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Walking Along an Unseen Path

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To many, college was a magnificent place. It was full of education, community service, and networking for future jobs! All very important things to be successful in life, you know.

And Max couldn't give half a flying fuck about any of it.

No, the only reason Max had entered college was to keep his parents off of his back about it. The second he could, he planned to drop out.

He had a band, he had a venue. All they needed was some publicity to get him to that sweet, sweet 'dropping out' place.

He'd chosen to live in a house on-campus. It wasn't exactly cheap, but it was closer to town. Plus, he figured this way he'd get less people whining when he had his amp turned up.

And yet...

"You're late."

General whining was still going to be a problem.

A clearly clean-cut, prep-school type of guy stood between the door and Max as he arrived to the house. Mr. Preppy looked over Max disapprovingly, one eyebrow raised as if expecting some sort of apology for his tardiness.

He wasn't going to get one.

"Yeah, whatever," Max said flippantly, raising an eyebrow in return. "You the RA?"

"Yes, I am. I'm Dominic. You?"

"Max. I'm here for my keys."

Dominic, however, shook his head. "Not so fast. There's a young lady in the common room who's been waiting ten minutes for me to start orientation." He pulled his hand from his pocket, dangling keys loosely from his hand. "You won't be getting these until afterward."

Max huffed. He held up his hands, putting on a show of acting compliant. "Well I suppose that's fair," he said, "after all you can't expect everyone to- Hey what's that?!"

He made a grab for the keys, but was immediately swatted away. The slap hurt! It didn't hurt as much as his wounded pride, however, when he saw the utterly unimpressed, and somewhat disgusted, expression Dominic was giving him.

"Seriously, do I look like an eight year old to you?" Dominic asked. Max hadn't even thought up a retort yet when Dominic shook his head and added, "Don't answer that. Idiots always answer the rhetorical questions... So I'll be expecting your answer shortly."

It was through sheer willpower and pride that Max managed to bite his tongue hard enough to keep his mouth shut. He stuck his still-stinging hand into his pocket. "Yeah, yeah," he mumbled. "Try that mess on my turf. See how far you get."

"Just get inside before you waste any more of my time."

"Whatever..."

He was certainly acting high-and-mighty for doing something as simple as happening to catch Max off-guard. Plenty of other things could have caught him off-guard. A three-year-old could have done it if it punched him in the groin. Dominic was nothing.

As Max was about to step inside, however-

WHAM!

He was knocked to the ground by someone barreling past him. A smoking hot girl, in fact.

"Whoops, sorry!" she said, before continuing on her way to run into the house. But it was more than enough of a pause to give Max time to take in her appearance.

He looked up at Dominic with a mischievous grin. "You know, I wasn't sure about this place, but I think I'm gonna like it here."

"Don't go getting any ideas," Dominic warned. "I left the fire extinguisher inside." Then, to himself, he muttered, "Ugh, like Isabella's not enough of a handful..."

Max smirked. "Oh, an ideas woman is she? Even better!"

Dominic simply rolled his eyes at that comment. "Just get up already."

Well, Max was typically the type to simply sit on the ground all day, if only to piss off Dominic, but he knew that the sooner he knew all the rules, the sooner he'd know what would really piss him off.

So, with that, Max lifted himself to his feet and finally entered the house he would be calling home for the next year.

The first floor was huge - or at least was larger than Max had expected. He immediately saw an over-sized couch facing a nice big screen TV. There was also a sort of breakfast nook with a big table, and an area with several bookshelves that surrounded a bunch of comfortable-looking chairs.

Max saw a girl with glasses sitting on the sofa that sat closest to the TV, quietly reading a book. She looked somewhat plain, but Max could see that she had some untapped potential lying beneath that uniform of hers.

"'Sup? I'm Max," he introduced himself.

It took a minute, but the girl eventually whispered her name in return, "...Anne..." She only looked at Max for all of two seconds before dropping her gaze to the floor.

"Hey, no need to be so shy!" he said playfully. "Anyone sitting he-"

"Ahem!" Dominc loudly cleared his throat, and placed a firm hand on Max's shoulder. "Why don't you take a seat over there?" He pointed firmly to the opposite end of the couch Anne was on.

"What, I can't sit next to her?"

"It's better that you both have more space."

"Bull. You just wanna have her to yourse-"

Before Max could finish his accusation, Dominic had slammed a packet of papers into his chest. Max let out an 'oof'.

"Here are the house rules," Dominic said firmly. He walked over to Anne and handed one to her, as well. Gently.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, anyone?

"Let's go over them together. Anne, would you like to start?"

"O-okay..." Anne stuttered out. She swallowed thickly, and looked down at the paper. "One. There shall be no consumption, storage or sale of alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs in the housing area, nor shall any underage person be in the housing area while under the influence of the aforementioned substances. Students found in violation of this regulation are subject to dismissal from the housing area and remittance on unused rent under the terms of the contract."

No booze? Max nearly laughed. Yeah, not while he was around.

Dominic shot him a look, as if sensing exactly what he was thinking. Ah, well. He might prove to be a worthy adversary if nothing else.

"Two. There shall be no pets housed in or around the building," was the next rule Anne read. Meh, whatever. Max didn't really care about pets.

"I'll go next," Dominic announced. "Three. The sidewalk, entries and stairwells of this building shall not be obstructed or used for any other purpose than for entering and exiting the respective areas of the house. Four. No student shall interfere in any manner with any portion of the heating and lighting apparatus or fire protection equipment in or about the house. There will be no flammable materials or explosives stored in or about the housing area."

Dominic gave Max yet another glare. Max didn't even own that many explosives!

...That many...

"Now Max," Dominic said.

"Now Max what?" Max said calmly.

"Read the next two."

"Read the next two what?"

Dominic gave a deep sigh. "Read the next two rules, please."

Max grinned victoriously. "Well, since you asked so nice." He looked down at his paper. "Five. Students shall not play musical equipment or instruments at such hours and at such volume as to disturb other students in the dormitories."

...Well. Shit.

Max decided that he'd just have to keep the volume down as much as possible. He didn't want to end up getting kicked out for 'disturbing the peace' or... Whatever.

He then read the last rule twice, silently, unsure if it really said what it did. Admittedly, he nearly burst into laughter, but he decided against it. And also against reading the rule out loud. "Um..."

"Rule six, please, Max," Dominic said impatiently.

"Uh..." Max awkwardly cleared his throat. "Dominic... Were you the one who typed this out?"

Dominic blinked at the odd, random question. "Where is this coming from?"

"Just... Read the last rule. You'll understand."

Dominic raised an eyebrow, and looked down at his paper. After a moment of silence, his eyes went wide in realization. He took a deep breath, and looked up at Max. "I'll be right back," he said in an eerily calm tone.

And with that, Dominic dropped everything and began storming towards the stairs. "ISABELLA!" he shouted at the top of his lungs.

Max glanced, and saw that 'everything' happened to include the room keys. Score! He picked them both up, looked at the names on them, and tossed Anne the appropriate key. "Welp. I'm gonna bring in my gear, then tour the rest of this place. You coming?"

Anne shifted nervously, not meeting Max's gaze. "I-I think I'd rather explore by myself," she said softly.

Max blinked. He shrugged. He wouldn't lie, he was disappointed, but it was no big deal. He'd get her to warm up to him eventually. "Oh. Okay," he said. "I was just thinking it'd be easier if I introduced you to everyone, 'cause you seem kinda shy."

Anne frowned. "...Really?"

"What? I'm a nice guy!" Max said defensively. "My mom raised me to be a gentleman." He paused, then added, "Or, failing that, to at least pretend my mother did a better job raising me to be a gentleman."

At that, Anne gave a soft laugh.

"Okay," she said. "I'll choose to believe you."

"Huh?"

"I mean... I'll come with you."

Max grinned. Ah, there was that warming up! It was easier than expected, truth be told. "That's the spirit! Come meet me at my room once you're done unpacking, alright?"

"Alright."

And with that, Max began bringing his luggage up to his room.


Amp, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, a couple packs of replacement strings, five picks, laptop, recording equipment, cell phone, power cords, chart of power chords, a few t-shirts, jeans, leather jacket, and a sleeping bag. And, of course, water bottles filled with vodka.

All unpacked!

Anne knocked tentatively on the door, and entered warily, glancing around at everything. Max wondered if she was impressed or weirded out.

Eventually, she spoke. "...I don't know if you brought enough winter clothing..."

Max scoffed. "Pfft, you think I get cold that easy?" he said. "I'll be wearing a t-shirt while the polar bears are off looking for the heater."

"If you say so."

She didn't believe him.

"Just you watch!"

Max and Anne left his room, and immediately headed for the one next to it. There was a sweet smell, and soft, ambient noise coming from inside. Max lifted a fist and knocked loudly on the door. "Hey, anybody home?!" he shouted.

"W-what are you doing?!" Anne cried out.

Max winked playfully. "I told you I was gonna introduce you to everyone."

"Yes, but you don't need to disturb-"

Before Anne could finish her sentence, a beautiful blonde girl popped her head out. She didn't have the sex appeal of Isabella, or the sheer potential of Anne, but god, she was certainly beautiful.

"Oh my gosh!" she said. "I'm so sorry! Was I disturbing you?"

"Pfft, my gran's music is louder than that!" Max said. Then, quickly, he added, "No offense." He continued on, "The name's Max, just moved in today. This here's Anne."

Anne squeaked. "...N-nice to meet you..."

"Oh, you must be my new neighbors!" the blonde said. "I was wondering if anyone was living in those empty rooms!" She beamed. "I'm Sally! I just moved in this past Friday. It is so nice to meet you!"

"Same," Max said. Then, he couldn't contain his curiosity any longer, and asked, "So, what's with the whale sounds?"

"Oh, this is just for meditation purposes!" Sally answered. "The energy here is so hectic that I feel like there needs to be something tranquil to balance it out."

Max blinked dumbly. "...Energy?"

Sally nodded her head rapidly. "Energy!" she repeated. "You know, things like auras? The spiritual forces connecting everything in this world? Why, if there's too much of one kind of energy, then-"

A loud shout interrupted Sally's spiel. "Rakesh!" a familiar female voice shrieked. "Get in here!"

Sally winced, as though the shout physically caused her pain. "Everything ripples outward from there," she finished weakly. She sighed. "I'm going to keep meditating. You're welcome to join me, if you like!"

Pretty as she was, Max was not into 'tranquility'. "Nah. I'm gonna check out that scene down the hall. Catch you later."

"Okay! I'll see you at dinner!"

Sally gave a cheerful wave, then slipped back into her room and shut the door.

Anne looked down at where the shouting noises were coming from. Almost like a tiny little mouse, she scurried away, back into her room.

Well, Max should have expected that. But he was certainly up for more adventure. It sounded like this was going to be interesting. He walked further down the hall, following the sound of Isabella's still white-hot rage. The door to what he assumed to be her room was half-open. He headed inside to see what the commotion was about.

Hoo boy. First day in the new house, it already looked like a rumble would break out. His money was on Isabella. The other guy seemed to be a good-looking dude, but not really in the brawny, muscle-y type way. Max hoped that whatever he'd done, he felt it was worth it.

"I can't believe," Isabella shrieked, "you painted all over my dance pole!"

...Dance pole?

"I am sorry," the male said. Then, as if he were a complete idiot, asked, "Do you not like the colors?"

"It has nothing to do with the colors!" Isabella snapped. "I can't exercise with all this fresh paint on here!"

"But it looks more vibrant, yes?"

"No!"

There was a brief pause.

"Well, maybe a little," Isabella admitted. "But I'm still mad because you should have asked before you went off and used my things in your art project! You wouldn't want me to take all your paintbrushes and tape them together to make a dance pole, would you?"

The guy actually had to think for a moment, then shook his head. "I would not mind if you did that."

Isabella let out an annoyed groan. "And there's the problem. There's such a thing as private proper-"

Suddenly, Dominic entered the room, entering with such authority that Isabella was swiftly cut off by his mere entrance. "What's all this about?" he demanded.

"Rakesh messed with my exercise pole!" Isabella said, letting out a whine at the end of her sentence.

Dominic looked, then met Isabella's gaze with the most unimpressed expression Max had ever seen. "So I see. And?"

"You're the RA, why don't you talk to him about it?"

"Oh, I'd love to, Isabella," Dominic said, a slight smirk beginning to tug at his lips, "but I'm afraid that overregulating things here would make me too much of an iron-fisted dictator."

Isabella's face went pale. "Seriously?"

"I'm always serious. How else would I crush rebellions?"

Isabella groaned. "Ugh, whatever. I'm going to take a shower."

At that, Max finally spoke up. "Need any help?" he asked cheerfully.

Instead of the immediate dismissal he'd expected, Isabella actually paused and looked Max over. She grinned. "Hmm... You're cute. Sure, I can always use another back-scrubber."

Max grinned. "Well guys, it's been fun eavesdropping on you, but I should really get-"

"Ah-ah-ah. We never did finish orientation, did we?"

Max had never wanted to punch a guy harder than he wanted to punch Dominic right then. "What?! Gimme a break!"

"Cry me a river," was Dominic's rebuttal. He grabbed Max by the collar, and all but dragged him back downstairs and into the common room.

Chapter Text

After dragging Max down to the common room, Dominic pretty much held him captive there, lecturing about nine other house rules that they hadn't gotten to. Max distantly wondered why Anne wasn't getting a similar treatment, but was intelligent enough not to ask.

Once he finally left, the guy from earlier who'd painted Isabella's dance pole came up to Max. He certainly seemed like he had things figured out. At least enough to dodge Dominic.

"He can talk a great deal, eh?" the guy said, giving Max a smile.

"More like I missed out on a great deal, thanks to him," was Max's rebuttal. He thought a moment, trying to remember what Isabella had called the guy earlier. "Sorry... Ganesh?" he guessed.

The guy gave Max a big grin. "Rakesh," he corrected Max.

"Oof, way off. I'm Max."

Max held out his hand for Rakesh to shake. Rakesh eyed it in confusion for a moment, before taking it firmly and giving it a shake. But then, once he let go, he ran a finger down Max's palm...

"Um...?" Max blinked, looking at Rakesh like he didn't know what to do. Probably because he didn't.

"Ah, you don't have that here?" Rakesh asked, looking away. "It is just how we shake hands in India. Forget it, then. I am working hard on getting more Westernized."

Max cleared his throat. "Right, right." Then, he quickly changed the subject, "Anyways, Rakesh. Let's get one thing straight. You can paint anything else, but you touch my guitars or my amp, and we're throwing down. Got it?" He met Rakesh's gaze, eyes narrowing to ensure that Rakesh knew he was serious.

Immediately, Rakesh's hands flung into the air like he was a criminal in front of a cop, trying to show that he was unarmed. "I understand. Crystal clear."

At that, Max relaxed, and smiled easily. "Good."

Rakesh also relaxed, lowering his hands and giving a sigh. Then, he tilted his head like a confused puppy. "But what is it that we will throw?" he asked.

Max blinked. After a moment, he slapped his palm to his face, trying to decide whether to treat the question seriously or to just act like it was a joke.

Before he could decide, a delicious, mouth-watering scent hit his nose.

"Ah, it is time for dinner," Rakesh announced with a pleased smile.

"Who's cooking?" Max asked.

Here, Rakesh frowned, almost in concern. "Usually it is me," he said, "but today it is Sally's turn."

Max eyed that expression of Rakesh's warily. "...Is she a bad chef?"

"No, very good," Rakesh said quickly. "She is just..." He thought a moment, then sighed. "She does not cook with any meat or milk products. Not even butter."

"Vegan?" Max asked.

"Yes, vegan."

No meat... Oh, god. Max would not survive with no meat. If he wanted to eat vegan, he would have gone to an Art College.

Unable to help himself, Max made his way into the kitchen. Sally looked up from the frying pan and gave a cheerful wave. A quick glance told Max that she was cooking some kind of... Patty?

"Hello, again!" Sally chirped. "Dinner will be ready in just a few minutes!"

"Oh, oka-" Max almost accepted this, but cut himself off upon remembering why he'd come in here. "Hey, hold on! I demand to know what you're making me eat!"

Sally giggled. "Don't worry! I know that most of the people here are omnivores, so I'm making some good old-fashioned burgers and hot dogs."

Max blinked. As much as he was grateful, wouldn't Sally go hungry tonight if she made that? "Burgers and hot dogs?" he repeated. "But wouldn't those have-"

"Veggie burgers and soy dogs!"

"Oh."

"They look and taste just like the real thing!" she chirped, not noticing Max's reaction (or perhaps she said it because of his reaction). "You won't be able to tell the difference!"

Then, she gave Max a bright smile. Oh, hell. Who could say no to an angelic grin like that? Max sighed. "Alright, I'll bite," he said. Thankfully Sally didn't comment on the horrible pun - it wasn't one of his best. "This better be as good as you say," he added.

Sally playfully swatted Max on the head with her spatula. "It will be! Now shoo!"

Max left the kitchen and headed over to the common room's dining table. He took a seat. When he glanced over to the couch, he could see Dominic giving Rakesh a half-hearted lecture about property rights. Max could see, just from Rakesh's empty smile and distant gaze, that there was no way any of it would stick.

Anne had yet to come back out of her room, or at least had yet to come back downstairs. Poor girl was probably too shy... Or she was still unpacking the stuff she'd brought. How much did she have?

CRASH!

"What was that?!" Dominic cried out.

"Hey, is dinner ready yet?" Isabella demanded to know as she came on down the stairs, fresh from the shower.

In nothing but a towel.

Dominic let out a strangled noise that sounded like he was being choked. "You- Get dressed before coming down here!"

"Oh, is little Dominic getting all hot and bothered?" Isabella asked in a taunting, baby-like voice. Before Dominic could shout whatever response he planned to give, she then said, in a normal tone of voice, "At least the girl upstairs appreciated the view."

"Make that two of us!" Max declared. "Dominic here just doesn't know a good thing when he sees-"

Max swiftly cut himself off as he processed what Isabella had said properly. Girl upstairs...? Did she mean Anne?

"Wait, do you mean-"

"Enough!" Dominic shouted. "Isabella, put some clothes on."

Isabella gave Dominic a smug look. "It's a towel! I'm breaking neither house rules nor public decency laws." She winked tauntingly at him. "Face it, honey. In a war of escalation, I always win."

Dominic narrowed his eyes. "We'll see about-"

Then, Sally barged in, carrying so many platters that Max had to wonder how she hadn't fallen over. "Dinner is served!" She placed down the platters on the table. "Burgers and hot dogs here, buns here, sweet potato fries and condiments over here! Enjoy!"

Anne chose that moment to come down. She gave Isabella a quick glance before blushing and focusing her gaze on the food. Damn, Max definitely missed something.

In any case, they all began to eat.

...

It did not taste like meat.

It tasted more like a dish sponge that had been soaked in grease.

Eventually, Dominic gave an awkward cough. "...I'm going to order pizza," he announced.

"I reluctantly agree..." Max muttered, fighting the urge to spit out the bite he was trying to force himself to swallow.

"You big babies!" Isabella shouted. "You've barely had a bite each."

Max finally, with some difficulty, swallowed the bite, then turned towards Isabella, arms crossed. "Oh yeah? If you like it so much, how come your plate's nothing but fries?"

Caught, Isabella averted her gaze. "I'll have some later! I'm just... Bracing myself!"

Rakesh outright pushed his plate away from himself. "Thank you for the meal. I am full," he said. He, like Max and Dominic, had only managed one bite.

Anne frowned, looking down at her own plate. "...I don't think this is that bad..." Max was tempted to call bullshit, but she'd actually eaten half of her burger. She must have at least liked it more than himself, Dominic and Rakesh.

Sally, however, shook her head. "No, no, they're right," she said. "I must not have gotten a good brand!" She sighed. "I'll just have to do better next time."

Then, she clapped her hands, turning towards Dominic, who was already pulling out his cell phone. "Dominic, make that three pizzas, one with no cheese! It'll be my treat this time."

And so, Max's first meal at college ended up being delivery.

That said, he was impressed with Sally. Owning up to it like that took more class than he would admit to having himself. He'd originally just thought she was a good-looking airhead, but she clearly had more depth.

If she could have depth, maybe he could manage to get Dominic to loosen up a bit on the rules while he was here. That, or at least Max could try to fly under the radar, so he wouldn't get into too much trouble.

Though, based on their interactions thus far, he doubted that was a possibility in the near future.

Chapter Text

It could be easy to assume that someone like Max was a sleep-until-noon type of guy. However, anyone who made such an assumption would be sorely mistaken. He woke up at six AM every morning.

Late to bed, early to rise. It let him experience his life to the fullest.

Once dressed, he began walking downstairs, letting out a yawn as he got to the common room. He saw Sally, doing some stretches. When she noticed him, she shot him a bright grin. "Good morning!" she said. "Did you sleep well?"

Max shrugged. "Slept alright," he said. "Mattress was kinda hard, though."

Sally frowned. "That's no good," she said. "Do you want me to lend you a mattress pad?"

"Nah, I've slept worse," Max said. "There was this one time, I woke up in a dumpster, just as I was gonna get loaded onto the garbage truck. No clue how I got there."

Sally gasped, eyes wide in horror. "Oh, that's terrible!" she cried out. Max was about to admit it was a joke, before Sally then said, "How could they? You're clearly recyclable." A grin formed on her face at the joke.

"Ha! Nice," Max said, grinning back at her. He had to give her a well-deserved high-five for that. "Don't worry, I'm just exaggerating anyway."

She let out a sigh. "Thank goodness."

Aw. She really was worried. Max decided to not tell her about the time he'd woken up in a dark alley, with a hangover and no pants.

Dominic walked out of the kitchen, but had to do a double-take upon noticing Max. He nearly dropped his coffee cup, even. "...You?" he said. "You're up early. Or did you never sleep?"

Max smirked. He took a casual stance, one hand in his pocket and the other hanging loosely at his side. "Hey, gimme some credit!" he said. "Got a full three hours here."

Dominic blinked in obvious horror. "Three hours?" he repeated, as though they were a foreign language.

"What about it?" Max said, daring Dominic to say anything about it.

"How are you still functioning?" Dominic asked. "Or at least maintaining whatever cruel mockery of functioning you're doing?"

Max smirked wickedly. "The blood of thousands of rock gods pulsing through my veins." He paused, watching Dominic's incredulous expression for a moment, then added, "Tides me over until I get come caffeine in my system."

He eyed the coffee cup in Dominic's hand. "Is the coffee pot for everyone, or is it just yours?"

"It's technically his," Sally answered before Dominic could respond. "But he doesn't mind if the rest of us use it, so it should be no different for you. Right, Dominic?" She shot Dominic a pointed look.

Max had a pretty blonde vegan on his side... It felt good.

Dominic sighed. "I'm just impressed he bothered to ask," he muttered. "But you're right, Sally." He met Max's eyes. "Come on. I'll show you where it is."

"Awesome."


Max had two classes that morning. That meant two times the grading systems lecture. At least he learned how much he was able to skip classes before he needed to start turning on the charm.

Ah, well. Out of sight, out of mind. He wouldn't worry about that bridge until he got to it.

More importantly, he needed to find a way to get some cash. Gigs and instrument maintenance don't pay for themselves.

Yeah... He needed cash. Cash and food. Food, more importantly, at the moment. He was really hungry.

He decided to grab a bite at the cafe that was on campus. He didn't pay for a meal plan, so there wasn't any point in bothering to go to the cafeteria. The cafe food had to be better, anyway.

As soon as he entered, a familiar face caught his eyes. "Hey, welcome to Lingua Franca-"

Isabella's eyes lit up with recognition. "Well, well!" she said. "If it isn't my favorite bad-boy housemate. Just the eye candy I was looking for."

"Right back at ya, Isabella," Max said, tossing her a smirk. "Say, is it the uniform that's hot, or is it just you?"

Isabella scoffed. "Honey, all it takes to make shirts like this sexy is to undo some buttons."

"Looks like one button does the job just fine, from where I'm standing."

"Oh yeah?"

"Oh, I wouldn't mind seeing more, but it works as-is."

Isabella let out a laugh. "This is all I can get away with while I'm on the clock. So, Max, was it?"

"You got it."

"How would you like a latte?" she asked, giving him a saucy wink. "I could top it off with some extra sexual tension, no charge."

"Oh, definitely," Max agreed, leaning on the counter a little. "I'll take a large latte, no whip, extra tension." He paused, suddenly remembering his empty stomach. "Oh, and a cheesesteak."

Isabella hummed as she typed in the order. "That'll be six dollars and forty-five cents."

Max blinked. Suddenly, he jerked away from the counter, his jaw nearly hitting the floor. "That much?!"

Isabella raised an eyebrow. "It's the best cheesesteak this side of the state. No lie."

He groaned. Damn his hunger. "Alright, alright..." He reached into his wallet and pulled out a twenty. He was definitely going to be eating in more often than expected.

Isabella passed him his change almost immediately after taking the twenty. Quite impressive. She must have been working here for a while. "One hot, steamy order coming right up," she said, biting her lip playfully at him.

Max sighed at the loss of his money, but then gave Isabella a wicked grin. "It better be dripping and melty when it gets here."

Isabella snickered. "That's all the innuendo I can get away with while I'm on the clock." Then she headed off to get his order ready.

Max looked around, wondering exactly how much this job would pay him. If he got to work with Isabella, too, that'd be even better. Maybe he could ask about openings.

"Here you go," she said, bringing the order over to him.

"Thanks, babe. You're the best," Max said. "Oh, can I ask you something? How would a guy like me find his way to working around here?"

"Work, eh? Well, there are all kinds of jobs available on campus..."

Max listened intently to Isabella's explanation of the different kinds of jobs he'd be able to find.

Chapter Text

Max sighed as he headed home on Saturday. He'd gone to the library to study - for sheer lack of nothing to do that day. The week had been long, though, and he was relieved to finally be home. Now that the sun was starting to set, he could just lay around in bed, plucking at his guitar, without anyone complaining about him wasting his life or whatever bullshit Dominic had been on about that morning.

As he approached the house, he saw Isabella sitting on the porch, talking to Anne. "Seriously, this party is gonna be great!" Isabella insisted. "You gotta come out."

She caught sight of Max when he got close, and gave him an enthusiastic wave. "You too, Max!" she said. "This is the first really big party of the quarter. It's gonna be so much fun! Everyone'll be there!"

Hm... It sounded quite tempting. But his bed was calling for him... It was even more tempting.

"Hm. I gotta go to my room for a bit. But I'll think about it, okay?"

"Alright, but don't keep us waiting forever, hot stuff!" Isabella said as he walked past, towards the door. "Couple of hot ladies like us won't stick around for long!"

Isabella nudged Anne, who just looked uncomfortable.

Max headed up to his room, unloading the books he'd been reading all day. He took one look at his crappy bed, and knew what choice he was making.


Late that night, Max slipped out of the room, hoping for a late night snack. He was only starting down the stairs when he heard the sound of whispering and light thumping. As he made his way down, he came across Isabella, supporting Anne as the two of them tried to climb the stairs together.

Isabella looked perfectly fine. Anne, however, appeared to have seen better days.

"Oh, man, did you get Anne trashed, Isabella?"

"Oh, shut up, she's not that bad. Didn't even throw up!"

Max couldn't help but think that she sounded a little too proud of Anne for that. It must have been a close call. He shook his head, but made room for them to pass before continuing on to the kitchen.


Max was up with the sun, per his usual routine. Yes, even on a weekend.

He headed down to the common room, and saw that he wasn't the only one. Rakesh, Dominic and Sally all stood there, doing stretches in sweats. Though at least Rakesh looked a little bit sleepy - Dominic and Sally were wide awake.

"What's up, early birds?" Max asked. "Out to get some worms?"

Dominic gave him a disgusted look. "Ugh. Imbecile."

"Oh, hey!" Sally said cheerfully. "We were just about to head out. We like to go jogging together on weekends. We usually hit the gardens, they're just lovely this time of year! Do you want to come with us? It's a great work out, and the scenery is gorgeous."

"Don't feel the need to go out of your way," Dominic added. "I'm sure we'll be fine without you."

Sally frowned disapprovingly. "Dominic, be nice!" She looked back at Max. "You can come out if you want."

Max weighed his options, then gave a nod. "Okay, I'll come with you. Just give me a chance to get ready."

Sally beamed. "Sure thing! Since we're already warmed up, we'll meet you there, okay?"

"Sure!"


It took Max fifteen entire minutes to find his workout clothes and get out the door. He probably should clean up his room a little, but everyone knew that was never going to happen.

Soon enough he was standing with the other morning joggers, running in place as they tried to decide where to go.

"We should go through the east botanical gardens!" Sally suggested.

"We did that two weeks ago," Dominic said. "Let's go through the farming garden."

Sally rolled her eyes. "Ugh, I work there," she said. "I see it all the time. Not that it's not pretty. I'm just saying..."

Max noticed that Rakesh hadn't said a word. He must not have really wanted to be running...

"Oh, fine," Dominic said, giving in to Sally's whims. "Let's just go..."

With that, Sally and Dominic took off running. Max ran after them, falling into pace just behind them. Rakesh sort of followed, but he wasn't running all that much.

The two who were in the lead took the group along a waist-high fence that bordered the botanical gardens. Plants of all colors, shapes and sizes grew in their own separate little areas, organized with little plaques to tell what plant it was. It was still early in the fall, so the trees had yet to change color.

Max hadn't gone running in a while. He was more the type for sit-ups or pull-ups. Sally and Dominic, on the other hand, were in pretty good shape. And the view behind Sally wasn't all that bad, either...

"Max, come on! Keep up!" Sally said.

Max looked behind himself. "What about Rakesh?"

"We're barely waiting for you. I'm not slowing down for two slackers," Dominic immediately responded.

"It's not that we don't like to wait for him," Sally quickly amended. "He just gets so distracted. He tends to slow down a lot."

"And some of us are trying to get some exercise out here," Dominic added.

"I see..." Max muttered.

With that, Sally and Dominic set an even more brisk pace, leaving Rakesh further behind. Max hesitated, wondering if he should stay behind for Rakesh's sake.

Dominic turned around, as did Sally, both seeming to wonder if he was coming, too.

After a moment, Max sighed, mentally apologized to Rakesh, and jogged up to Dominic and Sally. Just like that, the three of them ran off on their jog.

However, the sound of nothing but feet pounding on the ground grew tiresome. Max either wanted to talk to one of them, or he wanted to just stop altogether. After a moment of debate, he decided to turn towards Dominic. This would be a good chance to work on learning what would really bug the guy.

"You're in pretty good shape," he said, starting with a compliment to lower his guard.

Dominic ignored him. In fact, he started running even faster, and pulled ahead of Max and Sally!

"Oh, a challenge?!" Max shouted.

"Max..." Sally said in a warning tone.

He ignored her, though, and ran faster, pulling up right next to Dominic. "Geez, it was a genuine compliment, man!" Halfway genuine, anyway. He would admit it - Dominic was in better shape than he was. Max was the one feeling like he might cough up his lungs if he wasn't careful, after all.

"I don't trust your compliments," was Dominic's response.

"I don't really know why you wouldn't trust a compliment, but okay," Max said, starting to sound a bit breathless even to himself. Dominic turned towards him, one eyebrow raised. "S-sorry," Max said, giving a laugh. "I'm not the running type, really."

"Then why did you even bother coming with us?" Dominic asked, raising an eyebrow. He glanced behind them, where Sally was setting a steady pace and not bothering to try and catch up.

His meaning was clear. And it kind of ticked Max off.

"It wasn't completely for her, you know," Max said, gasping for breath before continuing, "I wanted to get to know my... My housemates. That so wrong?"

"You mean you wanted to get to know Sally and Rakesh, right?"

"Last I checked... You were my housemate too..."

Dominic actually blinked in shock. He didn't offer any response, promptly turning away from Max, so the conversation ended there.

The rest of the run was silent, but luckily Max and Dominic finished quickly enough with the horrible pace Dominic had dared to set... Not that Max couldn't have just slowed down at literally any point. It was a matter of pride to him, which was probably why he didn't bother.

Max didn't think he'd be going on any more runs with them, though.

 

Chapter Text

On Monday, Max already had full confidence in his abilities to understand the class routine. After all the work he did that day, some food sounded damn good. He headed towards the kitchen, hoping to find out how long it would be until he would be allowed some food.

The first thing he saw was Sally.

"Oh, hey," he said, catching her attention. "I was just checking on dinner..."

"No problem. Want to lend a hand?" she asked. "I could use some help with the tofu."

Well, shit. Veggie night. Again. It wasn't that Max couldn't help out - but he'd definitely need some instruction. He didn't know anything about what Sally ate.

But the last time she was left alone with it, it came out... Less than ideal.

"Let me go put my stuff away and go wash up," he said. "I'll come down if I can, okay?"

"Sounds good. Otherwise I'll see you at dinner."

Max headed upstairs, and decided quickly enough that there was no way he could leave Sally alone with that food. He'd just need to make sure he didn't screw up, too. He washed his hands, then it was back downstairs to give Sally a hand. Maybe, at the very least, he'd be able to help make the meal better than last week's.

"Welcome back, Max!" she chirped. "Grab a spoon and stir the pasta, okay?"

"You're the boss!" he responded, easily finding a spoon and going for the boiling pot on the stove. "Though... Is this the same stuff as last week? 'Cause that stuff was terrible."

Sally shook her head. "Oh, no, I switched my brands. I even made myself some over the weekend, just to make sure. This stuff is much better than that last tofu!" She beamed. "Plus, I'm not trying to pretend it's hamburger this time. I figure we'll get back to basics this week. This time, fried tofu and portobello fettuccine alfredo!"

Max saw her mixing the creamy sauce in a small pan next to him.

"Let me know when the tofu starts turning brown, so I can flip it," she added, focusing on the sauce.

"This is a pretty amazing spread for all vegetables," Max couldn't help but comment. "Do you mind me asking, why'd you decide to go vegan anyway?"

Sally shrugged. "It was an easy decision, really."

"How so?"

"Well, I love animals! All animals!" She looked up at Max. "How does it make sense to eat something you love?" She turned back to the sauce. "I mean, I started looking into being a vegan because I didn't want to hurt anymore animals. But when I looked into the health benefits, it became totally obvious!"

"Really?"

"Oh, yeah! Reduced chance of heart disease, less chance for diabetes... It's a very healthy diet all around."

Max chuckled, looking over her. "Well, I can certainly see the benefits are paying off."

Sally flushed, giggling. "Aww, thanks. Not that I was fishing for compliments, it really is a good diet."

"Oh, I'm sure it is! After all, you show it off very nicely."

"Oh, stop!"

Her cheeks were a little bit redder as she flipped the frying tofu. Well, looks like Max scored some points there.

Just when Max was turning back to the pasta, Sally said, "I guess you're not so bad yourself... For a meat eater."

"Hey now," Max said, "I do plenty of bacon-ups every morning to get these abs!"

"Oh, gross!" Sally said with a laugh. "I don't even know what that is!"

"Well, I suppose it's a lot like a carrot on a stick... Hey, maybe I'll switch to carrots!"

Sally laughed again. "That's definitely a better idea. Even if it's still weird!"

They laughed together as they drained the fettuccine and poured it into the pan with the white sauce.

"Okay, you keep stirring the pasta. Make sure the mushrooms don't burn!" Sally said.

"Okay!"

"Thanks for helping me out in here tonight," she said. "I know this is a different type of meal for you."

Max shrugged. "Oh, it's no problem." He didn't admit that it was because she'd completely fucked up their last meal.

"It's just nice to see someone," she continued, "who doesn't automatically see something different and assume it's bad."

"Hey, I like to try different things," Max said. "Variety is the spice of life, right?"

"That's a good attitude to have, I think. Look to the positive and try to avoid the negative." She twirled a strand of her hair around her finger. "I'm used to people making fun of me for being vegan, but it's about making a stand and showing the path to enlightenment."

Max nodded. "I guess I can understand that."

"We're all pretty different here," Sally added. "And we're different in different ways. Isabella and Rakesh are..." She trailed off, then continued, "Well, even look at you and Anne. Different, but we have things in common, you know?" A spark of passion came to her eyes. "But we need to embrace that diversity! It's the path to truly capturing that harmonic energy that brings people together in understanding."

Well... Max didn't entirely buy into the whole 'energy' thing she was spouting, but he knew where she was coming from and appreciated the sentiment.

"Hey, I'm all about embracing," he said. "Diversity and otherwise!"

"Exactly!" Sally chirped. "Okay, I think we're ready. Let me get the plates out to the table. Can you turn off the stove and tidy up a bit while I serve?"

She was already on her way out the door, so Max just said, "Will do."

Hm... What did she mean by Rakesh and Isabella, though?

Ah, well, it didn't matter. Max cleaned up as he heard the others grabbing plates and sitting down.

A few moments later, he heard Sally asking if they liked it.

Silence met her question. Uh oh... Looked like Max didn't help as much as he'd hoped to.

But his nervous thoughts were wrong. Sally rushed in. "Hey, come on out and grab a plate!" she said. "They all really like it, great job Max!"

Max let out a sigh of relief. He headed out, grabbing a plate and enjoying a great meal with his roommates.

Chapter Text

It was Wednesday of Max's second week, and it was still so strange to Max to be wandering around the house like it was his own home. He hadn't been there long, true, but still. He wasn't used to the noises quite yet.

Right then, he could hear the others downstairs. He headed down, wondering what was going on. He saw that Anne, Rakesh and Sally seemed to have set up some kind of game... With about four six-packs stacked onto the table.

"Um... Hey guys."

Sally's eyes lit up as she looked over. "Oh, great, hey Max!" she chirped. "We were just about to start playing King's Cup! Come join us!"

"King's Cup?" Max repeated.

"It is a card game with drinking that Isabella showed us," Rakesh said. "Or maybe a drinking game with cards is a better term?"

Dominic, who stood nearby, gave an annoyed sigh. "You know the rules forbid alcohol in here, right?"

Max scoffed. "Paging doctor buzzkill!" he said. "You're needed for an immediate fun-ectomy."

Dominic shot him a glare. "Oh shut up, Max. Before I dissect you."

"Oh, Dominic!" Sally said, looking at him excitedly. "You should join in too!"

"Does nobody listen to me around here?" Dominic asked to no one in particular.

"I do my best not to," was Max's response.

"Did I not just tell you to shut up?"

"We listen," Rakesh jumped in. "We just think you are silly."

"Come on, Dominic, loosen up," Sally insisted. "Besides, if we can't do it here, then we're gonna be forced to find somewhere else do it." She grinned wickedly. "We'll be out on campus, drunk and wild, talking about how our cruel RA threw us out of our own house."

"It might not look very good," Rakesh added.

"Oh, fine," Dominic muttered. "Do whatever you like! Just don't come crying to me when the housing authority kicks you all out."

And with that, he stormed off, heading upstairs and slamming his bedroom door so loudly that Max could hear it from downstairs.

"Come back and join us, Dominic!" Sally called after him.

"Ha! That was fantastic. Where's Isabella to see him get put in his place?" Max asked, looking around for her.

Sally sighed and shook her head. "I know, right? You'd think since this was Isabella's idea she'd have stuck around... But apparently her latest crush called and she had to go running."

"Crush...?" Max repeated.

"Oh, sorry. I meant boyfriend."

She did airquotes... She must not have thought the relationship was worthy of such a term. "We'll see how long this one lasts," she added with a shake of her head.

Max was slightly shocked. Isabella had a boyfriend? "Oh... Huh. So who's this crush?" he asked casually.

"Oh, I don't know, some giant football guy. Chap? Chaz? Chad? Chet?" Sally shrugged. "Something like that."

"Okay... So it's just us, then?"

"Yes, just we three," Rakesh said. "Four, if you would join us?"

Max grinned. "Yeah, sure. But hang on a sec - let me grab something from my room real quick."

He ran upstairs to his room, and tracked down down some of his vodka stash. Just to make things really interesting.

By the time he found it and brought it down, though, he was surprised to see Dominic among the group as well - looking quite put out.

"Wait, did somebody finally kill Dominic?" he asked, looking around at everyone else. "Is this his evil, but vastly more fun, twin?"

Dominic groaned and looked at Sally, cheeks alight with color. "See, Sally! I shouldn't even be down here."

"Stay put, you grump," Sally said firmly. "You've earned a little ribbing, I think. Just go with the flow, already!"

Max did his best not to snicker while Dominic grumbled and pouted like a child. It was fun to see him when he'd clearly lost something.

"Hey, I brought a little something for the wild card rounds!" he announced, holding the vodka over his head.

"Oh, have you played this game before?" Anne finally spoke, looking at him with widened eyes.

"I think I played it by another name..." Max said. "Really, I just wanted to get better booze!"

"Okay, well as you can see, Rakesh set things up quite nicely for us," Sally said, gesturing to the table. A large plastic cup sat in the middle, and around it was a circle of cards.

"Oh, yeah. I think it was called 'Circle of Death' last time I played," Max said with an understanding nod. "It was a while ago, though."

Rakesh waited until Max sat down at the table before beginning to speak, "The rules are simple. We take turns pulling a card from the circle. Each card has a special task or meaning assigned to it. When it is drawn, we perform the task. The cards' meanings are as follows. A two means that you may make someone at the table other than yourself drink."

Before he could finish his explanation, Max interrupted Rakesh by saying, "No offense, Rakesh, but I came down here to play, not to listen to a King's Cup seminar. Just tell us the rules as we pull the card!"

"Yeah, let's get to it!" Sally agreed.

Everyone cheered, though Anne and Dominic were significantly less enthusiastic.

"Who goes first?" Anne asked.

Rakesh smirked. "I think someone has now volunteered!"

Anne squeaked. She looked around at the others. "Really? Oh, geez, um... Okay."

She hesitantly reached over to one of the cards, while the rest of them cracked open their beers.

"No dawdling, now, come on!" Max urged her.

"Oh, alright!" Anne quickly flipped over the card she'd chosen. "A ten," she announced.

"Okay, quick! Think of a category," Sally said. "Then we all have to say something that fits in that category. First one to miss has to drink!"

"Okay... Um..." Anne thought for a moment. "Liquors."

"Beer," was Dominic's immediate response.

"Boo," Max said, "you took the easiest one. Vodka."

"Wine!" Rakesh said happily.

"Rum!" was Sally's choice.

"Uh... Scotch?" Anne tried.

Dominic hesitated a moment. "Um... Ru... No, that's..."

Everyone caught him, and yelled, "Drink!" at the same time. Dominic made a frustrated noise, but he knew he was busted. He took a big hit off of his beer.

"I'm next then, right?" he checked. "Okay..." He flipped another card. "Ace."

"The waterfall card!" Rakesh announced. "Everybody begins to drink. You can stop when the person to your left stops, and not before."

It was then that Max noticed that Dominic was to his right. Well, he certainly wouldn't be stopping quickly on his account.

Sure enough, Max didn't stop drinking until he'd drained his first can of beer. Luckily he just happened to be a faster drinker than the others.

"Jesus, Max," Dominic said with a gasp, "I thought you'd never stop!"

"Can't stand the heat, get outta the kitchen!" Max declared. "Next up..." He flipped over a card. "Jack."

"Uh oh..." Sally said, eyes wide. "Make a rule. Everyone has to follow that rule. Every jack adds another rule."

Max let out an evil laugh. "Okay, every time I touch my ear, everyone has to drink!" As if to emphasize, Max touched his ear. Everyone took a drink.

Then, just to show off, he touched his ear two more times.

"I think Max enjoys his power a bit too much!" Rakesh commented. He flipped a card. "Next will be a six... Ladies?"

"Anne," Sally said, "six is for the girls. Bottoms up!"

Max and Rakesh cheer as they both take long pulls from their cans. Max then touches his ear once more, and everyone drinks again.

"My turn!" Sally said. She picked a card. "Hmm... So, with this card, as soon as I show the four, everyone has to touch the floor. Last person to do it has to drink. Ready?"

She flipped the card. All five of then rushed to touch the floor - Rakesh being the slowest.

"I was distracted!" he said defensively.

"No excuses, now!" Anne urged.

This was the part where Max began zoning out on the cards. They made their way around the table three or so more times. With all of Max's ear grabs, it wasn't long before he had to break out the vodka. Sally, at some point, got a jack as well, and said that her new rule was for everyone to say 'thank you for this bounty' every time a card was turned over. The last person to say it had to drink.

With all the drinking, everyone was already completely trashed by the time they were three Kings in. But the game wouldn't end until the last King was pulled.

"Ten!" Rakesh shouted. "Never have I ever... Painted a live mackerel! It would be quite fun to..."

"Um... I don't... Uh, I don't think anyone's done that, Rakesh..." Anne said softly.

Rakesh blinked. "Ah, yes..."

Sally said, the drunkest out of all of them, "Never have I ever, held handsh wit' a girl..."

Dominic and Max both put their fingers down, signifying that they'd done that. They both took drinks.

Anne grinned deviously. "Never have I ever, jumped off a stage."

"Come on, now you're just picking on me!" Max accused. But he took his drink, because those were the rules.

"Never have I ever skipped a class to go to band practice," Dominic said, smirking over at Max.

Max groaned. "Seriously, screw you guys."

Sally let out a loud, drunken laugh. Poor girl must have been a lightweight. "Max is the mosht drinkenesht!"

Yeah, no, that title belonged to the blonde girl whose words were so slurred they were barely coherent. Max tugged on his ear.

Sally pulled another card. Rakesh was the last to say 'thank you' and took a drink.

"Ha! The queen!" Sally declared. "This is the most special card in Latin Houshe rules! As the queen I get to ask you all questionsh. If you don't answer... You get a penalty!"

They all groaned at the thought of answering whatever drunken question Sally would think up. She tapped her lower lip as she looked over the others. "Hmm... Who to pick?"

Somehow, Max wasn't surprised when her gaze landed on him. "Max! Question!"

"Yes, my queen?"

"How many times have you thought about the people at thish table... Naked?"

"Oh, for..."

Sally practically fell out of her chair with her drunken laughs. Rakesh was giggling, as well, while Anne simply blushed, hiding her face in her hands. And Dominic had developed a sudden, intensely violent coughing fit.

Ultimately, Max decided that the answer would only give him more trouble than the penalty. "Ugh, you're a jerk, Sally," he said. "What's my penalty?"

"Oh ho ho!" Sally said. "You ref... Refuse to answer your queen? Then for your punishment... You must..."

She paused, letting the tension build. Max raised an eyebrow.

"Choose to kiss... Either Rakesh or Dominic!"

Dominic let out a shocked shout. "What the hell?! No way are you kissing me, Max!"

Max looked to Rakesh, who was just giggling. He didn't seem to mind the thought of kissing Max, then. Max glanced over to Anne, hoping she'd be a voice of reason for Sally, but she just pushed up her glasses and looked at Max, intently focused, wondering who he was going to choose.

Ugh.

He looked between Dominic and Rakesh. Rakesh was across the table, and Dominic was right next to him. And Dominic also seemed like he'd be more angry about it if Max chose him...

Hm. Pissing off Dominic, eh? Well, one little kiss was certainly worth that. He'd blame his going along with it on being wasted, if any of them happened to remember this tomorrow.

Max leaned over and pressed a quick, chaste kiss to Dominic's lips, then pulled away.

Unfortunately, Rakesh loudly said, "That does not count! We all are aware of what Sally meant by kiss, Max!"

"Yeah!" Sally agreed. "Do it right! Kiss him good!"

Max looked to Dominic. He seemed to be too shocked by the first one to argue this time. Oh well, made the whole thing easier. He leaned closer, and gave Dominic a 'proper' kiss.

When he pulled away, Anne and Sally were giggling and clapping, and Rakesh said teasingly, "Well, it is nice to see you two getting along."

At that, everyone couldn't help but burst into laughter.

Chapter Text

By Friday, Max had already put the kiss with Dominic out of his mind. Mostly because he'd been drunk and barely remembered it.

At the moment, Max was running late for class. The day was quite nice, so he honestly felt it would be a waste to be sitting in a classroom all day... But he couldn't do anything about it.

As he walked through the quad, he could see that he wasn't the only one who had had thoughts of skipping. But most of them were reading - something he most certainly would not be using his free time to do.

...Wait, that girl looked familiar...

"Hey Anne!"

"Oh, Max!" The girl lifted her head, eyes alight. "Come on over, I'm reading Ovid. I have a report due later this week."

"Oh... Uh..."

Max didn't even know who this Oval guy was. Hell, he barely even read magazines, let alone books! There was no way he'd be able to even pretend to understand what she was talking about. He gave a smile and pointed towards the building his next class was in. "Sorry, I've got class. I'll catch you at the house, okay?"

"Sure thing," Anne said, not seeming the least bit disappointed. "I'm glad you're going to class, Max!"

Well, now he'd dodged a bullet... But now he couldn't get out of heading for class, with Anne watching him like that.

Oh well.


Sunday came before Max even knew it. He hadn't even gotten all that much done. He considered, as he walked through the door of the house, maybe calling up Memphis and setting up some practice time with the band. Memphis had been out looking for places they could actually play, but Max was itching to just have a jam session together.

"Are you crazy?!"

And then came Isabella's high-pitched shriek, interrupting that thought process.

"Seriously?! You've gone over the edge this time, you crazy control freak!"

Unsurprisingly, the voice Max heard next was Dominic's. "Have you forgotten that this is a college?" he asked. "I know you like to treat it like your own personal hook-up bar, but you're supposed to be here to learn!"

"That's no excuse for taking our precious weekend time from us! And in the evenings?! Some of us have lives to lead, jackass."

Wow. Max wondered what Dominic was trying to do this time. It was obviously enough to make Isabella go from her usual teasing to flat-out scathing insults.

He hesitated, knowing that he really had things to be doing... But then again, it wasn't like he'd actively made plans with Memphis yet. It would be okay. Right? If nothing else he could shut them up.

"I'm not stealing your life away, Isabella," Dominic said, obviously trying to speak in a calmer tone now. "I'm asking you to dedicate a few hours on Saturdays to actually accomplishing the higher learning you're supposed to be here for."

"What, you think I can't keep my grades up?" Isabella spat. "My GPA is fine, thank you very much."

Dominic rolled his eyes. "Oh yes, I'm sure you're acing every subject while you think about which boy to date next."

"Screw you!"

"And besides, if you are that good, you should be sharing your skills with the rest of the house."

Then, Dominic noticed Max's wary, hesitant approach. "I'm sure Max over there could use the help," he said, motioning over towards Max while he spoke to Isabella.

Max grinned wickedly, looking Isabella up and down. "Hey, I'd be happy to study you all you like, babe," he said.

Isabella hummed. "Oh, well if that's the type of help you want going around, Dom, maybe I could be talked into it." She leaned towards Max, batting her eyes. "Want to convince me, Max?"

Max's flirtatious stance dropped. "Honestly, I don't really know what's going on here," he admitted.

"That's not what I was talking about, and you know it!" Dominic snapped. He sighed and shook his head. "That is, in fact, exactly what I want to enforce a study group for!" He looked to Max. "I'm talking to Isabella about enforcing a study hall for the roommates every Saturday evening. A few hours every week for people to get the help they need."

"You mean a few hours for you to lock everyone down!" Isabella shouted. "Keep us trapped in the house while we grow old! Some of us have plans for our weekends, jerk. We'd like to party while we're young, you know."

"And there'll be plenty of time to go have fun on Sunday night," was Dominic's easy response.

Isabella barked out a sarcastic laugh. "Oh yeah, everyone knows the best parties happen on Sundays. Right."

"Maybe there's more to college life than just trying to party all the time!" Dominic said, temper lost.

"What about people's relationships?" Isabella asked. "Some of us have very busy boyfriends, you know."

Dominic scoffed. "Oh! I'm sorry! Here, let me call up the professors and let them know to stop classes next week so you can catch up on your make-outs."

"Oh, whatever."

Well, clearly Isabella had no more arguments...

Then, Dominic turned to Max. "Well, Max? What about you? Do you have a shred of work ethic in you? Or are you just here to screw around?"

Okay... Max really didn't know if Dominic expected him to back him up, or what. Seriously, why would Dominic ask him that?

He looked between Isabella and Dominic.

Isabella already looked smug. Like she knew Max would choose her side. And that was... Really irritating. And besides that, if she couldn't meet up with that boyfriend of hers because of Dominic's rules...

Hm.

"The study group's not a bad idea, Dominic." He let out a chuckle. "Damned if I don't need a bit of help with my grades."

Okay, if Max wasn't already getting something out of this, he'd have gotten something right then. The absolute look of shock on Dominic's face was more than worth some extra studying. Max almost thought his jaw would hit the floor, like in a cartoon or something.

"Um... Well, that's very big of you to admit, Max," Dominic said, slowly and carefully. He blinked a few times, as if assuring himself that this was reality, before continuing, "I certainly suspected, but asking for help is an important step in getting it."

"Look, don't push it dude," Max said, holding one hand up. "I'm just saying it could be useful to do once in a while. I think we could all do with some studying now and then."

Although it was partly for getting in-between Isabella and her boyfriend, Max would admit that his grades could use some help. But that was most definitely beside the point.

"Oh, please, you jerk," Isabella spat. "Do you think I'm an idiot?"

"What?"

And it looked like Isabella had caught on to Max's real reason, too.

"Oh yeah, act innocent," Isabella said with a scoff. "I think I'm going to call my boyfriend and see if he wants to hang out. Tonight. At his place. Alone."

Max couldn't help but dig himself deeper into shit with her and say, "Oh please, babe, don't flatter yourself."

"Seriously, Isabella, there's no reason to be petulant because you might have to actually learn something while you're here," Dominic added, shaking his head at her. "If even Max can get into the idea of learning while he's here, I'm sure it won't kill you."

"For real, dude, watch it."

"Oh, be quiet."

"Whatever," Isabella muttered. "You'll never get Sally and Rakesh to agree to it."

"I can be quite persuasive!" Dominic said.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm out. Have fun plotting to take over the world, douchebag."

And with that, Isabella stormed off upstairs and to her room. Dominic and Max looked at each other. Dominic opened his mouth - probably about to say thanks - but quickly shut it. He simply gave a nod, and then headed towards his own room.

Max stood there for a moment in silence, then headed for his room too.

 

Chapter Text

Max was entering the house at lunch time on Tuesday, in search of a nice, free lunch. A sandwich, he'd decided.

But of course things couldn't just be simple for him, could they?

"Welcome home!" Rakesh said cheerfully as he entered the door. "Have you decided to cast away the classes of the day?"

"What the holy hell, dude?!" Max screeched.

There before him, Rakesh stood covered in green paint. He wasn't even wearing a shirt, by the looks of it, and his lower half was covered with a towel.

"What? This?" Rakesh blinked, as if his state were completely normal. "Oh, I think I finally found the ultimate paintbrush!" He grabbed for Max, who quickly dodged. "Come, see my room! The idea struck me and I had to try it!"

Max winced. "Is your room the only place you tried it?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes. I thought my walls would be the best place to try it."

Max nodded slowly. He looked Rakesh up and down, his brows furrowing in concern. "Is... Is that paint safe to be on skin?"

Rakesh seemed genuinely confused by that comment. "Well, paint can cover many things... Why not a body?"

Max's eyes widened. "Uh... Dude... Pretty sure some paints are toxic."

"Oh." Rakesh blinked. "I should probably clean off." He winced, and shifted nervously. "Um... Could you...?" He paused, then rapidly shook his head. "Um... Never mind!"

And then he took off up the stairs, towel fluttering behind him. Max groaned, running a hand down his face. After a moment, he decided that if he didn't help, Rakesh would only trash the bathroom.

"Put on some shorts or something, Rakesh!" he shouted, already on his way up the stairs. "I'm not washing your bare ass, got it?!" He placed his hand on the doorknob. "Seriously dude, if you're not decent, I'm out of here."

"I had on shorts the whole time," Rakesh's voice came from the other side. "I think they will have to be thrown out now."

Max sighed and entered the bathroom. "Well, that's definitely true," he commented. "Come on, start the water and we'll get this cleaned up."

While Rakesh turned on the shower, Max tried to find something that would help him scrub. He quickly found one of the loofah things that one of the girls had left in there.

"The water... Does not seem to be taking off the paint," Rakesh said, voice shaking with slight fear.

"Here, try this scrubby thing."

Rakesh took it, and began scrubbing vigorously. But it didn't help all that much. "What kind of paint did you use?" Max asked.

Rakesh shrugged at the question, still scrubbing. "The can is still in my room, if you wish to see it."

Max left the bathroom and headed for Rakesh's bedroom. He jerked back a little in shock, despite having expected all the paint splotches. Many of them looked like they'd come off of a body - no surprise.

Max had to wonder how much of it was done today, though. With how often Rakesh's inspiration struck, he would bet that it wasn't the first time for his room to be repainted.

Max spotted a paint bucket, and went to pick one up. Immediately, he saw the problem, and let out a curse under his breath. "Rakesh, this is oil-based paint!" he shouted. "Seriously?! You're an idiot!"

"It made beautiful pictures though, did it not?!" Rakesh shouted back.

Max sighed. He sat down the paint bucket, and went to the bathroom again. "Whatever. Turn off the water for a bit. It's not gonna help just yet. Hang on. I think I know a trick that'll work."

He left the bathroom while Rakesh turned off the water. He rushed down to the kitchen and threw open the fridge. He pulled out the jumbo jar of mayonnaise sitting inside, and carried it upstairs.

Immediately, Rakesh looked wary. "Um... What is that for?"

"My uncle taught me this once," Max replied. "Had to paint his house one summer." He unscrewed the top, and headed over. "Alright, help me rub this on the paint-covered spots."

"I hope this works..."

"Me too," Max muttered.

The smell, the mayo mixed with the paint... It almost made Max want to gag. But they spread it all over Rakesh, where it was necessary. Max would never let Rakesh say he wasn't a good bro.

"Seriously, you owe me for this so big, you weirdo," he muttered.

"It is hard to consider such things when the muse strikes," Rakesh said. "I simply must create!" His eyes turned to Max's, eyes sparkling with hope. "You saw my work! What did you think?"

Max wanted to deter Rakesh from ever doing this again. But he couldn't let himself crush that innocent, excited look in the other's eyes. So he sighed and said, "Yeah, dude, alright. You got me. Some of the swatches were pretty good. You've got a good eye for color, man."

Rakesh beamed. "Thank you, my friend!" he said. "I knew that it was going to be good! My muse may be reckless, but she is beautiful!"

Max sighed and shook his head. At least Rakesh was happy.

"Okay, you start rubbing that in really well," he said. "We'll try rinsing you off in a few minutes."

"Yes, okay."

The rubbing of the mayonnaise continued on like that, with Rakesh focusing on his chest and Max doing his back.

Then, suddenly, the bathroom door opened. "What. The. Hell?"

Max and Rakesh whipped around to see Isabella standing there.

Before Max could think up a response, Isabella grinned wickedly and said, "I never get invited to any of the fun parties."

"Hey," Max said defensively, "can't a guy rub mayonnaise all up on his bro without getting interrupted?"

That didn't help the situation. Isabella laughed and shook her head. "Seriously. I don't get invited to any of the good stuff."

Max attempted to salvage the situation by saying, "Well if you're that hurt over it, maybe you can try it on me later!"

"Ooh! Can I really?" Isabella said in a fake excited tone. "I knew Rakesh was a weirdo, but it's good to know you've got a condiment fetish, hot stuff."

"Oh, really? Can I help, too?" Rakesh asked, clearly having no clue what was going on.

"Shut up, Rakesh!" Max snapped.

"Oh no, no," Isabella said, grinning evilly. This was definitely revenge for the study group thing back on Sunday, wasn't it? "Sounds like a good idea to me. Maybe we'll break out the mustard!"

"Oh shut up both of you!"

"You kids have fun in here," Isabella said. "I just came back for a book."

Isabella left. Rakesh turned the shower back on, and began rinsing off the mayonnaise. To his and Max's relief, the paint did indeed begin coming off with the help of the mayo.

But Max genuinely had to wonder if it was worth it.

A half hour later, Rakesh was all clean, and Max was out the door.

Chapter Text

Thursday was yet another school day. Max was fully considering skipping, but he knew there was no way he'd be able to do that without getting caught.

"Oh! Good morning, Max," Sally said, catching his attention as he stepped out the door. Max turned to see her already leaving.

"Sally!" he said. "Good morning. On your way to class too?" He jogged a little to catch up with her so they could walk together.

Sally smiled and shook her head at the question. "Actually, I've got to get down to the farming garden. My boss wants me to get some serious weeding done, and I don't want to be there all day."

"Oh yeah, you work there, don't you?" Max hummed. "How'd you land that job?" At the moment Max tended to work at the book store - he got a discount on any books he needed for classes, so he'd figured it was a good choice.

"My dad runs a vegetable farm," Sally replied. "It seemed like a pretty natural way to make some money, aside from my scholarships. I actually started there over the summer. Helped me make some moving in money."

"That makes sense," Max said with a simple shrug.

"It's a really active job," Sally mused. "A lot of running around and other labor. Anyone who wants to work there needs a lot of stamina."

They were almost to the main buildings. Max turned to Sally, planning to ask where they were going to split up, but then he noticed they were right in front of the campus's cafe.

"Speaking of work," Sally said, "isn't this where Isabella works?"

The two of them looked into the window and saw Isabella shuffling around the busy cafe, holding a tray in her hand. The moment they looked through, Isabella happened to look out. She spotted them, and waved them over with her free hand.

Sally waved back, and started towards the door. Max was about to follow, but he saw Isabella walking the plate over towards a big guy in a jersey. It was when she pecked him on the cheek that Max realized it was her boyfriend.

He wasn't sure if he was up for dealing with the guy... What if he figured out Max had the hots for his girlfriend?

But then again, it wasn't like he was usually the type to run away. Plus, all he felt for Isabella was that he thought she was hot. He thought the same things about Anne and Sally. So there was no reason for him to run off. It wasn't like the guy was going to pick up on it if he did go in.

He followed after Sally, and entered the cafe with her.

"Morning, Isabella!" Sally chirped as they entered.

"Hey guys, good to see you!" Isabella said. "Grab a table. I'll be over in a sec." She winked playfully at the pair, then headed off to the counter to get someone else's order.

Sally and Max sat down at a table - which just so happened to be the table next to Isabella's boyfriend. Sally turned to him. "You must be Chad?" she asked.

Chad looked over, and grinned. "Got it in one," he said. "You seen me on the field?"

"Um... We're actually Isabella's roommates," Sally said.

"Oh! Yeah, she's told me about you guys." He stuck his hand out for Sally. Sally shook it, but when Max moved to do the same, Chad simply retracted his hand and gave him a nod instead. "Sup, bro?"

Max blinked. He awkwardly gave a nod in response. That must have been what Chad wanted, because he smirked, then turned back to his own plate.

Wow. He was already pissing Max off.

Isabella walked over, then. "What'll it be?" she asked.

"Soy latte, please!" Sally chirped.

"What have you got for breakfast?" Max asked.

"The basics," Isabella said. "Eggs and bacon. Some pretty good toast."

"Yeah, that sounds good."

"Coming right up," Isabella said, writing down the order. "You guys say hi to Chad?"

"Yup," Sally said. "Just introduced ourselves."

Max just gave an awkward smile. It probably looked like a grimace, because Isabella chuckled.

"How's it going, Max?" Isabella asked him.

"Oh, you know, I'm-"

"Hey, sweetcheeks," Chad interrupted. "Wanna grab me another coffee? You serve up the best stuff."

Max frowned. Isabella turned back to Chad. "Oh, yeah, sure thing," she said. "You gotta start paying for it though. Boss says you don't get a free ride here."

Chad looked appalled at the concept of paying for the coffee. "What?! Come on!"

"Oh shut up," Isabella said, giving a laugh. "You'll get my discount, at least."

"Wait, there's a discount?" Max said.

"No dice, Mr. Slick," Isabella said, smirking over at him.

Max huffed. "Rip off..."

With that, Isabella headed off to make Chad's coffee. As she passed by, he took the chance to swat her ass. It was supposed to be 'playful', but even Max was kind of disgusted.

Chad smirked over at Max once he'd done it.

"Hey, watch it Chad," Isabella snapped. "Not while I'm on duty, remember?"

"Sorry, cutie," Chad said innocently.

Was Max supposed to rise to that bait? All Chad had managed to do was get Isabella slightly ticked off. Even if he was supposed to do something in rebuttal, all that would happen would be Max getting thrown out. It wouldn't even be worth it. Besides, Isabella had already told him off, and Max was certain she'd do more than a simple warning once she was off the clock and couldn't get in trouble for throwing down with a customer.

Max simply sat there, making idle chatter with Sally while they waited for their food.

Chapter Text

It was Saturday, and Max had decided that there was no better way for him to be spending it than alone in the house. He had studied all that he could take, and now was heading downstairs. The house was utterly silent.

Dominic was at a meeting with the housing authority that would likely take all night. Isabella was on a date with Chad. Rakesh had... Wandered out, wearing all black and carrying a paint roller. Max had decided that the less he knew about that, the better. And Sally was at a sit-in on campus, protesting a guy's 'illegal imprisonment'. Max had chosen not to ask too many questions, lest she ask him to come help.

In any case, this all added up to one thing. Max had the place to himself. That meant that now that his studying was done, he would be able to make as much noise as he wanted. All he needed was a quick snack, a nap, and then he'd plug in his amp and really jam!

He headed for the kitchen to accomplish the first part of his plan.

"Oh, I'm gonna make some noise tonight!" he sang, dancing over to the fridge. "It's gonna give you suckers such a fright! I've got a little-bitty nap to take, and then I'm gonna make the house shake!"

Yeah, he liked to be stupid when he was alone. A secret shame of his.

"Oh, not too much shaking, I hope! That's a cute song, though!"

Max jumped at the voice, and spun around in shock.

...Isabella, Dominic, Rakesh, Sally...

Shit. He'd forgotten about Anne.

So much for 'secret shame'.

Max gave an awkward cough, feeling his cheeks burning. "Oh, geez... I, um... I didn't know you were still here," he confessed.

"Yeah, hey," Anne said, giving Max a wave. "I thought I had the place to myself too."

Max laughed nervously. "I guess it's just you and me, then?"

"Yeah!"

God, Max had never been more embarrassed. He couldn't believe he'd been caught singing like a ten-year-old.

"Hey, I was gonna go take care of a couple things in my room. This was just a quick snack. You want to hang out a bit, though? We can have dinner together or something."

He had to make a better impression. Lately he hadn't spent much time with her one-on-one. She might be thinking he was avoiding her if he didn't fix that.

"Sure, sounds like fun," Anne said easily.

"Okay, see you back down here in an hour or so."


Max took a quick nap, and then he was all ready to hang out with Anne. But just before he could reach for the doorknob, there was a soft, hesitant knock from the other side. Max frowned and opened it.

"Oh, hey Anne," he said. "I was just coming to hang out!"

"OH!"

Max jumped back at the sudden shout.

"I... I was going to say that you don't have to," she said. "I mean... I could study some more, or..."

"What? No!" Max frowned. "Come on, let's go see if we can throw together a decent meal."

"Okay..."

Man. This girl must have been really scared of him. She didn't seem all that disappointed, or like she wanted to call it off. But she did seem nervous. Shy. Poor thing.

Max let her go down the stairs first, having the sense that if he didn't, she would run away when he wasn't looking.

The pair of them managed to come up with a fairly decent meal together, then they sat down on the couch in the common room with their meals in their laps.

"So, how are classes?" Anne asked.

"Ugh..." Max groaned. "Don't ask."

Anne frowned. "Not great, huh? Is it really hard?"

Well, yeah, they were hard. But it probably didn't help that Max wasn't all that interested in the classes he was taking. It added up to some pretty crappy grades - not that he would tell her about that. She'd only get worried. "It's no picnic," he said. "But I'll pull through."

Time to change the subject before she pressed him for more details on his grades...

Before he could come up with one, Anne said, "Well, I'm sure you'll pull through!" She looked around, giving an awkward laugh. "Kind of weird to have the place to ourselves, huh?"

"Heh, I know," Max said, leaning back on the couch. "I was hoping I could let my sexiness run free, but I guess I'll have to keep it in check!"

"Um... Well... I guess you should... Hold it in...?"

Wow. Poor girl couldn't even recognize a joke. Max sighed, wondering what he could do to get her to let down her guard.

The two of them go silent, watching TV for a while. Max wasn't even sure if Anne was interested in what was on, but they watched it...

Then, he had an idea. He put his plate to the side, and stood up. "Hey, hang out a sec. I'll be right back."

He wouldn't let Anne become so shut off that she wouldn't open up ever again. That would be a crime! She was nice, and she deserved to be having a good time.

He headed to his room, and then came back, carrying his guitar. Before Anne could say anything, he said, "Okay... Guess this one."

He played a few chords, thrusting his hips back and forth. "Uhh, thank-ya-very-much! Somebody get me a hunka-hunka cheeseburger!"

Anne's eyes lit up, and she laughed, starting to clap. "Oh man, that's a great Elvis! Haha! Where'd you learn to play like that?"

"Oh, I learned all the greats," Max said, smirking. "Who am I, now?"

He moved his bangs, shifting them so they were in front of his face, then played a few grunge chords. "Oh man, Seattle is so lame... Smells like teens... And spirit, or whatever..."

"Haha! That's terrible! Do you even know anything about Cobain?"

"Hey! I'm practically an expert!" Max snickered and shook his head. "Actually, I really only know his music."

"I can tell," Anne said, giggling. "Do another, do another!"

Max then did Hendrix and Slash. Then, Anne grabbed his guitar, and attempted to do an impression of Joan Jett. Her impression was good, but her guitar playing was god-awful.

He couldn't let that stand, of course, so he got behind her and taught her a few of the famous chords so she could try again. She was quite the fast learner, and tried the impression again. This time, she gave the guitar some proper licks.

When they were done, Anne turned to him. "So really," she said, "where'd you learn all those impressions?"

Max shrugged, an easy smile on his lips. "I love music," he said simply. "I learned all the greats. Actually, some of those bits were how I convinced my parents to let me take guitar lessons when I was a kid. I'd taught myself a few basics, enough to know I wanted to be great... But not enough to get me there. So, you know. Lessons."

"Aw, that's a sweet story."

Max laughed awkwardly. "Well, no need to go throwing it around..."

"So how long have you been practicing, anyway?"

Ah, there we go. Max knew it would work. Impressions never failed to break the ice. The pair of them began talking about their musical history, about what their favorite songs were, who their favorite bands and artists were...

They didn't stop talking until around midnight, when they started yawning a lot. "It's getting pretty late, huh?" Anne said softly, blinking sleepily at Max. She smiled brightly. "Thanks for hanging out with me, Max. I had a lot of fun."

"Hey, no problem. I did too. I liked talking with you."

"Definitely! We'll have to do it again some time," Anne said, beaming. "For now though, I think it's time I make my way to bed."

He was tempted to say, 'your bed or mine?', but he knew better than to push it, especially with a girl as shy as Anne. "Yeah, probably. Sleep well, Anne."

"You should get to bed soon, too, music man," she said as she stood up. She headed upstairs.

Max gave one more yawn, and decided that she was quite right. It was time for this rocker to get some shuteye himself.

 

Chapter Text

It was Monday, and it was the first time Max's band had had practice in a while. He made sure he had everything packed up into his van, then grabbed his good amp and took it downstairs. He gave a nod to Sally and Anne who were chatting away on the couch. He gave them a nod, then headed out to his van to put away his amp.

He headed back into the house, wanting to ensure that they knew he'd be gone. "Okay, I think that's it," he announced. "Sorry for the interruption, ladies. I'm out to band practice. I'll probably be a while, so tell Dominic not to freak out if he hears me coming in late."

"Finally ready to start jamming, huh?" Sally said, smiling up at him.

"Damn right," Max said, grinning back at her. "It's been a while, so I'm itching to jam with my boys."

"Sounds like a lot of fun!" Anne chirped.

"We've never really heard your whole band do its thing," Sally added, twirling a lock of her hair around her finger. "Just you practicing."

"Um, we were actually discussing it, and, um... Do you think we could come watch?" Anne asked.

"We don't mean to be intrusive or anything," Sally quickly added. "It's just the kind of thing we don't get to see very often."

Max chuckled and shook his head. "Hey listen, the guys are always happy to show off for beautiful ladies. I'm fine if you two want to show up. Does one of you have a car you can follow in?"

"I don't actually own a car," Sally said, shaking her head. "This town's pretty well-laid-out college students. Honestly, I only know a few people who have cars. I think Dominic has one for going to meetings?"

"I know I don't have a car," Anne said.

Max frowned. That was going to be a problem. "With all my stuff packed in, I only have enough room in my van for one other person."

"Aw! We hadn't thought of that!" Anne said, pouting.

"Yeah, that sucks... How will we decide who goes?" Sally asked.

Max could see this was going to be even more of a problem. He'd probably be asked to choose or something. Then, no matter who he picked, the other's feelings would get hurt. "Um, actually," he said quickly, before it could come to that, "Memphis asked me to pick him up on the way. His car's in the shop or something."

"Oh," the two girls said, both blinking in shock.

"Yeah. But hey, I promise I'll let you guys see our next practice if I can, okay?"

"Well, okay," Anne said.

"Yeah. We understand," Sally added, giving a nod.

Max wanted to sigh in relief. "Cool. Make sure to tell Dominic I'll be late, right?"

With that, Max grabbed his keys and left for a normal band practice.


"This will not STAND! Do you hear me?!"

The very next day, Tuesday, Max came home from the library to a loud shout. Dominic. What had Isabella done now?

He looked over to the study nook, and saw that Dominic wasn't just yelling at Isabella - he was yelling at Rakesh, too.

"What is this crap?!" Dominic demanded to know. "You've all known about the inspection tomorrow for two weeks now! Am I just talking to myself at our meetings?!"

"To be honest?" Isabella said. "Yes."

"I agree that you may be speaking more to yourself than us..." Rakesh said with a nod.

Dominic groaned. "Will you two shut up and clean this travesty?!"

"Hey! I had things to do tonight!" Isabella said defensively.

"But we worked so hard to arrange the room properly!" Rakesh said, pouting.

"Isabella, your plans are cancelled, effective immediately," Dominic snapped. "Rakesh, you'll be damn lucky if I can convince them that all the paint around here is for an art class." He shook his head, then. "This is all beside the point! Mouths shut! Commence cleaning!"

If there was anything Max loved more than watching Dominic lose his mind, he couldn't come up with it at the moment. He walked closer, hoping to get a better look at whatever he was losing it over.

A giant shrine, of sorts, had been built in the study nook. All the books were strewn around, some with one or two tealight candles on top. Above everything else, sat on a stack of books, was a picture of Dominic with the dorm rules stapled to it. There were also test papers, streamers, and a banner that read 'keep your grades up'.

"Quite elaborate," Max couldn't help but comment. Dominic spun around and glared at him.

"Did you do this, too?" he asked, waving wildly in the direction of the shrine.

"Nah," Max said, shaking his head. "No way would I be creative enough."

Dominic opened his mouth, then paused, considered that, then shut it. "Fair enough."

"...I feel like I should be offended," Max said flatly. He looked to Rakesh and Isabella. "You guys want some help cleaning all this up?"

"They need all the help they can get," Dominic muttered, shaking his head. He left the three there, and then they all set to cleaning up the monument.

It wasn't really all that daunting. Once the candles were out, they all managed to get everything stripped down, until it was finally just five bags of trash bags and a large stack of books to put away.

There was no way Max was going to help put away all those books. It would take an hour, at least.

"Alright, one of you come with me to throw all this crap in the dumpster. The other one can stay and sort all the books properly."

"Oh, sure, stick one of us with all the books?" Isabella muttered.

"Hey, I'm just volunteering, remember?" Max pointed out. "I didn't have to help you guys out. Why'd the two of you do this in the first place, even?"

"Isabella said that Dominic would appreciate it," Rakesh said.

Ah. Of course it had been Isabella's idea. She'd just needed to drag someone else in on it, and she'd known that Sally, Max and Anne would never go for it. Max settled an accusing gaze on her, and she averted her gaze nervously.

"Come on, Rakesh. Let's get this stuff hauled out," he said to Rakesh, making it quite clear to Isabella that this was her punishment for dragging poor, unsuspecting Rakesh into her trouble.

"Ugh," Isabella grumbled, turning towards the books. She didn't even try to fight him on it.

"Very well. I will grab these here," Rakesh said, picking up three of the trash bags, leaving just two for Max.

The two of them carried their trash bags outside and around the back to the dumpster. On the way, one of Rakesh's bags broke, and then they had to carry it between them to ensure nothing inside spilled out. It still beat the books, though.

"I think that perhaps this time you have saved me from a great deal of trouble, Max. Thank you."

"Hey, no problem, man. Isabella's a manipulator, though. Gotta watch yourself around the pretty ones."

Rakesh shrugged. "I suppose I wanted to get carried away. It was rather fun to make."

Max gave a wry smirk. "Heh, I'll bet. It was some nice work you did in there, man."

"Thank you, my friend!" Rakesh threw an arm around Max's shoulders, giving him a quick, friendly squeeze. "I am thinking I owe you for this. I will have to make it up to you at some point."

"I'm sure I'll think of something," Max mused. "In the meantime, how about if I say not to paint something - you don't. Deal?"

Rakesh gave Max a solemn nod. "I will do my best, my friend."

That was the best he'd get, Max knew.

The two of them hung around outside for a bit before heading back inside. Hopefully the study nook would be clean enough for Dominic.

 

Chapter Text

"Do you know which bus goes by the downtown bookstore, Dominic? They've got a really great sale going on, and I don't want to be lugging all the books back on foot."

It was Thursday, and this statement, spoken softly by a certain bespectacled shy girl, caught Max's attention as he searched the fridge for a snack. He looked over, seeing her holding three large bags as she spoke to Dominic.

Hm... He had transportation. Maybe he could offer to take her.

But then again, Dominic was more into books than he was, and it seemed like he was about to offer his own services.

After a moment of thought, he spoke, "Hey, what's up?"

"Oh! Max! I didn't see you there," Anne said, beaming over at Max.

Dominic frowned over in Max's direction, but didn't say anything. Max, in return, chose not to say anything either.

"Like I said," Anne said, "there's a really good sale. I just wanted to know the best way to get down there."

"You know, you don't have to take the bus," Dominic said. "I do have a car. I'd be happy to take you down. Heck, I might pick myself up some things as well."

Ah, just as Max had suspected.

"Oh, no, you don't have to inconvenience yourself for me," Anne said quickly, shaking her head. "I'm okay with being on the bus."

"Please, Anne. Let me give you a ride - it'll make everything easier on you."

Well. Dominic clearly had a thing for Anne. Max could see it in his eyes. Something uneasy settled inside him at that thought, but he quickly shook it off. He didn't like Anne, beyond thinking her attractive, so why would he have a problem with it? It was the same issue he had with Chad and Isabella! That was it! He had no reason to be jealous or anything.

As if to prove this to himself, he said, "Listen to the man, Anne. You don't want to have a bunch of fresh books on a public bus. Who knows what'll get stolen? Let Dominic take you down. It'll be better all around."

"Max, stay out of-" Dominic began to snap at Max, but quickly cut himself off as he processed what exactly Max had said. "Wait, uh... I mean... Yes! Ride with me, Anne. It'll be better."

Though he was speaking to Anne, Dominic was staring over at Max, looking at him as though he'd suddenly declared that he was going to float up to the moon and party with aliens.

Ah, Max did love making Dominic look like that. It was so fun.

"Um... Well, yeah, okay. I guess. I appreciate it, Dominic."

"Yeah, definitely!" Dominic's head whipped right back around to look at Anne. "Let me grab my keys and we'll get going."

"Okay, I'll be out by the car!"

"Sure thing!"

Dominic watched as Anne left the kitchen. Then he turned towards Max. "What was that about?" he asked.

"The words you're looking for are 'thank you'," Max said. "I just got you a date with the girl you like."

"No, I know, but... I kind of expected you to try and take her." Dominic frowned, thinking for a moment, then shook his head. "You know what? Never mind. I don't feel like trying to decipher your weird behavior." He paused, then said, "Thank you, by the way."

And then he left.

Max noticed that he hadn't mentioned not liking Anne.

Ah, well. Whether or not Max liked Anne (he was still pretty sure he didn't) he would never be a complete cockblock and get in the way of another guy's chances with a girl. Not even if the guy was Dominic.


That Saturday was Halloween. Max had been so busy with classes, studying and working for the book store that he hadn't really even had time to think about Halloween.

Isabella had told Max about a party about two weeks ago that would be happening that night, but he wondered if he was really up for going. His keyboardist, Jerry, had managed to hook him up with a really awesome costume - if a last minute one.

Then again, he also had heard Dominic and Sally talking about their own plans. Dominic was planning to stay behind and hand out candy for anyone who wanted to come by. And Sally had gone off to hand out pamphlets about composting pumpkins. Maybe he could hang with one of them instead.

"Hey, Max! Are you getting ready or not? The party's going to start soon and you're not even dressed," Isabella said, leaning against the doorframe of his room. She was dressed up in a sexy - no surprise - vampire costume.

Max considered his options, then shook his head in the negative. "I think I'm gonna stay behind, actually. Maybe I can screw with Dominic a little."

"Or annoy him with your very presence," Isabella said with a smirk. "But okay. Have fun getting under his skin!"

"Oh, I will," was Max's immediate response, but then he paused, rethinking how Isabella had said that. The words were fine, but her tone...

But she was already gone, vanishing into the night with Anne and Rakesh at her side. Max dismissed the thought, and headed downstairs.

"Hey, Dom, I'm staying back with you," Max announced. Dominic looked up from where he was watching some movie, raising one eyebrow.

"I thought you were going to the party."

"I was, but I decided against it." Max moved over and plopped down next to Dominic. "Aren't you glad?" he asked teasingly. "You don't have to be alone."

Dominic rolled his eyes and faced the television. "Oh, shut up. I'm trying to watch something."

Max noted with some form of glee that Dominic hadn't said that he wasn't happy about Max's presence. Max chose not to dwell on it.

The two of them began a scary movie marathon, each one of them trying to out-do the other on the movies they picked. The movies got progressively more and more horrifying, violent and altogether unpleasant. They both tried to be as calm as they could, but Max could tell that Dominic's mask was as fake as his own.

Why the hell were they pretending?

After a moment, Max spoke, "Dom...?"

Dominic looked over to Max, wary.

"Um..."

If Max didn't do this, they'd both just end up unable to sleep tonight. There was no way Dominic would give in.

"I'm... I'm kinda freaked out by this movie," he said, gesturing to the screen where the girl was projectile vomiting all over the room. "Can we maybe watch something else?"

Dominic let out a sigh that Max almost didn't notice. The RA fumbled for the remote and quickly turned off the movie. "S-sure. If that's what you want," he said. "I mean, I was fine with it, but since you're so scared-"

"Don't push it, Dom."

Dominic snorted and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. I won't tell any of the girls you're a scaredy-cat."

"Oh, shut up."

And with that, the pair of them found another movie they could watch - some comedy that was significantly less terrifying than the previous movies. The two immediately relaxed on the couch.

Well. Max just learned something new about Dominic.

He didn't like scary movies.

He almost considered using that, but quickly realized that he himself was just as bad with them. It was useless.

Oh, well... Somehow, he still felt like he'd gotten something out of this. If only he knew what it was.

 

Chapter Text

Monday started out quite wonderfully, in Max's opinion. For once, he was getting out the door without something weird delaying him. Everyone else had gone to class, as far as he knew, so he locked the door behind him as he began to head out.

But then, as he started to turn around, he saw Sally coming back. And she looked like she was smuggling something. Badly. Her entire posture spoke of suspicion - the way she was slightly hunched over, the way she was holding her jacket shut, and the way her eyes were darting all around. It was just an awful attempt at hiding... Whatever she was hiding.

Max walked out of the gate, slowly, and gave her a wave.

"Oh! Max! Hey! I, uh... Forgot a book!"

He hadn't asked. The sign of a terrible liar was telling the lie before you really needed to.

Before Max could comment, Sally ran past him and rushed for the door, not looking Max in the eye. She was clearly going to have trouble keeping her jacket shut and pulling out her keys...

Well, classes could wait. Whatever Sally was sneaking in, it couldn't be too bad if it was Sally. If it was, well, he'd never run from trouble before. Had he?

He headed up behind Sally as she struggled to open the door while keeping her jacket shut.

"I don't think anybody would care that much about a bag of weed," he said, gaining a yelp of shock. "So, what... Crack?"

"Don't scare me like that!" Sally snapped, whipping around to glare at him. "And shut up! It's nothing of the sort!"

She looked around a bit, as if someone else would pop out from behind a bush or something. "Everyone else is gone, right?" she asked. "It's Dominic's TA day, right?"

"I think so... Why, what's...?"

Before Max could finish speaking, a small, dog-like whimper came from Sally's jacket. His eyes went wide, and met Sally's own nervous gaze.

"Is that what I think it is?"

Sally sighed, and opened her jacket, revealing that she was holding a small, white puppy.

"Well... That's certainly not what I was expecting," he commented.

"I can tell," Sally muttered. "Crack? Really?"

"I was just joking!"

Max chuckled, reaching out to let the puppy sniff his closed fist. The dog sniffed him, then gave his hand a lick. "Where'd you find him?" he asked, moving to scratch the little guy between the ears.

"He was just wandering the street down by the main avenue!"

"What? Did you ask around about him?"

"Of course! I don't just go around stealing dogs!"

Max snorted. "I didn't say that."

Sally sighed. "Anyway, he was about to go wandering into traffic, so I scooped him up. I looked all over, but nobody claimed him."

Max frowned, looking over the dog more closely. "I don't see any tags or anything," he said. "Who would abandon a cute little guy like this?"

"I don't know..." Sally frowned, hugging the dog closer. "It happens a lot in college towns like this, though. People get a pet, but then they have to move away for some reason and they just abandon the poor animals..." She buried her face into the dog's head, looking like she was about to cry.

Max sighed. "Well, for now, let's get him set up inside. Come on."

Max unlocked the door and stepped through, taking off his jacket and tossing it over to the side. "You do know," he said, "this is totally against the rules though, right? Dominic will freak if he finds out."

"Well, I'm not telling if you're not!" Sally chirped.

"Hey, I've got your back." Max smiled at her. "Here, stay here and cover him up. I'll make sure the coast is clear."

"Thank you, Max. I really appreciate your help." Sally moved one of the dog's paws up and down in a mimicry of a wave. "So does little Vegemite!"

Max blinked. "Vegemite...?"

Before Sally could respond, Max heard rustling from the kitchen. His eyes went wide, and he snuck a little closer, peering through the door.

Dominic!

Shit!

"Count to thirty-five before coming back in!" he whispered to Sally, pushing her back. Before she could respond, Max shut the door in her face.

Now then. There was nothing more Dominic liked than rules, right? He rushed over to the kitchen door, hoping to catch Dominic before he got too close to it and was in view of the front door.

"Oh, hey, is that you, Dominic? Just the RA I wanted to see!" he said, catching the other male's attention.

"Max? What are you still doing here? Get to class."

"Yeah, yeah, in a second. I was wondering about the noise rule, though. Uh... Can you explain it? I mean, what if I'm not doing anything all that loud?"

Dominic raised an eyebrow. "What is this, a wind-up?" he asked. "You know damn well what the rule is. No loud noise after ten on Sunday through Thursday. Midnight on Fridays and Saturdays."

"Why not just midnight every day, though?" Max asked, tilting his head as innocently as possible.

"Are you trying to be stupid, Max?" Dominic shook his head. "People need to get their sleep for class."

Max heard the front door open, and quickly spoke to cover up the noise, "Does everyone in the house have classes on Mondays, though? Like, I know not all of my classes are-"

"Max, it's not a complex rule. Besides, there are other houses right near us. We don't know their class schedules. The only days that no one ever has classes are Saturdays and Sundays - hence the time being extended for Fridays and Saturdays."

"I just want to be able to practice a bit later. Is that so wrong?"

He heard Sally's footsteps going up the stairs. Luckily, Dominic didn't seem to notice, being entirely focused on Max. He started talking about how Max should study instead, and the benefits of getting the proper amount of sleep. 

When Max couldn't hear Sally's movements anymore, he finally interrupted Dominic and said, "Alright, alright. I get it. I guess the rule makes sense. Look, I gotta get to class."

"Yes, yes you do." Dominic nodded his head in agreement. "But I am glad you're asking me about the rules rather than just breaking them, Max. It shows some maturity that I didn't expect you to have."

"Hey! I've done plenty of mature things in your presence!"

Dominic paused, considering that. "Yes, I suppose you have. I shouldn't be this shocked."

Max didn't really expect Dominic to agree so readily. It was his turn to stare at Dominic in shock - something that Dominic noticed, and smirked about. "You should get to class, now, Max."

"Uh... Yeah. Right."

Max awkwardly left, barely remembering to pick up his jacket on the way out.

He'd check on Sally later.

Chapter Text

The next day, Tuesday, Max checked his email, and promptly felt like dying. One of his professors had asked to see him after class.

He might have just avoided the meeting, or lied about some family death, but the professor who'd emailed him was Professor Tasque. His temper was, to say the least, legendary. There was no way he'd be able to get out of the meeting without signing his grades' death warrant in the process.

So he kept his head down during class, and then, afterward, he headed for the professor's office. "Professor, you wanted to see me...?"

"Ah, Max. Exactly on time," Tasque said. He sighed and shook his head. "If only you were this diligent in class."

The way he eyed Max made him highly uncomfortable. Like he was a frog about to be dissected or something.

Then he noticed that he wasn't the only student Tasque had called to his office. Her name was Carmen or Caramel or... Something.

"Uh... Yeah. Sorry," Max muttered to the professor.

"Well, anyway, to the matter at hand," Tasque said. "You both know I've been helping out the sociology department lately, right?" Before either of the students could respond, he continued on, "Well, one of the other professors is running an experiment. She wanted me to give a few of my students a little questionnaire. You don't have to, but I'll give you a bit of extra credit for your trouble."

Carmen-Caramel-Whatever nodded her head. "I have no problem filling out a questionnaire, professor."

She looked to Max, and Max looked back. She immediately looked away, a blush coming to her cheeks.

Huh.

"Thank you, Carmen. And you, Max? It's not like you couldn't use the credit, with your grades."

Max sighed. "Yeah, sure, I'll fill the thing out."

With that, the two students were handed the papers without any further conversation.

The questions were mostly about college life, and were pretty easy for Max to fill out. The last one was pretty ridiculous, though - asking if Max would use the answers to a test if readily given to him. It was the most painfully obvious trick he'd ever seen. He marked 'no', of course, and then handed the paper back.

At least the teacher didn't glare at him as he left. That was a nice change.


Max let out a loud groan, burying his head in his hands.

It was Thursday. He was studying at the house, rather than at the library, for once. The library had been way too crowded, and Max had chalked up his being unable to focus to being because of that. But this crappy homework was still not making any sense whatsoever.

"Everything alright in here?"

Max jumped a little, turning towards the door of his room. Dominic.

"Wait... Max, studying?" Dominic blinked. "Wait, maybe I walked into Anne's room on accident..."

"Shut up! I study plenty - just not here."

"Can you blame me for being shocked, though? Nothing you do around here would exactly point to you being a good student."

"Did you call me, Dominic?" Anne asked, entering the room. Then she looked over at Max, and gasped. "Oh, studying, Max?! Good for you!"

"See?" Dominic said pointedly.

"At least she didn't say it mockingly," Max said.

The last thing he needed was the two of them in his room, though. They were going to just stand there, breathing down his neck, and he couldn't handle that. They needed to either help or get the fuck out.

He looked over, eyes narrowed. "Alright, you two. If you're gonna hang around, make yourselves useful already." He waved his worksheet in the air. Dominic and Anne looked at each other, then shrugged and walked further into the room, looking at it.

"Wow. That is a tough one," Dominic said.

"Oh, I didn't know you were taking this class, Max," Anne said.

"Okay, I think I see how this is supposed to go," Dominic said after a moment. "It's a logic question, basically."

Anne shook her head. "Um... No, I think it's a trick question, isn't it? I mean, the statement is fallacious, isn't it?"

Dominic looked at her, frowning in confusion. "You think? No, it seems pretty straightforward to me..."

Max sighed, sitting there while the two of them debated on the type of question. Max rolled his eyes. "Hey, it's probably one of those. Can't you decide which one it is? Coin flip  or something?"

"Which one do you think it is, Max?" Anne asked.

Max looked at the question again, eyeing it carefully. "I think it is a logic question," he mumbled. "I mean, I don't really know the difference, but as long as I get the right answer I don't really care, I guess."

Dominic and Anne sighed at that.

"Dominic, c'mon. Put your money where your mouth is. Can you help me figure this shit out or not?" Max grinned devilishly. "If I'm so bad at studying, this should be a fun challenge for you, yeah?"

Anne laughed. "Well, it's good to see you studying, Max. Good luck, you two!"

Dominic didn't even turn around to say bye to Anne as she left. He leaned over Max's shoulder, their faces mere inches away as he talked through the problem with Max. "Okay, first, you have to put it together like this..."

Max nodded slowly. He would admit, Dominic did know his stuff. It didn't take long for him to explain the problem in a way that Max could understand.

"So then... This is the answer?" he asked, turning his head slightly to take in Dominic's expression.

Oh, had they always been that close?

"Exactly," Dominic said, a pleased grin on his face. He gave Max's shoulder a firm pat, then pulled away, not even seeming to notice the lack of distance between them.

Max coughed awkwardly, and turned back to his homework. "Yeah, okay. I guess that makes sense."

"You can get it when you try, Max. You're really intelligent, you just have to apply yourself. I can't have been the first person to say that to you."

"If I wanted a lecture from one of my old teachers from high school I would've called them up."

Dominic shook his head and rolled his eyes, a light smirk on his lips. "Whatever. Good to see you studying, though. Really."

"I told you I always study!"

"Yeah, but it's good to have proof."

Max watched as Dominic turned and left the room. He turned back to his homework, and immediately ran into another wall.

He should've just given up.

 

Chapter Text

Max awoke to an unusual sound on Friday. The sound of silence. Had he woken up before his alarm?

No.

His alarm just hadn't gone off.

He scrambled out of bed, rushing to pick out an outfit he could wear. He glanced at the clock. If no one was in there, he may be able to get a quick shower, but there would be no way he'd make it if there was a wait. And with five other housemates and only one bathroom, there would almost certainly be a wait.

That said, he had gone to classes without showers before. But he knew he would need one today, after a quick sniff test. That, or sit as far away from everyone else as possible.

But going through the day stinking and greasy just sounded horribly unpleasant. Ugh. If he had to be late, so be it.

He picked up his towel, and headed down the hall for the bathroom. As he did so, he saw Isabella leaving. She was carrying... Something? It didn't look like a towel.

She met his gaze, and winked playfully, holding up a finger in front of her lips. As she passed, Max saw that the bundle she was carrying was, in fact, clothes. But she was already dressed, so...

"Wait, wha-"

"Shh!" Isabella hushed him. "Go on, take your shower! I left a little treat in there for you!"

Before Max could question her further, the bathroom door opened up. "Alright, you assholes! Very funny!" Dominic's voice shouted out.

Isabella snickered and rushed off down the stairs before Dominic could see her.

"I am going to kill one of you. I'm not even sure which one! Maybe I'll just kill someone at random!" Dominic continued ranting. "The first one to bring back my clothes doesn't get murdered! That's fair, right?!"

Dominic poked his head out, and poor Max was the one his murderous gaze landed on.

"Uh... You doin' alright there, Dom?"

"You goddamn asshole, bring back my clothes this second!" Dominic snapped.

"Do I look like I'm holding on to your shit, man?" Max asked sarcastically. "I've barely got my own stuff together."

"Do you know who did it, then, asshole? Or are you at least going to get me a towel?"

"Yes to both," Max said, heading over to the linen closet and pulling out a fresh towel. "It was Isabella." He heard Dominic mutter an 'of course'. He tossed the towel over to the other male's outstretched arm, making sure not to see anything he didn't have to. "Now you know what you must do, right?"

"What, after I kill Isabella? Hide the body, I know. I think I know a place."

Max shook his head. "No, no, she'll never learn anything that way. You decent?"

"Enough. What are you talking about, Max?"

"It's easy." Max grinned wolfishly. "Come with me."

All it took was a little scrounging in the bathroom. A bucket full of shaving cream, a precariously open door, and no alternate escape routes were all they needed. "Now," Max said, "you go after her, and chase her back up here."

Dominic sighed, shoulders slumping. "I can't believe I let you talk me into this..."

"Well, you did. Now get to it! I promise it'll work."

Dominic nodded, and began storming down the stairs. "Isabella! Did you think I'd never find any pants?!"

Max headed into the bathroom, hiding behind the slightly open door to watch quietly. It only took a few minutes before shrieking was heard, and Isabella came running up the stairs. "No!" she shouted. "There's got to be some kind of rule against this!"

"Don't worry, I'll make it look like an accident!"

Of course, Isabella ran right to her room. The moment she pushed the door open, a plastic 'thud' and a squelch was heard.

Immediately, Isabella let out a quite different wail. "Oh my god!" she cried out. "You asshole!"

She then rushed into the bathroom and into the shower - shooting Max a glare on the way. Yeah, she knew he was involved. But Max was satisfied with himself. The girl might have been hot, but her pranks were seriously starting to seem like too much for even Max to want to deal with. Maybe this way she'd think before pulling anything else.

He left the bathroom and grinned over at Dominic. The smile was returned, much to Max's pleasure and slight shock. They even shared a well-deserved high five.

But he no longer had anymore time for a shower himself, so Max simply left the house, then.

...Ah well, totally worth it.

Chapter Text

On Sunday, Max woke up, and immediately felt like shit.

His nose was running, his head felt worse than it did when he had a hangover, and his throat felt so scratchy he almost thought there was a cactus in it.

Yeah, he decided he was dying. He groaned, pulling his blanket over his head, but he could hear talking. Ugh, why were people talking? He was trying to die!

He forced himself up out of bed, and stumbled over to press his ear to the door.

"His fever is incredibly high..." Dominic was saying. "I can't believe we're all going out. I just want to make sure someone is here to keep an eye on him."

"It's just a cold, Dom," Isabella said. "I've seen worse. All he really needs to do is get some sleep. And while he's doing that, the rest of us can get out of here."

"I don't know, it is pretty high..." Sally said. "Then again, if I don't see my study group tonight, we're going to fail our agriculture project."

Max heard Dominic give a sigh. "Look, we've all got stuff to do. I'm not saying we don't. I'm just saying that someone should stick around to make sure he doesn't get worse."

"It would be a kindness to him," Rakesh agreed.

Wow. Max felt like a real burden right then. Though, it wasn't like he'd asked to get sick or anything. After a moment of mental debate, he trudged over to the nearest pair of pants he could find. He pulled them on, and moved back to the door. He threw it open, and said, "You guys could just forget about it and get out of here, so I could get some damn sleep..."

"Max! You should be in bed!" Sally said.

"And you should all try to be quiet when discussing the terrible burden of making sure I don't croak. Yet, here we are."

"Sorry Max, it's not like you're a burden. We just have things that we need to do out of the house tonight," Isabella said.

"Seriously," Dominic said, placing a hand on Max's arm, a ghost of a concerned frown on his lips. "Go back to bed. We'll sort this out in a second."

Max huffed. "Why don't you just stay?" he asked, mostly just to piss him off. "You're the one most concerned, aren't you?"

Dominic blinked, and seemed to genuinely consider that. After a moment, he nodded. "Yes, I suppose that's fair."

Max was about to open his mouth and say that he'd been kidding, but everyone else immediately nodded in agreement. "Dominic's the most responsible one out of all of us, anyway," Sally said. "Take good care of him, okay?"

"I'll reschedule my meeting, then. The rest of you go on."

Max watched dazedly as the others all left, telling him one way or another to feel better. Once they were gone, Dominic shrugged off his jacket, then began gently pushing Max back into his room. "Are you hungry?" Dominic asked.

"Nah. I just wanna sleep..."

"Your fever is terrible... I'm going to go see if we've got any medicine. Try not to fall asleep until I get back."

The things that happened afterward were kind of blurred together and fuzzy, because Max kept drifting in and out of consciousness. Dominic gave him medicine, and checked his temperature every now and then. Put a cold rag on his forehead. Forced him to eat some soup.


 

...The next morning, Max felt a lot better, actually. Dominic was a good caretaker, Max would admit that. He got out of bed, and saw Dominic fast asleep on the floor.

"Damn, Dom..." Something inside Max fluttered, felt happy at the sight.

But he pushed the feeling down, and shook his head. Now that he felt better, he had no excuse for not going to class. He knelt down to wake Dominic up. "Dom. Hey, Dom, I gotta get ready so I can go to class."

"Mm... You should stay in," Dominic mumbled. "You're sick."

Max smiled softly. "Nah, I feel better, don't worry. And you should be in bed, not on the floor."

"Your bed's gross... Covered in dirty laundry..."

Max snorted, his cheeks lighting up a light pink color. "In your bed, dumbass. You should be in your bed."

Dominic slowly lifted himself up, blinking slowly. Yeah, it looked like he hadn't gotten much sleep. "'Kay," he mumbled, standing up. "Glad you feel better, Max."

Max watched Dominic leave his room. He stood there silently for a few seconds, enjoying the strange, warm feeling that had come over him, then got ready to head to class.

Chapter Text

Another day of classes was over and done with. Max was slightly surprised he was still bothering with this.

He was heading for the cafe at the moment, because he was supposed to meet Memphis there. With finals approaching, it would be nice to just relax for a bit. Everyone was so tense about studying - even he felt a little worried that even his best charm wouldn't get him out of a failing grade.

At that thought, he considered heading back to his room and trying to cram in some more studying...

But he couldn't do that to Memphis. They hadn't gotten to hang out in a while since Max started college.

Speaking of the devil, Max caught sight of Memphis waiting there at the door of the cafe.

"Max! You dirty bastard," Memphis said, "I thought I was gonna wait here all day."

"Oh quit your whining. I came as quick as I could."

"Yeah, yeah. Let's go."

The cafe was quite crowded as the pair of males entered. The two of them found an empty booth and took a seat. Max looked around, wondering if Isabella was on her shift.

While he didn't yet see her, he did see another familiar face approaching. "Oh, hey Max. What can I get for you?" Sally said as she stood next to the table.

"Sally?!" Max blinked. "I thought you worked at the farm!"

"Ugh. I do," Sally said, rolling her eyes. "But Isabella said one of their regulars called out and she needed a favor. So here I am." She sighed. "They didn't even have any good uniforms for me, so I'm just in street clothes. Everyone has been asking about it."

"Well, I guess you answered my next question early, then," Max commented.

"Hey, Sally," Memphis said.

"Oh, sorry, yeah, this is my bandmate, Memphis," Max quickly said to Sally.

Sally beamed. "Nice to meet you, Memphis."

"So, can you take a few minutes off?" Max asked. "Catch up with us? I mean, what's she gonna do, fire you?"

Sally smiled and shook her head. "Ha! Nice try, but no. I said I'd help out, so I'm helping out. Now, what did you two want?"

"Let me just have an espresso and a doughnut," Memphis said.

"Yeah, because you need to be bouncing off the walls," Max said tauntingly. Memphis immediately flipped him off, to which Max simply shook his head. "Whatever. Can you get me a slice of the pie and a coffee?"

"Yeah, let me go tell Isabella."

"Thanks Sally!" Max called after her as she walked away.

As soon as Sally was out of earshot, Memphis commented, "Hate it when she leaves. But I love watching her go..."

Max rolled his eyes and pulled a disgusted expression. "Watch it bro, you're slobbering," he snapped.

"Sorry..."

At least he actually did look a little ashamed.

"Hey, there's my favorite customer!"

Max looked over. "Hey, Isabella."

"Sally said you made it in," Isabella said.

"Well, not until the third date," Max couldn't help but say, winking playfully at her.

"And you say I'm bad?" Memphis said with a roll of his eyes.

"Ha! Careful Max, I've got a hose back there with your name on it," Isabella added.

Max sighed, holding up his hands, though still smiling. "I'll be good."

"Sorry it's so crowded," Isabella said. "I had wanted to chat a bit, but I guess it's nothing but work for me."

Max shrugged. "Oh, it's alright. Memphis will just have to keep me company in the meantime." He paused, then added with a playful smirk, "Or even better, let Memphis go do your job, and then you can chat all you want."

Memphis snorted. "I don't remember signing up for that."

Isabella let out a laugh. "Hmm... Maybe once he's been trained. I do like a properly trained man."

"I've changed my mind," Max said.

Isabella shook her head and laughed again, then walked away to wait on the other tables.

For a while, Max and Memphis just sat there, casually chatting. Every now and then Sally or Isabella would stop by to drop off a refill or food, and to chat for a second or two. Ever so slowly, the cafe began to clear out until it was just Sally, Isabella, Max and Memphis in the building.

Sally let out a loud groan as she fell dramatically into one of the seats at a table. "Never again, Isabella."

"You're a lifesaver, Sally, honestly," Isabella said, smiling over at her.

"You're lucky the tips were great," Sally whined.

Isabella chuckled. "Keep it up, you might even match my tips some day."

"I just need a little extra money," Sally said quickly. "I'm not trying to compete."

"That's because you'd lose!" Isabella said with a wicked grin.

Sally huffed and shook her head. "Oh, please. If I really worked it I'd have a pile of tips!" She was smiling, so she was clearly joking - but Isabella's brows furrowed and her eyes narrowed, showing that she didn't take it that way.

"Well, it looks like we've got two customers left," she said, motioning to where Max and Memphis were sitting. "As I recall, we both helped them out a lot, didn't we?"

Sally blinked. "...Yeah. What's your point?"

Isabella spun on her heel, hands planted firmly on her hips as she stared at the two males. "Well Max, who are you going to tip?"

"Oh lord," Memphis muttered. "I'm glad you're paying for food tonight..."

"Thanks, dick," Max said, glaring over at him. Then he sighed and looked over to Sally and Isabella.

He weighed his options carefully. For Sally, she had said she needed the extra money. Isabella was just competitive. Sure, he could just tip them both, but he got the feeling he wouldn't get off so easily.

"Well, you both helped out a lot," he said, "and you both looked hot doing it. But I think Sally wins this round."

Sally rolled her eyes. "It's still not a competition, you know," she said pointedly. But Max could see the barest hints of a blush forming on her cheeks - she was happy with his decision.

Isabella, meanwhile, simply rolled her eyes, but thankfully dropped the subject. "Whatever. You still helped me out, and I appreciate it."

Memphis chuckled, and smirked at Max. "Racking up points, I see," he said.

"Shut up," Max countered immediately.

With that situation resolved, Max pulled out some cash and laid out the money for the meal. He and Memphis headed out, and then went their separate ways.

Chapter Text

The next day, Max lounged about as much as he could before finally admitting to himself that he needed to head to class. He gathered up his books, then closed his room's door. Immediately after, he heard someone speaking. Rakesh.

"Maybe if I... No, I don't tink I can paint wif mah teef..."

Well. That certainly sounded odd. Unable to contain his curiosity, Max headed for Rakesh's room, giving a courteous knock before entering. "Rakesh... What are you up to?"

What Rakesh appeared to be 'up to' was sitting in front of a canvas, body half-shoved into a weird-looking pink bunny suit, holding a paint brush between his teeth.

That said, it was no weirder than any other thing Rakesh did when the mood struck him. Realizing this, Max quickly amended his previous statement with, "I mean... This time."

"Ah! Max! Just in time!" Rakesh dropped the paint brush from his mouth as he spoke, looking over at Max. "I have been commissioned! For the first time!"

"Hey, that's great news! It doesn't explain anything, but it's great news!"

"Ah, yes. The art store is having a sale and they wanted some posters done of their mascot." Here, Rakesh pointed at the suit.

Max knew exactly where this was going.

He wasn't sure what it said about himself that he was willing to rub mayonnaise all over Rakesh, but he wasn't willing to dress in a pink bunny outfit. And he chose not to think about it right then.

"Just hang it on a corner and paint it that way, Rakesh," he said.

"Hmm... That might work," Rakesh said. "But I need to see how it looks on a body..." After a moment, his eyes lit up. Max held his breath... "Ah! I know!"

Shit.

"Excuse me, Max, I must visit the local department store!"

Max blinked. "Rakesh... No stealing mannequins," he said in a warning tone. "It's just creepy, bro."

"Damn. Once more I am stumped then."

"I'm sure you'll figure it out, Rakesh," Max said awkwardly. "I gotta get to class. You should probably do that, too."

Rakesh waved at Max without really paying any attention to what he'd said. That was perfectly fine with Max, though. As long as he didn't have to get put in that horrific outfit, he would be okay with getting ignored for an entire year.

With that, Max took off for class.


The next day, Max was fully prepared to head up to his room after classes were over and done with. It had been a long week - though it was only Wednesday - and he felt he deserved some rest.

On his way to his room, he heard Isabella in her room, humming a wordless tune. He poked his head in, slightly curious.

She was getting ready for something, it seemed. And she hadn't mentioned any parties, which meant a date with Chad. Max couldn't help but frown in disgust. His last encounter with that guy hadn't made Max look upon him favorably.

But, well. It wasn't his place to tell her who to date. He sighed to himself, shook his head, then headed on for his room. There, he plugged up his guitar and amp, and began working out a few tunes that had been bouncing around in his head lately.

Before he knew it, it had been three hours, and he had a good handle on some new chords for his latest song. He fell asleep feeling pretty satisfied with that.

 

Chapter Text

Max was completely sure of one thing on Friday afternoon - and that was that his professor hated him and all of the other students. He was entirely certain that he hadn't covered any of those questions during his lectures. After all of that, all Max wanted was to head up to his room and jam on his guitar. Forget studying for the rest of the day, like he knew he probably should be.

He slammed the door shut behind himself as he entered the house. "Hey guys, I'm home. Anybody else have a terrible- ACK!"

Before Max could finish the rhetorical question, a little sucker dart had attached itself to his head.

"Reach for the sky, Max!" Isabella shouted. "You've got no hope of defeating the Rowdy Bunch!"

"Your chances are slimmer than finding an open spot on the commute train to Bihar!" Rakesh added. It was probably meant to sound dramatic, but Max had no clue what the guy was talking about.

"What he said," Isabella said weakly. "Now drop those books, sucker!"

Max eyed those dart blasters in their hands, one eyebrow raised in slight confusion. But before he could ask questions, a bunch of darts suddenly shot from out of nowhere and stuck onto the wall behind Isabella - who dove quickly behind the common room's couch for cover.

"Oh no you don't!" Sally declared, holding her own dart blaster. "You Rowdy Bunch have had the run of this place for far too long! Now it's time for the Serene Gang to put you in your place!"

"Yeah!" Anne said, standing next to Sally at the top of the stairs.

Both sides looked at Max expectantly.

Max sighed and shook his head in mock amusement. "Ladies, ladies... There's more than enough of me to go around. You don't have to shoot each other!"

Sally hummed. "That's true..."

"I guess," Anne said, "we could just shoot you!"

Immediately, Max dove for cover as a bunch of darts began shooting at where his head just was. "Wait, wait! I'm unarmed!"

Isabella let out a laugh. "That just makes you easier to shoot, hot stuff!"

Max looked at each one of the gun wielders, and realized that Anne and Rakesh were holding two guns. "Unless one of you guys wants to give up your spare gun for me...?" he said hopefully.

"Hmm... I don't know," Rakesh said thoughtfully, looking at the gun in his left hand. "Isabella said I was only a spray of doves away from being my own John Woo movie!"

"And I still haven't managed to jump out shooting two guns yet!" Anne said. "I think I can get it right this time!"

"No, no, I think it's a good idea," Isabella said. She winked playfully at Max. "Come join our side of the fight, kid. We'll treat you real nice."

"Oh, no you don't!" Sally said quickly. "Come join our side, Max, we're the side that's right! We'll finally be able to tame this wild west dormitory!"

"Never!" Isabella declared. "Our side has goodies!"

"No, we're the goodies! Their side has baddies!"

At Sally's words, everyone groaned. "You're not doing yourself any favors, Sally..." Max muttered.

That said, he figured he had to pick soon. He looked between the two teams, and quickly made his decision.

"You're right, Sally," he said, standing up from his cover. "It's time I made a stand in the fight between good and evil." He held out one hand towards Sally, while signalling Isabella and Rakesh with one hand behind his back where Sally couldn't see it. "And of course, the good boys should stick with the good girls!" He grinned wickedly as Rakesh placed the gun into his hand. "Unfortunately... I'm a bad boy!"

He pulled the gun out from behind his back, and started firing at Anne and Sally.

"Ha!" Isabella laughed. "Take that ya goody-goodies!"

"Max, you bastard! We'll get you for this!" Sally cried out.

Isabella rushed towards the stairs. "Come on, we've got 'em on the run!" she shouted. Rakesh and Max quickly followed after her.

"Our rooms are off-limits, so there is not much room to hide!" Rakesh added.

Then, Max heard Anne give a response. "It's all the room we need to blow you jerks away!"

"Oh, that's it!" Max said. "Let's get 'em!"

The three of them rushed up the stairs, guns facing forward. But when they got up the stairs, the Serene Gang was nowhere to be seen. Isabella motioned towards the bathroom, holding one finger over her lips. Rakesh and Max nodded, then they all began creeping slowly towards the bathroom.

But just as they got there, Max heard a scream behind them. The two girls had been hiding behind the far side of the banister!

"HA!" Sally shouted, rushing forward. And as she did, there was movement heard from inside the bathroom, too!

"Ambush!" Rakesh said in a panicking tone.

The three of them scattered as Anne rushed out of the bathroom, her two guns firing off in both directions. Max caught a few shots, but Sally and Anne got together at the stairs, then began heading back down.

"Let's get 'em, Rowdy Bunch!" Isabella declared.

And it went on like that for the next few hours. By the time all five of them collapsed on the couch, laughing, there was no winner. But it was a lot of fun, so who cared?

And then Dominic entered the house. "I'm hoooooOOOOOOLY HELL! What the hell happened in here?!"

Max took a proper look around. Yeah, the place was trashed and covered in sucker darts.

"You did this, didn't you Max?!" Dominic demanded. "I should kick you out of the dorm for this! No, I don't even care who started this, get to cleaning! What are you, twelve?! Clean this place up! I mean right no- ACK!"

Dominic's face was suddenly covered in darts, and the other five housemates ran for their rooms.

Worth it.

Chapter Text

On Monday, Max barely paid attention in classes. He couldn't believe the weekend had gone by so quickly! This week was the last week of the quarter, too, so everyone was busy cramming in some last minute studying. No big parties to go to or anything.

Really, it was almost like he'd enrolled at a school or something.

Even Latin House was being pretty quiet. Well, at least Sally had been letting him play with Vegemite. Max had to wonder how she'd managed to keep him a secret from Dominic thus far.

Well, Max had a full night of studying to look forward to. (And if you couldn't tell, that was sarcasm)

As he made it to the top of the stairs, though, and was on his way to his room, he saw Isabella standing just outside her doorway. Just staring into her room, as though something was there. He dismissed it for a moment and headed for his own room, but she was still standing there by the time he made it.

He debated for a moment whether he should go talk to her or not, but eventually sighed and headed over to her. "Hey, what's up, forget it's your room?" he asked.

"Oh... No. Sorry," Isabella said, almost mumbling. She seemed to go completely vacant for a moment, then shook her head and headed into her room.

Well, now Max was actually concerned. He followed after her, frowning. "No, really, Isabella. What's up?"

"Oh, I'm fine," she said dazedly. "I just... Look, my final tomorrow is a big one, and I've been studying all weekend, you know? And I still don't think I know this stuff..."

Max shrugged. "Hey, you gotta be doing better than I am."

"Don't be so humble. You hit the books harder than everyone claims you do."

"Hey, hey, don't go spreading it around."

Isabella gave a weak laugh. "I think I just need to relax a bit," she said, "but with everybody worried about finals nothing's going on. Heck, even Chad has to study. Apparently if he fails another class, he's off the football team."

Max couldn't help but comment, "That guy is literally a walking cliche, you know that, right?"

"Shut up."

Isabella sighed. "It's just... A lot of stress, you know?"

"Yeah. I understand."

After a moment, Isabella grinned at Max. "Well hell, you're here now, cutie. We can have a party for two!"

Max watched as Isabella flopped down on her bed, stretching for a moment. Then she reached underneath, and came back up holding a bottle of rum. "Come on, close the door and come relax with me. We can forget about the pressure for a little while and just have some fun."

Max sighed and shook his head. "What about your test tomorrow? You don't want to be doing it hung over."

Isabella dropped the bottle on her bed, and wandered over to her desk. Max closed the door behind himself. Isabella, meanwhile, returned to her bed holding a magic marker. She gave Max a seductive look, lifting her shirt with one hand and holding the marker with the other.

"Easy, you should know I always have the right answers! Especially if you help get them all over my body..."

Max pursed his lips in thought. "Alright, give me the bottle," he said.

Isabella giggled brightly. "I knew I liked you for a reason," she said. She passed over the bottle - which Max promptly put behind his back as he sat against the wall.

"You're not fooling me, you know," he said in a serious tone. "You want me to think you're just a party girl, but I'm not buying it. What's this self-doubt crap, huh? You've got to be the most confident woman I've ever met. You're gonna beat the crap out of any test they throw at you!"

Isabella gave a deep sigh, and flopped backwards on her bed. "Yeah, I know," she mumbled. "It's just stressful. I mean... There's just a lot riding on my education. I guess it gets to me sometimes."

"I get that," Max said. He did. If he didn't make it as a rocker, he knew he always had his education to fall back on - it was the only reason he gave as much effort as he was giving (which, admittedly, wasn't much). "But neither of us is as dumb as Dominic would like to think, right? So let's show him how well we can both study."

"Succeeding out of spite?" Isabella said, giving a smirk. "I like that idea, actually."

"Good. So go on and hit the books, yeah? And let it never be said that I am incapable of putting off a good party... For a little bit, anyway."

"Ha! Thanks, hot stuff. I really do feel better," Isabella said. "Thanks. Now get out of here. I have some advice to follow and a jerk to prove wrong."

Max let out a laugh, then headed off to his own room.

Chapter Text

Max took a deep breath and slumped forward on his desk. He hoped he was ready for finals, now. If he wasn't, he would never be. Although...

Now, he wasn't really sure what to do.

"Hey, Max, you have a second? I could use a bit of help."

Max sighed. It was his fault for thinking that.

He turned around to face Dominic. "I guess," he said. "You sure you didn't mean to go to Anne's room?"

"She's studying," was Dominic's response. "Come on, it'll only take a bit."

Max frowned. Hadn't he already proved that he studied just like everyone else in this place? "So... What's up?"

"I got behind in grading papers," Dominic said with a sigh. "I need some help to get them done before tomorrow. They're for finals, so it has to be done quick."

Max clicked his tongue. Well, whatever. He had just been thinking that he had nothing to do. "Oh, fine," he said, acting like it was a big ask. "I hate to see you beg... Oh, wait. No, I don't." He grinned wickedly, but stood up, making it clear that he actually was going to help.

"Yeah, yeah. Just come on..."

The two of them headed over to Dominic's room. The moment Max sat down on the bed, a pile of papers was slapped down in his lap.

"Okay, so this was part multiple choice, part essay and problem solving. I'll take care of the essay portions. Take this answer sheet and just do the multiple choice stuff. That'll make things go much faster."

Max shrugged and took the answer sheet. "Sure, sounds easy enough."

Dominic sighed. He glanced away, a light pink color coming to his cheeks. "Thanks. I... Appreciate you helping me."

Well, that sounded like it was hard to admit. Max smirked to himself, but had to ask himself why the blush on Dominic's cheeks had made his stomach flip over.

He shrugged it off, though, and got to work. It wasn't hard for Max to compare the filled-in bubbles on the tests to the bubbles on the answer sheet. Just put them next to each other and mark the differences. Dominic, soon enough, got absorbed in his work, once he was assured that Max knew what he was doing.

But Max got bored easily. It wouldn't hurt to try talking a little, right? And maybe - not that Max cared or anything - it would brighten Dominic's opinion of him.

"So, how'd you fall behind?" he asked casually. "You're pretty good about this stuff normally, aren't you?"

Dominic, still distracted by his own papers, only half-heard Max's question, and so took a moment to process it. "Hmm...? Oh. Raid ran later than it should have. Damn DPS screwing around like always."

Max lifted his head, staring at Dominic like he'd spouted a foreign language. "Wait, what? What are you talking about?"

"What do you mean what am..." Dominic trailed off, and once more his cheeks became colored a light pink as his words caught up with him. "Ah crap. I didn't mean to say that."

"Well you did, so explain."

"Yeah yeah, keep grading, though." Dominic tapped the paper in Max's lap with his own pen. "Have you ever heard of Massively Multiplayer Online games?"

"Uh, well, I don't know what they are, but... Yes?" Max said, turning to look back at the paper in his lap.

"They're video games on the internet," Dominic said.

Max smirked a little to himself. "So... Nerd stuff, basically?" he said, unable to resist.

Dominic sighed. "Yeah. Nerd stuff... You do know that I'm getting a masters in Physics, right? I'm pretty much planning on making a career out of 'nerd stuff'."

Max chuckled. "Hey, don't get me wrong. I don't care if you do your nerd stuff. It's not my thing, but you do whatever, man."

Dominic raised an eyebrow towards him, obviously not believing him. When Max only smiled innocently in response, Dominic sighed and rolled his eyes.

"So... Why would that keep you up?" Max asked eventually. "Can't you just pause that stuff or something?"

"No, not the online stuff. Too many other people."

Max nodded in understanding. He looked Dominic up and down carefully, a thoughtful look on his face. "I never would have figured you for a gamer," he eventually said.

"Yeah, well, like I said. I'm in a pretty 'nerdy' career path. Some of my friends got me into it."

"So you do know how to have fun after all?"

"Oh, shut up. Of course I know how to have fun." Dominic clearly knew Max was joking, at least, because he smiled a little.

"Learn something new every day," Max said with a soft chuckle. "I think I'm done with this batch."

The pair of them traded their stacks, then continued to grade. It wasn't long before they got everything finished.

"Alright, well, now that I've bailed you out of your irresponsible gamer troubles, I think I'll head out and figure out how best to lord it over you."

Dominic sighed and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. But seriously, Max, I appreciate the help."

Max grinned and mockingly saluted Dominic, then left the room, feeling oddly pleased to have learned something about Dominic.

Chapter Text

On Thursday, finals were finally done and over with. Winter break would start the week after, and Max couldn't wait to relax. He wished that it would start sooner, but apparently make-up finals were on Friday, so they couldn't end the quarter until those were over.

Well, that meant that Max got to spend Thanksgiving with his roommates.

Max noticed that everyone was quite happy to have their tests over and done with. Even if they felt that they bombed a test, everyone was happy to have them over with! In fact, most of them slept in, catching up on lost sleep from studying.

Sally and Rakesh volunteered to do the cooking, so the rest of them were lounging in front of the TV, watching some movies. It made Max a little homesick, though, to be missing out on his mother's turkey this year...

But hanging out with his roommates was fun, too. Even Dominic was relaxed.

"Hey, guys, one of you want to come in here and give us a hand real quick?" Sally asked, poking her head in.

Dominic frowned. "Everything okay in there?" he asked.

"Oh yeah, it's fine! We just need a little help with some of the cutting."

"I'll help," Max said, standing up from the couch.

"Okay, come on Max!"

Max followed Sally into the kitchen, and Rakesh beamed when he noticed him. "Oh, are you helping us? Thank you, Max!"

"Okay, I'm trying to put together this lasagna," Sally said. "I have to lay the noodles down. Can you help slice the vegetables?"

"Sure!"

Max picked up a knife and started slicing some zucchini.

"Oh, get these apples as well, please?" Rakesh said. "I am making a stuffing."

"Okay, I'll get those next."

"Thank you."

"Vegetable lasagna, Sally?" Max asked, glancing over at her.

"Yep!" Sally grinned. "Whole wheat noodles, chopped spinach, vegan cream cheese... It's gonna be great!"

"I guess that's why you've got turkey duties, Rakesh?" Max said with a smirk. "No vegan problems for you, huh?"

"No, I'm not vegetarian," Rakesh confirmed. "I don't eat beef, though."

"Lucky for you, hamburgers on Thanksgiving would be really weird."

"Ew! Yeah, it would!" Sally agreed. "Are you going to try my lasagna, Max?"

"I suppose it can't kill me."

"Gee, thanks."

It wasn't long before Max had all the cutting done, and got the apples and veggies to their respective cooks.

"Oh, thank you, Max!" Rakesh said cheerfully. "Here, put those in here. I need to put this into the turkey in a moment."

"Actually, Max, could you give me a hand over here?" Sally said. "I have to lay this sauce out in good layers so it doesn't get all runny."

Max nodded. "Let me help Sally really quick, Rakesh, then I'll help you."

Rakesh beamed. "I think I can manage, don't worry about me!"

Max walked over. "Thanks, Max. Here, you put the veggies in, and I'll pour over them. Then we need to do the next layer."

"Okay!"

A brief silence fell, then Max asked, "Any big plans for winter vacation?"

"Not really," Sally said. "I can't really afford to head home for the holiday, so I'll probably just be around here."

"Do you miss your family this time of year?" Max asked.

"A little," Sally admitted. "I mean, my dad always used to barbecue the turkey. He had a big fire pit and he'd be out there all day..." She let out a soft laugh. "He was devastated when I decided to go vegan. He even tried taking me to a turkey farm once!"

Max smirked. "Wow. How'd that go?"

"Not how he expected. He was talking about how ugly they were when I ran in and started trying to hug them. I probably whined at him for the next three days to let me have one as a pet!"

Max couldn't help but laugh at that. It sounded a lot like something Sally would do.

"That's one of the reasons I'm happy to be here with you guys," Sally said. "I don't have to worry about hurting anyone's feelings with my choices... Plus, meeting all of you has been so much fun for me!"

Max smiled. "Hey, I'm certainly happier for having met you," he said playfully.

"Oh please, flatterer."

"No, really," he insisted. "You've shown me some cool stuff since I got here. I'm glad you're my roommate."

Sally smiled at that. "I'm pretty happy I met you, too," she said. "You're pretty cool, Max. Now, help me get this over to the oven!"

"I am also ready," Rakesh said. "Have we got everything we need?"

"I think so. Let's get it set up and move to the next phase," Sally said.

Together, the three of them gathered everything up and put it all in the oven.

For the next several hours, Max was in the kitchen, helping Sally and Rakesh in the kitchen. And after it was all done, they called the others to the table.

"About time!" Isabella said as she sat down. "We're starving out here!"

"Yeah, yeah, you can't rush perfection!" Sally said playfully.

"It smells delicious, Sally," Dominic said.

Sally gave a beam of pride as they all put the food on the table.

"Wow, that's a great looking turkey, Rakesh!" Anne said.

"Thank you very much!"

"Wait, you mean Max didn't get in the way?" Isabella said, with a gasp of fake shock.

"Oh, shut up!" Max said, but he was smiling as he said it.

Everyone began digging into the food right away. There was turkey, cranberries, biscuits - vegan and regular - Sally's lasagna, candied yams, and mashed potatoes! It was a huge spread, and everyone took some of everything.

"Wow, this lasagna is actually really good, Sally!" Max said.

"Yes, this is truly delicious!" Rakesh agreed.

"Wow, yeah, this is really good!" Anne added.

Sally giggled at all the attention. "Aww, thanks everybody! I'm glad you like it!"

Everyone quickly fell silent as they all focused on eating. Max could see Sally sneaking some scraps into a small bag at her side. Probably for Vegemite.

When no one was looking, Max snuck her a few small pieces of turkey, too. She grinned, and slipped the pieces into her bag. Max was all for spoiling the little guy!

Eventually, the meal began to slow down, as they all began to fill up.

"Ugh... So full," Isabella mumbled.

Anne gave a pleased sigh. "That was really, really good."

There was still some food on the table, but they'd devoured most of it.

"Oh man that turkey was good," Max said. "I'm gonna be having turkey sandwiches for the next month!"

"I'm just glad my lasagna got finished!" Sally said proudly.

"Well thank you, chefs, for the incredible food," Dominic said. "If nobody minds, we always had a tradition at my place of going around the table and saying what we're thankful for. For instance... I'm thankful that the lot of you yahoos haven't burned the house down on my watch."

Max laughed, while everyone else booed Dominic. Isabella threw a half-eaten biscuit at him.

"Alright, alright!" Dominic held his hands up. "I'm thankful for new friends and a new year."

Isabella hummed in thought. "I'm thankful for hot students and interesting new prospects." She gave Max a wink as she said that.

"I'm thankful for everyone being so nice to me, and making me feel welcome," Anne said shyly.

Everyone gave that one an 'aw'. She really was cute.

"Well..." Rakesh gave a moment to think. "I think I am most thankful for gamboge. It has brightened up several of my projects quite beautifully. Also, my parents have not called yet."

"I'm thankful for a house that understands my choices, and does their best to live in harmony with each other," Sally said.

Now it was Max's turn. He thought a moment, then said, "I'm most thankful that Dominic hasn't kicked my ass out of the house yet."

Dominic snorted and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you should be thankful."

At that, everyone laughed.

"Alright alright," Isabella said, "that's enough of the love-fest. Somebody did bring some pie, right?"

"Oh, yes! Full vegan pumpkin pie!" Sally declared.

"Good enough!" Max said.

They all grabbed their forks once more, as the conversation, and eating, picked up again.

Chapter Text

Finally, it was time for the first break. And what a relief it was. Max had spent way too much time with his head crammed in books, and not nearly enough time with his band. But that was about to change!

Gaz was finally going to let Max and his band headline this week!

It was admittedly because his main band had cancelled, but who cared? Opportunity was knocking and Max was going to answer!

He'd called Memphis over, and they were meeting tonight to discuss the playlist.

This was going to be great!


Snacks were out of the fridge and on the table, along with a pretty good list of songs. This was going to be their big break, Max could feel it!

There was a knock on the door, and Max went to answer it.

"Alright, chump, you ready for this?" Memphis asked with a smirk.

"Memphis! You know it, bro. Did you get Slim's suggestions? She still at work?"

"Yeah, she should be off for all the shows though," Memphis replied. "Couldn't get the time completely off."

Max smirked. "Okay, well, we can work some of her faves into the rotation. Jerry said he didn't care?"

"You know him. He'll play whatever we say to play. He's gonna be eyeing the crowd anyway."

"Heh." Max rolled his eyes at the accurate analysis of their bandmate. "As long as he plays his heart out, he can eye-screw the whole damn audience for all I care."

Memphis chuckled. "That's fine, just don't tell him that. He'll take it as a challenge."

The two of them went to sit down on the couch, and started going over the songs. "This has got to be a set to remember, bro," Max insisted.

"I know, I know," Memphis said. He patted Max's arm. "Don't get too worked up, man. We're ready for this."

Max took a deep breath. "Yeah, I know... We've got this."

"Damn right we do," Memphis said. He paused, then said, "Oh, hey! Gaz wants to know if you want him to comp anybody. No drinking unless they're over 21, but he'll let 'em in."

"I can't think of anybody off hand," Max said.

"What, not even your roommates?" Memphis asked, raising an eyebrow. "I mean, you live with 'em, don't they know what you do?"

Max considered that for a moment. "Well... Yeah. I guess I could invite them along."

Memphis, however, shook his head at that. "Only one comp per person man, sorry. You're gonna have to make a choice."

"That dick," Max muttered. "You bringing someone along?"

"Nah, you assholes are my only friends," Memphis said. He sighed dramatically. "And ain't that just the saddest thing you ever heard?" He dramatically threw himself against the arm of the couch, one hand on his forehead like he was in a soap opera. Max rolled his eyes at the sight.

They were going to have a couple of shows... Maybe Max could invite them one at a time? Or he could just pick one person to go to all of them...

Anne skipped in, then. "Oh, hey guys!" she chirped.

"Hey, Anne! Say, what are you up to tonight?" Max asked.

"Packing," she replied. "I'm going home to visit my folks tomorrow. I'll be back for the new semester."

"You're such a sweetie, Anne," Memphis said.

"Ugh. I hate that nickname..." Anne muttered.

"Oh. I lost some points there."

Anne rolled her eyes at Memphis, who simply found it amusing.

"What are you two up to?" she asked.

"Planning tonight's show," Max said. "Our band's actually headlining."

"Oh, that's great!"

"Yeah, it's gonna be incredible."

"Speaking of, we should probably get back to it," Memphis said.

"Oh! Say no more! Have fun guys! Knock 'em dead!" Anne said cheerfully, then she headed upstairs to her room.

The two guys went over the show notes until they could recite them forwards, backwards and sideways. Max would admit that he hated studying, but this was one thing that had to be perfect. He knew the band was ready, he knew they could handle it. They just had to get up there and perform.

Once they were satisfied, Max walked Memphis to the door, then started to head up to his room. The only thing he had to decide was who, if anyone, he wanted to bring along...

Along the way to his room, he glanced over towards Dominic's room. He clicked his tongue. Nah... The guy wouldn't want to come, right? He wasn't interested in that kind of thing. Right?

Why was he even considering it...?

After a moment, he sighed and headed towards the open door of Dominic's room. "Hey, Dom?"

Dominic blinked, looking up from his computer. "Uh, hang on, Max." He typed something into his computer, then turned towards him. "Sorry. Had to let the other guys know I was AFK - what's up?"

"I was just... Wait, AFK?"

"Away from keyboard."

"Ah. That nerd game?"

Dominic rolled his eyes. "Yes, Max, the nerd game. Now what did you want?"

Max shifted awkwardly. This was stupid... Why did he think Dominic would even agree? Why was he asking? He shook his head. "You know what? Never mind."

"No, wait, Max." Dominic stood up, frowning. "What's wrong? You look really weird. Nervous."

Nervous?! Such slander would not stand!

"Oh, shut up! I'm Max, the Rock God! I don't get nervous around preppy school boys like you!"

Dominic smirked wryly at that. "Right," he said, stretching the word out to show he really didn't believe that. "Then spit it out. What's up?"

Ugh. He had Max cornered now.

"I was going to ask if you wanted to come to my band's show tonight," Max admitted. "But while looking at you, I realized I should invite someone who'll appreciate it. Like Sally or Isabella."

Dominic raised an eyebrow. "I see."

"Yeah, so I'll just-"

"What time?"

Max blinked dumbly. "What?"

Dominic smirked and crossed his arms. "I've heard you practice, Max. Just because I tell you to stop playing doesn't mean I don't appreciate the music. You just play it way too late."

Max, against all his wishes, felt his cheeks lighting up with a dark blush. "...Oh."

"Yeah. I'd like to see you actually performing. So, again - what time?"

"Um... You've got about three hours... Think you can finish whatever you were doing in that game by then and still have time to get ready?"

"I should be able to manage, yeah." Dominic's smirk transitioned into a genuine smile. "Thanks for thinking of me, Max."

"Uh. Yeah. No problem. Thanks for coming. I've got to get there early - think you can get there on your own?"

"Sure. Just text me the address."

"Will do."


Back in his room, Max threw together a few last-minute things and began taking it out to his van. Half an hour later, he was on his way to the bar.

The moment he made it in, Memphis greeted him with, "There you are, jackass. You ready to rock this scene?"

"Damn right!" Max said. "What about you guys?"

The rest of the band gave a yell, and Max began unpacking the gear he brought. As they unpacked, everyone went over the song list for the night. Jerry gave a few grumbles at a couple of the choices, but Slim was down for everything.

They practiced a few of the numbers to get a soundcheck going. Gaz stayed out to listen a bit, get the names of the people he needed to comp, and to wish them luck. He didn't seem to be putting a lot of pressure on it. He probably expected the place to be empty or close to empty.

That was fine, though. They'd just have to rock it even harder.

Finally, it was time for the curtains to go down, and people to start filtering in. Max would admit to being slightly worried that there would be disappointed fans of the cancelled band out there, but he knew that they would soon become new fans of them, so he figured it'd be okay.

"Alright, boys and girls," Max said, looking over Memphis, Jerry and Slim. "It's about time to do this. There are probably a lot of people out there expecting to see a mediocre college band. This is our chance to hook 'em. We play this gig right, and we just bought ourselves a crapton of new fans. Come on Back Alley Flash, this house ain't gonna rock itself... You ready?!"

"Damn right we are!" Memphis said. "We were born for this!"

They all pounded their fists, then took positions as the curtain rose.

Finally in the light, Max took in the crowd. He could barely make out Dominic towards the front, but he was a bit too busy taking in the size of the audience.

It was anything but small.

"Hey everybody, glad you could make it out. I'd love to say you all came here to hear me talk, but I'm guessing you came to rock the hell out. Am I right?"

The crowd cheered, but it was clear they weren't quite into it. Max smirked, and played a quick hook from their first song of the night before leaning back towards the mic.

"Maybe I was wrong, but I don't think so... What do you say, want to hear some songs?"

This time, the cheer was more genuine. They'd soon be won over completely. Max grinned over at the band, and Slim started off with a solid beat.


Max could barely remember the next forty-five minutes. It was a blur of music and dancers. By the end of the third song, pretty much everyone was on their feet. Gaz starting them off with half-off drinks probably didn't hurt anything. Max decided he'd thank him for that later.

When the curtains finally dropped, the band all rushed together in a big group hug. Enthusiasm was high in the air.

Their comps soon were allowed backstage to see them all. Slim's giant boyfriend ran to give her a big bear hug. It was literally like a bear ripping a small flower out of the ground and giving it a hug.

Dominic hung back a little, probably not wanting to get in their way. Max gave one last high-five to Memphis, then hurried over to him.

Still high on the drug of being on stage, Max couldn't help but pull Dominic into a hug. Dominic, thankfully, didn't seem to mind, and simply laughed and patted Max on the back until he pulled away.

"Thanks for coming," Max said, beaming. "What'd you think? Fantastic, right?"

"It was really great, Max. Your practicing at the house is good, but I never knew your band was so in sync. You looked like, well, don't be offended by this, but you looked professional out there."

Max laughed at that. "I won't be offended, but only because I'm really hyped right now."

Dominic chuckled. "I'm glad you invited me. I had a lot of fun." He looked behind Max. "I suppose you're going to hang behind with your band and celebrate?"

"Yeah, I was planning to," Max said. He looked at Dominic with a raised eyebrow. "Wanna join?"

Dominic hesitated. "Will that bar owner be irresponsible enough to let you drink alcohol even though you're underage?"

"Probably not, unfortunately."

"Then sorry, but no. I might have stayed if you needed a sober driver, but..."

Max shrugged. "Fair enough. Hey, I promise to be home early, though, okay. Is two hours good with you?"

Dominic smirked. "I'll be waiting up for you to come home, so you better make good on that."

"Oh, so I'll be messing up your sleep schedule if I'm late? You shouldn't tempt me like that."

"Haha."

With that, Dominic left, and Max turned back to re-join his bandmates.


Gaz comped them some drinks - non-alcoholic, per Max's predictions - and congratulated them on a great set. Max barely heard him talking about the great crowd reaction, and how he was going to give a bigger marketing push to see if he could increase the crowd... He was still coming down from the high of the great performance.

"Nice job, asshole," Memphis said.

"You too, dick. You too."

Chapter Text

The week had been a really, really great break. Back Alley Flash had performed for standing room only crowds the whole time. Max hadn't even been able to invite anyone else to come watch - Gaz had had dollar signs in his eyes. It was an incredible start for his band, though, so Max wasn't complaining.

And he'd even managed to have a great Christmas! He had snuck Dominic into the last show, right before Christmas. Then he'd managed to drag the guy to one of his favorite dives, and they'd actually had some pretty good conversation! They had talked for hours on end, sometimes bickering, but it was mostly playful. And they'd rang in Christmas around 3 am - which, in Max's opinion, was the best time to celebrate.

So yeah. A pretty great break...


Unfortunately, nothing good could last forever. Back to school.

Max had a few new classes this quarter, and a few continuations from his previous one. Luckily the continuations were mostly being taught by the same professors, so Max didn't have many new names to learn.

He even saw a few new faces in his classes. In his first class of the day, he saw Anne. He took a seat next to her, giving her a quick nod.

He also spotted a redheaded girl with glasses somewhere across the room. He felt he recognized her, but wasn't entirely sure where from. She'd come by the bookstore a lot last semester, but he couldn't really place her name...

Anne followed his gaze. "Oh. Looks like Roxanne got into this class too. Huh."

Max almost asked her how she knew the other girl, but then the professor walked in, and slammed some notes down on his desk.

"Welcome back," he said, "to all of you who didn't flunk out of 101. You're not completely brain dead. Welcome to the class where you actually get started. Although I'll be lecturing, and there will be no homework, the majority of your grade is going to come from a paper due at the end of the class. Of course, I'll be expecting your paper to be inclusive to the topics we've discussed in class, so don't think you can just skip my class all quarter and bullshit your way to a Grade-A paper."

Well, he just tossed half of Max's plan down the drain.

Then, the professor grinned almost eerily. "That being said, as some of you know, I am a tenured professor here. Which means I can indulge in more... Advanced classroom techniques. If you'd like to know more about it, come see me after class for an extra-credit assignment. Otherwise, open your books. I don't plan on going slowly this quarter, so try to stay awake out there."

And with that, the guy launched right into the lessons for that quarter. Being that Max wanted to try and get a half-decent grade, Max did his best to scribble down whatever he could.

Unfortunately, by the end of class, rather than notes, all he had was a pile of unreadable mess. There was no way Max would be able to pass this class unless he had that extra-credit assignment's help.

He packed up his things, as did the other students, but instead of leaving, he headed for the professor. As was Anne, shockingly enough. "Hey, Max!" she chirped.

"Anne! Surprised to see you in this class," he confessed.

"I transferred over this quarter, actually. I'd heard the professor was... Interesting."

"Well, he's still a college professor," Max pointed out. "What's the worst he could do?"

The professor seemed to have overheard. "Please," he sneered. "I'm a tentured college professor. I could order you to fight to the death and the worst I'd get from the dean is a sigh and a frown. And he'd apologize for sighing."

Then, the professor looked over the students who'd come over. Other than Max and Anne, there were only a few other students. "Is this it? I suppose I shouldn't have expected more," he said with an annoyed sigh. Then he looked at Max with obvious disgust. "Alright, I know some of you here are looking to skate out of my class on easy street."

Yeah, he definitely was talking about Max. C'mon, he just wanted a little help...

"And there's no way," the professor continued, "I'm going to let you do so... Without a little entertainment for me. Therefore, what I'm proposing is simple. You're going to get together in groups. There are enough of you to make three groups of two. Go ahead, take a few moments and choose your partner. I'll pick up a few other suck... Students later."

Max and Anne met gazes, and shrugged. Before anything could be said between them, though, the redhead - Roxanne, Max reminded himself - came over to him.

"Hello, Max," she said. "I didn't think I'd see you in this class."

"Uh, hey. Roxanne, right? You come by the bookstore a lot."

"Yes. I'm always needing new notebooks and pencils and... Such."

Max raised an eyebrow at the awkward way that was spoken. "Well, it's nice to see you," he said.

"You as well, Max," Roxanne replied. "I was actually wondering if you would like to be my partner for this activity?"

Max blinked. "Oh... I was thinking I'd like to pair up with my friend, Anne, there?" He pointed over at her. Anne gave a nervous wave as Roxanne turned to look at her with disgust.

"Y-yeah," Anne said. "I thought we'd partner up..."

Roxanne rolled her eyes and faced Max. "I think you will find me the superior partner for this endeavor."

"Wait, what?!" Anne's eyes widened. "Do you know what the professor is on about? I'm a pretty good student, you know!"

"No, I don't know what the proposed lesson is," Roxanne replied coolly. "However, I've seen what you are capable of, Anne, and I am simply better."

"What?!" Anne shrieked, outraged.

"I think it should be obvious that I will make the better partner."

Anne stomped over to Max's side, grabbing his wrist. "Come on, Max," she insisted. "Let's get on with the lesson."

She looked up at Max, desperately and hopefully. Max glanced around and realized that if he went with Roxanne - he would never, of course, but if he did - Anne would be forced to pair with someone she didn't even know. He couldn't do that to this poor, shy girl.

"Sorry Roxanne," he said, tossing her a fake smile. "Anne lives with me, which makes it a bit more convenient, you know? Plus, you were a bit rude there."

"I was merely stating facts," Roxanne replied evenly. "If you choose to ignore them, it's your loss." She then walked over to one of the other students, probably making her case to them instead.

Anne beamed up at Max, mouthing a silent 'thank you', then glared daggers at Roxanne's back. Boy, if looks could kill...

Once everyone was paired off, the professor began his spiel again. "Okay, are we all sorted? Good. Here's how it works, kiddies... Your partner and you are study buddies. Your grades are intertwined. Once all the assignments are turned in, and the tests are done, you'll both get the average of your two grades."

There was a pause. That didn't sound too bad.

"However," the professor continued, "if one of you gets tired of all that working, just come to me, and ask for the answers to the final. I'll give them to you. You'll pass the class and you won't have to do any other work. Here's the rub - If one of you comes to me and the other doesn't, then the one who didn't ask for the answers will automatically fail the class. But if you both come to me, you get C's. Simple as that."

The students were silent in shock. The professor grinned wickedly.

"Do you work together and hope you're smart enough to do it? Do you pray that your partner didn't decide to cheat? Do you take your C's and call it a day? Chew on that! Now get out of my class, I have things to do!"

And with that, the man walked away, leaving everyone with wide open mouths and even wider eyes, all staring at each other in shock.

What the hell was that?

 

Chapter Text

It was Wednesday. So early in the new quarter, and Max already was swamped with work to do. It was ridiculous! Max's band was finally going somewhere, and then college decided to saddle him with so much homework that he'd never be able to leave the house!

...Which was why he made his way over to the cafe. Nobody had ever said he had to be cooped up while he did this studying, right?

"Is that gonna be it for you?" Isabella asked.

Max held up his coffee with a smile. "This'll be fine. Thanks, Isabella." He winked playfully. "Come back later, I'll make sure to give you a tip."

"No need, I've already got one. Don't hit on the waitress - she's almost certainly heard it done often, and better."

Well then. Max watched as she winked and walked away, swaying her hips as she did.

Max had brought his guitar, figuring he could strum a bit before he really got to work on his homework. He plucked a few chords, quietly, just before the door opened and one of his classmates walked in.

"Max! Oh, hey! I didn't know you'd be over here!"

Carmen. Max was proud of himself for remembering her name.

"Oh! Hey, Carmen," he said, as if to show off that he remembered. "Already have work to do, can you believe it?"

"I know, right?!"

She took his friendly attitude as an invitation and sat down across from Max, setting her bag down next to his. It had so many books in it that it landed quite heavily. Her eyes strayed to his guitar, and she gasped. "Oh my gosh, is that your guitar?!" she gushed. "I... Uh... I saw your show at Gaz's over holiday break! You were fantastic!"

Max grinned at the praise. "Oh, really? That's great. Glad you enjoyed it. We had a blast playing."

"Oh, yeah, I couldn't believe how much fun your show was!" she said. "I really enjoyed it a lot. I actually told all my friends. We all came back to see you the next night!"

"Wow, two shows?" Max chuckled. "I guess you're my biggest fan, huh?" He gave her a casual wink, and watched with satisfaction as her cheeks turned a light pink color.

"How long have you guys been doing shows like that?" she asked.

"Oh, you know," Max said, carefully thinking for a moment before saying, "a while. I mean, we haven't exactly hit it big yet, but we're up and comers."

"Yeah, you guys have got the talent to go far!"

Before Max could respond to that, Isabella was back at the table's side. "Well, aren't you two getting along famously?" she said.

"Oh, hey Isabella," Max said. "Do you know Carmen? She's one of my classmates. Carmen? Isabella. One of my roommates."

"Nice to meet you, Isabella!" Carmen said cheerfully.

"I've seen you come in a few times," Isabella said idly. "Nice to meet you formally. Can I get you anything?"

"Just a black coffee, please."

"Sure thing."

Isabella gave Carmen an odd look, then walked away. Carmen and Max got back to their conversation. She seemed really excited to be learning about Max as they chatted.

Then, they both jumped when Isabella all but slammed a black coffee on the table between them. Luckily it didn't spill. "Careful, Max," she said, "Carmen here might try to kidnap you at this rate!"

Max raised an eyebrow at Isabella. Then, he smirked, and said, "Oh, I don't know. She's pretty cute. If she wants to tie me up in her basement for a while, I'm sure we could have some fun."

Carmen let out a squeak at that. "Oh my gosh! I would never...!" Her cheeks were bright red now.

"Hey, I'm pretty sure Isabella's just mad that she didn't think of it first," Max said, smirking over at Isabella.

"Oh, whatever," Isabella said, seeming much calmer now. "I'm pretty sure she doesn't even know where to get the good handcuffs." She shook her head at Max, then walked away.

Max chuckled, then smiled apologetically at Carmen. "Don't worry," he said, "that was just Isabella giving me a hard time. She knows I'll give as good as I get."

At that, Carmen seemed to start breathing again, her blush lessening. They spent a bit studying together, before, eventually, she decided to pack her things and head out. Max decided he needed to get going too, so he followed her out the door, and waved goodbye as they went their separate ways.

Chapter Text

It was Saturday. And the house felt almost too quiet for Max's tastes. Sure, it was only the first week back, but he'd almost expected a huge party nonetheless.

Then, Max wandered out of his room in search of a snack, and found himself in the midst of a big argument in the common room.

"What?! No! That's stupid! We're going to watch my show," Isabella said.

"My movie is not stupid! It is fantastic! I think that your movie might be the one that is steeped in stupidity!" Rakesh returned.

There it was. The Latin House would never let him down.

Max quietly snuck past the couch to get to the kitchen, noticing Sally's presence as well - though she seemed to be more of a mediator than an arguer. But the poor girl was not having the best time of that...

Might as well try to bail her out. Max grabbed his snack, then headed back into the common room.

"As much as I am curious about so-and-so's evil twin brother and the mistress they share, I think my film will make much better watching."

Isabella blinked in shock, as did Max. "Was that sarcastic?" she asked, genuinely surprised. "Rakesh, are you being sarcastic?"

"Oh, yes. I learned about it just yesterday. Specifically so I could use it when referring to shows you like."

"Again?! You are learning all the wrong things from America, my friend."

Max sighed and decided to step in here. "Alright, alright, you two," he said, actually stepping in-between Isabella and Rakesh. "Knock it off before someone throws a punch."

Sally sighed in relief. "Oh, hey Max. Both of these guys gave up on listening to me thirty minutes ago."

"Well, lucky for all of you, I was bored up there." Max rolled his eyes. "I thought maybe you'd all gone out and forgotten to invite me. Instead I find you here, bickering like toddlers."

"It's Rakesh's fault!" Isabella said in a whining tone, just proving Max's point. "He refuses to bow down to my superior taste!"

"This would be resolved if Isabella would acknowledge that I have brought the better entertainment," Rakesh said in a diplomatic tone.

"Did you have an opinion, Sally?" Max asked, looking to her.

Sally shook her head, holding her hands up. "Oh no you don't, I'm not getting in the middle of this one."

Max chuckled and rolled his eyes. "Fine, fine. You people are lucky you've got me around. Give me the movies - I'll figure out what we're watching tonight."

He took both cases, and looked them over.

Isabella's choice was some TV show bootleg DVD. The back was in mostly Spanish, but he caught the word 'Telanovela'.

Rakesh's choice, meanwhile, was a Bollywood movie. His case was mostly Hindi, but Max had seen a few posters like it online.

Neither one was really up Max's alley, so he bided his time, mentally doing the whole 'eenie-meenie-miney-moe' thing, but before he could finish the rhyme, he caught Rakesh's look. He looked like a sad little puppy, hoping for a delicious treat from its master.

Ugh. So not fair.

"Okay, Rakesh, so what's this movie about, anyway?"

Rakesh lit up. "Ha HA!" he said. "Okay, give it here, please, Max! I will put it on! This one is pretty new, and the reviews are great!"

Once the movie was on, Max was relieved to see that it had subtitles so that they could all follow along. It was about some small-time crook falling for a respectable, high-class lady. There were also some song and dance numbers. The crook looked like some fighter dude, so there were some great fight scenes, too. And lots of slapstick, so there was lots of laughter, too.

All in all, it was really entertaining, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Rakesh, especially, seemed happy that everyone else enjoyed it. He even sang along to a few of the verses.

When it was over, Rakesh turned to the others, beaming proudly.

"Alright, alright, it was a good movie! Fine," Isabella admitted.

"Ha!" Max laughed. "I think that's the best you're going to get out of her, Rakesh."

"Well, I thank you for your vote of confidence, Max! I am very glad you enjoyed it," Rakesh said. Max could practically see a puppy tail wagging.

"Any time, Rakesh. Any time."

 

Chapter Text

It was Monday, and finally a day for a new class. Max hadn't met this professor yet. He hoped this one would be easier than his other ones... Or at least easier than the one who was doing that weird experiment with the students...

Well, in any case, the class seemed easy on the syllabus, so he had his fingers crossed.

He watched quietly as the professor walked in, and stepped up to the podium at the front of the class.

"Greetings all, I'm Professor Merriweather," she said. "Welcome to Intro to Anatomy. I'm not one for standing on ceremony, and you're all here to learn, so let's get right to it, shall we?" She looked over the class carefully. "For starters, let's get a couple of you down here for an example. Any volunteers?"

Well, anything would be better than sitting in the chair all period. Max stuck his hand up in the air.

"Okay, you there," the professor said, pointing at him. "Your name?"

"Max, ma'am."

"Good, good. Come down here and stand over there."

Max stood and headed down to stand to the teacher's left.

"Alright, let's see who else we've got... Who else... Ah, Butch, please come to the front of the class."

A small guy with thick glasses slowly approached the front of the class, a frown on his face. "I had requested that you use my middle name, Terrence. Please, professor."

Max's eyebrows shot up, staring at the guy in shock. "Your name is Butch?"

The poor guy immediately looked flustered. "This is why I go by my middle name. Nobody ever thinks I'm a 'Butch'."

"Sorry, no nicknames," Professor Merriweather said matter-of-factly.

"But-!"

"Moving on! Butch, you stand here, to my right."

Butch grumbled, but moved to stand to the teacher's right. With that, she faced the class.

"So, anatomy. We've all got it," she said. "This is an intro to it. I'm assuming all of you took a high school biology class, yes? I don't have to start with the basics?" Without pausing, she motioned to Max and Butch. "These are two humans. You've got that? Alright. You can never tell with the state of public schools these days. So let's take a look at these two specimens."

She began talking, pointing at various parts of Max and Butch, talking about where evolution played a part or what parts were holdovers from ancestors.

It may have been a fascinating lecture, if only Max hadn't had to be a living doll for her to point at and toy with for the whole time.

Eventually, she motioned for the two boys to go sit back down. They headed up to their seats while she wrapped up the lecture. Then the bell rang, and everyone filed out, all looking somewhat overwhelmed.

"Oh, Max, Butch, come here a moment, would you?"

Damn. Almost made it out.

"Thank you for being my guinea pigs today. It's always nice to have volunteers," the professor said. "Oh, and glad to see you stuck to 102, Butch."

"Yes, well, I need the credits, Professor Merriweather..."

"I hope I can count on you both to help me in the future?" she asked.

Max rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, I guess so. Wasn't like it was horrible." Horribly awkward, maybe, but not horrible.

The professor nodded. "Alright, go on. I'll see you next time."


On Tuesday, as Max left the bookstore - as a customer, not an employee - he looked over the books he'd been told to buy for his anatomy class. 'The Brain for Dummies'. 'Idiot's Guide to Anatomy'. 'My Big Book of the Body'.

Professor Merriweather didn't really think much of them, did she?

Oh well, maybe that meant it'd be easier. Time to get home and start reading them, then.

"So then I totally sacked him! I must've sent him flying like forty feet, right?"

"Haha!"

Those voices, especially the first one, sounded sickeningly familiar. Max turned. Sure enough, there were Isabella and Chad.

"Then he gets up and he's all, 'Where's my bed, I think I need a nap'!" Chad continued whatever ridiculous story he was telling.

Isabella only laughed even more. Wow... What was she even laughing about? That story was so obviously stupid and fake.

What did she see in the guy, even? Max recalled the first time he'd met him, the way he'd slapped her ass... He obviously wasn't a good guy. Max sighed and shook his head.

Well, it was no business of his. And if it was, he wouldn't go bugging her about it while they were obviously on a date. He headed back home, and holed himself up in his room with his basic anatomy books.

Later in the evening, he heard Isabella and Sally coming through the front door, laughing about something. Something must have happened.

Oh well.

 

Chapter Text

It was a quiet afternoon on Thursday as Max headed towards his room. Was everyone out somewhere, maybe?

"No, mama, mis clases van bien."

Oh, sounded like Isabella wasn't. Her door was open. Max peeked in and saw her putting away laundry while she talked to... Her mom, it sounded like? Maybe?

"Los muchachos me traten bien. Me estoy divirtiendo aqui." She paused, then said, "Si, estoy trabajando muy duro en mis estudios. Tienen un buen programa para Maestros aqui."

Max didn't understand a word of what she was saying, but it sounded intense, based on her tone. He wondered, even though he didn't understand, if it was really okay to be listening.

Of course, just as he thought that, she glanced over and met his gaze. Luckily, her eyes lit up, and she waved him in.

Max shrugged and entered. "Si," Isabella continued, "mi titulo servira ahi. Tendran que dejar que trabaje." She glanced over at Max, and smiled gratefully when she saw that he'd entered. "Oh! Mis companeros acaban de regresar. Ya me voy, mama. Te amo tambien. Cuidate."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt," Max said as Isabella hung up.

"Oh, don't worry about it," Isabella replied. "Just my mom checking up on me. Making sure I'm still studying, and that I didn't run away with any strange boys. Or strange girls." She chuckled to herself and shook her head in amusement. "So, what's up, hot stuff?"

"Nothing really, just passing by, wondering if there were any strange girls in here you wanted to introduce me to," Max said easily.

"Ha!" Isabella grinned. "Just one, and I think you've already met her."

Max shifted awkwardly. He did have a question, now that he thought about it, but... Was it okay to ask...? "Okay, look," he began, "there's been something itching at me for a while now. And I don't really know a great way to weedle it out of you, so I'll just ask... Are you into girls? I mean, I've seen you when you party with Anne, and some of your comments... You know..."

To Max's surprise and relief, Isabella just laughed. "Did it honestly take you this long to figure it out, hot stuff? I figured you for a bit more worldly than that."

"Oh, shut up! You've got a boyfriend! How was I supposed to know?"

"It's called being pansexual, dumbass," Isabella said, rolling her eyes playfully.

Max paused, considering that. "That's like being bi but instead of two it's all, right?" he asked. "One of my bandmates, Jerry, says he's pan, but I never figured out the difference."

"Well, Rakesh is bi. He's strictly into guys and girls. Me, I don't care what's going on under your clothes. If I think you're hot, I think you're hot. I think the world is more fun if you can love whomever your heart wants."

"I guess I can see what you mean, there," Max said with a nod. He scratched the back of his neck. "So... When did you figure out you were into both boys and girls?"

"Well," Isabella said, "it kind of came over me slowly. I mean, the thing is, I always thought girls were cute. I just also thought boys were cute. Growing up, I was supposed to like boys, you know? Mama used to call me her 'little heartbreaker'. But I also like girls. It took me until high school to figure out that I didn't actually have to choose. That I was perfectly capable of liking both."

Max nodded. "Did you have a girlfriend in high school?"

"Yeah, but I still liked boys, and so did she. It was just kind of an experiment for her, though. Luckily she was upfront about it, and since it was a secret relationship, we broke up with no hard feelings."

"Sounds like you had an interesting time."

Max had never thought much about his sexuality before - maybe because he'd never had much of a reason to think about it before.

...Why did Dominic come to mind, just then, when he thought that...?

"So, why're you asking me this, anyway?" Isabella asked, a mysterious smile on her face. "Because, Max, if there's something you want to talk about..."

Max blinked at that. "Isabella, do you know something about me that I don't? Because that's really creepy and I'd like to know what it is."

Isabella outright grinned at that. She reached out and took Max's hands into her own. "Max, I've known it from day one," she said. "You might not have, but I did. I could see it forming."

Somehow, he already knew what she was going to say.

"You like Dominic."

And the scary part of this wasn't that she was saying it in the first place. That she was saying he liked, of all people, Dominic. It could've been Rakesh, but no. Dominic.

But no. That wasn't the scary part.

The scary part was that she was right.

"...Shit."

"Yeah, you're fucked, honey," Isabella said with a laugh. She pulled her hands away. "Now go have your sexual identity crisis somewhere else, please? I have laundry to put up."

Max couldn't even toss out a witty retort. He simply turned and walked out of her room.

Chapter Text

Well, Max had realized his feelings on quite the wonderful day. Starting on Monday, he noticed that almost every third commercial on TV had to do with romance or diamond jewelry. Which could only mean one thing.

Valentine's Day was coming up.

Honestly, though, with this whole mess with Dominic taking over his mind, he decided that he would much rather ignore it and everyone who was trying to celebrate it this year.

A knock on the door came, and Max stood up, going to see who was there.

"Bro!" Memphis greeted him as soon as he opened the door.

"Memphis!" Max grinned and slapped his shoulder. "Man, what's up? I didn't know you were coming over."

"Yeah, well, I need your help," Memphis replied. "You're occasionally useful outside of your ability to sing... Only occasionally, mind you."

"Yeah yeah, dick. What do you need?"

Memphis shifted awkwardly. "Come into town with me? I want to try to pick up a present, and I want your opinion."

Max raised an eyebrow. "What do you need my help for?" he asked. "I may be infinitely smoother with the ladies than you, but you're no slouch."

"Keep living in that dream world, boy," Memphis replied easily. "Come on, I think you might be able to help out."

"What, are you shopping for someone here? One of my roommates?"

Memphis's awkward silence was enough of an answer. Max grinned devilishly. "Damn, man, I know you think she's fine, but I didn't think you were this into her."

"What?" Memphis said defensively. "A man can't make a romantic gesture once in a while? Some ladies are worth a bit of effort, man. You'll understand eventually."

Max sighed and rolled his eyes, but let the comment go. "Fine, fine. I'll come out to town. If only to get you to shut up for a bit."

"Good enough. Let's roll, you're driving."

So much for avoiding Valentine's.


The trip into town was simple enough. The first place Max suggested stopping was the bookstore - explaining to Memphis that they only called it that because it happened to carry the school's books. It carried plenty of other things, too. Parking was a bit of a nightmare, but once they found a spot, they headed in and started looking.

"So... What do you think I should get?" Memphis asked.

"How should I know what you should get?" Max asked, idly flipping through a catalog of furniture to show how disinterested he was in this whole endeavor.

Memphis snatched the magazine from his hands and put it back in its stand, ignoring Max's glare. "Just help me find something appropriate for a nice girl," he said. "Don't go finding me some stupid magazine about butts or whatever."

"No shit."

"Shut your face and help." Memphis rolled his eyes. "It's not like you couldn't stand to find something for your little crush, too, Max."

Max felt his heart drop into his stomach. He grabbed Memphis by the collar of his shirt, glaring in his face. He was glad that Memphis looked a little scared. "Who. The. Fuck. Told. You."

"Uh... I mean... You invited the guy to the show, Max. I could tell just looking at him that you wouldn't have invited him if you didn't have a thing for him, man. Doesn't exactly look like his scene, you know?"

Oh, great. So Memphis AND Isabella knew about his feelings before he did. Could he get any lower? He groaned and released Memphis. "Yeah, I'm gonna die. I'll help you, but then I'm gonna go die."

Memphis rolled his eyes. "Drama queen..."

Max sighed. But in the back of his mind, he considered that. Getting a gift for Dominic... It didn't seem like a bad idea. Assuming he could get him something he'd like.

Max stayed at Memphis's side for a bit, but eventually went to find something for his own 'Valentine'. Ugh, he felt stupid just thinking that.

And there was no guarantee Dominic would accept his gift.

He headed into some place called 'GameGo'. It sounded like it might have something Dominic would like. He recalled his interest in that 'nerd game'. He walked through the aisles, searching...

Ah. Here was something. Two months of time on some 'MMO'. Max wondered if Dominic even played this one. Well, maybe not, but if he didn't maybe he would still try it? Or he could at least re-gift it to someone else. Max wouldn't mind if he did.

It was settled. He bought the gift card, tucking it into a cutesy, glittery, overly-sappy Valentine's card.

...It came with it, okay?! Damn Valentine's Day making him look unmanly...

He returned to Memphis's side, then, seeing that he was still trying to decide. The other guy held up a few options, and Max reacted by either nodding or shaking his head. The only difference between the two was that Memphis would take longer to put back the ones Max had nodded at.

Man, Memphis really liked this girl. It wasn't like him to be this indecisive.

"That's an interesting purchase."

"Geez!" Max jumped about a mile in the air and spun around, one hand clutched to his chest. "Oh, Roxanne. You snuck up on me!"

"I certainly didn't mean to startle you," the redhead replied evenly. "I just noticed you out here." Her gaze fell to the glittery, sappy card, hiding the game card inside, and raised one eyebrow. Max felt his cheeks flush. "Shopping for yourself?" she asked.

"Actually, it's for someone else..."

"I see. How... Thoughtful."

The girl was so hard to read that Max honestly didn't know what she was thinking. Was she mentally taunting him for the girly card? (He would say that it came with the card until the day he died) Was she wondering who he was planning to give it to? Was she jealous?

God, he hoped not. She wasn't really his type.

"So... Has Anne betrayed you, yet?"

Max blinked. "...What?"

"For Professor Tasque's class," she clarified. "I have informed my partner that if he is even slightly tempted to go to the professor to tell me so we can make a better arrangement." She paused, then added, "Then again, Anne is perfectly capable of studying on her own... I'm sure you're just waiting for the right opportunity to get all the answers to the test, aren't you?"

"Hey!" Max frowned. "First of all, I'm perfectly capable of studying, too! And second, neither of us has betrayed anybody, thank you very much. Even if I was as much of a slacker as people like to think, I'd never screw her over for a grade."

"Of course not," Roxanne said easily. "Not when you could just let her do all the work, hmm? Or you could get those answers and make her think you had simply done really well on your test. How would she know the difference? Perhaps you'd earn some respect from her?"

Max narrowed his eyes. "That's not going to happen," he said.

Roxanne's response was a smirk.

"I know what you're trying to do," he continued. "Fill me with doubt. It's not going to work."

Her smirk only grew wider.

"Of course it isn't," she said evenly. Then she smiled - a calculated, cold smile. Then she walked away.

Max shook his head in disgust and disbelief.

"Who was that?" Memphis asked, looking at where Roxanne had just been.

"Just a classmate," Max muttered. "What'd you end up getting?"

"I... Ended up just getting a book I thought she'd like. Nothing too intense."

"Way to wow her, Casanova..."

"Oh, shut up," Memphis replied. He pointed at the card Max held. "At least I didn't get that."

"It came with the gift card!" Max said defensively, cheeks warming.

Memphis rolled his eyes. "Yeah, whatever. Come on, let's get out of here."

 

Chapter Text

Professor Tasque had actually asked them to fill out a dating site questionnaire on Wednesday. Max was left wondering what the point of it was after class. Seriously...

Ah, well. He'd made it home and that was what was important. He would get in a bit of studying, then get some rest.

"I'm home!" he shouted into the house.

"Finally!" Dominic said, shocking him. "Max can you do me a favor? Grab me a glass of water?"

"Do not do it, Max!" Rakesh argued. "It is a filthy trick!"

Max blinked at the sight before him. "What the hell...?"

The two boys were sitting at the kitchen table, staring each other dead in the eyes. It wasn't long before Max realized what was going on, and he let out a groan. "Are you kidding me?" he said.

"Look, it's not a trick," Dominic insisted. "I'm just thirsty and I'm not going to lose."

"No!" Rakesh said. "He will tip the glass at me! This is a no holds barred test of the iron wills of men, and he will do anything to win! Do not assist him!"

...So much for studying and resting.

"Okay, I'll admit it," Max said, "I'm into a little male chest pounding as much as the next guy, but a staring contest? Really?"

"It is the truest battle of wits and will!" Rakesh said. "The contest of competition between two men distilled down to its most essential piece!"

"He's right," Dominic said. "It's a timeless battle of wills between two combatants!"

Max sighed. "Okay, I get that it's a man thing. Being a little stupid is kind of part of the deal. I was more wondering how you got into this particular event."

"I was helping Rakesh study for a math test," Dominic said.

"He is quite good at it," Rakesh added. "Unfortunately, math is not my strongest suit. I rather... Drifted off while he was speaking."

"He means he started staring at me creepily," Dominic said quickly. Max raised an eyebrow. "At first I thought he was just listening intently, but he kept staring. That's when I knew he was silently challenging me. And I stepped up!"

Max wanted to comment that he doubted that was the case, but didn't quite know how to say that Rakesh thought Dominic was hot without embarrassing Rakesh.

"Actually," Rakesh said, cheeks turning a light pink, "when I came around, Dominic was staring back at me. I looked away and he said he had won."

"That's because I did win the first round," Dominic said. "Then you challenged me to a 'proper' round. Just remember the stakes!"

"Yes, yes. If you win, I have kitchen cleaning duty for the next two months. But if I win...?"

"Yeah yeah. In that unlikely event, I let you repaint my room."

Rakesh grinned. "You are going down, to some kind of town! Maybe you will purchase some groceries."

"What?" Dominic and Max said in unison.

"You can use the groceries to make comfort food to console you after your loss!" Rakesh declared.

"In your dreams!" Dominic shouted. "You're gonna be the one pigging out on loser food, Rakesh! So, Max, how about that glass of water? Seriously, if I look away, I lose, and that's not happening."

"No, don't do it!" Rakesh cried. "He will use it to distract me!"

Okay, so, Max loved a high-stakes betting competition as much as anyone else, but... This was weird. If he was taking part, he wanted some of the action, too.

"I don't know, Dominic," he said. "What are you offering? I mean, I'm going to need some incentive to overthrow poor Rakesh here."

"If it is a bargaining you are after, Max, I will make a banner for your band's next show if you assist me!" Rakesh cut in.

"What?!" Dominic cried. "Trying to bribe outside help, Rakesh? Afraid you can't win this on your own willpower?"

"You began it! You tried to enlist him, first!"

"I'm thirsty!"

"A likely story!"

"Fine!" Dominic said. "Max, you get a week to be as loud as you want in your room! Curfew's still in effect, though."

Max hummed. "Ooh, both very tempting offers... You know the kind of banner my band needs, Rakesh?"

"I believe so," Rakesh said, a grin on his face. "If not, you can let me know your specifications."

Max clicked his tongue. "Oh, this is a very difficult choice indeed," he said, slowly walking up behind Dominic. "How will I ever..." Once he was in view of Rakesh, he let out a shocked gasp. "Dominic! There's a huge fucking spider on the back of your chair!"

"Nice try, Max," Dominic said dryly.

"Dude, seriously, it's as big as my fist!"

"Spiders that big don't exist outside of Australia," Dominic said. "You'll have to do better than tha-"

Max got an idea. He grinned mischievously, and swept down, pressing a kiss to Dominic's cheek before he could finish his sentence.

It was a little self-serving, he'd admit that. But it worked. Dominic's head immediately whipped around the moment he pulled away, staring up at Max in shock - and, Max was pleased to note, with bright pink cheeks. Sure, his own felt pretty much the same, but he'd be ignoring that.

"Ha!" Rakesh shouted. "Yes! I have claimed victory on this day!"

Dominic grumbled a little, but it took him a moment to actually gather his wits enough to say anything properly. "You're a dirty cheat, Max..."

"Pfft. Sounds like loser talk. Am I right, Rakesh?"

"Oh, most definitely, Max."

"Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up, you two..."

Max gave Rakesh a high-five. "Alright, guys, I'm heading up to my room," he said. He sent a wink to Dominic, who immediately looked away, then headed for the stairs.

Chapter Text

"I am shocked, man. Shocked. You front a band, for crap's sake. And yet you screw up a karaoke number?"

Max let out a growl. "I will murder you, Memphis," he said. "That machine was busted. The pitch was all wrong!"

Anne giggled. "It's a poor craftsman that blames his tools, Max," she said playfully.

Memphis smirked. "See, the lady knows."

"Then both of you can shut up. I didn't see either of you doing any better."

"And I say again. You front band. I don't have to sing well - I just have to look pretty," Memphis said.

"I certainly never claimed to be able to sing," Anne added.

Max sighed and rolled his eyes. "Whatever. It's done. I'll see you at next practice, Memphis."

"Alright. Night, guys."

"Night, Memphis!" Anne said, waving at him as he left. "I had fun!"

Once Anne and Max were inside, Anne stretched and gave a loud yawn. "Thanks for inviting me out with your band, Max," she said. "I had a lot of fun."

"No problem, me too," he said.

"I think I'm going to call it a night."

"Alright. I'm gonna grab a snack, maybe watch some TV."

Anne headed up the stairs, and Max headed into the kitchen. He grabbed a bag of chips, then headed out to sit on the couch. As he was contemplating what he wanted to watch, he heard some thumping on the stairs.

Sally came barreling down, holding Vegemite in her hands. She put her finger to her lips, then headed into the laundry room, shutting the door behind her.

Max raised an eyebrow. He knew better than to follow and ask what was going on. He turned back towards the TV, flipping through the channels.

Just a few minutes later, Dominic came running down the stairs.

"Oh, hey Max. Have you seen Sally? Anne said she came down here..."

"Can't say I have," Max said. "Maybe she went out the front while I was in the kitchen? What are you even doing here on a prime Saturday night like this?"

Dominic eyed the front door, his answer distracted as he said, "Raid ran long. You think she went out the front?"

Max simply shrugged and turned back to the TV. "Seems legit."

Dominic gave a frustrated scoff, then headed for the front door.

After a moment, Sally poked her head out of the laundry room. "Is the coast clear?"

"For the moment," Max said. "I don't know when he'll come back, though."

Sally plopped down on the couch next to Max, giving a frustrated groan. Max couldn't help but reach over to give Vegemite a scratch behind the ear. 

"He's getting bigger, isn't he?"

"Yes!" Sally cried. "It's terrible! He totally tripped over one of Dominic's Ethernet cables. I think Dominic was doing something important. I... Hid him behind my back and took off before he could question me..."

Max held back the urge to spill that Dominic had just been playing a video game. "Wow, that's... That's pretty terrible."

"I know! I was desperate! It was hard to figure out what to do, okay?!"

Max sighed. "We may have to tell him about it pretty soon, you know... I mean, I'm starting to feel a little guilty. Me, Sally."

"You know the rules, though... And more importantly, what a stickler for them Dominic is."

"I know, I know..." Max paused, then said, "Maybe if we all gang up on him, he'll relent? I mean, I know Isabella loves the little guy. Does anyone else know about him?"

"Everyone else knows about him. None of them care."

Max nodded. "Well, Dominic can't kick us all out, right? So if we band together, it should be fine."

Sally sighed. "Maybe you're right," she mumbled. "I'm just nervous. I don't think I'm ready to risk it yet."

"Well, like I said, we can't go on like this forever. He's bound to-"

Then the front door opened, and in came Dominic. Well, he didn't stay out for long...

"Oh, good, you're back!" Max said quickly. "I told Sally you were looking for her and asked her to stay here!"

"Good, thanks. Sally! What happened back there?!"

Sally was sort of hunched over in an attempt to hide Vegemite. Max nudged her, and she looked at him gratefully, passing the dog over before she stood up. "Back where?" she asked. "Upstairs? What do you mean?"

"Come on, Sally," Dominic said. "I'm not in the mood. I was working on something important and you disconnected me at a crucial point. You've never had a problem with the cables before."

"Oh, sorry. It was just an accident! I was, um..."

She looked down at Max helplessly. Max was shielding the puppy, who was sniffing and licking at his hands. It was taking everything in him not to react.

"You were what?!" Dominic demanded.

"It's embarrassing!" Sally said quickly.

"What's going on?" Dominic asked.

"Nothing!" Max and Sally quickly said in unison.

Max thought quickly, biting his lip nervously. He had to come up with something... Ah!

"Sally, you were doing something nice," he said. "It's not your fault an accident happened."

"I know, but, um... I don't think he'd understand," she replied awkwardly.

"Understand what?" Dominic asked.

"Sally was just telling me about the extra cleaning up she's been trying to do around the house. Dusting in the corners and trying to keep things clean. She knows how much you stress about keeping the place clean!"

Sally nodded her head rapidly. "I'm just trying to help out. Do my part. I didn't mean to knock the cord out!"

Dominic frowned, seeming to consider that. "I suppose I have noticed you cleaning a bit more lately, and looking in odd corners... I should be grateful, but still..."

"Are you saying I'm a liar?" Max demanded. Quickly, he shifted Vegemite behind his back as he stood up and faced Dominic 'angrily'.

"I'm not saying anyone's a liar," Dominic said. "It's just... Odd. Like you trying to hide something behind your back..."

"What?!" Max nudged Sally slightly. "What am I trying to hide?" he asked as Sally took the dog where Dominic couldn't see. "I'm not trying to hide anything!" he said, waving his arms wildly. "I'm trying to clear the air about what's going on!"

Dominic sighed. "Seriously? Come on, Sally, what is it?"

Sally passed Vegemite back to Max, then waved her arms just as wildly at Dominic. "What? I don't have anything! I can't put my arms behind my back without the third degree here?"

Dominic sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "You know what? I don't have time for this. Whatever." He looked up at the two. "Max, you're not as clever as you'd love to believe. Sally, I've got my eye on you."

Then, he turned and stormed upstairs. Sally moved so that Vegemite was still hidden from his view, in case he turned around. Luckily, he didn't, and once the slam of Dominic's door was heard, Max and Sally couldn't help but burst into laughter.

"That may have been about the stupidest excuse I've ever heard," Sally said. "But at least he bought it. For now."

"The key words being 'for now'."

"I know, I know. I'll think about what you said."

Then, Sally headed upstairs, keeping a careful eye out. Max, meanwhile, went back to channel surfing for a while. Eventually, he fell asleep on the couch.

Chapter Text

It was Tuesday, and Max had made plans with Anne to study for Professor Tasque's class. Everyone else was pretty caught up in their own studies, so it would likely be pretty easy to get some work done. Passing this class was really important to Anne, and Max hoped he would be able to keep up with her.

Max headed down the hall and knocked on Anne's doorframe when he saw that her door was already open. "Hey, Anne," he said when she looked over. "You want to get started?"

Anne nodded. "Oh, yeah, hey Max. Let's go downstairs. We can use the study nook."

"Sounds good."

The two of them headed down the stairs together, and settled into the study nook. Anne did really well, and was good at helping Max to understand the more complicated parts. It was always nice to have someone there to explain things in a simpler way than the books ever could.

Then, as they were heading into a particularly complicated bit of the chapter, Anne suddenly slammed her book shut. Max blinked. "Uh... What's up?"

"I have to ask, Max..." Anne bit her lip nervously for a moment. "Have you... Have you gone to the professor yet? To take his deal?"

Max let out a shocked squawk. "No! No, I haven't gone!"

"Well, um... Why?" Anne frowned.

Max frowned at her, in return. "Honestly, it's just never really crossed my mind," he said. "I mean, that's not how you're supposed to get through college, right?"

Anne's eyes lit up, and she beamed. "That's the right attitude, Max! Gosh, I guess you really are a hard worker, huh?"

"That's what I keep trying to tell you people..." Max rolled his eyes playfully. "So, should we get back to work?"

Anne nodded. "Yeah, sounds good."

The two of them studied for a bit longer, no longer discussing the professor's tactic. Eventually, they had tackled the latest chapters and a few others.

There was the sound of someone walking out of the kitchen, and Max looked over to see Dominic coming out with a soda in one hand and a book in the other. Huh. When had he come down?

"Don't mind me," Dominic said. "Carry on."

He headed over to the couch and sat down, flipping his book open.

"Alright, well, I think that's going to do it for me," Anne said with a smile. She stood up, picking her book up to clutch it to her chest.

"Okay," Max said, shutting his book. "I'll clean up down here."

"Thanks!"

Anne headed back up the stairs, and Max went to work tidying up the study nook. Soon enough the area was all clean, and Max went to sit down next to Dominic on the couch.

Dominic glanced over, and Max looked back, feeling his gaze. "I overheard you talking, earlier," Dominic said. Max's eyebrows shot up. "I'm actually a little bit proud of you... Don't go telling anybody."

Max rolled his eyes, a smirk on his face. "You kidding? I'm gonna spread it from the mountaintops. The moment my band gets famous enough, I'm gonna write a tell-all book, and that's gonna be the first chapter. Music, Sex, and Dominic's Approval."

"Just leave me out of the credits page," Dominic returned, smirking back at Max.

"Nope, full glossy picture," Max said. "I'm even gonna put a big lipstick kiss mark on it."

Dominic immediately bopped him on the head with the spine of his book. Max was pleased to note the pink coloring on his cheeks, though.

"Wait..." He paused, then said, "Did you know about this whole betrayal thing?"

"Yeah. A couple of other people who're in on it are in my physics class," Dominic said, nodding. "Tasque does this every couple years. One of my friends when I was an undergrad went through it."

"Did he get betrayed?"

"Did the betraying, actually... He had a really hard course load at the time. It made his life much easier. Of course, he made a life long enemy, as well..."

Max nodded slowly, turning that over in his head.

Chapter Text

Valentine's Day had arrived.

Max felt terrified and excited. Pessimistic and hopeful. Sick to his stomach and yet eerily calm.

He had the gift. But did he really want to give it to Dominic? Face to face? And tell him how he felt, on top of that?

Maybe, if it ended up not going well, Max could just lie and say it came from Isabella or Anne. He was sure one of them would be willing to play along. If he asked.

But he wasn't sure he wanted to ask.

If he gave the card to Dominic - girly, sappy, glittery card and everything - then he needed to be honest with why he was doing it.

He walked slowly back to the house from his classes, turning his options over and over in his head.

As he entered the house, he could hear everyone doing something. Well, he could be sure that Dominic would be home, at least.

He headed up to his room, and looked around warily. On his desk, skillfully hidden under last semester's books, lay the card. He walked over to it slowly, and lifted them up, revealing the pink and purple, glitter-covered, sappy-ass card that Dominic would no doubt make fun of him for.

If he didn't do it now, he'd never do it.

He snatched up the game card, and left his room, marching towards Dominic's room.

He swallowed thickly, and gave a knock on the door. Dominic's voice called for him to enter from inside. He took a deep breath, and pushed open the door with his best disarming grin.

Dominic gave him a wary look. He clearly wasn't buying it, but he, at least, didn't seem to have picked up on Max's intentions yet. That was good.

"What do you want?" Dominic asked.

"Hey, hey! Why the hostility?" Max said, holding one hand up - the other one holding the card behind his back. "It's Valentine's Day! Where's the love, man?"

Dominic scoffed. "Turn around, and I'll shove the love up your ass with my foot. What do you want?"

"So uptight! Geez..." Yeah, this already wasn't going well. "It's not much, but... I picked this up for you."

Slowly, Max pulled out the card, and held it out towards Dominic. Dominic took it, looking up at Max like he'd gone insane. "What's with the girly card, Ma-..." He swiftly cut himself off as he opened the card, and his eyes absolutely lit up upon seeing the gift card inside. "Two months of free time?!" he all but shouted. "Oh my god! This is so good for me right now! I've been worried about not being able to keep up with the subscription fee! This is so helpful! Thank you!"

Max felt his heart jump into his throat when Dominic threw his arms around him, pulling him into a big hug. Whoa. Apparently it was a good gift, then.

When Dominic pulled away, Max had more confidence to say what he'd come there to say in the first place. "Listen, man, I didn't just give you that for no reason."

Dominic blinked and looked up. "What? You want my help studying?" he asked. "I don't mind that. I'd probably kiss you for this card!"

Max's cheeks lit up a bright red, and he averted his gaze. "Uh. No. Not studying. I... I need to tell you something."

Dominic raised an eyebrow, and shut the card. "Well, what is it?" He put the card off to the side, setting it on his desk next to his computer.

"I..." Max closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. "I like you, Dominic."

A dead silence met his confession. Max opened one eye, peeking at Dominic's face.

He saw what was probably the most confused expression he had ever seen, and would ever see, in his entire life.

"I like you too?" Dominic said. "I mean, you annoy the crap out of me, but I think we're pretty good frien-"

"No!" Max all but shouted, both eyes opening now. "That's not what I meant!"

"Then what did you..." Dominic trailed off. His eyes went wide. "Oh. That kind of like."

"Yeah. That kind."

Dominic awkwardly cleared his throat. "Um. Okay. Wow. I, uh... I didn't think... I mean, I thought you were, you know. Into girls."

"I am," Max said. "This is the first time I've ever been interested in a guy... But that doesn't mean I like you any less, okay? I really do like you."

"I see..."

A brief silence fell. Dominic shifted where he stood, turning his gaze towards the card on his desk. "I didn't really expect... I mean... I don't know..."

Max's heart thumped wildly in his chest. He couldn't help but blurt out, "You don't have to answer yet."

"...What?" Dominic blinked, giving Max yet another bewildered look.

"You don't have to answer," Max said again. "Not yet. I mean, I kind of came out of nowhere with this confession and... I understand if you need time to process both my feelings and yours. Okay? So... Don't feel pressured. I can wait, you know? And until you figure it out, we can just go back to normal, yeah? That sound like a good plan?"

Dominic raised one eyebrow. "You're really okay with that?"

Max nodded firmly. "I am. Yeah."

Dominic sighed, and smiled. "Well... Okay then. Thanks. I appreciate you waiting. And the card."

"Yeah. No problem, man."

And then, Max left the room, feeling a weight lifting off of his shoulders, and a smile tugging at his lips.

Chapter Text

That Saturday was another day of nothing but homework assignments. Yes, Max loved it. And yes, that was sarcasm.

"So you just have to show your work down here, see?" Anne said, pointing at the book's page with her pencil. "Don't forget to use these variables down here."

Max nodded as he listened. "Yeah, okay, I think I get it. Thanks, Anne. Sorry to call you in for this sort of crap."

Anne beamed at him. "Oh, don't worry about it, Max. Always happy to help!"

Then, her gaze strayed outside. She gasped, and leaned over to the window. "Oh my gosh! So cute!"

Max blinked, and turned towards the window to look and see what she was talking about.

Down the driveway, he could see Sally and Memphis, hand-in-hand as they walked down the sidewalk. Max blinked.

Wow. He didn't think Sally would actually go for the guy. Max sighed and shook his head at the sight, while Anne giggled, clearly rooting for them as she stood up and headed back upstairs.


The following day, Sunday, Max decided to take a break from all the studying. He rubbed his forehead tiredly as he left his room, and headed down the stairs. Some TV sounded like a great way to pass the time until tomorrow.

But someone was already there, watching some space movie.

And yes, it was indeed Dominic - the only one in the place who would ever appreciate such a movie.

Dominic looked up upon Max's entrance, and his cheeks flushed.

Yeah, even though Max had sworn that it was okay for them to act as normal, Dominic seemed to insist on acting awkward ever since Max's confession.

Max hesitated a moment. There were two options here. Go back upstairs and just hope that Dominic would stop acting weird on his own, or sit with him and force him to act normal.

This being Max, he chose the latter.

He walked right over to Dominic and sat down next to him casually. "What are we watching?" he asked.

Dominic blinked, and shifted awkwardly. He took his sweet time before finally saying, "Star Wars."

"Ah, nice." Max leaned against the arm of the couch, putting a bit more distance between them in hopes of making Dominic more comfortable. "Is that the one with the elf guy?"

"...Are you talking about Spock or Yoda?"

Max shrugged. "I dunno. One of those."

Dominic then narrowed his eyes. "Are you being stupid on purpose, or do you really not know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek?"

Max considered that, then said, "It can't be both?"

Dominic stared at Max in some semblance of horror. "Okay, I knew you were stupid-" Max let out an offended squawk here. "-but to not know the... Okay, listen up."

Max did, in fact, not listen up, while Dominic paused the movie, then lectured him about the differences between the two series. He sat there quietly, smiling innocently, listening to Dominic's voice as he ranted.

The best part?

Dominic didn't go back to being awkward even after his rant was over. Max simply nodded like he understood, and Dominic nodded firmly back before unpausing the movie.

No more blushing from lack of distances or stray gazes occurred for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

On Tuesday, as Max was coming home, he could hear loud shouting before he'd even opened the door. He was debating turning around and going to the library, but...

"Well, what did you expect to happen?!" Dominic's voice shouted. "You know the rules, Sally!"

...Oh, no. Vegemite...

Max rushed inside and headed up the stairs. "Come on, Dominic!" Sally cried out as he made it up the stairs. Once he made it to the scene, he could see that everyone else was there, watching everything unfold.

"No, Sally," Dominic said firmly. "You know the rules. I walked you through them, just like I walked everyone else through them! No pets allowed! It's rule number two for crying out loud!"

Here, Sally scoffed. "Oh, yeah, because we've never broken a rule before!"

Oof. That was the wrong thing to say. Even Max knew that.

"That's not helping your case, Sally," Dominic said with narrowed eyes.

Sally's eyes widened, and she tried a different tactic. She pushed out her lower lip and held Vegemite closer. "So, what, you're just going to kick me out of the house? Because I didn't want to see a poor puppy freeze on the street?"

"One way or another, that dog is leaving the house, Sally," Dominic said, not at all affected. "If you want to go with him, I'm not gonna stop you."

At that, Max had to step in. He walked closer, making himself known with a disapproving frown tossed Dominic's way. "I don't see the big deal, dude."

Both parties seemed rather surprised - they hadn't noticed him come up the stairs.

After a moment, Dominic sighed and shook his head. "Stay out of this, Max. This is a violation, and I have to deal with this as Latin House's RA."

Max could see tears welling in Sally's eyes, then trickling slowly down her cheeks. Anne and Rakesh both slipped out of the cover of their rooms. Isabella did too, and she leaned over to whisper in Max's ear, "Dominic came home early and caught her bringing Vegemite home from his walk... No way to back out of it."

Max nodded at the explanation, while Dominic kept on yelling at Sally. "I can't believe you'd be so irresponsible. Not to mention so inconsiderate to your fellow housemates! Did you ever take their feelings into account when you decided to bring that dog here? What if they were allergic?"

"Actually, I'm not allergic at all," Max said casually. "Anybody else?"

Everyone else shook their heads, and Dominic frowned. "Regardless, what about the mess, hm?" he said. "Or the disturbance to your studying?"

"I don't think Vegemite's ever disturbed my studying," Isabella chimed in. "You guys?"

Once more, everyone shook their heads.

Dominic sighed. "I know what you're trying to do here, and it's not going to work. She broke the rule. The dog's got to go."

"Oh come on, Dominic," Max said with a roll of his eyes. "You know you're not going to report this. You don't want the mark on your record."

"Ha! So true," Isabella said.

"You two hush," Dominic snapped. "I know you knew about this violation and didn't report it. Don't think you're not on my watch list."

Anne inched closer, bringing everyone's attention to her. "Sally's actually a very responsible pet owner, Dominic... Don't you... Don't you feel you're being a bit hard on her?"

Dominic sighed and shook his head. "I'm sorry, but these are the rules," he said. "What am I supposed to tell the housing committee? 'Oh, sorry, I thought that rule was just a suggestion'?"

"I do not believe that it is strictly necessary that you inform the housing committee..." Rakesh pointed out.

"He's right," Max said. "Nobody said you have to tell them."

"They're right!" Sally said quickly. "You can just keep this under wraps, you know! It's not like we're going to go blabbing about it!"

Dominic, however, still looked rather unconvinced. Max sighed, and decided he had to deal the finishing blow. "Listen, hey. If you're so worried about the dog making messes and disturbing our studying, I'll personally volunteer to make sure it doesn't happen."

Dominic blinked, looking genuinely confused by that. "What? No, Max, that's not the-"

"I can take care of Vegemite just fine, thank you very much!" Sally snapped.

"I'm not saying you can't," Max said. "I'm just saying I'll make sure he stays out of trouble while you study." He gave Dominic a wry smirk, then. "Come on, Dom. You're the one always saying my studying's useless, right? And hey, that way, you have nothing to be concerned about."

"That should rather neatly answer your concerns, Dominic," Rakesh said cheerfully.

Dominic shook his head rapidly. "You're not six!" he said. "You don't get to keep him just because you promise to 'take him on walkies every day'! He's not allowed!"

"Oh yes," Anne said easily, "if Max is keeping an extra eye on him, then it shouldn't be a problem at all!"

"It would be useful to have an extra set of eyes on him," Sally admitted. "Yes, I think that fixes everything, Max!"

"Listen to me!" Dominic demanded - but it was clear that no one would. Everyone simply turned to glare at him, making this fact further obvious. Max almost felt bad.

Almost.

Dominic let out an annoyed, but defeated, sigh. "Oh fine," he said, "do what you want. What am I? Just the RA. Who even cares?"

Everyone except Dominic let out a loud cheer, while Dominic continued his spiel, "I mean, I don't need a college education. When they kick me out I'm sure I'll find a very nice bridge to die under."

Here, Isabella laughed and slapped his back. "Oh, stop being such a drama queen!"

Everyone else laughed at that, and Sally placed Vegemite down on the ground, finally letting the little pup explore the house to his heart's content.

Chapter Text

"Wait, we're doing what?"

Memphis's incredulous comment just made Max grin. "You called everyone together, right?" he asked.

"Yeah, they're gonna meet us down at the Lander's building," Memphis said, frowning. "But none of us knew what this was about. You didn't tell us we were having some stupid Battle of the Bands!"

Max shrugged. "I grabbed us some tickets the day after we went shopping for Valentine's," he said casually.

"And you didn't tell me you'd gotten them?"

"I don't tell you when I go to the bathroom either, yet it happens all the same."

Memphis sighed in annoyance. "This is why I write the lyrics," he said. "Fine. Come on. Let's go."

Max grinned, and reached into his pocket. He paused, and frowned. "Hang on... Have you seen my car keys?"

Memphis's eyes flashed with anger. "Are you kidding me?!"

While Max started checking his other pockets, and was about to call off the matter, Memphis blinked, and sighed once more. "Are you a goddamn idiot who washed them with your pants?"

Max frowned. "Have I ever told you what a pain in the ass it is having a best friend who knows me so well? Cause it's a huge one. Come on."

Ten minutes later, they were in Max's van, driving off towards the Lander's building. Once they arrived, he could see the others standing nearby with a few minimal instruments. Luckily, Max still had Slim's drums in his van from their last practice.

"So," Memphis said, "what is the actual plan here, Max?"

Max grinned. "Easy! We've got two tickets already! Each of us grabs one of the others and flashes our two tickets as we go by. Then we'll hand the tickets off to the next pair behind the taker's back."

Memphis groaned. "Really? There's no way that plan will work."

"Oh, ye of little faith!"

It only took a few minutes in line, and soon enough all four of them were standing in the main room. The stage area seemed to be a bit 'spur of the moment', Max noted. Not very intricate. It looked more like a simple meeting hall that had had a stage area and curtains to.

Max turned to Memphis, grinning deviously. "What have we learned?"

"Oh, shut up."

"Alright, well, this thing is kind of open-mic, if I remember correctly. I'm gonna go sign us up. Everybody keep quiet about having done gigs, alright?"

Memphis raised an eyebrow. "Are we actually even allowed to compete in this thing?" he asked.

"Are we, or are we not, the best band in this area?"

"Yeah, yeah, fine..." Memphis gave Max a somewhat wary look, though.

Max made his way over to the sign up sheet, then. Luckily it was still rather empty. Good. Less competition for him and his band. He considered using a fake name for a minute, but all the other bands had written their proper names. So he simply wrote down 'Back Alley Flash', right before some lady came over and picked up the sheet. She walked off behind the curtain.

He went to rejoin the others, and as he did, he saw... Oh, hell. Chad. Chad walked up to the mic.

Just because he had figured out that he was into Dominic did not mean that Chad would like him any more. Sure enough, the moment Chad spotted him in the crowd, he gave Max quite the nasty look. Max actually winced, even though the expression was gone just moments later.

"Hey everyone, welcome to tonight's Battle of the Bands!" Chad declared. "Hope you're all totally ready to rock, man! When we call your name, come backstage. You've got five minutes to get set up. Myself and the other judges will let everyone know the winner at the end of the night!"

Max sighed. Well, they'd overcome it. They were definitely going to be the best band.

And nothing he heard over the next two hours let him believe differently, either.

They finally called for Back Alley Flash. He sent Memphis up to let them know they were there, while he went to help Slim and Jerry get in the equipment.

Just before they got on, while Max was trying to keep his head down, Max heard a familiar voice behind him.

"Chad's probably going to throw you guys out, you know."

Max turned to face Isabella, an easy smirk on his face. "Aw, what? I've barely ever touched his girlfriend!"

Isabella laughed.

"How'd he end up a judge, anyway?"

"Last minute replacement, actually," Isabella replied. "Just your bad luck, I guess."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Memphis gesturing for him to come onto the stage. He winked at Isabella. "Sorry, gotta hit the stage. You know I love that spotlight."

Isabella just grinned at him as he got out under the lights and grabbed the mic.

It only took a few songs before the crowd was on their feet, stomping and clapping and begging for more. Of course, as the saying goes, 'Leave them wanting more', so they gracefully left the stage - though they left the drums on the stage, in case they managed to swing an encore later.

Once the stage was clear, Chad came to the stage, and looked out over the crowd. "I guess we can tell who got the popular vote," he said. "Unfortunately, by judge decision, I'm afraid that Back Alley Flash is going to have to be disqualified."

The sound of the crowd letting out loud, angry boos, was quiet pleasing to Max's ear. Chad sighed and said, "Look, I'm sorry, but we have it on authority that Back Alley Flash is a professional band under our rules."

The crowd didn't seem to care about that, and booed again. But Chad didn't budge.

Max looked around. His bandmates all seemed upset. Isabella was looking at him expectantly - it was clear she wasn't going to do anything.

But more importantly, that self-righteous smirk on Chad's face was really pissing him off.

So he went off onto the stage, and strummed out a few power chords before facing the audience. "Apparently, you guys didn't like us that much. Otherwise we would have heard you cheering," he said, an easy smirk on his lips.

The crowd immediately burst into loud, enthusiastic cheers. "That's better!" he shouted. "So, I guess the real question here is... Do you guys like to rock?!"

His bandmates joined him on the stage. Memphis began strumming his bass, and Slim laid out a simple beat. The crowd went absolutely wild, and Max grinned. "Well that answers that question," he said. "I figured you guys for rockers. Only problem is..." He pointed his thumb over at a fuming Chad. "This douchebag over here thinks you guys are idiots."

Just like that, the crowd began booing once more.

Chad sputtered. "What?! I didn't say that! You guys broke the rules. It's a simple fact!"

Max laughed falsely. "Oh, yeah, because rock is about rules?" he said mockingly. "I'm sorry you're jealous, dude, but it doesn't mean you get to stand in the way of what these people want!"

Another cheer was heard. Wow, these guys were revved up.

He gave Memphis a signal to break into a short, simple song. He began wowing the crowd with an impressive solo, and the audience just ate it up. Meanwhile, Max walked over to Chad.

"Come on, man. I'm not exactly a professional yet. Just a few gigs around town. More importantly, I'm going to be a professional." He motioned to the still-cheering crowd. "And this crowd's not going to let you stop me. You can't stand in the way of this. And you won't."

Their gazes met. Both were silent. Max wasn't sure how long they stood there.

Eventually, Chad sighed in defeat. "Whatever, fine. I'll go tell the committee. Just don't expect to pull some kind of stunt like this off again, punk."

And with that, he stormed off behind the wings. The people who noticed started cheering even louder.

Isabella walked over, then. "Isn't this the part where you crush a beer can on your head?" she asked easily.

Max rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. But honestly, do you think he would have caved if I'd begged and pleaded?"

"No, you played it the right way," Isabella said with a shrug. "But I'd be careful - not everyone likes the whole 'alpha male' shtick. And it won't always work out in your favor, either."

Max rolled his eyes. He knew what she was talking about. But he didn't respond, instead saying, "If you'll excuse me, I believe that's an encore they're calling for."

Isabella rolled her eyes and smiled as Max turned away from her, walking back out into that spotlight he loved so dearly.

Chapter Text

"Come on, Max! I want you to see this!"

Max laughed softly, following after Rakesh, who had an iron grip on his wrist. "I'm coming, I'm coming!" Rakesh looked so excited, it was sort of endearing. The guy had come to get Max the moment he'd left class. Luckily, it was lunch time, so he had about an hour. He'd been led to the park by his overly exuberant, artistic friend, not saying much other than that he'd been so glad that he was free.

Finally, they hit a clearing. Rakesh spread his arms out theatrically, turning to Max. On the ground was an elaborate and incredibly well-put-together lunch.

"Holy cow, you set all this up?" Max asked, eyes wide.

Rakesh giggled, obviously pleased. "Well... I may have purchased a few of the things in the basket, but otherwise..."

Max smiled at Rakesh, but it was a smile of sadness. "I wish you'd told me about this sooner, Rakesh," he said. "I already made plans for lunch to study with Anne..."

Rakesh giggled and shook his head at that. "Oh, no, I just wanted your opinion on how it looked. I'm planning to paint the scene!"

Max let out a laugh at that. "Oh, in that case, it looks awesome! You're gonna make a great painting with this scene, I know it."

"Thank you! It is nice to hear that!" Rakesh said cheerfully.

Max waved goodbye as he turned and left, heading back towards the campus.


"WHAT?!" A loud, high-pitched shriek jerked Max awake from where he'd been peacefully dozing. "You better not have said what I think you just said!"

Well, it sounded like Isabella's date with Chad went well...

Max looked over at the clock on his nightstand. It was pretty late... It sounded like Isabella had calmed down, since he could no longer hear what she was saying. But still, what if something went wrong? What if she needed backup? He knew she could take care of herself, but... Chad was a big guy, and he didn't seem like the type who would take kindly to being screamed at like that.

Also, he really wanted to know what was going on.

Max slipped out of his room, and saw that Isabella's door was still open.

"No, it's obvious you don't understand, you worthless sack of crap!" Isabella snapped.

"Look, baby, you're the one who talks about being all bi and shit," Chad said, which made Max wince. Oof. Couldn't even get the term right. "I figured you'd want-"

"No, what you figured," Isabella interrupted, "is that you could live out every stupid male's classic freaking sex fantasy, and I'd just go along with it. What's the other thing I'm always telling you, hm? When I'm done, 'being all bi and shit'?" The quote was said with an utterly venomous tone.

"That you're mon-"

"That I'm MONOGAMOUS!" Isabella shrieked. "I'm not some party girl to bring to some damn frat house gang bang!"

"Izzer, you know those don't exis-"

"I don't care, you freaking clod! Just get out! Get the hell out."

Contrary to what would be smart in this situation, Chad just kept running his mouth. "Come on, look, maybe you weren't ready for it, and I'm sorry for tha-"

Then he fell utterly silent. He must have seen the same expression Max did when he peeked around the corner. It almost made him run in terror, and it wasn't even directed at him.

When Isabella finally talked again, it was in low, almost hellish whispers. "What part of 'get out' was lost on you?"

Quickly, Max ducked out of the way as Chad turned and scampered out of the room. Chad noticed him, and narrowed his eyes. "Not one. Freaking. Word. Dweeb. Not one word."

Then he left. By the time the front door slammed shut, Max was left wondering if he should go to Isabella or let her have privacy.

She made the decision for him. "It's okay, Max, I heard him talking to you," she said. "Just... Just come in here."

Max slowly entered, and saw her face-down, head buried in her pillow. "Close the door, would you?" she mumbled. He did so, then walked over, sitting down on the bed near her feet. She turned her head, looking at him. "So... How much did you hear?"

"Enough, I guess. I woke up when you shrieked at him..." He gave an awkward laugh. "Could've woken the dead." He frowned. "Did he try to cheat on you?"

Isabella gave a weak scoff. "No... No, that I was expecting. He's a football star. He can get as much play as he wants." She sighed. "I guess that's really the problem. He wanted to have his cake and eat it too. He told me he'd asked another woman to go out with 'us'."

Max guessed that Chad hadn't actually asked her permission first. God, what fucking nerve. Max had known the guy was trash, but really? "Unbelievable," he said, frowning in disgust.

Isabella gave a soft, hesitant laugh, but she seemed to understand that Max genuinely did mean that. She didn't say anything more.

Max sighed. "Hey, look, I don't want to seem creepy, but... Do you need some company for a bit? That seemed pretty rough. I can go grab some snacks or something, and we can hang out."

Isabella shifted and shook her head. "It's not my first breakup," she said. "And it's certainly not my first breakup because some idiot misunderstood who I am. No, it's sweet of you to offer, but I'll be fine. You should get some sleep. Sorry that asshole woke you up."

Max decided not to mention that it was actually her scream that had woken him up. He stood up, gave an uncertain wave, and left the room. Her head was already burying back into her pillow, and he turned away before he could see anything she didn't want him to.

Hopefully she would be okay.

Chapter Text

On Friday, pretty much everyone was covered in green. Heck everything was covered in green! Except himself - if only because he didn't have any green clothing with him. He actually loved this holiday, though. It was St. Patty's day, a day for getting drunk with friends!

Though he'd been getting pinched quite a lot today...

In any case, he was pretty sure that his roommates at Latin House would be planning a big bash... Regardless of what Dominic wanted to do. He hung out in his room for a while after he got back from classes. He almost wanted to go try and find a better party, but... It was way more fun to get drunk with friends. At least you could be sure that they would watch over you if you ended up passing out.

He dug around in his secret stash for a bit before heading down. If he wasn't going out to a wild party, he'd damn well make this party as wild as possible!

As he found what he needed, there was a knock on his door. He went over and opened it. Rakesh met his gaze. "Max, Isabella says she's got a whole slew of games for us tonight. So you should 'get your ass in gear before I drink all the good booze'."

Max raised an eyebrow. Wow, hearing that Isabella was this invested, given how mopey she'd been recently...

Well, maybe it was an excuse to try and get over her ex.

Either way, Max followed Rakesh downstairs. The gang had clearly been busy. There were some cards laid out, some green beer, and some sort of green punch in a large bowl. He looked over at Isabella, an easy smile on his lips. "So, what's the proof on that punch, Isabella?"

Isabella grinned back. "It'll put hair on your chest," she said. "Then knock those hairs out, and grow all new, stronger, super hairs!"

Max laughed. "Sounds like my kind of drink!" he said. The two of them high-fived, then Max headed over to the punch bowl. Just before he got himself a cup, he slipped some of the alcohol he'd brought from his room into the drink, just for an extra boost.

He caught Anne's eye from across the room, and sent her a playful wink. She just shook her head in vague amusement.

Max took a sip, and he had to blink to steady himself. Yeah, this was good stuff.

Then, he finally said, "Where's Dominic? I'm surprised he let you get away with this..."

At that, Isabella gave a wicked grin, and pointed over at the study nook. Max looked.

Oh, god...

Sitting there, tied at the wrists and ankles, and wearing a blindfold and gag, was poor, poor Dominic. There was a sign around his neck that said, 'Kiss me, I'm Irish'.

Max was half-tempted to follow that sign's advice, but he didn't wanna freak the guy out. He settled for covering his mouth, trying to muffle his laughter. Based on the way Dominic somehow managed to scowl, even with the gag, he didn't do a very good job.

Sally rushed over, eyes alight with mischief as she cuddled Vegemite to her chest. "No, no, this is perfect, see! This way he has plausible deniability if anyone finds out about the party! Not his fault, he was tied up... By desperados!"

Everyone gave a laugh at that. Everyone except Dominic, of course.

"Enough of this small talk!" Isabella declared. "Tonight, we test the luck of the Irish!"

Rakesh blinked. "Wait, which one of us is Irish?" he asked.

"Quiet you!" Isabella said quickly. "First! Pin the shamrock on the leprechaun!"

And just like that, the alcohol began flowing freely, and in quite the abundance. Max took all he could get. He wasn't sure how they managed it, but somehow, between Isabella's punch and his concoction, they'd made the best liquor he'd ever tasted.

The games soon started taking less and less coordination - and progressively more and more drinking. They played all sorts of silly games with sillier drunken penalties. Isabella had even gotten her hands on a snake-shaped pinata. When it was finally, drunkenly beat open, it was full of small little jello shots in plastic cups. Rakesh had made it special.

After a while, they sat just near the study nook, with Dominic still trying to get out of his bindings. Whoever had done them had done them tight, though. He wouldn't be getting out any time soon. Meanwhile, the others began a fun little game of truth or dare.

"Okay, I choose... Sally," Rakesh said.

Sally let out a bright, drunken giggle. "Okay," she said, stretching out the word. "Dare."

"Ho ho! You should..." Rakesh took a moment to think. "Let out the loudest belch you can!"

"What? That's gross Rakesh!" Sally whined.

"Too bad, you have chosen to be daring!"

Sally took a large drink of her cup of punch, swaying in place a little. Then she took a deep breath, and let out the smallest burp Max had ever heard in his life. Everyone let out loud laughter, while she turned bright red.

"I can't just burp on command!" she whined. "Shut up!" She huffed. "Whatever. It's my turn now, so shut up!" Then, Sally turned to Max with a devious look in her eye. "Okay, Max, truth or dare?"

Max grinned his best party-man grin. "Dare!" he all but shouted.

"Okay... I dare you to kiss Dominic!"

Max's cheeks flushed, and his grin dropped. Isabella let out a cheer and shoved playfully at his arm. "Go get your man, Max-y boy!"

He looked warily at Dominic, who'd suddenly stopped struggling in his binds. And... Was that a blush on his cheeks, or was Max hallucinating?

Ah, well. He'd never been the type to kill a party. He sighed, and moved over to sit directly across from Dominic. He removed the gag and leaned closer. Just before their lips touched, he whispered a soft, "Sorry..."

Then he kissed Dominic. It was a soft, careful kiss, and he only held it for a few seconds. Long enough to appease Sally, not too long so that it would make Dominic panic.

When he pulled away, just before he replaced the gag, he swore he saw a small smile on Dominic's face.

Then, he turned back to the group, a grin and a blush on his face. "Okay, I choose Isabella!"

And just like that, the game continued on like that for a few more hours.


The next morning, Max awoke in bed, feeling like death itself was beating a drum solo in his head. A really terrible drum solo. He barely remembered making it upstairs - everything was too fuzzy.

He headed downstairs for some water, but saw everyone else standing at the bottom of the stairs. He went down, and looked at what they were looking at. His jaw nearly hit the floor.

"Don't tell me... We never..." he whispered.

"Mhm," Isabella said, voice pained.

Still sitting in the study area, Dominic was fuming, waiting to be untied.

Chapter Text

"Yes, that's why I need your help, Max," Rakesh insisted. "I cannot paint all these flowers by myself in one night!"

It was Saturday, and Max had no time for Rakesh's weirdness. "I already told you I have plans for tonight though, right?" he said. "I'd have to skip out on Anne." He paused, then added, "You probably shouldn't be painting those flowers at all, you know. They're in a park, Rakesh. Isn't that illegal?"

Petulantly, Rakesh said, "I am nearly positive that it would be viewed as a public service!"

Max sighed and disregarded that to save himself the headache. "Unfortunately, I really do have to meet with Anne tonight. We have to put the last touches on our final essay soon."

Rakesh sighed in defeat, and pulled on a small domino mask. "Well, I suppose it cannot be helped, then..."

Rakesh was going to get in serious trouble. But he'd certainly done this sort of thing before. Max had seen news stories about 'mysteriously painted trees' with 'unknown culprits' that had yet to be identified, and he was damn sure he knew exactly who that culprit was.

Max smiled and shook his head in vague amusement. "Godspeed, you ridiculous man."

Then, he walked away, putting that insanity out of his mind so he could focus on his project with Anne. He still had some pretty shaky opinions for their essay, and it wasn't going well, trying to make them any less shaky. Hopefully Anne would be doing better - he felt bad about clinging to her, though.

Just as he was about to head to her room, there was a knock on the front door. He headed down and opened it.

There stood Roxanne, with the same deadpan, bored look on her face as always.

"Roxanne, hi. What brings you here?"

Roxanne looked almost pained as she said, "I was told that this is where Dominic, the TA, lives? I... Missed an assignment... And he was supposed to provide me with a replacement."

"Oh, yeah, this is the place alright. He's our RA, too. Hang on, I'll get him for you."

He walked away from the door, motioning towards the couch for Roxanne to take a seat. "Hey Dominic!" he shouted. "I got competition! There's a pretty redhead down here asking for your phone number!"

He glanced over to Roxanne's face for a reaction. She raised an eyebrow. "Competition?" was all she said.

A silent moment passed where Max stared back, not saying anything to clarify. After a bit, Roxanne rolled her eyes, and went back to ignoring Max.

He shrugged, and headed over to the kitchen table where all his notes were spread out. He'd let Roxanne leave before he called Anne down.

"You're quite spread out," Roxanne commented. "Which class is that for?"

Well, other than the vaguely disgusted tone she held, apparently Max was good enough to talk to now.

"Professor Tasque's. Anne and I were going to finish up prep tonight."

"...Hmph."

That was all he got from her. Apparently, it was now Max's turn to carry the conversation. "So... How're you and your partner doing?"

"My partner and I are doing quite well, thank you. I have no doubt we will pass with flying colors."

"Mhm," Max said carefully.

After a moment of silence, Roxanne sighed. "As long as we are here, I simply must ask. Why wouldn't you have chosen me as your study partner?"

Max stared. "Wait, really?" he said. "Has it honestly been bothering you?"

"I would not say it has been bothering me," Roxanne said carefully. "I simply... Am curious. I am clearly superior to Anne in academics. What could your reasoning be?"

Max snorted. "You really think you're smarter than Anne? I find that pretty hard to believe."

"Well, I do. I am able to academically outperform Anne." She paused, frowned, and looked away. "Listen, I am not saying I am... Unaware of myself. I realize I am not the easiest person to get to know. But none of that should matter when working on a project like this. This is a test of pure scholastic quality, and in that I am incredibly well-versed. What drove you to choose Anne? What made her the clear choice?"

Max frowned. He tapped his finger restlessly on the table, and sighed. "Honestly, I picked her so that she wouldn't have to work with someone she didn't know. She's really shy, and I didn't want to force her to do that. To try and get along with someone she didn't even know."

Roxanne scowled, and looked away. She must not have liked something about that answer.

"More importantly, the point is that I am Max's partner."

Max nearly jumped out of his skin, and turned to see that Anne and Dominic had come downstairs, both with a bunch of papers in-hand.

"Evening, Roxanne," Dominic said. "Here's the assignment. Do you need me to go over anything with you?"

"Yes, there are a few things I need clarification on," Roxanne said, standing up. "We should go somewhere quieter so as not to disturb these two."

Roxanne shot Anne a quick glare before following Dominic upstairs. Max fought back a pang of jealousy - which must have been visible on his face, because Anne just smiled and rolled her eyes at him.

"So, did you... Hear us?" Max asked awkwardly.

"Only a bit, really," Anne said. "Don't worry about it."

And with all the distractions out of the way, it was time to study.

Chapter Text

The weather had been really nice and warm, lately. Max decided that this must have been the perfect finals week. With spring break coming up, he'd been having a hard time concentrating - though he'd been managing well enough.

He had a book in his lap, but his attention kept wandering. It was too loud in the quad, and his eyes were always drawn somewhere other than the words on the pages.

Then, he noticed Professor Tasque walking by. And he started thinking about that extra credit assignment he was doing. Had Anne betrayed him?

...

No. She wouldn't.

Would she?

The professor was almost all the way through the quad. He would be gone soon if Max didn't make a decision.

He sighed, though. He didn't want to betray Anne. It wouldn't be his first F if she did betray him (though obviously that wouldn't be ideal) but he'd be willing to be it'd be hers.

At least, either way, he'd know he kept his end of the bargain up.

Later, he saw Anne coming out of the very same building Tasque had just gone into.

That was just a coincidence.

...

Right?


"Wait, you want me to do what?"

Max stared at Dominic in complete bewilderment.

"Please, Max?" Dominic begged. "Sally was all worked up about this thing today, and I'm worried the scene might get ugly. I'm already stuck here, fielding calls from the housing authority about student involvement."

Sally had gone off to the science building, protesting something. "What exactly are they protesting?" Max asked.

"I don't know... I'm paid to keep you people from burning the house down. Not to watch your every movement." Dominic sighed. "Can you please go check up on her for me?"

"I'm supposed to have a meeting with my advisor this afternoon," Max said warily. "I don't-"

"Come on, I'll pull some strings and make sure your advisor sees you tomorrow."

Dominic looked genuinely concerned for Sally, and it made Max finally give in. "Oh, alright. I hate to make you cry, baby," Max said. He grinned at the blush that emerged on Dominic's face.

"Oh, shut up, and just go..." Dominic muttered, staring off at the wall.

Max chuckled and headed out the door and over to the science building. When he arrived, he saw a crowd of about thirty people, holding signs and muttering to each other. The crowd didn't seem ugly or violent, but they did seem upset about something. He saw a few campus security officers watching them, waiting for the moment when they would be needed.

Where was Sally?

"Are we going to stand for this?!"

Ah. There she was. Standing on a box, speaking into a megaphone.

"When I found out they were doing testing on animals at our school, I sent out the call for action!" she continued her spiel. "I'm really happy that you all answered that call. But now we need to send a different call! A call to stop the atrocities happening right inside this building!"

The crowd cheered, lifting their signs high above their heads. The security guards were looking restless. A few of them reached for their belts. They didn't have actual weapons, thank god, but they did have pepper spray, and he knew from experience - don't ask - that that would hurt like a bitch.

He weaved his way through the crowd and made his way to Sally, who was still on a tirade. "And that's why we cannot stop our clarion call until these monsters have given up all the tests they're doing on animals in there! Are you with me?!"

The crowd gave another cheer, and Max waved, trying to get Sally's attention.

"That's what I thought!" Sally shouted. "And if those cowards don't get out here soon, we're going to bust in there and free those animals ourselves! This is just wrong!"

The security officers definitely look nervous as the crowd gives yet another cheer. Max frantically waved at Sally as she finally got off of her box. She noticed, and rushed over.

"Oh! Max! Hey, I'm so happy you came!"

"Um... I actually came because Dominic asked me to come check on you," Max admitted. "Not that I wouldn't have come anyway, but you never mentioned it to me. I didn't know it was happening, you know?"

"Oh... Well, I'm still happy you came."

"How did all this start?"

"Right!" Sally scowled. "You won't believe it! I was on our campus message board, when I read a post that said they were due to begin their testing with animals today!"

Max blinked. "A message board post? Really?"

Sally nodded firmly. "Yeah. The guy must have been a scientist, because he said it was going to be really hard to deal with. He said he was expecting a lot of suffering! They're testing on suffering animals! I can't stand for that, Max!"

Max frowned. "Sally... I don't know about this message board, but... That's not a lot to go on. Are you sure something's happening in there?"

"Well, answer me this!" Sally said. "If nothing is happening in there, how come they refuse to let us in and see, huh?!"

"Maybe because there are thirty angry people out here?" Max pointed out.

"Yeah, thirty people angry about all the LIES!" Sally glared at Max. "Look, are you with me or against me, here?! I've already had to tell those stupid rent-a-cops that we're perfectly within our rights. Don't you start on me too!"

Max sighed. "Look, Sally, I'm not against you. But this all seems really weird and hasty. Let me look into this a little more. Maybe I can find something you can use against them, okay?" He placed a careful hand on her shoulder. "Just promise not to charge in until I get back, alright?"

Sally sighed, shoulders slumping. "Alright," she said. Fine. Just... Hurry. I can't stand to think of those animals in trouble."

With that, Max ran home as fast as he could. He knew that if he wasn't quick enough, someone there was going to do something entirely stupid. As soon as he was there, he rushed up to Anne's room and banged on her door as hard as he could.

Anne opened up, and looked vaguely concerned. "Oh, hey Max. What's up?"

"Hey, so, Sally's protesting some kind of animal torture at the science building... But I think something funny's going on. Help me look this stuff up?"

Anne blinked. "What? Why me?"

Max had to take a few deep breaths before he could speak, "Sorry, Anne, it's just, you're pretty much the best researcher at this whole school. I couldn't think of anyone better to look into this than you."

Anne blushed, and gestured for Max to come in.

Once he'd explained the situation, Anne was frantically clicking through the college's message boards. "Let's see... Here we go! I found the original message!" She frowned as she began reading, "'Starting testing on animals today, I hate it. So much suffering, but it's all in the name of science. We've got the grant, better make use of it.' What grant is this...?"

Max watched her click through a few news sites, before finally stopping on one article. She read for a few moments, then slapped her hand to her face. "I know what the grant was for," she muttered, voice distinctly pained. "Here, let me email you the article... Show it to Sally. I think it'll clear things up." Then she gave a deep, annoyed sigh. The kind of sigh that said that she had read something insanely stupid.

Max didn't ask, and simply thanked her before running out the door.

Back at the protest, he saw that he was just in time. In front of the door of the building, Sally was bullying a short guy - Butch, the guy in his biology class, he realized. "This is your last chance!" Sally declared. "Come clean about your hideous experiments!"

"I'm telling you," Butch insisted, "there are no 'hideous experiments' in here. Everything in here is perfectly safe and approved."

"Oh, like I'm going to believe you when there's suffering going on!"

"Actually, Sally..."

Sally turned to Max when he spoke, eyes lighting up. "Oh, Max! Come on, let's force this little weasel to open up!"

Before Sally could say anything else, Max shoved his phone, which had the article pulled up, into her hands. She looked at him, confused, but then began to read. Her face went pale, and Butch leaned over, reading with her. He nodded in understanding.

"Oh, yeah, that would pretty much explain what's going on in there. You can, uh, you can see why we don't want to discuss it..."

With pursed lips, Sally gave a slow nod. She turned to the crowd, lifting her megaphone up. "False alarm, people! Go home! Nothing to see here! SCRAM!"

She dropped the megaphone, and whispered a soft, "Thanks," to Max as she walked past him. Hopefully she'd get over this soon... Her heart was in the right place, after all.

Chapter Text

Even though finals would be going on all week, Max still felt as though he had a lot of studying left to do. Everyone at Latin House was hard at work, studying as much as they could in the few hours they had left.

Isabella had been locked in her room since dawn. Sally had barely been outside to walk Vegemite - leaving Max to do so, given his promise to Dominic. And Rakesh...

Max peeked into Rakesh's room after letting Vegemite back into Sally's room after their latest walk. Rakesh appeared to be attempting a headstand on his books.

"Um... Rakesh... I think you get less money from the student bookstore if you ruin the book," Max said.

He appeared to have caught Rakesh's attention, and startled him enough that he fell to the ground. Max winced. "What the hell are you doing, man?" he asked. "You're liable to wreck yourself messing around like that."

"I am fine, thank you, Max," Rakesh said, rubbing his head as he sat up. "I was... I was trying to study."

"Were you trying to learn... By osmosis, Rakesh?"

"Certainly not!" Rakesh said defensively. "I am not a buffoon."

Max crossed his arms. "Does that work?" he asked. "I mean, if all the blood rushes to your head..."

Rakesh's eyes lit up. "Exactly! You understand why I had to at least try it!"

"So, do you feel like you know it any better?"

"...Not really, no."

Max sighed and shook his head. "Well then, I guess we'll have to figure out a different way for you to learn the material."

"I suppose I really must rely on other methods to learn..." Rakesh muttered. "Well, what do you have in mind, Max?"

"Well, what's the subject?"

"It is... It is for biology," Rakesh said. He sighed. "I... I need to pass a class so that my grades reflect that I am doing well on my proper curriculum. It is important to my parents that I try my best to become a rich, American-trained doctor."

Max shrugged. "Well, if it's important, let's do it! We'll cram like it's going out of style! We'll figure out how to get this stuff so deep in your brain you won't be able to not pass!"

"Yes! We can best this test together!"

The pair of them gathered up all the notes he'd taken for this semester. But, due to his terrible attendance record, the notes weren't much, unfortunately. And it certainly didn't help that half of his book was covered in doodles and splotches of color. They spent a while comparing notes to the textbooks, and studying what the class had been going over.

After a while, though, Rakesh's attention began to drift away. He couldn't concentrate on a subject that didn't interest him, it seemed. Max managed to get his attention back a few times, but he was beginning to lose it again, for the umpteenth time. He needed to clear his head so he would study...

Then, he got an idea.

"Hm, this isn't working fast enough," Max said. "You're never gonna learn it all by morning. Maybe you were on the right track to begin with."

"Really?" Rakesh's eyes lit up. "You think the osmosis might work? I definitely heard that term during one of the days I went to class!"

"Well, that means it has to work, doesn't it? I know the problem, then. You can't do the osmosis thing through your skin, clearly. So we have to get those answers inside you!"

Max grabbed a page of notes, and ripped it out. He hoped Rakesh would go along with this long enough for Max to succeed.

Luckily, Rakesh was an adorably gullible guy. "Okay, then what should I do wi- MPH!" Before he could say another word, Max had crammed a bit of the notes into his mouth.

"Chew that down! I'm gonna go put some of these notes in water, so it's easier to swallow!"

Rakesh seemed to have realized that he shouldn't have gone along with this, but he continued chewing anyway. Max felt bad, almost - if he hadn't been so desperate, he wouldn't have fallen for this ploy.

When Max returned from the kitchen, Rakesh had swallowed the paper and looked like he'd just eaten a mess that Vegemite had made. Poor guy.

"Okay, so before you eat the next notes," Max said, "let's look over the book a little longer. That way, the bits you ingest will know where to attach in your brain. That makes sense, right?"

"Um... No?" Rakesh mumbled.

Max hummed. "Yeah... You should probably just drink this now, I guess. I'm no expert on this stuff."

Rakesh's eyes went wide. "Well, maybe you are right," he said quickly. "We should probably read a bit more before I swallow that..."

Several hours later, they were still at it. Every time Rakesh's attention wandered, he would inevitably look at the glass of sopping wet paper, and he would go back to the studying.

Eventually, Max gave him a mock quiz. He used the notes, since he didn't know a thing about the stuff on his own.

"Um... I don't know if you got that one right," Max muttered. "I can't find it anywhere in your notes..."

"Of course not, that's the bit I ate," Rakesh said with a shrug. "So I know it's right! Besides, it should be in the book, in the back."

Max grabbed the book and flipped on to the back. He paused, and looked up at Rakesh.

Maybe this osmosis thing wasn't so weird, after all.

Chapter Text

The final for Professor Tasque's class was utterly grueling. Max would swear on his GRAVE that the guy had never even hinted at half of those concepts.

Occasionally, Max would glance over to Anne to see how she was doing, but her head was bent down just like everyone else. There was nothing he could do besides just finish the final and see what would happen.

Once it was complete, he walked over to the professor's desk to hand it back. He glanced out of the corner of his eye to see how Anne was doing, but it was impossible to tell.

"Finished, Max?" Professor Tasque asked him. "Hang around a few moments. We'll discuss the results of our little extra credit experiment."

Max nodded warily. He didn't really know if he wanted to know or not. Then again, that was the point of the whole experiment, wasn't it?

He returned to his desk, and sat there quietly for the rest of class, waiting as everyone else finished their tests.

Eventually, as they began clearing out, the only ones left were himself and the other ones who'd taken the extra credit chance.

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, here we are. Time to find out which of you will be failing and which will be getting Cs," the professor said.

Anne glanced at Max, who just shrugged and focused on the professor.

"Okay, let's start running through this stuff, shall we?" Professor Tasque said. "Let's see... Marvin, you fail. Looks like Tara came to me pretty quickly."

The guy that the professor had mentioned stood up, eyes wide in horror. "What?! This is crap!" he shouted.

"Suck it up, sunshine. You knew the rules."

Marvin ran out of the classroom, a look of pure fury on his face. Professor Tasque continued on, "Okay, who else have we got... Roxanne?"

"Yes, professor?"

"Looks like Jared doesn't share your interest in study," the professor said evenly. "I assume I'll be seeing you next quarter, then. I look forward to your future test results."

Roxanne's eyes went wide. She looked rather like she was going to either cry, or beat the crap out of Jared - who was hiding rather pitifully by pulling his hoodie over his head.

Finally, the professor looked to Max. His heart nearly stopped beating.

"Looks like you kept the faith, Anne," Tasque said. "Ah, such loyalty brings a tear to my jaded and uncaring heart... Wait, no, that's heartburn." He chuckled to himself. "Anyway, you both took things normally, so I guess I'll actually have to grade your tests. I'll get back to you on your grades, but I assume they'll be fine."

Anne let out a bright giggle, and clapped excitedly as she turned towards Max. "We did it, Max! We did it! I knew I could trust you! I'm so happy you didn't take the easy A!"

"Well... I have to admit I mostly didn't want to disappoint you. Glad it all worked out."

"I think that's the lot of you here," Tasque said. "I'll deal with any other stragglers later."

Max sighed and slumped down in his chair. Then, as he was about to get up and leave, a cell phone broke the silence. Professor Tasque answered it.

"Yes? Well, yes, I put them in a... Yes, a prisoner's dilemma. Well, I'm a sociology professor, of course it's relevant! Well, how was I supposed to know his father was a donor?!"

Well, someone was clearly upset with Tasque's little 'experiment'. "What?!" the professor suddenly shouted. "Hell no, I've got tenure! He can go to hell! The grades are staying. I didn't get where I am grading papers, and I'm not about to start. Fine, yes, I can make it up to the students somehow. How about... But that's my... I was going to...! Oh, fine!"

Professor Tasque hung up his phone, looking royally pissed.

"So, apparently, Marvin is a little crybaby and went whining to the dean..."


Thirty minutes later, Max and Anne stood in front of the stunned members of Latin House, grinning.

"Seriously?!" Dominic was the first to say.

"Yeah, apparently the dean tore into him something fierce," Max said with a laugh. "So to make up for putting us through all that, we all get to use his beach house this Spring Break. We have to pay our own way and it's only the space, we're getting no amenities. But it's on a private beach so we'll have the place to ourselves."

Isabella let out a squeal. "Oh man, this is going to be so sweet! I'm gonna go get packing!"

"I hope I have a good swimsuit," Rakesh said.

"Can I bring Vegemite?!" Sally asked excitedly.

"I don't think so... Sorry," Max said.

"It's okay, I'll get my friend Jovia to watch him," she said. "Woo! Spring break!"

And with that, Max watched all of his roommates rush off to their respective rooms to pack up.

Chapter Text

Come Monday, and the beginning of Spring Break, no one in the house could stop talking about their trip to the beach house. Max was a bit worried about having to pay their own way, but he was fairly sure that he had enough for the trip. And luckily his van was big enough to carry everyone. Since he'd be driving, everyone else was going to chip in for gas.

"You almost ready?" Isabella asked him.

"Almost!" Max said in return. "Just a couple more things."

Isabella gave a mischievous giggle. "Hey, what do you think of this swimsuit?"

Max turned, and saw that she was holding up a skimpy two-piece against her shirt. He gave a low whistle. "Damn, I thought the beach house was no-smoking!"

"Boy, please, I am downright on fire!" Isabella countered with a laugh. "Anyway, hurry up! We're all itching to get going!"

Max laughed and tossed in a few more things before following Isabella out of his room.

Spring Break had officially begun!


"And here we are!" Max shouted as he pulled up to the beach house. "One beach house vacation, courtesy of Professor Tasque!"

His roommates let out loud cheers as they all rushed out of the van. It was a long, 15 hour trip, but they'd finally made it. They could all hear the ocean on the other side of the house, along with the caws of seagulls.

"It's pretty late," Max commented. "What do we want to do?"

"Let's get settled into the house first," Dominic said. "I want to see what the room situation is like."

With nods of agreement, they all headed into the house. "So, are we really the only ones here all week?" Sally asked.

"Yeah," Anne said. "Unfortunately, Roxanne and the others had to bow out. They couldn't afford their own transportation. I'd feel bad, but this place doesn't really look big enough for all of us anyway..."

Sure enough, as they all looked through the rooms, they found that there were only three bedrooms - each one with a single kingsized bed.

"Well, I suppose we could split off into pairs," Dominic suggested. "Maybe someone can use the couch out here."

"Actually, let's use two of the rooms for three people. We can go girls and boys," Isabella said decisively.

Dominic frowned. "What? Why wouldn't we use all of the rooms?"

Max looked to Isabella, also a little confused. All it took was a slight nod, and a glance over in Dominic's direction, and suddenly Max knew exactly what she was thinking. He crossed his arms. "Because, Dom, we've already got a perfectly good split here, why would we mess up all the rooms?" he said.

"...Because it's ours for the week?" Dominic said, looking at Max like he was insane.

"That means we have to be rude?" Isabella said. "No, no, it's much better if we leave one of the rooms... Empty. Where we know that none of the others will be in it."

Max nodded. "Where everyone knows that we shouldn't go into that room... Especially without knocking..." he said, in a very careful tone.

Slowly, Dominic looked between them, and realization began to dawn on his face.

"I'm just saying... It's a long week, lots of folks about..." Isabella said.

"Come on, Dom, get the hint already," Max added, grinning devilishly.

"Yeah, yeah, I get it. You two are gross, but whatever, fine."

Isabella and Max shared a high five. Their roommates all either rolled their eyes or looked vaguely confused, then they began to settle into the house. Everyone split up into two rooms - male and female - and then began to make their sleeping arrangements.

In the boys' case...

"Alright, boys, let's get our crap down," Max said. "I figured there'd be a bed situation, so I've got my sleeping bag with me."

Dominic rolled his eyes. "Are you sure you're not just planning on spending the week in someone else's bed?" he asked pointedly.

Max grinned. "Well if that's an invitation, babe..."

Dominic flushed a deep, dark red, and Rakesh snickered behind his hand. Max tossed his sleeping bag on the floor, while Dominic and Rakesh both eyed the bed.

"Well, I've slept in worse places," Dominic said. "Let me see if I can find a few blankets and I'll take the other side of the bed."

Dominic walked out in search of a linen closet. Rakesh turned to Max, eyes sparkling with joy. "This is so exciting!" he said.

"It's gonna be a blast, bro," Max said, grinning at him.

"Yes my friend, we will party hard!" Rakesh said.

"You know it, my man."

Max attempted to give Rakesh a fist bump, but he didn't seem to really have it down, as it ended up being more of a handshake with Max's hand curled into a fist. But still, Rakesh was grinning, Max was grinning... This promised to be a lot of fun!

Dominic walked back in, then, holding a big bunch of blankets in his arms. "Alright, let's call it a night, gents," he said. "We got a long week. Get the lights, would you, Max?"

"Yes, turn out the lights, Max," Rakesh said with a devilish grin. "I'm sure nothing will happen... In the dark."

Max smirked. "Oh, if it's hair-raising tales you're looking for..."

The lot of them all settled in for some fun on their first night, though hopefully a different kind of fun than Max would be having for the rest of the week...


"Come on, everyone! That beach isn't gonna lie all over itself!" Isabella shouted. "First one there gets to rub suntan lotion on my back!"

It was Wednesday, and everyone was up and ready for some fun on the beach. Sally had cooked them up some amazing vegan pancakes for breakfast, now they were all exploring the sands.

The day before had mostly been spent in the nearby town, picking up supplies. They'd found a nice little outlet mall that Sally and Dominic had wanted to go into, so they ended up spending the entire day in the town.

Today, however, promised to have some fun in the sun. The skies were clear and the water was nice and warm. This was definitely Max's idea of a good week off.

Their section of the beach was private, but Max still had plenty of eye candy, what with the ladies and Dominic hanging around in swimsuits.

He caught sight of Sally and Rakesh staring out into the water. Looked like they were thinking of going in first, then.

"No, Rakesh," he heard Sally say, "you're not gonna be able to snorkel in here. It's too shallow."

"I suppose looking at it, you may be right. Still, I would like to explore and see..."

Anne and Isabella were sitting under a beach umbrella, putting on various creams. Anne had quite a few books piled up next to her - looked like she knew what she'd be doing today.

And Max and Dominic were both attempting to set up a net for some beach volleyball.

"No, Dom, it has to go on the third rung! Otherwise it'll be too low! It's a net for volleyball, not for limbo!"

"Shut up," Dominic countered with a roll of his eyes. "If you don't get it straight it won't be a net for anything."

Max was half-tempted to make a bisexual joke right there, but he got the sense that Dominic would just be even more unimpressed with him if he tried.

"Ooh, Rakesh! Shake that pretty ass, boy!" Isabella shouted.

"Behave, Isabella," Sally said to her, rolling her eyes. "Come on, Rakesh, let's see how deep it gets out there."

"Watch out for undertow, you two!" Anne called out.

It was really nice to have everyone out on the beach together, getting along and enjoying themselves.


A few hours later, everyone was gathered around the deck table, another great lunch finished off.

"Thanks for the meal, Rakesh, that was great," Dominic said.

"Yeah, man, good job," Max said. "Though I'm eyeing that grill... I think we may have to fire that up tonight. We bought charcoal, right?"

"Yeah, and some hamburger and veggie patties," Isabella confirmed.

"Ooh, that sounds delicious, too!" Anne said cheerfully. "I'm gonna end up stuffing myself silly this week!"

"Well, then, we're just gonna have to exercise that much harder!" Sally said.

"True! We should go do something now," Rakesh said.

"Hey, let's put that volleyball net to good use, what do you folks say?" Max suggested, a grin on his face.

"I'm game!" Isabella said.

Dominic nodded. "Let's do it," he said. "I'll lead one team."

"Don't you get enough trying to herd cats being our RA?" Sally asked teasingly.

Dominic let out a chuckle. "Pfft... I'm not going to stop until I whip you into shape."

The lot of them decided it wasn't worth spending energy trying to argue with him, and just let Dominic lead one team. Sally volunteered to lead the other one. The two of them whispered off to the side for a few minutes, then turned to the others with their team selections.

"Okay," Dominic said, "we discussed what seemed fair, and for the teams, it's me, Rakesh and Anne for team one. For team two it's Sally, Isabella and Max."

"Come on Max, Isabella, let's clobber these suckers," Sally said, grinning at her teammates.

Isabella and Max high-fived as they walked over to Sally. The three of them huddled on their side of the net to try coming up with some strategy.

"Okay, Max, you're gonna be our first server," Sally said. "We know Anne's their weak point, so try to pick her out if you can. Don't be mean, though, okay?"

"Hey, all's fair in love and war," Max said with a mischievous smirk.

"Ha!" Isabella laughed. "Calm it down there, top gun. You've got a good height advantage, just spike that ball whenever you can!"

The three of them nodded and put their hands in the middle, then pulled them up with a cheer. Isabella then turned to the other team, and smirked. "You chumps ready for the fire?"

"Don't get too cocky, missy," Dominic said. "We've got brawn and brains to spare."

"Pfft, you mean you've gone spare," Sally said tauntingly.

"We have spare tires in our brains!" Rakesh said cheerfully.

Everyone gave Rakesh a look, but decided unanimously and silently to let the comment pass.

"What say we make this interesting, folks?" Max suggested.

"Oh, what're you thinking?" Dominic asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Um..." Anne said, obviously wary.

"Let's say the winning team gets out of cleaning duties for the rest of the trip?" Isabella said before Anne could voice her concerns.

Rakesh grinned. "Oh yes," he said, "I will enjoy all my extra free time!"

Sally smirked. "Ha! You wish!"

Dominic pulled a quarter out of his pocket, and looked over to Max, telling him to call it. Tails doesn't fail him, and it's his team's turn to serve first. Dominic tossed him the ball. It was his serve first.

Max did some quick thinking, and despite what Sally had said, he could see that Anne was way too close to the border that had been drawn in the sand. He'd only end up getting the ball out of bounds.

Max decided to serve the ball in Dominic's direction instead. It seemed to be something he hadn't anticipated, as he barely got it into the air. Rakesh leaped up, attempting to get the ball over the net, but Sally was fast and managed to slam the ball over on the other side of the net.

"Bam!" Max shouted. "Nice one Sally! One point, our side!"

They all rotated their positions, and this time it was Dominic's turn to serve. He tossed the ball up, and did a jump serve, aiming for Isabella. Isabella laughed as she returned the ball easily.

They got quite a few good volleys in. Rakesh almost spiked one, but a last minute dive from Sally saved it.

As Max was just figuring out that Dominic's jump towards the net was a fake-out so Anne could bump the ball over, he realized that the ball was coming in his direction. He had to try and score!

He vividly remembered Isabella's words from earlier. Time to put them to the test! He took a run and leap towards the ball, and slammed it down in an opening between Rakesh and Anne. Dominic was too far away - thanks to his feint - but Rakesh attempted to save the ball. It bounced right off of him and out of bounds.

"Suck it, fools! Our point!" Max said with a loud laugh.

"I will get you next time!" Rakesh declared.

Another half hour later, everyone was feeling hot and sweaty. But it was excellent exercise for them. Sally's team had scored fourteen points, while Dominic's team had scored twelve. They were only playing to fifteen, so it was almost match point!

Now, it was Max's turn to serve again. After analyzing the other side, he tossed the ball up in the air, and aimed for Rakesh's direction. The poor guy was barely paying attention as the ball sailed right past him and right near the boundary line - inside, of course.

"Woo!" Max shouted. "Aced it!"

"You did it, Max!" Sally shouted. "That's match point for us!"

The team laughed and cheered now that the final point had been scored. Max, Sally and Isabella all did a group hug, and as they pulled away, Isabella tossed a smug grin over to the other team. "Great game, suckers," she said. "Have fun cleaning up! I believe it's time for me to get back to my tanning."

"Oh, yeah, I'm gonna have some fun now!" Sally said cheerfully.

Max laughed. "Good game, everyone," he said, trying to be a better sport than his two teammates.

Max wandered over to where they'd brought out some water, and took a few moments to stretch. That had been a lot of fun, and he looked forward to the rest of the week.

Chapter Text

The last two days had been amazing, Max thought. He'd been hanging out with his friends, both on and off of the beach. It had probably been the best vacation he'd ever had in his life. The sun, the sand, the water, and of course a few chances to show off his physique. What more could he ask for?

It was a bit disappointing that the next day they would have to go back to college.

But he had one last day, and he was going to make it the best day of the vacation!

Everyone else seemed to have had the same thought. After Dominic made breakfast, everyone split up to do their own thing.

Max had eaten a good breakfast and gotten a good shower, so now he needed to decide what to do today.

He walked out onto the deck and took a moment, looking out over the waves. It was so beautiful. It was obvious why their professor had bought it - and why he'd wanted to keep it to himself.

He thought a moment, trying to remember where everyone else had gone.

Rakesh went to the garage - he was probably painting something he shouldn't be. Isabella had gone to fall asleep on the beach. Sally had built a bird feeder and was probably off setting it up. Anne was inside, reading by the windows. And Dominic had mentioned going on a run, though Max hadn't yet seen him leave for it.

After a bit of consideration, Max turned to head inside. If he really hadn't left yet, maybe Dominic wouldn't mind having his company while he ran.

As he walked down the hallway, he saw Dominic standing in front of the boys' room, staring blankly at the door. Max frowned and approached him. "Uh... Dom?"

Dominic blinked and shook his head slightly, and he turned to look at Max. "Ah... Max. Sorry. I was just... Thinking."

"Yeah, I could tell. Something wrong?"

"I... I don't know." Dominic sighed and looked away. "I was just... Thinking about inviting you on my run."

Max raised an eyebrow. "Uh... It looked like you were thinking about something a little more intense than that, man." He chuckled. "Although, I am flattered-"

"No, Max, that's not..." Dominic let out a groan and rubbed his temples. "Why am I even...?" he muttered. Then, he took a deep breath, and looked up at Max. "I was thinking about inviting you. But then I realized, wait, you probably wouldn't be interested in running. I haven't seen you run aside from that one time Sally, Rakesh and I invited you. But I still wanted to invite you." He raised an eyebrow. "Sound familiar, Max?"

It took about a half second before Max realized. "You mean when I invited you to my band's concert."

"Exactly." Dominic sighed and turned around, leaning his back against the door. "It's not just that, though. I keep thinking about you. On my TA day, once, I even thought to myself about how you'd be able to solve the problem I'd given way faster than the students were..."

"Is that an insult to the students or a compliment to me?" Max asked, averting his gaze.

"Maybe a bit of both," Dominic muttered, a wry smile on his lips.

A brief silence fell.

"So... What are you trying to say, man?"

Dominic looked up at Max, frowning. "Do you remember what you told me on Valentine's Day?"

A knot formed in Max's stomach, and his cheeks warmed. "Y-yeah. I remember."

"I think... I'm ready to give you an answer."

Max sucked in a sharp breath. He straightened his back, and watched as Dominic pushed off of the door to do the same. The pair of them looked each other in the eyes. Max waited patiently for what he'd been waiting for since February.

"Max..." Dominic took a deep breath. "I like you, too."

Max let out a relieved sigh, hand going up to rest over his racing heart. Truthfully, he'd put that together, based on their previous conversation, but to hear it said out loud... It was still quite a relief.

"C-cool," Max said, giving an awkward laugh. "So, um, what should we... Do now?"

Dominic chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. "I don't really know," he admitted. "It's my first time ever liking a guy."

"Mine too," Max said.

The pair of them smiled nervously at each other.

It felt like the path before them was covered in thick fog, unable to be seen. But Max was relieved that Dominic had finally decided to join him walking down it. No matter how many rocks they might stumble on, or how many turns there might be... He was glad to finally have Dominic at his side.

Chapter Text

It was the Wednesday after spring break's end. Max flopped down on his bed with a groan. It may have just been a cheap single, but after a long day, it really felt fantastic to lay down in it.

After a moment, he pulled his phone out from his pocket, ready to put it on the charger, but noticed a text from Dominic. He gave a soft smile, though it quickly fell. They hadn't gotten much of a chance to hang out recently...

Maybe it would be nice to finally try a proper date with the guy...

He nodded to himself and quickly dialed up Dominic's number. At the very least maybe they could catch a quick bite together.

When Dominic picked up, he sounded quite relieved as he said, "Oh, Max! Thank goodness you called!"

Max couldn't help but let out a shocked laugh. "I think that's the first time you've ever sounded happy about my existence, Dom."

"Okay, that's not true, and you know it's not."

Max laughed again. "Yeah, I know. What's up, babe?"

"I've got a lot of homework to grade and there's no way I'll finish in time," Dominic explained. "Could you maybe come give me a hand?"

Max hummed, pretending to think about it, before giving an over-exaggerated sigh. "I suppose. It's not the best first date idea, though, Dom, just for the record. But I like you, so I'm willing to overlook it."

"Yeah, yeah," Dominic said, laughter in his tone. "For real, though, thanks, Max. I really do appreciate it."

"You're welcome."


A few hours later, Max and Dominic sat there in an empty office, a pile of graded papers next to them and a pizza on its way.

"I really owe you, Max," Dominic said with a sigh. "Thanks again."

"No problem," Max said with a shrug. "But you could have asked Anne. She'd probably have been much faster, you know."

Dominic looked at Max as though he were insane. "But I wanted to spend time with you."

A beat of silence passed before Max averted his gaze, smiling shyly. "Fair enough. I wanted to spend time with you, too, so it worked out." He sighed and glanced over at the pile of papers. "But damn, Dom. For a guy who gets on me about my studies, you must not have much time for your own."

"Actually, my own studies are why I was behind on this," Dominic explained. "I had a paper due and it took a while for me to get it finished."

"Ah." Max nodded slightly in understanding. "I'm surprised you find time for this, studying, and gaming."

"Actually, I recently had to back out of my guild," Dominic said. "I have my work cut out for me if I expect to get my master's."

Max chuckled softly. "Ah, so you dropped your nerd stuff in favor of your other, more important nerd stuff."

Dominic rolled his eyes and shoved lightly at Max's shoulder. "Shut up, moron."

"Make me, nerd."

Before Max could process what he'd said, Dominic smirked. "I think I can manage that."

Then he leaned close to Max, and, just when their lips were inches apart-

Knock knock knock!

The pair of them leapt apart, eyes wide and cheeks bright red.

"Ah... That would be the pizza," Dominic said. He cleared his throat and stood up. "But... You were right, earlier. Not the best first date." He smiled weakly. "I'll make it up to you soon, okay?"

Max nodded, and watched as Dominic went to get the pizza.

He didn't process until a bit later that Dominic had actually tried to kiss him, though.

Chapter Text

It was a lovely Saturday evening, and Max was internally debating between doing homework or taking some time to himself.

"I respectfully request that you back off? With all due respect, please stay away from me?"

Max turned, wondering for a moment if perhaps Rakesh had been talking to him - but no, he wasn't. He had a notebook in one hand, and was restlessly tapping it with the pen he held in the other. It seemed like he was trying to decide what to write down.

Rakesh glanced up, sensing Max's gaze. "Ah. Max, welcome home," he said. After a beat, he said, "I must tell my parents how I feel... If possible, without telling them how I feel."

His imploring, desperate gaze tugged at Max's heartstrings the same way Vegemite's did whenever he wanted bacon. And, just like with Vegemite, Max sighed and gave in.

"Alright, let's hear what you've got so far," he said. "What are you trying to tell them? Are you finally ready to tell them you're not interested in becoming a doctor?"

"Well, something like this, yes," Rakesh said. "I received a letter from them the other day stating that they are interested in coming out to see how this school is treating me." He looked up at Max, genuinely panicked. "I cannot let them come here!" he said. "They would discover what I have been doing! So my letter must respectfully tell them there is no need."

Max hummed and crossed his arms. "Hm... That's going to be a bit tricky," he said. "Alright, so what have you got so far?"

"Let me see... I have to translate a bit, um..." Rakesh looked down at his paper. "Dearest Father and Mother, I am fine, you needn't check on me. Everything's great. I am learning everything about medicine. Please feel free to cram it and stay where you are."

Max snorted. "It doesn't really say that, does it?"

"Well, I did say that I was translating a bit," Rakesh said. "It's actually in English. They'll want to know that I'm learning the language well. Here, you can see." He handed the notebook over to Max.

Max sighed and shook his head, but took the letter from him anyway. It actually was in English, and Rakesh had paraphrased pretty well - though he was being a little sarcastic.

"Wait, are you actually sending them a paper letter... In this day and age?" Max raised an eyebrow at Rakesh, visibly confused at that prospect.

"No, no. I'm just planning what to put in the email letter."

"Oh. Well... Hm..."

Max hummed, looking over the letter carefully. He wondered how he was meant to advise Rakesh, here. Clearly the guy didn't intend on telling the truth any time soon, at the very least. "Rakesh... You know you have to write this letter, right? I mean, I can't write it for you."

"I know, I know," Rakesh said, sighing. "I just... I'm not sure what direction to go in. Should I try to tell them that we're all sick? Should I tell them our place has rats?"

"You know, you could always go with the truth..."

Rakesh looked at him as though he'd just suggested jumping off of the nearest skyscraper. Max sighed. Well, obviously Rakesh wouldn't be doing that. And he was in no mood to try advocating for the truth, so...

"Okay, here's what we're gonna do," he said. "First off, write that you're doing great and everything's perfect. Talk all about your medical classes, or whatever it is you tell them you do. Then you're going to talk about that security incident that happened a few weeks ago." He winked. "Keep it vague, and then tell them that they're blacking out the media so they won't be able to find anything about it on the internet."

Rakesh's eyes lit up, and he began taking notes.

"Finally, let them know that they've got security completely crazy down here. So no outside visitors can get in or out. It's a complete lockdown. You'd love to have them by, but it looks like campus security is going to be like this for a few months."

Rakesh nodded vigorously. "Yes! Yes! This will work perfectly! Oh, thank you, Max, you have saved me!"

Max sighed and shook his head. No way would this story hold up. But Rakesh didn't seem to notice, seeming much more interested in writing out the ridiculous letter he'd just detailed.

"Good luck, Rakesh..."

Chapter Text

After another day of classes on Monday, Max found himself on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. It had been a pretty good year, if he did say so himself. He'd had lots of fun, had gotten used to college life...

And he'd even gotten together with Dominic. He smirked, wondering what his past self would have said about that.

But that smirk fell as he continued thinking. After all, he hadn't really made progress on his overall goal, had he? The college thing was fine and all, but how was his band really doing? They'd had a great time over Winter break, and they'd done a couple of shows since then. But still, Max was feeling like he needed to do one more big show before the end of the year to really get their name out there. It would take some work, but if he played his cards right and got it done by the end of the year, he'd bet they would become campus legends.

A few hours later, he and Memphis sat in the cafe, talking about their options.

"Look, I'm with you, man," Memphis said, "and I'm always up for throwing a killer show. The question is, how're you gonna do it? I mean, Gaz's got a pretty big band playing."

"Yeah, I know," Max said with a sigh. "Maybe we can do something on campus, though? Look, it's the last quarter of the year, right? That means two things are happening. Freshmen are celebrating their first year, and seniors are celebrating their graduation. Between the two of those, there's got to be a party we can land!"

"Yeah... Yeah, that's not a bad idea." Memphis hummed. "Okay, we'll need to figure out the set list. And scope the scene to figure out where we're doing this. We're trying to get our names on all these people's lips, am I right?"

"Damn right," Max said with a firm nod. "By the time we're done, I don't want those people to be able to think of anything but us all summer. I'll check out the prospective scenes, you get on that set list."

"Perfect," Memphis said. "I'll get to work right away. It'll be easier for you to find the parties, since you're already a student."

"My thoughts exactly. Once you get some stuff together, send it over to me. We'll practice a bit beforehand."

"Sounds awesome."

The two of them gave a high-five before they stood up from their table and began leaving.

Max was really excited... Something was telling him this was gonna be huge.

Chapter Text

Max stretched as he headed up the stairs after a long day of classes on Tuesday. It was going to be so great to be back in his room...

Along the way up, he could hear Sally and Isabella fighting in one of the other rooms. He winced, and was immensely glad that he was not involved. He did his best to make sure he wasn't seen along the way and entered his own room. Once he was there, he put on some headphones to drown out the noise.

Hopefully, now that they were dating, he and Dominic wouldn't fight like that...


On Friday, Max still wasn't sure what to expect out of Professor Merriweather's class. Still, hopefully it would at least be entertaining.

"Alright," she said as she got up to her podium. "If you're in this class, you've probably got the basics down. Which means it's time to start getting serious."

...Uh oh.

"Now, normally we do this sort of thing in a lab," she continued, "but today is special for two reasons. Number one, some big genius decided to mix glycerin with KMn04 in our labs, meaning there is now an opportunity for alternate environment learning. Secondly, the morgue is full and my contact is on the cheap!"

Max couldn't even process that statement before one of her TAs walked into the room, pushing a cart with a blanket over it. And Max would bet good money that the lump under that blanket was a dead body.

Was this not a 103 class?! Had he signed up for the wrong one?!

Well, either way, the look of absolute glee on the professor's face said that they were doing this, regardless of the class's official structure.

"Alright, who wants to make the first incision?" she asked. "Don't worry - he's dead, he complains very little."

Around him, Max could see everyone looking vaguely horrified. A few shaking hands went into the air, but they obviously didn't really want to do it.

"Come on, come on!" the professor urged. "You won't get another chance like this for two or three years!"

"Um... Professor... Is this, y'know... Legal?"

She glared at Max at his question. "I'm sorry, I thought this was Biology! Apparently it's Intro to Law!" She scoffed. "Well as it turns out, I've got a degree in that too! So how about you shut up?" She smirked. "As a matter of fact, it looks like someone just volunteered to take culpabil... I mean, the first cut."

...Yeah, there was no way this was legal.

After a minute where Max just sat there, hoping she would change her mind, Max stood up and slowly made his way down to where she stood.

"Here you go, Captain Rules," she said, thrusting the scalpel and a pair of rubber gloves at him. "How about you choose our lesson plan for today? Pick a spot and we'll examine whatever you cut up."

Max turned towards the body once the gloves were on. The face and lower half of the body were still covered, leaving the torso entirely bare. He took a moment trying to figure out where to cut, and eventually covered his eyes and made a slash in the general chest area.

"What was that? He didn't cheat you at poker, you're doing surgery! Give it a real cut, boy."

Max gave her a horrified look, then squeezed his eyes shut and did his best to give the corpse a 'proper' cut.

"That's better," she said. "Alright, looks like we're looking at the lungs today. Now, the first thing you'll notice is the lack of blood. That's because they drain these things, and because I'm not a complete idiot."

She waved for Max to go sit back down.

As he made his way back to his seat, he couldn't help but think that he'd have to be skipping this class from now on...

Chapter Text

A day of classes had left Max utterly starving on Wednesday. Luckily for him, the cafe was on the way home, and a sandwich sounded perfect.

He opened the door, and as he walked in, he spotted Isabella. He gave her a quick wave. She smiled over at him, but was too busy - at the moment - to go over and chat.

As Max sat down with some food, he noticed Chad entering. Oh, boy, this was gonna get ugly. And it was gonna get ugly FAST. He crossed his arms and awkwardly looked off to the side, making sure not to draw any attention to himself. He might not mind a little bit of trouble, but that didn't mean he wanted to go actively looking for it.

Isabella didn't seem to notice him at first, and kept serving the customers.

After a while, Chad cleared his throat loudly. "Hey, Isabella, I don't get to have a word or nothing?"

Isabella scoffed and didn't even look over at him as she said, "I don't see why you should get a word in. Do you honestly feel like there's something to say? Because I don't, particularly."

"Come on, don't be like that, baby. Look, I'm sorry I screwed up. Doesn't mean we can't have some good times, right?"

"You really think that's all it's going to take?" Isabella sat down the tray she was carrying with such force that the sound echoed through the entire cafe. "We're over, you bastard. You had your chance at greatness and you freakin' blew it. Now scuttle off and leave me be."

"Come on, baby. I'm not the only one missing out. We had some good times, right? I've made some mistakes, sure, but I'm comin' to you on my knees, here."

Isabella gave Chad an unimpressed once-over. "Oh, are you? Really? Because you look like you're standing perfectly well to me. You don't even have flowers, or chocolates, or anything. You're not even trying." She rolled her eyes. "Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you didn't bring flowers. I'd hate to think you wasted your money. We done here?"

Chad scowled. "Come on! You think you can do better than me? Just forgive me already!"

Max nearly choked on his coffee. Did this asshole really think that was an apology?!

"Are you kidding?!" Isabella said. "I could find a better man than you out behind the dumpsters!"

Max could see Chad turning red in anger. "Are you kidding me?! I'm the best thing that ever happened to you!"

Max really did want to jump up and help Isabella - but unless the asshole turned violent, he couldn't see much of a reason for that. She could hold her own in a battle of insults. But if he thought that Chad would hit her or something, he definitely would jump in then.

"No, Chad," Isabella said slowly, "the best thing that ever happened to me was finding out early that you were a bone-headed, selfish asshole without a lick of sense to you. If you had one, you wouldn't have treated me the way you did. So why do you think I'd want anything to do with your ridiculous ass?"

"Hey, look, I'm just saying we-"

"You're just saying, 'Hey sucker, I want to treat you like a possession and a sex-toy, so why won't you go back in my pocket where you belong?' And here's a hint - it's because I'm none of those things. And the fact that you probably, even now, don't understand that is why we will never be together again."

Yeah, Max knew she could hold her own. He smirked as he looked at the utterly slack-jawed expression on Chad's face.

"I'm sick of you taking up my air, jack-off," Isabella spat. "I'm going to the back. If you're still here when I get back, you're going to be the sorriest sack of crap in this whole school."

Max watched as she stalked off to the back, then watched as Chad shook his head and turned to leave the cafe.

A few minutes later, Isabella came back out, and saw Max still there, eating his sandwich.

"Oh, man, you saw all that? What an asshole, am I right?" she said, sighing as she leaned against a nearby table.

Max smiled and nodded.

"Thanks for not butting in," she added. "I hate it when people try to fight my fights for me."

"I knew you had him. No way that micro-mind was going to walk all over you," Max said.

"Well, thanks anyway. You full? If not I'll grab you something good."

"Sounds great!"

Chapter Text

On Saturday, Max finally had some time on his hands to think about the big end-of-year gig he had been working on. He needed to ask around and see what kinds of parties he could dig up... And that shouldn't really be too hard. It wasn't exactly a party-free campus, after all. And the easiest way to find a party would be to talk to the hardest partying person he knew.

He went and knocked on Isabella's room's door, and gave her a big grin as she opened up.

"Hey, mind if I come in for a sec?" he asked.

"Sure thing," she said, smiling easily as she let him inside. "What brings down the long, hard trek from your room to mine?"

"Actually, I had a quick question," Max said. "I'm trying to throw a gig together here on campus, and I'm wondering if you knew of anyone throwing a big 'end of the year' bash?"

"Oh, uh, funny you should ask!" Isabella smirked. "Actually, Anne's trying to throw one!"

Max blinked, and stared at her in confusion. "What? Anne? Shy girl extraordinaire?"

Isabella simply shrugged and pointed in the direction of Anne's room. Max shrugged back and headed off, soon knocking on Anne's door.

"Oh, hey Max," she said as she opened up. "What's going on?"

"So, how come you didn't tell me about this party you're supposedly throwing?"

Anne gave a nervous laugh, and looked rather like she was trying to fight back a blush. "Well, it's still pretty early in the planning stages," she said, "so I haven't really told many people about it yet..."

"Do you have entertainment already?"

"No, that's my next task."

Max smirked. "Well, as it turns out, I know this incredible band that would love to get a gig going at a hot college party!"

Anne's eyes lit up, and she gasped excitedly. "Oh, you mean it? That's terrific! Once we've figured out where we're going to throw it, I'll talk to you to work out the details. Thanks Max, this means a lot to me!"

Apparently it meant so much that she spun around and excitedly slammed the door in his face.

Max headed back to his room and dialed up Memphis's number, filling him in on the details. Memphis hadn't been idle either, and had picked out a great lineup for their set.

"Okay," Memphis said, "so we've got our venue and our set. Now we just need to figure out how to get the word out. Does she know where she's holding it yet?"

"Not yet. I figure we'll just get some flyers done."

"Fair enough. Do you wanna draw them? I can't do flyers for crap... Maybe we can get Slim to do them."

"Nah, I can figure it out."

"Okay, well, are we doing flashy or utilitarian?"

Max laughed. "Well, last I checked, we weren't called 'Back Alley Utilitarian'!"

"Ha! Okay, okay, just a suggestion. Seriously though, who's gonna do them?"

"Don't worry." Max smirked as an image of a certain Indian artist with a flair for weirdness entered his mind. "I think I know what to do. Just leave it to me."