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

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

Remember + Part 3: life becoming...

:: 1 ::

AC 203-06-01

Sprawled full-length along one of the grassy terraces above the price center, Max inhaled the commingled scents of early summer and French fries. Slowly, and with great relish, he devoured the bunch he held above his mouth and reached for another handful.

Freedom and fries... two of an American's Constitutional rights in one go. What could be better?

Finals were over... the last ones of his life, if he had anything to say about it. 'Ro was already talking grad school, but Max just wanted to get out and start working for real.

He'd interned a few places over the last two years, but none of the companies did anything that really interested him. Within the past six months, he'd pursued leads from scouting head-hunters and it had finally paid off. Last week he'd received a tentative offer from Solar, a subsidiary of Caterpillar and one of his preferred prospective employers. He was pretty sure he'd take it.

If only he was one-hundred percent sure Hiro would stay in San Diego after graduation, everything would be fine. Well... sort of. Now, if the dreams would stop, he'd be really fine. After two years of the damn things, though, he didn't think they were going away, at least not on their own.

But that was something he tried not to think about. It only led him down uneasy paths towards an uncertain and dangerous destination. Better to think of Hiro.

And speaking of...

A shadow blocked the sun for a brief moment before a body dropped heavily down beside Max. An irritable grunt accompanied the action and he smiled without opening his eyes. 'Ro was late today, and one thing the two of them never missed if they could help it was their standing lunch date. It was their private institution.

"Are you going to lie there like a lump, or are you going to feed me?"

Uh-oh. That sounded a bit more aggravated than usual. Obviously someone had pushed a couple of Hiro 'The Perfectionist' Lowe's hot- buttons this morning.

Reaching into one of the bags lying next to him, Max silently retrieved his friend's quarter-pounder (BC-style), and handed it over. A few minutes later, it was gone and 'Ro was doing that satisfied purring thing that always shot Max's libido sky-high.

He clenched his jaw and eyelids, keeping both tightly shut.

"You're quiet today."

Hiro's tone was all sated pleasure. Max did his best not to moan.

"Ssssh," he mumbled. "I'm enjoying my first and last afternoon of peace for the foreseeable future."

"Mmm."

Max cracked his lids slightly, glancing over at the gorgeous man sprawled next to him, limbs carelessly disposed over verdant lawn. Hiro's face was tilted upwards, golden skin glowing in the sunlight.

Max shut his eyes again. Sometimes it just hurt too much to look.

At one point he'd thought... but he'd learned a long time ago that nothing ever came of wishful thinking.

Hiro had never responded to his subtle advances in any way that could be construed as other than friendly, and after a while, Max'd settled for that offered friendship. He'd never regretted it. He was closer to 'Ro than he'd ever been to another person, and he wouldn't fuck that up for anything.

Even if 'anything' was the hottest body he'd ever laid eyes on.

"Hear the latest graduation debacle?"

Hiro's sleepy voice interrupted his ruminations.

"Nope. You know I don't pay attention to any of that shit. I already told you... I wouldn't be at either ceremony for a tri-lit of credits."

Oceanic eyes slitted, watching him with extreme prejudice.

"Even though I'm stuck going to Third's?"

"Hey it's not my fault the rest of the IEEE guys roped you into it. Besides, don't tell me you're not doing the whole, 'I'm going 'cause Jei would want me to' thing."

"Oh, shut up Howards." Hiro's tone was sheer disgust. "Just because you weren't raised within an inch of your life by an anal- retentive rocket-scientist..."

Max flipped a dismissive hand.

"Whatever, man. You know I'm just fucking with you. What went wrong this time? They couldn't get the Charger Girls for the second act?"

Hiro jabbed him with a bony finger.

"Show some respect. These people are graduating you, after all."

"Yeah, yeah, after I paid them a mint to do it, even with the scholarship. Did you know, way back when in the 1970's, the CA university system was actually affordable? Like, eighty US dollars a quarter for tuition."

"As a matter of fact, I did. I sat through 20th century California history with you, if you recall."

"Oh yeah. Forgot. So... what's the problem, anyway?"

"You know the VP of the United Americas is giving the main speech, right?"

"Uh-huuuuuuh..."

"He had to cancel. Guess who we're getting instead?"

Max cocked an eyebrow at a smirking Hiro.

"I'm beginning to think I might not want to know."

"You should feel honored, Howards. It's not every graduating class that's blessed with the presence of the Vice Foreign Minister, herself."

Eyes widening, Max stared at his friend.

"You are shitting me."

"I shit you not. Swear, Max."

They eyed each other mutely, but after a minute or so, Hiro's thoughtful voice ended the stand-off.

"I just hope they don't decide to issue pink tassels in honor of the occasion."

Leaning forward until his head touched Hiro's chest, Max laughed until he cried.

+

Hiro watched his best friend's mirth with quiet satisfaction. These last few months before graduation had been grueling; finishing out classes, looking for jobs... finding space to slow down and just breathe for a few moments and hope like hell you didn't hyperventilate.

It was even worse for Max, since he didn't have Hiro's monetary cushion to fall back on. Between student loans and basic human necessities, his savings account had suffered.

Hiro had the whole 'roof over Max's head' thing covered, at least. He'd been planning to ask the other man to move in with him for months. His apartment was a two-bedroom, after all, and the small dining area off the great room would make a decent study-cum-office.

Max's damnably touchy pride was the only reason he hadn't extended the invitation previously. When riled, his easy-going friend was alike unto a Fury, and would flat-out refuse anything that smacked of charity. It frustrated Hiro no end that what he saw as simple sharing between two people who cared greatly for one another could be so easily misinterpreted.

And Max's temper being what it was, misunderstandings came frequently and without warning.

Staring up at his still-chortling friend, Hiro traced those well- known features with his eyes. Generous mouth, slim brows, tip- tilted nose, heavily fringed lids... Max's lashes were so long, he complained that they stuck together whenever he closed his eyes, and brushed against the lenses of his sunglasses, obscuring his vision.

Hiro found the situation hilarious. He knew any number of females who'd give anything for an eyelash problem like Max's. Reaching up, he brushed a thumb across their fluttering softness, surprising a startled sound from the man beside him, before trailing his fingers down a length of chestnut hair.

Over the last two years, it had grown unchecked, and now brushed the round of Max's shoulders. For some strange reason, the longer Max's hair got, the more settled Hiro felt. He didn't know why... it just seemed right for his friend to look this way.

"Should I cut it?"

Jerking his gaze from the lock of brown-red-gold silk he'd been contemplating, Hiro met Max's violet eyes.

"No. Don't."

Dropping the soft strand, Hiro pushed himself up from the ground, offering his hand to the cross-legged figure below. Max grabbed on, hoisting himself upwards by means of Hiro's grip.

For an instant Hiro's vision wavered. The lush grass and peaceful collegiate surroundings faded, and...

[Punching the sewer grate so hard it went flying, he pulled himself out of the dank hole, then reached back to yank his partner up.

'Whoa. That was some serious shit we landed in... and now we're both wearin' it!'

He glanced at the boy running lightly beside him. The odd purplish eyes were bright with maniacal glee, the wide mouth stretched in a rictus grin. The other pilot's weird outfit was liberally smeared with the same disgusting muck that coated his own skin.

'Man, I'd kill for a shower. 'Scythe ain't gonna be happy with me for gunking up his cockpit.'

He decided not to reply. Over the last few weeks of enforced interaction, he'd learned that Maxwell would carry the conversation by himself if he just stayed silent.]


"Hiro. Hiro! Wake up, man, you're really freakin' me out here."

Jolted from his strange vision? hallucination? memory?? Hiro opened lids he hadn't realized he'd shut to look into his best friend's worried eyes. The same eyes he'd just seen gracing the face of a gun-wielding demon-child.

That other boy's features and form were momentarily superimposed over Max's, and vertigo swept Hiro, leaving him light-headed and faintly sick.

"Okay, that's it. From now on you eat on time. Jesus, 'Ro, your blood-sugar's probably at zero."

"No." Hiro shook his head to clear it. "No, I'm fine. Just a little dizzy from standing up too fast."

Max studied his face through narrowed eyes.

"Well, your color's coming back. You don't look like you've just seen a ghost any more."

A shiver twitched its way up Hiro's spine. A ghost...

/This is ridiculous, Hiro. Control yourself./

Jei's disapproving voice echoed through the vaults of his mind, and Hiro decided that for once, his guardian was right. Pushing the still-vivid images to the back of his brain, he smiled at Max, who still looked worried.

"I'm fine, really. I probably need some fresh air. Been holed up indoors too much, lately."

"No shit." Max rolled his eyes and started down the tiered steps. "I'm gonna be glad to see the back of this place."

"Hn."

Hiro remained neutral on that topic. He still hadn't ruled out grad school, and UCSD was a decent university... which was a good thing, since Max seemed worried that he'd leave town after graduation.

He shot a quick look at his friend. The other man walked quietly beside him, head down, hands in pockets. The slightest of frowns marred the lightly tanned forehead, and Hiro felt his own corrugate into deeper lines than those faint depressions.

He knew that something other than typical new-grad troubles was eating away at his friend. For the last couple of months, Max would occasionally get this far-off look in his eyes that would quickly morph into perplexity and dawning anger, right before disappearing, leaving his friend jittery and upset.

He had no idea what the problem was, or how to go about finding out. Attempting to pry the information from Max was certainly out of the question. An intensely introverted person, Hiro wouldn't have intruded on anyone's private thoughts, much less his best friend's.

It was against his own code to ask... but that didn't mean he couldn't attempt distraction.

"You up for some one-on-one later?"

Pulled from his reverie, Max glanced up at Hiro, his mouth tilting in a lop-sided smile.

"Yeah, later. Right now I've got to see a woman about a car. Probably gonna need one pretty soon."

"You know," Hiro began diffidently, "I was just thinking about that. After graduation, I mean. I just... the lease on your house is up soon, and since you're losing your roommates... Iwaswonderingifyou'dliketomoveinwithme."

The last sentence came out in a jumbled rush and Max's look was both amused and confused.

"I didn't quite catch that, 'Ro. You wanna run it by me again?"

Hiro took a breath and let it out, calming the moths dive-bombing the walls of his stomach.

"I'd like you to move in with me," he said, clear and concise, no waffling.

Just the way Jei had taught him.

Max's expression went through a host of convolutions before finally settling on relieved delight.

"Hell, yeah! If you want. But only if you do. I mean, I know you've got that extra room and all, but you like your privacy, and I don't want you to feel like you hafta put up with me, 'cause you're my best friend, and yeah, I'd love to room with you, but-,"

"Max."

Hiro's voice cut through the stream-of-consciousness monologue with the precision of experience. Max shut up immediately, a little pink around the ears.

"I wouldn't have offered, if I didn't want you there."

Max nodded solemnly.

"Yeah. Yeah, I know. So... yes?"

They stood there, grinning at each other like a pair of loons, until a wave of students broke over them, jostling them back to reality.

"Shit!" Max started almost violently and stared accusingly at his bare wrist. "You got the time, 'Ro?"

"Yeah, it's... just after two."

"Ah, hell. Gonna be late, for sure."

Leaning forward, Max enveloped Hiro in a hard, fast hug, then let go, smiling.

"Later, 'Ro. Meet you at the courts around five?"

"Sounds good."

Hiro watched the slim form of his best friend weave through human- shaped obstacles towards freedom. Max turned mid-flight, walking backwards and grinning at Hiro.

"We can talk about me moving in, then," he called, before rounding the corner of a building and vanishing from sight.


:: 2 ::

"Sorry I'm late... had a few things to take care of."

Breathless from his breakneck bike ride, Max stowed his pack on one chair, then dropped into the seat next to it. The young woman across from him looked up from perusing the single sheet of paper that passed for a menu in this hole-in-the-wall eatery.

"That's alright. I just got here myself. What's good?"

"Just about everything. They believe in quality, not quantity. Try the grilled chicken club. 'S perfect if you want something light."

"Hmm."

The waitress came and went quickly, taking their orders and leaving them to their own devices. Quiet descended.

"So." Max looked down at his hands, clasped tightly in his lap. "I guess you found something, then."

The girl regarded him cautiously, head tilted to one side.

"I found... something. I'm just not sure what it means." She leaned forward, her gaze earnest. "Max. Are you absolutely positive you want to pursue this inquiry? If you're right... if you've got repressed memories... you might be better off keeping them that way."

Frowning fiercely, he toyed with the paper place-setting, ripping angrily at its edges.

"Yes, I'm sure. I was sure when I hired you. This has been going on for a long time, Zoe, and I'm fucking tired of dreaming about things - remembering things I've never done."

Zoe watched him tear the thick paper to pieces.

"Fair enough."

Dipping a hand into the leather carry-all beside her, she retrieved a slim sheet from its depths and laid it on the center of the table, facing Max.

"This is a copy of a year-book photo from a boarding school in, of all places, Europe. A small country called Sanq, I believe. I checked it six ways to Sunday against all of the vids you gave me. Digital analysis was overwhelmingly positive. He's younger, but it's definitely you."

Max stared at the picture. A basketball game was in progress. In the foreground, two players in red tanks and white gym shorts faced off, one frustrated, the other laughing. He looked into the smiling eyes of his own past, and felt the fault-lines in his mind widen even further.

Zoe was right. That boy with the weird purple eyes and calf-length braid was him. It was his face... that was his smile.

Tearing his gaze from his youthful image, he pored frantically over the rest of the picture, looking for something... anything that might spark recognition.

What he found knocked the breath from his lungs and the remaining balance from his world.

In the far background, posed just beneath the goal, stood a slim dark-haired boy. Even in this grainy reproduction, the intense cobalt of his eyes shone through. He wore the same gym uniform as the other players, but he seemed to hold himself apart from them; watching the proceedings with detached interest.

Injured, dying, dead and buried for a hundred years... it didn't matter. He would have recognized those eyes anywhere, under any circumstances.

Heero.

+++

A/N: This particular chapter is dedicated to the lovely Dacia: a woman with the patience of a saint and the disposition of an angel. (Yes, you, don't argue.)

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