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Six-three-five-three

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Victoria Chase sat with deliberate poise at her desk, her body language crafted just so to give the maximum amount of impact to the current object of her attention: Mark Jefferson, famed photographer and current lecturer of her photography class. A lecturer who had seemed, so far, annoyingly oblivious to her efforts in gaining additional credit. What was worse, was that the one person who she knew could rival her skill at photography seemed to get the attention that she deserved to have.

Max fucking Caulfield. Shy, quiet, talented, cute fucking Max fucking Caulfield.

Victoria did her best to maintain her focus forwards and not sneak a glance across the classroom at her rival; something she felt she had disturbingly been doing far too much of at late. She made sure to answer the questions Jefferson was posing to the class; if anyone else had done this in another subject she would have been the first to abuse them as a geek or kiss-ass. But here: this was her domain, and no-one was going to take that away from her.

Not even Max 'ooh look how twee and cute I think I am' Caulfield.

Which she isn't.

The whir of an instant camera caused everyone to start and look around. Victoria shot a venomous look across the room when she saw the source of the noise, noting that yet again Max had managed to upstage her in the classroom, without even trying.

Max. Of course it was her. Her thoughts were interrupted as Mr Jefferson smiled benevolently at Max, much to her annoyance.

“Shh, I believe Max has taken what you kids call a "selfie"... A dumb word for a wonderful photographic tradition. And Max... has a gift. Of course, as you all know, the photo portrait has been popular since the early 1800's. Your generation was not the first to use images for "selfie-expression." Sorry. I couldn't resist. The point remains that the portraiture has always been a vital aspect of art, and photography, for as long as it's been around. Now, Max, since you've captured our interest and clearly want to join the conversation, can you please tell us the name of the process that gave birth to the first self-portraits?”

Victoria knew the answer - of course she knew the answer, this was her passion after all - the one thing she secretly felt she was good at on her own merit, and having Mr Jefferson as a teacher was only a bonus. A major career advancing bonus, at that.

If only I could get him to notice me the way he does Max. She puts in so little effort; yet he thinks she's so talented. Which she is. God she is so annoying, I really dislike her. Why doesn't she notice me. I hate her so much.

You don't Vic. Do you.

Shut. Up.

Deliberately supressing her thoughts, she eagerly started to raise her hand to answer the question to demonstrate her superior knowledge - and have the additional benefit of getting one over her annoyingly oblivious rival.

“The Daguerreian Process.” Max's voice was flat and devoid of emotion. Victoria angrily turned around to glare daggers at her - upstaged yet again! - but her eyes widened slightly when she saw the utterly dead expression on Max's face, her eyes sunken and gaunt.

It looks like she hasn't slept in days - what the hell is wrong with her? Victoria felt a wave of concern hit her stomach, which she swiftly tried to hide from her features, glancing sideways to make sure Taylor had not seen this momentary weakness in her manner.

"Somebody has been reading, as well as posing. Nice work, Max.” Max made no response, but continued to stare straight ahead, without expression. Jefferson, however, didn't appear to notice Max's demeanour and carried on talking; Victoria couldn't help but stare at Max, unnerved by her unusual behaviour and the sullen look on her face.

She looks.. different. Angry. What the hell has happened to her in the last few minutes?

The ringing of the bell broke the spell, and Victoria sat and watched as everyone slowly left. Forgetting her concern of Max, she saw her chance and walked over to Mr Jefferson who was idly leafing through some papers.

“Hi Mark,” she said, and leaned (what she hoped was) seductively against his desk. “I thought we could chat about my entry for the Everyday Heroes contest? Have you had time to look at my entry? You know it's the best one you'll get.” Mr Jefferson looked down at her with an unreadable expression.

“It's Mr Jefferson, please, Victoria. And yes, thank you for your entry, I have put it with the others and will judge it on its own merit.” He looked across to the classroom door, which Max was slowly walking towards.

“I see you, Max Caulfield. Don't even think about leaving here until we talk about your entry.” Victoria let out an exasperated huff - she was still losing out to her today. Max didn't stop or look back; she merely raised her middle finger and closed the door behind her. Mr Jefferson let out a surprised grunt and Victoria looked at him – his face was a mixture of surprise and rage, which passed as quickly as it had appeared.

“Don't worry Mr Jefferson, I'll go get her back for you.” Victoria swiftly ran across the room, her high heels clacking on the floor, and stepped out of the classroom. Max was only a few metres ahead of her, walking down the hallway as if in a daze, oblivious to her fellow students around her. Victoria noticed Taylor and Courtney giggling together in the corner – they had obviously noticed Max being, well, Max, as well.

Victoria walked quickly up behind her and grabbed her by the shoulder, spinning her around.

“What the fuck are you playing at, Caulfield?” she hissed. Max looked at her in obvious confusion.

“Victoria? What -” Max started to raise her right hand, and then appeared to hesitate. She looked at the angry, frustrated girl in front of her. “What do you want, Victoria? I must go to the bathroom. Now.”

”Don't play innocent with me, Max. I know what you are up to, even in the classroom just now. You just want all his attention so you'll win the contest; even when I am clearly talking to him you try and usurp me. It won't work, you know he prefers me. I am his favourite student; I at least can see through your hipster bullshit and he will too, in time.” Victoria leaned her face forwards into Max's, her green eyes burning with light, coldness emanating from her - and something else in her look which Max couldn't quite discern. Max stared directly back at her, contempt distorting her features.

“Fuck Jefferson. Fuck that murdering bastard. And right now – fuck you.” Victoria blinked in surprise at the sudden change in Max's attitude. For a moment her façade dropped, and her harsh features softened.

“What... what are you...” she stuttered. Max jabbed her finger into her chest, emphasising each word.

“I said: Fuck. Him.” Victoria moved her hand to her chest, to ward off the jabbing finger as Max continued. “He'll get what he deserves. As will all the others. They'll all pay. Every single one of them” They stood there staring at each other in the hallway, Victoria consciously aware of people beginning to look at them with sudden interest. Her face began to turn a little pink as she realised the awkward situation she was in.

“Max -” Her sentence was cut short by the sound of a single gunshot that echoed down the hall. She flinched and stared down towards the bathrooms from where the noise had come from; people were already starting to move in the direction to see what had occurred, a general murmur becoming panicked shouts.

“What the fuck was that?” Victoria was startled, the previous conversation momentarily forgotten.

“Nathan has shot Chloe,” Max said, not removing her eyes from Victoria's face. Victoria looked at her with a panicked expression before pushing her out of the way and running down the hall.

 

Max watched her go, seeing David Madsen running (as always) to the bathroom door to yank it open.

Max sank down against the lockers, idly stopping the world without any conscious effort.

This.. is new.

Six thousand, three hundred and fifty two times, and she could remember every last one of them.

Six thousand, three hundred and fifty two fucking times and Victoria Chase creates something new.

Fucking Victoria Chase.

She leaned her head back against the cool metal and closed her eyes, her mind racing. She knew from bitter experience that the point of departure – the point she could control with certainty – was Jefferson's lecture, where she had first woken up from her nightmare. Changing things before that created too many variables, too many divergences, too many alternate realities. Everything hinged from this point onwards, but no matter what she did, no matter what she tried, it was always the same result. Chloe dead; either in the bathroom or by her own hand, cursing Max. The town wiped out, more people dead. Guilt. Recrimination. Her overwhelming loss, the failure. The desire to try again, clutching at each precious new memory of Chloe until even they didn't change. Trying again, and again. Every time a consistent failure, until it drove her mad. Until the only thing left to do was to keep trying.

She was stronger now, more confident in her abilities – 87 years of trying would do that – but she felt trapped in a cycle of her own making, unable to leave this week and its endless repetition. Her own personal hell.

6,352 times. And.. Victoria is the one to change it.

She hesitated, feeling in her mind the well of power to allow her to jump back to the classroom. She no longer had need for photographs, the memory was enough for her to return to that instance. The downside was it meant she was stuck there, no longer jumping forward in time again - forced to live through the subsequent events over and over, changing what she could.

Six thousand, three hundred and fifty two times.

Maybe.. maybe I let this one go. I can always come back for her. For Chloe.

I can't leave her..?

But.. if I don't..

She forced herself to mentally let go of that train of thought, and the world spun up around her.

The familiar shouts and screams. Nathan dragged away. The cries from the discovery, the shocked faces. All the same, and yet.. different.

She had not been there, this time. She was not involved. No-one thought to check on her, see how she was. See how the death of her best friend, her lover, the person she had neglected, had affected her.

Something new.

She got up and walked away, avoiding the pandemonium, the calls over the address system for calm. She didn't look into the bathroom – she didn't need to. The shock and pain of the sight had long left her; she knew what was in there, what the result had been. She didn't notice Victoria, surrounded by her clique trying to placate her, casting a horrified glance her way as she left the building, wondering what this all meant.

Max returned to her dorm and hid away in her room, suddenly overcome with fatigue. In countless other timelines she would have had people knocking on her door asking if she was OK, or she would be running around trying to help out her dorm mates, or avoiding Warren. This time she felt adrift, unanchored – so used she had become to the constant repetition of the week as she tried to change things from the inevitable.

Trying to save Chloe. Always Chloe, in the end. Make up for my mistakes, my neglect. How can I leave her like this? Why would this time be any different to the others. Do I go back? I should go back.

I should.

She curled up on her bed and stared listlessly at the wall. She felt hollow inside, her mind blank as she tried to grasp at a hook to drive her onwards yet again, to start up another attempt. 

But I'm so tired. So, so tired.

Without realising it she closed her eyes and fell fast asleep, curled up in a small ball.

- the river was raging, filled by the onrushing waters from the hillside. The rain still lashed down as Max desperately grasped at the door handle of the truck. Chloe's face was pressed up against the glass, beating her hands against the window in a vain attempt to break it. The water swirled deeper and it slowly dragged the truck mid stream. Max tried to rewind but the crushing pain in her head made her let go of the door handle, the current pulling her towards the rear of the truck. She could hear Chloe's hammering desperately against the door as the water rose, but Max was swept away towards some jutting out rocks -

Max woke with a start. It was dark, and someone was knocking on the door with gentle urgency.

Number 54. An early one. Momentarily disorientated she got up and padded over to the door, opening it whilst trying to stifle a big yawn. An angry finger jabbed her in the chest.

“You knew. You fucking knew! How?” Max looked in surprise at the person in front of her. Victoria's face was a strange mixture of fury and despair, her eyes were pink and swollen as if from weeping, and her normally immaculate hair askew.

“Nathan.. he did shoot her. And.. they've taken Mar- Mr Jefferson. I don't understand. How did you know?” Her tone was pleading, as if she was hoping Max would help her make sense of what had happened. Max was momentarily lost for words, and just stared at her. She felt cold, and rubbed her arms a little to try and warm up. The instinct to rewind the moment away, to run and be more prepared for this, as she always was, was overwhelming. She hesitated, as she thought she saw a slight tear appear in the corner of Victoria's eyes. She eyed it with curiosity, as if suddenly remembering what tears were like. Victoria's voice was soft and low, and she looked at Max with pleading eyes.

“Max.. please. I feel like this is some nightmare and I can't wake up. Say something, help me, please,” she said brokenly. “I don't know I think you can but..” She ran her hand up through her hair, trying to pull herself together.

“I suggest you go to bed, Victoria Chase,” Max replied, moving to shut the door. Victoria face twisted, and she pushed back against it, much to Max's annoyance. Her voice hardened as her hackles rose; the glimpse of Victoria's vulnerability being swamped by her habitual defensiveness.

“Max, you better tell me.. you know I can see through you and your fake innocent behaviour. I've just seen my best friend get arrested and you knew about it. You know I run this place. Tell me, or..” Max laughed dangerously, and gripped Victoria's  arm with surprising strength.

“Or what? There's nothing, nothing, you can do to me, Victoria. Step the fuck away from my door.” Max again went to push it closed, and was sorely tempted to time-slip and force Victoria backwards – but if she did that, then she might as well rewind the whole thing anyway. Something deep within her stirred, some relic of the person she used to be.

She's trying to reach out to you, she's desperate.

So fucking what. Fuck her.

But this is new, this is different.

It's Victoria Fucking Chase.

Exactly. Maybe this is what we need. Maybe we have to let go.. of Chloe.

Out of her old habit she raised her right hand, even though she knew she didn't need to do that any more.

“- like I'm in a nightmare. Say something, help me, please.”

“Victoria, this is your own doing. You knew what Nathan was up to, you could have stopped him. This failure is your fault, no-one else's. If you weren't such a bitch all the time, desperate to piss everyone off, maybe you would have noticed.” Victoria face twisted in anger and surprise at Max's tone, so unlike the person she knew and secretly admired.

“Fuck you, Max - how was I supposed to know? You walk around here with your -”

Max. No.

“- Say something, help me, please.”

“Uh, Victoria, I.. I knew Nathan was acting odd, and I.. I over heard him saying he had to meet someone. I know he has been acting strange of late, you must have seen the same?” She cringed internally at the explanation, it was weak, made no sense and she knew it. Victoria seemed to upset to care, just happy to hear her voice.

“He was my best friend, Max. I.. don't understand how.. what..” she trailed off, staring at the floor, before continuing in a small, quiet voice. “..and they are saying he was involved with some things with Mr Jefferson..” Victoria suddenly appeared to come to a realisation.

“The video,” she muttered. Max watched her with interest as she looked across the hallway towards Kate's room. She drew herself up to her full height and looked Max in the eye, putting her mask back on.

“This isn't over Max, I want to know what you are hiding.” She walked across the hallway to her room and slammed shut the door. Max stood there in the doorway looking at the closed door, reflecting.

No. Not good enough. I need more of a change. I can't have this, if I leave behind..

“- Say something, help me, please”

“Victoria, I know you're upset but please listen to me. I know you uploaded that video of Kate. Isn't this a chance for you to do the right thing and take it down, and maybe see how she is? Do something positive for a change?” Max struggled to find the right words, to make it sound like her old self. Victoria expression grew pensive.

“I.. I don't know. I thought.. I thought she was being such a hypocrite..” She fell silent, then looked at Max, her green eyes searching her face. “You think Nathan had something..” She fell silent again, and unconsciously looked down the hallway. Max felt herself get impatient.

“Victoria, you don't have to be such a bitch all the time to everyone! Why don't you for once in your life -” Max! No!

“-I know you care, that you want to do better. You don't have to pretend to me to be something you're not – just.. go do the right thing..”

Max hesitantly reached out and touched her arm; it was surprisingly cold to the touch,  but the feeling caused a strange emotion to build inside herself, something familiar and long forgotten. She had been so angry, fighting for so long against fate and the injustice of it all she had lost even the most basics of empathy, and the touch made her shiver. Victoria looked down at her hand, but didn't shy away from the touch. Max felt like she was wearing someone else's skin, acting a part she used to play. Victoria looked slightly relieved at her words, however, and gave her a weak smile, sniffling a little.

“Thanks Max.” She fell silent, but didn't move Max's hand away. Max gave her a quick squeeze and assembled her features into something approaching friendliness.

“Go, speak to Kate - I'll be here if you need me.” Victoria looked undecided, before giving a small nod; her eyes seemed to gleam a little with hope as she looked hesitantly into Max's blue eyes.

Max watched Victoria slowly walk to Kate's door and knock gently. She couldn't hear what was said, but Victoria appeared to be trying to convince her to be let in. She glanced back at Max, who gave her what she hoped was an encouraging smile. Eventually the door cracked open, revealing the small outline of Kate, dimly backlit. Max continued to watch as after a brief pause and some quiet words she let Victoria in; just as she closed the door she caught Max's eye and gave her a frail, sad smile.

Max stood in thought for a moment, before returning to her room.

A new timeline.

Do I have to give her up, for this?

She closed the door and lay down on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. Her mind was tormented at the thought of letting go, but the over-riding desire to try something new for the first time in a very, very long time, caused a brief flicker of hope within her.

A new timeline.

Number six thousand, three hundred and fifty three.