Chapter 6:

Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine.

Duo didn't like to be reminded of the responsibilities associated with being a high-ranking Preventer official. He enjoyed the perks, such as using a siren whenever he was stuck in traffic, and getting all the free donuts he could eat, but as in any seemingly perfect situation there were downsides. He was experiencing one of those downsides at that exact moment.

He had been called in by one of the officers assigned to Relena's home in the country. The guy had been pretty panicked, but from what Duo could tell the gist of the situation was that Heero had gone down there, scared the hell out of everyone by mentioning retraining, and then ran off with Relena to go sailing or swimming or something to do with water. It was all a bit confusing.

There had been some disagreement within the ranks about going after them, so the brilliant solution was to call in for reinforcements. And since everyone knew that he was sort of friends with Heero, and the most likely to be able to dodge any bullets coming his way, he had been called.

So that was why he was currently walking up the front steps of the country estate trying to figure out whether he should be glad that it looked like Heero had finally made his move regarding Relena or worried about his own health if he had to step in and do…something. He wasn't the chastity police, and truth be told he thought both Heero's and Relena's dispositions would be improved with a little mutual nakedness. They were both way too uptight.

Upon reaching the porch and before he had the chance to knock, the front door swung open and Duo was greeted by a nervous looking Preventer who must have been given watch duty. The relief on the young man's face gave Duo a good indication of how dire the situation he was walking into, because he was very rarely thought of as the solution to anyone's problems.

He was given a crisp salute, which he jauntily returned. He found that levity was a great way to lessen the tension in stressful situations, so he plastered a grin upon his face and strolled into Relena's foyer.

"Never fear, I am here. So why the urgent summons," Duo sneaked a glance at the man's name badge, "Simmons? I'm a city boy and all this fresh air isn't good for my lungs. It makes them remember that air shouldn't be visible."

Simmons walked into the house as he talked. "Sir, there's been a…problem with the Minister's morning jog. There has been a deviation from the schedule, and while in other circumstances we'd handle it ourselves, there are…unique circumstances surrounding this particular…incident."

Duo rolled his eyes at Simmons's halting, not-at-all useful explanation. "How about you lay it out plainly for me. All this talk of 'unique circumstances' and 'incidents' doesn't tell me shit about what I'm doing here."

Simmons stopped in front of a door and turned to Duo. "It'll be easier to show you what I mean." Simmons opened the door and revealed a room with people, all projecting the same nervousness that Simmons did. Between the bodies Duo caught glimpses of monitors showing various points around the estate.

It was the surveillance room, a place he rarely frequented when he had been assigned to Relena's protective detail before his promotion. He had been one of the 'shadows', sticking close to Relena herself.

The occupants of the room immediately quieted when he entered. They cleared the way as Simmons lead him towards one particular monitor, and he sat in the chair that was offered. Without any words being exchanged, Simmons pressed a button and stepped back behind Duo's chair.

Duo focused on the screen as it went from projecting snow to the glaring face of Heero Yuy, up close and personal. Duo jumped a bit at the intensity shown in the image's eyes and hoped that nobody noticed. It wasn't good if the underlings thought he was afraid of Heero. He did have a reputation to maintain.

Duo watched as Heero gave the camera a self-satisfied smirk and turned to put what looked like a screwdriver into a small toolbox resting against a tree trunk. By the preponderance of leaves and what could be seen of the background it looked as if Heero was in a tree. And if he was in a tree with a screwdriver playing with a surveillance camera, that meant that somebody had screwed up, big time.

Duo spoke without taking his eyes off the screen. "You guys are in trouble if he had to be the one to fix that camera. Heero doesn't like it when Relena's security is messed with. Is that what the retraining is about?"

Simmons, who in addition to watch duty must have also been elected the official spokeman of the group, answered. "He mentioned Antarctica. We-" He was cut off by sympathetic sounds coming from Duo. "Say no more. 'Antarctica' told me everything I need to know." The sad shaking of his head elicited some whimpers from the gathered officers. Their fears had been confirmed.

On the screen, Heero had frozen in putting his tools away, and while he was still turned towards the camera his attention was focused beyond the lens. Then, to Duo's astonishment, whatever had captured Heero's attention had captivated him so thoroughly that he lost his balance and toppled right off the branch. His foot caught the camera as he fell out of view head first, knocking it around approximately 180 degrees and giving Duo a view of a different set of trees.

Simmons must have felt that some commentary was needed at this point. "By the camera's location and time stamp we know where and when this takes place. We compared it to the Minister's usual jogging schedule, and, um, we surmise that the probability of overlap at that moment was good. Very good."

Duo couldn't suppress his laughter. "He literally fell for her. Wait till Hilde hears this. Hell, wait till Zechs hears this! Fan-freakin-tastic!" He had to curl his hands into fists or he was going to start rubbing them together in a gleeful fashion. That bit of information alone made the trek to the country worth it.

Simmons reached past Duo to the control panel. "Nothing much happens after this, sir, except one anomaly we can't quite figure out. This is what's causing most of our confusion."

The tape was fast-forwarded and then paused. Duo leaned towards the screen and tried to make out the blurry image frozen midair. "What is that? A bird?"

"No sir," Simmons said. "From our analysis of the image it appears to be a shoe. We believe it's the left running shoe of the Minister. And right here," he started the tape again and then paused once more and pointed to another airborne object, "is the Minister's right running shoe. We know that she's with a, um, Preventer escort, but perhaps they've encountered a situation and that was her signaling to us for help? We would have sent officers to investigate, if it were not for some mitigating factors."

"What sort of mitigating factors?"

"Once again, by analyzing the location of the camera and how much it was jostled, and the trajectory of the objects shown, we conclude that the most likely originating point of the shoes is the estate lake."

Duo turned in the chair to look up at Simmons. "Let me get this straight. Relena's shoes were probably thrown from the lake. I use 'throw' because it makes the most sense. And there is no way that this," here he turned back to the shoe suspended on the screen, "was thrown by Relena. She's athletic but she can't throw worth shit. I was her guard for two years, I know. We also know that Heero is with her. Ergo, it is safe to say that Heero is probably the thrower.

"We've got Heero throwing pieces of Relena's clothing around in the vicinity of the lake. Does that sound about right?" Two words flashed through Duo's mind: 'skinny' and 'dipping'.

Simmons was on the same track, because he gave a little shrug and said quietly, "We didn't want to interrupt anything, um, personal. We know that they have some sort of relationship with each other."

'Yeah,' Duo thought, 'If you call two morons refusing to admit that they're in love a relationship.' For two such smart people they acted completely obtuse when it came to one another. Even the grunts knew they had chemistry. Maybe this was the catalyst they needed to finally admit the truth to themselves. Duo, ever the romantic, felt hope unfurling within him. Or it might have been lunch. He rubbed his chest a bit and cursed the burrito he had eaten.

"Are there any other cameras in this vicinity?" He had to be careful he didn't jump the gun. Before he had them married off he needed some corroboration. Such as some pixilated evidence of nakedness.

"No sir," Simmons replied. "At least none focusing on the area in question. We could send a scout to the location to give a physical check. But since it's been approximately two hours since we last had visual confirmation of the Minister's whereabouts, we're not exactly sure if she's still at the last known location."

In any other situation, having lost track of Relena for twenty minutes, let alone two hours, would have been a Preventer code red alert. But Duo, and most likely everyone else in the surveillance room, knew that chances were more than good she wasn't alone. She was probably with the one person in the universe she was most safe with. That didn't mean they shouldn't at least make a minimal effort to do their jobs.

"I get it why you guys didn't want to get involved. I'm sure that if Heero and Relena are together chances are that they don't want to be bothered. But calling me in, and then waffling about what to do is totally not cool.

"Protocol says that visual confirmation on the subject should be maintained. You guys lost visual and instead of sucking it up and finding out what's going on, you all passed the buck to me. Well I'm not going to take the blame for this one. Someone should have gone down there. Trust me, Heero's going to be much more pissed about this screw up than if he caught someone playing peeping tom. I think a trip to Antarctica is definitely needed for this group."

The mood in the room immediately deflated. Maybe they thought that Duo could have gotten them out of their punishment, but having him concur with it was a blow. Duo looked around and saw a mixture of sheepish, embarrassed and downright glum faces. He hated to do it, but it looked like he was going to have to send a memo to Lady Une. If security had lapsed this much at Relena's home, a high level priority for the Preventers, it was time to do a top down check on other protective locations. Now he was getting bummed. This was going to mean more work for him.

"Have they shown up on any other cameras? Maybe they're on their way back to the house," Duo said.

"There's been no other visual of them, sir. We've been monitoring the other stations and nothing's come up." It wasn't Simmons who had answered, but instead a severe looking woman who was seated further down the control panel counter. At least it looked like someone else around here was doing their job.

"Alright, I'll go down myself and see if they're still at the lake. Heero knows where every camera is at this place, so it wouldn't be hard for him to dodge them if they decided to come back. Who knows, he could be in this house right now." He let his voice trail away on the last sentence, injecting an ominous quality to his words. He saw a few people glance around as if expecting Heero to pop out of the walls. With that he left the group to wallow in their own anxiety.

Duo had made it down the back steps towards the woods when he stopped mid stride. He blinked his eyes and shook his head but the image he was seeing didn't disappear.

Walking towards him were Heero and Relena. More specifically, Heero was carrying Relena on his back with her arms wrapped around his neck and her legs around his waist. She was holding her shoes against his chest, and her feet were clad in white athletic socks. The strangest thing though was that the socks, as well as both their hair and Relena's shorts and Heero's dress pants, were soaked. Their shirts were merely damp. It looked as if they hadn't gone skinny dipping but merely half-clothed dipping.

Even though their lack of 'skinny' was disappointing, Duo was buoyed by the fact that they both looked happy. Relena had her face turned towards Heero's ear while he kept his head bent towards the ground. She must have been saying something to him because he suddenly smiled and brought his head up to look at her. That's when Duo's presence was finally noticed.

To Duo's surprise, Heero kept walking towards the house and acknowledged him with a nod of his head. Without releasing Relena or breaking his stride, Heero said to Duo, "They screwed up. Make plans for retraining at Antarctica. And have Wufei supervise, I'll be busy." Heero's eyes darted to Relena then back to Duo.

As they passed by him, Relena gave some orders of her own. "And Duo, could you have someone cancel my appointments for today? I've already missed my morning meetings, but there's nothing that can't be rescheduled. I'm taking a sick day." She tightened her arms around Heero and they went up the steps and disappeared into the house.

Duo stood staring at the empty back door and then hollered after them, "It's about time!"

Author's note: Finally done! It really shouldn't have taken me almost 2 years, but there you go. Thanks for all the kind words.