Act I: Dawn of Time
Ch 1: All of This
“This is my storm. I caused this... I caused all of this.” - Max Caulfield, LiS S1e5
“Max… It’s time…” There’s a note of pleading in Chloe’s voice, but whether she’s pleading with Max to let her live or let her die Max isn’t sure. Her eyes are a vortex more consuming than the one bearing down on them, a precipice more precarious than the one on which they stand. She wants to die a hero, and she wants to live a coward; she wants to go back to a time when she was whole and everything made sense, and even though she hates with every fiber of her being that this decision isn’t in her own hands she’s grateful not to be the one to have to make this choice.
A choice that Max has already made. Because this is Chloe standing in front of her.
Chloe, her captain; her best and truest friend, who took her back even after five years of selfish silence and neglect. Chloe, who has already suffered so much in her short life, has already lost and been lost so many times. Chloe, whose death was so unbearable to Max that she bent time itself to save her: again and again and again. Chloe, who drives every beat of her heart.
Chloe, who wanted to drop a bomb on Arcadia Bay and watch it turn to glass.
Max turns away from her, the rain-wet polaroid still in her hands. It would be so easy to grant her request. Already, stepping back in time is like stepping into a heated pool: warm and inviting and so quickly over her head. It would only take a little focus to go back and unmake everything. Let the photograph shimmer and open up to her, step back and let the storm unravel, let Chloe unravel, let her whole life unravel… She hates how easy it would be.
The photograph tears every bit as easily, as if that’s what it was made to do, the blue butterfly and Max’s reflection both splitting neatly into halves. The storm seizes the pieces before she has time to reflect on the consequences of this action, taking them from her hands like an offering and drawing them into its swirling mass.
For a terrifying moment, there’s no sound other than the raging of the storm. Chloe isn’t saying anything, and Max can’t bring herself to turn around and face her. The enormity of what Max has done hangs suspended between them, and Max fears that it will hang there forever, like the Sword of Damocles. It’s too much. Too big. Too terrible. She knows with a cold certainty that Chloe will never forgive her for making this decision - not after the way she implored Max to let her go. But she also knows that this was never really a choice. Either way, her world was going to be ripped apart. It was only a matter of whether it would be by grief or by the storm.
And she’s seen Chloe die enough times this week to know one thing beyond all shadow of a doubt: she doesn’t want to live in any reality where Chloe isn’t alive. She cannot let her die. She especially can’t let her die scared and abandoned on a bathroom floor, thinking that nobody loves her. Thinking that Max doesn’t love her.
“Max…” Chloe steps forward slowly, sounding numb with disbelief. “I’ll always be with you.” Her voice trembles.
“Forever,” Max promises. And if this is true, if Chloe will always be with her, forever by her side, then it’s worth it. As monstrous as this is, she knows it’s the truth. She would make the same decision again. Again and again, every time. Staring into the otherworldly tempest steadily bearing down on their hometown, she’s not sure there’s anything in the world she wouldn’t do to keep Chloe alive and by her side, any sacrifice she’d be unwilling to make for her.
Chloe takes Max’s hand in hers, and the gesture is so natural and familiar that it could be any other day, any other moment in their years of friendship. If their hands weren’t so cold, and wet, and trembling. If the sky weren’t grey and alive with electricity. If their ears weren’t full of thunder.
As the storm draws closer to the shore, buildings rip loose from their foundations and leap into its arms. It isn’t a vision this time. It’s real. Max’s storm is real, and it’s happening, and suddenly she can’t watch this anymore.
She clutches Chloe like a lifeline, burying her face in the crook of Chloe’s neck. Chloe pulls her close and cradles her in the safety of her arms. She holds onto Max tightly and lets her hide against her shoulder, her tears the only warmth that she can feel.
Max has already seen all of this; she doesn’t need to see it all again. But Chloe never has. She watches. She can’t look away.
She watches, and she holds Max. She means to be the one anchoring Max, but as she watches the storm slowly and deliberately cut a swath of destruction through their town she wonders if it’s really the other way around. Max’s hand trails slowly up and down her back, but whether it’s to soothe herself or Chloe neither of them knows.
Time passes. An hour, two, more. It’s impossible to say.
Rain still pelts down. The wind still grabs and tears. Max can hear the storm chewing its way through Arcadia Bay, but it doesn’t feel real anymore. She doesn’t feel real anymore. She feels like she’s floating. Or sinking. Or both. She can barely feel Chloe’s arm around her. Chloe’s saying something to her, but she sounds like she’s a mile away. Max tries to respond, but she’s not sure her mouth is forming actual words.
She’s hungry, she realizes, and at the same moment her guts twist with nausea. Is it totally messed up to be standing in the middle of a raging storm that’s destroying the town she grew up in and feel hungry rather than afraid? She tries to ask Chloe because maybe she can help her make sense of it, but her tongue feels cold and heavy and her teeth are chattering and she’s pretty sure now that, no, the sounds she’s making aren’t words.
It’s been a long, exhausting day. Max really just wants to lay down and go to sleep. Chloe’s yelling something she feels like she should understand. A short word, familiar. “Max! MAX!”
Things get a bit fuzzy after that. At some point Max watches Chloe attack the lighthouse door with her shoulder. She’s upside down. It’s sort of absurd-looking, Chloe charging again and again at the door with the ground in the air and lightning flashing around her head like a halo, defying gravity. Max wishes she had her camera with her.
Where is her camera, anyway? She should be taking pictures.
Not quite warm. Quieter. Max can feel that she’s shivering now. How long has she been shivering like this for? Someone should call a doctor. This can’t be normal.
Chloe’s voice. Safe and warm, the warmest she’s been. Max lets go of the last thread of consciousness and, for the first time in days, falls into a dreamless sleep.
The first thing that Max notices when she wakes is that it’s quiet. If the storm is still happening, she isn’t in the middle of it anymore. The second thing she notices is that she’s warm and dry, or close enough to it. The third thing she notices is Chloe snuggled up behind her.
Was everything a dream? The last day, hell, the last week has all been so surreal that she can almost believe that none of it really happened. The only thing that feels real to her is Chloe’s breath, warm and steady in her hair, Chloe’s fingers interlaced with her own and holding on firmly, Chloe’s… Wait, maybe this is the dream.
Max opens her eyes. The room around her is vaguely familiar but someplace she hasn’t been since she was a child. She can’t quite place it. She’s definitely never seen it from this angle: lying on the ground, wrapped in some sort of weird space-age shiny blanket. She’s pretty sure the last time she saw it, there also weren’t wet clothes hanging from every surface. An image flashes in front of her eyes like lightning: Chloe throwing her shoulder against the door of the lighthouse. It must have worked.
Not a dream, then. Max breathes a sigh of relief. She still feels cold and tired, her thoughts still jumbled and slow to form, but she knows that Chloe is with her and they’re both safe, and that’s all that’s important for her to know right now. The feeling of Chloe’s fingers tangled with hers brings a smile to her lips and a warm glow to her chest that feels like in time it could thaw the pervasive coldness of her limbs.
The lighthouse. It makes a poetic kind of sense that that’s where they would find shelter from the storm. Her eyes rove over her surroundings as she basks in the warmth of Chloe’s embrace, seeking out familiar shapes from their shared childhood. Sluggish and numb, her brain struggles to fit together the pieces of what she sees; seeing it all sideways doesn’t help. The winding staircase is familiar, but the dripping clothes strewn over its railing puzzle her. The longer she looks at them, the more sure she is that they’re not supposed to be there at all. A thought chisels its way into her brain and she tries to move her arm to lift the blanket covering her. Chloe’s arm is so heavy on hers that she can’t manage more than a twitch.
Chloe feels her stirring. “Oh thank god,” she whispers. “Max? Are you still with me?”
Max moves her lips slowly, testing them. They don’t feel numb anymore. “I…” Her voice is a little rough. She tries to clear her throat. “Yeah. I think so.”
Chloe’s arms tighten around her. “Jesus fucking Christ, Max, don’t ever do that to me again.”
Chloe wiggles her fingers between Max’s. “Ten fingers, ten toes? Still got them all?”
“I… What?” Max tries to push through the fog still clouding her brain. “What’re you talking about?”
“I did my best, Max, but I’m no doctor. And you were… really fucking cold. Like, scary cold.” Chloe gently squeezes each of Max’s fingers, one at a time. “I don’t think you lost anything, though.” She presses the tops of her feet against the bottoms of Max’s. “Toes feel okay?”
“They feel like toes.” Max presses back against Chloe’s feet to prove it.
“Good thing, because they felt like fucking ice cubes before.” Chloe lets go of Max’s hand and touches her ear. Max jumps a little in surprise. “Does that hurt?” Chloe asks, her voice tight with concern.
“No, just… Wasn’t expecting it.”
“Sorry. Just wanted to make sure it didn’t fall off or anything. You can still feel it okay? I tried to keep as much of you covered as I could, but...”
“I can definitely still feel it.” Max wonders if Chloe can feel the way her heartbeat has ratcheted up. Her fingertips still linger on Max’s ear, so that’s a strong maybe. “Um, Chloe…” Max clears her throat. “I’m kind of afraid to ask, but… Am I, uh…”
“Are you… what?”
“Am I, uh… A-are you…? Are we…?”
Chloe tenses a little. “Oh, right. That. Yeah, but get your mind out of the gutter. I may have failed Life Skills pretty hard, but even I know you don’t leave someone with hypothermia in wet clothes.”
“Oh.” If there was a hole in the ground, Max would crawl into it.
“Honestly, I was in too much of a panic to get you warm and dry to pay much attention, anyway.” There’s an awkward silence. “Uh, you feeling warm now?”
Max nods. “Mhm.” She’s afraid that if she tries to speak, her voice will betray her.
“Guess my work here is done, then…” Chloe shifts away, tucking the emergency blanket snugly around Max as she does. “You, uh, might want to close your eyes if you’re feeling shy about it. Preserve some of the mystery.”
Max closes her eyes. She listens to Chloe’s footsteps as she pads barefoot around the small room, gathering her clothes.
“I mean, I know this probably isn’t how you wanted to get me naked the first time, anyway, so…”
“What?” Max’s eyes pop open reflexively, then she squeezes them shut again.
“Ah, you can still blush! I’ll take that as a sign of health.”
“You, um, want to grab me my clothes while you’re at it?”
“Our clothes are still really wet, actually. Probably not a great idea. But don’t worry! I’ve got backup clothes in the truck.” Chloe kneels down and ruffles Max’s damp hair. “I knew my zombie preparedness kit would come in handy someday.”
Max snorts. “‘Zombie preparedness kit?’ I want to say you’re joking, but somehow I don’t think you are.” She cautiously opens an eye, then opens the other when she sees that Chloe is back in her clothes.
“You know me too well, Max. You gonna be okay on your own for a bit? Truck’s parked down by the beach still.” Chloe grimaces. “Or at least I hope it is.”
The beach. Sand ripping itself from the ground, water pouring upward from the ocean, spiraling, grasping-- “Wait.” Max reaches out and grabs Chloe’s wrist. “The storm. You shouldn’t go out there. It’s too dangerous.”
“It’s okay, Max.” Chloe gently touches Max’s hand still firmly wrapped around her other wrist, running a thumb over her knuckles. “I’m pretty sure it’s over. It’s been quiet out there for a while now.” Max’s grip tightens. “I’ll check first. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go running out into a fucking tornado. Have a little faith in my sense of self-preservation.”
Max laughs, and it hurts. “Chloe, after this week I wouldn’t trust you to not stick a fork in an electrical outlet.”
“Ouch. That burns, Max.” Chloe chuckles. “Although so did sticking a fork in that outlet.”
“Wait, what? Really?”
“Story for another time.” Chloe pats her hand, then gently pries her wrist free. Max watches her anxiously as she walks over to the door and starts working loose the chair wedged between the door and the wall. It takes a couple of minutes and a fair amount of swearing. Once the chair isn’t bracing the door shut, it creaks just slightly open on its own. It swings in gently, an act of gravity rather than gale-force winds. Chloe opens it a few inches further and peers out. After a short silence, she clears her throat. “Looks clear. Still drizzling a little, but otherwise… calm. Shit, I think I even see some blue sky.” She turns and looks at Max. “I’ll only be gone for a little while. Okay?”
Chloe walks back over to her and hooks her pinky in Max’s, her hand still dangling loose from under the blanket. “I promise. I’ll be back as soon as possible, and I’ll bring supplies.” She hesitates, then leans over and presses her lips briefly against Max’s forehead. “You rest up. Keep warm. I’ll be back before you know it.” She gently tucks Max’s hand back into the blanket.
Max tries to stay awake, counting the minutes in her head. But it’s surprisingly warm in the blanket, and it still smells like Chloe, and soon she falls back asleep.