Author: Ravengirl
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

single quotes ' ' around speech = a past conversation
// = direct thought
{} = lyrics

Remember + Part 2: life after...

AC 201-05-24

Sometimes when he looked in the mirror, he didn't recognize himself.

It wasn't his face. That he knew perfectly; could describe it feature by feature with complete accuracy. The `wrongness' was something more indefinable than his wide mouth and pointed chin. More intangible than the dark violet of his eyes. It drifted on the edges of his consciousness, a vague disquiet that came and went as easily as thought.

Running a brush through short-cropped chestnut, Max Howards gave his reflection a final glance and dismissed his stranger-than-normal musings before checking his wrist-band. He was running about five minutes late, as usual, and if he didn't hurry up, he'd miss analog circuit design.

Shouldering his backpack, he streaked through the deserted house -- his roommates had obviously left early today -- hauling ass for the kitchen and a last-minute glass of oj.

He didn't drink coffee. Somewhere within the fun-house wackiness that was his life, he'd run across a medical journal that informed him of caffeine's growth-stunting effects. He was short enough, thank you very much... no need to push things.

Gulp of orange juice... check. Half-designed circuit... check. Overdue schematics for self-built electric car... check. Student ID... che-

/Wait a minute... who the fuck is that?!/

It was a UCSD ID, alright, just not his. How...?

Oh yeah. The new guy in systems and signals. He checked the name: Hiroshi Lowell. Transfer from Davis -- maybe he decided medicine wasn't his thing. Shared the table during lecture. Must've picked this up then.

Max studied the face beneath the laminated surface.

Pretty eyes, he decided. A rich cobalt, they smiled at the camera along with the precisely cut mouth. High cheek-bones, a sharp nose and an attractive mix of Japan and Europe completed the man's features. A longish mop of dark brown hair hung forward into deep blue eyes and cupped a thin-but-strong neck.

/Built like a runner. Wonder why I didn't notice him before. He's damned gorgeous./

The house computer he'd assembled in the great room chirped, and he looked up to see, `Hello, Maximillian, you are now ten minutes behind schedule' flashing on the screen.

Groaning, he shoved everything haphazardly into the backpack and grabbed his hooded sweatshirt. Slapping at his pockets, he verified the presence of his keys and the correct ID then managed to get himself and his bag out the door without further incident.

It was no wonder he never noticed guys anymore, beautiful or not. He wouldn't have the damn time to do anything about them even if he wanted to.

+

He thought he'd have to take the ID to the main office and extract Lowell's schedule, but he lucked out instead. As he exited his first lecture of the day, the classroom two doors down from his disgorged its occupants and there his target was, smack in the center of a bunch of engineering geeks.

Max smirked as the dude stopped in the middle of the hall, no doubt hotly debating some esoteric bit of thermodynamics with a girl in a tasteful cargos/tank ensemble, and a kid with so much metal on his body, he probably set off every security device he came into contact with.

/He's distracted. Cool. I can just drop it off and leave./

"Yo! Lowell!"

The dark head jerked up at his shout and startled blue eyes scanned the passing students before settling on Max. A slight frown formed between thick brows as the guy tried to place him.

Max approached at an easy saunter, giving the other boy plenty of time to kick his recall into gear. Stopping a couple of feet away, he smiled his laid-back `hey there' grin and saw dark blue eyes clear in recognition.

"Analog circuits... Howards, right?"

"Yeah. I've got something of yours."

Relief settled over the exotic face.

"My ID?" At Max's nod, he visibly relaxed. "Hey, thanks. You have no idea how much I was dreading having to replace it. Almost as bad as getting a license."

"No shit," Max laughed and pulled his pack around to dig for the card.

Five minutes later he was frowning at his bag while Lowell grinned at him.

"I swear to god, I had it! Shoved it in there with everything else right before I left."

Hiro Lowell thoughtfully appraised the thoroughly annoyed, thoroughly cute guy opposite him.

"Tell you what... it's 11:30 and I haven't eaten since sometime last night. Let's hit Rubio's and you can take your time and dig for it... unless you've got another class right away?"

Max shook his head, smiling gratefully back at his new acquaintance.

"Nah, I got a couple free hours, yet. And that sounds great. You gotta car?"

"I live in University City. That'd be a bit of a hike."

Max shrugged.

"I guess. I share a house down in La Jolla with a bunch of frat guys and bike. It's not so bad."

Hiro hiked a brow.

"Frat guys?"

"Yeah, they're Betas... pretty cool bunch. Don't bother me at all and make sure it's okay before they throw a kegger. Gotta love `em."

Both brows were now in full flight.

"To each his own. I like living alone."

Max eyed the other boy.

"Man, if you can afford an apartment in Uni City all by yourself, more power to ya."

Hiro laughed.

"Just lucky, I guess. C'mon, I'm parked on campus, but not close."

The pair of enormous purple eyes Hiro had been covertly admiring rolled skyward.

"Unless you get up at the crack of freakin' dawn, close is relative," he said, tone exquisitely dry.

When the dark-haired boy beside him laughed again, Max decided he could get very used to that sound.

+

It was after noon before they finally sat down to eat, the heavily- frequented taco shop they'd chosen busy, even at the start of the lunch rush.

Biting into his lobster burrito, Max stifled a quiet moan of pleasure. Mexican... food of the gods. Until he'd come to San Diego, he hadn't known what he was missing.

Glancing over at his companion, he found Hiroshi Lowell watching him in amusement.

"What?" he asked defensively. "Do I have sour cream on my nose, or something?"

"Do you always eat like you're coming?"

Max choked, the gulp of soda he'd just taken going down the wrong pipe.

He glared at the boy across from him through streaming eyes, coughing and sucking air into his abused lungs.

"Christ, Lowell, you tryin' to kill me or something?"

Mischief lit blue eyes to brilliance and a slight curve made the beautiful mouth even more so. Max did his best to shove his progressively X-rated thoughts back into their box. He so did not need a hard-on right now. With his luck, Hiroshi was probably straight as an arrow and rabidly homophobic.

After that comment, though... ah, hell, better not to take chances.

"Sorry. I've just never seen anyone enjoy their food so obviously."

Flush rising to cheeks still too round for his liking, Max lowered his eyes to the table.

"The way I grew up, you got your food first and fast, or you didn't get much at all. Nice to have a choice, y'know?"

He slanted a look at Lowell from under his lashes and found the other man studying him, a serious _expression on the marble-god features.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to touch on bad memories."

"Nah, don't worry about it. You didn't, not really. See, my parents died when I was eight... no family on either side, so I got sent to a state-funded `home' then put into foster care. It wasn't bad, just not good, if you catch me."

Lowell nodded as if he really did.

"Anyway, you don't wanna hear my sob-story... it's not depressingly cool, just boring."

Swallowing the last bite of his burrito, Max wiped his hands and reached for his pack.

"Now for the real challenge... digging your card out of the chaos." Smirking at Hiroshi, he upended the bag's contents onto the table next to them.

Lowell's eyes widened as the sheer volume of Max's stuff threatened to overwhelm not only the table, but the chairs on either side of it.

"How the hell do you manage to fit all of that in there?" he asked incredulously.

"Shoehorn and spit." Max grinned. "Mom used to call me the ultimate pack-rat."

A sleek brow rose.

"Perspicacious woman, your mother."

Max stuck his tongue out at the other boy and commenced digging. After a few minutes, he glanced over at Hiroshi, who was watching with a slightly-more-than-horrified _expression on his perfect features.

"Hey, you wanna get to your next class on time, why doncha give me a hand, here?"

Hiro glanced first at the pile of detritus then his watch. Rolling his eyes, he moved to join Max in his excavations, sighing in exaggerated martyrdom.

"If I must, I must... and it appears that intervention is necessary." Cracking his knuckles, Hiro flapped a dismissive hand in Max's direction. "Move over, young Padawan... the master has arrived."

"Ah, shove it, Lowell."

+

Hiro shot a look at his passenger. Howards was still sulking, the wide mouth taking a distinctly downward turn. Uh-oh. Some quick damage-control on his part was obviously called for if he didn't want the gorgeous boy with unbelievable violet eyes disappearing from his radar.

"You know I was just giving you a hard time, right? I really appreciate you making the effort to find me... most people wouldn't have bothered."

The slumped figure beside him stirred, an out-thrust lower lip pulling into an evil smirk.

"I know, man, but I can't let you get away with it, now can I?"

Extending lightly tanned arms over his head, Max stretched luxuriously and Hiro's mouth went dust-dry as lean muscle flowed effortlessly under a tight black Tee.

"So how'd a starving college student manage to get his hands on a restored, third generation RX7? Do you have any idea how much vintage like this is worth?"

Eyes glowing with awed reverence watched a slim hand trace over butter-soft leather seats and a control panel that was obviously cutting-edge auto-tech. Hiro shifted uneasily in his seat just watching those stroking fingers and swallowed, doing his best to speak around a constricted larynx.

"My uncle left me... very comfortable."

"Ah." Max smiled knowingly. "Rich kid, huh?"

"I suppose. Although, we didn't live that way. I never comprehended the extent of Jei's finances until he wasn't around to tell me about them, himself." Hiro's _expression turned wry. "My uncle wasn't the most communicative of men."

"How come you lived with him? What happened to your folks?"

Max cocked his head to one side, putting Hiro vividly in mind of a bright-eyed, curious bird perched precariously on a swaying tree limb. Damn, but he was cute!

"My mother died giving birth to me."

When Max gave him an astonished stare, he understood completely. Death in childbirth was almost unheard-of in this day and age.

"I was breach and she reacted badly to the anesthesia," he explained. "Her heart just stopped and never started again. Dad... well, he took it badly, or at least that's what Jei told me. He just handed me over to him and left. Wasn't hard to find reasons to stay away, since he was a pilot."

Max shook his head.

"That sucks the big one, `Ro. At least I got some good memories, y'know?"

"Oh, mine aren't that bad. I always spent time with Dad when he was dirtside and he'd take me with him on routine runs through the colonies, sometimes."

Hiro made a sudden left and Max finally noticed their surroundings. They were back at the university and cruising one of the student lots for a parking spot.

"Over there! Two rows down. Yeah... right there."

The RX7 slid smoothly into place and Hiro killed the engine before turning to look at his companion. Max gazed back, a lopsided grin tilting the mobile mouth and Hiro found himself responding automatically to the other boy's cheerful attitude.

"So... what do you have next?"

Max made a face.

"Fluid dynamics. And god-damn is my professor boring."

The corners of Heero's mouth twitched.

"Mitchell?"

"Yeah." Max rolled his eyes. "I swear that woman could put a room of insomniacs to sleep."

"Tell me. I had her last semester."

Pulling himself out of the low-slung car, Max studied the man opposite him over the shiny silver roof.

"You an EE, too?"

"Mn. Jei argued for medicine, so I gave it a shot, but just couldn't stick with it. And I hated Davis. Northern California wasn't my thing."

Weaving through the rows of parked cars, they headed for the engineering buildings.

"You're not from around here, are you?"

"No. I started out on the East Coast. Connecticut."

"Ever miss it?"

"Yes. I miss... the changing of seasons. I miss the green. And I miss clean air. No offense, but this place has a metallic tang to it, no matter how smog-free it gets."

Max shrugged.

"None taken. `M not from Cali, either. Lived in Texas as a kid, but after I left foster care, I moved around some. Emancipated minor. Came here on a government scholarship after I got my shit together."

"You seem to be doing okay, hoarding tendencies excepted."

They stopped in the middle of a walkway, facing each other, people streaming around them. Max checked his wristband and swore.

"Shit, I gotta go!" He shifted from one foot to another, nearly dancing his impatience, and Hiro laughed.

"Go. I'll see you Thursday."

" `Kay. Bye."

Hiro watched the lithe form dart off, stop, then come rushing back towards him.

"Hey, `Ro... me an' the guys are grilling tonight... steaks and salmon. Wanna come over?"

Dark brows winged upwards.

"You and your roommates, you mean? The fraternity wolf-pack?"

"Yeah, but I tolja... they're great, really. I swear, it'll be fun and your stomach will thank you. Senator does the best lemon-dill marinade ever."

"Senator?"

"Hiro, just come. Please?"

As if anyone could resist those wide, begging eyes... as if he even wanted to.

"Okay."

"Awesome! Here..."

A pen was produced from the capacious pack and agile fingers scrawled a series of numbers across a bemused Hiro's palm.

"That's my com-code. Gimme a holler around seven... I should be home by then and I'll give ya directions. See ya!"

Another blinding grin and then the shifting crowds swallowed the slender, swiftly moving form.

Hiro's eyes dropped to his open hand and warmth spread slowly from his chest to his mouth, leaving a wide smile in its wake. He was suddenly very glad that he'd left his ID on that lecture-hall table.

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