Author: The Manwell
see part i for warnings, notes, disclaimer

The Stand-In
III.

"You found him. I don't believe it, Maxwell."

A snort. "As if I'd drag you away from your cushy desk job for anything less."

"My 'cushy desk job' happens to be a very important element in maintaining the peace all of us fought so hard for," is the tense reply. "I don't see you doing anything to ensure that peace."

"Piss off, Wufei. I've earned a vacation in this peace before someone else comes along with his Gundam and screws it up."

"If you have something to say to me, then just say it, Maxwell."

"I don't think I have to tell you what's on my mind."

A tense silence spills into the room.

"I make mistakes, Duo. Just like everyone else. All I'm trying to do is put things right again. As best I can."

"I... I know. I... shouldn't have come down on you like that, man. I'm just... kinda pissed off at the whole damn universe today."

Before Wufei can reply, a knock on the door interrupts. I hear the soft sound of footsteps as someone proceeds to answer the summons.

"Hey guys."

"Duo. Is he really here?" someone new asks, concerned and excited.

"Just through there."

A third, quieter voice intones, "How long has he been out?"

"Hm... from the time I punched him on the street until about five minutes ago. Isn't that right, Heero?"

I sigh. I've been found out. I roll over on the bed and sit up, glaring at the figure leaning nonchalantly in the open doorway. Behind him, I can see three others. I recognize all of them from the photograph of the five friends.

I need to leave. I decide they won't stop me. "Where's my bag?" I demand, my gaze sweeping the room a second time and still not locating it.

"Somewhere safe," the braided youth replies smoothly. "As is your money."

My hands go to my pockets.

"And your passport."

Shit. I run my hands through my hair before dropping them to my lap. I then turn my head to glare at him. "What do you want from me?" I growl.

"Why'd you take off like that?" he's quick to ask.

Of course he asks me the one question I can't answer without explaining the whole bloody mess. "What do you care?" I challenge.

"Jesus Fucking Christ!" he explodes. "I sure as hell don't know why I care, seeing as how you're such a complete and utter asshole, Yuy. But I do. All of us do. Not that you've given any of us a reason recently to continue doing so..."

Slowly, I stand. I hurt everywhere but I don't let it show more than I'm capable. I ignore his obvious request for me to enlighten them and advance toward the doorway.

"What do you think you're doing?" he growls.

"Get out of my way," I reply flatly.

"Make me."

I glare.

He chuckles darkly. "Those don't work on me anymore, Heero Yuy."

I get right in his face and my anger drives me to spell it out for him. "My name is not Heero Yuy."

The three hovering in the living room behind my adversary pause, seeming to hold their breaths.

"Oh, puleeze," he drawls, rolling his eyes at me.

"No," I say quietly. "You please. Please listen to me. I am not Heero Yuy. We are not friends. You do not know me. Just leave me alone."

I can't take the time to read the reactions of the others. I'm too busy attempting to guard myself from the wry amusement glittering in those dark eyes. "Not Heero Yuy, huh? And what if I can prove otherwise?"

I tense but he doesn't make a move toward me.

"On your right bicep is a round scar about a centimeter in diameter," he tells me.

I don't have to check to know it's there. I've wondered about it. There are many scars on this body I've wondered about. Often.

He continues, "Where I shot you."

What the hell is going on here? My eyes narrow. Is he Heero's friend or not? Why would he have shot his friend? Fuck it. I don't want to know. I don't care. I just want out. "Move," I command.

"Fuck off," he replies.

So this is how it's going to be. Back to running and hiding. Back to living on the streets until I can get enough cash to put together a new identity. Shit.

The anger fuels my muscles as I attempt to shoulder my way past him. He takes the hit, not making a move to stop me until I'm through the doorway. It's then that I feel his arms clamping around me from behind.

"Let go," I enunciate through clenched teeth.

"No."

I begin to struggle. He's strong. Stronger than I would have thought. I stumble backwards, slamming my body against him until I've managed to force him into thewall. Still he doesn't let go.

I start to get really angry. Doesn't he understand that I don't want to hurt him? That I don't know what to say? That I don't know how to convince him? That I'm not sure I want to? The memory of his caring for me is not something I want to taint with his distrust, his pain, his contempt.

"Let! Me! GO!!" I scream, thrashing within his grip in earnest now. Still, his hold is unbreakable.

"Duo! Stop! Stop it, Duo! Look at him! Just look at him!" the blonde yells over the din of blood rushing through my eardrums.

In an instant, Duo's reversed our positions. I'm backed against the wall with his hand at my throat. "What the hell is wrong with you?" he yells at me.

Gasping for air, I repeat the only phrase that comes to mind, "I'm not Heero Yuy."

His fingers tense around my throat and I'm just too fucking tired to care anymore. If he kills me, fine. I'm getting kind of tired of playing this game anyway.

"Duo..."

I open my eyes as the hand around my throat relaxes. I see the young blond man with his hand resting on my assailant's elbow, easing him away. Only when the pale youth has managed to come between us does he meet my gaze.

He tells me, "I believe you."

Behind him, the furious teenager throws up his arms and begins to pace. "Great. Just fucking great! Go on and encourage him, Q!"

The blonde ignores him. Taking a step back from me, he holds out his hand. "I'm Quatre," he says introducing himself. "Quatre Reberba Winner."

Everyone, even the furious teen everyone calls "Duo," pauses to watch the exchange. Slowly, I accept the handshake. In a voice that sounds rusty and misused, I croak, "Sasha. Sasha Abei."

...

I sit in perfect silence, absorbing what Duo Maxwell and Chang Wufei have told me about Heero Yuy. I don't know if I can believe them. A fifteen-year-old soldier? Gundam pilot? Terrorist? Savior of the Earth and the colonies?

Oh, God.

I glance to my right where Quatre Reberba Winner sits quietly, watching me. Quickly, I tear my gaze away before he can read the silent, desperate call for help in my eyes.

This... all of this can't be true. And I don't know these people -- Heero's friends -- well enough to trust them.

"Heero?" Duo Maxwell prompts me as I continue to stare at the laptop screen in front of me.

I glance away from Heero's file, jaw clenching, in order to glare at Duo for using the name I've reminded him so often isn't mine.

He looks slightly chagrined for a moment but then braves, "Is any of it coming back?"

My glare intensifies. "I don't have amnesia."

Wufei stares thoughtfully back at me. "Let's not exhaust all avenues prematurely."

A small noise rumbles past the throat of the young man called Trowa Barton.

Wufei transfers his gaze away from me and attempts to make eye contact with the gaze that's partially veiled behind Trowa's long bangs. "Barton?" he prompts.

Trowa shrugs eloquently. "It's been over two months and he hasn't remembered anything."

"Is that unusual?" Wufei inquires.

"Very."

Duo leans back in his chair and gestures loosely in Trowa's direction. "Yeah, you're the expert on amnesia, man. Tell us about it."

Trowa arcs a brow in Duo's direction before looking squarely, I believe, at me. "You haven't had any instances of familiarity? Anxiety attacks? Headaches?" he inquires quietly.

I sigh, cradle my forehead in my hands and shake my head. Their obsession with amnesia is getting tiresome, but I honestly can't blame them. It's the easiest and most logical explanation. Still...

Duo snorts. "Oh, c'mon, Tro. Heero's never been typical about anything. It's hardly a shock he's got to make everything more complicated now."

Mouth barely moving, I growl at him, "I'm not Heero."

"So you continue to remind us," Wufei interjects flatly before Duo can articulate the dark, obstinate gleam in his eyes.

Rising smoothly from his chair, Trowa comes around the table and leans over my shoulder to gain access to the computer before me. "Here," he says softly, "let's give this one more chance."

"What are you bringing up?" I say, a little apprehensively.

He says nothing, only sends a sidelong glance my way in reply.

Twisting the corner of my jacket between the fingers of my left hand, I wait for this new piece of the puzzle that is the mysteriously absent Heero Yuy. During this moment, I discover the feel of a gaze on me. I turn, catching Duo examining me with obvious speculation.

I sigh and wearily demand, "What?"

"When are you just gonna give it up, man?" he replies, the hard look in his eyes clashing with his playful tone. "You are Heero Yuy, dude. What I can't figure out is why you're putting all of us through this crap. I mean, what can you possibly be gaining by pretending to have forgotten about us?"

"Forgotten about you?" I repeat, flabbergasted. "I'd have to have met you in order to have forgotten you!"

Duo's fist slams down on the table, rattling the glasses and laptop on its surface. "God damn it! Quit fucking around with us, Heero!"

A strangled yet quiet scream vibrates past my lips. I'm beyond frustration. My hands curl into fists as my forehead connects with the table in front of me. "Not Heero Yuy," I mutter, bouncing my skull off of the hard surface with every word.

I don't notice the startled silence reverberating around me in the wake of my actions until my breathing has calmed once again. A soft touch at my shoulder pulls me back to the matter at hand and the present company. With a deep breath, I lean back and glance up. Trowa's soft green eyes are the first things I see and I'm glad for it. Without words, he shores me up. He gives me the strength to turn my attention to the laptop screen but when I do so, I frown.

"Who is that?" I ask, staring at the image of an attractive young girl with long blond hair tumbling past her shoulders and a sweet smile lighting her features.

Very quietly, Trowa informs me, "Sylvia Noventa."

Something causes me to hesitate. Perhaps it's the look in his visible eye. Perhaps it's the carefully modulated tone of his voice. I don't want to ask, but I know I have to.

"Did... Heero know her?" My near-whisper seems to echo in the room.

Trowa nods once. "Yes." Then, turning back to the computer, he quickly brings up a second screen. I read the news report with increasing dread, my eyes lingering over the words "Gundam Pilot 01" and "Marshal Noventa" and "assassinated."

Oh, God.

"It was an accident," he tells me as a sudden numbness floods through me. "We were tricked -- all of us -- by Oz. You -- Heero -- went after the shuttle. It wasn't until after that we learned how the Oz General, Treize Kushrenada, had manipulated us into taking out the Alliance pacifists for him."

Gently, my shaking hands push Trowa's aside and I recall the image of Sylvia Noventa.

"Heero offered her what he could in an attempt to ease her grief," Trowa continues, betraying neither reluctance nor anxiety.

"And what was that?" I rasp.

I can hear Trowa drawing in a breath; I can only hear it because I am incapable of tearing my gaze away from the image of this young innocent.

He tells me, "His life."

"I didn't do this."

Again, silence befalls the room. After a moment, I realize the voice that had spoken is mine. No, is Heero's.

"I didn't do this," I repeat. But the words are in Heero's voice and Heero had done this. I'm inside of him. So I am him. Aren't I? So these are my crimes, aren't they? My dead?

I seek out Trowa's gaze. "Not me," I tell him. "I didn't... I didn't..."

But Trowa doesn't offer me any comfort. Either he cannot or he chooses not to. It doesn't matter. I turn away and find myself gazing into wide blue eyes.

"Quat...re..." I stumble over his name. "It wasn't... I..."

His image before me begins to blur. I can feel myself falling toward him, can feel his hands on my shoulders pulling me closer. I bury my face -- this foreign face -- in Quatre's armpit. My hands grasp his shoulders in return with the intention of bruising. I swallow once, attempting to regain my voice. I have to convince them... convince myself that this guilt does not belong to me.

But then his voice, so quiet and kind, comes over my shuddering form. "No, it wasn't you, Sasha. Not you."

The relief is painful and I shiver reflexively against him. I can feel his hand rub soothingly against my back.

He tells me, "I believe you."

If I'd had the voice, I would have thanked him. But then the room is in motion again beyond me and my mutterings would have simply gotten lost in the noise had I managed them.

"Jesus, what the hell happened to him?" Duo's voice carries over the rattling of my harsh breaths.

After a long pause, Trowa contributes, "There was some head trauma." But even he doesn't sound convinced that this is the sole cause of the situation.

Wufei's voice is reluctant when he speaks. "There is one... possibility we haven't considered yet," he begins.

"I'm not going to like this am I?" Duo predicts in a dry tone. I can just imagine his unfriendly expression.

"I doubt it," Wufei replies, seemingly unconcerned about angering the other youth. He takes a deep breath and continues. "The healers of L5 recognized a phenomenon wherein, after a... traumatic event or near-death experience, the individual changes. Friends and family feel as if they're living with a stranger."

"I've heard of that," Quatre says softly, still holding me.

"They believed it was possible that while the body's original... soul moved on, another could take its place."

Slowly, I lift my head and, ignoring the expressions of the others, I focus on Wufei. In a grating voice, I ask, "You... really think that's what's happened here?" His words strike a chord in me, ringing true. So although my tone is doubtful, it's not because of the suggestion. It's because I can't believe Wufei is taking his own words seriously.

He almost looks uncomfortable. "I think it's... a possibility," he concedes. His gaze flickers away briefly before hesitantly returning. And in that moment of anticipatory silence, I know he's begun to wonder if I'm telling the truth; if I really am a stranger in Heero Yuy's body. "It's possible that you are a... stand-in."

~End of Part III~

Author's Notes:

:: Duo's snarky remarks to Wufei refer to the events in "Endless Waltz" when Wufei fought for Dekim Barton, nearly reintroducing a state of war in the Earth Sphere.

:: And, don't forget, Duo shot Heero in Episode 2 of the series.

:: "A fifteen-year-old soldier? Gundam pilot? Terrorist? Savior of the Earth and the colonies?": A general description of Heero as he was during the series.

:: Trowa's experience with amnesia comes from when he lost his memory and suffered something akin to anxiety attacks in mid-series.

:: Heero was tricked by Treize Kushrenada into killing Marshall Noventa in Episode 7.

:: Heero offered his life to Sylvia Noventa in exchange for her grandfather's, which he'd taken by accident. Episode 14.

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