Author: Honor A. De'Mandoren
See chapter 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Common Sense + Chapter Three
Let The Games Begin

There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.
- Oscar Levant

+

Buena Vista Resort was gorgeous, setting just above the beach on a small rise, on the beautiful California coast. I fell in love instantly. Ahhh...sunshine, luxury, and sexy men in bathing suits, could one ask for more?

We checked in, had our luggage sent up to our rooms via bell boy then wandered around to get a feel for the place. I was not oblivious to the amount of attention we were attracting. Zechs looked like he could be an actor in his own right, and I was probably mistaken for his bratty little cousin or something. This was a really ritzy place, I had to wonder how Une managed to get a budget for this mission...

"Duo," Zechs murmured as we made our way across the lobby.

"Yeah?"

"Do me a favor."

Now this was new. "What?"

"Stick close."

I looked around quickly, but didn't see any imminent threat. "Why?"

"Because about half the people in this hotel are willing to kidnap you just so they can have some fun with you."

...it's now official. I have five mother hens. "Zechs, the other half are looking at *you* man."

"That's the other reason why I want you to stick close."

I blinked at him. Back-up, going both ways? Okay, that was cool. "Roger that. Let's go up and read a certain file, and come up with a line of attack."

"Sounds good," Zechs agreed.

+

Zechs, the rat fink, made me read the file too. No Cliff Notes version. When I made the suggestion, he gave me the exact same look that Heero would have, one of exasperation and disbelief that I would even suggest such a thing. Ye gods, no wonder Heero considered Zechs his personal nemesis. These two acted so alike in some ways it was downright scary.

I was sprawled out on the edge of the bed, Zechs propped up against the headboard, papers lying all around us chaotically. There was one point in Zechs's favor--he wasn't absolutely anal about keeping everything neat. Heero and Wufei drove me crazy sometimes about that.

I wriggled around until I was on my back, a paper held up in the air above my head. "So...classified secrets are getting out, none of it dating more than a week old. We know the contact is somehow a part of this hotel, but we don't know if its staff, a guest, or the statue in the water fountain outside."

"We're not even sure how they're getting the information," Zechs sighed. "Who put this preliminary report together?"

"My guess? Either a complete greenie, or an ape masquerading as an agent."

"I'd go with the ape," Zechs replied sourly. "It's more plausible."

On that, I had to agree with him. This huge, thick packet of information could be whittled down to about two sentences. 'It's happening at this resort. More information to follow.' Gah! "Okay, my illustrious partner, what next?"

"I think it's time we rub elbows, and get a feel for the people here."

"Great idea. Beach or game room?"

+

I had to turn my cellphone back on, naturally. I mean, we were in a mission, right? Missions require communication and all that fun stuff. Still, I knew what was going to happen when I turned on that phone.

"Duo?"

"Yeah?" I didn't lift my eyes from the phone.

"Is there a reason why you're staring at your phone like you expect it to go off any second?"

Grudgingly I turned it on and listened to its little welcome chime as it warmed up. "Well...Relena knows that I kidnapped you. And she'll yell at Heero."

"And Heero will try to contact you?" Zechs hazarded. He seemed a little amused by the situation.

I nodded glumly. Yup, just like I figured. Ten messages were waiting for me. I listened to my mailbox as we made our way down to the game room. The first eight messages were straight and to the point, almost word for word verbatim. <<Duo. Call me back. NOW.>>

The next two deviated from the scrip a little.

<<Duo, what the hell are you playing at? I know you're on a mission, Une gave me a brief outline, but why did you take ZECHS? Call me back, dammit! Explain!>>

I sighed.

"Duo, I heard that from over here," Zechs muttered to me. He pulled me to the side a little so we were out of the way, toward one of the big bay windows.

I felt bad for the guy. He looked a little...downhearted that nobody trusted him. "Look, Z, don't take this personally. Heero has a conniption if I go out on a mission with *Wuffers* without talking to him first. He's really protective of all of us...for some rather good reasons. The situation is just made worse because he's got Relena yelling at him too."

I deleted all the messages, trying to figure out a way to smooth this over with Zechs. You just had to live with Heero to understand where the guy was coming from--oh boy. My phone started ringing again and I quickly hit the accept key. "Yo."

<<Hi, Duo!>>

Thank god! A sane person! "Hey, Q. What's up?"

<<Une said it was safe to contact you. Can you talk now?>>

"Go right ahead."

<<I just wanted to give you an update on the situation here. I know Heero called you a few times. He said he couldn't get a hold of you.>>

"I turned my phone off," I explained quickly.

<<Ah. Probably a good thing. Relena came by here last night, looking for Zechs. I thought she was ready to throw a fit when she didn't find him--or you. That got Heero stirred up. Does Zechs know anything about this?>>

I winced. "Yeah."

<<Hm. Put him on.>>

I handed the phone over to Zechs. He took it with a questioning look at me, but answered it cordially enough. "Winner? Yes, I'm aware of the phone calls. No, it's..." His face softened a little. "Thank you. Even if it is the truth, it's good to hear it. We've made no progress so far. The preliminary report didn't give us much to go on."

Didn't give us much, he says. It didn't give us anything to go on!

"Yes...I appreciate that. Alright. I owe you one for this. No, seriously. Do you want Duo back? Okay." Zechs handed the phone back to me.

I was grateful to see that whatever Quatre had said worked to bring his normal confidence level back up. "Q?"

<<I told him point blank what was going on. We trust him to watch your back, Duo. It's just Heero's paranoia at work. Ignore him. Other than that, we're all open right now. If you need help or just information, feel free to ask.>>

A light bulb went on. "Hang on, Q." I covered the end of my phone to talk to Zechs. "Look, how would you feel about Heero doing some hacking for us? If that info is on the blackmarket, odds are there's an electronic trail about it, at least a little. Heero's better at that sort of thing than I am."

Zechs thought it through, then slowly nodded. "Do it."

I took my hand off. "Hey Q? Tell 'Ro to warm his fingers up. I need info on what's floating around in scummier sides of life."

<<Can do. Anything else?>>

"Tell Relena that I'm doing obscene things to her brother...with my tongue."

<<Do I look suicidal? You tell her. Bye, Duo.>>

"Bye, Cat."

Zechs was shaking his head at me as I put my phone away. "Do you have a death wish?"

"Relena doesn't scare me," I told him confidently. "I'm meaner than she is. So, let's go tackle some games, eh? I still owe you for killing my guy."

+

Part of infiltration meant getting the hang of how things flowed. Me and Zechs, being brand new to the scene, would have to get used to how things worked around here. We spent an hour or so in the game room (I won! HAHAHA!) then we decided that the beach was a definite part of the resort and went back up to our rooms to change into beachy clothes.

Zechs slipped into these dark blue trunks, and flip flops--and sunglasses. That's it. He's got a really nice build on him, with those long lanky legs and delectable muscles. The trunks especially advertised how nice his ass was. And hey, I'm only human! I was just a little turned on by the view. Hell, the *Pope* would have been turned on by the view.

I noticed that when I had changed into my red trunks (I included a very light windbreaker, though, cause I burn pretty easy) that Zechs gave me the once over too. And his eyes definitely lingered over certain parts of my manly physique. Hm. Maybe Relena warned me off her brother because she knows he doesn't like to play with girls?

Hm. Now isn't that an interesting thought.

"We better put on sunscreen before we go out," I said cheerfully. "We're gonna looked like broiled lobster otherwise."

Zechs gave himself a rueful look. "I do burn rather easily."

We started slathering sunscreen on, but of course neither one of us could reach our own backs. Zechs pulled his hair out of the way and I started rubbing sunscreen over his skin. Duo Jr. expressed his appreciation of how Zechs felt under my fingertips, which was something I didn't need at the moment. Down boy, wait your turn. "Okay, all done."

We flipped directions, and I pulled my braid around so he could do my back. Ahhh...the feel of a man's hands on my bare skin. Marvelous feeling. It's been way too long too. A certain part of my anatomy--the one controlled by hormones--agreed with that sentiment completely, but it wasn't like I could really do something about it right this minute.

Zech's hand paused, and I could feel him stroke a certain scar with one finger. "How did this happen?"

"Ahhh...that's one of the reasons why Heero doesn't let us go out on solo missions anymore. I got stabbed in the back by one of G's informants. Bastard was a turncoat. I barely got home." I snuck a peek at him over my shoulder.

Zechs looked really troubled, and his finger was still tracing that scar. "Looked like it went deep."

My nerves were tingling as he kept tracing that scar. It felt almost like a caress. "Yeah, well, it was the blood loss that nearly did me in. That and the fact that I couldn't let it heal up. I kept busting the damn thing open before it really had a chance to heal. But it didn't hit anything vital, y'know? Just left a very impressive scar." I felt vaguely uncomfortable under that intense scrutiny. "You done back there?"

"A moment." Two more swipes, and he climbed off the bed. "Ready?"

"Yup." I bounced out the door, shrugging my windbreaker back on and putting on sunglasses. I noticed that Zechs had added a white shirt, left unbuttoned. I was profusely thankful for the added clothing.

We ventured out in the sunshine and the sand. I was mentally rehearsing a way to get friendly with the natives. Turns out I didn't need to bother. They wanted to get friendly with *us*. About four girls and two guys mobbed us right as we touched down on the beach, nearly vibrating in excitement.

"Hi! I'm Sharon Vanderbuilt. I saw you guys coming in this morning..." she trailed off, giving us a charming smile.

Une had specifically told us to use our real names during this mission, which was kinda odd, but all things considered a good idea. I smiled at her. "Duo Maxwell. This is Zechs Marquise."

The girls exchanged excited smiles, the guys looked vaguely impressed. "I'm Luke," a tall brunette said while offering a hand. "You were a Gundam pilot, right?"

"Yup." I accepted the hand, mentally assessing him. If this guy had ever done a hard day's work, it was in bed. All his muscles were from the gym, and were mostly there for show. "We both were. Just here for some sunshine and relaxation."

"As we're new on the scene," Zechs added with his own charming smile (it made my knees go weak) "perhaps you can tell us where the best places are."

"Oh, we'll show you!" another girl piped up. "Just follow us, alright?"

Damn, that was easy. This would have been harder with Heero or Wufei in tow--social, they were not. I kept up a good conversation with the girls, Zechs with the guys, then without them even noticing, we slowly switched places. They might have been raised in high families, and had the best schooling, and yadda yadda, but these guys had no common sense. Me and Zechs were playing them like a world class violinist and they didn't even notice.

We met some more of their friends, got told about *the* spots to go, had lunch, then claimed we were burning up and retreated back to our room. I flopped back onto the bed, my poor head aching a little. That sun was blinding, I definitely needed to invest in sunglasses. "So? Impressions?"

"They might have the connections to get the information," Zechs flopped back onto his bed in similar fashion, "but they would have been caught by now. I couldn't believe some of the stupid things they were saying."

"Ditto. Okay, so odds are its hotel staff. That kinda makes sense, now that I think about it. I mean, this has been happening for a week straight, right? Most of these guys don't stay more than three or four days. It's gotta be staff."

Zechs nodded in agreement. "You're probably right, but we shouldn't out rule guests just yet. We have no real evidence either way."

"Just a hunch," I agreed wearily. I hate hunches. For one thing, they're damn hard to defend to someone else. "Okay, so what next?"

"Can you break into the building's security system?"

I blinked at him. "Is the sky blue? Of course I can. You want control over it?"

"It might be a good thing to set up now. We might not have the luxury of doing it later, and we might need it."

Good point. "Okay. I'll break out my laptop and get at it. What are you going to do?"

"Contact Une and see if we can talk to the ape in agent's clothing. Maybe if I lean on him hard enough, he'll give us more detail to work off of. He can at least tell us what information was leaked."

Geez, he was just full of good ideas today. "Go for it."

I dragged out my laptop, did a quick wriggle to get comfortable, and set to it.

+

Hotel security? What hotel security? A *five* *year* *old* could break into this thing! Note to self: do not put any valuables in hotel safe. Don't let Zechs do it either.

Speaking of my gorgeous partner, where had he gotten off to? I put the laptop down and wandered into the living room. Zechs was standing near the window, phone at his ear and a scowl on his face. I wonder if he even knows that he's standing at military attention...or how hot he looks doing it.

"--you're telling me that you can't give me any more information than that? What kind of an agent are you? How did you even know it was happening in the first place?" Whatever he was told made Zechs drop his head in one hand. "*Accident*? How can you discover such at thing by accident?! ...please tell me you're kidding. Alright, I want that email sent to me immediately, then I want a written report on why that wasn't included in your *first* report. Is that understood? Good. Marquise, out."

I knew I wasn't going to like the answer, but I had to ask anyway. "So what's the story?"

Zechs put the phone down, still rubbing at his temples. "The reason why we know anything at all is because the agent in question got an email--at his personal email address, not his official one--that had classified information in it. He traced it back to the computer lab of this resort. End of story."

I waited for the punchline. When it didn't come I groaned. "Good grief, no wonder Une sent us in on this! There really isn't anything to go off of!"

Zechs shrugged in agreement. "You're into the hotel security?"

"Yup. Do me a favor, don't put anything within hotel safe keeping. A five year old could break into this place."

He sighed, giving me a pained look. "Why doesn't that surprise me? Let's go check my email."

The email, unfortunately, wasn't that informative. I leaned over Zech's shoulder as we read it through. That part was more informative. He smells absolutely fantastic. I wonder what shampoo he uses... Focus, Maxwell.

The email was pretty straightforward. <<I got it in under ten hours, so pay up. Here's the proof.>> Attached was the classified information. There was no signature, and the email address was totally@yahoo.com. That's it. Odds are, whoever sent it had typed in the wrong address, which is how our ape agent got it in the first place. What kind of an idiot can hack into a very secure mainframe, steal classified information, then send it to the wrong person? "I can almost see why he didn't include it in the report," I grumbled.

"It gives us little to go on," Zechs agreed.

I read it through again (and no, it wasn't an excuse to stay half-draped over sexy's back) but this time something caught my attention. "I got it in under ten hours so pay up...does that sound like a bet to you?"

He blinked, then turned a little to look up at me thoughtfully. "It does, now that you mention it. Do petty informants usually make bets with their buyers on how fast they can get the information?"

"In my experience, no." Something was teasing at the back of my mind. I just needed to sleep on it and see what swam to the surface. "Email that to Heero. He'll be glad to get something new to chew on. And then...dinner?"

"Duo, is there ever a time that you're *not* hungry?"

I considered that. "Not that I know of, no."

+

I'd been working on this mission all day (actually, it felt more and more like a mystery case then a mission) without making any headway. I didn't like that one bit, but this was going to be one of those things that took time.

Zechs looked a little disheartened too, so to cheer him up I ordered a bunch of large pizzas, some coke, and a Jackie Chan movie. How can you go wrong with that combination?

He came in from a shower, idly drying his hair with a towel. I saw him slowly take in the pizzas, the coke, and the open DVD case near the TV. "Dare I ask what you're planning now?"

"Every good agent knows when to take a break and just let things percolate a little." I patted the spot next to me invitingly. "Come watch a movie with me."

Warily he came closer. "What movie?"

"Jackie Chan."

"Jackie who?"

"Okay, its official, now you *have* to watch it with me." Who hadn't heard of Jackie Chan?! Geez. I caught his wrist and tugged him down next to me.

It took about four slices of pizza, and twenty minutes, but he finally relaxed. As we happily devoured about four larges, Zechs and I were laughing our butts off at the movie. I was really sad when it ended. I liked hearing him laugh.

The credits rolled, and Zechs was lying there, stretched out with both hands resting lightly on his stomach. "Oh...I ate too much."

I felt the same way. "How about a nap?"

He quirked a brow at me. "You take naps on missions?"

"No, but dude this mission is completely messed up compared to every other mission I've ever been on."

"...point." He squirmed around a bit, getting more comfortable.

Aww...why can't I be as close to him as I am with the rest of the guys? Then I could snuggle. Darn it. Sighing, I made do with my slice of the couch. Well, at least he isn't protesting about me propping my thighs over his legs...

+

"They're going to take me away, ha ha!"

Uh?

There was a heartbeat under my ear, and warm arms wrapped around my waist. I was so comfortable it was almost sinful. I took in a deep breath, inhaling this clean masculine sent that had me licking my lips in appreciation.

"--to the Funny Farm--"

That song was kinda spoiling the moment, though. Wonder where it's coming from...wait, isn't that the ringtone to my cellphone?

Prying open one eye, I flung out an arm and started a semi-blind search for my phone. It was on the coffee table somewhere...aha! I stretched a bit to reach it, then nuzzled back into my very warm body pillow. Turning my head a bit I put the phone on my ear and let gravity just keep it there for me. "...dude, I have no idea who this is but you are totally fired."

<<Duo, you sound like you just woke up.>>

It figures that it would be Heero. The guy's destined to be my alarm clock, by some cosmic karma. "That's cause I was asleep, moron. Now whaddya want?"

<<More information. What you gave me is insufficient to find anything>>

Aw cripes. If Heero couldn't find anything, then we really were sunk.

"Who is it, Duo?"

I moved my head enough to see why my pillow was talking. Ah...my brain finally woke up enough to inform me of two things. One, I had fallen asleep on the other end of the couch. Two, I had failed to consider that I was a very active sleeper and a snuggler before napping right next to the star of my wet dreams last night. Aw shucks. "It's Heero," I replied as calmly as possible.

<<...Duo, who are you talking to?>>

"Zechs."

There was this pregnant pause. <<And why is he sleeping next to you?>>

I winced at the very unhappy growl that accompanied that question. "Chill man, we were taking a nap on the couch."

<<It is not necessary for both of you to share *any* surface while sleeping!>>

"Heero, I have to tell you, I am not in the mood to argue. Let's get back to the information you wanted. I can't give you any more information, because that's all I have. That's all anyone knows. Were you able to find anything at all?"

I could almost hear the battle in Heero's head. Mission mode eventually won out though and he bit off, <<Nothing. There is no evidence that a transaction took place. I could only determine that someone of skill had gotten into the grid to steal the information.>>

I started swearing under my breath. "Understood. Thanks for trying, man." To Zechs I mouthed 'No dice.'

Zechs looked particularly unhappy about that. I shared the sentiment.

<<Now...what's going on with Merquise?>>

"None of your damn business," I caroled back. "Bye, 'Ro."

<<DUO-->>

*click*

"Heero doesn't strike me as the forgiving type," Zechs observed mildly.

"He hates being hung up on," I confirmed cheerfully. "But I'm too far away for him to smack." As casually as I could manage I pulled myself up and off. Duo Jr. started lodging protests, but I ignored him. My cock does not get a vote on matters of delicacy. "Okay, so, Heero says that there is no electronic proof that something is going on. He could only prove that someone had stolen the data in the first place." I scratched my head thoughtfully. "In this day and age, it's weird to have someone hand deliver info and pay in cash. It's just too risky. It's much safer to do it through computers. Middle men screw things up too often in real life, and it means keeping yourself anonymous. I wonder why..."

"If that's true, then how do you explain the email?"

I blinked at him stupidly. The email...wait, the email didn't jive with that theory. "Hell, you're right. If they're doing everything by hand, then why the email? Unless...unless they started doing things by hand because the email went astray."

He slowly nodded, accepting this point. "You might be right."

I had thought it through some more, though, and started shaking my head. "No, I'm not right. Look, it would be a simple matter to go back to the sent message and see why it hadn't arrived at its destination. This guy, whoever it was, that stole the information has proven that he is a very skilled hacker. So why does a person who can hack into the Preventer's mainframe send info through a common yahoo account, and when it doesn't arrive, just start doing things by hand?"

"That really doesn't make sense."

"Not an ounce of sense," I agreed in frustration. I started pacing up and down in front of the couch, twisting my braid around my hands.

Zechs sat back, thoughtfully watching me. I could see the wheels turning and slowly I stopped pacing to look at him. "What? You're thinking something."

"Just reminded of an old memory. Who's in the hotel, Duo?"

"Actors, spoiled rich kids, and staff." Where was he going with this?

"*Bored* spoiled rich kids."

My mouth opened, but nothing came out. Surely he wasn't suggesting...

"You said it yourself. That email sounded like a bet. Whoever it was that hacked the information knew how to do it, but were naïve about what to do with the information once they had it. Doesn't that fit the profile of your average rich kid?"

My god. "Some idiot kid in this hotel is stealing and selling government information as a *joke*?"

"I'm not sure if we can push it that far." Zechs looked oddly distant for a moment, as if he were caught up in a memory. "I think they're doing it just as a dare. I'm not sure if they would actually sell the information."

"Someone is, Zechs." But as I thought about, my gut started telling me he was right. Rich kids would do something that stupid, but they probably would draw the line at consorting with criminals. "Okay, suppose you're right. Who is doing it?"

"They've proven they're careless with the information once they have it. Maybe someone is exploiting that."

That rang true. "It's definitely possible. So...our next move is to figure out who the likely people would be. We've gotta start making a lot of friends, Zechs. We gotta infiltrate the circle."

He nodded firmly. "Yes. Definitely time to make friends. Which hot spot do you want to hit first?"

I thought about it for a moment. Our beach friends had mentioned a few places... "San Andreas Fault."

[ch. 2] [ch. 4] [back to Singles a-k]