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Play Crack the Sky

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"Come on," Chloe held the small sphere in both hands, head tilted at Max in a 'this is totally a good idea' kind of way. "It'll be like that time in the junkyard." Max rolled her eyes.

"I'm not rewinding so you'll win at Skee-Ball," Max said, drooping her head to the side with a playful look. "Besides, you and I have different memories about that time in the junkyard."

"Look," Chloe pointed at the glass cabinet housing all kinds of eccentric toys and novelty items. "Do you want me to win you a fucking Hawt Dog Man mug or not?" Max turned and regarded the display, a soft 'hmm' resounding in her throat.

"Only if it's fair and square," she said, turning back to Chloe. The girl made a 'tch' sound and faced the Skee-Ball machine.

"Fine, not like I need it anyway. Watch this!" She brought her arm back, then jerked forward, sending the ball up the ramp. It ricocheted off the 100 hole and fell down into the abyss of 0 points. She stood up straight and furrowed her brow. "That was just a warm up shot," she said, lobbing another ball at the machine. This time, she managed to snag an illustrious 20 points. She narrowed her eyes and looked at Max. "It's rigged."

"It's not," Max chuckled, shaking her head. She fluttered her hand at the machine, insisting on Chloe trying again. With three balls left, she made it into the 50, the 20 again and finally on the last shot got it into the 100.

"Well," Chloe said, bending down to remove the short strand of yellow tickets spewing from the machine, "at least that wasn't like, totally pathetic."

"Not totally, no," Max teased, placing her hand on the small of Chloe's back. "Now, you ready to move on? There's a whole boardwalk to check out and we've been kooked up in here for an hour and half." Chloe exhaled forcefully through her nose, then nodded.

"Yeah...I guess so," she said, her tone a bit defeated as they began walking out. "I wanted to win you something though." She smiled as she shook her head. "Whatever, their prizes suck anyway, right Max?" There was no answer and she noticed the girl's hand was gone from her back. "Max?" She turned around, her jaw falling slack at what she saw.

Max was pulling out what seemed to be never ending ropes of tickets from the bag she had slung over her shoulder, wiggling her hips mischievously as she very intentionally ignored Chloe. The man behind the counter spread them out over the glass surface and briefly began to count them before giving up with a 'fuck it' wave of his hand. Max touched her index finger to her lips in thought, then began pointing at different items.

"I want two of the Hawt Dog Man mugs, one of those jars of gummy bears, that little robot flashlight aaaaand..." She finally turned to Chloe, flashing a devilish grin. "Did you want anything, babe?" She walked over to Max, narrowing her eyes in a look that seemed to ask 'how dare you?'

"Uh..." She turned to look at the display in front of them. "Yeah, sure... Make it two jars of gummy bears. That pack of glowsticks, definitely. And I guess, do you have any of those sticky hand things that you can slingshot at people?" The man behind the counter nodded. "Cool, like five of those because apparently I need to sticky smack some sense into my girlfriend here."

Once they had gotten all they had asked for and Max stuffed them away into her tote bag, they headed toward the exit. But not before Chloe could pull her to the side and place a hand on the wall over Max's shoulder, pinning her there.

"Okay, but what-" She began to ask, but Max only smiled cockily as she pulled a bloody cloth from her pocket. Chloe frowned. "You made your nose bleed for this?"

"For the chance to leave you all tongue tied?" Max asked, slipping under Chloe's arm and making her way to the exit. "Absolutely."

The brightness of the day hit their eyes with a soft sting, burning away the adjustment they had made to the dimly lit arcade. As the intensity wore off, they were lifted by the lively atmosphere around them. In the distance, people could be seen scattered about on the beach. Some tossed a football around, some read beneath a parasol, some children closer to the water were crafting a rather intricate sand castle. The seagulls squawked overhead as they greedily awaited their chance to snatch unattended food. Max's hand reached for her camera.

She resisted for the moment, instead looking to her left and slowly taking in the activities and different shops along the boardwalk. She did the same to her right. Then, she focused on the girl standing beside her. She was wearing a black t-shirt, fitting loose enough that a bare shoulder was escaping through the collar, revealing the strap of her bathing suit top that was endearingly mismatched with the bottoms she had on. Her short blonde hair had grown out of that 'freshly cut' look that most people loathed, and now Max could appreciate how much it suited her. She didn't exactly like the reason for the change, but then again, it's not like that wasn't a common theme.

"Alright, so," Chloe said, plucking the sunglasses from the top of her head and slipping them on. "What's the plan? Get our swim on or buy some silly, airbrushed t-shirts?"

"Definitely airbrushed t-shirts, duh. Also, saltwater taffies. We have got to get some of those." She felt her lips tug up in a smile as Chloe wriggled their fingers together.

"And then," she said, pulling her shades down the bridge of her nose and peering over them playfully, "we can play otters vs. sharks."

"Yeah, that sounds good," Max giggled. She began to walk but stopped and spun around to Chloe. "No biting this time. We're in public."

True to her word, Max had gathered an impressive collection of saltwater taffies, meticulously picking out flavors so there would be an even amount of each. They stopped in a strange hybrid record/used book store and bought a few books that they could read to each other at night. Airbrushed t-shirts were purchased, each sporting pathetically generic phrases like 'surf's up!' and 'summer '14.' They made another round through the candy store, then bought some french fries to share as they finally decided to venture out onto the beach.

"So," Max began, looking down at her feet as her flip flops scooped up sand with each step, "I don't know about you but...the ocean kinda bugs me out a little now." An arm stretched across her chest, preventing her from going any further.

"Dude, thank god it's not just me," Chloe laughed. "I've been looking at those waves like..." She shook her head with a chuckle, "like, yeah, fucking try me." Max burst into laughter.

"So then why the hell are we both walking toward it!?" She asked, shifting her shoulder to prevent the tote bag from falling.

"Good question..." Chloe said, continuing down the beach. "I don't know, I thought you wanted to?"

"I thought you did!" Max pointed at a relatively spacious spot in the sand. "Let's set up there and then see if we can work up the courage to stick our feet in."

After a moment of frustration trying to lay their large towel out without the ocean breeze folding over the corners, the girls took their place next to each other and soaked in the sun. Max watched the waves roll in, crashing and sliding along the sand with a rhythmic gentleness. It was the first time she had really looked at the shore since Arcadia Bay, and the contrast in atmosphere was enough to make her head spin. She could almost see the tornado out in the water surrounded by thick, gray storm clouds. It was like changing the slide of a viewfinder from catastrophe to paradise. Back and forth, back and forth. Funny how that was a good summary of everything.

Chloe reclined flat onto her back, tilting her head to the side to nuzzle against Max's thigh. Just near them, a group of children were chasing each other, awkwardly stumbling in the sand. She couldn't help but smile at them, envying their innocence. That word...innocence. It still stung a bit. It morphed her train of thought dangerously as she found herself picturing those same kids screaming and running for shelter in a storm. She had to shake it off, so she dug into the bag and pulled out one the books they had bought. She tapped it against Chloe's stomach and received a nod, so she began to read. After a few chapters, Chloe sat up.

"Alright, I think the heat has beaten any creep factor from the ocean. I'm sweating like crazy." She stood up and yanked the t-shirt off, tossing it next to the tote. "You ready?" Max closed the book sighed.

"Yeah," she shrugged with only a little bit of nervousness, "let's do this."

With some trepidation, they reached the edge of the water, with Max letting go of a small 'brr' when the cold foam ran over their feet. Chloe grabbed her hand and walked a bit further, leading Max into the waves.

"It's fucking freezing!" Chloe shrieked cutely. Max snickered as she suctioned close to her, ducking under her arm and refusing to even let the possibility of them drifting away from each other become reality. A little deeper and they were up to just passed their waists.

"This isn't so bad," Max said quietly, lifting her feet up for a moment and bobbing downward, using Chloe's arm around her shoulders as added buoyancy. "I even missed the gross sea smell a little." Chloe smiled and pulled the girl into her arms, lowering herself and pushing Max higher.

"It's not bad at all," she said, then brought their lips together in a sweet kiss that was abruptly cut short. It was only a moment later, after they had resurfaced and began howling in laughter that they realized how strong the pull of the tide could be.

"...leave a message!"


You'll never believe what happened earlier! So, Chloe and I were at a park so I could take some pretty shots of the trees changing color, right? We brought lunch with us, so we decided to stop for a little bit and sat on this little bench overlooking the pond...and a family of bunnies actually came so close to us! I don't think we've ever been so still. It was so cute, there were two big ones and this little itty, bitty baby! I couldn't help it, I had to try and take a photo of them and they actually didn't scatter when I got the camera! It's one of my favorites I've ever taken! I think I've accidentally developed a penchant for nature shots, but who could blame me!?

Sorry, sorry, I just had to tell you. It feels great because I sort of fell into a rut with my photography again, but nothing brings out the artistic twitch like the beginning of autumn. Even after everything, October is still my favorite month. And you know I love Halloween, so seeing the decorations pop up in stores makes me so happy! Chloe and I even went into this costume shop and had a mini fashion shoot. There's this one I took where she's wearing this, like...oh my god, I'm laughing just thinking about it. There was this pink, glittery afro that she combined with those Groucho Marx glasses! I'll have to show you, you'll die.

As for our travels, it's been going pretty smoothly! Chloe seems to have fully warmed up to the new ride, but we've stuck with us taking shifts driving. I actually do kind of enjoy it! Especially zipping down the highway with the windows down just blasting music! Hehe, don't worry, before I get a lecture, I do drive the speed limit. But in some places it's really high!

Think we're going to settle down in a hotel a little later today, but at the moment we're about to go window shopping at this huuuuge mall. Chloe's so cute, she's always more interested in weird novelty shops and toy stores than places we probably should be shopping. I keep saying we should get one of those Keurig coffee makers but she only says it'd be like "pretend" coffee. What does that even mean?!

Oh, here she comes! Okay, time to go wistfully press my nose against glass because I want to buy everything ever! Call me back soon, I'd love to hear what you're up to!

"Yep, see, little towel animal," Chloe said, dipping her shoulder so the bag slipped onto the floor. She trotted over to the bed and scooped up the towel origami and held it out to Max. "It's a swan! We never got cute fabric animals when we were staying in ratty motels."

"That's true," Max said with a chuckle, lightly tapping the swan on the tip of its beak. "Although, that one place we stayed right on the border of Wyoming had pets!" Chloe scrunched her nose and placed the swan down on the nightstand.

"Yeah, how could I forget the cute, rabid rat in our shower." She plopped down onto the bed and took her shoes off. "I swear that thing was carrying the Black Death." Max rolled her eyes.

"Right, the epidemic that hasn't been an issue since the Middle Ages. Across the ocean. That's what was wrong with it." She laughed, then slowly let herself fall into Chloe, the girl catching her by the waist as they reclined onto the bed. "So," she said, then gave Chloe a quick kiss on the nose, "do you want to see what room service has to offer?"

"Yes, I'm starving. All I've had to eat today is half of your bubble tea." She pouted, then grinned. "Drink, whatever. You know what I mean."

"Alright, alright," Max snickered, getting to her feet and grabbing the menu off the small coffee table. "Oh, sorry, babe..." She gave Chloe a frown. "It doesn't look like they have any cheese to go with your whine."

"Bitch," Chloe laughed.

Chloe decided to take a quick shower while they waited for their food, so Max made herself comfortable by burrowing into the fluffy blankets on the bed. She switched the TV on, but her attention was refocused when she heard the water of the shower turn on. She stared at the door, imagining the scene that lie behind it.

Well...she didn't have to imagine too much.

Since the night of Chloe's haircut – she preferred to think of it that way and not as the night Chloe tried to leave – they hadn't exactly been strangers to sex. She still felt clumsy and awkward, but because of the connotation of their first time, every time since renewed a spark of security in her. An assurance that Chloe would stay. Sometimes she'd still have a sinking feeling when she woke up and Chloe wasn't next to her. In a matter of seconds, her brain would devise an elaborate scenario where her girlfriend had left in the night. She would roll over quickly, expecting a note on the pillow. Words that when reduced to their purest form only said 'I love you, but I can't do this anymore.'

So Max really liked those time when Chloe would come out of the shower and never bother putting clothes back on.

A voice from the television caught her attention.

"...Idaho and Nevada have officially joined the states issuing freedom of marriage, allowing same sex couples to marry. This brings the total to twelve states in just the past six months. It's clear the landscape of opinion is shifting across the country and..."

Max stared at the television, her eyes wide. For the most part, they had remained fairly disconnected from the world, especially in regards to politics. As far as they were concerned, they had more important things to worry about. Like catastrophic storms. She wasn't sure how to take the news. Even before Chloe, she was completely for same sex marriage and many other liberal policies, so part of her was just happy for the country to catch up on what she considered common sense. But...part of it hit her with a sort of melancholy. She hadn't thought much about it, but now the realization that she and Chloe could never expect to get married upset her. She changed the channel and slid further under the covers, waiting for her girlfriend to finish her shower.

"You're being a little quiet..." Chloe said, eying Max as she chewed on her cheeseburger. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Max replied. Chloe narrowed her eyes and set the burger down.

"You know you're bad at hiding it from me. What's wrong?" She placed her elbows on the table and leaned forward, as if physically offering her support. Max couldn't help but notice Chloe quickly grazing her fingers along the buzzed hair just above her ear. She had come to recognize it as a sign of nervousness. It was the first time she had seen her do it since re-dyeing it blue around a week ago. She had to admit, she was a little uncertain of Chloe's decision to redo it, but damn if it didn't seem like the girl could make any and all configurations of hairstyle seem gorgeous. She assumed the staff at the hotel they were staying at probably didn't appreciate it as much, what with the explosion of blue left in the sink and on their white towels.

"I don't know," Max sighed, realizing she had been quiet for a breath too long, "it's stupid. I saw on the TV that same sex marriages are being legalized in a bunch of places."

"That's...a bad thing?" Chloe asked, raising an eyebrow. The rest of her body seemed to relax.

"No, no," Max said. "It's great. It's about fucking time. But it's kind of made me realize how..." She exhaled through her nose, feeling a tinge of embarrassment. "How you and me can't really get married because of everything. I mean," she cringed, "I don't even know if you'd want to anyway, but it still kind of, I don't know, makes me sad. Just not even having the possibility?"

"Marriage..." Chloe said quietly, her uncertain tone making Max even more self-conscious. "I always kind of hated the idea of being tied down. Just like...I don't know, it seems so old fashioned." Max looked down at the floor, so Chloe lurched and caught her by the wrist. "Hey, hey," she said. "I'm talking about before you, obviously." Max raised her eyes until they met with Chloe's. The girl smiled wide. "And I'd say I'm anything but tied down, wouldn't you?" A fire lit around Max's heart, burning with warmth. Just hearing the words made her feel better.

"I guess that'll have to do," she said. She huffed with a chuckle when she realized she was tearing up and dragged a finger under her eyes. "And it is good in general. I'm glad all those people in Idaho and Nevada know, be able to make it official." Chloe cocked her head to the side.

"Nevada? Like...Vegas?" She asked. Max nodded. Chloe sat back a bit, her eyes darting around. She snickered. "Like where people have drive-thru weddings or get married by Elvis impersonators?"

"Yeah," Max laughed. "Can you imagine having your first dance to freakin' Hound Dog?" She tried to simulate the King of Rock's signature gyration. "A bad cover of it, no less. But still, people can do it however they please. Even if it's a drive-thru service, I still think it's kind of sweet." She picked up her now cold grilled cheese and chomped into it. When she looked back at Chloe, the girl was staring at her. She could almost feel the blue from her eyes reaching out, leaking into her soul.

"We could make the drive," Chloe whispered.

"What?" Max asked, all logic being scattered in her head.

"I'm saying," Chloe said, her voice finding its normal volume, "we could go. We're not that far. We wouldn't have to stay long or plan much out. We could go...get...married?" Max widened her eyes and stood up, looking down at her.

"Are you asking me to marry you?"

"Not very well," she replied with a nervous chuckle. "But...yes? Do you want to? I mean, Vegas would be pretty sick and I'm sure there's all these photos you could take and, and I mean if we get there and you decide you don't wa-"

Chloe wasn't sure how long she could keep talking, anxiously stumbling around reasons why they could go. It felt like her mouth could go on forever. Which is why she was extremely grateful that Max's lips shut her up. Max brought her hands to Chloe's cheeks, kissing harder and unashamed of the new batch of tears. She pulled away, leaving most of her breath in Chloe, so it was almost inaudible when she answered.


The night blurred from them, being swept away in a haze of excitement. In some way, after all they had been through, this seemed like their most insane plan yet. They often found themselves falling silent, only for it to be broken by a giddy, disbelieving laughter. They took turns asking each other 'are you sure' with varying degrees of uncertainty until it became more of a joke than doubt. Snuggled in bed, discussion began about when they would go through with it, if they should do it as soon as possible or wait a bit.

One of the side effects of their lifestyle was that they sometimes lost track of dates. They operated on their own schedule, so whatever the calendar had to say about it was often ignored. They maintained a vague idea of the month, but sometimes even that slipped away as for the first two weeks of August, they still thought it was July. Even both of their birthdays had snuck by them, which they both realized later and did their best to make up. So when they noticed it was the 7th of October, exactly one year since they had reunited and Max discovered her powers, the atmosphere became a little heavier.

"A year..." Max said quietly, unsure of how to feel. Despite everything, she would say without hesitation that meeting Chloe again had been the best thing that'd ever happened to her. But she couldn't simply ignore everything that came along with it. Neither of them could.

"I still remember almost hitting you with my truck," Chloe said with a contemplative snicker. "I thought my eyes had totally went rogue. I couldn't believe it." She rested her head on Max's shoulder. "Five years of nothing. Total radio silence. And then...poof! There you were, at the mercy of my shitty brakes."

"It couldn't have been an accident," Max said, turning onto her side and propping herself up on her elbow. "Think about it, the amount of coincidences..."

"Seems like fate, right?" Chloe asked. The question pierced through Max's heart as the image of her nightmare self stepped into her mind. She hadn't had any nightmares for a while, but it was a lingering presence. It made her think... If the other Max was so insistent on destiny and having things play out a very particular way, how could she possibly explain that week with a straight face?

"It was," Max said. "It had to be." She nibbled her lip as her thoughts drifted further through her memories. "It's almost been a year since the storm...the uh, first one."

"Just a few days..." Chloe closed her eyes. "It's felt like the fastest and longest year somehow all at once."

"You can say that again," Max said quietly.

"Or you could just rewind." Chloe chuckled, then a look of shock registered on her face. "Fuck, I have no idea why I said that. I'm sorry, it was a nervous joke, like..." She smirked when she saw that Max was smiling. "Did ya rewind?" She asked in a softer voice, bringing her face closer.

"I'm tempted, just to save you from that brief panic attack," Max said, touching their noses together. "I like your ill-timed jokes."

"Good, because clearly I have no control over them." They kissed, then Chloe let her head rest on the pillow. "Do you want to plan for Saturday? It could...we could try and stuff something good into that date. Balance it out a little bit."

Max could picture the storm. The way it carved through the waves. The way it dragged itself across Arcadia Bay like an eraser. She could picture Chloe's face when she tore the photo, the look of complete and utter incomprehension. And she remembered the one, loud and clear thought that flashed in her head like the scores of vacancy signs they had seen over the past year: You are all that matters to me.

"Saturday sounds perfect," she said.

"I expected more lights," Chloe said, leaning forward as she peered through the windshield.

"It's daytime, you weirdo," Max laughed. She looked back out the window, her jaw slacked in awe. "Look at this place, it's amazing."

"Sin City," Chloe said it with a lilt of silliness. "I mean, all things considered, sounds like our kind of place, eh?" Max turned toward her and smiled.

"Maybe a bit," she replied. She fell back into the seat, her smile growing even wider. "I can't believe we're going to do this!"

"Me either, but...I'm really happy we are." Chloe kept her eyes on the road, careful to stop and start with the bustling traffic. "We have a busy day ahead of us."

The first order of business was obtaining a marriage license. As they had expected, the clerk's office was packed with couples eager to get their own licenses. One of the things they noticed was how much younger they seemed to be than most of the other people. Max wondered if others looked at them with judgment, if they may have thought they were too young to be jumping into marriage.

All of the bursting excitement the girls had leading up to this moment was stifled during their wait. And they were still just young enough to have a sense of 'ugh' at the fact that all this was going to result in was boring paperwork. After an hour and a half, they were finally able to fill out their forms. With the last stroke of the pen, the fervor was renewed. Max held it up and grinned wide, swaying side to side in bliss. As they left the building, Chloe scooped her up in a hug, lifting her off the ground. The first step toward marriage was complete.

With the licenses sorted, they decided to check in to the hotel. As they pulled up to the enormous building, Chloe's smile faded into a straight line.

"Do you think this is overdoing it a bit?" She asked. Though Chloe had grown used to their...unique financial situation, there was always the soft echo of wishing Max didn't have to use her powers for it. Max stared through the window, as if wondering the same thing herself. Finally, she turned toward her and shrugged, releasing a small smile.

"We're celebrating," she said. "We...we can splurge a little. The next three days are ours to do whatever we want." Chloe beamed at that response.

"If you're cool with it, then so am I," she said. She began to laugh as a man sporting a red shirt approached the vehicle. "This is fucking wild." She noticed how he looked over the car with a bit of confusion, then shrugged as he rounded to the driver's side. She rolled down the window.

"Welcome to the Bellagio," he said with the kind of chipper voice in desperate search for tips. Chloe turned to look at Max and chuckled as she shook her head. She turned back toward the valet.

"Why thank you," she replied with a singsong-y voice.

"Jesus Christ," Chloe bellowed as she opened the door to their suite. She spun around toward Max, her eyes crazed as quiet clicks meant to be words escaped her throat. She gripped Max firmly by the wrist and tugged her into the room. "This is crazy!" She hunched down in alert. "Holy shit, did my voice just echo?"

It truly was luxurious, with a living area that was three times bigger than their most dire motel room. The bedroom, still massive, was tucked away at the far end of the room. Max looked around her in awe.

"Okay, maybe this is definitely overdoing it," she said. "But it is..."

"Hella incredible!? Yes!" Chloe screeched with joy. She picked Max off of the ground in a hug. "This is the fuckin' Ritz, I can't even believe it." She felt a tap on her shoulder. "Yes, darling?"

"Chloe, turn around." Max's voice was numbed. Chloe did as she was told, of course not letting Max down first, and gasped. She slowly plodded over to the wall sized window and took in the view of a sleeping Vegas. She felt a hand lightly slap against the back of her head.

"Now I can't see," Max complained. With a chuckle, Chloe set her down and they both turned back to take in the view. Below them, the Bellagio fountains twisted and danced in intricate patterns. "Holy shit," she whispered.

"It's like magic..." Chloe pressed her palms against the window. "Okay, this is amazing." She pulled away from the glass and cast her gaze left and right. "I swear, this feels like the biggest room in the world." Max smiled and took her by the hand, leading her away from the window.

"As much as I want to drool over our new digs, we should probably set our stuff somewhere and then get to the store." She looked around her longingly. "We will have plenty of time to get acquainted with our small palace." Chloe giggled and nodded.

"You're right, you're right. I'll take a quick shower and then we can find a ring to put on it." She pointed at Max's hand. "You know, because I like it." She tugged her shirt over her head and let the fabric fall onto the floor, then headed to the bathroom.

"Uh, hey, Beyonce?" Max called after her. Chloe turned around with a knowing look in her eye. Playing the part, Max adopted a fake shyness about her, tucking her hands behind her back and twisting her hips uncertainly. "I was just thinking maybe we could make better use of our time if we shared the shower." Chloe's eyes looked up for a moment as she tapped her finger to her chin.

"I suppose if we wanted to make the most of our stay," she said, nodding as if it were a good addition to academic discussion. Then she broke into a warm smile. "Let's christen this bad boy!"

Anyone with eyes could see how out of place and lost the girls were as they stood in the jewelry store, nervously smiling at each other and then gazing at the display case full of rings. Max had originally brushed the idea of getting wedding bands off, knowing that they weren't needed and assuming Chloe would be apathetic at best toward it. However, when she voiced this, Chloe acted incredulous. 'Of course we're going to get rings!' she had said, like even the suggestion that they wouldn't was pure insanity. Max liked that even after all this time, her girlfriend...fiance...was still able to surprise her in the most pleasant ways.

"Can I help you?" A woman asked them from behind the counter, knocking them both out of their confused revery.

"Uh, yeah..." Chloe said, pulling her eyes up slowly from the glistening metals. She slipped her arm around Max's waist. "I'm going to marry this thing and we need rings so it's all official and shit." The woman gasped in excitement and clapped her hands together.

"Oh, congratulations!" She said with a surprising amount of authenticity. "That's so exciting! Did you two have anything in particular in mind?"

"No," Max chuckled. "We're actually pretty clueless." She looked up at Chloe. "Any ideas?"

"My..." Chloe stopped and her brows knit together in thought. "My mom and dad just had these really simple, gold rings. Nothing crazy about them." She took a slow breath, gracefully trying to move through thoughts of her parents. "I always liked them. They weren't gaudy or flashy. They weren't even particularly shiny. It was almost like they 'said' more because of that?" She allowed herself a brief laugh. "Maybe that sounds stupid." Max leaned into the girl.

"No, that sounds perfect," she said. She looked back at the saleswoman. "Let's look at ones like that."

"Fantastic!" The woman said. "It's a classic look, some of the more en vogue pieces these days are a little too elaborate for my taste." She began to slip away, heading off to collect some more rings from the back. She turned back around briefly with a dorky smile. "Golden bands, should I hold off on the Tolkien Black Speech inscription?" It was clear she was proud of sneaking the joke in, her face showing signs of 'aren't I cool?'

"Yes," Chloe snickered. "I'm kind of full up on ominous prophecies these days." The saleswoman laughed haughtily, pleased with the response, and disappeared into the back room.

Chloe slowly bobbed her head along with the music, her hand attached to Max's as it twitched with the rhythm every so often. The car was dark and had been silent save for the slow ballad eking through the speakers. The track was from a CD they had bought together. They still had a sturdy respect for the radio, but they each missed their own music preferences. And like with all things, now it wasn't about Max's style or Chloe's style. It was about their style. They faded into and through each other, sharing secrets, passions, tastes, desires and fears until all were stitched together into one cohesive being.

Which is partly why the small building, plain with its brick exterior, cheap windows and damaged roof looked like an extravagant palace to her. Inside is where she and Chloe, under their own terms, in defiance of fate itself, would be married. She looked down at the two jewelry boxes in her lap, her lips tugging up in a small smile. She thoughtfully swiped a thumb over the top of one of the cases and lost herself in the feel of the velvet material. How many times through her life had she dreamt of this day? Yet now, all of the most elaborate and grandiose scenarios she ever imagined paled in comparison to the feel of Chloe's fingers nestled between hers and the melodic darkness around them. She hadn't noticed that Chloe was staring at her.

"Hey," she said, her eyes shining with the weight of sweetness. "What's in your head, honey?" Max snuggled into the warmth of the pet name. The stereo continued its calm serenade, breathing the words '...and I wish for one more day to give my love and repay debts, but the morning finds our bodies washed up thirty miles west' into the air. There was something about the way the darkness draped over Chloe. It didn't really obscure her, instead highlighting her in a way that felt like it was only for Max's eyes to see.

"You," she responded simply with a light and quiet laugh. Chloe's expression fell into one of unmeasured love as she brought Max's knuckles to her lips. After another beat of silence, she looked at the clock.

"Wanna go get married?" She asked, the tone of her voice struggling between the sedative effects of a heart gone mad and the creeping wave of excitement.

"I do," Max replied.

"Oh hey," Chloe gave an open mouthed smile, "you're practicing!"

Max wondered how many other couples looked around at the bland room with the same amount of appreciation she did. The dull gray carpet, the waiting room chairs clearly bought in bulk, the infomercial vacuum cleaner leaned against the wall with its chord haphazardly looped around all felt just right. She wondered if other couples came in with the same sense of awe or if maybe most of them merely thought of it as a building of last resort. Or, if the stain in the carpet was any indicator, a place where mostly drunk people came to celebrate something they wouldn't remember in the morning. Silently, she hoped they were all lucky enough to feel the way she did.

The chapel was run by an elderly couple and it showed in their speech. There was a sort of affectionate nagging in their dialogue, sometimes punctuated with irritated shouting. The wife would be busy in another room and he'd yell for her, receiving an annoyed 'what?!' in response. Then he'd yell louder and she'd come out with whatever it is he asked her for. It sounded harsh on Max's ears, but in a way, she found it endearing. They reminded her of her own grandparents and she assumed that maybe this was just how love evolved. That thought became even stronger when she saw the way they looked at each other. Even if their voices were loud, almost aggressive, the silent acknowledgment in their eyes said much more than words could.

The man was truly great at his job, summoning up such a potent flair of enthusiasm that Max had wondered if he used to be in show business. He rapidly went through questions, beginning a new one before either Max or Chloe even had the chance to nod or shake their heads. He asked if they wanted to wear any of the rental formal clothing they had available, which earned a squawk of laughter from Chloe and timid 'no, thank you' from Max. The woman seemed a bit disappointed, then mumbled something about how she thought they would look lovely in the dresses they had. With a few more questions, he nodded happily and led them through a small hallway into the ceremony room.

For most of the day, they had managed to sneak by memories of the Arcadia Bay storm, but nothing was as strong a reminder as the rows of empty pews they passed by. They both felt it, the crushing presence of emptiness on what should be a day brimming with family and friends. Simultaneously, their hands felt for each other and locked together. The man pointed at two spots on the ground, and they each stood in one of them. He rubbed his hands together excitedly.

Max looked out at the pews again, the weight pulling her heart further down into her ribs. She could almost picture all the faces that should be there. She felt a flutter in her stomach and, without really thinking about it, constructed something like a prayer in her mind. Just something quick and sweet. The hope that in a way, everyone that should be, was there in one way or another. They deserved that much. Not for her and Chloe to gleefully dance on their graves while they promised themselves to each other, but to acknowledge the chain of events that led them to where they were.

"You know," the man said with a bit of a smirk, "you ladies are the first couple I've had since the new law went through. It's quite exciting!" The woman took a seat in the center of the first pew. "My Annabelle there will be your witness tonight," he said, gesturing at her. In response, she smiled warmly and waved. The man took his glasses off and replaced them with another pair that had been resting in his coat pocket, then he cleared his throat. "Now, if you're ready?"

"I'm ready," Chloe said, and for just a moment she had the kind of smile you would never believe ever witnessed anything horrible.

"Me too," Max added more softly with a twist of feelings working through her stomach. The man gave a nod.

"We are gathered here today..." he began.

His words continued on and Max took each of them in, though her focus had narrowed considerably on the girl in front of her. The vast depths of her oceanic eyes. The way her lips kept separating slightly, revealing a small flash of ivory teeth in an eager smile before closing again. The recklessness of her recently re-blue'd hair with the blonde sides. The beautiful squall of color slipping from under her rolled up sleeve. The pale throat begging for Max's lips. The way her chest rose and fell with precious breaths. The way she was always just a little bit taller...

And suddenly, what felt like hundreds of memories all bloomed her in mind at once:

A very young Chloe introducing herself at the beginning of grade school. The first smile she had ever given Max had a large gap where one of her front teeth should have been.

The first sleepover either of them had ever had. They both promised neither of them would dare fall asleep as they took advantage of this magical new experience. A promise they of course both broke.

Chloe chasing Max on the beach, handfuls of sand cocked and ready to be thrown in retaliation for Max teasing her.

Standing by the lighthouse in pirate costumes, gazing out over the water with determination in their eyes. They held ownership over the crest of every wave. Each strand of wind was theirs. The sun, bleeding bright in the horizon, was a treasure they would someday hold in their hands as they laughed victoriously. They promised they'd do it together.

Walking through the woods with Chloe pointing at every little thing and asking 'would that be a good picture?' The way she made Max carry her phone when they explored because it had a better camera, and the one time in particular when they found a bird's nest tucked idyllically within vein-like branches. 'You're going to be so famous!' Chloe had shouted.

Chloe's raw, red eyes cracking open with fresh tears as Max explained she had to move away from her. Each word of struggled apology drove deeper into Chloe's heart as circumstances beyond their control tore them apart, leaving a fractured bone of friendship hanging twisted from its socket. Max promised she'd keep in touch. They could be best friends no matter how far apart they were. She didn't break the promise. Broken wouldn't do it justice. She hid it away out of sight, left to slowly wither into nothing.

The look of complete and utter shock on Chloe's face as her truck screeched to a halt in the Blackwell parking lot five years later. The desperate attempt to not stare at her as they drove to her house, to not gape at the drastic change in her appearance. Her ears burning as Chloe grilled her about her return, about how she left her all alone. Her cheeks burning because she found her so pretty.

Walking along the train tracks, their hands holding tightly to each other under the guise of maintaining balance. Max was sure she could follow the tracks forever so long as they never broke contact. The way they sat down in the tracks and talked of ominous things with a mythic casualness. Max's head felt like it was being crushed as she rewound again and again, the cold hand of dread squeezing her throat while she watched the train glide down the weathered rails. How after narrowly avoiding calamity, she felt exhausted and sore, worried her powers may not last. And how she forgot all of that when Chloe responded 'that's okay, we will...forever.'

The unruly heartbeat in her chest when Chloe undressed at the Blackwell pool, fearless and bold with a world on her shoulders. Max's hesitation at joining her, feeling the magnetic pull of something she couldn't quite place. The water was warm and comfortable as it suspended them in quiet compliments and childlike playfulness. Chloe promising that she would never leave her. How Max promised they would find Rachel, even if it led to the destruction of those strange, happy feelings she couldn't figure out. A promise she would later wish she had broken.

Her voice breathy and shocked as she asked 'what?' Chloe stared back at her with that eyebrow slightly raised, smirk painted on the lips she had just dared Max to kiss. The look that made her seem like mischief incarnate. The feel of her lips when Max found the courage to take her up on the dare and the quick flash of uncertainty when Chloe pulled away. The devastating feeling of losing her balance and falling hopelessly in love when Chloe told her she better not rewind the kiss.

When she felt the needles of hurt, piercing her all over when Chloe violently shattered at the revelation of Rachel and Frank's secret relationship. The wind being knocked out of her forcefully as, without any powers of her own to speak of, Chloe was the one to rewind the kiss, erasing its significance and replacing it with an assembly line that spat out question mark after question mark.

Chloe broken in a wheelchair, greeting Max with the most innocent smile she had ever seen. There was a painful absence of blue in her hair as two rods held her head still. They rested on the beach, Chloe calmly speaking as Max held down the enraged scream trying to escape her soul. Her fingernails disappeared in a matter of hours, torn and bitten from their home in anxiousness. They watched Blade Runner, the quiet hum of a pump contracting meshing with the on screen visuals. They both promised neither of them would dare be the first to fall asleep. A promise that was betrayed. In the soft glow of morning, Chloe asked Max to help her die and for the briefest of moments, she wanted to ask it right back. Her insides were torn to shreds as the life slipped from Chloe, the girl only barely able to ask that Max not forget her. She promised she never would.

Chloe was sitting at her desk, working on her laptop when Max surrendered entirely to that magnetic pull, throwing her arms around her in jubilance. Her knees buckled as she hugged her, savoring the girl's shape and how it fit perfectly within her embrace. They played detective, solving clues and surviving interrogations. Despite their mission, Chloe shot Max flirtatious looks and made small jokes here and there that only served to further tangle the one mystery Max couldn't begin to decipher.

They couldn't have known what awaited them in The Dark Room. There was nothing that could have prepared them for the pristine, calculated order of a room bubbling with chaos. The blood red of the binders, each marred with the name of a victim, destroyed the last morsel of the pirate clad innocence they had each worked so hard to hold on to. The disbelief in Chloe's voice reached for Max's ears, settling into them with a frigid bite. They moved in a blur, one moment staring at the photo of Rachel lying doll-like in the junkyard, the next running toward that same spot, covered over with oil stained grass. The way her fingers jammed when she first dug them into the dirt, sending sparks of pain through her knuckles. An indescribable smell attacked her nostrils, making her eyes water. The way her best friend, the person she was almost positive she loved, collapsed in despair, howling with an agony that came from somewhere deep and sacred.

There was sharp sting in her neck and right after, her legs gave out. She twitched her fingers, trying with her rapidly receding consciousness to banish the moment from reality. When she could tell it wasn't going to work, she called out for Chloe. Her senses became dull as the mechanical roar of waves filled her ears, but the bang still snapped with thunder. She watched Chloe's head jerk backward as a hole opened up. Then the rest of her body followed, toppling toward the earth as the three bullets on her necklace reached desperately for the moon. Her body thudded on top of Rachel's grave. Max only saw the beginning moments of her blood begin to surround her head before she fell onto her back. Jefferson, her favorite teacher, glared down at her with something rotten in his eyes. And even through that terrible reveal, the betrayal that would later wrack her bones, all she could do was mutter Chloe's name before she fell into blackness.

The long, harrowing journey through time as she ripped apart all that 'should' or 'would' happen in a fierce battle for 'could.' She destroyed the foundation of reality, crossing timeline after timeline as she promised to herself that she wouldn't stop until Chloe was safe. Nothing else mattered.

The instantaneous shift in Chloe's expression when Max began to cry, holding herself together as she explained her experience in The Dark Room. The way that Chloe's voice marched upon the peaks of wrath one moment, then was broken and wounded the next. How triumphant Max felt when she was able to take her by the hand and lead her away from death once more. Max stepped back into her body on the beach and threw herself into Chloe's arms. She felt safer in that moment than any before, even with the storm roaring before them.

She listened to the caustic words coming from a sinister reflection of herself, held captive in what she would later find out was only the first of many nightmares. She tried to reason with herself against the many hellish claims, but it was when the other Max asked her if she truly believed Chloe held feelings for her that she began to lose her footing. Only moments before, she had watched Chloe flirt with other people and mock her incessantly. It ached more than anything. And then Chloe walked in with that casual swagger that would later become hypnotic present in her hips. She attacked the other Max viciously, seething at the suggestion that their bond was false.

The way the freezing rain sank straight through her skin to her bones as she watched a monster fall onto Arcadia Bay, brandishing its scythe-like winds in fury. Chloe spoke passionately, rallying against the wind with determination before hitting an uncomfortable patch of silence. That silence was louder than anything else. And then she handed her the photograph of the butterfly. The way Chloe's words played intricately on the strings of persuasion, insisting Max go back and let her die on cold tiles, unaware of all that had happened. quickly the two halves of the photo were taken by the wind as Max made her decision, leaving her hands empty until Chloe took one of them. 'I'll always be with you,' Chloe promised. 'Forever,' Max vowed in return.

"Max," the minister said with a gentleness in his voice, "will you take this ring and place it upon Chloe's finger?" She nodded slowly. There was a soreness in her cheeks from smiling so long. Chloe held out her hand and Max, shaking only a little, slid the ring onto her finger. She cleared her throat, ready to speak the short vow she had come up with in the car.

"I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow that I will always protect you and love you until the end of time. Forever," Max said. Her voice fluctuated as she saw Chloe begin to cry, realizing that she herself already had been. When she removed her hands from Chloe's, she felt a little bit of herself stay there.

"Chloe," the man said, "will you take this ring and place it upon Max's finger?" Chloe nodded enthusiastically and flailed one of her hands as she searched for the ring. She carefully fit it around the brunette's finger, just as Max had done to her.

"I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow that I will always stay by your side and love you through...clear skies and stormy weather..." Her nostril flared as she suppressed a quick snicker, mocking herself a bit for the on the nose cheesiness. She rocked her head back and forth for a moment, then grinned. "Yeah, no, I think that sounds good," she said quietly. She stared deep into Max's eyes. "Always," she stressed.

"And so these rings are forged not only by metal, but by the vows of love they represent," the man said. "Tonight, you begin on a new path paved with trust and unending devotion. It's with great pleasure that I can say, by the powers vested in me by the state of Nevada, I now pronounce you married. You..." He casually pointed at each of them with a smirk, "may kiss the bride."

They remained still, staring at each other. The words resounded through their heads, each reiteration louder and clearer to ring in the truth. They did it. They were married. Against all odds, they had fought against the tides of fate and could now claim victory. The man cleared his throat and chuckled.

"Girls," he said with a knowing smile, and they both turned to him. "You can kiss now!"

"Oh! Fuck!" Chloe stammered, laughing as she shook herself free from thought. She took a step toward Max and placed her hands on her waist. Max reciprocated by slipping her arms around Chloe's neck. She trembled as her back arched, angling her lips to meet Chloe's. She experienced her all at once, each of her senses inflamed as she breathed in the first kiss from her wife.

At 2AM, Las Vegas had officially risen from its slumber in a frenzy of color. Grandiose buildings lined the Strip like ribs as it rose and fell with breath containing both vices and celebration alike. Noise spilled from every direction, rushing out into the streets and filling the night sky. It was madness, with enough stimulus to paint the world in lunacy. Max and Chloe sat together on a small wall in a parking lot, silent as they nibbled on their fast food meals.

It wasn't bad, though. The silence between them didn't hurt like many of the ones before it. It was complacent, sitting with them peacefully as a welcome guest. Though it was by no means cold, a chill did take root in the absence of the sun, so Max took refuge in Chloe's slightly oversized jacket. Each time she reached down for a french fry, she stared at the ring on her finger and felt the jacket get just a little warmer.

After the ceremony, Annabelle offered them tea and cookies. They stayed there for another hour, listening intently to the couple's various stories of memorable weddings, whether it was for pleasant reasons or disastrous ones. They eventually even began to tell of their own relationship and how they had just celebrated their 50th anniversary. It felt good when the man, Clark, told them with assurance that he believed they would live a wonderful life together. He could 'just tell.' Before they left, his wife asked if they wouldn't mind getting a photo taken for a personal scrapbook she kept. She said they were honored to have Max and Chloe as their first same sex wedding and wanted to mark the occasion. They of course said yes, though not without a second of hesitation from Max.

"David would have been sobbing," Chloe said with a light snicker that politely bid farewell to the silence. Max looked at her, though Chloe still stared out over the Strip. "Bet you. He would have been a bubbling mess. He always seemed like the type to have a hidden soft spot." She turned to Max with a thoughtful smile. "Don't you think?"

"Absolutely," Max responded. Chloe pinched her ring with two fingers and twisted it.

"Mom would be a mess too, of course," Chloe continued. "I can just picture her gently dabbing a tissue under her eyes so she wouldn't fuck up her makeup." She mimicked the gesture, daintily touching her fingertips just below her eyes. Max laughed and drew one leg beneath her.

"Imagine when I call my parents and tell them," she said. "That's going to be a loooong conversation." Chloe returned the laughter, nodding as she picked up her drink.

"Let me know when you do that so I can hide." She took a slow sip, then looked up at the sky. "Rachel would have threatened murder if we didn't let her be the flower girl." It had been a long time since Max heard Chloe say that name. She repositioned the bag of food and scooted closer. "Maybe she would have even come with Frank? Jesus, I can't even imagine him dressed up. He'd have to bring Pompidou too, obviously. I wonder if pets are allowed in the chapel if they're part of the wedding party?" She spoke calmly, even smiling, but there was no doubt a somberness in her tone.

"They were there," Max said, resting her head on Chloe's shoulder. "We brought them with us in our memories. Our...our memories can't be taken from us. If you ask me, that room was packed with people."

"I think so too," Chloe replied. Then, she grinned, her disposition lifting considerably. "Hey," she whispered into Max's ear, "we're fucking married." Max beamed and squeezed the girl in a hug.

"We're married," she repeated in her own whisper. Chloe repositioned herself so that she straddled the wall, a leg hanging over each side. She darted forward and pecked Max on the nose. Max giggled, then her eyes fell half-lidded as she looked over her wife. "I love you," she said.

"I love you," Chloe said back, gently running her fingers through Max's long hair. Before she could pull her hand away, Max turned her head and kissed her palm. Chloe stopped and regarded her curiously, culminating in a devious look. "It's our honeymoon," she said. Never a flag-bearer for subtlety, her insinuation was obvious. She moved in again, gliding passed Max's cheek and kissed her neck instead. Max let a light sigh escape her lips as her hand gripped Chloe's shirt tightly. When Chloe broke the kiss, sitting up straight with that playful mischief in her eyes, Max was struck again by her otherworldly beauty. She just couldn't believe that there she was, sitting at the pulsing center of the City of Lights, lucky enough to have the brightest of them all lean toward her and whisper silkily in her ear, 'race ya to the hotel room.'

The honeymoon started with a dash of literalism, with a golden, honey soaked moon dangling in the pitch black sky as Max and Chloe lost themselves in the tempest of sheets. Much like the actual act of getting married, Max had wondered if this fabled, wedding night consummation would live up to the fairytale status the world at large seemed to regard it with. After only a few minutes of heavily breathing together, in sync like one tide crashing and fading, she was quite pleased to find both experiences had lived up their dazzling reputation.

It wasn't clear how much time had passed before they found themselves staring at the ceiling, panting and alive with invisible fingerprints staining their bodies. Surprisingly little was said between them as the moon slipped away from their window, gently draping a full darkness over them like an extra blanket. There were quiet words exchanged, half noises that pulled their limbs like puppet strings. A whispered 'muh' brought Chloe's arms around Max. A breathy giggle sent Max's feet tangling through Chloe's legs, warming and cooling each other as was needed. This carried on for some time, their bodies rearranging and bending but never breaking contact completely. Eventually, they both fell into the comfort of sleep.

Hours later, the sun protested their slumber, pounding through their eyelids impatiently. Chloe stirred first, placing a hand over her eyes to defend herself from the daylight. There was an unmistakable cool touch of metal on the bridge of her nose, which hastily drew a smile to her face. Eyes open, she raised her hand above her and marveled at the ring on her finger. She heard a sleepy gust of laughter from beside her.

"Wasn't a dream," Max said, her eyes unable to hold themselves more than a third the way open. "You really did hitch your wagon to me. Any..." She stared at her intently, "morning after regrets?" Her smile widened, already knowing the answer. Chloe feigned an unsure look.

"Now that you mention it..." She began, her eyes focused down into the bed. Max gasped and bounded from the mattress onto her elbow.

"Oh really?" She asked, her eyebrows raised in expectancy. Chloe had trouble holding the look for much longer, electing instead to crumble under the temptation of giddiness. She flipped to her side, flashing a small smile that held an avalanche of lovely feelings she couldn't quite word and remained quiet. Max smirked at her. "That's more like it." She fell back into the bed and moved closer, resting her head on Chloe's chest. A quiet, single syllable of laughter burst from Chloe's chest, through her lips.

"You ever get used to a really strange situation and it just kind of becomes the norm, but every so often you remember how fucking crazy it is?" She asked, not looking anywhere in particular. Max snorted.

"You know who you're asking, right?" She replied. That brought a longer laugh out of Chloe.

"Okay, fair enough," she said. "But, I mean..." She raised her head enough to gaze around the room for a moment, then let it crash back into the pillow. "We're married. We're in a fucking penthouse suite at an extremely wealthy hotel in one of the most notorious cities in the world." She absentmindedly fluffed the sheets up. "We're both very naked." Her smiled restricted a bit, but was still there. "Pushing all of the shit to the side for just a sec, this is..."

"Amazing." Max finished the sentence for her, though they both knew no word could adequately describe it. Chloe nodded contentedly. "Plus," she began with a tone that wore the mischief usually used by her wife, "we have today and tomorrow to really celebrate. A short honeymoon, sure, but we still get one."

"Oh ho," Chloe said with wide eyes. "That sounds wonderfully dangerous. We've got the keys to Pandora's Box!" She snickered with impish delight. Max scrunched her nose.

"Different comparison," she suggested, though it may as well have been a command. Chloe nodded again, this time with a slight wince in her cheeks.

"We can go a little crazy," she explained with a direct tone, a smile building on her face that seemed to ask if this avenue was better. "Have fun. You know what I mean!" Max relented with a soft chuckle.

"I know what you mean," she said. "Just keeping you on your toes." She nestled herself further into the warmth of the bed. "Anything in particular you'd like to do? We can try to make sure it gets done before we need to leave." Chloe thought it over.

"There's something funny about how useless gambling would be, since that is kind of the main draw." She flitted her hand dismissively. "Which is fine, of course. It's boring. We could go see a show or just explore a little bit. You know, see where the day takes us." Her voice naturally romanticized the thought. A low gurgle sounded off in her stomach, and she clapped her hands on it as if it'd quiet it down. "Or first things first, we get some breakfast."

"I'm pretty starving," Max admitted. "Maybe this place has a buffet with ambrosia and nectar." She pulled herself into a sitting position. "As much as I'm paying..." She began with a fake grumble. Chloe burst into laughter.

"I know, honey," she said with mock sympathy. "You're paying through the nose for this whole thing." Max grinned and stood up from the bed, realizing the accidental brilliance in the words.

"Literally," she snickered, tapping herself on the side of her nose. "At least we know the tissue manufacturers will never go bankrupt."

As was to be expected, the buffet didn't disappoint. In the process of their meal, which they consumed ravenously, they drew attention from some of the other customers. Max assumed it was because, though they didn't necessarily look haggard, there was a noticeable contrast between them and the other patrons. They had received a similar look a few times as they wandered around the hotel and now found it fun to play on other people's curiosity. They would make grandiose gestures or quick comments about how nice everything was, enough to feed the overall question of 'how did they afford this place?'

After their breakfast, they decided to start off their little vacation with a bit of photography. Max had wanted to do two passes of the Strip, using the first to take photos of the touristy bits that everyone captured. Things like the eccentric, themed buildings or the gorgeous smattering of fountains. She almost felt the urge to mock herself for feeding into the tourist culture, but thought fuck it, what happens in Vegas...

But it was the second trip around the Strip that actually had her excited. When nature didn't seem to force itself into her lens, she found great pleasure in the unconventional. Instead of creating an image around a subject, she preferred to create one where none was obvious. Sometimes she'd even close her eyes and point the camera, insisting that whatever it aimed would be her newest photo. It was almost a way to keep her sharp. Where some people did crosswords and others Sudoku, she tested her photographer's eye. Chloe added her own flair as well, sussing out interesting possibilities or new angles to approach something. She herself had grown quite good at picking shots out. After a few hours of hunting, Max resolved to do one final pass at night when the city's colors were in full effect.

They spent the rest of the day milling about rather thoughtlessly, but it wasn't with lack of enthusiasm. It was more a matter of being there together, experiencing the world around them without the iron weight of reality in their spines. They even found themselves back at the chapel from the night before, enjoying the company of Clark and Annabelle. It was a silent agreement between the two of them that it just felt kind of nice to be able to interact in a meaningful way with other people for a change.

It was around midnight when they decided to go for a ride on the High Roller, an enormous Ferris wheel that provided an incredible view of the Strip and all that surrounded it. Each cabin was large enough to fit a couple dozen people, but the particular one they found themselves in had less than ten other passengers. Chloe had suggested it as a simple bit of fun, but they quickly found themselves lulled into the wondrous atmosphere as the cabin climbed higher into the air.

"Wow," Chloe said quietly, standing so close to the glass that her breath fogged it up. The brilliant array of lights spilled away from them as they soared higher. "I thought this would be kind of whatever's actually awesome." She grew contemplative. "We're really small." Max stepped close beside her and held her hand. "I think that's what's always so crazy about these big things. Like when we went to the Grand Canyon. Or...or...I don't know. We're so tiny." She craned her neck a bit to see a particular cluster of lights. "Isn't it weird how every human is born with this idea that in some small way, they're the center of the universe? Not even in a shitty way, it's just part of our makeup. And..." She focused her attention on another spot as Max watched her. "And we seek assurance that it's not true, even when we know it isn't. So we look at the stars...we stand in really high up places... Secretly, we want to know that all we are is tiny." Max looked on, taking note of how the cold colors of the cabin and the reflective sprawl of colors below painted halos around Chloe.

"Beautiful," she said. Chloe turned to her and seemed like she was about to agree, but grew a blush visible even in the darkened cabin when she realized Max was looking only at her. With a bit of a victorious smirk, Max faced the window. "You know...people are tiny, like, on a cosmic scale. But they're not tiny to other people. Sometimes a person can be a universe for another." She leaned toward the glass and breathed with a divine gentleness. "I think that's what makes everything so confusing and special. It's about perspective." She gestured to the city below them, then slid her finger through the fogged glass in the shape of a heart. She turned to Chloe, who was wide-eyed, and smiled. "Trust me, I know these things. I'm a photographer."

The next afternoon, the girls found a spot on a restaurant patio to have a nice lunch. Chloe narrowed her eyes as she pointed at the food in front of her.

"This is really fucking good," she said. She jabbed her fork into a clump of vegetables and reached across the table so it hovered in front of Max's face. The girl leaned forward and chomped, immediately offering a satisfied look. "I know, right?" Chloe leaned back in her chair and cast her gaze down the Strip. "I'm kind of getting used to this place." She chuckled, then flitted her hand when a slight frown etched itself in Max's features. "No, no, I don't mean in a sad 'we can't stay here' kind of way. Just that this has been nice, you know?"

"I know," Max replied, still fighting off the sullen look. Then she smiled. "I'm sure we'd get bored of it sooner or later." She gathered some of her own food on her fork and offered it to Chloe. "We still have a little while before we need to leave. Let's find something fun to do." She thought for a moment. "And Annabelle did say she was going to be making her 'famous' banana bread today. Sounded like an invitation to me."

"Aww, yeah," Chloe said, nodding her head as she chewed. "It'd be nice to have a proper goodbye with them." She smiled wide. "Is it weird that we're hanging out with an old couple so much?" Max's brow furrowed as she shrugged.

"Maybe? I don't fuckin' know. What isn't weird these days?" Her tone was playful, avoiding the dire inflection the statement could have easily slipped into. Chloe laughed in response, then tilted her head up to look into the sky.

"Seagulls," she muttered. "Are they still seagulls if we're not near the coast? They should really just call them trash birds. I think it's more fitting." She shifted into a thoughtful demeanor, then gave a tiny smile. "I really don't mind it," she said quietly. "It reminds me of home."

After they finished their meal, they discussed possibilities on what they could do on their last day in Vegas. They had decided for certain to visit the chapel one last time, and also weighed the possibility of trying to catch one of the famous shows that were routinely put on. Chloe seemed particularly interested in the antics of the Blue Man Group, and adopted a somewhat robotic dancing motion that she continued even as they left the patio, stopping only to poke Max and direct her attention to a group of very clearly drunk people.

"What...time is it?" Max asked, gazing up at the sun. Chloe tried to keep her laughter quiet.

"According to them, about five." She gently grasped Max's elbow and pulled her out of the way of people walking by. "Look at that guy," she whispered, nodding her head in his direction. "He is fuuuuucked up. Looks like he's about to shamble out onto the street." Max put a hand over her mouth to catch her laughter, but the color drained out of Chloe's face. She looked back and forth between the stumbling man and the busy road, watching how the distance between the two was disappearing. She glanced at the group the man belonged to and saw that they were either not paying attention, or rooted to their spot with tipsy grins on their faces. The man had one foot in the road, his eyes fully locked onto the glass in his hands.

"Yo!" Chloe yelled, pulling away from Max and darting toward the man. "Dude, fucking be careful!" He didn't seem to notice her, but she did notice the car zipping down the road. She picked up her pace and continued shouting, panicking as the man was now standing fully in the street, looking around in confusion for the source of the commotion. She closed the gap between them and gripped his forearm like a vice, tearing him backward with all the strength she could muster, pulling him off his feet and back onto the sidewalk. As the car passed, she caught a glimpse of the driver staring at her phone.

"Oh my god!" Max was next to them now, bending at her knees to analyze the man. "Are you okay!?" He looked around dazedly, but Chloe didn't give him time to respond.

"Dude, pay the fuck attention to what you're doing!" She waved her hands furiously. "If I weren't here, you'd be fucking dead right now!" As the last word left her lips, there was a thud behind her. The loose murmur from the people around them was cut off into a brief silence, before picking back up with an air of confusion. There was another thud, but before she could turn around to see, she saw Max clamp her hands to her mouth and squeak.

The seagulls that only moments before were swooping in circles, ready for any chance to snag something to eat, were plummeting to the pavement. While the rest of the people around merely gawked at the strangeness, Chloe felt a dread seep into her stomach. More and more gulls clumsily careened to the ground until there were none left in the vibrant blue sky. Which, unless her eyes were playing tricks on her, wasn't looking quite as vibrant or blue as it was just a moment ago. She turned to Max as her thoughts tried to pull themselves together, unsure words forming in her mouth. But she froze when she saw that the brunette was quietly weeping, holding up her hand in familiar way.

"Max," Chloe said, much more calmly than she expected. She laced her fingers with Max's raised hand and tugged it down between them. "Don't," she said seriously. "He doesn't deserve to die just because of shitty timing. You know we're pushing our luck here." She glanced around at the few people who now found them the new curious thing. Max didn't say anything, but nodded. As they began to walk away, the man she had saved shouted a slurred thanks. Chloe briefly looked over her shoulder. "Don't mention it." Internally, there was a desperate 'please' attached.

They packed and checked out of the hotel with a silent, but impressive efficiency. It wasn't long before they were back on the road, the radio at a modest volume as they left the fever of Vegas behind. Max had stopped crying before they even reached the hotel, but she continued to have a weak, distant look in her eyes. It wasn't the first time they had been around when birds started to fall out of the sky. In fact, it had become one of their reminders to start thinking about heading out. So Chloe wondered why Max was taking this particular instance so hard.

"Any ideas about where we should head to now?" Chloe asked, trying to maintain a tone of normalcy in her voice. She let one hand slip from the wheel to the space between the seats where it found Max's. It felt like forever before she responded.

"I...guess for tonight we should just find a place to crash and we can decide in the morning," she said. She shifted in her seat so that her shoulder was pressed into it. "Sorry I freaked," she said quietly. "My head got the best of me and I just thought that..." She shook her head. "Thanks for stopping me."

"It's okay," Chloe replied, though the idea of Max willingly rewinding time to let someone die (someone other than her, anyway,) did have her considerably concerned. She thought for a moment, trying to find a calm point to latch onto, and pressed a button on the stereo. She turned up the volume and smiled, gently squeezing Max's hand. "This is almost like our wedding soundtrack, eh?" It was the same song that had been playing just before they were married. Max stared at her, then snorted and returned the smile. Chloe almost couldn't contain her cry of victory. She'd be damned if she would let Max slide into that dark place again. Not again.

A few hours later, they found themselves at a motel just over the state line. The juxtaposition between it and the Bellagio was quite honestly startling, but in a way there was a sense of familiarity. Having eaten dinner and watched some television, they huddled together in the sheets. Max's breathing fell into a relaxed rhythm and Chloe carefully twisted onto her side. She lightly kissed the girl on the forehead and told her she loved her.

The first thing Max noticed was the gust of smoke spilling through Chloe's lips as she exhaled, the red glow of the cigarette disappearing as her arm fell to her side. Strangely, she didn't look a day out of place from when she and Max had reunited, sporting her original blue hairstyle and beanie. She was staring at her with a very typical impish smirk, eyebrow cocked as if up to no good. Max turned slowly, her eyes widening when she saw they were back at the chapel. Only, this time it was much bigger, as if the original building had been stretched out. The chapel couldn't have had more than eight rows of pews on each side, but now there were easily fifty. And they were full. A sea of faces stared back at her. She felt like she could almost recognize them, but no clear names would come to her. Then, to the left of her, someone cleared their throat. When she turned, she found Clark looking back at her.

"Now then," he said, smiling warmly at Max, "if anyone here has a reason these two should not be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace." Chloe snickered at that and ran her fingers across her mouth, simulating a zipper. Then she placed the cigarette back between her lips and took a drag. The ember burst vibrantly...then all fell still. The room had gone eerily silent as Max leaned forward, softly placing her hand on Chloe's shoulder. And then, in the deafening quiet, she heard the shifting of the wooden pews. As she looked back out over the audience, she gasped. Each and every one of their faces were smeared to a blank, devoid of all features. The pews creaked again, and one person slowly rose to their feet. She felt her throat constrict.

Nightmare Max didn't immediately say anything, instead allowing her eyes to maliciously bore holes into Max. She moved through the pew and stepped out into the aisle, then began to very slowly come toward her. Her eyes seemed...different. Panicked, Max turned back to Chloe. Her face hadn't been altered in any way, but she was still frozen in place. Like nothing more than a mannequin. With a quick glance, she saw that Clark's face had followed with the audience's and become featureless.

"Yeah," the other Max said, an oily darkness in her voice as she stalked down the aisle, "I have an objection." Max spun back around and clutched her head, already feeling the monstrous pull of fear within her.

"What do y-"

"Quiet," Nightmare Max commanded. "Don't be rude, Max. It's my turn to talk." She finally reached the small flight of steps and stared at Max, crushing her within her gaze. One of the 'tricks' Nightmare Max employed was maintaining the exact appearance of Max as she was a year ago. So while Max's hair had become longer along with a general look of exhaustion, the other Max remained with a youthful air about her. But that gaze...her eyes were darker than before, finally offering the one true difference in their appearance.

"Matthew Robinson," Nightmare Max said. Max only shook her head confusedly. "Matthew Robinson. Born April 15th, 1985. Died October 13th, 2014." Her lip tugged up in a snarling expression, then relaxed as she let out a caustic chuckle. "Oh wait, no. No, he didn't die that day. See, he was supposed to be hit by a car. A real tragic accident. It would impact his friends and family in very profound ways. That was his destiny. His fate." Max's eyes clamped shut as she realized.

"I'm...I'm sorry," she whined.

"Oh ho! I'm sorry, she says!" Nightmare Max parroted, bursting into laughter. "Well, that makes everything okay then, doesn't it?" She turned her attention to Chloe and growled in disdain. "What a fucking nightmare you've turned out to be," she spat. She held up her fist, her knuckles flaring white as Chloe's necklace dangled from her grip.

"We...we didn't mean to..." Max sputtered, feeling a sob begin to form in her stomach. The other Max whipped back in her direction, the color in her eyes darkening even further.

"Do you have any fucking idea what kind of mess you two are causing?" She shouted. "You are fucking up everything!"

"Please, please just wake up," Max mumbled to herself, casting her eyes downward.

"No, no, no," Nightmare Max said with a soft voice. "No, you don't get to just wake up and shrug me off. No." She took a step up so her face was extremely close to Chloe's. Max wanted to intervene, not let her get so close. Nightmare Max looked her over, then sneered. She plucked the cigarette out of Chloe's mouth and looked back at Max, her eyes finally returning to their original light blue. "So," she said nonchalantly, "you guys got hitched. Congrats." She examined the cigarette in her hand, then brought it to her lips and took a very long drag.

"You s-" Max tried to speak, but felt a tightness in her chest as her lungs seized. She coughed, expelling a plume of smoke.

"Easy there, smoking kills," the other Max said with far too much cockiness. Again she looked at Chloe. "But not fast enough, it seems."

"You..." Max began, regaining control of her lungs, "you said she was going to leave..." As had become something of a strategy, she was trying to stir up some fight within herself. "You were wrong. Again." Nightmare Max's eyes went wide, and she flicked the cigarette directly at Clark's face.

"Oh, I bet you feel so fucking clever, don't you?" She asked. "She did leave. She was going to until you rewound. I wasn't wrong, you just win on a technicality." She shook her head with an exasperated chuckle. "She makes it really fucking hard to tell, but I knew she was going to leave. I didn't know she would change her mind when she saw your Rudolph impression." She smiled wide, turned on her heel, and began walking back down the aisle.

"You were wrong! You're always wrong! She loves me! She didn't leave!" Max yelled after her, feeling more confident.

"Doesn't matter anyway," Nightmare Max called over her shoulder with a tint of giddiness. "I mean, the line between her leaving by choice and me just taking her is quite," without breaking her stride, she viciously whacked one of the attendees where their face should be, "blurry, wouldn't you say?" She continued on until she reached the grandiose double doors leading out of the chapel and turned back to Max.

"You won't take her," Max said, her voice finding a grip in bravery.

"Now, now," Nightmare Max shouted back. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I'm the one with the crystal ball here." She pretended to cradle a sphere. "Let's see, what's the five day forecast? Oh, on Monday you can expect rips in spacetime due to the selfish actions of two children. Tuesday, we're looking at a high of 67 with mild winds. A lovely day to take the family to the park." She glanced back up at Max and grinned wickedly. "Wednesday and Thursday look to be slightly overcast with a chance of raining wildlife and universe buckling..." With a slight snicker, she dropped the act of holding an imaginary crystal ball and turned her back to Max, gripping the handles of the double doors. "Friday," she glanced over her shoulder once again, "is going to be stormy."

She yanked open the doors, releasing a torrent of water. It flooded into the chapel, down the aisle and spread through the pews, whipping into the stationary audience members with force. Max had only taken her eyes off of her for one second, but her reflection was gone, replaced by the flood. But then...she noticed something spilling in with the gushing water. At first she was confused, but when she finally understood what the face down masses were, she covered her eyes and screamed.

"No! Please stop!" She cried. She shook back and forth as if in pain as her nails dug in around her eyes. "Please!"

"Oh, what's the matter?" The voice came from behind Max. She spun around and found her doppelganger sitting on the altar, one knee propped over the other as her hands clasped her shin. The water rose around Max, causing her to shiver as it reached her waist. "Is it too cold?" Nightmare Max asked with a little pout. "Sorry, my hot water heater is on the fritz. Usually I like to keep my watery graveyards around bath temperature."

"Chloe..." Max whispered, reaching out for the still replica in front of her. "You can wake me up. Wake me up, please." She took a step forward and grabbed her by the arms. "Please, you have to wake me up. Just wake me-" A deafening bang shook the room. Max recoiled and grabbed her ears, putting pressure on them in an attempt to fight the ringing. Before her, a red opening appeared on Chloe's forehead. A tiny, single strand of blood began to drip out. "Chloe!" She screamed.

"Remember when that happened?" Nightmare Max asked with a laugh. "What a plot twist that was! Nobody could have seen that coming unless you had like, months to think it over." She looked over the necklace in her hands. "And then there was..." She tapped the middle bullet, releasing another ear shattering roar. Red began to spread out in the center of Chloe's upper stomach, leaking into the water in inky tendrils. "That one was dumb, playing with guns in a junkyard. Bullets ricochet, geniuses!"

"Jesus Christ, you have to stop!" Max begged, breaking as she watched her wife seep blood. The other Max ignored her as she held up the third bullet and made a 'tsk' noise.

"This one is my personal favorite," she said. "I was really hoping for a reprisal, actually. But, I guess we know how that went, huh?" She nodded to something behind Max, causing the girl to turn. She tried her hardest to ignore the things floating, the masses docilely bobbing in the water. A giant, incandescent blue butterfly manifested just above the surface. It flapped its wings once, the pressure of the movement sending ripples along the water. Then, as if the invisible hands of god had gripped it, it was torn in half. Before anything else could be said, a final bang exploded in Max's ears.

"M-Max...?" Chloe was moving again, clutching her stomach and freakishly pale as the blood from her forehead traced down both sides of her nose. Max watched in horror as the third wound opened in her ribs. "It...hurts..." Chloe whimpered.

"Chloe, it's okay. You'll be okay..." Max said, trying her best to sound calm even when the panic was evident in her voice. She was even fully aware that this wasn't Chloe. But it was certainly convincing enough. "Baby, it's okay." Before the sound had fully left her throat, Chloe was still once more. A statue of torment.

"I didn't get you any wedding gifts," Nightmare Max said, puffing out her bottom lip as she slipped from the altar. She approached Max again, rolling her eyes as she shoved the mannequin version of Clark off his feet and into the water. She took his spot.

"You''re fucking evil," Max spat at her, quivering with rage. As much as the games being played with the Chloe replica made her sick, it also threw gasoline on the fire of her anger. "I am not going to let you take her."

"Aww," the other Max cooed. "My heart! True love is just so warm and fuzzy!" Her eyes darkened again, swirling with something terrible. "You really still think that you're going to come out on top of this?" Chloe sprung to life once more, the dark red of her blood contrasting sharply against her bone white paleness. "You really think that I'm not going to get my way in the end? Because..." Breathing heavily and with tears in her eyes, Chloe held up one hand and slowly opened her palm, revealing a golden wedding band.

"I do," Chloe croaked.

Max lurched awake, sitting upright and panting. Adrenaline stampeding through her, she turned and pulled the covers off of Chloe, roughly flipping the girl onto her back.

"Max, what the hell are you doing?" She asked as she was roused awake. The brunette's hands patted along her chest and stomach, as if searching for something. "Max?" Her voice took on a tone of worry. She tried to recoil when Max grabbed her by the head, her eyes working frantically over Chloe's face. Her entire body relaxed and she began to cry, leaving a flurry of pained kisses on the Chloe's forehead. "Max..." She tried again, this time showing unabashed fear.

"I'm sorry," Max said. "I just had to be sure. I had to know..." She was crying harder as she let herself collapse on top of Chloe. Instinctively, the girl wrapped her arms around her.

"Nightmare?" She asked, though it was partly framed as an observation.

"I don't know anymore," Max said. "They're...not just nightmares."

"What do you mean?" Chloe cocked an eyebrow.

"I mean..." Max stopped, the uncertainty working over her face. "I don't know. I don't know! There's someone there! She...she looks like me but..." She had kept the specifics of her nightmares hidden for so long that she had no idea how to explain them. "She talks. She just fucking talks and talks and she acts like she's...god or something. Fate. I don't know!" Max sat up and pressed her palms into her eyes, her teeth showing as they ground together.

"Max," Chloe said calmly, running her hands along the brunette's thighs until they rested at her waist. "You're just shaken up. There's no..."

"Yes! Yes, there is, Chloe!" Max yelled. In a quick motion, she was off of Chloe and next to the bed as she began pacing back and forth in a short line. "She's been tormenting me over and over! She knew we would get into that accident! She fucking showed me! She's making the storms!" Now Chloe was sitting upright, her eyes following Max left and right, left and right.

"Come on," she said with a disbelieving chuckle. "That's crazy. You just need to..." Her faced worked itself into a form of confusion as a cloudy memory clawed its way to the top of her mind. It had been a tiny annoyance of a thought, buzzing around her head like a fly. "The night of the accident..." She took a slow breath in. "You mentioned someone. A she." Max stopped and looked at Chloe. Her expression wasn't as if she had been caught red handed, but was a sort of unspeakable sidestep away from it. Chloe's brow furrowed. "What is this?" She sounded more irritated than anything as she held her hands up.

"She's...she's mad," Max said, the words jumbling as they came out. "She's mad at us." Chloe merely raised her hands higher, as if elevating her confusion and irritability. Max took a deep breath and climbed onto the bed, looming over Chloe as she settled on her knees. "Chloe, these nightmares...they feel incredibly real. She was there during the one I had about you and Rachel..." A quick flash of anger scurried through Chloe's eyes, but she remained silent. "That's when she showed me the accident. It didn't make sense at the time. But she's mad. We fucked up." Her eyes fluttered shut for a moment as she shook her head. "No, we didn't fuck up. But she's mad."

"What is she so..." Chloe struggled with the phrasing. Max hadn't considered how much of a mess this would be to try and explain. It was unbelievable, even for two people who had molded their life around such things. "Why is she angry?" Chloe finally asked. The other thing Max hadn't fully considered was just how much her heart would break when she constructed her next sentence.

"You were supposed to die," she said in a whisper of a whisper. Chloe's hands finally fell to her sides and for a moment, her face was blank. Then she laughed.

"Old news," she said, wearing a relaxed smile. She reached for Max again, adopting a gentle look. Max felt someone stomp on her already broken heart, splintering it a thousand ways. "I know you're feeling guilty..." Chloe started to say, but stopped when Max's eyes held a heaviness. It wasn't fear or panic, guilt or shame. It was a deep, unending sadness that pooled from her pupils to the soles of her feet. What made it strike Chloe even harder was the tiny, knowing half-smile on the brunette's face. It was the kind of smile parents would take on when explaining death to a child after a pet passed away. As if it held a truth the wearer would give anything in the world to not share, because they knew it would change the listener forever. A cold wave washed over Chloe before it burnt into numbness.

"In the bathroom," Max said, her voice maintaining the fragile volume from before. "You were supposed to die from Nathan shooting you. That exact moment. It..." She let her head lull backward as a hand slowly searched through the air, as if craving better words. "It was your destiny. It wasn't just me using my powers that did all of this. It was...saving you specifically."

It's a strange thing to have a terrible truth branch out in different directions. To add a new color to its palette, or a new voice to its singing so that it becomes a harmony. Chloe had always known the storms were because of her still being alive. She had said it out loud and also kept it as a subconscious truth. That fact in itself was all someone truly needed to know, as it was horrible enough. But up until now, it was a fact without reason. It simply was. But the addition of reason, the answer to 'why?' settled in around her heart like a noose. A quiet, strangling feeling.

Chloe thought about the night she almost left. She didn't really have anything resembling a sturdy plan, but figured that maybe she could wait somewhere isolated and the storm would eventually find her...if that was how it worked. She never thought to question why Max had come to the same realization so quickly. She knew it would work. Whatever this thing was that was talking to her in her dreams must have made it crystal clear. No Chloe, no more storms. Max was ultimately inconsequential to the looming danger.

Her mind was drowning in countless thoughts and feelings. Guilt for holding breath that didn't belong to her. Wrath burning along the edges of a simple question – what the fuck did I do to deserve this? Adoration softly touching her with Max's infinite love and her refusal to give up. A deep hurt when she realized Max had been fighting this battle alone. Then betrayal at this same fact. Guilt, wrath, love, anguish, bitterness, gratefulness. They spilled through her like a waterfall. She remembered one memory, then the next, then another, back to the first, then another...

"That's why you were going to let him die," she finally said, though that she found her voice at all surprised her. Max looked to the side, then her eyes were dragged down to the covers.

"She said..." Max began to pinch at the blanket and nervously roll it through her fingertips. "He was supposed to die." She looked up at Chloe. "I didn't know for sure, but when the birds started dying immediately after...something felt wrong." Chloe didn't say anything, so Max sighed and continued. "She said things are supposed to be a certain way. There is a plan, or a track, that life moves on. But because you're alive when you..." Max shook her head, refusing to again to say it out loud. "Everything you do is not supposed to happen. It's like..." Her lips drew into a tight line when Chloe jutted a shoulder out and began looking at her tattoo, her eyes very clearly focusing on the butterflies. "Yeah," Max confirmed sadly.

A quiet fell over them as Chloe continued to scan the design and Max continued to watch her. Max waited, though she wasn't sure what she hoped to find at the end of it. She wished there was an easier, more eloquent way to explain all of this. To make it hurt less. But she knew there wasn't. Chloe may have always said it was her fault. She may have been depressed enough to try and sneak off and maybe something would happen. But now she knew. She knew that her being alive was the direct cause for endless death. Finally, Chloe brought her head up slowly and stared into Max's eyes. She was crying.

"I'm really sorry." Her voice broke halfway through, smothered to a whisper with the last syllable carrying no noise at all. But it might as well have been the loudest thing Max had ever heard. It was an apology not only to Max, but to everyone that had died. To everyone she had ever dared speak a word to or look at. An apology for her parents having ever met. For ever existing. She was sorry from the deepest wreckage of what used to be a soul. Max had thought she had seen a broken person before, whether it was a stranger from her past, Chloe or even her own reflection. She thought she had seen what it meant to be on your knees at rock bottom, broken and ground to ash. But she now knew all of those times before were just scratches or dents. This was broken.

And she didn't know what to say.

So, she said nothing and instead moved closer to Chloe. She wrapped her arms around her and gently pressed her face into her chest. She let her fingers crawl up through Chloe's hair, sliding through and taking note of the different lengths throughout. She, very slowly, leaned to the side until they were both lying down. Chloe wasn't sobbing. She wasn't very animated at all. The only movements coming from her were miniscule twitches of her eyes and the rising and falling of her chest, though even that seemed to be lethargic with the goal of surrender. Max pressed her lips to Chloe's temple and let them stay there. The cool splash of tears fell on her skin, each one stinging with a different ache. She closed her eyes and her hands began to wander along every inch of the broken girl, carefully collecting all of her splinters and shards.

Before she fully realized she was awake, Max was already cursing herself for falling asleep. And before she had fully finished internally reprimanding herself, she could already tell she was alone in bed. Such was the smooth process of her anxiety over the past year. She sat up and let out a quiet sigh when she saw Chloe sitting in the chair by the window reading one of the many books they had bought. Her posture was very much like a marionette with no puppeteer, as if she hadn't bothered to readjust any of her limbs since falling into the seat. What made it even worse was that her necklace was next to her on the cushion, no longer around her neck. Max was about to speak, but Chloe beat her to it when she looked up and saw her.

"Sorry," she said, holding the book out to the side. "I know we usually read together but I couldn't really think of anything else to do." Max had been crawling toward the edge of the bed, but now stopped. The gears in her mind turned as she tried to decide if this was a tactic to sweep everything under the rug. She knew they should talk about it, but part of her wasn't sure she could resist the temptation to skip by it.

"That's okay, babe," Max said. She lowered herself onto her stomach and laid her chin on her wrists. "Which one is it?"

"It's the one that's told from Hyde's perspective. It was on the newly released display at Barnes & Noble last time we stopped." She flashed the front at Max, revealing the stylish cover with the silhouetted man. "It's really interesting..." She trailed off. Max glided through the conversation carefully.

"It sounded really neat. To get Hyde's perspective on this whole debacle. And it's written like he's trapped inside Jekyll when he's not in control, right?" She offered an interested smile.

"Yeah, and of course there are misconceptions and the guy is misunderstood..." She closed the book with the quiet bang pages make. "It reminds me a little of Grendel. Or even Paradise Lost..."

"I've actually never read that," Max admitted, one lip tugging up in a smile when Chloe wrinkled her brow.

"That's weird. I read it when I was at Blackwell." She sighed and slid down into the chair a bit. "There are all these famous stories that everyone knows. Everyone knows Jekyll and Hyde, everyone knows Beowulf. Everyone knows the fucking Bible." She waved the book conversationally. "They have these villains that are cut and dry. They're just monsters or evil or...the devil." Max pulled herself back up into a sitting position, sensing the conversation heading somewhere particular. "Nobody cares about their side of the story. If they're really as much of a monster as they seem. I mean," she looked a little annoyed and flailed her hand a bit, "nothing is cut and dry. Nothing's black and white. It's kind of bullshit, you know?"

Though the first person that came to Max's mind was Mark Jefferson, she quickly flushed it. Then, she thought of Nathan and felt more comfortable with that example.

"I can see what you mean," Max said. "It's always nice to know both sides of the story." Chloe sat up straight in the chair and slung one leg over her knee.

"It's different when you have both sides," she nodded in agreement. "Like, off the top of my head...say you have this girl. This girl was selfish and mean to everyone she knew and when karma finally came knocking, she didn't answer the door. She was greedy and chose to live when she should have died. And because of this, many, many people died. It was her fault. The girl knew she could stop any more damage from happening, but she didn't. She kept going, knowing that stepping one hair out of place could kill a lot of people." She wasn't looking anywhere in particular, certainly not at Max. "But there was a hero in this story. The personification of fate itself wanted to make things right, so they battled the evil queen day after day with thousands of lives at stake."

"Chloe, I-" Max tried to speak, but was interrupted.

"But there's two fucking sides to this story!" She shouted, tapping her forefinger on the cover of the book like a jackhammer. "There's also the side where the girl is a lonely, sad person. She loses everyone and everything she loves. She loses herself in the process. She's hopeless. Now, I mean, really..." She finally gazed into Max's eyes. "Does that sound like that story should end with this poor girl bleeding out in a bathroom? Believing she's as awful as she feels? That's a shitty story. No, in this telling, she gets saved by the love of her life." The gaze she held on Max softened into a whisper of adoration. "The love of her life, who she hadn't seen in years, swoops in with superpowers to save the girl." She gripped the book with both hands. "And she starts to be happy! She laughs! She's with her love. Her hero." Max could see the book bend slightly in Chloe's hands as she applied pressure. "The girl never asked for the oh so heroic fate to throw a tantrum and wipe out thousands of people. She never asked for there to be repercussions. I never asked for that!" She held the book in her hands tightly, her jaw jutting out with tension. Finally, she relaxed and stood up. She tossed the book onto the bed and shrugged indifferently. "From this angle, the villain looks a lot different."

Max stayed seated on the bed while Chloe paced to the other side of the room. She couldn't tell if she should damage control or leap into her arms with laughter. It seemed an awful lot like Chloe had found her footing in the morning while Max slept, but no doubt she still didn't feel one hundred percent. As Max sifted through possible responses, Chloe looked at her over her shoulder.

"It's good though, we should read it. I don't mind starting over."

"That sounds great, Chloe," Max replied, unable to hide her smile. She pulled it back just a little and sighed. "You know nothing's changed, right?" Chloe turned back to her and walked over to the bed.

"How do you mean?" She asked.

"I mean, I know hearing all of that shit is...awful. But it doesn't change our plans at all. We can keep doing the same thing we've been doing." Max patted next to her in the bed.

"I know," Chloe said, sitting down beside her. "I makes me really fucking angry." She said the last bit through clenched teeth. "It's like...why me? Why us? How is it any fucking fair that we get put in this situation and then get treated like criminals for it?"

"I don't know," Max said, shaking her head. "She's fucking evil. I can't get it around my head that she's 'doing the right thing' at all. She enjoys torturing me too much." The image of the bodies floating in the water dashed through her mind and she shivered. Chloe placed her hand on top of Max's.

"Why didn't you tell me?" She asked, the hurt evident in her voice. "I mean, I'm sure it's you wanted to protect me but...fuck, we could have talked about these things! You've been carrying around this war in your head with what, the fucking universe? I could've helped!"

"I'm sorry..." Max cast her gaze downward and pulled her knees to her chest. "A lot of it is that I didn't want to add anything else to your plate. And part of it is, even now I can't be sure it's not just some crazy fucked series of dreams. They feel real. I almost know they're real. But I can't prove it. So it's like..." She lazily waved a hand to complete the thought.

"I'm sorry you've been going through it alone," Chloe said, her eyes shining with tears not meant to fall. "But from now on, you tell me, okay?" Max nodded after a bit of hesitation. From the corner of her eye, she noticed the necklace again. Hastily, she got up and grabbed it before coming back to bed.

"Why aren't you wearing this?" She asked, frowning as she searched Chloe's face.

"When I woke up, I just kind of...started to panic a little bit. I felt like I couldn't breathe. Wearing it just made it feel worse, so I took it off." She shrugged, somewhat embarrassed.

"In the nightmares, she always has your necklace," Max said quietly. "Like it's a trophy or something. She..." Max killed the sentence and looked Chloe hard in the eyes. "She's not taking you, okay?" She held the rope apart and slipped it over Chloe's head. "I will protect you in every direction of time if I have to. She won't have you." Her hand still on the cord, she pulled it toward her, bringing Chloe's lips into hers. When the kiss broke, Chloe was smiling.

"I believe you," she whispered. Then she cleared her throat. "You know, they say to find the little victories..." She picked the book back up and looked it over. "They couldn't even dream of writing this. Our 'thing,' you know? This is one hell of a love story." Max chuckled and took the book into her own hands.

"It's a timeless tale," she said. A slow, sleepy smile spread over her face. "I didn't mean to do that." Chloe laughed, then perked an eyebrow as she regarded Max. "What?" She asked.

"You said this thing looks just like you in your nightmares?" Chloe's eyes took her in slowly. Max just nodded, feeling a strange blossom of embarrassment. "For some reason," Chloe brushed some of Max's hair behind her ear, "that makes me more mad than anything else. How dare it, or she, or whatever, think they can even pretend at being Max fucking Caulfield?" Sluggishly, she fell on top of Max until she was on her back. "There is only one of you and you are perfect. And you are mine."

"...leave a message!"

Hey…I know it's been a few months since the last time I called. I'm really sorry about that. So much has happened that…it didn't feel right to call and now I'm kinda dropping a few bombs on you. So…yeah, I apologize in advance, I guess.

Where do I start? You're going to get mad at me, but…I think the main thing I have to tell you is that I'm officially Mrs. Price now…which is…kinda weird in itself but a good thing. I know, I know, I should have told you. But since we have been constantly moving because…you know, reasons, there wasn't exactly time for much detail. You may think it was kind of rushed being such an important decision but I do think it was just a…confirmation, maybe? Besides, gay marriage is a thing! Who would have thought!?

We had a really nice couple of days after that, just…trying to get our mind off things and enjoying that we are together, despite everything.

But as months passed…I'm starting to wonder how long we can keep going like this. I notice she is annoyed again with the whole situation and I honestly can't blame her. I'm fucking tired of it too in many ways. I just hope we can find a way to fix it…or we're both going to lose our minds at this rate.

And talking about losing our minds… I keep having nightmares. And…the ones that seem to be more than nightmares may have a pattern, or at least that's what it feels like. And it's fucking scaring me. Since the beginning there has always been water. It's like, even if where I am is absolutely unrelated, it shows up as rain or…flooding. I try to not think too much about the meaning behind it. But I'm afraid at some point it would mean what I am most terrified of, aside from…other stuff that is pretty much confirmed.

Sorry, as always I start rambling about random stuff that probably has nothing to do other than the fact that being constantly on the move is stressing us a bit. Nothing to worry about, I'm sure we will find a way to…fix this situation at least.

I hope you're doing okay, and I seriously can't wait for you to call me back and tell me how everyone else is doing. I'm sure you have a few stories to tell me.

Take care, I'll call you soon.

Summer arrived again, and not exactly because the time was flying by. The past few months, aside from certain happy events that made Chloe actually believe they could figure things out, were pretty much uneventful. Being in constant movement had its charms, of course. She grew fond of certain aspects of their routine like the warm nights and the still relaxing fact of waking up basically tangled up with her partner in crime and time, the feeling of the sun through the crystals of the car, the moments where the good mood struck and they drove freely on an empty highway, windows cracked down and music blasting, the smoke of the cigarettes floating away and laughs filling the void of not having any attachment to anything.

No attachment. No roots. No place to go back to. Sometimes those thoughts were a bit too loud in Chloe's head. It was like a constant low key whisper in the back of her mind and sometimes, it got loud enough to cast shade on her mood and make it a tiny bit cold. Something that of course her now wife would notice more often than not.

As per usual, they arrived to a new small town, the kind that seems stuck in time, in the middle of nowhere. Big houses with yards, a lot of greenery and trees, squares and silent wide streets running in multiple directions from the center. Like a little non-coastal Arcadia Bay. And that thought made her mood go a bit darker as time passed.

"So what's the plan?" Chloe asked, parking the car near the central square. "Wanna take a few shots around before we go munch on something?"

"Mhm, sounds good to me," Max replied with an absent smile while playing with her polaroid camera.

Both got out of the car, closed the doors and walked down the street. It was still early in the morning, so the people seemed a bit more lazy than usual. The sun heated their faces as they walked silently, taking in the peaceful atmosphere surrounding them. Max snapped a few pictures here and there, buildings, people, some other squirrel and birds around the trees. Usually, Chloe would at least try to figure out what made Max take those shots. She always had the ability of make simple things look extraordinary with her pictures. Stuff that Chloe may consider just a "thing", Max made bright and different through her eyes, making her pictures one of Chloe's favorite things. But today, with the loud thoughts being at a constant now after the last couple of days, she just kept silent instead of asking or participating.

She could also feel Max's eyes divert to her direction every so often, a clear indicator that she wasn't being as smooth as she thought.

After a few minutes in silence, Max led the way to the square. A few people were there despite being so early, even for a Sunday. Some kids playing near the slide, their mothers chatting obliviously nearby on a bench. A silent guy around his thirties reading a newspaper at the other side of the walkway, ignoring the bunch of birds making little jumps around him. A set of swings, now abandoned by the noisy kids, moving lazily back and forth.

The swings reminded Chloe of her house, much to her despair. The backyard she used to like so much when she was a kid…of course Max was in that picture too. They spent all day painting that board…curious how both of them running towards the horizon with a rainbow in the background holding hands ended up being such a premonition in a way…and for a moment that thought made her smile, and her mind went quiet.

She walked towards the swing and sat on one of them, passing her arm over the chain and lazily moved back and forth, back and forth, as she watched Max cautiously walk towards a bird on a nearby bench, holding her camera with care.

Despite everything, there were moments when she enjoyed going back to those old memories. When they were kids with nothing to worry about more than just school or how many ships the team of pirates would ride in search for rewards. Days when life was easier.

Days where the storm wasn't coming.

She remembered quite vividly one of the many conversation they had as kids, the swing firing up a set of memories she treasured with care, to relive them when times got hard. As much as logic said let go of the past because remembering them also meant remembering all she lost, those moments were the last she felt truly, genuinely happy. As much as she felt happiness from time to time, the kind of life they had for the past year or so wasn't exactly pleasant in general.

Chloe shook her head in anger and focused on snapping out of that dark and depressing line of thought. Instead, she looked at Max walking around, the slight breeze moving her now long hair down the middle of her back, her concentrated expression as she was examining her most recent shot with criticism. And then Chloe realized that, in a way that she never expected, a dream from their childhood had become real.

They wanted to travel around the world, just them together… Max would be a famous awarded photographer taking pictures in exotic places, keeping her dream alive with each polaroid filling their albums. And Chloe would be her bodyguard… 'Lara Croft but real,' she had said. She could still hear her own childish voice. They wanted to go on adventures. But she never imagined this situation would be a reality years later in a completely different context.

And she hadn't even fulfilled her part, since…you know. She kept dying every now and then because 'fate.' She frowned. Karma's a funny thing, Chloe thought, rolling her eyes. Watch what you wish for next time...

So basically…she had nothing. Only Max. It sounded awful when she worded it like that in her mind. It's not that she wasn't insanely fucking grateful for it. Quite the contrary… She was basically the only thing that kept her from actually walking into the storm to end the ridiculous attempt against fate for once and for all.

It was unfair, but she supposed that having nothing but a person… Salty may be a fucking understatement.

"You okay?" Max asked. Chloe didn't realize her wife was staring at her, a worried expression on her face as she sat down in the swing next to her. "You have been really quiet."

"I'm alright," she replied, a bit more harshly than intended. An apology was written on her sight. "Just…thinking I guess."

Max nodded in understanding. She posed her camera on her lap and sighed, her eyes focused on the ground at her feet, like she was getting ready to ask a really hard question. Maybe it was.

"About?" She almost whispered.

"Ah…well, nonsense to be honest," Chloe said, balancing herself a bit on the swing, her eyes lost in the distance as she tried to choose her words carefully. "I was…remembering home. And how you wanted to be a photographer and I wanted to be your bodyguard."

A tiny, sad smile showed up on Max's full lips.

"Yeah… I remember it well."

"It's funny how in a way you fulfilled your dream…" Chloe said, now looking at her with sadness in her eyes but an attempt of a smile on her face. A really, really painful smile. "And I'm still stuck."

A tiny spark of realization made Max extend her arm and grab Chloe's hand, still resting on the swing chain. Max rubbed her thumb over Chloe's knuckles.

"Not that I wanted it to be like this, Chloe… You know the…price was quite high," she said in a low tone.

Chloe closed her eyes at the contact, enjoying the warm touch and the little electric impulses on her skin. She felt like crap for thinking so selfishly, instead of what it meant for Max to choose her when she had to. Again with the same old story.

"Maybe too high."

Even with her eyes closed, Chloe could basically visualize Max's reproval, like she could even sense it in the tense silence that followed, broken and shattered by Max's slightly annoyed voice.


"No. I'm not starting again," Chloe clarified, opening her eyes and looking at her. "I'm just…a bit tired of running, Max. Driving all the time…and mostly after that crash… I guess it sometimes kills my mood and makes me think about…stuff."

"What is…exactly in your mind?" Max insisted, but her tone was soft and caring. Worried. As always. Always putting her first. As much as Chloe loved it at this point she was tired of always being the broken one, the vulnerable one…mostly when she didn't endure half of the shit Max did for her. Kind of impossible to induce herself on a guilt trip that, once, ended up with her almost shaving her head. Absentmindedly, she rubbed the short hair on the back of her head with her free hand.

"The fact that even if we wanted to we can never stop, you know?" Chloe said. The image of her and Max settling down, living in a house…have a goddamn cat, catch a movie at night…going to work and having a place to come back to… An image that had been in her mind for a while now, almost like a reminder of what she would never have, thanks to destiny, fate, whatever. A normal life… Neither of them would ever have one. "We will…never have a normal life. A house… I don't know…"

She could see the pain in Max's eyes at her words. Even if her face was still unreadable, she knew, she could sense it. And she felt even worse because…it's run or die. And she knew it.

"Just forget it," Chloe said, standing up from the swing and releasing Max's hand. The lack of contact fired up an alarm in her brain she ignored, her hands itchy at how cold it felt even on a summer morning. "I'll snap out."

"I know it's getting really…tiresome," Max agreed, walking towards her and grabbing Chloe by the shoulder to face her. The punk complied, a bit annoyed at the insistence. "Not just for you."

"So? What do you propose?" She asked, frowning slightly. "Because we both know the answer and we already agreed we are not doing it."

"Maybe there is a way we could be more…at home, even if we are on the road," Max said, shaking her head and shrugging. That tiny wrinkle between her eyebrows as she was thinking about a proper solution always distracted Chloe in the best way.

"Sounds…actually good?" Chloe said, surprised at the new initiative. "Any ideas?"

"The first thing that comes to my mind is…well, Frank," Max said, pursing her lips a bit.

A slight, deaf pain shot Chloe in the chest when she mentioned that name. Not that she particularly missed the dealer but…maybe it was because he was in a way part of her life. And well…thinking about Frank was a direct trigger of thinking about Rachel and…ugh, it sucked hard.

"What does Frank have to do with anything?" She asked in confusion and then…it was like a light turned on in her brain. "Oh…the RV…"

Slowly, a smile, a genuine smile curved Chloe's lips at the memory, one that she was really fond of, popped up in her mind. A younger Max, shorter hair, sassy smile on her face…wearing that goddamn red flannel and ripped jeans, looking at her with mischief, a hand on her waist and a tiny smile on her lips.

"Yeah, we would be tearing up the highway," she said, confident and sure for a change. "And you would probably want me to kiss you again."

The daydream those words triggered at the moment…now they could actually have it, despite the circumstances. Fate and destiny have a really weird way with dreams, she supposed.

"We kinda have unlimited money…" Chloe said, narrowing her eyes and coming back to a really different present, with an older Max, longer hair, and not so different clothing style.

"Maybe? You think it would be a good idea?" Max asked, though a smile on her face was all the reassurance she needed.

"We don't lose anything by trying do we?" Chloe said, enthusiasm sliding into her voice at the idea.

All she got in reply was a smile, right before Max went on her tiptoes to kiss her slowly.

After a few visits to a few ATMs, they gathered a really considerable sum of money. Of course, it sucked at some point, since Max's limitations showed up again by a really bloody nose and dizziness, though she managed to not faint. Great, now even her own whines managed to make Max force her limits again, Chloe thought with disgust. But Max kept reassuring her she was okay, even if it wasn't easy to believe with her napkin red and her face white and ashen.

Papers set, money delivered and right on time to leave for the next town before the storm arrived, both set off in their new motorhome, tearing up the highway as Max once joked. Well, technically new for them. Since Chloe felt a bit guilty about how bad Max's powers tended to backfire, she convinced the brunette to settle with less money and a not so new RV instead of buying a brand new one. It was in good shape anyway, and with a bit of redecoration, it could totally feel like home in a sec. Much more than the old car anyway, which was sold first thing that afternoon. Not much money for it, but they couldn't be picky, not with the clock ticking against them as always.

Soon enough, Chloe's mind got more at ease, thinking that for the first time in a few years, they would not spend the night in a depersonalized and alien room in any shitty motel at the side of the road. And that night, neither of them had nightmares about what they have left behind.

Living in the RV had way more perks than she imagined when they bought it, Max thought. She didn't realize how much she missed having her own bed until she had it again, the feeling of actually having a place she belonged, despite the fact that it was never in the same location. The unknown feeling of not having to wake up early to leave the room or even dodging explanations in certain places to why she asked for one bed instead of two.

Over time, they decorated the RV profusely. Posters and pictures hanging from the walls, mostly polaroids of them together with the most amazing landscapes behind them. The Grand Canyon behind both of them, smiling at the camera, the Yellowstone National Park signal, with Chloe making quite an impolite gesture with her hands while Max was facepalming, Max pretending to hold the Statue of Liberty between two fingers, with a tired smile on her face… Basically a token of every single place they visited. Surely they would seem way happier if there was another reason for them to go to those places aside from being chased to death by a time tornado, but…don't look a gift horse in the mouth has become almost a motto for them. Because, there wasn't much else they could do to be honest.

Now stopping at motels to spend the night was a thing of the past, and every time the bright lights of a neon sign bounced around the windshield, Chloe gave the finger profusely through the window, making Max laugh every time.

As days went by, the mood improved slightly. Chloe still was iffy about driving the whole time, though her anxiousness about being behind the wheel kept decreasing as they traveled west, the summer continuing its course, smoothly transitioning into autumn and winter, free of storms for the moment. And then February arrived.

It was an afternoon like any other. They decided to actually stop and take a break from the driving, in a wooded area that reminded Max a lot of the forest around Arcadia Bay. They must have been relatively close to the coast, hence the salty smell in the air and the almost permanent humidity and the piercing cold around them. Clouds covered the sky, threatening to snow eventually, but for now, it was okay and the familiar feeling of the forest comforted them.

Soft music was playing on the speakers, as Chloe was reclined on the driver's seat, the window cracked open despite the cold to let the cigarette smoke out as she took a few drags from one of them. Max was enjoying the tunes, sitting at the small table squeezed between a sofa and the tiny kitchen in the vehicle, enjoying the coziness of her sweater and the cup of coffee resting on the table between her hands, curled up against the cup to keep the heat with them.

Her phone was resting on the table, next to her left hand. She wanted to call again, since it had been a long while since the last time she did it. And she didn't want to make people worried as always, mostly since the car accident…

She shook her head and looked at the front of the RV, where Chloe kept smoking, oblivious to her hesitation.

Max took the phone and left the table, the mug of coffee still hot and untouched. She felt anxious and weird, like she just woke up from a nightmare with her double, but for no reason whatsoever. She walked towards the back of the RV, pulled the separator away and sat on the massive double bed that occupied most of the back of the vehicle. With a sigh, she unlocked her phone, dialed the number she remembered off the top of her head and put the phone to her ear.

She expected the calling tone to die and expected that oh so familiar voice telling her to leave a message.

"Hey, this is Kate! Leave a message!"

"Hey, it's been…"

"The voicemail is full. Any further messages will not be delivered."

If there was a way for Max to actually feel the world shatter, to hear the crack when the weight of reality fell on her head and shoulders, it would have been that automated voice on the phone. She refused to believe it. It was impossible. There was no possibility at all that Kate never listened to her messages, not over years of calling desperately.

She hung up and dialed again, her fingers shaky and sweaty, as a horrible voice in the back of her mind started to creep into her thoughts, cold and dark.

"Hey, this is Kate! Leave a message!"

"The voicemail is full. Any further messages will not be delivered."

Dialing again, her fingers pushing way too hard on the touch screen.

"Hey, this is Kate! Leave a message!"

"The voicemail is full. Any further messages will not be delivered."

Then, an unexpected yet familiar voice took over. Her own voice, cold and harsh, burning her insides, came through the speaker.

"The voicemail is full, genius. Haven't you been paying attention?"

Again. She had to try again. She had to reach her somehow, it couldn't be… She couldn't be…

"Hey, this is Kate! Leave a message!"

"The voicemail is full…."

And then again, the Max from her nightmares finished the sentence.

"...any further messages will not be delivered. Give up already, don't be a whiny bitch."


She raised her head and her teary eyes stumbled upon Chloe and her horrified expression.

"Babe, what's wrong?" Chloe asked, reaching out to her. But Max recoiled, holding her phone against her chest. She must have been crying out loud without realizing it.

"Nothing! Nothing, I just need to…"

Max dialed again, put the phone to her ear…and again that voice…

"Will you now finally accept what you did, huh? It took you a few years…" Nightmare Max said, her voice cold with a sickening ironic sweet tone, sharp as a knife, high pitched through the phone speaker. "You saved Kate…and left her to die… along with not only one but three towns now. Do you feel like a hero yet, Max?"

"Shut up!" Max shouted at the phone, incapable of holding back any longer.

The sudden burst of anger and desperation caught Chloe with her guard down, scaring her. She tried to reach out to Max again, but the brunette kept muttering, her eyes fixed on the phone with horror.

"Hey, hey, what the fuck?!" Chloe asked. "Who is it? What's happening?"

But Max's mind was chaos. Broken, shattered memories like pieces of glass, sharp and cold, flying around everywhere. Or maybe it was the screen of the phone cracking under her fingers, pushing with so much force that a crack started to show under her fingertips.

"Leave me alone! I know! I fucking know!" She shouted at her own reflection. She could almost see her double smiling with an iced, cynical smile at her breakdown.

Her hands were shaking, the sweat was rolling down her face in crystal drops. There was a panic, a horror, a sleeping monster now awake and ready to tear her apart from the inside. Nightmare Max's smile went wider the moment Chloe approached her, extending her hand with fear, as if Max was a wounded, terrified wild animal recoiling back in a vain attempt to protect herself from the disaster and chaos.

"Max, give me that phone," Chloe said. Pleaded.

Max shut her eyes, her teeth clashing because of the tremors, chills running down her spine, the voices in her head rampaging. She wanted to tear her own face off just to manage a way to stop it. A way to make the sound stop.

"No, I got it, I got it…" Max muttered, but that only made the voices, chaotic and unintelligible, clear and loud in her ears. Truth spoken. And it unleashed the storm.

"Sure as hell you do… Look at you…still trying to hide the truth from her. The truth you've known all along. Yet, you kept calling Kate like she could answer from the grave. Huh…not even that. Like she could answer from the pile of rubble her precious hospital turned out to be by the time my…ahem…your storm finished the job."

Max dropped the phone and grabbed her head with both hands, her nails digging in her skin and pulling her hair.

"Oh god, please…I didn't mean…"

"Oh stop fucking whining and listen up. She is DEAD!" Nightmare Max shouted, and then released a long harsh laugh. "That's why she never picks up! You run the numbers, genius. Geez, and you're supposed to be smart…you are me after all."


"Max, give me the fucking phone!" Chloe snapped, grabbing the phone from over the bed and unlocking it, trying to connect the dots. And it was like iron punch to the gut.

"Chloe, I…"

"Oh… Oh my god, Max…" Chloe muttered, her horrified eyes filled with tears looking at her partner, her fingers shaking still holding the phone. The last made calls…all of them, were always to Kate. Sure, there were a few calls to Max's mom's phone but…there were just dozens of calls to Kate's number. The realization hit like a train.

"I'm sorry. I didn't tell you because… I needed…but now I can't anymore," Max tried to explain, her voice broken, shaky and almost inaudible, pain drenching every syllable like the weight of the whole world just collapsed on her. "The voicemail…is full and she is dead. Everyone is dead and I..."

Evan gets hit by a sign and drops dead. A fisherman takes the wrong step, and dies as he touches an electrified wire over a pool of water. Alyssa cries for help on a nearby building, surrounded by rubble. People shouting, screaming and everyone drops dead. A girl cries, shaking her father that's lying on the floor, bleeding profusely. The diner blows up. Max can see Warren, Joyce, Frank and Pompidou blow up in a million of gory pieces, reduced to just a wet dark stain on the floor. A man gets crushed by a building collapsing on him. A car crashes against a light pole and stops moving. A little girl cries for a mother that never answers her desperate plea. Bodies float away, the tide carrying them as the rain and massive waves on the coast destroy what's left of the main road. A sharp metallic pole goes through Chloe's neck, then in reverse. Over and over.

Death. Death. Death.

"You bring only death."

"Max, have you been doing this this whole time?" Chloe's voice was low. The turmoil in Max's head preventing it from sounding as it should. "You…kept calling her? Why would you do that?!"

"Because I needed to believe this wasn't such a flat out disaster," she admitted, her tears rolling down her cheeks as she hugged her knees in a desperate attempt to soothe down her tremors and shakes. She felt like she was going to throw up at any second. "I...needed to…believe there was a chance, even if it was little…"

"You know what's funny? She is the childish and the selfish one…yet you're the one telling pretty tales to yourself to not feel like the monster you are…" Nightmare Max mocked her. "Because, bit of a reminder. I'm a monster. And you're exactly like me."

"Max, we knew all along…" Chloe tried to explain, still keeping herself at a safe distance. She had never seen Max so unstable. Not even at the beginning with the nightmares. Denial could be a really, really powerful thing it seemed. "I've had to accept this since minute one…and you have kept holding on to something that was a straight up lie from the very beginning. You should have fucking told me…"

The panic was replaced by fury the moment the words reached her, the moment the words made sense. She took the phone from Chloe's hands brusquely.

"Because I needed to fucking believe in something!" She shouted, her voice breaking at the effort. And with all the contained fury, she threw the phone away, smashing it against the wall of the RV.

"Hey, stop that! Max!"

Chloe got up from the bed and grabbed her by the forearms, shaking her a little to snap her out of it. She was uncontrollably shaking, looking everywhere but her face.

"You need to calm the fuck down! What is wrong with you?! We are not solving shit like this!"

And apparently her words hit a nerve. All the fury and anxiety dissolved in a second and she stopped struggling against Chloe, letting the punk hug her and squeeze her against her body.

"I'm sorry, I'm so fucking sorry…" Max cried, grabbing Chloe's jacket with both hands, crushing the leather between her fingers as the sobs shook her body violently against her lover. Heavy, salty tears dropping against the dark fabric.

"I'm here, hey…" Chloe said, holding back her own, her trembling unsure fingers running through the brunette's hair softly. "Listen to me, okay? It will be okay. It will be fine."

"How?" Max asked with her voice broken, snuggling even more into the embrace. "There is no way anything is fine…her…voice, this…shit is going to haunt me forever."

Chloe sighed, unsure of how to respond. Because...what the fuck are you supposed to say to that? There was little she could do to reassure. Again, holding onto false hopes and expectations. What a mess.

"Could you deal with the alternative?" She asked softly into her ear.

"There wasn't an alternative!" Max cried, pulling from Chloe's jacket.

"Then…there is nothing we can do about it, right?" The punk said, the defeated tone in her voice was more painful than her shoutings and curses. Max kept her eyes closed with all her strength, and there was nothing else she could do.

"Apparently not since…I destroy everything I touch," Max muttered.

"That's not true. Don't fucking go there, Max… It's shit and it sucks but…you know there is no other way now. No turning back. Right?" Chloe insisted. And Max's only response was a weak nod against her chest.

They stayed in silence for a while, it only interrupted by the occasional sob or mutter. Chloe managed to almost drag Max to bed again and they held each other for a while, trying to soothe their anguish by just knowing the other was there. Basically as they have been doing for a long while now, with more or less efficiency.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry about…everything," Max whispered, once the sun came down, the vehicle lit by the reddish glow of the sunset.

"Me too, Max. Me too."

"I…I need to find out, Chloe," Max said, her eyes lost in the ceiling, red and puffy from crying so much. "I can't…just simply ignore this."

Chloe cringed at the idea, wishing her partner would actually let go. What a hypocrite, she thought, since Chloe knew she wasn't able to do it either.

"Are you sure? Max, we know it's gonna be…horrible," Chloe said. The single idea of reading the names of the casualties and knowing for certain what she had already accepted… It was basically like reopening a not so well sealed wound in the most painful way.

"I know…but it's unfair that I pretty much ignore it."

"There is no need…we both know what the answer is," Chloe said, though she was already admitting defeat.

"I guess. It's just…I don't know anymore, Chloe," Max whined, burying her face into Chloe's chest.

The punk just squeezed her closer and with one last defeated sigh, both staring at the ceiling close together, she nodded.

"Hey, it's okay. We'll manage. We always do."

And after all the time that had passed, after they more or less managed to keep everything slightly low key, in the back of their minds, night was just another sleepless night filled with nightmares from which they couldn't wake up.

In the morning, the wonderful smell of food almost pushed the memory of the previous day from her mind. Almost. But as Max sat in bed, she could already feel the rawness around her eyes without even touching them. In a way, she already felt completely detached from the girl hopelessly dialing the phone. After only just barely being held together for years, the illusion was fully broken. She thought about how easily she'd managed to slip into it, all while knowing for certain that Kate was dead. The look on Chloe's face when she found out was seared into her mind. She was embarrassed at best, balancing on a tightrope above devastation at worst.

She wasn't looking forward to facing Chloe and getting deeper into discussion about it, but she had meant it when she said she wanted to know the extent of the loss. Even if she knew, she still had to know. With a sigh, she got out of bed and noticed that they were somewhere different than where she had fallen asleep. Chloe must have driven while Max slept.

"Hey, good morning!" Chloe greeted cheerfully when Max ducked through the divider. She was sitting at the table, one hand lazily gripped around a coffee while the other held her phone. Admittedly, her pleasant demeanor caught Max by surprise. "I got you some food and a coffee." Chloe gestured to the counter opposite her. "Fresh doughnuts!" That explained the lovely smell, at least.

"Morning," Max said back, trying not to make it sound as confused as she felt. She took her food and sat across from Chloe, eying the girl suspiciously. "How are you?"

"I'm okay!" Chloe said, looking a bit mischievous. She leaned back and looked through the window casually. "'s Valentine's Day." Certainly not what the brunette expected her to say. She furrowed her brow as she tore off a bit of doughnut and put it in her mouth. They had forgotten to celebrate it last year.

"Damn. Really sneaks up on ya," she said, chewing. "Happy Valentine's Day, Chloe." Of course, what she really wanted to say was 'are you really going to pretend yesterday didn't happen?'

"I know, right? It totally does. I wouldn't have realized if it weren't for all the people freaking out in the store this morning getting last minute gifts." She flashed a beautiful smile and drummed her hands on the table. "Which, by the way..." Her hand slipped beside her, then reappeared holding a heart-shaped box of chocolates. Despite everything, Max couldn't help but smile back.

"Aw, thanks babe." She slid it toward her and regarded it sweetly.

"I stole it," Chloe said. Max looked up, an eyebrow cocked incredulously. Chloe's shoulders were bundled to her ears in excitement.

"You what?" Max asked.

"I stole it!" Chloe repeated, giggling as she said it. "Because like, technically all our money is yours. So I wanted to get something from me, you know?" Max frowned and looked back at the chocolates.

"Chloe, we have...unlimited funds. Not that what we're doing isn't stealing in its own weird way, but I mean..."

"Oh come on," Chloe's head drooped to one side, her lips tugged up in a smirk that reminded Max so much of Joyce. Joyce... They had to talk about it. "It's fine, nobody's going to miss one box of chocolates. Besides, things taste better when you're not supposed to have them!"

"You really don't need to tell me that," Max replied with a quiet snort. She dug her fingernail into the cellophane and tore it open, though her eyes strayed to the phone sitting next to Chloe's coffee. She stopped opening the chocolates. "Chloe, we need to talk about yesterday." The girl froze for a moment, then snickered.

"I think there's some coconut ones in there. I don't know, it's really hard to tell by the description on the box..." She reached for it, but Max trapped her hand under her own.

"Chloe..." Her head angled downward a bit, nervously showing her blue eyes. Chloe swallowed, the gleeful expression dropping off her face. She looked as though she was trying not to cry.

"I don't know how I didn't notice," she squeaked. "How you were able to do that for years and I never knew. I can't believe I didn't know." Her hand fluttered anxiously beneath Max's. "I could have stopped it. I..." She met Max's eyes. "I can't even protect you from yourself."

"Chloe,'s not like that." Max slipped her hand under Chloe's and held it. "I just...I don't know what I was doing but I needed..." The sentence tangled itself in her mind. She needed it. Still needed it. The spell was broken, but she wanted it back. "Fuck," she spat, wiping away her tears. "Kate was so sweet."

"Baby," Chloe said, though there were no words planned after that.

"I have conversations with myself in my dreams." Max pressed a knuckle into her eye. "I feel like I can hear her all the time, even when I know she's not there. She's so...god, she just fucking claws into my head." She casually wiped her eyes again. "I wanted, um, you know...Kate was just..."

She wasn't sure how her brain managed to betray her so quickly, bouncing from a calm attempt at discussion to feeling like she was unwinding right then and there. She could hear Kate's voicemail as if the phone were at her ear. She could also hear the quiet whispers of the other Max, slithering through her thoughts.

"Shit, shit," she said quickly, pulling her hand out of Chloe's grasp and fanning her face. "Sorry, I don't mean to, um..." She was crying freely. "I just, uh..." She hardly noticed getting pushed against the wall so Chloe could sit on the bench with her.

"Max, I'm here," Chloe said, moving the brunette's hair out of her face. "Hey, I'm here."

"I'm okay," Max whimpered, turning away. "I just got a little caught up in head. It's okay. I'm fine." Her fingers clattered against the table. "It's okay!" She gazed through the window. "I was only..." Her tongue just would not work. She was trying to speak without being able to form coherent sentences in her head, which was a lot like pulling the trigger of an empty gun.

"Shh," Chloe hushed, continuing to pull her fingers through Max's hair, occasionally rubbing away her tears. "It's okay. It's okay."

The cacophony of noise in Max's head swayed left and right, brimming and crashing like waves. She could hear Chloe, but could also hear Kate's voicemail. The faces of Arcadia Bay residents shuffled through while Nightmare Max taunted and whispered. It was like a swarm of hands, all clawing and gripping at the edges of her sanity in the form of unintelligible static. Her hands shook, and she could just imagine dialing Kate's number. The number she had memorized, but only after the person it belonged to had been unable to answer.

She finally sobbed, pulling her feet onto the bench and burying her face into her knees. Chloe was still there, gently whispering, rubbing her back and playing with her hair. Max did her best to constrict on herself, hoping maybe she could just blink out if she tried hard enough. It would get her away from the maddening buzzing in her brain. If she could just stop thinking of all the people...

"I found articles," Chloe said, her voice feathery after a kiss to Max's ear. Max's shaking stopped abruptly, now replaced by...what did she just say?

"What?" Max asked. Even in the stupor and still present panic attack, there was a tiny part of her brain pointing out the humorous absurdity. Was Chloe actually about to get into this now? Did something go wrong in her logic process that she thought this would be comforting?

"I said, this morning, I did some searching," Chloe continued, still maintaining a soft tone. Max lifted her head and stared at her with wild eyes. "I found articles and even some essays about the storms. All three of them. You said you wanted to know." She didn't stumble once in her sweet and tender voice.

"I don't..." Max shook her head. Tremors hit her once again as the noise grew louder. She swallowed. "All three towns?" She asked, though looked away before Chloe could nod. "Kate was in a hospital, I mean, they probably have..." The sentence choked itself and she turned back to Chloe, her eyes glassy and wide and so very sad. "There's something wrong with me." Without a word, Chloe shot backward out of the seat and lowered herself to the floor. She took Max's hand and, as gently as possible, pulled her onto the floor with her.

"Come on," she said, wrapping her in her arms. "I've got you. Okay?" She fidgeted around, positioning Max's ear against her chest. "Listen, okay?" She tilted her head down, touching her lips to Max's scalp.

Kate's voicemail. The other Max. Thump. Warren. Joyce. Frank. Thump. Howling winds. Thump. Kate's voicemail. Thump. Thump. Faces of people she knew. Thump. The crack of thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump...

The rhythm of Chloe's heart played directly against Max's ear. Soft and quiet, it drowned out everything else. It was soothing, giving her something to focus on. But it also served as a perfect reminder. Just like at the lighthouse, when the world was falling apart around them, the thought of Chloe was the clearest. The loudest. The heartbeat in her ear was a miracle. It shouldn't be there, but it was. Max closed her eyes.

"Kate was really good at violin," she said. The words were delicate, drifting away from her. She didn't open her eyes. "I used to be able to hear her sometimes at night. It sounded sweet, just like her." Chloe didn't move an inch. "On my first day at Blackwell, she knocked on my door and had the smallest little teacup and saucer in her hands. It almost looked like it belonged with a doll set."

"From what I know of her, she was awesome," Chloe responded, her breath tickling through Max's hair. She felt a nod against her chest.

"She was. I still can't believe everyone bullied her so hard. But...Victoria had her own thing going on. It doesn't excuse her behavior, but she wasn't really an evil person or anything." Max brought her hand to Chloe's ribs. "I guess it's easy to see now how high school is just...the way it is. Victoria would have still bullied her even if Jeff...Jeffer..." She swallowed hard. "Even if Jefferson wasn't involved. It just wouldn't have been so bad." Chloe's heart sped up a little at his name.

"Warren seemed nice too," she said, sliding past the topic of Jefferson.

"He was great. Always optimistic even when shit was going wrong. Always there with a smile." She sniffled some of the tears away. "Dana was kind of like that too. She was always really nice to me. I thought it was so cool that she started dating Trevor, like it broke the whole hierarchy of popularity a little."

"Trevor and the gang were so awesome," Chloe replied quietly. "Man, I used to skate like...kind of a lot. With Rachel. They were so fun to hang around. Just get stoned and talk about whatever. I still kind of hear that scratchy sound of wheels going, with the pop when someone got off the ground."

"Do you want to get a skateboard?" Max asked, hooking herself within the rhythm of Chloe's heart.

"Nah, I'm sure I've lost it. I didn't get to practice all that much because of David..." Chloe's chest seized momentarily, then fell back into its pattern. "He was such an asshole but fuck if my mom didn't love him. Now I know there must have been a reason. We all have our reasons..."

"Chloe?" Max kept her eyes shut. There was movement in her hair that felt like a nod in acknowledgment. "I already know, but...there's a reason we're talking about them like this and you're not stopping me, isn't there? You would have said by now if anyone made it." It was quiet for a moment, and all Max could hear was the calm and steady thump, thump, thump in her ear.

"I would have," Chloe finally answered. Max let out a pained sigh, then nodded. She pulled her head away from Chloe's chest and sat up straight.

"I know," she said. "I know, I knew, but..." She shook the thought away and shifted around, placing her hands on Chloe's shoulders. "Your heart sounds really nice."

"Yeah?" Chloe gave one last brush away of tears from Max's face. "Glad you dig it."

Max smiled, which grew wider when Chloe's did as well. The way her lips curved upward, taking shape as a beautiful work of art. It was a safe place, one Max could look for in a storm. A beacon calling out through the fog, guiding ships to safety. And they were so, so inviting. So she fell into her softly, pushing her hands over Chloe's shoulders and clutching the cloth of her shirt at her back. Half-lidded eyes came closer, angled just below the searching blue of Chloe's. Their lips met, and in their contact was the delicious confirmation of her decision at Arcadia Bay. Chloe was worth it. She was worth everything.

No matter how lost in the throes of passion someone is, eventually the floor becomes uncomfortable. The break afforded Max the opportunity to finally get into the box of chocolates that Chloe had 'purchased' for her, and to her delight, there were indeed two coconut ones. They weren't as good as the somewhat expensive bites her mother had often gotten her for special occasions, but they were fine enough. Chloe pretended to be sheepish about asking for a chocolate, then wriggled her fingers devilishly before plucking out five of them, each with a different flavor.

While the mood had been mended, they still casually carried on with stories of the people left behind in Arcadia Bay. Max didn't have as many as it felt like she did, but took a great deal of pleasure in describing even the most trivial of tales regarding an incident in the classroom or drama that seemed vile at the time, but was now an endearing sign of youth.

On the other hand, Chloe had a rich well of stories to pull from. One after the other, she recounted memories as if they were old toys packed in a box in the attic. She never said it out loud, but it was clear these were things she had stored away and had no intention of finding again. Max learned all about the antics of the skater boys. She heard about when Joyce helped Chloe fix her hair after she messed up dyeing it for the first time. She learned about another side of Frank, and could see easily why he and Chloe were once friends. But most of all, she finally learned about Rachel.

Without the leering question of Chloe's feelings in the way, Max found the stories of Rachel to be incredible. She knew how precious they were to Chloe, kept safe in their own box away from all the others. She heard about how they met, two frustrated teenagers in class itching with the urge of anarchy. About the time Rachel comforted her after a nasty fight with David and Joyce. The time Rachel smoked too much and was terrified she'd stop breathing. The time she offered to contact Max on Chloe's behalf, knowing how much she missed her...

And when all was said and done, when all stories worth sharing were told, they found themselves alone together. So they traveled further back into the past, to a time with dreams of taking over the world and cartoons. A time before instant cameras, cigarettes and stepfathers. A time where life wasn't quite so strange.

Despite being in the belly of summer, Max sat at the table bundled in an oversized hoodie as she went over her most recent photographs. Outside, Chloe was pumping gas and the sight of her in a tank top with visible beads of sweat on her brow made Max smirk. It seemed they had become quite successful at building themselves their very own snow globe. She turned to analyze the portion of wall they had dedicated to her photos and wondered if any of the new ones deserved a spot. Not that she disliked any of them, but if she was going to display every photo she had ever taken, they would need an entire fleet of RVs.

What had started as a Hail Mary of a suggestion to try and placate Chloe's frustration had truly turned into something special, and several times both girls had voiced their annoyance at not having thought of it sooner. It started with Max's photographs and posters, but now the interior of the RV seemed like an explosion of their collective personalities. It wasn't long into the process that they began drawing on the walls, something Chloe took particularly large pleasure in as she said it reminded her of all the graffiti she used to leave around Arcadia Bay. If they found a quote in a book or line in a song they particularly liked, they would find a little place to write it.

Now that they were both comfortably over twenty-one, they had taken the time to keep a small, but elegant array of liquor in one cabinet. In one corner was a mid-sized flat screen TV with two gaming consoles hooked up to it. They had toyed around with the idea of getting wifi for the RV so they could properly reenter the world of Netflix, but the thought of keeping up with bills for it seemed like too much of a hassle. After all, they were still doing their best to be as off the grid as possible. Luckily, they found that there were many RV friendly areas where one could stay for a while that did offer some of these "higher end" amenities.

Even the less 'expressive' aspects of having the recreational vehicle did much to settle the homesickness they were both feeling. Max was sure that anyone who saw them staring at blankets, pillowcases and comforters in the store must have thought they were under the influence of something. Surely no one could be that happy about shopping for such mundane things. But she didn't hold it against them. They didn't know what it was like to be constantly on the run for fear of the ground crumbling beneath your feet. Though she would never consider herself homeless – after all, Chloe was her home – they were about as close to several definitions of it as one could get.

Though, the finishing touch of their décor was all Chloe's doing. On the floor, tucked just behind the driver's seat, was an empty dog bowl. The name Pompidou was written on it in marker. It had been so long ago since she had seen the color of the bowl or Frank's handwriting, that she couldn't tell the difference between this one and the original. It might as well have been a souvenir, something they had dug through the wreckage to find. Some might say this was a sign that Chloe had trouble letting go, but Max was all too familiar with such things. The agonizing process of confronting her phone calls with Kate had done much to sharpen her senses. No, this was merely a memento. Something to regard with respect and fondness.

"So," Chloe called as she stepped up into the RV, "I think I finally understand why Frank stayed so long in one place before moving." She closed the door behind her and held her arms up, closing her eyes as she blissfully gave herself to the air condition.

"Oh?" Max responded, slinking a bit more into the hoodie in response to her wife's acceptance of the cold.

"He probably couldn't fucking afford fuel! This thing is just a black hole of moola." She took one dramatic step toward the driver's seat and flopped into it.

"I'd be curious to see what Frank's funds were actually like," Max mused. "I mean, he certainly wasn't living on a golden throne but if Breaking Bad has taught me anything, there's some wealth in drugs." She smiled when she could hear Chloe chuckling and made her way to the passenger seat.

"I think there's probably a considerable gap between burnout living in an RV with good connections and a genius chemist who can make the drug himself." She stuck her tongue out, but then thought for a moment. "Don't take this the wrong way..." She looked a bit nervous. "But I kind of love that there is still some naivety in you. I know you're joking, but still. It's nice to see." Max shrugged.

"Makes sense to me." She sucked her knees beneath the hoodie and withdrew one arm through the sleeve, though she always left one available just in case Chloe wanted to hold her hand. "So, where to now, Captain Price?"

"I guess it depends on whether you want it to be hot or...really hot, Co-Captain," Chloe said, baring her teeth as she smiled. The terminology briefly drew Max's attention to the largest poster they had – all black with a skull and crossbones in the center. She could picture them younger in their shoddy costumes swearing they would become pirates. Now, they were always on the move. Through dubious means, they had riches at their fingertips. They even had a ship. And true to Chloe's word, they were both captains. Max rested her head against the seat and closed her eyes, a content smile on her face.

"Let's go wherever the wind takes us."

A noise that sounded a lot like Max's name brought the girl to consciousness. As her eyes fluttered open, she had the immediate sensation that something was not right. Then she heard Chloe's voice clearer.

"Max! Wake the fuck up! What do we do!?"

Max sprung from the bed and stumbled, her legs not yet as fully awake as her mind. Through the window, she could tell they were still moving, albeit very slowly. There was a faint smell of...something in the RV. She tore the curtain opened and could see instantly why Chloe was screaming.

A house not too far ahead of them had an enormous stack of black, inky smoke screaming toward the heavens. Fire. That's what she was smelling. In another moment, she was standing next to Chloe.

"Oh thank god, you're awake," Chloe said, the relief tangible in her voice. "What the fuck are we supposed to do? We're in the middle of fucking nowhere!" It did indeed seem to be a very isolated area, with forest on one side of the road and an endless green field on the other. Max pressed her palms on the dashboard and leaned forward to get a better look. It was actually difficult to see just how bad the fire was as much of the house was obscured in blackness. But it wasn't hard to assume it must be serious. Where there's smoke, there's fire, after all. And there was a lot of smoke.

"Chloe, wait! Someone's coming!" Max shouted, pointing through the windshield. A woman was scrambling into the road, her skin and clothes smudged with ash. She was waving her arms frantically. Chloe slammed on the brakes and threw the vehicle in park. Max opened the door and both were quickly outside.

"Please, please," the woman said, though it was clear her compromised lungs weren't allowing her as much volume as she wanted. "My fam..." She waved her hand toward her as if summoning more breath, "my family is still inside!" Despite the imagery before them, a chill slid down Max's spine.

"Is the fire department on the way?" Chloe asked. The woman shook her head and began to wail, apparently gaining some air.

"I haven't been able to call and there's no other houses for four miles! I don't know what to do!" She clutched Max's arm. "Please, please you have to help! Can you call them and...and..." She sobbed, unsure of what it was she was even trying to ask. Chloe disappeared back into the RV, returning a moment later with her phone. She placed it in Max's palm.

"Call 911, okay? I'm going to go see if I can help somehow." Seeing this, the woman nodded feverishly and began to run back to the house. Chloe started after her, but a hand on her wrist kept her rooted. Confused, she looked to find Max with a pained expression. The hand holding the phone was drooping at her side. "Max, what the fuck? Call them and let me-" She stopped when Max's grip strengthened into a vice, her fingernails digging into Chloe's arm.

"We can't," Max said, the words nothing more than ghosts. Her eyes were hard. "Chloe," she swallowed, "we can't get involved." Chloe's brows knitted together and she eyed Max up and down.

"What?!" She asked, tearing her arm out of Max's grip, scratching herself open on the girl's nails. "What do you fucking mean we can't get involved?!" She already had one foot pointed toward the house.

"Chloe, please," Max tried her best to bury the desire to cry. "It's like the guy in Vegas, remember? We can't...we can't interfere with things. It'll piss her off."

"Are you kidding me?!" Chloe snarled. "So she'll nuke a couple flocks of birds! Who gives a fuck!? Those people over there are dying now!" She turned her back and started to walk, but Max moved in front of her.

"Why aren't you listening to me!?" Max cried. "We don't know what will happen! We don't know what's supposed to happen! But we do know we are not supposed to be here right now." Her face contorted, feeling disgusted at the next sentence ready in her mouth. "Maybe...maybe they'll live!" Chloe's eyes narrowed to dangerous slits.

"Max." Her voice seemed to affect the gravity around them. "We are responsible for thousands of deaths. I am the reason people have died. Now I have the opportunity to save people and you want to take that from me?" Behind her, Max could hear the woman screaming for them. Chloe glared harshly into Max's eyes. Through them. "If you stop me," the words struck Max like bricks, "I will never forgive you." And with that, she was in a sprint toward the house.

Unable to hold it in, Max let an agonized, broken scream escape her chest as she clutched herself. Then, she followed.

The air quickly thickened, causing Max and Chloe to hack as they got near. The house was massive. It was three stories tall as it sat in the luxuriousness of its seclusion, only surrounded by dense woods. Admittedly, connecting the dots of fire + forest = bad made Max feel only slightly less horrible about intervening.

"Paul!" The woman screamed, her hands angled around her mouth. "Paul, are you still there?" After a moment, a soot covered head appeared from the third story window she was looking at.

"I don't see any flames in the room yet, but the smoke is getting to the boys!" He called back. He had the calm voice of someone worthy of an Oscar. "Listen, Jo, we need to get them out of here. If there's..."

"We can help!" Chloe yelled at the man. "We were driving by! How can we get you out of there?" Even in the mess of a smothered face, the relief could be seen.

"There's two of you?" He asked, then decided to forgo the answer. "I know it's a long drop, but if the three of you can find something to help break the fall..." He coughed. "If you can find a tarp or some blankets, you can try catching the kids." The woman, now known as Jo, shrieked.

"You're going to drop them!?" She shook her head. "There has to be..."

"No, he's right, that'll work," Chloe assured. Max knew she was nowhere near as sure as she sounded, but couldn't find the tell in her face at all. Chloe tapped her on the shoulder as she ran by. "Come on, let's get our blankets."

"This works in the fucking movies!" Max growled as she tore through the RV, snatching the blankets off of the bed. Chloe did the same with the sheets.

"What other fucking choice do we have? Do you have any idea how long it takes for smoke to fucking kill someone? Or if the house is about to collapse? I don't! I don't have any goddamn clue! We have to hurry!" She was back outside before the last word left her lips.

Back at the house, the three women gripped the edges of the layered blankets and spread out from each other until it grew taut. When they looked up at the window, a small boy was being dangled outside. Jo screamed again, but it merely seemed a natural addition to the chaotic symphony around them. The man coughed a few times, then asked if they were ready. After a round of uncertain nods, he dropped the boy.

Max half expected him to punch right through the blankets and crumple on the ground. To her surprise, she was really only kind of right. The sudden impact caught them all off guard, jerking each of them forward, loosening the tension of the blankets. But there was just enough resistance when he landed that when he did hit the ground, it was more of an uncomfortable tumble rather than flattening bones to gelatin. Jo pulled him out of the pile of blankets, hysterical and grateful. Chloe shot Max a look. It wasn't cold or angry, but shocked. Relieved. She was clearly just as surprised as Max that it had worked.

In only a few seconds, they had the blanket situated tightly again. Another boy was held in the air, though he seemed considerably smaller. Max couldn't help but inwardly sigh in thanks. After another check for readiness, the child fell. This time, they made sure to set their feet better and the boy actually bounced twice before they lowered him to the ground. Suddenly, the sound of twirling machinery joined the panicked score of noise. Max glanced up and saw a helicopter in the distance heading their direction. Another strike of relief rattled through her. The blanket trick had barely worked for what she would guess was a child nearing ten years old. It certainly wouldn't help with a fully grown man. She hoped those in the helicopter came better prepared.

"There's a helicopter!" Jo cried, apparently spotting it the same time as Max.

"Ah, Christ!" Paul shouted from the window. "The fire's broken through! Fuck!" The color drained from Max's face. She looked at Chloe, whose face was similarly ashen. Their time had been cut significantly shorter.

"You gotta jump! We can catch you!" Jo called.

"That fucking thing isn't going to hold me!" He replied, his upper body drooping from the window as he gulped in search of clean air.

"What other option do you have!?" Max was surprised to hear her own voice. Just as surprised to find herself gripping the blankets tightly and digging her heels into the dirt. Paul began to argue, but Chloe cut him off.

"Just fucking jump, man! It's that or nothing! Come on!" She pulled her side of the blankets. Paul pressed his hands into the frame of the window, lifting himself up, then slung both legs outside so he appeared sitting. He chuckled in dismay, then let himself fall forward.

A searing pain shot through Max's head as it bounced off of Chloe's, then she fell to the ground. Chloe was on her knees, eyes blinking rapidly as she clutched her own head. Jo was lying on top of the mess of blankets and Paul in a similar daze. It seemed all the noise had vanished in the stunned confusion, with only the tinny ring bouncing through Max's skull. Then, there was a gruff, hoarse coughing. Max felt her breath catch.

"Daddy!" One of the boys yelled, diving into the pile. Now Jo had rolled onto her side, crying heavy tears. She suctioned the boy into a hug, plastering their cheeks together. "You okay, Daddy?" The boy asked, looking down at Paul's body.

"Jesus Christ," Paul groaned. He raised himself on one arm, then when the trembling became too much, he collapsed back onto his face. With a sharp intake of breath, he rolled over. The boy screamed and began to cry.

"Don't cry," he said, easily sliding back into that impressive calmness. Max's stomach turned at the sight of the man's arm, mangled and twisted out of its proper position. Maybe it was due to the contrast of all of the blackened skin and clothes, but she couldn't remember having ever seen anything as perfectly white as the jagged bone protruding through Paul's flesh. She felt Chloe clutch her shoulder, the pressure conveying everything perfectly. He was alive. They were all alive. After a brief struggle, Paul was dragged a few feet away from the burning building. Just enough that the air didn't seem so heavy. Once safely away, they all collapsed again.

Just in time to be late, the helicopter landed on the other side of the road in the field. Jo gave several quick kisses to each of her boys and struggled to her feet. She stumbled away and began waving her arms in the direction of the helicopter.

"Max," Chloe said breathlessly. "Did we do it? Did we seriously fucking save them?" Max turned to her and nearly felt herself fall apart at the look on Chloe's face. Amazement and hesitant pride swelled in her features. Max nodded, then threw herself into Chloe's arms.

"We did," she said, kissing her and happily taking in the taste of ash. In the background, a shouting exchange between Jo and the helicopter crew could be barely be heard. Max pressed her still ringing forehead against Chloe's, then angled to her cheek so she could see Jo. "You're a hero, baby."

Just as she was about to cross the street, Jo froze. The men on the other side stopped as well, one even holding his arms out in a cautious pose. Suddenly, from somewhere quiet, Max felt a rumble. A kind of primal, hidden fear awoke in her. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up as the world seemed to lose any sense of safety. It was a nameless instinct, as if everything should be viewed as a knife precariously balanced on the edge of a table.

The rumble happened again, then leaped into something stronger so that Max was clattering against Chloe. The men from the helicopter were shouting, but she couldn't make out what was being said. The two boys were overcome with worry as well and the younger one began to cry. The strength of the quaking grew once again. Then, as if it were made of paper, several tears raced through the street. Part of it bubbled, then collapsed into a crater. The burning house beside them groaned loudly, screaming under stress. Only several feet away from Max, the ground shifted, opening up into a hole while a mound of dirt jutted up nearby.

Jo took several panicked steps back from the road. Max watched the men by the helicopter, one staring at the ground beneath him while the other waved his hands at Jo in a 'don't!' gesture. The house bellowed deeper, bound to implode at any moment. It was so loud, Max almost didn't hear the snapping sound. It was fast and biting, an acute bullet of noise. A tree careened into the road, just barely missing their RV. The house wailed as flaming shingles slid from the roof, falling into the grass where Paul was only minutes before.

Then, there was another crack, loud enough to ring ears. She thought it must be the house giving one last roar of surrender. She watched it with wild eyes, unable to think or move, only hope they were far enough away that any debris wouldn't seriously injure them. But then she thought she could hear hysteric crying. Maybe even a deeper, cough-riddled sort of grief as well. A burning pain worked across her lower back, and she realized Chloe was drawing blood where she gripped her. She ducked her head back enough to see her, but found that Chloe was looking elsewhere with a stupefied look on her face. Max followed her eyes.

A second tree had fallen and Jo was nowhere to be seen.

Chloe couldn't see anything. Not that she was blind, but that her eyes just refused any more input. She felt nothing that touched her skin, not even Max. Sounds were nothing more than vague vibrations. She felt like a ghost. And in a way...

She didn't know how long it took for the second helicopter to arrive, nor how long it was before the children's crying wasn't a constant swarm in her head. She couldn't quite remember the glimpse of a sooty dress peeking out from below the fallen tree, or the image of the house finally crumbling in an orange and black smear as she ascended higher into the sky. She wasn't aware of her struggling lungs or the ache coating the inside of her skull. She didn't know how long it was before they were at the hospital, or what tests they performed on her.

But she did hear the woman on the television in the waiting room afterward. How she recited the bizarre tragedy involving the Graysons. How, despite the heroic efforts of two strangers, an unfortunate accident claimed the life of Joanna Grayson. There was an exchange of hosts, and a man with large glasses began talking about how rare earthquakes were in the area. It had been over sixty years since the last, and that was only a tremor just big enough to count. Then he and another man discussed theories as to why only such a small area was affected, if perhaps there was some sort of alternate explanation. As they talked, footage of the smoldering rubble and torn up street filled the screen.

"Chloe..." Max placed her hand on top of hers. The girl turned from the television and looked at Max, though she didn't say anything. "You still with me?" Chloe gave a brief nod. She couldn't help but notice how drained Max looked. Exhausted. Frayed.

"How are the others?" Chloe croaked. She felt like she had just heard the answer, but it hadn't taken residence in her mind.

"The boys are okay." Max began gently petting Chloe's hand. "The bigger one, Jimmy, sprained his wrist and ankle, but other than that, they're both perfectly fine." She glanced at the reception desk. "Paul is in surgery for his arm, but they seemed really optimistic about him too." Chloe took it in and her jaw opened slightly, then closed. Then her eyes slid shut.

"I killed her," she whispered. Max wrapped her tightly in a hug. Chloe was waiting for her to say it wasn't her fault, that it was just a freak accident. It's what any normal person would say, of course, but she could feel her muscles tightening. She didn't know how bad she'd explode if she heard those words right now. Thankfully, Max knew better. Though that didn't make what she did say much better. In fact, it was much, much worse.

"You made a decision," Max whispered into her ear. "If we hadn't intervened, there would be three bodies instead of one. No one should have to make a choice like that, but now there are two beautiful kids that will be able to grow up with their father and loving memories of their mother."

The words had a strange sound to them, and Chloe realized it must have been the sort of thing she'd said to Max hundreds of times. The words of a girl who knew exactly what she was talking about. The only other person alive who could understand. And with all her might, all of her focus and strength, she tried her best to ignore the hypocrisy. It was well-intentioned and loving, but nothing could mask that Max was now championing the exact thing she forsook for years: one person dying is better than multiple people.

What made her feel even more sick was that it did make her feel better about the current situation. Jo's blood was on her hands, and she knew very well what it was like to lose a parent. The boys would have a traumatized and difficult life, but they still had their father and their future. She was even bold enough to assume that had those three perished, perhaps Jo would leave by her own hand not long after. She felt awful thinking these things, but she was clawing for scraps in self-preservation. Her eyes moved to the other side of the waiting room where Paul's brother and sister-in-law sat. They were the only family in the immediate area. She dug back through her foggy memories and replayed how they thanked her over and over, called her a hero.

"I'm here," Max said, her voice caressing Chloe's ear. "I'm here and I'll always be here and I love you more than anything. We can get through this. We can honor her." Again, the words of someone who knew exactly what she needed to hear when she went through the same thing. She pulled away so their eyes met. "We'll hang around for a bit more to make sure everything's going smoothly and then we'll head to the tow yard and pick up the RV, try to get some sleep and-"

"Oh god, no!" A voice across the room cried. Both pairs of eyes darted to its source. A grim man, dressed somewhat nicely in a button up and khakis, bowed his head. In front of him, slumped in his seat with his face in his hands and howling was Paul's brother. Chloe was on her feet before she knew it and the world seemed to cast itself in slow motion. Her heart screamed in her chest as each step toward the doctor felt thicker, jamming itself in quicksand. Somewhere, she heard her own voice plead 'no, no, no, no.'

"What's wrong?" Max asked, having matched Chloe's stride. Paul's brother rocked sideways in his chair and sobbed. The doctor turned toward them, confused at first, but then recognized them as the ones who came in with the Graysons. He inhaled slowly through his nose and his head lulled forward a bit.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but there were complications with the anesthesia. There was a negative reaction and..." He shook his head. "Mr. Grayson didn't make it."

Max drove for several hours. Not to get away from a storm, or to prevent one from forming, but to get away from the hospital. She had barely been able to process the news of Paul's death before Chloe erupted in the waiting room, screaming and crying and cussing. It was so bad that the staff were forced to intervene. Fighting against them, she was taken back into a room once more to undergo an evaluation for her hysteria. With a bit of helpful dialogue from Max, the doctors eventually filed it under an acute panic attack that had probably been building all day, finally triggered by the unfortunate news. Between the sedatives and Chloe's ability to realize she had to try and act calm if she wanted to leave, the girls were eventually able to be on their way. Reclaiming the RV was easily accomplished, and it wasn't long after that Chloe was asleep in their bed.

Max knew this was for the best, but meant she was alone. And the longer she sat in the silence, numbly watching the road before her get swallowed up, the darker her mood became. It was unlike anything she had ever felt. Something like anger, but three times the size and much quieter. It had no reliable focus, no crosshairs to peer through. She felt it for all things, from the smallest pebble under her tire to the furthest star she could only hope had long since burnt out. Though, that's not to say there weren't focal points.

In her mind, she ran over the things she had said to Chloe in the waiting room. She had never felt so filthy, so disgusted with herself. It was almost as though she could still taste the words in her mouth, horrid and bloated with hypocrisy. In the span of a few words, she had managed to rip apart and desecrate the foundation of her life over the last few years. All to try and console Chloe. And Chloe...why couldn't she have just listened to her? She had to play hero, had to try save the day even when she knew there would be a price. It was the equivalent of telling a child 'no, that's hot' and then watching the child cry when they burnt their hand. And then, of course, there was the "other" Max. Fate. It all came back to her. She could just picture the smug grin. Parading the flag of destiny while hurting Chloe, haunting Max and extinguishing life.

Max, Chloe and Destiny. Judge, jury and executioner. And these days, the roles seemed interchangeable.

Eventually, Max parked in a shopping center parking lot. The disconnect made it seem like she could drive forever, but her body was able to remind her of more human needs. Sleep... The thought of it actually made her more awake. She hadn't had a 'big' nightmare in months. It had eked out during her meltdown about calling Kate, but other than that, she only had the sorts of nightmares most people had. But she had a feeling that would change the next time she slept. Not just a feeling, but a pang of certainty. As if the waking world was merely a waiting room where people twiddled their thumbs before a meeting. Consciousness was an ornate door with dark wood, fogged glass and a golden nameplate. Behind it lay the land of sleep, where no doubt she sat in a cushy, leather chair wearing a wolfish smile. All that was missing was the calm, secretarial voice announcing 'the Universe would like to see you now.'

So now not only was she dealing with the tar-like substance too dire to be mere anger, she also had to deal with the existential dread of talking to a fucked up reflection of herself. She stood up from the driver's seat and immediately glanced at the Keurig coffee maker she was finally able to buy not long ago. She could try and stay up a bit longer. Maybe if she could stay awake long enough, it would pass. Like giving someone time to cool off after an argument, she could just stay away...

It was in the middle of considering this plan that she realized she had passed the coffeemaker and was unscrewing the cap off a bottle of gin. She stopped and looked at the bottle in her hands, feeling a genuine bit of surprise. She rolled her eyes, then took a swig. It burned along her esophagus and the taste really didn't do much to save the experience, but if it managed to take some of the edge off, that was good enough. Another "sip."

She meandered to the window and peered outside. The night was at its blackest, hanging between the bright parking lot lights like pockets of nothingness. For a moment, she couldn't remember where they were in the country. The Walmart was the same. The parking lot was the same. The darkness was the same. Just a stock photo copy and pasted over and over throughout the world. Were it not for the constant threat of storms, could she really even tell if they were moving at all? She picked up her camera, bottle still in her other hand, and shambled out into the night.

She wandered under one of the lights and began to search the ground, looking for anything that might stick out as something that was distinctly 'here.' There were cracks but she was sure she'd seen those same ones before. Loose pebbles here and there, some litter, but nothing she hadn't seen a hundred times. Her camera flashed and she drank from the bottle again. There had to be a photo here worth taking.

"Max?" Chloe stood by the door to the RV, her arms wrapped around herself due to the chill of night. The sight of her only reminded Max how they needed to buy new blankets. "What the hell are you doing? It's like four in the morning..."

"I'm trying to make it pretty," Max answered back. She only just noticed the Polaroids scattered at her feet. Then, realizing the bottle couldn't possibly help whatever Chloe was thinking, she held it out as if pleading guilty. "We need to get new blankets tomorrow," she added, still looking down at the photos.

"Why didn't you come to bed?" Chloe asked, moving toward the girl.

"I'm not really looking forward to detention," she said, her voice flat. She still wasn't looking up at Chloe. Not because she was being stubborn, but because she wasn't sure she could handle seeing how upset she still was.

"I'm...I'm sorry," Chloe mumbled. Now Max met her gaze. For a split second, her tongue morphed to a whip, ready to lash with terrible anger. She restrained it at the last moment and softened.

"It's okay, Chloe," she said. "The last thing you need to do is beat yourself up any more than you have." She kicked at one of the photos, sending it skittering away and then moved close to Chloe, resting her forehead on her chest. "How are you feeling?"

"Awful," Chloe replied shakily. "It's still kind of hazy. Whatever they gave me still has me kind of wiped out. I'm tired..." She took a slow, deep breath. "I'm really tired." Something about the way she said it, the way she didn't only mean exhaustion, brought a quiet smile to Max's face and she exhaled a laugh through her nose. Something about the way she said it sounded a lot like 'the Universe would like to see you now.'

"Come on," Max said, standing up straight, "let's get to bed." She looked over the bottle in her hand and scowled. "I don't like this." She turned and set it in the middle of the mess of photographs. Chloe frowned.

"I'm sure they're good. You always find pretty things to take pictures of." She took a step around Max to sort through them, but the girl caught her arm. When she looked back at her, she was blinded by a flash. As her eyes readjusted, she saw Max pull a photograph from the camera. The brunette shrugged nonchalantly.

"Guess you're right," she said. She took Chloe by the hand and looked at the RV, now fully aware of her leaden eyes and weak legs. "I need..." Her grip strengthened. "I need you to hold me real tight tonight, okay?" She turned back to Chloe and smiled, ignoring the feeling of tears building. "Since we don't have any blankets, you know?"

"Promise," Chloe responded, her mouth quirking sadly. "I've got you, Max."

There was no mistaking the smell that assaulted her sinuses. She had gotten quite familiar with it earlier that day. Smoke, burning wood and ash swirled through her head. When she finally opened her eyes, she wasn't totally surprised to see she stood in a burning home. It wasn't what she expected exactly, but it did elicit a sense of 'oh, well that makes sense.' Still clinging tight to her nerve, she scanned the building. It didn't seem familiar.

Then, she was struck with an idea. Oftentimes in dreams, you wake when you are hurt. Without hesitation, she took a step toward the flames swaying from the wall and thrust her hand into them. She shrieked in pain and stumbled backward, horrified yet still somewhat annoyed as she watched her hand swell red.

"Cool," she said bitterly, cradling her wrist. As if in response to her voice, the sound of a ringing phone filled the hallway. Coughing once from the smoke, she shook her head and made her way through the corridor, stepping carefully where there was no fire. At the end, situated idyllically on a hall table was a black, corded phone. She reached for it with her good hand and stopped, huffing when she noticed the number pad was full of sixes, reading six, six, six across each row. "Cute," she said, and answered the phone.

"What, you couldn't be here in person?" Max growled into the receiver. "But it's so nice! You'd feel right at home with all the fire and brimstone." Part of her knew she shouldn't necessarily be antagonizing the other Max. Or, quite literally tempting Fate. But most of her was tired and angry. She stretched her burnt hand, awaiting a response. "Come on," she said impatiently. "I await your oh so divine judgment!"

"Hi Max, sorry it took so long for me to return your calls..."

The voice slammed into her gut, knocking the wind out of her and dousing all of her fight. She sucked in a sharp breath, her head reeling.

"K-Kate...?" She asked.

"The signal here isn't the best," Kate said with a giggle. "But I've been catching up on all your messages! You've been really busy!"

"No,'re..." Max clamped her eyes shut and shook her head. "No, not this." She wanted to hang up the phone, but something kept her from doing so.

"What's the matter, Max? Are you okay?" Kate asked. "If you want, we can have a tea session to talk about anything that's bothering you."

"You're...not you!" Max cringed at her own voice. How was it possible she could be roped into these illusions so easily even when she knew they were false? "You're dead, Kate!"

"I noticed," Kate replied, her tone chillier. "And you went through all the trouble of talking me down from the roof. Thanks, I guess. Getting crushed in a crumbling building was SO much better." She snorted. "At least you have Chloe, right?" Max choked back a sob and threw the phone against the wall.

"No. No!" She said, tensing her hands out before her. "I worked through this already!" The heat of flames fit around her uncomfortably. "No."

"You really did have me on the edge of my seat with that whole thing, though!" Kate said, her voice sprouting directly within Max's head. "She loves me, she loves me not. It was riveting!" Max bent over, clutching her head. Behind her, a new patch of flames sprung to life. "I really am so glad you two were able to get married." The words were disgusted and bitter. "You deserve each other." Max leaned forward, placing her palms on the table and tried to shake the voice free. "I only wish I could've been there. I'm sure it was lovely. Warren and Joyce would've loved to attend as well, but I'm not sure there's enough room in the pews for all their pieces."

"God dammit, shut the fuck up!" Max screamed, tearing at her hair.

"Don't take the Lord's name in vain, Max," Kate chided. There was a hollow chuckle. "It's a good thing I am dead because if I really had to listen to all of your whining on those phone calls, I would have thrown myself off the roof anyway."

"Stop! Shut up!" Max slammed a hand on the table. "You don't even sound like her! Kate would never say this shit!"

"And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven," Kate said, her voice now droning and lacking any emotion at all. Max sensed something stirring behind her, a dark presence twisting into existence. "Clothed with a cloud and a rainbow upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet pillars of fire..." Breathing rapidly, holding onto her nerve against her pounding heart, she turned around. Nightmare Max stood tall in a gust of fire, burning harshly with blue strands. Her gaze was cold, the eyes inside of it dark rather than light blue. "And he had in his hand a little book open..." Kate's voice continued. Loosely dangling from the other Max's hand was Max's journal. In the other, Chloe's necklace was threaded between her fingers, the bullets gently swaying. "And he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth, and cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth..." Nightmare Max grew a poisonous, predatory smile. "And when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices."

"Hey," Nightmare Max said in a cool, quiet tone. The word burst in Max's head, buckling her knees and injecting her bones with frost. The floorboards yelped and snapped as the ground shook. The flames grew bright and crackled, ravenously consuming the hallway. Her vision blurred and smoke poured into her lungs. Then, all was silent but the resounding roar in her ears. The fire was gone, leaving only the charred, brittle remains of the hall.

"" Max stammered, trying to regain her breath. She placed a palm on the floor and pushed herself to her feet. "You are..."

"Nope," the other Max said, giving a brisk shake of the head. "No. No, Max. You listen to me." She strode toward her, a storm brimming in her almost black irises. She thrust the book against Max's chest. "Do it," she snarled. Max brought the journal away from her and looked down. Positioned in the center of the page was a photograph of a butterfly perched serenely on a bucket. Max's reflection could be seen in the metal. A glowing fissure ran through it where it was once torn. "Do it!" The other Max commanded.

" is this possible?" Max asked, her brows crinkling in confusion. "This is a dream." Her twin's nostril flared.

"I'm giving you an out. I'm throwing you a bone, because I'm sick of you throwing entire fucking skeletons at me." She pointed at the book. "Go through the fucking photo and let her die." When Max didn't immediately respond, she stomped her foot. "Now, Max!"

"No." There was no hesitation. There was hardly any emotion. It was simply the automatic response she had ingrained within her.

"I am trying to help you," Nightmare Max said through her teeth. "You don't understand what you're doing." Max scowled at her.

"No!" She repeated, throwing the journal to the ground. "I'm not letting her die!" The other Max recoiled, showing genuine surprise. She gazed at the book lying face down on the ground.

"Please, Max," she said and a sincere bit of pleading could be heard in her voice. "You have to..."

"No! Fuck that!" Max pressed a palm against her temple. "I know...I know you're pissed about the fire and that family." She shook her head. "But come the fuck on! Don't be a goddamn hypocrite!" Without thinking, she jabbed an index finger against Nightmare Max's chest accusingly. "All you do is trade lives like fucking cattle! I'm sorry those people are dead but someone was going to fucking die anyway! At least now those kids have a future!"

The other Max stared at her in stunned disbelief. Then, she chuckled as if she'd finally understood the punchline to a joke. The chuckle steadied itself into a feathery giggle, then abruptly exploded into maniacal laughter. It caught Max off guard enough that she took a step back. Nightmare Max cackled, bending over and clutching her stomach. It was the kind of laugh that didn't belong anywhere close to joy. It sounded more like the screeching of a drill undoing the last screw of sanity in someone's mind.

"Why are you laughing?" Max asked, feeling increasingly uneasy. Before, whether she was mocking or sinister, the other Max still maintained some level of composure or cunning. This was a peek behind the curtain. A crack in the mask.

"You..." Nightmare Max gasped, pointing at Max as she tried to form words, "you really think..." She doubled over once again in hysterics and waved her hand in apology.

"What?" Max demanded. "What's so funny?"

"Nobody was going to fucking die, you idiot!" The other Max threw her head back, clutching her stomach once more as she howled wildly. Max's blood froze beneath her skin.

"Yes they were," she whispered, her words holding no room for debate. It was a fact. She saw them. They would have died had her and Chloe not intervened.

"Brzzzt!" Nightmare Max mimicked the sound of a buzzer, shaking her head with a smile. "Wrong!"

"Yes...y-yes they were!" Max stammered. "You don't know what you're talking about!" The laughter died instantaneously, leaving a void of silence.

"I know..." The other Max said darkly, meeting Max's eyes, "exactly what I'm talking about. You know nothing!"

"They were going to-" Max started, but was cut off.

"Fall through the fucking floor in about another minute and a half," Nightmare Max said. She gestured to a window at the far end of the hallway and the floor beneath it gave out. Another wave of discomfort hit Max. Of course they were in the Grayson's home. "The little one's leg would shatter to dust, which is unfortunate, but the room they landed in had a clear path through the door." She pointed at the floor, her eyes angled to the side as if remembering the blueprint. "That gets them to another window, where the dad can see the shed and remember about the nice ladder he bought a few months back." She rolled her hand in explanation. "In the...heh, heat of the moment, it can be hard to think clearly. But he'd remember as soon as he saw it." She turned and paced away, musing aloud. "The shed's locked, right? So the mom can't get into it. But by now, the helicopter has landed where you fuckers parked." She looked back over her shoulder. "Every inch counts, of course. So they bust the lock, get the ladder, get the boys, get the dad."

"No..." Max said quietly, shaking her head as cracks ran through her heart.

"As I said, the little one's leg just gets," she made a smooth motion with her hand, "wiped out. Turned to powder. So they have to amputate. He grows up with an interest in prosthetic limbs and makes an incredible breakthrough in the technology there." She held up her index finger. "But wait! The other one, he's older so he remembers the fire much better. He actually becomes a firefighter! Isn't that neat?! Saves something like thirty people in his career before he settles down to enjoy retirement." She looked at Max. "Dad has a bit of a lingering cough for the rest of his days, but nothing that'll stop him or the mom from supporting their boys in their aspirations! As you can see, a lot of lives are affected by this event..." She clapped her hands and shrugged. "Oh well! You Wicked Witch'd Mommy with a tree and pulled a stunning reenactment of Hot Wheels Chloe with the dad! And now those kids are orphans who will live awful, depressing lives!"

" killed them for no reason," Max said, her voice trembling. As the last word left her lips, the room went dark. She instinctively held a hand in front of her face, but it couldn't be seen.

"No." The other Max's voice seemed to prowl around her, stalking her for prey. "I didn't kill them, Max." A violent spotlight exploded on Max, searing her eyes. "You did."

She raised her hand to shield her eyes and noticed a disruption in the air around her. Squinting up through the beam of light, she could tell it was attached to a lighthouse far off in the distance. The sight of it, serene as ever, ran over her with chills. Opening her mouth to speak, a volley of bubbles escaped her throat.

"All eyes on you, Max," Nightmare Max said in a hushed, sing-songy manner. The brunette took a step backward, and a school of fish casually glided by her face.

"I didn't kill anyone," Max said, watching the bubbles as they left her mouth. "It's not my fault I got this power! I didn't...I didn't kill anyone!" The other Max chuckled from everywhere at once.

"Listen to yourself," she said, almost sympathetically. "You don't even believe it anymore. You really used to, huh?"

"I do believe it." Max steeled herself. "I did what I could with this power that was pushed onto me. You can't blame me. I did not kill anyone." As she spoke, a square object drifted into the beam of the lighthouse. It was obscured in shadow at first, but as it rotated, the light caught and revealed it. Max's knees went weak as she read the sign: 'Another Great Day in Arcadia Bay.'

"The audience disagrees," Nightmare Max said. The spotlight brightened, burning hot against her face, then slowly started to move to the right. Soon, she was in total darkness again, but followed the light with her eyes. It passed over more fish, unaware of the absurdity as they swam, but then it illuminated something that made her stomach constrict on itself.

"Oh god," she whimpered, turning away, "no! Stop!"

"Look at them," the other Max demanded coldly.

"I didn't ask for this to happen! I didn't-"

"You. Let. It. Happen. Maxine." Her voice boomeranged back. The searchlight widened, making more of her surroundings visible. "Oooh! I spy with my little eye, something blonde and insecure that looks good in white paint."

"Please," Max begged, refusing to look anywhere other than her own hands.

"There's so many of them," Nightmare Max mused. "All rotten and coming apart from the weather. Dragged beneath miles of rain." The light fell still for only a moment, then burst in all directions, eating the darkness. Max clutched at her chest and heaved forward as she sobbed.

"Jesus, stop! Stop!" She cried.

"I won't," the other Max said. "I will hunt you to the ends of the Earth. You can't outrun me. You can't outsmart me. You can't win. As a matter of fact..." She paused. "You two are only becoming more and more dangerous. I had thought you'd learned your lesson in Vegas, but..." The water shifted around Max strangely, and she could tell Nightmare Max was smiling. "Let's start fresh. Five days is far too much time for you to wreak havoc. I'm thinking..."

The water pulled around her again, jerking Max's hands from her face. In front of her, suspended and motionless, was Chloe's necklace. She was overcome with instinct and dashed toward it. Just as her fingers were about to loop through the cord, it was reeled away from her. She chased after it, but it only seemed to speed up. Then, as if stepping from shadows that weren't even there, Nightmare Max snagged the necklace.

"Yes, I think this should do nicely," she said, examining one of the bullets between her fingers. "Three bullets. Three towns. Three days." She regarded Max and grinned. "That should keep you busy. And being the generous person that I am, I'll even give you a nice little push!" She tilted her head, as if listening.

"You can't just-" Max tried to say.

"Shh shh shh," Nightmare Max hushed. "Do you hear that?" She strained her neck, her eyes black as storm clouds and playful as they watched above them. "Sounds like...rain."

As Max opened her eyes, she could already hear the raindrops drumming against the roof of the RV in a frenzy. It took another moment for her head to come together, and when it did, she shrieked. Ripping out of Chloe's arms startled the girl awake, and she watched as Max jettisoned through the curtain.

"Max!" Chloe yelled, following as quickly as she could. "What's going on!? Did you have a nightmare?!"

"It''s r-raining," Max stuttered, her hand trembling as it tried to slide the key into the ignition. Chloe glanced around quickly, confirming the fact for herself.

"It's okay, babe," she said, adopting a delicate tone. "We haven't even been in this spot for a full day. Did you have a nightmare? What happened?" She placed a hand on Max's shoulder, but she flinched away from the contact.

"She...she changed it," Max croaked. Her throat was dry with panic. "We only have...three days now but, but she brought one today."

"What?" Chloe asked, showing pure disbelief rather than fear. The key scratched against the metal frantically, until Max finally screamed in frustration, smashing her hand against the dashboard.

"It's a fucking storm, Chloe! She's making one right now! We need to fucking leave or more people are going to die!" She stood up from the driver's seat and gripped Chloe's wrist, crushing the key into her palm. "Please just fucking drive! Please!"

Still in shock, Chloe only nodded and fell into the driver's seat. Max paced away, clutching herself and muttering under her breath. The RV lurched into motion and tore out of the parking lot.

"Max, what happened?" Chloe asked after a period of silence. She checked over her shoulder to find the girl staring out the window. "Please talk to me."

"Three days now," Max responded quietly. "The storms come in three days now."

"Because of me?" Chloe's voice sounded strangled as she kept her eyes on the road.

"Because of her," Max corrected. She finally moved to the passenger's seat and sat on the edge, leaning forward to see the break in the clouds they were heading toward. "We can still do this." She looked at Chloe. "We can."

Chloe simply nodded weakly, her foot hard on the pedal as they left the dark clouds behind.

The silence had been in the room with them for closing in on twenty minutes. It was a frequent visitor these days. Their new schedule had put a lot of tension into their routine, pulling them even more taut into the realms of exhaustion, anxiety and depression. They still talked, laughed and loved each other with every ounce of themselves. But reality was a heavy thing and it could upend the mood without warning.

They prodded at the food in front of them. Chloe had actually seemed pretty excited to get Chinese takeout since it had been a while, but as soon as it was in their hands, the silence joined them. What made it worse was the tangible feeling that they were both wasting time. If they ate fast, they'd have more time to be together. To play, cuddle, dance. Anything, really. But instead, they awkwardly moved the food around the plate.

The three day time frame had proven to be a drastic upgrade in stress. Before, with five days, they would often only stick around for three just to assure everything went smoothly. But the extra wiggle room had come in handy many times, especially in moments where they were very much not looking forward to a long drive. Now, they were almost constantly moving. The RV had made it marginally easier to deal with than if they hadn't bought it, but they were practically working in shifts. Arrive somewhere on day one, get some sleep, have just enough time to get supplies or eat or relax for a moment, then back on the road before the storm could even consider forming. It was draining.

Though the silence was prominent, flooding the routes between mouths and ears, there was still music playing, which did help a lot. Every so often, Max would hum along with the current song and even something as small as that would shift everything a little. Chloe watched as her fork pushed the noodles one way, then the next, knowing that they should be in her stomach by now. She was so hungry not even an hour ago. But now she only felt sick. Some vague notion was circling in her head.

The last notes of a song faded out, inviting a new track. The first strum of guitar hit her lovingly, and she glanced up to see the faintest smile on Max's face. It was the song she had jokingly referred to as their wedding song. It wasn't particularly happy, but it just happened to be what was on right before they got married. After that, it had managed to cheer Max up during one of her freakouts. It organically grew a sense of belonging to them. Property of Max and Chloe. Sometimes it felt like nobody else in the world could have possibly heard it before.

But...she'd be crazy if she couldn't see the irony in it. And she was sure Max wasn't blind to it either. Though it became the song to symbolize their marriage and bond to each other, it carried another story with it. Still about them, still about their love in its own way. But it hurt much more, and it was much more honest. Play Crack the Sky. Like it was an equation. Play with fate, crack the sky.

They call them rogues, they travel fast and alone.
One-hundred-foot faces of God's good ocean gone wrong.
What they call love is a risk, cause you will always get hit out of nowhere by some wave and end up on your own.

The notion continued to fly in circles, some sort of scavenger biding its time to pick at the remains of some dying thought in her head. Max started to hum, and the noise of the precious vibrations in her throat actually managed to motivate Chloe to take a bite of food. It didn't taste like anything. Sure, why not? She was a modern day Tantalus. The vulture in her head did a few more passes.

This story's old but it goes on and on until we disappear.
Calm me and let me taste the salt you breathed while you were underneath.
I am the one who haunts your dreams of mountains sunk below the sea.
I spoke the words but never gave a thought to what they all could mean.
I know that this is what you want.
A funeral keeps both of us apart.
You know that you are not alone.
Need you like water in my lungs.
This is the end.

It was that last line. The vague feeling tucked its wings and dove, hurdling through the mist and jumble of her other thoughts. Like a missile, it streaked downward. Fast and terrible and starving, the bird spread its wings at the last moment and safely landed. It loomed over a heaving bit of strength, a malnourished sense of perseverance. Weak, thirsty, its pulse slow and uneven. She was tired. In a blink, several more truths in the guise of birds joined around the struggling pile of persistence.

This Is Too Much was one bird, and it scratched under its wing with its beak.

This Is Killing Max was another, its feathers black and shining with certainty.

This Can't Go On Forever was a third, its neck swaying left and right in calculation as it studied its meal.

This...Is The End was the first bird and it thrust its beak into Chloe's will to live, tearing it open along its side before gathering some flesh in its mouth and swallowing.

"Max..." Chloe whispered. The name fell out of her mouth. The brunette looked up at her, somewhat surprised at her willingness to break the silence. She was about to start crying, she knew. But she also knew there was no way Max would be able to eat anything after she started talking, so she reached across the table and took her fork, collected some food onto it and then held it in front of the girl's mouth. "You have to eat a little." Max seemed like she was about to protest, then rolled her eyes with a smile and bit down on the fork. Chloe watched and waited for her to get a few more in her.

"You should eat too," Max said. Chloe nodded, but didn't move. Max ate a little more, then grew concerned when she looked back up at Chloe. "Babe? What's wrong?" Ah, she had started to cry. Chloe took in a slow breath.

"I love you more than anything," she said. Max's expression furthered itself into unease. It was clearly a qualifying statement. The 'but' attached didn't need to be out loud.

"I love you too," Max replied, setting down her utensils. Her hands gripped onto the edge of the table.

"In just over a week, it'll be the third year anniversary. It's been three years." Chloe searched around the RV, cherishing how much they had managed to transform it into their own home. Maybe in another life, these decorations would be on the walls of a house. She sniffled, but ignored it. "That's a long time."

"It is..." Max looked as though she was shrinking.

"We've done a lot, huh?" Chloe gestured to a smattering of photographs on the wall. "I never thought I'd see so much of the country. It's crazy, I remember just wanting more than anything to get out of Arcadia Bay. Like there was this invisible wall keeping me trapped there. And look how much we've seen." Max didn't respond. She wasn't really expecting her to.

"And, and, y'know," Chloe continued, getting to her feet. She blinked away some tears. "I've been so lucky. I, I know I complain a lot. About the hand we've been dealt. But I've been lucky, I swear to god, I really do know that." She walked over to the photo collage and gently touched her fingers to one of the photos. "Despite all the shit, it's hard to remember those moments when I have so many great ones." She smiled. "Look at us. Look at that smile. Two weirdo kids about to get married. I still wonder what everyone thought. If they looked at us like, they're crazy. They're too young. Because I mean, they didn't know. It's not their fault they didn't know how much we were meant to be together."

"It's been amazing," Chloe said, quickly carrying on just in case Max had wanted to interject. "It's funny...we've been running from death nonstop, but thanks to you, I feel like I've really lived, you know? The kind of understanding that right here and now, I'm alive and it's beautiful and everything is what it needs to be." She touched a different photograph. "Here, I remember this so well. All we did that day was walk around a park and take pictures of stuff. But I remember it...not like it was yesterday, but like it's happening right now. There's no guessing what color something was, or trying to remember what we ate for lunch. It's all perfectly clear. And it''s just so special. I can't believe you were gone for so long, but all this time...just being with you again has been so special."

"No," Max whimpered. Chloe turned and found her bent over, her head in her hands. She started to reach out for her, but stopped. The sight of Max hiding her face and crying had become painfully familiar. It tore Chloe apart. When you loved someone so much that you'd do anything to see them smile, any time at all that they spent crying felt like a knife in your chest. She took a moment to steady herself.

"I'm only saying, I don't know if most people are as lucky as I am. I don't know if most people have these moments or have a Max that can make them feel like they're little kids running around with nothing to worry about." She took a step toward her. "It's just-"

"No, no," Max shook her head, keeping her face hidden. "You sound like her."

Sounded like who? The...bad Max? Having seen so many times how crushed and in agony Max was when she awoke from those sorts of nightmares, it didn't feel great. But then again, how could she expect such a conversation to go? She was leaking tears at a constant rate herself. She thought she might get sick any moment. It was only going to get worse from here.

"You promised." Max said it with great force. "You promised, Chloe." She looked up at her, and even in the reddened face covered with tears, the small bit of anger was visible. Chloe sighed and closed her eyes. She wasn't talking about the other Max. She was talking about her. Another her she didn't remember being.

"I know," Chloe said, ashamed. "I know I did. But, Max..."

"No, we can just..." Max jerked straight, her expression frightened. "We can just forget about it, okay? Let's do something else. I'm not hungry, but...we can play a game or read if you want. We can-"

"I'm tired." Chloe knelt down in front of her and took her by the hands. "I'm so tired. And you are too. We can keep running, but know, your legs just give out. What about when we get too old to move the right way? What if one of us gets sick? You barely take photos anymore because you're either driving or sleeping." Max shook her head with each remark. "I love you. I love you and I've taken everything from you."

"Don't ask..." Max pleaded, her face contorting in grief. "Please don't. I don't know if I can say no this time. Just...please don't ask."

"Honey," Chloe whispered, inching closer. "I'm not asking. My legs have just given out. I can't keep this up."

"I can't do this without you." Max hung her head, her shoulders bouncing as she sobbed.

"You won't have to. You're doing this because of me. could have a normal life, you know? You could go to college and become the best fucking photographer that ever touched foot on this earth." She kissed Max's hands. "You could spend time with your parents. You could see them again. You could have a family again, Max."

The thought of Max's parents was a sore one. They were great people. People that, even after all this time, Chloe would consider family. They treated her as one of their own back when she was a kid and again when she and Max had visited after the storms. They loved her. And she took Max from them. She ripped their little girl away. For three years, all they had gotten were sporadic phone calls. They had managed to string them along for a little while, but eventually it simply turned into Max refusing to come home. She was grateful that they still answered her calls, but no doubt the relationship had been strained to a dangerous degree. She could only imagine how they felt about it all.

"How!?" Max cried. "How can I possibly go back to having a normal life? A life without you? You can't just become this...this ghost! You can't just disappear and expect me to keep living like this never happened!" She jerked her hands out of Chloe's gasp and pushed them against her face. "Fuck! No, I can't go back. There isn't anything without you! You're in everything!"

Had to give her credit, she was a master at professing her love. It was just another item on the list of things Chloe had grown to be so thankful for. Whether it was in a simple glance or with words, she really and truly believed that Max loved her. She only hoped she was able to, at least once, give her that same feeling of belief. To know she didn't just love her, but that it was pure and true with no faults or doubts.

"You have to try," Chloe said as delicately as possible. "No matter what happens, we still have this. This was still real, just like I said back at the lighthouse. I'll always be with you. Just...maybe not the way you want."

"I can't believe you're giving up!" Max shouted, angrily slamming her hand on the table. "After all of this, you're just giving up on me! On us!" The anger melted away quickly, leaving a look of hurt.

"No, I'm not giving up on us. That's the one thing I've always believed in. But I love you, Max. I love you and I can't do this to you anymore." Despite her crying freely, there was a minute bit of pride with how relatively calm she was. But her words got hung up in her head. "I can't do this to you anymore," she repeated.

She looked at Max's perfect blue eyes, gleaming with a sheen of tears. The dark circles around them evident of her lack of sleep. The way her hair was long and tangled. The tiny smudge of red under her nostril she had missed when cleaning up after once again stressing herself for money. Max was still the most beautiful thing to ever grace Chloe's sight, but she was badly beaten up. Even now, her hand was turning red from hitting the table. And Chloe knew, in one way or another, she was the reason for all of these marks. A butterfly with wings far too unruly.

And that's what made her crumble. Her lips drew together tightly and she heaved once, doing her best to hold it back, then decided to just let it happen. She choked and fell forward, her face landing in Max's lap. Her arms circled around the girl's waist and she gripped her tightly.

"I can't anymore!" The words were stretched along a wail. "I'm sorry, but I'm hurting you! I can't do this!" She kissed Max's thigh, then buried her face. "I love you so, so much. But I just can't." A high pitched whine burst from her throat. "Max, I'm so, so sorry! But I have to go! I need to leave so this will all be over!"

Her cries were loud, on the verge of screams. She couldn't begin to remember how she made such a heroic speech three years ago. How she offered herself up as sacrifice, still in tears but with conviction. Perhaps it was because she knew she'd be saving the lives of people she knew. Or perhaps it was because she still hadn't fully learned to cherish her own. Now it was different. She had Max. She had a reason to stay. And that she knew she couldn't...

"Please, you have to understand..." She mumbled.

"When?" Max asked. Chloe backed away, settling on the floor. Max looked at her sadly, broken and tired. "Please just...stay a little bit longer." She closed her eyes, hating the words she was about to speak. "I won't stop you," she said, wincing as if it hurt her physically, "but please just stay with me a little more."

Chloe sat stunned, staring up at her. She hadn't thought about when, but it seemed only fair to both of them to have a proper goodbye. Time to be together, to love each other, to enjoy each other's embrace before the end. The decision was made and she wasn't backing down. But she could hang on just a little longer. For her. She nodded.

"I won't go yet," she said. Max sighed in relief and stood up. She bent down and slipped her hand under Chloe's jaw, angling her face up, and kissed her.

"Thank you," she whispered, then went into the bathroom and threw up what little food was in her stomach.

In an effort to cherish and capitalize on their time left together, Chloe constructed something of a bucket list. It was an odd feeling to discuss the things she wanted to do before she died, knowing it loomed around the corner. She still didn't know everything about when Max saved her father, but she knew she was sick enough to want an early out rather than wait around. Things weren't much different now. The clock was ticking, the calendar moving. Despite how scared she was, she never once felt the desire to change her mind. So little was her own decision, she'd be damned if she gave up control of this one. If Fate was chasing her, she would pick when and where it caught her. She would go out on her terms. One last middle finger to the universe.

With the anniversary of the Arcadia Bay storm also came the anniversary of their wedding. That was Chloe's first point on her list. They would take the time to celebrate it and each other. So, with curtains drawn and hidden from the world, they spent the entire day in bed. Exploring, kissing, loving, they left no secrets between them. Smoke coiled in the air, crumbs from food were scattered into the sheets, music sank into the space around their figures. They lost themselves in each other, never once speaking of the storm or of what tomorrow held.

On Halloween, they found a busy neighborhood nearby and parked the RV. The day before, they had purchased costumes and a small bit of decorations to hang up inside. They also bought an obscenely large amount of candy. Max was dressed as a simple witch, while Chloe wore face paint and gaudy rock star accessories. They sat outside the RV with five storage containers full of candy around them. Understandably, parents were cautious at first to allow their kids to approach the two shady girls who arrived from nowhere. But it wasn't long before they became the most popular spot within blocks, with word spreading attracting even more people from further away. When the night was over, Chloe was quite pleased to find not a bit of candy left.

After that, Chloe was adamant about wanting to go to Disney World. They had spoken about it a few times, but always elected to stay away just to be safe. Truthfully, Max had always been the one to show more interest in going, but it's not like Chloe would hate it. With careful planning, they drove as close as they dared and slept. The next morning, they gunned it as fast as they could without being pulled over and managed to get to the park before it opened. Knowing they had to choose, they settled on Magic Kingdom and spent the day in wonder. They screamed joyfully through the few rides they got on, took pictures with some of the mascots and even bought the silly Mickey ear hats. At the end of the night, they held hands and watched the firework display at Cinderella's Castle. All in all, Chloe thought their slogan 'The Happiest Place On Earth' would indeed be perfect, were that honor not already claimed by Max's arms. Still, second was nothing to scoff at.

But it wasn't always smooth sailing. Every smile, every laugh and kiss had an anchor chained to it. Though they often sincerely enjoyed themselves, some days felt too much like faking it. Like pretending nothing was wrong while staring down the barrel of a gun. An attempt to see the new Harry Potter film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them went awry when Max started bawling her eyes out only fifteen minutes in. Another time, Chloe panicked and drove for four hours, speeding away from the coast when a planned trip to the beach was interrupted by a light rain that had been in the forecast for days.

They still drove in shifts, but also seemed to be coming apart in shifts. When Max cracked, Chloe was there to calm her. When Chloe got lost in her own head, Max led her out. All the while, the end lurked in the distance. Waiting, watching and wanting.

"Hey," Chloe said one day, snagging Max by the hand as the girl walked by her. "I've been thinking of something...but I don't know how you'll react." Max gave a sickly smile.

"Babe, I doubt you could bring anything new to the table," she said. That hurt, but she wasn't wrong. She had already told her she would be dying soon. Everything else was a mere scratch in comparison to that wound. Though, she still felt something...different about her new proposition.

"I was thinking, and I don't know if it's a good or bad idea, but..." She picked up one of the new Polaroids on the counter and looked it over. "You, you said you could go through photos to the moment when they were taken, right?"

"Mhm." Max leaned into her a bit and smiled as she looked over the photo. Then as realization dawned on her, she straightened out and regarded Chloe nervously. "What are you thinking?"

"Well..." Chloe stopped to think it over. "I mean, what if we took one right now? Just a quick selfie of us together. And..." It dug into her harshly. "You know, when I'm gone, you could use it and..."

"Chloe." Max looked at her in disbelief, her head shaking only slightly.

"If you get too lonely," Chloe said quietly, the thought of it stinging. "If you need someone to talk to, you could just go through it and visit me." She set the photo down and began playing with her hands. "It won't be me me, but it'" She chuckled joylessly. "That's so confusing. But if I'm the one that came up with the idea, then I'll know about it too. So you won't have to explain or anything. You could just...drop by to say hey."

"It could...change something," Max said as she looked at the floor. "It could alter something." Chloe deflated a bit, but tried to power through.

"It could change something but I mean, as long as I..." A wash of anxiety hit her and she flailed her hand. "As long as I go through with it, everything will be fine. I just hate the thought of you being lonely. You won't be able to talk to anyone about," she gestured around them, "this. I'll understand, at least."

It was sinking in further and further how absurd of an idea this was. Chloe would be dead, but Max could see her again. Talk to her. She had done it with William. It'd be like talking to a memory. But if something were to happen in just the right, or in this case, wrong way, she might come back to life. It made her head spin. Was she presenting Max with a possible gift or a form of torture?

"I just want this to be as easy on you as possible." She flinched when Max let go of a sardonic chuckle. "It's going to be hard to readjust to everything, I know that. But...if you have this power, and it can save you even a little, then I think maybe we should do it." A swath of feelings bubbled up in her. "Like, maybe you're kinda horny," she said, pushing it down as she smirked. "You could theoretically come here and we could take care of it." She forced a laugh, but it stumbled and died when Max looked at her in horror.

"Please remember that however 'okay' you are with this decision, I'm not. At all," Max said sternly. "I am only letting you do this because I love you and don't want you in pain. Please don't..." She rolled her eyes, irritated that she was beginning to cry. "I love your dumb jokes, but please...not about this, okay?"

"I'm sorry." Chloe took her into her arms and kissed her on the neck. "I'm sorry, I just don't know how to process it sometimes." She held her tighter. "It was just an idea, baby. You don't have to do it, I just thought it might help."

"I'm..." Max's voice caught in her throat, the remainder of her breath washing along Chloe's ear. "I'm scared I'd use it too much. Or try to change it." She ran her hand down Chloe's side. "I'll never want to leave. The temptation..."

"But you just told me that," Chloe said. "So, if we took it and you came back, I would know you were scared of that. I could talk you through it." She laughed again, this time genuinely. "This is so weird." She pecked Max on the lips, then picked up her camera. She held it out to her. "No, I do want you to take it. You can burn it later if you want, but I want you to take it. It's officially on my fuck-it list." Max couldn't help but smile at that, and she took the camera.

"I would never burn it," she muttered as she wiped at her eyes. She blew out a gust of breath, then settled in closely next to Chloe. "I'm still not sure how this...really works, but I guess if I take the photo and then start acting really different, you'll know it's me from the future."

"Future Max," Chloe whispered in an excited tone. Max snickered, then held the camera away from them. She smiled as best she could.

"One, two..." She pressed the button and the camera whirred, spitting out a photo. She pulled it out and set the camera down, then watched as the image became clear. All things considered, it might have been the prettiest photo she'd ever taken. There was no way she could ever burn it.

"Still you?" Chloe asked, resting her hand on the brunette's shoulder.

"Still me." Max nodded. "Whether that's good or bad..." she added with a little laugh. Chloe spun her by the shoulder so they faced each other.

"It's the best," she said, staring deep into Max's eyes. "You are all I could ever want or need." Her lips curled into a smile and she moved Max's hair out of her face. "I love you."

"I love you too," Max responded, sad and happy and annoyed that she was still blushing after all this time. She set the photo next to the camera, then let herself be taken by Chloe's kiss.

The days continued to slip by them and they did all they could to soak in each others presence. Winter fell around them as they drove north, and with the first substantial snowfall, they engaged in a rather heated snowball fight. They made snow angels and built a snowman, bundling him nicely with a scarf Max had bought the previous winter. On Christmas, they exchanged kisses rather than gifts and drank hot chocolate while wearing horribly ugly sweaters. Though, they did take the time to drive through some neighborhoods and marvel at the elaborate decorations and lighting displays.

Soon after, they spent New Year's Eve under a full moon, tightly snuggled together and half drunk while explosions of color littered the sky. 2016 was gone, sent to the past with a museum of memories, both good and bad. In the early hours of 2017, they danced, laughing and awkward in their movements. Laughter bleeding from them like it was all that could be done. The morning found them tired, hungover and so, so madly in love.

All of these moments were beautiful, like lyrics or chords added into the song that was their life. It danced gracefully out of the world's speakers, blessing them with a melody it had never before heard and would never hear again. A song that beckoned tears and incited laughter, with bridges from fairy tale to tragedy and back again. A harmony stitched along the background, angelic and somber, casting spotlights on the way their hands fit together just right. A brilliant chorus, both catchy and disjointed, showcasing a love that should not be, but was. Two young girls meant to be together. So perfect for each other, that the universe itself tried to rip them apart in envy. Yes, it was a masterpiece of a song. Gorgeous and dangerous. Loud and noiseless. Divine and hellish.

But no song can play forever, lest the skies crack open and swallow the world. Eventually, all instruments must come to rest. All songs must end.

It was raining. It was always raining when it was Max's turn to drive, like a clear message. 'I hear you, universe!' she used to think.

First that fast, cold and thin rain that wasn't enough to drench you, but its cold was sharp, the kind that goes through your skin, resting on your bones. Or maybe it was the whole situation, digging into her like tiny stinging daggers all at the same time.

Max could feel her fingers go numb, that awful sensation crawling on her skin as she pushed forward down the road. Another town, another city behind them. After a while, every building, every structure seemed the same. No change, no difference. Not that there was enough time to take in the scenery that they quickly left behind, the wheels of the RV squeaking with every turn. There was no time for anything anymore. Not with the storm on the move, the wind and the rain coming from hell itself at that point. Nightmare Max smiled coldly at Max. The real one, the only one, shook her head in frustration and exhaustion.

But there wasn't someone to share that tiny, dark, awful secret that basically wiped out so much life in the past three years of her life. The mental image of the bodies floating on the tides, lazily moving back and forth, back and forth, never reaching the coast and the sand. Never coming back home.

She shook her head again, trying to get rid of the image. Her eyes were sore and puffy, the dark bags under them visible every time she looked up to the rear-view mirror. Her dark blue eyes surrounded by an exhausted reddish white.

"Fuck…" She muttered with a tired sigh. She checked the clock. She had been driving constantly for four hours now. Time to fucking stop she supposed.

She slowed down and parked carefully near the next intersection. They were in a pretty big town. Who knew where exactly by now? She just wanted to leave it behind, to move faster, to maybe get an advantage, something that gave them a break…

You know it's not gonna happen she thought to herself, annoyed at the fact that she could totally see her other self smiling. She could almost feel herself reaching a dead end.

Once the RV was parked, she killed the engine and got up, stretched a bit her tired and pained muscles and walked away from the wheel, defeated, dragging her feet on the floor. She walked to the back of the RV, where she knew Chloe was sleeping. She put the divider away and found her wife laying on her side, hugging her knees against her chest, her short half blonde hair messy and unattended… But she was awake. Her light blue eyes, tired and puffy just staring at the shelf near the bed where a few pictures rested. The most visible one was the selfie Chloe insisted to take not long ago. The one that she wanted Max to use just to visit her for a little while, when the weight of the loss and loneliness was too much. Max couldn't even look at that picture, even if it was beautiful, just because of the weight of the meaning behind it. It made her heart cry in pain.

"You awake already?" Max asked softly, sitting on the bed next to Chloe. She slightly nodded, her eyes still fixed on the picture.

"Didn't sleep at all," she replied. "I…couldn't."

"I'm sorry, love." Max raised her hand and ran her fingers through Chloe's short hair in a soothing manner. Like it would make her feel better somehow about everything. Yeah, right. "It's your shift to drive but…if you want I can give you more time."

"Max…I think I'm done," Chloe said with a sigh. She refused to look at the brunette, even if the sound of her heart shattering under the weight of her words could be heard from where she laid.

"What?" Max asked, a small broken voice coming through her trembling lips. Her hand in Chloe's hair froze.

"I think it's time. It's getting to be too much and…well. We already talked about this," Chloe said, her voice numb and almost cold. "I just think it's time."

Tears started forming behind Max's eyelids. She promised herself that she wasn't going to, that she had to be strong and take the hit she knew was coming. But actually hearing the tired and defeated tone of Chloe's voice… She knew there was nothing else she could do. They had effectively reached the end of the road, and there were no time powers that could open new paths.

"Just…now? You said a little bit longer..." The brunette muttered, a bit in a vain attempt of holding back a painful scream of horror. It felt like such…little time. It was like she actually didn't enjoy the heat of her lover's skin, her mischievous smile, her laugh, the sound of her voice… She did, but now at the end of the road, it didn't feel like it was enough. It would never be enough.

"And I did, Max. I stayed," Chloe said, slowly sitting on the bed, her legs crossed and her blue piercing eyes now focused on Max's face. The shadow of pain and horror was in them too, the same pain and horror Max was feeling, like bile creeping up her throat. "I stayed but I think it's time we take the final step here. It's getting really draining for you…and me. I promised I'd stay a bit more and I did, but I can't keep hurting you. Not anymore."

Max looked away, her hands resting on her lap in defeat. What could she say to convince her wife otherwise? There was nothing, literally nothing else to say. The only thing that would make her keep going was just the denial, the refusal of letting her go. Not like that. The awful image of Chloe standing there alone, waiting for the cataclysm to just take her away… The tears finally reached their highest point and started to fall down her freckled pale cheeks, burning every inch of skin they touched with aching fire.

"I know it hurts, Max," Chloe whispered and came closer to her, rounding her with her arms and squeezing her softly against her body. "Believe me, I fucking know. After all we did… I am stubborn but I know when it's time to stop, too. You knew this day was coming eventually. We are dealing with forces we can't beat, Max."

Chloe ran her fingers through Max's hair softly, her warm breath clashing against the brunette's ear, as the punk rested her forehead on her temple.

"So what do you expect me to do?" Max muttered, her hurt voice almost inaudible.

"Just…keep me company. I'll just wait for it and then you will go. And…you will not look back," Chloe said, almost a painful whisper in Max's ear.

Her voice broke and faded. Even If Max couldn't see her face, she knew the tears got the better of her too. And the single thought of crystal drops falling again from those sky blue eyes made her mad beyond belief. Max was not defeated. Max was furious. And that was the difference and why Chloe couldn't understand.

"But I don't want you to," Max said, her voice firm despite the pain.

But Chloe shook her head slightly. With that simple gesture, Max knew she couldn't win. It was just denial. There has always been denial.

"I know, love. I don't want to either. But…I can't keep at this. Not anymore."

Her words lingered like a dark cloud over them. Silence fell, and for the first time in years, it wasn't a comfortable one. Like back at the beginning, it was the sound of defeat. And not a fair one.

"So…what now?" Max asked a few minutes later, breaking the silence's spell. "We may just…wait for it here?"

"No," Chloe said, pulling away to make eye contact. Two different shades of blue met. "I'll not be responsible for another town's destruction. If i'm letting it take me, we are going to do it on my terms."

"What do you mean?" Max asked in confusion.

"I want to go home, Max," Chloe said…and the words took a second to make sense in Max's head. The image of her hometown being basically ran over by the storm… The people, unmarked graves of her friends and family. "I don't want to fucking die in the middle of nowhere. If I have to…I at least want it to mean something."

"So…you want to go back to Arcadia Bay, that's what you are saying?" Max asked, the panic rising through her throat, invading every sense. Back to the beginning. Back where she made the first mistake with such a terrible chain of consequences.

"Seems like a way to close the circle to me," Chloe said, almost nonchalantly. The tone was scary.

"I…I'm not sure if I can do that," Max replied, looking away.

"I know. It will not exactly be a party but…it's the place where we met, it's where we grew up… It's where you saved me and where we started again," Chloe explained. Every single word felt like it weighed a ton on Max's shoulders. "I don't want you to share my fate either so it will also be a way to close the circle too. Leave Arcadia on your own as you should have done years ago."

Like I could, Max thought with a bitter taste in her mouth. But she didn't say anything. She just clenched her fists in her lap and looked at her wife once again, a frown on her face. Anger. Anger rising like a rampaging storm. That bitch will finally get what she wants then, she snapped internally.

"It hurts a lot hearing you say it like it was all a mistake," Max said, a sharp edge on her words.

"I'd never hold against you what you tried to do," Chloe said, understanding. "Never. I know why and I'd have done the same for you. We…we had a good run, Max. We visited places, we had fun…fuck, we even got married and went to Las Vegas, Disney… We took a thousand photographs you will keep with you to remember me and all the moments we had… You made me the happiest person on the fucking planet, Max. Despite everything. And I really, really hope at least I made you happy too during my time."

Chloe looked away this time. She moved to the edge of the bed and rested her elbows on her knees, pulling slightly at her hair to deal with the desperation of her ideas developing in her mind.

"You did. You have no idea how much. But…I don't understand how you can just…you know. Be gone. I just can't get my head around it," Max said with a wince.

"Hey, we are talking about my death here, sorry for not being ice cold as fuck," Chloe said cynically. She took a peek through her hands and made sure Max saw her ironic smile.

"Yeah, I know," Max said, shaking her head. "It just…reminds me too much of that day at the cliff. What you said."

"I was right. But it just…took us time to accept that," Chloe said with a sigh, raising her head again, her eyes lost on that picture.

"I'm sorry. But I guess you're right," Max said. Her words sounded like someone else was talking through her. Maybe it was the universe after all.

"Don't feel sad about this…" Chloe said, resting a hand over Max's. "We knew we had…borrowed time. We both did the best we could, Max. But we clearly can't beat the universe."

"Yeah…we can't," Max said with a sigh, and let Chloe pull her into bed and into her arms for a while. "Let's go home."

When Max opened her eyes, she knew she wasn't awake. Or maybe she was? At this point she wasn't even sure the nightmares were nightmares. Who said she wasn't in another piece of time she had never actually seen before? Whatever, she thought. No time for games. Not anymore.

The sun was high in the sky, the familiar rock formations of Arcadia Bay surrounding a beach she knew well. She walked on that very same spot several times in different realities. As a kid dressed in pirate gear, and during that fatidic…ha, what an accurate description, week during October. First with the love of her life in a wheelchair, then with the love of her life killing a man and his dog… No trace of the beached whales though, so…at least the sights weren't as depressing as in as they were during those occasions.

The waves came and went over the shore, but not at all near her feet. They sank in the white sand it felt like home.

"This is actually a nice setting for a change, wouldn't you agree?" Said a voice she recognized as her own, but with that characteristic cold and ironic tone.

She turned around slowly to find her own double, Nightmare Max walking towards her, her hands behind her back and a tiny devilish smile on her face. As one last insult, she was wearing the same clothes she did when they left Arcadia Bay three years ago. Chloe's necklace was hanging from her neck, the three golden bullets bright under the sun.

"I guess so," Max replied, taking note of the outfit and rolling her eyes. "Since you are the one picking the settings I'd say it's a nice change of you."

"I thought it might fit the theme," Nightmare Max said, walking until she was next to Max. She crossed her arms and looked at the sea, lazy waves moving back and forth, back and forth. "Arcadia Bay is nice when the weather forecast says there is a storm coming… You know what they say, calm before the storm and all that bullshit."

"So I assume you are aware that you won, finally," Max said bitterly, her eyes still fixed on the horizon line, so calm and peaceful.

"You say that like I have any pleasure in this outcome." Nightmare Max shook her head in disapproval. "Tsk, figures. I'm the bitch ain't I?"

"Your words, not mine," Max replied, looking at her double. "But yes. You are."

"I found it amusing, to be honest," Nightmare Max said, walking towards the line of the water where the sand was darker. She crouched to pick up a stick the tides brought to the shore and started playing with it on the sand, drawing something. "It took you guys a long fucking time and me a lot of extra work I didn't honestly want to pull."

"It was always your choice to destroy everything," Max said coldly. She noticed her double was drawing butterflies on the wet sand and the image made her blood boil.

"We already discussed it," said Nightmare Max, throwing the stick into the water. The next wave erased a bit her drawing. "You can alter time and space to…a certain extent, before it backfires on your ass, Max… And I am genuinely tired of running behind you two with a shovel and a broom cleaning the mess you're leaving in this timeline."

Another wave came in stronger and erased the drawing a bit more, leaving almost no trace of it. Clear enough.

"I suppose you will not have to do that for much longer," Max said, almost spitting venom with her words. "You will finally get what you want. Are you happy now?"

Nightmare Max sighed to the bright blue sky and turned around, facing her with a not so happy expression on her young features.

"Ah, here we come with the drama. Happy. Sure," she said bitterly. "Also, nice setting you picked. Arcadia Bay again, huh? That's nice. Actually, that's more than nice. It's fucking hilarious. Let's go home, ha! So depressing and ominous. Almost like a movie!"

She clapped her hands and a mad, cynical smile grew on her face. The sudden movement made the bullets tingle against each other, and Max couldn't help but look at them, resisting the urge to just step forward and tear the necklace off her double.

After a second of silence, Nightmare Max faked a thoughtful mock and tapped her chin with her index finger, as if she were reconsidering.

"Or it may as well be a written drama, who the hell am I to criticize your tastes?"

"So, even when you win you are a bitch. Charming," Max said, looking away, focusing on the peaceful sea again just to resist the urge to blow up on her double and slap her. How dare she use her fucking face to make fun of the situation. Fucked up nightmares and all.

"Look, I'm sorry, okay?" Nightmare Max said, with what could be considered a slightly less bitter tone. "I'm not this bitchy when you're on my good side. I'm basically as tired as you of playing cat and mouse. But what she wants is the right thing to do and you should have listened a long time ago."

She tapped the bullets with her fingers, as if she was counting them.

"It's time to come to terms with the fact that there is more to it than you realize and…well, even if I can control shit to a certain extent… There is always chaos, if you catch my drift."

Max rolled her eyes in defeat.

"Yeah, yeah… I suppose this is the last time I'll have to deal with you, at least," she said.

"Hey, give me some credit…" Nightmare Max said, crossing her arms and pretending to be offended. "At least my jokes are clever."

"Fuck you."

"Alright, alright…" Nightmare Max raised her hands apologetically, a smile on her face. "I'll just leave you to it. But I mean it when I say I don't find any pleasure in this outcome at all. I never did."

Her words almost sounded genuine. Almost. And that made Max even more furious... And a wild thought came to her mind. Would it change anything in the end? She may at least have a graceful exit from all the mess.

"Just…leave me alone," Max said, with a bored tone. "You got what you wanted. I don't need you to come here to mock me even when I'm fucking asleep."

Nightmare Max sighed and then slowly started to walk away from her, still with her blue devilish eyes fixed on her.

"Have it your way…" She said with a shrug. "See you later, Mad Max... It was a hell of a ride."

"Hell is accurate," Max replied, without even bothering to look at her. "See you never."

It may very well be far more accurate than her evil twin thought. If her plan made sense at all at least, or worked… Time would tell. Ha. Time.

And without a single word more, Nightmare Max disappeared without a trace, leaving her alone at the beach. She sighed, and then breathed in the salty air she knew so well. Slowly, she let it sink in her mind, the resolution she had to take. And she made a choice. The same choice she should have taken long ago.

Waves came and went, came and went. Leaving their mark on the sand, erasing the butterfly drawings once and for all, leaving no trace, no proof that they were there at all.

Max sat down in the sand, hugged her knees and let the salty tears come, finally reunited with the sea where they belonged.

The wind carried that familiar scent. She breathed in, the smell evoking lost memories of years and years ago. She felt old, which was ridiculous. It just seemed like such a long time ago.

"You okay?" Chloe asked. She was driving, one of her hands gripping the steering wheel with unnecessary force. The other holding Max's over her leg, like she was afraid of letting it go.

During the whole drive, they kept their hands together. There weren't many moments they weren't touching each other somehow. Leaning a bit to the side, holding hands, falling asleep in each other's arms… Clocks were ticking life away in a literal sense, and the fact that they were driving to the end of everything, managed to just bring them even closer if that was possible.

Max wondered how Chloe thought she was going to be able to let go, since they were stuck like two pieces of velcro since that storm back in October.

"As okay as I can be I suppose…" Max sighed, keeping her eyes glued to the window, almost afraid of the moment they actually reached the town.

She wasn't sure what to expect. Would it be still destroyed and untouched? Would there be remains of help that came too late? Would it be like that afternoon years ago, when they drove through the wreckage in the opposite direction, hoping…wishing…everything was okay?

Chloe squeezed her hand in a vain reassuring gesture, but didn't say anything. Silence fell again over their heads.

The journey was silent, sad and heavy. Like a death sentence, which kind of fit the theme very well. They weren't actually as far from the town as they thought. Only a two day drive to get there. And when the old sign of "Welcome to Arcadia Bay" showed up on the side of the road, Chloe stopped the vehicle, staring at it like it was the storm itself.

"It's…hella weird to be back," she muttered, her sky blue eyes still reading the words she knew by heart. She could swear her own heartbeat was loud enough to drown her words, fast and heavy.

"I never thought we would," Max admitted, looking anywhere but that spot. She couldn't help but feel butterflies at the 'hella' showing up there. Her grip on Chloe's hand grew tighter and the punk returned the squeeze, looking at her with a sad smile.

"Life is strange, I suppose."

Chloe drove through the deserted streets of what they used to call home. Deserted from people only, because the forest around Arcadia seemed to had taken over the town as much as the storm did in a way. Places were recognizable still, but there was a weird aura of mystery and pain.

It was like a movie. Max felt like someone else had lived there before, not her. It was like contemplating the disaster through the eyes of a stranger that just found the town by accident. She was expecting guilt, a torrent of emotions as they drove past the wreckage of buildings she used to know. Watching the deer walking freely on the pavement, the rest of whatever was there before. But they didn't come. Or at least not as she expected. Instead of feeling guilt, she felt anger. Anger because she was put in an impossible situation she didn't ask for. The final choice was hers but did she ever have one?

Chloe drove slowly and with care, avoiding the broken light posts and the wreckage all over the place. It was like the town was untouched. No sign of any assistance, no sign of any attempt to rebuild…just left abandoned. Left for dead.

As far as they knew thanks to Chloe's bit of research and the random news mentions about the town and the other storms, people were still too frightened by the phenomenon. There was no explanation for it and the panic spread like a disease, so Arcadia Bay actually was left alone. Not much as a reminder, but more like a quarantine zone. Who would build something new in a town that seemed to have been wiped out by a supernatural curse?

Probably the only person that would have at least tried to take advantage of the situation was Sean Prescott… If the storm didn't kill him by collapsing his mansion over his head.

Max used to think it was ridiculously ironic how close to the truth they were.

Chloe had to take a turn to reach the shore, something they agreed before. They would wait for it at that familiar spot Max chose, like it was all just the final insult to the universe. Max could feel Chloe's anguish in the air the moment they drove past what was left of the Two Whales. Rusty, burned and no trace of life around. Okay yeah, that hurt like a bitch.

"It will suck that you have to drive back through this after we are done," Chloe said, her voice broken. "I don't know if this was a good idea after all. You will have time to dodge all this crap and get the fuck out but still…it's a distraction."

Max didn't even bother to comment on that statement.

"We got all set up so you don't have to stop until you reach the city," Chloe continued, swallowing audibly. "Just promise me you will get to your folks. They will help you. You told them you are coming home soon on your last call…"

"Yeah…I did," Max muttered.

"So…it would be just four hours, maybe five. And the storm will not be after you so you will be safe…"

She continued muttering until her broken voice stopped being audible and Max had to hold herself back from screaming out loud or getting up to break stuff in madness.

Chloe parked the RV near the shore, but made sure it was pointing at the road. A clear, fast escape route. And that gesture made Max's heart wince in pain. How much could she hold on? She knew she couldn't back off now from their plan. Chloe would never accept that, not after everything, not after Max agreed to this nightmare. And having to keep her mask on until the very last moment was proving a complete challenge, as expected. She just wanted to fucking get up and keep running, despite how tired and fed up she felt.

The waiting was…even worse than she expected.

They waited for three days at the beach, and every time conversation came up, it always took those terrible turns that kept her in that reality. They would talk about nonsense then Chloe would drop one of those comments that made her want to rip her face off in desperation. Always assuming Max was basically walking away free after all the mess she made. Advice on how to drive through the wreckage. That she should focus on herself. That she could achieve all she wanted on her own. That she was brave, smart and strong. That she could do anything... Constant reminders of the fact that Chloe wasn't leaving Arcadia Bay for a second time with her.

Each comment, every time Chloe showed how much she was convinced Max was actually going to leave, it was like the dagger was pushed in Max's chest a bit deeper. It reminded her too much about the Chloe from the alternative reality she briefly visited and what she said that dark noon at the cliff. And not only she thought of how she didn't only hurt one Chloe, but two… Chloe was always saying she didn't want to hurt Max anymore…but at the end of the story, who actually hurt the other more?

They spent the whole time at a hand's reach. Daytime at the beach, mostly in silence. A bit of snow showed up and birds started to fall to their deaths. Reminders of how little time remained.

At night, they just let themselves get lost in each other, very brief moments ignoring the storm coming their way. Just them, the hot interior of the RV and their deep, crazy love they felt. A cursed love that was about to be destroyed. The one that wasn't supposed to be, but it happened anyway. Defying destiny and fate.

The time finally came and the day turned night at noon. The wind blowed and blowed around them, shaking the trees of the woods and making the sand and salt fly, as the tides, once calm, became turbulent.

For a little while, they just stood there on the sand, their eyes fixed on the black clouds forming a spiral, slowly but surely, as the wind dragged them on the sky. The lightning started soon after, followed by an intense rain and the sound of the wind and the sea went hectic.

Plants and branches joined the wind as the storm started to rip nature apart. It was massive, like a column of rage twisting, changing, getting bigger and bigger as it landed on the water, making the waves rise.

They kept their hands together, almost clenched for dear life as they watched how the tornado finally take form. It wasn't at all like the one that destroyed Arcadia Bay before. This one was at least two times bigger. It was so wide, the line of the horizon was completely erased by the insane twisting of the clouds and the sea, meeting in chaos. It was an enraged monster full of fury for being denied so many times.

"This is it," Chloe said, her eyes fixed on the storm forming in front of them. She turned around to look at Max's face, tears streaming down her own but resolution and something terribly close to peace bright in her eyes. "I'll never be able to explain how much you have changed me. How much I've lived thanks to you. This…this was a hell of an adventure…"

"I've always wanted my life to be an adventure," Max said, and to her surprise, as tears came, a tiny smile curved her lips as she raised her eyes and looked at Chloe's with determination. "But not without you."

There was a second in which Max could see Chloe's expression changing from confusion to realization. She knew. Of course she knew.

"Max…" She said, her voice barely audible over the raging storm.

"Remember when I said that?" Max asked, incapable of looking away from her partner's face of fear. "We were right here."

"How could I forget?" Chloe replied, emotion breaking her words as the tears kept coming down her cheeks, mixed with the rain falling from the sky. "Damn it… You're coming with me, aren't you?"

Max nodded. She was sure. She was certain. There wasn't a hint of hesitation in her gesture, in her eyes, in her smile. She had made that decision the very moment Chloe asked her to die the first time. If she couldn't win… If she couldn't have her alive and live the life she wanted…then she would not have one at all. Two could play that game, she thought. If fate and the universe decided her life was going to be empty and without the person she loved with an intensity that pushed her to break time and realities…then she wouldn't keep living. Simple as that.

"I am," Max said.

"That's why you agreed to this…" Chloe said. She knew the whole time. She expected otherwise, she wanted Max to be able to move on…but she also knew there was a high chance she was just lying to herself. After all Max did… It was too easy for Chloe to convince her to finally give up. "Max, are you insane?"

"I've never been so rational in my life, Chloe," Max said with no hint of backing down. No hesitation. Just…done. "It was an adventure, yeah. But I'm not continuing mine without you."

There was just a brief moment of pain in Chloe's eyes, before she pulled Max by the hand and both fused in a tight embrace as their lips met for the last time. It was rough and salty, not only because of the ocean but because of the hot tears streaming down their faces. Desperate. The last kiss of two lovers about to walk to the other side. About to be tied together, thrown into the ocean in the worst of weather, and finally drown. A kiss that basically sealed their lives, the only thing that never changed, from bright sunsets and pirates to stormy weather and nose bleeds. They have been always together in a way. And now they were walking out of life together, as it should be. And for some weird fucked up reason…it felt like it was alright.

"I love you," Chloe said weakly, her lips trembling against Max's the moment she pulled slightly away, just enough to be able to pronounce the words.

"I love you too," Max replied, with emphasis in every single word, her eyes open and staring deep into Chloe's.

"And…" Chloe muttered, looking away. "I am sorry."

Sorry about…what? Max thought in confusion as her partner pulled away, leaving her with that empty feeling and her hands itching for contact. Sorry about all that had happened? Or…sorry for how their love ended up being such a massive disaster with really dire consequences?

Max would probably never know the answer to those questions. Chloe looked at her for one last time and then, passing an arm over her shoulders, they started to walk into the ocean with their eyes nailed to the massive storm.

This is the end, Max thought, as the ocean soaked their clothes. Her hands pulling from Chloe's clothes like a lifeline… and then the tides raised.

From beneath the surface, the tide pulled fiercely at their ankles, sucking them below the waves. The salt water burnt Max's eyes before she had a chance to close them, though she didn't lose grip on Chloe. She could feel the girl's arms wrapping around her just as tightly, strong like a vice. Tumbling through the water, it was soon impossible to tell which way the surface was anymore. The deafening roar of the tornado was eerily muted underwater.

A sharp pain bloomed in Max's head as it bounced off a rock and she screamed, swallowing some water before remembering to close her mouth. Pressure began growing tighter in her spine as Chloe's arms crushed her in their grasp. She could only imagine she was providing the same feeling. They were spun quickly, again slamming into the ocean floor. With another vicious change of direction from the tides, Max lost her hold of Chloe. Struck by panic, she opened her eyes but it was only black. Reaching out in desperation, one of her hands found Chloe's shirt and clawed into it. Swinging her other hand forward, her fingers just barely looped around the cord of Chloe's necklace.

Suddenly, everything stopped.

Slowly, as if it were being wrung out, the color slipped away from the world. The darkness around her lightened into a gray and everything became visible. She could see Chloe an arms length away, her eyes open and hands searching. Behind her, Max could see the faintest shimmer of where the surface was. They were parallel to it, with Max's back faced toward the ocean floor.

She was confused for only the briefest of moments, which was usurped quickly by wrath. Stunned anger. She felt stupid for not having thought of it before. Her powers had a fail-safe that kept her from being fatally injured. So then, what? She was being 'told' to rewind. But what did that mean? The thoughts stung so hotly in her head, she didn't even notice the pain building up inside of her. The searing of the water held frozen against her eyes. She definitely wasn't breathing.

She had become, not necessarily at peace, but comfortable enough with the concept of her and Chloe going out together. It was a fucked up ending for a fucked up and amazing life. It made sense. But now...she was realizing that her powers wouldn't let her die with Chloe. She was being forced to rewind until she was at whatever was deemed a safe point. Which was what? The rewinds didn't physically move her. Was she expected to somehow rewind to before the storm even started? Could she even do that? Not like it mattered. She wasn't going to. She'd rot away in this place between time before she ever even considered it.

"You..." Her voice rang out like the storm itself, bubbling over in her head with the taste of iron. "You need to rewind and let her go." She couldn't open her mouth to respond, but very clearly thought 'fuck you.'

"Now is not the time for your petty fucking insults," Nightmare Max said. There was a fast movement above Chloe, and something in reality ripped. The other Max stepped out, walking down through the still ocean at an impossible angle. Unaffected by the stopping of time, her color contrasted sharply against all the gray. "Max, this is not going to fucking work! You have to rewind and get yourself out of here!"

"We're doing what you asked!" Max thought loudly.

"No! This isn't what I asked for! I never said anything about you going with her!" Nightmare Max clawed at her head, crazed and wild. "I can't believe this! You can't possibly love her this much! You need to let her go! You can't go with her!"

"That wasn't part of the deal!" Max screamed back in her head. "You won! We give up! Just let us fucking die! Aren't you happy!?"

"I am not fucking playing games," Nightmare Max said, darting toward them. She gripped each of Max's wrists. "Let her go. Rewind and let her go in alone." Though Max couldn't fight back, it also seemed like Nightmare Max wasn't making much progress on moving her. She growled in frustration and her hand slipped over Max's knuckles and hooked onto Chloe's necklace so they were both holding onto it.

The pain was spiking through her as the metallic taste grew in her mouth, though no blood was flowing. Her wide, forced open eyes stared harshly at the cord of Chloe's necklace. At both her and her doppelganger's hand on it. The image of it was all too familiar, too etched into her soul. In her mind, she started laughing. It was horrible and completely unraveled, not unlike the laughter of the other Max when explaining the situation with the Graysons.

"You fucking bitch!" Max thought in fractals, a hyena's cackling falling through the pieces. "You fucking bitch, you didn't think I'd find out!" The other Max glanced at her, eyes wide with...fear. "I can't die! You need me!"

"Max..." She said carefully, as if tiptoeing around a sleeping bear. "You have to let Chloe go. It's what needs to happen."

"Or what!?" Max asked in her mind. "You can't make me rewind! I'll stay like this forever until I'm crushed! Either kill us both or we'll stay like this, keeping the whole world frozen until the end of time! The end of you! Just to fucking spite you!" Nightmare Max flinched and shrank at her words. Then, her gaze grew dark.

"You want to fucking drown with her? Really? You really think she's worth all that?" Nightmare Max asked, the darkened color of her eyes seeming to swirl in a cyclone. Fire burnt brightly in Max's head, scorching her every last thought as she was wracked with agony. Still, she hoped the other Max could tell she'd be grinning madly if she were able to move.

"I broke time for her, didn't I?" Max thought calmly. Nightmare Max's nostril flared in rage, the tension visible in her jawline.

"Fine," she said bitterly, turning her attention back to Chloe's necklace. She gripped it with both hands. "Have it your way." She pulled at it harshly, and a crack staggered through space and time. Life shattered like glass around them, salt water spilling through the fissures. The water catapulted down Max's throat, filling her lungs and sending her to sleep.

It was so calm. Save for the seagulls speckled throughout, the sky was clear, burning in its amber tones. The sun hung low, golden and radiating like the heart of the heavens as the horizon began to swallow it. The waves far below provided, something was different. The waves weren't far below. They weren't anywhere. The ocean was still, smooth and undisturbed. Max looked down, her eyebrow perking curiously as she realized she was standing on the water. There was nothing else around her. Just endless water that eventually met the horizon. The sound of a quiet splash drew her attention.

Nightmare Max stood not far away, anxiously cradling her elbow the same way Max had always done. She shifted from one foot to the other. Her expression was wounded, jilted as if she couldn't believe she'd been treated this way. Chloe's necklace hung from her fingers. Max took a slow breath in.

"Why did I get this power?" She asked. The other Max recoiled at her words, then shrugged.

"You can't expect me to have all the answers," she responded. "The universe, it…"

"Chaos, right." Max smirked. "Right." She looked over her hand, stretching it as she considered things.

"I was just trying to keep things the way they were supposed to be. I...I had a choice, you know?" She closed her eyes and shook her head. "Of all people, you should know what that's like."

"I do," Max agreed. She took her time looking around her, soaking in the serene atmosphere. "You lied to me."

"I didn't...I didn't lie!" The other Max held up her hands in defense. "I didn't. I just...left some things out." Max glared at her.

"Is there a difference?" She took a few steps forward, easily gliding on the surface of the water. "You've been haunting me, trying to take Chloe away all because your silly little order was getting messed up."

"I was doing my fucking job!" Nightmare Max shouted, swinging her arms violently. "I was doing what had to be done!" Max watched the necklace jerk through the air. The blood in her veins was still boiling, but passing calmly through her. She was several steps beyond wrath. For all the other Max had claimed to be the avatar of justice, the title now seemed to fit Max much better. The reflections in the water of the two of them. The same, but slightly different... Max released the tension in her shoulders.

"I'm wondering," she said. "I always figured you looked like me as part of your whole psychological horror shtick. But…" She couldn't keep herself from giggling. "Why do you look like me?" Nightmare Max scowled as if she'd been asked something highly offensive.

"You...agh," she stomped on the water, splashing in a tantrum. "You think I like this? You think I picked this!? I'm the fucking universe and I...I look like you!?" She shook her head in disgust. "We're both handcuffed to this thing."

"So you're my prisoner just as much as I'm yours…" Max mused, not bothering to hold back her smile. The other Max sneered.

"I wouldn't expect you to use such ugly words," she said.

"Yes, well..." Max tilted her head. "You can only be pushed so far, I suppose." From the corner of her eye, she spotted movement on the water. Looking down, she could see her and Chloe as children running through the forest, the surface acting as a television screen. It swirled into a different scene, this time of them lying on Chloe's bed the morning after breaking into the pool. It continued to twist and morph into different memories, playing short snippets of their life.

"I can't...believe this…" Nightmare Max growled, irritation plain in her voice. She pressed a palm against her face.

"Oh?" Max asked, bending at her knees to examine the memory playing in the reflection. "I thought you knew how everything ended up, right? I thought you could see all possible futures." She turned to regard her counterpart and smiled. "What? You thought I'd let her just go off by herself? Let her die alone?" She looked back at the movie playing in the water of Chloe and her driving with the windows down in the sunshine, a gorgeous smile on her lover's face. She let her fingers skim the surface where Chloe's cheek was. "You can't account for any change she makes. Any reaction she causes. Even if it's making me fall so in love with her, I'd never be without her. And that...happened a long, long time ago."

"It's your fault," the other Max said through clenched teeth. " had to save her. Had to let her live. And now nothing makes sense anymore!"

"Well," Max stood up straight and regarded her twin curiously, "why didn't you stop it?" Her voice was light and almost playful. "If it was so bad, why didn't you stop it? You can do that sort of thing, right? You're all-powerful. Right?" The thought had fully sunk in, dug its roots deep within Max's mind. She now knew the truth. But...she wouldn't let the other her off so easily. Not after everything. Nightmare Max remained quiet. "Say it," Max commanded calmly.

"You know why," Nightmare Max said, rolling her eyes.

"Say it," she repeated, this time louder.

"I'm not a fucking puppet, Max. I'm not going to-"

"Oh, no, you're not a puppet. But neither am I." As Max walked toward her, a soft breeze picked up. "Neither is Chloe. Nobody is." With each step forward, the wind grew stronger, rushing through the other Max's hair. Ripples reverberated along the surface of the water. "You're not the only one with a hand in fate, are you?" As she spoke, a gust smacked Nightmare Max from behind, forcing her to stumble forward. "You know, I've been thinking about something Chloe once said..." The wind continued to strengthen. "About how there are always two sides to a story." Though the wind was now blowing fiercely, it didn't affect Max at all. Not a hair was out of place.

"Just because you can change fate, doesn't mean you should," the other Max said, her shoulders bundled against the wind. Max narrowed her eyes and took another step forward. Something stirred behind her. Nightmare Max's eyes grew wide and she constricted in on herself further, showing true, deep fear. Her hair and clothing were bellowing violently as if being pulled toward the thing growing behind Max. Still, the brunette felt none of it.

"So obsessed with your order," Max said. She brought her hand up and looked over it again. "But there's another side. There always is. The opposite of order, right? The...opposite of you?" Whatever was behind her began to emit a roar.

"It's not that simple," Nightmare Max said. "Things need structure. Things need a pattern." She winced, cowering away from the source of the wind.

"You can't have one without the other," Max said, shaking her head. She pointed at the necklace in her counterpart's hand. "That's mine." The other Max glanced at her hand, then glared back defiantly.

"No, you can't-" Her voice was drowned out as the twisting behind Max grew larger, tugging at the necklace like a magnet. Nightmare Max held on, but the rope and bullets were parallel to the water.

"I can," Max said, her tone cold and collected. "I can do whatever I want." The other Max's gaze trailed higher, horror clear in her eyes. "Just because something doesn't happen the way it was meant to, doesn't mean it's bad. If I can change fate, then I will. You are the one that must accept that." She stopped and smiled. "I'll make you a deal." She flitted her hand coolly and the enormous tornado behind her dissipated in an instant.

"A deal? With me!?" Nightmare Max laughed in disbelief, quickly regaining her cockiness now that the wind had died. "Do you forget who you're talking to!? I am Fate! Destiny! Time in all directions! I am-"

"Worthless without me, apparently," Max said. The ease of her tone bristled the other Max. "I don't think you have much of a choice. So, I'll make you a deal." They were close now, staring deep into each other.

"What is it?" Nightmare Max asked through a clenched jaw.

"Chloe's mine. She lives. You call off the dogs. No more storms. No more anything. You have to learn to deal with the chaos." She bared her teeth in a beautiful smile. "You let us live our life. You leave us alone." The other Max closed her eyes and shook her head in frustration.

"And what exactly do I get out of this deal?" She asked. Max regarded her warmly and with a small dose of pity.

"Nothing," she said plainly. "I guess I'll try not to fuck your toys up anymore but, yanno, we'll see."

"You're a monster," Nightmare Max spat. Max giggled in response, then gave a combination nod and shrug. "You realize this changes everything. You're starting life, everything on a new course from here on out. There was...there was order before."

"Yeah..." Max looked down at the water, at a clip of Chloe cradling her in bed while she cried. "But I think sometimes you have to let butterflies flap their wings a little." The other Max groaned in disgust.

"You honestly make me nauseous," she said. Max shrugged again, pleading guilty.

"Do we have a deal?" She held out her hand. Nightmare Max studied it for a moment, her eyes flickering through different shades of anger. Then she sighed and slammed her hand into Max's. When she removed it, Chloe's necklace was left in Max's palm. She looked up to find the other Max looking away, seething and defeated.

"You win," she said hatefully. "She's yours."

"She was never yours to begin with," Max replied, smiling lovingly at the bullets in her hand. She turned the smile on the other Max. "See you later, Bad Max... It was indeed a hell of a ride." She didn't have time to laugh at Nightmare Max's...Fate's reaction, the look of utter shock and insult. The water beneath her feet fractured, spreading out like a spiderweb. The sunset exploded in gold, covering the sky with a warm light. Holding tightly to the necklace, the last thing she felt was a change of pressure in her chest as she coughed out ocean water. Then all was white.

First, there was noise. The roar of waves, the squawking of birds, the quiet sound of her heartbeat throbbing in her ears. Next, she could process touch. The sticky, wet sand smashed against her face. The soaking wet clothes stuck to her body, adding a chill whenever the breeze grazed her. And the soft, familiar fingers nestled around hers. Aching, she turned her head, scraping her chin through the sand. Then there was sight. The blinding brightness of the sun, the rich brown of the drenched sand. The pale, bloody knuckled fingers curled around her own cut up hand. The black cord locked between the two palms, leading out to a trio of bullets resting on the ground. Her eyes slowly traveled downward. She stared intently for just a moment and summoned a petite smile when she could see Chloe's body rising and falling with breath.

"Chloe?" Max asked, her voice thin and weak as her cheek nestled back into the sand. There was a beat of silence, then light groaning as Chloe stirred awake. With some trouble, she lifted her head up and turned to Max. Her eyes weren't wide, but there was an immense of amount of calculation visibly running through them. Her eyebrows just barely managed to crinkle in confusion.

"Are...we dead?" She asked. Max's stomach spasmed with the desire to laugh, but it only came out as a single cough. She smiled and shook her head as much as she was able to.

"No," Max rasped, "we're alive." She held her head up again and tried to scan around her. "I'm pretty sure, at least..." Several 'wh' noises burst from Chloe's mouth in an attempt at speech.

"What the fuck?" She finally managed to ask. She seemed genuinely disheartened. Against the aching of her wounds, she pushed a hand deep into the sand and lifted herself up. Trembling, she got to her knees and looked around her. "It didn't work?"

"It worked," Max said. "It just..." Her stomach twitched again and she managed to vocally laugh at the irony. "It didn't turn out the way we planned." Chloe stared back down at her, seeming lost and confused.

"What do you mean?" She asked. Max dug one hand into the shore and pushed, rolling herself onto her back. It was amazing how blue the sky was. How peacefully it hung above them with not a cloud in sight. She breathed in the smell of the ocean. Of life.

"I had a little talk with myself," she said, wearily grinning up at Chloe. "We came agreement. No more storms." Chloe blinked several times, her head swaying left and right.

"What?" She brought a hand to her face, then had to plant it back on the ground to keep herself upright. "Max, are you serious?" Max pointed straight up into the sky.

"No storm," she said. When Chloe still seemed unconvinced, Max held out her other hand. "I got this for you." As her fingers unfurled, the bullets slipped from her palm and jerked in the air as the rope grew taut. Chloe touched a hand to her chest, feeling for the necklace. "She literally handed it to me."

"We'" Chloe laid her hand on top of Max's. The brunette nodded. "Oh my god," Chloe sobbed, falling on top of Max. She shook violently as she cried, burying her arms under the girl in a hug. "Max, oh my god. I can't believe it." Max hugged her back just as tightly as she too began to cry.

"I told you I'd never let her take you from me," she whispered. "I still don't understand completely, but nothing is going to keep us apart anymore. We'll be together forever." Chloe shook her head against Max's chest, then pulled herself up and dove into the most grateful kiss in history. As their lips parted, they breathed heavily, their foreheads resting against each other.

"Maybe it's just...fate," Chloe said, smiling through her tears before kissing her again.

The sun was setting behind the horizon line, dyeing everything with its warm and strong orange tones. The golden hour bright and intense, its reddish rays lighting the frame of the houses across the street, painting their pastel walls in gold, the picket white fences casting dark shadows over the green and short grass.

A soft breeze made the autumnal leaves from the trees bounce softly and a chill ran down the spine of the girl that was sitting on the porch of one of the small houses. She pulled her leather jacket to envelop her silhouette, and fight against the cold threatening to make her shake. Without much ceremony, she took a lighter from her right pocket and lit the cigarette that had been between her lips for at least five minutes as she contemplated the horizon.

Even after so many months, years even, it was still kind of a surprise to actually be able to see the golden hour. Those thoughts never left Chloe's mind, not even for a single day. Every golden hour was precious to her, not only because of what it represented, but also the fact that the sun wasn't hiding behind a massive and threatening storm demanding her life.

She took a long drag from the cigarette and let the smoke escape through her lips absentmindedly. For a few seconds she just simply observed how it crowded around her and dissipated fast into the air. As she did so, a few soft and slow steps were heard and a girl sat down next to her on the first step of the porch. She offered a hot, steaming mug with one hand, as she held her own with the other.

"It's almost like a ritual you have going," Max teased, her blue hoodie zipped to the top and the hood covering her long brown hair.

"Maybe," Chloe admitted with a smile, taking a sip of hot tea from the mug. "Maybe it's because it still seems a bit fucked up."

"Believe me, fucked up is still an understatement," the brunette replied, shaking her head but with a tiny smile on her face. "But it's been quite long since…you know. I do believe we are safe once and for all."

And that much was true, at least. No more magical storms, no more dead animals or snow in summer… No more close calls with death itself.

That didn't mean they didn't have their doubts a few times. Nightmares were still the norm, plus every single time a storm hit, just a regular storm without anything extraordinary going on, it kept them both awake during the night, holding each other for dear life like they were expecting the roof to come off and the storm to actually take them this time. They even ran away from it once, the moment the rain started.

"I know. It's just hard to get my head around the fact that my wife is some kind of crazy powerful time entity or some shit like that," Chloe teased, her lips showing off a smirk. Max softly slapped her arm with her free hand.

"You are awful. And…I honestly try to not think about it. It's been a long time since I've used my powers but… I still have the feeling that this is not over, you know? If I'm…tied to the universe or whatever, I should at least try to be more responsible I suppose."

"Well, there is a reason why I always just stop to see the sunset. Your…other you may have left us alone but clearly there is more to it. It…needs you for something." Chloe left the mug on the floor next to her and hugged her knees, the heel of her boots resting one step below. "I just dread to know for what."

"Maybe we will never know." Max shrugged. "At this point I've thought about it so much already… I don't have answers just…more questions. Who was right? Did I…have the say on what was going to happen since the beginning? What if I was the one making the calls in the first place without even realizing? What if I am her, or she is me or…we both are the universe? Or are we the same person? I...I have no idea."

"Believe me, if you were there talking with her and don't know… I sure as fuck am clueless, babe," Chloe said, passing an arm over her wife's shoulders and pulling her close to her. The presence and warmth was really comfortable. She kept telling that part of her mind that was afraid of Max suddenly vanishing to shut the fuck up.

"I guess we will have to see if there is another adventure for us out there…" Max said, and then shook her head, hoping to be wrong about it. She snuggled closer, welcoming the embrace.

"I've had my share of pirate adventures for the rest of my life," Chloe said with a small laugh. "But if it happens, I'll be ready to sail, Captain."

Chloe made an exaggerated salute with one hand and Max chuckled softly.

"Why thank you, my lovely first mate. But this time…let's try to not crack the sky."

Chloe looked at her deeply in the eyes, with a spark of mischief in them and a smug smirk growing and growing on her face.

"No promises," she said, raising an eyebrow.

They leaned in at the same time until their lips met and the sun disappeared behind the horizon.