voice that cursed the waves didn't sound like his own. It was raw and desperate, railing at the wind and waves.

"You can't have either of us, damn you Death!"

The next wave slammed into them violently. Duo gasped.

Encouraged by the fact that there was still some life in the younger boy, Solo yelled back at their tormentor.

"If you want him, you have to come through me, Death! And I'm not about to give up-you can throw what you like at us!

"Take us on-I dare ya!"

Suddenly, out of the very sea itself it seemed, a black shadow appeared, slicing through the water. It loomed above them, pushing through the waves, catching them on the backwash before dragging them down towards it-towards certain death-

They would be crushed against the side of the ship.

"No! Screw you!"

Duo stirred, slowly comprehending the threat.

"You can't have us!" Solo kicked weakly, fighting the strong pull of the current. "Damn you! I don't want to die yet-"

His fury sounded above the waves and the wind. On the deck of the ship that would be their demise, someone turned.

"Damn you, Death! You let us go and I promise-"

A particularly sharp gust of wind ensured that no one, not even the boy clinging to his side, heard the rest of Solo's words.

Or perhaps someone did.

At the very last second before death-

--stinging pain grazed Solo's shoulder. He cried out in pain and got a mouth full of water. Then suddenly, suddenly Duo was wrenched away from him and he was clear of the water, flopping painfully against the rain of the ship. Strong hands hauled him over the side and supported him as he swayed.

A moment later he saw Duo hauled aboard on a hooked pole that must have been what they'd used to get him out of the waves. It was a wonder that his worn tunic didn't give away under that, but there he was. They set him on the deck and his legs gave way, instantaneously, leaving him shivering on his knees. His long hair, long since escaped from its braid, draped untidily over him, and he was almost purple with cold.

Solo didn't have the strength to stumble over to him.

"And what manner of flotsam is this?"

It was the first voice he actually heard. Oh, those that had pulled them from the waves had spoken anxiously, but they hadn't seemed real. This voice was real, laced with power and cruelty.

"We saw them floating in the waves, sir. They were gonna drown-"

"They're in a bad way-"

"I can see that." Just like his ship, the speaker towered above them. "This isn't a pleasure ship you know. We've no use for useless flotsam-either put them out of their misery quickly, or toss them over the side to catch them again when they're bigger."

There was a fair roar of laughter at the joke.

Solo held himself strongly. He knew, with the insight that comes only to those at the very limit of experience, that he was speaking to Death.

"If you throw us overboard, you'll regret it," he said, voice hoarse and raw.

A stir of surprise among the crew.

"Is that so?" rumbled Death. "And how do you know that?"

Solo stepped towards him, stumbling against one of his men in the process. "We've got skills you need, we're little, can fit places others can't, and we're quick learners. We ain't afraid of nothing."

"You've got guts boy," Death sneered. "But what skills do you have that could possibly benefit me?"

Solo smiled, holding up the purse he'd taken from the sailor.

"I see," Death said considering. "Pickpockets, gutter trash then. I wonder-" he waved an arm. "Bring them to my cabin. I have a test for them-if you pass, you may join my crew. If not-"

Solo knew if not.

He turned to watch as Duo was tipped to his feet by one of the men, staggering as if drunk. Solo would have liked to help him, but he had just enough strength to keep himself upright, and he couldn't afford to look weak in front of Death. It was a game of bluff they had to win.

The Captain's cabin was out of the wind and even had a fire in it. Solo saw Duo safely ensconsed beside it before he turned to Death. "And what's this test then?"

The Captain held out a finely carved ivory box. "It's locked. I want the contents, but I don't want the box damaged. Think you can open it?"

Solo scoffed. "Child's play." He looked to Duo. "Do you-"

Duo mutely patted the hair at the back of neck. A second later he held out a selection of bent wires. The rest would have been lost to the waves. Solo hoped like hell this small selection would be enough.

"Easy enough," he said confidently. "When you know what you're doing."

Death wasn't fooled.

Solo struggled with the lock, but it was no use. The mechanism was too fine for his shaking hands to manipulate. Exhaustion and cold were catching up with him-

A small hand was held out to him.

Solo hesitated. Duo was tired, even more so than he was-

--but if he wasn't the best, he was damn well near it.

He gave Duo the box.

Being beside the fire must have done wonders for the smaller child. His hands were steady as he picked the lock, his instinct true. It took maybe five minutes for him to have the box open.

Solo held his breath as Duo held the box out to Death.

"I see," Death murmured. He studied them both a while, then roared for one of his men. "Get some brandy into these two, and then get them off my carpet! And get them dried too-I don't want them dripping all over my ship!"

In very short order, the two boys were dry, fed, clothed in clothing far too big for them, and curled up on a pile of sacks at the unused end of the gunnery. Duo was quickly asleep, and Solo followed not long after.

Asked later, Solo could never decide whether the Captain had been their death, or whether he was indeed Death with a capital D. He maintained, finally, that Death had spoken through the Captain, that Death spoke to him often since then, sometimes through the unlikeliest of voices.

It did not surprise him to learn, later, the name of the ship was Death-Bringer.

+

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