Conversations with Death

Conversations with Death


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 http://4dw.net/deathndragon/gundam_fic.php

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

~*~

What? No, I'm not crying. Death's Minions don't-- bloody hell, I am.

Anyway, little did I know then, how much like foreshadowing that truly was.

The next few years were very hard on my little Duo, long days spent scrounging and stealing, running from the authorities and hiding from the scum that preyed on the young and weak. He never had enough food or water. He never had a warm, safe place to sleep... and there was really nothing I could do to help with this. My inability to take and keep a material form was frustrating me beyond belief. Since I couldn't do more than reassure him of my presence while he was awake, I did my best to make his dreamscape a refuge from his daily reality.

You know, I now have a great respect for mortal parents and teachers. I also pity the ones who deal with children like my Duo.

My little human kept me on my toes, so to speak. He was intelligent beyond his years, with an insatiable curiosity and hunger for knowledge. Obviously what mortals call a 'gifted child'. His dreams became his classroom, I became his teacher, and his favourite words were 'what', 'why' and 'how'. There was no structure to the way he learned... I taught him to read with myths and legends, which in turn led to history, arithmetic, geography and the sciences. It was amazing how he focussed on one thing, then expanded it until he understood complex ideas, all by asking one question. Of course, it helped that we could change the appearance of our 'classroom' to suit the subject. I realised what a benefit that was, and its implications, the first time he changed the dreamscape.

~*~

'...the sunset was brill-- brilliant--' he read from the book I had 'supplied', and suddenly stopped.

'Death, what's a sunset? What's it look like?' he asked, curiously.

'When the sun starts to drop below the horizon on earth, the sky seems to be painted with shades of red, orange, yellow, and, even sometimes, purples,' I answered, as I always did with his questions, no matter how odd they were.

'Like this?' Suddenly, the sky was painted with colour. It was a bit off, so I made some corrections, and just watched as he took it all in. He sighed a little sadly. 'Do you think I'll get to see a real one? Like on earth?'

'Someday, Little Death. We'll go to earth and you can see all of the wonders of nature that you can't see here,' I assured him. I would figure out how to get him there, but he interrupted my musings with his next question.

'Why're there colours? How's it happen?'

I chuckled. My little Duo's grammar still needed work. 'As the sun sets, its light comes into the earth's atmosphere at sharper angles. The colour comes from the refraction of that light through ice crystals, dust particles and gas bubbles.'

My child nodded thoughtfully. 'What's 'refraction'? Is it like when it's raining, an' light shines through raindrops an' makes rainbows? Like in that other story?'

I hugged him and nodded. 'Exactly, child.'

He grinned impishly at me. 'So... what's 'atmosphere' and why does it have dust an' ice an' stuff in it?'

~*~

See what I mean? Insatiable child.

That was the norm for the next four years, and honestly, as hard as it was, it could have been-- and almost was-- much worse.

By the time he was twelve, my Duo had grown, both mentally and physically. Yet while he had the intellect and 'education' of someone a couple of years older, he was still small and too thin for his age. Despite that, he was a pretty child, with large blue-violet eyes, long, thick chestnut hair and almost delicate features. Because of his appearance, he began his daily foraging earlier in the morning, and was returning to his hideaways earlier as well, trying to avoid the gangs, pimps and other dregs of society. With the Alliance build up, it was getting harder for my mortal to steal enough to survive. Between his age, lack of identification and formal education, and the abject poverty of this place, it was impossible for him to find a job... unless it was as a prostitute or drug dealer. That was something both my Duo and I refused to consider. We had to get him away from here if he was going to survive, and I was not going to take his soul, nor would I allow anyone else to, either.

The last straw, and the opportunity to escape this place came suddenly and all at once.

My human had been canvassing the spaceport for travellers to beg or steal from. It was a slow day, and we ended up staying there until after dark. There was a ship loading cargo in one of the bays, mostly unattended, and he sighed as he watched with a wistful gleam in his eyes. "I wish I were on it," he murmured, then turned and left the port.

I brushed his soul urgently as he stopped to wrap thin arms around his body just outside the doors. There was a reason why we never stayed until after dark. During the day, there were people everywhere and plenty of distractions to hide my little man from hostile eyes. Not so now. The street was practically deserted around us, and there was no cover to speak of for about five blocks, no cars to duck behind. Nothing.

Duo saw them at about the same time I did. "Oh, Jesus." A gang - you could tell which gang they belonged to by the symbols on their jackets and the scars they bore, and this was one of the worst there was on the run-down satellite.

And that's saying a lot.

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Duo turned in the opposite direction and began walking as fast as he could. I hovered just around him, letting him know how close I was, that he wasn't alone. At the same time, I felt my own fear and anger growing. He was just a small boy, and they were...

Duo broke into an all-out run, and yelped, hearing pounding footsteps and harsh voices behind him. But hastiness leads to mistakes, and sure enough, he was forced to come to a skidding halt as he turned the wrong way down an alley and was faced by a tall wall. He spun - they were already there, and leering down at my Duo evilly.

As they advanced on him, I could feel my charge begin to panic, knowing what they'd do when they caught him. He closed his eyes, murmuring, "No, no, no," over and over again.

I'm not sure if it was his fear or my own anger, but suddenly I was there in the flesh... or bone, if you prefer, since I manifested as their worst nightmares, making them stop and stand as still as stone. I stood behind my little mortal and just stared at them for a few moments, then raised a hand, pointing right at the leader. He screamed, turned, and fled, the rest of the gang following behind him.

You know, I think that was one of the more satisfying moments of my existence.

My Duo's eyes flew open at the scream, and as I faded away, I brushed his soul, my sign that he wasn't alone. He spun around, trying to see what had scared the gang off, but there was nothing there, of course. He backed up to a wall and slid down it, wrapping his arms around his knees.

"Death... I can't do this anymore. I have to get out of here," he whispered, holding back tears.

I sighed and concentrated, trying to remind him of the unattended ship in the loading bay of the space port. This not being able to talk to him while he was awake was getting frustrating. I'd have to figure out some way around that, but for now, we had to get him off this colony.

Whether he 'heard' my reminder, or he remembered on his own, he quickly rose and headed for the loading bay and the ship that could possibly take him away from here. He watched the dock workers' movements and listened to their conversations. This was a Sweepers' ship, a salvage vessel, taking on provisions and repair parts. My human timed his run perfectly, slipping past security with a bit of work, both human and electronic, and sneaking into the cargo bay just as the doors were closing. He found a concealed area in the back corner behind some large crates and settled down, exhausted by the long day and frightening encounter. Within minutes he was asleep and we were in his dreamscape.

~*~

We were in a cargo bay, like the one his physical body was in, and he was curled up in my lap, staring at a crate. I sighed and hugged him, wondering if maybe we'd been too hasty. He must have wondered as well, because when he spoke, his voice was soft and timid.

'Death... what if this is a mistake? What if they depressurise the bay? What if--'

'Little One, what's done is done. We can't go back. The doors are sealed and they're beginning their preparations for take-off. But I believe the cargo area will stay pressurised because the lights are on. If they weren't leaving this area pressurised, they would have turned off the lights and started depressurisation by now. Besides, these crates are filled with spare parts and provisions for their trip. They'll need to get in here for them.'

He nodded slowly. 'But what about food and water? What if they find me?'

'Think, my Duo. There are food stores all around you, or we wait until they're in their night cycle, when there's only a skeleton shift on duty, and you forage then, little thief. If they find you... well, we'll worry about that if it happens. I'm sure there are other places to hide where they can't get to you. Now, while we have the opportunity, why don't I tell you one of my stories, hm?'

~*~

My Duo went undetected for five days, then our luck seemed to run out.

There was food here in the bay, but no water, so he had to get that from the crew sections of the ship. He'd taken to sleeping during the 'day' period, so he could wander and forage at night. This day, we were doing his lessons when I noticed some crew members moving through the crates.

"Hey! This crate's been opened!" I heard one say.

"Yeah, this one too. Looks like we may have a stowaway. Go get the boss, Tetsurii. We'll find the thief."

"Gotcha," the first crewman, presumably Tetsurii, called and I heard footsteps running out of the bay.

Hmmm. This could be a problem.

~*~

'Little Death, you're going to have to wake up,' I told my little mortal back in the dreamscape. 'We have company, and if you stay asleep, they'll definitely find you. If you're awake, at least you'll have the chance to run.'

'SHIT!' my charge yelped and abruptly woke up.

~*~

All right, while I had managed to correct most of his speech and grammar, he still retained his more 'colourful' vocabulary.

He scrambled to his feet, as quietly as possible, and tried to find an escape route. Unfortunately, there was none. Two burly crewmen came around the side of the crate my mortal was hiding behind, spotted him and within seconds had him by the arms and were dragging him out into the open.

"Nonono! I'm not hurtin' anything! Let me go!" my charge yelled, wriggling wildly.

"No way, rat. You have some balls, stowing away on a Sweepers' ship! You know what we do with stowaways and thieves don't you?" the larger of the two growled.

I could feel the prickling of my Duo's fear, but he stood still and glared defiantly.

"We throw them out an airlock," the other continued, and the two started dragging him off.

Just as I was about to attempt to manifest physically, there was a commotion at the doorway and three more men came in; one young Asian-- Tetsurii again, I presume-- and two older men, one with a large nose wearing a lab coat, the other wearing an obnoxious floral print shirt and sunglasses.

"What's going on here?" the man in the lab coat yelled, seeing my Duo hanging between the crewmen.

"We've got ourselves a stowaway! And he's been stealing the food supplies!" the large crewman said, giving Duo a shake.

"Hey!" my mortal yelped, "I had to eat ya know! Didja wanna come down here and find a dead rotting body? And wouldja stop shaking me? Let me go!"

I did have to chuckle at that. My little Duo, being shaken like a kitten, was still stubborn and defiant.

The two older men obviously noticed this as well. They looked at each other, nodded and the one in the lab coat gestured at my Duo. "Let him go."

"...But... Boss?"

The man in the sunglasses shrugged. "You heard the Professor. Let him go."

The crewman dropped my mortal and Duo climbed to his feet, cocking his head to the side and glaring at the older men.

The Professor stared right back appraisingly. "Well, boy. I thought the security system I worked up for Howard was flawless, yet you managed to get on board this ship and hide for how long? I assume you stowed away on L2. How did you do it?"

My cheeky little mortal grinned impishly. "That's a secret. But, if it makes you feel better, it wasn't easy. Maybe if you promise not to space me, I'll tell you some day."

Both men laughed out loud. "I like you," the Professor said. "You're an interesting kid. Do you have a name?"

"My name's Duo. Duo 'he runs-and-hides-but-never-lies' Maxwell."

Now where did he come up with that? I still don't know. I keep forgetting to ask.

The Professor raised his eyebrows. "Hm, Maxwell, eh? Blue eyes, ridiculous braid, L2... Look boys, we have Maxwell's Demon with us."

My Duo frowned, then his eyes gleamed with mischief. "I'm not a demon. I'm the God of Death!"

I snorted. God of Death indeed! But you know, I was extremely pleased.

The Professor looked sharply at my mortal, then nodded. "You'll do. Well, 'God of Death' Duo Maxwell, we won't send you out an airlock. But, you're going to have to earn your keep. Howard?" he said, turning to the man in the awful shirt.

"Hm. You're small and scrawny. You'll probably do well with small machine repairs and the like. Maybe some navigating or piloting, eventually, if you stick around long enough. Go with Tetsurii, here. He'll set you up with a berth, show you around, get you started and explain how we work."

My little Duo seemed stunned for a moment, but that was understandable. Not only was he NOT being thrown off the ship, but he was getting a safe place, regular food and a real job. He recovered quickly, nodded and walked over to the young Asian man.

"Boy," the Professor called, as Duo was walking away, "I'm Professor G. You'll spend part of each morning and afternoon with me. You will have lessons to attend. Education, my boy, is an important thing. Go along now, and get settled."

My little Death nodded, eyes wide, and followed behind Tetsurii. I fell into place beside him and brushed his soul reassuringly. Tetsurii chatted away.

"'God of Death', huh? Maybe we'll nickname you Shinigami. That literally means 'god of death' in Japanese. I'm from California, on Earth, actually, but my grandmother made us all learn it. It didn't do me much good in college, but it comes in handy on occasion. You know, we wouldn't really have tossed you off the ship out here. Howard-- that's our boss, the guy in the loud shirt-- wouldn't ever do that. At worst, you'd have been confined, then tossed off at the next port. Karlov and Nate were just trying to scare you. They're really great guys, once you get to know them. Hell, everyone here is cool. You'll meet them all at dinner in a couple of hours. We all eat together, even the Professor when he's around. First shift runs from..."

Oh dear. This Tetsurii was more of a chatterbox than my little mortal at his worst.

My Duo settled in very quickly. The crew accepted him almost immediately, and Karlov and Nate apologised for frightening him and took him under their wing, treating him like their little brother. Mornings and late afternoon found him doing various odd jobs-- small repairs, running errands, cleaning-- while the midday hours were reserved for lessons with Professor G. The Professor was surprised and very pleased by my little mortal's high intelligence and quickness to learn. Howard was an ever-present father figure, occasionally 'punishing' my Duo for his many pranks (punishment usually entailing an extra hour of study after dinner) and often praising him for his work. 'Play-time' was also enforced, and the basketball games teaming up my Duo, Tetsurii, Nate and Karlov on one side usually left the entire crew rolling with laughter.

Dinner was a time filled with humour, teasing and open affection. Afterward, the off-duty crew pulled out board and card games, unintentionally teaching my Duo strategy and tactics with games like chess, checkers and, believe it or not, poker. At night, we'd retreat to the dreamscape and talk, sometimes about his 'work', sometimes about his crewmates or the Professor, and we always went over his lessons and 'homework'. My little Death seemed to blossom in this environment.

It wasn't long, maybe a few months, when I noticed things were changing. G's lessons began to be more structured and advanced, moving into chemistry, physics and mechanical engineering. Rather than odd jobs, he was now being assigned to specific training: computers with Matthews, an engineer, navigation with a woman named Birra, mobile suit piloting with Karlov, first aid with the medical technician Madon, basic languages with whomever spoke something besides English, simple cooking with Kealoha, and the list goes on. It seemed a bit much for a twelve year old boy, but my Duo absorbed and retained everything. He was thriving under the workload, so I kept my reservations to myself and helped him any way I could. Something was going on, but since my change of employment status, I could no longer skim other minds to see what it was. Oh, well, all would be revealed at the right time.

Yes, I can be patient. If there's one thing you learn when you've been around as long as I have, it's how to be patient.

Besides, it would have been criminal to disturb my human when he was finally discovering something he loved. However well he took to all his tasks, it was flying that truly captured his imagination. Even Karlov was impressed by how naturally and joyfully he took to it, and I let my pride in his abilities override that other part of me that couldn't help wondering why such a young boy was being trained so meticulously.

It should have been obvious! Endless drills, high-speed manoeuvring, reaction timing, flight patterns, and finally purely improvised situations and tactics that left grown men, experienced pilots, with their mouths agape. Yet he seemed so happy, so excited as we talked about it, his ever-thin arms tight around my neck.

What? You'd think that any being who'd lived for eons upon eons wouldn't be affected by all this? Then you've never met my Duo, and you just can't understand. So there.

Two years... it seemed to pass far too quickly. Two years, and we were back at L2, but not back where we started from. Instead, my little Duo was ensconced in a lab, on a secret Sweeper base, standing outside a door waiting for permission to enter. G had left the ship a couple of months earlier to set things up, with orders for my little mortal to be brought to him.

Leaving the Sweepers had been very hard for my charge. After all, they had been his 'family' for two years, and there were more than a few tear-filled eyes as he and Howard boarded the shuttle to take us to the base. Even Howard's eyes were suspiciously moist as he dropped us off. Pulling my Duo into a hug, he murmured, "Good luck, kid. Take care, and if you ever need us, you know how to find us." One more quick squeeze and he reboarded the shuttle to return to the main ship, leaving my Duo in the base's large hangar. A nondescript technician led us to a different hangar and left us standing outside its door.

So here we were, finally going to find out the reason for all his training. The door opened onto a large cavernous room, and I brushed my mortal's soul as he walked in.

"Welcome, my boy, welcome," Professor G called, standing at the end of the room in front of a huge, white sheet-covered object. "You've done well, very well so far, but now it's time to start further, more specialised training. There is much more for you to learn, and not as much time as I'd like, but you'll manage, as you always do. Come here," he said, motioning my charge forward. "Let me give you some basic background. As you know, the Alliance-- or Federation... they're really the same-- has been subjugating the colonies for two decades. I and a few others have been working to put an end to their dominance and free the colonies. All of your previous training has been towards this goal. I am giving you the chance to take the fight directly to them, and this will be the vehicle to do it." He pulled a cord and the white sheet dropped.

Before us was a massive, black and white mobile suit, standing three stories tall. It had an almost sinister visage, and I had to approve of Professor G's design. A vehicle of death, retribution and salvation. Fitting, no?

"This, my boy, is Gundam 02, model XXXG-01D. It is made of gundanium, an alloy that is electrically nonconductive and cannot be detected by radar, and is nearly indestructible. It is equipped with two hyper jammers, making it virtually undetectable by sensors and cameras, as well. This Gundam is designed for short range and close combat, relying on two vulcans, two machine cannons, a buster shield and its main weapon, the beam scythe, making its firepower and performance far surpass that of the Alliance's mass-produced Leo mobile suits. I want you to be its pilot."

The professor placed his hand on my little mortal's shoulder. "The current plan is this: In approximately one year, you and your Gundam will be sent to Earth, disguised as a shooting star. You will then wage guerrilla warfare against the Alliance military. I will send you missions and targets, based upon various information, that will enable us to weaken the Alliance, forcing them to free the colonies. This is our chance, Duo, to make sure no colonist has to live in fear... that no child has to go through what you have; to make sure that everyone has a future to look forward to."

I brushed my Duo's soul comfortingly, feeling his anguish as his memories flooded his thoughts. I knew what he would choose before he did.

"I'll do it," my little mortal whispered, staring at the looming Gundam. "I'll do it for Solo, Sister Helen and Father Maxwell, and for the future."

He turned to Professor G and gave a tiny grin. "So, what more do we need to teach me?"

I was very proud of my little mortal. I brushed his soul again, offering silent support and approval. But if I had known what part of that new training entailed, I may have tried to wrap my Duo up and spirit him away.

Professor G squeezed my charge's shoulder and, just for a moment, I could see a slight sadness cross his face. "The training won't be easy. Fighting, tactics, infiltration, demolitions... we'll want to hone your thieving and stealth skills, computer and hacking skills... and interrogation. My boy," he continued, "not only how to interrogate, but how to withstand it yourself. We'll have to build up your resistance to various drugs... and other techniques the Alliance might use to get information from you. I am not going to lie to you. This is going to be very... unpleasant, for both of us, and dangerous to you. I wish it could be otherwise, and I'll understand if you've changed your mind. I'll figure something else out... and you could go back with Howard..."

You know, I could have cheerfully taken G's soul right there and then. Yes, I AM an overprotective 'parent'! Do you want to make something of it?

My little mortal swallowed and shook his head. "I'll do it. Whatever I have to do... Does the Gundam have a name?"

I was more than just proud of my Duo. I could feel his fear and trepidation like a tangible thing, yet he pushed it down and actively chose to do what he had to. Not many men could do that, much less fourteen year old boys.

Professor G smiled and shook his head. "No, it doesn't. The pilot and the machine are partners. The pilot should name it."

Duo nodded, once again staring at the looming machine. "It's meant to bring death and destruction to our enemies... and it carries a scythe... It's Deathscythe..."

The professor nodded and cleared his throat. "Deathscythe it is. Now let's get you settled. We won't begin your training until tomorrow, so dinner, then get some sleep."

Dinner was a quiet affair, and we retired to his room once it was over. Sleep came quickly to my little mortal and we were soon in his dreamscape. I wrapped my arms around him and spoke first. 'Are you sure, Little Death?'

He took a deep breath and nodded. 'I have to do it. I just have to--'

'Hush, little one, I understand,' I soothed. 'I may not like it, but I understand. We'll get through it, like we always do.' There was silence between us, then he changed the subject.

'Death... I was just wondering. You told me you couldn't be 'real' outside my dreamscape... but...' He hesitated and I nudged him to continue. 'What if... do you think... maybe through Deathscythe you could be sort of real? It could be like an anchor. You wouldn't have to fight to stay physical... or fight someone else's soul for possession of the body, right?'

I blinked, stunned. Was he right? Was it possible? Was the Gundam enough of an anchor to give us mental contact while he was awake? If so, the possibilities were--

'Well?' he asked again, tugging on my braid impatiently. 'What do you think?'

I removed my braid from his hand and tickled his nose with it. 'I honestly don't know. But I suppose it's possible. We can try tomorrow when you get a look in the cockpit.'

My Duo nodded, cuddling closer. 'I was thinking... if it *does* work... and since I haven't really given you a name... you'd be Deathscythe, right? I mean, I could call you that. And everyone would just think I talk to my Gundam, which isn't so odd since lots of people talk to their suits. I mean, Howard talks to his ships, even, and Karlov ALWAYS talked to his suit, so nobody would really think it was strange--'

Yes, my Duo had the tendency to chatter on when he was nervous or upset. That still hasn't changed.

I placed my hand over his mouth and gave him a gentle shake. 'Duo, how you do run on. If it does work, then I will be Deathscythe, if that's what you want. Silly little mortal.'

He giggled. 'I'm not a little mortal, remember? I'm your Little Death. So there.' He sighed and relaxed more. 'Will you tell me more about the gods? More fables and myths?'

Of course I told him stories through the night. Could you say no to that?

The next morning he woke early, quickly dressing and eating breakfast, and met Professor G in the hangar. Tests of all sorts were run on my little mortal and the professor gave him inoculations against every disease known to man. His poor arms looked like pincushions by lunch time. To give him credit, G did explain each one to my Duo, and informed him of all the results. He also kept up a running conversation, trying to keep my mortal's mind occupied. Not that it truly helped when he told the poor boy that some of the shots had to go into the hip. I honestly thought he might slap the old man for even suggesting it, but in the end, my Duo simply blushed bright red and let G do as he pleased.

"Well, my boy, your overall health is quite good, considering your lack of nutrients and medical attention as a child. We'll need to work on your stamina and endurance, of course, and a strong course of vitamins and minerals should strengthen any weaknesses in your system we do find. Unfortunately, your amazingly high metabolic rate will make it difficult at times for you to gain weight, and the lack of nutrition during the earlier stages of your development seems to have stunted your growth. I'm sorry, boy, but I doubt you'll ever top 5 foot 7 or 8 inches. On the plus side, you'll probably never have to worry about being overweight, though it'll take quite a bit of high calorie food to keep you going at optimum levels."

"Doc, when I was ten I didn't think I'd live to see fourteen. All things considered, I can deal with being short. Besides, it's easier to sneak and steal when you're short! There's less of me to notice," my Duo chuckled.

Personally, I was slightly affronted by his comment. As if I'd have let him die. Hmpf. Kids these days, no faith.

"Your metabolic rate has another advantage, as well," the professor continued. "In the event you are ever captured and drugged, your body will throw off the effects much more rapidly than the average human... possibly as much as three or four times as fast, once we get you acclimated to the more common types used for interrogation. Another drawback, however, will be if you are ever ill or injured, then any anaesthetic or pain killers will also be metabolised at an advanced rate..."

"Doc, Doc, I get the picture. My body is going to burn everything faster than regular people, right? Which could be good or bad, depending on what's going on at the time. Is that about it?"

"Yes, yes, that's it. Sorry, boy, I do tend to get caught up occasionally. I think we're done here, for now. Go get some lunch, then meet me in the hangar at 1300 hours and we'll get you introduced to Deathscythe."

I had to tickle my Duo's soul at that comment. He was intimately acquainted with 'Deathscythe', after all.

Lunch went by in a blur for me. I spent the time trying to figure out how I could anchor my consciousness in the machine. By the time we were walking to the hangar, I had come to no conclusions. And what if it did work, then I couldn't get back out? Now that could be a sticky situation. Of course, as Minions, we could divide our consciousness, but since my new employment, many things had changed. Before my Duo, I could also read anyone's soul, see into anyone's mind... now I could only read and see into his. I looked at the machine and forced myself to stop worrying about it. What would happen would happen and we'd deal with it when it did. Que sera, sera, as the Spanish would say.

While Professor G went over every inch of the machine with my mortal, I tried to thread my way through the various parts and circuits, trying to find whatever it was that would allow this plan to work. I wasn't having much luck and frustration was setting in.

You know, I never really experienced frustration until my Duo came along. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Anyway, I was still feeling around, when my Duo turned the computer systems on in the machine, and my whole world flipped around. I felt like I was being sucked into something. I made some mental noise--

Fine, I shrieked like a frightened woman. Satisfied?

I mentally shrieked, saw my mortal wince and was abruptly centred in the machine's computer systems. Very interesting. I could 'feel' all the mechanical parts. I could 'see' through the various sensors. Everything the machine saw, felt or sensed, I could as well. It was like I now had a physical body outside the dreamscape. Well, that was the plan after all, and it seemed to have worked. That was one bridge crossed. I brushed my Duo's soul and put a message on his computer screen:

IT WORKED, LITTLE MORTAL. 'MORS EX MACHINA'
NOW, CONSCIOUSLY OPEN YOUR MIND TO ME

I felt a barrier in his mind drop, and 'heard' an anxious 'Death?'

'Yes, Little One, it seems to have been successful. Exactly how successful remains to be seen. Though, I must admit, this is quite fascinating... you may wish to use a higher amp fuse for circuit RK4...'

My mortal laughed out loud, gaining a sharp look from the professor, but we buckled down, both becoming intimately acquainted with the machine.

Over the next few days, I settled into my existence as Deathscythe. We had found, that first night, that once the machine was shut down, I was free. Of course, whenever the machine was started up, I was sucked back in-- a most disconcerting sensation-- but I figured I'd adjust with time. We quickly realised the advantages of my inhabiting the main systems. I could analyse situations faster than the computer, I could help with any split-second decision making, I was another set of eyes... You get the idea.

I could also help him to understand some concepts the professor introduced on the spot. And the advantage that I could check every system, line and mechanical part, and tell him exactly what and where the problem was would prove to be invaluable.

~*~

The time I spent with my Duo in the suit became more valuable than you can imagine through that year. I can't help but be proud of him, looking back on it now. Nothing he had seen in his short life-- and Duo had seen more than any child of his years should have had to deal with-- could have prepared him for it.

How many times did he retreat to his cockpit, trembling, in a cold sweat? Several memories come to mind, but one in particular sticks out. It was the first time he'd actually shot a gun at another human being and watched his victim's life drain away... My Duo ran back to me as soon as he could, struggling so hard not to let his tears fall. All I wanted to do was to hold him and wipe the other man's blood off his face, where it had splashed.

And that wasn't the worst of it! Professor G has no idea how many times he almost died as he began 'hardening' my Duo against interrogation techniques. I might have quite cheerfully taken his soul, had it not been for the signs I saw in the old man-- the trembling of his hands, glassy, tear-filled eyes as he watched a young boy struggling with captors triple his size.

And the drugs! The first time he was subjected to the 'treatment,' as G called it, I nearly went mad with worry! Even after he passed out, twitching subconsciously because of that foul poison, I held him in the dreamscape, stroking his hair as I called to him, 'Little Death, just open your eyes for me. It's okay! I swear it, you're okay, you're with me...'

I'll never forget the terrified look in his eyes when he finally stirred again. It was never quite that bad ever again, thank goodness, but that memory stayed with me each time, even after he became resistant enough to the stuff that he didn't lose consciousness.

I'd worked too hard to keep him alive, damn it all, for him to go through this!

It was what he wanted, though. He threw himself into that training with every ounce of his being, and the progress he made was astounding.

The professor honestly seemed to like Duo as well, and worked hard to ensure the boy would survive. He put us (and I say us, for I was always there with Duo) through endless drills, sometimes jarring my little mortal out of our dreamscape and rushing him into his cockpit, making him fight his way through a series of traps, sneak around guard posts, slip through the tightest security. And what annoyed me the most - he would cut power to Deathscythe in the middle of a drill, so I'd suddenly find myself free of the machine again, unable to communicate or help my mortal and still feeling his fear and tension...

"Shit! Okay, I need to get into my helmet..." I was powerless to help him as he fumbled for his suit's helmet in the dark and struggled to set the air locks, in case life support were to fail. "Geez, Scythe, *perfect* moment to crap out on me! You could have at least *warned* me there was something wrong..."

He must have felt me brush his soul apologetically because he growled, "Yeah, sure. Don't play nice with me, Scythe! Just come back to life!" Finding the manual override switch, he slammed his fist down onto it, and I felt that strange pull...

'Calm down, Little Death! It's just a drill, or I would have warned you...'

He sighed, and I could feel calm coming back over him as his breathing slowed to something approaching normal. "It's okay, Scythe, it's okay."

And did I ever mention what a good team we made together? My Duo may have been a natural at the pilot's controls, but with me at his side, there was very little he couldn't do. I found myself getting caught up in it, much as he was. The hunt, the attack, the chase, the final retreat! It was a powerful, heady feeling, combined with the knowledge that few could do what my little mortal was doing.

G finally pulled him to the side, after a hard run in the flight simulator against a sortie of Space Tauruses. "Come along, boy, we still have a lot to do today..." I was immediately suspicious of the old man. He was never quite this gruff after a successful simulation, and I was once again annoyed by my lack of ability to look into his mind. Whatever was bothering him would have side-effects on my mortal, and everything that concerned him concerned me.

His mood didn't change, either. He remained taciturn and unapproachable all through dinner, despite Duo's best attempts to get him to open up. My human asked me about it that night,'Hey Scythe, what's eating G? I swear, he was fine when I went into the simulator, but he's been a bitch to work with since...'

'Language, Duo,' I reminded him gently, giving an affectionate tug to his braid. I sighed. 'I wish I knew, little one. It certainly wasn't your performance.'

He grinned up at me. 'We kicked ass, Scythe!'

'Duo...'

'I know,' he said, giving me an impulsive hug I had to return. He sighed happily as he rested his head on my shoulder. 'Watch my language.'

I could feel it as surely as I could feel my own life, though - Duo had something on his mind, something up his sleeve. I brushed his hair back from his eyes and stared down at him sternly. 'What are you thinking?'

He grinned at me as innocently as he could. 'Well... he's got something he doesn't want me to know about but I'm dyin' to find out... I was thinking... How about putting that stealth training to work?'

'Little Death...'

He winked at me, and I felt a cold sense of *something* important coming straight for me. 'I'll race you.'

~*~

It continues to amaze me how smart people forget that a small boy can wiggle his way along an air duct to one's office, especially when said smart person had been instructing said boy on the procedure for over a year.

My Duo stared down through the grating - G was sitting in front of the only lit computer screen and, what was most surprising of all, was chain smoking! The man never smoked - he'd expressly forbidden Duo to do it, too.

"Damn it!" G smacked the computer and stood, rubbing his face with his hands. "I can't! I couldn't possibly..."

My mortal and I watched as he paced a little, and then turned to leave, shutting off the monitor with a flick of his wrist.

I knew what he was going to do before Duo did. Clever fingers reached back and into his braid, and he pulled out a small screwdriver. Within seconds, he had the grating unscrewed and was levering himself down from the cramped confines of the air duct. He moved to the monitor on cat's feet and flicked it on.

Now I'd like to think I'm a nice enough entity. I've never been bloodthirsty, and I've never, ever wanted to be the one to decide who gets to live and who has to die. But as I read over Duo's shoulder, I wished with all my being that I could find this Dekim Barton and obliterate his soul for all eternity.

Duo turned white as he read the orders and began to tremble as he clutched at the cold steel worktable. "Oh my God," he whispered brokenly, wide eyes fixed on the screen. "Scythe."

I brushed his soul as comfortingly as I could, given my own shock and revulsion. How anyone could plan to...

The code name 'Operation Meteor' was distinctly and disgustingly appropriate.

I once again cursed my inability to truly communicate. Duo was clearly at a loss, staring at the screen and his own death sentence with such a horrified look on his face! I was relieved when he finally snapped out of his unusual trance and shut the monitor back off, pacing back and forth with his arms wrapped across his chest for a long moment before he turned and made a jump for the ceiling and the air duct. He pulled himself up silently, and didn't make another sound the entire way back to his room.

Standing in front of the mirror, he stared deep into his own eyes for a long moment, and the sickening feeling that had begun in my belly began to spread over my whole body. I hoped to all that was kind and merciful that I was mistaken at what I was seeing in his eyes.

He left the light on that night as he slipped into bed, hugging a pillow against his chest, and fell asleep.

~*~

He curled up with me in the dreamscape, tired and frightened, but determined.

'Scythe... I have to destroy the suit, this base, us... I can't let them drop a colony on earth. We're supposed to fight for freedom and a future, not commit mass murder so some maniac can gain power.'

'Duo, there has to be another way. We'll think of something, I promise,' I countered. I did not want him to do this. I did not want to take his soul.

'This is the best way. What if they got their hands on the suit? They wouldn't need me, so I'd end up dead anyway. At least this way they can't use it to destroy the earth. I don't want to die. There's so much more I want to see and do, but I have to do this.'

I sighed. I knew he believed that. I knew he felt he had to do this. And I couldn't think of any other way, myself. 'I don't want you to do this, and I don't want to take your soul... but, if this is what we have to do, so be it. I'll help you all I can.'

My little Death burrowed deeper, as if he were trying to get under my skin and whispered, 'Just don't leave me.'

I tightened my arms around him, ignoring the tears I could feel on my cheeks. 'I'll never leave you.'

Two hours later he was planting explosive charges, specifically placed to destroy the suit, the whole facility and everyone on it. This was going to be very messy, and inconvenient for my brethren, but they would cope. I had already decided that once my Duo's soul was delivered, I'd join him in the Otherworld permanently.

Finally finished, he ran to the hangar's viewing room and stood staring at the suit for a moment, taking one last look. I caressed his soul, trying to make him feel as if he were wrapped in my arms, trying to give comfort and support.

"So, this will end it," he murmured with a sigh. 'Goodbye 'Scythe. I love you, you know?" and he pushed the button.

Nothing happened.

It was almost comical, the look on my little mortal's face as he realised it hadn't detonated. He stared at the detonator in his hand incredulously, shaking it and banging it on the wall.

"What's wrong? Why didn't it work? What did I do wrong?" he whimpered, turning to stare at the suit once more.

There was a slight noise behind him, and he spun to see Professor G standing just inside the door. G looked him in the eyes as he slowly turned his cupped hand over and the detonator caps fell to the floor.

"Duo. Deathscythe is a work of art. Surely you can come up with a better idea than destroying it."

"I am not going to have my buddy used as a tool for mass murder!" my little mortal snarled.

"So, you were going to destroy Deathscythe, then kill me?" G asked calmly.

"I was going to destroy everyone, including me. I'll gladly be Death if it saves the colonies and the innocents on earth."

"If you're so determined, outwit me, boy!" the professor said.

"What?"

"Duo, steal Deathscythe. Don't execute Operation Meteor as it's planned. Just go to earth and fight the Alliance on your own terms. Howard's in the Pacific, he'll help you if you need anything. Go and see him. Be the God of Death, Duo. Free the colonies."

My Duo cocked his head, and a slow grin spread across his face. "Yeah, God of Death is much better than Mass Murderer." He quickly hugged G then sped into the hangar, climbed into the cockpit and turned on the systems.

Almost instantly I was back in the machine, and I whispered into my mortal's mind. 'I love you too, Duo."

Within minutes we were encased in the pod intended to disguise us as a meteor and we were flying through space towards earth. I think my little mortal was in awe--

"Hey 'Scythe! Start up the systems and run the preflights! We got a mission! Time to rock and roll, buddy!"

Ah. My Duo, and a mission, calls. Sorry, I guess we'll just have to end this here. It's been *so* nice talking to you... yes, I see you caught the sarcasm there. Well, we have things to blow up. Catch ya on the flip side, as my Duo would say. Ta-ta.

 

 

OWARI... for now

 

 

 

Notes:

The names of the Gods at the beginning are as accurate as I can confirm. Some are Gods of Death, some are Gods of the Dead and some are Gods of the Underworld.

Hunhau - (Also Ah Puch) Mayan god of death who ruled over Mitnal, the land of death.
Osiris - Egyptian god of the dead, the judge of the Underworld.
Yama - Hindu god of death.
Yambe-Akka - 'Lady of the Underworld'. Lapp
Dagda - Irish god of life and death.
Ereshkigal - Sumerian death goddess.
Mot - Canaanite god of death.
Vichama - Incan god of death .
Azra'il - Hebrew Angel of Death. (Azrael in Muslim Mythology - also Angel of Death)
Thanatos - Greek personification of (non-violent) death; as opposed to his sisters the Keres, the daimones of violent death.
Baiame - Sky god of the Kamilaroi tribe of New South Wales, master of life and death.
Hel - Norse goddess of the Underworld.
Ghede - Haitian Voodoo god of death.(Maman Brigitte is his female counterpart)
Nergal - Babylonian god of the dead.
Miclantecuhtli - Aztec god of death.
Yen Wang - (also found as Yan Wang & Yanluo Wang) Chinese god of death.
Hades - (Also known as Pluto, in Roman mythology, or Aides) Greek God of the underworld and Lord of the Dead.
Anubis - (also Anpu, Ienpw, Yinepu ) Egyptian, the watcher over the dead and supervised the passage of souls to their abode in the next world. Known as the lord of the dead before Osiris.
Archangel Uriel - 'the angel over the world and Tartarus'(Book of Enoch 20:2) One of the leading angels in noncanonical Christian lore and rabbinical angelology, regent of the sun, flame of God, angel of the presence. Presided over Tartarus (Hades/ Sheol), archangel of salvation

Some references:
Websites:

'Of Gods and Men' http://www.clubi.ie/lestat/godsu.php
'Theoi Project' http://www.theoi.com/index.php
'Encyclopedia Mythica' http://www.pantheon.org/mythica.php

Books:

'Oxford Dictionary of World Mythology' by Arthur Cotterell
'Egyptian Mythology' by Rachel Storm
'Asian Mythology' by Rachel Storm

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