Author: The Manwell

see part i for warnings, notes, disclaimer

The Stand-In
X.

Eating ramen is a lot harder than it looks. Trying to keep the slippery noodles from flopping back into the broth while attempting to slurp them into your mouth is not as easy as Duo makes it seem, I decide with a wistful glance at the abandoned fork.

"You're not thinking about giving up, are you?"

I glare at him.

He grins unrepentantly back at me. Yeah, he would find this amusing. I growl down at my dinner and stab my chopsticks into the mass of noodles, thinking I've burned more calories trying to eat the damn stuff than the ramen can possibly replace.

Duo laughs at me and I look up to glare at him again. But the glint of stainless steel catches my eye. I glance from the fork Duo holds out to me to his face.

He grins lopsidedly at me and says, "I figure I've tortured you enough for one meal. Lesson's over."

"Thank God," I grumble, dropping the chopsticks onto my paper towel and snatching the fork before he can change his mind.

Duo snorts at my production and I consider saying something about his sick and very twisted sense of humor, but the insistent beeping of the vidphone disrupts the moment. I begin eating in earnest, keeping an eye on Duo as he slides into the chair opposite the terminal and answers the summons.

"Hey, Wufei!" he greets, stirring the remains of his soup with his chopsticks. "What's up, man?"

"Something," I hear the other young man reply cryptically. "Have you seen Sasha? I can't get him to answer his phone."

"Uh... yeah," Duo says hesitantly. He's stalling and I have the feeling that if he could do so without giving away my presence, he'd look over at me for a clue as to how he should answer.

I'm not really sure what the big deal is, so I call out, "I'm here, Wufei." I stand up, noting the beat of odd silence that passes as I cross the room to lean over Duo's shoulder in order to properly address our mutual friend.

"Sasha?" Wufei asks carefully. "What are doing at Duo's this late? It's almost midnight."

Is it that late already? I glance at the vidphone's digital clock and realize Wufei's correct. With a mental shrug, I decide to just go with the flow. "Making mind-blowing, wild and wet, hot monkey love," I say flatly. I hold up my own cup of noodles, enjoying the wide-eyed looks I'm getting from both Duo and Wufei. "What's it look like I'm doing?" I wag the ramen cup back and forth for emphasis.

Wufei clears his throat. I risk a glance at Duo and am gifted with the sight of him biting his lip to hold back his laughter.

"Ah, right," Wufei forges onward, adopting a somber expression. "Listen, Sasha, I came across something today you might want to know."

I frown and nudge Duo's thigh with my knee until he scoots the chair back far enough for me to have a seat on his lap. "You found out something about the stand-in theory?" I demand, not caring that Wufei is blinking at Duo and I.

"Um, no," he replies hesitantly as the shock of seeing me perched on Duo's lap is gradually processed. "There's a probate lawyer looking for Heero Yuy."

"How'd you find that out?" Duo asks, leaning forward.

"The firm filed a formal request for his location with the Preventers when they couldn't find him themselves."

"Huh," Duo says. "Any idea what they want?"

Wufei shakes his head. "They won't say specifically. But I was told they have a message to deliver."

I glance at Duo, who returns my gaze with a puzzled frown.

"The name of the firm," Wufei continues, "is Langlie, March & Associates. Their office is in L1."

"L1..." Duo muses.

"What?" I ask, not making the connection.

I feel Duo's arm go around my waist. He looks up at me and explains, "Heero Yuy was trained on a colony in L1. That was where the rebel group he fought for had their base of operations."

I open my mouth, close it, open it again and manage, "Oh." I'm not really sure what to think of this. I mean, it's likely this message is from someone in Heero's past and I'm wondering if I have the ability to deal with Heero's past. I set my dinner down on the desk and reach for Duo's hand at my hip, interlacing our fingers. His grip tightens slightly in a reassuring squeeze.

"So, Wufei..." Duo says, taking over the conversation, "You must have some idea of what this is all about..." He grins but I can feel the increased tension in his body. "You wouldn't have called otherwise."

"How very presumptuous of you, Maxwell," he replies.

"Presumptuous," Duo concedes, "but correct."

One side of Wufei's mouth lifts. "Indeed. I wasn't able to discover much, but I do know that the author of the message is Dr. J and I also know that he paid Langlie & March a substantial fee to cover private investigators and extensive travel."

Duo nods. "So the good doctor was anticipating Heero's disappearing act."

Wufei nods. "But there is one more thing." He takes a breath and tells us, "The message was supposed to be delivered two months ago, on Christmas Eve."

Christmas Eve. The last day Heero had lived. I vaguely recall someone holding me close, murmuring reassurances to me, as my body had shuddered with exhaustion. I can remember the chaos and the darkness. I shiver and Duo pulls me back against his chest, not caring that we have an audience.

"Thanks, Wufei," I hear Duo say sincerely. "We'll keep you informed on our end."

Wufei nods. He reaches for the disconnect but hesitates, his gaze moving to me. "You are not alone in this," he tells me and the warmth of Duo against my back supports his words. "We are, all of us, only a phone call away."

I nod. "Thank you, Wufei," I manage in a dry whisper.

The vidscreen light blinks out. Duo reaches to terminate the call before wrapping his other arm around my chest. We sit like that for a long moment until I find the voice to ask, "Who is Dr. J?"

Duo turns toward me, nuzzling my hair and then smoothing his cheek down the side of my neck. "He was the guy in charge of building Heero's Gundam and training him how to fly it."

"To fight," I elaborate.

"Yes."

"To kill."

"Yes."

I reach for him, wrapping my free hand around his bicep. I close my eyes and whisper, "What are the odds that any good will come of this?"

He leans his forehead against my shoulder and softly replies, "I don't know, Sasha. I really don't know."

"What would you do?" I ask after another brief pause.

"I would read it," he says without hesitation, "when I was ready."

"Duo?"

"Yeah?"

"Can we go to sleep now?" I need to distance myself from this. I need to run for a little while. I need to hide in the darkness. Duo's arms tighten briefly around me.

"Sure," he says and by the tone of his voice I know he understands perfectly.

...

I hadn't expected to get much sleep, not really. So imagine my surprise when I succumb, almost immediately, to the blackness behind my eyelids and the strong warmth of Duo's arms. The next time I open my eyes, I find myself staring at Duo's alarm clock which reads 6:44 a.m.

I can still feel Duo snuggled up against my back. One of his arms is draped over my waist and I take a moment to study what I can see of him, committing the shade of his skin, the fine dusting of hair along his arms, the capable, callused hands and perfectly tapered fingers to memory. Slowly, I roll onto my back and let my gaze slide over his face. I smile. His mouth is slightly parted and a little crust of drool has formed where the corner of his lips press against the pillow. His hair is a mess and I think I can see a few silky hairs under his chin that are longer than the others. It's hardly enough to bother shaving but I know he will.

Turning carefully, I softly press my lips to his forehead. There is nothing about this young man that I do not find beautiful.

Reluctantly, I drag my gaze away from him to the bedroom door. It's closed but I can easily imagine the view beyond. Had it been standing open, I would have been able to see the corner of the kitchen table where I know Duo keeps the vidphone. I lie here, thinking about making that call, knowing I'll have to eventually. Even if I don't want to know what Dr. J has to tell Heero, the others may need to know.

Carefully, I slide out of bed, caressing his cheek when he stirs. His eyelids flutter briefly, opening just far enough to confirm me as the cause of his disrupted sleep.

"Saaaash?" he groans softly in inquiry.

"Bathroom," I tell him.

"Uhn," he agrees.

Smiling, I head for the bathroom to clean up a bit. I wash my face and manage to brush my teeth with the aid of some mouth wash, a bit of floss, and some toothpaste squeezed out onto a clean washcloth. I wander back into Duo's room, stripping my shirt off as I go. I check the figure on the bed and almost laugh when I see Duo curled around my pillow, once again asleep.

I reach into his closet and borrow a white, button down shirt. I don't bother to worry about changing out of my jeans. For what I have to do, I could be sitting around in my boxers and no one would know the difference. I slip out into the hall and silently close the door behind me. For a moment, I think how nice it would be if Duo could be here while I make the call, but this first step I really need to make by myself.

I pull the shirt on and consider the vidphone. I don't really want to sit in one of Duo's straight back chairs while I do this. I glance over at the couch as I fasten the buttons at each of the cuffs. As I start move to the buttons on the front of the shirt, I assure myself that moving the vidphone is a good idea. It'll be further away from the door to Duo's room if I set it on the coffee table.

Now feeling somewhat more presentable, I carry the contraption over to the spot I'd chosen. I power it up and dial the L1 colony status service, noting the weather and local time. Although it's just past seven in the morning here, it's nearly noon there. I dial information and request a direct link to Langlie & March.

I try not to look too nervous.

"Langlie, March & Associates," the receptionist says pleasantly.

"Hello," I begin. "I believe one of your clients has something to be delivered to me."

If she thinks my words are blunt or audacious, she doesn't let it show. "Your name, sir?"

I swallow before forcing myself to tell her, "Heero Yuy."

"One moment, please."

I stare at the law firm's logo now gracing the screen. I try not to think too hard about the possible consequences of my actions. I nearly leap out of my skin when the screen blinks and a new face fills the expanse.

"Mr. Yuy?" an older woman inquires politely.

I nod. "Yes."

She smiles. "We do, indeed, have something here for you. If you'd be so kind as to verify your identity, I can send it along immediately."

"What do you need?" I desperately hope there isn't some account number or code word I have to give her.

"Just a voice verification," she says and I relax.

"All right."

She taps a few commands out onto her vidphone and then tells me, "Please state your full name."

I clear my throat and intone, "Heero Yuy."

"Thank you," she says, "this will take just a moment."

I watch her work. No doubt she's sending the commands to have their recognition software compare the sound of my voice to the one they have on record. A soft chime sounds and the woman nods.

"All seems to be in order, Mr. Yuy. Shall I transmit the file to the vidphone you're currently using?"

"Yes, thank you," I say.

"You're very welcome. Is there anything else we can do for you today?"

"No," I say, thinking this file is more than enough.

She types out a few more commands before informing me, "Your data has been sent. Have a good day."

I thank her once again and disconnect the call. However, as soon as I do so, a message box silently informs me that I have just received a file. I reach for the keypad until my fingertips are hovering over the key that will open the transmission.

I don't have to open this right now. I could get something to eat, take a shower, lie back down with Duo...

"Decided to start the fun without me, huh?"

Startled, I just about fall off of the couch. "Jesus, Duo..." I grumble, trying to calm my racing heart.

He smirks. "Sorry," he says, not sounding repentant at all. He stands next to me for a moment before asking, "Are you gonna open it?"

"I..." I don't think I'm ready. But will I ever be?

"You want some time alone?"

The quiet acceptance in his voice soothes me. Slowly, I shake my head and hold out my hand to him. He takes it and steps up onto the couch. "Scoot forward," he directs and I do. He settles behind me, bracketing my thighs with his legs and wrapping his arms around my chest. He doesn't say anything else, just loans me his solidity.

After a minute of pure procrastination, I reluctantly reach for the keypad again. And again I hesitate. God, anything could be in this file. The prospects are... unsettling to say the least.

"Duo?"

"Hm?"

"I'm... What if...?"

One arm unwraps from around my torso and I can feel his palm sliding down my arm until he interlaces his fingers with the ones still hovering over the keypad. His breath is warm against my neck as he whispers, "In this together, Sasha."

And in his voice, I find the strength to hit the enter key.

Duo pulls my hand back, curling my arm around my stomach and holding it there. We wait, neither one of us breathing, as the file loads and then a strange face appears on the screen. An older man with long white hair and small, dark goggles hiding his eyes. He looks weirdly familiar, but it's not really a memory. It's more like an impression, like I'd dreamed about him once, a very long time ago.

"Hello, again, young man," the man who I assume to be Dr. J says in a gravelly voice. "It's been a long time, hasn't it Heero?" he asks. Then his mouth curves upward and he adds mysteriously, "Or should I call you Sasha?"

End of Part X

Author's Notes:

:: The background information Duo gives Sasha about Heero's connection to L1 is taken from my understanding of the series.

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