This is my response to Kwyck's challenge. I'm not sure if it's what she was looking for, but this is how it came out. *shrug* It was also MEANT to be shorter than it turned out to be. Oh well.

Author: Caroline
Pairing: Heero, Duo ... however you'd like to see them
Rating: PG-15 for language
Line challenge: (a variation of a songfic) "I don't mind you coming here and wasting all my time. Cause when you're standing oh so near, I kinda lose my mind." (From the song You're Just What I Needed, by the Cars)
Notes: Also enetered into the GWA fluff contest. This is about as fluffy as I can get.

You're Just What I Needed

//I don't mind you coming here and wasting all my time...//

He was very meticulous about things. His paperwork was stacked neatly beside his computer, waiting to be worked on. File folders sat on the corner of his desk, at 90 degree angles to the edges of the desk. Pens stood at attention, upright in a little black cup. Paper clips, stapler and other office supplies were tucked neatly away in the top left hand drawer where he could reach them easily. He allowed nothing on his desk that could be considered "clutter."

Unfortunately, no one had ever told his partner.

His files that had been placed so carefully on the corner were shoved unceremoniously out of the way as his partner took his place, plopping himself down on the edge of Heero's desk.

Heero looked up at the grinning face of the other man for a moment before biting back a sigh and returning his attention to his monitor.

"I do have an extra chair, Duo," he said, not lifting his eyes from the screen.

He could hear his partner shrug. "So? One is just as good as the other."

Heero had to shake his head at that. He couldn't understand Duo's nature. Their cubicles were not adjoined, but he knew what he'd see if he crossed the little aisle to Duo's desk. A trash heap. Duo, however, called it "controlled chaos." Heero had once asked him how he could stand to work amidst such clutter. Duo had just laughed and said, "If I cleaned it, I wouldn't be able to find anything."

It was just one of the many facets of Duo Maxwell he did not understand. Heero liked order. He liked neatness. He didn't see anything wrong with wanting the world around him to be 'just so.' Duo called it anal. He was constantly moving Heero's things, just to see if he'd notice. He always did, but he just sighed and put it back in it's original spot.

Duo was always doing silly things like that. It irritated him a lot of the time. He didn't always understand Duo's sense of humor. Duo was always trying to get him to laugh, telling him jokes or humorous stories about their coworkers and friends. Sometimes he did find what Duo said to be funny, but most of the time he couldn't tell what Duo was getting at.

Duo was constantly telling him to loosen up and enjoy life. Heero thought he enjoyed life just fine. He had a good job and a nice apartment. He was very good at his job and he took pride in his work. He planned and met his goals sufficiently. Wasn't that what Duo meant?

"Earth to Heero."

Heero looked up to see Duo looking back down at him, his lips creased up in a small grin. Had Duo just asked him a question? He frowned. His concentration was usually impeccable. One could not afford distraction in his line of work. Losing one's focus could get someone hurt, or worse, dead. And yet Duo somehow had that effect on him. He found it difficult to focus on just about everything when his partner was around. Only in the field, when Duo's concentration matched his own, was he able to keep stray, unwanted thoughts from his mind.

"Heero?"

Damn it.

"I'm sorry. Did you say something?" He tried to keep the flush from spreading over his face. Duo loved to catch him off guard.

"I asked if you wanted to catch some lunch with me later."

That was another thing. Duo was always trying to get him to be more social. He asked Heero to lunch at least three times a week. Heero more often than not declined, preferring to bring his lunch and work at his desk while he ate. He also declined invitations to dinner, outings to the movies or a poker game. He had little need for any interaction with their coworkers outside of work. Forming attachments to people he might have to put in harm's way one day was not a good idea. But Duo persisted, never seeming to be disheartened at Heero's constant refusal.

"I brought my lunch today."

Was it his imagination or did he see Duo's expression falter a little before that ever-familiar grin was pasted back on his face?

"Don't tell me. Let me guess." He pressed a finger to his lips. Heero found himself staring at the little crease in his brow Duo got whenever he pretended to be thinking really hard. "Pimento cheese and tuna fish?"

Heero snorted. "Salmon."

Duo made a face. "That's nasty. How can you stand to eat that?"

"It's no worse than your dill pickle fetish."

Duo blanched. "You eat tuna fish without pickles?"

Heero nodded, turning back to his monitor and attempting - in vain - to concentrate on his report.

They had recently completed a big case a couple of days before and were due some downtime from field assignments. These reports weren't actually due until the end of the week, but Heero preferred to work on them while they were fresh on his mind. Details that could mean the difference between conviction and acquittal could be lost if he didn't get all the information down as quickly as possible.

Duo was no slacker. He was very proficient at his own job and Heero could not ask for a better partner. But he seemed so ... scattered. As if there were no order in his life. He would wait until the last possible minute to write his own reports, and Heero sometimes wondered how the other man got them done at all. Yet there was never cause for complaint over Duo's work. Whatever method he used seemed to work for him. Heero just didn't understand how.

He felt eyes boring into his forehead. He looked up to see Duo staring at him, that vague little sad half-smile on his face. Heero frowned.

"Did you need something else?"

Duo shook his head. "It's nothing."

Heero started to press him. Something was bothering his partner, that much was obvious. He wanted to find out what but was interrupted by another agent stepping into his cubicle.

"Agent Yuy, I'm sorry to disturb you, but Agent Chang would like to see Agent Maxwell for a moment," the young man said. Heero recognized him from Wufei's team. The man was wearing a sling. Heero frowned. He hadn't heard of any of Wufei's men being wounded.

Duo hopped off the desk. Grinning, he gathered up the files he had shoved out of his way earlier and made a big production of replacing them exactly how Heero had had them on the corner of his desk. "There. All better. I'll see ya later, okay Heero?"

Heero nodded, waiting until his partner had left, chatting up the young agent as they went, before returning to his work. But even after Duo had gone Heero's thoughts still lingered on him. Duo didn't seem his usual self today. Normally, Duo would have admonished him for eating at his desk again. He would have pleaded and generally made a nuisance of himself until Heero either firmly told him to go away or sigh and give in to his partner's cajoling.

Today, however... Duo hadn't pressed him like he normally did. And come to think of it, had he seen dark circles under his partner's eyes? Perhaps Duo was feeling under the weather. Heero scowled at his hand, resting on the keyboard. If Duo were sick, he should be at home, taking care of himself; not at work where he could become worse if he pushed himself too hard.

Then again... Duo didn't look sick. Perhaps he was just tired. Their last assignment, while not particularly stressful, had involved long hours. But if that were the case, again Heero wondered why Duo hadn't taken a day off to recuperate. It wasn't an uncommon thing for agent to take a day or two to themselves after a long mission to recover. They had plenty of sick days. Yet Heero couldn't remember the last time Duo had used a sick day. Or himself for that matter.

His computer beeped at him. Startled, he looked up at the monitor, only to curse to see that he had been pressing down on the space bar while lost in thought. He highlighted the blank section and deleted it, mentally admonishing himself to push thoughts of his partner out of his mind. He'd check on Duo after lunch. But for the moment, he had work to do. He had no time for woolgathering.

***

He sat back in his chair as he hit save, then print. The report had come together rather smoothly, once he'd gotten into it. He glanced at the clock - a gift from Duo, "to remind you how long you've been working and when to go home." He blinked. It was late afternoon. He'd worked all morning and straight through lunch.

A small rumble in his stomach reminded him of his sandwich waiting for him in the staff kitchen. He pushed himself away from his desk and stood, stretching for a moment to work out the kinks long hours at his computer put in his body. He gathered his report from the printer and placed it on top of the files on the corner of his desk. He would wait until he'd left for the evening before turning it in.

He glanced at Duo's cubicle as he passed and frowned. Duo usually made one last ditch effort to get Heero to eat lunch with him whenever Heero declined. He would also stop by Heero's cubicle after his own lunch, to make sure Heero had taken the time to eat. But Heero had not seen or heard from Duo since this morning.

He stuck his head into Duo's cubicle only to find his partner nowhere in sight. Normally he wouldn't have thought anything of it. But he noticed that Duo's jacket was gone. That was... odd. Duo never left in the middle of the day, certainly without letting Heero know first.

He continued on to the kitchen, his appetite suddenly gone for the moment. Had Duo decided to go home and use one of his sick days? But wouldn't he have told his partner beforehand? So caught up in his thoughts about his partner, he failed to notice the body in front of him, until he felt something bump into his chest with a soft "Ooph."

Heero's arms shot out, his quick reflexes allowing him to catch the young agent before he toppled over. Steadying him on his feet, Heero noticed the sling. It was the young man who had come to get Duo this morning. Perhaps he knew something of Duo's whereabouts.

"Sorry, sir," the agent said nervously, tugging on his shirt with one hand to smooth out an invisible wrinkle. "I didn't see you there."

Heero shook his head. "It was my fault as well. Are you all right?" he asked, with a nod in the direction of the young agent's arm.

"Oh. Yes, sir. I'm mending."

"Did you get that in the field?"

The man flushed and gave him a sheepish look. "No, sir. Fell on some wet pavement outside and broke my arm in two places. I won't be seeing field work for a while."

Heero nodded absently. "You're on Agent Chang's team?"

Another nod. "Been with him for about three months now. He's a good commander."

"Do you know what he wanted with Agent Maxwell this morning?" He tried to sound casual about the question, but he wasn't sure he succeeded.

"Yes, sir. Wufei - Agent Chang, I mean - I was supposed to be his back-up today. But as you can see," he lifted his arm and sighed. "There was no one else so he asked Agent Maxwell to accompany him."

Heero's gut tightened. "Mission?" He didn't like the thought of Duo on a mission without him.

The young man shook his head. "Nothing that big. Agent Chang was to meet an informant this afternoon, but the man is jumpy and Wufei wanted someone to go along as back-up. They should be back soon."

Heero didn't reply; instead, he tried to get his hands to relax from the fists he hadn't realized he'd been clenching.

"Would you like me to inform you when they return, sir?" the young man asked.

Heero blinked at him, then nodded tersely. "If you wouldn't mind?"

The agent nodded. "Of course, sir."

Heero dismissed him, turning back to return to his desk, his lunch forgotten. He felt ... unsettled. He wasn't sure why. Duo was not his subordinate. They were partners, equal in rank. He was not required to tell Heero everything he did. If he wanted to do Wufei a favor and act as his back-up for a little recon assignment, he was well within his rights to do so without informing his partner. But still...

Heero frowned, settling back in his chair and reaching for his keyboard. Duo should have told him anyway. They were partners. What if *Heero* had needed him for something?

'Don't be stupid,' he berated himself, staring at his hands resting like blocks of wood on his keyboard. 'All you had on tap for the day was paperwork. There was absolutely nothing you needed him for. And he can take care of himself.'

He let his hands slip from the keyboard as he leaned back in his chair. And where had that thought come from? Duo most certainly could take care of himself. He was strong, agile, and now that he was older, level-headed and cautious. He'd even pulled Heero out of danger on more than one occasion and had risked his life for him on several others. Duo took risks only when needed.

But it still disturbed Heero that he wasn't there. He didn't much like the idea of Duo taking risks without him.

He glanced at Duo's clock again. How long had they been gone? All day? Or had Duo had time to be briefed before they went into god- knows where? He picked up a pencil and idly started tapping it on his leg, in his mind picturing different worst case scenarios. Duo walking into a trap. Duo being captured. Duo getting shot in the back by an unseen shadow...

He almost choked when he bit through the eraser on his pencil. Duo could get hit by a car on his way back into the building from the parking lot. In reality, that scenario was much more likely than a recon mission gone bad.

He threw the pencil on his desk. He pulled up the files he was researching for their next assignment. But as the minutes ticked by he found himself unable to concentrate on the information for long periods of time. He jiggled his leg, chewed on the end of a pen and found himself staring more at the clock than his screen. He was ... agitated. And he didn't like it.

An hour passed. Then two. It was long past his Duo-appointed "going home" time. Duo and Wufei should have been back by now. But they weren't and Heero was starting to feel apprehensive. No. Worried. He'd long since given up on his work. He couldn't concentrate. He started to wonder if maybe he should find the young agent with the sling, to see if he knew of Duo's whereabouts. Just to set his mind at ease, he told himself. But he wasn't sure he believed it.

He shut his computer down and grabbed his own jacket, making sure he had his gun and holster. He didn't usually take it home with him. But he took it tonight.

Wufei's team usually worked late but their cubicles were empty and dark. He had Duo's cell number, but if Duo were undercover or in the middle of a fight, he wouldn't need the distraction. He shuffled his feet, standing there feeling somewhat lost, unsure of what to do. He could call Une, but again he didn't want to bother her with some as petty as trying to track down his wayward partner.

Heero sighed and decided to just leave a note on Duo's desk, asking him to call when he got in. He'd leave a message on Duo's home machine asking him the same. It was all he could do.

The office wasn't empty. Heero came in just after dawn. Many others didn't start until hours later, so the office was almost still fully staffed whenever Heero left work, on the days he left on time. He nodded absently to two female agents as he made his way to Duo's desk. They nodded back but did not cease their conversation.

"Was it bad?" one whispered to the other as Heero passed them.

"I don't know. I heard three men were hit. One pretty badly."

Heero stopped, a cold, sick feeling clenching at his stomach.

"Agent Chang?"

Heero turned in time to see one of the women shake her head. "No. But it was close. They took the wounded to the infirmary, but I heard they've called in LifeForce to take one of them to the trauma center..."

That was enough for Heero. He turned and bolted for the elevators. He pressed the button with shaking, sweaty fingers. Damn it! He should have been there. Watching Duo's back. Why hadn't he been there?

He stepped into the elevator, jamming the button for the basement, where the infirmary was located. He slumped against the back of the elevator. He hadn't been there because he hadn't known about it. He hadn't been there for Duo for a lot of things…

Regret filled him as the elevator made its slow descent to the basement. Could he even imagine a life without Duo? Duo had been his first friend. He *was* Heero's closest friend. He owed so much to Duo. Had he ever told him that? Would it be too late to tell him now?

He flung himself out of the elevator as soon as the doors opened. He flew past the receptionist, ignoring her indignant cries of protest. He grabbed a startled nurse by the shoulder as she came around the corner.

"Where is Wufei Chang's team?"

"D-down the hall. To your right. W-wait!"

Heero pushed past her, navigating the maze of corridors to the triage rooms at the back. People were milling around, agents, medics, nurses. He didn't see Wufei or Duo. Fear wound itself through Heero's stomach. From the number of agents present, something bigger had gone down than a snitch gone bad.

He brushed past a man holding an ice pack to a black eye. Peering into the first room he saw a nurse stitching up a large gash along a woman's temple. In the second room, two nurses and a doctor were dealing with what looked like a gunshot wound to a leg. But the man on the table wasn't Duo.

"Damn it, woman!"

Heero spun around. That voice. Duo's voice. Coming from the room across the hall.

"Maxwell, will you kindly hold still?" Heero stopped in the doorway, relief flooding through him so fast to see his partner alive and breathing that his knees felt shaky. He leaned the door jamb to keep him upright, steeling his face as he stared at Duo.

Sally was with him, smacking his arms to keep them raised as she wound a large white bandage over his torso. She pulled it tight. Duo shouted again.

"Shit! I swear you're not a doctor, Sally. You're a damned sadist! Ow!" Duo's eyes lifted and caught sight of Heero in the doorway. "Heero! Thank god. You've got to get me away from this torturer!"

Heero saw Sally roll her eyes as she secured the bandages. "You, Maxwell, may be a good field agent, but you are also the biggest baby I know when it comes to a little pain."

"Pain?!" Duo shouted, wincing as he lowered his arms. "I'd receive better treatment at the hands of the Alliance!"

Sally grinned at him, baring her teeth. "That can be arranged."

Duo swallowed and wisely said nothing. He gripped his side carefully as he got down off the table, moving stiffly as he reached for his shirt. Heero straightened, coming into the room, never taking his eyes off his partner.

"How is he?" he asked as Sally scribbled something on Duo's chart.

"Irritable, loud and a pain in the ass." She looked up at Heero. "But you're his partner. You'd know that already."

"Sally."

"He took two bullets in the chest." Heero could feel the blood drain from his face. Sally must have noticed. "He was wearing his vest. He has a couple of badly bruised ribs." She snapped the chart shut and stepped toward him, touching him briefly on his arm. "It could have been worse, Heero. Much worse."

Heero couldn't find any words to reply as she left the room. He watched Duo shake out his shirt before holding it up to the light. He heard his partner sigh as light could be seen through two large holes in the front.

"Bastards. I liked this shirt," he heard Duo mutter as he pulled on the remains of his shirt anyway. Heero stared at the two holes in front, one right above the heart. He felt ... cold. He had come so close...

"Heero? Buddy? Are you all right?"

Heero raised his eyes to see Duo looking back at him with concern. Heero swallowed and somehow managed to find his voice. "What happened?"

Duo snorted. "What happened? That's the last time I'll ever do a favor for Chang, that's what happened."

"Duo."

His partner's shoulders slumped; Duo hissed a little as the movement pulled on his ribs. "It was just supposed to be a simple meet and greet with some informant. Something about gun-running. But Wufei said he didn't like the feel of the guy, even though he'd been a pretty reliable source before." He leaned against the examining table and closed his eyes. Heero noticed again how tired he looked. "Somethin' must have spooked 'Fei because he called in the others before we got there. Whatever it was, I'm glad he did. We walked right into an ambush, Heero."

"Casualties?" he tried to keep his voice steady, not wanting to dwell on the thought that Duo had almost been one himself.

"James took a shot in the leg. Zoya hit her head on something. The usual cuts, scrapes and grazes. I'm the only one who took two to the chest. I don't even remember..." He winced again. "Jesus, I'm going to be blue and purple for a month."

"What about Wufei?" Heero decided he could live with blue and purple.

"Not a scratch. He took out what he believes is the ring-leader of the gun-runners he's been chasing. He went to the trauma center to confirm."

"That it?"

"That's it. We were outgunned, but we were lucky."

Lucky indeed. "Why didn't you tell me where you were going?"

"Honestly, there wasn't time. I was a last minute addition. Wufei was going to go it alone until he got spooked." He cocked his head to the side to look at Heero, a ghost of a smile playing along his lips. "Don't tell me you were worried."

Heero didn't say anything, but something in his expression must have given him away because Duo threw his head back and laughed, holding his side as he did. "You WERE! Fuck, that hurts. I can't believe it. Heero Yuy ... worried."

Heero sighed, but he wasn't going to deny it. He had been worried. Terrified, more like it.

A life without Duo. Duo was life. He was the one who reminded Heero to take time and enjoy life. To not get so focused on one thing that you forgot about everything else. He was Heero's opposite. Disorganized, social, easy-going. Everything Heero wasn't - and everything he needed. What would he do, who would he become if he didn't have Duo there to push him into things, make him take time for himself? Would he just drift through life, living only for his job, caring for nothing else? That thought filled him with despair. He didn't want that. As much as he felt comfortable with his organized life, he never really felt alive. He realized with a jolt that the only times he did feel like there was more to life than the structured world he had created for himself ... was when Duo was there to drag him out of it.

All those wasted moments, he realized. Why did he not indulge Duo more often? There was room in his life for lunch or movie or conversation. Duo had once commented, back during the war, that Heero may not have been afraid of dying, but he did have a fear of living. Was that why he constantly pushed Duo away? He looked at his partner again. He'd pushed him away and almost lost him. He drew in a breath. No more.

"Do you need some help getting home?" He asked, handing Duo his jacket.

"Nah. I'm okay. I think I'll just stop someplace fast and greasy for something to eat then go home and take some of those nice, large pills Sally gave me." He gingerly pulled on his jacket and frowned. "She'd better not be trying to poison me," he muttered as he zipped up the jacket, hiding the bullet holes.

Heero reached out, placing a hand briefly on his partner's arm. "Do you... would you mind if I joined you? For dinner I mean?"

Duo looked startled for a minute before a genuine, brilliant smile crept over his face, wiping away that tired look Heero had seen before. "Yeah, sure! Wow. This is a day of firsts. You worry over me for a change and then you ask *me* to dinner."

Duo worried about him? Heero felt ... warm at the thought.

Duo was still looking pleasantly stunned as he hobbled through the door. He was laughing. "If I'd known this was what it took to get you to come out with me, I'd have gotten shot a long time ago."

The warmth left Heero's body at the thought. "Don't even think about it."

Duo laughed again, wincing. "Trust me. I've learned my lesson." He led the way down the hall, glancing over his shoulder as if to make sure Heero was still following him. "I know this great place, Heero. It's cheap and it's bad, which is what makes it oh so good..."

Heero followed, listening to every word. Belatedly he remembered he hadn't turned his report in that he'd finished earlier. He pushed that thought firmly out of his mind. There would be plenty of time to do it tomorrow. Right now he had better things to concentrate on than work.

//I don't mind you coming here and wasting all my time. 'Cause when you're standing oh so near, I kinda lose my mind.//

End!

[back to Caroline's fic]